Whether you are an SEO or marketing manager for an eCommerce company, or you are the owner of a small eCommerce business, you are well aware that search engine optimization is an ever-changing field. There is a constant cat-and-mouse game between SEO professionals, search engine technology, and user behavior. It starts with the search engines adapting to the user, then the SEOs adapting to the search engines, and so on.
In spite of this fast-paced change, any SEO strategist knows it’s imperative to cover the fundamentals in order to continue leveraging the highest-performing marketing channel. What are these fundamentals? They’re often called “best practices”. In most workplaces, it’s an undefined term. It’s also a term that gets undervalued. People might think of best practices and think “I should do that, but I don’t have to”. Your SEO strategy can suffer from this attitude.
Keywords aren't everything
There is a common misconception that SEO is all about using the right keywords at the right places. It isn’t wrong, but it’s really just a small piece of the puzzle. Keywords may have been a cornerstone of SEO success ten years ago, and people used them in an array of creative ways. In recent years, search engine algorithms have become significantly more sophisticated, ranking websites based on a variety of factors. Google ignores and sometimes punishes tricks (keyword stuffing, for instance).
Does that mean you shouldn’t do keyword research? No, not at all. By taking a strategic and targeted approach to this research, and knowing how to use it, we can achieve our goals. Today, organic success rests on a combination of great UX, well-placed content, and solid technical fundamentals.
Technical SEO - The key to success
Let’s imagine that you want your new clothing line to reach a wider audience online. Several things come to mind when considering what is needed here from an SEO and UX perspective. An intuitive design, fast page speed, visual product pages (PDPs), a smooth purchasing funnel, and an easy checkout process. They are all crucial, of course. Nevertheless, there are a few overlooked factors that you need to consider in order to maximize your SERP positioning.
Architecture & Structure of Information
Having a logical site structure and URL structure that is easy to read by users and search engines is the first step. You should avoid putting everything under a subfolder like /products. In retail terms, that would be equivalent to a clothing store dumping all its items in one place and telling customers, “Go find whatever you want, it’s all there”. There are a few ways to mitigate this, such as awesome design, filters, and internal functionality. It might simplify the user journey. However, for bots crawling the site, an illogical or bad URL structure raises an alarm.
There is an entire area of research dedicated to information architecture (product hierarchy). To be safe, you should mirror the URL structure and product hierarchy as closely as possible. You may not always be able to achieve this, but you can come pretty close.
Say our client sells men’s sandals as one of its product categories. From a website hierarchy perspective, it might look like this: Shop > Mens > Shoes & Footwear > Shoes. The URL should be something like:
Takeaway: By aligning your product hierarchy and URL structure and including great content like meta descriptions and title tags, you are sending strong signals to Google about what your product is and where to find it.
Prepare for parameters
A URL parameter is another often overlooked but crucial feature of an eCommerce website. In terms of URLs, these are the numbers and letters tagged on based on user behavior.
An example of a URL with many parameters would be http://www.fasionwebsite.com/shop/? product-filter&type=mens+sandals
This URL contains a parameter after /shop/, since the customer used a filter function to find brown sandals in this case. Using this information enables us to determine which search terms are being filtered for, but we do not want Google to index this URL for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the resulting page displays a list of men’s sandals – this is essentially a duplicate of the category page. In addition, a parameter can be generated every time a site uses filtering, resulting in thousands of extra URLs that dilute the other pages’ presence in search results, and consume crawl budget for the entire website.
How can we mitigate this? Parameters can be handled in several ways, and SEOs and developers should pay attention to this. There are, however, a few options, such as:
- Adding rel=canonical tags to product and category pages
- With Robots.txt, certain URLs can be blocked from being crawled
- By using the URL Parameters tool in Google Search Console.
Takeaway: Technical SEO solutions may differ by site, but foundational and structural optimizations can be extremely beneficial for organic traffic.
Content is still king
Technical SEO is the foundation for our websites’ organic performance, but content is the building blocks. As search engine algorithms have become smarter over time, quality has gradually taken precedence over quantity. Nowadays, it is more important than ever to write content that is user-centric first and foremost. By considering the user’s search intent, you create content that is useful, informative, and above all, enhances the user experience of the page.
Some key elements of our clothing eCommerce website would be:
- Optimized title tags and meta descriptions – This one seems obvious, but can sometimes be overlooked. There shouldn’t be any gaps here, and there shouldn’t be much duplication.
- Clear Header markup – Each page should have a clear and unique header
- PDP Copy – Detailed description of the product
- Images – Several product images, with alt text when possible
Make structured data work for you
By using structured data (also known as product schema or simply schema), you can label content on your website so that search engines can provide rich results. Depending on how your website is set up, implementation can be super straightforward or a little tricky. You should loop in your developer resource if you need help here. Your products’ visibility and competitiveness in the SERP can be greatly improved by taking the time to do this.
Let’s take reviews as an example. They play a huge role in online purchasing decisions, as we all know. With structured data, you can leverage product reviews for a SKU and have them appear as rich snippets in search results. In the example below, notice how the reviews and availability are displayed under the title of a search for beats headphones. This is the power of structured data in SEO.
Structured data can also be used to identify the following areas of your website:
- Product name
- Product description
- Product hierarchy / Breadcrumbs
You can find more information on structured data implementation in this article from Google or in this post from Moz about rich snippets in eCommerce.
Developing a blog strategy
Having a blog/news section on your website is a valuable way to provide fresh content that can inform, inspire, and excite your customers while linking back to your product or service.
Imagine that we have a clothing website that talks about winter coats. This is the time to shine for copywriters! In terms of blogs, the goal is to create quality content that meets a user need, not just content for its own sake. Let’s look at our keywords once more – now it’s time to conduct some research. Consider these factors:
- Are there any popular search terms related to winter coats?
- What are the most frequently searched questions?
- Is there a unique selling point on your website?
- Is there an opportunity to discuss seasonal styles or trends?
Again, quality is the goal. Posts with thin or shallow content should be avoided. You should aim for a balance between information and entertainment. Images are crucial, especially when showcasing your product. Consider infographics, embedded video links, gifs, etc. Always put your mobile device first!’
Nowadays, in the age of mobile-first, no-click searches, it’s more important than ever to cover your bases when it comes to SEO. Your competitors will do it if you don’t. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to SEO, but we can build a strategy that works for your website based on what we know works.