Bigcommerce SEO (2018) — 12 Ways to Make a Bigcommerce Store Rank in Search Results
Bigcommerce is a leading online store builder, aimed largely at people who want to set up their own e-commerce site without worrying about having to code anything or involve developers. The platform makes setting up a professional-looking online store pretty straightforward, and Bigcommerce has become a popular e-commerce solution for many businesses, large and small.
However, it’s one thing creating an attractive, functional store using Bigcommerce; quite another to deliver traffic via SEO to it.
So, in this post, we’re going to discuss the SEO functionality of the platform and provide some key tips on how to make a Bigcommerce store rank highly in organic search results.
Let’s start with an important question…
How good is Bigcommerce for SEO?
For me, SEO functionality is actually one of the best things about Bigcommerce. Search engines look out for ‘signals’ when working out where to rank websites, and it’s very straightforward to ensure that the key ones are present on a Bigcommerce store:
Security: Site-wide SSL is included with each Bigcommerce plan.
Clean URLS: Bigcommerce URLs are highly customizable - it’s easy to structure them in a search-friendly way.
Site speed: Akamai Image Manager — an automated image optimizer which helps your site load faster — is available on some Bigcommerce templates (the ‘Stencil’ range).
Mobile friendliness: All Bigcommerce templates are responsive, and what’s more, many support AMP format for both products and pages out of the box (AMP stands for ‘accelerated mobile pages’ — it’s a Google supported format which, as the name suggests, helps your site load more quickly).
On Page-SEO: Bigcommerce makes it very easy to change page titles, meta data and headings — elements that search engines consider when categorising your site for search results.
I’d go so far to say that, amongst the key online store building products — Shopify, Volusion, Bigcommerce, Wix and Squarespace — Bigcommerce is possibly a class leader in the SEO department. This is because the other products mentioned either don’t facilitate all of the above out of the box — or don’t facilitate it quite as well as Bigcommerce does. (If you’d like to try the SEO features of Bigcommerce out, you can avail of a free trial here).
Even so, you will need to do a bit of work to ensure your Bigcommerce site is performing as well as possible in search results. Let’s take a look at the key things you need to do.
1. Use SSL!
Search engines give ‘https://’ websites (i.e., those that use SSL, ‘secure socket layer’) preference over non-secure, ‘http://’ ones in search results.
Additionally, web browsers tend to ‘dislike’ non-secure websites, displaying warning messages to people visiting them. This can significantly erode visitors’ trust in affected sites (meaning that even if your non-secure site is performing well in search results, visitors may be less inclined to purchase from it once they click through to it).
So it makes sense if at all possible to ensure your Bigcommerce site is fully secure, and for this you’ll need an SSL certificate.
There are three options here:
use the ‘Encryption Everywhere’ website security product, which is included as standard in all Bigcommerce plans.
For all of these options to work, you will need to point your domain to your Bigcommerce store first. Encryption Everywhere will automatically be switched on when you do that, so long as you set up your Bigcommerce site after May 24, 2017 (if not, you will need to install it).
A word of caution on SSL…
It’s important to be aware that implementing SSL incorrectly can have a negative impact on your site’s position in search, so it’s worth treading carefully.
If you are building a brand new Bigcommerce store on a brand new domain (i.e., you are not migrating an existing site to Bigcommerce), then using SSL is a no-brainer. Doing so will ensure you are ticking an important SEO box from the outset, and improving your chances of your Bigcommerce store performing well in organic search results.
However, if you're moving to Bigcommerce from a different platform, and you're making your site secure for the first time in the process, there is some additional technical work you may need to undertake to ensure you don't damage your position in search results. In particular, you’ll need to look at whether any page URLs have changed in the migration process and ensure that 301 redirects (which tell Google where the new version of the page is located) are set up correctly.
I would suggest that you take an in-depth look at Google’s guidelines on making the switch to SSL before carrying out a migration; it might also be worth chatting to the Bigcommerce support team in advance of the move to make sure that you haven’t overlooked anything important.
