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SEO for Ecommerce Guide


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Comprehensive guide to search engine optimization for Ecommerce includes a 7-point SEO checklist, and 3 critical SEO mistakes common with Ecommerce websites. Lots of free tools, resources, and SEO trade secrets from the Ecommerce Marketing Institute.

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SEO for Ecommerce Guide

  1. 1. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets
  2. 2. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 2 SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets Have you noticed a drop in website traffic, or even more obvious, fewer sales orders? You’re not alone. Frequent search engine algorithm updates are wreaking havoc on Ecommerce website results—especially sites that lack search engine optimization or SEO. No question, achieving top position for keywords in search engine results pages (SERPs) has always been a top priority for Ecommerce marketers. Why? Because studies show that only the top few search result positions drive click-through, website traffic, and critical to Ecommerce—sales. (Source: Search Engine Watch). Yet many Ecommerce websites lack even basic search optimization features and techniques. Developing a new Ecommerce website, or retrofitting an existing website with best practice search engine optimization (SEO) is critical to achieving improved organic or natural search engine results (vs. paid search results). This SEO Guide for Ecommerce Websites will identify and describe three (3) of the biggest SEO mistakes, and then detail a 7-point SEO checklist of the most critical search optimization practices, on-page and off-page techniques that can help your website succeed, along with several useful SEO tools, many free-of-charge, to assist in the process.
  3. 3. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 3 Top 3 Ecommerce SEO Mistakes There is no silver bullet when it comes to improving search results. In fact, SEO is a complex combination of coding and activities, on-page and off-page tactics. Following are perhaps the three (3) biggest mistakes that impact search authority for Ecommerce websites: social media, mobile web, and website speed. 1. POOR SOCIAL MEDIA EXECUTION Social media marketing is no longer optional for Ecommerce websites. Search engines attribute high authority to social networks, and search engine results pages (SERPs) demonstrate that social media ranks, often times higher than websites. Best practices social media marketing requires proper integration with your Ecommerce website. For consumer websites, use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ (if local is important), and of course, review sites like Yelp. For business-to-business websites, give LinkedIn more emphasis followed by Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and bookmarking sites. Be sure to make it easy for customers to find and engage with your social media profiles. Include links in a prominent position on your website. Not only is this a trust booster, it can help increase your following. Next, use social media Share Tools on your website. Drive more traffic to your website with the power of social proof by adding share tools all around your website to encourage customers to share with their friends and family. Some common places to add share tools is on your product pages or on thank you/ order confirmation pages. Or, after a customer gives a product review, use a share tool to give them an easy to way to share it with their Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Here is an example of a social share tool on the product page of Guitar Center (along with reviews).
  4. 4. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 4 Next, offer “Follower” exclusive incentives. In the noisy social media world, why not stand out? Customers are sick of being told follow us, like us, etc. Incentivize these actions by offering exclusive discounts or offers to your social media fans and followers. Social media contests are a great engagement tool for Ecommerce websites, who often struggle connecting to customers on social media. Types of contests include sweepstakes, connect (like/follow to enter), like/share (like/share to enter), voting (vote for your favorite), or submit (submit/upload content to enter). Make sure to keep it targeted! If the entrants are not your target audience, they may be less likely to engage with you again once the contest is over. Besides contests, how can you increase interactions and engagement on social media? Use visual content, ask questions, and show your personality. Visual content tends to be even more engaging than other types on social media. Photos have been found to be the most engaging type of content on Facebook, with an 87% interaction rate from fans. Similarly, on Twitter, adding a photo URL to your tweet can increase retweets by 35% (Social Media Examiner). 2. TAKE MOBILE WEB SERIOUSLY Shopify recently reported that mobile traffic eclipsed desktop for the first time, at over 50% of Ecommerce website traffic. With double-digit growth in mobile expected, implementing a mobile or ideally, responsive website design has never been more important. Why? Because search engines rank mobile websites higher, especially for mobile searches. Websites not coded for mobile, or not using a responsive design will rank lower than mobile competitors. For more information, check out the EMI blog on mobile commerce. Just a few years ago, mobile required separate or redundant versions of the same website, or a mobile version. There are three significant problems with this scenario. First, the need to update both website versions. Second, the need for the aforementioned redirects to the mobile version. And third, back-links established by the desktop version of the website do not automatically redirect, and thus don’t achieve the search authority.
