Definition of SEO:
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of visitors to your website. This is done by obtaining a high ranking in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).
All of your major search engines – Google, Yahoo, Bing – have search results pages where websites are ranked based on relevancy to the search query. The higher your website is ranked in the SERPs, the more traffic you are going to receive to your site.
Think about it – when you are searching for something on the web, you aren’t going to page 7 on Google to find it. Normally, you’re going to click on something on the first page. Let’s say that you want to get a new outfit for a date you’re going on this weekend – you probably aren’t going to head to page 5 or 6 to find it.
In most cases, you’re going to click on a search listings on the first page because not only is it more convenient, but you’ve also come to realize that this is where the highest-quality results live. This is where businesses need to be.
Therefore, this is where businesses want to be.
SEO encompasses the technical and creative strategies, techniques and tactics to help you get the highest placement possible. You want to be there when your potential audience is searching for you and you want them to engage with you. We will go into some of the ways that you can do this later on.
Importance of SEO:
If you have an ecommerce website (or really any website), then you need SEO to help you bring in more high-intent traffic, which will likely convert into qualified leads or sales for your business.
You might have heard the phrase, “if you build it, they will come,” but that isn’t’ true when it comes to today’s competitive ecommerce industry. Just having an ecommerce site isn’t enough. There are millions of those. You have to make yours stand out and make it easily findable.
You don’t necessarily want just those users looking to learn more about “mountain bikes.” You’ll also want a large volume of users looking specifically for “24 Speed Hydraulic Dis 29er in Blue,” because this user knows exactly what they are looking for and is primed to purchase from you.
93% of online experiences are going to begin with a search engine.
Some of these searchers are just going to be in the research phase of the buyer journey. This means that they are conducting research to help them learn more about a certain problem that they have encountered. Some of them are going to be in the purchase phase – meaning they are ready to buy. Regardless of where they are at in the sales funnel, you want to research them with the content on your site.
Consider this – 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. Couple that with the fact the first 5 results in Google get 67% of all the clicks. That should be enough right there to show you the importance of SEO. You need to get in those top 5 results in order to capture more traffic.
How Things Are Ranked
Let’s dive in deeper in exactly how websites are ranked in the SERPs. At the end of the day, Google (or any other search engine) is a machine developed to give answers. People go to these sites to get answers to their questions. There are over 3.5 billion searches on Google per day.
When you enter a search query into Google, the search engine is going to comb through the billions of websites out there and serve back to the searcher the results that are relevant to the original query.
In order for your site to be ranked into the SERPs, it first has to be crawled by the search engine – meaning that their bots visit each of your pages and understand the intent behind each URL. To be included in the results page, the pages have to be deemed relevant and quality resources for users.
The results that Google does finds relevant will be ranked by the company according to the ‘popularity’ of the sites.
Based on this knowledge of how Google works, you can see that you need SEO to do two things:
- Make your site relevant
- Make your site popular
In order for your website to show up in Google’s SERPs, regardless of where it is placed, it has to be relevant to the searcher’s query. There are hundreds of factors that influence there, but it comes down to your site matching what the searcher is looking for.
Your site also needs to be popular in order to rank higher in the SERPs. The more popular your site is, the more people visit it and link to it, the more authority Google thinks you have. If people are linking to you left and right, you probably know what you are talking about and your content is most likely valuable to the searcher. Since Google wants to provide the searcher the most valuable content, they will rank you higher.
While Google is a mammoth of a company, there aren’t thousands of employees hiding out in the basement manually ranking all of the websites, at least that we know of. Instead, Google uses an algorithm and their machine learning, to sort, based on relevance, and then rank, based on popularity. There are several factors that go into Google’s algorithm, actually thousands. But, the main 3, according to Andrew Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google are content, backlinks, and RankBrain (in no particular order).
Content refers to the text that is on your site. Backlinks refer to other sites that link back to your site. We’ll go into detail on these later in the guide.
RankBrain is the latest addition to Google’s search algorithm, and honestly, it’s a bit of a mystery as to what it is. Launched in 2015, RankBrain is the company’s attempt at machine learning, which helps Google understand search queries. This ranking factor is one of particular importance because RankBrain is constantly learning and interpreting user search behavior to provide better results to users.
Obviously, there are more factors that Google takes into consideration when ranking pages in the SERPs. But these are the main three that you need to really optimize your site for, as they are the ones that will have the biggest positive impact. Let’s move into practices that you can help optimize your website for SEO.
Part 1: Auditing Your Site
The first thing that you need to do is to audit your site so that you can identify any current problems that need to be fixed. There are two audits that you need to perform before you start with any SEO work: a technical audit and a backlink audit.
The technical aspect of SEO can tend to be forgotten about, but in fact – it is just as important. A technical audit can help you identify any problem areas within your site that might be causing problems for search engines when they are crawling your site that need your attention. It can also help to make sure that your site is up to date with all of the latest developments and show you any room for improvement.
But how exactly do you perform a technical audit? There are several different aspects that you need to look into, and there are a ton of different tools out there that you can use, but for the purpose of this guide, we will detail the process that we use for technical audits.
Here are the top issues that you need to focus on:
First thing you should look at is your accessibility and find out which pages of your site are being indexed by Google. If your page isn’t being indexed and people can’t access that information, what’s the point in having it at all?
1. Indexation Reports
Head into your Google Search Console and pull your indexation reports. If any of your pages aren’t being indexed, you need to find out why.
A robots.txt is a file that webmasters use to instruct search engine robots how to crawl pages on their website. Since this document is telling Google how to crawl your site, it can also instruct Google not to crawl certain pages.
Therefore, when performing a technical audit, you want to go through and make sure that the robots.txt file isn’t blocking access to important sections of your site. You also want to make sure that any pages with little content or value as disallowed from crawling in your robots.txt file.
Your sitemap is just that – a map of your site. This gives search engine crawlers a map to better understand the architecture of your website so that it can be more effectively and efficiently crawled.
When performing your technical audit, you want to make sure that first and foremost your sitemaps are submitted to Google webmaster tools and are accessible via a direct URL.
Also, ask yourself a couple of questions:
- Are there any pages showing up in your site crawl that aren’t in your sitemap?
