These days, almost everyone is online. We don’t just browse for information, watch YouTube videos, play BuzzFeed quizzes, and interact on social media either. Today, almost everything can be done online, including buying and selling commerce.
Ecommerce isn’t anything new, of course. It’s been around since 1991, when the internet was made available for commercial use. But what has certainly changed is the sheer number of ecommerce sites available.
Just as almost everyone is buying online, the vast majority of internet users are also selling online. While many make use of sites such as Gumtree, an increasing number of people are starting up their own ecommerce sites. One of the obvious reasons is that with an online store, you simply don’t have all of the overhead expenses of a brick and mortar shop.
To be a successful online retailer, you need to attract customers—that much is a given. After all, if your site is buried on the second page of Google’s search engine results page, then you’re definitely losing out on clicks. And that means that you’re losing out on sales too. Worse, it often doesn’t make that much of a difference being on the first page anymore either—you simply have to rank first.
Optify conducted a research study back in 2011 that shows that websites ranking first received a 36.4% average click-through rate (CTR), while sites ranked second sat at 12.5%. Number three only averaged on 9.5%.
But with almost everyone managing an ecommerce website, how do you make sure you stand out in the crowd?
The answer is simple: SEO.
Unfortunately, for many people, SEO seems easier said than done. That’s why we’ve compiled a definitive go-to list of the top 25 SEO tips for ecommerce websites to help give you a fighting chance.
Keywords are no longer the explicit backbone of SEO thanks to mobile voice search, but they do remain an important foundation. This is the simplest means of attracting organic traffic to your site by incorporating the search terms users type into Google in your site content.
But in order to do so, you need to know what those search terms are. This means research.
The golden rule for finding keywords to use on your homepage and product pages is to make sure that they are highly relevant. If you try to rank your sports shoes ecommerce website for keywords relating to leisure wear, for example, search engines such as Google are likely to penalize you by dropping your SEO rank and making it very difficult to climb back up again.
Two great resources to make use of when doing keyword research is the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool and Moz’ Keyword Tool. The former will help you find keywords with a high match search volume locally, while the latter will assist in making sure those keywords have a low difficulty score.
Just because you run an ecommerce website doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a blog section. Adding a blog helps you to generate new content for your site in addition to your products. You can discuss industry news, trends, and new releases, even run competitions. Most importantly, a blog section adds a whole new platform for making use of keywords that may not fit into your home page and product pages, but for which you could still rank well.
An example of this would be long-tail keywords, which make up 70% of all search queries. Very simply put, a long-tail keyword typically contains 3 or more words. For example, “cricket shoes” is a short-tail keyword. “Best cricket shoes 2017”, on the other hand, is a long-tail keyword.
Long-tail keywords are becoming increasingly important with the rise of voice search as well, which adopt natural speech patterns.
Without trying to use too many keywords at once (called “keyword stuffing”, which is bad news for SEO), make use of the same two tools as in the previous tip to find relevant long-tail keywords for your ecommerce blog.
This goes hand-in-hand with what we mentioned regarding keyword stuffing, but on a larger scale. While keyword stuffing is relevant in terms of one page, keyword cannibalization is the act of trying to rank several pages on one site for the same keyword.
Keyword cannibalization is an easy mistake to make, but it can have some terrible consequences for your SEO. When you have multiple pages on your site competing for the same search phrase, the search engine is essentially forced to prioritize one over the other. While this can be further aided by other SEO factors (such as backlinks), the initial confusion search engines will encounter as a result of keyword cannibalization can lead to a ranking penalty. This is obviously something you want to avoid.
A good idea is to make use of a spreadsheet document to list all of your website’s pages. In a second column, make note of the keyword that page will be focusing on. If you don’t see any duplicates, you’re good to go.
