SEO & Digital Marketing Blog | Dan Taylor

How SEO Friendly Is EKM? A Technical SEO Review

For small to medium sized businesses, there is a lot of choice when it comes to selecting an e-commerce platform. In recent months one in particular has caught my eye through a lot of advertising on Twitter and YouTube, EKM.

Having worked with a lot of ecommerce websites, I’ve only ever personally come across the platform once, despite it’s high volume of ratings, and the claim they have more than 50,000 customers.

Interestingly, EKM also have a support article titled “What Can An SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Company Do For Me?”, and the opening line of the article reads:

If you’re using ekmPowershop the answer is usually not much, as most of the SEO work has already been done for you.

This is quite a claim for any ecommerce platform that it’s 100% SEO friendly out of the box, especially given the issues faced by enterprise level platforms like SalesForce Commerce Cloud, Magento, Hybris… And even WooCommerce/WordPress (which is typically one of the more SEO friendly platforms OOTB).

How I Conducted This Review

With any review, it’s important that methodology is transparent. This review has been conducted based on:

  • A review of a list of 13 websites sent to me via email by Tony Rushe, an Account Manager at EKM as examples of live sites.
  • Conversations with EKM live chat executives and their responses to technical related questions.

This review is not a review of whether or not EKM websites rank within organic search; it’s possible for all platforms to rank. This is a review of how close to best practice these websites are, and any common issues they have.

So without further adieu…

Technical SEO Review Of 13 EKM E-commerce Stores

First, I’m going to start at looking at EKM’s claims of SEO proficiency that are highlighted in the previously linked to article. These claims are that EKM benefits from the below SEO factors OOTB:

  • Search engine friendly design
  • H1 tags for product names
  • Matching page titles
  • Meta Keywords and Meta Description
  • Standard SiteMap
  • Google Sitemap (I’ve literally no idea what this would be?!)
  • XML Sitemap, using the sitemaps.org standard
  • Automatic Google Product Feed generation

So let’s start from the top.

EKM SEO Friendly Design

Top line: The websites provided as examples all had issues on mobile, in terms of elements being too close together, elements not readable… Rather than responding to smaller viewports page elements just appear to get smaller.

For example, this is the homepage on desktop for Mon Michelle, an example site provided by Tony:

EKM Desktop Homepage
EKM Desktop Homepage Example.

And on mobile you can see that the header banner just gets smaller, rather than the elements responding to the mobile screen size:

EKM Mobile Homepage
The same EKM homepage on mobile, elements resize and get smaller, rather than respond.

Given Google has now pretty much moved all sites over to the mobile first index, issues like this can be key in maintaining performance.

On a top level, all of the sites had missing viewport <meta> tags in the <head>.

H1 Tags for Product Names

Ok, so a H1 on a product page – that’s standard, however what’s interesting is that in the code there are two H1 elements, one for mobile and one for desktop.

H1 is also used to style the “search” text. Whilst this isn’t a major issue, a lot of value can be place in maintaining sound information architecture.

Matching Page Titles

Back in 2015, Google said that page titles (aka title tags, meta titles) and H1s should be consistent for rankings. However there is a difference between something being consistent, and something being the same.

Consistency is key. One thing we always try to get right is extracting your headline. And if there are different places on the page that point to different headlines, that’s very confusing for the bot.

And that is why we get publishers sometimes writing in – “oh, you guys got my headline wrong!” And we say, “well, there are different parts of your page that say different things.”

So really try to be consistent, it is the best way for us to correctly index your headline, index that snippet below. – John Mueller

Across all the sites I look at, all of the title tags and H1 tags matched, meaning you had search results with categories literally with the title tag “Jackets” or “Dresses”.

EKM serp appearance
Not being able to define separate page titles (H1s) and title tags is a big optimisation opportunity cost.

And in instances were the use of ALL CAPS is great for the on-page H1, couple that with a long product name and the resulting title tag just looks spammy:

ALL CAPS title tags aren’t user friendly.

