The Definitive Guide to Ecommerce SEO: Plan and Setup for Success

SEO is one of the best ways to generate traffic, so everyone wants to take advantage of it. However, many people don’t understand how SEO work.

You only want to drive search traffic from keywords that convert into sales.

You don’t want to waste precious time reading about juicy SEO strategies. Your goal is to use SEO to make money from your online business. Here are some steps you should follow.

I. Research competitors & keywords,  identify organic traffic opportunities, and set SEO goals for your Shopify Store

Your opportunities depend on the nature of your product.

There are three parts of your online store that you can drive organic traffic:

  1. Product pages
  2. Category pages
  3. Content pages (blog, support, forum, and FAQ)

Ranking for product pages: Before investing time, effort, and money on boosting your organic traffic, you need to answer the following questions.

How long will you be selling certain products?

Do people actually search for your product online?

It takes a lot of time and effort to improve your SEO rankings. So you want to invest in lasting pages to reap the benefits.

If you have products with limited inventory (such as a flash sale e-commerce sites like TouchOfModern) or a site that sells innovative products that people don’t even know exist (see Tile), then you shouldn’t waste time and energy trying to rank your product page.

Ranking for category pages: Category (and sub category) pages are great places to invest your SEO efforts. Most online entrepreneurs never change these pages.

For example, if I’m selling women’s shoes, the style and products will constantly change. However, the type of shoes (heels, sandals, boots, etc.) will be the same. Since I am always going to be selling heels, I will want to rank for the heels category page.

Ranking content: Content is surprisingly underutilized in e-commerce strategies. Optimizing your content for SEO is the best way to scale your organic traffic.

High quality content is especially valuable for stores with innovative, artisan, and B2B products. The customer needs to be educated, so content will help overcome their skepticism and encourage them to buy.

however, content might not be as effective with flash sell sites or sites that sell common novelty products.

For example, let’s assume I’m running a store that resells BB guns. There isn’t much information people would search for online except for BB gun types, BB gun reviews, and brand comparisons. BB guns are novelty products that most people aren’t likely to search for.

You need to find out if there is enough valuable information for prospective customers before trying to optimize your content for the search engines.

(Keep in mind that the above are only guidelines. There are always exceptions.)

Keyword Research

Keyword research is a very important part of any SEO strategy. You need to understand who your ideal customers are and their purchasing behavior to conduct it properly. You will need to understand how they research new products and how they go about making purchase decisions.

Next, categorize your keywords into two categories: keywords for commercial intent and for providing information. Informational intent keywords will be used in your content. Commercial intend keywords will be used on product and category pages (or any pages with product related information).

For example, if you are selling organic pet products, your ideal customers would be health conscious pet owners.

Here is an overview of the process a customer would follow

Step 1: Research information to solve their problems (this is where you can create great content to capture these keyword opportunities)
Example search queries:
“How do I keep my dog healthy?” – information intent
“Are antibiotics bad for cats?” – information intent
“What type of diet should I give overweight medium size dogs” – information intent
 
Step 2: Weigh options on the best solution.
Example search queries:
“Should I make the meals myself or buy organic dogs food?” – information intent
“How to make a balanced organic diet for medium size dogs?” – information intent
“Should I run my dog twice a day or just buy a doggy treadmill?” – information intent
from brands for considering buying decision.
Example search queries:
“Organix vs Nature’s Variety Instinct” – commercial intent
“ABO gear happy habitat cat tent review” – commercial intent
“Organic dog food” – commercial intent
“Organic hamster nesting material” – commercial intent
 
Step 4: Look at category pages to see what products are available
Example search queries:
“Nature’s Variety Instinct coupon” – commercial intent
“PetFlow coupon code” – commercial intent
“Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Grain Free Dog Food” – commercial intent
 

Step 4: Look at individual products, deals and coupons

Example search queries:
“Nature’s Variety Instinct coupon” – commercial intent
“PetFlow coupon code” – commercial intent
“Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Grain Free Dog Food” – commercial intent
 

Continue looking for new keyword ideas for your customer profile and buying cycle. Finally, prioritize your keywords worth optimizing for based on the following:

  • Keyword competition
  • Average monthly search
  • Customer relevance

Competitor Research

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s clarify what types of competitors we are looking for. You want to review sites that are competing with you on search engine, products, or both.