If so, you need to update your sitemap.
- Are any pages in the sitemap but not in your site crawl?
If there are pages showing up in the sitemap, but are still on your site, they need to find a place within your site architecture.
- Is the sitemap structurally sound?
You also need to make sure that your sitemap follows the appropriate sitemap format. If it doesn’t, it might not be processed in the right way.
Any of your pages that are returning errors need to be fixed during your technical audit. If a URL is broken on your site, you need to redirect that URL to another relevant URL.
Make sure you are redirecting any 404 pages to actual content. Also, make sure you change all 302 redirects to 301 redirects so that you can pass link juice to the final destination.
Your site architecture refers to the overall structure of your site and its hierarchy – both vertically and horizontally.
1. Structural Hierarchy
Your website hierarchy includes the vertical depth (how many levels are on the site) and then the horizontal width of the site. You want your site architecture to be as flat as possible. It should have both vertical and horizontal linking opportunities.
Your linking strategy in ecommerce should follow structural hierarchy, or home>category>product. In order to take advantage of horizontal linking, make you sure link category pages to other relevant category pages. You should do the same with product pages.
2. Number of Links
You also need to check the number of links on your site. Go through your site and see how many clicks it takes you to get from the homepage to your most important pages.
You also want to see how many actual links sit on each page. This should be less than 100.
3. Contextual Links
Links on your site should always be in context. Make sure the topic of content features a single link that is relevant to the page it is linking to. Also, don’t over link. Only link when it is appropriate to do so.
You don’t want any external links in your footer. Most of the time, links in your footer gets devalued, meaning it carries almost no weight whatsoever.
If your site takes too long to load, users are going to leave right away. 40% of people will abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. This goes for search engine crawlers as well. If they can’t get your site to load, they are going to move on to another site that will.
1. Optimal Speed
You can use a tool like Pingdom, which is free, to test your website speed. If you find that it does take longer than 1.5 seconds, you want to address that quickly. These tools can help you find which pages are taking so long to load. Once you identify those, you can start looking into how to improve your sites speed.
2. Fixing Site Speed
When you have identified those pages, you need to fix them asap. First thing that you want is enable compression. After that, make sure caching is enabled. You also want to optimize all images – make sure they have a file name, alt tag, and that they are less than 150kb. Another thing you can do is to make sure your site host is optimized and is on a fast server. Make sure you remove any unnecessary plugins, files, images, etc.
On Page Optimization:
1. Title Tags
Your title is one of the most important aspects of your page. It’s what appears first in the search results and most of the time is going to be the first thing that people notice.
The title tags for your webpages should be around 55-60 characters and need to be optimized for your targeted keywords. Make sure you also include the company name (at the end) and you might want to include a CTA. Make sure you check for duplicate title tags when you are auditing the site. Duplicate title tags don’t provide users with relevant or unique information about the page.
2. Meta Descriptions
Common Problem: “I’m ranking high and my keyword phrase receives a lot of searches per month, but I’m not seeing this translate to organic traffic on my website.” This might be a time to reevaluate your meta descriptions.
Since this is the snippet that Google pulls for the information in the SERPs, it needs to be highly-engaging. It needs to fall under 300 characters and include your keyword modifiers and a CTA.
You are also going to want to check out your URL structure to make sure they are descriptive and well optimized for your targeted keyword. They also need to be less than 115 characters. However, you don’t want to change your URL structure without strategy behind it. Changing your URLs can drastically impact your traffic – in a negative way.
Google can’t read images, so you have to give data to Google and other search engines to tell them what the image is about. There are two main attributes when analyzing an image – the alt text and the filename. Both should include relevant descriptions of the image and your targeted keywords.
As almost every SEO will tell you, content is king. You definitely want to make sure that you are analyzing the content on your site when performing your audit.
To do so, you can use a different number of tools. Probably the simplest approach to this is to use Google’s cached copy of the page that you are looking at and then analyze accordingly.
Your homepage is like your north star. It’s most likely going to be the starting point for a lot of people who come to your site. Therefore, you want to make sure it is up to date and easy to navigate.
You want to make sure that you have a structured layout of the site’s focus. You don’t want it to be all over the place. You also want to make sure you have at least 150 words of text that is completely unique and not duplicated anywhere else. Your content should also include your targeted keywords, appearing in the first few paragraphs.
2. Products/Landing Page
You also need to look at your product pages and any of your landing pages that people are going to visit. Again, you want all of this content to be completely unique and not duplicated. This can be a huge issue in ecommerce, because a lot of merchants will pull information from manufactures. But this needs to be completely yours – we’ll go into why in just a second.
Google does take into account how easy it is to find information on your site, so you want to make sure that information is organized and easily read.
You can use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to look into usability metrics, such as bounce rate, CTR, time on page, pages per session). Look to see if there are any decreases year over year. If there are, identify what has changed over the past year to account for the changes and then fix accordingly.
You can also use Alexa’s tool to check against your competitors to see what their usability metrics are. If they have a much lower bounce rate than you do, then you might want to take some tips from their site.
5. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content can harm your search performance. You don’t want to have the same content on your site that another ecommerce site has on theirs. It can be difficult for search engines to determine which version of the duplicate is more relevant and it can end up dropping those pages in the rankings.
Therefore, you want to check for duplicate content on your site. You can use a look called DeepCrawl to do so. Check out the Duplicate Pages report to identify any duplicated content. Common duplicate content errors include, but aren’t limited to:
- Duplicate Titles
- Duplicate Meta Descriptions
- Duplicate Domains
- Duplicate Subdomains
- Duplicate content on different domains
You can fix duplicate content in a couple of different ways depending on where the issue lies. You can add a canonical tag on your page to let Google know what your preferred URL to be, if you have duplicate URLs. Or you could disavow incorrect URLs within your robots.txt. You also could simply just rewrite some of the content – if you find multiple meta descriptions or body content.
In addition to seeing how Google crawls your desktop site, you also need to review how Google’s smartphone crawlers does it. Since Google has shared that a majority of its searches are now on mobile devices, and that they are migrating toward a mobile first index, this is paramount to review.
