In the hyper-competitive world of online retail, SEO — or search engine optimization — is the key to getting ahead. After all, the average online buyer starts their purchasing journey by searching for the items they want, whether they’re using Google (as is most likely) or a specific marketplace like Amazon. By influencing when and how prominently their products appear in the results, an eCommerce merchant can radically change their fortunes.
But as you’d expect from something so important, SEO is both complicated and hugely challenging. There’s so much to learn that you can become a seasoned specialist in the field without getting close to knowing everything — and that’s before you consider that the algorithms driving the search engines change on a regular basis, causing immense upheaval.
So how should the typical eCommerce merchant approach such an intimidating field? Well, the smart approach is to focus on the essentials — the core elements that prove most impactful — as you can go far by concentrating your attention there. To that end, we’re going to run through 10 eCommerce SEO essentials that you need to know, including on-site elements and other things worth understanding. Let’s get to them.
Having a website that looks great on all devices is obviously important for general user experience, but it’s also important for SEO at this point. Google has long since made responsiveness a ranking factor for the mobile SERPs, and there’s every chance that it’s a ranking factor for the desktop SERPs by now. Thankfully, top ecommerce platforms like Shopify and Squarespace focus on mobile responsiveness as a basic element, but open source platforms can still be somewhat shaky, so you need to be careful.
The goal of SEO is to deliver traffic, and any strategy that isn’t attracting relevant searchers to your site isn’t getting you anywhere — but how do you know when you’re getting the right visitors? You call upon the rich world of digital analytics. Led by the free and powerful Google Analytics (and supported by a vast range of alternative tools), analytics is all about digging into the details of your online store’s performance to see how it’s faring. And to use analytics effectively, you need to know how to identify and value vital metrics.
When you’re just getting started with SEO, you should subject your site to what’s known as an SEO audit. It’s really what you’d expect it to be based on the name: a comprehensive review of your website that rates everything with potential SEO impact and leaves you with clear actions for implementing improvements. You can perform your own audit if you know what you’re doing (SEMrush has a guide), but beginners should find SEO experts to rate their sites appropriately.
The typical ecommerce site will have a lot of pages, and those pages can be found through search engine crawlers following internal links, but that process isn’t always perfect. Pages can be missed due to limited resources, and sites can go uncrawled for lengthy periods because there are just so many sites to check. By generating and submitting a sitemap, you can help search engines understand how your site fits together and what it contains.
When your pages rank in the SERPs, they rank for particular search terms (or keywords), and a big part of the SEO process is figuring out which keywords you should be targeting. One relevant keyword might be fought over by dominant brands, leaving you no realistic chance of competing, while another might get so little traffic that it holds no value. Keyword research is the process of carrying out searches to find the terms that fit nicely in the middle.
A backlink is simply a link back to your site from another, and backlinks are immensely valuable because search engines use them to gauge site quality. When a trusted website links to a relatively unfamiliar site, that’s taken as an indication that the latter is somewhat trustworthy. It’s akin to an industry expert recommending a professional with much less experience. One of your core goals, then, should be to earn as many high-quality backlinks as you can get.
Most brands these days maintain extensive blogs, uploading new content on a regular basis. Why? Because it returns value, and it’s largely through SEO. Fresh updates show search engines that your store is active, expert tips serve to establish your brand as smart and reliable (encouraging searchers to click on your links), and having so many more pieces of content gives you superb opportunities to target different keywords.
Schema.org is a site that lays out a trusted framework for microdata, something that allows you to nest information about your site content within your site. What is this for? Well, if you’ve ever looked up a brand and found a Google card with relevant pieces of information (such as a phone number and an email address), you’ve seen the kind of data that’s typically extracted from this markup. Adding markup to your store will help search engines understand what you offer, making it easier for them to highlight details that can push people in your direction.
When you run an ecommerce blog, you inevitably end up covering many topics on numerous occasions. SEO itself is a great example: because there’s so much to say about it, you can end up with hundreds of posts on different aspects of mastering the SERPs. This is no bad thing, but it’s risky in the sense that it can produce cannibalization if you’re not careful: in other words, you can have several pieces of content that target the same keywords and end up preventing one another from ranking more highly.
Lastly, something that should take everything else here into account is competitor analysis: the process of looking at what your ecommerce rivals are doing to see what insight you can glean. This is so useful because big online retail brands have been in operation for many years now and have spent much of that time (and a lot of money) on figuring out how to succeed. Why reinvent the wheel when you can copy the fundamentals and add your own twist?