This is the next step to your keyword research, and it’s a very important one. First, install a tool such as the Moz toolbar (which is available for free) for Chrome or Firefox. The tool makes it easy for you to view the page elements (such as metadata and header tags) on your competitors’ sites, as well as their page authority and ranking information using the Link Data tab.
Take a look at their domain authority and page authority rankings in conjunction with their keywords. If they rank significantly higher than you and are targeting exactly the same keywords, then you’ll want to change yours. Trying to compete with stronger online competitors is tough work—you might never catch up in terms of keywords alone.
The keyword research tools we’ve already suggested should help you avoid this situation in advance, but doing competitor keyword research is a crucial step to ensure you aren’t setting yourself up for an uphill battle.
Remember we mentioned that keywords are no longer as strong a foundation for SEO as in previous years thanks to mobile voice search? Well, backlinks are quickly taking their place. We’ll be covering generating your own backlinks later on in our list of SEO tips for ecommerce websites, but you’re going to want to do the research in advance.
All you need to do is visit your competitor sites and use a tool such as Open Site Explorer to determine where your competitors are earning their incoming links from.
It’s a good idea to visit each of the sites on the list you’re making to determine their domain authority too. If it’s rather low, then scratch them off—Google tends to suspect that bad sites only link to bad sites.
Make careful note of how competitor sites—especially those with higher domain authority—are set up. Look at things like their site navigation and how many clicks does it take to get to the deepest pages.
For an ecommerce website, the site architecture for popular products in their respective categories, related products, top-rated products, and recently viewed products are particularly important.
Also, you want to make sure that your most important product pages require only about three clicks from the homepage. The deeper a user has to dig for the product, the less likely they are to persevere, let alone make an actual purchase.
The higher a competitor’s domain authority, the better their site architecture is likely to be. And the better their site architecture, the more you’ll want to emulate it for your own site.
The Skyscraper Method is a three-step process that will be played out mostly in later tips, but the foundation lies in competitor research.
What you’re doing is taking into consideration the pages and content that your competitors are ranking well for—the pages with the highest page authority on their sites. Chances are, you have similar products to the ones on these pages, or at the very least would want similar content in your blog section.
Pay special attention to all the elements that are contributing to the high rank and authority of these pages on your competitors’ sites. Start thinking about how you can improve the presentation as well as the content itself, including what you can add that is missing.
This will become very important when populating your own site, and generate links (both of which we go into more detail on later in our list).
It’s time to start putting that keyword research into use by optimizing your existing and new pages. In order to do so, you need to take each page’s focus keyword and make sure that it’s placed strategically. This includes:
Your page title
In your paragraphs
In your product descriptions
Your image file names
Your images’ alt tags
The meta title and description
Your URL structure
Your URL structure is one of the key factors here. The focus keyword, being present in your headline, should also appear here so that users immediately know exactly what the page is about just by looking at the URL.
A clean URL, like your meta title and description, should never sound like gibberish. The meta section should read like a short advertisement, and your URL should be free of numbers and randomized letters.
Once again, your research is going to be put into actionable use. Having discovered what type of site architecture works for your competitors, you should have a good foundation or framework to build on. Usability should be in the fore of your mind when planning (or remodeling) your site architecture. We’ll go into more depth on user experience in a short bit.
As a golden rule, don’t think of your site as a skyscraper—think of it as three rooms connected by a series of doors. When you arrive, you’re standing in the main room, your home page. To get to the living room from the foyer, you should only pass through one door. In other words, to get to any category page, you should only have to click once. Finally, you want to get to the third room—the bathroom, or the kitchen, or bedroom. You’re looking for a specific room at this point, not a general purpose area. Again, you should only be passing through one door. You don’t want to have to go through the bathroom to get to the kitchen, for example—nor do you want to have to click more than once to get to a specific product.
It is important to note that in some cases, dividing larger categories into subcategories before branching off into specifics is perfectly acceptable—like going through the kitchen to get to the pantry. Keywords will play a big role in defining which doors lead to what room (i.e., which internal link leads to what page or product).
