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In another lifetime I used to build Magento websites. Bit of a learning curve on Magento, but once I was reasonably familiar with it, I started to gain an appreciation for the importance of getting product attributes right before any product data was added to the system. I’ll now attempt to explain what I mean by that and why I thought it was worth a bit of time writing a post on the subject…

1. What are product attributes?
Imagine you have a product that you’re adding to your online shop. Let’s say it’s a power washer.
Keyword research shows us that, as with most products, search demand for pressure washers is considerably fragmented. People at the top of the funnel who are information gathering use a simple “pressure washers” query – however, we can see that plenty of people also search for specific power requirements: “2000 watt power washers”, specific pressure ratings: “200 bar pressure washers”, for “portable pressure washers”, “heavy duty pressure washers”, “lightweight pressure washers”. There’s also a lot of search volume related to use cases – “patio pressure washers”, “decking pressure washers”, “car pressure washers” and so on.

It’s generally the case that more qualified searches are closer to conversion, and in my SEO roles, it has been my job to understand how people search and then structure e-commerce sites in a fashion that reflects that. Most of the time that involves creating hubs of categories which match the various ways in which people search.

So rather than just one “power washers” category, there are a number of sub categories that seek to match the other, more qualified searches (more on e-commerce categorisation).

When you are preparing your product data for an e-commerce site, you should get a spreadsheet set up and attempt to create columns for every possible attribute – so perhaps you’ll have core data at the start (the SKU number in column A, product name in column B, brand in column C, price in column D and so on) – but then add columns for (in this example) power, pressure, weight, car, decking and so on.

Attributes obviously vary, and good e-commerce systems are set up to handle this.  Magento lets you create attribute sets – so you’d have a different attribute set for power washers, a different set for lawnmowers, and another for garden hoses.

Getting the attributes right, means you can tell your e-commerce system that a category should include all products with specific attributes.  You can create a “lightweight power washers” category that includes all power washers with the attribute of “lightweight”.  That means that the categories need much less manual management, as the platform handles inclusion of the correct products.

Doing this stuff right at the beginning gives you a foundation that is rock solid for search engine optimisation, ensures you have plenty of well seperated product attribute information you can include in structured data on your site, and gives you a head start when it comes to transferring your products into a number of third party feeds such as Google Shopping (for a bit of future proofing, it’s worth checking the mandatory Google product ad feed fields while you’re at this and ensuring you populate those in your spreadsheet too).

The alternative to doing it this way, is the easy way – sticking the manufacturers description in the product description field, and ending up with the same content as everybody else, jumbled into one text field that can’t be seperated, sorted or easily understood by search engines.

It is a pain in the ass.

Doing this really is a pain in the ass.  You’re desperate to just get your site live and see your products on it, and so is everybody else.  Typically folk end up looking at this task and deciding to add the attributes later.  Of course it never gets done, or is added sporadically and in a shotgun manner.

You end up putting it off and for 90% off sites, it never happens.

That limits visibility, conversion and categorisation – so don’t overlook those attributes!