Why is SEO Important for E-Commerce?
Gaining new customers can be hard, especially if you’re not being found by search engines. And, with 44% of online shoppers beginning their search with a search engine, you’re going to want to hop on the SEO bandwagon. Why? Well, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales in 2015 were $341.7 billion for the year. That’s a 14.6% increase compared to 2014s $298.3 billion. The report went on further to note that online sales were 7.3% of total retail sales in 2015, versus 6.4% in 2014.
Still not convinced to use SEO for e-commerce? Kissmetrics saw that 30.5% of all traffic to Yotpo’s database was coming from organic searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines. Or, check out Ahrefs case study on Australia-based toy company, ToyUniverse. Ahrefs saw an increase in organic traffic by 116% through SEO efforts. And, let’s not forget about SEMrush’s double jeopardy technique to increase site traffic by 1780%.
1. Keyword Research
Every 60 seconds, 700,000 Google searches are performed. That’s a lot. And, want to hear something even crazier? The average consumer processes 100,500 digital words on a daily basis. So, with all this information, how do you make sure customers find you in the search engines?
To reach your consumers, you must start with a targeted keyword list.
As you may expect, creating keyword lists are a must-have when getting any new client or preparing your site. I admit I’m overjoyed that keyword stuffing is a thing of the past, and I fully support long-tail keyword terms and writing high-quality content surrounding those long-tail terms.
2. Site Architecture
Ecommerce brands, listen up: If you’ve been looking for an excuse to revamp your website, this may be it. Site architecture (or how you organize your site) is crucial for all e-commerce sites. Mostly due to the fact most e-commerce websites have millions of product pages.
The site architecture allows you to map out how the user flows through your website. As the website owner, you want the user to be able to quickly identify key pages and the relationships between the pages.
Before building your navigation and site structure, walk-through this mind-mapping process.
Step one: Ask yourself these questions:
- What search queries do consumers use before they get to your site?
- What search queries do consumers use once they’re on your site?
- What pages on your website get the most traffic?
- What are your top exit pages?
Step two: Decide if the drop-down menus are something you’d like to incorporate in your navigation bar.
If you decide to move forward with the drop down menu (as most sites do) make sure you’re using HTML. This is a common mistake I see when working on e-commerce sites. Search engines cannot find your navigation unless it’s written in HTML. Also, keep in mind you don’t want to go link crazy. Moz recommends 100 links per page max.
Step three: Use your head keyword terms (as discussed above) to decide what you want to name your category pages.
I would recommend using this head keyword term in your page title, header, and include it in the top 200-word paragraph.
Step four: If you’re using filters (as most e-commerce sites with 20 products or more on a page do), pay close attention to your URL parameters.
Funky URL parameters can cause duplicate content.
Step five: Add breadcrumbs to your product pages to give users and the search engines another opportunity to see where your product fits on your site.
Another cool thing about breadcrumbs? Sometimes Google will show your breadcrumbs instead of your URL.
3. Technical SEO
Technical SEO will forever be in my heart (and web redesign queues). And if you’re an e-commerce business, technical SEO will forever be on your marketing calendar. The technical SEO is no longer simply about sitemaps and meta tags. As the lines between technical SEO and on-site SEO continue to blur, it’s easier than ever to build a website with clean URLs, correct internal linking, and most importantly, without any stacked redirects.
If you’ve found your website is lacking in the technical SEO department, you’ll be surprised at just how far a few simple updates can go. By inserting canonical tags and switching up homepage internal links for the right content, you’ll realize that technical SEO can improve just about any site, e-commerce or not.
Let’s dive into some of the technical SEO ideas that will you bring your site from sad-face to smiley-face emoji in no time.
Step One: Implement Schema Markup
Wouldn’t life be great if Google solved our daily “my site isn’t getting found” dilemma? Well, with rich snippets or schema markup, you’re able to highlight specific pieces of information for Google and other search engines.
