SEO Steps You Can't Take With ChannelAdvisor Stores
If you operate a ChannelAdvisor store as part of your service with them, there are some good basic SEO steps that you can take to improve your traffic results that do not require a high technical skill level and will not take to long to implement. If you are not familiar with ChannelAdvisor, their service is mainly an integration software between multiple sales channels like eBay, Amazon, and even in to some of the online feed channels like Shopping.com. Their tag line reads:
ChannelAdvisor combines best practices, innovative software and integrated technology to help retailers maximize their profits across multiple e-commerce channels â€“ including marketplaces like eBay, Amazon.com and Overstock.com; comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com, Shopzilla and Pricegrabber.com; and across all the major search engines
and for the most part they do a good job integrating different channels into their software. They also just purchased Marketworks (see ChannelAdvisor to Acquire Marketworks), one of their main competitors, so the company is a large force in the online eCommerce marketplace, but there are always those wondering if and when eBay will swallow up this auction management software company. One would not think so any time soon with press like, ChannelAdvisor Adds Over Ninety New Customers to Rapidly Growing Retail Base, but who knows. eBay has deep pockets and some price has to be right, and eBay actually owns a smaller share of the company already. You always have some bloggers speculating about the prospect as well, (see 10 Reasons Why eBay Will Eventually Acquire ChannelAdvisor and eBay Buys AfterBuy! Is ChannelAdvisor Next?), but that is for another subject.
One thing that has been lacking in the past is their ability to automatically render store functions in a SEO friendly manner, and there are still some of those issues existing today, but there are steps you can take to improve what they have put in place. This will be a two part article, I will first outline some steps you can't take from within the store administration pages that are items you probably would like to implement in good seo practice, but really can't here for one reason or another (titled: SEO Steps You Can't Take With ChannelAdvisor). I will then take a look at what you can and should do to keep your store's SERP as high up as possible (titled: SEO Steps For a Better ChannelAdvisor Store).
Many of these steps listed below are going to be short comings for just about any server hosted store site, these are just specific to ChannelAdvisor as I have tested them specifically on the ChannelAdvisor platform for this article.
What SEO Steps You Can't Take With ChannelAdvisor
Some changes just have to be made on the corporate level and aren't an option at this time for their end users. [On a side note, I do have to say that ChannelAdvisor has always been quite open to making changes and improvements. You can actually get a hold of this company, offer a suggestion or improvement, and I have found that many times that they will add it to their service. A recent example of this would be the integration with Amazon Stores (not the Amazon Marketplace sellers but Webstore by Amazon two totally different selling platforms) and their store systems. Scot Wingo (President, CEO, Board Member and Co-Founder) has often led the charge to fight against correct some of the short comings of the eBay system, making eBay sellers more successful, and he has now taken this into other aspects of Internet eCommerce channels.]
There are some things that are not so SEO friendly on the ChannelAdvisor stores platform and we can't do anything about those, but it is a good idea to know what they are so we can adjust for them where we can.
No Access to Adjust a Robots.txt File
This is really no surprise, but you can't access or add any robots.txt file to tell Google or Yahoo what to disallow on your store. I only mention this because it is pretty standard to address this on a root level domain that might give you access. ChannelAdvisor stores are run from within directories of their servers so this just isn't possible (i.e. the url will be http://stores.channeladvisor.com/your-store-name). Robots.txt files really only work on the root level anyway, so to implement something like this ChannelAdvisor would have to make some global changes.
It does HAVE a robots.txt file that it reads on the store html code, but as far as I know it can not be modified and it reads all=index,follow which just tells the bots to follow everything. It isn't as big of an issue with a ChannelAdvisor store as it would be with something like a wordpress blog that generates a ton of duplicate content, but I would still like to be able to make changes to it accordingly. With that said, I don't think the core ChannelAdvisor store generates a ton of duplicate content.
No Way to Render URL's in a Permalink Structure
It isn't really called a permalink structure, a better way to say it might be that you can't make seo friendly url's for the end product sku's. ChannelAdvisor does do this on the category level, but not on the sku level. In this case, eBay has them beat in their Prostores setup. Prostores isn't perfect either, but it is better that the dreaded "?" question mark at the end of the address (or anywhere in there for that matter). In the same accord, they don't use the category structure to create the url, all sku's are listed in the "items" list like: http://stores.channeladvisor/your-store-name/Items/12345?
Instead what is should do is render the category and item name in a keyword type format like /category/sports/baseball/gloves or something of the sort, but it doesn't, so just be aware of it. I have two screen shots below that show the difference between eBay's Prostores way of doing it and ChannelAdvisor, neither are perfect but I would rather have the keyword structure.
Another quick observation from the screen shots is that the url taken from prostores url is a dot com name and the ChannelAdvisor url is a server hosted name. Now ChannelAdvisor does support your own url by listed a forward (you have to change the name servers on your domain account), but not in the same way, it is much different, almost something you can't compare because Prostores is a platform that uses your own domain account, ChannelAdvisor is not. They do have a structure in place for forwards, but it isn't like using your own name. Like I mentioned, neither are perfect. All those "," and "-" marks render a % when clicked through, which isn't great either.
No Good Way to Customize with .css Stylesheets
One standard of good SEO is to use proper and up to date html / xhtml code on your site, like no font tags, center, bolds, and all those things that belong in a stylesheet file. To make these stylesheet type changes to customize your store you just have to put the stylesheet itself in the header code on the main store page (which isn't all that easy to figure out how to do in itself). This does work but it isn't a great seo practice and it puts a bunch of non Web 2.0, non-valid xhtml code on your store page.
Doesn't Make Good Use of Headings and Sub-Headings
This is just a personal preference I guess but I would like to see a good use of heading tags on the front store page. There are several featured items that could use the <h3> or <h4> heading tags and it would show very nicely in the search engines.
Skewed Traffic Results and Information
This is something that you really just deal with on any server hosted store pages where you are under the url address of another company name. When you try to look at your rankings for Technorati, Alexa, or Google's indexed pages you get the results of the root domain, depending on how you look at it. I looked up a few stores and it gave me an Alexa rank of stores.channeladvisor.com not the actual store page, no surprise there.
This is also the case when you go to put a good traffic rating process in place like Google Analytics. You can get it done and working, but it isn't the easiest thing to do and if you are using forwards from your own domain names it can be a little more complicated and confusing as to what results you actually want to look at.
Don't despair, coming in the next article I will show you those all important steps you can take within your ChannelAdvisor store site. They do make go use of the meta tags and other good seo practices.