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E-commerce SEO

When it comes to e-commerce sites search engines have an extra hard time figuring out who should rank first for many reasons:

  • Users shop around so all the sites on the first page of the search results usually have a high click through rate
  • Users are checking prices so all the sites have a high bounce rate.
  • Products often use the manufacturer's description or almost not description at all so there is little to differentiate in content terms
  • Category pages contain even less content, just lists.
  • Links are thin on the ground because most e-commerce sites do what they say but don't make people want to blog about them / link to them / etc.

So when search engines ask themselves which site is 'better' than another they have little to go on ... unless you help them. So here's a step by step guide.

Step One: The usual suspects in e-commerce SEO

This page covers the extra ground in ecommerce SEO and it is assumed that you will already have read and understood the What is SEO section of this site so:

At this point you've probably done the same as most people who have cleaned up their site for search engines or perhaps just bought a good quality out of the box e-commerce solution or template.

Step Two: Check your sales conversion rate

If you're website is already getting visitors then you need to double check how well the site is performing. If your site is new skip this step for the moment.

A basic check is a sales conversion check. Your sales conversion rate is the number of unique visitors to your site divided by the number of transactions.

So let's say in November you had 20,000 unique visitors and that resulted in 200 sales. Your sales conversion rate would be 20,000 / 20 which is 1%.

What makes a good conversion rate varies by industry but generally speaking between 1% and 4% are respectable.

Remember a low rate could have two reasons:

  • Your site is attracting the wrong traffic.
  • Your site is not converting the right traffic.

Either way if you are getting some traffic to your site and your conversion rate is lower than 1% you need to resolve this before chasing more visitors.

Tracking down these issues requires a good knowledge of Google Analytics to make sure you carry out the right corrections rather than shooting in the dark. If you're not familiar with Analytics get learning or hire someone who is.

Step three: Add the obvious content

I'm often surprised to find e-commerce sites with no text description on the category pages and almost nothing to describe the product.

On both category and product pages you should have.

  1. A short description above the fold about 200 characters long that also matches the meta description.
  2. A longer description below the fold (on category pages below the categories and on product pages below all the important product information). You can link to this in the short description. This gives search engines something more to grab hold of but does not get in the way of shoppers who know what they want and just want to buy.

Step four: Quick fixes for e-commerce sites?

There are a few things you can do with limited effort that will make your site stand out from the crown. Consider:

  • Related products on product pages - take a leaf out of Amazon's book with its 'Customers who bought this also bought ....' type of content. This might help keep visitors on your site longer.
  • Reviews from verified customers - which adds unique content other visitors might want to read. Most off the shelf shopping carts have modules for this - expect about 1 review for every 100 sales.
  • Shipping calculators - to keep the visitor doing something on your site and remind them the product price they saw on other websites does not include shipping.
  • Links to text content - if you have a blog or knowledge base include links to related articles.
  • Useful content - FAQs, Glossaries, Infographics, How To guides, etc. Info that can keep visitors on your site for longer and motivate some to link to you.
  • Last gasp notice - Install a pop up module (not a pop up window) like Ouibounce which senses if the users mouse button is close to the back button.
  • etc.

Step Five: Where can you sell?

Step six below is a big one in terms of time or cost or both. So before you go there consider if SEO is ever going to be your answer. I have clients who sell almost all their product on Amazon or eBay or who get the vast majority of their buyers from Google shopping or Bing Ads or one of the many other paid traffic solutions out there. And they do it profitably.

In other words you don't have to rank at the top of the search engines to run a successful e-commerce business. This site is specifically about SEO so I won't ponder longer on it but you should consider it carefully as SEO can be every bit as expensive as these other channels.

Step Six: The big content solution

Quite often a few tweaks like the ones above are enough to move the needle and get your e-commerce site to stand out from others. However these tweaks are not new and because they work many have become standard features in shopping carts like Magento and X-Cart.

If more and more online shops have these built in then you need to have them just to keep up. To stand out you are going to need to do something exceptional - what I call 'The Big Content Solution'.

This is all about creating content so exceptional that it is going to get linked to and it is going to lead to visitors spending serious amounts of time on your site. The thing is it is going to be very resource intensive in cost and time but if you are going to show search engines that your e-commerce site is not the same as all the others, and the quick fixes above haven't worked, then you are all out of choices.

The most common Big Content solutions are:

  • A blog
  • A Knowledge Base
  • Writing Reviews
  • A Forum

Some of these might sound easy but before you go anywhere it is worth giving each one some serious thought.

