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Shopify Tradeoffs

What to consider before selecting your next e-commerce platform

Selecting the appropriate e-commerce platform for your goals, circumstances and customers can influence your sales and the amount of time your staff dedicates to maintaining that platform. If you’re looking at Shopify as your next potential e-commerce solution, you need to be aware of its strengths and limitations, with regards to SEO as well as other considerations that could affect your organization’s success.

“Shopify achieved 47% growth in Q1 2020 primarily on the notion of ease and speed to market,” said Tony Verre, founder of DreamFire Digital Marketing, “It’s a particularly strong proposition for business owners scrambling to get online as retail visits came to a screeching halt. However, with that speed and ease come tradeoffs.”

Shopify SEO tradeoffs

Duplicate URLs. Duplicate URLs issues, in one form or another, are somewhat common across e-commerce platforms. On Shopify, duplicate URLs are created when products are associated with a collection page, a group of products.

“The same exact product can be viewed at yourstore.com/products/{product-name} and yourstore.com/collections/{collection-name}/products/{product-name} for every collection that product is a member of,” said Kevin Wallner, founder of First Chair Digital. The shorter URL is the original, and while Shopify does add canonical tags pointing to the original page, “These duplicate URLs waste crawl budget and make it difficult for search engines to decide which version to show when a user searches for your product,” he said.

Verre and Jason White, director of SEO at PMG, also mentioned duplicate URLs as one of the tradeoffs that merchants should be aware of before getting started with Shopify. One way to resolve this issue is to edit your Shopify theme, as discussed in our technical SEO for Shopify guide.

URL structure. “Shopify does not allow for URL structure customization, so every page you create is incorporated into a predetermined URL structure that can’t be changed,” Verre said.

URLs are a minor ranking factor and having the ability to get rid of the “/products” or “/pages” URL paths would give site owners more space to add descriptive keywords to their URLs. However, Shopify site owners do not have this option out of the box, and all category and product pages built on Shopify follow the URL structure mentioned above (in the section on duplicate URLs).

With the help of a developer, solutions such as Cloudflare’s Cloud Worker interface can be implemented to mask these URL paths. You can read more about this option in our technical SEO for Shopify guide.

Robots.txt. Shopify doesn’t allow site owners to make edits to their robots.txt file, an issue that Chris Long, senior SEO manager at Go Fish Digital, highlighted during our Shopify SEO session of Live with Search Engine Land.

Being able to use robots.txt disallow directives to regulate crawling would provide site owners with a simple solution for Shopify’s duplicate URL issues, Wallner previously told Search Engine Land. Since this is not an option, merchants must look for other workarounds, such as editing their Shopify template or adding page-level meta-robots tags to noindex content.

App ecosystem. At the time of publication, Shopify’s app store has 4,541 apps, and while that figure continues to grow, “there isn’t a complete SEO app for Shopify that will help you manage all your customization needs,” Verre said, “There’s not really a Yoast equivalent that can handle architecture, content, and commerce.”

“[Shopify is] extensible, and many of these extensions can do pretty solid things,” Steven Hammer, founder of RankHammer, said, “The challenge comes when you want to go to the next level and make something that’s truly yours.” Because no two digital storefronts are the same, Shopify’s relatively small app ecosystem may not be a problem for some site owners while being dealbreakers for others.

Related: Shopify SEO Guide: How to increase organic traffic to your store

SEO is important, but there’s more to consider

“Shopify is a great solution for businesses that simply ‘need something that works today’,” Verre said, adding that its prefabricated themes and low-knowledge threshold make it a good option for merchants that need to begin selling quickly. While this makes Shopify attractive for many businesses, there are other factors that site owners should be aware of before committing to a particular e-commerce platform.

Shopify’s non-SEO strengths. “Without worrying about much, you can have a great credit card integration and very few of the hassles,” Hammer said, “You don’t have to worry as much about server performance or security as you might with other platforms.”

