Contributor Tali Rose is the head of marketing at Pure SEO.
OPINION: By now, it’s old news that e-commerce is growing faster than ever before. If you still need convincing, e-commerce is at a rate of 61 per cent penetration in New Zealand, with a whopping 2.13 million Kiwis shopping online in 2020, 306,000 doing so for the first time.
The 2021 lockdown saw this trend only continue, with online retail searches and spend up 24.2 per cent year-on-year (Statista) and some retailers in a recent Stuff article describing the growth as “explosive”.
It’s not just the number of shoppers growing, but sellers too. E-commerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix and others have made it accessible to businesses and enthusiasts of all sizes to sell their wares online. With that proliferation comes a strong competition to be found by the right people and generate sales.
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In an e-commerce context, paid digital advertising is a given – sales revenue gets allocated, by way of various formulas, to ad spend. But unless you have unlimited budgets, you can not overlook e-commerce SEO: the practice of optimizing an online store to increase organic shopping traffic through search engines.
In other words, you’ll want to catch as many of those retail searches that are up 24.2 per cent who are looking for what you’re selling.
The basic principles of search engine optimization apply to e-commerce. But there are specific considerations that online store owners need to keep in mind.
Any marketing strategy starts with understanding your target audience’s needs and behaviors, as the basis for any activity. When it comes to keyword research, it refers to the semantics your potential shoppers use to search, and more specifically in e-commerce, it means understanding buyer intent.
When examining potential keywords, it’s important to understand whether people use them to find information about what you’re selling or are looking to buy. This will affect where you decide to ‘land’ them on your website by targeting specific keywords for each page. For example, your product pages will typically target transactional keywords, while your blog posts will target informational ones.
Google Keyword Planner is a free tool that can help you identify keywords with a high competition value, which is a clue they tend to generate sales. Otherwise, you can try typing that word into search to see whether transaction or informational pages come up.
One caveat here is to be specific and not target keywords that are slightly off-topic to what you’re selling, even if they are effective at generating sales. If someone is searching to buy matcha green tea bags, for example, but you only sell Japanese green tea, targeting them is more likely to result in a bounce than a sale – that’s when a person enters your site and leaves without looking at any other pages. It’s also wasted effort on your part as a distraction from your transactional keywords.
Lay and maintain a good foundation
Site architecture refers to how the pages on your site are organized within your online store, starting from the homepage at the pointy top and cascading all the way down through category pages to individual product pages.
Maintaining a logical flow is important for any website experience. However, since e-commerce sites tend to have so many pages, a good structure is vital not just for shoppers, but search engines as well.
Even small e-commerce sites fall into this scenario. If you offer three product categories and three to four products within each one, that’s already 18 pages once you add in the homepage, shipping and refund policy, FAQs, contact, etc. And it does not even include your blog landing page (if you have one) and all the individual article pages. It adds up quickly.
Try sticking to a primary navigation with main category items and sub-categories nested within each one, and resist the temptation to put products or sub-categories at the top of the site navigation. Those can be promoted within the homepage content area, for example. A good rule of thumb is that any product should not be more than three clicks away from the homepage.
Having a clear hierarchical structure enables search engines to understand how all the pages relate to each other and, as your catalog grows, you’ll be able to simply add new pages in the right places.
Search and destroy duplicate content
Duplicate content is a common pitfall for e-commerce sites and is sometimes unbeknown to owners. It’s when the same content appears in more than one page and – thanks to Google’s Panda algorithm – will directly lower your search performance.
It can happen for a number of reasons. For example, boilerplate content (100-plus words) such as a general company disclaimer that gets repeated on every product page. Or when several products within a category are similar enough that the descriptions are mostly the same, bar one or two words. At worst, it can be copied product descriptions from another site that sells the same, or the manufacturer’s site.
But sometimes duplicate content cannot be avoided. E-commerce sites with product filtering menus can automatically generate a new link with every filter selection. As the page reloads with a new link reflecting the filter, products reappear with their images and descriptions, counting towards the page content. Since products match more than one filter, this creates duplicate content across dozens of virtual pages.
When duplicate content is outside your editorial control, you can effectively manage it by adding canonical tags to the duplicate content. These signal to search engines where the original content lives to avoid the search algorithm penalty. If your e-commerce platform does not do this automatically, it’s a task for your website developer.
Do not forget the basics
Last but not least, the usual content SEO best practices apply to e-commerce sites as well, with a few special considerations. For example, product page titles (the words that appear in the browser tab) should contain keywords at the front, and it’s even better if they mention the product appeal.
Your website links (URLs) should clearly reflect your catalog architecture so it’s obvious to shoppers they’re looking at product ‘x’ which is part of category ‘y’, helping them and search engines orient their location within your product offering. These are the names you assign to categories and products in your e-commerce platform, so avoid using a model number as your product name, for instance.
Finally, video is a great way to showcase your products, if you have access to optimize it so it does not slow down your site. It will not only help shoppers visualize their purchase in what is a virtual shopping environment, but will keep them on your product page for longer, increasing their engagement with your content. This is where visitors convert into shoppers – so engagement is important.
The democratization of e-commerce can be a double-edged sword of opportunity and frustration. It takes a while to build momentum so keep pushing forward – regularly measure your results as you make changes along the way and adapt.
If you want to learn more about generating organic traffic for your online store, you can download Pure SEO’s eCommerce SEO Guide free from the website.