  5. 5. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 5 Thankfully in 2013, responsive website design (RWD) was born, allowing for a single website design which functions on all desktop, tablet and mobile devices, without the need for redirects. Another huge SEO benefit of mobile or responsive website design is improved user experience (UX). Eliminating the pinch and zoom reduces bounce rate, and increases page views, which both support increase search authority. Indeed, non-mobile versions of content-heavy websites suffer high bounce rates, and thus lower search rankings. 3. SLOW WEBSITE SPEED A fast website may rank higher in SERPs because Google and other major search engines take website speed into consideration in their ranking algorithms. With paid search, a slow loading page could lower your quality score. Page loading or time, or website speed, is an often underrated factor in search optimization. However, the speed of your website is a critical component to overall user experience (UX). Common culprits for slowing down your website include non-optimized images, bulky code, tracking codes, share buttons, etc. Want to test your website speed? Check out Pingdom website speed tester. It will analyze page-loading time, and provide actionable recommendations to improve your website’s speed. If your speed score is less than 70/100, then start by identifying large images on your website using the Screaming Frog SEO tool. Run an analysis on your website, view images, filter by those over 100kb, and then sort by size. Use this list to start reducing images with tools such as TinyPNG.
  6. 6. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 6 SEO Checklist for Ecommerce Websites So what SEO improvements can you start implementing today? Following is an SEO checklist that will identify and describe seven (7) of the most critical search optimization practices or techniques that can help your Ecommerce website succeed, along with several tools, many free-of-charge, to assist in the process. 1. Meta tag coding 2. URL structure and redirects 3. Site maps and robots.txt 4. Product descriptions and duplicate content 5. Manage Reviews 6. Paid Search (PPC) 7. Ongoing SEO maintenance 1. META TAGS RULE The most basic building block of SEO are Meta tags, or Meta code including Meta descriptions, page titles, ALT or image tags, and header tags. In the past, Meta keywords were used, but are no longer important. Invisible to the user, Meta tags are HTML (or XHTML) coding that enable search engines to correctly index a web page’s contents. Ideally Meta descriptions are unique and keyword-rich for each page, and no more than 150 characters in length. Title tags or Page Titles, although not technically Meta, work with Meta descriptions and are typically displayed in the SERPs as the title, along with the Meta description (see screenshot below). Title tags are the descriptive words at the top of the browser window that, more often than not, only list the company name or website address. Title tags should be simple, keyword-rich, not duplicate of other titles, and approximately 50-60 characters in length including spaces. Meta Description Meta Title
  7. 7. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 7 While technically, meta descriptions do not effect rank, the meta description is what displays in a search result, so keyword relevance can effect click-through rate, and hence authority. ALT tags are the invisible descriptions of an image on your website. They tell the search engine what an image is and useful when search engines index or “spider” your website since the engines automatically turn off images and read only text (including file names). Therefore, file names of your images are also important. Instead of image filenames such as “DCP0003.jpg,” images should be re-named “KEYWORD.jpg,” to increase search results. Header tags are headings within your page content that are used to represent different sections in your content. The H1 tag is the most important and should exist on every page, followed by H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6. Some content management systems (like WordPress) have drop down header tag selections available. In addition to SEO benefits, header tags improve user experience on the front end of your website. 2. URL STRUCTURE AND REDIRECTS Another important ranking determinant is URL or domain structure—specifically, keyword-rich sub-domains. When linking to website sub-pages that are often served dynamically via databases, the URL that appears on the “http” line often includes obscure database code with multiple back slashes or symbols. To eliminate this search engine hurdle, ideal URL structures use the base domain name, along with simple keywords or keyword phrases, in place of this coding (TIP: another best practice is all lower case characters separated by a dash). A simple but often neglected SEO technique is setting up URL redirects, or more specifically, a 301 permanent redirect for your website. Search engines will index both the and domainname. com versions of your website. This scenario creates what is known as duplicate content, which dilutes or penalizes the search authority of the website without the redirect. Also called a canonical redirect, the 301 permanent redirect is vital to proper search engine optimization and improved rankings. A simple way to test whether your website has a 301 redirect in place is to type “” into your browser address bar then hit “Enter”. If the URL does not automatically change to “” or vice versa, then the redirect is NOT in place to resolve canonical issues, and therefore, is not optimized for the search engines. The redirect must be done at the hosting server level and can often be completed via hosting tech support requests.
