SEO. Every online merchant knows that it matters. But, knowing how to improve it can be a major challenge.
In such an oversaturated shopping sector, SEO is often what separates a thriving ecommerce store from a struggling one. Without an optimized storefront, your offerings aren’t just invisible to would-be customers; your user experience could also leave something to be desired.
But how exactly does SEO work, and what steps can you take to improve ecommerce SEO? We’re going to answer these questions in our beginner’s guide to ecommerce SEO (and why it matters for your business).
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, refers to the practice of making your website more visible and accessible to search engines.
Google, Bing, and their peers use algorithms to determine which sites deserve a high ranking i.e. making it onto that coveted ‘first page’ of search results. To decide rankings, search engines use a mixture of ‘signals’ that measure the quality and relevance of your website in relation to search queries.
SEO strategy involves a range of so-called ‘on-page’ and ‘off-page’ tactics designed to cater to these signals, including but not limited to:
Ecommerce SEO, therefore, is the art of getting your online store and product pages to rank high in the search results.
If people can’t find your store via search, they’re unlikely to know that you exist. This makes it difficult to grow your business or to acquire new customers.
Good ecommerce SEO gives your business a strong competitive edge by making yourself visible to consumers who have actively identified a need. Need-qualified consumers are much further along the purchasing journey, which means a higher likelihood of conversions.
Furthermore, SEO is based on organic rather than paid search. Thus, it’s a much more sustainable – and effective – strategy for sending prospective customers to your online store. Once they are through the virtual door, an optimized ecommerce site makes for a positive shopping experience that boosts brand awareness and sales activity.
Keyword research is the backbone of any strong SEO strategy. They help search engines to decide whether your online store offers a product that matches consumer queries.
Without keywords, you have no way of knowing what search terms potential customers are using to find you. So, if you aren’t tailoring your copy and descriptions to this end, that’s a lot of web traffic you’re missing out on!
The best thing about keyword research? You don’t have to pay for a fancy, expensive tool to do it effectively. Strong keyword research focuses on two things: user intent and competitor activity.
The ‘suggest’ features in search functions is very useful for gathering information on search behavior. The list of autocomplete searches gives you a much better picture of how consumers are searching for certain items, as shown below:
It’s important to know what keywords competing brands are trying to rank for. Why? Because you want to beat them at their own game. It’s also a valuable tactic when you are starting out and aren’t sure which keywords to target.
The home page and product pages are places to focus on when looking for important keywords. You can also use paid tools such as Moz and SEMrush to automate this process.
We can break keywords down into a few key types:
Short-tail keywords: Short search terms that are broad and the root of more specified searches e.g. ‘sweater’. Because terms like this are widely used, short-tail keywords are highly competitive and difficult to rank for.
Long-tail keywords: Longer phrases made up of three or four keywords e.g. ‘baby-blue cashmere sweater’. Because long-tail keywords are more specific, they usually have less competition and are much easier to rank for. Furthermore, they indicate that the searcher is closer to purchasing because they have a clear idea of what they are looking for.
Latent semantic index (LSI) keywords: These are words that are commonly used in relation to other words. Search engines use LSIs to help determine the relevance of a piece of content. For example, ‘t-shirt’ is likely to associate with other words such as ‘cotton’ ‘printing’, ‘graphic’, or ‘vintage’.
A strong keyword strategy will involve a mixture of keyword types throughout web copy. Note at keyword ‘stuffing’ (when keywords are ‘stuffed’ into web copy to make the page rank higher) is penalized by Search Engines as a ‘black hat’ tactic. Instead, work them naturally into your content.
Building a strong network of links is one of the best ways to boost SEO. This refers both to backlinks (links to your store hosted on other sites) and internal links (linking between relevant pages on your site).
These links serve two different purposes. Backlinks are a ranking signal that tells Google that your site is an authoritative source. Internal links make it easier to navigate your site by providing high-quality page links that support the customer journey.
Backlinks are one of the trickiest parts of ecommerce SEO because they rely on off-page tactics. Guest blogging is one of the best tactics for increasing your backlinks, as it offers a website value in exchange for hosting your links.
If there are any key criteria for internal linking, it’s that relevance always comes first. Trying to cram in as many links as possible will likely for a negative user experience. Instead, focus on valuable links, such as topical blog posts or related product offerings.
Mobile ecommerce is not a trend of the future. According to OuterBox, 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase using their device in the last six months.
This shift in shopping habits is why Google introduced mobile-first indexing in 2019. This means that the search engine uses the mobile version of your online store for indexing and ranking purposes. If your mobile store isn’t designed to facilitate a positive shopping experience, this can really hurt your ecommerce SEO.
Responsive design means that your online store will render itself properly on different screen sizes. This creates a more seamless user experience – and a higher chance of conversions.
Product pages make up the heart of any online store, which is why it’s so important that they are optimized with the right keywords and title tags.
Product name. The name of the product is what appears in search results and the product page’s URL, so it’s crucial that this is both accurate and includes keywords. To prevent Google from truncating them, try keeping product names to around 60 characters.
Product description. Search engines will penalize website pages that are ‘thin’ on content because it indicates a lack of information for site visitors. You can remedy this by ensuring product descriptions are in-depth, descriptive, and utilize plenty of keywords.
Images. Images are the key to a good product page. Without them, you’ll have a tough time persuading anyone to buy your product. But when it comes to ecommerce SEO, an image isn’t just an image. Make the effort to include detailed alt text and use appropriate file names so that consumers (and Google) know what the image contains.
If there’s anything that frustrates customers, it’s slow loading speeds. This adds friction to the shopping experience – and can even drive people to exit your site entirely. 70% of consumers say that slow loading speeds impact their purchasing decisions online.
Loading speeds have been a key factor in ecommerce SEO since 2010. However, will become more critical with Google’s upcoming Core Web Vitals (CWV) update in May 2021, which lists anything less than 4-second page loads as ‘poor’ site performance.
Here are a few ways you can improve site speed at your ecommerce store:
Ecommerce SEO is more of an art than a science. Faced with a shifting algorithm and often rapid turnarounds of SKUs, maintaining an optimized online store can feel like a never-ending task. But boosting your site’s ranking offers more benefits than one; SEO-friendly tactics create a better shopping experience for your customers – and happy customers mean higher sales for your business. By putting in the effort now, your online store is far more likely to thrive in a competitive marketplace.