Search engine optimization for e-commerce websites may seem like a real challenge. Online stores have some peculiarities that make them different from other websites. This means that, when optimizing your e-commerce website, you can’t always follow the same best practices that are applicable to blogs or informational sites.
Some basics like unique and helpful content, user-friendly site navigation and social share-buttons will work for online stores as well. Yet, these won’t be enough if you want to stay ahead of your rivals.
In our latest #SEOcafe chat we discussed specific SEO elements and strategies for e-commerce websites with Trond Lyngbø, founder of Search Planet AS, regular Search Engine Land columnist and international speaker.
What are the key elements of a perfect e-commerce website?
Online stores have their specific purposes and goals that require specific optimization strategies and site structure.
The following elements highlight essentials that will help you get started:
All product your descriptions must be unique and informative. Some website owners use manufacturers’ descriptions, and this is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Generally, these descriptions are used by several online stores, and as a result, your site will be banned by search engines.
Another mistake is using the same pieces of content to describe similar items. Producing unique descriptions for each product requires a lot of time, but it is essential if you want to avoid duplicate content issues.
Include all the necessary information your customers may need to know about your products. Avoid overstuffing your descriptions with keywords and make them easy to read.
Meta descriptions appear under your pages’ hyperlinks on a SERP. Sometimes online retailers care so much about the descriptions on their pages that they practically forget about the text that appears in organic results. Write catchy and compelling descriptions for each of your product pages in order to attract people’s attention.
Using structured markup data, website owners can provide search engines with additional important information about their site. In other words, with schema markup you can describe more details about your product to search engines, so this information will appear in search results. You can also add prices, reviews, ratings and so on.
Page Load Time
Page load speed is crucially important, as it affects user experience. It may be even more significant for e-commerce, because a site owner can easily lose customers if they get tired of waiting and will leave the page.
If your website doesn’t have user reviews of your products, it means that you’re losing a large part of your audience. As many online buyers make their choice according to product reviews. Reviews can be considered as a source of relevant and unique content for your site, not to mention that they help customers trust your website. Encourage your clients to leave comments about your products and make the process of posting reviews easy.
People tend to use general phrases when searching for some products, e.g., “shoes,” or “accessories.” Using keyword research, you can discover how your audience is looking for products and create category pages based on this information. Also, you can create category pages for seasonal merchandise, e.g., “shoes autumn 2016.” These pages tend to draw higher traffic. You can also find out more on the topic in Greg Randall’s article “E-commerce Main Category Page Layout: Where to Place Key Elements and Why.”
What is the biggest challenge SEO specialists face when working with e-commerce clients?
Let’s just say that optimizing e-commerce sites is one big challenge. But what makes it so difficult? We wanted to figure out the most common problems that SEOs face.
As I’ve already mentioned above, duplicate content one reason why your website can be banned. But what if you’ve created unique product descriptions, but still encounter this problem? Generally, the issue is that the same descriptions are used for several versions of the same product, e.g., different sizes, colors and other features. To fix this issue, use robot.txt for elements that shouldn’t be indexed by search engines and add a rel=”canonical” tag in order to show search engines the preferred URL.
Unoptimized Product Pages
When optimizing product pages, it’s important to take into consideration the search demand. Discovering what exact terms people are searching for will help you create more effective title tags, meta descriptions, alt texts for images, and other on-page elements.
Poor User Experience and Design Mistakes
Your visitors should feel comfortable while browsing and purchasing from your virtual store, so your site navigation must be easy and intuitive. Here are some of the most critical mistakes that you should avoid:
Confusing site navigation
Inefficient product information
Long checkout process
Lack of payment options and shipping rates
Difficult-to-find contact information
Visual appeal is of no less importance for e-commerce websites than technical issues. Whether or not your customers will love your online store largely depends on how they view and use it – just like physical stores! Customers are always more likely to make a purchase in a nice, clean, tidy place with a helpful and friendly assistant. Among the most common website mistakes are low-quality images, or images that are the wrong size (or a lack of them) and an inadequate shopping design.
Improve all these elements on your website and make people fall in love with your store!
Competing with E-commerce Major Players
Today everyone struggles for a place in the crowded market, especially when there are giants like Amazon and eBay. This is a real challenge, but you can do your best. Even if you can’t claim to be a global leader, you still can highlight specific features of your product that will differentiate you from your rivals.
John Rampton recommends targeting niches that are underserved or even nonexistent. You can also review your competitors’ sites and adopt their experience. Look at their site architecture, find out the sources of their high-quality inbound links, and get new ideas based on their strategies.
How should SEOs handle expired/out-of-stock/seasonal product pages?
An online store’s website is a dynamic place where something always happens, including sales, seasonal offers, and new or out-of-stock items. This means that some of your pieces of content will remain relevant for just a limited period of time, i.e., they will become expired or out-of-stock. Some e-commerce sites don’t bother doing more than just deleting these webpages. However, there are some other options that will allow you to preserve your SEO efforts.
The 301 permanent redirect. You can redirect your expired content to another page. For example, when an old product is replaced by a new one, you can redirect its page to the new item’s URL. Also, you can use redirect from an expired product’s page to its parent category, if there are other relevant items available as alternatives.
Keeping a page on your site. You can keep a page’s title, subject and content, and simply add a note that the product is no longer available or has been discontinued. If the content on the page is unique and contains information that may be useful for visitors, it’s worth keeping it on your site. This will also allow you to retain the page’s link equity.
