The Ultimate Ecommerce SEO Guide

According to BloomReach, search engines help 34% of individuals start their online shopping experience, and 71% of people shopping feel that a better deal awaits them online rather than in stores.

But with the sheer number of online retailers, users are spoilt for choice. Just the usual generic SEO ‘knowledge’ just won’t cut it. Today, I’m going to show you all that needs to be done to get your store ranking for your target keywords.

Let’s dive right in to eCommerce SEO:

Keyword Targeting:

It all begins with targeting the right keyword. The ‘law of the land’ states that you should go for long tail keyphrases.

But here’s what:

In the post Google Hummingbird scenario, it’s not really a good idea to optimize your content for long tail keywords, simply because Google can now understand the relation between similar search queries to a greater extent.

So what should you do?

Target mid tail keywords.

Mid tail keywords are nothing but 1-3 word search queries that tend to be broader and more searched for than long tail keywords.

Now here’s what you have to do: Dig out a mid tail keyword for each of your product pages. It’s quite simple : just shoot your product name or category into Google Keyword Planner and look for the 1-3 worded phrases that have considerable search volume.

For example, imagine that you’re selling cute kitten socks online. You find the following keywords that are worth targeting:

ecommerce seo guide                 

We want to be more specific than cat clothes, but at the same time be more broader than the long tail keyword ‘knee high cat socks’. So, the right mid tail keyword is ‘cat socks’.

Now that we have a keyword, the next step is to sharpen the website structure and siloing for the optimal flow of link juice.

URL structure

The old school method was to use a whole lot of subcategories of various levels, and net the product pages under them. That’s definitely not the SEO friendly method.

So what is?

Do not have more than 3 category levels for your eCommerce website.

I’ll explain:

Consider a URL structure that looks like this:

www.buystuffonline.com/clothes/pets/cats/socks

Now consider one that looks like this:

www.buystuffonline.com/clothes/cat-socks

I can tell you over experience that the second URL structure gives you an SEO advantage.

And here’s why:

Link Juice and URL length.

The home page of your website obviously has the maximum authority and link juice. As you categorize down your products, the authority and link juice keeps dropping as you go down each category level.

Here’s what I mean:

url length ecommerce pages

So lesser the category levels, more will be the Page Rank passed to the individual product pages, and hence more are the chances of those product pages ranking for target keywords.

Now about the URL length: Matt Cutts himself mentioned that while optimizing URLs with keywords, having a longer URL length might lessen the impact of the keywords in the URLs.

So, URLs that look like these are a total no-no, unless of course, you have a 90 DA.

long urls

Now that you have got the URL structure in order, it’s time to get into the on-page factors:

On-Page factors

Include the targeted mid tail keyword, in the URL structure of the individual product pages. Do note that by default, the URL structure includes product IDs and other parameters that aren’t SEO friendly. Always make sure your product page URLs look somewhat like this:

www.buystuffonline.com/clothes/cat-socks

Where ‘cat socks’ is our target mid tail keyword.

Next?

The Metadata:

It goes without saying that you need to try to include the exact match target keyword in your titles and meta descriptions.

The idea here is to be non-pushy, but at the same time include words and phrases that make people click more. In other words, use CTR boosters.

Now, here’s the deal:

You might think that using CTR boosters are just a Conversion Rate Optimization technique. Not completely. Increased CTRs are also a very highly valued ranking signal.

Why?

Because when a lot of people search for ‘cat socks’, and click on your search result, it means that your website is somehow able to solve the user’s concerns. So Google simply ranks your website higher for that keyword.

Now, how do we go about finding and using CTR boosters?

Step #1: Dig through adwords ads and top ranking search results for your target keywords. The reason is simple – adwords ad copy is split tested intensively to find the best copy that drives clicks and conversions. Using specific keywords from adwords ads are a tried and tested method to boost your CTR.

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We just found some CTR boosters like ‘Free Delivery’, ‘Free shipping’, ‘Low Prices’, ‘Easy returns’ etc.

Step #2: Sprinkle these in your already optimized meta tags.

Here’s what a CTR optimized website looks like in the SERPs:

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Notice how the second sentence is very compelling?

Pro Tip

Apart from just looking at Adwords ads and top ranking pages of your main target keywords, you can also dig out CTR boosters from related keyword searches.
Here are some keywords I dug out this way: Exclusive deals30% OffClearance Sale. You can sprinkle these in your meta tags too.

After you’ve optimized the metadata, it’s time to look into the on-page content. There is one golden rule when it comes to writing content for your pages: Write long form content.

