Volusion Serves Up a Turkey with Enhanced Mobile Ecommerce

This post is part of a series about the recently updated Volusion Enhanced Mobile Ecommerce. The second post in the series is How Volusion Mobile Ruins Your Google Analytics Data.

Volusion recently released their “Enhanced mobile commerce” for Volusion stores. This updated version of their mobile storefront has come with big promises. The most notable change was the option to have an end to end mobile experience with a mobile checkout.

There were more than a few bumps in the road when it was rolled out. It has been discussed (and complained about) at length. The functionality and challenges have been discussed at length on our forum and elsewhere. These have done a great job discussing the Volusion Enhanced Mobile performance from a user and store owner perspective. However, there is a lot more going on than meets the eye and we wanted to bring some SEO and technical insight into things.

Many of you may have figured that once Volusion worked out some of the kinks and got things functioning as advertised that this was really going to make a difference for your store. Surely a decent mobile solution is going to push you forward. Now you can provide a better experience. Increase conversions. Get an SEO boost.

Not so fast!

Faulty functionality & limitations aside, the technical glitches in this thing should keep you awake at night.

Volusion Enhanced Mobile Commerce Issues

Faulty functionality & limitations aside, the technical glitches in this system is riddled with issues that will plague your store. Let’s take a look.

Structured Data

Earlier this year we were so excited to see schema.org structured data come to Volusion products and reviews. It has not, I repeat not, made it’s way over to the mobile side.

Structured Data Comparison

Volusion Desktop Volusion Mobile
Structured Data for Products & Product Reviews No Structured Data

Not So Hidden Products

I don’t know about you, but many of my clients (and I) heavily leverage hidden products. Whether as a way to temporarily turn off products or make use of them as child products that don’t stand alone, this is critical feature of any ecommerce cart.

Now suppose, you have hidden a product that you don’t want purchased. Maybe you even double checked it on the front end. What a shock when all of a sudden you are receiving orders on a so-called, hidden product.

That’s right folks. Hidden products have come out to play. Watch out!

Hidden Products Comparison

Volusion Desktop Volusion Mobile
Hidden Not Always Hidden

Title Tags

Remember how you slaved over those title tags, trying to come up with descriptive titles that would not only be relevant but help get you found in the search engines? Well, when it comes to mobile it’s all for naught. Volusion drops your meta titles and instead opts for your product names. Now you’re thinking, it could be worse. You’re right. It could. And it is.

They also use your product name as the title tag for the mobile product “zoom” image. Since they link to a page containing the image instead of the image itself, it comes with a title tag of its own. A duplicate title tag. All of a sudden stores are seeing hundreds of duplicate titles appearing in Google Webmaster Tools!

Title Tag Comparison

Volusion Desktop Volusion Mobile
User Defined Product Name

Canonical Tags

“But surely they would account for this,” you say. They haven’t. The zoom images do not have unique titles, nor noindex tags, nor canonical tags.

“But I’ve enabled canonical tags! They were designed to avoid duplicate issues.”

Volusion has opted not to use canonical tags on these zoom images regardless of your configuration settings. You’re stuck.

“Okay, but they have canonical tags on the mobile product pages, right?”

The mobile storefront product pages DO have canonical tags. And the astute among you already realized that the duplicate title tag we encountered above should effectively be irrelevant thanks to these canonical tags.

But don’t get excited just yet. Here the plot thickens.

While on your main, desktop store, Volusion will use your SEO friendly URLs for the canonical tags if you configure it to do so, they like to use ugly URLs on the mobile product canonical tags. So, instead of “/your-product-p/yourproductcode.htm”, they are using “/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=yourproductcode”.

This effectively says please look to this other page for the primary version of the product. The problem here is that this other page is not the destination. It is canonicalized to yet another page (the SEO friendly version of your product).

Now, theoretically it is possible for Google to follow a canonical chain designation like this. But it’s not recommended. And the ridiculous thing is that the SEO friendly canonical tags are used on the desktop version. Why not use the same ones???

Whether or not Google will ultimately discover this relationship and follow the trail is unknown. What is clear, however, is that as of today each and every one of these is seen as a duplicate. They have not followed the canonical chain designation yet.

Canonical Tag Comparison

Volusion Desktop Volusion Mobile
Point to SEO Friendly URL* Point to Non-SEO Friendly URL
Single Canonical Tag Chained Designation

Mobile Search Results

Now, let’s suppose you overcome these platform challenges – thanks to our advice below 🙂 – and your products are ranking well. Everything is good in Volusionland, right? Here’s what you’re hoping for:

Scenario 1: A potential customer whips out their mobile device and does a search for “your store’s great widget”. And you actually show up in the results. The prospect then clicks on your result and lands your mobile product page with an optimized mobile experience. They are just itching to give you their money.

Scenario 2: You send out your next newsletter. You have noticed that more and more users are reading it on a mobile device. You are pumped that mobile engagement is going to improve. Users click on the links and are engaged at a whole new level. You can sense your conversion rate increasing by the minute.

Whoa! Hold up. We forgot one small detail. When a mobile user clicks on your search result or product page link, Volusion kind of / sort of forgets to send them to the appropriate mobile page.

You must be taking crazy pills, right? There’s no way that we could have rolled out this (so called) incredible mobile experience that we can now run our visitors through without actually taking them to this “optimized” experience. Ahhh, but we did. Well, not we, but they.

It’s like spending millions on a new theme park and marketing it like crazy but forgetting to unlock the doors and let people in.

