The Complete Guide to E-Commerce SEO
The prettiest online store on the web isn’t worth a penny if it doesn’t get traffic. And while paid ads are a surefire way to bring customers to your door, they don’t provide nearly as high of a return on investment as organic traffic.
But how do you get organic traffic to your e-commerce store?
Not by building a fancy website and hoping for the best. That’s for sure.
Once upon a time, e-commerce was simple, easy, and straightforward. The competition was slim and you could dominate your industry online with little effort. But as more and more retailers started to set up shop online, getting traffic was no longer the cakewalk it used to be.
And with global e-commerce sales projected to grow by more than 150 million dollars by 2023, the landscape is only going to get more competitive.
The answer to the question of organic traffic, of course, is search engine optimisation (or SEO). But SEO for e-commerce can be tricky. Ranking a physical store in local results is one thing, but building a strong online presence requires a lot of new considerations.
The good news, though, is that Melbourne Networking has got you covered. We’ve put together this complete guide to e-commerce SEO so that any online retailer can stake their claim in Google’s organic results.
Whether you’ve been in business for years or you don’t even have a website yet, this is the guide for you.
E-Commerce SEO 101
We’re going to start with the basics, assuming you are a complete beginner in the world of SEO. After all, most retailers get into the business because they are passionate about their product—not because they are marketing wizards.
So if you could talk our ears off about those custom bowling balls that you sell but don’t know a lick about keywords, backlinks, or on-page optimisation, this section should catch you up to speed relatively quickly.
Why You Can’t Ignore E-Commerce SEO
As we already mentioned, SEO stands for “search engine optimisation”, and it is basically the process of taking strategic actions to get your website to appear higher in the results of Google, Bing, and similar search engines.
If someone types “custom bowling balls” into Google, and your online store pops up high on the list of results, that’s because you’ve got good SEO for that search term (also known as a keyword).
This matters. A lot.
An estimated 91.5% of internet searchers never click beyond the first page of results, and more than 60% of those clicks go to websites ranked in the first three positions.
For e-commerce store owners, high rankings are the equivalent to prime real estate for a brick-and-mortar store. Sure the rent is higher on Main Street, but that’s because your shop is bound to see more foot traffic.
And more traffic equals more sales.
The more keywords you can rank higher for, then, the more revenue your e-commerce store is going to bring in every month.
Basic Components of E-Commerce SEO
All ranking strategies really boil down to two primary elements: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO relates to changes you implement to your online store to make it more relevant to the search engines and to users. These can include things like publishing quality content, linking one page to another, and providing crisp product images.
Off-page SEO for e-commerce relates to the things that happen outside of your site. Every time a customer re-pins you on Pinterest. Every time a blogger reviews your product and sends a link back to your store. Every time a blog post of yours goes viral on Facebook. Those are all off-page SEO factors.
Google uses the elements of off-page SEO to determine how relevant and trustworthy your online store is. The more people are sharing it and linking to it online from reputable websites, the higher Google is going to rank you.
E-Commerce SEO is a Competition
So, in its most basic form, SEO is about finding the right mix of on-page and off-page factors to convince Google that your site offers the best possible information related to a user’s search terms.
E-commerce SEO, then, is a competition with other stores selling the same products as you. All you have to do is one up them on their ranking factors and the search engines will favor you.
Create better content, earn better backlinks, build a more satisfying customer experience—stay one step ahead of your competitors and the rankings will follow.
With the basics of SEO for e-commerce out of the way, let’s take a look at the logical place to start: keyword research.
Keyword Research for E-Commerce
Remember, your keywords are the search terms that you are trying to rank for. If you are serious about earning more organic traffic for your e-commerce store, you can’t skip out on keyword research.
At this stage, your goal is to find a list of keywords that your ideal customers are likely to be searching for. This will become your SEO battle plan and form the basis of every other step you take in the fight for ranking.
Choose Specific Over Broad
To maximise the effectiveness of your SEO campaign, you want to make sure that every keyword you are targeting meets two criteria:
It’s likely to attract a customer
It’s worth ranking for
Let’s imagine that you have a niche clothing store online that specialises in vegan apparel. You probably don’t want to target terms like “jeans” or “women’s blouse”. Even if you sell those items, the majority of people searching for them probably aren’t on the hunt for vegan options.
Likewise, those are very, very broad search terms so they are likely incredibly difficult to rank. For example, “jeans” gets over 500,000 searches per month, and the first page is dominated by heavy hitters like Lucky Brand, American Eagle, and Hollister.
It is going to be a years long battle to rank for that term, if it’s even possible.
