Demandware SEO gotchas and best practices
Demandware is a major e-commerce player in the fashion space. We’ve done SEO, site speed analysis and architecture on their system, and learned a thing or two on the way.
First: Demandware is an awesome system. Like any enterprise e-commerce platform, it’s got its foibles. Like any enterprise software, its customers have a love/hate relationship with it. But properly implemented it’s fast, flexible and has a level of back-end integration that makes it very attractive to fashion clients.
Easy SEO wins
That said, if you’re building out a Demandware site, or doing SEO on an existing site, you’ll want to make a few tweaks right away. These are easy SEO wins:
- Check your error codes. A site should deliver a 404 error for a page that’s not found. But every Demandware install I’ve reviewed defaults to a 302 redirect, a 301 redirect or a 200 ‘found’ code. All of these create total higgledy-piggledy with search engines.
- Set up your canonical tags now. If you’ve got an online store with 10,000+ SKUs, duplication happens. But Demandware looooves to add stuff to the end of URLs. CGIDs, color codes, etc. all get tacked on. I’m not a fan of rel=canonical, but in this case, it makes sense.
- Set your title tag and description tag defaults. Title tags should default to the product name. Description tags should default to the product description. Then let folks edit them.
- If you’re building the site (or rebuilding), clean up the URLs as much as possible. You can’t make ‘em perfect, but you can remove a lot of the bangs (!) and other stuff Demandware can sometimes insert. If you’re on an older version, remove the on/demandware.store cruft, too.
- Use the social widgets! Demandware has built-in Facebook and Twitter support, and a Google+ and Pinterest add-on in their labs. Use ‘em. It’s so freakin’ easy. Why not?
- Automate image ALT attributes. If you’re using catalog import, copy the product name over to the ALT text for the image. If you’re not, buy your developer their favorite beer, a lot, and see if they can set up automatic ALT text for you.
Easy site speed wins
Next up: Make sure the site’s as fast as possible. You can read the standard site speed improvements here. The items below are things I’ve seen more on Demandware than anywhere else:
- Work for clean code. Eliminate whitespace—it slows site performance. I reviewed one client’s site and couldn’t figure out why their pages loaded in an abysmal 15+ seconds. It turned out to be a forehead-slapper: With whitespace, their home page had more than 25,000 lines of HTML code. Yikes. You can, as it turns out, choke to death on nothing. Once we cleaned that out, all was well.
- Set up on a CDN (Content Distribution Network). A CDN will speed up any site. And, you’ll be able to configure things like GZIP compression via the CDN, instead of in Demandware.
Remember, on Amazon.com every 100ms (.1 second) speed improvement translates to a 1% revenue improvement. On Shopzilla, a 5 second improvement meant a 7% improvement. You can’t afford to ignore this stuff.
These tweaks are harder, but they’ll translate to a big competitive advantage:
Plan for content on your home and category pages. Put content slots on your home page and category pages. Use slots, not objects! Content slots give you some great additional features like scheduling. And, they’re context sensitive, so you can show different content on, say, different category pages.
Also, have a blog on your site. Put your blog on ‘blog.yoursite.com’ and you lose 90% of the SEO benefit. It needs to be on the same subdomain (www.yoursite.com) as your primary site. You’ve got a few options to handle that:
- Import via RSS. I’ve seen a few sites import WordPress RSS and then publish it on the site as a blog. This works, and Demandware developers seem to favor it.
- Use content assets and slots to build a ‘blog’. You don’t necessarily need a full-fledged blog. You just need a flexible place on your site where you can publish cool content. Consider building a template for article-style content. Include Disqus or Facebook commenting. Voila. A simple but usable blog.
- Use a reverse proxy. My favorite solution. Build your blog on any platform you like. Put it on another server. Then set up a reverse proxy that maps blog.yoursite.com to yoursite.com/blog. Poof. You get 100% bloggishness with 0% development pain.
One last tip: Learn to use the APIs. Demandware has a great set of APIs, and an extensible data model. If you’re going to generate XML sitemaps and image maps, this is the easiest way. Same goes for Google’s new product listing ads.
Learn to love it
Yes, Demandware is humungous. Yes, it can be intimidating. Learn the features, though, and you can kick some serious butt.
Oh, and if you’re a developer, leave your tips below.