It’s often said that producing good quality content is half the battle when it comes to search-engine optimisation, which holds true for a lot of the time. But for e-commerce sites, which often have hundreds of product pages that aren’t necessarily shareable or particularly interesting since they contain a lot of dry information, SEO needs to get a lot more technical.
Search engines use algorithms, which are complex mathematical formulae, to determine which websites should place highest in rankings for certain queries. No-one outside the companies can make any more than an educated guess as to what makes up these algorithms, but the important thing is we know enough to keep scoring higher. Because the difference between ranking 1st and 3rd on a page of results can be as much as 20% of click-through rate, it’s important to learn what matters. Let’s take a look at some of the main issues of SEO for e-commerce…
Search engines rely greatly on keywords within text and other elements of the page to judge how relevant a website is to any given query. There’s a lot of ground to cover here so we’ll move fairly quickly.
When selecting the keywords to use for an e-commerce site it’s important to focus on relevancy, search volume and ranking difficulty. There are various keyword tools around to help with research, Moz has a good one for example. Bear in mind that if your keywords are too broad then you’ll likely see a high bounce rate, as visitors quickly realise they’ve come to the wrong site. And if you choose keywords that are in demand it will take much longer to get a high ranking. Learning which keywords your competitors use is a good tactic, but doesn’t necessarily mean you should copy them entirely.
When it comes to placement, avoid keyword stuffing like the plague. Keyword cannibalisation is also something to beware of - try to use just one keyword for each page. Keeping a spreadsheet guide is a useful trick.
Once you’ve selected the keyword for a set page, you need to scatter it in various locations strategically - in the page title, in image headings, in the page URL, and product descriptions.
- Maintaining a blog. Regularly adding fresh content to your site tells search engines it’s active, and it’s also fantastic for engaging with customers. But another advantage of keeping a blog is that each entry can contain long-tail keyword that might not fit into the main site content, but could help your site rank for more search queries.
A focus on usability is essential or the link with customers will be broken almost instantly, and they may never return. For instance, all pages must load quickly - 40% of visitors will abandon a site if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.
There are thousands of ways you can develop your e-commerce site to function better for both customers and staff, but here are some of the most commonly-applied:
Data-checking - Use tools to quickly spot and fix any broken links, missing images, and duplicate content. This is often a source of annoyance to customers who are used to reliable sources of information.
Navigation - The site should be easily-navigable, with intuitive search functions. The internal links used for this are also good for SEO purposes, but they should be used sparingly so as not to attract the ire of Google. And remember to use anchor text as naturally as possible.
Mobility - Today’s e-commerce site must be mobile-optimised to stand a chance of success. Consumers frequently use handheld devices only to shop now, and 61% of customers who visit a mobile-unfriendly site are likely to go to a competitor instead.
Checkouts - It’s difficult to overstate the importance of improving the checkout process, as this is where many customers will abandon their carts if it’s too complex. Keep the number of steps required to an absolute minimum, and clearly state delivery and returns information, especially any charges imposed.
Customer Service - With the rise of e-commerce, it became possible for people to shop 24/7/365, so having adequate customer service facilities available to deal with any questions or complaints quickly is necessary. Widgets allowing for live-chat with customer-service representatives are growing in popularity.
The role of social media in SEO
When it comes to SEO, search engines are looking for three values in websites:
One of the best ways to meet all three requirements is through smart use of social media.
People don’t normally share pages of products. They share imagery, reviews, videos. So creating unique content around individual products differentiates your site from competitors; it helps search engines know that your products are popular and that you know what you’re talking about on certain topics, and it also helps with brand engagement.
Building credible inbound links is a tried-and-tested way of boosting SEO, as it demonstrates your site is trustworthy. Again, sharing content and building a following on social media is good practice for this.
SEO is a never-ending process, but the techniques outlined above are a solid base for most e-commerce retailers to start from.