Instead, you want aim for keywords that are relatively low in competition and likely to attract your kind of customer. Our vegan apparel e-commerce store, for example, might start with some of these:
Vegan yoga pants
Notice how all of these are much more related to your specific niche market. They are also more narrow, which means they’ll have less competitors trying to fight you for rankings.
Go Beyond Product Keywords
You might imagine that e-commerce SEO is going to be all about using individual products as your keywords, such as the “Weber Q 1200” outdoor grill. While these keywords do matter, they are also quite obvious. Of course you are going to be trying to attract people searching for the exact items that you sell.
But you can also find untapped sources of traffic by brainstorming informational keywords that your audience would find helpful or is curious about. If you are selling grills and backyard barbecue accessories online, you could consider targeting keywords like this:
How to host a barbecue
Gas grill versus charcoal
How to grill the perfect steak
What to do when your gas grill won’t start
These could all be perfect topics for a blog post. If you haven’t considered the value of blogging for e-commerce, think about the early stages of the customer life cycle…
First, they become aware of your brand.
Then, they consider making a purchase.
Finally, they purchase what you have to offer.
While your product specific keywords aim to attract customers who are at the end of the cycle and ready to buy, your informational blog content targets keywords that are meant to raise awareness of your brand.
Someone who is searching Google for the difference between gas and charcoal grills may not be looking to buy right now, but you can probably bet that they will purchase a new grill at SOME point.
If they find your blog post helpful, they’ll be more likely to put trust in your brand and turn to you when they finally are ready to spend some money.
Keyword Research Tools
While you could stand in front of a white board and brainstorm keywords off the top of your head all day, there are some handy tools that may make the job a little bit easier. Here are just a few to get you started, along with some tips on what you can use them for.
Keywords Everywhere. This free browser plugin works with both Chrome and Firefox. When you search a word in Google, the plugin will automatically show you the monthly search volume for the term, as well as several related terms. This can be handy because you generally want to target keywords that are actually being searched.
MozBar. Like Keywords Everywhere, MozBar is a browser extension that adds extra info to the Google search engine results page. Specifically, it will show you the page authority and domain authority of every site on the page. These are metrics that Moz uses to provide a rough estimate of how hard a page will be to outrank. They range from 1 – 100, and higher means tougher to beat.
This screenshot demonstrates the search results for “vegan clothing” with both MozBar and Keywords Everywhere enabled. High search volume plus low Moz authority equals a winning keyword.
Ahrefs. Ahrefs does a lot more than keyword research, and it is a worthwhile tool for anyone who is serious about their SEO campaigns. For keyword research, one way to use it is to do a Google search for one of your terms, grab the url of a high ranking competitor, and plug their site into Ahrefs. You’ll then be provided with an exhaustive list of all of the keywords that their page is ranking for. Now you know what you need to target too.
Answer the Public. This free tool is meant to help you brainstorm long tail keywords that you may not have considered. Just type in a search term you want to explore, and it will generate a visual list of potential keywords that you never knew you were missing.
Avoid Keyword Cannibalisation
The general rule with SEO is that you should never target the same keyword on more than one page. If you have two blog posts with competing information about “why custom bowling balls make the perfect Father’s Day gift”, Google will have a hard time knowing which one to rank.
Sometimes this means that the wrong page ranks higher, so you are basically wasting traffic. Furthermore, if your SEO efforts are being divided among two pages, that means neither of them is getting all the ranking power that they could be.
If your website is relatively young, all you need to do at this stage is make sure that your keyword research battle plan doesn’t plot out content that is likely to compete with itself. For example, if one of your product category pages is targeting “leather boots”, you don’t want to plan out a blog post that targets the same term.
If your website has been around for a while, then you likely are cannibalising your keywords unintentionally. In this case, you could use the Ahrefs site explorer tool to find a complete list of what keywords your posts and pages are ranking for.
Scour your list for duplicates and then take action as necessary to eliminate the problem. Here are the two most common solutions to keyword cannibalisation:
De-optimise the page you don’t want to rank by removing the offending keyword from the copy and revising it as necessary to better target a different keyword.
Combine the two posts into one. Don’t simply cut and paste, though. Instead, take the best ideas from the one you don’t want to rank and incorporate them smoothly in the other page.
On-Page SEO For E-Commerce
Once you’ve got a clear idea of the keywords that you’re going to be trying to rank for, the next step is to actually start implementing the SEO strategies that are going to boost your chance of ranking.
On-page SEO is most under your control, and it forms the foundation of every other step you take. So, we’ll start with tackling your on-page factors before we look at your off-page SEO.
Target Your Most Promising Pages First
As an e-commerce store, you are going to have a TON of pages.
