Ever since we launched our SEO one-to-one consultations last November we have been inundated with requests from eCommerce website owners. Their problem is always the same. They make more sales through third party sites than their own website. And whilst they’re happy with the sales, they’d be happier not to pay a commission on each sale and would rather recoup more of the investment they’ve made in setting up their own online store.
So what’s the issue here? Broadly speaking, and with all due respect, large third party eCommerce sites like Not on the High Street, Etsy and eBay are likely to have greater Domain Authority than your site and as such provide a more reassuring user experience. Domain Authority is a score assigned to a website which is based on a number of factors, one of the most important being trust and because of this bigger brands typically rank better than smaller, independent eCommerce stores. The user experience may be better simply because users have an account and the whole experience feels more familiar.
An eCommerce SEO checklist
But all is not lost. There are many things you can do to generate more sales through your website and the broad heading for these tactics is eCommerce SEO – search engine optimisation. Let’s get stuck in.
Identify the right keywords
Keyword research is the starting point for any SEO work we undertake. You’re looking to identify keywords that are relatively easy to create content to rank for, but have significant enough volume to make it a worthwhile exercise.
The way to do this is to use a free tool called the Google Keyword Planner, but before you fire it up, you need to take a timeout to think.
The best way to think about keywords is to put yourself in the position of someone who’s opened up Google and is considering what terms to use in their search. Keywords are hardly ever one word, they are most commonly three to four words, but increasingly are becoming longer with the advent of Voice Search.
Let’s imagine you have an eCommerce store selling a variety of products for the home (mugs, tea towels, egg cups, coasters etc) featuring unique, bespoke, themed-designs which would appeal to the gift market.
The first thing to do is think about the distinct, broad keyword topics that people might use to search for products like yours. The reason we create these topic buckets is to help focus and organise this exercise, as the next step is to fill each bucket with more specific keywords.
For this example they might include Homeware, Gifts, Wedding presents, New home presents, Mother’s Day, Birthday, Christmas and Commissions.
As mentioned before, we now need to fill each bucket with keywords. So continuing with this example taking Mother’s Day for example, they might include Personalised Mother’s Day gifts, Mother’s Day ceramics, Last minute Mother’s Day gifts and many more.
The next stage in the process is to research related keywords to these. You can do this by entering each keyword into Google and seeing what suggestions Google make – this is known as Google Suggest (see above). Google look at the terms you’ve entered and show the other keywords that are most commonly searched for, associated to yours.
The other thing to do is look at the Related Searches suggested at the bottom of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP – as above!).
There are also many tools that help generate the associated keywords and variations, the first that springs to mind is übersuggest.
Now it’s time to use the Google Keyword Planner. You paste in the keywords from each bucket in turn and check the Keyword Ideas tab which shows the average monthly searches and competition for each keyword. You’re looking to use this information to refine your long list in each bucket into a good mix of short head and long tail terms.
This from an article by Yoast
“The longer (and more specific) search terms are, the easier it will be to rank on the term. Keywords that are more specific (and often longer) are usually referred to as long tail search terms. Long tail keywords are more specific and less common. They focus more on a niche.”
Conversely, short head terms are more competitive, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to rank for them if they’re relevant. Smaller companies will find it harder to compete with big brands for these keywords, but if they produce content that warrants it, then the search engines will point visitors towards it.
One you have refined each bucket into a sensible list of keywords to target it’s a good idea to take a look at what the competition is doing. First be sure your list of competitors is accurate. If you are a small eCommerce site selling homeware you are in competition with John Lewis and the other big homeware retailers because you’re targeting the same keywords. However because of domain authority you’d be wise to start by targeting competition of a similar size in your location. The easiest way to find your closest competitors is to drop your keywords into Google and see which sites appear most often on the first page, or the shopping tab of the Google SERP.
After this exercise you’ll have a better idea of the keywords they’re targeting but you can confirm this by checking the most important on-page optimisation field – their site title. You could install the Moz Bar, a handy and free Google Chrome add-on which shows you a whole host of useful information, but it’s as easy to right click on the homepage, ‘View Page Source’, and find the text between the two title tags towards the top of the page. Their focus keyword should feature here.