You can use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test to see how Google’s mobile spiders crawls your site. You can also use Google’s Search Console’s Mobile Usability report to see if there are any specific pages on your site that has issues. Screaming Frog is another tool that you can use here.
You want to make sure that your site renders correctly on a mobile device – it needs to be responsive and dynamic. Also, make sure that all elements are the same from desktop to mobile, including content and meta tags.
Don’t forget to make sure your analytics are properly set up for mobile traffic. You need to understand how people are interacting with your mobile site just like you would your desktop. If a user has a terrible mobile experience, it can turn them off of your brand forever. This could ultimately prevent you from capturing this revenue from your mobile audience.
After you complete your technical audit, you also need to review your backlink profile. In reality, it’s a good practice to audit your backlink profile regularly – around once a quarter. Here’s what you need to look for and fix when auditing your backlink profile:
Low Quality Links
Disavowing low quality links isn’t necessarily going to boost you up to the top position in the SERPs, but it is a good practice. You don’t want a ton of low-quality links spamming your backlink profile. Therefore, it is good idea to go through when doing your backlink audit and look for any links coming from DA 10 and below and disavow them if you did not obtain them yourself.
If you have links from non-relevant websites, it is smart to disavow these. You only want links from sites that are relevant to your site.
Part 2: Research
The next phase in your SEO journey should begin with a couple of different research projects.
Keyword research is as you might have guessed, research to help you find relevant keywords to the products and or services that your business offers. There are a number of tools that you can use to conduct keyword research: SEMRush, Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs.
There are a couple of different types of keyword research you need to consider. First, look for keywords for your pages. There are several different criteria that you should evaluate when researching keywords for your pages:
- Relevancy to your site – should be highly relevant to your site/offerings
- Search volume – should have a high exact match search volume
- Ranking difficulty – should have a low difficulty score.
You also want to look for keywords for your blogs. Your blog is a great tool to help you rank for additional keywords that you might not be able to with your main webpage. Again, you should look for keywords that have a high exact match and a low difficulty score. After you have gone through that list, you can start targeting other keywords that might have less volume but are still relevant to your site.
One thing that you want to keep in mind while you are performing your keyword research is keyword cannibalization. This might sound scary – and it should; it could drop your rankings significantly. Keyword cannibalization is when you have multiple pages on your site that are competing with each other for rankings for the same keyword.
If one of your pages is focused on “Dog Treats”, you wouldn’t want to write a blog centered around that keyword because it could lower your category page for the same keyword. Instead, maybe you could write one and use the keyword “Dog Snacks.”
In order to avoid this from happening, you want to do your due diligence. Make yourself a spreadsheet and list each page of your website with the keyword you are targeting. When you look at this, there shouldn’t be a keyword that is repeated.
In addition to your own keyword research, you should do some research on your competitors. First, you can look at the keywords that they are targeting and that they are ranking for. You can do this with a couple of different tools, like Moz. You can click on the elements tab to show you the meta data and the header tags. Within the link data tab, you can also see the page authority and ranking information.
You can also pull data to see where their backlinks are coming from. By seeing where their inbound links are coming from, you can attempt to get similar links, or links from those exact sites. There are several tools out there that can help with this – such as Open Site Explorer.
While performing some research on your competitors, take some time to see what their website is like. This is your direct competitor – you want to stack up against them when a searcher is comparing your two sites. Look into their navigation and their category pages. Are there some there that you could add to your site that would improve it?
Part 3: On-Page SEO
Once your research is done, it’s time to take a deep dive on your site and work on. These should be things that you found within your technical audit – including, but not limited to:
Schema markup is code that you can put on your site which helps search engines crawl the site. This came about as a result of a collaboration of several different search engines so that it makes it easier for them to understand sites and provide better results. Right now, there is a lot of noise out there in the industry. Technical SEOs absolutely swear by it, but is it really necessary for an ecommerce business?
Honestly, in our expert opinion, schema markup doesn’t really affect ecommerce businesses. It does help Google crawl a website. Sure, this is absolutely great for a hotel with dynamically changing content or maybe an airline company. It is also great for lists of items, such as a cookbook or a recipe. We have been seeing Google link content from popular websites for certain phrases, so it will be important for body content, as the screen shown below suggests:
Right now, schema really isn’t as important as some of the other SEO initiatives we will mention. This is especially true if you run a CMS, such as Shopify, BigCommerce, etc. With more open sourced platforms, like Magento and Demandware, you might need help to correctly markup different items.
However, if your aim is to increase organic search traffic right now, schema isn’t going to really help. Yet, we are sure that Google’s aim is to get users’ information and content more quickly, so could we see products marked up in the organic listings? Maybe, but we don’t think it’s likely because of Google Shopping’s popularity. But who knows? Be sure that your schema markup is correct, but don’t spend a ton of time on this.
If your site architecture doesn’t make sense, then it is going to be hard for people to navigate it. This normally means that they aren’t going to spend too much time on your site, and you probably aren’t going to rank very well.
1. Pyramid Structure:
Your site structure is imperative to your success with SEO. Unfortunately, ecommerce sites aren’t really built for SEO success. There isn’t a worse website structure for search engines than a pyramid structure. This is basically a website that has a ton of pages with no content (category pages), a bunch of links to different pages (product pages) which have very little content, and a lot of the content (especially in SKU heavy markets) is duplicate content from the manufacturers.
If you didn’t get it, that was basically a rundown of every ecommerce site out there. This is a nightmare for Google. But the good news is that every ecommerce site is having the same struggle. However, we have held onto a simple philosophy, our own pyramid structure, that has helped us optimize our ecommerce clients:
- Level 1 – Homepage – 70% of Backlinks
- Level 2 – Categories – 15% of Backlinks
- Level 3 – Products – 10% of Backlinks
- Level 4 – Blogs – 5% of Backlinks
This is our basic pyramid structure. Simple, right? But why is this important? If you structure your pyramid the right way, you can funnel link authority down the pyramid to the bottom. This way, links that go to your homepage can share authority with your categories, products, and blogs, which allows those to rank higher and increase the long-tailed traffic and sales.
