If you have an ecommerce business, this post is for you. You probably already know of course that ecommerce businesses face their own unique set of challenges when it comes to marketing.
There are so many ways that you can optimize your online shop to increase sales, and there also loads of other options for bringing in new sales and revenue in ways that you might not even count as SEO per se.
So that’s why we have prepared this lovely checklist for you. See if you can implement everything on this list and I recon you’ll see a difference in your bottom line.
This list is not comprehensive nor is it in depth, so there are some suggestions you may wish to go and research further. The idea of this post is to give you some ideas and an overview of how each idea might work – the rest is up to you!
Every good SEO project starts with thorough research. Your plan is only as good as the data that you use to create it. So let’s start by looking at the types of research you can do.
When you do your keyword research for an ecommerce website I suggest you create 3 groups of keywords:
These are going to be your most specific phrases; they will likely take a similar like [brand name] + [model number] or something similar. Your product pages should naturally be pretty well optimized for such phrases anyway, but it’s a good idea to know how customers are searching and what other words that they use so that you can write your product pages accordingly.
More general keyword phrases will be better suited as candidates for category pages. Try to pick phrases that make sense from a user perspective – user experience always comes first. I tend to focus on 1-3 phrases per category page.
Hopefully you will also find lots of phrases related to your products/niche, but which are naturally more suited to content. If in doubt, Google a phrase – if the top results are mostly articles and content, that’s a good sign that keyword phrase is a “content phrase”. Group all of your content phrases in a list, and then you can use them as a source of ideas for blog content. This is a great way to build up some long tail traffic.
How should you build links? There is no simple answer to that question. It depends on your niche, your business and what your competitors are doing. In some niches it’s all about the content (SEO is a good example), but in other niches, most links are (relevant) directories, supplier links, mainstream PR etc…
Rather than diving in blindly, get yourself a Majestic SEO account (other providers are available) and get a backlink report for a couple of your closest competitors. Go and Google the phrases you want to rank for and note who else is already ranking, and then look at their link profiles.
By going through this data you can see exactly where they are getting their links, and you can get an idea of what strategies they are using. How did they get this link? Is it a good link? Would it be a relevant link for your business? How can you get a similar link? This is an excellent way to get an idea of how you should approach your own link building.
While we’re looking at your competition. Let’s think about what else we could do better shall we? Remember, SEO isn’t all about the technical stuff. User experience is hugely important. If you want to rank for a phrase you MUST ensure that your target page is a good, relevant result for that page – and that it provides what your visitors and Google would expect. So for each of your keyword phrases, Google it, and have a look at who is already ranking. Ask yourself questions such as:
Once you have thoroughly analysed each of those pages, look at your own page and ask yourself honestly whether your target page is as good as those pages. Do you have as many products? Better or worse? Is your content better or worse? What could you improve? To rank above your competitors, you need to be as good as them plus at least 10%. So having a good look at your competition is essential.
Technical SEO is what most people think of as being “SEO” and for ecommerce sites there are some specific technical challenges to address. As well as a few of the regular ones too.
I’m going to talk about page titles and meta description tags here. A page title isn’t technically a meta tag, but it makes sense to talk about both together. I’m going to ignore meta keywords because there is practically zero value in using that tag. So I wouldn’t bother. Your page title and meta description are what will appear in Google search results if your site/page ranks (Google sometimes reserves the right to use different content, but in most cases they will use the title and description).
Google will limit the length of these by pixel length and NOT character length. So writing titles and descriptions to these limits is a good idea. Here’s a tool that will help you to do that.
As long as you’re sensible you can’t really get meta tags wrong, here are the golden rules:
There is some debate over whether having keywords in URLs has much impact on SEO. Personally I think it does, but really it’s a moot point because “SEO friendly URLS” certainly impact user friendliness, so if your ecommerce CMS doesn’t give you a way to make your URLs look nice, you may need to consider moving to another platform.
