Everything you need to know about Shopify SEO
Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms around, and for good reason. Shopify's powerful suite of eCommerce tools make it easy for almost anyone to manage a successful online business. Shopify automates the most time- and labor-intensive eCommerce tasks, which means technically-challenged shop owners can spend less time troubleshooting technical issues, and more time running their business.
For shop owners and brand leaders, Shopify's baked-in automations and other default features are nothing short of a miracle. Leaving demandware like Magento and replatforming to Shopify can save online businesses hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in maintenance in the first few months alone. But Shopify's time- and money-saving features come at a price.
Trading more automation for less manual control
Shopify trades more automation for less manual control. More automation means more time and money saved, but for SEOs and other professionals with no prior experience in Shopify, the loss of manual control can be frustrating. But while Shopify does hide some of our favorite SEO tools (bye-bye, robots.txt edits), Shopify also removes a lot of the guesswork and frustration (bye-bye, permalinks issues) as well.
In this guide, we'll show you how to make the most of Shopify's powerful SEO capabilities. We'll explain the reasons behind some of Shopify's default settings, and you'll learn how to outrank the competition with your Shopify or Shopify Plus website.
Pro tips for Shopify SEO
1. You [probably] don't need to edit Shopify's robots.txt file
It's common practice to add sitemap links and crawl directives to a robots.txt in order to encourage search engines to crawl (or not crawl) certain pages or areas of your site. On platforms like WordPress, the robots.txt file is managed manually, but on Shopify sites, a very detailed and effective robots.txt file is automatically generated and managed by Shopify's backend.
To prevent operator errors that could impact search visibility, Shopify limits user-created robots.txt edits to just a handful of functions. If you're an SEO purist, that last sentence is blasphemy, but there are good reasons that Shopify discourages extensive edits to their robots.txt.
Shopify's default robots.txt configuration ensures that your shop's checkout, payment, and other account-related pages remain hidden from search engines and bad actors alike.
Luckily, Shopify does allow users to edit the robots.txt file via the theme editor menu, but fair warning: you can add additional directives to the file, but changes to Shopify's default directives will be reverted back to their original state. According to the Shopify help center, users can make the following changes to the default robots.txt
- allow or disallow certain URLs from being crawled
- add crawl-delay rules for certain crawlers
- add extra sitemap URLs
- block certain crawlers
2. Don't stress out over Shopify's default URL structure
The Shopify URL structure is designed to keep product and collection URLs organized in your online store. Other platforms like WordPress give users total control over every element of a URL path, but Shopify only allows shop owners to edit the slug (aka the handle), which is the identifying page address typically at the end of a URL. Shopify places similar limitations on canonical links.
Open source platforms like WordPress allow site owners to choose any URL path or "version" of a page as the canonical (or "main" version) of the page, while Shopify's canonical links adhere to a /product/ base canonical, meaning the canonical URL of every Shopify product has the same base path:
Critics argue that by forcing users to abide by their URL structure rules, Shopify is putting its customers at a disadvantage against sites with shorter, more direct canonical URLs. But lucky for us, the facts don't agree with the critics. If you read Google's guidelines for canonical URLs, there's no mention of URL path length. In fact, Google's guide doesn't say anything about URL path structure at all.
The best way to handle Shopify URLs is to create handles for your products and collections using the most relevant words and phrases that describe that page. The goal is to create URLs that "explain" your site's pages—to both crawlers and potential users. Nondescriptive handles like /product-1/ or /april-blog-post/ are missed opportunities that can be leveraged for increased visibility.
In the example below, notice how the handle/slug contains identifying keywords that clearly explain the purpose of the post.
Google outlines a number of methods for tagging canonical pages, but when it comes to product URLs, Shopify's default settings are perfectly in line with Google's guidelines.
3. Google Search Console's non-indexed pages and blocked resources are completely normal
Google Search Console (GSC) is an extremely valuable tool for any site that wants to increase organic traffic through search engine visibility. But sometimes Search Console's warnings do more harm than good, especially for shop owners who are new to the Shopify platform.
The image below shows the ratio of indexed vs non-indexed pages on a large Shopify website. At first glance, it would appear that something has gone terribly wrong.
image credit: Google Search Console
To prevent clogging search results with system and account pages, Shopify automatically adds a 'noindex' tag to pages that should be excluded from search results. By default, Shopify excludes a wide variety of subdirectories:
- checkout pages
- account pages
- password protected pages
- site-search results pages
- product variant URLs
- paginated blog listing pages
- blog topic filter URLs
- product filter URLs
Shopify hides these pages because they aren't relevant in search results. This is great news, because on many other eCommerce platforms, all of that no-indexing must be done manually, which leaves a lot of room for error and soaks up hundreds of hours in manual labor year after year.