If you have anything that is getting in the way of this, you need to fix it ASAP. The navigation bar should have every category that you want. Every category should link to as many relevant products as possible. You also need the homepage with a link to your blog. The blog should have rich interlinks that go to products and categories, in order to help get link authority up the pyramid and to help increase the products and categories rankings.
2. Mobile Friendly
As we have briefly discussed earlier, mobile is a huge aspect of your ecommerce site that you need to be focusing on. With more searches beginning on mobile now, not having a mobile-friendly site is going to be the death of many ecommerce merchants.
Also, not only are people searching on their phones, they are also buying on their phones. Therefore, if your ecommerce site isn’t optimized for mobile, you are going to lose out on a ton of customers, who will most likely turn to your competitors who do have mobile-friendly site.
How you go about optimizing your site for mobile is going to depend on your site itself. Some shopping cart solutions are going to have ways that you can optimize for mobile themselves. It will also depend on if you have a mobile site or a mobile responsive design.
With a mobile responsive design, you can code your existing site to work on any device without having to build out a whole new mobile site. This can even be done through the help of a template you can use on the site.
Regardless of how you optimize your site for mobile, make sure your focus remains on how you can give your customers the best experience across all platforms.
If you haven’t made the switch to HTTPS, I have some bad news for you. Since about 2014, Google has been using HTTPS as a ranking signal. In fact, they even announced last year that any site that takes passwords or credit cards (like an ecommerce site) that still functioned on HTTP would be marked as Not Secure.
Not only do you want to use HTTPS because it is a ranking signal for your SEO efforts, but also so that you can ensure you are giving your customers the safest experience. You can learn more about switching to HTTPS here.
4. Page Speed
It should come to no surprise to you that site speed is a huge factor that goes into your SEO. Not only has research found that 40% of consumers will leave a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, site speed is also a ranking factor for Google.
Luckily, with the emergence of cart solutions like BigCommerce and Shopify, many merchants already have super-fast sites. However, it is still worth it to test it to make sure.
There are a couple of different things that you should look at when it comes to the HTML of your site.
1. Meta Titles:
2018 is the year of computer learning. It is already affecting the way that we do pretty much everything – especially the way that we do meta information. The old days of just stuffing keywords are deader than a doornail. However, we still want to optimize meta information – for the search engine and for searches.
With the rise of computer learning, Google now understands what a user wants and has realized that meta information is relevant but not as necessary. Let’s consider an example:
If we want to optimize a keyword for “Garmin Watches,” a 2015 method would be to optimize the meta title by putting the keywords on the farthest left-hand side, i.e. “Garmin Watches for Sale by XYZ Company.”
But now with machine learning, Google can tell who clicks what (higher click-through rate increases authority) and how they interact with the page (bounce rate, exit, time on page). We want as many people to click on it as possible, so using something with a high call to action, or click-through rate is best, i.e. “Shop Now for New Garmin Watches – Free Shipping.”
In the olden days of SEO, Google couldn’t understand modifiers, meaning if I put in more keywords in like “best” or “new,” I could outrank someone who did not use those keywords in the meta title. So, if one meta title says “Best Watches for Sale” and another says “Shop Now for New Garmin Watches,” they will carry the same or very similar weight.
It might be a little confusing, but you want to make sure you are optimizing for engines (still using your keyword, Garmin Watches) and for the search (by using call to actions, like Free Shipping or Shop Now, or modifiers to enhance click-through rates.)
2. Meta Description:
This might be a very bold statement, but in our expert opinion, meta descriptions are more impactful than titles due to the rise of computer learning. This is very similar to meta titles, but it focuses less on keywords and more on the actual calls to actions. However, there is a gray area.
For example, an ecommerce business category may have multiple keywords for which you are optimizing. The best way to optimize the meta description is by including a list separated by commas.
Let’s say that you have a “Wedding Rings” category with multiple versions. In this example, you would want to include the different subcategories in this description. Using a meta description rich in keywords is still an effective tactic and should be utilized without stuffing the keywords.
- Wedding Rings
- Wedding Bands
- Classic Wedding Rings
- Colorful Wedding Rings
Good Meta Description: Shop at XYZ Company for the best wedding rings and bands, including classic, colorful and modern styles. Shop today and get 10% off your first order.
Bad Meta Description: Shop at XYZ Company for the best wedding rings, wedding bands, classic and colorful wedding rings. We also have modern, contemporary and more.
As you can see in the above example, the bad meta description example utilizes too many keywords – it says wedding three times and includes even more modifiers (modern, contemporary) instead of a call to action (Shop Today for 10% off First Order) to include a click-through rate.
When optimizing your meta descriptions in 2018, you want them to be keyword rich, but without repeating keywords. Also, include calls to actions and modifiers to induce a higher CTR. Talk about your company or any specials that you run in order to produce the highest long-term results for an ecommerce business.
3. ALT Tags
While we tend to think of Google as this beyond-intelligent company that can understand anything in the world, that isn’t actually true. The truth is, despite how smart Google is – and it is extremely smart – Google can’t read images. They can only read text. Therefore, until Google can read images, you are going to need ALT tags. Most of the time, ALT tags are also the last items to optimize for SEO. However, ALT tags can be very important – especially for merchants that want to get results from the Google images tab.
While ALT tags are not the most important thing on this list, you should pay attention to them. If the resources permit, you want to optimize your ALT tags very similarly to your meta information. Be sure to describe the image, and use similar keywords to the page that it is on. Otherwise, it could look suspicious to Google. Is that likely to happen? Probably not, but you never know, and not doing so could be costly.
4. Proper Tags
Many old content management systems or shopping cart solutions have produced a lot of outdated tagging systems for their content. Being able to have Google crawl your site and understand it quickly is imperative. Shopping systems like BigCommerce and Shopify do a great job of keeping it clean and easy for Google to understand.
Each page should start with an <h1> tag for the category title, and then the paragraph text should be wrapped in <p> tags. Any subheaders should adopt the <h2> and <h3> tags. For in-depth content, the use of <h4>, <h5>, and <h6> are also needed. Making sure to look through your source code to check that the different content items have the proper tags is imperative.
