SEO and E-Commerce, Things to Consider
Ecommerce websites and SEO are a match made in heaven - a match that introduces sellers to buyers who are looking for what they offer. Business Insider research found that on average, 39% of visitors to e-commerce websites came from search engines. That adds up to over $150 billion in annual ecommerce revenue from search - just the United States!
As an ecommerce marketer SEO offers you the ability to put your products in front of prospective buyers at the exact moment they are proactively looking for information about those products. Few other tactics offer such precise targeting and timing - it’s truly a win-win, giving buyers and sellers what they want.
Ecommerce websites do have some unique SEO opportunities and challenges that other websites may not have. Here are some common ecommerce-specific SEO challenges and opportunities I’ve seen, and how I’ve tackled them to bring in more revenue:
Build your category architecture to match your keyword research
Category pages are a huge SEO revenue opportunity, because they often match the highest volume searches. I recommend creating your website category structure to match your keywords. Don’t build your category structure (eg based on manufacturer product lines or distributor categories) then decide what keywords to target. Taking a keyword-first approach has two important advantages:
- It ensures that your main category pages will be a close match to the high volume keywords you want to target.
- It makes your navigation labels match the terminology customers are using (i.e. searching for), making it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. For example, if customers are searching for shoes primarily by brand and gender, your primary category structure should probably be brand and gender, not based on colors or types.
Use e-commerce specific keyword research tools
Every SEO strategy needs to start with keyword research. When it comes to keyword research tools, all the usual suspects can be valuable, but there are also a few tools that offer e-commerce specific data:
- Uber Suggest offers the option to get keyword suggestions for Shopping
- Keywordtool.io offers Ebay and Amazon keyword suggestions
These tools can be helpful for expanding your keyword list with keywords that other tools may miss.
Target informational and comparison keywords
Many e-commerce websites focus exclusively on their main keywords – product names, category names, and keywords like “buy [product name]”. But informational and comparison keywords can be a great source of traffic and revenue also. Keywords like:
- Blue widget vs red widget
- Best blue widgets
- How to widgetize my car
- How to [insert problem your product solves]
Create content to target these keywords on your blog or content section of your website. Here’s an example of a great ranking we gained for a comparison keyword (we sell both products, so it was easy to do an unbiased comparison):
Fully optimize category pages
Many e-commerce websites make the mistake of assuming their category pages are purely navigational and just letting their ecommerce platform create category pages with the template content. Category pages can actually be incredibly important pages for SEO, because they often match the highest-volume keywords. A few quick tips for optimizing category pages:
- Don't be satisfied with leaving the default page titles (usually the category name + store name). In most cases, there will be opportunities to improve the title tag to add additional keywords.
- Consider adding intent words like buy/online to your page titles to help you rank for buyer intent keyword searches. For example, “Buy Blue Widgets Online”.
- Optimize page titles to increase click-throughs. For example, “Buy Blue Widgets Online | 47% Off”.
- Write unique category description text and add it to the top or bottom of the category pages. Adding this unique, keyword optimized text really enhances the relevancy and keyword optimization of the page.
Create unique content
Many e-commerce websites source a lot of their content (product descriptions, images, etc.) from their distributors/manufacturers. This makes it easy to quickly launch many pages, but it also means that your website content will be almost identical to the content on many other e-commerce websites. While you can be successful with duplicate product descriptions, Google definitely prefers unique content. Here are some tips for making your website content unique:
- Rewrite product descriptions. For websites with many thousands of products, this task may be overwhelming. Start by creating a short list of your most important products and writing new descriptions for them. Another benefit of writing custom descriptions is that you can use techniques (such as benefit-driven headlines) to boost conversion rates.
- Encourage product reviews and other user generated content. Asking your customers to submit product reviews is another great way to get unique content on your product pages.
- Write expert reviews, how to's, product comparisons, and other product related content. I like to create a library or resource section of the website (interlinked with product/category pages) to house all this content.
- Write category descriptions to display above or below the products in a category.
Make every page secure (https)
For many years, it’s been common for e-commerce websites to just use https in the checkout process (where users enter credit card information) with all other urls (eg product pages) using http. But that trend is changing. Especially in light of Google’s ongoing push to have all websites use https, all ecommerce websites should default to https:
- Google gives a direct SEO ranking boost to HTTPS URLs.
