In the past several years, Shopify has transformed from a small, DIY-style ecommerce group into one of the biggest and most-trusted names in digital commerce. Now, millions of domains are supported by Shopify and Shopify Plus (the upgraded version of the platform), and that number is growing every single day.
CQL has offered Shopify Plus development and replatforming services for several years, which has allowed us to build a relationship with the platform and help multiple brands find success. To us, Shopify is more than just a powerful commerce platform – it’s a key part of the future of digital commerce.
Shopify Plus offers a high level of control and management for businesses and developers, but what about digital marketers? To me, the platform occupies a remarkably effective middleground – users can customize just enough of the site to stand out but not so much that they accidentally break things, like search engine value and page structure.
Let’s take a look at how Shopify Plus manages these areas, where it succeeds, and which areas aren’t quite as robust as I’d like.
A Basic but Powerful Categorization Structure
One of the most common issues SEOs face is fixing domains with complicated, broken, or completely nonsensical page category structures. This is particularly true for commerce-based domains, as many brands don’t do a great job with building and maintaining product categories.
Shopify Plus decided to take a different path and offer three main options:
- /page: this area houses a brand’s informational or service-based pages. Examples include About Us, Services, and Contact
- /collections: this is Shopify Plus’ product category area. Each collection represents a particular group of products, which is defined by the site owner
- /products: every product attached to a Shopify Plus domain is contained under the /products section
The platform also offers Blog pages (placed under /blog) and can support custom silo structures, if needed.
It’s important to point out that this structure isn’t unique in the Content Management System world. However, for small or inexperienced brands just breaking into the commerce space, it’s a lifesaver that can help brands start off on the right foot.
Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, On-Page Schema, and More
Like most commerce-focused platforms, Shopify Plus makes it easy to write, edit, and manage a domain’s meta data. Nearly every page can be customized to match a brand’s requirements and Shopify provides helpful guides to shield brands from making common mistakes.
One of Shopify Plus’ key features is its built-in product meta data management tool set. While some platforms require users to set meta data with confusing product data sheets, Shopify Plus smooths out the process and allows users to adjust data at multiple points.
The ability to include fill-in-the-blank meta descriptions for products, plus the extensive customization options, help ensure that brands can present unique and valuable meta data to search engines and users.
Last, but not least, is Shopify’s built-in JSON schema. This simplified, flexible, and easily managed markup auto-inserts product and page data without requiring input from the user. This helps ensure commerce brands can appear in shopping results and help improve search engine indexability.
301 Redirects in Shopify Plus
Managing redirects on commerce platforms has always been a mixed bag. In the past, many platforms required plugins, specific add-ons, or even custom-developed extensions designed to handle redirects, which just made everything messy and confusing.
Today, redirect management is a core component of any half-decent commerce platform, but Shopify Plus takes it to a slightly higher level.
The platform makes 301 redirect management very simple – users can either enter individual 1-to-1 redirects or upload a very simple .csv file. Shopify even provides a pre-formatted .csv file for users, which further improves the overall usability.
By improving the overall redirect management process, Shopify has made one of the most-important parts of ecommerce SEO a straight-forward process that allows brands to focus on what really matters.
The Downside to Optimizing Shopify Sites
Just because Shopify is a massively popular ecommerce service with millions of users and growing partnership with Google, doesn’t mean it’s a perfect platform.
Shopify’s efforts focus on making brand and product management easy for people of all skill sets, but this ends up creating a few issues, particularly for advanced users, web developers, and digital agencies.
Near-Zero Robots.txt Control
The robots.txt file helps search engines understand a domain’s structure, learn which pages shouldn’t be indexed, and is usually a quick way to find a domain’s sitemap. Generally speaking, site searchers will never interact with your robots.txt file – it’s just there for search engines.
While it’s well known that Google uses the robots.txt file’s content as a suggestion instead of a hard rule, it’s still an effective way to ensure certain pages or on-site elements aren’t indexed.
Most platforms allow administrators to directly edit and adjust the robots.txt file, but Shopify doesn’t even include this area in its backend. While on-page meta robots can be adjusted through page settings, the robots.txt file itself is simply part of the platform’s structure.
Don’t get too concerned about this issue or how it might impact your brand. There are two more important things to point out with Shopify’s robots.txt structure:
- Some themes allow admins to adjust overall settings, styles, and technical structure through the theme.liquid file, including the robots.txt file. However, this isn’t a recommended choice unless you have a full dev team, as these sorts of changes can have far-reaching effects
- Shopify’s baked-in robots.txt file significantly limits the Ahrefs crawl and auditing tool. This is a very popular brand research program for digital marketers, so limiting its abilities on Shopify sites is pretty questionable
The XML Sitemap is Locked
The XML sitemap contains the full list of crawlable and indexable pages attached to a domain. They’re extremely useful for search engines and are a key component of a good SEO strategy.
However, Shopify decided to repeat its robots.txt tactics by completely blocking access to the XML sitemap in the basic format and in Shopify Plus. Most platforms allow administrators to adjust what is and isn’t included in the sitemap through a plugin or integration, but Shopify guards this area very carefully.
While this is strange and a little bit of a hindrance, Shopify does do a good job when it comes to generating XML sitemaps. Users can decide if pages should be included by adjusting settings on the specific page. Otherwise, sections like Pages, Collections, and Products are automatically added to sub-sitemaps and made available to search engines.
Protecting Users by Blocking Potential SEO Disasters
In my opinion, the items listed above are set up this way because Shopify wants to prevent its users from accidentally blowing up their site’s organic value. Businesses can, have, and will make missteps when managing their sites, so maybe Shopify is just being careful.
The Future of Shopify Plus SEO
On top of everything I’ve mentioned above, it’s important to point out that Google is now partnering with Shopify and emphasizing Shopify-based brands in both Google Shopping and commerce-focused searches.
This is a massive boon to Shopify’s overall reputation and could lead to a surge in ecommerce activity for tens of thousands of sites, thereby making Shopify even more popular.
Optimizing Your Shopify Plus Site with Help from CQL
If you’re running a small or medium-sized business, then Shopify Plus just might be the right choice for establishing and expanding your brand.
Contact CQL today to learn more about our custom Shopify Plus development services. We can help you succeed in the digital commerce space by starting you off with the best-possible commerce platform.