osCommerce logo and home pageRecently I was approached by a web developer who inquired about guidelines for optimizing a shopping site build on osCommerce‘s ecommerce solution, for search engine rankings.

The following is a summary of my email exchange with the prospective client:

Question: Hello, I am just wondering if you could give me a small break down about what google is wanting from a site these days.

Answer: There are sevaral factors – content, page titles, incoming links, outgoing links. The most important is content — you should have solid content keywords-rich content and unique page titles, intuitive information architecture and “endorsements” from relevant sites which link to you.

Question: I am looking to optimize an osCommerce online shop.

Answer: I do not have first-hand experience with osCommerce although I have heard good things about it. What is correct about any content management system is true for e-commerce shopping card solutions as well. Having unique page titles is very important. However, having meaningful URLs which a web crawler can follow is perhaps even more important. Because if the web crawler is unable to scan the links of the site and include them into the search engine index, they will not be ranked.

I have seen implementations of osCommerce with links like this:

http://www.somesite.com/index.php?cPath=101&pageID=default.php
http://www.somesite.com/index.php?cPath=113&pageID=default.php

Unless you customize the page titles of these links, they would be indistinguishable to a web crawler…

Question: Currently, the shop handles custom title tags allowing me to put in either relating words or text. I think this is good, right?

Answer: Correct but make sure the titles are meaningful as well.

Question: Also, I am wondering how the best way to go about my intro page is. The entire shop is somewhat dynamic using php, so this was my thought. To make an Index page that looks like the dynamic page, but it will be html and will have links to all of the categories. Then the links will be the dynamic address but atleast they will be a link right?

Answer: It sounds right. However, you might want to make the text in the links relevant by including keywords in the link tags.

Question: Also, what is the best way for getting links? I plan to do reciprocal linking, but how about all of those small directories people set up? any good?

Answer: I would be careful to distinguish between directories and link farms. For example, having links from Yahoo ($300 submission fee), the Open Directory Project/DMOZ (free), GoGuides (free), Wherewithal/Xoron (free), and Joe Ant (free) can be very valuable…

Question: I will also submit manually to the engines as well as mass submit with a program. And finally will post of forums and put my link in the signature.

Answer: Manual submission is fine but I would stay away from automatic submission. The benefits of mass submission are a myth. All the traffic you need would most likely come from the top 10 search engine if not less, so the point of submitting your site to 500 or 1000 other search engines will be questionnable; in addition, you will end up on the list of many email spammers as often automatic submission software requires an email address. Any other pointers will be greatly appreciated.

Question: It is difficult to provide any more guidelines without seeing a specific site. I am available for hire if you feel that you do not have the time and expertise to market your website with the main search engines. (Nothing bad about admitting lack of knowledge — I myself hire other experts when I do not have the knowledge in certain area).

I must say, your site is impressive and your page rank is awesome. I am just wondering what one does to get a 7 !!!!!!:)

Answer: Thanks — I am in the process of redesigning my site as I do not feel the current site reflects the knowledge and experience I have acquired over the years. I used to have PR8 so in fact my site is ranking not as good as it could but I have been to busy working on my clients’ sites to pay attention to my own site…

Best wishes,

WebSage