A site is definitely a competitor if it’s both offering similar products and competing for similar keywords in the search engines.

If a site is competing on search engine only, but not products then it counts as a competitor. Sites receiving traffic from keywords you’re targeting are competing with you for visibility.

For example. I’m looking for competitors who are ranking for informational keywords about pet care and came across the blog PetMD. Even though PetMD is a blog that doesn’t sell any pet products, it has loads of content ranking for the keywords that attract my potential customers.

When a site is only competing on products, but not on search engine then it’s not really a competitor from a SEO perspective. They are a competitor in the traditional sense, but I don’t have to worry as much about competing with them for organic traffic.

The best way to come up with a strategy is taking a peek at your competitors. There are 3 things you need to look at.

Part 1 – What keywords are they going after and are currently ranking for?

Looking at the keywords your competitors are ranking for help you come up with profitable keyword opportunities. It can also inspire new ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Most importantly you’ll get a good idea what works for your competitors and what doesn’t, which keeps you from wasting money ranking for worthless keywords.

You can use SEMRush to research your competitor’s rankings.

Part 2 – Which sites are link to them?

Your competitors backlink profile can give you insights to what type of sites are linking to them, which helps you come up with link building strategies for your  own site. Ahrefs is a great tool for analyzing backlinks.

Part 3 – Are they producing content? What type of content is getting ranked for the keywords you are looking for and attracting social engagement?

BuzzSumo is an awesome free tool that helps you analyze which content in your niche is getting the most social engagement.

II. Setup proper tracking

You need to track all the crucial metrics to know what works so you can invest solely in strategies that provide results.

Here is a list of essential metrics you’ll need to track for you SEO campaign and the tool(s) you can use to do so:

Target keyword rankings: You will want to track keywords that provide a high ROI. You will want to focus on the best keywords from your research, as well as opportunities you found through Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics.

One of my favorite keyword tracking tool is Ranktrackr. I would also recommend Moz if you are looking for a more comprehensive solution.

Backlinks: Backlinks can make or break your SEO efforts. It’s crucial to find out who links to you and try to have a clean backlink profile.

Here are the more specific metrics and elements you need to keep an eye on for backlinks:

  • Number of new backlinks gained
  • Number of backlinks lost
  • Number of referring domains
  • Top URLs with the most referring domains
  • Backlink quality

You can use Ahrefs for backlink analysis.

Anchor Text Distribution: Unnatural anchor text distribution is a huge red flag when it comes to Google penalties. So it’s important to keep an eye on this.

Organic traffic: This is one of the most important metrics. The whole point of getting ranked for keywords is so you can get Organic Traffic, which will convert into revenue. When analyzing organic traffic, separate it into Branded and Non-branded organic traffic. Here is why this is important:

Branded organic traffic: People typing the name of your store have already heard about your brand. This metric basically tells you how well your branding and word of mouth is doing, such as PR and social media.

Non-branded organic traffic: This is where SEO will really pay off. When people type in a keyword and stumbles on your site, you are getting a new visitor who can potentially become your customer.

Traffic per keyword: This is very important, because you need to know which keywords are getting you traffic, so you know which keywords to invest your efforts. You can get this data from Google Webmaster Tools. For more integrated usage, connect your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools so you can access information.

Conversions from organic traffic: Tracking conversions is one of the most important metrics (if not the most important). It will tell you a lot about the quality of your organic traffic and whether your conversion optimization efforts are working. You need set up Goal Tracking to track conversions in Google Analytics.

