SEO tips for e-commerce sites

Here are several SEO-related ideas you might find useful for your e-commerce site. Because I’d like to keep the information current, this post may update without notice.


1. Perhaps think twice before requiring (or requesting) your potential buyers to do anything beyond making a purchase.


Because with every extra click you can lose buyers, streamline the purchase process.

  • If possible, avoid requiring users to login or register since this step can eliminate buyers. It was referred to by Jared M. Spool as The $300 Million Button. He writes that users “resented having to register.” After one site removed the required login/register button, “the number of customers purchasing went up by 45%… For the first year, the site saw an additional $300,000,000.”
  • User feedback and new user signups are great, but unless you also consider this action a conversion, perhaps postpone interstitials and overlays until after checkout. Not only do interstitials/overlays force an extra click to close the window (potentially losing buyers), but with mobile phone browsers they can be extremely difficult to focus and click-to-close, rendering your site useless for purchase for a user on-the-go.
Overlays and interstitials prior to purchase can distract your shoppers.


2. For items that are temporarily out-of-stock, you can still likely return 200.


Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a “temporarily out-of-stock” HTTP status code. So what should you do with temporarily out-of-stock items? Like most SEO issues, the answer depends on your individual situation with consideration for the user experience:

  • If you think users won’t be frustrated by your few temporarily out-of-stock items, then returning a 200 response code with a helpful message to users is likely your best bet. If it’s indeed temporary, a 200 response allows search engines to keep the page in our index (whereas if you return a 404 it may be removed for a period of time). Next, you can be helpful to users by informing them of when the item will return, providing alternatives to the item, or allowing them to be notified (e.g. via email alert) when the item is back in stock.
  • If you think users will become continually frustrated by your temporarily out-of-stock items (e.g., many of your items are out-of-stock, or your site seems to falsely advertise availability), then it’s time to shape up! Ideally, users should trust your site, want to buy from you, and want to tell their friends all about their great experience. If, instead, users view your site as constantly out of stock, their experience will diminish, and with it, potentially your profits. For pages that return little value to the user, you can mark them noindex until your inventory/page improves.


3. For permanently sold out items, 301 to a helpful alternative or simply 404.


Let’s say “My Memoir (1st edition)” either sold out or is no longer in production. What should you do with the product page, Two viable options:


  1. 301 to a helpful, related alternative for the user. For example, the “My Memoir 1st edition” page can 301 redirect to the “My Memoir 2nd edition” page. This allows users who click on the existing links to “My Memoir 1st edition” to be immediately sent to a related helpful product. This also helps SEO efforts because it can preserve many of the relevant indexing signals.
    • Check Fetch as Googlebot in Webmaster Tools to make sure the 301 is configured properly.

      Returns a 301 to
    • Also, within Fetch as Googlebot, you can also have the new URL
      submitted to be crawled.

    Unlike returning a 404 for out-of-stock pages, 301s require some foresight to redirect appropriately, as well effort in long-term maintenance. For the full benefit of a 301, the redirect must essentially remain in place “forever.” Imagine many products, living and dying (or whatever products do) — their lifecycle creates lots of pages, lots of 301s to maintain, and has caused headaches for your fellow webmasters. Essentially, weigh the downsides as well as the upsides when deciding whether to 301.

  2. Otherwise, 404 the page with a helpful message and perhaps next steps for the user, such as a helpful search box or related items. 404s can simplify maintenance over time.


Please don’t 301 to the homepage or serve a soft-404 (a 200 that says “Item no longer available”). A 301 to the homepage, since it’s unrelated, doesn’t often preserve indexing signals as one might expect. And it’s a jarring user experience. So again, best to avoid the 301-to-homepage and soft-404 for permanently out-of-stock items.


4. Include form-filling to reduce the bottleneck users face when entering their information at purchase time.


Form-filling remembers your visitors’ common profile information and pre-populates forms with those values. There are form-filling providers, such as Chrome Autofill, and the proposed standard of autocompletetype.

I’m kind of lazy so this is the same image from the WMC Blog post.


