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eCommerce SEO: Optimizing Your eCommerce Website in 2019

eCommerce SEO Guide 2019
Author Justin Smith

by Justin Smith, CEO - July 1, 2019



Welcome to the OuterBox eCommerce SEO Guide. 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. This guide is 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.

Article Contents

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

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.

eCommerce Intent

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.


Example Time!

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. 

ecommerce intent screenshot

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:

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 digital marketing professionals have at their disposal.


The Best eCommerce Keyword Research Tools:

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.

beginning ecommerce keyword research screenshot from ahrefs

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.

ecommerce keyword overview ahrefs screenshot

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?

using the keywords that have same terms tool in ahrefs for keyword research screenshot

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.

sem rush keyword research for ecommerce example screenshot

Category Keyword Research

Product Keyword Research

Choosing Keywords

See Chapter 3, On-Page Optimization, to learn how to use these keywords on your website to improve your site's rankings.

eCommerce Website Development:
Bridging the Gap from Wireframe to Development
developing ecommerce websites

Chapter 2: eCommerce Website Development

When building an eCommerce store from the ground up, it's crucial to think about scalability. In other words, if you're site is launching with only a few dozen products but plans on having several hundred of thousand on the same eCommerce platform, you will need to plan if you expect your website to be able to adapt and scale with you as you grow. 

This scalability has much to do with the eCommerce platform you pick, how you configure your website's database and ERP, the hosting solution you choose, etc. You should certainly consult with an eCommerce website developer before getting too far in the process unless you have the skills to make these types of essential and highly technical decisions on your own. 

One primary goal of any eCommerce store should be to create low-resistant paths from the homepage to the checkout process. Theoretically, the average user on your website should have no problem browsing from the homepage to their desired products in just two or three clicks. Plan the user flow and strive to minimize the number of clicks it takes for a user to find their desired product(s). You also need to streamline the entire checkout process once a user has added a product to their shopping cart. In the same way that brick and mortar retail stores are designed to facilitate the purchasing of products every step of the way, your eCommerce store should do the same. 

In addition to user-friendliness for humans, you also need to think about making the site easily navigable for search engine bots. This includes developing a sound URL structure that makes sense for search engine bots while being easy on the eyes. 

For URL structure: 

Typical URL Structure for eCommerce category pages:

Bad URL Structure for eCommerce category pages:

Good URL structure for Products

Bad URL Structure for Products

Review the SERPs for similar types of products and categories

Note how the top ranking websites are structuring their category and product URLs, and emulate them with an improved twist, if possible.

Note that even though the top ranking websites all structure their URLs differently, they're all strategically structured to convey what the category page is about to help search engines better understand their pages.


Develop Custom Functionality From the Ground Up

When developing your ecommerce website, it's essential to determine what types of functionality you'll need from the website. Think about all of the functionality on an Amazon product page: related products, product reviews, customers who bought this item also bought this item, etc. All of this functionality is great for an eCommerce website, and Amazon can be a great company to study in this regard.

But if you expect your eCommerce website to have robust functionality, you need to build it from the ground up to be as successful as possible. The reason is that since site speed and organization of source code affect your SEO, you want any custom development work to be built in so that everything works harmoniously.

For example, many WooCommerce WordPress ecommerce stores rely on a string of different plugins to drive functionality, which ends up causing many headaches and issues down the road. Because many of these plugins are developed independently, they may not work ideally together. Furthermore, anytime an update for one is released, it may potentially disrupt others from functioning correctly, and you might not realize your website is broken until irritated customers are contacting you for refunds.

Therefore, when building an ecommerce website, consider all the functionality that you will need and work with a company that can develop your website to work how you want it from the ground up.

Homepage to Checkout: Blazing the Trail of Least Resistance

When building your website, focus on making it as easy as possible for a shopper to arrive at your homepage, find the product(s) they are looking for, and complete the checkout process. You must create a website that makes this path as easy as possible to increase conversions. If you have historical data, AB tests, CRO data, etc., use it to build a website that converts as many browsers into shoppers as possible.

On-Page Optimization & eCommerce
We'll discuss what on-page optimization means and how it can be done on an eCommerce website to improve your rankings.
on page optimization for ecommerce

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.

eCommerce Qualifiers

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.

Theoretical Example

Regardless of whether you're optimizing a product page or a category page, your on-page optimization will involve the same types of elements:


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.

It's important to realize that you don't want to stuff keywords or have you on-page copy seem spammy or written solely for search engine robots, or it won't convert. The above example is a high-level example of what the HTML elements for on-page optimization can look like in the source code. Of course, your HTML code will likely be full of all sorts of other code, JavaScript, etc.

Technical SEO & eCommerce Websites
Understanding how your website's source code and other technical aspects affect your organic visibility will give you a huge leg up on your competition.
technical SEO for ecommerce

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:



Structured Data & eCommerce SEO
Utilize Schema and JSON-LD structured data to add context and convey details about the specific data elements that search engines process on your website.
structured data and rich snippets for ecommerce websites

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.

The terms you should be familiar with for structured data are Schema.org and JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data). JSON-LD is a way to use the schema.org markup by including a section of JavaScript in your <head> tag, as opposed to each element being marked up in the source code strictly where it appears naturally on the page.

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.




Link Earning and Link Building
Create a strategy that focuses on earning new links, not artificially creating them, and your ecommerce store will thrive.
link building for ecommerce websites

Chapter 6: Link Earning & Link Building for eCommerce

In 2019, links remain one of the most important trust signals that search engines like Google use to evaluate your domain's authority and determine website rankings. 

If you're new to link building in general, Moz.com's beginner's guide to link building is a fantastic place to start. 

There are many ways to build links. In the old days of SEO, submitting your website to directories and things of that nature was enough to set you apart from the competition. Today, it is not, and Google doesn't pay much attention to the links coming from low-quality directories.

Instead, focus on earning links instead of building links to your ecommerce store. In other words, create "link bait." Create content on your website that entices people to link to it. 

Here are the most common types of ways to build or earn backlinks on the web that point to your eCommerce store:

eCommerce Website Promotions and Sale Ideas
Incentivize shoppers to make a purchase and become repeat customers by running regular sales, promotions, and discounts.
ecommerce promotions and sale discount ideas

Bonus Chapter 7: eCommerce Promotions and Sale Ideas

You might not classify running promotions and frequent sales are an active part of your SEO campaign, but you'd be mistaken. Running sales and promotions is a great way to increase revenue, but also a great way to earn links! Have you ever been on an ecommerce store and saw a deal that was so good you had to post a link to it on an online bulletin board or social media outlet?  This is exactly what we mean by "link bait" in Chapter 6. 

eCommerce promotions, special offers, newsletters, etc. are all an important part of a successful eCommerce store’s daily operations. 

Read these five ecommerce promotion ideas to get a good idea of the types of promotions an eCommerce store needs to run to be successful. 

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