Bolt-on Site Features Can Boost SEO

May 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Features are cool, whether you’re talking about the heated leather seats in a new BMW or the latest e-commerce site features. Fancy bells and whistles are a symbol that you mean business, that your site is a leader in the space and that you care about making your customers’ onsite experience pleasant and productive.

Think of bolt-on site features as being like power tools. For example, a chainsaw can be powerful and effective when wielded carefully to solve the right problem. If that same chainsaw isn’t properly controlled, it can lop off an appendage.

The same is true for SEO and bolt-on site features, which tend to fall into at least one of the following traps.

  • Value for page volume: When a new feature will increase the number and types of pages created, make sure that those pages will have valuable keyword targets for SEO.

  • Value for word volume: Plan for add-on features to increase the occurrence of valuable keywords, not just the number words. Increasing the number of words without increasing valuable keywords diffuses the overall keyword theme of a page.

  • Crawlability: If a site feature can’t be crawled without the use of cookies, JavaScript, CSS or iframes, it’s possible that the typical search engine spider will not be able to crawl it. In essence, the content implemented using these technologies doesn’t exist for search engines, so if you want the feature to improve your site’s SEO, it needs to be crawlable.

Here’s a look at five site features and their pros and cautions when it comes to SEO.

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  • Cross-selling and personalized recommendations

    Cross-selling tools like “related products” boxes may strengthen the keyword theme on product pages. Because they tend to feature products with similar names or features, they may improve keyword visibility on the page the box is placed — as well as strengthen internal linking for the products being linked to.

    The same theory holds true for personalized recommendations, which are based on a customer’s page views or purchase history. But the reality is often different for SEO benefit.

    PROS FOR SEO: Related products can strengthen keyword themes when product names contain valuable keywords.

    CAUTIONS FOR SEO: Many related-products technologies are fed in via JavaScript or iframes, and personalized recommendations require cookies to function. Even though the content is visible to human viewers, if its presence depends on technologies that search engine crawlers don’t use, the content will not be crawlable to bots.

  • Sharing modules

    As the buzz around social media grows, sharing functionality is cropping up on e-commerce sites as well. Plug-ins like ShareThis and AddToAny, as well as the more common follow/friend icons for the major social networks like Facebook and Twitter, encourage customers to share brands and products with their friends.

    PROS FOR SEO: The primary social benefit for SEO is brand exposure to a broader audience and syndication. Some percentage of those exposed may see the social mention and feel moved to link to the e-commerce site via a blog or other crawlable link. It’s a tenuous connection for strictly e-commerce sites, but it can happen. After all, site owners have to know that your content exists before they can decide if they want to link to it — and sharing functionality is one easy way to spread the word.

    CAUTIONS FOR SEO: Bloggers and social media fanatics rarely interact with e-commerce sites without some incentives, typically financial, content, link or ego-based. More frequently, a blog associated with an e-commerce site or a microsite created for a campaign will host valuable, unique, interesting content that creates some buzz and draws links through social promotion.

These benefits and cautions should start you thinking about which bolt-on features are beneficial to SEO and under what circumstances. Strive for implementations that create crawlable content that supports a page’s keyword theme rather than diffusing it, creating competing pages or creating masses of low-SEO-value pages.

Jill Kocher (jkocher@covario.com) is senior manager of the Madison,WI-based SEO services team at Covario, a provider of SEM and SEO software and services.