Viart Shopping Cart and SEO – A Short Review

Viart is an increasingly popular off-the-shelf PHP e-commerce system used by a number of fairly high profile online shops. As an application it’s very flexible, powerful and integrates well with a number of Payment Solutions Providers. However, out the box it’s not particularly well optimised for search engines. In this post we’ll take a look at whether or not it has the capability to be truly search engine friendly.

Tables

Many e-commerce systems rely heavily on tables for layout, and unfortunately Viart is no exception. Tables are used extensively for layout, and for decoration.

Much as we’d prefer this not to be the case, it’s likely that until Viart updates the templates provided with the package, we’ll be stuck using tables.

Use of H1, H2, H3 tags

Using CSS to create a heading structure for a web page is considered to be a well established way* to encourage achieve search engine rankings, amongst other benefits. However, all the Default Style uses CSS extensively, it doesn’t use Heading Tags to structure the content on the page. This, combined with the templates’ use of tables, doesn’t help matters particularly much.

However, if you’re willing to get under the hood a little it’s perfectly possible to introduce these tags. You can do this directly in the code (perhaps using h1 tags for the product names) or by creating a styles in the CSS, then using them in Custom Content Blocks or on Custom Pages.

Either way, the system isn’t great out the box, but can be improved with some work.

Discrete & Search Engine Friendly URLs

Viart offers the ability to use ‘search engine friendly’ URLs rather than the standard cryptic ones. These two alternatives look a little like this:

www.mackerelmegastore.com/fresh_line_caught_turbot
www.mackerelmegastore.com/product_details.php?item_id=123

From a pure SEO perspective the first of the two (the search engine friendly one) is vastly more preferable, primarily as it allows keywords to be placed into the URL – a sure-fire way of improving rankings.

Interestingly, we’ve found that search engines don’t necessarily have a problem indexing a site that uses the cryptic URLs, which can sometimes be a problem.

User Friendliness
We always think that a meaningful URL can help increase the attractiveness of a site to a user. For example, someone using Google may well look at the URL under the search result for extra verification on the link they’re considering clicking on. Of course it’s far easier to assess whether this is the case if the URL contains the phrases you’ve actually searched for.

Analytics
A minor point but Search Engine Friendly URLs can also be useful when it comes to analytics, making the identification of pages within the site easy. It’s far simpler to say “Yay! 100% increase in traffic to the About Us page” rather than “100% increase to..wait a minute…what’s ‘product_category.php?id=252′ again?”

Sales Funnel Tracking
As Viart helpfully creates distinct URLs for every stage of the Shopping Cart/Checkout process, tracking the progress of users through the Sales Funnel is a doddle.

Conclusion

Our conclusion, which seems to be shared with a number of people over at the Viart Forum, is that the SEO of the Viart system out-the-box is poor and needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. This is a shame as the product has a lot going for it. However, online retailers who are really serious about optimising their sites and gaining high volumes of traffic will have problems.

That said, the templates can be modified if you have the know-how so you may be able to get at least part of the way.

Finally, we should say that none of this takes into account the value of high-quality links. None of the SEO things we’ve mentioned above would be any use without high-quality in-bound links. Our work has shown us that we can vastly improve the ranking of a Viart site purely through link-building and a little optimisation of content and meta-data.

* Yes, I know that there’s always going to be healthy debate about how much of an influence heading tags are, but for the purposes of this example let’s assume that they do. In any case, it’s good practice to do so.