Selling online enables even the smallest business to reach consumers around the world. Unfortunately, it also means competing with thousands of other sellers who often offer the same or similar products, as well as with e-commerce giants like Amazon, Walmart, and eBay.
If you want to make sales, you have to come up in search results as close to the top as possible. Studies show that 81% of shoppers use search to compare and research products, but the first position in a search result gets 32.5% of all traffic, the second position gets 17.6%, and by the time you get to the 10th place, you get just 2.4% of all available traffic.
You need SEO to drive your products and content marketing to the top of search if you want to capture larger volumes of traffic and make sales.
These SEO best practices will help you to boost your ranking so that you show up higher in search. Importantly, while these best practices are geared towards e-commerce websites, you can take many of them and apply them to other sales channels like eBay and Amazon.
Doing Your Research
Research is a key component of any type of marketing, but it is doubly crucial for SEO. Any search engine uses a wide variety of algorithms (Google uses more than 200) to choose when and why to show websites in search results. It's important to understand these for every website that you want to rank on.
The most important ranking factors for most search engines will be relevance, authority, popularity, and technical compliance with the search engine's requirements.
For example, Amazon.com ranks you based on how relevant your products are to the search, your sales velocity (authority), your reviews/sales (popularity), and how well you've optimized your listing in accordance with their guidelines.
Google uses a similar method, but pays attention to your site, page relevance, brand authority across the Internet (social, blog, content, backlinks, etc.), popularity (traffic volume, bounce rate, exit rate, etc.), and site compliance (site structure, web design, link structure, security, speed, etc.).
It's important that you understand what factors your search engine is looking for before you begin to optimize your site or page for that search engine. Because many search engines use the same or similar ranking factors, you can usually overlap Google SEO with Bing and Yahoo as well.
It's important that you put a significant amount of time into researching your site and product keywords. You can use existing research, check your competitors, use analytics to find out how customers are getting to your pages, and use tools to find, expand on, and check your keywords.
Your research efforts should focus on long-tail keywords to help with competition and landing more qualified leads. If you use a short and commonly used keyword like "Unicorn Plush", you will have hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of competitors in search.
By using a longer, more specific keyword, you reduce the volume of traffic, but also significantly reduce your competition.
You'll also notice that while only large retailers rank for Unicorn Plush, smaller retailers like livesweetshop.com rank for the more specific keyword. With less competition, smaller e-commerce shops can compete to rank against large ones like Amazon and Toys R Us.
In addition to less competition, long-tail keywords get more qualified leads. Most consumers start out the buying cycle with broad, vague searches like "unicorn plush" that will allow them to browse and check their options. At this stage, the user likely isn't ready to buy, doesn't quite know what they want, and just wants to see what is available. However, someone who types in "18" purple plush unicorn" knows exactly what they want, and are much more likely to be ready to buy.
By focusing on long tail keywords, you reduce the volume of potential traffic, but you increase the quality of that traffic.
You can also manage a significant amount of keyword research by looking at your closest competitors. What keywords do they use? Would they be valuable for you?
- Google Search Console (To see existing keyword entries)
- Google Keyword Planner
- Uber Suggest
- LSI Graph
Formatting and Structuring Your Content
HTML allows you to structure your pages in a hierarchy that search engines can understand. While humans largely just see HTML as a way to organize their pages, search engines use it to see which parts of the page are most important, which to pay attention to, and which to show to readers. While you won't be able to use HTML if you sell on Amazon, you can almost everywhere else.
Structuring your pages can range from simple HTML markup and header or subtitle tags, to advanced scheme formatting to create rich structured content inside of your page.
Basic header tags allow you to tell search engines where your title, subtitles, and paragraphs are. This can help search engines determine which words and what information is the most important, which is then used in ranking.
Meta tags show up in search, which don't necessarily help with search optimization (SEO), but they do help with conversion in search and should almost always be used.
Using each of these to structure the content on your page will help you to rank, because Google and other search engines will have a better idea of what you are talking about.
