SEO for Ecommerce

  • Feb 2017
  • Read Time: 8 Mins

The Ecommerce market is forever growing and so are the challenges facing those competing in it. There are countless ways to advertise online now, but implementing a foolproof SEO strategy can differentiate you from your competitors and ensure that your business is in it for the long haul.

Why is SEO so Important for Ecommerce?

Ecommerce can be a lucrative, but challenging business. As with anything, where there is a lot of money to be made, you can usually find lots of competition. Whatever product or service you are offering online, you can be guaranteed that there are countless others offering something similar. The struggle is real for those running an E-commerce business. Competing in a highly competitive environment, with ever increasing numbers of competitors, means that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd.

On top of all this, there is the challenge of gaining new customers, which can be a steep (almost vertical) uphill battle if they can’t even find you. The best way to combat this is to try and earn yourself a good seat in the higher ranking search results pages of Google. After all, if you’re positioned higher, you will have a higher conversion rate. Yet so many online businesses still don’t have an SEO strategy in place and wonder why their competitors are getting ahead.

Hubspot recently published SEO statistics highlighting the  importance of carrying out good SEO practice;

  • 66% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.
  • 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases.
  • 72% of marketers say relevant content creation was the most effective SEO tactic.

Now you’re thinking – what is it that really makes a good strategy and where do I start?

By the end of this article you should have a better understanding of the tasks you need to undertake to optimise your Ecommerce site for SEO, but most importantly, you should have an understanding why each element is so valuable to your business.

Let’s start with the basics.

SEO and the Buyer Funnel:

Keywords are at the heart of SEO, they are the foundation of a good strategy. Rather than going into detail on how to research appropriate keywords, how to analyse your competition and the various tools that can be used to do so; it could be more relevant to see how different types of keywords can be used to target customers at different stages of the buyer funnel.

There can be some variations in how the buyer funnel is represented, depending on the product or service. Ultimately it represents the process of how a user becomes aware of a need and it tracks their journey to the point of finding a solution and making a purchase. The funnel shape is an appropriate representation : the wider section of the triangle represents the wider audience and at this point, there are the most amount of potential buyers. As the funnel narrows, the number of potential buyers lessen, but become more likely to make a purchase.

SEO for Ecommerce - BigDogDigital - Buyer Funnel

The Buyer Funnel Explained:

Need Recognition: This is represented by the top and widest part of the funnel.  At this point, the user has become aware that they have a particular need or problem which needs to be solved.

Solution Exploration: At this point, the user begins to seek out a potential solution.

Evaluation of Options: Once the user is happy with the information gathered from researching the various solutions, they compile a list of the most relevant vendors and begin to make comparisons.

Purchase: The user has now determined which solution best fits their needs and they make a purchase.

Post-Purchase Evaluation: The purchase is now complete, however, this point is still crucial as it can lead to customer retention and brand loyalty. There may be other actions to follow once the purchase is complete. If they have a good experience buying the product and it lives up to its’ expectations, they may leave a good review. Post purchase dissonance may also occur at this point, where a buyer has had a negative experience and they themselves, may leave a somewhat unfavourable review.

Top of the Funnel:

SEO is normally first implemented around the “Solution Exploration” stage of the buyer process. Consumers have usually already recognised their need and have started exploring solutions and evaluating the different options to make a purchase. At this point, it is usually a good idea to start using broad keywords that appeal to the wider audience. This can be difficult, especially if you are in a competitive industry. Usually, you will find a lot of your competitors are already using the obvious keywords that relate to your business and product offering. Obviously, you will need to use these essential keywords and phrases to position yourself somewhat within the search range that is visible to users, however thinking outside the box can help target a wider audience especially those that may potentially slip through the net.

For example, let’s look at a yoga studio providing classes in Dublin city. They have a site up and running and are fully optimised for searches related to yoga in Dublin. The analysis would show that there is already high competition around the city centre between the different yoga studios.

SEO for Ecommerce - Big Dig Digital - Yoga SERP

In this instance, rather than targeting with the usual competitive keywords such as “Yoga Classes Dublin” and “Yoga Studio” etc., targeting users with alternative broad keywords could widen the net on your target audience. Optimising the site with keywords such as “ Lower Back Pain” and publishing a blog highlighting how yoga can be an effective treatment for lower back pain.  The aim is to provide a solution to their problem.

Bottom of the Funnel:

Moving further down the buyer funnel, the user, in theory, becomes closer to making a final decision about a purchase. At this stage, search terms become more specific as they narrow down possible solutions. This is a good opportunity to begin targeting users with more niche, long-tail keywords, and phrases. Rather than using broad terms like “Back Pain” the yoga studio could use phrases such as “alternative treatment for lower back pain” or “treating back pain without medication.”

