search engine optimization

A Guide to Ecommerce SEO

  • Hillary
  • ON
  • December 7, 2018

So, you’ve had your online business for a while and you’re just not seeing the leads pour in as you had hoped. Especially after spending money on the development of an ecommerce website in the first place. It should just work, right? Wrong. In this guide, we’ll discuss ecommerce SEO and provide you with tips and areas of focus that will help take your online business to the next level.

What is ecommerce SEO?

You may have heard about search engine optimization (SEO), but you’re unsure about how it works for ecommerce or how it could help your online business. To put it simply, ecommerce SEO is the process of analyzing a web-store to identify critical areas of opportunity, then implementing a strategy of improvements, analyzing the changes that result from implementation, and scaling the strategy from the new findings. Rinse. Repeat.

Benefits of SEO for ecommerce sites

A major benefit of SEO for ecommerce sites is that it’s free and what business would turn down a constant influx of high-quality traffic that they didn’t have to pay for?! Aside from getting loads of free traffic, ecommerce SEO can help you achieve the following:

  • Improved search visibility and brand awareness
  • Increased traffic and reduced marketing spend
  • Boosted conversion rates
  • Lowered bounce rates

Optimizing ecommerce sites for SEO

Every ecommerce website is built on different levels of the conversion funnel. You may spend a ton of time optimizing your homepage just to get people to your site, but for an ecommerce site, the homepage is the least valuable. It’s the awareness phase, the page people land on so early in the buying cycle that they usually bounce before they convert. It’s good that they know your store exists but it’s really difficult to drive a sale from the homepage.

The next level is your category pages. Category pages are where interest develops. They get a little higher click-through rate as people browse your product selection. Category pages are great for driving non-brand related traffic and reaching new audiences or people who may not necessarily know about your product specifically but who know that they’re interested in learning more about what the category has to offer.

For an en ecommerce site, however, it’s all about the product pages. These are your conversion pages, it’s where the money’s at. This is where people evaluate your inventory and compare against other items you offer and what your competitors are offering. Product pages should be the primary focus area for ecommerce sites.

But how do you successfully optimize your ecommerce site for SEO? Let’s take a deep dive into important focus areas and tips that will help your business stand out in SERPs against your competition.

Protect your site and users with HTTPS

Every site should be conducting its operation under HTTPS (as of July 2018). HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) supports the integrity of data being transmitted to and from your site. This is especially important for ecommerce sites because of the transmission of customer information like credit card, name, and address data. HTTPS sites protect against malicious activity while ensuring security and privacy for both your site and your site’s users. If your site is not secured, searchers (who use Chrome) will be notified on arrival and in many cases will then be reluctant to do business on your site. Having an HTTPS site is also incentivized in SERPs (for the time being).

Develop a keyword strategy

Having the right keywords on the right pages makes all the difference in getting searchers to your site, as well as controlling CTR and bounce rate. Keyword research is the foundation of your keyword and content strategies and it’s especially important for ecommerce sites. While you may opt to choose keywords that get a ton of search volume, it’s important to stay aware of the searchers intent and to understand how many resources it’ll take you to rank for specific keywords.

Keyword strategy checklist

  • Search volume

In your industry, 10 searches a month could be huge or you might not bat an eye at 100,000 searches a month, it’s all relativeIf you run a seasonal business you’ll notice fluctuations in search volume so be sure to check historical annual data if you’re planning your keyword strategy during the off-season. Search volume isn’t everything

  • Search intent

Keywords with lower search volume but higher intent match are more likely to convert. If your business sells shirts, using the keyword ‘shirt’ or ‘shirts’ will be too broad and a keyword like ‘women’s purple embroidered long sleeve shirt’ is too specific. But, something like ‘women’s long sleeve shirts’ would be a good mid-tail option that is descriptive enough to target people who’ve already decided on the style of shirt they’d like to purchase. If you’re in the business of selling tobacco pipes, using the keyword ‘pipes’ seems like a good option but again, it’s too broad. Someone searching for pipes may be looking for plumbing supplies, they could be looking up how to prevent pipes from freezing, or they could be looking for a YouTube video featuring Scottish pipes and drums bands.

  • Keyword competition

For ecommerce SEO it’s best to stick to keywords that have a medium to high competition rating in the AdWords platform. The higher the competition, the more money there is to be made. The higher a suggested bid, the more competitive. Generally, you’ll notice that keywords containing a modifier like ‘buy’, ‘purchase’, or ‘for sale’ have a higher suggested bid because these people are likely closer to taking action and therefore more businesses are forking out the cash to get the sale.To take keyword competition to the next level, you could use available web tools (SEMrush) to obtain a keyword’s difficulty score, then run a KOB (keyword opposition to benefit) analysis to determine how much work and how many resources will be involved to accomplish ranking for specific keywords.

