Despite the economic downturn that’s impacted some businesses since the outbreak of COVID-19, many eCommerce websites sales have actually proliferated from consumers spending more time at home. According to BigCommerce, eCommerce sales were up 25% from March 15th 2020 - May 5th 2020, so there’s never been a more crucial time to ensure that your web store is in tip top shape.
Fundamentally, you want your store to be found online and one of the best places to do this is Google, which means that to boost your online presence and returns you’ll need to invest some time and/or money into eCommerce SEO. As an extension of standard SEO principles, there are more considerations to make when optimising an online store as the website architecture and B2C target market is different to what you can expect from the website of a B2B company running a lead generation campaign. But how is eCommerce SEO different to a typical SEO strategy?
What is a Typical SEO Strategy?
A typical SEO strategy would include the following items:
- Keyword Research
- Site Architecture
- On-page SEO
- Technical SEO
- Off-page SEO
- Measurable Metrics
The above framework represents the steps that are generally included within any SEO campaign, where many of these are absolutely essential to improving organic performance. To be more specific, here’s a few points on what these steps should include and what you should consider when completing them.
SEO Keyword Research
Keyword research is possibly the most important element of any SEO campaign, simply because if you target the wrong keywords then your target audience won’t be able to find you. When conducting keyword research, you should aim to find the right selection of well searched terms that are achievable is pivotal to success and lays the foundation for the future of your campaign.
Your website’s architecture should not only reflect how you want potential customers to navigate through your website using the menu to arrive at category/product pages, but it also allows your pages to pass authority through to each other via internal linking. Additionally, you should create search engine friendly URLs that create clear pathways to the different areas of the website. Simplicity is key, as the more complicated it is the less users will be inclined to engage with the site.
On-page SEO helps to ensure that your website’s pages are being found in Google as it essentially informs Google what the page is about. When crawling your website, Google’s bots review certain page elements to deduce the relevancy of a page for a given search term, which include page title, meta description, H tags, alt tags, meta keywords etc. Including your chosen keyword/s into these on-page SEO elements helps to boost the relevancy of the page.
Typically regarding the optimisation of a website for search engine crawling and indexing, technical SEO includes everything from robots.txt and sitemap files to page speed improvements, image optimisations, HTTPS protocol, canonical tags, and redirects. Essentially, by improving the technical SEO of your website it gives you a better chance to rank for your chosen keywords, plus it ensures that you’re delivering a seamless user experience for your customers.
As the Yang to the Yin of on-page SEO, off-page SEO encompasses any work that’s completed outside of the website with the aim of improving online visibility or individual rankings. One of the key drivers of off-page SEO is mostly outreach for the purpose of acquiring backlinks from relevant third party websites that point back to your website/domain. However, there are many other aspects too, such as Local SEO, NAP citations, Google My Business, social media signals, and user reviews.
SMART Goals For SEO
First conceptualised in 1981, SMART Goals refers to a process of planning, managing, and achieving objectives and is widespread across an array of different industries. When applied to an SEO strategy, this process helps you to visualise where you’re at, where you want to be, and how to get there. This means that when you reach the end of your strategy you can comprehensively evaluate your campaign to ensure you’re hitting the goals you’ve initially outlined.
How Is eCommerce SEO Different?
When deploying an eCommerce SEO strategy for an online store, whilst all of the core elements are similar to that of a more routine SEO strategy, more emphasis needs to be placed on the technical SEO of a website as you’ll generally deal with a greater number of individual URLs.
This is even more important during a cross-domain or cross-platform site migration, as there are many things that can be overlooked that can cause problems later down the line. In cases such as this, you should always look to follow a site migration checklist to adhere to all best practices and minimise any errors that may impact performance. As such, here’s a few things to consider when looking to improve your website’s eCommerce SEO.
Your URL structures should be clean and as simple as possible, yet also reflect the various layers of your website. For example, the most suitable structure can be generally displayed as https://www.yourdomain.com/category/product/. However, on certain platforms such as Shopify, URL structures are fixed and cannot be changed and may look longer than is perhaps necessary. Despite this, you should only change URL structures if necessary, try to keep them as short as possible, and include your target keywords.
