eCommerce SEO is a very common concern for many of our clients. Given the depth and breadth of their different product, category and transactional pages, their eCommerce websites tend to be much larger than a typical website. While many classic SEO best practices are still applicable, there are some crucial considerations that must be in play to see true success with SEO and eCommerce.
1. Keep it clean
There is a lot of advice out there on SEO, but you need to be savvy enough to understand which tactics will help, and which ones will be hurt, your rankings. Google is getting increasingly adept at ranking sites based on quality of content and relevance to search queries. “Black hat” SEO techniques often employ tricks to fool Google and other search engines into believing that there is more to a page than the user would actually see. If someone suggests that you add as many keywords as possible to a page, or that you should hide keywords using text colors that match your site’s background colors, stay away!
This post from Moz delves into deeper detail on the major black hat SEO tactics: Knowing Black Hat SEO. This is a must-read before you begin outlining your SEO strategy!
2. Remember your personas
You’re targeting a specific group of people with your offerings, and you need to fully understand the online behavior they exhibit when searching for products. There’s a certain push/pull interplay when it comes to your web traffic. Email marketing, social media sharing, and display ads are all strong sources of qualified traffic, but these visitors are often pushed to your site because something caught their eye. Conversely, a potential customer searching for a product is actually raising their hand, and admitting they need help. In this sense, your strong placement in search engine results pages (SERPs) will pull these types of visitors to your site. Better yet, since they’ve already sought you out, they’d be more likely to make a purchase!
To start effectively pulling traffic from Google, think about how your target audience raises their hand. Some folks know exactly what they want, and more often than not, a well-optimized product page will rank highly for your specific product. On the other hand, some visitors know they have a problem to solve, but don’t quite realize exactly what it is that will help them.
Let’s say you’re in the market for new hiking boots this summer. It rained during your last outing, and you realized your old boots can no longer keep you dry. At this point, finding the most waterproof boots is the top priority, not necessarily buying a specific brand or model. To find the perfect boot, you’re likely to start with Google, trying a query like “waterproof hiking boots.” Or maybe, if you’ll get a bit more specific and give “GORE-TEX hiking boots” a go. I gave the first query a try and here were the results:
If you click through each of the top results – with the exception of REI – you’ll find one thing in common, which brings me to my next point.
3. Optimize your category pages
In my previous example, I stumbled onto several category pages – not specific product pages. These pages offer a ton of opportunity to retailers to build a larger story around the term that was just searched, and should be treated as individual homepages, not a middleman between your product pages. These pages need to be content rich, and place an emphasis on the keywords – especially in the page title – that echo the problem that a potential buyer might be looking to solve.
Deep links from category to product pages are also critical, not just for the SEO value of internal linking, but also for user experience. Going back to the hiking boot example, maybe I did search specifically for “GORE-TEX hiking boots.” A category page that clearly indicates which boots use the material would make my shopping experience much smoother. Product pages shouldn’t be the only location linked to, however. It’s critical to link to contextual content relating to the search query, such as blog posts, videos or pages specifically dedicated to a related topic – such as hiking tips.
Take a look at Merrell’s category page here and note the SEO rich page title, product links, and copy at the bottom of the page. Merrell also does a great job of linking to a hiking boots buyer’s guide, which only strengthens the site’s position in the eyes of Google.
4. Alt tags, all day
Google Image search also plays a very important role in pulling visitors to your site. Often times, potential customers are more visual in their online behavior and will search for photos of a product they’d like to buy first. This is especially true when researching any apparel or fashion products.
Alternate text (or, alt tags) is especially useful for sites with many products that fall into a single category. For example, if you have multiple photos of a given product within a product page, tag each image with alt text that reflects different features that people may be searching for.
For example: alt = “Merrell Pulsate – waterproof men’s hiking boots”
alt = “Merrell Pulsate – cold weather men’s hiking boots”
These are just a few tips to get you started, and to help you think a bit more high level about the way you pull potential customers to your site. As you explore SEO strategy further, consider how you can avoid duplicate content, and how you can manage product pages for unique challenges, such as out-of-stock or out-of-season items.