And that’s it! It’s recommended that you repeat this process over the course of the year as the search landscape is forever changing – as are the rules which determine which content ranks better. The keywords people use in search change as well of course, you can check for popularity of keywords over time by using Google Trends.
Then it’s just a case of using the keywords in the right places on your site – we’ve touched on one of these, and will get into the others shortly.
Fix any problems
It’s a good idea before you start thinking about improving your website, to audit what’s there already and fix any problems. There are a number of things to check and many ways to do this, we start by generating a crawl report using Screaming Frog. By doing this we can check for html errors, be they page titles (duplicates, too long or short), meta descriptions (as before) or broken links.
You should then look to further optimise your content by ensuring that within your site, each piece of content is targeting one unique keyword. This is really important – writing more than one piece of content targeting the same keyword will confuse the search engines and they won’t know which to point searchers towards. This is known as keyword cannabalisation. Once you’ve established the focus keyword for each piece of content you need to ensure that it appears in the page title (as early as possible), any headings and subheadings used on the page, within the main text area of the page or product description, within the images (the file name should include the keyword, as should the image name and alt tag), the url itself and potentially the meta description as well.
Note if you’re making changes to page titles then the urls need to change as well. If you’re changing urls on a live site, you need to apply redirects to ensure anyone linking to the content your changing, is redirected to the new page.
You should also check for duplicate content, both internally within the site (the same content on more than one page) and externally (your content being used elsewhere on the web).
Then you should assess the site performance to ensure the pages are loading quickly enough. Slow page load is a common reason for visitors to leave a website and is an important ranking factor.
You should look at the bigger picture and how the content sits within your site and how easy the most important pages are to get to from the homepage. Best sellers or featured products should be highlighted on the homepage for example.
This is commonly referred to as your site architecture and is a very important factor in determining how well your content ranks. You’re looking to achieve a flat structure where your products are as close to the homepage as possible. Part of this involves an assessment of your internal linking. Are you showing related products, or attempting to cross sell other product lines? You should try to use keywords as your anchor text (the word you click on to link to another page) where possible. More about using anchor text in WordPress here.
Your site architecture and internal linking have a huge part to play in determining how user friendly your website is. If your visitors can find the content they’re looking for quickly, can navigate to other areas of the site easily to either find other products or answers to their questions, and can check out easily, then you’re providing a solid user experience. Session duration and pages per session are the two key metrics to keep an eye on in your Google Analytics reports.
Tracking and testing
As we alluded to in the last point, keeping an eye on the data being captured on your website is a great idea. Monitoring your website is another topic in itself, we recently published a post highlighting the 10 reasons why you should monitor your content, but at the very least you should be assigning goals to events that happen on your site and tracking the factors that led to those goals being completed. It’s also a good idea to monitor the key audience metrics and record any factors that may have influenced increases in traffic so as to repeat them. Conversely you’ll want to investigate when traffic drops to minimise the chance of this happening again.
Alongside this, once your traffic has started to establish, you’ll want to consider running tests to maximise the number of conversions to the goals you’ve set – the obvious one for an eCommerce site being sales! You may decide to do some sales funnel testing to assess the percentage of drop outs at each stage of the purchase process, or serving different product images to see if one converts better than the other (A/B testing).
Adding new content
When you did your keyword research you may have noticed terms that you wanted to target but didn’t know how to via product or information pages on the site. These may be the perfect fodder from blog posts! As well as reassessing your keywords regularly, you should be looking to write targeting blog posts as often as possible. We wrote a blog post which identified 6 reasons why regular blogging is important to your business, so we always recommend you keep a list of potential blog post topics close to hand, checking what content already exists that competes for these terms, and look to improve on what’s there already.
The single most important factor when it comes to improving the ranking for your content is the number and quality of links pointing to it. That is, who’s so impressed by your content that they are prepared to link to it. That’s some endorsement right? There are a whole host of tools that can help you identify links to your site, we tend to start by using Google Analytics and the Google Search Console.