Remember we are talking about exceptional content here. Something Rand Fishkin at Moz calls '10x content' (ten times better than anything else out there) when he said, "Good unique content needs to die". What he is driving at is that there is plenty of good unique content out there - to be better your content needs to go way beyond being good and unique!

Big Content with a blog?

Can you really write regularly and in an engaging way about your products or subjects related to your products. Most people can't.

"Make a blog", "Do a blog", "Write a blog" is the broken record advice handed out so often ... but blog about what?

A successful blog might be run by someone who runs a specialist online shop for 4x4 accessories but whose weekend hobby is off road racing. Lots of photographs from the races and entertaining chat can hit the mark when it comes to engaging internet users.

But the reality is that many e-commerce owners either don't have the right hobby or don't have the gift of the gab so before you go and install WordPress write 20 blog posts and show them to friends and family for some honest feedback.

If you can't find 20 things to write about stop there - blogging isn't for you. If the feedback on your work is anything but 'fantastic' either shelve the idea or consider employing a ghost writer who can take the basics of what you are trying to say and make it into something truly readable.

Big content with a knowledge base

The answers to most things are available on the web these days but that doesn't mean there isn't room for your knowledge base. While the answers are out there its worth considering:

  • Could you present the information better (in infographics, images, videos, flow charts, slide shows, etc.)?
  • Could you lay the information out so it is more accessible?
  • Could you write what has been written but in a clearer way?

To make an exceptional knowledge base is a high bar to reach these days. Apart from being a concise writer you will need to be able to make professional graphics, possibly 3D models and video content.

The tools to do this are all out there and well within even the most limited budgets but the time needed to go through the learning curves is extensive.

On the flip side half cooked knowledge basis might prove useful to people but they are not going to be linked to and shared. Its very easy to spend weeks creating a knowledge base that does your rankings no good at all because really, in order to be exceptional, you need to spend months.

Big content with your reviews

If you're passionate about your products then you have opinions about them. Which one is best for what. Which ones fall short in which areas. The internet is dripping with reviews but most of them are just drivel.

Reviews that stand out are ones where people can see you have actually used the product, you've put the product through some hard times and, even though you sell the product, you are prepared to point out some of its negatives.

Let's take a Brand X bed linen set. Photograph it in its packaging, photograph it fitted to the bed, do up close photographs of the stitching and the patterns, photograph it being ironed, photograph the kids making a tent from it, etc.

Now write about it, the good and the bad. Users can easily see through an advertorial - nothing is all good. But bad doesn't have to be catastrophic - just honest things you noticed where Brand Y was better but Brand Z was worse or tips you thought of to make up for the downside.

Make the review into a film to share on YouTube, the photos for Pinterest, create a slideshow, etc., etc.

To write reviews people are going to link to and share and that people are going to read all the way to the bottom and that will give your visitors the confidence to buy from you because you are the expert is hard work.

People want to see that you have really owned this product, that you have really used it and really thought about it. Otherwise your reviews are just another one of a thousand on the web.

This is why the reviews that rank for products like mobile phones are often reviews that run for several pages covering multiple features in frank detail.

Engaging reviews take a great deal of time to put together and if you work with a product line that is constantly changing (because of fashion or technology) it is going to be ongoing work but many find this much easier than the blog option.

Big Content with a forum

If blogs, knowledge bases or reviews sound like hard work you may be tempted to create a forum instead. I mean why not get the public to create your content?

Its possible but there are pitfalls to be aware of.

  1. If there is a forum already out there how are you going to establish your one as better and attract people in. Users tend to prefer the room where people are already talking rather than the one next door which just has you in it.
  2. If there is no decent forum how are you going to attract people anyway so they are aware of your forum and will want to start up, or take part in, discussions. You will probably have to do a great deal of the early work (opening threads and even replying to them under a different user name) yourself to get the ball rolling.
  3. While your forum is in its infancy and has hardly any members what you will have is a constant stream of spammers registering so they can place links to their own websites or those of clients they are spamming for. Moderating spammers is a massive amount of work because they come in their droves and you will have to kick them out fast in order to give genuine people confidence to post.
  4. When visitors do start taking part how will you handle arguments, abusive behaviour, accusations between members?

The forum is anything but an easy option. In fact it is probably one of the hardest because you need to be on the ball with it non-stop. The control and moderation which well run forums are managed with are hardly noticeable until you try to do it yourself while those that don't manage it and are filled up with spam do not rank so you may never realise they exist!

Tim Hill SEO

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

If you need help simply get in touch.

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