If you run an e-commerce business or are thinking about starting one, you’re likely to have a lot on your plate. Pricing, logistics, sales and customer service, and even platform decisions and development top your list.
So, if in the midst of building your site – or even in the wake of doing so – you hear that you should spend time on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you might write it off as a low priority item that should be done, someday. Or, worse, consider it an unnecessary strategy or task. You’re not a content provider, why would you need to worry about search engine optimization? Your customers can search your website for the products that they need.
The question, though, isn’t about finding the right product on your site. It’s really about finding your site at all.
A recent post by WPForms estimates that there are between 12 and 24 million e-commerce sites across the world. The article goes on to point out that, in addition to the staggering number of existing online storefronts, the eCommerce industry is growing 23% year-over-year.
The reality is, to bring paying customers to your site, you have to be able to be found in the sea of competitors in the e-commerce space. SEO is how you get there.
What is E-commerce SEO & Why it’s Important
Essentially, e-commerce SEO is about using a variety of strategies and tactics to enhance your site or your product placement’s position in search results to bring in organic traffic (as opposed to traffic that comes to the site because of paid campaigns or advertising).
It may not seem a high priority for an online storefront, at first, especially if you’re doing any advertising. However, 43% of e-commerce traffic comes from organic Google search, and this organic traffic increases roughly 15% year over year.
This is no small number. With Statista estimating worldwide retail e-commerce sales topping $4.2 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020, organic traffic is crucial, and SEO is the engine that drives that traffic.
While some of the same tactics that you would use to improve SEO for a blog or content website are the same as what would be used for an e-commerce website, there are some differences. The best approach is to identify and implement SEO best practices for e-commerce throughout your site to provide your store with the greatest advantage.
E-commerce SEO Best Practices
Optimizing your e-commerce website for organic search traffic isn’t a single task. Instead, it’s a combination of strategy and tactics that give search engines the right signals on where to rank your page and how useful the result will be to the user making the search.
Do Your Research – Keyword & Competitor
While a number of the other tasks associated with SEO for an e-commerce site involve work to be done on the site itself, it’s important to start with a plan.
That plan has two main components – keyword research, so you know what words and phrases are important, and assessing your competitor’s sites, so you know what you’re up against.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Keyword Research
Keywords are the words that customers are using to search for the product or service that they want. You’ll want to use these words – appropriately and naturally – on your website so that search engines recognize your pages as being valuable for the user.
Doing keyword research for your website can be broken down into a few steps:
- Catalog your pages
- Find the primary keywords for your pages
- Find any “long tail” keyword phrases (we’ll explain that more below)
Catalog Your Pages
Start by getting an inventory of all of the existing pages on your website. If your site is small, that could be a few dozen pages. For a large site, that could be hundreds of pages.
This shouldn’t be a manual task. Instead, there is a multitude of tools available for free. The easiest and most straightforward method of getting this listing is by going to yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml. You can then put that list into a spreadsheet.
There are also a variety of sitemap generators out there – choosing one of these is a matter of preference and how you’ll be using it. Options include everything from an application installed on your computer to WordPress plugins.
As mentioned, this can result in hundreds of entries. Before moving on, spend some time prioritizing your pages. Not every page on your site will need attention, and not every page will need the same amount of attention.
Prioritizing these pages will let you tackle the SEO for your most important e-commerce pages right away, and chip away at the rest over time.
Find and Map Your Keywords
Next, you’ll want to figure out what your primary keyword for each page should be. This should be based on what the product on that page is as well as what people are searching for.
For instance, you may be tempted to make the keyword the name of the product itself. That’s fine if it’s a well-known brand name – something consumers would be searching for.
That may not be the case, however. That’s why it’s important to understand the search volume for the keywords you want to use. Tools, like the Moz Keyword Explorer, can help you determine things like the keyword volume, organic click-thru rate (CTR), and how difficult it will be to rank for that particular keyword.
One other factor to consider when determining your keyword is what kinds of pages are ranking for the keyword you want to use. For example, if a keyword has high volume, but the top search engine results pages (SERPs) are all blogs, a product page might not fare well.
There are a number of free and paid SERP tools available, like the one at Aherfs, that can help you understand what kinds of pages are ranking for your keyword.
Once you’ve identified and targeted your primary keywords, the next step is to identify long-tail keyword opportunities.
Long-tail keywords are longer keywords – more like phrases – that users may also be searching on. They are typically more specific with lower search volume than primary keywords.
However, lower search volume doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. It’s likely that your long-tail keywords have a much lower difficulty to rank for. This means that it will be easier to gain a position higher on a search engine’s results page than other, highly competitive keywords.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Competitor Research
The last piece of research you’ll want to do is research on your competitors. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, it will help you understand what other online merchants are focusing on.
Second, however, it will give you an opportunity to piggyback on the SEO work already done by your competitors, especially larger companies. These businesses have already invested significant assets into understanding the SEO for their products and site. Looking at the keywords they are using can point you to the words that would be worthwhile for you to target, as well.
Again, there are a number of tools out there that can help you with this. Moz offers a browser extension so that you can see the SEO title and description on a page, while tools like SEMrush will show rankings for both organic and paid search.