“Shopify is a bit more nimble than, say, your Drupals or Magentos, and can be well-suited for smaller teams or teams with few development resources,” said Kali Wyrosdic, SEO specialist at Tinuiti. Requiring less staff and fewer resources can save merchants money and enable them to grow faster.

“Where Shopify shines is in the extras,” Greg Finn, digital marketer and partner at Cypress North, said, “If you need a POS, Shopify has one. The ‘Shop’ [smartphone] app helps users buy faster and easier across domains, with better tracking.”

“Integrations like Shop Pay make it almost as easy to buy as a dedicated Amazon customer, even if they’re a first time visitor,” said Hammer, noting that dropshipping is also a business model that works well on Shopify.

Shopify’s non-SEO drawbacks. “The out-of-the-box software platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce are nearly plug and play, while a solution like WooCommerce and Magento can be custom developed into your site to look and function exactly how you want,” Finn said. “From an SEO perspective, this is important to envision, as you may want to move platforms, upgrade capacity and moving away from proprietary systems like Shopify and BigCommerce can cause headaches.”

One of the ways Shopify adds customizability is through its app ecosystem; however, directly customizing a Shopify site’s theme can be tougher than it might be on other platforms. Since Shopify themes are built using Liquid, an open-source language created by Shopify, customizability is limited and programmers may need to dedicate more time to learning it (if they’re unfamiliar). This limitation is “part of the reason that a lot of shopify sites feel so derivative,” said Hammer, “Does anyone else get annoyed by the same ‘deal spinner’ that’s on the last three unrelated sites that you visited? We believe that consumers do.”

An example of a “deal spinner” on a Shopify site.

Merchants that use tags to gather insights into how users are interacting with their site should also be aware that, although Google Tag Manager (GTM) is free to use, Shopify store owners will need to be on a Shopify Plus plan, which starts at $2,000 a month, to use it with their site. Open-source platforms like WooCommerce and Magento allow GTM to be added easily, and BigCommerce sites can add GTM by inserting their GTM code directly into their template files.

Stacking up to the competition

“The largest tradeoff that e-commerce business owners will make when thinking about Shopify versus other platforms like WordPress + WooCommerce, Drupal, or Adobe’s Magento is customization from a theme and functionality perspective, as well as from an SEO perspective,” said Verre. The compromise between these elements was a common point of discussion among the majority of professionals that spoke to Search Engine Land for this article.

WooCommerce. WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress plugin, making it a convenient choice for existing WordPress sites that are looking to add e-commerce functionality. “As an Automattic company [WordPress’ parent company], they aren’t in danger of going out of business or losing support and you can customize your store any way you want it and blend it into your site fully,” said Finn.

“The advantage [of WooCommerce] is that you can fully control it and it’s a way better content marketing platform,” Hammer said, “It’s great for subscriptions, memberships and other continuity models. It seems like the right choice for anything that’s more than just a transaction, which is why we often recommend it.”

However, stores built with WooCommerce do require more upkeep than those built with Shopify. “The challenge is needing to stay on top of seemingly constant updates, so you need to have a resource that’s helping,” he said.

Magento. Magento provides site owners with even more possibilities and options than WooCommerce. “The customizability here is second to none, but so are the development stack requirements,” said Hammer, who recommends this platform to businesses that desire a world-class platform and have the budget and resources to maintain it.

Finding the right platform. “Realistically, most people fit into the Shopify category,” he said, noting that, although the platform you choose should be based on your needs and the resources at your disposal, “At some point some companies hit a wall and then want to move to something else. And, some companies start with a customized solution and tire of the constant effort required and move to Shopify.”

No matter which platform you invest in, you will always have to compromise between factors such as SEO, customizability, price, availability of integrations and the need for dedicated technical staff. “There isn’t any one platform which is better than the other — it’s all in how you manage the tradeoffs,” said White.

“Modern SEO is the accumulation of incremental gains and maximizing what you have available, pushing forward however possible. The platform used should be a business decision with an omni-channel approach. From there, the SEO team should be expected to work hand-in-hand with the development team to drive those incremental returns,” he said.


 

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