Merchants who are switching on SSL on an existing Bigcommerce site shouldn’t need to worry too much about doing so (particularly if using the built-in ‘Encryption Everywhere’ option), as 301 redirects should be automatically created for the new https:// versions of the pages. That said, I’d still probably suggest reviewing the SSL resources on the Bigcommerce help site carefully, and chatting to Bigcommerce Support if necessary, before enabling SSL on an existing Bigcommerce website.
2. Register your Bigcommerce store with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Registering a website with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is something all website owners who are serious about search engine optimisation should do, regardless of the platform they’ve used to construct it.
By registering your site with these important services you are 1) telling the two major search engines that your website exists and 2) ensuring it gets crawled by them.
One thing you should remember with these services is that you should register BOTH the www and non-www version of your domain (i.e., www.yourdomain.com and yourdomain.com), and, if you’ve got a secure and non-secure version of your website, the http:// and https:// versions of each.
Registering a Bigcommerce site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is fairly straightforward - but it’s worth taking a look at the below resources for more information about the process:
3. Submit your Bigcommerce store’s sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Once you’ve registered your Bigcommerce site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, you’ll need to submit an XML sitemap to both services - this helps both services index your site accurately and quickly.
Helpfully, Bigcommerce generates a sitemap automatically for you — the URL for this on your store is www.yourdomain.com/xmlsitemap.php — and you just need to enter this link into Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools (changing the ‘yourdomain.com’ bit to match your actual domain of course!).
In both Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools you do this by going to your site’s dashboard, and then clicking ‘sitemaps.’
4. Ensure your Bigcommerce store loads very quickly
Page speed is a key signal used by search engines to rank websites, with fast-loading sites given preference over slower ones.
Your options with regard to reducing page speed are a bit limited with Bigcommerce: rather than being able to buy your own hosting and code your own template, you have to use Bigcommerce servers and their templates (which, whilst perfectly good, don’t give you fine-grain control over the speed at which your site loads).
That said, there quite a few things you can do to make a Bigcommerce site load as quickly as possible:
Use image compression tools to reduce file size. Some Bigcommerce templates (the Stencil range) allow you to make use of a really handy compression solution called Akamai Image Manager, which automatically optimizes your images to provide the best combination of size, quality, and file format for the device it’s being served on. It’s worth seriously considering using Stencil templates to avail of this. If you’re not using a Stencil theme, compression tools such as Tiny Png can be used to reduce the size of any photos you’re uploading to Bigcommerce.
Keep use of any external scripts or custom code on your site to a minimum. Every script you add slows your site down, so use essential ones only.
Avoid using a large number of web fonts on your site — or even consider jettisoning them entirely in favour of web safe fonts (these load much faster).
Enable Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format for your Bigcommerce pages and posts - this displays extremely fast-loading versions of your content in mobile search results. AMP content is sometimes prioritised by Google in results (it’s more likely to appear in its ‘Top Stories’ carousels) and because pages in AMP format load so quickly on mobile devices, they’re more likely to be read (thus increasing the dwell time on your content, which many SEO experts believe to be a positive ranking signal). To use AMP with Bigcommerce, you’ll need to make sure you’re using a template which supports it (you can view AMP-friendly templates in the Bigcommerce theme store by checking the ‘AMP Enabled’ filter). After that it’s a simple case of going to Advanced Settings › Google AMP in Bigcommerce and switching it on.
5. Optimize your page titles
One of the most significant elements of a web page is its title - search engines treat it as a key piece of information when working out how to categorise and rank it, and your title itself shows up as the largest component of a search result (as well as at the top of browser windows).
You should ensure your Bigcommerce page and post titles are never vague in nature. Additionally, they should ideally start with your ‘focus keyword’ - the phrase you want to rank for in search.
For example, if you run a business called “Jim’s Cars”, which is located in Dublin and specializes in Volkswagen car sales, it’s better to use a page title which includes the phrase ‘Volkswagen Cars Dublin’ instead of a more conventional (but less SEO-friendly) ‘Jim’s Cars’.
A good page title for the above example would be ‘Volkswagen Cars Dublin - Jim’s Cars.’ (Note: there are various keyword research tools that can help you find out which phrases are actually searched for on search engines (popular ones include Ahrefs and Moz’s Keyword explorer).
