Article first published April 2019, updated May 2021.
Table of Contents
To succeed at e-commerce, ranking higher than the competition on Google is essential. This is done through SEO.
Having an SEO strategy in place means more clicks, and that means more sales. But many don’t even know where to start or what SEO even means! 😱
This guide is for you if you’re:
- An e-commerce manager that wants to learn the basics of SEO.
- A small online retailer that wants to get more clicks and sales.
- A marketer that wants to find new ways to increase online traffic.
SEO has the highest ROI of any digital marketing activity, yet many simply don’t spend time on it. Or when they do, they do it wrong.
If you want to find out how to rank your commerce site higher than the competition, then read on.
When you’re finished with this post and want some further reading, check out our advanced SEO strategies guide.
This guide was significantly expanded from an earlier post about SEO for e-commerce, so get comfy.
What Is SEO and Why Does It Matter?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the catch-all term used to refer to activities which improve the ranking of your site in search engines, like Google, by using keywords on your site.
Google always aims to return the best results for users when they search for a term, so they don’t need to search again. You want your site to be the top answer for as many of these searches as you can.
There are many different tactics that can get you into that top spot, which we’ll explain in this post. First, a bit more about why SEO is so vital for e-commerce success.
Getting new customers is difficult, and often expensive. Making your site visible in search engines is the cheapest and easiest way to consistently gain new customers.
A report by Wunderman Thompson Commerce found that 48% of online shoppers start their purchase journey via search engines like Google.
Aside from getting customers visiting your site directly with a URL, organic search is your number 1 marketing strategy for getting more clicks and sales.
To make your site and product pages more SEO-friendly that could mean writing lengthy, detailed product descriptions, featuring striking photography with lots of product reviews to help customers make their decision.
Making sure you’re site’s design marries great user experience on all devices with enough content is crucial for SEO success too. So you’ll want a mobile responsive site.
Let’s say that your site sells pottery supplies, like WebSell retailer, The Ceramic Shop. Ranking highly for “pottery supplies” is therefore vital for the business.
There’s usually a few ads and maybe even some location-based results before you get to the organic listings. Most clicks will go to the organic results anyway, and almost all (around 89%) of the clicks will go to the results on the first page.
Using a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs we can see that “Pottery supplies” gets around 3,600 searches per month on average. The site in position 1 on Google gets 34% of that share of search traffic, so the site ranked #1 would get 1,224 clicks per month all because of their position on Google’s results page. Wow.
You can then look at your order/visit conversion rate and work out how many extra sales this is likely to give you. Whatever your findings, it’s clear that ranking highly for certain keywords is big business.
And remember, there are many different keywords and combinations of keywords that you can rank for, this is just one example. Your store might have hundreds or thousands of keywords which could all be valid targets.
We’ll look into how you can find these targets in detail shortly. But first…
Secure Your Site with HTTPS
There are still some retailers that don’t realize the importance of having a secured site. Take it from us, you NEED it.
You need to have a secure site because e-commerce stores collect lots of personal details from customers. It’s best practice, and kind of essential, to make sure all of this data is encrypted.
It’s also an SEO play. Google wants a fully secure internet, so they have told us there is a rankings boost for secured sites.
All sorted? Good, let’s get into it.
E-commerce Keyword Research
The first step in starting an e-commerce SEO campaign is doing some keyword research.
Without doing your research, you’ll be running in the dark. If you’ve no data to back up your plan, you’ll often use assumptions to craft your site’s content. Consequently, this leads to your site ranking for keywords that are simply too difficult to rank for or keywords that don’t drive much traffic.
Assumptions don’t work well with SEO. It’s much more scientific than that.
Each page on your site should be built around one keyword, and you should do this for every page on your site, from category to product pages. Make an inventory of every page on your site and leave a column free for the keyword you should target next to it (you can use a Google spreadsheet for this). Next, we’ll find those keywords.
Finding keywords for an e-commerce business should be focused around one central goal: finding buyer intent.
There are millions of blogs and sites out there that can answer questions in the product research stage, but you want to target keywords that have buyer intent behind them, that’s how you get more sales. Taking our earlier example, as opposed to “how to make pottery”, an e-commerce business wants to optimize for “pottery supplies”. There’s a big difference in intent between the two.
