eCommerce SEO Guide: Optimizing Your Online Store for 335%+ Sales Growth in 2021
This authoritative guide is the result of over 15+ years of experience gained as a leading provider of eCommerce SEO services and web development in the US. The SEO tips in this article are the culmination of everything we’ve learned, and we’ve leveraged experts in every facet of eCommerce SEO to put this guide together. It is a living, breathing document, that we will expand upon and continue to update.
Chapter 1: Keyword Research
What is a Keyword
When it comes to SEO, a “keyword” is a fancy term for a “search query.” Any time anyone types something into a search engine that is a keyword! Keywords may be comprised of one word, a phrase, a question, etc. Anything that anyone has ever typed into a search engine is a keyword. You could copy this entire paragraph, paste it into Google, and hit search. This paragraph would now be a keyword. Capisce?
SEO professionals have access to a myriad of tools that aggregate data about all of the keywords searched in search engines like Google that provide valuable information about any potential keyword you can imagine.
This includes average monthly search volume, the average cost-per-click of that keyword via PPC advertising, and much more.
The first step in any SEO campaign, eCommerce or otherwise, is to develop a list of keywords that are relevant to your website that you wish to rank for.
If the goal of SEO is to improve your website’s ability to rank in search engines, you need to know what keyword rankings you want to improve. Pick a list of a few hundred keywords you want to start improving your website’s ranking for, and you’ve just put together your first keyword list!
But this isn’t the only reason that keyword research needs to be step #1. Your keyword list can influence other SEO factors of your eCommerce website, such as the URL structure, naming convention, website hierarchy, structure, etc.
Keyword Research: The Foundation of your eCommerce SEO Campaign
Keyword research is the foundation that you will use to build your eCommerce SEO campaign strategy. Here’s how to find the best keywords for your business, and how to uncover keywords that even your top competitors miss out on.
Keyword research for an eCommerce website varies in that your main objective is to find keywords with inherent eCommerce intent.
Every keyword has an intangible quality referred to as search intent. What is the average searcher typically looking for when they enter a given keyword into a search engine.
Search intent represents the theoretical information the searcher wishes to obtain or the objective the searcher wants to accomplish as a result of their query. Things to consider include:
- Is the searcher looking for a product page?
- A category page?
- A buying guide or article?
Think, if someone search “x” term, what type of content would they want? Also, search the term on Google and see what Google is serving up. If you’re trying to rank a product page for a term that Google displays all categories, chances are your search intent is wrong (or at least Google thinks so, and in the end that’s all that matters, right?)
With that in mind, all keyword research must consider the search intent of the keywords before deciding to target them. For keyword research for eCommerce websites, you’ll want to look for eCommerce intent.
In other words, some qualifying factor about the keyword that means this person is looking to purchase a product. Otherwise, you could end up driving traffic that in the end is worthless (meaning it doesn’t turn into revenue).
Let’s say your eCommerce website sells used guitars. An excellent place to start your keyword research is with broad keywords that describe your products or services. Let’s start by plugging in “used guitars” into a keyword research tool.
While the keyword “used guitars” has much higher search volume, “used guitars for sale” has eCommerce intent. You would also want to consider targeting “buy used guitars”, but note the search volume is lower than “used guitars for sale.” The searcher is looking for used guitars that are for sale. Someone that searches for “used guitars” might just be looking for information or pictures of used guitars with no impending intent to purchase. All of these keywords are still relevant, and worth targeting if you sell used guitars, it’s just a matter of where, when, and how.
However, also note that “buy used guitars,” while searched less than “used guitars for sale,” the average CPC (cost per click if you bought the keyword in Google Ads) is significantly higher for “buy used guitars” at $1.30 vs. $0.80. The reason is that “buy used guitars” has historically converted better, meaning people are willing to pay a higher price to rank for this keyword via PPC.
Keywords don’t have to have words like “buy” or “for sale” to have clear eCommerce intent.
There are many other indicators that a keyword has eCommerce intent:
- Product SKUs – if someone searches for a product SKU, they are likely looking to purchase the product unless the searcher includes another qualifier like “repair” in the query.
- Dimensions / Sizes – if someone searches for “case of 16 oz ketchup bottles” they’re likely not looking for a blog article to satisfy their query, they want to buy some ketchup!
- Naked, branded product names can go either way, but are worth targeting for eCommerce websites. Someone searching for “MacBook Pro” might want to buy one, or might just want to read the wikipedia page on MacBook Pros.
- Many other factors! Use your head and put yourself in the mind of the potential searcher.
There are ways to sort and filter your keyword research data in ways that help you find the keywords with eCommerce intent quickly, organize all of them into a spreadsheet, and refine down to a list of the ones you want to focus your SEO campaign on improving.
We’ll tell you exactly how later, but for now, let’s discuss the many different keyword research tools that a digital marketing agency have at their disposal and how to use them to drive more organic traffic to your eCommerce store!