The benefits of SEO friendly URLs are:
Essentially, the main benefit to an “SEO friendly” URL is that they are easier for a user to understand and remember, they convey information about what the page is about and of course they are easier to share.
Try to avoid any superfluous numbers and letters in your URLs and keep them short and concise. As usual, the best advice is to write them for the user, not the search engine.
A really common problem with ecommerce sites is duplicate content. It is super important that your product descriptions in particular are unique. Unique from the standard manufacturer descriptions and unique from each other. If you have a lot of products, or a lot of similar products, this can be a challenge.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way around this. Using an ecommerce CMS which allows CSV upload can be a good way to ensure that you can easily and quickly write unique descriptions.
There is another reason to put in this effort though. Longer, more detailed descriptions will help you to sell more products. You need to address your customer’s needs, concerns and questions and convince them that they are buying the right product.
Likewise, category content is important. You don’t necessarily need a huge amount, but it is good to have at least a brief summary of what a customer can expect to find in that category, how to browse, top products etc. A short paragraph is usually enough, or is at least a good start – and it goes without saying that it should be unique and ideally contain your top keywords.
Here are some other content ideas though:
For each product, include a short description which will only appear in category pages. If every product has this little snippet, that will soon fill up your category pages with relevant information and keyword opportunities (don’t overdo it).
Include a “top sellers” section at the top of each category where you highlight your top 3 products and give a more detailed summary of what they do and why they are popular. Then include the normal product listings below that. These will be 3 (or more) products that you can really put some extra attention in to. Handy if you have too many products to really work on all of them.
Firstly of course, having good product images is a must. You should ensure that your product images are clear, show your products from plenty of angles and make the product look good. That stuff is obvious (I hope).
Additionally, here are some extra SEO tips:
This is a good rule of thumb to get a good balance of quality against image size. If all of your images are saved at 90% or more they will be slightly crisper and MUCH larger in file size – which will slow down your load speed.
For an ecommerce site one of the biggest factors affecting load speed is often the images, so following the advice above will go a long way. But there are other things to think about too. As a first step, run your site through Google’s page speed analyser and follow through the suggestions.
Scoring a perfect 100 is really tough, but you should be able to get an 80+ by doing a few quick tweaks. Here are a few of the easiest ways to speed up your site:
Micro data is a highly technical area, but it is very well suited to ecommerce sites. Essentially it is a way to add information to product pages that Google can understand more easily. Things you might include in micro-data include:
This is a big topic, but if you are interested, look into Schema to learn more. Many CMS systems have plugins available that will make this easier to implement.
What should you do when an item goes out of stock? Well, there are plenty of options, and it really depends, but the worst thing you can do is remove the product and let the URL just die. Every product has its own URL and over time those URLs build up value and potentially even get links.
I recommend you leave the product page live and either allow backorders or ensure that the product description includes info about when the product will be back in stock as well as suggesting alternative products to keep the buyer shopping.
Leaving the product live on the site might frustrate your customers, so a good idea is to hide the product for now and 302 redirect the page to another, live product. This prevents 404 errors and keeps buyers on the site, but tells Google “this product may be coming back”.
Ideally you should re-use the URL, by simply editing the product into another, new product. This works best if you are discontinuing a product but launching a similar product at the same time. If that doesn’t work, remove the product and use a 301 redirect the URL to a similar live product.
Most sites will work just fine as is, but it is a good idea to know how to double check that your site can be crawled and indexed easily by search engines. The easiest way to do this is to sign up for webmaster tools and then “fetch as Google”. This will quickly show you what your site looks like to a Google bot.
Common problems that might impact crawling include:
Having a sitemap is no substitute to having a well-designed site (and navigation) but if you have a large site, it can be helpful to have a sitemap as an insurance policy to ensure Google can find all of your pages.
In its most basic form, a sitemap can just be a text file with a list of URLS, but if possible I suggest using an XML sitemap which will allow you to assign importance values to each page. This is a relative value that let’s you tell Google things like: these pages are more important than these. You might for example make certain products or categories more important than others. Google may then choose to crawl the more important pages more frequently.
