Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will Google Product Search Changes Affect You?

The quick answer, "Yes, Google's Product Search changes will affect your product feeds." I regularly suggest that merchants submit their products to be listed in Google's Product Search.  This is a great way to get your products out there so that customers can easily find them. Coming this September, Google will be enforcing more product information than what they have required in the past. You can read more about these changes on the Google Blog at  I have outlined some of the main points below.

New Required Fields
  • Availability - this will help customers find your products even when they are out of stock.
  • Google Product Category - this is in addition to the Product Type field.
  • Images - merchants often sent a product image in their feed but it was not required.  Google is now making this field required, and it is suggested that you send multiple product images.
  • Apparel Options - for products such as apparel, merchants will need to include information such as size and colors available, as well as gender and age group.

So now the question is, what should you do about it? I'm sure that many shopping cart software providers will change their Google Product Feed submission in upcoming updates or releases so that the new requirements are in place, but in the off-chance that your store does not get updated as quickly as you'd like, you can take matters into your own hands. 

In ShopSite Manager and Pro stores, merchants have the option of creating their own custom product fields.  If you name these fields correctly, they can be used for your Google Product Feed.

Start by going to Preferences > Extra Fields.  In the Extra Product Fields section, claim 2 - 3 fields for your Google Product Search fields.  Name one of those fields "availability" and another "google_product_category." If you sell apparel and need the third field, name it "size." If you do not sell apparel, you could use the third field for additional product images, naming it "additional_image_link."

After saving changes, go to Merchandising > Google Services > Google Product Search > Configure. Check the checkboxes next to your three extra product fields so that those get included when you are submitting to Google.

Next you will want to add that information for each of your products.  For the "availability" field, you will want to enter in "in stock" if the product will be shipped within 3 days, "available for order" if the product will be shipped in more than 4 days, "out of stock" if you are not accepting orders, and "preorder" if the product is currently not in stock but you are accepting orders.

For the "google_product_category" field, you will need to find the correct taxonomy for each product.  Click here for more information.

For the "size" field for apparel items, separate each with a comma and put quotes around each.  For example, if you offer your item in small, medium and large, enter either "Small","Medium","Large" or "S","M","L" in the field provided. These will be displayed to shoppers so make sure it is something they will understand.

If you are going to submit additional images, unfortunately, each image needs its own field.  With my setup (using one field) you will need to enter the full URL for one of your additional images.  If you would like more product images (up to 10 additional, so 11 images total), you will need a different product field for every additional image.

Summary of Required Fields
  • id - ShopSite sends the product item number.
  • title - typically the brand and product name.
  • description - use your shorter product description (500 - 1000 characters recommended).
  • google_product_category - must use Google's taxonomy.
  • link - URL to product more information page.
  • image_link - URL to product image.
  • condition - must be "new," "used" or "refurbished."
  • availability - must be "in stock," "available for order," "out of stock" or "preorder."
  • price - use lowest price if you are not sending the sale price.
  • brand - required if you are submitting GTIN and/or MPN.
  • gtin - for product's UPC or ISBN number.
  • mpn - required if you are submitting GTIN and/or Brand.
Required Fields For Apparel Items
  • item_group_id - required for variant items.
  • color - required.
  • material - required for items that differ by material.
  • pattern - required for items that differ by pattern.
  • size - required for variant items.
  • gender - must be "male," "female" or "unisex."
  • age_group - must be "adult" or "kids.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Downgraded ShopSite Templates

I often get requests for features that are built into newer versions of ShopSite, but are from merchants who are running an older version of ShopSite for some reason or another.  In those cases I will take a ShopSite template and downgrade it to work in a lower version.  I have done this for many merchants, and in many cases I downgrade the same template multiple times.  I have decided that since there is a small demand for this type of work, I will ofter some pre-downgraded/modified templates on my website,, that ShopSite merchants will be able to purchase at a lower price than having me do it individually for each merchant. 

The most common request that I get is for global side navigation bars. For downgraded templates I setup an include file where merchants can add their own links for the left navigation bar that will appear on all pages.  I have added the first of these downgraded templates.  It is available for version 10 stores using the 3Column template (themes using this template include 3Column, Bookend, Soft, Base Format and Square).  You can purchase this template at the following URL:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Websites Don't Work Sitting Down

In my last post I gave a tip called "Don't Let Your Site Sit." I'd like to press this point a little more.  Before I begin, I should let you know that this is something that I am still working on with my site.  One of my steps towards a more active website is this blog, posting on Facebook and tweeting.

Some website owners do a lot of ground work before building their website: gathering and writing the content for their website; hiring SEO companies to optimize their website, and employing marketers to advertise their website.  All this work and their website begins to gain visitors.  Every website owner hopes for this type of progress. 

Then, the website sits, maybe gains a little weight.  During this process, the visitors either stay the same or begin tapering off. All this is a bit confusing because of all the work that was put into the website.  The issue that is arising is that the website is getting sleepy and boring.  The content remains the same so search engines don't need to index as regularly.  Visitors don't need to check back to see new products, or hot tips or to even find out what is going on with the company because nothing new is available.