The Best eCommerce Keyword Research Tools:
- Keywords Everywhere
- Amazon.com’s Search Suggest Functionality& https://www.keywordtooldominator.com/
- Google Keyword Planner
Lesser Known / Niche Keyword Tools
Today’s SEO tools make keyword research a lot easier than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it is any more straightforward. With so many tools available, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of keywords.
Let’s take a look at some of the basic options you have for keyword research with popular SEO tool Ahrefs.com.
1. Start with a basic idea for what you want the page you are researching keywords for to rank.
For this example, let’s imagine we are optimizing a product page for Audio-Technica brand headphones, model M70x. You can begin your research the same way you might start your own Google search. You can also put a list of hundreds of keywords in this tool to get ideas and related keywords for hundreds of keywords simultaneously.
2. Review the Keyword's Overview Data and Find Your Keywords!
Here, you can view metrics for your keyword, view other keywords with the same terms, review related questions, etc. All of these options will help you uncover new and potentially better keywords to target. That related question, “why no love for the audio technica m70x” would be a great blog topic to help support your product page. Create a blog that discusses why there is no love for these headphones and use the blog as a sales tool to funnel readers to your product page. Incentivize with a coupon code on the blog page to increase conversions.
Here, you can view metrics for your keyword, view other keywords with the same terms, review related questions, etc. All of these options will help you uncover new and potentially better keywords to target.
3. Be sure to review suggested keyword ideas, parent topics, keywords having the same terms to make sure you find the best keyword(s).
Just from viewing the related terms, you can already realize that the keyword “audio technica ath-m70x” gets searched nearly double our initial keyword idea of “audio technica m70x.” Assuming the same eCommerce intent, which would you choose to target?
4. Use Several Tools
You’ll want to use several tools, to compare data, and make sure that you don’t miss any potential keywords. While tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush have a myriad of valuable information for SEO professionals, the data is often “estimated” and so you will have some discrepancies from tool to tool. Understanding the strengths and weakness of each tool is something that only comes with time and experience. Below, SEMRush’s keyword overview data for the same “audio technica m70x” keyword we researched in Ahrefs.com earlier. Note that SEMRush estimates 260 monthly searches compared to Ahrefs 250 estimation.
Category Keyword Research
- Keyword Research Tools (as outlined above)
- Amazon – study how they structure similar categories and subcategories and which keywords they target. You can decide to target the same as Amazon or go after longer-tail variations, but use Amazon to get a quick big-picture understanding of potential keywords.
- Competitors- Using a tool like Ahrefs.com, you can easily see all of the keywords a domain ranks for. Study what keywords your competition targets, and use their list as a foundation for your research.
- Other online sources that may display the natural hierarchy of the subject, Wikipedia, for example.
- Common sense + search volume, intent, CPC, difficulty
Product Keyword Research
Use the same sources as you would use above for categories. Target product-specific keywords, SKU, etc., instead of broad “category” type keywords like “red cars”
- Common sense + search volume, intent, CPC, difficulty
- Search Volume
- Relevancy / Accuracy
- Commercial Intent
- Unique Potential : High Revenue Potential
- Short tail vs. long tail
See Chapter 3, On-Page Optimization, to learn how to use these keywords on your website to improve your site’s rankings.
Chapter 3: On Page Optimization & eCommerce
On-page optimization refers to developing, formatting, and structuring the copy and other on-page elements of your web pages in an attempt to improve their ability to rank for your target keywords.
Many people like to start the on-page optimization process by developing a master keyword list of anywhere from ten to several hundred keywords to target sitewide. Depending on the scope of your planned SEO work, this may or may not be worthwhile.
Before optimizing a given web page, you’ll want to have a focus keyword and some keywords related to that focus keyword in mind, as well as LSI terms and other qualifiers commonly associated with your target keywords.
For example, on a product page for Fender Stratocasters, your focus keyword might be “fender stratocasters for sale”, and a secondary keyword might be “where to buy a fender strat”. LSI terms could be words like “amplifier”, “electric”, “strings”, etc.
Including eCommerce qualifiers (both in your keyword research processes as well as in your page copy) like “buy” and “for sale” is also beneficial to cast as wide a net as possible and give Google more information to digest.
If you do choose to make a master keyword list for your eCommerce site, you’ll want to make sure you set aside target and secondary keywords for all of your most important pages. Your homepage, category pages, product pages are most critical on an eCommerce site. Blog pages are valuable for eCommerce sites, but you’ll probably want to do independent keyword research when coming up with new ideas for content or developing a content plan.
For beginners, the actual keyword research process itself can sound intimidating, but with powerful SEO keyword tools like Ahrefs.com and SEMRush.com at your disposal, a lot of the leg work is done automatically. Let’s walk through a couple of basic real-world examples of how to begin keyword research for an eCommerce page, whether product, category, homepage, etc.