5. Monitor your site speed.
As I’ve written before, aim for under 2 seconds.


6. Be savvy about product variations (e.g. a shoe that comes in black and beige, sizes 6-12)


There are variations in handling product variations. Choosing the best technique often lies in what’s best for your visitors.


Creating a general product page that lists all variations


Many times, if variations only exist in size and color, webmasters create a general product page (e.g., “Taccetti ‘53166’ Pump”) with all versions available. This simplifies the consolidation of indexing properties, like links, to the general product page. Only the general product page will surface in search results.

  • When displaying the general product page’s thumbnail (the default version), consider highlighting for users that variations exist. Here’s a screenshot from that lets the user know they can see more “colors & views.” Additionally, color swatches can also be displayed in this view rather than just text. In the example below, the variations of “colors & views” display through javascript for quick loading.
  • nordstrom-product-variations
    Some people can afford $355 pumps.


  • On the actual product page, it’s common to have pulldowns for selecting size and color, well as swatches for swapping the product’s image. To have variations surfaced more easily by search engines, such as for queries such as [Taccetti pump beige], perhaps include the variations in text — not just swatch images or a JavaScript pop-up, but an actual sentence that says “available in beige and black.” Visible text is search engine friendly!

General product page listing all variations. You can also include more text to specify and disambiguate colors.


Creating an individual page for each variation


In addition to a general product page, or instead of a general product page, some webmasters create individual pages for each variation (e.g., URL for “Taccetti ‘53166’ Pump in Beige” and URL for “Taccetti ‘53166’ Pump in Black”). If it’s common for your users to browse (“Heels > Color > Beige”) or to search for specific variations ([beige heels]), displaying a specific page that confirms their interest in a particular variation can make sense.


Some webmasters also create individual pages for a variation that’s very popular or converts particularly well (e.g., “The leopard print Taccetti 52166 is flying off the shelves! Perhaps we should make a page for this version in addition to the general Taccetti 52166 product page.”). For this type of “high demand” item, including more than the default product information can make popular products even more compelling for users (e.g., rather than “available in leopard print,” you could research more about the product, such as “The exotic print was inspired by the African Leopard native to the sub-Saharan region. This shoe was spotted on the famous feet of Madonna and Beyonce.”)


Some tradeoffs/decisions to note when working with product variations:

  • Often having individual pages for each variation dilutes indexing properties and links, because rather than users linking to a general product page (“Taccetti ‘53166’ Pump”), users may link to either “Taccetti ‘53155’ Pump in Beige” or “Taccetti ‘53166’ Pump in Black.”
  • Publishing individual pages for each variation, in addition to or in place of a general product page, can affect your search results — both on your internal site search (e.g., search box on and in search engine search (e.g., on What content would you like returned in internal searches — to have all variations appear separately, to have the general version appear, or to have one variation appear (and suppress the other variations)? What behavior do you want from search engines — to show an individual variation page in search results or to display the general/default version?

    Google allows rel=”canonical” from individual product variations to a general/default version (e.g., “Taccetti ‘53155’ Pump in Beige” and “Taccetti ‘53166’ Pump in Black” with rel=”canonical” to “Taccetti ‘53155’ Pump”) as long as the general version mentions the product variations. By doing so, the general product page acts as a view-all page and only the general version may surface in search results (suppressing the individual variation pages).

  • We don’t recommend using rel=”next”/”prev” for each variation in the collection as if it were paginated content.


7. Include Product markup for Rich Snippets.


8. Consider some of the best practices in site architecture during your next redesign.

  • Hyphen-separate words and filenames (e.g., rather than
  • Keep URLs lowercase. This can simplify maintenance because robots.txt is also case-sensitive (e.g., create rather than
  • Create dynamic URLs with name/value pairs and standard encoding.


9. For duplicate content (especially caused by parameters), pick a preferred version of product page and rel=”canonical” the rest.



10. Consider your options for paginated content.

This video breaks down using rel=”canonical” and rel=”next”/rel=”prev”.


rel=”next” and rel=”prev” is useful for when you’d like individual component pages (often page one) surfaced rather than a view-all page.