Yes, user experience is a hugely important part of SEO. Not least because with a poor user experience, the best rankings in the world won’t help you. So remember to focus intently on user experience.
Get friends and family to review your site from a non-SEO point of view to see whether they think it is user-friendly. Ask yourself honestly whether you have done SEO at the cost of user experience. Put yourself in your user’s shoes and ask yourself whether your site is easy and enjoyable to use.
Along with user experience, you also need to consider the site’s design. This isn’t a direct SEO factor of course, but anything that can impact user behavior can impact SEO and here are some facts:
*Ok, Google doesn’t know what your bounce rate is, but they CAN see if a search engine user clicks on your site in the SERPs and then returns to the SERP to try another result. Designing a nice site is beyond the scope of this article, but I suggest as a minimum: Design a clean and simple color scheme for your site, get yourself a professional logo designed and get feedback on how your design looks.
Navigation is important on a couple of different levels for an ecommerce site. Firstly, it is super important that users can quickly find what they are looking for, and secondly it is important that Google can easily find all of your categories and products in order to index them.
For any new ecommerce website, I would suggest that designing the product navigation should be the first order of business. Having a look at how your competitors do it is a good idea, but ultimately it really depends on your business.
We recently built an ecommerce with 100,000 products and 500 different product categories, and by carefully designing the navigation we were able to ensure that every single product category could be reached within just 2 clicks of the home page and every product within 3 to 5 clicks.
This is a simple one – is your site mobile friendly? If not, it should be. Google has stated that for mobile search engine users, mobile friendliness is a ranking factor (probably a big one). So if your site isn’t mobile friendly, you are almost certainly missing out on traffic. Mobile traffic does tend to convert worse – that’s true – but users often start their research on mobile devices and then return later on a larger device to complete a purchase. So having a consistent, mobile responsive user experience is a must.
If you have a lot of products, you probably have a search box on your site. A basic search box is a good start, but there are lots of ways that you could do better. The more your search box is used the more important it is that you work on its functionality. Here are some ways to improve the effectiveness of onsite search:
This should be as simple as possible, ideally just a single search box (type and hit enter) which accepts keywords, product codes, brand names etc.
If your products have any sort of complexity it is worth adding an advanced search feature, or product filters (or both) to filter by selected brands, prices, sizes, colors, etc.
Having a search box that automatically suggests what you are searching for is a huge time saver, especially for mobile users, and will speed up navigation.
An even better alternative to predictive search is product suggestions. This generally works in the same way, but when a user types a product name (or part of it) a drop down box appears suggesting the most popular products matching that query. Clicking on a suggestion links straight to the product page, skipping the results page altogether.
Trust signals are super important for ecommerce sites. Ok, so it’s not a direct SEO factor, but it can help improve sales and that’s what we care about. You have to be careful though. I suggest that trust signals not be too intrusive. Including a few logos in the footer of the site is enough for most pages.
The best place to include trust signals is as part of the checkout process though. Including a “secure payments” trust signal on the payment page is particularly important. You could also include signals such as “paypal accepted” on shopping pages.
The key is to use trust signals at critical times where they can prevent abandonment, but without them being intrusive and getting in the way or affecting the look and feel of the site.
Content marketing is super popular right now, and the reason for that is simple: It works! It can work for an ecommerce site too. The challenges of content marketing are similar regardless of whether you have an ecommerce site or just a portfolio site, but since it’s such an important part of marketing I couldn’t exactly leave it out now could I?
When you hear “content marketing” you think of blogging right? There are other types of content, but having a well-managed blog is the big one, so let’s start there. Content marketing deserves a whole post on its own but here are the key points:
Product videos are an incredibly powerful way to increase sales, and because they are slightly more difficult to do than other forms of marketing, not many businesses use them – which is crazy really. So there’s no excuse, you should be using them.
Videos allow users to get a really close up feel of a product. You can also post videos on Youtube, which can be another source of additional traffic.
