Top Do's and Don'ts of Ecommerce SEO

Leigh-Anne Truitt

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October 15, 2020

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In 2019, ecommerce sales accounted for 14.1% of all retail sales worldwide, and it was expected that more than 77% of Americans would be using online shopping by 2020. 

Of course when COVID-19 hit and the president declared a state of emergency, ecommerce sales spiked rapidly. In the first six months of 2020, consumer spending online with U.S. retailers was up 30.1% from the same period in 2019. Additionally, online spending has already blown past expectations to represent 18.6% of total retail sales for the first two quarters of 2020.

charts showing growth of the U.S. retail landscape from 2019 to 2020

While the overall impact of COVID-19 on the industry is not yet known, many businesses are scrambling to establish an online presence. And as more ecommerce stores are established, it's essential that customers can find your store. 

For most websites, around 53% of traffic comes from organic searches, so being on the first page of Google results can have a huge impact on your business. This is why you should never ignore search engine optimization (SEO). SEO helps Google's web crawlers notice your site or product page, index it and rank it. Without good SEO, Google may get confused about what your store is offering—or barely even notice you're there.

There are SEO tips that transcend industries, such as using headings, keywords and images. However, starting an ecommerce site isn’t exactly the same as starting a blog. Ecommerce-specific tips can help you get in front of your customers' eyes.

4 Do's of Ecommerce SEO

SEO guides often come with a lot of rules that are constantly changing. While there are certainly more than four do's that can help improve your search engine ranking, the following guidelines are ones that we’ve seen truly make a difference and that aren’t likely to go out of style any time soon. 

1. Create Unique Product and Category Descriptions

In ecommmerce, it can be tempting to find shortcuts when writing your descriptions or to place more emphasis on your pictures than your copy. The problem is, Google's web crawlers need words to be able to index and rank your page. Because of this, every product and category page requires a unique description.

When writing, the best place to start is by putting yourself in the shoes of your customers. Consider what they want to know about your product, like how it's used and its benefits on their daily lives. Next, conduct keyword research to discover words or phrases that can help bring the most exposure to your page. Some helpful resources include:

  • Google Keyword Planner: It’s free to use with a Google Ads account and can help you understand search volume, as well as related keywords.
  • Ubersuggest: Another free tool that gives you keyword suggestions and can help you understand how your competitors are ranking.
  • Moz Keyword Explorer: With 10 free searches a month when you create an account, you can check keyword difficulty, analyze search volume and more.

Remember that you won’t just want to pick the keywords that offer the most search volume. You’ll want to identify ones that attract the right audiences (people who are looking to make a purchase) and aren’t too difficult to rank on.

Once you’ve put your list of target keywords together, try to include those words in your product title and description. Add secondary keywords too, like synonyms and long-tail variations, as long as they don't seem forced.

Remember that ‘unique’ is the keyword here. If you simply resort to using manufacturers' descriptions or the same description on each of your pages, you'll run into problems with search engine crawlers getting confused and not knowing which page to rank first. This could ultimately lower all of your rankings.

Here’s an example of a product page that’s optimized for SEO: Silk Road Teas crafts descriptions that tell customers and search engines exactly what they're buying—whether the tea tastes of chestnuts or has a vegetative or sweet aroma.

screenshot of a product description written by silk road teas

You can also see how they’ve optimized the page using keywords. The primary keyword “Dragon Well” shows up in the title and several times in the description without feeling forced. They’ve woven in secondary and long-tail keywords as well, “Dragon Well tea tasting,” “Chinese teas” and “Long Jing.”

2. Optimize Your URLs.

Business owners often forget that their URL slugs, or permalinks, are read by search engine crawlers. This can be a problem for ecommerce sites, because their URLs can get long and messy. 

Take the time to make yours as clear and readable as possible so buyers won’t question the legitimacy or purpose of your page. In general, the best way to format your URLs is to follow a formula like this: 

ecommercestore.com/category-name/subcategory-name/product 

Remember to keep your URLs short, sweet and descriptive. Include your primary keyword. Separate words with hyphens instead of underscores, spaces or other special characters to ensure that Google reads them properly. 

Finally, try to avoid URL parameters. Parameters are parts of the URL that come after a question mark and are often used for filtering, pagination or product variations, like:

ecommercestore.com/products/kitchenware/blender?type=portable&color=blue

Google reads each parameter-based URL as a new page and may flag a duplicate content issue as a result. While your page isn’t likely to be excluded from search results, it may downgrade the overall quality of your site. Therefore, you’ll want to remove them wherever possible.

3. Add Schema Markup

Schema markup is what allows search engines to create a “rich” result, which displays additional information about a page and its contents. Con'Olio Oils and Vinegars, for example, uses schema markup to show customers the reviews and prices associated with its balsamic vinegar. 

example of a rich result on google

To achieve schema markup, code is added to the backend of your product pages or wherever you would like to add schema (the location of your code may vary depending on your ecommerce platform). 

screenshot of schema markup on an ecommerce site

You can use three encoding types to achieve a schema markup: JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa. These languages need to be correctly placed into the HTML, or else your page will not correctly load. You can use Google’s Rich Results Test to validate your schema. 

Why is schema markup so important? It helps search engines provide useful and relevant content. Schema markup also helps search engines recognize what type of page they’re looking at, like whether they’re viewing a product page, category page or blog.

Most importantly, rich results allow your customers to see the information they need, right from the search results. You can address critical questions like price, availability and product ratings right off the bat, and entice the right types of buyers to click onto your page.

