Understanding how to do e-commerce SEO starts with defining the overall goal and strategy.
Your SEO goal is steadily increasing qualified organic traffic from Google — that is, traffic with a high potential for making a purchase, either now or later. The focus should always be on conversions. The rankings you achieve and even the amount of organic traffic your site gets are secondary issues. Think about it: Which would you rather have, number-one Google rankings and 10 sales a month, or number-five rankings and 30 sales a month? Would you rather have 5,000 visitors from Google that collectively account for 20 sales, or 3,000 visitors who account for 50?
The strategy for how to do e-commerce website SEO is to identify and prioritize the website pages that will be your best sources of profitable and/or strategically important conversions. These are the pages your SEO campaign will focus on, using a wide range of on-site and off-site techniques to gradually — or in some cases, quickly — improve their organic visibility on Google.
SEO Issues Important to E-Commerce Websites
Many aspects of e-commerce SEO are more challenging than those faced by lead generation SEO campaigns. Let’s take a look at the most important issues for how to do SEO for an e-commerce site.
1. Identifying and prioritizing focus pages.
For a lead generation site, the choices are usually few and simple, perhaps consisting of 5-10 product/service pages. For a large e-commerce site, however, there may be hundreds or thousands of choices. To determine which pages to prioritize, you need to think about:
- The immediate value of an average order for the product/service on the page (transactional value)
- The long-term value of a customer who orders a particular product/service (strategic value)
- The number of pages your SEO budget can support
- The strength of your sales pitch/value proposition associated with the particular product/service page
- The strength of your competition (in terms of SEO) on a particular products/service page
- The competitiveness of the top keywords for a particular product/service page
A common pitfall you want to avoid is spreading your SEO budget too thin by trying to optimize too many pages. This is why many SEO-savvy e-commerce firms work with their SEO agencies to develop second- and third-phase target pages, to be implemented as the SEO campaign gains traction.
2. Resolving duplicate content issues.
Lead generation websites don’t often have major issues with duplicate content, but for many e-commerce websites, duplicate content is an enormous problem. When e-commerce sites allow users to sort product/service pages a variety of ways, the result is multiple versions of product category pages and single product/service pages, each with a unique URL. How do Google’s Googlebots (crawlers) figure out which version of the page to rank?
There are a number of ways to resolve duplicate content issues and let Google know which specific page URL you want them to rank. Sometimes the problems can be resolved entirely behind the scenes by setting up code that tells Googlebots which page versions to ignore. In other cases, on-site changes to navigation, URL structure and page content may be necessary. Regardless of the cost and difficulty of the cure, eliminating duplicate content is essential for a healthy SEO campaign.
3. Keyword selection.
Selecting the right target keywords for your SEO campaign is another tricky area for e-commerce operations. One keyword research area to think about carefully is intent. A lot is said about keyword intent in SEO articles, with the advice usually being to select keyword phrases that convey strong buying intent.
For e-commerce purposes, you obviously want Google users to click through to your product/service page when they are searching for something to buy now. A keyword phrase such as “widgets on sales today” is more likely to convert than, say, “information about widgets.” However, keyword phrases with high volume and high buying intent may also be highly difficult to rank for if bigger competitors are targeting them. If that’s the case, you may be better off selecting lower-volume and more specific keywords (called long-tail keywords in the SEO business). When you have target keywords flying under the radar of big competitors, you may generate less overall organic traffic but achieve far more conversions than you could ever hope for by going after highly competitive keywords.
4. Tracking and analytics.
The worst day of your SEO campaign should be the first day. One of the great advantages of SEO is having the ability to analyze data and continually refine your campaign. Analysis tells you which pages are converting, which pages are not converting, which keywords are moving up in the rankings, which keywords are moving sideways or backward — and most important of all, what your ROI is.
All of this continuous improvement hinges on collecting granular, accurate and complete data about your campaign. Setting up tracking for an e-commerce campaign can get fairly complicated; you need to track phone inquiries, phone orders, website form submissions as well as orders. In addition, you’ll want to keep track of abandoned shopping carts and other on-site user behavior from organic traffic sources. As with duplicate content, tracking is one of those setup issues that will make or break your campaign.
5. Mobile-friendly website difficulties.
Mobile-friendliness is an extremely important ranking factor for Google and one that is bound to become even more important. Making a 10- or 20-page lead generation website mobile-friendly is a snap; making a large e-commerce website mobile-friendly might make you snap. Content from a legacy desktop site can often be transformed into a mobile-friendly format with minimal tweaks. For an e-commerce site, many more issues arise:
- Will mobile users want to sift through thousands of pages?
- Is our desktop navigation suitable for mobile users?
- Is the usability of our forms and shopping cart adequate for mobile users?
- Do we need a completely separate mobile website? Or can we modify the structure and design of our desktop site to make it workably responsive?
There are major advantages and disadvantages to creating a separate mobile website. Having two websites to maintain and somehow connect poses a number of technical challenges. On the other hand, having a near-perfect mobile site, one that does not involve a lot of design compromises, may result in many more mobile conversions.
One thing to consider is where you expect your e-commerce business to be three to five years down the road. If you have a handful of products for sale on your site now, a responsive design will be tempting. But, if you plan to have 10,000 items for sale, you may be wise to set up a separate site now to make scaling your business easier down the road — not only for SEO, but for all your marketing efforts.
Follow SEO Best Practices
Here we’ve highlighted major SEO issues for e-commerce. Beyond these you must also use best practices for on-site and off-site SEO. Title tags, navigation, link profiles, local SEO (in some cases) and other issues affecting Google’s ability to index and rank your website content cannot be overlooked. If anything, you need to execute on all of these fronts with more effort than the competition to improve rankings and conversions.
To discuss how to do e-commerce SEO in more detail, contact us now or call 855-883-0011.