Note: This is the first of a 12-part series on SEO for e-commerce that we will publish each month.
There are two kinds of e-commerce business: the ones that need SEO, and the ones that don’t know they need it.
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to strategies used to increase the quantity and quality of traffic to a website by ranking it higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.
These engines use special bots that evaluate the site, determine its relevance to a given search term based on numerous factors, and then assign a rank on the list of results for that term accordingly.
SEO doesn’t apply strictly to online businesses. Every site on the web, commercial and non-commercial alike, gets evaluated (or “crawled”) by search engine bots on a regular basis.
As such, every website is able to influence their search engine ranking by calibrating various page elements in line with what the search engines look for. This process is what we call SEO. In this article we will focus specifically on SEO for e-commerce.
How to get started
Let’s say you want to open an online shoe store. It’s day one. Google “shoes.”
As you can see, if you want your customers to find your store when they search for “shoes” on Google, you’re going to have to compete with more than seven and half billion other pages in the results.
For the record, this includes not just your competitors, but the Wikipedia entry on shoes, personal fashion blogs about shoes, YouTube videos, social media pages, and so on.
Maybe we can narrow it down a bit. Let’s try “buy shoes online.”
At first glance, this might seem like an improvement. But you’ll still have to find a way to stand out among more than a billion other pages—most of whom, in this case, will be your direct commercial competitors.
But looking at all these results, there’s an important question we need to consider. What makes the difference between the very first site on the list and the fourth? Or between sites that show up on the first page of results vs. sites that show up on the second, third, or fiftieth pages?
The answer: SEO for e-commerce.
Winning the relevance game…
As mentioned above, successful e-commerce SEO strategies hinge on demonstrating to search engines that your pages are relevant to the term you’re trying to rank for.
Obviously this begins with the subject matter of your site. A shoe store would want to rank not only for “shoes” and “buy shoes online,” but for related terms depending on their product offering, such as boots, sandals, slippers, cleats, and so on.
Precision is another key element to SEO for e-commerce. A sushi restaurant would do well to focus on specialized keywords like sashimi and maki, and avoid more general food and beverage terms with higher competition.
All of this underscores the point that good SEO for e-commerce begins with text-based content. Search engines assess how often a word appears on a page, as well as where the word appears. Does it show up in the page title? The page URL and main headline? Is it used often in the page’s text? In image captions?
Search engines look at all these factors, as well as others that are less obvious: back-end elements like meta keywords and meta descriptions, the architecture of your website’s URLs, and even links to your pages that appear on other sites. Your page speed also plays a critical factor, as do responsive design, security features, use of https vs. http, and so on.
…without making it worse
But because search engines evaluate web pages positively based on certain criteria, this means they can also evaluate them negatively with respect to the same (and other) criteria. And just as positive SEO helps your web store, negative SEO (obviously) hurts it.
Let’s call that SEA—search engine aggravation. Making your rank worse instead of improving it.
So what causes SEA?
A simple example would be having a non-responsive website. Google is known to penalize websites that are not optimized for use with mobile devices.
But even otherwise positive SEO elements like keywords can hurt your ranking if you use them in the wrong way. In the earlier days of the Internet, for instance, it was common for site owners to “game” search engines by inundating the text of their pages with terms they wanted to rank for. So the shoe store above might create a page with text like:
I you’re looking for shoes, buy shoes online, online shoe deals, great deals on shoes, shoe bargain websites, discount shoe stores online, low prices on sandals, online deals for boots, you’ve come to the right place.
This practice is known as keyword stuffing, and as you can probably tell, the style of writing isn’t meant to benefit the user experience of the human shoppers reading it. The whole point was to artificially boost the page’s rank by saturating it with the desired terms to trick bots into thinking the page was relevant.
Major search engines have long since revised their algorithms and now heavily penalize or even ban websites that engage in this and other black hat SEO tactics.
E-commerce SEO strategies that work
SEO might seem like a lot of work, but the good news is that ERP-integrated platforms like k-eCommerce have built-in, user-friendly tools to make SEO for e-commerce accessible even to non-technical business owners. And the most effective e-commerce SEO strategies ultimately come down to a few fairly simple best practices.
If you’re looking to improve your web store’s search engine performance, we’ll be going in-depth on specific e-commerce SEO strategies for each of the elements listed above in future posts over the coming months. We’ll look at tactics that work, mistakes to avoid, and effective ways to fine-tune your SEO and drive more traffic to your web store.
So be sure to check back with us each month for tips to improve your search engine ranking and master SEO for e-commerce.