11. Use Webmaster Tools URL parameters to crawl efficiently.


The more Googlebot knows about how your site works, the more effectively it can crawl. You can let Google know what parameters are for filtering, sort order, etc. (I’m filming a video to help with this feature in a few weeks. I’ll include a link once it’s live.)


12. Turn search result pages into helpful category pages.


While Google discourages “search results in our search results,” if your site design surfaces category pages similarly to search result pages, adding valuable content to the page makes the content more helpful to the searcher (and no longer just search results).


13. Make sure reviews can be found by searchers.


If your site maintains UGC and helpful reviews, maximize your search benefit by making sure that the reviews are:

  • Hosted on your site
  • Associated with the corresponding product page (i.e., not a separate URL)
  • Obvious to users, rather than hidden by an advanced interaction that less-savvy users may not notice


Last, but certainly not least,
14. Provide a value-add.


Create a reason for users to choose your site from the others, recommend your site to their friends, and generally build buzz about your site. This could be:

  • Unique products
  • Unique information, product descriptions, reviews (not just the manufacturer’s text).
  • High customer satisfaction (e.g., free shipping, low prices, caring support staff)
  • An excellent user experience
  • Unique customer appeal: family or locally-based, eco-conscious, etc.


Anyway, those are just some ideas. Additional tips and/or feedback welcomed!

One serious strike out

Lately I’ve worked long hours to help with Google TV in addition to Search. While I truly love my job, I also very much love not working, and perhaps I’ve been a little too heads down recently.


Anyway, this one belongs in my trophy case.


Boy: Are you here by yourself?

Me: Yes, but only right now. I’m waiting for my girlfriend. I mean, not my “girlfriend,” but my friend from childhood. She’s a girl.
Good save, Maile!
What about you?

Boy: I’m here for a company thing. It’s a coworker’s birthday.

Me: How fun that you’re all friends! What company?
Ugh. I shouldn’t have asked about his job. Now I probably sound like I’m sizing him up.

Boy: Zynga.

Zynga? Yay! This is so perfect. I have lots of Zynga questions for Google TV. This is perfect perfect perfect!
Me: Zynga. That’s great. Hey, are most of your games in Flash?

Boy: I think so.

Hmm, “think so?” I wonder what he means. Maybe I should change the subject. I could ask him if he likes his cocktail, or what he’s drinking, or if he lives in the city…


Me: Do you know the minimum framerate for FarmVille?

Next thing I saw was the back of his head. But I bounced back! I always try to keep a little self-esteem in my back pocket.


NASA Scientists Plan To Approach Girl By 2018

Simple best practice for sitelink titles

Sitelink titles (anchor text) can be influenced by your webmaster charms! The URLs that Google selects for sitelinks, however, are far less manually manipulated.


google sitelinks for

Oprah’s sitelink titles include “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Contact Us,” “Why Oprah Says She’ll Never Diet…”


If the titles of your sitelinks aren’t exactly what you hoped for, a troubleshooting tactic is to investigate the anchor text of your internal links (as it’s one of several factors used to determine sitelink titles). For example, here are a few links on Oprah’s homepage:


Text link <a href="">O, The Oprah Magazine</a>
Link to a CSS sprite (so it’s a less common case, but you get the idea) <a class="bookclub" href="" alt="BOOK CLUB">BOOK CLUB</a>


Let's pretend Oprah sees her sitelink "BOOK CLUB," but she would prefer it displayed with standard capitalization as "Book Club". One way to help influence this change is for Oprah (or a web-savvy Stedman) to check the anchor text of her internal links and the alt text of her image links -- making sure to use "Book Club," not "BOOK CLUB."


We recently updated our sitelinks FAQ to reflect this tip (thanks to the Sitelinks teams for all their help!):


[ At the moment, sitelinks are completely automated. We're always working to improve our sitelinks algorithms, and we may incorporate webmaster input in the future. There are best practices you can follow, however, to improve the quality of your sitelinks. For example, for your site's internal links, make sure you use anchor text and alt text that's informative, compact, and avoids repetition. Read a blog post about the importance of link structure. ]


Recovering from a broken heart in HTTP status codes

Sometimes a breakup is a breath of fresh air and sometimes it causes chest pain. The stages below are for the chest pain moments. I’ve totally been there. If you’re there now, maybe HTTP can help you through. HTTP helps everything.


