Competition is stiff for ecommerce — these SEO strategies can help you rise through the ranks.
Here, you’ll find:
- The elements of a good ecommerce SEO strategy
- How to set up your site for SEO success
- Common ecommerce SEO missteps to avoid
- The importance of proper tracking and reporting
The ecommerce boom continues to echo throughout all things digital marketing. Global revenue in the ecommerce market is projected to exceed $3 trillion in 2023. (Yes, that’s with a T.)
Because of this, standing out — and connecting with buyers — as an online retailer is more important than ever. 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 search engine optimization (SEO) is key when it comes to ecommerce.
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? That’s about to change.
How to create an ecommerce SEO strategy
- Start with standard SEO practices
- Find the right keywords
- Use relevant product titles and descriptions
- Prioritize UX & site architecture
- Create a Google Merchant Center account
- Ensure your site is properly set up & reported
- Stay consistent to avoid common errors
- Remember that CRO is part of SEO
1. Start with standard SEO practices
It should come as no surprise that the standard SEO rules also play a big role on ecommerce sites.
These organic search practices include making sure your site is well organized with a sitemap.
You also want your website 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.)
Along with those all-important technical SEO pieces, it’s crucial to pay attention to your site’s user experience, or UX. (We’ll go over this more below.)
Implementing these basic SEO practices into your marketing strategy will help you start your ecommerce SEO efforts on the right foot and ensure you’ve got the proper framework — literally and figuratively — to build on.
2. 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 ecommerce SEO.
Focusing on long-tail keywords (along with site performance) and search intent 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 which search terms are currently ranking organically
- Leveraging a tool (like any we mentioned above) for competitor research or keyword ideas
- 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 on-page SEO 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 with internal links, optimizing keyword-rich meta descriptions, rich snippets, title tags, and other hallmarks of good content marketing will help you stand out.
These content pieces that complement your offerings will help you rank for topical information about the products you’re selling.
3. Use relevant product titles & descriptions
Leveraging specific 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 product images are fast-loading.
According to Jungle Scout, more than half of U.S. consumers start their purchase journeys on search engines. 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. Now that Google Shopping allows products to rank organically, it’s more important than ever to write detailed, thorough product descriptions.
4. Prioritize UX and site architecture
As for user experience and site organization, things like category pages, subcategories, and (of course) good keyword implementation offers double the benefits. These elements are likely to boost both your SEO rankings and the amount of time people spend browsing your online store.
While average time spent isn’t a ranking factor for SEO, your potential customers will certainly thank you for a seamless user experience – and be more likely to come back.
Additionally, cultivating pieces like product reviews and page speed do wonders for your SEO as well. And don’t sleep on alt text for your images!
All of that might sound complicated – but it’s something you encounter all the time when shopping online. Take Neiman Marcus’s homepage for example:
You can see all the page categories in the banner along the top that then lead to subcategories, then the product pages themselves.
Product page example:
Note that there are often content block at the bottom of these pages filled with relevant keywords searchers are likely to use that ultimately boost the site’s SEO.
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.
5. Create a Google 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, ecommerce brands can:
- Upload accurate product information to your ecommerce store
- Reach customers through paid and unpaid channels (social media, PPC, and the like)
- View reports and metrics 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 opt in to the organic free listings as well.
6. Ensure your site is properly set up & reported
Many online brands carry dozens or even hundreds 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 web 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.
7. 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.
Common SEO missteps that ecommerce brands should avoid
One way to stand out in a crowd is by paying attention to the little details. But there’s no need to get in the weeds. Here’s a quick list of the most common SEO mistakes to avoid.
- 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
8. Remember that CRO is part of SEO
Because of the high competition that surrounds many ecommerce 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.
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.
Ecommerce SEO tools
For those looking to save time (and who isn’t), there are tons of online tools available to help get your SEO efforts off on the right foot. Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular, and a glimpse at their stand-out feature that marketers love:
SpyFu is a tried-and-true SEO tool that aids in finding relevant keywords, competitor analysis, rank tracking, and more. This tool can also show you the ad copy your competitors are using in their PPC campaigns, which is useful for crafting your own compelling copy and improving click-through rates.
This tool also provides historical data, which is valuable for identifying trends and changes in your competitors’ strategies over time. This can help you adapt and stay competitive in the fast-paced ecommerce landscape.
Marketers love: SpyFu’s keyword research tool
Semrush is hugely popular amongst digital marketers for its user-friendly interface, range of offerings, and virtually unmatched site auditing capabilities.
During the audit, Semrush will scan your website for technical issues that might be affecting your SEO performance. It checks for broken links, duplicate content, site speed, and other factors that can impact user experience and search engine rankings. This along with its on-page optimization feature and content analysis tool make it an SEO professional’s bestie.
Marketers love: Semrush’s SEO audit
According to Ahrefs themselves, their “continued investment in web crawling infrastructure makes them the only tool to update “referring domains” graphs daily.” This means Ahrefs makes it super easy to keep track of backlink data (AKA growth and decline over time).
As you can imagine, this information can be vital for reporting purposes and keeping your SEO strategy in tip-top shape.
Marketers love: Ahrefs’s historical data and top-notch reporting capabilities
Screaming Frog crawls your website’s pages, just like search engines do. This allows you to get a comprehensive view of your site’s structure, URLs, and interlinking.
For ecommerce websites, this is essential to ensure that product categories, product pages, and important content are being properly crawled and indexed.
Screaming Frog is especially useful for technical aspects of SEO (such as page load and redirects), but it’s important to note that its focus is on technical analysis rather than keyword research, backlink analysis, or other aspects covered by other tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, or SpyFu.
Marketers love: Screaming Frog’s technical SEO assistance
It’s important to note that while tools like SpyFu, Semrush, Ahrefs, and Screaming Frog can provide valuable data and insights, success in ecommerce SEO also requires a comprehensive understanding of your target audience, a well-structured website, high-quality content, technical optimization, and a solid link-building strategy.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for ecommerce 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 ecommerce businesses that aim to be around (and thriving) for the long haul.
Ecommerce SEO strategy: A checklist for getting started
This post has been updated and was originally published in February 2020.