Reddico 'R' Symbol

Edge SEO for eCommerce brands

Michael Carden-Edwards

Posted by Michael Carden-Edwards

22 May 2023

If you’re working in a senior capacity for a large eCommerce brand, you may often have a long list of ways to improve organic growth, but constantly run into obstacles. Edge SEO is a concept that can help you implement changes to a website via the use of CDNs (Content Delivery Networks), without the need to go through any codebase limitations or internal blockers.

For example, you may be aware of the need to reduce code bloat from redundant legacy tracking tags across the site. There may also be some obvious opportunities around featuring breadcrumb internal linking across certain product pages. Such changes will likely make sense not only from an SEO, UX and performance standpoint, but also from a business perspective. 

However, when it comes to large businesses, many may have complicated tech stacks with limited functionality. There may also be siloed departments with large task backlogs, and even a reluctance to embark on getting such changes implemented in lieu of other priorities. 

Such obstacles can make eCommerce SEO difficult. Not only are there frustrations from being unable to make improvements to your site, but there’s also the capacity for genuine hindrance to organic growth. 

So, what is Edge SEO?

Edge SEO (with its name taken from the Edge computing concept) is the concept of making changes to a site via a CDN (aka “the edge”) instead of the traditional method of modifying the origin codebase itself. Changes made via a CDN (such as CloudFlare, Fastly or Akamai) with the help of a serverless application known as a “CDN worker” are then served to the user and Googlebot by the version of the site exchanged between the server and the user. Within this middle-ground environment, changes can be made to elements across HTML, CSS and JavaScript, among many other things.

The practice effectively opens up the opportunity to bypass blockers and limitations of a website’s infrastructure. This can result in a reduction in developer resources, particularly if you need to make changes quickly based on SEO-led insights, or around holiday campaign periods. From a commercial standpoint, it also reduces the pressure to implement much-needed (yet costly) changes to a site due to an ageing and limiting codebase, which when framed correctly can be a win for everyone involved. 

Another positive is that Edge SEO opens the door for those without in-depth code knowledge to make changes via these CDNs, instead of having to work through complex code. Implementing fixes to reduce redirect chains, for example, can be done with simple implementations via CloudFlare, as opposed to tinkering around within complex .htaccess files and potentially getting things wrong. 

The way in which we frame this opportunity is important. CDN setup typically resides within the realm of IT departments, and you certainly don’t want to be upsetting developers or key stakeholders by rolling out mass changes that bypass your normal workflows.

Let’s take a look at some use cases.

Use cases for Edge SEO

There are hundreds of SEO implementation opportunities that fall under the bracket of Edge SEO. Here are some common areas that Edge SEO can help you navigate.

Improving site speed

eCommerce sites with huge inventories and multi-layered codebases, with vast resources across their HTML, CSS and JavaScript, often suffer from poor page load speed and failing Core Web Vital scores. A typical approach to identifying fixes here could be running mass crawls on URLs and identifying some common sitewide offenders that are contributing to this, such as unused JavaScript and CSS or outdated tracking tags. 

Gathering the evidence and presenting it back to your dev team, in a manner which makes the findings an obvious route to pursue to improve site performance, can be the easy part. However, even if there is an appetite to make these changes, you may run into blockers in the site infrastructure itself.

CDNs such as CloudFlare offer options for you to auto-minify such resources across the site via a simple ticking of a box. 

Edge SEO can also help with the site-wide implementation of lazy loading via the browser to speed up page load times.

JavaScript pre-rendering 

JavaScript in SEO can cause all sorts of headaches when it comes to ensuring resources load quickly and are correctly crawled and rendered by Google. A typical feature of many large eCommerce sites is the reliance on JavaScript to populate product listings in certain situations, such as when users are applying filters to their product searches.

Edge SEO can help with serving a pre-rendered version of the site to the user and Googlebot via the CDN, which can also help with site performance.

Managing redirects

Keeping up with redirect mapping and implementation across a large eCommerce site where offers come and go, products come in and out of stock, and new inventories are added can be a constant uphill struggle. This can be made even more difficult if there’s no efficient, straightforward way of managing these on an ongoing basis.

Using a CDN as part of your Edge SEO efforts can allow you to easily manage redirects, either on a one-by-one basis or in bulk with the simple upload of a file and click of a button.

Even if you don’t have the resources to cover redirect management on an ongoing basis, Edge SEO can be brought into play to implement automated redirect rules and take care of things for you. If you’ve got a product under a certain category going out of stock, instead of manually mapping these back to a relevant page (such as a category page), you can set up rules via your CDN to take care of this automatically. 

