E-commerce Essentials for SEO – A Guide for Online Store Builders

By vishy | SEO

Nov 24
E-commerce SEO is NO different than doing regular SEO other than having more specific factors that you need to focus on.
 
To get clues on how much to optimize each module I have discussed below – you will need to inspect the top e-commerce sites in your niche and also your category in Amazon.
 
It is essential to look at sites that are already ranking in your niche – because the moving values that the AI assigns to each of the ranking variables is not the same across different niches.
 
For example, while 800 words of description might be the ideal number for products in one niche, the same value could be over 2000 in another niche.
 
As we move into 2018 its becoming more and more apparent that Google’s AI is taking over larger aspects of the search algorithm.
 
In fact, it has been confirmed that even Google engineers don’t know why certain pages rank higher than others. 
 
While doing your SEO you need to make sure that your SEO patterns exceed those of the sites that are ranking on the top as much as possible.
 

The golden rule is to do more than the sites ranking at the top.

 
In this post I will cover everything you need to know while doing SEO for an e-commerce site. I have broken down the post into several categories, each requiring separate focus, energy and perhaps investment.
 
The general approach I take is to…
 
  • start with good keyword research, then…
  • structure the site categories well
  • choose the URL structure and location depth of products, and then finally…
  • make sure that each product category and product page optimized and has solid on-page factors.
These are ALL the broad factors that you need to look at for ecommerce sites.
 
That said, lets get started…
 

E-commerce Keyword Research

Having a solid Keyword research method in place is one of the most essential foundation elements while doing SEO – and it is no different for e-commerce sites. 
 
Once you have a list of all the products you would like to sell in your shop, you will need to start your keyword research. However, it is quite possible that after you begin your keyword research – you may uncover some new profitable products in your niche and for your market – that you did not see before!
 
Here’s what good keyword research does for you…
 
  • Solid Keyword research will help you identify the best keywords to use while creating and inserting your products on your website. 
  • You will also learn the varying competitive levels for each product.
  • You will be able to use keywords to define your site architecture, category and product URLs
  • The data that you see will allow you to focus on the right products in batches based on your time and resources vs the risk and reward. For example, if you’re on a tight budget you could focus your SEO efforts on low hanging fruits initially (products with little competition and acceptable number of sales potential).
  • Good keyword research will also enable you to find untapped products, keywords, sub-niches or cross-niches. You could begin uncovering other products and niches that appeal to the same markets and that would do well in your store. 
  • Of course you will have to look at the procurement and delivery cycles associated with each of these separately.
  

Tools & Resources for Keyword Research

Amazon Suggest

This is exactly what it says! Simply head over to Amazon.com and type in the product you want to research on. Amazon will start suggesting other search words (in the drop down suggest area of the search box) – that would be more specific for the product or similar products. 
 
 
This is golden – because now you will be able to target long tail keywords that are more specific, easier to rank and probably with lesser competition! 
 
More so, this happens because most SEOs are focusing on using and optimizing only main product keywords.
 
Do the exact opposite and you will set yourself up for a win! 
 

Popular Keyword Research Tools

There are several nifty tools in the market (both free and paid) that I use to get mass keyword suggestions free and quickly.
 
Use these tools to punch in your seed keyword (or competitor URLs in some case) and watch as the tools scrapes and display the other top related keywords that are similar. Then simply export and download as data for further analysis and research.
 
Popular Keyword Tools to generate mass keyword lists and get suggestions include –
 
  

Structuring Your Store’s Categories

When you build out your online store you first need to structure its categories based on the niche(s) you are addressing. 
 
This is the single most important element when it comes to structuring your site architecture or building properly silo’d sites for optimum link juice flow. Get this wrong and it will be 5 times harder to rank your site with your other SEO efforts. 
 
There are various ways in which you can go about getting hard data on which you can base your decisions…
 

Visit Top Ranking Sites in Your Niche

I always advise my clients to look at their top ranking competitors to get ideas on how to structure their product categories and URLs. 
 
This is the single most powerful to leverage the effort of other successful and proven businesses. They’re ranking on top for a specific reason! 
 
I always recommend you use top ranking sites in your niche as the final benchmark for your categorization, site and URL structure.
 

Amazon 

Alternately, you can browse Amazon’s category structure and even look at their “Full Store Directory” option in the drop down menu to see get valuable insights. After-all, they would’ve spent millions of dollars perfecting this – and you can get it for free!
 
