BigCommerce SEO - The Complete Guide 
BigCommerce is a powerful, agile and endlessly scalable ecommerce platform, loved by thousands of brands across the planet – including global brands like Skullcandy and Clarks. It’s also incredibly flexible, with a whole host of built-in tools to help you manage your store’s performance.
But, like any platform, a BigCommerce store can’t succeed on its own – especially in today’s uber-competitive retail market. To really stand out from that ecommerce crowd, you need to nail your site’s SEO.
In this article, we take a deep dive into BigCommerce SEO, from first-day basics to advanced tips and tricks.
Part 1: Getting started with BigCommerce SEO
1. HTTPS Security on BigCommerce
What is HTTPS?
HTTPS refers to the combination of hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and secure sockets layer (SSL). Almost all websites use HTTP to communicate with web browsers, transferring data like bank details, email addresses and passwords over the web.
To protect this information from hackers, site owners often install an SSL certificate, which encrypts the data sent via HTTP. Sites with this certificate have HTTPS in their URL – often denoted by a padlock icon – to assure the user that their connection (and data) is secure.
Ever seen a warning pop up as you try to access a webpage? That site probably didn't have a valid SSL certificate. As a rule, web browsers are biased towards secure sites and actively encourage users not to access insecure web pages.
Not only does this impact your traffic by deterring users, but it’s also not great for your brand’s reputation. Customers want to buy from a brand they can trust. Don’t give them any reason to doubt you.
And HTTPS isn’t just a big part of your site’s security – it’s also important for SEO. Like browsers, search engines prefer secure websites. A missing SSL certificate is a sure way to keep you off that coveted first page on Google.
Your free BigCommerce SSL certificate
Fortunately, BigCommerce offers a free SSL certificate for all its pricing plans, giving you one less thing to worry about when setting up your BigCommerce store.
Your free SSL certificate should apply automatically once you’ve finished setting up your site – but it might take a couple of days to propagate. If it doesn’t automatically apply, you can manually install it from your Server Settings. BigCommerce has a handy user doc to guide you through this.
2. Content delivery network
What is a content delivery network?
A content delivery network (CDN) – also known as a content distribution network – works to deliver photos, videos and other types of files over the internet as quickly as possible.
These networks are made up of data centres, known as nodes, all over the world. When someone accesses your site, the node nearest to that user delivers them the relevant files. For example, if you’re trying to access an Australian website from the UK, a CDN would ensure the files are delivered by a centre in London, not Australia. By reducing the distance a file has to travel, CDNs help dramatically speed up your site.
It goes without saying that site speed is important. But let’s say it anyway. Aside from the fact that shoppers don’t want to wait around for painfully slow websites, search engines use speed as a ranking factor. So, the slower your site, the worse your rankings.
Using a CDN on BigCommerce
One of the benefits of running a BigCommerce store is that they have CDN nodes in key cities across the planet – from London and New York all the way to Sydney and Tokyo. This distribution means your website loads just as quickly in Australia as it does in the UK – a must for selling internationally.
3. Integrate your BigCommerce store with Google Analytics
Although BigCommerce has its own Analytics tool, it’s still a good idea to integrate your store with Google Analytics.
Google Analytics offers a more in-depth scope of each webpage’s performance, meaning you can really dive into your site’s metrics. With an almost overwhelming amount of data at your fingertips, the options for tracking and reporting are limitless. From tracking conversions to creating detailed ecommerce reports, you can get a detailed analysis of exactly what’s working on your site – and what isn’t.
With Google Analytics, you’ll also be able to keep track of your site’s SEO. Specifically, you’ll be able to see if your SEO efforts are having an impact.
The easiest way to keep an eye on your SEO is to add annotations whenever you make changes – for example, when you add SEO content or optimise your metadata (more on that later). That way, you can quickly identify any uplifts in traffic or rankings – and work out why.
Using Google Analytics on BigCommerce
Integrating Google Analytics into your BigCommerce store is an easy, fast way to get a complete overview of your site’s performance. All you need to do is create a free Google Analytics account and paste your tracking ID – which is generated once you’ve signed up – into your site’s page source.
For more information about getting the most out Google Analytics, check out BigCommerce’s knowledge base.
