Whether you are new to entrepreneurship completely or have had to pivot your business to the ecommerce world, it can feel overwhelming at first. One of the most important things to consider when starting an ecommerce business is how your customers will actually find you. You can design the best website in the world and offer the most unique products, but if nobody can find you then it’s a lost cause.
While advertising and marketing efforts are one way to attract customers, they can get expensive and time consuming. Another great way to bring customers in is through organic web traffic. If you can be on the top page of search results on a search engine, then you’re doing something right. And the best way to accomplish this is through search engine optimization.
So let’s take a look at what exactly this is and how you can start leveraging it for your ecommerce business.
Search engine optimization, or more commonly known as, SEO is defined by Moz as “the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” Let’s break this definition down a little further.
The quality of your traffic refers to attracting customers that are actually interested in what you are selling. The quantity of your traffic is exactly what you may have guessed – the number of people who actually click on your website after finding it on the search engine results page (SERP). Lastly, as we’ve discussed before, organic search engine results are the hits that come up on a SERP that are not paid advertisements.
Take this search engine result page for women’s running shoes, for example. As you can see, the first four results are paid advertisements from various athletic companies. While these do appear before organic results, customers still tend to prefer organic results because they appear more authentic. In fact, 80% of Google users claim to completely ignore the paid search engine results when looking for their desired content. This is not to say paid results are not an effective strategy – but when you’re just starting out, SEO can definitely deliver a high ROI.
Why is SEO for ecommerce brands important?
Now that we know what SEO is, it’s time to talk about why you should care. As we’ve already mentioned, customers tend to prefer organic search engine results because they appear more authentic. Even if a customer is looking to make a purchase, nobody likes to be sold to. Advertisements can become extremely annoying and can actually deter customers from your brand altogether. Afterall, nobody likes that brand that pops up on their Instagram feed 10 times a day.
SEO is the key to bringing customers to your website in a more natural way. As a small brand, you already may feel like you’re facing an uphill battle. You have to convince customers to trust you over the giant, established brands. However, having an effective SEO strategy for a niche product can help customers discover you. When you are on that first page of Google, customers will be more inclined to click on your website over a bigger competitor who is on the third or fourth page.
So we now know what SEO is and why it matters. Let’s get to the good stuff – how to put it into action.
1. Keyword research
You may be wondering, how exactly do I get on the first page of a search engine results page. They key is keywords! You can think about keywords as the terms that customers use when searching for something on a search engine. The way you can improve your position on SERPs is by ranking higher for specific relevant keywords.
There are both broad and long-tail keywords and it's important to consider both.
Broad keywords are 1-2 words long, are very general, and produce thousands of results. Long-tail keywords on the other hand are typically longer in length (4-8) words and can be easier to rank well for.
It can be very hard to rank for broad keywords depending on what industry you’re in or product offering you have. Alternatively, long-tail keywords often can be phrased in the form of a specific customer question or need. It is important to consider both types of keywords for your ecommerce site, but when you are starting out long-tail keywords can help increase your domain authority and discoverability.
If we take a look at this example above, it’s clear which option excels. When searching for the best small business ecommerce solutions, we tried both a broad and long-term keyword.
Using the broad keyword “ecommerce platform” did not produce many specific help articles geared towards smaller ecommerce brands. It is more so focused on definitions and blog articles comparing various platforms in general. However, using the long-tail keyword “small business ecommerce platform” produced several organic search results with small business right in the page title. This is beneficial because customers will be able to find articles geared towards them and their specific needs as a small business, increasing the quality of leads for those sites.
Now that we know what type of keywords to use, it’s time to figure out what specific keywords are best for your brand. There are several online tools that you can use to do keyword research and gain valuable insights. These tools can provide you with a variety of data ranging from which keywords are most popular on a monthly basis, to providing you with hundreds of long-tail keywords from a specific base word. One of our favourite tools is Ahrefs but here’s a list of 10 other free keyword research sites for you to check out.
