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Online sales topped $341 billion in the United States in 2015, more than a third of all retail sales that year, and a 14.6% increase from 2014. This makes it the sixth straight year of double-digit growth for eCommerce revenue. That’s a pretty substantial pie.
However, with at least 110,000 ecommerce companies in 2014, the competition can get pretty fierce. If you’re an eCommerce company either looking to boost your sales, or just getting started, you need to start by turning your attention to organic search traffic and SEO.
Why Does SEO Matter for eCommerce?
Optimizing your website for organic search traffic is vital for your sales. Here are some numbers laying out the role search engines play in the online sales process:
- 44% of people begin shopping with an online search.
- Almost a third of eCommerce traffic comes from search engine results pages.
- 26% of online purchases come from organic search traffic.
- The top-ranked page in Google SERPs get 32.5% of search traffic, almost double the share that goes to the second-ranked page. The top five pages get 75% of the traffic. The top 10 get 90%.
To put that in terms of dollars and cents, search engine traffic has a hand in about $150 billion in revenue and millions of unique users (82 million monthly users for Amazon alone). So if you want to compete you need to rank, and rank highly.
Keyword research is a foundational step of on page SEO. If your goal is to rank highly in search results, you need to know what your potential customers are looking for and then build your site to include those keywords. For eCommerce sites, your keyword research will also influence how you build your site architecture and URLs. You really do need to take this step seriously.
The first step of keyword research is coming up with a seed list of keywords. When starting this step, look to your category and product pages. Think of them as landing pages for your visitors — generally speaking, the majority of your traffic and conversions will come through these pages. Then ask yourself, what search terms would you use to find products in those categories (or subcategories)? Don’t stick to just the basic one-word searches — think of long-tail keywords with up to four or five words to make sure you’re targeting in-market searchers.
After you’ve brainstormed a solid list of keywords, it’s time to expand it. There are lots of keyword research tools out there that will help you come up with an expanded list of keywords by appending every letter of the alphabet to your keyword and scraping Google’s suggested keywords. This will help you find keywords that more accurately reflect what your potential customers are searching for.
There are other tools you can use to find related keywords straight from the source: search engines.
Google Keyword Planner
Part of Google’s AdWords paid platform, Keyword Planner, was originally built to help advertisers do keyword research for their paid campaigns (don’t worry — it’s free to sign up and use). However, it’s also a great tool for organic keyword research. It can provide you with information regarding keywords’ popularity and competitiveness on Google.
Once you’ve got an AdWords account, Keyword Planner is available in the Tools tabs at the top of the page. You can use the search for new keywords to find a list of relevant keywords and identify monthly search volume.
If you’ve got a CSV of keywords from a tool like Ubersuggest, upload them under ‘Get search volume data and trends’ to find their average monthly searches, competition and suggested bid.
It’s worth noting that while Keyword Tool’s competitiveness and suggested bids are AdWords-specific metrics, you can still use them to extrapolate organic search data. Keywords are highly competitive and have high bids because they demonstrate searchers’ commercial intent — there’s money to be made from them. So you can usually correlate highly competitive keywords to suggested bids to keywords that in-market people are searching for. Be careful, though, to avoid targeting overly competitive keywords; if they’re too general you’ll struggle to rank against the big players in your industry and wind up with high bounce rates and low conversion rates.
The Keyword Planner tool is also a good opportunity to come up with some latent semantic index (LSI) keywords. LSI keywords are words or phrases that are synonyms or topically relevant to your keyword. For example if your keyword is [bedspreads], your LSI keywords could be [bedding] or [duvet cover]. Search Keyword Planner’s Keyword ideas and Ad group ideas to find inspiration for LSI keywords.
Bing Webmaster Tools
Bing Webmaster Tool’s Keyword Research feature works in much the same way as Google’s Keyword Planner. After you enter a keyword and select a region and language, Bing will come back with up to six months’ worth of search volume and historical trends. It will also generate a list of related keywords.
Use the Search Keywords section under Reports & Data to find which keywords are currently bringing traffic to your site. See how you’re performing for your targeted keywords, and maybe uncover any that you didn’t realize you were ranking for. This report includes clicks, impressions, click through rate (CTR), average position in Bing and average click position.
Google Search Console
Find your Search Analytics report in Google Search Console under Search Traffic. Like Bing Search Keywords, Search Analytics lets you find which keywords brought traffic to your site in the previous 90 days and includes clicks, impressions, CTR and average search position. Search Console, though, lets you slice and dice your data to make it even more useful. You can filter the report to see which keywords drive the most traffic to a category page or what your most popular mobile keywords are.
Filter by query to see performance for your branded keywords or keywords that include specific words like a category or product. Compare by dates to measure weekly or monthly progress and spot trends. This graph will help you answer important questions like “how are my branded keywords doing month-to-month?”, “what keywords are driving traffic to my product pages?” or “how are people finding me on mobile search?”
On Page SEO
Now that you’ve got a list of keywords, it’s time to put them into your product and category pages. A well-optimized eCommerce page includes three main elements: the title tag, meta description and page content.