These are those “doors” we spoke about in the previous tip. The obvious example is the category buttons on your homepage and specific product links on the category page. But in the case of blog content, anchor text plays a very important role as well.
Anchor text is regular text within your paragraphs that act as a link to other pages on your site. With the example of a blog post reviewing the top cricket shoe brands, each product should include anchor text that visitors can use to navigate to the relevant product page. Continuing with the analogy of your site as a house (and let's be honest—ecommerce websites are massive, so they’re more of a mansion), you can think of these as secret passageways.
Your blog posts act like a library. By pulling on the right book (clicking on the anchor text), the shelf swings open to reveal a doorway leading to another room (the product page).
We’ve mentioned usability a few times now, and that’s because it’s integral for SEO. User Experience can be a complicated process, so you want to stick with the analogy of designing your site as if it were a building. You don’t want visitors to mill around in the foyer (home page) and leave straight away, nor do you want them to arrive in the library (blog post) and leave from there either. Instead, you want to engage your audience and take them on a short tour of the house. From the foyer or library, you want them to go through doors to the category and product pages, because that’s where they’ll be spending money.
Once again, your site architecture comes into play. For ecommerce websites, this extends to the checkout process. This should be as quick and secure as possible. You also want to make sure that they know exactly where each door leads, and how to get in touch with you.
Mobile searches, as we’ve pointed out a few times already, is fast replacing the traditional desktop and laptop-based search format. This isn’t only true for browsing the web though: it’s also true for shopping online.
For this reason, it’s important to ensure that your ecommerce website is well-optimized for mobile users. This means fast loading speeds, well-spaced elements (have you ever tried selecting one of two tiny buttons that are very close together? Frustrating, isn’t it? And that’s exactly what you want to avoid).
Another feature of mobile optimization that often gets overlooked is the content layout. Longer blog posts tend to fare better in general, but mobile users are often looking for quick, instant gratification. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you're heading and subheading structure is carefully planned, so visitors can skim through your content without missing out on important information.
As a general rule, you also want to keep paragraphs relatively short. This is true no matter what device site visitors are using, but especially mobile users.
Most website builders have interactive themes that automatically generate a mobile-friendly version, which displays on smartphones and tablets in lieu of the wide-screen desktop design.
You know what really entices ecommerce website visitors to make a purchase once they’ve landed on your product page?
Testimonials and customer reviews. The former is better suited for placement on your homepage, as testimonials will give a positive overview of your service, but customer reviews on product pages are an important feature.
When visitors are considering buying a product, they usually want some surety that this really is the product they want and need. You can dress it up as much as you like in the product description, but human nature is a strange and wonderful thing. We’re more inclined to believe another customer than they are to believe the retailer.
It may take some time to gather customer reviews for your products, but adding them will have a definite positive effect on your SEO and your sales.
Earlier we mentioned meta titles and tags, which should read as short advertisements for your page. These aren’t only used by search engines to determine whether or not your site (or specific page) is relevant for the results page following a search query, but give you an opportunity to sell yourself to the user before they’ve even opened the page in their browser.
Website builders and content management systems often include a rich snippet feature, or at the very least a range of available plugins. If you’ve got a web-developer working on your site for you, ask them to set up the required HTML code.
Bear in mind that you want your rich snippets to be exactly that—rich. This is the first impression organic traffic gets, and is a major deciding factor in determining whether or not they actually open your page, let alone buy your product. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point, but above all make it enticing.
Social media isn’t just for celebrity gossip, keeping in touch with friends, and sharing your personal hobbies and experiences. It’s also a great advertising platform if used correctly.
What you want to do is make sure that you’ve incorporated social media into your pages. Users should be able to share your product and ecommerce blog posts from your site, so their circle of followers can see what they’re buying or reading. In a way, it lets them brag a little—but at the same time, it helps get the word out there that you’re selling an amazing product.
