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eCommerce SEO: A Beginner’s Guide

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eCommerce SEO: A Beginner’s Guide

You run an online business. Therefore, you are in the business of making money. Without money, the lights go out. That means you need customers, and that means customers need to find you.

It’s all about marketing, of which a facet is advertising. Marketing specialists will tell you that marketing is all about the four P’s: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

They must have figured all of this out long before the internet because there’s more to marketing than this. There’s the aspect of marketing that gets you in front of your customers so they know you exist in the first place. If we had to pick a “P,” it would be “promotion,” but that doesn’t quite complete the picture.

Advertising, when adapted to digital marketing standards, is part of promotion. Pay-per-click advertising falls under this umbrella. Pay-per-click, which hinges on PPC ads and thus is more commonly known as PPC, is a big component of digital marketing, but not the entire picture.

Traditional forms of “promotion” like this are expensive, despite the fact that they are effective. Interestingly enough, digital marketing is not entirely about paid search advertising, anyway.

There’s another way to get in front of your customers. A long-term, effective, scalable solution that builds on the initial investment: eCommerce SEO.

What is eCommerce SEO?

Ah, eCommerce SEO. It’s oft-referenced but perhaps not as well understood as it could (or should) be. At its most basic, eCommerce SEO is just SEO geared towards eCommerce.

So, then, what is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is a large (surprisingly large) collection of best practices that alert search engines to your website as an authority for a given number of queries, subjects, or keywords.

SEO stands in stark contrast to eCommerce PPC and associated PPC management services because PPC entails paid ads, whereas SEO initiatives are largely decentralized. Without getting too lost in the details of comparison, PPC takes the form of placed ads whereas the collection of practices that can be classified as SEO do not start or end in one given place.

Because of the vast nature of SEO best practices, it is much slower to generate results than paid search advertising. Oftentimes, it takes weeks or months for an SEO project to generate appreciable gains for your keywords rankings, authority, or traffic increases to your eCommerce website.

Hold on – eCommerce SEO can take a long time, even when it is well organized by an experienced eCommerce SEO expert? Why, then, would anyone want to pursue SEO services when the process is so complex and takes so long to generate results?

eCommerce SEO is an effective long term strategy for generating higher organic traffic and growing your business.

Why is eCommerce SEO Valuable?

Ask any eCommerce SEO expert, and they’ll tell you: despite the fact that SEO takes a bit of time to generate higher rankings and organic traffic to your online store, the results build upon themselves and linger long after your stop pursuing SEO services or best practices. You can’t say the same for PPC services. Usually, when a Google AdWords campaign ends, traffic and sales fall off, too. It’s the same for other paid search campaigns as well.

Despite the fact that it takes longer to see results from the changes or content publication you make today when pursuing SEO best practices, the results will continue to compound after you stop.

Here’s the other thing. The cost of paid search does not diminish over time. You will continue to pay for clicks for as long as the campaign is active. It’s a lot harder to measure the cost of the results associated with SEO services, but at a certain point, they become much more cost-effective.

This makes eCommerce SEO a long-term game. Not only should you be able to afford to take some time to see the results pouring in, but you should gear your processes around it. Not every business can afford to pay for a lengthy, competitive PPC campaign; but every business is involved with customer engagement and has content on its website. Also, by its very definition, every eCommerce business has a website.

How you go about setting up the structure of the website, what content and images you use, how you build your site structure, and much more can and will all impact your SEO value. It’s just a matter of whether you are engaging in the right processes from the start.

Ultimately, eCommerce SEO is such a big deal because it is one of the most cost-effective and without a doubt one of the most sustainable avenues for building your online business. It is also, without a doubt, one of the most consequential pieces of the digital marketing puzzle.

Leveraging SEO best practices to your advantage will have long-standing benefits for your eCommerce business, including but not limited to higher organic traffic figures, more new users, and if all of your other ducks are in a row, higher conversion rates and sales figures.

So, How Can You Improve Your SEO?

Believe it or not, it’s not rocket science. There are a lot of things you can do to improve the overall SEO value of your eCommerce website. You just need to know where to look and how to make the changes.

Here’s the basic process that everyone follows – even eCommerce experts – when they’re making it a priority to improve the SEO value of a website.