4. Remove Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is any content that appears online more than once. From an SEO perspective, duplicate content means that only one of the pages that features that content will rank well. If another site did it first, it's likely that it will get a better ranking than yours.

For ecommerce companies, the biggest risk of duplicate content is on product pages. As mentioned before, many resellers use product titles and descriptions taken directly from the supplier, which could end up on many different sites. 

In another instance, duplicate pages occur when one product has multiple color variations. There may be separate pages or URLs for each variant, but no real change in the content itself. The best way to prevent duplicate content is by adding a canonical tag (re=canonical) on those variant pages that points back to the main product page. This tells Google that you want the main product page to be crawled and to receive link credit instead of the individual variations, thus preventing duplicate content. 

Other ways to avoid duplicate content include customizing headings, giving each page a distinct name and simply creating unique content. Remember, if you sell through multiple channels, such as Amazon and an ecommerce store, you need to use different descriptions on each site too. If your descriptions are the same on both sites, Amazon will rank above the rest.

If you have the same snippet of text about guarantees or shipping on every product page, consider adding this information as an image or in your footer.

4 Don'ts of Ecommerce SEO

Now that we’ve covered some things that can improve your rankings, here are some that can hurt your rankings. Note that these are easy habits to fall into if you’re not careful, so keep an eye out for them and instill best practices that can help your team avoid these common mistakes.  

1. Keyword Stuffing

When Google was just starting out, it was possible to get a great ranking in search engines by writing gibberish, as long as you mentioned keywords multiple times. However, search engines today have evolved to identify “thin” pages from rich, helpful content. Algorithms can recognize keyword stuffing and won’t hesitate to penalize it by ranking the page lower or removing it altogether.

Rather than stuffing keywords on any webpage, use them naturally. Write for your customer, not a robot, and trust that search engines will reward you for this behavior. Keep in mind that outside of your descriptions, you can place keywords in your URL, image descriptions, meta descriptions and titles. You can additionally rank for multiple search results by using synonyms or related phrases throughout your site.

As an example, Burrow's category pages show how to include multiple keywords, like “coffee table,” “side table” and “mid-century modern” into one category description, all while keeping the copy readable and informative for their customers.

screenshot of burrow's category page

2. Oversized Images

You may think that large images are ideal for showcasing your products, but in reality, some large images may only slow down your page load time, which hurts your SEO (and the overall customer experience).

Traditionally, images were large because they were high quality and meant for print. Nowadays, as most buyers are shopping via their smartphones and laptops, images don’t need to offer the same level of detail as before. In fact, images that are compressed to be smaller and less detailed are preferred by both customers and search engines.

Google has been speaking about the importance of page load times in page ranking since 2010. Although relevance is more important than page load times to your ranking, speed can make a difference. Research has additionally shown that 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, and a one-second delay in a page loading can lead to a 7% decrease in conversions.

For this reason, your site images should be smaller than 100KB. While some ecommerce platforms will automatically optimize your image sizes, you can use free tools like the ones below to manually compress and resize pictures:

  • TinyPNG
  • Optimizilla
  • Compressor.io
  • Kraken.io

Read Also: Always Up-to-Date Guide to Image Requirements for Amazon, Walmart and More

Autograph Foliages is a good example of how small images can still show customers exactly what they're buying, while improving site speed. The company uses additional images to show detail when needed without driving up image size.

example of optimized images on ecommerce site, autograph foliages

3. Forgetting About Mobile Optimization

Research has shown that 79% of smartphone owners use their phones to help with shopping, whether they’re looking up products or making actual purchases. This should tell all business owners that their ecommerce stores must be accessible on a mobile device. A site that's not optimized for mobile use is going to have SEO trouble; Google will see that the site is difficult to use on a phone and won't show it on mobile searches.

You can check if your site is mobile-friendly through Google's mobile-friendly test. If it is, then congratulations! There's nothing more to do. If it isn't, try switching to a responsive theme on your WordPress site or ecommerce platform, or speak to a developer about making changes to your site.

This may not be a priority for you if most of your current traffic is coming from desktop devices. However, as mobile shopping is on the rise, it should be on your to-do list. There’s also a chance that you're not getting mobile traffic because of poor mobile SEO.

4. Forgetting to Optimize Product Pages Regularly

SEO is not a set-it-and-forget-it marketing tool because the internet is always changing. Search engines change their algorithms, competitors change their content and customers change their search parameters. This means that you can never stop optimizing your product pages.

Checking how you perform in search engines should be a regular task for your business; research what your customers are searching for, and update your product pages to match these keywords. Stay up-to-date on the latest changes to algorithms and always make sure your content is readable and engaging for your audience. 

To stay on top of the latest updates, subscribe to SEO industry resources, like Search Engine Journal, or follow SEO experts on Twitter.

By making SEO a priority in your marketing plan, you can take advantage of the traffic that comes via search engines and stay ahead of your competition. Moreover, by continuing to optimize your online presence, you can continue to bring in sales.

Conclusion

An ongoing theme in search engine optimization is to create for your customer. User experience is key, as Google tracks whether a user clicks onto your site and stays there. This means that all the things your customers appreciate, like short loading times, unique content and rich search results, equate to a better search ranking.

Put simply, good SEO is just good business. Any site that has an intuitive and pleasant experience for customers holds more value and the highest chance of being seen by today’s shoppers. 


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