I’ll explain: Google is always looking to show search results that offer in depth answers and solutions to the problems of users. So they always rank quality long form articles over short articles. Now you know why this guide is one of the most in depth guides out there.

So, always write product descriptions that are over 1000 words in length. Go in-depth on the benefits of using the products, and how they are better than other competing products etc.

Now, sprinkle your target keyword and LSI keywords.

Since your target keyword is cat socks, sprinkle it 2-3 times within the content. Now, let’s start hunting for LSI keywords. LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing is simply a method that Google uses to identify related or similar keywords.

Most people just use LSI keywords for keyword research, but the real benefit of LSI keywords is that it helps Google understand what your content is about.

Let me explain:

When I search for ‘cat socks’ in Google, Google shows up a related keywords section at the bottom of the SERPs.

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Now these are keywords that Google thinks are related to ‘cat socks’ somehow. In other words, these are LSI keywords.

Now since Google already thinks that these keywords are related to ‘cat socks’, if you use these keywords in your content that is optimized for ‘cat socks’, it’s just going to make Google think that your content is very much related to ‘cat socks’. Smart huh?

Now the benefits here are two fold. One, Google ranks you higher for your target keyword. Two, you also rank for these LSI keywords that are very much related to your product. Win-win again.

The process here is simple:

1. Collect a group of LSI keywords that are related to your product.

2. Sprinkle them in your content. (Once or twice is enough)

 Optimize Images

The last and final, and the easiest step in your on-page setup is to optimize your images. All you need to do is use your target keyword as the ALT tag in your product image. Easy-peasy.

If you’d like to directly add it in your code, here’s how:

<img src=”image_Name.jpg” alt=”cat socks ALT_Tag” title=”image Title_Tag”/>

Now that you have the basic on-page setup complete, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get into technical SEO.

Technical SEO

Step 1: Implement Schema markup on product pages

There been a lot of hype over the past few years that Google considers schema markup as a ranking signal. I don’t believe in that to be frank.

But there’s one thing I love about implementing schema:

You get the product review rich snippet in Google search results.

Now, here’s the best part: 

It’s obvious that users are actively looking for product reviews when they’re thinking of buying something online.

So when a user sees a review snippet and rating of a product in the SERPs, they just go ahead and click that result so that they can check the reviews.

Let’s go ahead and search the keyword of the decade aka ‘cat socks’:

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That Amazon listing is definitely getting more clicks than Etsy.

Now what does this mean for us?

It means that if we implement schema for our product pages, we can get review snippets in the SERPs that will boost our click through rate.

And what if you get a higher click through rate?

You rank higher.

But what is schema?

Schema is simply marking up the already existing HTML on your page using specific schema attributes and property tags so that the search engine bots “understand” what the code is about.

And here’s how you can implement it:

You can always just manually code it out, but for the non-techies among us (like me), Google has a Structured Data Markup Helper to easily tag and setup schema.

First, select a product page that has a built in review and ratings system. I’ve selected the Amazon listing for this example:

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Now go to the Structured Data Markup Helper, select ‘Products’, and enter the URL in the box below. Then click ‘Start tagging’.

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Next, we come to the ‘Tag Data’ page, where a preview of our product page is also shown.

When you click on the review stars, a dropdown with the tags that we can add appears:

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The idea here is to select the appropriate data like the total number of reviews, the star or number rating of that particular product, the name of the reviewer etc, and tag that data using the dropdown.

Tag as many details as you can, and don’t forget to tag the Aggregate rating value and the Review Count, as these tend be most prominent in the search results.

Now, go ahead and click ‘Create HTML’.

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Now the tool shows where to add the markup code in your site’s HTML. The markup code is highlighted:

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All you need to do is copy this highlighted markup code and paste them in your product page’s source code at the same locations.

That’s it!

And one more thing- for schema, the rule is ‘more is better’. Markup as much content as you can, and you have more chances of getting the markup displayed in the SERPs.

Pro Tip

You can verify if you’ve setup the markup correctly using the Structured Data Testing Tool in Google Search Console.

Schema Markup for WordPress eCommerce sites

Do you know what I love most about WordPress?

There is a plugin for everything!

And for schema, say Hi to All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets. With this plugin, marking up your product pages is a breeze.

Once you’ve installed the plugin, a new window will show up on your product or post editor pages in WordPress.

First, you have to select the rich snippet type. I’m going to go ahead and markup the product:

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Now, enter all the details such as the rating, the brand and product name, image, price and availability.