Editing on-page SEO elements

Juggling thousands upon thousands of inventory URLs and keeping their on-page SEO elements up to speed can be a gargantuan task, even if you are able to readily make your desired changes via a CMS. 

Edge SEO can help speed up this process dramatically. Whether you want to apply canonical URL rules, so that product variant URLs with similar content canonicalise back to a master product page, or want to restructure your page title formats so they’re {Product}-{Keyword}-{Brand} rather than {Keyword}-{Product}-{Brand}, mass implementation via the edge can make this easy.

Implementing schema markup across all your product pages can also be handled in bulk via the use of Edge SEO. It can be incredibly useful in ascertaining rich snippets if your site’s CMS doesn’t support the implementation of schema in its codebase.

Implementations made via the edge on your CDNs will be read by Googlebot as though were done via the codebase itself, so the SEO benefits are clear.

Hreflang tag implementation

If your eCommerce brand services different markets and your site has different language variants, then international SEO will be an integral piece of your wider organic efforts. Hreflang, the process of implementing tags across the site or sitemap to signal to Google the intended target language and market of a localised version of a page, can be a headache if you’re managing it over a large enterprise site. 

Complications can emerge in a similar vein to managing inventory pages, where perhaps one product is in stock in one market and not in another. This can lead to 404 errors in mass hreflang tag rollouts where alternate versions simply don’t exist in some markets, for example. Things can quickly become very difficult to keep on top of.

Certain CDN workers can work with popular CDNs such as CloudFlare to allow users to easily manage and map hreflang en masse via the server without editing the codebase, and allow you to simply toggle which language variant of which page you have for each market. Hreflang tags will be deployed accordingly via the edge without the need to constantly go back and forth between your developers to make ongoing fixes.

A/B testing

A/B testing can be a tricky and expensive venture if you have to build out your testing variants by hand and track performance accordingly. 

Edge SEO allows you to build and run A/B SEO tests at scale and without the need to modify any elements of your codebase.

What are the common drawbacks of Edge SEO?

There are obvious advantages of utilising Edge SEO as a way to supercharge your eCommerce programme if you’re experiencing certain blockers. There are also pitfalls. If not done carefully, your implementations may roll out undesired changes to areas of the site you didn’t intend to influence. 

For example, if you’re implementing a site-wide minification of JavaScript or CSS resources, you may end up breaking certain areas of the site, perhaps a video, that aren’t compatible with this change. Rolling out mass analytics tags to every area of the site may also skew your tracking if Edge has deployed these across CSS or JavaScript resource URLs.

While the changes aren’t reflected in the codebase, they are still seen by the end user and Googlebot. Even though the temptation may be to make use of Edge SEO’s convenience and simply hit the “go” button, if you’re not specific enough in your requests you will likely run into bugs. 

There will always be the need to test, debug and iterate on changes made using Edge SEO, with the efficiency of outcome varying hugely depending on the site. 

Another drawback? It can be difficult to track and monitor how implementations made via the edge perform against the actual codebase based on what traditional SEO reporting tools say. As such, it’s important to ensure that all changes are monitored using a detailed changelog, so there’s a paper trail of implementations and their subsequent impact. 

Communicating the value of Edge SEO

Overall, Edge SEO shouldn’t be viewed solely as a means to bypass existing development workflows and resource blockers to get SEO work over the line. Even if you’re met with technical and developmental blockers that restrict you from getting your implementations done, the same rules still apply in terms of communicating with your relevant stakeholders about the what, why and how of your recommendations. Simply going to town on your CDN worker and implementing to your heart's content will likely anger teammates and key players across the business, especially if things are broken. Remember, CDN operation still resides largely within the realms of IT and team members should be kept in the loop. 

Instead, consider framing the opportunity around its benefits in saving dev resources and subsequent commercial efficiency. Examine how its ability to circumvent existing blockers can help your business with SEO growth that it may be missing out on.  

Should I consider using Edge SEO?

If you’re in the midst of a large eCommerce or enterprise SEO project and are struggling with a limiting tech stack and a fully occupied dev team, then Edge SEO is certainly worth considering. 

While you will certainly need to troubleshoot, test and debug your changes with your dev and IT teams, conceptually, Edge SEO does open the door for non-developmental types to make technical SEO changes in the field. This reduces the age-old issue of marketing teams relying on precious developer time in order to get things done, with just a few clicks via the help of CDN workers. 

The ability to alleviate SEO bottlenecks while taking the pressure off developers is something that can be framed in a commercial sense to senior stakeholders. There’s also the conversation around avoiding costly website redesigns and migrations if changes are carried out on the edge instead.

For many site owners and businesses, Edge SEO will likely not offer any immediate value. However, if you’re a large eCommerce or enterprise brand, there is the potential to get a lot more out of your SEO campaigns.