This is where my suggestion to not let your site sit comes in.  Keep your site active, make it work a little.  Slim down and trim up the excess fat and unnecessary code.  Exercise the site's content and know what makes the site do better or what makes the site run smoother.  Constantly check-up to make sure the entire site is functioning properly and that there are no broken links, missing images, or misaligned pages or elements. A happy healthy website will reflect to your customers.

25 SEO Tips You Shouldn't Overlook

I was browsing a few sites for website tips and suggestions today and came across an interesting post.  Most the time when I see lists of SEO tips, they include a lot of hear-say or guesses as far as SEO goes.  Some may be valid, such as tips that have been tested on sites they have worked with, while others may be just suggestions that in theory would work.  Whatever the case may be, these lists of SEO tips that I typically run into often have some things I have never heard of or some things that seem strange. This particular list went through and numbered 30 different SEO tips for your website, and all of the tips were ones that would be listed in SEO 101. I was surprised at the number of responses to this post.  There were many people who were really glad for this post.  I thought to myself that these are things that people who own websites should absolutely be doing and that they probably are doing.  However, I quickly realized that there are many people who may know some of these, but not think about others, and there may be some people who forget about some of these basics and need a reminder.  Whatever the case may be, here is a list of all-purpose SEO tips for your website.  Note: these tips are in no particular order.
  • Title Tags - make sure that each of your web pages has a title tag which includes some of the keywords for that particular page.  An important part of title tags is that no two pages have the exact same title.
  • Meta Keywords - include meta keywords for all your web pages, and make the keywords page-specific.  If a page does not contain a particular word (even if it is a big keyword on your website as a whole) don't include it.
  • Meta Descriptions - these should be on all pages, and again, they should be page-specific.
  • Image Alt Tags - especially now that there are search engines specifically for images, your images should have alt tags that are descriptive of both the image, and the page that the image is on.
  • Link Title Tags - links typically consist of regular href statements, but you should also include a title for search engines.  An example may look like <a href="link-url" title="Page Name">Name</a>.
  • Keyword Specific File Names - all of your pages should have page files names that are specific to that page by incorporating some of the keywords from that page.  For example, if it is a page for pants, the file name could be "pants-jeans-khakis.html."
  • Not Too Many Folders - your web page URLs should not have more than three directories (folders) in them.
  • Repeat Keywords - keywords should be in all places where search engines are looking.  You should highlight your page keywords in the title, meta keywords, alt tags, title tags, etc.
  • Content, Content, Content - lots of relevant (and original if possible) content is a long-lasting search engine go-to. The content is what's important on a page, so the content should be a focus when you are creating the page. Too often the images and banners are the focus and the content is an after-thought. 
  • Update Content Regularly - you can even include "this was last updated" in the code so that you remember.  Link to new relevant information, and have those links refer back you your website.
  • Never Use Frames - I think that about covers it...never use frames.  Any content in a frame is content that search engines don't see as part of your page.
  • Use Flash Sparingly - I prefer not to use flash at all, but I understand the aesthetic appeal of some flash.  Any information, text, links, or images in a flash file cannot be indexed by search engines.
  • Keep Design As Expected - some people want to have their website be different and unique and will have their layout different than other websites.  Web surfers are used to looking for information in the same general areas.  By putting information somewhere unexpected it requires the visitor to search for it on your page, and makes your website more work.
  • Keep Your Pages Small - keep images small, keep 'fluff' coding off, use image sprites if it helps.  The smaller your pages are (with images, CSS, JavaScript, etc) the faster they will load, and the happier your visitor is with their visit.
  • Use hyphens - rather than _ underscores - when you are setting up your keyword-focused page file names, you will want to separate your keywords with hyphens.  Search engines will often read those as spaces, whereas underscores are just taken out.  "Pants-jeans.html" will be read as "pants jeans" whereas "pants_jeans.html" will often be read as "Pantsjeans."
  • Robots.txt File - this is there to help search engine spiders. Review guidelines on setting this up so that it includes the relevant information for your website.
  • Text Instead Of Images - wherever possible, use text rather than images.  If you have a banner with text in it, have the banner be a background and put the text over it.  If you have a tabbed navigation, see if you can have your designer repeat the tab images and just have regular HTML text over each for the image. Search engines can't read the text in your images.
  • Use Headings Correctly - heading tags, such as <h1>
    </h1>should be around page specific headings. Keywords should also be included in these heading tags.  So for my pants-jeans-khaki.html page, my heading may look like <h1>Browse Our Jean Pants & Khaki Pants</h1>.  Don't get relaxed and use heading tags for things such as <h1>Similar Items:</h1> because neither "similar" nor "items" are keywords on your page, so they should not be in a heading or title area.  Use HTML or CSS to make the "Similar Items" text as large as you want, but don't use heading tags.
  • Get Inbound Links - do link sharing and referrals to get traffic coming to your website.  Not only is this good for more hits, but if many sites, specifically credible sites, are linking to you, search engines will take your site more seriously.
  • Create A Sitemap - there are two main types of sitemaps, and both should be created.  Setup a Google Sitemap that you submit to search engines including Google.  Also have a sitemap on your website.  This gives search engines a quick page with links to all your other pages so they are easy to find.
  • Do Your Own Research - check your website in many browsers.  Setup things such as Google Analytics so that you can track your website visitors.  Make sure you know what is going on with your website.  If there are trends with your visitors, make sure you know about those.  If your statistics change, make sure you are checking up so you are aware of the changes.
  • No Broken Links - there are free tools out there to check your website for broken links.  Make sure you don't have any broken links or missing images.
  • Research Your Competitors - find out what your competitors are using for keywords, what they are focusing their content on.  If they are ranking better than you, find out why that is and improve upon those areas.
  • Don't Let Your Site Sit - search engines like websites that are active.  Don't put your website up, setup the content once and think that you are done.  You should get excited about your site. Let your customers know you are excited about it, and that there is a reason for them to come back to see new information or changes.
  • Be Picky With Advice - don't try everything that you hear on every "this is how it's done" website. Pick a few ideas, implement them, and see how your site does.  Check if the tips improve or hurt your traffic.  See if they effect your Google ranking. Some advice is great, whereas other advice may hurt your web page standings.  If it is good for your customer, then it is probably good for your website.  If you are being sneaky to trick search engines into ranking you high, it may help you temporarily, but will often hurt you in the long run.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Heeding My Own Advice

