This is the most complete guide to ecommerce SEO on the web — period.
Whether you’re the SEO for a bigger ecommerce company looking to demonstrate the ROI of SEO, a smaller online business owner trying to find scrappy ways to grow your business, or a growth marketer looking for innovative and highly effective ways to increase traffic, this post is for you.
I created this guide for one reason...
Search engine optimization is a low-hanging fruit for ecommerce websites.
Despite the fact that SEO has the highest ROI of any ecommerce marketing campaign, most online shops are put together with little to no consideration of search engines.
Instead, we rely on social media or paid ads. Which are great and all, but require a constant effort and stream of income.
SEO, on the other hand, only requires effort up front — once you rank, you practically make sales on autopilot with no recurring expense.
That’s a simplification, of course. But doesn’t the idea make you drool?
Free, recurring, high-converting traffic. That’s what you’re about to learn how to get.
Grab a coffee, lock the door and settle in… it’s time to learn ecommerce SEO.
The Complete Guide to eCommerce SEO in 2017 (and Beyond)
Since this is a 9,000-word beast, you’ll probably want to take it one section at a time. To help you navigate, here are the topics we’ll be covering:
- Part 1: What Is SEO and Why Should You Care?
- Part 2: Keyword Research
- Part 3: Site Architecture
- Part 4: On-Page SEO
- Part 5: Technical SEO
- Part 6: Local SEO
- Part 7: Content Marketing
- Part 8: Link Building
- Part 9: Measuring SEO Success
- Part 10: Ecommerce SEO Case Studies
Let’s get started!
What is SEO and Why Should You Care?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the scientific art of optimizing your website around specific keywords in order to rank higher in search results, such as Google.
I say scientific art because, while a lot is known about the technical aspects of SEO, there is a creative user-experience and design side to it as well.
But optimizing your site, ultimately, means one thing:
Create the best possible result for your target keyword.
Google’s goal is to rank search results that answer all of the searcher’s questions so well that they don’t need to return to Google for another answer.
So how do you do that?
- Reveal the most thorough answers to the widest range of questions around the topic.
- Use better images, videos, or examples to explain your points.
- Provide a better user experience via a faster site, a better mobile experience, a more intuitive interface, etc.
- Get people talking about (and linking) to you.
A study by Outbrain shows that search is the #1 driver of traffic to content sites, beating social media by more than 300%.
It also means making it easy for visitors to purchase by making the buttons big enough, keeping your site glitch-free, and showing social proof of your best products.
Oh, and it means giving your site visitors comparisons of your product to your competitors, so they don’t need to leave to do more research.
But more on all that later. For now, I just want you to understand one thing:
SEO is a holistic effort of all pieces of a business, including social media, marketing, web design, networking and copywriting.
If you are the best business for a customer to shop (and you do your SEO homework) you’ll claim the top positions. Isn’t it great how simple that is?
But I haven’t answered the most important question… Why should you even care?
Well, let’s say your store sells gifts for wiener dog lovers, like my client, The Smoothe Store. Obviously, you would want to rank for a key term like “Dachshund gifts”.
In search results, Google displays a few ads, then they show the organic listings. Most of the clicks, however, go to organic results. (Of course, this varies depending on the number of ads and the keyword, but for the most part it holds true.)
And since ~95% of people don’t go past the first page, getting to the top of the line is the only way to get real results. (Again, this varies, but mostly holds true.)
Now let’s do some math.
The keyword “Dachshund gifts” gets ~11,000 searches per month on average, according to Ahrefs (a tool you’ll learn about in a later section). Assuming 35% of those clicks go to the first result (the average across keywords), ranking #1 for that keyword would get you 3,850 clicks.
Now let’s assume you have a conversion rate of 10% (pretty low for a high buyer-intent keyword; more on buyer intent in the research section).
Ranking #1 for that keyword would score you an extra 385 sales per month!
And that’s just one keyword. Most pages rank for multiple keywords, and most sites will rank multiple pages. You could get thousands of extra sales per month with just a little extra SEO effort — all for free.
You could even combine SEO with SEM (search engine marketing, like Google AdWords) to grab two search result listings and convert even more sales. But that’s a topic for another guide.
(Though, if you’re interested in paid ads, check out KlientBoost’s PPC services.)
I hope by now you understand why Google is one of the best marketing channels. But enough theory — let’s talk about how to actually do it!
Ecommerce Keyword Research
Keyword research is the first step in an ecommerce SEO campaign. Do NOT skip this step.
If you get this part wrong, one of two things will happen:
- You’ll target keywords that are too difficult to rank for, and you won’t make it to page one.
- You’ll rank for keywords that don’t get a lot of traffic or don’t cause customers to buy.
Neither of these situations is ideal, which is why ecommerce keyword research is so important — it will ensure you target keywords that are fairly easy to rank for, have decent search volume and have high conversion rates.
But there is more to choosing keywords than simply looking at how difficult it is to rank or how many people search for it...
To choose the best keywords possible, you also need to factor in buyer intent (aka “commercial intent”).
