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Search Engine Optimization for osCommerce Online Shops
Yes Meta Tags / Session IDs
Yes Search Engine Friendly URLs
Yes All Products / Site Map / Google Sitemap
Yes Inbound Links
This report is about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for osCommerce online shops, although the majority of the techniques discussed can be equally applied to other shopping cart software packages.

Search engine optimisation is a form of marketing. It is the process of making a site or individual web pages relevant to particular keyword searches performed on search engines. In short, the better optimised the web page is, the higher the ranking it will achieve in search engine results.

Where should a Shop Owner start: Try to approach search engine optimisation with a plan. How would you search for your products? Which search engine would you use? Ask friends, colleagues and your current customers. Then you need to identify about 5 to 10 words and phrases that people are most likely to use in a search for your site. These are your keywords and key phrases. This might apply to your site as a whole or an individual page showing a particular product.

The next step is to integrate your keywords and key phrases into your normal product descriptions. Once you have the page content right, you then have a base to apply other optimisation techniques such as Meta tags, session IDs, a site map and inbound links.

Search Engine Optimization for osCommerce Online Shops

Meta Tags

Meta tags alone will not give you a high search engine ranking but a coordinated effort to integrate your Meta tags to the content of the page and to your products can improve significantly your search engine ranking for relevant keywords or key phrases.

Meta Tags (also known as Header tags) store extra information about your web pages that can not be viewed in the normal way. This behind-the-scenes data is used by most search engines to gather extra information about your web pages. You can view the Meta tag information of a specific page by viewing the source code of the page. If using windows explorer go to View->Source. A separate text window will appear containing the html source code of the web page. If present, a Meta tag may appear as follows:

e.g: META NAME="Description" Content="A cosy practical little fleece hat with doubled fleece band around the ears to keep them really warm. Fabric: Malden Polartec 200! : "

Meta tags can only support the normal textural content of your pages. For each product page you need to change the Meta tags to reflect the keywords in your product description. In osCommerce this can be done using the Meta Tags Contribution (see our demo). This software add-on gives extra functionality to the admin area so that when you add / edit a product you can also add a Meta description, Meta keywords and a page title.

Do you have an osCommerce web site at the moment? You may already have this capability. Here’s how to check:

  • Go to any one of your products and take a look at the browser title. That is the title in the top left corner of your browser window. The title is classed as one of the Meta / Header tags and some search engines take the title, together with other factors, to demonstrate what the page is really about.
  • In standard osCommerce the title will remain constant throughout (perhaps containing your shop name). If you have the Meta Tags contribution installed, the title and all your other Meta tag details will change for each product enabling you to optimise each page.

Search Engine Friendly URLs

The text of the URL or web address is an extra source of important information for the search engine spider. Having your main keywords in the URL for each product and category page can significantly help your search engine rankings. Search Engine Friendly URLs use a server feature called mod_rewrite to rewrite the URL so that the outside world sees only the URL generated by the database from the product name and category name information.

From this: http://www.babyben.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1026

To this: http://www.babyben.co.uk/bushaby-waterproof-baby-suit-p-1026.html

In more detail:

osCommerce is a database driven website. This allows fantastic flexibility and means that you can display an unlimited number of products and categories in your osCommerce shop. In common with all database driven sites, osCommerce uses a query string to allow individual php pages to display the information from the database. For example the single product_info.php page (or product page) is used to display every product.

For product 1 the query string will be: http://www.babyben.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1
For product 1026 the query string will be: http://www.babyben.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1026

Traditionally, search engines have not liked query strings, although most do now interpret them successfully. However, the main drawback is that products_id=1026 contains no product information for the outside world which means this is an extra source of information for a search engine that is not currently being using. The answer is to allow the server to dynamically rewrite the URL via a server function called mod_rewrite. As a result, the http://www.babyben.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1026 URL can be shown to the outside world as http://www.babyben.co.uk/bushaby-waterproof-baby-suit-p-1026.html by creating a virtual URL from the product name and category information stored for each product and category. As a result this form of optimisation requires no effort from the store owner. You simply let the server do the work from the product information that you provide.

Google Sitemap

As Google is the world's most used search engine, the Google search engine spider could be your most important visitor. Google have recently implemented a program where site owners can submit a Google specific sitemap for indexing. This is a great way to keep your site constantly indexed and updated by Google.

Google Sitemap

The Google Sitemap Update for osCommerce effortlessly creates a Google formatted sitemap of your category and product pages. You can then submit this sitemap for Google to interrogate. Although you don't need a Google account to use the Google sitemap service with an osCommerce based website, we strongly encourage you to create an account because you can then view important diagnostic information via the Google Sitemap web pages.

Session IDs

osCommerce, together with many other e-commerce packages, uses Session IDs to store and track information about customers. The session ID is the long collection of random characters located at the end of the shop URL

e.g. http://www.babyben.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=38&osCsid=f395b7245da0404c213db6346130b7ca

The main use of session IDs is to recall the previous activity of a customer on your site. For example, a shopping cart which remembers what was added previously by the customer. However, session ids can cause problems for some search engines. osCommerce gets round this problem by using logic, to check if the visitor to your store is a search engine spider or a potential customer (spider is the name given to the search engine robot which visits your site because it crawls all over your pages and through your links). If a spider is recognised, session IDs are not given to the spider thus enabling your pages to be indexed correctly.

Spiders are recognised by comparing the spider's name to a long list of known search engine spiders. As you can imagine, new search engines are being created all the time, so it is important to keep your site’s list of spiders upto date.

All Products Page / Site Map

An 'All Products' index page or site map (see our demo) gives a helping hand to the search engine spider. Ideally the page should contain a list of direct links to all your products and categories. This page can be useful for your customers also.

A link to the 'All Products Page' should be located on your home page. This way, no matter how many categories and sub-categories you have, a link to every product is available within two steps for the search engine spider when it visits your site. If the spider is limited in resources (either time or the number of links it can follow) this means your products are more likely to be indexed than not.

Inbound Links

Most experts agree that the single most important contributing factor in achieving a high search engine ranking is link popularity. Inbound links to your site will raise its importance to search engines. Search engines take the view that if others link to your site or a specific page, then that web page must have something to offer other users.

However just getting thousands of random inbound links is not the answer. It is not simply the number of inbound links to your site but the quality of those links. High quality links come from respected web sites, or web sites which are known for a particular topic, or where the link sits on a page which is discussing a relevant topic. In addition, the link itself is important. An “On-topic” link will contain your keywords e.g. Ford Focus rather than www.ford.co.uk

A good way to generate inbound links is via link exchange with other sites. This is also called reciprocal link exchange. The secret to this form of search engine optimisation is making the process of linking to your site as easy as possible. This may even mean getting the other site administrator to do all the work.

For osCommerce there is an advance contribution for handling a full reciprocal link exchange program. An example of this can be seen on our web site. This contribution allows other site owners to submit their web address (URL) and place your link on their site. So when you receive the link exchange request, all you have to do is check they have placed your link on their site (there is a button for that) and approve or disapprove their request. If approved, their link goes 'live' in a specific category on your links pages. The need to approve each link exchange request means that you can select on topic sites and if you wish decline others.

eShopFitters - the UK osCommerce Experts We hope you found this information useful. If you require search engine optimisation for your existing osCommerce site then please contact us for a no-obligation chat. Alternatively, further information can be found on our SEO page.

Notice of Liability
The information in this guide is supplied on an 'as is' basis, without warranty. While every precaution as been taken in the preparation of the guide, eNorth Limited shall have no liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by instructions contained in this guide or by the products described in it.

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