E-commerce product verticals are becoming increasingly competitive in organic search, with an ever-expanding amount of vendors and store owners battling for positions. Most e-commerce store owners are crushed in search by Big Box sites like Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy, largely because these bigger players have bigger budgets, higher domain authority, aged and seasoned website history, and hundreds of thousands of pages, but that does not necessarily mean they are placing the expert attention on how they are performing in a given niche market. It is close to impossible, even for a site like Walmart, to dedicate resources to search engine optimization strategy for every product category.
With a smaller, but precisely optimized, hyper-targeted niche product store, a business can compete in organic search, and often outrank these online commerce gorillas, provided they take the proper steps to optimize their store for current search engine standards. In this recent video 100+ Advanced Tips on SEO for E-commerce, I reveal over a hundred strategies for optimizing e-commerce stores derived from 10+ years experience working with major online stores such as Hurley.com, Swell.com, dozens of Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of other self-funded and client sites.
In the article 5 Reasons You Are Not Getting Website Traffic we discuss a few top level reasons why website's don't achieve the best results through organic search, which also apply to e-commerce. The following covers a more precise and granular approach to optimizing your store.
E-commerce search engine optimization is a vast subject, so most of the technology, platforms, marketing, and strategies couldn't possibly be covered in one article, but there are a few major areas of focus that should receive attention to be equipped to meet current search engine standards. Which brings me to my first disclaimer: Search engines constantly change their algorithms for scoring and ranking web pages, and they do so faster than website technology advances, so these suggestions should carry a date stamp of relevance. That being stated, these suggestions are also derived from a combination of historical trends, website usability common-logic, and evergreen retail marketing strategy, in conjunction with very recent and progressive search marketing trends.
User Experience (UX)
Website usability standards have advanced into the realm of what some small business owners would consider untouchable, because they are either limited by the budget required to contract the specialized technical help for implementation, or they simply don't understand the positive "shopping experience" possible through proper store configuration. This is something the Big Box stores do place a lot of attention on, because they already have a ton of visitor traffic that they need to convert. What benefits them by focusing on this, is the fact that the better the user-experience, and engagement on the website (page views, click throughs, time on site, etc) the more recognition and reward they receive from the search engines.
A point of fact: Search engines, especially Google, focus their algorithms around scoring and ranking websites based on the data they receive about how users engage with a website, and whether or not that data suggests a given website satisfies a user's search query. Numerous public figures at Google, Inc have openly announced that they "have always relied on user feedback to improve the quality of their results", which should be a strong indicator that the data they collect on your website, and the visitors interacting with it, are strong factors in how they determine your rank.
For a complete 2014 Ecommerce Checklist crafted specifically for increasing visitor experience and conversion, feel free to contact my team.
What SEO features should you have on your e-commerce store?
The following items are a general list of questions an online owner may ask themselves when considering all the configurable SEO elements that could and should be enhanced on any e-commerce store. Some will require strong technical understanding and programming, but any good developer would know exactly what each item is, and how to update it. Watch the full video for an in-depth explanation of each item and a lot more.
How do I choose an E-commerce platform?
Selecting the right store platform is a critical step for laying the foundation of SEO features and configuration opportunities. Most solutions do not come SEO ready out-of-box, and will require substantial tuning for best performance. Depending on how many product SKU's you have, and your technical resources, Magento or Shopify are great solutions that give you everything you need to be successful.
What are some basic SEO features to consider?
These are some general commonly known industry standards, that are on the beginner side of search engine optimization strategy.
Do I need search engine friendly URLs?
Not always, but to keep things simple and give yourself an advantage, keep your store page URLs static and search engine friendly. Here is quick list of URL features to consider:
- Include keywords, separated by hyphens.
- Avoid dynamically generated page URLs (question marks, equal signs, etc).
- Avoid redundancies of keywords.
- Shorter the better (without missing keyword opportunities)
- Customize each category, product, and informational page URL.
Yes, absolutely. Unique meta titles and descriptions are critical to avoid duplicate meta content penalties. Take the time to write out (or dynamically generate) unique, useful, original meta titles and descriptions that are optimized for your keywords, and entice click-through's from the search engine results pages (SERP's). Keep in mind these are like advertisements, and may be your only opportunity to get a click from a search query unless you are paying for that keyword traffic through advertising.
What about my main navigation?
The main store navigation structure is important for funneling proper authority through your site, and for convenient visitor usability and shopping experience. Here's a few pointers:
- Keep it consistent throughout the site.
- Link to major product categories and pages.
- Be descriptive, but don't over-optmize with keywords
Allow for deeper navigation on specific category pages with subcategories. This is often referred to as "silo-ing," or "dynamic navigation". The benefits of this are:
- Helps search engines and users better navigate your site
- Provides convenient access to relevant product category pages that might not fit in main navigation
- Increases usability metrics and semantic relevance with internal page optimization.
What are some additional site quality elements I should consider?
The following are some expanded, more advanced SEO features that should be addressed if you want to dominate your space.
Do I need a sitemap?
Yes. Create an XML sitemap for Google and Bing, and submit that webmaster tools area of each search engine. If you don't already have a webmaster account, go create one and configure your site so that you can gain valuable data on how the search engines are reading and indexing your pages. You can also create an HTML sitemap displaying links to ALL pages on the site (home, category, product, info, etc) and link that page discretely from your footer. This allows the search engine crawlers to access every page on your site immediately with two hops from any page on your domain. At the time of this article, we have data that suggests HTML sitemaps are still viable and effective.
Should I incorporate breadcrumbs?
Yes. They offer a convenient navigational path for your visitors clicking through your site. Breadcrumbs are usually displayed above the main content area, below the main navigation. Tips for breadcrumbs:
- Select a theme that supports breadcrumbs.
- Have your developer build breadcrumb features into your theme.
- Utilize schema.org Rich Snippets (microdata, microformats)
What are canonical URLs and should I use them?
Canonical URLs are considered the official or "best" URL for a page, when there are several options for a URL. This is commonly used when multiple pages have the same content, which is extremely common for e-commerce stores that publish products in multiple categories. If you have duplicate pages on your store using different URLs that the search engines can see, you will experience a duplicate content penalty. The way around this is to implement canonical URLs in the duplicated page code that point to the official URL for the page.
Do I need an SSL certificate (https)?
Site security settings are very important, especially in the case of creating transaction online. Think about it from the search engine's perspective.. Is it really safe for them to serve your website to a user if you propose to create financial transactions without SSL (secure socket layer) protection for people entering their payment information into your forms? Absolutely no.
Do I need a Shipping & Return Policy?
These policy pages are important if you are selling physical products that need to be shipped. We have data collected across hundreds of e-commerce stores that prove validity of shipping and return policies as a ranking factor for online stores. All other things created equal, you might receive a bump up in your ranking positions if you include proper policies on your stores. After all, isn't it good for users too?
How important are the About Us, Terms & Conditions, and Contact Us pages?
Same thing applies here regarding these standard company pages. Information pages, terms and conditions, and a contact us page with verified business address and contact information is another way you can ensure your site is official.
What do I need to know about Category & Product Page Optimization?
The following suggestions apply specifically to the SEO opportunities around your store's product pages, which are commonly known to generate the best visitor traffic to your shop. The product pages on your site produce long tail keyword traffic, which are usually visitors farther down the buying cycle and result in better conversions.