SEO can be a bit of a mystery to many people. But when done correctly, it can pay huge dividends over time and it can often become one of the most profitable marketing channels for an ecommerce brand.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization” and it’s the act of creating high-quality, relevant content people are searching for and ensuring this content can be found, crawled, and indexed successfully by search engines. And it has many different parts that can be broken down into two categories: on-page and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO is the act of optimizing your content to rank higher in search engines.
With on-page SEO, you strategically place your keyword and topic throughout the content on the page in areas like:
- Meta title: This is the clickable part of the link you can see on Google and it’s a ranking factor. It can include up to 70 characters or so and it should include some combination of your keyword or topic. One thing to bear in mind: always add your brand’s name at the end of the meta title, never at the beginning. Meta titles aren’t seen on your actual page (they’re not H1 tags). Instead, they get added to the meta of your website, so they’re only seen in search engines or your browser bar.
- Meta description: This is the snippet of text that appears below the link on a search engine like Google. It should include your keyword and clearly explain what the reader can expect to find on the page. The meta description isn’t a direct ranking factor, but it can influence a searcher into clicking on your listing and the clickthrough rate is a direct ranking factor that can cause your rankings to increase or decrease.
- H1 tags: These are heading tags that are generally located at the top of the page as a page title. They’re a ranking factor so they should include your keyword.
- Alt text: Alt text is text that is placed with an image, to signal to search engines and visually impaired individuals using a screen reader as to what the content of an image is. Search engines can’t view images, so all they have to go on is the alt text of an image to learn what an image is about. All of your images on your site should have alt text, which is a ranking factor.
- URL: This is the address of your page, which includes your domain (www.mywebsite.com), as well as the subdirectory (also known as path) of the page (www.mywebsite.com/path-goes-here). This is a direct ranking factor, and the path should be short, easily readable, and contain some variation of your keyword.
- Body Copy: This is the main portion of your page so it should include some variations of your keyword and explain the topic in a clear, human, readable way.
- Anchor text in links: Ideally, when people visit your site, you’ll want to keep them there. The best way to do that is by linking to other relevant sections of your website. Google finds new content by crawling links so linking to other relevant sections is a great way to signal to Google that you’re an authority on a topic. Your anchor text should include keywords.
On-page SEO also includes all of the technical enhancements you can make to your site, including page speed improvements, internal linking, SSL (secure sockets layer, more commonly you’ll see it as a secure site via HTTPS), and much more.
Off-page SEO is the practice of acquiring backlinks from other sites to your site. A backlink is a link that’s placed on another site, preferably with higher domain authority, that links back to the content on your site.
Google sees backlinks as votes of confidence and a signal that the content on your site is high-quality and worthy of being shared.
Domain authority determines how authoritative a search engine views your website. Typically (but not always), older websites will have a higher domain authority than newer websites—both because they’ve been around longer and they’ve had more time to acquire more high-quality backlinks. It’s always better to get a link from a site with high domain authority than one with low domain authority.
One thing to bear in mind with backlinks: not all links are created equal. You should also never buy or sell links since this can hurt your rankings or potentially even get your site blacklisted.
What is SEO for ecommerce?
SEO for ecommerce is the art of optimizing your ecommerce website to appear in relevant organic searches. When someone searches for something like a symptom of a problem they’re having or a specific product, your site has the potential to come up in two different kinds of search results: paid and organic.
Google paid ads for “men’s socks”
Paid listings appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) and they’re usually limited to four links. You see these ads when an advertiser bids on a keyword you searched for—”men’s socks,” for example.
Search engines take into account many factors when it comes to which ads will appear first on the page—the quality score of the landing page, the relevance of the landing page to the ad copy, and the overall amount bid.
All things being equal, the highest bid will appear first followed by the next highest bid and so on. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad, but it’s good to know that many keywords, especially in highly competitive industries, can cost a decent amount of money per click.
Google organic listings for “men’s socks”
Organic listings, on the other hand, are completely free and they’ll appear below the ads. This is where SEO comes into play—you optimize your website so you come up for in the organic listings for relevant keywords, ideally on the first page and somewhere in the top three spots.
The clickthrough rates for the top listings are significantly higher than the rates for listings further down the page or even on pages two and beyond. Clickthrough rates are calculated by dividing the number of people who click on your listing by the total number of people who saw your listing—also known as “impressions.”
Why should I optimize my ecommerce website for SEO?
Eighty-seven percent of shoppers begin their product searches on digital channels and that number’s up from 71 percent in 2017, according to RetailDive What’s more, search often has the highest return on investment (ROI) for ecommerce stores and it drives 10 times more traffic to shopping sites than social media, according to 99firms.
If your customers can’t find you, your brand doesn’t exist. Many businesses can succeed for a while by word of mouth alone. But if those people your customers referred can’t find your business, then they’ll take their business somewhere else. SEO helps you make it as easy as possible for your current and prospective customers to find you.
If you’ve been selling online for a while, do an analysis of where your sales are coming from. Go into Google Analytics acquisition reports and sort by channel. Chances are, organic traffic is one of your highest-traffic channels and it’s also likely one of your highest converting channels.
Some (or most) of this traffic may be from branded searches—people who are searching for your brand and finding you through Google—but some of it may be coming from non-branded searches, such as people searching for a product you offer that provides a solution to a problem or need they have.