III. Technical Optimization and Fixing Errors

Now that you’ve got your game plan ready and setup your tracking, it’s time to set up a great SEO foundation.

First thing we need to address is proper site structure.

Having a great site structure will:

  • Amplify your link building efforts to pass link juice properly.
  • Properly theme your product and content categories for internal linking.
  • Improve your site’s usability to improve your sales conversions.

A great site structure needs to get the user from homepage to product page with as little effort, while also making sure all content and product pages are categorized properly.

Setting up a great architecture is even more important on Shopify platform than most other platforms. Once your structure is setup, you will not be able to change your URL structure.

Internal Linking

Note: When we are talking about internal linking, we are talking about linking to another page within the same website.Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 4.16.15 AMHaving great internal linking structure allows you to target keywords, flow SEO value (aka “link juice”), and improve indexation.

There are two main elements to watch out for when you’re internal linking your pages:

Page theme relevance: When you are linking to another page, you have to make sure you are linking product, content, and categories pages with a similar theme (which is why you need a good link structure). The main reason is to avoid theme bleeding, which became even more important after the most recent Panda Update (Panda 4.0), which penalizes topical authority, which can be caused by inappropriately linking to other pages on your site.

Anchor text diversity: Anchor texts was heavily abused as many sites used exact keywords. The Google Penguin Update ruthlessly penalized sites that overused unnatural anchor texts.

One way to address this is to rotate your anchor text, so you can internally link while keeping a natural ratio of anchor texts.

Indexation Errors

You can use tools such as Moz or Screaming Frog to crawl your sites for indexing errors.

The most common errors you will want to correct quickly include:

  • Redirecting any 404 pages to actual content
  • Changing 302 redirects to 301 redirects
  • Dealing with duplicate content pages
    • You can fix duplicate content pages by deleting the pages and adding a 301 redirect from the url to the original page.
    • Deleting pages is not always an option. In those cases, use add “rel=canonical” tags to the duplicate pages and point them to the “original” page.

For example: On e-commerce sites, you can end up on the same product pages through different url paths. In this case you cannot delete the page with duplicate content and you’ll have to use rel=canonical tag to point one page to the other.

  • Update any duplicate title and meta description tags.

Follow this tutorial to identify and fix your index errors.

You may also have server side HTTP errors. This shouldn’t be an issue with Shopify, since it hosts your store on it’s server. However, if you do get an HTTP error then you’ll need to contact Shopify support.

Website loading speed optimization

Unfortunately, people are very impatient in the digital age, especially on the internet.

According to KissMetrics, 40% of users abandon webpages that  take more than 3 seconds to load. Google wants to rank pages that offer a quality user experience, so website loading speed is a major ranking factor.

If boosting organic traffic isn’t enough to convince you to improve your loading speed, your conversion will also take a huge toll. In other words, you are losing money! Here is proof:

  • Based on an A/B test Shopzilla did, faster pages converts 7% to 12% better than slower pages.
  • Firefox did a similar test, which improving loading page time resulted in a 15.4% increase in conversions.
  • When Google experienced a 1/2 second slowdown, its traffic dropped by 20%.
  • When Amazon’s site slowed down by 1/10 of a second, it lost 1% of its revenue…which is a lot for a company that does billions of dollars a year.
  • When Yahoo’s site slowed down by 2/5 of a second, its traffic dropped by 9%.

You can improve your loading speed by following the steps in this article.

Shopify has limited customization access, so there are only so much you can apply. The good news is the platform has many features such as CDN and image compression, so you don’t need to worry about dealing with page speed yourself.

III. On-page optimization

Now that you’ve setup your foundation, it’s time to optimize your efforts so you can squeeze as much ROI out of your SEO investments as possible.

You can do this by making sure the following parts are optimized:

  1. Keywords that’ll drive visits from your potential customers.
  2. The number of visitors clicking through to your site from SERP.

Optimizing for keywords

The following are the main signals that influence Google’s decision on what keywords your site will be ranked for.