It All Starts with Keyword Research

The basis of all successful SEO campaigns is keyword research. It sounds simple, but it’s really much more complex than just making assumptions about what keywords you should or should not target in all of your following initiatives.

For example, let’s say that your hypothetical business sells shoes. You would think that “shoes” is a great keyword to target, because, well, obviously your business sells shoes.

However, keyword research goes a lot deeper than this; it takes into account customer behavior and the surrounding climate of the industry. Yes, your business sells shoes, but so do all of your direct competitors. That means that “shoes” is theoretically a good keyword to target, but it’s undifferentiated, unlike your business.

All businesses have core value propositions without which they don’t have a competitive edge. Your business doesn’t just sell shoes. Something else sets it apart. It could be the style of shoes that your business sells, how or where your shoes are made, or the types of services your business offers.

Does your business sell boots? What kind of boots does it sell? Does it specialize in selling dress boots like Chukka boots or Chelsea boots? Perhaps your organization sells tactical boots, logger boots, or work boots.

If the latter is the case, a keyword like “work boots wedge sole” might make more sense for your organization to target. This keyword is more specific than “shoes” and despite the fact that fewer people are searching for it than “shoes,” you have a better chance to go after it to increase your ranking for it. Once you have built up additional authority, you can go after higher-volume, more competitive, generic search terms like “shoes” or “boots” as keywords.

This concept of keyword research brings up another interesting point that will influence the efficiency of search for the right target keywords, which is the difference between long-tail and short-tail keywords.

The Difference Between Long-Tail and Short-Tail Keywords

You want to go after the most lucrative set of keywords that you possibly can, but not every keyword is relevant to your business, your industry, or even to your customers. You can rank for a lot of keywords, but at a certain point, there are going to be diminishing returns. It’s better to settle on a well-selected group of highly targeted keywords and go for those. If you’re successful in your efforts, you can expand your focus keyword list to include more entries. By the same token, you can stop focusing on keywords that aren’t giving you good traction or those with dropping search volume.

In your search for the ideal keyword list, you’re going to come across what is known as long-tail and short-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords are less specific than long-tail keywords and are usually only one or two words long. In the example offered above, “shoe” and “boot” can be considered short-tail keywords.

The thing about short-tail keywords is that everyone wants to rank for them because they tend to have a huge search volume. The shopping process often begins with a short-tail keyword and gets more refined. However, because they are so competitive, it’s very hard to come into ranking for them, although this does depend on the industry, the number of competitors, and the keywords individual search volumes. Something else to note is that although short-tail keywords have high search volume because they are non-specific, conversion rates associated with them are lower than with long-tail keywords.

So, then, what are long-tail keywords? Long-tail keywords are longer, more descriptive variants of short-tail keywords. For example, “boots” is a short-tail keyword, but “wedge-soled work boots” can be considered a long-tail keyword.

A long-tail keyword doesn’t need to be a single concept, like an item. It can be a query or a process. For example, “wedge-soled work boots for civil engineering” is a long-tail keyword, albeit longer-tailed than the former example.

In contrast to short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords typically have a much lower search volume. The flipside is that the conversion rates and the interest associated with long-tail keywords are much higher than with short-tail keywords. There’s a tradeoff here.

It’s easier to come into ranking for long-tail keywords because there is less competition for them, and because they are so specific, the users searching for them are more likely to convert. The problem is that, since there are fewer overall searches for long-tail keywords, it’s rarely lucrative to target only them.

Instead, the best course of action is to target a healthy balance of long and short-tail keywords. That way you can appeal to a large number of different searches while at the same time providing the specific results relevant to those searching for associated long-tail variants. For example, you might target both “boots” and “wedge-soled work boots” because some of the users searching only for “boots” are actually looking for the long-tail solution.

So you know you need to target a balance; but how do you find it?

Volume, Competition, Search Intent

It’s not enough to know that you need to target a balance of long and short-tail keywords. You need to consider volume, competition, and search intent as well. This is where your critical thinking skills come into play.

There are some paid tools that you can use to see what the actual search volume is for keywords, as well as the competitiveness of any given query, term, or keyword. For search intent, you’ll need to put on your thinking cap.

Volume is how many searches are actually entered for a given keyword. As volume increases, competitiveness usually increases, which means it’s usually harder to rank for high-volume keywords than lower-volume keywords. Again, though, a lot of the money is in the high-volume keywords.