Now the plugin automatically generates and inserts the markup code and adds  it to the source code of the product page.

Schema Markup for Shopify websites

For shopify, the process is a bit more lengthy.

In shopify, the product pages are dynamically generated by a template file called product.liquid.

The challenge here is that this file will  not have an actual title or description of any particular product that you sell on your shopify store. Instead, it will have product name and description template tags like {{ product.title }} and {{ product.description }}.

Now meddling with code isn’t something I fancy, but the advantage here is that unlike adding schema markup details using the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin in WordPress, you have to edit the code and markup the product.liquid file only once.

After you've added the code and set the variables correctly, shopify automatically generates product pages with schema markup code in the HTML for all your existing product pages you have on your store, and any product pages you might add in the future.

I’d love to write a detailed piece on how to do this, but Gavin Ballard has broken it down in dead simple words here. The end result after all the markup has been done should look something like this.

If you’d still like help on this, feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll be happy to lend you a hand.

A major part of the technical SEO of an eCommerce websites is correcting crawl errors.

How to Fix Crawl errors

The most common type of crawl errors that you will encounter on an eCommerce website is 404 issues. This occurs whenever you update your catalog and delete products that you’d no longer like to sell.

The solution here is simple: 301 Redirect that URL to the category page of that product.

Note : Luckily Shopify has a very easy to use tool for this. You can just use the Redirect feature in your Navigation tab in the Admin, at the bottom of the page.

But how do you find 404 issues and other crawl errors in the first place?

Try-Shopify

The best tool I’ve used so far to easily monitor crawl errors is MOZ. I have a paid subscription, and they send me a monthly report of all the 4xx and other issues that have to be corrected.

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Another issue that is common on eCommerce product pages is duplicate content.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Duplicate product descriptions on similar product pages, and
  • Indexing of dynamic URLs

Let’s face it:

The only way to avoid duplicate product descriptions is to write well researched unique descriptions for each of your product pages. There is simply no way around this.

Often on eCommerce sites, the same product or category page may have different URLs as a result of users using filters or search preferences. These URLs can cause duplicate content issues if indexed by Google.

All you need to do here is find these URLs, and either “nofollow” them in the Robots.txt file so that they don’t get indexed, or use canonical URLs to tell the search engines which page is the original one.

Google has a brilliant guide about implementing canonical URLs here.

Now there are two more technical areas that need your attention:

  • Page Load Speed
  • XML Sitemaps

Page Load Speed

After you’re done with rectifying crawl errors, it’s time to take a look at your website speed. It goes without saying that page load speed is a ranking factor, and that Google pushes down sites that take a lot of time to load.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to low loading speeds:

  • Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content
  • Lack of browser caching
  • Prolonged server response time
  • Non- optimized hi-res images
  • Lack of compression
  • Lots of JavaScript code

While most of these can be solved simply by using a CMS like WordPress or Shopify, the most optimal way to solve page speed issues is to use CDNs.

CDNs are content delivery networks that deliver the content on a website from different server locations and reduce latency.

Since the topic of how to setup a CDN is beyond the topic of this guide, I’ll just point you to two of the best CDNs for eCommerce sites: Akamai and Amazon Cloudfront.

XML sitemaps

A sitemap is a simple list of all the urls on your page that you want Google to index. Having a sitemap for your eCommerce website is of utmost importance.

Why?

Because typical eCommerce websites have thousands of webpages that are updated, added or removed on a daily basis, and having a sitemap is the best way to let the search engines know of the changes on your site.

Now, on how to setup dynamic sitemaps and submit them to Google.

Do you remember why I love WordPress?

Yes- we’ve got plugins for everything. And for sitemaps, we have a great free plugin called Google XML sitemaps.

All you need to do is install this plugin and goto Settings > XML Sitemaps

Here we can see the URL where your sitemap has been automatically generated by the plugin:

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The beautiful thing about this plugin is that it updates the sitemap file whenever you add any new pages/posts.

Next, login to Google Search Console, and click on the website whose sitemap you wish to submit.

Go to Crawls > Sitemaps and click Add/Test Sitemap.

Enter the URL path to your sitemap.

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Click on submit. That’s it.

Note: You don't need to submit the sitemap over and over again from time to time. Based on the authority of your domain, and based on the frequency of URLs getting added to your domain, google bot will automatically crawl your sitemap from time to time.

Now that we’re done with technical SEO and crawl errors, you’ve almost finished all the initial on-page optimization.