In Bigcommerce, there are three different processes for editing page titles - one for static pages (‘About us’, ‘Contact’ pages etc.), one for blog posts and another for product pages.
Let’s look at each.
Editing titles for static pages
To edit a page title, you need to navigate to that page in the dashboard — you’ll find static pages by going to Store Front > Web Pages. Once you’ve located your page, click on its title until you come down to ‘Advanced Options.’ There, you’ll find an option to change your page title.
Editing titles on blog posts
To edit a blog post’s title, locate the post via Storefront > Blog. After clicking on the relevant post, simply change the title using the ‘title’ field provided.
Editing titles on product pages
To edit a Bigcommerce’s product page’s title, you need to first locate that product by going to Products > View in the dashboard. Then, click on the relevant product, followed by the ‘Other details’ tab (see screenshot below).
Once in the ‘Other Details’ section, it’s simply a question of scrolling down to the ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ box and tweaking your page titles accordingly.
6. Use headings properly
Ignoring headings is a common mistake made by people who build and update their own websites using ‘DIY’ platforms like Bigcommerce. Instead of applying headings correctly (H1, H2, H3 etc.) to their text — as a webmaster or web editor might do — they often add bold or capitalised text to break up their content.
This causes quite a few problems: first, from a aesthetics point of view it can look pretty bad. Second, it makes it harder for visually impaired visitors using screen readers to understand your content. And third — and of most relevance to a discussion on Bigcommerce SEO — it makes it more difficult for search engines to index your content properly.
So, make sure you read up on headings and how to apply them properly to your text before you add content to your Bigcommerce store!
In terms of adding headings and subheadings in Bigcommerce, it’s really easy: when editing a page, you just highlight a piece of text and then choose your desired heading from the formatting drop down menu, as per the screenshot below.
Of all the heading types, your H1 is the most important, because search engines use it (along with the page title) as a primary way of ranking the page. So it should always include (and ideally start with) your focus keyword. Additionally, you should only use one H1 per page.
7. Use engaging meta descriptions for your pages and products
Meta descriptions provide short summaries of web pages, and usually appear underneath the blue clickable links on a search engine results page.
Although Google says that they aren’t technically a ranking factor, a well-written meta description can encourage more clickthroughs to your website - which raises the clickthrough rate (CTR) of a page. The CTR of a page is generally believed by most SEO experts to be a ranking factor (with search engines rewarding results that get higher click through rates), so getting meta descriptions right is important.
Your meta description should:
be concise (less than 300 characters)
contain the keyword you are hoping to rank for
contain an interesting overview of the page content — one that encourages people to visit it.
As with page titles, different processes apply depending on whether you want to edit a static page’s description or the description for a product.
To edit a static page’s meta description, you'll need to click Store Front > Web Page from your Bigcommerce dashboard, click on the relevant page and then scroll down to the ‘Advanced Options.’
To edit a blog post’s meta description, go to Storefront > Blog on the dashboard, click on your post and then scroll down to the SEO settings underneath the post editor.
To edit a meta description for a product page, go to Products > View in the Bigcommerce dashboard. Then, click on the relevant product, and then the ‘Other details’ tab.
8. Add alt text and optimised file names to your images
Search engine algorithms don’t just look at the words on your website when indexing your site; they factor in your images too.
To do this, they examine two bits of data associated with your pictures: ‘alt text’ and file names. Accordingly, you need to ensure both are up to scratch from an SEO perspective.
How to add alt text to images in Bigcommerce
There are three main reasons why you should add alternative text (‘alt text’) to your website’s images:
Screen readers use it to provide a description of an image to visually impaired users of your website.
Search engines use it to categorise and better understand your context.
If your image fails to load, a description of will be displayed to help avoid confusion.
You should aim to add alt text that works for both screen readers and search engines - a description that that contains your focus keyword but is still perfectly understandable to anybody who is using a screen reader to access your content.
The process for adding alt text to images is slightly different for Bigcommerce pages, posts and products.
Adding alt text to static Bigcommerce pages
Changing the alt text for images on static Bigcommerce pages involves a slightly fiddly process.