Using the example of dresses and jackets, I’d have wanted to optimise the title tags for better information architecture, better user experience (and CTR from SERPs), and inclusion of search phrases to match a variety of search intents.

We also know from various studies and experiments that title tags carry a reasonable amount of weight as a ranking factor in Google.

Meta Keywords and Meta Description

Awesome that you can edit the meta descriptions of your pages, but looking at the thirteen sites, using a site: command, very few are optimised beyond the homepage.

Some of the meta descriptions also reveal that some hygiene pages, such as Terms & Conditions, and other policies (key user trust signals, for any ecommerce or YMYL site) are templated:

Privacy Policy This privacy policy sets out how ekm sitename ekm sitename uses and protects any information that you give ekm sitename ekm sitename.

So the second point here, meta keywords.

At the time of writing this, Google has on record and publicly told webmasters that they don’t use meta keywords in web ranking, nor have they used them for 9 years.

Matt Cutts went on record in 2009 in various videos and blogs talking about how Google doesn’t use meta keywords.

For reference, here are the meta tags that Google does support, and here is a post from their official webmasters blog on the subject.

Our web search (the well-known search at Google.com that hundreds of millions of people use each day) disregards keyword meta tags completely.

So it’s disappointing that a modern, forward thinking cloud-based platform still includes this field as something for their users to get distracted by.

Standard SiteMap (HTML Sitemap)

By this, they mean a HTML sitemap – which is good, as it helps with crawling, and helps other search engines such as Bing.

However, on some HTML sitemaps on the example stores, such as this one:

  • https://www.bankruptfashion.com/sitemap.asp

There are 1,766 links on the page (in total). That’s huge. Internal linking structures are vitally important, and resolving them can reap huge SEO benefits, to have a single page on the site is detrimental.

With a HTML sitemap, not every single product URL needs to be included, and as EKM is an ecommerce platform, this is a bit of an oversight and is creating pages damaging to crawl efficiency.

Why are these large HTML sitemaps an issue?

They’re an issue because of internal linking. As SEOs, we tend to use a rule of “100 links per page”, and this in part goes back to the days of PageRank sculpting.

Dynamical systems point of view (source: Cornell University)

With PageRank sculpting, you wanted to sculpt internal links to pass authority to key pages within the site.

During this time period in SEO, Matt Cutts said the following in an interview with Rand Fishkin:

The “keep the number of links to under 100” is in the technical guideline section, not the quality guidelines section. That means we’re not going to remove a page if you have 101 or 102 links on the page. Think of this more as a rule of thumb.

Whilst this is a rule of thumb, hundreds (or 1,000+) links on a page is detrimental.

XML Sitemap, using the sitemaps.org standard

They do, but they also contain tags such as:

  • <lastmod>
  • <changefreq>
  • <priority>

Tags I personally wouldn’t include based on experience.

Speciality Sitemaps

None of the thirteen example stores had speciality XML sitemaps, all pages (products, hygiene) are bundled into a single sitemap.

Will this affect Google crawling the website? Not at all. Will it affect an SEO’s ability to use Google Search Console to it’s full potential and identify indexing issues? Yes.

XML Sitemap Issues

I also crawled the thirteen XML sitemaps, and found that a lot of them contained non-200 status code URLs.

These URLs should be excluded from the XMLs to prevent wasted crawl resource.

Automatic Google Product Feed generation

This is actually really useful, and out of the box this can instantly make a small/medium sized business more competitive within organic search.

Other EKM SEO Observations

So, that’s the end of the list included in EKM’s SEO support article. So the rest of the analysis is done based on reviewing the thirteen example websites.

Do EKM products have an issue with being indexed by Google?

In order to test this, I chose 10 products at random from each of the 13 websites, and attempted site: on them to establish if Google was indexing the URL.

Out of the 130 products, only 103 were indexed and returned a URL through a site: command. This means ~20% of the products I tested weren’t being indexed by Google.

