Competition is stiff for e-commerce — these SEO strategies can help you rise through the ranks.

Here, you’ll find:

  • The elements of a good e-commerce SEO strategy
  • How to set up your site for SEO success
  • Common e-commerce SEO missteps to avoid
  • The importance of proper tracking and reporting

It comes as no surprise that 2020 was a big year for e-commerce. With people sheltering in place across the globe, they turned to online shopping more than ever before. In fact, more than 2 billion people purchased goods or services online. Not only that, but e-retail sales surpassed 4.2 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide, according to Statista.

And with an influx of businesses moving and expanding their operations to the digital space, competition also became more fierce. Whether you’re selling a hyper-specific luxury boat motor, a plain white t-shirt, or any of the billions of products in between, good SEO is key when it comes to e-commerce.

Ads can get you in front of the right prospective customers at the right time. And having strong SEO will ensure you also have a steady stream of organic traffic coming your way. Not sure what steps to take? Keep reading.

Start with standard SEO practices

It should come as no surprise that the standard SEO rules also play a big role on e-commerce sites.

These practices include making sure your site is well organized with a sitemap. You also want your site to be easy to navigate and interact with across devices, and secure like any other site. (Google has confirmed that there’s a slight rankings boost for sites serving content over HTTPs vs. HTTP, according to Ahrefs — yet another reason to follow suit.)

Implementing these basic SEO practices into your marketing strategy will help you start your e-commerce SEO off on the right foot and ensure you’ve got the proper framework (literally and figuratively) to build on. 

Find the right keywords

Just as with any other business, digital marketers won’t be surprised to know that the right keyword research strategy is table stakes for strong e-commerce SEO. Focusing on long-tail keywords (along with site performance) is likely going to be the best way to see early wins when it comes to your SEO.

SpyFu explains that you can also conduct keyword research through:

  • starting with Google Keyword Planner
  • using Google Search to see what’s currently ranking organically
  • leveraging a tool (like theirs) for competitor research
  • playing around with Amazon Suggest
  • entering target keywords into Wikipedia to find more related words and phrases

Once you conduct your keyword research (with an eye on things like search volume, relevance, and competition), aim to use it just 3-5 times per page. This will give you the juice you need to start building up page credibility without looking like keyword stuffing. 

It’s also wise to have a few different content silos on your site. With product pages, having content such as blog posts that complement your offerings will help you rank for topical information about the products you’re selling.

woman on e-commerce website

About half of online shoppers start their purchase journeys on search engines. (Image via Rawpixel)

Use relevant product titles & descriptions

Leveraging the proper keywords in your product titles and descriptions should also be a standard practice across your site. Instead of just keyword stuffing (which Google frowns upon), tag your items by categories, accurately title your images, and make sure those images are fast-loading. 

About half of online shoppers start their purchase journeys on search engines, according to a recent Marketing Charts survey. This is all the more reason why you should be thoughtful about your titles and descriptions. 

Don’t just say what a product is — describe what it’s made of, what its purpose is, and how it’ll benefit the buyer. And now that Google Shopping allows products to rank organically, it’s more important than ever to write detailed, thorough product descriptions.

Pro tip: Ensure all of your products have a product schema markup that’s thoroughly filled out for maximum discoverability. Schema is a type of structured data that helps search engines better understand what a page is about. 

Create a Merchant Center account

Something we recommend all online sales brands do is to create a Google Merchant Center account with proper data feeds for the search engine to leverage in its shopping tab on the search engine results page (SERP). 

This is a free feature that helps you organize your content in a way Google favors — and it gives great exposure to new customers with images (unlike search results). 

With the Merchant Center, e-commerce brands can:

  • upload accurate product information
  • reach customers through paid and unpaid channels
  • view reports for your programs linked to Merchant Center

This is also a good feature to take advantage of if you create Google Shopping ads or might want to in the future. 

Pro tip: When creating your Merchant Center account, don’t forget to also opt in to the organic free listings as well.

Ensure your site is properly set up & reported

Many online brands carry tons of products. Because of this, implementing all of these various SEO strategies into each of them can be a timely undertaking. 

Plus, product SEO can be a bit trickier than standard website SEO. For example, you may offer one shirt in four different sizes and 10 colors all on the same product detail page, or PDP. 

You have many more possibilities for canonical URLS (also called canonical tags), which help search engines understand that some pages will have very similar information on them and points to which ones should be given the most value or weight. 

Making sure your site architecture and canonical info are set up properly helps ensure that your monitoring and reporting will be accurate. This is also a good way to set yourself apart from the competition and boost your bottom line. 

Pro tip: We recommend relying on search strings in your URLs, such as “/german-chocolate,” to keep your sitemap organized and easy for search engine bots to understand what a page is about when crawling it. Once you’ve optimized your XML sitemap, you can submit it through Google Search Console to show which URLs are the main ones and pages will have a canonical tag. 

Stay consistent to avoid common errors

When adding new products is a frequent task, making sure they align with the same strategy as your others is key. This is because you want to set things up so each product has a fair chance at performing its best online. 

Consider creating a checklist for adding new products to your site so nothing slips through the cracks. This can include everything from the optimal image sizes and product name formats to the tone of descriptions, URL parameters, and more. This will also make it clearer which items are performing better than others.

Other common SEO missteps that e-commerce brands should avoid include:

  • Poorly organized content that makes navigation or filtering products difficult
  • Out-of-stock items showing up in lists without being able to be filtered out 
  • Not having individual images for different variations offered
  • Not properly making use of IMG tags or metadata at a product level
  • Inconsistent image or video sizes
  • Slow-loading sites
  • Non-responsive sites or limited options by device
  • Unclear return policies

Pro tip: Search Engine Land recently reported that Google Merchant Center’s new “Inaccurate availability” policy may suspend sites that show invalid product availability. The policy is slated to go into effect in September 2021. 

HawkSEM: The E-Commerce SEO Strategy Your Website Needs

It’s key to keep CRO in mind and consistently test elements like layouts, filters, and images for products, to see which ones result in better performance. (Image via Rawpixel)

Remember that CRO is part of SEO

Because of the high competition that surrounds many e-commerce brands, your site’s ease of use can really be a make-or-break factor in its success. 

That’s why it’s so key to keep conversation rate optimization (CRO) in mind and consistently test elements like layouts, filters, and images for products, to see which ones result in better performance. 

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Pop-ups, for example, may not be as effective as banners and may even turn off some users. You can also analyze your site’s performance through the use of heatmap, scrollmap and confetti reports. These reports track your site visitors’ behavior to illustrate where people are gravitating, where they’re bouncing, and more. 

As we’ve discussed before, you can set your site up for maximum CRO by optimizing your checkout process and being mindful of not overwhelming your shoppers with too many options.

The takeaway

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for e-commerce brands to stand out in the saturated online space — that’s why SEO can be such a game-changer. 

The brands that climb the SEO ladder successfully follow best practices like making use of the right keywords, taking note of what audiences do and don’t respond to, and having a consistent listing process. While solid SEO takes time, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for e-commerce businesses that aim to be around (and thriving) for the long haul.

This post has been updated and was originally published in February 2020.

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Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, quick vegetarian recipes, and making lists.