It has been a few days since my last post; clearly I am not heeding my own advice.  I do believe that in order to keep your customers (or clients) coming back to your website is by making your website more of a community where they want to check back in to see what is going on.  So with that said, I will let you know what I am looking at doing in the next few months.

First, I am looking at redesigning my website.  I think that it needs to have less "fluff" and more information links so that finding information is quick and easy.  

Second, I am going to begin offering pre-built templates for ShopSite.  There are other companies who do this, two being with their SproutCommerce templates, and and their page of pre-built ShopSite templates.  I have had pre-built templates on my website in the past, but since I was not as good at design as these other companies, I struggled selling against them.  This time around I am better at design and coding, and I am doing things differently.  I will be specializing my templates to utilize nearly all the ShopSite features.  I will be optimizing the templates so that they are SEO friendly and setup for the merchant to add a lot of Search Engine Optimized content/layout (such as repeating page descriptions at the bottom of the page in small print, as well as providing a list of product links in the footer specific to each page).  My new layouts will focus on being clean and well organized, putting all the elements that I discuss on this blog into use such as large brightly colored call-to-action buttons, sleek information layout, and easy navigation.

Third, I am going to continue to build my client and customer base on this blog, Facebook and Twitter by providing regular posts of information and tips for the world of ecommerce as well as provide more information on my website for Do-It-Yourself web design such as favicons, SEO basics, and more. 

I hope that you stay posted to see these new changes on my website, as well as the additional free information and online resources that I will be adding.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Clear, Easy and Quick

There are many places that you might be losing customers in your store.  Make sure that your checkout process isn't one of those things that is "scaring" customers off.  This video tutorial shows you how to make some edits to the checkout pages in your ShopSite store as well as provides some information on what makes for a good checkout process and what might be not-so-good.  Also, make sure that you have Google Analytics enabled in your store so that you can track the effect these changes make in your store. Click here to see how to setup a Cart Abandonment Funnel with Google Analytics in your ShopSite store.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hype, It's Infectious

Have you ever noticed that things that other people are excited about, you get excited about?  When a small crowd of people starts causing noise and gathering tight, all the people within range are drawn to the small crowd.  Everyone wants to see what the fuss is about.  Everyone wants to be part of the excitement.  Advertising your business should not be any different. If you are excited about your business, show your excitement   Make your customers excited about your business.  When your customers are excited about your business they will want to tell their friends. I have a few personal experiences in this area.

It was my sister-in-laws birthday, so I had ordered her some new flower pot boxes.  They are these wooden boxes that look great on the patio with her plants in them.  When the boxes came, they came with a little note about how no thumbs were injured in the building of those boxes.  I smiled when I saw that and I shared that little note with my family and friends. That tiny little note was probably an after-thought for this company to add in.  It was probably just part of their routine by now, but it was funny and unique, and made it so that I remembered that company and wanted to talk about that company with my family. 

Another experience had to deal with a merchant I was helping build a website for. She sells homeopathic oils and solutions. She got into this business 15 or so years earlier when she was at a point where she had no options.  She did her own research, came across these oils, and they worked wonders for her.  She became so passionate about the results that she saw that she was able to build a thriving business off of it.  She still helps many people and gets people interested in her business just based off of how excited she is  about the product.  

I am starting to take these examples and implement them in my own business.  I build websites for merchants.  I'm working on my skills with design and at creating graphics, and I've already grown my skills with clean coding, quick load speeds, and enhancing the sales and traffic on a website.  I've become good at this because I am interested in it.  I research new methods, new techniques, what works for competitors, etc.  I am just starting to show my excitement about this booming online industry by passing on some of my knowledge about the subject to anyone who wants to listen and to anyone who is on the same path I am on. I want others to be excited about testing new processes on their website and trying new ideas to improve their website.