Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most misunderstand marketing concepts in e-commerce. Retailers commonly struggle to make sense of the countless nuances, applications, standards and practices of this content marketing initiative. While it may seem confusing, there’s a method to the madness.
A Search Engine Land publication drives this point home in an article entitled: “4 Things Most Leaders Don’t Understand About SEO.”
The article emphasizes: “In an online business environment that’s heavily dependent on organic search, the lack of an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is detrimental to your growth and profitability.”
E-commerce SEO should be viewed as a long term content marketing strategy that’s an “add-on” and not a “build-in,” explains Search Engine Land columnist, Trond Lyngbø. Furthermore, SEO can’t be a substitute for a lousy product—nor can some fancy plugin ever be a replacement for an experienced SEO marketer with a finely tuned saturation strategy.
Powering an effective e-commerce SEO strategy is one special type of rocket fuel: Data. And lots of it.
What SEO methods and content marketing strategies are the top online retailers using to dominate organic search engine results? I aimed to find out.
I had a chance to interview leading SEO expert Brian Honigman, who let me tap into a groundbreaking E-commerce SEO Research Study that was created by Digital Current, to gain some insight.
Here’s what the leading e-tailers are doing to dominate today’s natural search engine rankings, and why your brand would be wise to follow suit.
Major Brands Ignoring Selling Power of Alexa, Google Home
As the e-commerce industry adapts to an ever-changing technology gambit, retailers need to contend, adjust and modify their strategy for success. The newest revenue streams include Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, and Google Home. According to Business Insider, these voice-commanded units have the propensity to drive more than $11 billion in new sales by 2020.
“92% of the top-50 leading brands don't have an Alexa Skill developed and 86% of these brands don't have a Google Action developed,” Honigman explains.
But why should online retailers be forging an Alexa and Google Home strategy?
"Given that the usage of voice search is rising significantly, it's surprising how few brands have taken the time to create a custom integration with the leading voice assistant platforms,” says Honigman. “This is an amazing opportunity to get ahead of the top brands and make a useful Google Action or Alexa Skill before these platforms get crowded. There's certainly a first mover advantage here that many businesses could test out ahead of the pack."
The above-mentioned Business Insider report also finds that 10% of Alexa users are ordering most of the time, with 16% ordering some of the time – representing a market spread of 26% of users that have the potential to drive increased revenue when retailers optimize their strategy for these devices.
Social Media Feeds Quality Back Links
Back links are an essential component to any successful SEO strategy. But not all retailers are viewing social media as the spawning pool for a white hat back linking strategy.
According to Honigman, “79% of the top e-commerce brands generated more links to content when it was highly shared on social media.”
The key to gaining these invaluable back links is found in sharing strategic content, Honigman emphasizes.
"Take action from this by being strategic with the content creators you're sharing your content with,” he says. “Some may be able to drive media attention from blogs and publications leading to links, others attract attention on social media leading to social sharing; and others can drive a combination of both. Aiming for a healthy mix of each will help your content get legs in the short-term and in the long-term."
According to Econsultancy’s State of Search Marketing Report, only 27% of ad agencies are “highly integrated” in a social media marketing strategy. The majority, 55%, are “somewhat integrated,” making sense of the fact that too many agencies and online retailers are ignoring this powerful link building strategy.
Lack of Site Security is Marring SEO Efforts
Recent algorithm updates by Google encourage webmasters to use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). Google explains that this is because HTTPS “is an internet communication protocol that protects the integrity and confidentiality of data between the user's computer and the site. Users expect a secure and private online experience when using a website.”
“But 32% of top e-scommerce brands are not using HTTPS to secure their entire site, something Google is making more of a priority,” Honigman advises.
Highlighting this is a Search Engine Land publication that finds that sites using HTTPS are getting a ranking boost by Google. While these ranking boosts add just a touch to the authority of any site using them, they’re also an easy and streamlined manner of increasing rankings by making internal changes.
Yet many leading online retailers are still ignoring the call by Google for a more secure online shopping environment.
"Consumers need to trust a brand before doing business on their website, which is why I found it so shocking that so many leading brands like QVC, Ulta, Gap and others don't have their entire website protected with HTTPS. Google called this out a month ago that they'll warn visitors in certain circumstances if they visit unsecure HTTP pages using Chrome,” says Honigman.