There are two types of schema markup you’re going to want to add to your e-commerce website. Each of these has their attributes.
Step Two: Clean Up URLs
Visualize the pages of your website. Now think about how much of it your users actually navigate to. For many of us, the discrepancy between pretty, clean URL structures and dynamic URLs is extreme. It’s hardly surprising, considering how quickly we assign a sentimental value to our URL structure — and forget about what’s best for our site. But having a disorganized URL structure can be a major pain to your consumers, especially when you have hoards of product pages and categories.
Step Three: Switch to HTTPS if You’re Still an HTTP
With so much private information like credit card numbers, passwords, and home addresses at their disposal, e-commerce website owners have become the forefront for HTTPS. It’s so important for e-commerce that Shopify allowed users to activate their SSL certifications at no additional charge.
So, what’s the difference between HTTP and HTTPS?
HTTPS (Secure HyperText Transfer Protocol) is essentially HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). It’s just a more secure version. Like HTTP, HTTPS allows the browser to begin a connection to the server on a standard port. However, HTTPS then adds a layer of security using SSL (Secure Socket Layers) to transfer data. This helps to avoid damages by third parties and keeps data encrypted.
On top of the bonus security features that HTTPS offers, HTTPS is also a ranking factor. Google announced in 2014 that sites offering a secure site through HTTPS would experience higher ranking benefits.
Step Four: Redirect 404 Pages
Even if you’re not the type to work up to your zero 404 errors in Google Search Console (or know what that means—no shame), it’s still a great idea to do some cleaning and redirecting of your dead pages. After all, Google is all about user experience.
If a product is no longer available and you delete that page, your potential consumer might receive a 404 page. Not cool. Redirecting users with a 301 redirect—or, permanent redirect—is the best route to go. This 301 redirect passes around 90% of link love. So, for example, if your old product was ranking well for specific keyword terms, 90% of that will pass to the new page.
I try to steer clear of 302 redirects—temporary redirects—mostly because it sends us 0% link love.
If you do get stuck with a large amount of 404 errors, I recommend creating a custom 404 page. This will create a better user experience and contain a link to the previous page the user was on. You can also add a fun message.
Step Five: Implement Pagination
You’ve heard it time and again: Infinite scrolling equals a better user experience. And it’s true. However, infinite scrolling is not ideal for usability and negatively affects your search results on desktop and mobile. But, as simple as it seems, there are a lot of opinions out there on what works best for e-commerce.
In a recent study by the Baymard Institute, they break down pagination vs. the “load more” button vs. infinite scrolling. In my eyes, this seems to be SEO (Team Pagination) vs. UX designer (Team Infinite Scrolling).
Step Six: Canonicalize Products
Figuring out what and how to canonicalize your e-commerce site is one of those mundane parts of maintaining a website that no one warns you about. Sure, you can publish a new product any time (and sometimes you do!), but being in charge of your canonicalization every day can get overwhelming.
Step Seven: Cross-link your top pages.
Chances are, unless you’ve spent time googling how to internal link as an e-commerce site, you’ve seen the power internal linking can have on your website. While this process is quite common among SEOs, it can often be forgotten for newbies.
When you think of internal linking, you probably think of hyperlinking a keyword term to some slightly relevant page on your website or excessively linking to too many pages on your site. That’s not what I’m talking about. Internal linking allows you to guide the user from one page on your site to another. This improves user engagement and navigation.
Step Eight: Create a sitemap.
An XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap creates a readable format of your site for search engines. XML sitemaps are a list of the URLs on your website.
If you’re an e-commerce site with lots of pages, it’s time to get familiar with XML sitemaps. Google states you can list up to 50,000 files in one sitemap. So, unless you’re Amazon or Microsoft, you might be able to get away with just one sitemap. However, when I’m working on e-commerce sites, I like to break down my sitemaps into different sections.
Step Nine: Optimize for mobile.
