For your e-commerce site to be profitable in the long run, it will need to get exposure in front of the right audience. One of the most effective ways to do this, of course, is to get your site ranking at the top of the search results for your relevant keywords and phrases.
While there are plenty of different ways that visitors can arrive at a site, the majority of people are still using Google as their preferred search engine. This means that getting your e-commerce site at or near the top of the rankings for your targeted keywords and phrases can obviously lead to a massive increase in sales.
The problem is that SEO can be a real challenge for e-commerce sites. There are a few major aspects of the typical SEO process that don’t always work very well with e-commerce sites, and this often results in poor rankings and very little search traffic.
Google, now more than ever, wants to see pages with unique and original content and a lot of it. Many product pages on e-commerce sites are very light on content with brief product descriptions, and in some cases, the content is duplicated across a number of different product pages. Link building is another major challenge because getting quality links to e-commerce sites and product pages is not an easy task.
In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the topic of SEO for e-commerce websites. Everything that will be covered is very practical and can be realistically achieved to help increase traffic to your own e-commerce site, or for a client.
Related reading: 9 Characteristics of Well-Designed E-Commerce Websites
SEO Tips for E-Commerce Websites
1. Keyword Research
Keyword research is an important part of the SEO process for any type of website, including e-commerce. You need to know what your potential customers are searching for, and what words and phrases they are using to try to find the types of products that you are offering. The are a number of different keyword tools that can help you with keyword research, including Google’s free Keyword Planner. More advanced tools like Long Tail Pro, Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool, and Research Central from Raven are also great options if you are willing to spend a little bit of money on tools.
By knowing the words and phrases that people are using while searching you can set up your product pages to be optimized appropriately. Without knowing what people are searching for you are basically just guessing, and you’re missing out on opportunities to attract a lot of visitors who are interested in what you have to offer.
Keyword research is quite a large topic that can’t be covered fully in this article, but if you’re looking for more detailed instructions on how to do keyword research, please see The Definitive Guide to Keyword Research by Brian Dean.
2. Responsive Web Design
The percentage of internet users that access websites via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets continues to increase rapidly. Websites that are not user-friendly for visitors on a mobile device are losing sales. Most mobile users who come across a website that is hard to use on their smartphone will leave and go to another site. There are a few different ways to make a mobile-friendly site. You could create a separate site to be served specifically to visitors on mobile devices, but responsive web design is much better for SEO.
With a responsive design and layout, you can avoid issues like duplicate content that sometimes arise from separate mobile websites. Not only is responsive design good for SEO, but it also allows you to provide a positive user experience, regardless of the device your visitor is using.
For more on responsive design, I highly suggest reading Beginner’s Guide to Responsive Web Design.
3. Original, Descriptive Title Tags
The title tag is one of the most important on-page optimization factors, and it sometimes causes a problem for e-commerce websites. Each page on your site should have an original, descriptive title tag. The site should not have multiple pages with identical title tags, which is the case with some e-commerce sites. Make sure that you are giving each page its own unique title, and do not repeat it on another page.
In addition to being unique, the title tag should also be descriptive. Ideally, you want your title tag to match what buyers will be searching for, and be specific. For example, if you have a site that sells cameras you don’t want to have product page titles like “Digital Camera” or “Canon Digital Camera”. Be specific, like “Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera”. This type of page title is descriptive and will be more likely to be found by a search of someone who is looking for that specific camera model. The Amazon page title tag for this particular camera is “Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full-Frame CMOS with 1080p Full-HD Video Mode Digital SLR Camera (Body)”.
The title tags of your product pages should target the specifics, and for more general phrases like “Digital Cameras” or “Canon Digital Cameras”, you can use category pages or brand pages to go after the targeted keyword or phrase.
4. Original Product Description Text
One of the most common SEO pitfalls of e-commerce websites is a lack of original text on product pages. Google wants to see pages with real content, and content that is not duplicated on other pages. If your product pages have no text descriptions or very brief text descriptions, it will be difficult to achieve the search rankings that you want. Each product page should have a detailed product description in order to show Google that there is some original content on the page. Don’t duplicate the descriptive text for several similar products.
Taking the time to write unique descriptions for each product can take a great deal of time if you have a large site with a lot of products, but it can make a huge difference for your search engine rankings. If you already have hundreds or thousands of product pages with very thin content, start with the most important products and add more descriptive text as you are able. And going forward, be sure that whenever you are adding a new product page to give it an original, detailed description.