Typically, in addition to the standard home, contact, about, and shipping pages, you’ll have category pages, which are likely to have sub category pages, which could even have their own sub categories. And don’t forget that every single product is going to have a page of its own!
What that means is that you have to look at SEO as a long term strategy. You can’t do it all in a day, and you’re going to have to decide where to start first.
Rather than print your keyword list out, tape it to the wall, and throw some darts at it, we suggest starting by optimising your pages that are already showing some promise (although that dart thing does sound fun).
If you’ve been up and running for a while, hopefully you are using Google Analytics to track your conversions, your traffic, or both. If so, take a look at the data and see which pages are converting well but aren’t getting as much traffic as others. This means that if you can drive more traffic, you know it will pay off.
If you don’t have the analytical data to make a decision or your store is still young, then start with the keywords that have relatively high search volume as well as ranking competitors with low Moz authority metrics.
Once you’ve got a prioritised list of the keywords and pages you want to work on optimizing, start implementing the steps below to bump up your on-page SEO factors.
Write Unique Product Descriptions
Google hates duplicate content.
Or, more specifically, it likes delivering content to users that has something worthwhile to say. The standard practice among e-commerce stores, though, is to recycle the manufacturer descriptions on their product pages. This is a surefire way to make your website NOT stand out from the competition—in both Google’s eyes and your customers’.
So, starting with your most promising pages, create your own custom product descriptions. Aim to both help the visitor understand what the product does while also highlighting the value it will bring them or the problems it will solve.
It might seem daunting to craft new descriptions for every product, but how long would it take you if you committed to re-writing just two products every day?
Optimise Your Content For The Target Keyword
So, if every page is meant to target one primary keyword, how exactly are you supposed to let Google know that? Basically, you want to place your keyword strategically in a few key locations.
As you write or revise your content, use this checklist to optimise your on-page SEO for e-commerce:
Put your exact match keyword in the page title and H1 tag
Put secondary keywords in headings and subheadings
Include your keyword or close variations of it naturally within your paragraphs
Make sure the exact keyword exists at least once within product descriptions
Include your keywords in image file names and alt tags
Write a meta description that hooks your audience and includes the primary keyword once
If it looks natural, include the exact keyword within the url
Build a Sound Website Structure
Google likes websites that are organised hierarchically. This provides an easy way to let the search engine know how each page or post relates to the rest. Furthermore, strong website structure usually correlates directly to a better user experience.
Here are a few things you can do to organise your e-commerce store for both Googlebot and your customers:
Limit clicks as much as possible.
Ideally, a user should never have to click more than 3 times to find what they’re looking for. The good news is that e-commerce stores naturally lend themselves to this sort of click minimisation. Most online stores can be organised as follows:
Home > Category > Subcategory > Products
For example, someone coming to our vegan apparel store might land on the home page and take the following journey…
First, they browse the home page and click through to the men’s clothing category. From there, they can find the type of clothing they are looking for, clicking on the men’s shirts subcategory. Finally, the user can browse shirts and settle specifically on the product that they want.
Pass authority with purposeful internal linking.
Another key aspect of your e-commerce site structure is strategically linking to your own content. This helps helps pass authority on to the page that you really want to rank. There are two main strategies to keep in mind when planning your internal linking:
Link to relevant pages. For example, if you have a category page that you are trying to rank for “custom digital signage”, you may create a series of blog posts with informational content about digital signage.
Each post can include a link to the category page. This not only encourages readers to convert into customers, but it also boosts that category page’s topical relevance in Google’s eyes.
Choose appropriate anchor text. Every link consists of two parts: the anchor text and the url. The anchor text is the text that appears to readers. In the following example link, the anchor text is “On-page SEO”, and the url is “https://pwd.com.au/complete-guide-to-on-page-seo/”: On-page SEO.
When building internal links, you want to make your anchor text relevant to the keyword you are trying to rank the target page for. Picking up with our previous example, you would build internal links using anchor text such as “custom digital signage”, “custom digital signs”, and “digital display screen”.
Create A Helpful User Experience
One of the often overlooked aspects of on-page SEO is the user experience. Google’s algorithm is far more complex than you can imagine, and it uses all manner of metrics to determine if your site is serving up a dish they want to eat.
For example, one factor that Google takes into consideration is bounce rate.
If visitors come to your page, get frustrated by the experience, and bounce back to the search results to choose a different site, Googlebot is going to hold that against you. It’s going to rank your competitors higher because they doing a better job giving users what they are looking for.
With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to help ensure that your e-commerce user experience is conducive to SEO.
Include pictures, videos, and user guides.
