eCommerce SEO Best Practices
Cat massage combs, thumb pianos, bike desks, temporary tattoos, LED lightsaber chopsticks—you can buy nearly anything online, but the reason that eCommerce is becoming an enduring feature of global business may be that what digital shoppers are really purchasing is convenience. Ecommerce gives you the option of tapping an app and watching your order arrive the next day rather than battling through traffic and jostling inside a store only to discover that they’ve sold out of the Bob Ross Chia Pet you were looking for. No wonder worldwide eCommerce is expected to top $27.15 trillion by 2027, or that entrepreneurs have launched over 12–24 million eCommerce sites—a figure that’s only forecasted to grow in the coming years.
But here’s an inconvenient truth (for online merchants): Anyone with an eCommerce account is now jostling with 12–24 million competitors for VIP placement in the search rankings. Amazon and Alibaba don’t have to fret about how their customers will find them, but unless you’ve built a ubiquitous multibillion-dollar business with ironclad brand awareness, you need to implement SEO marketing best practices to lure users into your sales funnel. Granted, you can pay your way to the top of the search results, but paid media can get costly, and anyone with deeper pockets can outbid you. Plus, according to data from 2019, 41% of site traffic comes from organic search. So here are some tips on how to send the right signals to search engines that’ll get your eCommerce platform noticed.
Know Your User
As you identify your target audience, keep in mind that they could live anywhere. Today China has about 792.5 million online shoppers (or about one-third of all digital buyers). The US ranks second in annual online sales, but oceans of money are also pouring through eCommerce markets in Japan, Russia, France, and Brazil, to name a few, and you can position products and services to attract customers in those countries. Premium shapewear, Zoom piano lessons, tickets for cruises down the Rhine, education courses (ESL, or Mandarin as a second language)—if you’ve got these goods, anyone from Patagonia to Paris might be clicking onto your site. Your first order of business is to track which regions of the world your audience is coming from.
If the clientele that you’re attracting is primarily Spanish, consider adding some Castellano into your web copy. Or listing prices in Euros. Or measurements in metric. Your goal here is to make your site clear and intuitive for your users—whoever (and wherever) they are—to lower your bounce rate. Never forget how important that metric is: A low bounce rate tells search engines that people are lingering on your site because it’s useful for them. In turn, those search engines should reward you with higher SERP rankings, which means you’ve got a shot at your users taking the time to leave you a review. And on that note …
You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve spent 100+ hours a week for years launching your business—courting investors, assembling a team, absorbing criticism and fine-tuning your operations. And now you’re supposed to open yourself up to the legendary vituperation of the public, who may unload on you because of a five-minute delay or an undercooked burger?
We get it—online reviews can be brutal. But a company without a review is like a dating profile without a headshot: Weird. People trust reviews, so much so that 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, and people are likely to spend much more on companies with “excellent reviews.” Negative reviews are just as persuasive. According to some studies, 87% of shoppers won’t consider spending their money at a business with 1- or 2-star ratings.
So ask your customers (as well as your employees) to leave you a review, and shell out some money to promote the best ones. Rest assured that someone out there will leave the occasional snitty comment. That’s okay. Respond to it. Demonstrate that you understand this person’s concerns and you appreciate their feedback. So long as you come across as down-to-earth and interested in finding a solution, you’ll generate organic PR buzz and encourage even more reviews, and here’s the kicker: In raving about you as “the best platform to find trending products,” customers are writing in long-tail keywords for you. Layers of reviews can potentially generate duplicate content—which Google will rap your knuckles for—but enough engagement with your site should also grab the search engines’ attention.
Unclutter Your URLs
By this point, you’re probably seeing a pattern: To optimize for search engines, make your content clear and uncomplicated. That rule applies to web copy, alt text, your site architecture (as we’ll find out), and, yes, your URLs. Write URLs with keywords that are describing what the page is about. Here’s an example of a bad URL for the page that you’re on now:
That URL will seem as opaque to a search engine as it does to you. Sure, “Jacob Tyler” and “blog” indicate what users will find on this page, but the string of numbers consign your content to the slush pile of uncrawlable web pages. Now look at the URL that we’re actually using for this blog:
See what we did there? We added in target keywords and separated them, kept the phrasing pithy, and wrote everything in lower-case—all of which adds up to an SEO-friendly URL. Find out whether the CMS that your site’s running on generates its own URLs (which usually look like impenetrable code), and if so, tinker with them until they’re readable and descriptive.
Optimize Your Pages
Think of your eCommerce site as the digital version of an in-store experience. A room in the mall with a pile of shoes dumped on the floor is probably not going to net as much revenue as a shop that invested in gleaming countertops and shelves with prices and descriptions next to each sneaker. Let’s say that you’re selling shoes online. Bring every single shoe into focus with some of these web strategies:
- Describe each one with long-tail, transactional keywords.
Add those keywords into each page’s URL, and into title tags and meta descriptions.