One sure-fire way to find these high buyer intent keywords is to use Amazon. People searching on Amazon are usually only there to do one thing, to buy.
1. Finding Keywords Through Amazon
To find keywords from Amazon, use the autofill suggestion feature to get ideas. Head over to Amazon and type in a keyword that describes one of your products. For instance, say you sell oil paint…
…Amazon’s autofill will give you suggestions. These suggestions will usually be very targeted (or long tail) keywords. Long tail keywords convert better than shorter ones as they usually have more buyer intent behind them.
Note down all your findings in your spreadsheet and repeat this for your most important products.
If you have thousands of products, then this can become a little tedious. Luckily, there’s a great free tool you can use called the Amazon Keyword Tool, which return lists of relevant keywords based on what you enter.
To use this tool enter your seed keyword into the search bar:
Just hit the search icon and you’ll get back a list of terms like this:
Just like that I now have 262 keywords with high buyer intent behind them that I can use to optimize each of my pages around.
I recommend repeating this for all your seed keywords (your main products).
Add the keywords to your list so you’re keeping track of all your research. You can also download your list as a CSV file directly from the tool. There’s a lot of nuance in understanding which keywords you should use as we start to look at deeper buyer intent, search volume, and anticipated difficulty in ranking for the given term.
Before that, it’s time to spy on the competition! 🕵️♀️
2. Getting Keywords from Your Competitors
If you’re an e-commerce business then you have competition that are taking actions to try and outrank you. So, you need to monitor what the competition is doing.
To do this type your keyword into Google:
And then pick a competitor. Picking the highest-ranking competitor is probably a good way to start getting winning ideas.
Visit the site and look at their category and product pages for keyword ideas that you can use for your site:
Note down the keywords for now.
You can also run their category pages through Ahrefs or SEMrush to see what keywords drives most of their site traffic. If you sort these keywords by volume, you can then see which of the top keywords could serve as the primary keyword for your page. However, you’ll need a paid subscription to make use of this tool-assisted analysis.
For now, note down the categories of a few of your top competitors and let’s look another easy way you can get keywords with some data to prove their value.
3. Using the Google Keyword Planner
When searching for your keyword on Google, you should hopefully be seeing other stores appear as opposed to blogs – this shows there is purchasing intent behind this keyword search. This tells you that your keyword’s traffic is valuable.
The Google Keyword Planner lets you find search volume and CPC (Cost-per-click) so you can see how popular a term is and how much it costs for a click for that keyword.
The Keyword Planner is a Google Ads tool so you’ll need an account there to start getting this data. You’re not going to get deep keyword ideas from the Keyword Planner, so it’s best used as a way to spot buyer intent around your keywords.
Here you can see how Google rates how competitive it would be to outrank your competition for a given keyword. You can also see what other brands are bidding per click to get to the top of search results pages.
Note that keywords can have big seasonal variations so searching keywords at different times might yield different results. If you’re selling seasonal products, pay particular attention to when you are searching.
4. Using SEO Tools
As I mentioned previously, there are a number of tools you can use to assist your keyword research. Three of the big tools that are widely used across the B2C and B2B space are Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Ubersuggest.
There are different reasons for why you might choose one tool as they all do slightly different things. If you’re looking to go in-depth on the competition, and the example we’ll go into detail on here, then SEMrush is your best option.
SEMrush isn’t typically used for generating new keywords based on your initial seed keyword. Instead you can use it to find the keywords that your competitors already rank for.
To do some keyword research with SEMrush, first enter one of your top competitors into the SEMrush search bar:
Then click on ‘Organic Research’ in the sidebar menu:
Under the ‘Top Organic Keywords’ section you can expand the section to show you all the organic keywords that your competitor ranks for. You should get a list that looks like this:
As you can see, this site ranks for over 39k keywords. You can repeat this process for all of your top competitors to get an idea of what they’re ranking for and what amount of monthly traffic each keyword is giving them.
Now you should have more than enough keywords to optimize your e-commerce store around. You may also have your own tried and trusted method of getting keyword ideas too which could be equally valid. You could use Wikipedia or another e-commerce marketplace like eBay to get ideas too.