Beating your competitors at on-page SEO means going a step above in every aspect. If they include just a single picture of a product from one angle, you should take more. Even better if your pictures are zoomable, rotatable, and representative of different variants (like color, style, or size).
Online shoppers need to form an extra level of trust with the store because of the physical distance between them. They can’t pick up the product or test it out, so the more you can do to answer their questions up front, the more they’ll be willing to buy from you.
In addition to unique and helpful product images, you can also film videos to explain how a product works or to compare two similar products, for example. Downloadable user guides for complicated products are another good way to build faith with the customer and help them find exactly what they are looking for.
Make checkout easy.
According to one quantitative study, almost 60% of customers left an online shopping cart full without making a purchase. They cited all sorts of reasons, including being surprised by high shipping costs as well as a confusing checkout process.
If you could capture just one-quarter of the 60% of abandoned carts on your store, you would increase revenues by leaps and bounds. Here are some simple ways to make the checkout process as simple and user-friendly as possible:
Make shipping costs upfront, ideally listed on the same page as product pricing.
Allow as many payment methods as possible, including non-credit card options like PayPal and Apple Pay.
Don’t require users to create an account to make a purchase.
Enable autofill to eliminate the amount of typing customers need to do.
Collect customer reviews.
One study found that products with at least five reviews are 270% more likely to be purchased. In addition to more conversions, reviews that are published on your page also boost your total word count. Google loves relevant content, especially when it’s updated regularly.
So make sure that your e-commerce store is equipped to let customers leave reviews. And, in your order confirmation and follow-up emails, don’t be shy about asking customers to give you a review. Some 70% of people are willing to leave a review if you ask them.
Improve your site speed.
A page that takes more than 3 seconds to load is going to lose more than half of its mobile visitors.
Google has a free tool for testing your site speed that can give you an easy look at how you are performing. Just pop in your url and it will provide you the amount of time it takes to load as well as an estimate of the number of visitors you are losing due to load time.
If you aren’t happy with the results, here are a few easy techniques to reduce your load speed:
Upgrade your hosting plan
Compress images and large files
Control your caching settings
If you aren’t a tech wiz, upgrading site speed is usually a task that can be outsourced to a professional web developer for very affordable rates.
Off-Page SEO for E-Commerce
Once you’ve got your on-page elements squared away, you can begin tackling off-page SEO for your e-commerce site. As we mentioned earlier, the goal at this point is to build both your trust and relevance in Google’s eyes.
Off-page SEO strategies involve finding ways to get others sharing and talking about your content. The more authoritative the sources that are linking to you, the more trustworthy your website will appear to the search engines.
Create Shareable Content
One way to encourage natural links is to regularly publish content that your audience is likely to share. While a classic strategy is to write incredibly useful and engaging blog posts, don’t neglect other types of content that have a tendency to go viral.
People love quizzes, for example. They can be just for fun or they can offer serious advice. Here are two quiz ideas that could be great for a store that sells winter sports gear:
What “must ski” mountain are you? (fun!)
What temperature rating do you need for your winter sleeping bag? (serious)
Creating high quality content that adds value for your audience and stands apart from your competition is going to do two things for you:
First, it’s going to earn you backlinks (the single most important ranking factor).
Think of all the hobbyist blogs out there about winter sports, skiing, camping, and outdoor adventure that would love to feature a post about your quiz on their website. Every time they send a link to your site, a little bit of their authority is being passed on to you.
Second, it’s going to get you social signals. These are things like retweets, shares, and pins—signals on social media that tell the search engines that people are talking about you.
Social signals are one of the most important ranking factors because they help justify your backlinks in Google’s mind. They tell Googlebot “People like this site’s stuff, so that’s why so many blogs are linking to it”.
One content hack that can make the job a lot easier is to use BuzzSumo to come up with ideas. This tool allows you to enter a keyword and see content that has already been shared a lot around the web related to that term. This gives you insight into the type of content that you can create if you hope to make it go viral.
Encourage Product Reviews
Another really good source of backlinks for e-commerce sites are product reviews. Consider finding the influencers in your market and sending them a free sample of one of your hit products.
Likely, if they test out your product and publish a review, they’ll include a link to your website. If they are an established leader in your niche, this is about one of the most authoritative backlinks you can get.
Bonus points if the reviewer has a YouTube channel, since this is going to be very engaging for your audience and more likely to drive traffic to your website. Consumers love video reviews because they generally make it clear that the reviewer has actually tested the product out thoroughly.
Acquire Manufacturer or Supplier Links
If you are selling someone else’s products, odds are that the manufacturer or supplier has a website. And many of these websites will include a list of authorised dealers that come with (you guessed it) a backlink to you.
