To put the sheer volume of money that e-commerce brings in into perspective, one recent report showed that it made as much as $2.3 trillion in 2017, along with representing 10% of all retail sales and being expected to grow by as much as 15% this year. It’s also important to mention that the titans of e-commerce like Amazon may have a substantial share of the take, but there’s also plenty of room out there for smaller e-commerce companies to succeed. However, there is still plenty of competition among those smaller companies.
The same as with any business website, whether you win or lose the struggle for customers has a lot to do with search engine results. Data from Saleshub shows that almost 39% of all global e-commerce traffic stems from SEO in some way (35% organic search, 4% paid search). However, putting together SEO for e-commerce can be a different animal than using a basic business website. Here are some of the considerations you need to make.
Choosing Your Keywords
Like any other SEO strategy, one of the first things you need to do when working on your e-commerce website is have a strong selection of keywords to build around. However, one of the major differences between e-commerce websites and a traditional business website is the number of pages you may have to work with. Your average business website may have anywhere from 5-20 pages, while an e-commerce website can have hundreds or even thousands to work with. It may be daunting to try and do this piece-by-piece, so we’re going to focus on dividing the work of keyword research into 3 main parts.
- Keyword research for your home page.
- Keyword research for your category pages.
- Keyword research for your product pages.
The good news about this is while all three of these sets will require different types of keywords, you can look for them all in the same way. Using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs, start analyzing the websites of some of the competitors in your niche to try and see what they are ranking for on their website. The key here is essentially to make sure you don’t waste your time later in the SEO process. For example, something general like “coffee filters” is probably to be taken up by a major retailer, and is impossible to compete for. However, something like “all-natural coffee filters in Toronto” is a lot more specific, and you have a better chance of ranking for it.
All-natural coffee filters in Toronto is an example of a long-tail keyword, and these are going to be the backbone of your keyword selection for much of your e-commerce website. This is because it’s not only easier to rank for these, but these do a much better job of answering specific questions a consumer may have when they enter a query into a search engine. For your homepage, if you are a local business, you may want to add your location to some of the keywords you are looking to rank for. The same applies to category pages, but it’s when talking about product pages that this approach to SEO really shines.
Creating Effective Product Pages
When it comes to e-commerce, many experts in the field suggest that it’s important to stick to the basics, and this starts with optimized product pages. Unlike a business website that may put together a lot of text on a topic, people don’t respond well to overly wordy product descriptions. This is because a long product description doesn’t jive well with the searcher intent of a person that is looking to try and make a purchase. A person ready to buy just needs to hear a few key details then buy—not hear a long story about the product.
This situation puts SEO professionals in a bind. How can you get enough keywords on the pages to rank on searches if text space is at a premium? The key is to make sure that you are optimizing the page in all the areas that aren’t page text, but still matter. These include:
- Unique metadata that implements your keyword
- Alt tags on your images
- An understandable URL that uses your keyword, if possible
One special thing you can do for your product description pages is implement schema markup. This is similar to a rich snippet in that it allows you to add various data that you want to display onto the Google search listing for any particular product page. This has the twofold benefit of being another place to add keywords as well as a way to get useful information to your customer, like price, brand-name, and images.
There is also a secondary type of schema markup called review schema markup that allows you to display reviews and ratings in the search as well. This is extremely valuable for your ranking because online reviews are something that the majority of customers look at before deciding to make a purchase or not.
We should also take this time to address that there are also some basic SEO concerns you need to look at to make sure your pages are actually ranking. If you are in the process of auditing or upgrading your SEO, you also want to dedicate some time to make sure that your pages are actually crawlable by Google, or else they won’t appear in a search result. In general, this is caused by user error, like pages accidentally getting blocked by robots.txt or links embedded in Flash, Java, and other plugins.
Creating Effective Supplementary Content
So, at this point, you’ve managed to choose a set of keywords to try and rank for, and have optimized your product description pages. However, there’s one major step you still need to implement: content marketing. Statistics show that 70% of people prefer to get their information about a company from an article rather than an advertisement. In addition, using content like blogs, infographics, and whitepapers allows you to catch a whole new set of customers. Remember what we said before about searcher intent? In some cases, buyers want to learn more about a field of products before buying, like in technology for example. If someone buys a smartphone, they want to not just know about each phone’s specs, but the different features on hand and what may be a better match for their lifestyle.
The problem is that all these facts don’t fit in a normal product description. The solution is creating supplementary content on your e-commerce website that can handle these issues. There are several routes you can go here. For example, you can do traditional blog posts explaining different developments in your niche, as most websites do. You can also do a roundup of different products on your website and compare some of their features. This is useful because it also helps build a network of internal links within your website. The key here is to make sure that your keyword profile for this content is different than your product description pages.
“All-natural coffee filters in Toronto” is something that is really intended for people looking to make an action, not learn about something. With your content marketing, you want to focus more on informational keywords, like “best coffee filters in Toronto.” This subtle difference will put your content in front of the right audience.
With an effective combination of optimized product pages and strong supplementary content, you can essentially “double-down” on potential customers to get conversions from. People who are ready to make a purchase and need to make a decision now will be drawn to your product description pages, while those who want to learn more about products and a niche can go to some of your blogs or other content and make a conversion from there.
Creating a proper e-commerce SEO strategy, in summation, requires you to juggle several different elements. The key things you should be working on are:
- Choosing a mix of keywords and long-tail keywords that match searcher intent.
- Optimizing your product pages with keywords, metadata, and effective images.
- Using other forms of content (videos, content marketing) to attract different types of customer and bolster your SEO profile.
However, because of the volume of pages that need this attention, it may not be feasible for e-commerce website owners to go it alone. This is why it may make sense to recruit an e-commerce consultant to either help you come up with a gameplan or do some of the legwork of optimization after your plan is already in place.
About the Author
With over 10 years of experience helping hundreds of businesses succeed online, Paul Teitelman is one of the most respected and top ranking SEO consultants in Toronto & across Canada. He is a passionate SEO expert that works directly with clients and offers custom white-labeled services to search marketing and digital advertising agencies in Canada and the United States. Add Paul on LinkedIn or check out his SEO blog for more great tips.