 
 
Try and traverse down to your specific niche, categories and sub-categories to understand better how they have grouped their products and what keywords they use as Category names.
  
 
You will also get an idea on how popular a specific sub-category is by looking at the number of products in it.
 
You may also unearth some highly specific categories that with low competition – that you can use! 
  
 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is easily one of my favorite place when it comes to hunting for keyword suggestions for products or while writing out some of the content on my pages. This is because it clusters together  words with strong related word vectors. 
 
For ecommerce sites, Wikipedia is priceless because will allow you to see what the other potential related products are under the same category or sub-category and you could pickup some fresh niche suggestion and even keywords for URL structure.
 

SEMrush

If you can afford the monthly fee – SEMrush is one SEO tool that is well worth every penny spent. SEMrush is by far one of my favorite tools to reverse engineer what others are doing or to quickly spy on successful models.
 
It allows you to quickly spy on all the keywords your top competitors are ranking for and which products are giving them good traffic. Simply reverse engineer what they are doing by uncovering all the hidden gems SEMrush lets you and you will be all set for a great SEO campaign.
 

Google Keyword Planner

Over the years this has changed and currently Google wont let you see the exact search volume for each niche, category or specific product name keyword that you want to research.
 
However, they will give you a range and more importantly the Adwords biddingCompetition Level“.
 
The latter is key here.
 
When the competition level is highyou know many people are competing and paying high amounts of pay-per-click for that keyword – thereby validating that it is a product with high commercial intent or value in terms of sales.
 
This is where you can quickly double check to see if a product will be popular or not (and like I said – the ones with high competition levels affirm the demand levels).
  

Choosing Your Keywords for Products and Categories

There are several important factors that go into selecting the final keywords to use for your products and category titles, urls and descriptions. 
 

Search Volume

This is by far the most important factor of them all. It tells you exactly how much the demand of your product is on the monthly basis (monthly search volume) – by showing you how many searches are performed on an average per month for the specific keyword in question.
 
However, the answer in and off itself is not sufficient. In some niches a figure of “100 average monthly searches” for a product may be too low, while in others it may be very high… while in some niches a result of 50,000 searches for a product may still be too low!
 
You will have to examine where this data fits for you on a case by case basis – including other factors like price, demand, profit, popularity, etc. 
 

Keyword-Product Relevancy and Buyer Intent Cycles

You may find a great keyword that somehow describes your product and that has high monthly search volumes.
 
However, the keyword you uncover may be more of an informative search query without any buying intent – thereby giving you almost zero sales and conversions.
 
This is because the people entering those keywords and not in the buying cycle but are simply in the information gathering cycle. 
 
You need to make sure your choice of keywords for your products and categories match the relevancy of content on your site for visitors who have the intent of buying from your e-commerce store.
 

Keyword Difficulty Levels

There are several tools in the market that will use their own internal proprietery algorithm and method for determining how difficult a keyword is to rank on top based on a variety of factors, including competitive levels. Some of these have been mentioned above.
 

Check Top Search Results for Optimization of Title, URL and Descriptions

You can simply search Google for your product as others would, and look at the results to see which and how many pages are optimized with the keywords in the Title and Descriptions.
 
The fewer the optimized pages in the SERP results – the larger is the opportunity for you! I also use Market Samurai to quickly get an estimate on how many pages in total around the web have been optimized with that keyword. 
 

Planning & Building Your Site Architecture

The way your pages are connected, linked up and displayed via site navigational elements is your site’s architecture – and it is important as much for any site as it is for e-commerce.  However, it gets harder to plan and accomplish as sites get bigger.
 
Proper site architecture not only improves usability, and user dwell times but also keeps the link juice flowing to the correct sections and pages.
 
Poor site architecture can hurt your site permanently unless you restructure the site and do proper 301 redirects that navigate bots and users to the correct pages as the enter and click around your site.
 
One of the key elements you should do is to build out the categories and product pages in such a way that there is no page on your site that cannot be reached from the root homepage within 3 clicks. 
 

Any page or product should be reachable within 3 clicks from your homepage!

 
While planning your site architecture for an ecommerce site its important that your approach is a bit flexible so you can scale your site to contain more products, niches, categories etc at a later stage (if you should choose to extend into more sub-niches or cross-over niches).
 
Adding excessive navigational elements that make it hard for users to browse to your product pages – can hurt your site in terms of usability and how Google sees your site.
 
