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Why copying successful industry leaders may be a bad idea for SEO!
Most often a lot of SEOs tend to focus on copying their competitors, especially the industry leaders, competitors that already hold top positions in search for highly popular keywords, the idea is simple: If search engines decided to position them on top, they must be doing something right.
Although I highly encourage analyzing your competition, I don't advice "following the leader" by doing the exact same things they did, good or bad, applying it directly without any concern about your needs and current position, this practice is especially true in e-commerce niches where big online shops copy each other, including the negative aspects.
SEO for e-commerce can be very complex because of the big number of pages, often so many pages that you simply can't optimize them all manually, so you will need to figure out automatization as well as site-wide SEO rules. Often such rules are copied after your top competitors, here is why it isn't a good idea to follow the leader:
1. Navigation issues
Just because your top competitors structure their websites in a certain way it doesn't mean you need to follow in their steps.I often witness navigation problems with big e-commerce websites because they've insisted into implementing a certain website structure that created tons of categories, subcategories, and even sub-sub-categories.
You'll end up with more listing pages than actual products and you'll have cases of categories with just a couple products.
On the other hand implementing too many filters can also increase the number of listing pages dramatically. Just because your competition has 25 filters per landing page it doesn't mean you need to do the same. And if you do have a similar number of products you need o proper implement canonical tags as well as the no-index attribute for certain filter pages to avoid indexing a huge of filter URLs combinations.
2. Ignoring website speed
Having a slow website is a big problem for SEO in 2017. The is enough data out there to prove a direct coloration between your website speed and conversion rates and Google couldn't be made it more clear to us! In general, big retailers and online shop ignore website's speed and rarely take it into consideration when it comes to SEO. Most of my clients are surprised when I tell them that website speed needs to become a top priority we have to fix as fast as possible
Nobody wants to wait anymore. A couple of wasted seconds in loading time can be the difference between positive ROI and bankruptcy. Depending on your niche, you may have top competitors with big old websites that have a good domain reputation but are very slow for the current year. You definitely need to do better and ignore their scores, they won't remain in top positions for very long I assure you, the degrading process may have already been started, lots of popular online shops are slowly losing organic traffic as well as conversion rates because of the slow loading speed.
3. Sitemap.xml is not enough
Many of you may think that having submitted the XML sitemap into Search Console will ensure the proper index of all of your pages in Google search as well as other search engines. The fact of the matter is that for most big and very big e-commerce websites out there, an XML sitemap is not enough.
A clean crawl path is essential. This is why I don't rely strictly on Search Console and my XML sitemap for getting my website's indexed. I always run a Screaming Frog crawl audit before going live with any websites. This will show me any potential crawling problems, dead ends, and errors.
4. Improper URLs
Another bad influence top websites, especially older domains can have on your online shop are the improper URLs. Just because your top competitors used them doesn't mean such URLs are SEO friendly.
Have clear, clean and logical URLs. Don't fall for any special characters, strings and another type of nonsense URLs that may be generated. Fix them early because Google tends to ranks a lot better clean URLs that are user-friendly and easy to read.
5. Other on-page SEO mistakes - tags
Every time I analyze the competition on a certain niche I'm always careful not to copy their SEO mistakes, especially the on-page SEO mistakes. One of the most common and harmful of these mistakes is the improper use of tags, implementing canonical tags with the wrong source page, using the no-index tag on pages that should be indexable, not using pagination tags or using them incorrectly or having implemented a total mess in terms of hreflang.
All these mistakes will influence the way your website is ranked in Google and the other big search engine and although Google may be smart enough to figure out some of your mistakes and ignore them you are still going to miss out by not implementing the best SEO practices.