What you do need to know is that when you rank for high-volume, high-competition keywords, it’s very lucrative. However, ranking for them is difficult and you must balance how aggressive your tactics are with the desired outcome.

Competition can make some keywords less lucrative than you’d like; and more resource consuming to target.

As for search intent, this has to do with what customers are looking for when they enter a search term or a keyword. To make an illustration of this we need to use a keyword that, with no added context, is ambiguous. We’ll use “cable.”

Can you tell if the person searching for “cable” is looking for cable or internet services? Probably not, since it’s 2021, but you still can’t be sure. Is the search intent to find electrical cable? Load-bearing cables? Google has to do its best to link up this ambiguous keyword with the best results, based on what other people entering the same word have clicked on or found.

That’s only one type of search intent. Sometimes, a search for “shoes” might be associated with intent to purchase a pair of sneakers. It also might be associated with an intent to figure out how to waterproof sneakers. It’s not probable, but you can’t be sure.

The reason for mentioning this is that you should avoid the temptation to target a keyword that looks like a low-hanging fruit if you have no reasonable justification to assume relevant search intent for your business.

To make a glaringly obvious example, you might be able to find a keyword like “rubber rain boots” with relatively low competition and high search volume. You could take efforts to come into ranking for that keyword, but if your website only sells work boots, what would be the point? Your website would rank for searches for “rubber rain boots,” but would end in frustration for customers looking for something else.

The point here is to balance long and short-tail keywords while accounting for volume, competition, and search intent. They need to be relevant to your business.

So, how do you choose them?

How to Choose?

Now you have some insight into what might make a good keyword for you to target in your SEO objectives to accomplish your goals. But just how do you choose a set of keywords? You are the expert in your industry, but guessing will only get you so far.

We’ve already shown how “shoes” is a relevant keyword to a seller of footwear, and that only took light guesswork to come up with. The thing is, a guess is still only a guess until you pair it up with the right critical thinking.

There are paid tools that you can use to help you perform your keyword research, but Google itself gives you some free tools that you can use on your own. Just visit good and come up with a keyword that you think is relevant to your business.

Let’s start with “shoes” and assume that your hypothetical business sells them, just to illustrate a point. Google has an autofill feature that will fill in relevant keywords, but long and short-tail, based on what you enter.

Just look what pops up when you type in “shoes.” Based on the location and other relevant search information, Google has connected this query for shoes with other relevant search terms like “shoes for women,” “shoes for men,” “shoes for sale,” and “shoes stores.”

These, however, are still not very well-targeted keywords. It might be valuable for your business to rank for them, but they’re likely to be competitive. Let’s consider that your online shoe outlet is a specialist provider of athletic shoes. We’ll see what Google has to pitch to us for “running shoes.”

Typing “shoes running” into Google as a variant of the keyword, we have a much more interesting and targeted set of keywords to choose from, as you can see below.

Google’s autofill doesn’t give you important insights into the actual search volume or competition of keywords like “shoes running best” and “shoes running Nike,” as well as valuable long-tail keywords like “shoes running vs. training.” Even though you can’t see how many searches there are for these keywords, you can assume that enough users are searching for them for Google to gamble on their relevance to you based on your input of “shoes running.” That means an appreciable number of searches for “shoes running” end up being “shoes running Nike.” That tells you a lot of search intent as well as volume. One, people are looking for running shoes, and two, a lot of them are hoping to find Nike shoes.

It’s a labor-intensive process with a lot of guess and check, and going about it this way isn’t particularly precise, which is why so many businesses work with SEO agencies and other providers of eCommerce SEO services. Without the help of a reliable analytical tool like SEMRush or the input and frame of reference of an SEO company, developing a solid keyword list is difficult. It’s the foundation of a successful SEO strategy, so it needs to be done right.

On-Page Optimization: Optimizing Site Structure

At any rate, once you’re confident that you’ve compiled a practical and effective keyword list, you can begin with technical and on-page SEO efforts.

The first and often the most basic things you can do to improve your SEO value involve some of the following.

