I just emerged from 3 hours of Zen Cart optimization. Zen Cart is a popular, open-source shopping cart. It’s truly amazing in capability, but like many Open Source projects it is heavily “technical”. I have to give credit to the Zen cart community, however, because the template system is coming along nicely, such that Zen Cart is capable of creating a decent-looking, functioning on line store (in the right hands).
By the way, it’s a lot of work. After my three hours working with the developer, we have the solutions but there still remains a decent amount of work to make sure our deployment is safe from upgrade, relatively portable, and adaptable.
As we went through the analysis I traversed the Zen Cart forums and sites. In my travels I came across many discussions about SEO and Zen cart. Some of those were quite heated. “Who needs SEO?” “Google spiders Zen cart just fine“. “Google has not trouble indexing Zen cart“. Blah blah blah.
I requote my mantra… it’s not SEO, but Competitive Webmastering. To whatever extent you deploy Zen Cart into your commercial market, so can someone else. Selling Vasque Sundowner boots in your Zen Cart? Well, so is someone else. Who will rank higher for a Google search for Vasque Sundowner? That discussion limps along, following a thought path that basically mirrors the belief systems of the arguers…. eventually, if you have the patience, they will settle into some agreement about “other factors” determining who wins the SERP spots, and those other factors (like back links) are recognized as part of SEO, blah blah blah. Eventually, they acknowledge that SEO brings a competitive advantage. So why so much trouble admitting that Zen Cart needs optimization?
Zen cart’s URLs are ugly as sin itself. Clean them up. Use them for competitive advantage (think:: keywords). Manage your search engine spider exposure..use that product-category symbolic link feature to your competitive advantage. It’s search engine optimization involving Zen Cart, plain and simple.
How many Zen cart implementors have the patience to rewrite Zen cart’s URLs? Few indeed. A common approach to SEO for Zencart is to build showcase pages from the product database, existing static and optimized, separate from the shopping cart application. That’s fine, and better than simply optimizing the Zen-Cart application, but why shy away from doing both? The first (creating additional, optimized product showcase pages) is a wonderful addition to your e-commerce site (with a per-page cost, a template design cost, an SEO cost, a management utiity development cost, a maintenance cost). The second (search engine optimization of the Zen-cart portion of the e-commerce site) also brings considerable added value for the zen-cart product pages, for an initial SEO development cost and a minor maintenance cost.
How many shop owners implement Zen cart for their shopping cart? I don’t know, but unless you can afford a custom shopping cart implementation (optimized, of course) you won’t be able to compete with other merchants doing a more optimal job. So first you need to know your market, and if the players in your market are using open source shopping carts (like OSCommerce or Zen cart) then you can, too. And when you do, you will need to optimize because they can, too. And the winner is? Well, it’s not going to be the guys with the Flash shopping carts. but after that the question is really, who will be the most competitive player in the market?
Place your bets.