Definition: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) describes the tactical and strategic efforts to maximize a website's placement in search engine results. SEO depends on (among other factors): on-page HTML structure, website architecture, page content and keyword usage, inbound links, and a domain's collective content.

SEO is consistently a major driver of growth and customer acquisition for ecommerce stores. One survey found SEO to account for approximately 30% of ecommerce site traffic, underlying the massive opportunity for online stores to acquire unpaid traffic.

An oft-misunderstood practice, effective SEO involves much more than simply including the right keywords on a page. SEO touches on every part of a website, making a basic understanding of SEO best practices important for everyone who works on the user-facing portion of an online business.

Search Engines and Ranking

To understand why best practices are the way they are, it's important to understand the search engines they're trying to please. Search engines deploy bots (commonly referred to as "spiders") that crawl websites and index their content.

Website architecture is a critical component of SEO because it lays the path for search engines to crawl a site's various pages. If important sections of your website aren't easy to find, a spider won't crawl it and assumes it isn't important.

When web users type a query into the search bar and hit enter, Google instantaneously scans its index and returns what it deems to be the most relevant results. Rankings are determined by search algorithms that take many factors into consideration. Google uses over 200 signals to determine its rankings, and a simple way to categorize these signals is on-page and off-page.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO comprises most work that's done to optimize for search engines. Important elements include:

Keywords: Every page has an objective, and using a primary keyword conveys a page's purpose to search engines. For example, a product page for KitchenAid blenders should include some variation of the keyword "KitchenAid [model] blender" in the important HTML elements that follow.

Title Tags: The title tag appears in the SERP (search engine results page) and browser tab, and is widely considered among the most important SEO ranking factors. Title tags should include the primary keyword and brand name, usually separated by a pipe, colon, or comma.

Header tags: Most web pages are divided into sections, and header tags are used to label these. The <h1> tag should always include the primary keyword, with following header tags including the keyword where appropriate.

Body content: Pages should contain the primary keyword and have at least 300 words of text. Anything less puts them in danger of falling under Google's "thin content" penalty, mandated by the Panda algorithm update.

Internal Linking: Universal navigation bars ensure that the important sections of your website are always accessible to users and search engines, no matter what page they're on. It's also recommended to link to relevant sections of a website when they're mentioned within the body content.

What to look out for
  • Blocking search engines: Noindex tags and robots.txt files tell search engines not to crawl a page. These tags are often implemented in a staging environment and, when not removed, will cause a page to go uncrawled by Google and other search engines.
  • Duplicate content: It's tempting to use manufacturer product descriptions, but these can be crippling to a product page's organic ranking potential. Google penalizes webpages that borrows some or all of its page content from another webpage - whether on the same or another domain.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to the ranking factors that don't involve the content or structure of the page in question. While

Backlinks: Search engines view backlinks as "votes" of popularity, and these have historically been a highly-weighted ranking factor. All links do not carry equal value: links from "authoritative" domains are much more valuable than those from less-established websites. The original algorithm to weigh the aggregate value of a website's inbound links was called PageRank, named after Google's co-founder and CEO Larry Page.

Social Media: As social media use quickly took over the web, search engines took notice, incorporating a URLs presence on social media into their ranking algorithms. If a promotion or sale page is highly shared, it positively affects its search engine rankings.

What to look out for
  • Unnatural links: The significant impact of backlinks on organic ranking spawned a sub-culture of manipulative link exchanges and paid placements. Algorithms have gotten increasingly better at identifying what they deem to be "unnatural" links, and websites can be heavily penalized for too many links that appear to be exploiting search engines.



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