7 SEO Tips for Your E-commerce Site
Any business that makes money through its website has to make SEO a priority.
Showing up in the search engines when someone’s looking for what you sell is quite simply one of the best ways to make sure customers can find you.
But those spots on page one for popular e-commerce search terms are competitive. It takes some real work and know-how to make your website one of the ones in the running for those top spots.
Here are seven things you should be doing to improve your e-commerce website’s SEO so you start reaching more of your customers.
1. Do keyword and topic research.
Keyword research is an important step in any SEO plan because it’s one of the best ways to learn what your customers are thinking about. If you base your SEO efforts around assumptions of what people are searching for, then you could end up putting a lot of effort into trying to rank for the wrong things. Keyword research shows you what people are actually looking for on the web, both in terms of the specific phrasing they use and the kind of topics they’re concerned about.
There are a number of tools that can help you in this step. The top of the list is Google’s Keyword Tool, which pulls directly from Google’s data on what search terms people use with the most frequency. While the information provided is geared toward people using Google AdWords for pay-per-click advertising, it’s also useful for people planning their strategy for SEO.
You can put in a list of keywords related to your business that you’ve brainstormed and get an even larger list of related terms back from the tool. And you can input keywords you’re interested in to see how they compare in terms of traffic and competition levels.
There are also a number of paid tools you can use to get even more detailed keyword information and help you organize the keywords and topic ideas you come up with in your research, such as the Moz Keyword Explorer and SEMRush.
And it’s smart to devote part of your time during this step going directly to the source. Do customer surveys to find out questions and interests your audience has and the language they use to describe them, and talk to your customer service department to get a good list of the most common questions and comments they hear from your customers.
Your keyword research should form the strategy of your SEO plan, but to be clear here, that doesn’t mean doing a lot of keyword stuffing. That’s an old-school SEO tactic that can hurt you now, and Google’s recent move toward Latent Semantic Indexing means that they’re better at recognizing what webpages and content are about based on context clues. So you don’t need to use the same term five times on your page to get the point across, but knowing the best terminology to use is still valuable.
2. Always use on-site optimization.
This is luckily one of the easiest parts of SEO. For every page on your website, you have a number of spots in the html you can optimize based on the terms you’re aiming to link for:
- URL – The URL of the page should reflect the content on the page and to include the keyword you most want to rank for. As an example, if you have a page that’s focused on organic pet food, your URL could be something like www.companyname.com/organic-pet-food.
- Title – Your title tags should always be used to clearly communicate what’s on the page and incorporate your chosen keyword. That’s good for your readers and your SEO.
- Headings – Using headings in your content is a good way to make your content more structured and readable. It also gives you additional opportunities to incorporate relevant keywords. Make use of those <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> tags.
- Image alt tags – For every image you include on your website, you can add an image alt tag which gives you one more place in the page’s html to signal what the page is about to the search engines.
- Image titles – Before loading an image to your website, take a minute to give it a name that uses your target keyword.
- Meta description – Your meta description won’t influence how well your website ranks, but it will show up in the search results page, giving you a chance to use the teaser text to convince searchers to click.
Surprisingly, not all websites bother with this part, so it’s an easy way to get a little bit of ahead of any competitors falling down on the job.
3. Make sure your site structure is intuitive.
Your site architecture is how your website is organized. A simple website (left) may have a menu with five main categories, and a few pages included under each category. An e-commerce site (right) with a lot of different products may have hundreds of categories and subcategories and thousands of product pages.
So you don’t want a product page to be grouped inside a category that’s a subcategory of a subcategory of a subcategory – you want to keep it simpler than that. Ideally, you plan out your site structure in advance, but if you missed the boat on that, take some time now to sit down and work out the main categories present on your website now so you can start organizing the pages you already have better and have a structure defined for the ones you’ll add in the future.
4. Provide detailed information on your product pages.
Product pages that only have a product’s name or just a line of description don’t give you much chance to signal to the search engines what the product is or what it’s about. On a related note, it doesn’t tell your potential customer much about what makes the product worth buying.
Take some time to craft descriptions of your products that provide more information to readers and search engines on what the product is and the types of features and uses it has. This gives you a chance to let the search engine algorithms know more relevant terms to associate with the page (although you still want to be careful here not to keyword stuff!), while also providing useful information to your prospects.
Here’s a great example from L.L. Bean:
5. Create relevant, high-quality content.
All that research you did back in step one wasn’t just good for figuring out which keywords to focus your main website pages on, it will also form the foundation of a good content strategy. Content has a hugely important role to play in SEO for a couple of main reasons:
- Publishing fresh content lets the search engines know your website is current and up-to-date – Google doesn’t want to rank some old site that no one’s updated since 2011 that could be full of outdated information.
- It gives you the chance to start targeting a high number of long-tail keywords. These are easier to rank for and the more you start to rank for long-tail keywords, the stronger your website authority will be in the eyes of Google, helping you to over time rank more for more general, competitive terms.
This part of SEO is hard and requires time, money, and planning. But without it, you’ll have a hard time getting very far. Start working on a content strategy for your brand that answers the questions your audience has and incorporates the keywords you compiled in your research. Make sure the content you create is high quality and provides information that’s useful to your audience. If the content isn’t something your audience would want to read or view, then it won’t do its job.
6. Promote your content.
You have to create content to be competitive in the search engines these days, but unfortunately, so many other brands are already doing so that just creating great content isn’t enough. You also need to do the work to get your content in front of people. That means promoting it on social media, sending it to your email list, and may even mean paying for ads that get it in front of people.
This part is especially important if you’re in the early stages of your content program. You’re competing with brands that already have traction in the space that you don’t have, so you need to put extra effort into getting those first followers who like and share your content. If you have patience and put in the work, you’ll likely see those numbers grow exponentially over time.
7. Build links.
Not that everything else on this list is easy, but this step might be the hardest part of doing SEO. You can control what goes on your own website, but it’s harder to convince other websites to change what’s on their site for your benefit – and that’s what you need to really demonstrate your authority to Google. Having other high-quality, relevant websites include links back to your website on their own site is hands down one of the biggest factors in how Google decides who to rank.
While this is a big topic with a lot of different tactics you can try, there are a few good strategies to start with:
- Guest posting – If you create content for another website for free, you’re providing them with value, which may make it worth it for them to let you include a link back your website. Look for websites in your industry that have big followings and accept guest posts and start pitching.
- PR pitches – PR people have been doing this kind of things for years, while not always with the focus on a link. Look for journalists or writers who write about topics that relate to your product or content you’ve created and pitch them on a topic that’s a good fit for their audience that also relates back to your brand. You’ve got to be thoughtful in what you pitch to who for this to work, but it can get results.
- Look for name mentions without links – Look for examples around the web where your brand or product is mentioned without a link included and reach out to the webmaster to ask them to add one.
- Look for bad links – If you can find broken links that used to point to content or products similar to yours, you may be able to convince the webmaster to update their website with your link instead.
Link building takes some time and leaves a lot up to chance, but the links you manage to get can do a lot to improve your website’s authority and increase your rankings.
SEO and Your E-commerce Site
SEO isn’t easy, but for e-commerce websites that live and die based on how accessible they are to potential customers, every little bit you can do to help people find you will make a difference to the sales and revenue you achieve each year.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.