If you listen to some “experts” they make it sound impossible, but the truth is that the basics of SEO are very easy to learn.
And that’s what this blog post focuses on – to make you brilliant at the basics of SEO for your e-commerce site.
You have a handful of choices when driving traffic to an e-commerce store:
- Social influencers (also paid)
If you have an endless marketing budget, your conversion rates are optimized to within an inch of their life, and your e-commerce store is generating healthy profit margins, then using paid traffic is probably fine.
But the reality is that very few e-commerce businesses have a bottomless vault of cash to pour into their digital marketing. Instead, they usually need to see a positive return on investment (ROI) for the smallest possible outlay.
One of the key benefits of using SEO for e-commerce stores is that you don’t need to pay for every click you get. In fact, the investment you make in search engine optimisation can pay for itself within a few months, so every cent your business generates after that doesn’t need to come from your marketing budget.
So SEO is important for e-commerce because it can dramatically lower your marketing costs while providing a positive ROI within a very short timeframe.
Now let’s take a look at our e-commerce SEO checklist, and tackle each item in turn:
We know that most e-commerce business owners are sick and tired of getting emails offering SEO auditing services.
We don’t blame you – most of those emails are spam and sent by people who don’t know what they’re doing.
But the truth of the matter is there’s absolutely no point in optimising your website without running a full technical SEO audit on your site first.
Most SEO agencies would advise on content marketing or boosting your backlink profile, to start off with, but that’s a terrible idea.
That’s the equivalent of repainting the outside of a failing restaurant business, hoping that renovating the exterior will improve the quality of the meals served to customers.
You can achieve dramatic improvements in how much traffic your store gets by simply fixing existing problems on your site.
One perfect example of this is one client who hired an agency to redesign their business website. The agency made a number of truly horrible (and entirely elementary) mistakes that reduced organic search traffic to the business by almost 100%.
During our audit the first thing we noticed was the huge number of technical errors the other agency had caused within the site architecture. Once we resolved those errors their site’s traffic returned to normal within 60 days.
Can you audit your own site?
Yes, and here’s how you do that.
The first step is to run a speed test on your site. We know a lot of people use Google PageSpeed Insights, but it’s a bit cryptic at times.
GTMetrix does a great job at providing visual results and it does that in plain English. Your site’s loading speed is now a ranking factor, so you should pay attention to the results you get from GTmetrix.
One final note is that you can choose the location of the test server used to speed test your site if you register for a free GTMetrix account. This can be important if you’re living outside North America.
Next up is Google Search Console. This is a free tool offered as part of Google’s Webmaster Tools Suite.
We highly recommend that you invest some time in setting up Search Console for your site and learning more about the data it offers.
From an auditing perspective it can help you highlight errors such as:
- Crawl anomalies
- Manual actions (toxic backlinks)
- Pages not indexed
- 404 errors
If you want something a bit more feature rich then we’ve tested Spotibo SEO Analyzer in the past, and were impressed by the results it produces for a free auditing too. In fact, if you were to combine Spotibo audit data with what you can harvest from Search Console, you can do a pretty thorough audit on any site.
Two of best paid auditing tools on the market are Ahrefs and SEMrush. Both do a great job at not only identifying issues on your site, but presenting that information in an easy-to-understand format. You’ll have to pay $100 per month to use either of these tools though.
Is one better than the other?
We use Ahrefs internally because we love the range of features it offers.
Start Using HTTPS
A lack of SSL (Secure Socket Layer, or https) is one of the main reasons we advise companies to perform an audit before doing anything else. Most ecommerce developers and platforms include SSL as part of your package, but it always pays to double check.
Even the most basic auditing tool will inform you that you need to upgrade your site to use https instead of http, if it’s missing.
What does https actually do?
It allows you to encrypt your visitor/customer data and payment information to keep it secure. You can tell if a site has SSL set up properly because the URL will have a little lock beside the URL.
But what’s the benefit of using https when it comes to e-commerce SEO?
Google has openly stated that SSL is now a ranking factor, and especially for e-commerce sites. This isn’t something you can ignore.
Basically, if your site gets dinged with a ‘Privacy Error’ in Chrome Google will instantly know that your site doesn’t encrypt user data or payment information, so is probably not worth having in their search index.
Most SEO agencies will focus on getting lots and lots of traffic to your e-commerce store. That probably sounds like a great idea?