Social media share buttons play a major role in SEO for this very reason. Each share counts as a new incoming backlink (tip 24 delves into these), which can lead to more site traffic, and—in turn—more sales.
We’ve mentioned having a blog section for your ecommerce website a couple of times already, and it really does make a difference. Not only does it create an opportunity to include more keywords to attract organic search, as well anchor text potential for extra internal links, but blog posts are also an easy way to engage with your audience. Tell them about your products, about your business, keep them up to date with industry news.
Another important function of ecommerce blogs is that they’re far more likely to be shared than your product pages. Users enjoy reading content, not just browsing through catalogs. Create engaging content by putting your competitor research to good use (remember tip 9?). Product reviews that compare similar products, as well as buying guides, are popular options. Infographics are also great for SEO, and give you the opportunity to deliver product and industry information and tips in aesthetically pleasing, bite-sized chunks.
One major trap than many site owners fall into when using the skyscraper method (tip 9) is more or less copy-paste content. Not only is this plagiarism (which can lead to legal ramifications when you get caught out), but it’s also terrible for SEO. Search engines like Google penalize sites heavily for containing duplicate content, and the only sure way that any of your other efforts will result in a good ranking to delete the duplication entirely first.
When it comes to ecommerce websites especially though, the most common form of duplicate content is in the manufacturer’s product description. Looking to get as many products online as quickly as possible, most online shopping site managers simply copy-paste these descriptions onto the product pages and leave it at that.
While it’s not plagiarism per se, search engines still treat it as such. Instead, you should strive to create unique product descriptions using the manufacturer’s as a reference source. Unique content is always a must.
So now you have your site up and running, and you’re ready to start raking in the dollars. Well, not quite. Not only should you be regularly adding fresh content to your ecommerce website’s blog (once a week is perfectly acceptable!) as well as new products as relevant, but you also need to make sure your site is running smoothly.
What you absolutely do not want is for someone to click on a product page and hit a white screen or 404 Error.
Screaming Frog has a great tool to help you crawl your website regularly to discover problematic areas, such as 404 Errors and 302 Redirects. The tool will also identify other SEO issues, such as duplicate content across your site and problems with your meta descriptions or URL structure, for example.
In the case of a 404 or 302, you’ll want to set up a 301 redirect, which takes users away from the broken page and directs them to a working version or replacement instead.
In tip 12 (mobile optimization), we made reference to having a fast website. This basically means that your site is well-optimized and doesn’t load slowly. Research has shown that users give up on a page or site if it takes as long as three seconds to load fully. In fact, these days even two seconds can be considered too long!
But how to do test your website speed? After all, it could be taking a little longer because your internet connection is slow, right?
That’s where free tools like Pingdom come to the rescue. Enter your URL and let the tool determine your page speed.
If your site is a little slow, you’ll want to optimize any images and videos (tip 23), buy more server space, or even switch to a better content management system.
Let’s face it, you have limited stock, and those handcrafted scatter cushions are selling like hotcakes. Before you know it, you’ve sold out, and the next shipment is only due to arrive next week.
What do you do about the product page in the meantime?
First of all, if you are expecting new stock in the future, don’t take the page down: leave it up. What you want to do instead is one (or more) of the following:
Suggest an alternative (similar) product that you have in stock
Always inform customers when you’re expecting to have new stock
Give them the option of ordering in advance, with the promise to ship their purchase to them as soon as the stock arrives
Offer a price reduction on the product for when your fresh stock does arrive (needless to say, the special price would be for a limited time only, and you can limit the number of sales too)
At some point, you’re going to run of stock and not be ordering a fresh batch again. In such cases, not all of the suggestions offered in tip 20 above are applicable.
You still don’t want to take the page down, as this is still very bad for SEO. That page built up its own rank, and some customers may have bookmarked it (either to get to the product again in the future or to access your site).