Title tags are a bit of HTML used by browsers in tab titles and bookmark descriptions, by social media sites when displaying links posted by users and by search engines when displaying search snippets. They are also one of the most important elements of on page SEO; include your page’s most important keyword here. Search engines rely heavily on title tags to tell them what the content on the page is about and therefore the relevance of the page to a searched keyword.
Obviously, you want to include your page’s primary keyword in the title tag. However, for an eCommerce site, that’s not always enough. You should also add in commercial modifiers to help you show up in long-tail keyword searches, which indicate that a searcher is more likely to convert. Some common shopping terms to include in your title tags are:
- Free shipping (if you actually offer it)
If you sell men’s shoes, your title tag could look like:
<title>Men’s Dress Shoes on Sale with Free Shipping</title>
Meta descriptions used to be important for your SEO, but Google doesn’t directly rely on them much anymore. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important for your SEO. A signal search engines do rely on is CTR, and meta descriptions can play an integral part in maximizing clicks.
Search engines use meta descriptions when creating search snippets, the page title, link and description that appear in search results. Keywords that appear in snippets are displayed in bold, drawing the user’s eye and mouse — think of them as little advertisements for your page. Try to include some keywords here (without packing, of course). You can see this in action below for the keyword [men’s brown leather shoes]:
Give your meta tags a bit of a boost by injecting some clickbaiting online shopping terms. This is the same idea as for your title tags, except meta descriptions give you more characters to work with. Some good commercial terms to use in your meta tags include:
- Best prices on _____ today.
- Get X% off _____ now.
- Find _______ on sale.
- Buy _______ and get FREE shipping today.
- Click here to get the best _______ at the lowest prices.
The meta description for your men’s dress shoes category page could be something along the lines of:
<meta>Looking for men’s dress shoes? Get top brand Oxfords, monks, derbies and loafers with FREE shipping! Click here to find the best deals on all styles & colors.</meta>
Creating content for your category and product pages can represent a challenge for your SEO efforts. How do you write quality content that not only attracts organic search traffic, but also converts it into sales?
First of all, you need to create longer, in-depth content. The average first page result has almost 2,000 words per page. Obviously that’s a lot to expect for every product page, and runs the risk of some serious reader fatigue. Set your sights on at least 1,000 words per page. That probably still sounds like a huge number but you’ll get there more easily than you think.
The first piece of content you should start with is the product description. It’s absolutely vital that you don’t just copy and paste the manufacturer’s product description. If you do this, you’ll end up publishing duplicate content and won’t even make it onto the SERPs.
When writing your description, keep your target keyword list handy. Mention your primary keyword three to five times throughout the description. You don’t need to worry about how densely the keyword is used, just using it a few times (3–5 is ideal) will tell the search engine what the page is about. This is also a great place to include a few of the LSI keywords you came up with earlier.
Take the time to think about how many different versions of this page you’ve created. Depending on your platform you could have unique URLs for different product versions such as color, size or material, each displaying the same product description and/or reviews.
If you find yourself in this situation, start by consolidating the different versions onto a single page with the different options listed on the page or in a drop down menu. Use 301 redirects and the rel="canonical” tag to automatically reroute traffic and link juice to the consolidated product page. If your eCommerce platform doesn’t let you do this, consider switching to one that does, like Shopify or Magento.
Ideally, after you’ve written your product description you’ll only need a few hundred more words to reach that 1,000-word threshold. That’s where product reviews come in. Amazon’s guidelines for customer reviews puts the ideal length at 75 to 100 words per review.
Once you’ve got four or five reviews, you’ll be approaching the ideal length of quality, on-topic content to appear in Google’s first page results. Product reviews bring the added bonus of boosting your conversions: adding just one customer review boosts sales by 10%. They’ll also keep your page “alive,” which encourages search engines to crawl your page more often and provides an overall SEO lift.
Use your customer product reviews to stand out in search results pages by implementing rich snippets on your page. Use Schema markup on your product pages to add the review information to your search snippet:
There’s no guarantee Google or Bing will include your structured data, but they can’t if you don’t include it. For more help on adding structured data markup to your page, check out Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Use Google Search Console’s Structured Data area under Search Appearance to make sure the search engine can find your Schema.org makeup.
Wrapping It All Up
At the end of the day, everything you do to your site comes down to one thing: driving sales. As we established in the beginning of this piece, if you’re an eCommerce site, a large portion of your sales are starting off as organic search engine traffic. But in order to take advantage of the benefits organic traffic has to offer, you need to focus on your SEO.
Remember: Search engine optimization isn’t an overnight process. Nor is it a set and forget it deal. Search engines, and your competitors, are constantly making changes that you’ll need to stay on top of to keep your strategy up to date. However, with the right on page adjustments and content optimizations, you’ll find that your efforts can more than pay off with an increase in qualified, targeted traffic that converts into sales and revenue.
How have you optimized your eCommerce sites for search engines? What on page tips or tricks have you used to drive the most sales?