It is also important to look through your source code to identify and remedy any line items of code that do not make sense when tagging your content. For instance, having a <bold> tag around your text or having a <tr> can confuse Google, which will not understand how it is displayed.
Systems like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento are paving the way for the proper use of the tags. You can also check to make sure that <h> tags are not wrapping your logo, breadcrumbs, etc. All text should be tagged in the way Google needs it to be.
Google hasn’t changed the way that it does tags. It is still important to make sure that your tags are properly tagging your content on the category and product level in 2018. If you do not have <h1> tags on category pages, it is imperative that you do so for every category page.
5. URL Structure
Google wants your folders to be categorized correctly. Using a template like the one below is – and generally always will be – the best tactic:
If you have products with multiple categories, using an example.com/product and example.com/category/subcategory works well to cut down on duplicate content, especially if they follow the rules below:
Obviously, there are going to be exceptions to the rules, but generally, you need two out of three of our “tripod” – that is: breadcrumbs, sitemap, and site structure. If you have two out of those three, then you are generally pretty good. However, having all three is superior in Google’s eyes.
So, what’s changed with URLs? With Google’s update to Panda 2.0, they now focus on shorter URLs. Prior to this, having keyword-rich URLs was superior. WordPress even automatically makes the URL the same as the title of the page. If we were to create an article, “How to Quit Smoking,” it would become example.com/blog/how-to-quit-smoking.
What we have found with the Panda 2.0 update, is that having a different URL from the title of the page and the meta title was superior. Therefore, a better URL would be: example.com/blog/quit-smoking. Google likes the keywords on the farthest left-hand side, similar to the old ways of doing meta titles.
We’ve also learned that for this year, having a brief and to the point URL is the best practice. Keep them short and sweet, with your keywords on the farthest left-hand side. Keep the traditional structure of example.com/category/product, and make sure that you have two of the three tripod options.
6. Body Content
Having body content is still a very vital tool for ecommerce businesses. However, many ecommerce retailers have tried this tactic with zero success, or at least, without any tangible results from the resources allocated for this. Does having content on all of the category levels really impact positive search results? Well, that’s complicated. The answer is yes and no. It does, if you have other positive attributes that will help optimize the page. This can include inbound links, navigational links to the page, reasons for people to share the category level, etc.
In short, yes, having body content does, in fact, help. However, it isn’t going to help if that is the only thing you are doing to optimize a page. We ran a test for an ecommerce business for one category page where they had inbound links and proper information filled out in the meta field. When we put on a piece of body content, it surged to a second-page placement. Here is a screenshot of the ranking report:
We can see that this does in fact, give a positive lift. However, we have tried the same experience with just content and received zero benefits. We think that this is because of the Panda update in Google. An ecommerce business naturally picks up any Panda update because it is a bunch of pages that have many inbound links going to other pages with thin content. To combat this, a Panda update applying body content will always be a tested and effective tactic.
However, when you are writing this content, you want to make sure that you include relevant content about the page. If you are writing miscellaneous content that has nothing to do with the pages it links to, Google will find this bizarre, and you will find yourself susceptible to different updates, especially a few recently where Google has tried punishing affiliate sites that create content to trick the algorithm into ranking the page for product it does not sell.
Our recommendation for 2018 is to make sure that you only optimize your body content with relevant content that correlates to your products and the category level. Do not over-optimize it, and make sure the content fits the user. Make sure to not bog down the page with content, and remember, the searcher wants your products. Too much content can ruin the searcher’s experience and ultimately cause high bounce rates. Having content below the product level is ideal, with some content about the products. Have around 200-300 words on top and around 300 on the bottom.
7. Canonical Tags
Canonical linking hasn’t changed much for 2018. Robust systems like Magento and other shopping cart solutions will still require canonical tags to cut down on duplicate content. One prediction for 2018 is to look into your content – has a higher source republished your content and not given your site the original credit for it in Google’s eyes?
Getting your content republished for links and social signals is fantastic – but if you publish your content on a new site with a higher domain authority, and the link to your site does not contain the rel=canonical, you can suffer from a lack of social signals and link authority to your site.
If you are already implementing canonical links, then you don’t have much to do here. Not much has changed in the past year. However, an important focal point for 2018 will be for content teams, PR teams, SEO teams, or anyone else managing your content to make sure that if someone republishes your content, that they are not deemed the authority for that piece of content. If that is found to be so, it will be extremely important to reach out to that source and get them to implement the rel=canonical tag.
Interlinking is the process of linking pages of your website to other pages on your website. This can help you establish anchor text and help to boost your rankings. Interlinking has always been a fascinating subject for ecommerce merchants. Technically, the whole website interlinks to each part very well, because it utilizes things like a navigation bar, categories, related products, or other features to give users product or category suggestions. However, there is still work that can be done.
Interlinking your different pieces of category page content and product content is a very underutilized tactic. Google favors long-form content, as a study found back in 2016. This is still true today. But, ecommerce is being pushed down the SERPs due to Google Shopping listings and affiliate content. This is most likely to the detriment of the user. However, this doesn’t mean that we should give up and only use Google Shopping. It just means our tactics have to change as the SERPs change.
One way for ecommerce merchants to combat Google’s changes is to become more like the websites that they are favoring – long-form content websites.
If you look at some long-form content websites, you will see that they have a lot of content, images and more that links to different products and categories using text links compared to product images links. Having body content at the category level or product level, which interlinks to different pages is a very good tactic for 2018.
However, there are also plenty of websites that abuse this tactic. A safe rule of thumb is to have one interlink per 100 words. Of course, sites like Wikipedia use upwards of 100-500 interlinks per page, but we aren’t trying to be them. We just want to be safe and make sure that what we do makes sense for both the user and the search engine.
You want your ecommerce site to be user-friendly. The easier it is to use, the longer people are going to stay on it, and should be the more likely they are to buy from you. This factor – usability – will become even more important in 2018.
Let’s say that you want to rank for “Aftermarket Parts for Mustangs.” The people on the first page of the SERPs will go through usability scoring or ranking – meaning Google will evaluate how people interact with those pages.
If you try to game the system and get really high scores with a bunch of links, but then Google scores your site and sees that no one really interacts with your page from a particular search, you will go back to the sandbox.
