Ecommerce SEO Checklist: 20 Essential Tactics
SEO and ecommerce are truly a win-win combination for consumers and businesses.
Remember the days when you actually had to drive to the mall to buy what you needed? Not any more! Consumers love being able search for the solutions they need and purchase a product with a click of a button from the comfort of their couch.
Not only do SEO and ecommerce make life more convenient for consumers, they are a huge revenue driver for retail businesses. In 2017, US e-commerce websites netted a total of $452 billion in revenue.
Organic search is consistently the top identifiable traffic source for ecommerce sites - top online stores get more traffic from organic search (mostly Google) than referrals, social media, and paid search combined.
How can ecommerce sites capture more relevant organic traffic?
Ecommerce sites come in all different shapes, industries, and sizes; different tactics will work better for different sites.
However, I’ve found there are some tactics that are effective for the majority of ecommerce websites. This article gives you 20 of the most powerful.
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Ecommerce SEO Checklist #1: Start with a keyword-driven category structure
Start your SEO strategy on the right foot by building your website structure to match your keyword strategy. This is a lot easier and more effective than building your website structure to match store departments or manufacturer product lines, then later trying to shoehorn keywords in.
Tip: Pencil in a rough site structure by adding a category for each of your high search volume keywords. You can adjust from there, but that’s usually a great place to start.
When you build your website structure around the keywords that people are using to search for your products, you’ll also make a site that’s easier for your customers to use. That’s because you'll have a navigation menu that uses the same words your customers use when they look for the products you sell.
Example: let’s assume your website sells hiking boots. Many retailers might be tempted to organize their store using categories such as “New This Year” or “Top Rated” or “Winter Boots”. These categories might be useful, but it’s usually better to build your primary navigation around what people are searching for.
A quick glance in the Google Keyword Planner shows us that users are searching for hiking boots by gender (hiking boots for women), brand (keen hiking boots), and feature (waterproof hiking boots):
Creating a navigation structure that allows users to browse by gender, brand, or feature is perfect for SEO and will be great for user experience.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #2: Target comparison keywords
One of the most effective strategies I've used for targeting additional searchers is to create content targeted to comparison keywords. These will vary by industry of course, but include keywords such as:
- Best men's deodorant
- Honda Civic versus Toyota Corolla
- Wood fence versus PVC fence
These searches are from potential buyers who are researching different products and trying to make a decision. By providing valuable content to help them make a buying decision, you can win their trust and guide them towards purchasing from your online store.
Here’s a screenshot of a comparison piece on a site I manage:
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #3: Be strategic with product variations
Many e-commerce websites include products with a lot of different product variations – colors, sizes, designs, model years, etc. Should you create and SEO individual product pages for each product variation? In general, no. My rule of thumb is to create separate pages for each product variation that a significant number of customers are searching for separately.
For example, a lot of searchers are looking for iPhones by storage size, so it would make sense to create separate pages for the 32GB and 64GB versions:
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #4: Target "how to" keywords
Creating how to content is another great way ecommerce stores can target potential buyers. For example, if your e-commerce store sells auto parts, you could create content to rank for searches such as "how to change Honda Civic headlight". By providing an easy-to-follow tutorial, you can give the searcher confidence that they can complete the job themselves, then you can guide them towards purchasing the replacement headlight from your store.
Here’s a screenshot showing one of the great how to content pieces published by outdoor store REI:
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #5: Add content to your category pages
Far too many e-commerce websites neglect the SEO on their category pages. This is a big missed opportunity! For most online stores, the product pages will rank for longtail keywords, while the category pages have the opportunity to rank for highest search volume keywords.
Want to take your category page SEO to the next level? A good place to start is writing keyword optimized category descriptions that will provide relevant text to the search engines and helpful information to your customers. These descriptions can be added to the top of the page if they are short, or moved to the bottom of the page if they are long.
Here’s a great example from TheHomeSecuritySuperstore - the content is keyword optimized and also provides useful information for users (including multimedia):
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #6: Use shopping-specific keyword research tools
We all have our favorite keyword research tools that we use when building keyword lists for SEO or PPC campaigns - Google Adwords keyword planner, Moz keyword explorer, SEMRush, or others - they all have their strong points and can be valuable tools. But when you’re building keyword lists for an e-commerce website, you’ll find additional relevant keywords if you use keyword research tools specifically for e-commerce and shopping searches.
Keywordtool.io and Ubersuggest are two of my favorite tools - they return keyword ideas from Google shopping, Amazon, eBay, and other e-commerce specific sources. You'll find that these tools often surface ecommerce keywords that more general keyword tools don’t.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #7: Write enhanced product descriptions
While Google doesn’t have a duplicate content penalty, per se (and Google clearly makes allowances for some content duplication where multiple sellers are offering the same products), relying on manufacturer provided product images and product descriptions isn’t ideal.
Not only will these descriptions be duplicated across many other websites, they are typically short and not optimized for conversions. Writing your own original products content will make your product pages:
- More engaging
- More unique
- More in-depth
All three of those are good signals to send to Google!
