eCommerce SEO: The Complete Beginner’s Guide For Online Sellers
You’ve got a dynamite online store and unbeatable products that should be flying off the virtual shelf. So why aren’t customers flocking to your website to buy?
You probably designed your website with your customers in mind, making it easy for them to find what they need, once they make their way to your store. But if you stopped there, that may be the source of the problem. Even the best online store will go nowhere if your ideal customers aren’t able to find you, and that’s where SEO comes in.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” which sounds pretty technical. Fortunately, it’s not that complicated, although there is an art to getting it right.
Every eCommerce seller needs to know at least the basics of SEO so that you can help put your brand and your products in front of the right customers to increase your sales. That’s where this guide comes in. It’s a beginner’s guide to eCommerce SEO — for people who know that SEO matters but don’t really know where to begin. Keep reading, and we’ll walk you through the basics, so you start feeling comfortable tackling the first steps of adding SEO to your website.
Table of Contents
What Is SEO?
Customers who have your store’s URL, or web address, can type it into their browsers and visit your store easily. For customers that already know about you and want to buy from you, SEO doesn’t matter a whole lot. It’s the potential customers, those who will open their browser to a search engine such as Google and type something along the lines of “Where can I buy (your product)”— those are the ones you can guide to your online store through the skillful use of SEO.
Think about it like this: Google executes an estimated 63,000 searches every second of every day, according to Internet Live Stats. Those searches are based on information Google organizes in a search index and sorts with complex and secret algorithms. Google says that its search index contains hundreds of billions of web pages, and it’s big: over 100 million gigabytes. The index has an entry for every word on every webpage indexed, and those entries are what Google sorts through in deciding how to present answers to users’ search queries. If your site contains the right words, among other factors, you’re more likely to show up in search results.
Why SEO Matters For Your eCommerce Store
SEO is a modern-day marketing technique. In the old days, you might have put an ad in the Yellow Pages or the local newspaper. Today, instead of designing print ads, you can drive traffic to your store by developing your site with SEO in mind. SEO is so vital to business success today that US companies will spend an estimated $79 billion on SEO marketing in 2020, according to Statista. Here’s why companies are willing to invest that kind of money:
SEO Can Be Free
When you place an ad, whether it’s in print or online, you’re paying for a service. When you learn to use SEO techniques to draw more customers to your online store, that’s known as building “organic traffic,” meaning customers are naturally finding you rather than you reaching out to them through paid advertising. You’re not paying anything beyond the time you invest to gain SEO skills. And sure, you could pay a consultant to do that for you, as the biggest eCommerce players do, but there’s no reason everyone involved in eCommerce, especially those working on a small scale, can’t learn to use SEO to improve site traffic.
SEO Helps You Improve Your Website
As you learn more about SEO, you’ll find that at the most basic level, it just means using the same language on your web store as your customers use when they’re searching for products and solutions like those you’re offering. So when you start using those words more frequently and more prominently on your web pages, you’ll start to connect better with your customers, boosting sales in the process.
SEO Delivers Long-Term Results
When you gain a handle on SEO and use it appropriately, you should start to see increased traffic to your store. The best part is SEO isn’t something you have to update continually. Get it right, and you can continue to tweak it, but you won’t have to reinvent your strategy every quarter or year. There are other things you will need to update to stay relevant — Google favors recent content, for example, so you’ll want to keep adding fresh blog posts, product listings, photos, videos, and so on.
eCommerce SEO Basics Every Online Seller Needs To Know
Once you understand why SEO is worth investing your time in — and if you’re convinced that it’s something you can do yourself — you’re ready to learn some of the SEO elements you can start working on today. The following is a collection of SEO elements that are proven to improve your website’s search engine performance. These may sound unfamiliar, but we’ll walk you through the basics of each, including steps you can take right away to start improving your SEO performance.
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Image alt text
- Product listings
One of the easiest ways you can boost your website’s SEO performance is to brush up on keywords.
What Are Keywords?
Keywords are search terms. Interestingly, keywords can be a single word or a short phrase that commonly appears in search terms. They help your website rank higher and appear in the results of web searches. In the example below, the most important keywords would be “color” and “banana.” So if you wanted to draw people searching for the answer to this question to your site, you’d want to be sure to feature those words on your website.
Keywords Research 101
Hopefully, most of your customers don’t need to look online to find out what color bananas are. But they may be performing searches like the one below. For this example, just substitute one of your top-selling products for the words “blue jelly beans,” and you’ll see one way that customers can find you.
If you were to click on the top few results from this jelly bean search, when you visit those web pages, you’d see that every one of them uses the words blue, jelly, and bean in their product titles and descriptions. That’s SEO at work! Those websites and products show up in this very simple Google search because they prominently feature the words we searched for.