Its also important that you SILO structure your categories, sub-categories and product pages in a manner that lets the link juice flow to the appropriate pages in the right manner without resulting in any “link juice leakage”.
 

Good Site Architecture – An Example

In this example I have only shown one layer of sub-categories when in reality there could be several sub-categories and sub-categories within that. That is there could be several layers of these each having their own section of product.
 
 
 
  • Note how sub-categories (and if you have more sub-categories within them) can all be reached directly with one-click (because they can be accessed via drop-downs on navigations). 
  • Note how the product URLs should be structured like this – /products/productname – and not structured like this – sitename.com/category/subcategory/productname
  • This is because if you structure it with the categories and sub-categories, then the URL can potentially get to be very long – should you have many layers of sub-categories, and that will cause issues with ranking in Google (and readability) as Google prefers shorter URLs and slugs. You will need to check your CMS and plugin that you’re building your site with, to see how to configure your permalink structure. With WordPress it is pretty easy to do 
  • When you build out your site, you must ensure that any product can be reached within 3 clicks of the homepage. So, you need to build out your product feeds and menus in the similar manner. In this example the product can be reached within 1 or 2 or 3 clicks –  as it can be accessed by first jumping to its sub-category feed page OR if the product is featured on the homepage for example – then it is just one-click away. 
 

Essentials Required for Good On-Page SEO

The on-page elements of an ecommerce site have to be as specific as possible and they have to be integrated in such a manner so as to entice the user to do one call-to-action only, which is to – click the “Add to Cart” button or “Buy Now” button.
 
Google is tracking these clicks (add-to-carts) and conversions – and will reward you with better ranking improvements the more it occurs, because when this occurs on your site – you are moving users towards completing their search intent. 
 

Optimizing Your SERP Listings

When your listing shows up in the SERPs you need to attract the right people – that is, people who are in the buying cycle (as mentioned above).
 
To do this you need to use “buying words” in your product titles and descriptions along with your product keywords. 
  
The aim is to stand out for the competition, and entice the click so your listing gets a higher CTR (click through Rate) in the SERP results – which in turns pushes your ranking higher as visitors come to your site and click the buy now button (of course you will need to ensure your bounce rates, dwell times and user intent is above the baseline average metrics of all the other results around you).
 
 
Here is an example SERP result with elements that you could work towards implementing.
 
 
Now, lets look at the various parts of this SERP result that can be optimized for better rankings and CTR…
 

META Title

Below is an example of a E-commerce Product Title that is well written.
 
Buy XYZ at 30% Off Limited Deal
 
As you can clearly see the word “buy” is used to invite only those in the buying cycle so that you get targeted visitors who terminate their search intent with a higher probability. Make sure you put the main keyword as much to the beginning of the title as you can.
 
Don’t ever repeat the product name or keyword in the Title or in the description (it should at the most appear only once in each). You may use LSI keywords in the Title and description. 
 
You could also use any other keywords like…
 
  • Cheap
  • Deals
  • Best
  • Online
  • Free shipping
  • Review
  
The “30% off and Limited Deal” words – are enticing the click and causing urgency. This improves the CTR.  
 
Some other words that attract the clicks could be –
 
  • Sale
  • Guarantee
  • Lowest Price
  • Overnight Shipping
  • Free Shipping
 

META Description

The description appears in the SERPs and is also there to entice the click to produce higher CTRs. Some other examples of descriptions you could use are as below and could be mixed into the title if appropriate.
 
Some example phrases you could mix in and use are –
 
  • The Best Prices Online. FREE Shipping for all Orders. Limited Stock. 
  • Get the best prices on XYZ today.
  • Save X% off on XYZ.
  • Click here to see exclusive deals on XYZ
  • Great selection of XYZ. Lowest Price Online – Guaranteed.
  • All of our XYZ stock are on sale right now.

A good tool to see how your SERP listing will look at when indexed by Google is this Google SEPR Snippet Optimization Tool.

 

Product Desctiption

Make sure you use at the very least 1000+ words across all the key products that you sell.
 
If you have 1000’s of products this may not be possible to do this for all of them – so you can typically choose the top 50 to 100 items.
 
Make sure you follow this, otherwise your site will be classified as having thin content of low value.
While writing your product description make sure its unique and not copied for the manufacturers site. You must refrain from using cut and paste descriptions and images for manufacturers site, even though you may have been given the right to do so. It just creates duplicate content which will stop your pages and site from ranking.
 
