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X-Cart SEO - The Definitive X-Cart SEO Tutorial

Posted by and last updated Apr 30, 2014 07:51 AM

Our X-Cart SEO checklist is a must for ranking well in search engines while using X-Cart.


This X-Cart SEO tutorial provides an X-Cart specific model for achieving search engine success using X-Cart. SEO is a vast and complicated field and a base understanding of search engine optimization will assist you in proper implementation. If you do not yet understand SEO jargon such as page rank, meta tags, and link anchors, I recommend that you take the time to learn more about SEO before beginning a search engine optimization campaign. You'll also want to familiarize yourself with Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Parts of this tutorial utilize the X-Cart SEO mod Custom Dynamic Search Engine Optimization for X-Cart. It's possible to implement various mods and hacks to achieve these purposes, however CDSEO provides the needed functionality in easy-to-install, easy-to-use consolidated software.


SEO Keywords

You need to optimize your X-Cart for the words people will use to search for the products and/or services you offer. If you optimize your site for search terms people don't use when searching you'll have an effectively optimized site without traffic.

Paid services such as KeywordDiscovery and Wordtracker can assist you in knowing what people search for to find your business as well as how popular the search term is. Google AdWords is a free service very useful for generating keywords. An often overlooked method of determining keywords can be the most effective: Ask your visitors! Think like your visitors, and ask others, what they would search for if they wanted to shop for your services online. Compile a short list of your keywords and phrases, sort them into general or page specific, and rank them in order of importance. When optimizing your site, use your general keywords on your welcome/index page and in your general layout. Use your page specific keywords to create content around one or two specific keywords so that page may rank well in search engines for those keywords.

Be aware that some keywords are easier to rank well for than others. Keyword Difficulty Checkers can be used to determine how difficult it is to achieve high ranking for a keyword. If you find a keyword is very difficult, you'll want to make the keyword more specific to your business.


Domain Name

Your domain name is the first step to search engine success. Newly registered domains are often subject to what's called the "sandbox effect" whereas new domains will not rank as well as older established sites. Unless it's necessary to register a new domain, look to purchase a newly expired domain or try to purchase a domain that is currently parked. Do a whois lookup on these domains to view the date they were originally established - the older the better. Also be sure to search the domain in the engines to determine if the url has a negative SEO history.


X-Cart Site Structure

Not all servers support .htaccess but many have different ways of implementing the below mentioned functionality. Speak to your host for details.

By default X-Cart unpacks to an /xcart/ subfolder. Prior to installing, move these files to your root folder. If you've already installed your X-Cart to a subfolder, you can move it to root using this tutorial: How to move X-Cart to root directory.

Don't use both www.example.com AND example.com to access your domain. When installing enter your domain name with the www. If already installed, you can modify this information in your config.php. To ensure your domain can only be accessed by www.example.com put the following code in an .htaccess file in your root X-Cart directory (change example.com to your domain and the rewrite base to your X-Cart folder):

RewriteEngine on
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^example\.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

If you have an HTTPS domain that differs from your primary domain instead use:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^example\.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} !^443$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Older versions of X-Cart used an index.html splash page by default, which linked to an index.php, which then redirected to a home.php file. Instead ensure the following code exists in the.htaccess file of your root X-Cart directory to load the X-Cart home page by default:

DirectoryIndex home.php index.php index.html

When linking to your website link to http://www.example.com/ not http://www.example.com/home.php, http://www.example.com/index.html etc. Also never link back to your home page with the link anchor "Home" such as: <a href="http://www.example.com/">Home</a>. Unless you sell homes, this has no SEO value. Instead link using descriptive text such as: <a href="http://www.example.com/">Keyword at Company Name</a>

When implementing your X-Cart design ensure the html code is clean and efficient ensure there are no broken links and that your HTML coding is clean. Broken HTML tags or messy coding can have effect on the spidering of your site.

All javascript should be placed in .js files whenever possible. To do this create an empty text file and save it as javascript.js and put your javascript within it (don't Include the tags). Upload the file to your skin1 folder. You can then include the javascript on your page by opening skin1/meta.tpl and placing the following code into it:

<script type="text/javascript" src="{$SkinDir}/javascript.js"></script>

Similar to javascript, all style sheets should be placed in a css file and not included directly in the HTML Code. By default X-Cart does this using the skin1/skin1.css file. You can place additional style sheets in that file, or create a new one and include it using:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="{$SkinDir}/style.css" />

When adding categories and determining your site link structure, try not to make the categories too deep so that most of your pages are accessible within 2-3 clicks at most. If it's necessary to use a deep linking category structure, use WebsiteCM's Category Map for X-Cart to make the deep categories accessible to search engines from the pages closer to root.


Welcome/Index Page

Ensure your welcome/index page has keyword rich text. A very common SEO mistake with X-Cart is to not use any text on the index page at all. You can modify the text on your index page by logging into your X-Cart admin section and accessing "General Settings -> SEO" and modifying the "Home page 'Title' tag."


Search Engine Friendly Urls

X-Cart by default uses dynamic php urls which will not be spidered as heavily or as effectively as static urls. X-Cart's provides a "Clean Urls" feature which was modeled after our long standing CDSEO Pro for X-Cart module, but leaves many SEO holes. CDSEO was created based on more than a decade of SEO experience and provides SEO friendly urls with proper canonical links, case sensitivity, and other corrections of the X-Cart SEO deficiencies.