You can get started improving your SEO game by looking at your products and your brand to identify a few keywords you want to be associated with. Visit your top competitors’ online stores. What words do you see, over and over, in their product titles and descriptions? If you want your website and your products to show up in more searches, you should make sure that you’re featuring those words too.
Then take it one step further and look to see what your customers are looking for. That will allow you to market your products more effectively by hitting the right keyword searches. There are two types of tools that can assist you in this:
You can learn to use keywords more effectively, without spending a nickel. Here are a few good tools you can start with. These may offer a free trial, or they may be forever free.
You can do quite a bit when you start exploring the free tools mentioned above. If you’re ready to devote a little more time and even some money to your SEO strategies, you can invest in one of these more advanced tools. You’ll find they have a learning curve, but the payoff will be worth it.
Improving your keywords isn’t the only thing you can do to improve your SEO results. Pay attention to title tags as well because they’re one of the first things potential customers see when they search via Google. So if you want people to click through to your store, you need effective title tags.
What Are Title Tags?
A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a webpage. Here’s how it looks:
You can check out the titles of any web pages you’d like. Simply load the page on your browser and hit Control + U to View Page Source. Next, hit Control + F and type “title” in the search box that pops up to see the title highlighted in the code. Everything between the highlights that read “title” is that web page’s title tag, and they usually are displayed as the clickable link on search engine result pages.
Tips For How To Write Title Tags
If you’re using an online sales platform (such as Shopify, for example) or a website builder (such as Wix, among others), the program you’re using will create title tags for you based on the words you enter for each page. You can, however, edit those automatic title tags if you wish. Search the help feature to find out the best way to do that on the platform you’re using. Here are some general suggestions for writing title tags:
- Keep It Short: There’s a limit to how many characters can be displayed in a search engine response. The best advice is to keep your title below 70 characters, so the whole thing appears in search results.
- Use Lots: Every single page needs its own title tag. That helps your site to show up in more online searches.
- Include Keywords: Make sure to include the most important words in your title tags to improve your ranking in search results. Think about what words customers will use to search for products like those you’re selling. Those are the words you want to include in your title tags.
Meta descriptions are a page element that doesn’t necessarily help your search engine rankings, but they can help drive traffic to your online store. The key: Include words that give customers a reason to want whatever it is that you’re offering them.
What Are Meta Descriptions?
A meta description is another HTML element, sometimes called a “snippet,” that’s used to summarize each webpage’s content. Execute a search, and you’re likely to see these snippets, or summaries, in the search results. Here’s an example:
In this case, the meta description offers a short overview of the content you’ll find when you click on the link and read the articles that appear in this search result. If your customers are searching for products like yours to buy, you’ll want them to see compelling product descriptions in your meta descriptions that give them a reason to buy. That can be done by using important keywords to show them that they’re on the right track and compelling action words that give them an incentive to click through to your page.
Tips For How To Write Meta Descriptions
As with title tags, if you’re using a web builder or a shopping cart platform, meta descriptions will be automatically generated for you. However, you can edit them if you wish. Here are some general tips for writing meta descriptions that deliver results:
- Keep It Short: Search engines allow only so much room for meta descriptions to display. So to keep descriptions from getting cut off, you should keep them under 160 characters. If you do go over, make sure that you front-load the most important words.
- Compare, Then Contrast: Look up some of your competitors’ meta descriptions. Google them, and notice what snippets appear when you do. To a certain extent, you want to use the same language that the majority of your competitors are using. But if you’re going to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to go beyond. Make sure you include valuable keywords but also provide a compelling reason to visit your site instead of theirs.
- Sound Like A Person: Remember that online shoppers are looking for sites they can trust. They’re more likely to click on a link that makes them feel they’re engaging with a human being and not a sales-generating robot. Yes, you need to keep it short, and yes, you need to use important keywords. As much as you can, use a conversational tone in meta descriptions rather than making a blatant sales pitch. That means telling people what’s in it for them or how they will benefit from visiting your site.
Image Alt Text
Although there are billions of words on the internet, it’s the images that capture customers’ interest. That’s why photos of your products are so crucial to eCommerce. What happens, though, when your photos don’t load for some reason when customers are searching online?
What Is Alt Text On Images?
Unfortunately, there are lots of reasons why your images might not load on customers’ devices, especially on phones. The problem may be on the customer’s end, or it may be that your photo files are just too large and cause the browser to time out. That’s why you need to include alt text for every image on your website.
Alt text (sometimes called alt tags or alt descriptions) is written words that can appear in place of images that fail to appear on a user’s screen. Importantly, alt text also is used to describe images to visually impaired readers.