Here are the key metrics that you want to make sure you are looking at when it comes to usability:
1. Bounce Rate
Do people bounce off your page right away? Do they click on any links on the page to get additional information?
2. Information Acquiring
Google wants web pages to give an “ah-ha” moment. They want the user to find their information. If your content does not give the answer to the question of the search query, you will plummet from the top of the rankings.
3. Time on Page
How long do people stay on your page? This may be the biggest one. Google doesn’t want people going to a link and then leaving right away.
You should also test your checkout process to make sure it as easy as possible. You don’t want it to have ten steps to get from the cart to checkout. Instead, you want it to be as fast and seamless as possible. Also, make sure that it is easy for visitors to contact you and find vital information quickly.
One of the biggest initiatives in SEO is creating quality content. That’s the name of the game – you have to produce the best possible content so that you can give your users the information that they are looking for.
There are several different ways that you can use content for your on-page SEO efforts.
1. Category/Product Page Content
All of your category pages and your product pages should have content on them. You should have your targeted keywords on the pages, as well as other relevant information.
Your blog is going to be a big part of your SEO efforts. By posting on your blog, you can work on ranking for keywords that you might not be able to with just the main site. It also gives you a way to provide even more information and value to your customers.
Since you are using your blog as a way to rank for more keywords, you need to make sure that you are using the keyword in the title of the post, as well as in the content. However, make sure you aren’t stuffing them in there where it doesn’t make sense. Google has gotten a lot smarter about keyword stuffing.
Also, your blog posts should be reader friendly. You want something that your customers are actually going to read and gain value from. In addition, you need to be posting frequently. It doesn’t have to be every single day, but once a year isn’t going to cut it.
3. User Generated Content
Reviews are a staple for any ecommerce site. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely it is you are going to gain a new customer. Internet Retailer projects that you can increase your conversion rate somewhere between 14-76% by just adding product reviews to your ecommerce store.
In addition to increasing your conversion rate, reviews can also help to increase the effectiveness of your SEO efforts, because user-generated content is a consistent source of unique and fresh content that you didn’t have to pay an employee or contractor to write for you. Just ask Amazon – this is how they excel in search; they have hundreds or thousands of reviews – aka content.
There are several ways that you can obtain reviews. You could use a reward-based plugin like WooTheme’s Review for Discount option. Or you could do it manually by sending out emails to a customer a few days after purchase asking them to review. You could also offer a discount on social media in exchange for a review.
Part 4: Off-Page SEO
After you site has been optimized, look for other ways to improve your overall SEO. You can do this through Off-Page SEO, or tactics that aren’t worried about technical website aspects. This centers around backlinks, so be sure to utilize the backlink audit you conducted.
First thing you need to do is to start creating content for your off-page efforts. You should start this by doing research. Hopefully you’ve learned by now that research is a core component of SEO. You don’t want to guess when it comes to this stuff. You want to have data to back what you are doing so that you can be confident you are making the right steps to improve your SEO.
Using a tool like Ahrefs or Buzzsumo, look and see what content relevant to your offerings has performed well in the past. By looking at historical data, you are not guessing about what to write – you know a certain topic has worked before, therefore, you have a better chance of it working again. This can also help you learn more about your target audience. You know what type of content that they like to consume. Use that to your advantage.
Once, you have all this information, it’s time to make your own content. And you want to do just that – make it your own. Never take previous content and paste it and try to take ownership. Instead, make it better and make it your own. If someone has previously written on “The Top 5 Work Boots for Men,” make yours “The Top 20 Best Performing Work Boots for the Working Man.”
Whatever you do end up writing about, make sure it is focused on your readers. Don’t write something just because you want to write about it. Write something that is going to solve their problem. Maybe they are in need of a good work boot. Write something that can solve that – maybe with a specific product that you sell, or with a category page of your products, or even just a solution to the problem at hand.
Also, focus on the quality of your content, not the quantity. It’s much better to have one fantastic blog than have 20 that aren’t really that special. You want to have the absolute best content possible, built for the user and the search engine. The search rankings will follow, as machine learning can rank content even though they do not have the exact keywords or matches in their information.
After your content is written, it’s time to start thinking about your anchor text. Actually, you probably should have already thought about it, but now is the time to implement it. Anchor text is the text you use to link to other sites. You always want your anchor text to be natural sounding and logical. Don’t just say “Click here for more information”. Instead, make it more natural within your content.
Once your content is written and your anchor text is good to go, send it off to be proofed and designed. If you want to do this internally, you can or you can use other resources to do so. Make sure your content stand out. No one wants to do read just paragraph after paragraph. Use your design resources to break up the content and make it digestible.
Content promotion is one of the absolutely most tedious practices in SEO. This is where almost everyone falls short – promoting the content. If you don’t promote your content, how will anyone know about it? It’s like putting up a billboard on a road that no one drives down. Google isn’t going to rank a piece of content at the top of the SERPs just because you create a blog.
You need to promote the content to the right people. Here are some tools and tips to help you. Remember, you should spend three times the amount of time promoting content as creating it. If it took you 2 hours to create the piece, then should spend at least 6 promoting it.
Here are some different ways to promote your content:
1. Social Media
This one should be obvious. You need to be using your social channels to promote your content and interact with other social media influencers. If you are an automotive aftermarket dealer, then find automotive blogs and interact with them on social media. Follow them, share their content, and then send them your content. Good things happen when you interact with people.
2. Email Promotion
This is a fairly simple tactic. Find good targets based on similar articles. If you write a blog, “Everything You Need to Know About Anti-Aging Products,” you will want to share it with people who have an interest in anti-aging products. Google anti-aging blogs or skin care blogs to find related articles, and then email those authors. Let them know that you enjoyed their article and thought they should see yours. If you do this enough times and refine your process, they could share your article on their social channels or link to it.
This is one of the easiest but most costly. You can promote it through the display network, social media advertising (which is big), or other more traditional means.
Believe it or not, no one does this. Call these influencers and learn more about them. Let them know about you and how you enjoyed their content. This is the most surefire way to build a relationship with their blog. While this is the best and most effective method, it is also the hardest.