4. Register your store with Google Search Console
Registering your BigCommerce site on Google Search Console is a crucial part of your site’s SEO setup. Once you’ve signed up, you can submit your store’s sitemap – which effectively tells Google that your website exists, and asks them to crawl it.
Although skipping this step doesn’t stop you showing up in Google’s search results, registering with Google Search Console means you can confirm that they can find and crawl your site. It’s also an invaluable tool for tracking search results, fixing indexing problems and rendering issues, and finding and fighting spam – all of which you’ll need when it comes to bossing your SEO.
To register your store, simply head over to Google Search Console and select ‘Add new property’. You can either choose to add a domain or a URL prefix. If you select domain, all versions of your URL will be tracked (including mobile and desktop versions, and both HTTP and HTTPS), saving you from adding each URL separately.
From there, you’ll be asked to verify that you own the store. If you’ve chosen to add a domain, you’ll need DNS verification.
Submit your BigCommerce sitemap
To make sure Google crawls your site accurately, you need to submit an XML sitemap. Luckily, BigCommerce automatically generates a sitemap for you.
Once you’ve registered your site, simply head to www.yourwebsite.com/xmlsitemap.php (changing ‘your website’ to your site’s URL), copy the link and add it to Search Console, which you can do by going to your site’s dashboard and clicking ‘sitemaps’.
5. Faceted navigation & product filtering
What is faceted navigation?
Faceted navigation refers to filtering or sorting the results on a webpage by specific attributes – such as product type, colour, price, size, etc. Applying these filters returns different sets of results, or ‘facets’.
If your brand has a large product range, using faceted navigation is a no brainer. Rather than trawling through hundreds of results, faceted navigation allows users to easily find the group of products they’re looking for.
For example, if you’re shopping for a ‘size 10 blue dress under £50’, you would head over to the ‘dresses’ subcategory on a fashion site and select three different filters – size: 10, colour: blue, and price: under £50.
While faceted navigation dramatically improves your customer’s shopping experience, it also impacts SEO – and not always in a good way. Because these filters can be applied in an endless number of different variations, websites can end up with millions of different URLs. If all of these URLs are being crawled by Google, you’re in for a hell of an SEO headache.
But it’s not all bad news. Set up correctly, faceted navigation can be great for SEO. By giving your site a chance to target longer search terms – such as ‘blue dress’ as opposed to just ‘dress’ – you can cast a wider net and pull in more organic traffic.
It’s all about deciding which pages to index.
Setting up faceted navigation on BigCommerce
Whether or not your BigCommerce store supports faceted navigation depends on which plan you’re on. If you’re on the Plus or Enterprise plan (priced from $299.99 a month), keep reading. If you’re on one of the basic plans and you’re interested in utilising faceted navigation, now might be a good time to upgrade.
To set up product filtering on your BigCommerce store, simply log in to your store’s admin and select ‘Products › Product Filtering’. From there, you can customise to your heart’s content – but don’t forget to manage which pages Google can index.
For more information on setting up faceted navigation, head over to BigCommerce’s knowledge base.
Top tip: Although both Plus and Enterprise customers can implement faceted navigation, only Enterprise sites can use custom filters. If you have a unique product range and/or have online sales that exceed $400k, upgrade to the Enterprise plan.
6. 301 Redirects
What are 301 redirects?
A 301 redirect is an easy, SEO-friendly way of automatically redirecting an old URL to a new one. So, if your customer accidentally enters an old URL from your site, they’ll instantly be redirected to your new one.
Aside from preventing your users from seeing any 404 error pages, 301 redirects let Google know that your webpage still exists – just at a different URL. This means your rankings won’t be too harshly affected by changing a URL – although it’s normal to see a slight dip.
Top tip: Although they’re great for fixing 404 errors and broken links, 301 redirects will impact your page load speed, so avoid using them as much as you can!
Managing BigCommerce 301 redirects
If you want to manage 301 redirects yourself, you can uncheck this feature in the SEO & Sharing section when editing your products. From then on, you’ll need to create redirects every time you change a URL or page title, which can be done in Server Settings > 301 Redirects.
Did you know we help brands nail their BigCommerce SEO? Get in touch today and see how we can help you boost your rankings.
Part 2: Advanced BigCommerce SEO tips
1. Nail your on-page SEO
Optimise your meta titles
A meta title tag is a crucial part of a webpage’s metadata, which can be edited manually in the admin of any BigCommerce store page.