This is So Important, We’re Putting It In a Box So You Don’t Miss It (Seriously)
Buyer intent simply means how far along someone is in their decision to buy.
For example, someone searching for “best laptop” is probably still in the research phase — they may not be ready to buy. They’re likely to be reading product reviews and comparing features and benefits.
But if they’re searching “Asus VivoBook E200HA”, they’re probably shopping around for the best deal on that exact laptop — which means they’re much more likely to buy.
You don’t have to guess at buyer intent.
Oftentimes, buyer intent correlates with the average cost per click (CPC) of a keyword, which can be found with Google Keyword Planner or an SEO tool like Ahrefs. This is because the more people are willing to spend advertising a keyword, the higher its conversion rate!
Pro Tip: "Best X Product" is a great potential topic idea for your blog. More on blogging in the content marketing section.
Now you’re probably wondering — how do you perform ecommerce keyword research, find keyword difficulty (KD) and search volume, and uncover buyer intent?
Well, there are three ways:
- Competitor research
- SEO tools
Let’s start with the ecommerce behemoth.
Amazon for Keyword Research
Amazon is a gold mine of high buyer intent keywords — people literally search on Amazon with the intent of buying something.
To find keywords with Amazon, start typing in your seed keyword. This is a word you think you’d probably like to rank for.
For example, we could type “Dachshund”...
...and Amazon spits out autofill suggestions like dachshund gifts, shirts, stuffed animals, etc. These are all keyword ideas — put them in a Google spreadsheet to keep for later.
As you can imagine, if you have hundreds or thousands of products, this could take a loooong time. That’s where the Amazon Keyword Tool comes in.
This handy tool scrapes Amazon’s autofill suggestions automatically for any keyword you type in. It gives you three free searches per day, so you don’t have to spend anything.
Just by typing in and searching “Dachshund,” I now have 247 potentially high-buyer-intent keywords. Woohoo!
You can repeat this for all your seed keywords (such as “wiener dog” instead of dachshund). Each time you search, check off all the keywords and add them to your list, then download that list to a CSV with the “Download Selected Keywords” button.
We can’t just blindly choose these keywords, however. We still need to understand search volume, difficulty and even buyer intent before we pick the ones we use in our store.
But for now, let’s talk about other ways to find more keyword ideas.
Finding Keywords Through Competitor Research
If you have competitors who rank higher than you in search results, you can use their site to steal keyword ideas.
The next section shows you how to do this in less than 5 minutes using Ahrefs. But for those of you who won’t use the tool, keep reading!
First, type your keyword into Google…
...chose a competitor…
...and scan their category and product pages for potential keywords.
However, do NOT blindly use the same keywords as your competitor! Just because they outrank you, doesn’t mean they’ve chosen the best keywords — they could just have a higher domain authority (DA) than you.
Good to Know
DA is SEO company Moz’s rank of how authoritative a website is, based on its link profile and other factors (i.e. the number of backlinks pointing to a site from another site).
Pro Tip: This is a good time to mention breadcrumbs, which is an advanced navigation function that helps Google scan and index your site.
You can tell if you’ve set up breadcrumbs properly by entering your site into Google. If you see “yoursite.com -> category -> subcategory”, you have breadcrumbs set up. More on that here.
For now, just record the keywords in your sheet and move on.
Keyword Research Made Easy with Ahrefs
Ahrefs, the tool I mentioned above, is an all-around amazing SEO tool. You can use it for keyword research, competitive research, to build backlinks and much more.
And we’ll get to all that, but for now let’s talk about how to use it to easily and quickly perform ecommerce keyword research.
Once you sign up for an account (you get a two-week free trial), put your URL into the Site Explorer search bar. I’ll go through it using my site, The Wandering RV, as an example.
Click the “Organic search” tab...
...scroll down and click “View full report” under the Top 5 organic keywords section…
...and you’ll see all the keywords your site ranks for.
In my case, 3,578 keywords. More than I care to dig through one by one.
Luckily, you can filter the results to get exactly what you’re looking for. Specifically, I want to find my low-hanging fruit; the keywords I rank #5-10 for.
These are low-hanging fruit because you’re already on the first page, which means it should be fairly easy to rank higher with proper on-page SEO and maybe even some link building (more on that in the on-page SEO and link building sections).
To find them, filter by Position — minimum of 3 and max of 10.
You can also sort this in by traffic in descending order just by clicking the Traffic column. If you like, you can put a minimum traffic filter as well, such as no less than 200 searches per month. I don’t have that many, so I won’t do that.
Now, export your low-hanging fruit keywords to a CSV with the “Export” button in the top right, and copy-paste them into a new tab in your spreadsheet. (I call this tab “Low-Hanging Fruit”.)
Now let’s steal our competitor’s keywords. Type a competitor into the site explorer tool this time, and go to the same Organic Keywords page. To find the gold nuggets, apply these filters:
- Position max 20
- KD max 15
- Volume min 200
This will show you all the low-difficulty, relevant keywords your competitor is ranking for! How awesome is that?
Feel free to remove the volume minimum if you don’t get enough results — some niches won’t have high search volume. I just do that to keep it to the highest potential keywords and to keep the total number manageable.