When selecting a keyword, you need to consider a healthy balance between a high search volume and the competitiveness. For example, say you are an ecommerce brand who sells coffee beans online. Attempting to rank for the keyword “coffee” may not be the wisest choice. Although it receives a high volume of searches each month, it is extremely difficult to rank for. It may be better to try to rank for a long-tail keyword like “where to buy coffee beans online”. As we see above on Moz’s page, this has a much lower monthly search volume, but it is easier to rank for and produces a higher organic click through rate because customers are specifically looking for an online coffee shop when searching this – increasing the quality of your organic web traffic.
There is not an exact science to keyword research, but using the tools above is a great place to start strategically embedding keywords into your ecommerce site.
2. Optimize on-page SEO through product descriptions
So now that you’re an expert on keyword research, it’s time to figure out how to add these into your site. One of the most important places to consider keywords is on your product description pages. This is because you want to enhance the online customer experience and increase your chances of customer conversions. If a customer is in the market for a specific product you sell, you want them to discover that exact product page when they search online – not just your homepage.
Some SEO best practices for product pages, as illustrated on UK health food brand Jimmy Joy, are as follows:
- Ensure your product names include keywords – you want clear, logical product names to help customers find you online. This doesn’t mean you have to name your products “red women’s athletic shoes”, but including a few of those terms in your product names might help you rank higher in search. For example, Jimmy Joy’s Plenny Bar v2.0 includes the word bar and the sub-title includes the long-tail keyword plant-based meal bar.
- Write unique product descriptions – you want to stand out from your competitors while giving your customers a great idea of what your product benefits are.
- Include product images with alt text – alt text are the descriptive words that appear when you hover over a photo. Not only do these help with accessibility standards but they allow your images to rank on search engine image pages, providing another gateway to your ecommerce site.
- Include customer reviews, images, and videos on your product page – this enhances the customer experience by providing social proof, but it also is a great ecommerce search engine optimization tactic.
- Include one long-tail keyword in your meta description – a meta description is the blurb of text that appears on the SERPs for your page. This describes what the customer will find on that page and can either entice them to click through or scroll past your page. Jimmy Joy does this using the long-tail keyword “nutritionally complete meal bar”, which matches the term used in their product description.
Although those are the best strategies for optimizing your product pages, don’t forget to include these tactics on your homepage too. Your homepage is probably going to be the highest ranking page on your site! A few quick and easy reminders are to ensure your homepage title includes your brand name and that you have your logo at the top of every page with appropriate alt text.
As an ecommerce brand, some of your most important web pages are your product pages since that’s where the customer conversion magic happens. Put these steps into action to ensure your customers can find you and you can satisfy their needs time and time again.
3. Excellent website layout
Although SEO best practices are important, they should never come at the expense of a seamless customer experience. One of the most important things to consider for any ecommerce brand looking to acquire new customers is your website design. Customers should never have to click through dozens of pages to get to the content they are looking for.
65% of shoppers value customer experience over price. HelpScout
A great way to help customers navigate your website is through (you guessed it) navigation bars. These are the pinned titles at the top of your website with links to your different pages on your website. Ensuring that you have your most important pages here will allow your customers to easily find what they are looking for and have an easy flow from page to page.
Your page titles should also all be optimized for SEO. This typically means that you should include a keyword at the beginning of the title and it’s best practice to include your brand name if possible. However, it is important to avoid making your titles too lengthy. Strike that optimal balance between descriptive and word jumbles. It’s also important to consider that SERPs typically only display about 50-60 characters.
Boathouse offers the perfect example with their footwear page. They include their relevant keyword (footwear) followed by their brand name to help customers and search engines understand what they will find when they click-through to their page. They also leverage H2 headings by showing their product categories right on the SERP, but more on that next.