Aim to cover as many of the following as possible, on a per product level – 
 
  • The Main features
  • Product Specifications
  • What the product is made of 
  • How to use the product 
  • Mention any product warranties

 

Reviews, Ratings & Schema 

Sufficient or growing number of customer reviews and ratings, and implementation of Google’s product review schema tags. There is no guarantee that Google will display your rich snippets – but doing this will only increase your chances!
 

Keyword in Product Data

Your product name and primary keyword must appear at least 2 to 5 times across the page with LSI keywords appearing as well.
 
Visit Amazon or top ranking competitors product feed pages and product pages or even other tools such as the Google Keyword Planner inside Adwords, or your favorite keyword tool to get ideas for LSI keywords. See what is being used and how frequently – and then simply do the same by sprinkling your content with these words without breaking the flow of writing!
 

Images 

Images in ecommerce sites are very important. Google wants to see that you have taken the trouble to edit, create, shoot and touch up your own images and not just lift them off other sites.
 
Your images must be of high resolution and high quality and MUST be unique. No duplicate images! You can read this post on Image Optimzation for SEO.
 

Finding Broken Links

You have to regularly crawl and prune out bad links and URLs from your site. You can do this by running a tool like Screaming Frog or Xenu Link Sleuth – which are both site crawling and spidering tools.
 
Make sure you do this regularly – once a week or once a month depending on how often you update your site – to check if any new broken links are uncovered or formed.
 
You may want to create a custom 404 page if you like to handle broken links that exist on your site. You can also link to the main homepage prominently in your custom 404 page or even link to the main store categories section.
 

URLs and Slugs

While defining your URLs and slugs for all products and categories – make sure to use short URLs and slugs and avoid lengthy product slugs unless absolutely necessary.
 
Make sure your URL has your primary keyword / product name in it.
 

Internal Link Juice Flow

You need to make sure your internal linking profile (pages within your site that link to other pages) – consists of a higher number of internal links flowing to the most popular pages. This is how proper Site SILO structuring is done.
 
You can link to your most popular pages / products / categories from the highly visible Menu bars / sections. 
 
This is how you convey to Google and users clearly what the prime real estate pages and sections of your site are. 
 
You should also link to specific important products from within their category pages. These links should preferentially be contextual links.
 
You can also link to your key / important products from blog posts that you write. I often create huge single informative contextual pages which are well optimized and contain rich media with reviews, discussions, or information about the product or set of products in a category or within a niche – so that I can then go about doing off-page link building and outreach to influencers in an attempt to build more quality and powerful links to this “gigantic pages”.
 
Because I link to key products contextually within this page it gathers and passes massive amounts of internal link juice onward to the product pages – thereby letting the product pages themselves directly rank easily when people search for specific products with a buying intent.
 

Dynamic Navigation Elements

These are what show up when you navigate to specific categories or sub-categories in the sidebar widgets or top mega menu drop-downs.
 
Sometimes, the sub-sections themselves don’t show up in the navigation at higher levels, but are revealed when users browse into certain depth of category levels.
 
This not only is better user experience element but, avoids some clutter and keeps the link juice spread properly.
 

Interlinking Products and Categories for For Optimal Flow of Link Juice

Your internal links that appear within other product descriptions and that point to other products or categories in the site (like what happens inside Wikipedia) are the best possible links you can create internally to pass internal link juice.
 
A good benchmark is to have a minimum of 2 product recommendations / links to other products within these contextual descriptions of products.
 
Use the keywords as anchors while linking. The only danger is that if a product is discontinued you can end up with a broken internal link – which is why you need to run Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog on a regular basis – more so if you have a big ec-ommerce site.
 

Blog Area

Having a blog section in most ecommerce sites is essential so you can build up authority by giving value to readers through informative posts in your niche and/or about specific products.
 
You must post with a regular schedule and you need to ensure you write content that is rich with meaning and engages users. Just slapping out 300 words of boring commentary is not going to cut it these days and will infact result in loss of “quality score” in the eyes of Google. Make sure that each blog post is engaging and it should be at-least over 800 to 1200 words on an average. Make sure you read this post that addresses all the On-Page SEO Optimization items.
 

Navigation Menu

Try not to over-optimize your navigation bar with the main keywords of any category repeating over and over again within each subcategory navigation. 
 