Alright, you’re probably drowning in keyword ideas now, but I have one more one for ya: The content gap tool.
This nifty tool shows you all the keywords your competitors are ranking for but you aren’t. Type three (or more) competitors in the top three fields and your site in the bottom.
Then hit “Show keywords” to be showered in opportunities! Just apply filters like we did above to find the really great ones, then export and copy-paste to your spreadsheet.
So now that you’re up to your eyeballs in key term ideas, how do you know which ones to actually use?
How to Choose the Right Keywords
Unless you used Ahrefs, you won’t have keyword data for the phrases you picked. You need to determine keyword difficulty, search volume and buyer intent to know which keywords to use.
You can find rough search volume and CPC (to determine buyer intent) using Google Keyword Planner. However, it doesn’t give you keyword difficulty (don’t be confused by competition — that’s just competition for paid AdWords ads, not organic ranking).
Let’s do a search for Dachshund gifts...
The “Suggested bid” is the CPC. A high CPC indicates a high buyer intent, as we discussed.
What you’re looking for here is a high CPC relative to other CPC — in some niches, $0.80 might be a bargain. In others (like Dachshund gifts), $0.80 is a lot of money. Relativity is key.
Take note of the volume and buyer intent in your sheet for all of your highly important keywords. Just eyeball it at “low,” “medium” or “high” based on its CPC in relation to the general CPC you see across most keywords in your niche.
For example, I’ll rank the keywords from the Google Keyword Planner image above:
Of course, Ahrefs does this for you automatically (minus buyer intent), so I highly prefer that route. But it’s not free after your trial, so this is the true bootstrap method.
You can also find great keywords by spying on your competitors’ AdWords bids. Just perform some competitive PPC analysis and add those to your sheet!
Once you’re done, just sort the results based on the best mix of traffic, KD and buyer intent. Those are the keywords you want to prioritize the most.
However, if you REALLY want to get serious about your SEO and maximize your keyword spread, you should consider creating a keyword matrix.
A keyword matrix is basically a way to dig through all your keywords and organize your spreadsheet to quickly determine the best possible keywords to use on each of your pages. It’s based on KD, search volume and search intent (what people are looking for when they make a particular search).
Enough about finding keywords… let’s talk about how to use them!
Once you know the right keywords to target, it’s time to put that information to action.
This starts with your site’s architecture.
Ecommerce site architecture, or structure, is how you set up your navigation, category pages and product pages. At it’s core, it’s about getting the best, most relevant content in front of users and reducing the number of times they have to click to find it.
There are two “golden rules” to great site structure:
- Make it simple and scalable.
- No page should take more than three clicks to get to from any other page.
More on that later — for now, let’s talk about what NOT to do.
An Example of BAD Site Architecture
This is what poor site architecture looks like:
It breaks both golden rules. It takes four clicks just to get to a category page, and if you want to add a product or category page, you have to hide it deep inside the bowels of your site.
Not only is this poor for navigation, it also hurts your search rankings. Here’s why:
Typically, your home page is the most authoritative page on your site. Internal links from one page on your site to another pass some of that “link juice” or “authority” from one page to another. This was formerly called PageRank, but Google no longer uses that term.
Visually, it works like this:
So your home page can pass the most authority to your category pages, which then pass authority to your product pages. Seen another way, it works like this:
To give you an analogy, think of your website structure as a farm’s irrigation system, and the site’s authority or “link juice” as the farm’s water. Your pages are the plants.
Obviously, you want to give the most water to the highest producing plants — your major category and product pages.
To do that, you need to send them the most internal links from your highest authority pages — which this bad example isn’t doing.
This is also a good time to mention content marketing. Great content can serve as your biggest plants, getting loads of external backlinks from other sites. You can then funnel that link authority from your content to your product and category pages. Free water! (More on this in the “ecommerce content marketing” section.)
Now let’s look how that’s done.
If your site already has less-than-ideal structure, don’t go moving around pages until you’ve consulted with an SEO expert. We can help you consolidate pages, improve internal linking and redirect old pages to new pages without hurting your SEO.
An Example of GOOD Site Architecture
To get the most authority to your best pages, begin with your site structure. And remember the golden rules (simple and scalable, no more than 3 clicks)!
(Pssst! Stores made with BigCommerce do this automatically.)
A good site would look like this:
Your home page should link to all your major category pages, and potentially even some of your best product pages as well.
Proper navigation and internal linking ensures those pages get the most authority from your home page, and thus have a better chance of ranking highly in search.
To give you a better idea of this, take a look at the home page I created for my client, The Smoothe Store.
As you can see, we link to all our top category pages. We also do so visually, making it more appealing and easy to browse.
Another thing I’ll point out is all the text content — having content on your homepage increases your rankings. But more on that in the on-page SEO section below.
Be sure to include a “related products” section on each product page. This will add more relevant internal links and has been shown to increase average order value.
On-Page SEO for Ecommerce
On-page SEO for ecommerce is all about making sure your keywords are in the right places. It’s just a way of ensuring Google knows exactly what your page is about.