The very first step of keyword research is to consider what terms you want your website to rank for when plugged into a Google search.
Regardless of whether you’re optimizing a product page or a category page, your on-page optimization will involve the same types of elements:
- Page Title
- Meta Description
- H1 (one per page!)
- Other header tags (h2, h3, h4, etc.) can be used as frequently as needed. The lower the number, the more attention Google will pay to your header. So, apart from H1s, H2s get the most “SEO weight”.
- Structured Data (see Chapter 5)
- Images (add descriptive keyword rich alt text, include keywords in your image file name, and optimize your image file sizes for the web.)
- Copy & On-Page Content
- Many more…these are the basics!
Ahrefs Keyword Tool Quickly Provides Keyword Ideas
Let’s say we have a product page that sells the Gibson L5-S Guitar. You’ll want to focus on the keyword “Gibson L5S for sale,” because it has eCommerce intent. Of course, you’ll still be targeting “gibson l5s” indirectly, but it would be more valuable to rank for the keyword with eCommerce intent.
Below, is a screenshot of what a basic HTML file would look like with some on-page optimizations in place for the keywords “gibson l5s for sale”, “gibson l5s” and ” gibson l5 custom”. Notice that we are using the keywords naturally and not stuffing them everywhere.
Chapter 4: Technical SEO & eCommerce
Technical SEO is important no matter what type of website you own, but for eCommerce, technical optimizations are even more important. For one, your average eCommerce page often has thousands of products and dozens of categories/subcategories. In other words, there’s often a lot more pages to worry about on an eCommerce site, meaning there are potentially many more technical issues to worry about.
An eCommerce website’s backlink profile usually points to a few select pages, the homepage, a few popular products and categories, but many pages will have no backlinks and little authority on their own. In these cases, having better technical optimizations in place can help you win the “SEO race” against your competition.
The key to keeping your website optimized from a technical perspective is to run a technical audit every month or so, depending on how frequently the website is updated. If new functionality or additional page types are routinely added, you’ll need to complete this process more frequently.
Popular SEO Audit Tools:
Screaming Frog is a crawler that mimics how search engine bots crawl your site. After crawling your site, Screaming Frog compiles this information into a user-friendly interface. However, like other tools on the list, it relies more on the users’ knowledge for insights, whereas Ahrefs and SEMRush have site audit software that offers insight and suggested changes based on its crawl.
Ahrefs and Other Website Audit Tools
Ahrefs and similar tools like SEMRush will crawl your site and evaluate your SEO efforts. They can crawl your site on a daily or weekly basic to monitor changes. With each crawl, you’ll get an overview screen with the overall health and metrics of your site based on the crawl.
Example of Ahrefs Audit Issues
What’s great is that these tools will not just tell you what’s wrong, they’ll offer insight on how you might fix it, and why it’s an SEO issue.
Common Technical SEO Issues on eCommerce Websites Include:
- Too many pages: Get rid of unimportant pages that are diluting your domain authority. If a page isn’t getting significant traffic, consider removing the page and 301 redirecting to a better page.
- Duplicate Content: If you have many pages using the same content, this can be a warning to Google that you are spammy. Block pages with duplicate content from being indexed in your robots.txt file, or use canonical tags when several pages share similar content.
- Thin Content – It can be challenging to write unique, engaging, and substantive copy for thousands of product pages, but doing so sets your eCommerce store apart from Google and usually significantly improves conversion rate. Most eCommerce stores overlook this step, often relying on thin product description from the manufacturer. This results in thin AND duplicate content!
- Site Speed – An increasingly important part of Google’s algorithm, the faster your website loads, the more “user-friendly” it is, and the more likely Google and other search engines are to send organic traffic your way! Use tools like Google’s Page Speed Insights tool or GTMetrix, which will analyze your speed and tell you what to do to improve it!
Chapter 5: Structured Data for eCommerce Websites
Structured data is computer code that has been formatted specifically to improve a search engine’s ability to understand the content of the page. While the information itself is usually displayed on the page for the user, the actual marking up of specific elements is done behind the scenes in the source code of any given webpage. Structured data refers to marking up specific elements on the page as “rich” data for search engines to digest and pay more attention to.
Read more about how structured data works right from Google’s mouth!
Structured data is a great way to give Google and other search engines context for the data on your website. Ever wondered how Google shows things in the SERPs like star ratings, availability, price, reviews, etc.? The webmaster provides this information to search engines like Google via the usage of structured data.
Structured Data Example in SERPS
If you’ve ever seen results with star ratings, breadcrumbs, etc., right in the SERPs, it’s likely structured data that is providing Google this enhanced information.
Google also offers a useful structured data testing tool, where you provide your website’s URL or source code, and Google audits your structured data and lets you know if there are any errors, issues, or warnings.