“It's very likely that in the not-too-distant future, Google will warn visitors of any pages that aren't secure with HTTPS. Basically, get your website secure as soon as possible by doing a proper HTTPS migration to protect your visitors and avoid being flagged by Google,” he adds.
Slow Website Speed Kills Conversions, Spikes Abandonment
Another hindrance to getting more sales is one of the backbones of effective SEO: A fast and seamless website and checkout process.
In an Akamai Study that polled over 1,000 shoppers, the following website speed statistics were revealed.
- About 47% of all shoppers want your website to load in under two seconds.
- If a page takes more than three seconds to load, over 40% of visitors will bounce.
- More than 50% of shoppers say that they won’t be loyal to websites that take too long to load.
- If your website loads too slow, 14% of visitors will just shop somewhere else.
- 64% of shoppers that are dissatisfied with the online store they visit and its loading time will simply take their business elsewhere.
In a related Why Web Performance Matters survey of over 1,500 shoppers, the following related website speed statistics were revealed.
- When high traffic slows down online stores, 75% of customers will just shop somewhere else.
- About 88% of shoppers want a positive online shopping experience or they will shop at another store.
- 50% of shoppers view your online store less positively if they have just one bad experience.
- 33% of shoppers will tell others about a poor online experience they had.
While some websites may not have a quick fix, Honigman does have some advice to offer.
“According to the analysis of the e-commerce leaders, their average mobile load time is 9.52 seconds, and the average desktop load time is 2.94 seconds—both faster than the industry average,” he says. "Use these load times as a benchmark for how fast your own site should load across devices. It's obviously ideal to have the most minimal load time possible, but that's easier said than done."
Unique Content is King
A forever staple to an effective SEO strategy is unique and original content… and lots of it. But many retailers are still failing to get the memo. A wide assortment of e-tailers aren’t using original content, and are sacrificing prospective rankings as a direct result.
Google has repeatedly warned webmasters that (in some cases): “Content is deliberately duplicated across domains in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic. Deceptive practices like this can result in a poor user experience, when a visitor sees substantially the same content repeated within a set of search results.”
Honigman says that the leading SEO trend used by the most successful online retailers is: Unique content.
“54% of the top e-commerce brands had original copy on their top-five most visited product pages,” he explains. "One of the patterns I noticed from all our findings is that the optimizations for search that work the best are the ones that take into account the needs of your customers (real people), and that also account for what the search engines are looking for to understand a website. This finding is no exception."
There are seven immediate steps you can take to optimize your online store for SEO, as I’ve previously explained in my related HuffPo article: “7 Tips to Optimize Your Online Store for SEO.” Be sure to glean some notes from these tips, so you can facilitate a stronger content strategy that helps create the backbone for a superfluous content marketing method for your online store.
The Balancing Act of Toxic, Spammy Links vs. White Hat
Lastly, one of the most prominent trends that the leading online retailers are using to grease the wheels of their SEO machines is a balancing act—one that eliminates toxic, spammy links and instead encourages a steady inbound stream of ethical, white hat and niche-focused back links.
“74% of the link profiles of major e-commerce companies are less than 2% toxic (toxic = spam),” Honigman advises. “This is a good benchmark for other e-retailers to reference, as every business has spam links.”
Finding parity in your inbound back links requires that you have an all-inclusive link monitoring strategy in place. As ahrefs advises, “Not all backlinks are created equally.”
Building poor quality back links or having too many toxic (spammy) links pointing to your online store can result in your site being penalized for using “link schemes,” explains Google.
Google defines link schemes as: “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
"If most of the largest e-commerce companies can take the time to monitor the quality of links on their websites, many of which contain thousands and thousands of pages, then it shouldn't be a problem for most of us to do the same on our sites to protect our SEO rankings,” says Honigman.
Now that you know what the top online retailers are doing to win with SEO today, put some thought into what your 2018 strategy could look like. If you don’t feel like you have a winning game plan in place, it may be time to talk to an expert or an agency that can help you out.
About the Author:
Michael Lazar is an established digital marketer, SEO, and e-commerce expert. Lazar’s posts are syndicated nationally in a wide variety of mediums. You can follow his e-commerce blog Here. Connect with him on LinkedIn.