- Pair images—distinct, professional images, preferably with a few angles—with products, and rewrite the file name of those images to be as clear as the page’s URL. (As in, swap “IMG00934.jpg” for “Nike-Air-Max-Torch-4-Running-Shoes-Size-10.jpg.”)
- Upload instructional videos (if they’re helpful to users), and build out an FAQ section, which should help customers feel wooed and welcome. Resolving issues about return policies or shipping timeliness via product-specific answers or an email exchange with customers will make your site feel like a safe payment gateway rather than one of the many spammy portals clogging up the internet.
Final point: Loading time. While it may seem like an afterthought, the time it takes for a page to load has the power to clinch or ruin a purchase. Google ranks pages that load quickly higher up in the SERPs, but even if it didn’t, watching an endless still-thinking-about-it circle reach 99% before buffering out is tantamount to a shoe salesman going to the back to find Reeboks in your size and never returning. Your audience will lose patience and hop over to your competitors’ sites. So remove plugins, oversized images, cumbersome hero headers, or any other functionality that’s keeping your pages from loading at the brisk pace of everyone’s impatience.
Simplify Your Sitemap
Let’s wander back into that metaphorical in-store experience. Now imagine that it feels like a maze. Everything’s dim, you can’t find the checkout counter, you go through the door and you’re in the alley, you venture up an M. C. Escher staircase and bump your head against the bottom of the landing it’s connected to. Once you escape this labyrinth, you’re probably never coming back. Websites work the same way: If the architecture is too confusing, users will click around for a second (well, more like fifteen seconds) before jumping out and never returning. Similarly, if search bots can’t crawl a site with ease, they’ll downgrade its SEO.
The lesson here is to make your sitemap navigable. Your homepage should link to product categories, which should link to subcategories, which should link to the products themselves. Feel free to cut out any of those intermediary steps, if you can, but try to follow that category-subcategory-product linearity—as opposed to building a sitemap that resembles a shredded bead curtain, with grandchild pages dangling in all directions. Users should be able to access all the pages in your site with a maximum of three clicks. Any page that you reach after four clicks is known as a “deep page,” which search engines consider to be poor UX.
Structure your information hierarchy upon an edifice of internal links, but also link out to well-known sites, which helps you warm up to the glow of “authority” that search engines have already bestowed upon those other sites. Finally, run a site audit to make sure that none of your links are broken, which is kinda like the digital equivalent of letting a beam slip in your building. (Not great for business.)
Publish Content Regularly
You do recall the “12–24 million eCommerce sites” that we mentioned earlier, don’t you? Ponder that for a minute: Depending on the sector you’re in, you may be up against 23,999,999 competitors. (With the added stress that 89% of consumers are more likely to buy from only one of those competitors, Amazon—in many ways, the progenitor of eCommerce—than anybody else.) So how do you stand out? You take the same approach we’re taking—you produce homegrown content.
That content might be blogs, videos, podcasts, Instagram posts, email newsletters, or all of the above. Just make sure that, if you start it, you keep it going. Google tends to keep an eye on you for the first six months. Once you prove that you’re publishing consistently, you may drift up the search results. But to sustain that momentum, create work for two audiences—the robots that rank you, and the people who read you. The paradox about how you can’t get published unless you’re published applies in the digital age, as well: Search engines won’t boost you high enough in the SERPs unless people like your content, but you’ll never know if people like your content unless it’s high enough up the SERPs for them to find it.
One way to escape that figure-eight is to create high-quality work where you answer your users’ questions, create buyer guides, explain the value of the products that you’re selling—and do it on a set schedule. If you attract followers who look forward to hearing your thoughts, you may notice that your site is getting buoyed past your countless competitors.
Make the Checkout Process Easy
Perhaps the smallest yet most vital step in optimizing your eCommerce site is to ensure that the transaction process feels simple and secure. So when you design the checkout page, strip away the excess. Create a module where consumers can enter in their email and password to sign into their account, or give them the option of continuing on as a guest. Display their virtual cart with a picture of the item that they’re buying, plus a total cost (broken into an order value and a shipping fee), and two buttons—one that lets them edit their order, and one that lets them pay. Any extra functionality beyond that is most likely superfluous.
A/B test the checkout phase yourself to make sure that you can glide through it seamlessly, and add internal links that route customers to that FAQ section that we mentioned, or an email where they can reach you if their order goes haywire. Making it easier to buy from you will encourage more people to buy from you, which will nudge up your conversion rate and tell search engines that your site is useful—and, therefore, should be more visible.
Consult an Agency
If you’re selling a couple of thumb pianos and bike desks that live in your garage, you may just need a Shopify Lite account and a few Facebook announcements to make an extra buck on the side. But if you’re an online vendor who’s invested in premier eCommerce options, consider hiring an SEO agency like Jacob Tyler. We’ve been following Google’s webmaster guidelines for over 21 years by now, so we can advise you on SEO strategies tailored to your brand and adapt those strategies to the fluctuations in search engine algorithms. But here’s our parting advice: People crave convenience, and if your site saves them a commute and a wait in line, you’re well on your way to creating an optimized eCommerce presence.