Not only are meta titles a ranking factor, but they’re also one of the most important ones – so it’s important to get them right. Every webpage on your store needs a unique, accurate meta title. Otherwise, BigCommerce will automatically generate one based on whatever content it can find on the webpage – and it won’t necessarily do a good job.
Along with your meta description, your meta title is what shoppers will see on a search engine result page (SERP). Aside from being important for SEO, they’re also a potential customer’s first impression of your website – and your first chance to draw them in.
Meta titles can be a maximum of 60 characters, while meta descriptions can be up to 160 characters. Helpfully, BigCommerce tells you the optimum length for meta titles and descriptions, so you can avoid having your content cut off.
Here are some tips for writing great meta titles:
- Keep it under 60 characters
- Put the priority keywords first
- Include your brand name
- Make it unique
- No keyword stuffing
- Add an incentive to encourage click-throughs (such as your brand's USP)
Forgetting about headings is a common SEO faux pas.
Adding headings to pages – especially those with lots of content – is important for a number of reasons, including SEO. First off, they help break up huge walls of text, making your page both easier to read and more visually pleasing.
Second, they help people scan the page to find the information they need – for example, delivery costs, return information, etc.
Third, they help visually impaired people to make sense of your webpage and give them an overview of what it’s about.
And, finally, they help search engines understand your webpages, which is essential to get you ranking in those top spots.
Luckily, adding headings in BigCommerce is a breeze. When editing a page, simply highlight the relevant text and select a heading option from the formatting drop-down menu. There are several types of headings to choose from.
H1 is the most important heading and is what search engines use to rank your page. Your H1 tag should always include your focus keyword, and every webpage needs a unique H1 tag – but only one. From there, you can break up the rest of your content with H2, H3 and H4 tags, depending on what size you’d like the heading to be. There’s no limit on how many of these tags you can use.
Add alt tags to images
Alt tags are how search engines make sense of images. So, if someone is searching for ‘organic honey’ and your page has an image that’s tagged something like ‘organic-honey-100ml-pot’, it gives Google that extra incentive to rank you for that keyword.
And alt text isn’t just important for SEO – it’s also essential for accessibility. Visually impaired people often use screen readers to provide a description of images. No alt tag? The screen reader will just repeat the random numbers and letters that the image’s file name consists of. Ditto if your page fails to load the image – the shopper will just see a string of random text, rather than an accurate description of the image.
There are several ways to add alt tags to your images in BigCommerce, depending on the type of webpage you’re on:
Adding alt text to product images:
On the relevant product page, select the ‘Images and Videos’ tab and enter your alt text in the ‘Description’ field.
Adding alt text to blog post images:
On the relevant blog post, select the image and click the ‘Edit’ button. Once the dialogue box pops up, edit the alt text in the ‘title’ field.
Adding alt text to static pages:
On the relevant page, right-click on the picture and then left-click so that a border appears around the image.
Once you have the border, select the picture icon on the menu bar, which brings up a box to edit the image details. You can enter your alt text on the ‘Appearance’ tab in the ‘Image Description’ field.
Write SEO-friendly content:
Ever heard the phrase ‘content is king’? Well, it’s not just a saying. Google loves pages filled with relevant content – the more, the better – and it hates pages with little to no content on. Although you can get away with fewer words on your homepage – no one likes being greeted by a wall of text – the rest of your webpages need some lovely, keyword-optimised content.
Aside from your blog and about sections, some key areas to include SEO content are your category and product pages, so make sure you don’t miss these out!
Psst. We can write this content for you! Drop us a line to borrow one of our fantastic copywriters, and they’ll write you oodles of wonderful, keyword-driven content.
2. Create clean URLs
Creating simple URLs is a win for both SEO and user experience. Potential customers are much more likely to click a link like “https://www.example.com/organic-honey” than they are
maximise your organic traffic (and your rankings), every URL on your site should be as accurate and concise as possible.
BigCommerce is a great platform for this. Unlike other ecommerce software, BigCommerce allows you to manually edit URLs without adding prefixes to your pages or products. For example, your URL doesn’t have to include /collections for collection pages, or /products for product pages.
3. Use structured data & rich snippets
What is structured data?