Check in with all of your suppliers and ask what it takes to make the list. Some will add everyone on there. Others require you to hit a certain annual sales figure first. Do whatever it takes to get these links because they are obviously industry specific (and with backlinks, relevance is key!).
If you sell products from 10 different distributors, that is 10 potential trustworthy links that could be pointing directly to your store.
Ask for Links
Another strategy to acquire links is to shamelessly ask for them.
We don’t mean spamming a hundred inboxes in hopes of getting a few links. Instead, create some really high quality content for your audience. If you sell healthy pet treats, for example, maybe you could create an ebook about the Ten Vitamins Your Dog Isn’t Getting From Their Usual Pet Food.
Then, hunt around on the internet for blog posts in your niche that would naturally link to you ebook page.
Maybe you find a dog enthusiast blogger who has a roundup post in which she offers the Best Resources Around the Web For Raising a Healthy Pup. Check out her contact page and send a simple email like this:
I just read your post about Resources for Raising a Healthy Pup, and thought it was full of great ideas. I especially liked that you noted the importance of choosing organic treats because I actually sell them!
I noticed that your list of resources didn’t include any information specifically about vitamins, so I thought you might be interested in adding this ebook that I wrote to your list: [insert link to ebook page].
The trick is to be genuine. Off-page SEO is often just as much about building relationships as it is about building links.
Match Competitor Links
SEO is a race, and to win you just have to stay one step ahead of the competition.
When it comes to backlinks, this means acquiring as many of the same backlinks as your competitors as possible. And then some.
But how do you find out what links your competition has already got?
For this, we’ll turn to Ahrefs again, specifically their domain comparison tool. With this you can plug in the top domains ranking for your target keyword and get a list of the backlinks they have already got.
If you see that your competition has guest posts on Medium, for example, you can start taking efforts to do the same. Continue to replicate their links to the best of your ability and slowly but surely you’ll catch up with them in the search engine results.
Watch Out for Questionable Link Building Tactics
If you start hunting around online about link building, you’ll come across all sorts of offers for backlinks. Approach with caution.
A lot of SEOs use shady tactics involving spammy websites that become link building farms. While these might boost rankings, they also have the potential to tank your website. Google is on to such tricks, and their algorithm updates regularly to combat blackhat SEO strategies.
If you do make a mistake and end up getting slapped on the wrist by Big G, don’t miss our guide on how to recover from a Google penalty.
Never Stop Link Building
One thing to keep in mind is that just because you’ve built a few links doesn’t mean that your off-page efforts are over.
For starters, your competitors will be trying to outpace you at every step. So just because you manage to score a top position for a keyword doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hair.
Additionally, as an e-commerce store, you’ll have no end to the keywords that you want to rank for. So even if you are in a very comfortable position for some, there are always links that can be built for others.
Conversion Optimisation for E-Commerce
Hand in hand with SEO strategies comes conversion optimisation. After all, what good is traffic to your website if the visitors don’t buy anything.
So we’ll end our complete guide to e-commerce SEO with a few ideas to help ensure that your visitors actually convert into customers.
Add Trust Badges
In an age when identity theft and credit card fraud are growing at alarming rates, people want to know that their information is secure—especially when it comes to online purchases.
Adding trust badges to remind customers that they are shopping safely is a sure way to make them feel comfortable about hitting that checkout button. One study looked at heatmap data of several trust badges to determine which ones buyers recognised the most.
The findings suggest that acquiring badges from the following companies is likely to increase visitor trust for e-commerce:
Better Business Bureau
Add Social Proof
Online shoppers need to know that other customers have had a good experience with you. In brick-and-mortar retail, they can get this sense by seeing and hearing employees interact with other customers.
Online, you need to add social proof.
An easy way to do this is to include links to all of your most prominent social media platforms: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, or wherever else you are active. The icons alone will build trust, but customers will also be able to click through, see the types of content you post, and see how your followers are interacting with you.
Add Live Chat
Live chat has the highest satisfaction level of any form of customer support. Among reasons that consumers cite is the ability to get their issues resolved quickly and multi-task while they get support (and of course the fact that they don’t like to talk on the phone).
While you might think it requires a lot of extensive coding, a plugin like ZenDesk makes live chat easy enough for anyone to implement.
Get To Work
As an online retailer, you’ve got your work cut out for you. But with patience and consistent effort, you can master the art of e-commerce SEO.
Or, you can save time and focus on what you do best by letting Melbourne Networking get you ranked for the keywords that matter most. Get in touch and let’s talk about how we can help you get more customers on Google with proven SEO strategies for online stores.