Posted 16 January 2006 - 01:16 PM
This is an interesting thread. I operated a web design/hosting company for 6 years, from 1999 through the end of 2005. During this time I worked with dozens of small businesses and SEO + e-commerce was really important to most. I have tried many approaches to finding a "search friendly" shopping cart and have used many of the common solutions: OScommerce, Miva Merchant (used to be used on pledesigns.com), X-cart, Apple Pie cart, ZenCart (www.pledesigns.com, www.ambrosiabeadcompany.com), demo'd dozens of others, and even built my own catalog application that integrates with Mal's Ecommerce for cart functionality (www.shirtsbysherry.com, www.thelittlesoapmaker.com - both of which sell decent amounts of product).
What I've found is that almost any platform has some kind of "search friendliness", but all of them completely mis the point of what real SEO is about. A "search friendly" cart isn't simply having URL's that look static (which is the most common misconception about SEO with ecommerce), or any other one factor for that matter. I have built many sites that get thoroughly indexed and don't use rewritten, static URL's. What makes a "search friendly" shopping cart is a great web site that. By "great" I mean not just one single factor being "optimized."
Here is what I have found the be the key things a good online store needs. Incidentally, I've yet to find an off-the-shelf solution that has all of these features built in and ready to use. The closest one is ZenCart, but it still has some issues that will require custom programming to get around.
1. Customizable Title, Description, Keyword tags on a category and page-specific level. I.e. you should be able to explicitly dictate the page title, keywords, and description for any product or category page. If you don't make customizations the store should default to title tags with the product name, category, and store name. ZenCart is the only system I found to support this feature, and it is not 100% perfect.
2. Use light, clean code and heading tags <h1>, <h2>, <h3>. Most stores don't use heading tags for headings, as most sites don't. Using <h1>'s doesn't mean it has to be ugly - make a style in your stylesheet to control the font, size, and spacing/padding of heading tags.
3. Robust product attributes/options. To make a great site you need to be able to build a good catalog. If your products have options like "size" and "color" and other variables, you have to be able to have really powerful attributes. ZenCart and X-cart have great attributing. Oscommerce is ok, but difficult to use.
4. Image support: auto-thumb-nailing, image-specific alt-text, multiple images per product, images per attribute. These are essential for building a good store and surprisingly, many store systems don't have good image support. ZenCart comes the closest to "perfect", but I still had to modify my ZenCart installations heavily to get it working as I wanted.
If you know of other complete systems, I'd love to hear about them. Again, SEO for shopping carts, or any other sites, is much more about building a holistic site that ranks well.
Not to plug to heavily, but I have found ZenCart to be the best soltuion for something off-the-shelf. It also has an active development community behind it and lead developers that are conscious of search optimization issues. OScommerces is feature-rich thanks to the thousands of mods available for it, but the problem is that rarely are two or more mods compatible with each-other and once you customize your standard distribution you can easily upgrade when the next core update comes out.
All the best,