Structured data refers to code that’s written in a way search engines can make sense of. Search engines read the code and use it to display search results in a specific way – such as with an image, a rating, a price, etc.
These results are known as ‘rich snippets’ – because, unlike regular search results, they’re ‘rich’ with extra info. It’s an especially useful tool for recipes and is frequently used to display cooking time, ratings, calories and pictures of the final dish.
Although Google doesn’t use rich snippets as a ranking factor, they’re still an invaluable SEO tool. When there are dozens of results to choose from, any extra details that make your result stand out is a win. Because rich snippets are more eye-catching than normal search results, they can do wonders for your click-through rates.
They’re also incredibly useful for voice search. Structured data helps Google understand what your webpage is about – so when your page shows up on a SERP, a voice assistant will be able to understand it too. And with the increasing ubiquity of voice assistants, voice search is an essential thing to have in your SEO arsenal.
Rich snippets on BigCommerce
BigCommerce automatically generates rich snippets for product pages, so you don’t need to worry about creating them yourself. All you need to do is fill out all the information on the product page, so make sure you don’t leave any fields blank.
4. Optimise for mobile
Designing for mobile-first isn’t just a trend anymore – it’s best practice. In the third quarter of 2018, 61% of the world’s retail traffic came from smartphones. Which means your website needs to be designed for mobiles, first and foremost. If it’s not, your user experience will be poor – which is bad news for your SEO.
Mobile-first design means ruthlessly prioritising your content to fit the screen size and bandwidth of mobile devices. It’s something you’ll need to think about when you first set up your BigCommerce store, but it’s also an ongoing process. Every new campaign, every new redesign – they all need to happen in a mobile-friendly way.
One easy way to check how mobile-friendly your site is is by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. It takes less than a minute to run, and the test results include a screenshot of how the page looks to Google on a mobile device.
Here are some best-practices for mobile-first design:
- Design for fat fingers: Fingers are a lot wider than cursors, meaning they require much larger touch targets. Make sure to enlarge buttons and allow plenty of space between interactive elements.
- Avoid pop-ups: Pop-ups can be difficult to close on a small screen, so try to avoid them where possible.
- Think ‘app’: Mobile apps are specifically designed for ease of use on a small screen, and it’s a wireframe that smartphone users are used to. Try to mimic an app layout where possible – expandable widgets, Ajax calls, off-canvas navigation, etc.
- Test on real devices: Obviously, you’ll need a mobile for this. Before launch, test your website on as many types and sizes of smartphones as you can, including Windows, iPhones, Android and Google phones. It’s also important to test on different mobile browsers, like Safari and Chrome. Check for usability, readability and load times.
Responsive web design
Along with a mobile-first design, your website needs to be responsive.
A responsive design means your website loads correctly across devices by automatically adapting to any screen – regardless of its size. Designing responsively is normally broken down into three separate phases: mobile, tablet and desktop.
Without a responsive design, shoppers browsing your site on their phones or tablets won’t be able to view the entirety of a webpage, meaning a lot of the content will be cut off.
If you’re using a default BigCommerce theme for your store, you don’t have to worry – they’re all fully responsive and 100% mobile-friendly. If you hired an external design agency to build your BigCommerce store, do some tests to make sure your store looks tip-top on every kind of screen. If not, you’ve got some work to do.
Speed things up
Speed is important for SEO in a number of ways. First, it’s a direct ranking factor. Google doesn’t want its top results to take an age to load.
Second, most people will only wait a maximum of three seconds for a webpage to load. After that, they usually give up, which is bad news for your bounce rate – and your rankings. In fact, Amazon found that every 100 milliseconds of latency cost them 1% in sales – which means a one-second delay would cost them $1.6 billion.
Third, it’s awful from a customer experience point of view. Even if your user is willing to wait for the pages to load, they’re unlikely to return to your site in a hurry.
Although speed is important in all areas of your website, not just on mobile, it’s a good idea to test them both separately. For mobile sites, you can do a quick test of your site’s performance at Think With Google. For a more detailed overview of both your site’s performance, Google’s Lighthouse tool has everything you need.
5. Utilise robots.txt
What is a robots.txt file?
A robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers where or where not to go on your website. Most importantly, it lists all the pages and files you don’t want a search engine to crawl, such as your sitemap.
