Welcome to the world of retail search engine optimization, where an incremental increase in search rankings could translate into an extra thousand sales a month. Who doesn’t want that?
Retail SEO is an incredibly competitive segment of digital marketing because each new visitor has the potential to turn into revenue. In this guide curated by industry experts and based on real world knowledge, you’ll learn how to prepare your SEO strategy and, ultimately, execute an effective, long-term means of generating traffic.
Before jumping into on-page and off-page SEO, there is a significant amount of research that needs to be done. Keyword research is a very involved process that requires extensively researching your industry, knowing your target audience, and identifying patterns that give you an edge over the competition.
Targeting the wrong keywords is like building a house on a flimsy foundation. Keyword research for retail SEO isn’t about finding keywords you can rank for; it’s about finding keywords you can rank for that will deliver traffic that will convert into paying customers.
Going into keyword research is going to involve researching your competition and popular keywords, and being realistic about your business and marketing goals. Since your revenue-producing pages are product pages, you need to find keywords that are product-focused.
You will eventually come to find that long-tail keywords are much more viable targets. Setting out to rank number one for “Nike shoes” might be impossible, but “nike shoes 2017 air max” might be attainable. Larger retailers can realistically go after short-tail phrases, whereas smaller retailers should go after the long-tail phrases.
On the other hand, if you go for keywords that are too broad, you might get some traffic but, ultimately, a high bounce rate and low conversion rate because people aren’t finding what they are looking for.
How to Find Keywords for eCommerce Pages and Product Pages
Finding keywords appropriate for your site and product pages is going to involve rolling your sleeves up and doing some work. While there are several keyword researching tools available, most of the top ones suggest keywords are likely being sought after by people trying to rank for them as well. They might not seem competitive now, but they will be.
Product Page Keywords
You could use a tool like SEMRush, which will scan search engines and deliver a list of related long-tail keywords people are searching for. It currently has the functionality to show keywords from Amazon, Google, and YouTube. You want your product page keywords to be as close to the product as possible, to ensure the traffic coming to the page is interested in your offerings and is more likely to convert.
Category Page Keywords
Many business owners think of category page keywords as an afterthought, and they often miss a huge opportunity to find relevant traffic.
Scanning your competitors’ sites for category keywords is an excellent way to see what you should try to rank for on your category pages. For example, Amazon’s “Shop By Department” feature outlines category keywords with such a high specificity. A search for shoes leads one down a rabbit hole of great keywords, which can be further elaborated with more specificity about colors, models, and brands.
Site Blog Content Keywords
Your site’s blog is an excellent way to try to rank for long-tail keywords, as well as create landing pages with the goal of either collecting a visitor’s information to build a long-term relationship or to filter traffic to a specific product page.
Your site blog content keywords require a similar approach as above, except you have more freedom and more options in picking your long-tail keywords. They don’t necessarily have to be extremely product focused, but they could answer questions that lead customers to your product pages.
For example, building a landing page around the keyword “Best Running Shoes for Guys in Summer 2017,” your page would bring in people still in the information gathering part of their journey. Next, you could ask them to submit an email through an email CTA on the page or check out some of your recommendations in your store.
A few criteria for your keyword targeting include:
Buyer’s intent. Does your keyword ultimately target traffic that will convert into a purchase?
Competition. SEMRush has a keyword difficulty column that helps you see how difficult it is to rank for a keyword based on the competition.
Search Volume: You want to land a keyword that people are currently searching for or that you expect to be something they will be searching for. Without volume, you’re targeting a smaller pie.
Without good on-page optimization, search crawlers will have a tough time figuring out what primary value your content is delivering to readers. Your readers will also be less enticed to click and stay on your pages longer if it doesn’t seem like your content can potentially solve their problem.
Keyword Optimization: You want to use your focus keyword throughout the page’s content in a way that flows naturally, as well as include it in your title tags, descriptions, headings, URLs, and even your image file names and image alt descriptions. Be careful to not stuff your content with your keyword because this can get you penalized by search algorithms. Around 3-5 times for a 1000-word piece of content is the standard range keywords should be included for optimization.