5. Allow Customers to Leave Reviews
Customer reviews have been proven to increase the number of sales made. Some studies even show that negative reviews can have a positive impact. Not only will reviews help to increase the likelihood of a purchase from your visitors, but they can also be good for SEO. Reviews from customers will add more content to your product pages and give them a better chance to be found in searches. The text added through reviews can be especially helpful for sites that don’t have very much text in the product descriptions.
6. Rich Snippets
Rich snippets can help your product pages to stand out on the SERPs, and to be more helpful to searchers. Basically, rich snippets add information to the search results. There are several different types of rich snippets that are applicable to e-commerce sites, and you can see a few of them in action in the search below.
You can see that bhphotovideo.com is using a rich snippet to display the rating and number of customer reviews on this product. Lower in the search results you see that imaging-resource.com and adorama.com are also using the rich snippet for reviews, and they are also showing the product price through a rich snippet. Rich snippets can also be used to show if a product is in stock.
The technical details of setting up rich snippets will depend on what e-commerce platform or CMS you are using. Some Shopify review apps, like Yotpo, feature rich snippet integration. Yotpo is also available for Bigcommerce. WordPress users can add rich snippets with the help of the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets Plugin or the Rich Snippets WordPress Plugin.
7. Use a Blog
One of the best strategies to improve the SEO of an e-commerce site is to add a blog. Blogs are great for adding original content to a website, and also for attracting links and encouraging social media interaction. Getting links to blog posts may not directly send traffic to the product pages, but these links can help to improve the authority of the domain, making it possible for all pages to rank higher.
Blog posts can also be used very effectively to rank for specific keywords or phrases, and then to lead visitors to relevant products on the site. You can use blog posts to write product reviews, publish case studies and stories about customers who have used the product, provide tutorials that show how to use the product, and more. With some creativity, the blog can be an excellent tool to attract targeted visitors.
8. Social Media
Social media and blogging go hand-in-hand. Regardless of whether you are using a blog or not, your e-commerce site needs to at least have a presence on major social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Since we’re looking specifically at the topic of SEO and improving Google search rankings, also having an active presence at Google+ is a good idea.
Having social media sharing buttons/widgets on product pages can be good or bad. Sure, it would be nice if visitors shared your products with their friends, but these buttons and widgets can also be distractions that take attention away from the goal of a purchase. What can be more effective is to integrate your blog with social media to attract more new visitors, and then try to use the blog posts to lead visitors to your product pages.
Another way to leverage social media is to integrate it with reviews. Yotpo (for Shopify and other platforms) allows your customers to post their products reviews through their social profiles, which is a great way to get exposure for your products.
9. Meta Descriptions for Higher CTRs
The meta description isn’t really useful for improving your rankings in Google, but it can be very effective at enticing searchers to click on your link instead of the others that are showing up around you in the results. A good description will tell the searcher about the content of the page and will encourage them to click. If you are not entering meta descriptions for your pages they will be automatically generated and you’ll have no control over the description that is displayed on the SERPs.
Going back to our example search from earlier, the screenshot below shows the description that is being displayed for canon.com’s page for a search related to one of their most popular cameras. The description that shows up is talking about a firmware update, not exactly something that is likely to grab the attention of most potential buyers. A description of the actual product would be much more effective.
10. Page URLs
The URL or permalink structure for your product pages is also an important factor. Ideally, URLs will be friendly to both humans and search engines. That means that by looking at the URL a human visitor should be able to get a good idea of the content of the page, and it should contain some keywords that will help search engines as well. The URLs ideally should avoid excess characters, if possible.
For example, the URL of the product page on iStock is http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/family-portrait-8239229. Although it includes an ID number, it is still easy for a human visitor to understand what the contents of the page will be. And it is also friendly for search engines, and it includes the target keywords “photo” and “family portrait”, which is a relevant phrase.
If you haven’t yet started your e-commerce site, be sure that you choose a platform that allows you enough control over the permalinks. Some platforms create terrible permalinks that will not be good for humans or for search engines. Shopify, Bigcommerce, and WordPress all give you control over the page URLs.