Instead, do one of the following:
Set up a permanent 301 redirect to a similar or replacement product; this retains the SEO rank the discontinued stock’s product page has built up, and gives interested buyers an alternative
You could redirect to the category (or “parent”) page instead, which is usually a good option if you have more than one alternative
Finally, you could elect to keep the existing page open so that previous buyers still have access to important information on the product. In such cases, however, it’s imperative that you clearly mark the product as discontinued and boldly display alternative products for new customers to consider
Here’s a tricky one for you: what happens when you sell certain products during a specific season only? Think Christmas decorations, summer dresses, and the like.
Again, you don’t want to take the page down.
A redirect to the category page is still applicable, but it’s unlikely that this will be permanent so this shouldn’t be your first option
A better option would be to have on-page navigation prompts that notify users that the product is out of season, and give them the option of navigating either to the category page or an in-season equivalent (including in-season category page)
For products that you know for sure and for certain will be making a comeback next year when the season returns, you can use the URL structure to your advantage by updating the product page with the date (so summer 2016 automatically redirects to summer 2017, which has taken over the original page)
Having good-quality visual content is always going to be a must for any site, but most especially for ecommerce websites. After all, if they can’t see what the product looks like, how likely do you think they are to make a purchase?
But image and video quality aren't the only means of optimizing your visual content (although it certainly is highly important).
Meta-data becomes relevant once again! Your file name, alt text (which is displayed if the image or video is unable to load), and caption—etc.—should be short, to the point, and (as we mentioned earlier) include the relevant keyword. These all give search engines and users alike a better idea of what your visual content is about, and the hosting page by extension.
Another thing to consider is which image or video works best. You could conduct a usability test to pit two options against each other before launching, or publish first one version and then the second. In the latter case, you want to keep a close eye on your page analytics to see which performs better and stick with that one.
We’ve mentioned backlinks several times already. It’s finally time to delve into what backlinks are and how they help with your ecommerce website SEO.
Firstly, you have to recognize that backlinks are a very in-depth branch of SEO, and this is just a brief overview. You would do well to take a look at some of our other articles that explain backlinks in greater detail if you want a fuller understanding of how they work.
This is another place where you’ll be putting your initial (and hopefully continued!) research to good use. One of the simplest means of generating incoming backlinks (links from other sites that lead to your own) is to use the Skyscraper Method in developing better content than your competitors. The next step is to then approach the sites where they receive backlinks from, and pitch your page(s) for future updates or new articles.
Other means of earning backlinks include:
Press opportunities (check out Help A Reporter Out—HARO)
Social media shares (this is a cheap and “dirty” means, but it works, and you won’t get penalized for it)
Submitting to “best of” review sites and blogs
The following are backlink “do not” rules to bear in mind:
Avoid backlinks from sites with poor domain and page authorities, and most especially from content farming sites (which accept guest posts on every topic under the sun), because—as we mentioned earlier—Google automatically assumes that poor sites only link to poor sites
Don’t focus on getting backlinks for one or two pages only; diversify, and try to get backlinks to as many of your pages as possible
As an extension of the above, where you do have some control over the anchor text used to link to your page or site, avoid using the same anchor text too often
To close off, we want to talk about the Pay Per Click (PPC) method, because it’s highly important. Making use of PPC does cost money, but it also gets you seen at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). You know those results that have a little green “ad” tag to them? Those are PPC results.
The only real pitfall is that—besides costing money, especially as more clicks are generated—many online users have a natural aversion to opening the advertised sites.
Don’t let that scare you off though, because in research studies it was found that 89% of the websites that decided to stop using PPC lost the majority of their views. What you want to do is make selective use of PPC, without putting all your hopes into building a success based on it.
Instead, focus the majority of your energy on the other 24 SEO tips for ecommerce websites that we’ve provided to help generate organic and referral site visits, which will also boost your sales. Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket (only PPC vs. no PPC at all), makes use of a balance between the two.
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