This is something common on a number of SME level e-commerce platforms, and is something I’ve come across on other platforms such as Shopify (especially during this webinar, were we reviewed Lauren Moshi). This can be resolved through better internal linking.

Does EKM have native blog functionality?

Not that I can see. Some websites I’ve found on EKM do have blogs, but they are WordPress installs reverse-proxied to a /blog/ subfolder. The WordPress blog feature is actually promoted to users, with instructions on how to install.

This isn’t a bad thing, as a WordPress blog is a great thing to have – however every one I’ve come across hasn’t been covered by the SSL, covering the EKM main platform. It also doesn’t appear that EKM’s customer support and “evolution mode” extends to helping customers get the most out of their WordPress blogs at a basic level.

This is concerning, as an out of date, or insecure WordPress platforms can lead to serious security breaches, even if they’re not the primary platform. This is a security risk that I’d love to see EKM address for it’s users, especially in a post GDPR era.

Internationalisation with EKM

Can EKM support Href lang? In short… No.

During a live chat with one of their representatives I asked this question, about whether or not I can implement Href lang from my online store – and I was advised that I should setup individual EKM stores (one for each target language), although none of them would be be connected by Href lang, a single database… Or share the same database.

I can see this working (of sorts) if you’re targeting say Great Britain (English) and Spain (Spanish), but if you’re targeting multiple countries with the same language (UK, Ireland, US…) this would just cause duplicate content issues.

URL Structures

All of the EKM stores have a flat URL structure, with everything sitting on the root.

From an information architecture and information retrieval perspective, there could be some gains here if users could implement a simple, and standard e-commerce URL structure such as:

  • example.com
  • example.com/product-category/
  • example.com/product-category/product-subcategory/
  • example.com/p/product-url

This structure will not only provide better architecture, but also enable better analytical analysis, making for better data led decisions.

Site Speed

When measuring site speed, I love to use Google’s official page speed insights tool, however all of the thirteen websites returned an “unavailable” when checking the speed, apart from one – which actually scored the best on the optimisation scores (mobile and desktop combined), clocking in with a fast 1.3s FCP 1.2s DCL.

They did however return the optimisation statistic (out of 100) for all thirteen sites.

EKM performed worse on desktop than it did on mobile in terms of speed optimisation for the sites sampled.

All of the thirteen websites also shared a number of speed optimisations, these included:

  • Compression enabled
  • CSS minified
  • HTML minified
  • JavaScript minified
  • Images had been optimised for load and file size
  • Critical render path content (content above the fold) had been optimised for first interactive paint

Robots.txt Errors

Similar to Shopify, the robots.txt for EKM platforms appears to be standardised across all EKM websites. Whilst nothing in the disallow:’s looks out of place, there is one interesting inclusion at the bottom of the .txt list:

Crawl Delay & SEO

Simply put, crawl delay is not a search engine friendly command and I strongly doubt any of the EKM websites (seeing as they have annual revenue limits of £1million on their highest paid plan) command such excessive crawl budgets.

However, this does make more sense if all the sites (or a lot of them) are sharing the same servers, and this is to prevent successive commands causing down time.

As ContentKing put it in their academy article:

Avoid using the crawl-delay directive for search engines as much as possible.

It’s also important to note that Google ignores the crawl-delay: directive in robots.txt files:

Is a crawl-delay rule ignored by Googlebot? Official Google Webmasters SEO Snippets video with John Mueller

So all this is doing is harming other prominent search engines in the UK, such as Bing (which in my opinion has difficulty crawling deep links of a site anyway), and I’ve never, ever known Bing to be an aggressive crawler.

Looking at latest data, Bing holds a market share of around 12%, so 1 in 10 people use the search engine – that’s a significant number when you’re an SME looking to attract business online.

JavaScript

Simply put, do EKM websites work with JavaScript disabled?

Impressively, yes. Aside from the menu drop downs I was able to navigate the websites without restriction or loss of content.