Schema markup allows you to add rich content and advanced structure to your site, which can improve your search optimization. While more technical than basic HTML markup, it can be extremely beneficial to both search and conversion.
For example, you can use markup to add recipe cards to food products, to add reviews into a page, to create separate page elements for features, or to list video separately from the rest of the page for improved Google search optimization.
Google offers a comprehensive introduction to Schema and how you can use it.
Use Great Titles
No matter where you are, your products need great titles that attract search engines and conversions. The title, which you format with an <h1> tag in HTML markup is the most important part of the page.
What makes a great title?
- Every title should include your primary long-tail keyword + extras if possible.
- Every keyword should be optimized for readers first and search engines second.
- Titles should be 70 characters or less. You can check with Microsoft Word. Otherwise, your title may be cut off on some devices.
- Your title should actively describe the product, not just name it.
- Do not use quotation marks or punctuation (waste of character space).
- Offer value in the title. Remember, your biggest goal is to drive sales, not just clicks.
While your on-page content and your titles are important, the URL for your page should be optimized as well. Having a short, succinct URL allows users to easily remember and find your page, and tells search engines what the page is about.
Pay attention to your URLs, because many content management systems and e-commerce platforms use autocomplete by default for titles. This can result in URLs that are too long, or largely made up of stop words rather than your primary keywords.
URL Best Practices
- Include your primary keyword.
- Simplify your URL and remove stop words to make it easier to read.
- Don't use subdomains/folders if you can help it (/category/product).
- Remove dynamic parameters (like post ID) from URLs.
- Try to keep your URL under 60 characters. This won't help search, but it does help with user experience and sharing your URL.
- Avoid punctuation except for dashes. Especially avoid hashes which could link to separate content.
- If you host with Linux/Unix, watch case sensitivity. /Unicorn will link somewhere other than /unicorn.
- Underscores and dashes are the best way to separate words in URLs. While you can use spaces, they render as %20 in the URL itself, which detracts from readability.
Use Images for SEO
Images are valuable for both conversion and SEO. Often, images get top-of-search placement in search engines, which means potential customers looking for products will see either a list of Google products or a list of images, and then the content they are looking for. Many of these people click straight through to the images section to look at pictures of the products they are looking for.
Use high quality photos and optimize them for search to capture visitors from Google Images. Your product should be in your pictures, but you also have to make sure you have full permission to use the image, it's high quality, and that you've used metadata to add information to the picture.
For best results, your image title and filename should describe your product. You should also write a description for your product, complete with your product keywords. If your CMS or HTML supports alt text, you should add this as well and description of your product written for human readers. The alt text is for visually impaired persons with screen readers, who will hear this description instead of the photo.
Backlinks Build Authority
Backlinks tell Google and other search engines that your site is worthwhile. You can think of backlinks like reviews on your products. It's better to have ten great, natural reviews from people who used your products than it is to have hundreds of fake reviews you bought from a review spammer. Quality is more important than quality.
Where can you get links? Bloggers, social media profiles, review sites, and news/media are all great options. You can use tools like Alexa and WebSeoAnalytics to see who is linking to your competitors for inspiration. Just remember, it's better to focus your time and energy on getting links from bigger sites, so that your links are higher quality.
Using Great Product Descriptions
Product descriptions are important for SEO no matter where your products are. Even on Amazon and eBay, your product descriptions will help you to come up in search. This means putting extra time and effort into your product descriptions to ensure that they meet Google and other search engine algorithm rules. For example, almost all search engines require unique content. To rank for a mass market product, you would have to write a unique product description.
- Use keywords
- Make it at least 300-500 words for search
- Write unique content
- Make it helpful
- Use sub headers and headers to organize content and to add more keywords
Don't Forget Content Marketing
While many e-commerce stores assume that they can get away without content marketing, this can be a mistake. Content and SEO go very well together, and if you have the budget, even a simple blog can help you to rank and will help your products to come up in search. Just make sure your blog has helpful information, reviews, or other information.