Next we’ll look at one of the most crucial aspects of SEO from a technical perspective: Site Architecture.
E-commerce Site Architecture
Site architecture refers to how the pages on your site are organized and arranged. It’s important for SEO success as Google rewards sites that have clear and simple architecture with higher rankings.
More so than any other kind of website, e-commerce sites need to nail their architecture due to the large number of pages they have (categories, products, etc). Customers want an easy and logical shopping experience through a good online layout. This logical structure is also needed to help Google understand your site and present it effectively to would-be customers.
It should be intuitive and easy for customers to find products on your site. To ensure you’re doing this, there’s a short, but important, rule-book to follow.
There are Two Golden Rules of e-commerce site architecture (so we’ll put them in bold and make ’em big):
Rule #1: Make it simple and scalable
Rule #2: Every page should be three clicks (or fewer) from your homepage
Before we look at an example which uses those two rules, we’ll look at an example of architecture that breaks those rules.
Example of BAD E-commerce Site Architecture
This is poor site architecture as it takes 5 clicks to get to a category page. If you wanted to add new products or categories, it would be hidden deep in your site.
Therefore, this type of architecture breaks both rules. It takes much more than 3 clicks to get where you want to go and it’s not scalable, as your business and website should both be.
This type or architecture will also hurt your rankings significantly.
The most authoritative page on your site is your home page. This page passes authority to your category pages by linking directly to them. These category pages then pass authority to your product pages by linking to them.
This poor architecture is far too deep meaning by the time it gets to the first category page, there isn’t any authority to pass on to these pages as it’s all been diluted. This means lower rankings and less traffic.
Authority runs down from your home page. The less you dilute that authority, the more traffic you get. Here’s what your site should look like.
Example of GOOD E-commerce Site Architecture
If you want to get the most authority to the pages that make you money (your category and product pages), you need to look at your site architecture.
(By the way, WebSell webstores do this automatically so we have it taken care of. 😉)
This is what a good e-commerce site structure looks like:
With this architecture your home page is dishing out the authority in a logical and structured manner. No category is orphaned or forgotten, and every product page is no more than 3 clicks away.
Google likes this type of structure as it makes it very easy for the search engine to find and index every page. When a user now searches for a product online, Google can confidently suggest your site’s pages as the answer to what they’re looking for.
Now that your site architecture is sorted, let’s look at some on-page SEO strategies for e-commerce sites.
On-Page SEO for E-commerce Sites
On-page SEO is all about making sure your keywords are in the right places on your most important pages, namely your category and product pages. For e-commerce sites, these pages get the most traffic.
People landing on these pages usually have high buyer intent as they’ve likely searched for a specific product to land on your product or category page. Optimizing your on-page SEO can help you get more of that intent-rich traffic.
There are many different on-page SEO factors that can impact on your site’s rankings. Apparently, Google uses 200 different factors when ranking your site. We’re not going to go through all 200, but we’ll go through some of the top features your pages need to have to make sure they rank competitively.
On-Page SEO for E-commerce Brand, Department, and Category Pages
Your brand, department, and category pages are a little bit different to your product pages, so they have a slightly different strategy.
For e-commerce sites, this is where you can really play with keywords relevant to your business before you get to the specifics that product pages need. As a result, there’s a few different tactics you can do to maximize visibility:
1. Put your keyword in the title tag
The title tag is one of the most important signals that gets sent to Google from your site. Make sure your chosen keyword, identified in the previous step, appears early and prominently.
If it’s your home page and you have multiple keywords that you want to get traffic from, make sure all of those keywords appear naturally in a logical sentence. Keyword stuffing is frowned on by Google and can even get your site hit with a penalty.
Cork Arts Supplies is an example of a retailer with an optimized on-page SEO strategy. Searching for their business on Google, we see how their home page title tag contains keywords they want to rank for:
The keywords ‘high quality’ and ‘fine art materials’ are clearly a high priority for the business. So much so that they have the keywords appear before the name of the business in the title tag.
This is recommended as pages with the keywords closer to the start rank higher than those with keywords at the end. Front-loading your title tag sends a signal to Google that you’d like your site to appear on searches with those keywords in it.