We’re about to discuss three strategies:
- On-page SEO for eCommerce category pages
- On-page SEO for eCommerce product pages
- On-page SEO for your blog content
Let’s start with the holy grail: Your category pages.
On-Page SEO for Ecommerce Category Pages
Your category pages are arguably the most important pages to rank. If someone finds them in Google, they immediately have access to all your products in that category.
To properly optimize these pages, you need to put your target keyword in the following places:
1. In the URL.
Putting your primary keyword in the URL (and making the URL readable and friendly) is simple and improves search rankings.
Also worth noting: see the “/collections/” in the URL? That’s actually bad for SEO. Google prefers shorter, easier to read URLs, so this additional word has a (very slight) negative impact on SEO.Luckily, BigCommerce allows you to remove these extra subfolders from your URL quickly and easily. You can also customize them to whatever keyword works best for your own category page rankings. :)
It's the difference between:
2. In the title tag (H1).
The title tag, or H1 tag, should have the keyword in it as close to the beginning as possible, like this:
3. In body copy.
This is where things get a little trickier. Most category pages get straight to the products with no introduction — which isn't good for Google.
You should aim for at least a 300-word intro with your keyword included at least 2-3 times. (But don't stuff it in there — make it flow and look natural.)
Here's an example:
4. In image alt text.
Since Google can't read images, they rely on alt text to know what it's about. This also gives you another spot to include your keyword on the page, and gives you a shot at showing up in Google image results.
Here's an example from Yumi, a women’s clothing store:
Note that it doesn't have to be that big — it can be a simple small banner across the top instead.
5. In the meta data.
While including your keyword in your metadata (the gray text that shows up in your search listings) hasn't been shown to directly impact rankings, it can improve click-through rate, which has been shown to improve rankings.
This is because when you include your main keyword in the metadata (AKA description tag), Google bolds it in the search results:
Bada-bing, bada-boom. You're done! Easy-peasy, right?
Rinse and repeat for all your category pages, then move on to your product pages.
Here's how and where to input all of this information in BigCommerce to optimize your product category pages.
On-Page SEO for Ecommerce Product Pages
I won't re-list all the steps you just took above. Basically, do everything you just did for your category pages, with 2 major differences:
- You don't need a banner image (since you have product images).
- Instead of writing 300 words, I recommend reaching 1,000 words (at least on your 10 top sellers).
The reasoning for this is simple:
The top pages in Google tend to be long-form content of at least 2,000 words.
This is because Google is primarily a research tool. So, when a page has a lot of information, Google thinks it has a better chance of containing the answer a searcher is seeking.
(This also helps you include LSI keywords, which I'll talk about in a second.)
So if the top pages have 2,000 words, why do I recommend 1,000?
- Writing a 2,000-word description for any product is a pain in the ass
- Product reviews make up for that 1,000-word lack
Product reviews boost ecommerce SEO and increase conversion rates. If you're not already collecting reviews, start prioritizing them!
If you need help, here’s an awesome guide to product reviews.
To give you an example of a great product page, both for SEO and conversions, check out this page by Solo Stove:
They do an excellent job of implementing reviews, long-form content and excellent usability all wrapped in an excellent design.
FYI, if you don’t have a review app installed on your store, Yotpo looks great and works well with structured data (which you’ll learn more about later).
Of course, making massive changes to hundreds of product listings is no easy task. To help speed this up, I recommend using a format, like this one:
During that “deep dive,” you can also include user-generated content, such as customer photos, videos or killer reviews.
For example, Spellbinders has grown traffic to their site by 130,000 unique, organic visitors by adding a gallery page pulling in user posts from Instagram to their site.
To pull everything together (and give you some more tips), here's an infographic on optimizing your product pages by Brian Dean:
Now, back to Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords.
Before you freak out like this suddenly became an advanced math course, don’t worry! This is just a fancy way of saying “synonymous” keywords, as well as closely related keywords and topics.
For example, "dachshund," "wiener dog," "doxie" and "sausage dog" are all LSI keywords. They mean basically the same thing, or are at least closely related. So are the terms “RV accessories” and “solar panels” — not because they’re synonymous, but because they fall within the same topic.
Back in the wild-west days of SEO, Google wasn’t so good at identifying the relationship between semantic keywords. And sly SEO professionals took advantage of this. That’s why websites used to create pages targeted to every — single — synonym.
But the game has changed, and now Google understands that when someone searches “dachshund,” it has the same intent as “weiner dog.” So instead of creating 5 pages targeting 5 related terms, you can make one page relevant to all of them.
To find LSI keywords, you can just type your main keyword into Google and look at the auto fill suggestions…
...and look at the related searches at the bottom of the page.
You can also check out Amazon listings for your product. For example, when I look at this Blendtec blender on Amazon, I notice a whole slew of LSI keywords:
Finally, you can also use Ahrefs to find LSI keywords (told you it’s an awesome tool).
Just pop your primary keyword into Ahrefs and click on “Also rank for” or “Search suggestions” to see everything Google thinks is relevant.
Go through these two lists and grab everything that’s relevant for you. Vary your keyword usage, blend in LSI keywords and answer every question around your topic to win.