Tips for Items that will be in stock again. If some of the products on your will be available at a later, always inform your visitors of the approximate date. You can offer to reserve the backordered item for them, leaving a note that it will be sent out to them as soon as possible.
Seasonal products. When you launch seasonal products, link them to product categories, providing breadcrumbs and links on your product pages. If you know for sure that a particular item will reappear next year, add the year to the URL and use a 301 permanent redirect from this URL to the new one with the following year.
Google Analytics for E-commerce: what goals and reports are absolutely essential?
Online retailers who don’t have physical storefronts are deprived of the possibility of meeting their customers face to face, speaking with them and observing their actions in the store. But thanks to Google Analytics, e-commerce owners can still get a wealth of information about their clients. GA allows you to gain insights into your visitors’ behavior, to know where they came from and what their interests are.
There are several ways to track your goals in Google Analytics:
- URL destination goals allow you to monitor specific URLs. When a user goes to a URL, the goal is triggered. You will receive more information if you set up funnels. With goal funnels you can see how a user moves through a series of pages on your website. This enables you to discover the number of people who abandoned your funnel at each step.
Visit duration goals help you track a certain amount of time that a visitor spends in your online store. You can specify a minimum time on page (hours, minutes or seconds) in order to qualify as a goal conversion.
Pages per visit (or session) goals allow you to track a certain number of pages each visitor sees. Users who visit more than the specified number of pages will generate a conversion.
Event goals allow you to select any event as a goal. This works only after you set up specific events. Event goals are great for tracking conversions as a result of definite activities, like downloads, ad clicks, video plays, and other events.
You can get more insights from the article “4 Google Analytics Goal Types That Are Critical To Your Business” by Kissmetrics.
Pay attention to the following basic reports, which can be very valuable to you:
Behavior > Site Content. With this report you can discover which pages on your site are visited more frequently or have the highest bounce rate. Check all your pages, landing pages, and site search reports to learn what users are typing into your search box.
Real-Time > Traffic Sources. This report will help you find out what is driving traffic to your website and what can be done to improve your results. You can view various reports, such as a source of referrals to your site. You can also discover keywords that were searched for by users and social networks that brought visitors to your site.
- Conversions > E-commerce. Establish your KPIs and track them as goals. You can also add e-commerce tracking codes to your shopping cart, so Google Analytics can calculate the revenue and ROI metrics for purchases made in your online store.
Acquisition > Social. Because social media plays an increasing role for business, it’s important to have information about your website’s social activity, including shares, interactions and other details. Reports include network referrals, conversions, landing pages, and plugins.
Here are some more tips from our participants:
How should marketers optimize product pages for mobile users?
In the modern world, mobile devices have become an indispensable part of our lives, which has naturally led to a rise in mobile shopping. So if you don’t optimize your product pages for mobile users, you’ll find it hard to keep up with your competitors.
The following aspects are the most common elements that a website owner should start with.
Easy website navigation. The best mobile websites offer a smooth, pleasant user experience through useful and clear functionality and an innovative design. Try to organize your product pages intuitively, so that whatever a user sees on your website, he knows exactly what to do.
Clear buttons and calls to action. The purpose of your page’s design is to emphasize its most important elements, such as its call to action. You should make your “Add to Cart” buttons easy to find and ensure that one is included on each of your product pages. This will encourage your visitors to take the desired action.
Optimized photos. Including high-quality images of your products can greatly improve your conversion rates and turn a hesitant visitor into a paying customer. Ensure that your images are top notch, but don’t forget that large-size photos will decrease your loading speed.
Interactive content. Interactivity provides a delightful, engaging user experience. Interactive elements, including sliding, price toggling and user-controlled visuals, are a good way to engage users. They help trigger emotional connections and turn passing visitors into active users and customers.
Optimized purchasing process. The number of people who use mobile devices to make purchases is increasing. Make sure that the purchasing process on the mobile version of your site isn’t long and confusing, otherwise a user who was a step away from becoming an actual buyer can abandon their shopping cart.
The online retailer vefro.com ranks 79 in the US for "buy shoes online." What technique should it use to improve its ranking?
At the end of our chat we discussed the most effective e-commerce SEO techniques, using the real example of vefro.com, an online store. Here are several tips and tricks that can help an e-commerce website troubleshoot and improve its rankings.
Do competitive research. Analyze your competitors to discover what they’re up to, adapt their experience and best practices, study their failures and build your own strategy, based on the information you find.
Improve your page content. As we said earlier, your content is crucial for both your visitors and search engines, so make sure it is valuable and optimized.
Build and earn quality links. Content is not the only aspect worth your attention. If you want to build authority for your website, you definitely need to strive for high-quality links. You can find out more in Brian Dean’s “E-commerce SEO Case Study: White Hat Link Building Without Any Content” and in the article “Eleven Actionable eCommerce Link Building Tips,” shared by James Norquay.
Improve your social media presence. If you’re still not using your social channels to their full potential, you must start today. Go where your customers are hanging out and interact with them.
Encourage customer involvement. Optimize your feedback forms for customers in order to encourage them to write product reviews and provide valuable feedback. Make sure that all comments are properly visible.
E-commerce websites have specific purposes and unique challenges. But with best practices and carefully planned and executed strategies, online retailers can increase their conversion rates, decrease cart abandonment, and make their businesses grow.
Please share your favorite tips for e-commerce website optimization in the comments below!