Some video ideas:
A product Q & A is a bit like having an interactive FAQ page on every product page, and it is a great way to generate unique content as well as showing prospective customers your excellent customer service and making more sales.
If possible, consider adding a Q & A functionality to your product pages. The simplest way to do this is to manually add your common questions, but a better way is to use a plugin that allows users to ask questions directly from the product pages. You can then moderate questions and provide answers which are automatically posted to that product page for all users to see.
Off page SEO is one of the biggest challenges, especially for newer websites. In the past link building was a simple task, but these days off page SEO needs to be integrated with your overall marketing efforts. So here are some simple tips to follow:
Directories are still a valid option for building some moderate quality links, but they should be relevant. General directories which just list every site on the internet are not an appropriate way to build links. Instead, try to look for directories related to what you do. Local business directories can also help.
Ideally this should only form a small part of your link building strategy. Some directories will not be as open to listing businesses, so ensuring that you have a large database of useful blog articles and content will probably help.
More generally link building can include a lot of different strategies. Again, this topic deserves a post to itself, but let’s talk about general principals shall we?
Firstly, if your website doesn’t deserve links, building them will be so much harder. For that reason, it is vital that your site looks good, offers quality products and has a healthy resources section full of helpful articles. Often, people may be more willing to link to your blog or indeed individual blog posts than your products and home page.
Building relationships is so much more fulfilling and easier than building links. The principal is simple; rather than trying to build links, try to befriend people online who have the same interests as you. This probably means bloggers, influential Twitter users, reporters and even open minded competitors.
If you build genuine connections with people and try to make friends, eventually links will follow, but only if you are genuine about it. The results won’t be instant, but they will be much better when they arrive.
A fun way to build links and to make a connection that can lead to a relationship is to use link bait. There are loads of types of link bait, and some can be a bit spammy, but so long as you don’t overdo it, it can be a very effective way to e-meet people. Here are some simple ideas:
Create a blog post (for your blog) which rounds up a bunch of blog posts from around the internet which are relevant to your niche. Once you have published it, promote it via social media and tell the bloggers that you included. Everyone appreciates being mentioned in someone else’s content.
Email a bunch of bloggers and ask them to take part in a group interview. You ask each person the same 2-4 quick questions, compile into a blog post and publish. Then tell the bloggers who contributed. If you’re lucky, one or two will link to you, even if not, it makes great content.
Same principal, but just one person at a time. This is just like a traditional interview. You might be surprised which high profile people will agree to an interview, and they might share it socially once it’s published. Even if not, if you ask the right questions, this can make excellent, very linkable content.
There are so many other options, I can’t cover them all here. Just try to be creative about your content and do stuff that people will want to interact with.
Most businesses do social media wrong. Typical mistakes include:
Don’t do these things. Instead, pick one platform (I recommend Twitter as a first step for most businesses, but it really depends on your niche) and focus on sharing helpful content and interacting with other users. Share other people’s content and try to communicate with them. If you do it right, your content will be shared and your following will grow.
You can share your own content and even link to your products occasionally, but focus on building your following by adding value. The bigger your following gets the more benefit you will get from those occasional self-promotional items.
Review sites are really popular right now, and if you Google most brand names you will find a review aggregator on the first page of results. These sites hold a lot of sway, especially for customers who don’t know who you are or whether they can trust you.
Unfortunately, unhappy customers tend to be more likely to leave a review, so for newer businesses it is important to encourage your happy customers to leave reviews. I recommend signing up for a Trust Pilot account and encouraging customers to leave feedback. It may even be worth offering an incentive (such as a voucher for money off the next order) to build up some good reviews.
Obviously this only works if you do a good job and if your customers actually are happy! But then, if you can’t manage that you have bigger problems than SEO!
Ok, so this post is mostly about SEO, but the reality is that for an ecommerce site all that really matters is making more sales, so let’s consider some other ways we could gain traffic shall we?