So find out your similar keywords, add them to your product pages and start ranking better for everything! :)
If you have a competitor that outranks you, use the same process on their site. Look for the LSI keywords they use to describe their products.
Just do this for each of your products! If you have a lot, consider starting with your best sellers and working your way from there (or hire someone to do it for you).
And make sure you have beautiful product images as well. While this doesn’t directly impact SEO, it will improve your conversions!
On to the technical side of things…
SEO isn’t just about keywords. There’s a technical side as well, which includes things like site speed, user experience, mobile-friendliness and working links.
In the end, it’s really just about providing the best possible experience for your users. Again, that’s what Google ultimately cares about.
So how do you perform an ecommerce SEO audit and improve your technical SEO?
I’m going to be following a very similar process to Ahref’s 16-step audit, but simplified for speed and understanding. If you want more details, check out their full article.
- Ecommerce SEO Tools
- Ecommerce SEO Audit
Required Ecommerce SEO Tools
Before we get into the how-to of things, I wanted to mention the SEO tools that are highly recommended to do things right:
Google Search Console
Beam Us Up (or Screaming Frog)
They’re not all necessary, but they make life easier. Cool? Cool. Let’s get started!
How to Perform an Ecommerce SEO Audit
An ecommerce site audit accomplishes three things:
- It paints an overall picture of the quality and current standing of your site.
- It makes it easy for you to create a task list of things that need to be done before you focus on off-page SEO.
- It ensures you’re getting the best possible results with the least effort.
Obviously, it’s something you
should need to do. So here we go.
Step 1: Crawl Your Site
- Broken links on your site
- Missing alt text or metadata
- Thin or duplicate content
These things are all bad for SEO. So start this crawl and let it run in the background while we take care of a few other things (the crawl could take a while if you have a large site).
Step 2: Make Sure Only 1 Version Of Your Site Is Browsable
There are multiple ways a person can link to or browse your site:
Only one of these should be browsable. The others should be 301 redirected to the canonical version (the one you prefer). If possible, choose the HTTPS version (which is the secured/encrypted version) since there’s a slight search-rankings boost. Whether you want www or not is up to you.
Step 3: Check Your Home Page’s SEO
To do this, just ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the page contain a well-crafted, clickable title? Does it conform to the on-page SEO best practices you learned above?
- Is there a custom meta description? Is it optimised for maximising click-throughs?
- Is there one instance of the H1 tag?
- Are subheaders (H2, H3, etc.) properly used and conforming to SEO best practices?
- Is your target keyword included in everything above?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, go fix that.
The meta title, or title tag, of a page should be no more than 512px (roughly 55 characters). Otherwise, it gets truncated, or cut off, in search results. Check your page title using the Title Tag Pixel Width Checker mentioned above!
Step 4: Analyze Your Crawl Report
Once your crawl report is finished, it’s time to take a look. I used Screaming Frog, but Beam Us Up looks similar:
Basically, you’re looking for “Client Errors (4xx)” (aka broken links), duplicate URLs, missing or duplicate content, missing or duplicate meta descriptions and missing alt text.
If you need more help with Screaming Frog, this guide is fan-freaking-tastic.
Step 5: Ensure Unique Content
Google hates duplicate content and it can get you whacked with a penalty ever since Google’s Panda algorithm update.
You can easily find potential duplicate content issues across the web with a premium Copyscape account. For $10 you can check up to 200 URLs using their batch tool.
Just grab the URLs from your report and paste them into the batch analyzer.
When it’s done, you’ll get a list of all the URLs with the number of duplicate content and a color-coded “risk” score.
Just click the individual URLs to find the culprits. If it’s other content on your own site, change it to make it unique. If it’s on another site, consider contacting the site owner about it or asking them to link to your original canonical URL.
Step 6: Search For Yourself On Google
First, search Google for your brand name. Unless you’re a brand-new business, you should be the first search result. If not, that’s a sign of bigger problems.
If you’re not first, some steps you can take to resolve the problem include:
- Building a few strong, branded links (see the link-building section)
- Building some citations on business directories (see the local SEO section)
- Making sure your site has a Google Business listing (see the local SEO section)
- Ensuring your site has a presence on all major social networks
Speaking of social networks, you can use a tool like Narrow.io to help you grow your Twitter account on auto-pilot. Pretty cool, right?
Next, perform a search using the “site:” operator. For example, “site:bigcommerce.com”:
This will show you how many pages on your site have been indexed (in this case, 15,000).
This should be fewer than the number of URLs in your crawl report. If there are more, that could signal junk pages being categorized, such as product or site searches, blog category pages, or tag pages.
These pages typically have no content on them and should be noindexed (this tells Google not to index them in search results). This will free up your site’s crawl budget — the number of pages and speed with which Google crawls your site.
Step 7: Analyze Search Traffic
Take a look at your Google Analytics reports from the beginning of your site’s creation until now. This will show you if your site was potentially hit with a penalty.
In this case a red flag would be the sudden drop and rise between August and September; however, I happen to know that was due to a redirect looping issue where the page broke. Easy fix.