I often think of myself as a website with several facets/folders. It’s a pre-req for this whole post so please bear with me. Imagine you’re a structure like:

(yeah, you’re a real winner.)


Just kidding. If you’re into the subdomain vs. subdirectory debate, that’s fine. I made subdirectories because that’s what came to me, but feel free to knock yourself out with subdomains.


Now imagine that you’ve been dumped (or you dumped the other person, whatever). And your feelings are just not cooperating. In a word, you feel “sadness.” That sucks, but it’s human, and of course things gets better — it’s like working on your website.


Stage I
503s across the entire domain is down. This is the equivalent to being in shock. Life is difficult.


Foo: Bar, I heard the news… how you doing?
Bar: Site-wide 503.
Foo: Sorry, dude.


Stage II (optional)
404s across
503s or 200s nearly everywhere else


This stage is optional and can last weeks/months/until you find someone else attractive. Never been at this stage myself, but sometimes in movies you’ll hear dialogue like:


Friend: I know Jack broke your heart, but how about I set you up with Dave? He’s a nice guy.
Main character: I know you’re trying to help, but no Jack, no Dave. I swear off all men completely .


Stage III
200s everywhere except…
503s for romantic-interest/


Hooray, you’re functioning! This can be a really productive stage. I bet the content on has expanded. And with all your free time, you might even have new folders: and


Stage IV
302 temporary redirect from
200s everywhere else


Also known as the “rebound.” Try not to make the target of your redirect 200 on the domains or The key to Stage IV is that’s it’s a 302, not a 301.


Stage V
200s everywhere, including romantic-interest/


Yay for life! The orb is green. Backend ready to publish unique content. Your frontend always turning heads.

RSVPs are like little gifts

I’m hoping to have some friends over in a few weeks. I emailed them to 1) save the date, and 2) properly set expectations.

From: Maile Ohye
Date: Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 9:50 PM
Subject: Save the date: Saturday, August 7th!


Mi casa. No one leaves sober.

Several sweet, feeling-type people replied:

  • “Looking forward to it!”
  • “Can’t wait!”
  • “It’s calendar’d!”


These people really are cuddly in-person — it’s cute how that correlates.


And there were fun RSVPs:

  • “Hell yeah! It’s been too long since I last stumbled home drunk from your place.”


Agreed. My bad.

  • “Are we allowed to hit on coworkers?”


I like where you’re going with this, and at my place, “inappropriate” DNE.


I think this response from my neighbor, though, wins the prize:

  • “FYI. She is a lot of fun but I feel like I am too old for this kind of party. We will see how we feel.”

Indexing OCR text and layered PDFs

Wondering whether PDF overlays was too obscure a topic for the Webmaster Central Blog, I consulted my girlfriend in AdWords, who has knowledge of Search and I believe represents the general audience reaction:

me: marie, yt? qq


Marie: sure


me: when you read the term “pdf overlay” what do you think? does it sound like a feminine hygiene product?


Marie: it sounds more nonsensical than fem hyg pro


me: pdf overlay sounds nonsensical? really? so for search, i’m just referring to a text layer under an image in a pdf.


Marie: not intuitive
but again…
im in sales


Given this one datapoint*, this post is on my blog. Here’s the basic gist of three questions about OCR’d content/layered PDFs that I was recently asked.


Can Google index textual content from OCR?

Yes. For example, we can index text layers beneath the image as found in PDF overlays.


(Though I have limited understanding, I’ve found that when people talk to me about PDF overlays/image+text PDFs/layered PDFs/text searchable PDFs, they’re largely referring to the same thing. To the rest of the world there may be important distinctions, and it seems like “PDF overlays” could actually be a superset, but let’s not get bogged down by crazy stuff like being accurate.)


