Solid Suggestions & Best Practices For SEO On E-Commerce Websites
A lot of the common SEO practices are used (or tweaked a bit) but there are also some things that you REALLY need to focus on when trying to rank an e-commerce website. When doing SEO for a regular website you might be targeting one or two keywords per page, but e-commerce SEO is a different animal. You will be targeting pages that feature multiple items (and several versions of each) as well as individual product pages.
I will often see retail clients that have this huge website filled with hundreds and thousands of products but they miss out on the smallest optimization pieces that hurt them big time. Everyone stresses onsite optimization.. well with e-commerce if you neglect the onsite then all of your offsite is worthless. All the authority links in the world aren’t going to help if your onsite isn’t optimized for every single product you sell!
This is aimed at more of a beginner e-commerce level to get your juices flowing.. if there is enough interest I can do a post in the future with a bit more advanced e-commerce strategies.. as always just let me know if this interests you guys.
1. Use Descriptive (Long Tail) Anchors
When doing regular SEO the term “anchor diversity” comes into play a lot.. and what we mean is mixing in anchors like “this website”.. ”click here”.. ”here”.. ”more info”.. when doing e-commerce SEO you want to mix it up, but with descriptive long tail variations. #4 below gives you some examples and dives into this a bit more.. but you don’t need to worry about anchor variation the same way you do with say ranking a blog.
You don’t want to use the same anchor over and over because that will cause the normal problems.. but think about it.. linking to a product naturally is going to contain a lot of description. If a fashion website was linking to a yellow spring dress they aren’t going to link “click here”.. they are going to link to an anchor that says something like “this beautiful yellow spring dress”.. you just have to take some time to really see how the real websites in your industry are linking out naturally and mimic them.
2. Use URL’s That Make SEO Sense
Everyone talks about SEO friendly URL’s.. that is why blog posts should include the post title and not random gibberish. This allows the search engines to crawl/read them. It’s funny that common sense is thrown out the window when it comes to e-commerce URL’s.
Check out some sites and you will see crap like:
This is a complete mess and doesn’t do anything to help the SEO. Something cleaner and more SEO friendly would be:
Not only are they better for SEO but the people that visit your site will appreciate URL structures that they understand just by looking at them. If someone feels confused at any time they will leave. Something this simple can help keep someone on the site longer.
E-commerce is a huge business. People are shopping online and spending heaps of money.. but that doesn’t mean they will automatically buy from you. URL’s like the example above make sense to a set of human eyes and the search engines will actually index them faster if they are done this way.
3. Have Professional Copy Written For Product Descriptions
Do not just copy descriptions from the manufacturers website. Down in #7 below I go over duplicate content.. but that is not the only reason you need to get them written by a pro. Your descriptions are what sell your products.
Look at the biggest SEO or any niche blog.. the top blogs.. they ALL have professional writers. Why? Because their content HAS to be great to keep all those people on their blog and coming back for more. If they just tossed up crappy content that was $5 per post their traffic would dry up and their advertising revenue would stop. All they would be left with is a dead blog.
If you do everything right and get visitors on your site but the product descriptions read like crap you aren’t going to get any sales. Visit the top e-commerce websites in your niche and read their descriptions. Think they paid a few dollars for each one? Not a chance. They probably spend several thousands of dollars. I’m not saying you need to do that obviously.. but if you are going to write them make sure to spend some time doing it right.. and if you do higher someone make sure they know what they are doing. Product descriptions aren’t a job for a traditional article writer.
4. Pick The Right Keywords
Your keyword strategy is going to be much more detailed when you are picking your keywords for an e-commerce website. Imagine if you had a general niche website.. you could target a wide range of keywords and pull in traffic that was interested in what your blog is about. If you have an e-commerce site and you are selling specific products you have to target only traffic that wants what you are selling.. not something similar.
Imagine if you have a website that sells blue balls. Only blue balls. No other color. You can’t target “balls” or “yellow balls” or “buy balls”.. every single keyword you go after has to be about blue balls. Even if you can rank other colors it is useless because the traffic will not convert.
You just have to get in the right frame of mind and think like the person searching for whatever items you are selling. Sticking with the example here are some possible keywords:
Buy blue balls
Buy blue balls online
Cheap blue balls online
Cheap blue balls website
Specials on blue balls
Discounted blue balls
…you get the idea. Your keywords need to be very specific to the product you are selling.. right down to the color, model number or size. Imagine if you were doing keyword research for a dress. You would want to be specific and include the designer, the color, and the size. Take time and come up with very specific keywords to go after.
5. Optimize Every Single Product Image
What else sells e-commerce products beside the descriptions? THE PICTURES! Most e-commerce websites will feature multiple images for every single products. Different angles.. highlighting features.. etc. Not only should you be using professional images but you also need to optimize every single image. If you have a lot of images it is very easy to get lazy and just bulk upload them all without optimizing them. Don’t do this. You miss out on all the image search traffic!
Every image should have an alt image tag that uses different long tail descriptions for each image. Think about how many people search for products online using Google’s image search. A lot! If someone is looking for a yellow sun dress and they pull up Google’s image search and type in “womens yellow sun dress size large” and your image (that is perfectly optimized and professional) shows up they are going to click on it and be taken to your website.. where they can then purchase the item.