Tips For How To Add Image Alt Text
Remember the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? When your website’s pictures won’t load or can’t be seen, you don’t have 1,000 words to replace them. So you have to make the few words you have available count. Here’s how:
- Be Descriptive: If you couldn’t see a product picture, what would you still most want to know about it? Tell customers exactly what the photo shows. This isn’t the time to overuse keywords in an attempt to boost your search engine rankings. In fact, if you stuff alt text full of keywords, it may make your site seem untrustworthy. If you do use keywords, use them only once per image.
- Know When To Stop: Experts agree that you should limit alt text to 125 characters. That limit doesn’t allow a lot of words, maybe 10 or 15, depending on their length. Opt for smaller words with similar meaning, such as big instead of large, to save characters.
Each time you list a product for sale in your online store, you’ll have a chance to enter a description of that product. You already know that it gives you a way to entice customers to buy from you. But did you know that your product listing can also affect how many customers find your store?
What Are Product Listings?
Search engines such as Google look through the words on your product pages, looking for keywords that determine how high your page will rank in users’ searches. So when you create a vivid, descriptive listing with an eye toward SEO, you can increase not only sales but also traffic overall.
Tips For How To Write Product Listings
If your goal is to show up in search listings and to rank as high as possible, use these strategies:
- Use A Variety Of Keywords: While it’s never a good idea to repeat keywords (that’s a strategy that will backfire because it makes you look like a spam site), you can use an assortment of them, including variations. For example, suppose that you sell T-shirts in your store. If your product description reads “Blue T-shirt with starfish design,” you may rank high when customers search for those exact keywords. But what about those looking for 100% cotton shirts, shirts with ocean themes, screen-printed T-shirts, and so on? You will draw more customers your way with a product description that includes all of these relevant words.
- Highlight Differences: Take a look at your competitors’ product listings, noticing what they leave out. You can add words to our listings that capitalize on those differences. If your prints are made with organic soy ink and recycled paper, say so. Go even further by explaining why and using words such as nontoxic and zero-waste that will appeal to your ideal buyer.
It stands for Uniform Resource Locator, and you use them every time you type in a web address. But what exactly is a URL, how does it relate to SEO, and how can you use your URLs to draw traffic and increase sales from your online store?
What Are URLs?
Most of the internet actually is constructed of numbers and letters. Every device that connects to the internet has a series of numbers and letters called an IP address. The problem is, those IP addresses are not handy and easy-to-remember words such as Amazon and Google. That’s where domain names come in. You register your website with a domain name, usually the name of your business or something similar.
Although a lot of people think a URL is the same thing as a domain name, it’s not. Your domain name is a part of your URL, however, combined with numbers and letters that provide a sort of roadmap telling computers how to get there. Every webpage has a unique URL.
Tips For SEO-Friendly URLs
Search engines look at your URL, among other SEO functions.
- Keep Them Simple: URLs should be simple and descriptive of the content, using keywords and product titles as much as possible. Don’t reuse them, though. You risk your credibility when you overdo it. Check your URLs before you publish pages. If the URL was automatically assigned, you might see a string of numbers and letters at the end. If so, you need to edit that. Those letters and numbers are meaningless to customers and hard to remember. Replace that with words that have meaning.
- Make Them Descriptive: If you have written a blog post, for example, to highlight a new product line, the URL for that post should include related keywords that let readers know about it and ensure it ranks in online searches.
- Use Proper URL Punctuation: Forget everything you learned in grammar school about capitalization, punctuation, and spacing. Good URLs use all lower case letters, not capitals. And you should use dashes to link words in one long chain, with no spaces: best-ecommerce-seo-tips is the most effective way to write it.
Getting Started With eCommerce SEO
Now that you’ve made it through this crash course in the basics of SEO, you may have more questions than answers. That’s okay. SEO is a vast topic, with experts devoting their careers to advising businesses on the subject. For a small vendor who is just getting started, SEO can feel overwhelming. The best antidote to that feeling is not to put it off — or to begin budgeting for consultants’ fees. Your next best step is to pick one small area to start improving on in the big field of SEO.
Our suggestion: Start by updating your title tags. Research the keywords your competitors are using and make sure to incorporate them into your title tags. Record the changes you make, so you can track what works and what didn’t. Then you can try again to improve if you need to.
Remember that SEO is an ongoing process, not something you do once and then forget about. You’ll want to stay on top of keyword trends, particularly as you add new and different products. Managing SEO can seem like a daunting task. That’s why we say to take it slow. Any changes you make are a step in the right direction. You may feel daunted by the process, as you’re first building your skills, but you’ll find that the effort you put into SEO will more than pay off. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get started using your new SEO knowledge to boost online traffic to your store.