by Eric Landmann
Director of Ecommerce
Nearly every website owner has some awareness of the need to prioritize Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but that is doubly true for ecommerce sites. The internet is an incredibly competitive marketplace and the easier you can make it for shoppers to find precisely what they are looking for, the more likely you are to win the sale.
While the tactics and tools for pursuing SEO may vary depending on the product, the market or the platform, the fundamental principles apply to any ecommerce site. Whether you are running Magento, Shopify, Woocommerce, or any other platform the principles are the same, only the implementation may be a bit different.
One important fact that many site owners overlook is that search results that are “organic” (appearing in Google search results that are not ads) are free. When the site is configured properly and best practices are followed, you receive the benefits of free listings for which the impact on sales volume can dramatically exceed that of paid advertising.
Let’s Get Started… The following examples come from two Earthling clients that have successfully captured very high-ranking search terms; both sites rank page 1, position 1 for their targeted terms.
Understanding SEO Problems and Solutions
Search engine optimization (SEO) has its own terminology, techniques and practices. Unfortunately many SEO techniques are opaque – It’s a “let’s try this and see what happens” situation. But delays and wasted effort can be mitigated by implementing the correct extensions, doing analysis with a good monitoring tool, possibly engaging a developer in the process, and iterating the process while measuring the results.
Improving your search engine rank will take time to fine-tune – results are not immediate. But some improvements can frequently be seen in a matter of days. It depends upon the issue you want to address. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
Choosing and Implementing an SEO Extension
No matter which platform you use, there typically is a lack of some desirable SEO features. An SEO extension will add these missing features.
Choosing the best extension can be tricky because there are lots of options. The way an extension is installed, configured and implemented is unique to the platform you are running, whether it is Magento, WooCommerce or another ecommerce platform. An experienced developer can recommend which extension provides the best feature set to meet your needs, and then get it installed, configured, tested and provide training on basic usage.
An SEO extension for ecommerce sites, properly configured and with the content correctly specified, can get your search terms, and also your product images to appear on the Google search results page. Delivering product photos is significant because users are much more likely to click on a listing with a picture than just a plain text link. The Gressco example above shows that happening. It can also get that same product to appear on the “Shopping” link of the search results, complete with pricing and link to your product page. This is the true gold – delivering a clickable link with pricing.
Your site has an Analytics account, right? If you are like the majority of customers just becoming SEO-aware, your site probably has Analytics installed but you haven’t looked at it for awhile. If you do not have Analytics you will need to create an account on Google and register your site to get an Analytics property code. Describing how to do this can be found on Google’s site .
Using Google’s Search Console you can get visibility into what terms are being used to locate your site and products. That information can then be used in a feedback loop to inform the SEO goals and the tailoring of content to get the best results.
Using a Monitoring Tool
Moz and Semrush are two tools that will allow you to detect misconfigurations or items to improve. These are subscription services, with the basic level provided for free, however, they are limited to tracking only a small number of URLs (pages on your site) and the reporting is truncated. These tools are immensely valuable for helping you and your team make good decisions to improve SEO.
Setting SEO Goals
Part of the SEO process is to determine which search terms you want Google to pick up and index. There are a number of excellent resources available to help explain this process.  The “goals” part is to do your homework, choose some search terms, see where you currently rank, and attempt to get the rank higher.
Another less-visible goal that will almost certainly need attention is to fix the technical problems that may be happening on your page, such as:
- Critical crawler errors
- Missing canonical tag
- 4xx errors
- Duplicate content warnings
- Temporary redirects
- Duplicate titles
- Page load speed
- Incorrect or poor page structure
- Sitemap problems
- … and there are a lot more that potentially could be wrong
Search engines are notoriously fussy about page quality, and “flaws” will have a negative impact on your search rank. Some of the items in this list are relatively easy to solve, but for many of the others you will likely need a developer or your hosting provider to explain what the errors mean and help remedy the problems.
Develop an SEO Plan
An SEO plan doesn’t need to be complex to make improvements. Some things to consider when creating an SEO plan tailored for an ecommerce site are:
- Is your product mix stable? Or do you change products rapidly?
- Do you have items that go on sale periodically?
- Are you targeting special markets?
- How frequently does content on category pages change?
A good plan will include specific goals, actions to take, metrics to track results, and methods for responding to those results. By “specific” goals, we mean not “my site should rank higher’, but rather “we want to appear for these specific search terms on page 1”. Make sure that this work goes on a production schedule. It is an important marketing task that will yield long-term benefits. To ensure it gets done, make sure you include allowing adequate administrative staff time to go through the steps.
If you have “on sale” products and your goal is to get these products to rank higher, you should probably institute practices like having a “Sale” category with properly-configured data on that category page. The goal would be to get those products to show up with in x days of going live. A secondary content goal would be to deliver users to equivalent products if those products are sold out.
If your product mix is stable, products can slip down the ranks. So the goal would be to keep them toward the top of the search ranks by refreshing content. This takes editing and monitoring.
Advice Specific for Business-to-Business Sites
What is important to your client? Are there industry-specific terms that should be indexed? Perhaps your customers are interested in searching for part numbers, or particular product attributes that are unique to your industry. The answers to these questions should all factor into your SEO plans.
The benefits of improving your SEO are:
- Get found on Google for specific search terms
- See how your site ranks with your direct competition
- Set up best practices in your organization so it becomes automatic
- Ultimately increase sales or customer inquiries
- Tailor search terms that may be industry- or product-specific so your products get listed
What do you need to improve your SEO score?
- An understanding of SEO problems and solutions
- An SEO extension (plugin) for your site
- Some knowledge about how to use the tools
- Access to your Google Analytics
- A monitoring tool
- SEO goals
- A plan to monitor and respond (including staff time)
- An experienced developer
Engage a Developer
As mentioned above, you might need to engage your developer to install and configure extensions or plugins. If your site is running Woocommerce through WordPress, or Magento, or Drupal Commerce, then a developer needs to add the code to the codebase, push it out to a staging site, configure the extension, and run some quality assurance tests. It is a development process that needs careful attention.
If your site is on a hosted platform, there are still tasks that you most likely will need developers to assist with. Template page structure may need to be adjusted, configurations may need to be tweaked, hosting configuration may need to be changed, and other tasks.