With the launch of Google AMP pages and Google announcing mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re not on board with mobile optimization by now, then you’ll be left on page 50 of Google’s search results. And, you’ve probably noticed a trend on your site with mobile driving more traffic to your site than other avenues.
Step Ten: Page speed.
If you manage a website, you know that improving page speed can be difficult to crack down. In fact, every website owner you know can probably recall an instance (or ten) when your site wasn’t loading fast enough. Luckily, there are tools you can use now to help guide us through this process.
4. On-Site SEO
I don’t know about you, but when I get to on-page SEO, I tend to optimize a full product category (or two) with a whole lot more than just the title tag and description tag. In fact, there’s a whole land of overlooked potential in the on-site SEO section—it’s just taken me a while to tap into it. But, I’m majorly glad I did. If you’re living in the ’90s, you may think that long-tail keyword terms and on-site SEO don’t mix, but I’m here to prove otherwise.
Let’s take a look at what I see as a fully on-site SEO optimized e-commerce page. As Beyonce would say, flawless.
Sure, it may sound simple. I searched near and far and narrowed it down to these essential on-page SEO elements that never disappoint. And, if you have a favorite that didn’t make the list, let me know in the comments — I’m always looking for an excuse to meta-tag-stalk brands.
We’ve all heard the same URL advice over and over again: A keyword-rich URL and a unique, clean, short structure will get you far. True, but what happens when your site gets so big you have to add parameters? Search engines do have the ability to ignore these ugly parameters (ex:?%20), but having a descriptive URL gives you yet another opportunity to improve user experience and increase rankings.
I love nothing more than when my meta titles increase my click-through rate. It could be something as (not-so) subtle as my keyword placement or simply reinforcing brand value. But one of my favorite talking points speaks to the idea of adding action words to our meta titles. These action words can help you target more long-tail keyword terms, which is always a bonus.
As click-through rate becomes an increasingly important factor in SEO (as Paul Haahr, Google Ranking Engineer stated at SMX West) it’s vital that e-commerce brands learn how to optimize their title tags to boost CTR. Let me be clear; your meta description may not improve your search rankings alone, but it will earn you more clicks when optimized correctly.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” As heart-rending as that thought is, as an SEO consultant, I happen to believe there’s truth to this adage. And, it couldn’t be more applicable than with SEO—the land of competing keywords, A/B targeting headline titles, high-stake conversions, and impressionable consumers.
A show of hands: Who’s already putting internal links on their product pages? Yes, friends, it’s true: Internal linking on your product pages is necessary. Strategically linking from high-authority pages to high-priority product and category pages are typically already done on your homepage and blog page.
Social Media Share Buttons
We all know you need to be active on social media for your business. But, do you need social media share buttons on your product pages? The short answer: Yes. Social media share buttons give you the potential for free promotion on social channels. And, while social media doesn’t directly affect your rankings in the search engines, having a product that is often shared and an engaging page does help your rankings.
I’m going to say it: A beautiful image is nothing without ALT tags. There it is. Just because you spent $20k on a photo shoot with a world-renowned photographer doesn’t mean anything if you don’t properly tag your images. Your images will never appear in search.
You click on the tees category on your favorite store’s website. You keep scrolling. You get to the product you’ve been looking for, and you can see your soon-to-be-new-favorite tee in video format. You are living it before you buy it. Awesome, right?
Animoto found that 73% of consumers were more likely to buy a product or sign up for a service if they watch a branded video that explains the product. Quicksprout discovered that video could drive 12% of users to buy the product. And Digiday stated that 52% of consumers said watching videos makes them more confident about their purchase decisions. Think video is worth an investment yet?
In addition to increasing conversion rates, adding product videos to your website can help improve search engine rankings. Video increases engagement and time on-site, therefore increasing your chances for ranking your product pages higher in the SERPs. Videos also give you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Now it’s time for you to implement the tactics from this step-by-step guide.