A good tip is to create a list of all the different variations of niche search terms and phrases. Compile a list of appropriate keyword modifiers that are relevant to your industry. For example, if you sell products online use keywords such as; “Buy….”, “Shop for….” and “Compare….”.

Over time it will be possible to assess what works and what doesn’t, but combining both broad and narrow keywords gives the best results.

Clean URLs:

Think of all the hard work, time and resources that have gone into the designing and building a beautiful website. Ease of use and user navigation are some of the key components to any site design. Making sure that the navigation menus are clear and easy to understand. It is important that the user knows where they are along their journey. More importantly, if they want to revisit they know the quickest route to get there.

Why have unorganised and difficult to understand URL structures? An Ecommerce site may showcase hundreds if not thousands of products. As with most online purchases; a user will usually browse through a catalogue of products, find the particular one they like, leave the site and evaluate their options and hopefully return and make the purchase. As browsers now store our previous searches, the user may re-enter the website where they found the product into the URL, in an attempt to take a shortcut. Doing this will give the user the option to visit all the previous pages that were visited last on that site.

Confusing and illegible URLs can be a deterrent to users, they can also cause problems for search engine crawlers. Locating the product they have decided to purchase needs to be easy and fast. After all, they have already put the time and effort into finding your product, so why add an extra barrier. Here are a few tips to beautifying your URLs;

  • Get rid of the ugly string query parameters.
  • Replace with lower case words relating to product and category.
  • Great opportunity to use targeted keywords.
  • Don’t over do it, keep it short and to the point. The user has to understand it in an instant.
  • Use dashes to separate the words, over spaces and underscores.

SEO for Ecommerce - BigDogDIgital - Clean URL

Implement HTTPS:

It has has been over two years since the initiative to drive HTTPS by Google. If you haven’t implemented it, then maybe it’s time to consider it. The basis of success for any Ecommerce business is ensuring site visitors carry out financial transactions. HTTPS was specifically developed to allow for these transactions to take place within a secure environment. Ultimately it follows the same protocols as HTTP, however by using a SSL to transfer confidential data, it adds an extra layer of security.

Ultimately it follows the same protocols as HTTP, however by using SSL to transfer confidential data, it adds an extra layer of security.

There are two main benefits for its use;

  1. Other than credit card details, Ecommerce sites also collect other private and confidential information, such as home address and contact details. HTTPS ensures that all of this information is securely encrypted. Creating a safe environment for your customers to shop will only help to increase conversions.
  2. Google will love you for it. HTTPS is now listed in their top 200 ranking factors. Implementing this throughout your site will give you higher ranking preferential.

I should point out that an SSL certificate is valuable for all websites, even if they don’t fall under the Ecommerce umbrella.

Canonicalization:

It’s not the sexiest of SEO practices and-and it’s difficult to pronounce, maybe that’s why nobody really likes to talk about it, but it is important. Consider an online business selling shoes. There might be separate URLs for the different sizes and colour options. This is essentially the same product with multiple URLs associated with it. In this instance, it would be best practice to canonicalize the main product page. A similar practice is advised for content syndication. This is allowing for your content to be copied onto another site. The practice enables for greater exposure from more authoritative site’s audiences. In doing so, multiple URLs are being created for the same content, so you can see how it is important to set a preferred URL.

There are a number of ways to define a canonical URL. One tip is to set a preferred domain, by canonicalizing the “www” version of your domain so that users will be directed to that version without having to type it in. For example “bigdog.ie” is redirected to “www.bigdog.ie”.

There are a number of other ways you can canonicalize URLs:

  • Entering a rel=”canonical” link element onto the desired page will tell search bots that page prioritised.
  • Use a site map to tell the crawlers which URLs are preferred out of the duplicate content.
  • Use 301 redirects for URLs that you do not wish to canonicalize.

It can take a little time, but it is worth it in the end.

Internal Linking:

Internal linking is one of those SEO practices that once you begin to do on a regular basis, it will just become habitual. For any site, especially Ecommerce, this is a good practice to get into. It is described as hyperlinking specific keywords or terms in your content that link to other pages on your site.

Two tips before you begin hyperlinking are;

  1. Make sure that the pages you are linking to are relevant to the page the user is already on.
  2. Ensure that the anchor text you are using is descriptive of the topic you are covering and the page you are linking to. This is beneficial to both the reader and Google as it can understand the topic from the appropriate anchor text.

Important: Don’t use links such as “Click Here for more details”. It doesn’t read well and crawlers won’t understand the relevance of the link.