Bottom line, if it’s been OCR’d, yes, it can be indexed. And PDFs with standard text, like our SEO Starter Guide, have been indexed and searchable for years.

So OCR’d content isn’t considered spammy?

The technique is fine. We’re always trying to find more ways to index quality information. In fact, in our own Indexing pipeline we’re now using OCR on some documents that are without textual content. It’s the early phase, though, and of course standard REP directives still apply.

What if I use OCR on every single page I’ve ever written ever, do you think I could rank numero uno for every query forever?

Forever ever? Unlikely. It’s helpful to remember that the quality and compelling-ness of your content is still important. Long ago, like four years, some webmasters thought that if they dumped their entire database on the web, unleashing millions of new spreadsheets and documents, then their rankings would soar! It didn’t pan out.


This OCR-every-document plan has a similar feel.


But back to ranking, if your site has content that you feel is important to have indexed and searchable, try to make the content regular text (non OCR) on the page. It’s safer and often more user-friendly. Because sometimes OCR isn’t that clear — so it’ll be hard for search engines to index and users to comprehend.

* Thanks, Marie, for assisting my rigorous research.

Google & Site performance: The compilation answer album

The comments from my last post about text indent made me feel like Captain Hammer, so this time I’m crossing my fingers to make allies, not enemies.


Anyone want to talk about site performance? Don’t we all love a faster site? Users dig it. Webmasters can capitalize on it. It pairs perfectly with a sauvignon blanc!


I’ve consolidated information from personal conversations with people like Sreeram Ramachandran and Steve Souders, and I combed WMC blog posts and my blog comments for anything site performance related. This information is accurate as of June 1, 2010.


How is a page’s performance measured?

It’s measured very, very carefully… We’re of course experimenting with several types of measurements. For instance, toolbar data from opted-in users is a signal.


One of the ways we measure a page’s speed incorporates both download and render time — we pay attention to the time taken from the moment the user clicks on a link until just before that document’s body.onload() handler is called. This includes:

  • DNS resolution
  • network travel time
  • browser time to construct and render the DOM
  • time to parse and execute necessary javascript
  • and so on and so forth


If actions are deferred to the body.onload() handler, they won’t affect the page load time in this measurement. Please keep in mind that there are several measurement techniques. I only highlighted one of them.

How big of an impact is site performance on Google rankings?

From our original WMC blog post:


[ While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on at this point. ]


Also, HT to Jonathan Simon, who pointed out that when ranking based on speed, we focus on the performance of a specific page/result, not the overall performance of the entire site.

Does Webmaster Tools’ Site performance feature consider the site’s geographic preference settings and report accordingly?

Some of our speed statistics come from real user data (opted-in toolbar users). Therefore, if your site’s target audience consists of mainly Australian users, then our performance numbers should reflect their usage.

What about ads? The slowest thing on my website costing me the last 7 points to the full 100 in Page Speed is Google’s AdSense ads.

One factor that makes ads kind of slow is their use of inline DOM
elements like document.write(), which doesn’t allow deferred loading (because the document.write may alter the page’s content, the browser has to wait).


The good news is that Steve Souders, Alex Russell, along with several of our co-workers and many outside developers, are looking into improving the speed of external factors like ads, etc. There are some promising things to keep an eye out for: html5 and its iframe attributes (seamless and srcdoc) and the FRAG tag.


Additionally, asynchronous loading would be a terrific improvement in the ads space. In fact, companies like are already using this technique to improve performance for their publishers.

What are the typical causes/solutions regarding fixing long time-to-first-byte metrics? Other than reducing the number of requests what other optimizations are there?

Can you flush the document early? It’s covered in Chapter 12 of “Even Faster Web Sites.”

(And then there’s the really old stuff that I’ve answered before about site performance.)


Is it possible to check my server response time from different areas around the world?

Yes. can test performance from the United States (both East and West Coast—go West Coast!), United Kingdom, China, and New Zealand.

What’s a good response time to aim for?

If your competition is fast, they may provide a better user experience than your site for your same audience.