  • URL Structure:

Believe it or not, URL structure is a ranking signal and it can affect your website’s rankings, depending on whether or not it is optimized. Some platforms give you more control over altering URL structure than others, but once you’ve selected a list of keywords and the target pages associated with them, you can alter the URLs associated with important category and content pages accordingly. Just make sure not to stuff your URLs – one target keyword per URL is a good idea, and shorter is better.

The URL above actually extends so far that getting an image of it that could actually be seen required cropping it. The URL is ambiguous at best and downright confusing. It is not evident where it goes and not only contains no keywords, it contains no discernible words at all. If your web pages have URLs like this, they could use some work.

  • Page Titles

Page titles are an important ranking factor that search engines are looking out for. While you can theoretically assign more than one target keyword to a given page (so that the page will rank for more than one keyword) you should focus on one rather than stuffing the title. Another thing to remember is that bounce rate is also a ranking signal. Do not give your page titles nonsense title tags, because if users find them and then ultimately are frustrated and leave because the page was irrelevant to the title tag, that’s not good for your business.

  • Image Alt Text

Image alt text (also known as alternative text) is a text alternative to images that search engines can assess while crawling a page. A lot of alt text is randomly generated numbers and letters created when you insert or upload an image. This is useful for the computer or the software to categorize and file the image, but utterly useless for SEO.

A lot of businesses simply don’t take advantage of the fact that you can use custom written alt text to improve a website’s SEO value. All you need to do is align the alt text with the keyword or keywords for which you want the page containing the image to rank. For example, if you uploaded a picture of boots to a page that you wanted to rank for “steel toe work boots,” you might want to insert the latter keyword into the alt text of the image in question.

  • Meta Descriptions

In addition to the page titles which are metadata and important ranking signals, meta descriptions are another important category of metadata that will impact the ranking of your website.

When you customize your meta descriptions, you have a unique opportunity to positively impact not only your SEO value but also your UX. Write meaningful meta descriptions that succinctly inform the user about the page they are about to visit. Sew target keywords relevant to the page into the meta description without stuffing them, and you’ll increase your SEO value while at the same time potentially diminishing your bounce rate, another ranking signal.

  • Site Security

Some users may not take notice of the difference between the HTTP and the HTTPS in your address, but it is a ranking signal, nonetheless, and an easy one to account for.

Site security is very valuable: It’s a ranking signal and it fosters trust with your users.

The purchase and implementation of an SSL certificate is valuable for many other reasons in addition to the fact that it will give you a slight SEO boost. For one, it will improve the user experience because your site will seem more trustworthy, and it will also make your site more secure and help prevent outside access to data that travels to and from your website.

  • Page Speed

Page speed is another ranking signal, and slow websites have two distinct problems that can affect your SEO value. For one, as a ranking signal, Google will evaluate your website on its speed without any help.

In addition, users are intolerant of slow loading speeds, typically bouncing in under three seconds if the page fails to load. This will raise your bounce rate, which is a ranking signal; this “splash effect” due to low page speed will negatively impact your SEO value.

To make your website faster, optimize your images with smaller files where possible, cut back on the number of redirects on your website, and use compression software if you can, although there are many other ways to boost your page speed.

  • Mobile Friendliness

Google made an announcement in 2019 that it would switch to mobile-first indexing, meaning that websites that lacked a mobile-friendly responsive design would suffer.

While some eCommerce platforms like BigCommerce have themes that are mobile-friendly or have responsive designs, providing a truly mobile-optimized design is critical not only for SEO purposes but also for UX. A design or a theme that is not responsive will quickly frustrate mobile shoppers, who make up an increasingly large portion of the eCommerce population.

In other words, mobile design is critical to eCommerce SEO success.

Onsite Optimization: Content Publication

In addition to the more technical aspects of SEO mentioned above, a lot of the value from the keywords you uncovered during keyword research can be extracted in the form of content publication. Here are some of the steps you can take to optimize your website’s content to appeal to both users and search engines.

  • Removal of Duplicate Content

The most straightforward way you can bump up the SEO value of your website is to remove duplicate content. Wherever duplicate content appears and a search engine takes note of it, either or both of two things may occur. First, the website on which the content first appears will be given precedence over the website with the duplicate content. Secondly, the website with duplicate content may even be assigned a penalty.

Removing duplicate content should be easy since you should be able to identify where you got it from in the first place. It’s common on eCommerce websites in the form of manufacturer descriptions and other such snippets that eCommerce merchants sometimes copy and paste. However, copying and pasting is bad in SEO; you want to write your own original content.