It’s very important to acknowledge any links you may have received, particularly if they led to a positive impact on your traffic or rankings. Links can be hard to come by, gone or the days of sending emails to other site owners and asking for a link – well at least they should be! You need to identify where you’d like to get links from (relevant sites with high Domain Authority) and how to go about getting those links – and this involves relationship building, and is another huge topic we don’t have time to get into here.
Briefly, one popular method to gain links is to go back on look at your competitors again and see if they have achieved any quality links to their site. There are many tools that will help you with this, we use SEM Rush and Majestic. If someone has given a link to your competitor, not only are they potentially open to the idea of providing links (they’ve done it before), but they have linked to someone in the same arena as you and as such may be open to the idea of doing this again.
Another way to gain quality links is by creating content that may be of interest to their audience – and as such it may be worth involving them in the early stage of any content creation – to see if there’s any way they want to get involved – or to push the project in a direction that may be of more interest to them.
Last thing on link building, it’s worth reaching out to bloggers and other opinion formers who have shown propensity to amplify, that is, share content. There are many ways to find these potential amplifiers – Google being the most obvious, by there are others including BuzzSumo which will show you the most shared content for specific topics. Many eCommerce retailers will send bloggers samples to get their attention or ask to write a guest piece of their blog to make themselves known.
Local SEO is another topic that’s worth a blog post in itself, but one I’ll just touch upon here. If you’re looking to rank for local geographical searches, which I’m sure you are, there are a number of things you can do to improve your site’s ranking, be it in the regular organic lists, or in the local pack (the map towards the top of the page).
Firstly, one of things every business needs to do is claim their Google My Business listing. Then they need embed the map onto the Contact page on their site. They should then look to get their business listed on local directories using the same business name, address and phone number, consistently, as it appears on Google and your Contact page, across each listing.
You may want to consider adding your City and County to the important on-page areas on your site as explored earlier, the page titles, urls and meta descriptions etc.
You should also look to earn local links which although not as impactful as links from businesses with more impressive Domain Authority, will be easier to attain and should improve your local ranking. There are many ways to earn these links, but that’s another story.
Having a website that works as well on a mobile or tablet as it does on a desktop is not only important for the profile of your business as it has a positive influence on your reputation and the users experience, it is now arguably a ranking factor. Whether you decide to have a responsive website or build a separate site for mobile devices is up to you, but this should certainly be on your radar.
Have you made your terms and conditions easy to read and find? Are the conditions going to reduce the likelihood of you making a sale? You need to think about any potentially barriers. Think of all the questions you’ve ever been asked about your site by potential and actual customers and add them to a Frequently Asked Questions page. Shout about your successes and unique selling points! This is not the time to be shy.
You should look to get customers to review the products they purchased. Positive product reviews have a massive influence on customers perceptions, particularly if they haven’t purchased from the site before. You need to set up your site to accept product reviews and ask for them as part of the order fulfilment process.
If you earn positive reviews for your products no doubt you’ll want to make people aware of them! One of the ways Google do this is by displaying rich snippets below the meta descriptions for products on the SERPs. This is also possible for other content types, like Events as shown in the screenshot above. For this to happen your products need to be marked up, you can test whether there is structured data applied to your products by using the Structured Data Testing Tool.
Getting product reviews is hard, generating excitement about your products via social media is distinctly easier. Whilst it’s important to broadcast regular updates about your site, you need to be thinking about engagement every time. What is it you should be saying that is most likely to mean your content is liked or shared? If you can’t think why anyone would share it, it’s probably not worth doing. Making your content easy to share by adding social sharing buttons is a must.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly look after your customers. make yourself available and listen to them. You should have a customer relationship management system in place so you can target your customers more effectively with your communications. This may involve anything from welcome emails after they first login to your site, or sending them coupons to use against their next purchase.
So there it is. Hopefully you’ll find this a useful list of tasks to raise the profile of your eCommerce site and make more sales. If you have any experiences using any of these tactics it would be great to get your thoughts below – or if you have any other ideas, then please do share them.
Main image by sunnivalode97