What to do about SEO vs. Usability on Product Pages with Internal Links

One thing that always gets tricky is where do you draw the line with SEO, Usability, Appearance and everything else within an ecommerce site.  The simple answer is whatever combination makes you the most money.  The tricky part is testing it without causing long term damage to your site’s SEO.  Changing your internal linking structure, page design, placement of your links, etc… can and will have an effect on you (Unless you are highly authoritative (Lots of good backlinks, age, rankings, trust, positive reviews, etc…)) if you are getting crawled and could have a longer term effect if the search engines (SEs) index the new layout and design instead.  This is why you have test pages and a/b split test software which do not have to be live on your site.  Product pages are tricky because if you mess them up by implementing a new one, you can mess up you entire site and your rankings.

Terminology:

  • Internal linking structure – These are links that point internally within your site to pages within your site to show what each page is about.
  • Product pages – These are the pages your products are on.  The usually have copy, images, product specs and everything else about the product to make the person want to buy the product from you.
  • Category pages – These are the categories of products, lines of products or categories for your site.

Where do you place your internal links?

Internal links are necessary for solid SEO.  You use them from the homepage to boost internal pages and you can use them from internal pages to boost categories.  The issue is where do you place them so that the end user doesn’t click on them and leave the product page and become distracted with the category.  Although you may sell more products, you can also end up with a drop in sales because they spent too much time and didn’t just buy what they came for.  Internal links can also look ugly and take away from the user experience.  You have to also consider the design and the site’s code to see if where you are placing the link is getting crawled or causing crawl errors, but that is a more advanced topic.  Lastly you need to think about how much copy you are going to have and where the link should go within that copy so that it doesn’t take away from the look of the page or create a distraction.

How much copy should you use and where should it go?

This can be tricky if your designers have a huge say within your company.  You have to have copy for SEO, unless you are amazing at building solid back links or have an authoritative site with a lot of trust or a brand name.  SEOs want a minimum of 350 to 500 words while designers want less so that they can make the page look pretty and uncluttered.  You also probably want to have room for reviews, customer comments, upsells and cross sells, etc…  So what do you do for your SEO or product copy on your product page?  Simple, take two or three designs and drive PPC ads at it first so you can test the AOV and other metrics without having to mess up your current rankings.  Then when you see which design, that can hold the copy you want, converts the best and you apply it into the site.  Then you can place your internal links within that copy at the places that follow your SEO goals.  When testing the landing page, sales aren’t the only thing you want to think about either.  Think about what else will help you build up your SEO for the future, generates customer reviews and also has the higher AOV.  This is all part of your design.

Which design should I use?

The most obvious answer is the one that converts the most sales.  The problem with this is that if you are taking landing pages that convert sales based on the number of transactions or conversion rate only, you are forgetting your AOV (which could be less sales but more money), the copy and current rankings that the page has in the search engines and if this design with have an effect on those, if the design accounts for everything that you would need to optimize your sales, site and user experience for and if it will enable you to cross sell and upsell products to increase your AOV.  You could have a high converting page that drives a ton of sales, but that doesn’t always mean that the design is the right one to use or if it will generate more sales in the future if you add in reviews or other conversion increasing page features.  The right one to use is the one that will bring in it’s own traffic from the SEs, convert well, have a high AOV, increase conversions in the long run, incorporate some sort of social activity, have room for copy and be able to create a positive user experience.

Product pages are tricky when it comes to SEO.  Your SEO will want a ton of copy and to be able to link off of it.  Your designer will want it to be pretty and balanced, which does not mean functional or good for sales.  Your conversion rate optimization expert will want it to cross sell, upsell and have strong calls to action and your head of Marketing will have a head ache trying to get you all to agree.  Whenever I look for product pages and what is the best, I count the number of reviews it generates (both on the site and mentions off the site on other sites), the AOV of the sales vs. the number of transactions, the conversion rate of the page, how well it ranks in the SEs and how much copy you can put in to help boost other pages and categorize your site for the SEs.  There are other things you will want to measure, but these are the big things for me.

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