Consider publishing product reviews, news/product releases, how-to articles, tutorials, and product features. You can also create lists like "top ten unicorn plush stuffed animals" or create lifestyle and business culture blogs around the manufacture, production, and real-world use of your product.
Content is valuable for search because it allows you to use more keywords, create internal links to products, and offer information that you know users are looking for without having to cram it into your product description.
Social Media Builds Authority
Social media plays a part in Google and Bing search optimization because both search engines use social signals to judge your site popularity and authority. It also helps with sales as you build your reviews and reputation, which further helps your SEO.
Create a social strategy designed to entertain and inform. No one wants to follow a page that just shares products.
Actively request reviews on social media and your accounts from customers. Offer a discount or coupon in exchange if you have fewer than 10 reviews on your social pages.
Note: Amazon has banned incentivised reviews, so you cannot offer discounts or free products for a review.
Build Your Reputation
Respond quickly on social media, offer quality customer service, and regularly monitor the web for your name. Use tools like Google Alerts to set up alerts for your business on forums and around the web, so that when customer service issues arise, you can answer them quickly to build your reputation. This will help your search optimization over time by boosting your authority and your brand reputation.
Technical Aspects of SEO
If you primarily manage the SEO for your own e-commerce site, you must handle several additional technical details. On-site SEO includes your website's framework, sitemaps, speed, errors, site structure, and other details, all of which can greatly impact your search optimization.
Make it Responsive
Google gets more search inquiries from mobile than desktop. This means website may be penalized if you haven't optimized for mobile. Use responsive design or a mobile site to solve this issue and capture mobile traffic.
Google 'crawls' your site with bots, which follow links. You can help them along by making sure that you have a clean site structure and by providing a site map. While your web developer can help, you can also use easy tools to help.
- Robots.txt - one of the biggest issues for any site is if a robots.txt file is left in the site after development. That will show up as User-agent:*disallow:/ on your site.
- Sitemaps - these are simple XML files that tell bots where to go next. You can make one yourself, use a free tool like the Screaming Frog XML Sitemap Generator to do it for you.
If you have multiple pages that are similar, have moved pages to a new URL, or want to use different URLs for variations of the same product, you can use Canonical URLs to ensure that you don't have duplicate content.
Setup changes depending on your Content Management System and web host, but Google Tag Manager can generate canonical URLs.
Google and other search engines use site speed as a ranking factor. The faster your page loads, the happier consumers are, and the less likely they are to hit the back button to find another page.
Check your site speed with a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights. If it's not fast enough, you may want to check your server capabilities, reduce the number of items loading on each page, or discuss your site speed with your web developer.
Remove Site Errors
Google Search Console makes it easy to find and remove site errors that could negatively affect your search. These include server errors, missing URLs, and DNS errors. Screaming Frog also offers a downloadable Spider to crawl your pages to check for broken or missing links.
Fixing site errors ensures that when you do come up in search, your pages will work how they are supposed to. This will in turn improve your SEO, because Google prefers to show sites without errors.
- Research your long-tail keywords and competitors
- Format and structure your content
- Use short, easy-to-remember URLs
- Use great titles written for human comprehension
- Add alt text to your high-resolution images
- Earn backlinks and keep it natural
- Write great product descriptions
- Consider a blog
- Use social media to increase conversion and optimization
- Make sure the technical aspects of your website are in line
Optimizing your site for SEO can help you to get more traffic, can help you to sell more, and will increase your brand visibility and relevance over time. By following SEO best practices, you can work to ensure that more of your products show up on the first page of search, which will help you to make more sales.
This is a guest post by the Skubana team. Skubana is an all-in-one ERP system and operations platform designed for high volume sellers to run and automate their business. By unifying point solutions in one place, sellers can now diagnose what used to take weeks in seconds. It integrates with most e-commerce marketplaces, 3PLs, and warehouses, provides profitability and multi-channel inventory management, and compiles all of your marketplaces on a single convenient dashboard. Reach them at email@example.com with any questions, or sign up for a 14-day free trial.