First you need to locate the page containing the picture (via Store Front > Web Pages). Then, you need to right click on the relevant picture (without selecting any of the options that subsequently appear!), and then left click on it. If you’ve done this successfully you’ll see a border appear around the image.
After that, you need to click on the 'picture’ icon in the menu bar.
You’ll then see a box appear which allows you to edit various aspects of the image, including alt text. Go to the ‘Appearance’ tab and enter your alt text into the ‘Image description’ field.
Adding alt text to blog post images
To add alt text to a blog post, go to Storefront > Blog and then click the relevant post. Then, locate the image that you’d like to add the alt text to. In the centre of it, you should see an ‘Edit’ button. Clicking this will bring up a dialogue box where you can add the desired alt text — use the ‘title’ field to do this.
Adding alt text to Bigcommerce product images
To add alt text to a product image, you need to locate the product it’s associated with and then the image in question — you can do this by clicking Products > View. Then, click on the relevant product and then its ‘Images and Videos’ tab. You’ll then see your product image(s) and you can use the Description field to change the alt text.
Changing image file names in Bigcommerce
Changing file names is not terribly straightforward in Bigcommerce - so it’s best to get your file names right before you upload them to the platform. This means ensuring your focus keyword is in the file name, and that the file name is relatively short. (Tip: when deciding on file names, it’s advisable to use a hyphen to separate multiple keywords - i.e., use green-dress.jpg rather than greendress.jpg. The former approach helps search engines understand what the image is ‘about’, and can provide an SEO benefit).
For page and post images, you can technically use the Image Manager provided to change image file names (which you can access via Dashboard > Storefront > Image Manager). This displays any images used within your Bigcommerce pages or posts and you can just edit file names directly there. Somewhat oddly however, you’ll then have to go back to relevant pages or posts in question and re-insert the renamed images (from a list of all the images on your site). As such, you may find it quicker to simply go to relevant page or post and re-upload the image to it.
For product images, if you want to change an image file name after you’ve uploaded it, you’l need to delete your existing image and re-upload a version that contains your focus keywords in its file name. Obviously if you have an existing Bigcommerce store containing thousands of products, this could be a massive job - so you may have to weigh up the time involved vs the benefit of tweaking the file names.
Whilst it’s definitely a good thing to use optimised file names with your pictures, if you’re short on time, it’s worth considering that there are other aspects of SEO which might be better focussed on instead (for example, keyword research or backlink building - you can download our ‘Super Simple SEO’ e-book for more details on these important areas).
A compromise in a ‘time-poor’ scenario might be to change the image file names of products that are particularly important to your business, and which you are particularly keen to see strong search engine results for.
9. Use clean URLs
Using ‘clean’ URLs is encouraged by Google.
Clean URLs are short, simple and intelligible: as an example, if you were selling blue guitars, it would be advisable to use a URL of www.yourdomain.com/blue-guitars rather than www.yourdomain.com/prds/ct/p223.php?ref=14556bluegtr
One of Bigcommerce’s strengths is that you can create really clean URLs with platform. Many competing platforms add prefixes to your pages and products, i.e.,
/pages/ before pages
/posts/ before posts
/products/ before products
which strictly speaking isn’t ideal from an SEO perspective.
With Bigcommerce, there are no prefixes to worry about and you can create URLs where the page, post or product name comes directly after your domain name.
For pages, just locate your page (via Storefront > Web Pages) and enter the URL in the Page URL box provided in the ‘Web Page Details’ section.
For blog posts, go to Storefront > Blog, locate your post and then scroll down to the ‘SEO’ section. You can then edit the page URL via the dedicated Post URL field:
For products, go to Products > View and open the relevant product. Click on the ‘Other Details’ tab and then scroll down to the SEO section, where you’ll be able to use the Product URL field to edit its URL:
Whatever you enter in the above fields should be as ‘clean’ as possible, and includes a focus keyword (a focus keyword helps both search engines and humans understand what your content is about more easily). Where multiple focus keywords are involved, separate them with a hyphen (i.e., go for /green-dress rather than green-dress); Google advises that you do this so that your pages can be categorized and indexed more accurately.