- Consumers are trained to check whether the website is secure, and may do so before clicking the add to cart button. The industry is quickly moving to expect all websites to use https - 74% of top 1000 websites now default to https.
- Google Chrome is scheduled to mark all HTTP URLs as “Not Secure” starting in July 2018. All http urls will have a label like this displayed next to the address bar:
Use schema.org markup
Using schema.org markup offers two benefits:
- Allows Google to better understand your product properties (name, price, brand, etc.) for featured snippets and other quick answer type results.
- Can result in Google displaying rich snippets that help your website stand out in search results. Here’s an example rich snippet showing product ratings:
The two most relevant schema markups for most ecommerce sites to use are Product and Review. Be sure to use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to check for any issues after launching the markup on your website.
Keep content on your main domain
Since many ecommerce platforms don’t have great blogging features, many marketers install WordPress on a subdomain (eg blog.domain.com) to facilitate content marketing efforts. However, this is not ideal because there is some reason to believe that Google does not flow link authority seamlessly between subdomains. If possible, publish your blog and other content pieces on your main website – not a separate subdomain. And don’t forget to interlink your content pieces with your product and category pages to ensure link juice flows to your top priority pages.
Use shopping / paid search data to find organic opportunities
Need more keywords to rank on? Your PPC campaigns can be a great source of new keyword ideas for SEO. Export a list of search terms that have driven conversions from your Google search or shopping campaigns, then run an organic rankings report on these keywords. Any keyword you don't already rank in the top few results for is a potential opportunity.
Don't forget image search SEO
Google recently updated the user interface for image search by removing the button to view the image. This means that more image searchers will click through to the website hosting the image:
Image search is now an even more important traffic source for e-commerce websites - especially for products people like to shop for visually (clothing, shoes, art, etc.). Make sure you are optimizing the SEO factors for your product and other images:
- File name
- Alt tag
- Surrounding text
Analyze results by measuring revenue by landing page
One of my favorite things about e-commerce marketing is the ability to easily tie revenue directly back to traffic sources and campaigns. Unfortunately, Google doesn't let us tie revenue back to organic keywords anymore, but attributing revenue to the landing page is nearly as helpful – it lets you see which pages/topics/products are bringing in the revenue. (And you can pull in Google Search Console data to see what keywords are driving traffic for that page.) To run this report in Google analytics, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium > google / organic, then change the primary dimension to Landing Page. You'll get a report that looks a bit like this (details changed to anonymize data):
Make your pages lightning fast
Optimizing your website for faster page load times is doubly important for e-commerce websites. Many e-commerce packages (*cough* Magento *cough*) can have pretty slow page load times out of the box, especially on shared hosting. Additionally, many e-commerce shoppers want to browse multiple products and categories, compounding their frustration with slow page load speed. A few tips for optimizing your page load speed:
- Upgrade your hosting: one quick win I’ve implemented for several e-commerce websites is upgrading from shared hosting to a VPS with SSD.
- Optimize images: some ecommerce platforms don’t resize uploaded images, so check if you can make changes to optimize the image size and compression before sending them to your viewers.
The Pingdom website speed test is one of my favorite tools for measuring and optimizing webpage load speed.
Kill duplicate content with canonical tags on all pages
Ecommerce websites often have many opportunities for duplicate content. For example, a category page can be sorted and paginated a variety of ways – resulting in dozens of URLs that return the same list of products. Correctly implemented canonical tags ensure that Google only indexes the single, correct URL for each piece of content. Deciding which URL should be canonical can be tricky, but here are a few tips:
- Allow pagination. Don’t set the canonical tag on /category?page=2&sort=price_desc to /category because that would block Google from finding and indexing the products that are listed on page 2 or deeper.
- Use rel=prev and rel=next.
- Don’t allow different sort orders to be indexed. For example /category?page=2&sort=price_desc would have a canonical pointing to /category?page=2
- Choose which (if any filters) should be indexed. For example, you may not want /category?page=2&price=10_20 to be indexed, but you may want /category?page=2&color=blue to rank for the keyword blue widgets. Just be sure that you add unique content to that url if you allow it to be ranked.
Crawl tools such as Screaming Frog make it a lot easier to check your canonical tags across many pages.
This article certainly isn’t a comprehensive guide to ecommerce SEO, but I hope 1 or 2 of these tactics may be useful for your site. How have these tactics work for you? What are your favorite ecommerce SEO tactics?