But that brings you to the most important part of optimizing your site for rankings:

Link Building for eCommerce websites

Link building is the main issue that most eCommerce websites face, well, simply because it’s difficult to build links to eCommerce pages.

This happens for one very specific reason: People simply don’t naturally link out to eCommerce product pages and product listing pages.

So then, how do you get links to your website?

Create a Blog!

Setup a blog where you can share news, industry trends, company information, and other articles and reviews on products. This not just helps you in building links, it also helps in increasing your website’s authority, as there will be a lot more content on your site.

But how do we proactively build links?

Ever since Panda and Penguin, webmasters all around the world have been led to think that pushing out great content is the only thing that can be done to rank websites.

I used to believe this too.

And guess what?

It doesn’t work.

There was a time when great content simply did the trick, and brought in traffic and ranked by itself. But these days, there is so much content being published online, that it’s impossible to become seen just by publishing great content.

But here’s the deal:

I’m going to show you THE tried and tested method that you can use to build links and get a lot of link juice flowing to your product pages:

The Catalyst Infographic Method

This content marketing method was popularized by Brian Dean of Backlinko for blogs. The great thing is that these work great for eCommerce websites too, and I’m going to show you how.

So what is the Catalyst Infographic Method?

Infographics, in short, are just visualizations of data. You collect data about a particular subject, and make it meaningful by visualizing it. The process here is simple:

Step #1 : Finding the topic

Although a simple Google search can easily give you ideas on infographic topics, I always take a look on Visual.ly, which has an infographic directory of great infographics on almost every topic under the sun.

Just search for similar topics on Visual.ly, and you’ll be easily able to find out infographics on the topic.

When you choose a topic, just make sure the topic has three elements:

The ability to tell a story

This is the first and most important element. You can go with all sorts of topics that can succeed in earning links and traffic, but if you want it to be truly awesome, select a topic that can tell a story.

You can always just use something like “12 Reasons why people dress up their pets”

Or go with something like: “Why People will spend more than 10 Billion on Pets in 2016”

I’d go with the second topic any day, as it can tell a story.

The ability to bring conflict

Distilled once did an infographic piece on the vocal ranges of singers that earned over 119K shares and brought over a million hits to the website.. The reason why that infographic did so well was that it had the element of conflict and made people debate about who the best singer was.

So what’s the bottom line?

Always choose a topic that can spark discussions and debates.

Stay broad

Often you might find it difficult to come up with compelling topics when you’re for example, selling socks for cats. 😀

The easiest way to get over this is to get broader than your immediate niche. If you’re selling socks for cats, think clothes for cats, and even pets and pet care.

Step #2 : Producing the content  

There is no easy way around the process. You have to get down there, do a ton of research and write the content and collect the data.

I do have a few tips for you though:

  • Look at the ‘references’ section in infographics on similar topics in Visual.ly, and you should be able to find some good data sources that you can use
  • First collect data, then use that data to tell stories
  • Most often, a non-visual article (that you can find elsewhere) will be much better off with a visual representation.

After you’ve collected the data, go ahead and get it designed by a good designer from Upwork. Using a reputed design agency is fine, but pricey. You can get it done at one-third of the cost by good designers at Upwork. A moderate infographic design will cost you anywhere between 200-300 USD.

Promoting the infographic and building links

This will be the most time intensive step in the infographic method. There are various ways of promoting the infographic to build links and drive traffic, but my favourite way of doing this is by outreaching to press contacts.

Step #1: Find journalists and regular press writers that might be interested in your topic

This could take quite a bit of time if it wasn’t for big old Google.

With Google, this is crazy simple:

Just use the site:domain.com “keyword” query on news domains.

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This query brings up category pages and articles on pets that have been published on the Huffington Post.

Next, I limit the search results to those that have been published in the past year.

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Now, here’s the deal:

We are taking the guesswork out of the question by contacting journalists who have already written on the infographic topic recently, and who are more likely to be interested about our infographic that is related to pets.

I typically list down the names of 3-4 journalists who’ve written on the topic on a news website.

Now repeat this process for all the news websites you know.

List out the names of journalists, the corresponding news websites, and the post URLs neatly into a spreadsheet.

You should be able to list down about 100 press contacts in all.

Step #2: Find contact emails

Although this is simple and requires just a few minutes of browsing, this is one step that I suggest you do right.

This is the simple process I follow to find out the contact email addresses of journalists:

1. First, I check the profile of the journalist on the news website. Many journalists simply show off their contact emails in their profile bios.

2. If that doesn’t work, I use Email Hunter. Email Hunter is a very handy chrome plugin that pulls up the email addresses associated with websites when you’re on any of the pages, or on the author’s LinkedIn profile.

