Technical SEO for Shopify: A Guide For 2019

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Like we mentioned in a previous post, Shopify's SEO capabilities are....limited. A skilled SEO professional can make the platform work, but you will always be at a disadvantage when stacked up against somebody who does everything else equally but on a less limited platform.

Still, Shopify is a very convenient e-commerce platform for startups who need to put the platform stuff out of the way for now, while focussing on issues more central to their business.

In the meantime, there's a lot you can do to make sure your Shopify site's technical SEO limitations are lifted, at least in part.

Here are some changes we recommend making to put your site's ranking potential ahead of the other Shopify sites.

UX Best Practices

Site Speed

Slow site load time is a confirmed ranking factor. The Google Webmaster blog openly states that they "take site speed into account in [their] search rankings," so making sure your Shopify site is running smoothly should be an important part of your technical SEO strategy.

To tackle this, start by running Google's very own PageSpeed Insights tool to identify any issues that are slowing down your site, with recommendations on how to resolve the issues. Make sure to run both the mobile and desktop reports.

pagespeed insights mobile and desktop

A few other changes you can make:

  • Use a fast Shopify Theme. Test the theme using Google's aforementioned PageSpeed Insights tool for this.
  • Use GiftOfSpeed's HTTP Requests Checker to see how many requests your pages are making, then combine your CSS scripts and JavaScripts and inline smaller ones if your pages are making too many.
  • Compress your images using tinypng.com or tinyjpg.com, which allows you to cut image sizes by around 70 percent with minimal impact on image quality
  • Crawl your site with Screaming Frog to identify any links on your site that point to redirected pages, and update the links to point directly to the correct URL.
  • Schedule a recurring task to go over your Shopify apps and remove any that you are no longer using. These run javascript in the background that slows download time.

Responsive Design

Verify that your Shopify theme is mobile responsive, meaning that it resizes to fit any device appropriately. Various studies have confirmed that mobile responsiveness is an important influence on your rankings.

Use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool to verify that your Shopify theme is mobile-friendly.

mobile-friendly test by Google

If not, switch to a new theme, making sure to test the preview using the tool.

Audit

E-commerce sites, in general, are heavily prone to technical SEO issues due to a large number of product pages, filter and sort capabilities, and other industry-specific reasons. We highly recommend running a periodic and detailed audit of your site's SEO with e-commerce specific considerations.

We have assembled a list of audit checklist items to go over here.

Northcutt ecommerce audit checklist features

Unfortunately, Shopify has some limitations that may make 100 percent compliance with our recommendations impossible, but getting your site as close as possible will put you way ahead of the majority of your competitors.

Homepage Title and Meta Description

Make sure that your Shopify store's homepage is optimized with an appropriate title tag and meta description.

The title tag is the phrase that shows up in the search engine listings, and the words used here weigh more heavily on your rankings than any other part of your page. Make sure that this contains your brand name and your most important keywords.

The meta description is the description that shows up in search listings underneath your title tag. It doesn't directly influence your rankings, but it plays an important part in whether users will click through to visit your site, so make sure that it clarifies the point of your site and is enticing enough to elicit a click.

To edit your homepage title and meta description, go to Online Store > Preferences > Title and meta description.

shopify homepage title and meta description

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions For Pages, Products, and Collections

Title tags are just as important on the rest of your pages as they are on your homepage. Every individual page's title tag should be targeting important keywords relevant for the page and using persuasive copy to encourage clicks. The processes for updating titles on general pages, products, and collections are slightly different from one another.

For Products

  • Go to Products
  • Select your product page
  • Click "Edit website SEO" in the "Search engine listing preview" card

edit product seo title tag a meta description for shopify

  • Enter your page title and meta description

For General Pages

  • Go to Online Store > Pages
  • Select your page
  • Click "Edit website SEO" in the "Search engine listing preview" card
  • Enter your page title and meta description

For Collections

  • Go to Products > Collections
  • Select a collection
  • Click "Edit website SEO" as for the product pages
  • Enter your page title and meta description

We also recommend editing your template so that the title tag automatically does the following if you haven't customized it:

  • The homepage is the store name
  • A general page is the page name, a dash, and the store name
  • A product page is the product name, a dash, and the store name
  • A collection page is the collection name, a dash, and the store name

To do this:

  • Go to Online Store > Themes
  • Click "Actions" on your theme and select "Edit Code"
  • Click theme.liquid
  • Replace the text between <title> and </title> with this as recommended by DigitalDarts:

<title>{{ page_title }}{% if current_tags %} &ndash; tagged "{{ current_tags | join: ', ' }}"{% endif %}{% if current_page != 1 %} &ndash; Page {{ current_page }}{% endif %}{% unless page_title contains shop.name %} &ndash; {{ shop.name }}{% endunless %}</title>

A Note On Title Tag Length

Shopify sets a limit of 70 characters on title tag length for all pages on your site, but it's important not to let this limit deceive you. Google title tag length limits are based on pixel count, not the number of characters. The real limit is 600 pixels, which roughly translates to 60 characters. Test your title length in Moz's title tag preview tool to see exactly where your cutoff is.