Technical SEO & code optimization

Keeping website and server-side attributes in check are very important in ecommerce SEO. If you have not successfully implemented technical SEO tactics or properly optimized code on your site, you may never have the opportunity to be indexed, let alone ranked, and forget making a sale from an organic lead. As an online business with so much to think about from the homepage to categories to product specific pages, there are a lot of things you can do to give your store the boost it needs to rank well in SERPs.

Technical SEO checklist

  • XML sitemaps An XML sitemap can only hold up to 50,000 URLs. Given that even the most basic of ecommerce sites can have 5,000 pages or more, they can fill up pretty fast. Create unique XML sitemaps for categories, products, product videos, images, etc. By separating page types into unique sitemaps you’re future-proofing your site (anticipating over 50,000 pages) and signaling search engines to crawl every page, instead of not indexing pages based on bandwidth or crawl depth.Link XML sitemaps in the robots.txt file and be sure to submit to search engines via webmaster tools or search console with every update, or at least on a consistent, periodic schedule to ensure search engines always have the most up-to-date index.
  • Faceted navigation and paginated content As mentioned, ecommerce sites can rack up a good volume of pages pretty quickly as a result of product load, or if not implemented properly a faceted navigation can create new unique parameter URLs based on every filter option. We absolutely want every product to be crawled, but that can be accomplished through the Products XML Sitemap. You can block indexation of parameters in Google Search Console and other search engine webmaster tools. Use “nofollow” on URLs with more than one facet/filter, and “noindex” on URLs with more than two facets/filters.Use a canonical and rel=prev/next tags properly for paginated content (/page-1, /page-2)
  • Duplicate and thin content issues Every page on a site is unique in that it is about one, very specific thing, and each page’s content should follow suit. From metadata to body copy, every page on an ecommerce site must be unique in order to compete in SERPs.If every page is not or cannot be unique, canonicalization, as mentioned above, was created to resolve duplicate content issues by providing search engines with a primary designated page in which to give credit in SERPs, in a situation where there are several similar pages like, /womens-shirts, /womens-magenta-shirts, /womens-purple-shirts, etc.. In this scenario, /womens-shirts would be the primary or canonical page. Additionally, link equity would be sent to the canonical version of the collection from any links pointing to the variable pages.Pages with duplicate or thin content can be penalized by Google’s Panda algorithm instantly dropping your pages out of the top search result positions. So, in addition to keeping content unique, it also needs to be robust. For primary and category pages, 500 words is fine, and for product pages, 250 words with a bullet-pointed list of features or benefits will suffice.

Code Optimization Checklist

  • Site speed optimization Minifying site assets supports the optimization of site speed through eliminating whitespace between code and reducing file sizes of images and other large resources, effectively “shrinking” the amount of space the code takes up on your page, making it easier for search engines to quickly crawl the site. Another essential piece to site speed optimization is organizing render blocking assets. This means having critical scripts placed in a position where web crawlers won’t have to make multiple rounds of server trips to load massive assets first. Proper asset placement encourages pages to be processed and loaded in a timely manner.
  • Structured data markup on product pages Structured data markup or “rich snippets” are indicated in SERPs by the knowledge panel, star ratings, and other identifiers. Websites are not incentivized by using rich snippets but sites that use these features appear more credible and will generally receive a higher CTR.

Site search optimization

Knowing how people search your site and knowing what they’re searching for can help you understand how to merchandise your products as well as determine prioritization of sale items and items that aren’t worth selling at all. If optimized correctly, each product page should show in SERPs. People who are earlier in the buying cycle may land on your homepage or on a category page and may use your site search bar to look up products on your site, but if they can’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll leave. That’s what makes site search optimization such a major part of ecommerce SEO. With an enterprise site search platform, you can achieve everything from merchandising your site to gaining search insights.

Site search optimization checklist

  • Merchandising Product placement is key for sales. Merchandise product pages by most frequently purchased, highest customer rating or by “people also searched for”, and promote relevant products to the top of site search results by margins, newness or whichever metric is most important to your business goals.
  • Synonyms and redirects Zero result searches are inevitable because let’s be honest, not everyone knows how to spell every word (although predictive text and autocorrect are helping more each day). Optimizing site search for misspellings is important so that people don’t land on zero result search pages often. It’s difficult to predict misspellings so this is generally a constant effort. You can also try to optimize zero results, “did you mean”, with the closest possible match or related searches. You can optimize site search with redirects when you have old product URLs that need to point to the new product version or you can redirect specific search terms to specific URLs so that searchers are always landing on the most relevant product.

Ecommerce SEO is not optional

SEO is not a one and done situation. It’s an ongoing and complicated process of testing and implementing new ideas from keywords to code and technical attributes to site search functionality that will propel your business forward over time. ecommerce SEO is no longer optional if you want to be competitive, in your industry online. If your ecommerce store isn’t attracting the leads or conversions you were expecting, try optimizing your ecommerce site for SEO with these tips.

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