You can actually use the Panguin SEO Tool to compare your analytics against algorithm updates to see if you may have been penalized. Each of those lines correlates with a Google update. Neat-o!
Step 8: Review Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) has lots of great info for our SEO audit.
First, go to Crawl -> Crawl Errors to find any errors Google’s indexing robots are having crawling your site.
Looks like I have 22 “404 Not Found” errors — in other words, links pointing to a page that isn’t there. I actually deleted a lot of these pages, thus why they can’t be found. You may also get this from old products no longer on your store.
The best thing to do here is redirect those old pages to related product pages, or category pages (or blog posts, if you have broken blog posts).
Next, go to Search Appearance -> HTML Improvements to find any on-page issues Google found.
This will show things like duplicate content, which you should have picked up already in the crawl. But it doesn’t hurt to double-check!
Step 9: Analyze Your Backlink Profile
Your backlink profile is just a way of analyzing the links pointing to your site. You want to do this to ensure you’re not getting spammy links that could get your site penalized.
To perform a backlink profile analysis, log in to Ahrefs, search for your site in their Site Explorer, then click “Backlinks” in the menu on the left-hand side.
There are three things you should pay attention to here:
- Anchor text (the text that is linked to your site)
- Broken backlinks
- Sleazy links
Let’s start with anchor text.
You can see your anchor text distribution in the overview section of your site’s report, not in the backlink section. You should see a good variety, as opposed to a lot of one word or one phrase (unless it’s your brand name, which is fine).
Looks like my two biggest are “The Wandering RV” (my brand name) and “Bill Widmer” (hey, that’s me!). This is fine.
However, notice how 11% of all my links have the anchor text “space-saving techniques”. This is because I wrote an article for Lifehack with that backlink, then over a dozen other sites copied the text and stole their blog content.
This could actually hit my site with a penalty. If those sites that copied are low-quality, I should disavow those links (essentially telling Google not to follow them) to avoid a penalty.
Next up, we have broken links (aka easy wins!).
To see your site’s broken backlinks, go to Backlinks -> Broken.
Looks like BigCommerce has over 2 million broken backlinks! Lots of potential for scoring some “SEO juice” there. :)
The best thing to do here is to either create a 301 redirect from that page to another relevant page OR contact the site owner and ask them to change the link directly to a more relevant, existing page. While the latter is a little more powerful (since redirects lose a little “link juice”), it’s waaaaay more time-consuming.
Finally, let’s talk about sleazy links.
By sleazy links, I mean links from low-quality sites that are spammy, like the ones I mentioned pointing to my site above. Again, these can cause Google to penalize you because they may see those links as a PBN (Private Blog Network) or other nefarious black hat tactic.
To find them, just go back to your Backlinks overview and sort the results by DR (Domain Rating) lowest to highest.
All these links with a DR of “N/A” and a UR of 0 are usually crap. Look for spammy sounding URLs and crappy websites whenever you click to view them.
Step 10: Site Speed
Site speed AND crawl speed are both important to your site’s ability to rank. It’s easy to check; just go to Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool and plug in your URL.
Google will score you on Mobile and Desktop from 1 to 100, and give you steps to speed things up. Check out this guide to improving your site’s speed.
However, if you only do one thing, compress your images. Image file sizes can get massive and slow things down, so this one step can make a huge difference.
And that’s it! You’re done with your ecommerce SEO audit. Give yourself a pat on the back — this was a lot to take on!
Now let’s move on to local SEO!
While not applicable to everyone, if you have a physical store or just want more local site traffic, local SEO can give you a nice boost.
In this section, I’ll cover two things:
- Claiming your Google My Business profile
- Building local citations
Claiming Your Google My Business Profile
Google has a cool feature called Google My Business, which allows you to put your business’s details into Google’s database.
This does a few things, but it mainly allows your business to show up in local search results.
You can show your website information, address, hours of operation, pictures, reviews and more. It’s worth checking out!
But if you really want to show up in local results, you’ll need some local citations.
Building Local Citations
Local citations are essentially backlinks from other local websites, like news outlets, magazines, press releases and other local media.
For example, claiming your free listing on Yellow Pages would be a local citation.
Citations are important for local SEO because it shows Google that you’re popular in your area. Just as backlinks help SEO in general, backlinks from local sites help local SEO.
This also works with international SEO. If you want your site to rank higher in Australia search results, but your site is hosted in the U.S., you’ll need more links from Australian sites. If you really want to rank, you should even consider creating a separate Australian site, like www.yoursite.com.au.
If you’re ready to get serious about local SEO, check out Moz’s guide to building citations.
Content Marketing For Ecommerce
Content marketing is my personal favorite kind of marketing. There’s the stats…
- 45% of marketers say blogging is their #1 strategy
- 70% of people would rather learn about a company through an article than an advert
- 68% of consumers feel more positive about a brand after consuming content from it
...but there’s also the fact that content is one of the easiest ways for your store to rank for more keywords and build more backlinks.
Think about it — your product and category pages can only rank for so many keywords. Once you’ve maxed those out, you’re not able to cover any more search real estate, so to speak.