E-commerce search strategy is too important to roll the dice on.
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Check Your Site and Page Structure
How your site is structured is as important to being found as the content that you put on the page. Good site structure signals to search engines that you are a good, reliable source to send users to.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: HTTPS
The full name sounds complicated – Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. But using HTTPS on an e-commerce site should be considered a “cost of entry” requirement for your site.
By acquiring and applying a security certificate for your entire website – which verifies that your web address belongs to your organization – you’ll be encrypting all information that’s entered on the site, not just credit card data. That’s important since you’re probably collecting other personal information from users in addition to payment information.
Not only does this keep your users’ information secure, but it also provides a rankings boost over any of your competitors that aren’t using HTTPS.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs or breadcrumb trails are a good usability practice for your e-commerce site. It lets users know where they are and orients them to your categories and subcategories.
Breadcrumbs also assist search engines in understanding your site navigation, which in turn improves your rankings. It can be another opportunity to use your keywords, as well.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Navigation Simplification
Breadcrumbs and site structure go hand in hand. As you add new items to your e-commerce site, you should have a site architecture that makes sense, and add those items into the categories and subcategories that they logically fall under.
However, you’ll also want users to be able to access those products easily. Whenever possible, your high-priority products shouldn’t be more than three clicks from your homepage. Both customers and search engines care about easy access to your products.
Home Page & Product Page Optimization
Site optimizations won’t get users to your product pages on their own. You need to use those keywords that you researched on your pages – and the right way – for your products and pages to rank well.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Optimize Titles, H1s, and Meta Descriptions
There are three key content elements that you’ll want to pay special attention to on each of your pages, starting with your home page and your high priority pages. That’s the title tag, your meta descriptions, and your H1 headers.
Easily the most important on-page element on your pages, the title tag should include the main keyword phrase you are targeting. This will appear in search results, so keep it short (70 characters or less), to the point, and make it something that will appeal to anyone searching on your chosen keyword.
For H1 tags, ensure that you only have one of these per page and that it includes the category and product title and is keyword-focused.
As much as possible, create unique meta descriptions, minimally for your priority pages. These descriptions, which will show on search results, should be compelling to the user. They should include your keyword, action words like “buy”, “click”, or “learn”, and use long-tail keywords when appropriate.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: URL Optimization
Whenever possible, make your URLs human-readable. For instance, your platform may auto-generate a URL for you that is not descriptive of the item at all. Instead, change the permalink to be clear and readable, and make sure that the URL path includes the category, subcategory, and product.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Internal Linking
Internal linking – linking from one page within your site to another within your site – is beneficial both for SEO and for site usage. Logical linking encourages users to explore deeper into your site and offers more information.
From an SEO perspective, internal linking to keyword-rich content helps to further establish relevancy and shows how pages are related to each other.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Image Optimization
An e-commerce site isn’t very compelling without images. Images can also be an SEO powerhouse for your store.
Make sure image file names match the product and aren’t generic or just numbers. An image called custom-leather-bound-journal-green.jpg is much more descriptive and searchable than Image007658.jpg.
Also, follow image best practices and include information in the image’s ALT tag. Include keywords and product names in the tag to pump up searchability.
Believe it or not, how your site looks on different devices and how well it performs can impact your page ranking. Snappy, responsive sites will help boost your position in search results.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Mobile-Friendly Sites
Mobile e-commerce sales are expected to account for 54% of total online sales in 2021. Adding to that, 61% of Google search traffic in 2019 was from mobile devices. What does that equal? A need to make your e-commerce site responsive and easy to use regardless of the device the user is on.
But it’s not just about usability. Google rewards mobile-friendly websites with better ranking. To give your e-commerce site an edge in search results, make sure that it’s usable by customers on mobile devices, too.
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SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Site Speed
Load speed for your pages is also important for SEO. Google looks at page load speeds – on desktop and mobile – as another ranking factor. Optimizing your page for performance makes it better for users and for your position in search results.
Links coming into your site from outside sources is another element used to determine your e-commerce website’s position in search results. Cultivating authoritative and meaningful links will help get users to your site.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Where to Buy Pages
Many manufacturers offer a “where to buy” section on their websites. If you sell a manufacturer’s products, discuss with them the possibility of being added as an e-commerce source for consumers.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Sites that Link to Competitors
If you find sites that link to your competitors, it’s time to reach out. Contact the website’s owner and discuss with them the benefits of adding your site to their links. Be sure to focus on what the benefits to them and their customers would be in linking to your online store, such as a wider selection of products or free shipping.
SEO for E-commerce Best Practices: Relevant Content Backlinks
Another source of external links is content or blog posts from content creators. If you find a blog post or article that is relevant to your product, reach out to the author and suggest adding a link from their piece to your site. If you offer an affiliate program, mention that to the author as well as a means of enticing them to link to you.
Search engines are the guides to everything on the internet today. Few people type in a site address anymore. Instead, they head immediately to Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, or any of the other search engines to find what they are looking for. That means that if you want to support your e-commerce store and boost revenue, you must do everything you can to improve your rankings in search results. At the end of the day, time spent refining your keywords and optimizing your site for search engines could mean more money in the bank for your business.