To edit your title tag on your WebSell webstore for any page., open up your page editor and click Options > Edit Properties. The you’ll see a pop-up menu like this:
Your Page Title is where you put your keyword-rich description.
The second item you see there is the Meta Description, and it’s also an important factor in on-page SEO optimization…
2. Put your keyword in the meta description tag
While the importance of the meta description as a ranking factor is disputed, it definitely has a part to play.
A well-written meta description does improve click-through rate, which in turn improves rankings. When you put your keywords in the meta description, Google will bold it in search results:
You might get lucky with your meta description and have those keywords appear from your menus. A better practice would be to write a keyword-rich meta description that contains all the keywords you’d like to be highlighted in search results, like My Pet Warehouse have done.
In this search we were looking for pet food in Australia with free shipping, as someone might. All those keywords are then highlighted in the search result and Google deems as as a highly relevant page, which it is.
You have 160 characters to play with here, so make full use of it. A good meta description should have multiple words bolded in different Google searches, which will get your more click-throughs and better rankings.
3. Use your keyword in the H1 tag
Like your page title tag, your H1 tag should also contain keywords at the start of the title.
The H1 tag tells Google more about the content of your page, and while it’s also disputed, it’s still good practice to set your H1 tag to be relevant.
4. Use your keyword in your body copy
Each of your visible brand, department, and category pages should have a piece of written content to introduce the page and tell Google, and users, what it’s about. A lot of e-commerce category pages don’t have this content.
When writing content for these pages you should aim for 300+ words and have your keyword sprinkled into the content at least 3 times. This will ensure maximum coverage for your page and help Google tell users why they might want to click on this page.
5. Use your keyword in your image alt tags
Another piece of content that Google crawls for relevance is your image alt tags. As Google can’t read images, it relies on the alt text to tell it what it’s looking at.
Your alt tag text is therefore another place you can stick your keyword to try and improve your rankings.
On-Page SEO for E-commerce Product Pages
For your e-commerce product pages you want to follow the above steps broadly, but with some additions and edits. There’s 3 extra factors you need to look at when optimizing your product pages to get more traffic and sales:
1. Include at least 1000+ words on your top product pages
Studies have shown that longer content ranks higher in Google.
Google has been moving towards preferring longer content over shorter content for a while now, and it makes sense. The more content you can provide to describe your page, the more valuable that piece of content is for everyone.
It’s also more likely that a long piece of content will answer a search query better than a short piece.
As you can see from the graphic above, content with around 2,000 words tends to perform best. With your product reviews taking up a lot of the word count already, writing around 1,000 words for your product descriptions is recommended.
Now, writing 1,000 words for every product description would probably be impossible. That’s why you should focus on your top 10-15 product pages to start with.
Need help writing them? Here’s an excellent guide to writing effective product descriptions.
2. Use your keywords 3-5 times
When you’ve written your longer product description, you need to make sure your keyword appears enough times throughout the content. You should sprinkle your keywords in naturally 3-5 times throughout the description, ensuring it appears at least once in the first 100 words.
You don’t want to stuff the keyword in there, as an actual customer will be reading this to see if they want to purchase. All relevant keywords to this specific product need to be present to help them find your product page and then purchase.
3. Optimize your product title with keywords
You should clearly name the product you’re selling so Google can give you the most traffic for your product pages. When we search for products we often get specific and also search for color or size. You should include as much of this as you can.
It’s also a place where you can include your keywords. Google’s own best practice document on naming products says to use your keywords in your product name and to use up all your 150 characters.
You should also front-load your product title with the most important words first, as users will often only see the first 70 characters of your title.
4. Include keywords similar to your main keyword (LSI keywords)
Latent Semantic Keywords (LSI) are keywords or phrases similar to your keywords, like synonyms.
For example, let’s say you’re optimizing a category or product page around ‘waffle makers’. Words and phrases closely tied to this keyword would include:
- Waffle iron
- Browning control
- Stainless steel
- Deep pockets
- Temperature control
- Cleans quickly
This is your list of LSI keywords. Using all these keywords in your descriptions or key page content will start getting you more traffic.