If you have too many products to easily rewrite all of your product descriptions, here's what I recommend doing:
- Create a spreadsheet with all of your products
- Pull in traffic and sales data for each product
- Pull in keyword search volume for each product from your keyword research
- Prioritize the products by sales, traffic, and potential (keyword search volume)
- Start with the highest priority products and work your way down the list, rewriting product descriptions as you go
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #8: Switch to https on every page
Should you make every page on your website HTTPS, or just pages in the checkout process where customers are entering their payment details? If you asked me that question a few years ago, I would have said you only have to encrypt the checkout pages. But times are changing and expectations are different now.
The argument for making your entire website use HTTPS is a strong one:
- Google gives a small rankings boost to HTTPS webpages
- Using HTTPS sitewide will protect users’ passwords from being intercepted during log on
- Using HTTPS on all pages demonstrates your site security to customers early during their buying journey
- As of July 2018, Google Chrome will start marking all HTTP webpages as “not secure” – if your online store pages use HTTP in July, you can be certain that this label will spook at least a few customers:
Currently, about three quarters of high traffic websites use HTTPS by default, but only about 25% of lower traffic websites default to HTTPS. I expect many more websites to start adopting HTTP as by default after Google's July update. Which of course, will lead to more consumers expecting it.
If you’re ready to switch your entire site to HTTPS, here are the basic steps you’ll need to take:
- Install an SSL certificate (if you haven’t already)
- Configure your server (eg via .htaccess) to automatically 301 redirect all http urls to the same url on https
- Update any canonical tags, redirects, or other references to your http pages
- Set up Google Search Console for your https site URL
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #9: Add the right schema markups
Google Rich Snippets are an opportunity for ecommerce sites to capture increased visibility and click through rates from existing organic rankings. With the right schema markups, you can get star ratings and product details to show up on your Google SERP listings.
Here’s an example of a star rating rich snippet. Notice how much the stars make that SERP listing stand out compared to the plain listing below it:
Here’s another screenshot showing a SERP listing with both star ratings and product details showing. This listing gets significantly more screen space than a standard listing:
The most important markups to implement on your site are:
Ratings tip: make sure that the aggregate rating is nested inside the product schema, and the ratings data is for that specific product. Many e-commerce stores make the mistake of using their merchant ratings, which results in showing the same rating on every page sitewide.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #10: Blog on your main domain
I get it: many e-commerce platforms don't have great blogging features and many won’t allow installing WordPress in a subdirectory (eg example.com/blog). It’s tempting to just install WordPress on a subdomain (eg blog.example.com) to make things simple.
But there are SEO benefits to keeping your blog and other content on the same subdomain is your main website. There is strong evidence to suggest that keeping your blog on your main domain can improve your Google rankings. I recommend keeping your content and store on the same subdomain and interlinking liberally between them.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #11: Mine your PPC campaigns for keyword ideas
More keywords means more ranking opportunities, which means more potential customers and revenue. Where do you go to find additional keywords to optimize your website for? One great source is Google Adwords - both search and shopping campaigns.
Here’s how to do it:
- Run the search terms report to get a complete list of user searches your ads showed on (from the Keywords page, click the Search Terms tab)
- Export these searches into a spreadsheet
- Shortlist any searches that led to significant sales or traffic
- Run an organic rank check on your shortlist of keywords
- Any keyword you're not ranking high on is a potential opportunity
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #12: Optimize your images for search
Many customers will do an image search when they’re shopping for visual products such as clothing, furniture, home decor, and art. It’s just a lot easier to shop for visual products with an interface like this:
If you’re selling products that customers want to see, image search can be an important source of new customers and revenue for your ecommerce store.
Google recently changed their user interface in a way that benefits ecommerce websites. The view image option has been removed, so searchers who click on the image will go directly to your webpage:
Want to get more traffic from image search? Start with these 4 best practices to maximize your image search rankings:
- Take your own product photos instead of using manufacturer-provided photos
- Use descriptive filenames that include your target keywords, such as honda-civic-2018-silver.jpg
- Use descriptive ALT tags that include your target keywords
- Use descriptive captions (or other text around the image) and work in your target keywords
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #13: Measure revenue by landing page
Ever since Google took away the ability to see organic search keywords in Google Analytics, attributing revenue to SEO efforts has been harder. Harder, but not impossible. Here's the approach that I recommend:
- Download a spreadsheet from Google analytics showing organic search revenue by landing page - this will tell you which content pieces and keyword groups are driving revenue.
- Use the Google search console plug-in to pull a spreadsheet that includes columns for landing page and search query - this will let you drill down a bit to the specific keywords that are driving traffic to a given landing page.
- If you want to get fancy, you can use some spreadsheet formulas to merge the Google analytics and search console data into one handy sheet that shows all the data.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #14: Boost your page speed
Do you feel the need, the need for speed? You should!
Faster page load times not only result in higher Google rankings, they lead to happier customers that spend more money on your website. Researchers have known for a decade that customers will abandon webpages that take longer than a couple seconds to load. If your webpages are loading slowly, you're losing visitors that you don't even know about (if they leave before your page loads, your analytics won't even record them).
