One of the early decisions to make when launching a new eCommerce website is “which platform is best suited to me?”. Of cause there is no definitive answer and lots of factors to consider, one of which is search engine optimisation (SEO) performance. Although improving, many eCommerce platforms neglect the importance of strong SEO which is proven to have a major impact on the bottom line. This problem is exacerbated by the continuous updates to search engine algorithms, which show no sign of slowing down.
“As online intensive as our sales requirements are, SEO is so critical. One missed opportunity translates into real dollars that we are losing or misdirecting.”
– Tony Farah, Owner, White Hat Holsters (Via Marketingsherpa.com)
There are some straightforward tips to consider adding to your search strategy if you have (or intend to launch) your own eCommerce website which will increase your search presence in organic results and ultimately your organic search revenue.
Optimising product listings
Making sure that when your products are listed in Google’s results they stand out is really important. Results which stand out from the crowd can steal clicks from results in higher positions. Adding additional information to results (called mark up or rich snippets) is usually the best way to make your listings stand out, and search engines like Google love this semantic approach, meaning you’ll possibly start to climb the rankings too!
Title tags and descriptions
Title tags are very important. Consider the best information to include (usually the product name and key information) but never litter them with keywords that you think will get high search volume. If you’re selling a particular brand then it’s often useful to include that in the heading too, but your own eCommerce brand is less critical. Remember that Google likes headings to be on average no more than 70 characters long!
For example the website MyFabShoes.uk might want to include ‘Kurt Geiger‘ in relevant headings, but their own site title (‘My Fab Shoes‘) is less important.
URLs and breadcrumbs
Website structure is becoming increasingly important to search engines, and this fundamentally affects site URLs. Each page should endeavour to have a ‘friendly’ URL (eg. MyFabShoes.co.uk/Ladies/Heels/KurtGeiger/Blue-Suade-four-inch-stilettos) rather than a URL that means very little to either customers or search engines (eg. MyFabShoes.co.uk/?productID=123).
Breadcrumbs (marked up site navigation) can be pulled into search results in place of URLs, giving customers and Google more information on where individual product pages are located within your site. They also produce a hierarchal list of clickable pages in your organic results, so customers can check out the full range of Kurt Geiger shoes, rather than just the initial “blue 4 inch stiletto” pair that they searched for, for example.
Customer ratings and reviews are a feature that an increasing number of eCommerce sites are implementing as social engagement continues to drive more and more sales. Star ratings can be added to organic search results which not only increase product listing attractiveness but also give potential customers more reason to find out more. This is great, as visitors start to become more qualified before they even hit product pages.
Another great option is marking up product images which Google will often show to searchers. The best way to do this is using the ‘Product’ Schema mark-up, which also allows you to add product condition, price and stock. All of these additional pieces of information can be shown in search engine result pages (SERPs), and will help qualify and attract traffic to your product pages.
Of cause off-page efforts are just as important as your on-page strategy when trying to get found online. Content marketing has become a cornerstone of search engine optimisation in recent times, and this approach can work for product sales just as well as increasing brand awareness.
Competitors & opportunities
Doing some initial competitor and opportunity analysis using tools like Open Site Explorer is a great starting point, as it allows you to identify direct (competitor’s inbound links) and indirect (niche verticals) opportunities that you can approach too.
Identifying domain authority across various online competitors (who may be different to traditional offline competitors) can help identify strategies which are working, and connections which you may also be able to reach out to.
The content marketing matrix
Of cause content is the key, so producing unique, relevant and engaging content pieces is all-important. The content marketing matrix is a fantastic starting point which will help you identify different content options. Each option is best suited to a particular phase in the marketing funnel, meaning several strong content pieces should start to accelerate visitors through the funnel from simple awareness towards a purchase.
Influencers are important relationships worth nurturing carefully when distributing content. Finding the right influencers can be tricky, but using tools such as FollowerWonk can help a great deal. It’s important to remember that the ultimate goal of your entire online strategy is to increase purchases, and although content can focus on various stages of the marketing funnel it’s important that they drive some sort of action, not simply awareness.