Some small businesses think that they don’t have the budget for PPC, and it’s true that it can be expensive, but the nice thing about PPC is that it is a pure numbers game. If the cost of aquiring a customer is less than the profit you make from a new customer, then you are basically buying money.
If your budget it limited, it is worth trialling a small PPC campaign and focus on optimising it as fast as possible. Focus on very targeted keywords and eliminate all but the most targeted traffic. Your PPC becomes profitable as soon as:
As soon as you reach that critical point, your campaign pays for itself, and you can gradually scale it up from there.
There are a few shopping feeds, but we’ll focus on Google Shopping because they are the biggest. Setting up a shopping feed can be complicated, but many CMSs have plugins which will make it easier. Once set up, Google shopping is essentially another PPC platform, but with a critical difference:
Users can search Google shopping and compare prices BEFORE clicking on your listing. Which means that you only pay for clicks once the user has compared your product to other alternatives. Traffic from Shopping feeds often converts much better than traditional PPC traffic!
Remarketing is another branch of PPC. Google offer it as part of their Adwords platform. The concept is simple: If a user visits your site, Google gives them a cookie and from then on, your Adwords advert will appear on lots of other Adsense enabled websites all over the internet – for THAT PERSON.
This means that that person then starts noticing your ads all over the internet. So when they eventually return to your site, they feel like they already know your brand. Remarketing has the potential to massively improve your conversion rates for no extra cost. Cool huh?
You know what email marketing is right? If you’re not using it you should be, it is essential for any ecommerce business. Work on signing up new subscribers wherever you can:
Sending out well thought out newsletters, sometimes pushing products, sometimes giving advice, sometimes with special offers, has the potential to generate a lot of additional sales and improve the lifetime value of your customers.
Did you know that you can sign up to a Google program called “Trusted Stores“? All you need to do is sign up, agree to follow a few best practices (which you should be following anyway) and then prove a track record of operating ethically.
Once you are accepted you can show a “trusted stores” logo on your website which will link back to a page on Google confirming your status. Naturally, this is an excellent trust signal, so there’s really no reason not to apply.
Local listing may not seem as important for ecommerce sites, but if you also happen to have a physical location there is no reason to also set up a local listing. This will help Google to better understand your business and you never know, you may also get some local traffic and sales. Doesn’t hurt does it?
We all love data, and with so much of it available you would be crazy not to make the most of it. Looking at your key data and learning to understand it will help you to make better marketing decisions, make the most of your successes and minimize your failures. So, what should you track?
It’s important not to get too obsessed with rankings these days, as search results are often personalized for each user based on location, device, preferences etc. But none the less, it can be helpful to track your rankings to see where your opportunities lie.
I recommend you use SERP tracking to spot which keywords you are ranking best for. In particular, if you are on the second page of results for a phrase, getting to the first page is worth some effort. Likewise, if you are on the first page, you should work hard to get to the top positions. Every position you move up will bring you more traffic.
You are probably already using Google Analytics, but if you do not have ecommerce tracking set up you need to do it right now. It’s not that hard to do and once you have done it you can see detailed information about your sales and where they are coming from.
For instance, you can see:
Another thing to consider is whether Analytics is correctly set up for social media traffic. The problem with Analytics is that by default it doesn’t track things like social sharing. But you can set up social share tracking by adding specially coded buttons to your content pages – here’s how.
Once set up, you can see within Analytics how many shares your content is getting and view content by sharing frequency. This is a helpful way to learn which content is most popular with social media users.
If you have a search box on your site (and you probably should) then it is absolutely vital that you track searches. Again, this takes a little bit of set up in Analytics, but once set up you can see what users are actually searching for. Here’s why that matters:
Want to know how users really interact with your site? Analytics is a good start but using heatmap tracking will give you a more visual insight into how they actually interact with each page, where they click and why.
At 3Leaps, we use Clicky Analytics for our heatmapping. This is an awesome way to see which navigational items users click on and which ones they don’t. You can also see if they click on items that are not links – which may suggest that they expect those items to be links (and maybe you should make them links).