Whilst Google can crawl JavaScript, it costs more in terms of resources (and resources cost money), so the fact that these sites appear to have plain HTML links as fall backs and work without JS – without compromising user experience is a huge win.

Schema Markup/Structured Data

The only schema I was able to find was breadcrumbList, which is a shame as there are opportunities (out of the box) to include things like product schema on the product pages, and other options to include things like organisation schema.

I also know from EKM’s documentation that users can inject custom HTML into the head, so Organisation/LocalBusiness should be included – unless the EKM team haven’t advised this for some reason.

Conclusion

If you’re a small/medium sized business looking to sell online, enterprise level solutions such as Magento, SalesForce and Hybris come with hefty price tags and development challenges.

EKM offers a good solution to SMEs who want to get ahead in the digital world and establish an ecommerce foundation, and as a starter platform to provide initial growth and brand establishment.

However, that being said – from working with a number of ecommerce platforms over the years, I would choose Shopify ahead of EKM. For the out of the box issues, I feel Shopify is a much more workable platform and a lot of the SEO issues I’ve come across can be resolved with some tweaking – even on site’s pushing £2million+ in annual online revenue.

I would however place EKM in my top 3, ahead of BigCommerce, SquareSpace and OpenCart as e-commerce solutions for SME businesses on a budget. My new top 3 being:

  1. Shopify
  2. EKM
  3. SquareSpace

EKM has some great potential and with some relatively minor amends to it’s technical SEO capabilities, EKM can easily rival Shopify in my opinion for OOTB proficiency, from an SEO standpoint.

Webinar: How Well Is Google Doing In “Understanding The World”?

In partnership with SEMrush, on Tuesday 16th October I’m going to be discussing and exploring the Knowledge Graph, and how well Google is doing in understanding the real world.

The webinar, hosted by Jason Barnard, shall also feature Kristine Schachinger, or Sites Without Walls, and Bill Sebald, of Greenlane Search Marketing.

The webinar is the first in a three part series looking at the Knowledge Graph, and part of a wider series looking at the concept that SEO, is becoming AEO (answer engine optimisation).


Webinar Details

 

How Server Errors Affect Your SEO Performance

Making sure that the pages of a website return the correct header status codes is pretty much on the basics checklist for any technical audit.

The number of times I’ve had a webmaster gleefully tell me their website is free of 404 errors, only to find out the 404 page doesn’t return a 404 server header code.

How a 5xx Server Error Can Hurt Your Website’s Rankings

If Google comes across a website with a 500 response, Google immediately perceives an issue and if it receives 500 codes in quick succession (allowing for a minor server failover), it could lower the page’s ranking or drop it altogether, as it would prove a negative user experience.

However, there have to be multiple instances of 503 responses over a week or two before ranking stops and the page is removed from Google’s index. 503 codes of course are most useful when putting a website into maintenance mode.

  • 500 Internal Server Error
  • 501 Not Implemented
  • 502 Bad Gateway
  • 503 Service Unavailable
  • 504 Gateway Timeout
  • 505 HTTP Version Not Supported
  • 506 Variant Also Negotiates
  • 507 Insufficient Storage
  • 508 Loop Detected
  • 510 Not Extended
  • 511 Network Authentication Required
  • 599 Network Connect Timeout Error

You can avoid 5XX errors by making use of stable servers, as well as other fallback solutions such as caching CDNs.

Header Status Codes

When a user, or bot, requests a URL from a website, the browser requests the page from the server, which returns a server status code.

For all pages we want users to access (and Google to index) we want the pages to return a 200 OK status.

This status code also comes with additional information which includes HTML code that the user’s browser uses to present the page content, images and video accordingly as the website owner has defined. For example, the below is the status header code for my website’s homepage:

The above status code is usually only served up when there are no server-side issues with a particular page.

There are other codes which can be served up and which provide information into availability of a certain page and whether it even exists or not. Server errors however are response codes that start with a 5, and are often referred to in articles as 5XX status codes.