Title Tag Optimization: Adding certain modifiers in your title tag can help you to bring in more traffic from search engines. The primary focus of your title tag is to inform searchers what they will find on your page, and certain modifiers can help to qualify purchase-ready users. For example, using a modifier like “cheap,” “buy,” or “free shipping” is a simple way to increase organic click-through rates. Not only will you be getting more traffic that is more inclined to buy from your store, it’s likely Google uses organic CTR as a ranking signal as well.
Description Tag Optimization: Your description tag is your opportunity to assist your title tag in providing users insight into why they should click your link instead of someone else’s. Description tags allow you to use more words than the title tag, making it easier to include higher CTR phrases such as “Get FREE shipping on all XYZ products today” and “Save 30% off on Product XYZ.”
Rich Snippets: You may have noticed some of the search results in Google, lately, are not like the others. These “rich snippets” are essentially HTML coded bits that tell search engines what users will be able to find on your site in a more effective way. There are different types of rich snippets for everything from recipes, reviews, videos, and products, to any other kind of information. Schema.org is an excellent resource to find out how to optimize your site for rich snippets.
SITE CONTENT AND CONTENT MARKETING
A good content creation and marketing strategy can improve every other component of your SEO efforts. In the same way that the above steps can be used for product pages, they can also be used to effectively sculpt and rank extremely valuable content.
Your keyword research likely revealed several keywords that aren’t immediately relevant to a product page, but which are receiving a significant amount of inquiries every month. Your site content is a way to entertain and educate traffic that would otherwise go elsewhere and, eventually, convert them into paying customers.
Think of your site’s content as a way to provide users further value and capture them at any point in their buyer’s journey. Whether it is a landing page aimed at sending visitors to product pages or collecting an email address or blog content to get traffic, links, and boost your site in rankings, content is the backbone of any effective SEO strategy.
Your site content must be high quality and reader-friendly to ensure that people are actually consuming your content. Search algorithms take into account all variables, such as the time spent on page and shares, so it truly is in your best interest to make sure that your site content is not only relevant but worth reading and sharing. If you don’t have a penchant for writing, it will be worth it to make the investment in hiring an experienced and professional writer who understands your industry and knows SEO basics.
Once you’ve created some amazing content, the battle still isn’t over. You’ve likely invested a significant amount of time and capital to research and create a piece of outstanding content, but just having it on your site isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t get it some exposure.
Content marketing is an excellent way to increase your ROI on your piece of content, as well as supercharge your SEO efforts. Content marketing is an ongoing effort to find what types of content will perform best and leverage different channels of distribution to get more eyes on them. The best way to research and create great content is to:
Find where your audience spends time online. Online communities such as Reddit and Quora allow you to get a feeling for what your customers’ thoughts, dreams, desires, and fears are. This will, potentially, not only shine a light on new marketing strategies, but you will also get an idea of what type of content you can create to address their concerns. For example, if you see many people asking about the best running shoes for people with wide feet, you could create a blog post about “7 Best and Most Affordable Running Shoes for Wide Feet.”
Learn the language. Finding out what type of lingo your customers are using when talking about your products is an excellent way to help them connect to your content, as well as find some long-tail keywords your competitors aren’t finding.
Build the best piece of content. There are millions of articles on the internet, and most of them are awful. The cream of the crop naturally have risen to the top spots in search engines and can be used to outline and benchmark your content. A foundational element of content marketing is learning your competitor’s content—and then beating it. Leveraging techniques of taking the best elements of the best pieces of content and creating your own piece of original content is a great way to create something irresistible for your audience.
A good site architecture not only makes the job easier for search engine web crawlers to crawl your site, it allows conscious human beings to navigate around and find what they are looking for.
Brian Dean from Backlinko.com has two golden rules for site architecture:
Keep things simple and scalable.
