Shopify has been something of a game changer for small businesses looking to get online. By no means the first platform that claimed to make managing an online shop easy, it is a brand that has become synonymous with online selling thanks to its easy-to-use interface and its own immense marketing activities.
As with any ecommerce platform, Shopify has its quirks, its pros and its cons. And for most users who just want to get a shop online with no previous experience of marketing online, Shopify is a really obvious choice.
But when you start to dig around under the hood a little, is there anything to worry about?
One of the core considerations we believe people should make when they look at how to build their online store is SEO. Driving traffic from organic search is potentially one of the most cost effective customer acquisition channels when done right.
So how does Shopify stack up from an SEO point of view? Is it any good?
So, let’s be clear. A lot of Shopify websites perform well in organic search. What we’re saying is that there’s no fundamental problems with Shopify that would make it completely impossible to get a new website ranking.
There are, however, some quirks to take into account if you’re considering migrating to Shopify from another platform and some little things that might make Shopify frustrating for more experienced SEOs.
Let’s take a look at a few issues within Shopify that can be sub-optimal from an SEO perspective.
When we talk about duplicate content in this context, we’re talking about having the same content on multiple pages on your website.
Now this happens with a lot of platforms by default and what we’re generally concerned with is how far reaching an issue it is and how the platform is resolving it.
One of the most frustrating areas in which this happens in Shopify is with product pages. Out of the box (and something you cannot change at the time of writing) Shopify will create two URLs for each of your products.
We’re going to use https://rodengray.com/ as an example here (we don’t know this site personally, but it’s a case study site listed on the Shopify site).
This url takes us here:
This different URL also loads for users and, sure enough, is identical to the first.
Now, this happens because Shopify creates the main product URL plus a variant of it that includes the collection it is in. But as far as search engines are concerned, this is two identical pages on two separate URLs. In other words, this is duplicate content on quite a large scale if you’re a site with a lot of products.
The workaround Shopify uses is the canonical tag. In short, this is a tag you can pop on your page specifically for situations like this where you just tell Google what the primary (or the “canonical”) version of the page is.
So when we do visit https://rodengray.com/collections/adidasoriginals/products/type-o-6-in-military-green and we take a look at the source code, we can see that this page does use a canonical tag to tell Google that https://rodengray.com/products/type-o-6-in-military-green is the canonical version.
For some reason, Shopify then goes on to use the non canonical version of URLs in all of its internal links by default.
So on https://rodengray.com/collections/adidasoriginals all of the links to products are to the non canonical versions.
This is crazy.
We go to all this effort with canonical tags to say to Google and other search engines, “hey look, guys. We know this looks like duplicate content. But it’s not, right. It’s just a technical quirk and the page you really want is this one!”
But then we send some seriously mixed signals by then adding “But like, we use the non canonical version all over our website. All over it. Yeh, we use that version everywhere.”
It makes it much more difficult for Google to reliably ascertain which page is the primary and it can lead to the wrong version being picked up in the Google index (something we’ve found very common). It also means someone finding your product who might write about it (and thus link to it which helps SEO) could be linking to the wrong page.
It’s a really poor thing to do from an SEO perspective and something you would expect should be a relatively simple fix for Shopify to get right out of the box.
Incidentally you can fix it yourself, but that will mean modifying the theme’s files, which many non technically savvy users would be unlikely to be able to (or want to) do.
For the vast majority of Shopify store owners starting a website with Shopify as their first platform without in depth SEO knowledge, this might be an absolute no big deal issue.
But for SEO professionals who want to optimize the robots.txt file for better crawl efficiency or simply to just omit chunks of the site from Google, this is a real bug bear.
Shopify’s default (and uneditable) robots.txt file is fine for many stores. It stops search engines from crawling things like admin sections, checkout process pages and policy pages. Great.
And as a default, it’s perfectly fine.
But the problem comes when you want to stop Google crawling other parts of your site or to try and optimize crawl efficiencies (particularly on larger stores).
The workaround Shopify tells you to use is to implement noindex tags on the pages you don’t want to be indexed by Google.
That’s not the same thing. It will stop Google indexing your page (generally) but Google still has to crawl the page in order to see the tag to follow the instruction.
It seems like something that should be a relatively easy thing to let users have access to (accompanied with warnings, caveats and disclaimers, absolutely). It remains a mystery as to why it isn’t something in place yet.
While Shopify’s URL structure is typically descriptive and relatively clean, it is majorly inflexible. In many cases, this will not be an issue. If you’re starting a new store from scratch on Shopify, it will naturally grow in line with the structure Shopify enforces and you probably won’t encounter any massive SEO problems.
Migrating, though, (from any other platform) can be problematic. Any sort of migration from another platform is likely to require significant 301 redirects which, done incorrectly, could result in a traffic loss.
You can add 301 redirects one by one in Shopify. Want to bulk add them? You’ll need to use a Shopify app.
Not the end of the world, but another piece of functionality you would think would be really easy for Shopify to implement out of the box for users.
“Core web what now?”
Ok, so if you’re not familiar with Core Web Vitals, it’s a set of metrics Google measures and deems particularly important to user experience on your site.
And in 2020, Google confirmed that these said Core Web Vitals will influence rankings by May 2021. Here’s that Tweet:
We're announcing that page experience ranking signals for Google Search will launch in May 2021. This will combine Core Web Vitals and previous UX-related signals.— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) November 10, 2020
Learn more: https://t.co/OrrR8LDl1a
Core Web Vitals, alongside other UX related signals will become a wider “experience ranking signals” element that in turn will influence how your website will rank.
As of January 2021, Shopify websites are performing really badly on the Core Web Vitals front.
We took a look at 50 websites all listed as examples on the Shopify site and found:
So this comes with some caveats and notes:
However, those numbers strike us as pretty worrying 4 months out from this being something that will affect where you rank. So actually, this is something we’d consider quite an SEO problem with Shopify.
No. It’s not fundamentally bad. And compared to some platforms, it’s an absolute dream.
But these three things are all true:
Using Shopify isn’t likely to be a standalone reason you don’t rank in search. You can rank a Shopify website. But if you fall into any of these categories it might be worth looking at some alternatives:
We really think Shopify needs to take a look at the Core Web Vitals issues and make sure none of those are deep rooted in the platform itself (and quickly).
And it would probably do no harm for the CEO to take some of the SEO concerns people have raised a little more seriously and be less dismissive than this:
Shopify isn’t terrible from an SEO point of view but there are stronger and more flexible options available if SEO is your primary concern.