URL extension: URL extension is the last part of the URL following “/” after the domain name.

When optimizing for target keywords in your URL extension, you can be obvious when optimizing for keyword signals, but try to keep the keywords as short as possible.

Example

Page url:

www.awesomeshoes.com/products/red-nike-running-shoes

Target commercial keyword:

“red nike running shoes”

Note: The best time to update an url extension is during the creation of a new page. It gets more difficult to update once its indexed and collects social shares & inbound links.

Make sure to remove words such as “how to” and “a”, so the URL isn’t unnecessarily long. In addition Google devalues long URLs and visitors are more likely to remember shorter URLs, which improves navigation.

Page title and subtitles (H1-H6 tags): Page title is often in the form of H1 tag and different levels of sub titles are in the form of H2-H6 tags.

Pages that aren’t content heavy such as product and category pages don’t need more than H1 and some H2 tags. If the page is longer and has more content (such as blog posts), then more headers should be used to help visitors digest content.

Example (from the image above)

Product H1 tag:

“how to add twitter feed to your shopify store”

Product H2 tag:

“There are two main parts to add a Twitter feed to your shopify store”

Product H3 tag:

“part 1: getting the embed code from twitter”

Target keywords:

“add twitter feed”

“twitter embed code”

“add twitter to shopify”

Note: When writing H tags, make sure you balance keywords and readability. The priority is always readability.

Title tag: Title tag is used on search engines and social media channels to display an accurate and concise description of a page’s content. In the backend, it’s in the form of the following HTML code.

<title>Ergonomic Men’s Red Nike Running Shoes | Awesome Shoes</title>

Search engine

Social media

Example

Title tag:

Ergonomic Men’s Red Nike Running Shoes | Awesome Shoes

Target keywords:

“red nike running shoes”
“men’s running shoes”
“Nike running shoes”
“ergonomic running shoes”
“ergonomic men’s running shoes”
 

Note: When optimizing title tags, keep them short, concise, and readable..

Page content: When Google crawls your content, it’s intuitive enough to start ranking your site for different combinations of individual words based on topical and brand context. Google puts more emphasis on content closer to the top of the page.

The rule of thumb is to mention a few keywords in the first 100 words of  page content. Throughout rest of the word, make sure you have topical relevance, and you should be good.

Make sure you put priority on readability and provide valuable information. Do notforce keywords into places they don’t belong, doing so can trigger over optimization penalty.

Anchor text: When you are linking different pages throughout your site or from another site to your site, you can use anchor text to influence what keywords Google will rank your page.

“So this means that I should link different pages with each other and with all the keywords I want to rank for?”

No, it doesn’t. You must keep a balance between different types of keywords. To do this you can use a technique called keyword rotation to rotate between the following types of keywords.

Keyword: “red nike running shoes”

Partial keyword: “shoes that are durable and comfortable”

Brand keyword: “running shoes from AwesomeShoes”

Brand name: “AwesomeShoes”

Naked URL: www.awesomeshoes.com/red-nike-running-shoes

Call to action: “click here”

Image ALT tags: Search engines can’t read images, so alt tags are created to describe the images.

When you’re optimizing alt tags, you need to literally describe what the image is and reverse engineer the thought process of a searcher. Ask yourself:

“What would I type into Google image search to find this picture?”

For detailed implementation instructions for Shopify, please read our keyword optimization tutorial.

Optimizing for CTR (Click Through Rate)

Meta Description: The purpose of a meta description isn’t to influence keyword targeting. However, it’s great to get people to click through to your site. Think of meta description as equivalent to ad copy in Google Adwords.

Rich Snippets: Have you ever seen little review graphics next to the results in SERP?

It helps people click through to your site through the results. You can increase CTR as much as 150%.

You can set up rich snippets following the instructions here.

IV. Getting votes from other sites (inbound links and social signals)

Getting other sites to link to you is one of the most important aspects of SEO. The rumors claiming that linking building is dead are false. According to Moz, inbound links and “pagerank” are still the highest ranking factors on Google.