Whenever you decide to change a URL on your website, you should always look to add a redirect to the page to prevent users from hitting a 404 page. Whether you’re removing a page or simply moving it to a different URL, you should always add a redirect that points to the next most relevant page to the one you’re redirecting from.
There’s a variety of different types of URL redirections, but most website owners will usually only use 2 types; 301 (Permanent) and 302 (Temporary). If you’re permanently moving a page from one URL to another, then you’d need to use a 301 redirect as this will indicate that the page has permanently moved and will no longer be on the old URL. 302 redirects should only really be used when you want to redirect a user to a new page temporarily, as this will prevent Google from caching the new URL, since the 302 redirect indicates that at some point in the future the old URL will be used again. Using correct redirections during a site migration is critical to ensure minimal disruption to users, traffic levels, and organic visibility.
Indexation for eCommerce SEO is vital to ensuring that your web pages are being found in Google. As such, using the Index Coverage section within Google Search Console on a regular basis can help you to understand how Google is indexing the pages within your website. This tool will provide insights into which URLs are indexed and which aren’t, but also offers detail to pertaining why there are issues which may be caused by 404 pages, misconfigured canonicals, XML sitemaps or robots.txt file, crawl anomalies, and exclusions based on a noindex tag among others.
A website’s pagination refers to a series of pages that show products within a specific category and is typically implemented to prevent the browser having to load all the products on one page.
For example, if you have a category with 250 products and your website displays 50 products per page, then there will be 5 versions of the same page that display different products. The problem here is that, without instruction, Google would deem all 5 pages to be the same, which may cause issues as a consequence of duplicate content that can prevent your page from ranking highly - or even at all.
Usually, the URLs of paginated pages will include a section such as /page/2/, which indicates the page number and corresponding products on that page. Historically, to minimise pagination issues website owners would have to add rel=”next” and rel=”prev” tags to outline to search engines each of the pages however this has now been discontinued. Since then, the use of canonical tags is the preferred choice of many to avoid this common pitfall.
A canonical tag (rel=”canonical”) is a link element that’s placed on a webpage to indicate to search engines that it should deem one page the same as another - in turn, avoiding any duplicate content / page issues. One of the most common examples of where a canonical tag is used is with the www. and non-www. versions of your website, where you infer to search engines to view them both as the same, but only index and rank one the version you have specified it to.
Another key example is to resolve pagination issues, except this time rather than canonicalise one page to another, you should self-canonicalise your chosen URL. I.e. yourdomain/category/page/2/ canonicalises to itself, meaning that Google will index the page and follow the links that point to the next / previous page.
Page Load Speed
In short, page load speed relates to how quickly - or slowly - your site loads when viewed in a browser. Over the last few years, the load speed of a website has become more and more important, not only to improve user experience but it’s also considered to be a ranking factor too.
When Google began mobile-first indexing it was clear that they wanted to ensure that if they ranked a website highly then they would be serving the user with more or less the same experience on mobile devices as on desktop. To help website owners, Google Page Speed Insights can be used to identify problem areas that are responsible for the slow load time of a page. This way, web developers can address these issues in order to improve the page load speed, but more importantly can improve performance.
Also identified in Google Search Console, crawl errors are issues that a search engine’s bots may encounter when trying to access a page of your website. These can be divided into two main categories; site errors and URL errors. Site errors, such as DNS errors, server errors, robots failure can be detrimental to your online visibility as they may prevent your website being crawled and indexed. URL errors, on the other hand, can be fixed easily using URL redirects, but these should be limited to being used only when you need to. Ensuring that all the pages you want to rank are crawlable and indexable is critical to increasing your exposure via Organic Search.
When marketing an ecommerce website online using SEO methodologies, much of the emphasis can be placed on the technical SEO aspects of your website as you’ll likely encounter issues due to its size and depth. Ecommerce SEO checklists are extremely useful to use and will help you to leave no stone unturned, which is especially important when migrating a website. All in all, be methodical and meticulous when thinking about your customer journey to conversion, as this will be the best route to drive results and sales.