Not all 5XX codes are bad, as if a website is down for maintenance mode – we want to return a “503 Service Unavailable”, as this effectively tells Google to come back later.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that server errors happen, it’s all a part of the internet and you can never 100% prevent them from occurring… Even Google suffers from them from time to time:

Screenshot originally shared by Juan Camilo Vargas, @juancvargas, on Twitter, September 13th 2018

Desirable Server Status Codes

200 OK

The 200 OK status code confirms that the webpage exists and is able to be served up OK on request.

All your internal links, XML sitemap URLs, HTML sitemap URLs, Hreflang URLs, canonicals… Basically every URL on your site wants to return this – unless you’re in maintenance mode.

301 Moved Permanently

This is used to show that a page is no longer at the requested location and has been permanently moved to another location. If it’s only a temporary change, you’d use a 302 Temporarily Removed.

With a 301, Google knows to start acknowledging the change and to pass authority/PageRank. Whilst a 302 does still pass authority/PageRank, it’s the wrong status code to use for things like HTTPS migrations or other permanent URL changes.

503 Service Unavailable

If you’re putting your website into maintenance mode, it’s critical that the maintenance mode page you put up returns a 503 header. If it doesn’t, and it returns something like a 200, Google will “acknowledge” that’s the new page content and index it – bye bye rankings.

I’ve had a number of discussions with developers surrounding this in the past, and given the amount of literature out there on this (and I’ve seen some websites with awful crawlability take weeks to recover from a maintenance mode page be cached) not doing this is almost negligent to the business.

Detrimental Server Status Codes

500 Internal Server Error

This status code is a general server status error that indicates to both visitors and search engines that the website web server has a problem.

If users and search engines see this error a lot, as previously mentioned, you will lose rankings and organic search performance as a result.

302 Found

Often 302 temporary redirects are used by mistake, instead of 301 redirects, and this is an argument I still have in 2018 working with other agencies – who seem to be more concerned that the 302 passes link juice…

Rather than on the fact it’s the wrong status code…

404 Not Found

This server status code means that the requested URL has not been found and there is usually a message on-page saying “The page or file you are trying to access doesn’t exist”.

The problem with 404’s are if they are appearing for URLs which previously did exist then search engines will interpret them as the page having been moved or removed.

When removing pages, it’s important to 301 redirect them to the next most appropriate URL, or cause issues.

Low Budget SEO: Avoiding Package Deal Pitfalls

SEO is a fantastic industry, and being a part of it’s community gives brings me great joy. However, SEO does have three major pitfalls;

  1. There are no industry regulations or code of practice for professionals;
  2. There is no governing body monitoring and accrediting industry professionals;
  3. The barriers of entry to the industry are extremely low.

Literally anyone with an internet connection can setup a website, setup on UpWork or Fiverr, and become an SEO expert – with varying levels of expertise.

SEO to an extent, remains the single most effective digital marketing technique for creating long term, scalable traffic and lead generation. However as SEO is pretty much based on observations and theories, on a secret algorithm created and controlled by a private company.

As Google and other search engines have become more advanced, as has the SEO game, and this is before we even talk about how consumer behaviour has changed over the past 20 years, especially with their online buying and research activities. This is why I still find it funny that you can go on Fiverr today, and for $5 purchase links that will “boost your SEO sales”.

Why You Should Avoid ‘Cheap’ or ‘Affordable’ SEO Packages

SEO is mostly time, the time of the person(s) active on your campaign. Yes there are some tools involved for data collection, but the SEO consultant still needs to analyse the data, the search vertical, your competitors and put together (and implement) a strategy.

SEO consultants, and SEO agencies, are still businesses. They carry overheads, have a duty to pay certain taxes, pay bills, pay for tools. Obviously the cost of services depends on how much you engage with the service provider, but from a business perspective, could you provide a very cheap or affordable “high quality” service, and still maintain an hourly rate to pay the bills?