In addition to being one of the marketing channels with the highest ROI, SEO provides long-term benefits. When you do paid advertising, the moment you stop paying for ads, your traffic from that channel will dry up and you’ll stop earning revenue from it. With SEO, a little bit of time and effort up front can pay long-lasting dividends over time.
How do you start to your ecommerce site for SEO? Here’s a simple step-by-step process.
Whenever you’re starting to do SEO on your website, there’s generally a pretty standard process to follow that revolves around identifying the current state of your website, what your competitors are doing, and what keywords you should be going after. Once you know the current state of your SEO and the keyword strategy you’ll adopt, you’ll have a much better idea of what existing pages you should optimize for which keywords and what types of new content opportunities you can leverage. Every good SEO strategy starts with a thorough audit.
1 | Conduct a technical on-page and off-page SEO audit
A great place to start is with an SEO audit. A good SEO audit will include an overview of on-page SEO factors like ensuring you’re using your keyword in the title tag, meta description, URL, and much more. An audit will also take into consideration backlinks on your site, your domain authority, and any technical issues that may be holding your overall SEO back (such as slow load speeds or a robots.txt issue).
2 | Conduct a competitor audit
Who are your closest competitors? Having an understanding of their presence on search can be a good indicator of the types of content you should be creating to compete with them on Google. A competitor audit will typically include many of the same on-page and off-page factors that you’d look at on your site but it’s designed to find opportunities you can take advantage of or to give you a better idea of the gaps in their content that you can go after.
3 | Do keyword research
Once you have an understanding of how your site is optimized, the next step is to determine what people are typing into your website’s search box (what products are they looking for on your own site), as well as looking in Google search console to learn more about their searches. Google Search Console is a free tool you can use to get insight into how people are finding your site. If you don’t already use it, get started.
In addition to using Google Search Console to learn how people are already finding your site, you can also utilize tools such as Moz, AnswerThePublic, or SEMRush to learn about what other keywords you can use to optimize your site.
When using these tools, consider the following:
- Search volume. Not all keywords are created equal and some will have more search volume than others. Typically, optimizing for long-tail keywords (phrases with three or more words) is the best strategy since they’ll have higher intent and much less competition than short-tail keywords. For example, if somebody is searching for the keyword “pizza”, they could be looking for a recipe, a definition, a pizza restaurant, and much more. But if they search for “pizza shop near fanueil hall boston ma,” then it’s much easier to understand what they’re looking for and hoping to find.
- Competition. Moz and SEMRush both provide competition, which is a scale of how many other websites are also trying to optimize for or bid on a particular keyword. A keyword with low search volume and high competition is generally something you won’t want to waste time or resources going after due to how much work it takes to rank on page one and the low return it yields.
- Search the keyword on Google. This may seem simple, but a good way to determine what keywords to go after is by seeing what other pages already show up on Google for relevant keywords. Google predictive search and relevant searches are also great resources to use to identify related keywords or topics, more on both of these below.
Google predictive search
You can also use Google’s predictive search to see what other queries people are searching for or a tool like AnswerThePublic, which breaks down predictive searches into question categories (who, what, why, when, and how). You can then create content to answer these questions and attract visitors to your site.
Google related searches
You can also use Google related searches which will appear at the bottom of the search results page.
4 | Conduct a content audit
A content audit helps you get a better understanding of the content you already have on your website. You may already have some blog posts or pages on your site you can optimize with the keywords you discovered in your research.
If you’re starting from scratch, though, you may not have any content beyond your product pages. In that case, take the keywords you’ve identified in your research and create content, blog posts, videos, and more around each of these topics. Optimize each page on your website should around one specific keyword.
These are the basics of optimizing your site regardless of your ecommerce platform. Here are some resources to help you optimize your site on BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce.
Ecommerce platform-specific SEO
All of the major ecommerce platforms provide a variety of plugins, apps, and built-in functionality to help you optimize your store for search engines, and they offer all of the tools and functionality you need for a successful SEO strategy.
BigCommerce provides built-in tools to allow you to optimize your website pages with titles, descriptions, alt text, URLs, and more. You can find all of your SEO and URL settings in the applicable section of your “store settings” page.
Magento is a very search engine-friendly platform with tons of great features to help you get optimized quickly. They handle a lot of the technical work, such as auto-creating title tags and canonical URLs, which explain to Google where the original content is located.
Shopify has a number of great built-in features that make it easy for you to optimize your website. They also provide excellent documentation on how to accomplish tasks like creating a title and meta description, adding alt text to images, and much more.
Unlike Shopify, which has its own marketplace and SEO tools, WooCommerce users can take advantage of any of the SEO tools available for WordPress. By far, the most popular SEO tool is Yoast, which includes all of the features you’ll need to easily optimize your pages and site architecture.
SEO is a great way to attract high-quality, relevant traffic to your ecommerce website. Whenever you create content, always write for your visitors first—never for a search engine. Google’s become increasingly sophisticated and excels at understanding the intent of a keyword and displaying relevant results to the searcher. Google’s goal is always to provide the best results to the searcher, so your content should always be helpful and written in a readable way.
It’s also important to remember that SEO can take time. You won’t find your brand on page one, driving thousands of visits, in the first week. SEO is a marathon that’s all about creating high-quality content your current and prospective customers are searching for, and making minor tweaks and adjustments to ensure they can find it. The work you do to optimize your site for SEO will pay off in the form of greater traffic, better brand recognition, and more sales.
Interested in optimizing your site? Check out our free SEO audit checklist.Back to Blog Home