Note: changing URLs of pages that aren't currently performing in search results is usually a good idea - but if you are contemplating changing a page that IS already ranking highly, you should tread carefully.
This is because a high-ranking page is likely to have a lot of backlinks to it, and these don't count for quite as much if you change its URL (and won't count for anything at all if you don't create a redirect from your old URL to the new one).
Changing a URL can also affect the 'social proof' of a page because it will reset the stats displayed on your social shares counter for that page to zero.
So in an ideal world, it's good to get the URL structure right at the point at which you create your Bigcommerce page or product, or shortly afterwards. And if you do change a URL, make sure you create a 301 redirect to it — see the Bigcommerce help topic on redirection for more information on how to do this.
10. Add rich snippets to your content
Rich snippets - ‘structured data’ that can be added to your content to help both searchers and search engines understand what a page is about - are an important part of how your website behaves in search results (check out this Search Engine Journal article about rich snippets to find out why).
Rich snippets feature visual clues about the content of a page or post - for example, star ratings, author, prices and so on - which appear just below the page/post title and before the meta description, as per the example below:
Rich snippets are typically generated through the addition of 'Schema Markup' - HTML code featuring tags defined by Schema.org (a collaborative project involving Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Yandex aimed at helping webmasters provide more accurate information to search engines).
Rich snippets for products are generated automatically by Bigcommerce — the platform uses the information you enter on your product pages to pull the microdata necessary to generate them. So it’s important to ensure you have filled out as much as you can on your product details pages.
To create more bespoke rich snippets (for example for pages and posts), you may need to manually add some code to your products and pages.
11. Focus on creating great content and building backlinks to it
A lot of online store owners concentrate so much on their product catalogues (the images, the descriptions, the keywords used etc.) that they neglect a hugely important area of search engine optimisation: creating great content (usually in the form of blog posts).
Sites that feature in-depth, informative posts on topics that people are genuinely interested can perform very well in search results — and particularly so if there are lots of high-quality external links (or ‘backlinks’) pointing to them.
Creating content that performs well in search typically involves
carrying out keyword research
writing high-quality, long-form blog posts based on that research
building backlinks to your posts
It’s a bit beyond the scope of this article to explain the whole content and backlink-building process — however, if you’re interested in learning more about this important area of SEO, I’d suggest taking a look at my Super Simple SEO book, in which I explain the ins and outs of how to perform effective keyword research, create great content and build valuable links to it.
12. Assess the quality of your on-page SEO
On-page SEO is a set of steps that are taken to ensure that as many ‘ranking signals’ as possible are present on an individual page.
My top ten tips on this front are probably as follows:
Use clean URLS that include your target keywords
Start your page / product titles with your keywords
Include your focus keywords in H1 tags
Use headings properly
Include ‘LSI keywords’ in your content (alternative versions of your focus keywords)
Position your focus keywords early on in your content
Add long-tail keywords to your content
Optimise images correctly
Make sure your blog posts are fairly long
We’ve touched on some of these above, but there are several other things you need to do to ensure your on-page SEO is of a high standard.
Which brings us neatly onto…
Download our full SEO guide
The above tips should definitely help make a difference to the performance of your Bigcommerce store in search results, but there is a LOT more that you can do to boost your store’s position in search results.
If you're interested in finding out more about the whole topic of search engine optimisation, and want to make significant improvements to your store's performance in Google, then you might like to download our new 'Super Simple SEO' book.
Super Simple SEO: How to make Google LOVE your website is written for people who are relatively new to the world of search engine optimization (SEO).
Written in a friendly, jargon-free way, it guides you through the key concepts of SEO; provides you with actionable steps to improve your search ranking; and gives you a series of SEO 'cheatsheets' that make it much easier to implement vital changes to your website and backlink building tactics.
If you'd like some more advice on how to improve your site's general visibility in search, another thing you can do is join our mailing list (we send out regular tips on SEO and inbound marketing).
And finally, if you have any thoughts on the topic of Bigcommerce SEO yourself, do leave a comment below! (Note: if you're reading this on a phone, you may be seeing the AMP version of the post, which disables commenting. Click here for the original post, which allows you to make a comment).