Content creation and promotion is not a new idea. If you don’t know about it by now (and aren’t utilizing it) then you are missing out on the best off-page SEO tactic since Google was invented. For 2018, you need to focus on new and clever ideas to promote your content so you can beat out your competition.
The first thing that you want to look at is the relevance of a link. Anyone can get hundreds, if not thousands of links, but all that really matters is how relevant they are to you and how users interact with them. When we say relevance, we mean that the content on the site/link has to do with the content of your site. If you sell aftermarket automotive parts, and you are getting links from a fashion blog, then these links probably aren’t going to impact your rankings.
So, how do you judge relevance? Usually, you want to look at these key criteria:
- Website Relevance – Does the website have any commonalities with your website? Do you have similar keywords?
- Content Relevance – If the webpage that links to you has nothing to do with you, then you will surely not see any impact from it. But relevance doesn’t just end at the website itself. Content is also important. For instance, getting a link from an automotive website, but having the actual page talk about scholarships isn’t very relevant and won’t provide as much of an impact as an article about automotive replacement parts.
- Link Relevance – Do the actual links, anchor texts, sentences, or paragraphs that link to you provide keyword support to support the link being relevant? Does it make sense? If not, you will see a less impact from these links to your pages.
2. Good Sources
There are many factors that go into what makes a good link. In addition to relevance, you also want to look at the impact of the source. Here are some key criteria:
- Domain Rating
How high is their domain authority with Google? There are various tools that you can use to judge this. We use Ahrefs, because we have found that it has a good understanding of DR.
- Social Influence
Do their social media accounts have legitimate likes, shares, and followers? The more natural social following they have, the better, and, if your link gets shared on their channels, it is impactful.
- Alexa Rankings
You can also use Alexa to determine how well people interact with the site.
- Ahrefs Rankings
Ahrefs is a great SEO tool that can judge the popularity or authority based on their backlink profile. The lower the ranking (it ranks all websites), the better the source.
This is more of an eye test. Is this an impactful website? Do people interact with it? Is there new content being published regularly? Do they have email subscribers?
The above are good criteria for when you are looking for sources from which to get links. However, a lot of them will require your best judgement.
3. Number of Links
Believe it or not, but the number of links is important to your backlink profile – especially how many domains point back to your site. Having 10,000 links from one affiliate site has diminishing returns, and, in most cases, will only help so much.
Many SEOs will preach quality over quantity, and while this is true, it is rather misleading. Having quality links is very important but having a larger number of quality links is better. Google won’t positively judge a website based on only 5-10 super high-quality links unless you are in a very specific niche.
Almost all large merchants have thousands of links from high-quality websites, directories, forums, blog comments, and more. Having a large, quality link profile is necessary in today’s world. This goes against SEO in nature, as we usually want the most high-quality links, but having some non-important links is just as important.
In studies from both Searchmetrics and Backlinko, sites with a larger link profile generally do better in Google search. Google understands sites will get links pointed to them and sometimes those will be low-quality.
Instead of disavowing every link under a DA 30 on a weekly basis like some SEOs will tell you do to, you need to embrace these links that are not built from us. Also, understand that Google understands and knows that these links make up a healthy profile. Having a large number of links is actually a really good factor in Google search, as more websites are giving you an upvote, instead of just a few.
Now, we’re not saying to go build links like it’s 2010, but just know that having a large number of links can be a good thing and is usually easier to manage in a link profile. Stop focusing on removing the bad links, as Google doesn’t usually count them. Instead, focus on acquiring good quality links that are relevant and which users find useful.
4. Links – What is Impactful?
Let’s analyze what is impactful for a link in 2018. Generally, we want to see social signals on our individual page. Getting a good editorial article published with a link to your site is a good start, especially if you get shares on social channels.
But in the end, what we want is viral content and to get links to our site from said viral content. It is rather simple in its nature when you think about it, but there are also other factors to look into:
- Link Placements
Where is the link? If it is in a bio, then it won’t help as much as if it is at the top of the article. If you have more than one – one at the top and one at the bottom – it is better. Of course, too many, and you can receive diminishing returns.
- Social Signals
This may be repetitive, but having a link that has social shares and social interaction – meaning people share it on social media and visit it – is impactful.
- Email Click Backs
If they share it on their newsletter and it gets clicks back, it will help to make the link stronger.
- User Engagement
Similar to email click backs, the more users visiting it and interacting with it, th better the link. Useless articles are useless links.
- Anchor Text
Anchor text does help, but it can hurt, so be careful with it. Backlinko does say it helps, but be careful as you can always trigger Penguin updates.
- Anchor Context
The content around your anchor is important, as well. Oddly placed anchor text can hurt your efforts and the anchor text.
The last and strongest factor is having backlinks pointing to your backlink. If people point links to your links from good link sources, your article will rise in relevance.
Use the above criteria when forming your editorial content, your content promotion, and your backlink efforts. Do not try to do too much of each, but it is to be hoped that this will help you form your backlink efforts in 2017 on the user and the search engine.
Let’s talk about social media one more time! There are tons of social media platforms out there, and you have to know how to leverage each one of them. One thing that many merchants don’t realize is that you have to invest money into the advertising tools. Also, social media generally does not provide the black and white ROAS that a PPC campaign would produce.
However, getting more likes on Facebook, more pins, more retweets and more engagement can provide real long-term profits over time. And yes, social media does help SEO. Right now, in our opinion, Google cannot tell the difference between sponsored content and organic content. Therefore, you can use the advertising tools to get social signals to help SEO off-page efforts. Use your social channels to promote your retargeting efforts for products, but you can also use it to promote your content. And lastly, make sure you are building relationships with the key influencers in your market.
By far, Facebook has the largest number of users and can provide the highest ROAS from their advertising tool. This is the best tool for promoting your blog content, performing dynamic retargeting, and sharing the links you receive.
While you might not see it in their interface, Pinterest and Facebook are very similar, especially when it comes to the way that Google reads them. All pins have separate URLs, which makes it easier for Google to read Pinterest. Also, the advertising platform is great, and it is fantastic for promoting products that can help them in the SEO game.
