To start off a series of articles on implementing some basic BigCommerce SEO techniques I’m going to recommend something that may seem a little counter intuitive.
The very first thing you MUST do after signing up for a BigCommerce account is block your entire site from the search engines.
Why the hell would you want to block the search engines?
While it is very nice that the people at BigCommerce provide every account holder with a free BigCommerce subdomain (yourname.BigCommerce.com), the truth of the matter is that most people never use their free subdomain once their online store is ready for public consumption.
Most BigCommerce store owners will (and should) ultimately end up using their own domain name (yourname.com), or a subdomain (shop.yourname.com) of their domain name to operate their online store once it is live and ready to use.
While it isn’t common for BigCommerce store owners to use their free subdomain when their site is ready to go live, I would anticipate that it isn’t uncommon for them to use it in the early stages while they are first setting up their store or evaluating a free trial.
This is commonsense, there really is no point going that extra mile to set up your domain name until you’re certain that you will be remaining with the provider.
There is no problem with that.. right! Well… actually there is…
The Hidden Problem of the Free BigCommerce Subdomain
The problem with using the subdomain while you are setting up is that Google has become so bloody quick to discover and index new websites that before you’re even are aware of what’s going on you have pages starting to pop up in Google’s search results, all directed to your BigCommerce subdomain.
As you continue to add products, categories and information pages Google will continue to pick them up and add them to the search index, all unbeknown to you at this early stage of your shops development.
Ultimately all your hard work setting up will culminate to the point where you’re ready to point your domain name at your shiny new online store and start letting the world know about it.
You follow all the instructions and everything seems to be working perfectly, how could it have gone wrong!
Here Comes the Duplicate Content
After a short while a few pages from your site will start showing up in the search index and to help speed up the process you do the right thing and submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools (more on that in a later lesson).
Everything is going along sweetly, or at least it is on the surface. Ticking away behind-the-scenes there is a hidden problem that you are totally unaware, one that continues to grow bigger by the day.
With your total consent and knowledge, you have happily let Google access your site and index your domain name generator tool , but behind-the-scenes, technically also with your consent, but this time without your knowledge Google has also continued to index your free BigCommerce subdomain.
With what is very much an innocent mistake you have allowed Google to place two exact replicas of your website in their search index.
This is what is known around SEO circles as a “duplicate content nightmare“.
What the #@!$% is Duplicate Content?
If you don’t have any SEO experience you’re probably wondering what the big fuss about having two exact replicas floating around Google is. Without going into the technicalities something that you need to learn very quickly is:
- Google only wants one version of your site, and
- Google (in fact any search engine) isn’t as smart as many think and has a hell of a lot of trouble initially determining which version they should keep and which version they should toss, ultimately favouring neither version.
Rule 1: avoid duplicate content like the plague!
So How Do You Prevent Creating This Duplicate Content Mess?
I am glad that you asked, because preventing this duplicate content mess is actually very easy… if you know beforehand.
Fortunately BigCommerce allows you to make changes to a very important little file called robots.txt. You can edit this file directly through your BigCommerce store administration panel by going to (Tools >> Edit Robots.txt File).
First thing that you will want to do is make a backup copy of all the information that currently is inside the robots.txt file and paste it into a simple text document. You’re going to need this when you’re ready to launch your live site if the “Revert to Default” button doesn’t work for some reason (never hurts to make a backup).
Once you have your backup copy safely saved away replace the information in the robots.txt with the following:
This instruction will tell any search engine that adheres to the robots.txt protocol (which any legitimate company will do) not to enter the site.
Disallowing the search engines from entering the site will prevent them from indexing your temporary subdomain… helping avoid duplicate content problems when you’re store is ready to go live.
You just need to remember to reinstate your backup copy when you’re ready to launch your real site.