Building an e-commerce website? Don’t put the cart before the horse by building first and optimizing later. If you want to stand a chance of getting good traffic from organic searches in today’s complex and competitive search environment, you should think SEO right from the start and build a site that is firmly grounded in SEO best practices.
Here’s a short and sweet guide to help you navigate the way.
Phase#1: Select Head Terms and Long Tail Keywords
A list of targeted keywords is the first thing we need when building a website. It is crucial to select the combination of keywords that will not only drive you traffic but also good quality traffic…visits that will convert to sales. For this to happen, it is important to understand the difference between short-tail keywords (also called ‘head terms’) and long-tail keywords.
- Head terms are keywords that users most often use during organic searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. They are typically less than 26 characters in length and very competitive—a lot of other websites are also using them. Short-tail keywords can drive you much traffic, though much of that traffic may not convert to customers. Example: “cotton trousers”
- Long-tail keywords are the variations containing the head term along with a specific intent. For example, “buy cotton trousers in _____” or “buy black cotton trousers”. You can instinctively tell that a person who clicks through to your site using long-tail keywords is more likely to convert. But you don’t have to rely on hunches—studies prove that long-tail keywords account for a mind-blowing 93% of the queries that drive traffic to websites from Google’s page #1.
Why? Because after people search with a head term, they like to refine their searches by adding more words to the query, before they click on a particular result. So, in order to select the best combination of long-tail and short-tail keywords, you should proceed as follows:
- Start by looking at a head term in Google’s Keyword Planning tool and find relevant keyword ideas that have more than 4 words.
- For each head term, find related long-tail keywords to use in your page/meta titles, product/meta descriptions, and even blog posts that you’ll write in the future.
- Add many variations of the head term in each keyword bucket. Once you have built your buckets, refine your selection by using Google Autosuggest and Related Searches.
Phase #2: Design an SEO Friendly Site Architecture
After you know the long tail keywords to use on different product pages, the next step is to arrange the pages in the most intuitive hierarchy. The site architecture will dictate the user’s workflow and navigation on your website. Hence, the user experience directly depends on site architecture. If your visitors find it difficult or time-consuming to get to the content they want, they’ll leave your website. This doesn’t only hurt conversions, but also your SEO ranking.
- Remember, in no case should it take more than 3 clicks for the user to get to a product page from your homepage.
- Before you start designing (or modifying), pay attention to the keywords and pages that drive the most traffic and the top exit pages.
- If you are using dropdown menus, make sure you use HTML to design them. Otherwise, the search spiders will not be able to read your navigation.
- Use your head keyword terms in naming your category pages. Use them in your page title, header and the beginning of the content.
- If you are using filters to segregate products (e.g. by colour or size), you run the risk of creating duplicate pages that might hurt your SEO. The way to avoid duplication it is to use a # sign before your filter parameters. For example: amazon.com/shop/amazon-devices#?color=blue&price=$200&sort=newest. This tells the search spiders not to index anything after the # sign.
- Always use breadcrumbs. They don’t only keep your visitors from feeling lost, but are also indexed by Google and are great for your SEO.
Phase#3: Pay Attention to Technical SEO
If the word “technical” gives you the creeps, we at eMarket Experts – your Melbourne SEO experts are always happy to help. Technical SEO basically entails building a website with clean URLs, correct pagination and internal linking, canonicalization, and more. Here are the steps you’ll need to take Mark-Up
- Up Content with Schema: Use Schema Markup to highlight product name, price, images, description, URL, brand name, ratings and reviews. Doing so will make these elements visible to search spiders and will make them appear in the form of Rich Snippets on the search engine results page.
- Implement Clean URLs: Clean up URLs by swapping dynamic URLs with clean URLs and ditching the parameters. Use lowercase letters and dashes instead of uppercase and underscores or spaces.
- Switch to HTTPS: Switching to an HTTPS domain is good for your SEO ranking as Google will give you credit for a secure domain. Follow Google’s guidelines for migrating your site to an HTTPS domain.
- Design a Custom 404 Page: Regardless of how meticulous you are, it’s possible to have certain dead pages on your website that take the user to a dreaded 404 page. Experts recommend creating a custom 404 page to provide a better user experience. After all, modern SEO is all about user experience.
- Implement Proper Pagination: Pagination involves dividing your content into smaller sections by adding the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” tags. It is argued by some experts that infinite scrolling offers a better user experience than pagination. While that may be true, infinite scrolling will make your user wait for a long time until they can reach the footer on your page. This is bad if the footer contains important info or links to the top of the page. Therefore, you should aim to show a limited number of products (25-75 for desktop and 15-30 for mobile) followed by a “Load More” button.
- Canonicalize Product Pages: If you have many variations of the product pages (e.g. by attributes, such as size and color), you can have duplicate pages that confuse the search spiders about which one to index. To resolve this, add the rel=”canonical” tag to the main product page that you want search engines to index.
- Implement Internal Linking: Cross link your top pages in a way that makes it easy for people to move between sections of content on your website. Be careful not to overuse keywords in hypertext, but do use them where they fit in naturally.
- Create and Submit a Sitemap: Ecommerce websites usually have a large number of pages, so they need to create an XML sitemap. A single XML map can contain up to 50,000 pages, which should be more than enough for most websites. It is better to break down the sitemap into different sections like products only, categories only, blog, contact pages, etc. After you create the sitemap, go to your Google Search Console and follow these steps.
- Optimize for Mobile: With more than 60% of traffic now coming to websites from mobile devices, you should’ve made your site responsive and adaptive last year. But in case you still haven’t, now would be the time. Think mobile-first when you are designing your website. Place your CTA buttons above the fold, use light-weight images, implement dynamic serving, and check with Google if your site is mobile friendly or not.
Optimize On Page Elements
The on-page elements have always been important, and they still are. These include your meta titles, descriptions, headlines, body copy, images, video, internal links, and social media share buttons. Follow these suggestions:
- Keep your meta titles around 60 characters or less. In addition to the keywords from your research, also use persuasive words in your meta titles, such as click, learn, try, shop, free, etc…
- The meta descriptions should be around 155 characters and should be aimed at making the user click. Use persuasive copy writing that answers questions an creates excitement and interest.
- Write 1000+ words of body copy. This may include a 50-100 word product description, technical specs, key features and benefits, customer reviews, FAQs, etc.
- Do not stuff your content with keywords. Instead, just use 3-5 keywords to optimize any particular page.
- Link product pages internally through breadcrumbs, related products, related categories, people also bought sections.
- The best practice is to have social media sharing buttons on your product pages. However, you should make the social sharing buttons less prominent so that they don’t interfere with conversions.
- High quality product images help in conversions, but a great image is nothing to search engines unless it has an Alt tag. Always use keyword rich image filename and ALT tag to describe to search engines what the images on your page are about.
- Different studies have indicated consumers are more likely to buy a product after watching a product video. If you decide to have videos on your product pages, make sure they’re short and sweet…under one minute for most products.
So, now you know what ecommerce SEO is all about. Even if you decide not to handle every step in the guide by yourself, you can make sure the people you hire are taking you in the right direction. Feel free to ask us anything in your comments.