What they rarely look at is whether or not those visitors are likely to become customers, or will they reach your site and go “Nope…not what I was looking for” and then leave?
This requires a complete shift in mindset away from worrying about how much traffic your site is getting, and instead focus on getting the right type of traffic i.e. people who want to buy stuff.
Which would you prefer?
- Being able to boast that your store gets 100,000 unique visitors each month, or;
- Being able to say that your store is generating £5,000 per week in net profit?
You’ll see some SEOs boasting about increasing traffic by 106% for clients…but how much revenue did that traffic generate?
There are only a handful of SEOs who’ll ever talk about what matters most – how much money they made for their clients.
You can spot these pages a mile away because they usually contain a question mark, the product name and/or sometimes a number with several digits:
Here’s an example of what these URLs look like:
Your e-commerce platform usually creates these pages automatically when a visitor refines their search. The problem this creates is you have non-SEO friendly URLs on your site, and often multiple copies of them.
The easiest option here is to simply use your SEO plugin or add-on to set a NoIndex tag for these pages. If that’s gibberish to you, all it means is that you tell Google to ignore those pages when it crawls your site.
We need to cover off keyword research before we go any further because:
- It’s really easy when you do it right
- Getting it wrong can be expensive
All keyword research has to start somewhere, and the best place to start is with a head, or seed keyword. Some SEOs call these “broad” keywords.
But it all means the same thing – a single word or phrase that all other keywords are based on.
We use the free Keywords Everywhere extension for Google Chrome (it also works in Firefox) in the examples below. That’s why the screenshots might look a little bit different to what you’re used to.
Let’s take the example of shoes, or more specifically, men’s shoes.
When we search Google for this we get the following results at the bottom of the page:
The keyword “Men’s smart shoes” sounds interesting, so we click on that and look at the next set of results:
Keywords of interest here are:
- Men’s formal shoes
- Men’s designer smart shoes
- Discount men’s formal shoes
- Smart casual shoes
We’re paraphrasing some of the above keywords because these would make perfect category pages for an e-commerce site about men’s shoes.
The diagram below illustrates how you might approach your site structure using this keyword research method.
Answer The Public is another fantastic resource for keyword research – there are literally hundreds of other keyword suggestions for “men’s smart shoes” to be found there:
You could create pages just for any of the above shoe types, or just include these keywords on a page of content about different types of shoes. These longer keywords are often referred to as long-tail keywords.
They’re called that because they’re at the “tail end” of a searcher’s journey to find the product they’re looking for.
You can also use keyword modifiers to find keywords with high levels of search intent. A modifier is a word or number attached to your core keyword that makes it more specific.
So if we take our previous example of “men’s smart shoes”, a modifier for that could be either of these:
- Men’s smart shoes size 13
- Men’s smart formal shoes size 12
These are search phrases used by customers who are ready to make a purchase – they’re just looking for a site to buy from now.
Did you notice anything so far about our keyword research methods?
We haven’t used any paid tools or services to do this research, although a keyword tool like Ahrefs or Keywordtool.io will speed your research up.
Doing great keyword research just takes practice – the more time you spend doing it, the better you get at it.
It is absolutely critical that you understand user search intent if you want to run an ecommerce business.
Search intent refers to what the visitor expects to find in your store after searching using a specific keyword. Let’s say you decide to stock smart looking watches to sell beside your range of smart men’s shoes.
You build a new category for smart watches, optimize your product pages for the keyword and upload images of these new stylish watches to your store.
But your page doesn’t seem to get very much traffic, and even the visitors that do show up aren’t purchasing your new range of watches. Eventually the trickle of visitors dries up and you have no idea why
In the background something else has happened.
Google also noticed a lot of people visiting and then leaving your page quickly. They analyzed the page, saw it has poor search intent and demoted it. Your smart watch product pages are now in search engine limbo.
In desperation you finally Google smart watches, only to realize that what people are looking for aren’t your stylish watches, but an actual smart watch like those made by Samsung or Apple.
To avoid mistakes around search intent, take your current keyword and look at what types of pages are ranking right now in Google for that keyword.
Are the pages in the search results similar to your own, or are they on an entirely different topic, product, or service?
It will become really obvious what the search intent of your chosen keyword is. Most companies don’t bother taking this step because it seems like too much work.
