30 second summary:
- While Shopify is one of the most popular platforms for ecommerce businesses, the CMS has a number of issues that can be problematic for SEO
- Best SEO practices generally apply to all CMS platforms. However, Shopify has several built-in features that are not customizable. This means that for some items, clearer workarounds are required
- Edward Coram-James discusses issues such as restricted URL structure and duplicate content, and offers advice on how to address Shopify’s shortcomings in these areas
Shopify is the most widely adopted ecommerce platform making it easier than ever for companies to sell their stocks online. Thanks to its user-friendly CMS, it is particularly beneficial for smaller retailers during the pandemic, as they can reclaim around 94% of the otherwise lost sales.
As with any new website, a new Shopify store takes a huge effort on the part of its webmaster to create the visibility required for users to find the website, let alone convert it into customers. And as with any CMS, there are some SEO hurdles store owners must overcome to ensure their website is efficiently finding its target audience. Some of these barriers are more ingrained than others. So, we’ve broken down four of the most common SEO problems on Shopify and how to fix them for your web store.
1. Restricted URL structure
Similar to how WordPress divides content between posts and pages, Shopify’s CMS lets you break your product lists into two main categories – products and collections – alongside more general posts, pages, and blogs. When you create a new product in Shopify, you can list the individual items that you have for sale. With collections you can bring your different products together and sort them into easy-to-search categories.
The problem most people have with this imposed system of organizing content is that Shopify also enforces a predetermined hierarchical structure with limited customization options. The / Product and / Collection subfolders must be included in the URL of every new product or collection that you upload.
While this is a major point of contention among its users, Shopify has yet to address this and there is currently no solution. As a result, you need to be extremely careful with the URLs slug (the only part that can be customized). Make sure you are using the right keywords in the slug and categorize your posts sensibly to give your products the best chance of being found.
2. Automatically generated duplicate content
Another frustrating problem users have with classifying their content as a product or collection occurs when they add a particular product to a collection. This is because linking a product to a collection will automatically create an additional URL within that collection, even though a URL for the product page already exists. Shopify automatically treats the collection URL as the canonical URL for internal links rather than the product URL, which can make it extremely difficult to ensure that the correct pages are indexed.
In this case, however, Shopify has allowed corrections even though there is code to be edited in the back end of your store’s theme. If you follow these instructions, it will direct your Shopify site’s collection pages to internally link to the canonical / product / urls only.
3. No subsequent forward slash redirection
Another problem with duplicate content from Shopify concerns the trailing slash, which is basically a ‘/’ at the end of the URL used to mark a directory. Google treats URLs with and without trailing slashes as unique pages. By default, Shopify automatically terminates URLs without a trailing slash. However, variations of the same URL with a trailing slash are accessible to both users and search engines. This can usually be avoided by forcing a site-wide slash redirect through the website’s htaccess file. However, Shopify does not allow access to the htaccess file.
Instead, Shopify recommends that webmasters use canonical tags to let Google know which version of each page is preferred for indexing. As the only update available so far, it needs to be done, but it is far from ideal and often leads to problems with data mapping in Google Analytics and other tracking software.
4. No control over the website’s robots.txt file
In addition to the CMS forcing users to create duplicate versions of pages against their will, Shopify also prevents webmasters from manually editing their store’s robots.txt file. Apparently, Shopify sees this as a perk and takes care of the pesky SEO technical issues on your behalf. However, when products run out of stock or collections are pulled, you cannot index or follow the extraneous pages that are left behind.
In this case, you can edit the theme of your store and incorporate meta robot tags into the storeSection of every relevant page. Shopify has created a step-by-step guide here on how to hide redundant pages before searching.
Are there any special challenges for your Shopify web store? Share them in the comments.
Edward Coram James is SEO expert and Chief Executive of Go Up Ltd, an international agency that helps clients navigate the complexities of global SEO and the technicalities of delivering location-specific pages to audiences.