  8. 8. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 8 3. SITEMAPS AND ROBOT.TXT Sitemaps help search engines crawl and discover all pages of your website. Typically there are two types of site maps: HTML and XML. HTML site maps are simply a page on your website that is a directory or listing of all the URLs (pages) on your website (or at least the most important ones). A link to your HTML sitemap is typically found in your website’s footer. Some visitors who are familiar with sitemaps may prefer to use such a tool to find exactly what they are looking for. On the other hand, XML sitemaps are a protocol that allow you to inform Google and other major search engines about the URLs on your website, which otherwise may be missed when indexing (especially if your internal linking structure is poor. Create and submit your XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo, and Bing. To generate an XML sitemap, link here. A robots exclusion protocol (REP), or robots.txt, is a text file that instructs search engines how to crawl and index pages on your website. This file is important if there are files or directories on your website that you do not want to be indexed by search engines. You may want this in order to protect private content or avoid the indexation of duplicate content. If your eyes are glazing over, just ask your developer. 4. PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONS AND DUPLICATE CONTENT Customers in a brick-and-mortar store have the advantage of being able to see, feel, read the package, and try a product before buying it. Online shopping eliminates this ability, and therefore, ecommerce websites need to provide as much detailed product information as possible. How many times have you been buying something online and had questions about a product? What is the length? What are the materials? Ecommerce websites often make the mistake of leaving customers with questions about a product, causing them to seek information, or even purchase, elsewhere! Provide as much information as possible about the product including: weight, sizes, materials, dimensions, instructions, fabric type, care instructions, and reviews. Another issue with Ecommerce websites, is the common practice of cutting and pasting descriptions from a manufacturer’s website. This is a huge problem, as hundreds of other websites could be using the same description as you.
  9. 9. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 9 And as described in the next paragraph, search engines may penalize your website for duplicate content. Short on text content by nature, Ecommerce websites need extra, unique content! One way to get unique content on your Ecommerce website is through unique product descriptions. In the long run, unique, well-written product descriptions, in combination with many other factors, can improve website rank in SERPs. Regarding duplicate content, search engines can identify duplicate pages with the same content, duplicate Meta code, even duplicate page titles—all of which penalize search authority. A great tool to pull or “scrape” Meta code from an existing website is Screaming Frog, which also identifies duplicates. We recommend using this tool for analyzing Meta code of competitor websites. Duplicate content is also a concern when “curating” blog or website content from other websites. Make sure to paraphrase an external source’s content, avoiding copying paragraphs verbatim. MANAGE REVIEWS No question, reviews are a critical component of your Ecommerce strategy. Positive, negative, or average, every review counts. Consider these statistics from Econsultancy: • 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision • 63% of users are more likely to make a purchase from a site with reviews • Consumer reviews are viewed with much more trust than product descriptions Thanks to Search Engine Land, we also would like to give you 5 steps in responding to negative reviews: • Have a game plan • Know where reviews are happening • Use negative reviews to make your business better • Personalize your reviews and ask questions • Don’t ignore reviews
  10. 10. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 10 So how do you generate more positive reviews? The most important, and perhaps obvious, way to get more positive reviews is to provide great customer service 100 percent of the time. Many people are not motivated to review a company unless they had a bad experience! Don’t give customers anything to complain about. Below are some additional tips for getting more online reviews: • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback – Many won’t reach out to their customers for feedback; consider sending a post-purchase email to request feedback or a review (include links to review sites) • Make it easy – Add review site logos and links on your website; likewise, on review sites, add links to your website to encourage customers to write a review • Timing can make a difference – Customers are most likely to give you feedback right away • Provide instructions – Maybe a customer wants to leave a review but does not know how to do it. You can create a SIMPLE step-by-step checklist to provide to clients and even include in feedback email Search Engine Results Page (SERP) 1. Paid Results 2. Organic Results 3. Google Images 1 2 3
  11. 11. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 11 PAID SEARCH As seen in the above search engine results page (SERP), paid search or pay-per- click (PPC) advertisements, are displayed in top and right frame. While the reason for investing time and effort in SEO is to avoid paid search, the fact is, PPC has a positive effect on organic search authority. Why? Because paid search increases website traffic, and higher traffic builds search authority. How much? Of course that is dependent on the amount of paid search spending, along with the quality of SEO implementation. That said, we have experienced 10-20% organic website traffic growth when implementing paid search. Remarketing is another paid search option, that serves up banner ads to past website visitors—a reminder type of ad that is often less expensive than text ads. Still, the downside of paid search is that once spending is paused or stopped, traffic from paid search ceases, and likely any organic traffic that resulted from paid search. Moral of the story—make sure your SEO is excellent! ONGOING SEO MAINTENANCE The job of SEO for an Ecommerce website is never done. Although, once the above-referenced SEO features and tactics have been properly implemented, SEO can evolve to a maintenance level. Critical to ongoing SEO maintenance is constant analysis of your website analytics, along with problem identification of such issues as broken links, duplicate content, site speed, and more. First and foremost, use Google Analytics (GA) or similar tool to understand traffic trends and other metrics like page views and bounce rate. High bounce rates over 80% mean that percentage of visitors are leaving the website, without linking further, suggesting a poor user experience (UX), or weak content. GA also offers an in-page analytics report that identifies click- through rates (CTRs) for each navigation link, which of course, is excellent insight. For ecommerce sites, Google Analytics offers conversion codes and tracking, an important metric. Finally, it is always insightful to identify competitor’s traffic and analytics. We recommend a tool called Similar Web for this.