Here four of the tactics I’ve found can make a big impact for most sites:
- Upgrade your hosting to a VPS with SSD storage.
- Setup caching on your server, or setup a CDN that will cache your webpages.
- Use GTmetrix to identify code and configuration changes you can make to improve speed.
- Optimize your images for reduced file size.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #15: Add canonicals to every page
Ecommerce websites are notorious for creating many different urls to access nearly identical webpages. That’s ecommerce features such as category filters or sort orders create new urls for each option.
This is why it's especially important for e-commerce websites to implement canonical tags sitewide. This ensures that Google...
- Only indexes the primary URL for each page
- Won’t dilute link authority and other metrics
Setting up canonicals for pagination and filters is a bit of a tricky question, so let's tackle it in the next section.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #16: Handle category pages correctly
Most e-commerce platforms offer a variety of filter and sort options and category pages. These are great for users, but can create a little bit of a complication for SEO. Specifically, search engines can end up indexing dozens of URLs for the same category.
This screenshot shows a typical example from L.L. Bean - with filters, sort options, and 14 pages of products, there’s the potential to access the same category with 100’s of unique urls. ecommerce seo checklist
It’s also easy to make a mistake on the other end of the spectrum by implementing canonical tags in a way that blocks search engines from finding all the products in a category.
Here's how to correctly implement canonical tags on category pages.
- If the category has more than 1 page of products, allow search engines to index them all
- Only allow search engines to index the default sort order
- Usually you’ll want to let search engines index few or none of the filtered versions
An example will probably make this more clear:
|Page Type||URL Example||Action|
|Basic category page||/widgets||This is the main page, you definitely want this to be indexed. The canonical tags should point to itself: /widgets|
|Page 2 of category||/widgets/?pg=2||You’ll want Google to index this page, so Google can find the products that didn't display on the first page. The canonical tags should point to itself: /widgets/?pg=2|
|Category sorted by price||/widgets/?sort=price_desc||There is no need for Google to index this page. It's essentially a duplicate of the main category page. The canonical tags should point to /widgets|
|Category filtered by price||/widgets/?price=0_25||This one can go either way - are there specific keywords you want this filtered page to rank for? For example, if there are people searching for “widgets under $25”, that would be a great keyword for this page to rank for. If you want the page to rank, write a unique category description for it and set the canonical to point to /widgets/?price=0_25. If you don’t want to index it, point the canonical to /widgets|
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #17: Add offers to your page titles
Here’s a fast, easy way to entice more users to click on your SERP listing: add your unique selling proposition or offer to your page title and description.
Instead of: Blue and Green Widgets | MyStore
Try: Blue and Green Widgets | 25% off until June 15
Here’s an example of a major retailer with a USP in their page title:
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #18: Create epic content around your high priority products
Ecommerce SEO managers often struggle to get high quality backlinks to build up their authority. One great way to do this is to create linkable assets (epic content, link bait, big content - whatever you want to call it) that are closely related to your top categories and products. Interlink this content with your categories and products so link juice can flow back and forth. Then use outreach and other tactics to build editorial backlinks to the content pieces.
Here’s an example from Bass Pro Shops that gained a lot of social shares and engagement:
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #19: Create ego-bait for non-competing experts
Ego bait can be a great way to get relevant influencers to share and link to your content. The basic idea is that flattering an influencer by featuring them in a content piece is a good way to get them to share or link to your content.
How can e-commerce websites use ego-bait? By identifying experts who sell noncompeting products or complementary services and featuring them in a content piece!
For example, if your e-commerce store sells promotional materials then noncompeting professionals would include marketers, salespeople, sales consultants, business coaches, chambers of commerce, and event managers.
Ecommerce SEO Checklist #20: Give away products to get publicity
In our increasingly digital world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with emails, tweets, and messages. If you’re trying to get coverage from bloggers and other influencers, you’re probably one of many people pitching products to them. How do you cut through the noise to get attention for your site?
One great way to stand out is to send free products to bloggers and other influencers. Just the gesture of a free product may be enough to get you a mention on their social media channels or blog. Even if not, it's a great way to start a relationship.
Note: If you’re trading products for product reviews, Google considers that a paid link. So it's best to give away the products with no expectation in return so that any links you get are organic.
SEO and ecommerce truly are a match made in heaven. Businesses get to market to customers at the exact moment they’re looking for their products, and customers get to instantly find the products and shopping information they want. The key for businesses is to focus on understanding and delivering what the customer wants/needs.
These 20 tactics certainly aren’t an exhaustive list of SEO tactics for ecommerce, just a few of my favorites. What are your favorite tactics to drive organic rankings and traffic for e-commerce websites? What strategies and tricks have you found to maximize results?
About The Author:
Adam Thompson is a digital marketing and technology manager with 15 years experience in ecommerce and SEO. After 10 years agency-side, Adam moved into the cybersecurity industry, serving as SEO & SEM Manager for ComodoSSLStore. When he’s not digging in Google Analytics, creating content, or writing code, you’re likely to find Adam enjoying the outdoors near his home in sunny Florida.