So, first find the LinkedIn profile of your target journalist. Once you’ve installed Email Hunter in Chrome, a neat little red button appears on every Linkedin profile you visit. On clicking this icon, Email Hunter will pull up email addresses of that person.

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Neat huh?

Pro Tip

If you’re still unable to find the email address of a target, checkout this guide on finding almost anyone’s email address. Also, if you’re too busy to browse around for email addresses of journalists, you can just use a paid service like Ninja Outreach or ContentMarketer.io. Once you’ve collected and imported the domains and names of the journalists, you can simply import the list to ContentMarketer.io or Ninja Outreach, and the tool will pull up all the contact emails you need.

But we’re not done yet:

3. We have to verify this email address. That’s where MailTester comes in. This is yet another simple and free tool that allows you to verify if an email addresses you entered actually exists on that server or not.

Let’s take a look:

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If MailTester shows that the email address is valid, like in the case above, you’ve got the right email of the journalist/press contact.

Repeat this process for every single journalist/writer on your list. In all, you should have at least 50 press contacts.

Step #3: The Soft Sell

Now this is the part that freaks out most marketers.

The one thing you need to know about journalists: They are always on the lookout for great stuff to write about. All you’re doing is reaching out to them and helping them out.

But you may be wondering:

How to get them interested in your infographic?

I’ll explain: Outreaching to press contacts should be done in two steps.

First, you measure their interest with a soft sell email.

My typical soft sell email looks like this:

Subject: [Name], it’s about an infographic on pet clothes

Hey [First Name]!

I loved your article on the health implications of pets sleeping in bed with you. I too have a little Chihuahua named Sugar, and he sleeps on my neck 😀 Tried to get him into a crate, but he’s a stubborn rascal. 😀

In fact, I just put together a beautiful infographic on [Infographic topic- Pet Clothes], and felt that it might interest you.

Would you like to take a look? I’d like your opinion before I publish it.

Thanks and regards,

Catalin

Now, this is the truth about outreach emails:

Non-personalized mailing is scalable, but it has low success rates, and borderlines on spamming. Always send out personalized emails to your targets.

And I won’t lie: I know the subject line of the email looks unorthodox.

But you need to remember that journalists get hundreds of content pitches from marketers and PR people everyday. You need to arouse interest and let them know what the email is about right from the subject line.

Also, you might think, why not just send them the infographic, and ask for their opinion?

Here’s what: by asking for permission to send them the infographic, you’re pampering them and showing that you respect their time. Also, asking if you could send them the infographic is a much softer sell that asking them if they’d like to write about it or publish it.

Once you’re through with sending out all the soft-sell emails, you should start getting responses from your targets.

Which brings us to Step 4:

Step #4: Publish the infographic on your website:

There are four elements that you need to take care of:

  1. Make sure you publish it on a standalone page on your website.
  2. Make sure the page has social sharing icons with share counts.
  3. Have an embed code at the bottom.
  4. Have your target midtail keyword in the title, URL and description

Next, send out the link to your infographic page to the press contacts who expressed interest in the infographic, using this template:

Hey [First Name],

Sure! Here’s the link to the infographic: www.buystuffonline.com/pet-cloth-infographic

Kindly take a look and let me know what you think.

Thanks and regards,

Catalin

That’s as simple as it gets.

Bingo:

Some of your press contacts will just go ahead and use the infographic or write about it online, and link to the infographic page on your site.

Pro Tip

Some others may suggest changes to the infographic. If it’s a minor change, just go ahead and do it. Here’s why: When a writer specifically asks you to change something, it’s most likely because he’s very much interested in using it somehow. Also, if you make the change, he will be all the more inclined to write about it, and share it with his readers.

Now most marketers reach out to bloggers in their space about the infographics they publish.

But here’s the best part of the Catalyst infographic method: You are reaching out to press contacts who act as catalysts in the promotion of your infographic. Getting your infographic published or linked out to from press websites is the best way to get a lot of eyes on your infographic, and get both bloggers and people talking.

And that’s it.

I hope you loved my All Inclusive eCommerce SEO Guide. I’ve tried to make everything dead simple and actionable for you.

Now get to work.

If you have any questions about any of the strategies I mentioned, or would like to share your success stories, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the comments section below.

See ya!

Catalin Zorzini

I'm a web design blogger and started this project after spending a few weeks struggling to find out which is the best ecommerce platform for myself. Check out my current top 10 ecommerce site builders.

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