Think about some of the largest e-commerce websites that are out there.. the ones that have 100,000 products and 10 images for each. That is 1 million images. Now think about how much traffic they can pull in just by properly optimizing their images.. now you begin to see the bigger picture. Don’t be lazy.. you will be leaving a lot of money and traffic on the table if you get lazy.
6. Constantly Run Broken Link Checks
Because e-commerce websites have so many individual product pages it is possible that you will have a broken link here and there. While a 404 page isn’t going to hurt your SEO if you set it up correctly they can hurt your bounce rate and push potential customers off your websites.
If you have a smaller e-commerce website there are some WP plugins that will monitor for broken links. If you have a huge e-commerce site with thousands of pages you might want to look into running a screaming frog report every couple of months to make sure everything is fine. Imagine if you discover that you have a couple dozen broken product links? That is lost money!
7. Watch Out For Duplicate Content Penalties
Most people reading this have some SEO knowledge and understand that duplicate content can ruin your day. Scraper sites that steal content will often get hit with a penalty and websites that copy content that has already been indexed can get nailed.
A lot of e-commerce websites have a ton of duplicate content that they have written themselves and it occurs several times on their site. There are three main reasons this happens:
A) They have several of the same products.. just different sizes and colors.. so they use the same exact description for every one and this gets them in trouble down the road. You HAVE to write a unique description for every product.. even if it is the same, just a different color or size.
B) The second problem occurs when one page contains all of the products in a specific category (with full descriptions) and then each product then has its own separate page and the same description is displayed. One solution is to write your long detailed descriptions for the dedicated page of each product and then write a unique “summary” description for the larger pages with all products under every category.
C) The e-commerce website owner uses the manufacture description on their site. Google has already indexed it on the manufacturers site so that creates a problem. Also, a lot of low quality websites will scrape the descriptions from the manufacturer sites and the same content will appear on hundreds of sites.
Most e-commerce websites have no idea that they are making this mistake until their traffic stops and they get the dreaded message in webmaster tools.
8. Make Sure Navigation Makes Sense (User & Google)
User experience is part of SEO. You can argue with me and say that it doesn’t impact rankings but Google is putting a lot of weight on user experience. If they didn’t care about that they wouldn’t be releasing the new update on April 21st that will basically cripple any site in the mobile search results that doesn’t have a nice responsive site that provides a good experience on phones.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see more user experience based updates roll out in the future so make sure your site is easy to navigate on all devices. Now take Google out of the picture and lets just talk about your site visitors. If they can’t easily find the categories or products that they went there to buy what are they going to do? They will click the back button and go to the next option. You have to test your navigation. Have friends and family run through it. Give them tasks and see how long it takes them to find random products on your site. If it takes them long imagine how long it will take a complete stranger that is visiting your site for the first time.
Run some speed tests too. If a page takes more then 2 seconds to load you are going to have problems. Hosting is usually to blame for slow e-commerce sites. 99 cent hosting or cheap reseller hosting isn’t the best option. If you are short on money try a CDN set up and then when you have the money get a dedicated server.
9. Master Google Analytics (Traffic Path)
A lot of people just use Google Analytics to check visits, session time and where the visits come from. There is a lot of data in Google Analytics if you want to dive in. Traffic path is huge and can tell you a lot about the layout and flow of an e-commerce site.
Set up conversion goals and then look at the path. Did they first go to the category and find the individual product there before making a purchase? Or did they go directly to the product page and buy? Use this info to determine where to spend your time and money. E-commerce SEO has so many parts.. so many terms.. so many pages.. so you have to prioritize your time and resources.
So if you see that 90% of all sales are going directly to the product pages from search then you should push all of your SEO effort towards improving your product pages.. and not as much into the category pages. Use the data that Google gives you.. we all hate the Big G but there are some really good ways to use their data.. like this example.
10. Look At PPC Ads When Doing Keyword Research
Already touched on keywords a bit above but I want to go over another really good way to pick keywords that bring buyers. Large retail companies spend millions of dollars on PPC. They get the best results because they are able to #1 pay for the top positions and #2 they know what keywords work because of all their data and testing.
Spend some time on Google to pull up PPC ads. Search random keywords related to whatever you are selling. Then look at the top ads.. look at the ads from major retailers. Now look at their PPC ad titles and copy. There is a good chance they are filled with variations and long tails that you can target as well. At the VERY LEAST this is a good way to get a handful of additional long tails keywords to toss into the mix for diversity.
As I mentioned in the beginning this is just the beginning of e-commerce SEO.. after a few people requested a little intro I wanted to highlight some of the basics to get your feet wet. If this is a topic that a lot of you are interested in make sure to let me know and I’ll see about putting together a second part with some more advanced information! Or of course if there is another SEO related topic you want to see a post about let me know too. I’m willing to talk about almost any topic if it means helping a few folks out.
Any additional points or feedback from you E-Commerce guys are greatly welcomed.. As always I hope you enjoyed the read. Until next time..