Page Titles, Meta Tags and Link Titles

Log into your X-Cart admin section, click on "General Settings -> SEO" options, and customize the general meta tag and meta descriptions. Also set the "Page title format" to display the Product Name first. Page titles are the most important aspect of search engine optimization and should be customized carefully according to your keywords. After adding categories, products, manufacturers and static pages to your X-Cart, these can be customized using CDSEO Pro for X-Cart. Page titles ideally should be 10-60 characters, meta description should show about 200 characters, and the keyword tag should usually be 10 words or less. It is important for there to be symmetry of these tags with the pages content, so ensure keywords used in the title, meta tags, and link titles, are also used in the body/content of the page. Link titles are used to describe the content of a link to both search engines and the blind so be sure to be descriptive and concise.


Images and Alt Tags

Ensure images used in your site are named descriptively including keywords when appropriate. Also use image alt tags similarly for each image of importance. When adding thumbnails and/or detailed images via your X-Cart admin section, first upload them to your server using descriptive keywords and then browse for them on your server. This will allow their original keyword descriptive filenames to be used; otherwise X-Cart renames them generically. Make the description tags relevant to the image and keywords rather than stuffing them with keywords. Over optimizing your site by stuffing a bunch of keywords in these fields may do more harm than good.


Descriptions/Content

Use your keywords in the text of categories, product descriptions, manufacturers and static pages. Writing good search engine copy is a fine art; it requires the balance of keyword location and frequency with readability:

  • Put keywords in <h1></h1> tags at the top of the page but do not over-use these tags, instead use <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags accordingly
  • Keep keywords to the top of page with focus on the first paragraph of text
  • Use keywords at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs
  • Bold keywords when possible using <strong>
Also be sure to read our tutorial on How to optimize X-Cart page for SEO results.


Internal Linking

Place links to your popular categories, products and other pages on your front page. This will give the highest possible pagerank to those pages. When creating hyperlinks always use descriptive anchor text.

Instead of using:

To view our X-Cart SEO tutorial <a href="http://www.x-cart-seo.com/x-cart-seo-checklist/" target="_blank">click here</a>.

Use:

To view our X-Cart SEO tutorial visit: <a href="http://www.x-cart-seo.com/x-cart-seo-checklist/" target="_blank">X-Cart Search Engine Optimization</a>.


Incoming/External Linking

The more quality sites that link to your website, the more relevant search engines will see your site as being and your search engine rank will increase accordingly. Search engines will rank your site higher when quality sites link to you and you do not link to them, as they will see your site as being "link-worthy." If linking to external sites, link only to quality sites, as bad sites can damage your search engine credibility and thus your rankings. Validate your links periodically. If you want to link to a site and don't want it to affect your search engine ranking using the nofollow tag accordingly:

<a href="http://www.example.com" rel="nofollow">Link for Search Engines to Ignore</a>

I recommend against using link-building companies as a means of generating back links. Often these companies will post your links in networks and link farms that can do more harm than good to your SEO and which isn't a good long term SEO solution. Instead focus on providing quality content relevant to your market, and over time this content will be found and linked to as resources by others. We offer an X-Cart blog and article module called xCMS - X-Cart Blogs, Information, News, Articles and more! for this purpose. It fully integrates with CDSEO and CDSEO's XML sitemap generator. Also be sure to read our article titled How to X-Cart Blog for X-Cart SEO results.


Stay Fresh with Content

Staying fresh with content is one of the best ways to receive incoming links, attract visitors, and increase credibility with your visitors. Strongly consider writing articles, a blog or posting news on your X-Cart. Again, be sure to read our article titled How to X-Cart Blog for X-Cart SEO results.


Error Handling

Use a designated custom 404 error page that is NOT your home page; if your home page is used as your error page search engines will associate your index with broken links. If using CDSEO Pro for X-Cart you will have a custom error page by default and can customize your page by selecting a 404 page via your CDSEO admin settings.


Site Maps

Google recommends a sitemap for your site, but recommends that if you have more than 100 links you break the sitemap up over multiple pages. WebsiteCM offers an X-Cart Site Map as well as an X-Cart Product Map (A-Z). If you have less than 100 categories and products combined you can install the sitemap alone, otherwise I recommend you install the site map and configure it to display 0 products and install the Product Map which will break your product listing up over multiple pages. Newer versions of X-Cart have a sitemap and product map module. I would recommend using the site map, but the product map is dynamic and not very SEO friendly, as opposed to our X-Cart Product Map (A-Z) module which is.

An XML sitemap differs from a customer sitemap in that it is a listing of your pages with ranked importance for search engines and is not used by your customers. I recommend creating an submitting an XML sitemap for your X-Cart. CDSEO does come with an XML sitemap generator which creates in seconds, pings search engines telling them your sitemap has been updated, and can be automated using a cron job.


Avoid Black-Hat SEO

Black-hat SEO refers to techniques that attempt to trick search engines into increasing your rankings. These can have short-term benefits resulting in long-term disaster including the possibility of a complete ban from search engines. Four SEO guidelines will assist you in avoiding the penalties of black-hat SEO:

  1. Don't ever do anything to try to artificially inflate your rankings quickly
  2. If a change to your site is not valid for your visitors, don't do it for the search engines
  3. When optimizing any text for SEO, don't keyword stuff or over-optimize and instead make your search engine optimization natural to your visitors
  4. Don't use link farms and be careful when link building

About the Author

Jonathan Peters Jonathan's founder of Smack Digital, a digital strategy agency that creates and executes online business success for executives who are highly motivated to quickly increase their market share. With more than two decades of experience on the web for clients ranging from non-profits to billion dollar enterprises, Jonathan's an expert in web development, eCommerce, software programming, search engine optimization and social media marketing.
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