Mind. Boggled.

Search Result Comparison

Volusion Desktop Volusion Mobile
Taken to Desktop Page Taken to Desktop Page
Not Redirected

Mobile Whether You Like It Or Not

So, suppose you find all these technical issues to be too much for you. Or you don’t like the functionality. Or the look and feel. You decide to turn off Volusion Mobile Ecommerce. Now you are free just to deal with the desktop issues until they fix the mobile, right?

Wrong.

Let’s be clear. Even if Volusion Mobile Commerce is “disabled”, it is still accessible. You can test this by going to yourstore.com/mobile/ with Mobile Ecommerce disabled. Interesting. Would you look at that. You’ve got a mobile store even though you didn’t want it.

You see, when “enabling” Mobile Ecommerce you are essentially enabling the redirect to mobile commerce – not turning it on.

Now in isolation, are search engines going to find your mobile site without Mobile Ecommerce turned on? No, there are no links to help search engines find it. But suppose you had it turned on and now someone has linked to it. Or suppose someone just guesses and links to yourstore.com/mobile. Now there is a trail for search engines to follow and crawl your site. Duplicate content here we come.

Mobile Store Comparison

Enabled Disabled
Home Page Users Redirected Not Redirected
Mobile Site Exists/ Accessible Mobile Site Exists/ Accessible

You Can’t Event Track It!

Oh, yeah. One other trivial detail…. Did you know that you can’t even track your visitors in Volusion Mobile Ecommerce? Seriously. Mobile visits, engagement, and ecommerce goals & transactions are all invisible to your Google Analytics tracking. This issue is so massive that we wrote separate post on Volusion Mobile Destroys Your Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Comparison

Volusion Desktop Volusion Mobile
User Added GA Code No User GA Code
Goals & Ecommerce Conversions Work No Goals or Ecommerce Conversions Work (with Mobile Checkout Enabled)

What Can You Do?

So, now you have a glimpse into the technical mess that has been created by Volusion Mobile Ecommerce (2nd Edition), let’s talk about what to do about it.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the easy answer is to turn off the feature completely and block the mobile entirely.

But for many stores it’s not that simple. Given the technical challenges of your standard Volusion template and the inability to make it respond to mobile devices it can be a difficult decision.

If you decide that you want to move forward with the Mobile Ecommerce solution, we have some recommendations for you.

One last note: these recommendations are to make the best out of a less than ideal situation. This is not how we would design it, but it’s the best we can do if you’re going to use Volusion Mobile Ecommerce.

Solution

First, let’s block search engines from crawling your mobile site.

Update your Robots.txt file, adding the following lines.

# Block Mobile product images
Disallow: /mobile/Zoom.aspx?id=*
# Block Mobile product pages
Disallow: /mobile/Product.aspx?id=*
#Block Mobile category pages
Disallow: /mobile/Category.aspx?id=*

By taking these steps you are recommending that search engines do not crawl these pages. While this is not exactly blocking them, it’s the best we can do.

Note: We have left the mobile homepage accessible here to allow that to be found.

If you prefer to block the entire mobile site including the homepage, you can add the following to your Robots.txt file instead:

# Block entire Mobile Site
Disallow: /mobile/*

Second, let’s add an alternate canonical tag to our desktop products to signal the mobile alternative URL. Ideally we would add a separate alternate canonical tag to the mobile product pages as well. However, with Volusion a bidirectional annotation is not an option since we cannot control the mobile template at all.

In order to do so we’re going to add another line to the head noting the alternate product URL. It will look like the following line (adjusted for your specific product and URL of course.

<link rel="alternate" media="only screen and (max-width: 640px)" href="http://yourstore.com/mobile/Product.aspx?id=81" >

So here’s how you do it:

Since we can’t just add another line to the head section of your product page on Volusion, we are going to leverage the Meta Tags Override section. Now, since we are using this override field, you will also need to manually bring in your title and meta description fields since they will now be left out.

So, your Meta Tags Override field will look like this:

<title>Your Title Tag</title>
<meta name="description" content="Your Volusion product meta description." />
<link rel="alternate" media="only screen and (max-width: 640px)" href="http://yourstore.com/mobile/Product.aspx?id=81" >

The challenging piece of course is to roll this out to all your products efficiently.

Feeling really ambitious? There’s one more step we can take.

Third, we’re going to generate another version of your sitemap. This will be structured just like your existing sitemap with one exception. Each item with come with an alternate URL relationship. It will need to look like the following.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"
  xmlns:xhtml="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<url>
<loc>http://yourstore.com/mobile/Product.aspx?id=81</loc>
<xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    media="only screen and (max-width: 640px)"
    href="http://yourstore.com/mobile/Product.aspx?id=81" />
</url>
</urlset>

This will then be saved as an xml file, uploaded to your site, and submitted to Google Webmaster Tools.

This will be more challenging to set up and is beyond the scope of this post.

That’s it. In effect we have told the search engines to ignore the mobile pages and have told them that an alternate to the main page is the mobile page. At least you’re making the best of the hand you’ve been dealt.

If you need help Convergent7 is available to roll out the changes for you. Call us at (888) 388-8891.

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About Scott Williams

Scott Williams is the Technical Marketing Manager at Convergent7. Part SEO analyst, part ecommerce consultant, and part programmer he focuses on helping clients get the most out of their business through best practices and creative solutions. He is also a big fan of the Lakers and tacos.
You can find him on , Twitter, LinkedIn, C7 Ecommerce Forums and Stack Overflow

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