  12. 12. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 12 Besides GA, there are many diagnostic tools to identify errors and issues. The 404 error, which means ‘Page not Found’, more often than not results from a broken link on your website. Sometimes, these are easy to find when you happen to be browsing through your site. On the other hand, once your website is built-out with thousands of pages it can be difficult to pinpoint which links are broken. Several diagnostic tools are available for you to check this including Another aspect of ongoing maintenance for Ecommerce websites is tracking shopping cart abandonment. Over the past four years abandonment rates have run in the 60% range, meaning six in 10 shoppers who place items in a cart do not check out (Source: eMarketer). Abandonment is when a shopper puts something in their cart, but doesn’t actually purchase. Shopping carts are abandoned for a variety of reasons, but they all have the same outcome – lost sales. And therefore, it is important to track your websites shopping cart abandon rates and what step in the process it is taking place. Where buyers are dropping off can be indicative of where the problem lies. Continue reading: 14 Reasons Online Shoppers Abandon Their Shopping Cart. You can set up goals and funnels within Google Analytics to measure this metric. Or, there is a variety of software available to track abandoned carts. Part of SEO maintenance is constant tracking and monitoring. There a several options for measuring search authority and search engine optimization (SEO). Moz reports both domain and page authority, organic rank of keywords, back-links, along with competitor measures. We prefer and recommend Google Analytics, but this does require installation of a tracking code. GA offers several dashboards, along with the ability to select different time frames to further understanding of your website traffic. GA in-page analytics show click-through rates for navigation and other content, an excellent tool for understanding user experience (UX). Finally, we recommend logging into Adwords to perform test searches for keyword rankings to avoid diluting traffic impressions. 14 Reasons Online Shoppers Abandon Their Shopping Cart
  13. 13. SEO for Ecommerce: Trade Secrets 13 SEO is Mission Critical to Ecommerce Achieving search authority, and growing Ecommerce website traffic is becoming more and more difficult with search engine algorithm updates, and more sophisticated competition. Both new and existing Ecommerce websites require excellent search engine optimization (SEO) to achieve top positions on search engine results pages (SERPs). By addressing the three SEO mistakes, and implementing the SEO checklist, your search authority and rank for keywords should improve dramatically—along with website traffic, and most importantly, sales orders! About EMI The Ecommerce Marketing Institute (EMI) offers online marketers unparallelled information and access to the latest industry news, marketing tips, resources, training, and events for the rapidly changing Ecommerce industry. Be sure to check out the EMI EcomTOPICS webcast series, register for our eNewsletter, CartTALK, and check out our Resources Library with research, whitepapers, case studies and more. EMI will cover a range of marketing topics pertinent to Ecommerce including websites and Ecommerce software, search engine optimization (SEO), branding, content marketing, social media and social commerce, email marketing, paid search (PPC), and more. In the future, EMI will sponsor the EcomEXCELLENCE Awards, recognizing brands across a range of categories related to Ecommerce marketing. Our mission is to help Ecommerce website owners, brands and marketers alike take their marketing to the next level, and ultimately, increase sales! If you have a question about Ecommerce marketing, ideas you would like to share, or feedback on our educational tools and services, please contact us 24/7/365.