Sub-titles and headings are a great way to help search engines understand what type of content they will find on that page. A few key tips and tricks are to ensure you are properly utilizing H1, H2, and H3 headings. Every page should only have one H1 heading – your page title. Then your H2 headings should be subheadings and any H3 headings must follow an H2 heading to avoid confusing your customers and search engines. For example, a company’s About Us page might have a heading layout similar to this:
H1: About Us
H2: Company History
H3: Our Inspo Story
H3: Meet the Founder
There’s nothing worse than searching through a website that doesn’t work. Whether it’s that 404 error page or incorrectly-sized images, these can frustrate a customer and can actually hurt your SEO. With a rise in mobile commerce, it’s also key to ensure your website looks just as beautiful on a phone that it does on a computer. Luckily, there are several marketing apps that you can download on your Shopify store to help with this, including SEO Doctor. Although we know you’re becoming an SEO expert ;), why not have someone else do the heavy lifting for you?
4. Adding value-add content to your site
Although we’ve discussed how to optimize your basic ecommerce site for search engine optimization, there is no denying that the more content you have, the better your chances are to rank. A great, free strategy for any ecommerce site is to include value-add content to your site. This can range from an ecommerce blog, to video tutorials, to help articles on your website.
This is a cost-effective tool that will help boost your website’s overall domain authority, or their position for certain keywords. For example, if you are a brand with a social cause, it’s a good idea to have a blog where you talk about your values, what cause you support, and how customers can help.
Let’s take a look at Ivory Ella as an example. This clothing brand is fueled by their mission to help save the elephants, and wildlife in general, which is why a portion of their sales goes towards their partner Save The Elephants. This is a great cause but it only matters if customers know about it. They’ve added a blog to their site with posts about a variety of topics, including the one above about saving the bees, which drives customers to their site. If a customer searched “elephant sustainability clothing brand”, Ivory Ella is bound to show up on that first page because they’ve included those keywords on their webpages and in their blog articles.
No matter what your brand stands for, you know it best. So why not share your expert knowledge to help your customers and yourself with that improved SEO ranking.
Our final SEO ecommerce best practice is becoming more and more popular as more and more brands and individuals develop strong web presences. Simply put, link-building is the process of getting other websites to link to your website in their content. This is beneficial for web traffic referrals, as well as creating authority for your brand in the minds of your customers as well as search engines.
The more quality, organic back-links you have to your website, the more credible search engines will view your page. This will help improve your ranking in search engine algorithms. The key to getting quality back-links as a small business is starting with who you know.
Here are a few good sources to get you started:
- Content creation with partner brands – if you have brands that you can develop informal or formal partnerships with, then you can produce content (i.e. blogs, video tutorials, guide books, etc…) for one another and link back to your own relevant content. Reach out to those people and ensure your link building outreach management goes smoothly.
- Influencers – social media influencers are a growing platform for small businesses to leverage. With large followings that already trust them, influencer reviews (either paid or unpaid) can drive a lot of traffic to your site.
- Friends and network members – when you are an entrepreneur, chances are you know other entrepreneurs. If you can work together with people in a similar niche or industry to link back to each other's content, then that’s a great, cost-effective way to start link building.
Now that you know how to get other people to link to your content, it’s time to consider asking someone who’s guaranteed to say yes – yourself! That’s right, you can even backlink to your own content (hint: we’ve done it quite a few times in this article). This is important because it increases your domain authority over a certain topic. If you have several blog posts that are all about one specific area, you can create a pillar post in which every other piece related to that links back to. This will increase the chances of that pillar post ranking high on SERPs and driving customers to your website.
The internet is a tangled, interconnected web and you need to link yourself to relevant sources both figuratively and literally.
No matter what your experience level is with SEO, one thing is true – you can always be optimizing. If you’ve just launched your ecommerce store yesterday or you’ve been selling online for years, you can be updating keywords or finding new sources to get backlinks from.
As with anything, make sure you have a clear understanding of where you’re at. You can do an internal SEO audit and then set goals accordingly for your specific business. From there, give a few or all of these strategies a whirl and see how your organic web traffic grows.