How to do SEO for Ecommerce Sites

Joe Cox
Content Director | Superb Digital
21st February 2019

It’s no secret that the traditional high street model in the UK is struggling and may well be in a fight for its own survival. What’s often not reported is the other side of this equation. As consumers increasingly move online for more and more of their goods, fresh and innovative ecommerce businesses are popping up all the time, some of them responding to wider cultural or market trends and some of them creating entirely new ones. 

Ecommerce continues to dominate the retail industry both in Western and Eastern countries, with a 2018 report by Euromonitor International showing ecommerce eventually outpacing brick-and-mortar stores as early as 2021.

For any ecommerce entrepreneur to stand out in this increasingly crowded marketplace isn’t easy. Whilst many may use platforms like Amazon or eBay to sell their wares, most would ideally prefer to be acquiring sales through their own website on their own terms (and without having to pay a fee to these big companies).

This is where SEO comes in and why it’s so important for ecommerce sites. Let’s take a look at how it’s done.

What is Ecommerce SEO? 

E-commerce SEO is the process of producing organic traffic from search engines like Google and Yahoo. Combined, it is the practice of placing and ranking a digital store’s product pages in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). Usually this is with the intention of ranking these product pages nationally or even internationally in the top few places on page 1.

Numerous studies have shown that both with mobile and desktop search, users rarely click through to page 2 in the SERPs. When you factor into that the fact that the lion’s share of clicks go to positions 1 to 3 on page 1, you can begin to appreciate the potential value that a good SEO strategy could have on an ecommerce site with hundreds or even thousands of product pages.

Building an SEO oriented page is not as straightforward as some people think. Keyword stuffing and overly optimised link building will get you nowhere (if anything they could see your page penalised).

So how do you begin to start ranking product pages on ecommerce sites. Well, let’s start at the beginning and that’s with your keyword research.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is the process of understanding, exploring and then mapping the most useful and relevant words and phrases people enter into search engines that you want your webpage to rank for, before going on to optimise those webpages.

In ecommerce, keywords are often product specific, which means they carry high user intent, which means that searchers tend to be at the purchase stage of the sales funnel. Because they are often specific to the product, or more generally a description of the product.

One method for conducting keyword research for ecommerce therefore, is to group products into categories. These category pages will tend to rank for more general terms, whereas the individual product pages that sit under them, will rank for the specific product itself.

Below are some factors you need to consider before deciding which words and phrases you want to rank your product and product category pages. 

Choosing the Right Keywords

Google’s Keyword Planner tool, along with other third-party software, will suggest thousands of keywords you can use but not all of them will be efficient or useful for your website. To know which set of words and terms are the ones to try to optimise for, consider the following factors:

  • Search volume. A keyword with a higher search volume will allow you to gain more traffic to your webpage. Applications like SEMRush, Google Keyword Planner, and Ubersuggest are just a few of the keyword tools out there you can use to ascertain search volume.
  • Relevancy. Many business owners overlook relevancy entirely, becoming lost in the data and fixated on search volume. Choosing a set of words that are not relevant and suitable to your product category is a useless exercise, no matter how much traffic you get as a result. As such, make sure to stick only with keywords that are associated with the goods or services you are selling. Between low search volume with high relevancy and high search volume with low relevancy is a golden medium.
  • Competition. The lower the competition a keyword has, the higher the chance you could rank for it. Unless you are in a very uncompetitive niche, lower competition terms tend to have lower search volume. 
  • Intent. This isn’t something SEO tools will pick up on and requires common sense as well as an understanding of your target market. Ranking ecommerce pages means optimising for phrases and words with purchasing intent (as opposed to blog articles where intent is low). 

The Head, Body, & Long Tail Keywords

Understanding how keywords work in SEO is key to nailing your ecommerce strategy. Keywords are divided into three categories, which can be broken down as follows:

  1. The Head. This is a single search word with a tremendous amount of competition and search volume. In ecommerce, this type of keyword usually results in low conversion or none at all, because a single term could mean a lot of things or it can tend to be extremely competitive. Optimising for the term ‘car,’ for example, will automatically cause Google to show all manner of search results. Optimising for ‘Volkswagens for sale’ on the other hand will likely return far more relevant traffic if you’re in the business of selling cars.
  2. The Body. This is a set of two to three words with a moderate search volume. It is more specific than head terms as well. Whilst the search volume drops off a bit the competition can still be very high (as is undoubtedly the case with our ‘Volkswagens for sale’ phrase example above).
  3. The Long Tail. Long tails are phrases with words not less than four. And compared to the head and body, these set of words are more distinct. Individually, these keywords do not have high search volume. However, they could become competitive when combined since the majority of online searches are long tails. In ecommerce it’s your blog that you will want ranking for long tail search in order to build your overall site authority and draw customers in to your site and brand from the top of the sales funnel (at the research stage).

On-Page SEO

After you have a keyword strategy in place (sometimes called a keyword map), you need to optimise your pages to start ranking in the organic SERPs and pulling in relevant traffic. This typically involves a combination of HTML code and on page website copy, as well as making sure things like images are the optimum size and contain the right alt tags.

It’s also important to monitor your traffic for each page closely so you can measure the effect of any changes you make. Remember your position won't change overnight so you’ll need to wait a few weeks after each change to ascertain results.

Here are some other important onsite SEO signals to consider.

  • Speed & Responsiveness. Maximising your ecommerce site’s loading speed — both for desktop and mobile — helps to secure a position on page 1. Whilst it won’t make the difference between being at the top or not, a page’s load speed is a ranking signal to Google and if it’s too low it may be harming you and also affecting user’ experience, causing your bounce rate to climb.
  • Mobile-friendly. As Google has now implemented mobile-first indexing, a responsive website design will have a significant impact to the page’s SEO. Aside from that, more and more searches are taking place on mobile so having a mobile-friendly online shop is also valuable if you want to ensure a consistent user experience for all your online customers.
  • In Depth Product Descriptions. In ecommerce SEO, the content of your page helps search engines to decide what keywords to rank for a particular page. As such, avoid just writing short product titles and descriptions and instead, look to write long and in depth copy. Whilst this isn’t always practical across hundreds or thousands of individual product pages, it’s an absolute must on the category pages that help you organise your site.
  • Internal links. All too often ecommerce businesses focus solely on link building to build the authority of their most important product or category pages, to the detriment of internal linking. Whilst internal link building won’t generate fresh page authority it does help spread authority around your site. This is crucial for helping Google establish relevancy and in growing overall domain authority in order to more easily rank all the pages on your site.

About the Author: Joe Cox is Content Director at Bristol SEO Agency, Superb Digital.

  • Do you sell your goods online?

    It’s a big world out there, so you should be selling to it. Better yet, get free advice on how to boost overseas sales at Global eCommerce Live hosted by The Department of International Trade on 20 March in Bristol!

Do you want to join the conversation?

Sign up here