11. Product Images
Attractive product images will not only help your products to be more appealing to potential customers, but they can even have an impact on traffic and SEO. As social networks become increasingly visual, having awesome product photos and images will allow you to get more traction with your social media efforts. Attractive images will be more likely to be shared by your visitors. Photos can also be used to build links from visual-oriented sites.
In order to maximize the impact of your images and photos for SEO you should add an alt tag to each one. Ideally, the alt tag will include descriptive text that also includes your targeted keywords or phrases. If possible, you should also use these keywords and phrases in the file names of your images.
12. Link Building
Getting links from other sites is an essential part of any SEO strategy or campaign, but it can be especially difficult for e-commerce sites. Although it is a challenge, there are still ways to get quality links, and we’ll look at several possibilities here.
One of the best ways to get links to your e-commerce site is to get your products reviewed by other websites and blogs. These reviews will link back to your site, and probably to some specific product pages, and they will provide you with exposure to a new audience.
There are a few different ways to go about finding opportunities for reviews. If you have existing relationships with bloggers in your industry that would be a good place to start. Otherwise, you can search for reviews of competing products and contact the blogger or site owner to see if they would be interested in reviewing your product as well. Another option, Tomoson is a site that exists to help match up bloggers with companies who are looking for reviews.
Sites like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and Response Source allow you to be a source on your area of expertise, assisting reporters with stories. In some cases, this will lead to a link back to your site as a reference. When you sign up for one of these services you’ll be notified of opportunities that are related to your area of expertise, and you can respond with information whenever you are able to help.
I mentioned blogging earlier, and one of the reasons that blogging can be so effective for e-commerce sites is that it makes link building much easier. Attracting links to interesting, helpful, or informative blog posts is much easier than getting links to a boring product page. Unless someone is an affiliate, they are unlikely to link to your product pages.
Just simply adding a blog to your e-commerce site will not lead to hundreds of new links and floods of traffic, but it will provide the opportunity for you to post content that does those things. In order for a blog to be effective, it will need regular attention. Have someone on your team dedicate time each week to creating new blog content, and if you are able, have several different people contribute to get a greater variety.
One of the most effective ways to get quality links to your site is to find dead links that are pointing to pages similar to yours. You’ll then contact the site owner or blogger to let them know about the dead link, and ask if they would be willing to replace it with a link to a similar page on your site. Broken link building can be very time-consuming, but it can help you to get quality links that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.
For a much more detailed guide on how to go about this, please see The Broken Link Building Bible.
Internal links from within your own site can be effective at keeping visitors on your site longer, helping them to find other pages and products that interest them, and also can be helpful for SEO. With an e-commerce site, you can use internal links to point to related products, complimentary products, and you can use them to lead from blog posts to your product pages.
Another way to get some exposure and a link to your site is to have an interview published on another website or blog. Many blogs publish interviews, so there are opportunities out there. Depending on your site and the industry you may already be getting inquiries about interviews. Accept these invitations whenever possible. If you want to seek out interview opportunities, do some Google searches to look for blogs that have interviewed others in your industry and then reach out to see if they would be interested in interviewing you as well.
Track Mentions of Your Competitors
Use Mention or Google Alerts to be notified when your competitors are mentioned at other websites and blogs. If people are talking about your competitors, they may also be interested in talking about you. This can be especially effective when people are complaining about your competitors because it will give you an opportunity to contact them and explain how you are different, and maybe they’ll add a link to your site.
Track Mentions of Your Own Company/Brand
You can also use the same tools to track mentions of your own company or brand name. This can be helpful for link building because some websites and blogs may be mentioning you without including a link to your site. If this is the case you can contact them and politely ask them to include a link.
If you are willing to give away some of your products in return for exposure, blog giveaways can be an excellent opportunity. Many bloggers like to host giveaways but readers enjoy the opportunity to win a great prize. The giveaway will likely include some information about your company and product, as well as a link to your site. In order to find opportunities you can reach out to bloggers that have a relevant target audience, or search for giveaways from your competitors to see what blogs have hosted them.
Since this blog is primarily focused on web design it would be remiss not to mention that a quality design can also help with link building. There are loads of websites out there that showcase excellent design, and if your site is good enough to make the cut it can result in links from these types of sites. Sites that are featured in popular galleries also are often featured by design blogs as a result of the exposure, so this is capable of generating some quality links. While you can submit your site to galleries manually, it can be quite time-consuming.