“True influence drives action, not just awareness”
– Jay Baer via KissMetrics
Relating to product sales
When measuring content marketing effectiveness it’s important to consider not only purchases which resulted as a direct result of content marketing (acquisition or conversion channels) but also those sales which were driven through the funnel. These additional touch-points are very often proven to produce a positive ROI.
Additionally some content mediums can point traffic directly at product landing pages. Examples of this may include a map of the UK broken down by product preference (sales) – This would work particularly well for horizontal markets such as confectionary or fashion retailers.
Common eCommerce issues
Just as increasing organic product page listings is likely to increase your search positions, any issues that are present on your site can do precisely the opposite. There’s a couple of common issues which sometimes arise on eCommerce sites.
Duplicate content can be the burden of many website owners, especially on sites with lots of individual pages. With eCommerce sites having multiple product pages often with similar content (red jeans, blue jeans, yellow jeans) duplicated content can cause some issues if not addressed correctly.
Having multiple variants of the same product on a single page is usually the best approach, navigated by rolling over variants on the interface. Writing your own descriptions (avoiding simply using the manufacturer’s description) ensures your content will be as unique as possible.
Slow site speed
Google are, in their own words, obsessed with site speed. They incorporated site speed into their search algorithms back in 2010. It’s no surprise then that eCommerce websites, with their potentially massive databases, can suffer in this area. Magento is notoriously slow at site load times, so doing everything you can to ensure your pages load quickly will give you added chance to rank in that all-important first position.
Usability is something that Google takes very seriously, and can impact search results. Easy to navigate pages, well laid-out content and uniform product pages which render well on multiple devices are all aspects to consider. Although Google doesn’t interpret usability directly, it uses lots of visitor metrics to assess site quality. Make sure your theme is up to scratch.
Internal linking is great – That’s one of the reasons many eCommerce sites have a ‘similar products’ section on product pages. Although this is a great addition to sites, its key that broken links are addressed quickly. Using tools like Screaming Frog allows you to find 404 pages and 302 (temporary) redirects, as well as other common website issues.
Mobile purchases climbed by 81% back in 2012, and they haven’t shown much sign of slowing down. With this increasingly popular way to shop, ensuring your mobile web presence is up to scratch is more important than ever, especially in horizontal and consumer focused markets.
It’s no secret that Google loves responsive websites, so making sure that your site not only works but responds to every screen size out there (from 4″ right up to 40″) is really important. Arguably more important however is that your customers will love it, too. By having your site respond to a visitor’s screen size you can optimise the page, giving the best possible chance of conversion (a sale).
Single URLs go hand-in-hand with responsive websites, because there’s only one set of HTML. Unlike with ‘mobile versions’ of websites, which are often hosted on a subdomain (m.MyFabShoes.uk) which serve entirely different HTML, responsive sites allow everything to be contained within one main domain.
This is great not only because it focuses ranking efforts but also aids social sharing and produces a quicker load-time (redirects are slow!). It also makes internal linking a lot simpler, avoiding mobile-to-desktop and visa versa links which would otherwise hinder your SEO efforts.
Ultimately Google wants a type of ‘simple elegance’ in mobile experience. Many of the SEO considerations for mobile are similar to desktop (content, back links, relevance) but speed, simplicity and elegant rendering play a larger role.
It’s worth noting that Shopify is really quite good out of the box with regards to mobile.
Don’t forget paid!
Yes, there are lots of organic factors to consider when reviewing eCommerce SEO, but there is another arm to your search strategy – Paid search. A couple of quick areas to consider in this area include:
- Remarketing (To people who fell out of the marketing funnel during check-out)
- Paid search ads (Product names, serial codes and associated accessories)
- Paid display ads (Display your product offerings to people visiting topical sites)
- Product extensions (Add product details to your paid adverts for a higher click-through rate)
- Product Listing Ads (Ads listed through Google’s ‘Merchant Centre’ account for up to 20% of product clicks)
Combining a paid strategy with your organic efforts can see you increase your Click-through rate, sales and ultimately Return on Investment. By improving the information available to visitors before they click on either your ads or organic listings, visitors should be more qualified when they land on your product pages, ultimately increasing your site’s conversion rate for these channels. It’s easy to see why big online retail brands are investing so much time into organic (and paid) search strategies!
What area of search do you think eCommerce sites are missing out on? Let me know in the comments below!