Because it tells search engines the best way to crawl your site, robot.txt plays an important role in your site’s SEO. By stopping search engines from accessing certain areas of your site, you can prevent some major SEO headaches, like duplicate content.
Robot.txt works by issuing instructions – known as ‘directives’ – to search engines. When accessing your site, search engines regularly check your robot.txt to see if there are any instructions for crawling your site.
For example, if you use faceted navigation – as we discussed earlier – you can use robots.txt as a tool to stop search engines from accessing your filtered product pages. These are called ‘disallow’ directives.
Managing robots.txt on BigCommerce
Unlike some SaaS platforms, BigCommerce allows you to edit your robots.txt file. However, it also strongly recommends against doing so unless you’re already familiar with robots.txt. Because it has a huge impact on your SEO, making a mistake with your robots.txt can be fatal for your rankings. Brands like Ryanair, Corona and LinkedIn have all run into problems with this before.
That’s why BigCommerce comes complete with a default robots.txt file, which disallows all the most common pages you wouldn’t want a search engine to index. For full details of the default robots.txt file, head over to the BigCommerce knowledge base.
If you still want to edit your robots.txt, you can do so under the Website tab of your admin panel by heading to Store Setup › Store Settings. But make sure you brush up on the robots.txt best practices first!
6. Wordpress & BigCommerce integration for blog
BigCommerce has a good native blog functionality, but it’s no rival for a WordPress blog.
While WordPress isn’t ideal for hosting and growing an ecommerce store – for that, BigCommerce is the clear winner – it’s by far the best platform for hosting a blog. The good news is, you don’t have to choose between the two platforms. You can use both.
WordPress now has a specific BigCommerce plugin to easily integrate your online store with your blog, so you won’t have to worry about hiring a developer.
Although integrating a Wordpress blog with BigCommerce won't have a direct, immediate impact on your SEO, the Wordpress ecosystem has a wealth of tools and plugins that allow you to create more unique, creative content on your blog. Which is good news for creating those SERP-topping blog posts.
No other platform on the planet has as much scope or flexibility, or such a vast number of apps to experiment with. And by uniting WordPress with the unrivalled selling power of BigCommerce, you get the best of two powerhouse platforms.
Part 3: Issues with BigCommerce SEO
Quality assurance testing
What is quality assurance?
Quality assurance (QA) is the process of testing a website for mistakes and errors, such as broken links or no-index tags.
Alongside user testing, the QA process is designed to flag any issues that might have been missed in the design and development phases, and usually takes place when a project is in its final stages.
Aside from being essential for usability, customer experience, security and performance, quality assurance testing is important for SEO. Because QA tests flag up things like page speed, broken links and missing redirects, it ensures any updates you make to your site don’t destroy your SEO efforts.
Quality assurance testing usually consists of:
- Functional testing (dropdowns, links, cookies, input fields, buttons, etc)
- Performance testing
- Security testing
- Compatibility testing
- Content testing
Quality assurance testing on BigCommerce
Because the platform has no staging site to test changes, QA testing is one of the most prevalent BigCommerce issues store owners face. Without a staging area to test in, changes to the site have to be published before they are tested – which means any errors are visible to your whole audience, not just you.
Although there are a few workarounds to this, they’re often expensive and aren’t available to all BigCommerce users. For example, if you use a digital agency that’s partnered with BigCommerce, they’ll be able to test new designs and campaigns in a staging environment. However, if you’re not using an agency, or your agency isn’t a BigCommerce partner, this won’t be an option.
You can also download a staging app from the BigCommerce app store, but the huge upfront fees are enough to put off most store owners.
The best thing you can do is keep an eye on your website and make sure that new changes are QA tested – even if they’re already live. To help monitor your site, you can use a website crawler to run weekly crawls and highlight any potential issues that might need fixing.
For a more comprehensive overview when you’re QA testing, a tool like ContentKing can be invaluable. By allowing you to see in real-time what’s changed, both from a technical and content point of view, the ContentKing app gives you an immediate insight into what the impact from your changes will be.
These BigCommerce SEO tips will help you start ranking with the best of them. Once you’ve nailed the basics and optimised your store, it’s time to start thinking deeper: link building, content strategies, campaigns, social media, and beyond. With BigCommerce powering your online store, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.
Need some help? Hire us. We help you do SEO better.