  • Category page content

One area of your website where you can provide value to your customers and sew in keyword-rich content to appeal to search engines (in one fell swoop) is on your category pages. Oftentimes, users will get to a category page while navigating through your website, before they get to a product page. This makes them a critical juncture down the sales funnel.

Provide original information on the category of products. Offer users insight into use, tips, and tricks. Catch their attention with humor. Give them a reason to want to learn more. After all, you sell these products, so you are the authority!

This will benefit the UX of your website and it will also tip off search engines that your website is an authority in your industry and should be ranked accordingly.

  • Product page content

If category pages are valuable because they represent a vital stepping stone in the purchasing process of the customer experience, then the product page is the kingpin. It is at that point that a customer is typically going to make a decision to purchase or not.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question; Whether ‘tis nobler to infuse your product pages with optimized content and so take the reins of SEO within your grasp or allow chance rankings to befall you.

Just like you can optimize category pages, you can optimize your product pages, and it is vital to do so. Provide rich, keyword-optimized descriptions of provides. Discuss uses and complementary products. Think about what you would want to know about this product if you were a customer and then provide the information.

Customers will notice, and with the right balance of keywords, search engines will too. Bare product pages are a big SEO red-flag.

  • Onsite blogs with optimized for keyword density and internal linking structure

As valuable as product and category page content is, your blog is the space where you can really provide information to your readers and capture the attention of search engines. Also, since you can vary the length of a blog according to your intended purposes, you’re less likely to get a penalty for keyword stuffing, which is including too many keywords in too short a piece of content.

Look through your keyword selection and write blogs regarding those keywords, varying the length. Remember, what one reader appreciates another might not. Think about how your products have been received by customers and what they use them for. Discuss little-known features of your products or make potential matches for supporting products. Write a blog on common hacks for your products. Keep it creative, infuse them with keywords and the SEO results will follow.

On The Importance of Backlinks and Link Building

Another critical component to eCommerce SEO is the process of link building and link strategy. There are three basic types of links. There are outbound links, which take readers away from your website to other websites. You should use these sparingly because although they can improve UX, they will show Google that you’re directing traffic to another source of authority.

Then there are internal links, which are links between pages on your website, and inbound links, which are called backlinks when you’re referring to the fact that the traffic originates on another website and is directed back to your website.

Internal linking and backlink strategy are crucial to SEO. Whenever you’re producing content for your website, if the content refers to valuable information that can be found elsewhere on your website, provide a link to that page.

Link strategy is critical component of the larger, encompassing SEO project.

As for backlinking, the strategy is a little bit trickier. You can’t just create backlinks to your website. You either need to work with an eCommerce SEO company that has an established network for generating and trading backlinks, or you have to trade for them yourself. Some online businesses and bloggers still engage in old-fashioned link-trading, where they will offer backlinks in exchange for writing about a product or some other type of service.

You can work with the best SEO experts to help generate backlinks for you, but one way or the other, if you aren’t securing them, you aren’t doing all you can do to improve your SEO.

See It in Action

The areas covered in this article are some of the most important aspects you can cover in your eCommerce SEO strategy, but there’s much more you can do if you want to get down to a much more granular level.

If you want to see specific examples of how we’ve used our proprietary SEO process to generate magnificent results for eCommerce clients in a huge range of industries, just take a look at our eCommerce case studies. In addition to our design, development, and migration case studies, there are many that focus on SEO campaigns we’ve executed for key clients and highlight the huge results generated from our activities.

Put 1Digital Agency’s Process to Work for Your Business

There’s a lot of information here; hence the old saying, “if it was easy, everyone would do it.” True, there are a lot of changes you can make to your website to benefit its overall SEO value, but there’s a reason SEO specialists get big results.

We see what works and what doesn’t work. We build backlinks. We perform in-depth keyword research and industry analysis before we go so far as writing half a piece of optimized category page content. We overhaul your website to optimize many of the facets we addressed in this article and more.

Higher traffic and sales are right around the corner, and it all starts with an SEO project with 1Digital Agency. Call us up at 888-982-8269 or get in touch with us at info@1digitalagency.com to learn more about how eCommerce SEO can take your business to new heights.

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