Content fills in those gaps. Now you can rank for keywords like “best [insert your product here]”, “how to use [your product]”, and other long-tail keywords that relate to your industry.
For example, I wrote a blog post about the best RV accessories for my blog, The Wandering RV, which now ranks #2 for its keyword.
Once I start selling RV accessories, I can link that page to my product pages and convert more traffic!
Not only does content marketing increase your traffic — and ultimately your sales — it also makes it easier for you to build links to your site and increase your domain authority. Trust me when I say it’s a lot easier to build links to high-quality blog content over a product or category page.
So how do you do it?
I suggest you check out this guide — it will walk you through everything from finding the right keywords and topics to writing the content, promoting it and building links!
Alternatively, if you prefer listening to content, check out my podcast episode with Kurt Elster. I walk you through everything step-by-step so you know exactly how to grow your ecommerce store with content marketing!
Now, we’re finally on to the most important part of SEO...
Link Building For Ecommerce
There are two ranking factors Google cares about more than anything else…
Backlinks from other websites with high domain authority to your website improves your rankings more than nearly any other ranking factor.
Because they are considered off-page SEO, it’s a little more complicated and time-consuming than simply making a tweak to your website. Instead, you’ll need to collaborate with other bloggers and website owners to acquire those links.
We’ll talk about four unique link-building opportunities:
- Resource Page Link Building
- Partnering with Influencers
- Broken Link Building
- Stealing competitor’s links
While these aren’t the only link-building methods, they’ve been the most effective for me and the easiest to learn. Let’s dive in!
Resource Page Link Building
Resource pages are, for lack of a better definition, pages full of resources around your industry.
They might take the form of a blog post, like this:
Or a static page, like this:
While the latter may not give you a ton of page authority due to the sheer number of links on the page, they are much easier to get and give you some boost in your rankings.
In order to find resource pages, just Google “inurl:resources + X” (X being your product, topic, or industry). For example, when doing this for my RV blog, I searched “inurl:resources + RV”.
Once you find a promising page, add the URL and the site’s contact info to a spreadsheet. You can find contact info quickly using a tool like Voila Norbert.
Once you have a good list of leads, it’s time to send them an email. You can use a template (like the one below), but make sure you customize each email and don’t sound robotic.
“Hey, [name]!I was looking for some information on [topic] and found your resource page:[URL of resource page]What an awesome list of resources!! Actually, I’d love to add one of my own that I think your readers would love. It’s about [topic].Mind if I send you the link to check out?Either way, keep up the awesome work! :)Cheers,[Name]”
Honestly, sending lots of these outreach emails sucks. But it’s the most important step in SEO, and it works.
If you want a hack to save time, I use MailShake to send mass custom emails really quickly. (My record is 100 emails in 45 minutes!)
But don’t forget; there are other ways to build links!
Partnering With Influencers
Influencers are people in your industry or niche who have a large following and/or a website with a high domain authority, but aren’t competing with you directly.
You’ve probably heard of influencer marketing. Partnering with influencers for SEO is a little different, however.
Rather than paying an influencer to share your product on social media, the goal is to get them to link back to your site from their site. This could be a blog post featuring your products, or just getting a link from an existing page on their site.
For example, I used this method to get a link at the bottom of an existing article from Heath and Alyssa, two of the most popular full-time RV bloggers:
I actually met up with them in real life and linked to their blog several times. But you don’t need to go through that much effort to get a link most of the time. Instead, just focus on building friendships with influencers.
How can you do that?
- Share and comment on their content
- Send them customers
- Reach out to them and ask questions about their expertise
- Give them free products or other gifts
There are tons of other ways — just think of it as befriending someone. How can you be that person’s friend? Do more of those things.
If you’re looking to find more influencers, check out this list of people who are open to partnerships. Alternatively, you can just start performing Google searches for “[your topic] blogs/influencers”. They’re easy to find - that’s what makes them influential!
Broken Link Building
Also called “building links by fixing the internet,” broken link building is one of the most effective and easy link building tactics.
It works like this:
You use a browser extension like this one to search websites in your niche for broken links. You can check resource pages for a double-whammy, or just check blog posts around your topic.
Any broken links appear highlighted in red, so they’re easy to spot. Once you find one on a site, email the owner something like this:
I was browsing your site today and noticed a broken link on this page:
The broken link is pointing to this:
Just thought you’d like to know! :)
By the way, I have a great resource on [topic] that I think your readers would love! It might make a great addition to your page:
By the way, I sell [product] and I think your readers would love it! Would you mind mentioning it?
Either way, keep up the great work! :)
And that’s all there is to it! Just keep in mind that you’ll probably need to send a few hundred emails just to get a handful of links, unless you’re a link building genius of some kind.
(Ain’t nobody got time for that. Hire me to do it for you!)
Stealing Competitor’s Links
How would you like to improve your rankings while simultaneously pushing out the competition?
Well, you can! All it takes is our handy dandy SEO tool: Ahrefs.
Just as you can use Ahrefs to spy on your competitor’s keywords, you can also use it to find out where they’re getting all their links from — and try to steal them for your own!