Before we get into the strategies, you need to adapt the mentality of value exchange.

Value comes in many forms:

  • Money (the most obvious one.)
  • Audience
  • Information/expertise
  • Content
  • Link
  • etc.

Link Building Strategies:

Broken link building: Broken link building is a strategy of finding pages that are linking to broken links that previously had content similar to your site’s. You can essentially reach out to the webmaster and tell them to link to you instead.

Brand mention link opportunities: Brand mention link building consists of finding articles that have already mentioned your brand, but didn’t link to your site, and reaching out to ask for a link. If a site has already mentioned your brand, then it’s very likely that they’ll link to your site.

This strategy is great for stores that already have a bit of buzz.

You can find these opportunities by using the search query: “brand” -site:brand.com

Guest blogging: Guest blogging is a strategy utilized to reach out to blogs and publications that fit your target audience and requesting they write an article. In return, you’ll have people providing you with good content.

Guest blogging has been under scrutiny in the past few months, however, it’s still a traffic source and link building strategy if you do it right.

Getting press: Another great way to get good inbound links is to get press. Does it mean you have to spend lots of money for a PR firm? No it doesn’t.

There are actually ways you can get press spending little to no money. Often times doing press yourself works better and saves you more money than hiring a PR firm.

A quick note about broken link building: while it is an effective means for generating inbound links, it should be low on the prioritization checklist.

When you’re doing your link building, make sure you follow these guidelines:

  • Use the anchor text rotation method mentioned under internal linking section, so you don’t over use the same anchor text.
  • Always link to the most relevant page. (We can use internal linking techniques to send the authority to target pages.)
  • Getting links from spammy sites.

Outreach is a huge part of linkbuilding.

V. Content Creation and Social Media

Now that we’ve covered linkbuilding, it’s time to cover the role of content and social media in your search rankings.

How does content play a role in your search engine rankings?

Think of content as a form on online currency. The better your content is, the more valuable your site is to visitors, therefore the more valuable your site is to Google.

Google determines the quality of your content by the following factors:

  • The word count in your content.
  • Digestibility of your content, which is determined by how far down the page the reader scrolls and how long the user stays on your page.
  • Quality and quantity of sites linking to your content (backlinks)
  • Number of people sharing your content on social media channels. The assumption is that people share valuable content, so if your content isn’t valuable, then no one would care to share it.

Creating great content helps your audience engage on social media, which in turn boosts your search engine value. Think of great content as the glue between social media and search engine traffic.

What counts as good content?

Great content provides your audience with value on different levels:

  • Emotions
    • Humor
    • Awe
    • Anger
    • Inspiration
  • Information
    • Become informed
    • Get professional advice
    • Learn new technical skills
    • Find new tools, etc.

You can learn more about how content goes viral here.

How to build a social following from scratch?

Building a following from scratch can be difficult. User the following tactics to actively boost your following.

  1. You can reach out to interview other influencers in your niche.
  2. Guest blog on other sites.
  3. Allocate some budget to Facebook Ads.
  4. Reach out to competitor’s following who has been ignored.
  5. Do tweet chats with niche influencers.

Time to get started!

In the end of the day, SEO is long term strategy. If implemented correctly, it’s definitely worth the investment to drive more sales.

Keep in mind that as long as you are providing real value and implement everything listed in the both parts of the SEO guide, then your organic traffic will grow, so will your sales.

Do you have any thoughts or questions?

Shoot us a comment below or tweet at us.

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2 Comments

  1. Thee Bazaar

    Thanks for this valuable information. Sharing with us your review is very nice.

  2. Annie

    SEO with updated features is a great key to success for E-commerce businesses. Keep the SEO updated with the latest features and keep the customers happy. This article is a great help for that purpose. Its a complete guide to what you need to improve and how to employ them. A very helpful and effective guide I believe. Highly recommended.

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