Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an incredibly powerful channel for driving traffic to your website. Unfortunately, it's not an 'easy' channel to master and often takes months of work to reap any noticeable results. A good Shopify SEO strategy has three components to it:
- Technical SEO: Making sure the 'structure' of your website meet Google's expectations and recommended best practices
- On-Site SEO: Continuously creating large quantities of unique, keyword-optimized content
- Off-Site SEO: Getting other websites, particularly those with a high 'authority', to link back to your website
Each of these three components have their own respective set of best practices. At Growth Spark, we try to make it clear to our clients that we are NOT On-Site SEO or Off-Site SEO experts, nor do we provide any in-house services to aid with these efforts. We do, however, take Technical SEO best practices into consideration with all of the work that we do for our clients. Although these best practices are constantly evolving, we promise to meet the following between the custom Shopify themes we develop and Shopify's own built-in SEO capabilities:
Shopify provides an easy-to-use interface for managing your META information on products, pages, collections and blog posts. The actual creation of unique Page Titles, Page Descriptions and URLs, however, is up to whomever you choose to handle your On-Site SEO, as this quickly delves into the realm of content creation and optimization. Luckily, Shopify will automatically generate values for all three of these should you not have an opportunity to add your own optimized META information.
Image Alt Tags
Images are a vital component of your SEO strategy, particularly with the 'Alt Tags' associated with them. An Alt Tag is basically a text-description of the image so Google has an understanding of what it represents. Shopify has a number of apps available to help automatically optimize your alt tags that we'll gladly install for our clients.
Single H1 Page Header
Every unique page created on your website should have some sort of 'Page Header' that describes the purpose for that page. For example, this could be the name of the product displayed on a product page or the title of a blog post on an individual article. SEO best practices suggest to 'wrap' this header / title in an H1 tag and not use any other H1 tags throughout that page. We follow this suggestion in all of our theme templates.
Google lends more 'credibility' to websites that have configured an SSL certificate for their domain (i.e. their URL starts with HTTPS vs HTTP). An SSL certificate enables a more secure means of encrypting sensitive data transacted across your website, such as your customer's payment information. Luckily, this is an easy configuration within Shopify out-of-the-box and something that we enable for all of our clients.
Google takes mobile-responsiveness (i.e. how a website is displayed on a mobile device) very seriously and weights it as a major factor in their ranking algorithm. Absolutely all of the themes we create for our clients are mobile responsive. In 2016, the average e-commerce website had over 50% of their traffic coming from a mobile device. Optimizing for this majority is obviously a priority for any e-commerce business and a top priority in our work.
Creating a sitemap for your website (i.e. a file that lists out all unique URLs that you'd like to have indexed) is one of the key components to ensuring your content is 'discoverable' by Google. Luckily, Shopify handles sitemap generation out-of-the-box with all files available at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.
Canonical URL Tags
One key SEO best practice is to avoid having 'duplicate' content on your website. This certainly has to be considered with your On-Site SEO strategy (i.e. don't reuse the same product descriptions when writing content) but also requires the tactful use of 'canonical URLs'. A canonical URL is a sort of 'note' to Google that clarifies when a page is the 'real' version of that content or a secondary reference (i.e. having the same products listed on the collection page vs product page). Shopify handles this out-of-the-box for collection pages, where this issue typically creeps up, but when clients have more advanced searching or filtering capabilities on their website, it can creep up on those pages as well. We take this into consideration and ensure that any template that requires a canonical URL has one.
301 Redirects and 404 Error Management
When migrating from another platform to Shopify, you'll likely have a major change in the structure of your URLs. Even when actively managing a website already built on Shopify, content is likely to come-and-go over time. When a user tries to visit a URL that no longer exists, they'll receive a 404 error, which is not good. You can rectify this by creating what's known as a 301 Redirect to automatically point the user, and Google, to a new URL instead. Shopify has a built-in redirection management tool and a number of apps with more advanced redirection management capabilities. In addition, we work closely with our clients to help them resolve any redirection issues in all of our migration projects.
Site Load Speed
An increasingly important factor in Google's ranking algorithm is the notion of 'load speed', basically how fast your website loads when a user visits a URL. Optimizing your site load speed can be a challenging, ongoing effort as it's impacted by a number of factors including the use of Shopify apps, image file sizes, conversion pixels, the overall structure of your code and more. We work closely with our clients to identify opportunities for 'performance optimization' whenever possible. Although it's hard to get a 'perfect score' for any website, as there is data to load after all, we set aside time in our projects pre and post-launch to review where these elements can be improved.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google that helps you review and configure some of your site ranking settings. You have the ability to track 404 errors, submit the appropriate sitemap URL, set indexing rates and more. It's a powerful tool and a 'must have' for anyone interested in improving their SEO. We install this for ALL of our clients for every project we tackle.
Google Analytics is a must-have for any merchant that wants to better understand who is coming to their website and how they're interacting with it. Shopify has a built-in integration with Google Analytics that includes enhanced e-commerce tracking, allowing you to view sales data directly within your Google Analytics dashboard. This can be a powerful way to identify your high-value products, content and user flows. We configure Shopify's default integration with Google Analytics for all of our clients, ensuring you're collecting data the moment your website goes live.
Conversion Tracking and Google Tag Manager
We find that almost all of our clients are using at least one platform (i.e. Facebook, AdWords, Twitter, etc) to help drive traffic to their website and generate sales. An important component to measuring the ROI on using these platforms is the ability to measure conversion (i.e. whether someone actually made a purchase based on an ad they clicked). Shopify has built-in integrations for Facebook's tracking pixel, but we find that most merchants don't stop there. As such, we recommend the use of Google Tag Manager as a way to setup and manage the various scripts/tags that you'll need to implement within your website for conversion tracking. Although we leave the configuration of individual tracking scripts to our clients or their marketing partners, we're happy to install the Google Tag Manager container so you have the ability to set these up from day one. For clients interested in custom data_layer configurations, we have a number of partners that we work closely with and would be glad to bring into your project to help with more advanced reporting.
Google Merchant Center
For clients that plan on using Google AdWords or Google Shopping, we're happy to install the Google Shopping app developed by Shopify. This app will sync your store with Google Merchant Center, allowing you to automatically feed your product data directly into their database and give you control over information that's specific to Google Shopping directly within your Shopify admin.
Structured Data is the use of specific code snippets to help Google better understand the type of content on your website (i.e. product or article) and index it appropriately. This results in a website that can tap into some of Google's new search result features such as voice answers, maps, Google Now, SiteLinks search box and more. Although Shopify offers some Microdata support out-of-the-box, further customizations can be made to your product templates to better define the 'schema'. Rather than change Shopify's default Microdata, we typically recommend the use of the JSON-LD for SEO app as it uses a more modern method for handling structured data called JSON-LD markup. It's a one-time fee that can produce quick results and is recommended to all of our clients.
As we mentioned at the start of this article, a robust SEO strategy starts with Technical SEO but really takes effect through the work that's put into your ongoing On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO efforts. It's our goal to help you address the Technical side so you have a solid base to work on moving forward. In addition, we have a number of partners that we work with closely who specialize in On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO that we'd be happy to pull into your project.