Keep every page 3 or fewer clicks from your homepage.
The majority of an eCommerce site’s authority rests on its homepage and diluting this authority with layers upon layers of content will take away your ranking power.
Instead of trapping visitors in a confusing site architecture, you could create internal links to content relevant to the current page the user is on to capture their interest and funnel it effectively through the site. The goal of internal linking is to link from your high-authority pages to category and product pages that are a high priority.
A poorly structured site can be compared to a disorganized multi-level department store. If there are escalators and elevators going all over the place, with no clear product organization, you’re likely to start gunning for the next exit in search of an alternative.
Find Website Errors
There are free tools such as Screaming Frog that make the process of finding critical errors on your site much easier. Screaming Frog will go through all of your site’s links, images, script, apps, and CSS from an SEO perspective, and then give you a summary of errors, redirects, missing head tags, and duplicate pages.
Some of the main errors that need to be corrected include:
404 redirects to actual useful content
Changing 302 redirects to 301 redirects
Updating outdated content
Updating meta titles and meta descriptions
Removing these errors will improve your presence in search engines and increase the overall usability of your site.
40% of people will abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load. This seems like a silly reason to lose traffic. Free tools such as Pingdom will give you an idea of your site speed. If it’s on the bad side of three seconds, fix your site speed by either buying more server space, changing your CMS, or reducing your image file sizes.
Consumers have been shown to use an omnichannel approach when it comes to the different stages of their buying journey. For example, 80% of shoppers used a mobile phone to look up product reviews and compare prices. However, many of these shoppers end up completing their purchase on a desktop, as desktops have a 3.99% conversion rate compared to the 1.22% mobile conversion rate.
This means that eCommerce merchants need to tailor their strategy to best cater to the omnichannel experience. Having a poor user experience on a mobile site is a silly reason to lose customers, especially since most eCommerce platforms are optimized for mobile. If your site isn’t up to par on mobile, and hiring a site developer isn’t within your budget, there are thousands of site templates online that are mobile-responsive at modest prices.
Link-building is one of the most important components of SEO, but it has some inherent difficulties many eCommerce merchants experience. One of the main problems is that it is difficult to earn a high-quality link to a product page since most product page content does little to contribute value to the link provider’s audience.
Although you can knock your link-building efforts out of the park by having a product that everyone loves and links to, this is a rarity. Luckily, if you have high-quality content on your site that is well-researched, people will be much more likely to link to it. This is why it’s important to build high-quality power pages that are worthy of high-quality links, and then internally link to high-priority product and category pages that are relevant to that piece of content.
One of the best ways to build quality links is to find ways to contribute value to someone’s site. Chances are, there are hundreds of people in your industry that have gone out of business, yet have active links pointing to their dead website. Once you find the URL of the dead resource, you can use a tool like Ahrefs or Majestic SEO to pull up a list of all the referring links.
Your next step is to email the owners of all those sites and inform them that the link they included in a particular piece of content is dead and to give them a replacement link to the same product/topic on your site.
Another way to build quality backlinks is to establish positive long-term relationships with people who own high-authority sites. It is much more likely someone will want to link to a friend’s site instead of a complete stranger’s site, as long as you can provide value to their audience. Having great content on your site is a spectacular way to give site owners enough incentive to link to your site.
Keep in mind that the quality of the links matters and low-quality links could end up hurting you more than helping if they come from a suspicious source. Usually, low-quality links are just a big waste of time and don’t count toward your SEO efforts. This is why you must be wary of “content farms” that accept guest posts from anyone, and services that offer you links for sale.
All of your SEO work must constantly be tested and iterated to discover what works. Although SEO is very front-loaded, it requires a significant amount of regular research and upkeep. With this guide, the vast number of tools listed at your disposal—including Ahrefs and Moz Toolbar, and a desire to consistently A/B test for optimum results, you will be able to stay ahead of the curve and outrank your competitors.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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