As an example example (drop down structure of Navigation Bar) –
 
This is Not OK… 
 
Best Widget Holders
 – Blue Widget Holders
 – Red Widget Holders
 – Green Widget holders
 
 
OK…
 
Best Widget Holders
 – Blue Holders
 – Red Holders
 – Green Holders
 
 
also, OK…
 
Best Widget Holders
 – Blue 
 – Red
 – Green
 

Adding Elements To Product Pages

Each product page can have additional product units such as…
 
  • Reviews
  • Product Comparisons
  • Also seen at
 
These elements will make the content more rich and dynamic. Your store will also stand out from the competition if they are lacking these elements.  
 

Critical Ecommerce Elements within Product Pages

  • H1 – title of the item
  • H2 – descriptions, specifications, reviews etc
  • H2 – Reelvant sub-title inside the description
  • Relevant dynamic links (navigational links, recommend items)
  • Relevant External links (OBLs) to other related sites such as manufacturers site, outside reviews of product
  • Unique Photos and Video of the Product 
 

Essential Core Pages for Every Online Store

You e-commerce store  must have ALL the following pages. These pages are essential and if you do not have these sections, your ecommerce store will lose out on its “Quality Score” in the eyes of Google while it profiles trusted online stores.
 
  • Contact Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • About Us / Our Company  (Include Location/s)
  • Terms of Use / Terms of Service
  • Shipping Information / Shipping Policy
  • Returns / refund Policy
  • Cart
 

Other Supplementary Sections for An Online Store

Your site should have a blog, forum, and  / or support area for customers or potential customers.
 
You could create a sub-domain location for this at support.site.com or forum.site.com – but keep in mind that the link juice to these pages or any authority these sub-domains build up wont contribute to your main site.
 
If you do want it to add up then you will need to install the CMS in the subfolder iside your main domain, for example at – site.com/forum 
 
 

Fixing Technical SEO Issues

The very first thing I do when I take on a new client is audit their site.
 
One of the most important parts of an audit is to run a crawler like Screaming Frog that crawls the entire site and gives me a detailed and birds eye view on everything that is going on. Each tool has its own way of crawling and presenting the data. 
 
When I run the tools, I typically inspect things like…
 
  • 404 pages
  • Word count per page (gives you an overall idea of how thin or thick the content is)
  • Titles
  • Redirects
  • URLs Structure
  • Images
  • H1, H2 …etc tags per page
  • Missing META tags
  • Duplicate content pages (so I can use canonical tags to fix if absolutely necessary or no-index these pages)
  • Site speed, etc.

 

Some of the popular Site Crawl tools –

Here’s some popular tools that you can use to crawl entire sites and get data formatted in a neat way for detailed inspection. The first two are free and desktop based installs. 

And, finally on a closing note, I give to you…

The Perfect Ecommerce Product Page!

Coming Up Next…

If you get the things above right, you are going to be building an ecommerce buisiness for the long term. This is the very foundation of getting a solid start in SEO for ecommerce!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and I would love to hear your feedback or questions.
 
My next post will be an extension of this one that talks about how to go about doing off-page SEO for your ecommerce store and skyrocket your rankings!
 
Make sure to opt-in if you want the alert when I publish it, and if you want to get inside secrets that I don’t talk about openly in this blog!
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About the Author

” Do, or do not. There is no try.” – So that’s my favorite quote (for now at least). I dabble in all things tech, although I work a lot with SEO, Internet Marketing, eCommerce, eLearning, SAAS… yada yada yada the list goes on.

If you like what you read, just sign up. You never know what secrets of the universe I reveal when I’m down a couple of spicy woks.

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(3) comments

Grim

Absolutely amazing, such a big help. Thank you very much.

Reply
Jenny

Vishy – fantastic write up 🙂 Had a quick question about off-page backlinks. When would you start building those? Also would you advise PBN links to ecommerce stores?

Reply
    vishy

    I would build stronger links initially as a rule of thumb. Make sure they are from the same niche and in the same content cluster. If you can get some PPC traffic to your store – you will let the Google AI start measuring the quality of your store and its conversion rate and UI / UX factors – which is very important. Make sure you setup retargeting/remarketing and capture as many optin mails as you can – as that is traffic you can keep driving back. PBN links – sure but from strong premium domains (that you own). Never buy random links from random sellers unless its a throwaway site. Web2.0 links with good content are good too. Niche comments too. I’ll write about my comment content hijack technique shortly – but the name gives away some of the trick 🙂

    Reply
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