And that’s why so many ecommerce stores struggle with organic traffic.
One incredibly simple way to race ahead of most of your competitors is to fully optimise every single one of your product pages.
The majority of e-commerce sites copy and paste the product description text from the manufacturer’s site, or even other e-commerce sites. There’s no thought given as to the quality of the content – just that it was easy to come by.
The problem is that Google will only ever rank one site for that product description text, and it will always be whoever first published it. So copying and pasting puts you in direct competition with the manufacturer or distributor of the product.
Optimizing product pages is a simple process, but it’s also time consuming. And that’s why 95% of ecommerce site owners avoid it.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Create a unique Title tag for each product page – try to include brand, model number, etc.
- Create a unique Meta Description tag for each product page
- Use only one H1 tag on each product page
Just following those 3 simple steps can give you an instant boost in organic traffic, and all without spending a single cent, without building any backlinks, or any SEO voodoo.
If you really want to really grab Google’s attention you could include a table with product specifications listed on it. Google loves data presented in table format!
These tips apply to category pages, and any other piece of content you publish on your e-commerce site.
Again, you should create a unique Title and Meta Description for each page, with your head or broad keyword in your Title tag. You can get some additional keyword coverage by including an additional head keyword in your Meta Description tag. Or you could add a long-tail keyword to this tag instead.
Your H1 tag should also include your broad keyword, or a long-tail variant of it. Just make sure to avoid keyword stuffing any of the above tags so as not to upset Google.
Never have more than one H1 tag on any page, use H2 tags for sub-headings, and H3 tags for sub-sub headings.
One really cool tip is to go to your Search Console, and look at what queries each page ranks for.
Here’s Neil Patel to explain that as only he can:
In summary, you find keywords that you rank in position 10 – 20 for, and then work them into your Title tag, your Meta Description, or just on the page of content itself.
This can dramatically improve not only where your site ranks in Google, but also how much organic traffic you receive.
The very last thing most e-commerce store owners want to do is content marketing because it seems like a lot of work. Although there is work involved, the benefits far outweigh any costs.
What we mean by content marketing is adding a blog to your e-commerce site and updating it on a weekly, or at least monthly, basis. And that doesn’t mean only uploading a blog post when you’re having a sale, or to include your Christmas deliveries timetable.
Instead you should look to offer your visitors value. Give them fashion tips or advice they can put to use. Here are some ideas for blog posts:
- How to wear men’s shoes with jeans
- What are popular men’s shoes?
- What men’s shoes are good for plantar fasciitis?
These examples were taken from AnswerThePublic.com, which means they’re search terms people are using in Google.
Content marketing also gives you the perfect opportunity to add an internal link from a blog post to a product or category page in your store.
These links are valuable from an SEO point of view, so you should find a way to use them in any blog posts you publish.
Many of your competitors will have blogs on their site, but we’re certain the majority of them aren’t making full use of them in the manner we detailed above.
In an ideal world your products should be no more than three clicks/levels from the homepage.
A simple way to illustrate this is as follows:
What you want to avoid is structure your store like this example:
Does that seem like an extreme example?
We’ve seen examples of e-commerce stores where product pages were buried up to 8 steps from the homepage of an e-commerce store.
This causes a number of problems:
- Your site becomes impossible to navigate. Etsy is an example of a navigation nightmare.
- Google will find it very difficult to crawl (analyze) those pages. In fact, it might just stop trying, so your product pages never rank in their index.
- You are diluting the amount of domain authority any product page can manage. Let’s assume that your domain has a DA (Domain Authority) score of 50. By the time this filters down to a product page 5 – 8 steps from the homepage, your domain authority will have reduced to almost zero.
What are your competitors doing? Have you looked at their pages? How are their pages structured, how long is their content, do they use more images than you?
What your competitor’s rankings tell you is that Google likes what they’re doing, so you should model your own approach based on how they’ve organized their site, the types of backlinks they have, etc.
Tools like Ahrefs can do most of this work for you, but a human review of what your competitors are doing is just as valuable.
We hope you can see that becoming brilliant at the basics of e-commerce SEO is far more straightforward than you might have thought.
There are no gimmicks or tricks in improving the amount of organic traffic (and in turn revenue) that your e-commerce site gets.
It’s just following a series of logical steps, building on each one in turn, that will always produce the best results.