Cheap Packages Can’t Deliver Even Basic SEO Requirements

SEO has three core pillars;

  • A strong technical foundation
  • High quality, strategic content that caters for user needs and search intents
  • Backlinks and genuine business presence online

Now, unless your buying content on UpWork and then buying links, these are not quick and easy tasks and take a lot of labour and capital to produce. Technical also requires time investment in making sure you’re providing the right recommendations – again, time intensive unless you’re spinning a report.

Credibility Test

At this point, a token based/cookie cutter SEO proposition begins to lose all credibility, as it’s simply not possible. I see a lot of £300-a-month SEO packages, so lets do some maths.

In the UK the minimum wage for someone 18 years plus is £5.90 an hour, and to research, write, and proof a high-quality 500 word article you’re looking at between 2 and 3 hours labour. [source]

Then you need to research, outreach to, and admin your content placement activities to earn backlinks… This really is a piece of string in terms of length but to get good returns you need to spend at least a day, so let’s call it 7-hours. Now they’ve promised two backlinks a month, so rinse and repeat.

You then also produce a blog post for the client’s site, because, you know, content marketing. So 3 hours.

Then they also provide you with a report, analysis, and further recommendations/analysis. Now I remember doing these by hand, and it’s a good 0.5 hours minimum to pull through all data (and check it’s right).

So based on the labour of the above activities, that’s 16.5 hours just in labour (£97.35).

So out of that £300 a month (+ VAT), one third has gone purely on labour cost – not including account management, admin, accounting admin, payroll of said person completing the work, which is at least 10 hours combined a month (£56.60).

Then there are the business costs on top of that, so paying tax, pension contributions, electricity, broadband… That £300 is starting to look very tight, even on a junior with no experience straight out of college doing the work.

What’s more likely, is the article is being spun by a freelancer and then paid upload to a blog site, and even then to make any margin, at such a low price point the clients have to be stacked high just to make it worthwhile from a business perspective. Do you want to be a client stacked high and cheap?

Crappy Link Building Doesn’t Move the Needle

Now, in some niche verticals it can have an impact, but I mean really niche verticals. For the most part, quantity does not win out over quality, especially in highly competitive verticals such as FaaS, travel and finance.

The issue is that while affordable SEO providers tend to sell a similar service today, the nature of link building has evolved considerably in line with Google’s continued algorithm updates. Paying travel bloggers to upload a couple of blog posts a month will not move the needle.

Package Deals = No Agility

In SEO there is no such thing as one size fits all, and from experience, package deals are made by individuals and consist of items within their scope of knowledge.

So when something goes wrong, and it’s “outside of the package”, you’re left high, dry, and with an SEO consultant scrambling around to find out a solution reading blog posts – desperate to not look incompetent and found out.

I see package deals as a genuine red flag, all experienced marketers know that no two businesses are the same and successful strategies must always be tailored to suit the needs, circumstances, and objectives of each individual client.

Cheap SEO Providers Can’t Deliver a Long-term Strategy

Achieving great SEO results can take time, but again it’s completely situation dependent and depends on a great number of verticals.

In fact, the formative stages of an SEO campaign usually demand a significant financial investment without delivering any kind of payoff, which can be frustrating to those who are new to the practice.

Cheap package deals simply can’t do this, as they’re restricted within their scope, and again, restricted in the knowledge of the person who made them.

I Want SEO, But I have No Budget?

Honestly, the best thing you can do is to find an SEO consultant and work with them on a purely consultancy lead basis. Consultants tend to have little or few overheads, meaning they can generally charge a lot less.

The other thing to do, honestly, would be to do it yourself. Taking a free online SEO course from providers such as the SEMrush Academy, or reading blog posts on Moz and Search Engine Journal (especially the ebooks) can help you understand the basics of SEO.

Work With Consultants

If you don’t have the budget for a larger SEO campaign, work with a consultant on a pro-rata basis at a much lower cost. You won’t get all the benefits of a full blown SEO campaign, but they will be able to work with you on instilling SEO best practice and helping you grow your business – so when you’re ready for a full SEO campaign with a real agency, you’re not going to get ripped off.