- Plug in their URL into the site explorer.
- Click on the “backlinks” tab on the left-hand side.
- Filter by “One link per domain” and link type “Dofollow” (Dofollow links tell Google to follow them, nofollow links tell Google not to follow them).
Now you can see exactly where your competitors are getting their links, and to what pages. Neat-o!
So how do you steal them?
Well, it depends on the link. If they’re in a blog post — like the “7 Great Gifts for Dachshund Lovers” in the example above — you can just reach out to the owner and try to be included.
Send them a free gift to boost your chances!
If the link is coming from a resource page, reach out just like you normally would. If it’s from the navigation in a site, reach out and see if you can be added as well or replace the other person — they might have a deal worked out where the linkee is giving the linker free gifts or a commission or something. See if you can partner with them yourself!
Speaking of commissions, you should definitely consider starting an affiliate program to boost your sales and SEO. It’s practically free money!
And that wraps up our section on link building. But how do you know if this stuff is even working?
Measuring SEO Success
If you’ve ever wondered, “How do I know if my SEO efforts are working?” you’re not alone. SEO isn’t as cut and dry as PPC — you can’t immediately calculate ROI after a day of ad spend.
Instead, the signs are more subtle and take a longer time. But what are the signs?
Small increases in rankings.
In order to track your rankings, there are two things you can do:
- Use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to track them
- Create an SEO dashboard in your analytics account
I recommend doing both, if possible, but only the second method is free. Let’s discuss them!
Using Ahrefs to Track Search Rankings
Ahrefs has a built-in rank tracking feature you can use to be notified whenever your rankings increase or decrease.
In fact, they just enhanced this feature to give even more useful information, like comparing your progress to your competition and seeing your overall search visibility!
While I’ve found it’s not 100% accurate, it does give you a general sense of whether your rankings are overall going up or down.
What you’re looking for is a general increase, even a small one, in your rankings for your targeted keywords over time. Personally, I like to check rankings at least once a week to look for this change, but it can take a few months to really see the fruits of your labor.
Using Google Analytics to Measure SEO Success
If you want a free method to see search ranking improvements, or just want more data (which can’t hurt), install this free SEO dashboard to your analytics.
Here, rather than looking for direct ranking improvements, you’re looking for more subtle clues…
- Increases in search traffic
- The landing page that search traffic is reaching
These two pieces of information can be used to determine which keywords you’re ranking for. Then, you can perform an incognito Google search to see where you’re at (incognito mode keeps Google from using your personal search history to change results).
Once you’ve found yourself, you know where you stand — if you’re not using Ahrefs, make a note of your current position so you can track it over time.
Again, you’re looking for slight increases. If you go from page 5 to page 2, that’s a big hint you’re doing something right and your efforts will soon pay off.
And that’s about all there is to it!
Give yourself a big pat on the back; this was a pretty dense read.
Be sure to come back to this guide to ecommerce SEO often, as you can’t do it all in one go!
Before I leave you, though, I’d like to inspire you with a few ecommerce SEO case studies.
Ecommerce SEO Case Studies
Just to help you see what’s possible and get you excited, I wanted to share some success stories. Specifically, these:
- How one ecommerce site increased their search traffic by 1780%
- An ecommerce SEO strategy led to a 64% increase in organic revenue
- Ecommerce site sees 400% traffic increase with generic SEO keyword effort
- This ecommerce store went from 35,000 to 225,000 organic visits per month
Rather than running through each individual ecommerce SEO case study, I’ll just give you an overview on how they did it.
Here are the steps, which you know from reading the rest of this guide:
- Find your best keywords (both commercial keywords for your product and category pages, and long-tail keywords for your blog content).
- Match the right keywords to the right pages on your site.
- Optimize your site by performing an SEO audit, fixing your site’s architecture (if it’s not ideal), reducing thin content and doing everything you can to optimize your crawl budget.
- Enhancing your site’s on-page SEO and creating or updating content to be the best result for its target keywords, being sure to link back to your most important product pages.
- If necessary, building white-hat links to your most important pages.
- Sit back and watch as the money starts pouring in!
That sounds oversimplified — and in some ways it is — but SEO is often unnecessarily complicated. Just remember that Google’s goal is to provide the best possible search results, so if you make that your goal, you’ll win in the long run.
There are only so many ways to get traffic — social media, paid ads, email or search.
Search traffic is the only one of these ways that’s reliable, free and fairly easy to get.
If you want your site to get hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors, you need to learn ecommerce SEO today.
A simple SEO campaign can result in hundreds of extra sales. And it doesn’t have to take you years to achieve, either.
Follow the steps in this guide and you’ll be leagues above your competition. You’ll start to rank on the first page — and even in the top 3 results — for all your shop’s main keywords. It really is a no-brainer.
If you found this guide helpful, please take a moment to share it so we can help as many store owners as possible grow their business!
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t have time for all this SEO stuff, reach out to me. I’m more than happy to help! :)
Do you have any questions or know other ecommerce SEO best practices? Leave a comment below! Let’s keep the conversation going.
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