SEO for Ecommerce - bigdogdigital - internal links

There are a number of key benefits for internal linking, from the user’s perspective and the search engine’s.

Benefits of Internal Linking:

  • It is a great way of presenting site architecture so that crawlers can easily navigate and understand pages and content. It also establishes page and information hierarchy, which helps also helps with indexing.
  • Linking also allows for link juice to be passed on to pages from links. In layman’s terms, it allows for the authority built up from the linked page to be passed on to that page. This is also the case for external links.
  • Using this link juice can also help rank for certain keywords.
  • From a user-experience perspective, it can improve navigation.
  • It encourages users to engage further with the site and explore more content.

Mobile Optimisation and AMP:

With Google now prioritising mobile pages over desktop, it is essential that your site is fully mobile optimised and responsive. If you’re not sure, Google provides a free mobile-friendly test. As you may have read in my previous post, there has been a recent drive towards integrating with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). The primary focus of this initiative is to improve user-experience, by creating instantaneous loading of rich media on mobile pages. Faster loading site content = Happier customers.

AMP is great for articles and blogs, as it provides rich snippets of information for the user. From an Ecommerce perspective, it also gives the opportunity to truly showcase the product selection. Not only will images and videos load almost instantly, but it will allow you to jazz up product pages with carousel images and even display related products to the user. Encouraging the user to further explore the site content for alternatives or extras before making a purchase.

SEO for Ecommerce - Big Dog Digital - AMP Carousel

Schema Markup for Ecommerce:

Schema first came to fruition around 2011; created by search engines Google, Bing, and Yahoo! The initiative was driven by an effort to standardise structured data markup on web pages. Although it has been around for a number of years, it really is only coming into the popular spotlight in recent months. You can expect to see a surge in the number of sites implementing this across the board.

There are a number of benefits to implementing structured schema on to your Ecommerce site.

  • Search Engines – It enables search engines to easily identify and understand content on a page. They can differentiate between a large number of elements. Whether they are products, descriptions, reviews, contact details and even availability for purchase.
  • User – It also gives the user more insight into the product they are searching for. When implemented correctly, Google can display a product image, pricing details, it’s availability and customer reviews.
  • Business – This rich information and extra SERP real-estate also has a higher potential to attract customers. They have a higher CTR and conversion rate. If you are going to try and advertise pricing information and customer reviews, make sure you can do so with confidence. Are your prices competitive and are your reviews positive?

SEO for Ecommerce - BigDogDigital - Schema - Ecommerce

Content is Key:

Leveraging content can boost both traffic to your site and increase sales. Customers like information and I don’t just mean product details. Creating content is an opportunity to showcase the product and how to get the most out of it. Presenting to your audience how the product works and more importantly how it will fit into their everyday lives is key to great content. If the customer can resonate with your message, there is a higher chance of a conversion. It is also an opportunity to validate your authority in the industry, after all, you are helping the user by passing on your knowledge and expertise. Oh yeah, and Google likes authoritative websites.

Steps to creating content:

Take for example a company that manufactures and sells modern cooking utensils.

  1. Find out what is trending in the market. What are your potential customers talking about? The aim here is to find ideas to use later on. Is there a growing trend in vegetarian dishes? Are they following any celebrity chefs? What restaurants do they like? Keep an open mind and take note.
  2. Review what content strategy you think could work for you. With video growing increasingly popular, this is an area that should be considered if at all possible. In the case of your cooking utensils company, this could be extremely beneficial as videos are great for demos.
  3. Create memorable content. It is possible to have a multifaceted approach to your content strategy. Implementing a series blogs, guest blogs, interviews and videos around a product could see your traffic and sales soar. An example using our cooking utensils company, for instance, could be publishing blogs on how to cook certain meals. What about interviewing top chefs and restaurants for tips on cooking techniques or how to cook their favourite dishes.

The goal here is to create content that will engage users and encourage them to share, increasing your traffic flow and sales.

Conclusion:

The checklist for implementing an Ecommerce SEO strategy can seem endless. For this reason, it is important to evaluate and prioritise what elements are important to your business. Building on a good foundation is vital. Depending on your business and specific needs, you can decide the direction you wish to take from there. If you want to stay ahead, you need to have the ability to change things up and be flexible.

Martin McGuire

With a BA Honours in Marketing, Digital Media, and Cloud Computing, Martin contributes his knowledge to all of our ongoing projects. Specialising in digital marketing, PPC ad management and search engine optimisation (SEO), Martin’s role is to assist our clients in all areas of online marketing and advertising.

Dublin, Ireland http://www.bigdog.ie