4. What does "alternate page with proper canonical tag" mean in Google Search Console?
Canonical URLs make sure that search engines don’t get confused when different URLs point to the same content or webpage -- from the Shopify blog
Shopify's canonical tag configuration allows customers to arrive at a single product page from any collection or category it's included in. The more collections a product is in, the more URLs that lead to it. This allows Shopify sites to have a single product appear in dozens (or even hundreds) of URL paths without duplicating the product page itself. In order to keep search results from getting clogged with duplicate pages/paths, Shopify automatically designates a single page—using the /product/ base URL— as the canonical or 'main' version of the page. Still confused? Let's look at an example.
The pages/paths shown above are sample URLs that lead to the same imaginary product. Shoppers can arrive at the product via any of those paths, but the only URL will appear in search results is the product's canonical URL (above in bold). If we viewed these URLs in Google Search Console, the report would show 1 indexed page, and 4 non-indexed pages, or in other words, 4 "alternate pages with proper canonical tag."
5. When it comes to Shopify product images, don't be afraid to go big
SEO is a game of inches, and small changes can have a massive repercussions. On conventional website platforms, large image files can slow a website down and harm UX, which can impact rankings. So when it comes to image optimization for SEO, the conventional wisdom is that smaller images (and image files) mean faster page load times, which means better rankings.
But in eCommerce, large images deliver a better user experience, and in fact Google's own Merchant Center documentation suggests using extremely large images for ecommerce products: Submit the largest, highest resolution, full-size image you have for the product, up to 64 megapixels and 16MB file size. We recommend images of at least 1500 x 1500 pixels.
In order to rank in search and shopping results, Google wants us to use large, high quality images, but we also need our pages load as fast as possible. How do we do both simultaneously?
image credit: Cloudflare
To sidestep the image size vs page load speed paradox, Shopify employs a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that's baked into their default configuration.
According to Cloudflare: a content delivery network (CDN) refers to a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide fast delivery of Internet content.
In lay terms, CDNs make websites run faster by serving large files from a network of dedicated servers that are purpose-built for static content like image files. Every time you upload an image to your Shopify store, the image is automatically added to the Shopify CDN, where it is compressed and optimized for the perfect balance of quality and size. The image is stored on multiple servers around the world, then, when a user loads visits the site, the site is served by the primary server, and the images are served by the nearest node in the CDN, which dramatically improves page load times.
The Shopify CDN allows Shopify store owners to upload huge product images without slowing down their site or affecting search rankings.
You can even use Shopify's CDN as a standalone product, via the Shopify Imagery site. On Shopify Imagery, users can upload any image (or choose from Shopify's library of free stock photos), and crop, resize, and edit the image however you choose. Shopify Imagery offers 3 ways to embed images, either via URL, Liquid code, or Hydrogen code.
6. Shopify adds dynamic JSON-schema markup to products automatically (so you don't have to)
Structured data, also known as JSON or Schema markup, is a human-readable notation that helps search engines and other crawlers 'understand' the purpose of a web page or website. Structured data is an integral component of SEO, because it provides an efficient way to communicate with search engines. Schema also helps search engines deliver rich snippets and other rich results, which are proven to produce more clicks than their schema-free counterparts.
Because structured data is such a powerful tool for SEO, it's important to use schema markup that adheres to schema.org's protocol. Most CMS platforms rely on plugins or apps to produce schema markup, but schema can also be written manually. Shopify takes structured data to the next level by automatically generating highly effective product schema for every store on their platform.
An example of Shopify's default structured data output
When you create a product listing in Shopify, the most important product information—item title, price, availability, description, and more—is converted into structured data markup that makes it easier for search engines to discover and index your products. When a product is updated in any way, Shopify automatically updates the schema, and notifies search engine crawlers that a change has occurred. This is yet another way that Shopify saves time and money through
Shopify's default schema markup covers the most important product information, and additional markup can be added manually, or through the use of an SEO app like Smart SEO. Shopify's default structured data is also perfectly tuned to Google's Merchant Center guidelines, and with Shopify's Google Shopping feature allows shop owners to add their products to Google Merchant center for FREE with no coding required.
7. Shopify's default features leave more time for the important stuff
As the SEO Director at BlueSwitch, I spend a lot of time optimizing Shopify websites. If I had to choose between trying to rank a Shopify website vs. a Magento or WordPress website, I would choose Shopify every time. Why? Because I value my time.
The best thing about doing SEO on Shopify sites is that Shopify automates so many of the most time-consuming, tedious, manual SEO tasks, which is a huge time-saver. Shopify's default features are tuned for Google's terms of service, which means that it takes less work, less time, and less money to rank Shopify sites when compared to demandware platforms like Magento.
Simply put, doing SEO on Shopify websites means less time on manual grunt work and more time focusing on what really matters: content, strategy and on-page optimizations.
Does your brand need help with SEO for your Shopify store?
Contact BlueSwitch and find out why we're the most trusted name in eCommerce.