Instagram has become a huge branding tool over the years. It’s not just for the younger generation anymore. As far as SEO is concerned, it is rather poor, but it is becoming more integrated with Google and rankings.
Twitter is also very similar to Facebook; however, this tool is great for influencer outreach and relationship management. You can manage the relationship with the people from whom you achieve links. It is impactful to find key influencers in your market and follow them, share their content, and interact with them. A good retweet can dramatically benefit your content.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional networking platform. It currently has over 500 million members. This can be a great tool to help you share your content with like -minded individuals. You can also join groups on LinkedIn that apply to your service offerings and network with people there. Build relationships with people on their and share your content accordingly.
Make sure that you use your social media advertising tools to your advantage. Promote your content, products and categories. Of course, you want it to be organic, but with every change that the platforms make, it is harder for commercial entities to earn organic value compared to non-commercial entities. Always leverage your social media tools to build relationships and utilize those relationships to get strong social media signals.
Becoming a thought leader can be very important for merchants. It gives your store more credibility and gives you a better chance of having your products purchased if someone relates to your content. Make sure, when you create content, that it is of the highest quality and solves people’s problems or answers their questions.
With more and more competition, it is important to become craft and even to use traditional means to become a thought leader, such as publishing articles in traditional magazines or becoming known as a speaker on your subject.
Today, more than ever, SEO is becoming more and more incorporated with PR and is less of a technical art of manipulation. Today it is more of a value-adding art.
Promote yourself as the thought leader for your niche through the content creation and promotion tactics above. Remember, SEO is becoming very integrated with PR and other more traditional marketing means.
Part 5: Analyzing Your Efforts
SEO isn’t easy. Sure, it’s not brain surgery, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park either. It takes time and effort to execute. But it doesn’t stop there. You have to measure the success as well, and that takes time and effort. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done.
There are a ton of different components and metrics that you can use to measure the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. Here are the main KPIs that should you should be looking at when measuring your efforts:
Organic Search Traffic
SEO is all about driving traffic to your website, therefore you must be tracking the amount of traffic that is going to your site. You are going to want to look at Sessions, which Google defines as “a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame.” That’s just another way to say traffic.
In order to see if your SEO efforts have been paying off, you will want to compare traffic to your site over time. You can look at it Week over Week, Month over Month, or Year over Year. Keep in mind that SEO is a slow process – it can take months to see any results. Therefore, it’s normally best to look at it YoY, especially if you have any seasonality in your business.
In order to measure search traffic, head over to your Google Analytics account and you can find this metric under Acquisitions>Channels>Organic Search. Your sessions should be in the first column.
Revenue is probably the most important metric that ecommerce merchants want to look it. Sure, sending tons of traffic over to your site or being ranked #1 in the SERPs is impressive, but if you aren’t making any money off of it, what’s the point?
In order to further track your revenue, you are going to want to track your sales. You can set this up in your Google Analytics account as well. There are two different types of ecommerce tracking that are available to you:
1. Standard ecommerce:
This allows you to analyze purchase activity by looking at product and transaction information, average order value, ecommerce conversion rate, time to purchase and other data.
2. Enhanced ecommerce:
This adds a bit more functionality to the tracking by giving you the ability to see when customers have added items to their shopping carts, when they have started the checkout process, and when they have completed a purchase.
Obviously, keyword rankings is another very important metric to track when you are analyzing your SEO efforts. The higher your keyword rankings the more traffic you should see going to your website. That’s what most of these SEO tactics are trying to accomplish – higher rankings.
There are a ton of tools out there that you can use to track this. Google Search Console will give you the ability to see the keywords that are driving traffic to your site and where they rank. You can go to Search Traffic>Search Analytics to find this.
Number of Backlinks/Referring Domains
As previously discussed, backlinks are a huge ranking factor. The more backlinks that you have, the better you should perform in the SERPs. With Ahrefs, you can look and see all of the websites that are linking to you, where specifically they are linking to on your site and the domain rating of the referring domain.
Click Through Rate
Your click through rate might not be the most important metric to follow – it’s debated whether it influences ranking or not – but regardless, it’s still something you want to track and work on improving.
You can find your CTR by going to into your Search Console>Search Traffic>Search Analytics.
Your goal conversions are a very important metric. Again, what’s the point in a ton of traffic if it isn’t converting? And converting doesn’t have to be a sale – it’s anything you are trying to accomplish; whether that be a sale, content download, newsletter signup, etc.
For ecommerce, your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors that turn into customers, so how many visits end in a transaction. This is your sales. Obviously, you want to track how many visitors are actually buying something from you.
However, just because a conversion rate is a little below average doesn’t mean that you aren’t being effective in your efforts. Check your conversion rate against your average transaction value. If you only have 4 conversions, but they are for an average of $500 each, you’re probably better off than having 8 conversions with an ATV of $50.
Average Time on Page
Not only do you want to know how many people are getting over to your site, you also want to track what they are doing when they land on your page. Are they spending 30 seconds and then going somewhere else or are they spending time actually using your site?
Pages Per Session
You also want to look at how many pages a visitor is going to once they land on your site. The higher your pages per session is, the better. The more time people are on your site means that you have people going to different pages, which means your navigation is working well and your content is engaging.
To find this, you can look in your Google Analytics account, under Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels and it can be found in the fifth column.
The final metric that we are going to discuss here is your bounce rate. This is defined as the percentage of people who land on your site, only to bounce right back to the SERPs. These are visitors who don’t interact with your page at all.
Bounce rate is an important metric to track because it is one of the best ways to measure user engagement. Having a low bounce rate means that users are finding your site useful and interacting.
In order to view your bounce rate, go into your Google Analytics account, Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels and it is in the fourth column. That metric will show you the bounce rate for each channel. If you want to find the bounce rate for individual pages, head to Behavior>Site Content>All Pages.
Hopefully this guide has given you a little more insight into the fast-pace world of SEO. We’ll leave you with one last thing. Once you go through this guide, optimize your site, start publishing content – the works – don’t think you are done. SEO is a constant process. There is always room for improvement. Once you have done all the SEO best practices, something is going to have changed and it’s time to start the process all over again. Always keep improving.