How do you find these LSI keywords? Luckily for e-commerce retailers, there are many ways to get these keywords. One of the best ways is by going to the largest online collection of products, Amazon.
Head over to Amazon and search for your target keyword…
Here you can pick out some suitable LSI keywords with proven buyer intent for your product or category pages.
You can also click into one of the products for even more keywords…
You could also use Google search or any one of the many SEO tools that help you with keyword research.
Once you have your list of LSI keywords, fit them into your product description or category page content.
Including product reviews and eye-catching images are also important factors to consider on your product pages. According to a study by SEMrush, images and reviews were the top two factors for customers when making a purchase.
Local SEO for Online Retailers
If you’re a retailer with a physical store, then you can take advantage of some local SEO tactics to give you a boost.
I’ll cover two short topics that all brick-and-mortar businesses should put some time into:
1. Claim Your Google My Business Profile
Google has an awesome feature for physical retailers called Google My Business. This tool lets you register your business on Google’s database and it gives you a boost to rankings in your locality.
Neil Patel has a nice guide for setting up and making full use of your Google My Business profile, but basically it lets you:
- Manage and display important business info (opening times, etc.)
- Engage with customers and manage online reviews
- Get insights on how customers arrive on your site
Apparently, as high as 56% of local haven’t claimed their Google My Business Profile yet!
It’s also free, so claim your profile today and start building some local authority. If you want to go an extra step you could look into building local links…
2. Build Local Links
Local links are backlinks from other local websites. These could include local directories, newspapers, or local magazines.
Getting your free Yellow Pages listing would be an example.
Local links or citations are important for local SEO as it tells Google that you are popular in your local area. The more you are linked to by sites in your locality, the more local traffic you’ll get.
Consider reaching out to local publications or sites to see if there’s an opportunity to link to your site. Moz have created a useful guide you can follow for building local links and citations.
E-commerce Content Marketing
We love content marketing at WebSell. That’s why we’re writing this blog! By writing long pieces of content like this one, we’re doing our part in trying to get more organic visits.
E-commerce businesses can, and should, do this too.
Content is an easy way to get your store to rank for longer keyphrases and more instructional pieces of content. It’s a long-term play, but when it works, certainly pays off.
Your product and category page will typically only rank for specific keywords related to the product and your LSI words. By blogging, you can get traffic from searches like “how to use [product]” or “best [product] in 2021”.
It’s much easier to build backlinks to blog content you write as opposed to product pages. This will then raise your site’s domain authority and start winning you more traffic.
Think about it, where would someone want to link to in order to explain their point more? A product page that has one goal (making a sale), or a piece of content that explains more about the product or why it’s important in 2021.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a short blog we wrote about the importance of blogging for e-commerce sites.
Here’s a quick way to discover what you should write about on your blog:
1. Discover what your customers talk about
Finding out where your customers hang out online can give you some real insights into what they talk about. These days this is often social media with Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook probably being your best bet for finding out what drives them to engage.
You could go a bit deeper and really discover the niche among your customers.
If you’re selling art supplies, like many of our retailers do, you could try finding the relevant Reddit community discussing Art Supplies.
2. Learn what words and phrases they use
Now that you’ve found your audience you can see what they’re talking about and gather some insights.
You want to open up an article that looks relevant and scan it for keywords that you can use to create an informative and topical piece:
Here we can see a helpful guide about the essential tools needed for oil painting would be very helpful and answer this person’s long query. The post and the first comment also give us some great ideas for keywords people are talking about in this area and what products are currently trending among the community.
Each underlined keyword represents a different heading or idea to talk about within the blog post.
3. Write unique and lengthy content around the topic
Now that you have your research done and your topic set out, all you need to do now is write it.
You can use our guide to creating complete content when writing your blogs to ensure your posts will deliver traffic and rank well in Google.
Or, you can work with WebSell’s marketing to have our team of writers develop content for your site. Contact us to discuss what you want to achieve.
I hope you found this SEO guide valuable and you’ll use it to get more traffic for your online store.
What did you think about this guide and what’s your experience been with managing SEO for your business?
Let us know in the comments below!
Here’s some related articles if you want do an even deeper dive into your store’s SEO: