SEO is understandably a core concern for ecommerce merchants. PPC is a reliable performer, allowing you to bring in relevant traffic in a way that’s infinitely scalable (in principle, at least), but it’s costly and doesn’t build up momentum. Direct referral is borderline-magical when it happens, but it takes brands years of excellent service to reach the point of earning referrals without needing financial incentives that make them as expensive as PPC-driven customers.
Being found through organic search is the dream. It doesn’t cost a thing when someone finds your site in the SERPs and pays you a visit, and it’s generally easier to rank for an actionable term than it is to consistently pick up referrals (plus you can rank for multiple terms). SEO is what allows this to happen. It’s the process of best positioning your store website to appeal to searchers and search crawlers, showing it to be a deserving search result.
And while SEO should be an ongoing commitment that functions in much the same way regardless of what type of store you run, you can make it easier and more effective by ensuring that you start your entrepreneurial adventure by choosing a suitable ecommerce platform. Each platform has different strengths and weaknesses pertaining to SEO, after all.
In this post, we’re going to run through three of the leading contenders to consider which of them is the most SEO-friendly: Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento. The order in which we look at them will give you a major clue about the conclusion, but follow along with the reasoning.
The reason I’m picking these three is that the other popular platforms have some major weaknesses from the outset: Squarespace, for instance, still doesn’t allow its users to set canonical URLs (which is a baffling omission). Let’s get started:
Generally considered one of the most user-friendly and intuitive platforms, Shopify is fully geared towards making online selling easy — and though it isn’t the simplest option on the market, it offers an exceptional balance of simplicity and functionality, with baked-in SEO features that are more than respectable.
Regardless of the plan, you can customize your URL and metadata fields with ease (character limits are made clear). The free plan puts you on a myshopify.com subdomain, but if you’re investing in a store then you shouldn’t be using a free plan anyway. An XML sitemap is automatically generated for you to make getting accurately indexed easier.
As for product copy, the pages are fully customizable. You may need to get into custom themes using the Liquid language to get the layout you want, but even the basic included themes give you plenty of room to cover the desired keywords — and you can set out heading tags in whatever way you want to optimize the implied hierarchy.
Available as a plugin for WordPress (the world’s most popular CMS), WooCommerce isn’t very interesting by default when it comes to SEO. This is because it doesn’t do much to change what WordPress already brings to the table, and this is both good and bad. It’s good because WP has been shaped over the years to have solid SEO (important for bloggers), and it’s bad because WooCommerce doesn’t do much to make SEO options more accessible.
In other words, all the basics of SEO are there — customizable titles, URLs, etc. — but they’re not as easy to use by default as they are in other systems. URL permalinks aren’t enabled by default, for instance: you need to go into WordPress settings if you want your URLs to be halfway decent for SEO.
This is why most WooCommerce users turn to plugins like the Yoast WooCommerce SEO plugin. It makes it much easier to carry out useful SEO tasks like adding internal links and covering keywords, and is very affordable (requiring just a one-time fee). Since its features aren’t inherent to the platform, though, it’s hard to praise WooCommerce itself.
An open-source platform like WooCommerce but geared towards enterprise-level operations, Magento is used by some of the biggest brands in the world, and it has solid SEO out of the box (so to speak) — but there are some issues. Most notably, it doesn’t allow the inclusion of a blog by default. Shopify does, and WooCommerce rests atop a blogging platform.
Having a blog is important for SEO because it allows you to bring in visitors searching for more than just actionable offers: you can then gracefully push them towards converting. You can add a blog to Magento fairly easily by using an extension (here are some viable options), but it’s a frustrating oversight to not allow blogs natively.
In general, the broad difficulty of Magento (it wasn’t developed for beginners) makes it a tough sell when it comes to being SEO-friendly. It isn’t user-friendly — at least not until you’ve become extremely familiar with it — and the average merchant won’t want to have to scramble to feverishly just to figure out how to get their CMS working as needed. This is one for big brands with the time and money to get it fully customized.
Wrapping up, then, I noted that the order would give you a clue about the conclusion, so it should come as no surprise to you that Shopify gets the nod as the most SEO-friendly ecommerce platform. Why? To clarify, here are the major reasons:
- It ticks all the boxes. Any technical SEO element you can think of is accounted for in the Shopify platform, including a store blog.
- It’s extremely easy to use. Designed to be accessible, Shopify has a simple setup process and an intuitive interface.
- It has outstanding support. Official Shopify support is well-regarded, and there are many communities out there that can help further.
If you’re looking to set up a store (perhaps your first, or maybe just another in a series of attempts) and you want to optimize its chance of ranking well, keep this in mind. You can get good results with almost any modern platform, but if you’re otherwise on the fence, I suggest going with Shopify for the SEO convenience.
Rodney Laws is an editor at Ecommerce Platforms
Main image credit: Pikrepo