Moz title tag preview tool

Bear in mind that it's not strictly necessary for your entire title to be visible in search results and that words used in the title after the cutoff still influence rankings, but that anything after the cutoff will be invisible to users and have no influence on click-through rates. The presence of a cutoff could either discourage or entice users, and this is something you should test for yourself.

WWW vs. Non-WWW

To avoid duplicate content issues, you need to make sure that all of your non-www URLs redirect to the www version of your site (i.e. https://example.com redirects to https://www.example.com).

This setting is listed under Online Store > Domains. Select "Set as primary" and make sure that the "redirect all traffic" box is checked.

shopify, redirect all traffic to same domain

Site Structure URL Optimization

Shopify's native URL structure is messy and heavily relies on the rel=canonical tag, which Google does not always obey. The issue is that when a user navigates to a product page from a collection page, the URL structure looks like this:

https://www.example.com/collections/collection-name/products/product-name

But the canonical version of the page looks like this:

https://www.example.com/products/product-name

This is done to avoid duplicate content issues, since a product may be listed in multiple collections, so all of them canonicalize to the top-level product version.

The problem is that Google frequently ignores the rel=canonical tag and ends up indexing multiple versions of the page anyway. On top of that, even if Google obeys the canonical tag, the link authority sent to each version of the page may be diminished through Google's damping factor.

To resolve this issue, you will need to edit the product-grid-item.liquid file so that it no longer references the collection in the URL. The template contains the following markup:

{{ product.url | within: collection }}

You need to edit this so that it says:

{{ product.url }}

This will update every URL so that it always refers to the top-level product version of this page.

Redirects

Generally, technical professionals with admin access would update the .htaccess file in order to implement rule-based redirects to deal with duplicate content issues. Unfortunately, Shopify does not provide access to .htaccess, due to concerns that inexperienced users will edit it in a way that locks them out of access to their own admin.

Instead, you will need to set up a list of redirects in a spreadsheet in conjunction with a Shopify app built for handling redirects.

Crawl your site or use a database listing of your URLs and copy the URLs into Excel, then use Excel formulas to apply the necessary rules to your URLs. Work with a developer who is familiar with Excel to do this.  Or, a developer who can write a script in their language of choice to generate the necessary list of redirects.

We recommend using the Transportr Shopify app to handle the redirects, as it seems to handle bulk redirect uploads faster than other apps.

transportr app

Filtered Collection Pages

If you are using Shopify's native filtering capabilities, which are somewhat limited, there are a few things you will need to adjust for SEO purposes.

On filtered collection pages, Shopify's native filters generate URLs that include the first set of filters within the canonical URL, then includes any later filters after a "+" sign in the URL. Everything after the "+" sign is automatically blocked by robots.txt.

To reduce duplicate content, it's generally a better idea to change the canonical URL so that it only points to the completely unfiltered collection page. You will need to have a developer edit your theme's .liquid files to do this.

Do NOT use a Shopify app that uses JavaScript to handle filtering unless it does so in a way that won't harm rendering of the page for search engines. Google cannot reliably crawl or understand JavaScript so this is not an ideal solution.

BoostCommerce is a solid Shopify app that handles filtering well, using JavaScript to display the filters but rendering the native Shopify grid for search engines correctly.

BoostCommerce features

Working Around Robots.txt Limitations

Shopify does not allow you to edit the robots.txt file, meaning that if you want to block pages you will need to use the noindex tag, which can help deal with duplicate content issues, but does not help you deal with crawl budget issues.

A clever workaround is to take advantage of the fact that Shopify automatically blocks any URL that contains the "+" sign. Editing your pages or themes to include a "+" sign in the URL for pages that you need blocked by robots.txt thus allows you to accomplish this in a very hacky way, although the scalability of this approach is limited.

Apps and Plugins

Let's talk about a few Shopify apps and tools that will help you with your SEO.

Smart SEO

This adds structured data to your pages so that search engines can better understand your site and, in some cases, so that you get rich listings in the search results. It also allows you to avoid manually editing your title tags and image ALT tags.

Plug In SEO

This is essentially an SEO monitoring or auditing application that alerts you when there are SEO issues to fix. As is always the case, it should not replace dedicated manual auditing and SEO strategy, but it will alert you to some straightforward things that occasionally go wrong, subject to your own experience and expertise of course.

SEO Manager

SEO Manager allows you to run an SEO scan for issues, get keyword suggestions, integrate with the Google search console, run search analytics, automatically implement JSON-LD structured data, and especially helpful, identify any broken links on your site and semi-automatically fix them. The main disadvantage of this plugin is that it's not free, costing $20/mo.

Conclusion

Despite Shopify's SEO limitations, there is a lot you can do to lift your site's ranking potential above other Shopify sites and some less optimized general e-commerce sites. We recommend starting with the changes above to give your site a boost while your business is in its early growth stages and more open platforms aren't yet an option.