Otherwise, studies by Akamai claim 2 seconds as the threshold for ecommerce site “acceptability.” Just as an FYI, at Google we aim for under a half-second.

Does progressive rendering help users?

Definitely! Progressive rendering is when a browser can display content as it’s available incrementally rather than waiting for all the content to display at once. This provides users faster visual feedback and helps them feel more in control. Bing experimented with progressive rendering by sending users their visual header (like the logo and searchbox) quickly, then the results/ads once they were available. Bing found a 0.7% increase in satisfaction with progressive rendering. They commented that this improvement compared with full feature rollout.


How can you implement progressive rendering techniques on your site? Put stylesheets at the top of the page. This allows a browser to start displaying content ASAP.

Sweet! That’s it for now. See you in the comments if you have questions. eof

HTML “text-indent: -9999px” and holding the line

Because today is Towel Day and because it’s just you and me, I can write about stuff I couldn’t say on a large platform like our Webmaster Central Blog. For example, I can write that:


If possible, it’s still best to avoid techniques such as “text-indent:-9999px” or “margin:-4000px” or “left:-2000em”.


And you can scream at me, “But I do it for accessibility! You’re mean, I’m nice!”


And that may be true. Another truth is that using “text-indent: -9999px”, or hiding text (keeping text out of the user’s sight in a browser), is common spammer’s technique to hide off-topic keywords and/or links to manipulate search engine rankings.


hidden links using text-indent
Example of “text-indent:-9999px” to hide unrelated links and boost PageRank to those sites. Search engines will never notice!


Google has top-secret algorithms designed to detect when text is hidden/positioned off screen. If this type of hidden text is detected, our important red phone rings, and this becomes one of the signals that may cause us to believe your site is deceptive.


Given that Google only wants to return the most relevant sites to users, if we consider your site deceptive, its rankings may be negatively affected.


So what should a webmaster do?


Try to hold the line — avoid hiding text. We’re trying to find an elegant solution. And once we do, I’ll write an official post.


What solutions are being considered?


With HTML5, my friend Ian Hickson shared a few possibilities that could satisfy both webspam and accessibility needs:


  1. Hide content from screen users but show it to screen reader users.
    Use media-specific CSS, e.g. @media speech { } vs @media screen { }.

    Caveat: Not yet implemented by screen readers.

  2. Hide irrelevant content, such as hiding a login form once the user is logged in.
    Use HTML5’s hidden=”” attribute.

    Caveat: This was just drafted a few months ago. I’ll get Ian’s latest take on the subject once he returns from paternity leave. Congrats, Ian!


Happy Towel Day, everyone!


Update made later on towel day: Luigi Montanez and I have some crazy connection. He just posted on the same friggin text-indent topic (enjoy my anchor text, Luigi!). Suddenly all that was impossible is possible.

Ciao Roma!

Holiday with my girlfriends was amazing. My new developments:

  • I want to learn more about Android. (Lol, my manager has been asking the same of me.) I’ll see if I can start a 20% project.
  • With the GPS in my Nexus One and Google Maps, one could mistake me for a person with a sense of direction.
  • Gelato can be eaten for/after every meal.
  • I think I got my mojo back.
view from tivoli, italy
View from Tivoli, Italy. About an hour outside of Rome.


hadrian's villa
Emperor Hadrian’s crib, constructed circa AD 120.


maile ohye and girlfriend at the vatican museum
My gf and me (sportin’ an audio guide) at the Vatican Museum.

Reproductively focused “blathering idiots”

My team recently moved from the Android building to the new posh office space right across the creek from main campus. In our big microkitchen, I enjoyed talking with one of my new neighbors. Later that night he sent this really funny email that referenced an equally funny study:

Hi Maile,


Fun chatting with you today. It got me thinking about this report on a study I read, where guys have a tendency to be reduced to blathering idiots when they are talking to an attractive girl. And I was totally doing that today! I promise, I’m usually extraordinarily eloquent and charming.


The same study said that girls aren’t affected by chatting to handsome men, so I’m not surprised that you didn’t change. haha


See ya.