eCommerce marketers love organic traffic because every free user session is a potential sale. Unlike paid campaigns in search or social, organic users won’t cost a company any immediate direct marketing costs.
More often than not, however, businesses get caught in a holding pattern for SEO growth, unsure of how to build landing pages that draw qualified traffic and perform well in search. Unlike paid traffic, increasing your visibility organically isn’t just a question of increasing your advertising budget.
At Trinity Insight, we help eCommerce companies improve their search engine rankings. To help you with your business, we put together this guide of 20 tips to help you increase your site’s ranking potential. Using it, we hope to give you a baseline to compare your site with and identify where to focus your efforts this year and beyond.
Just a quick word of caution: We developed this report based on our strategic opinions of the market, guided by current developments, best practices, and data. What works for the industry as a whole, might not work for your site, and we cannot promise that you’ll see positive gains, even if you implement every change. Any changes you do to your website should be done carefully. This way you’ll see what works for you, and what doesn’t, and be able to adapt your strategy before any changes become permanent.
1) Let Search Engines Read Reviews
Unique, informative content on your product pages is one way that you can attract new customers and increase your visibility in search. One inexpensive way to do this is to allow your current customers to leave reviews of the product. These recommendations not only add useful context to the page, but a recent study found that 88% of customers trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations from a friend or family member.
Having these reviews on your site is great for users, but you want to make sure that search engines can read them as well. Content-rich reviews provide “fresh” updates to your pages, something Google rewards, as well as enhancing the context the search engine has to understand why it should show your product in a search result instead of one of your competitors.
A term like “top rated laptop under $500” is a great term to rank for organically and likely converts extremely well. Your reviews can unlock these type of keyword opportunities, but if your reviews are unable to be crawled by search bots your chances to rank for these types of phrases are very slim if not impossible.
When building out a review platform, choose one that embeds the review content directly into the HTML of your site. This guarantees that both users and search engines can read these endorsements, improving your long-tail keyword listing and hopefully increasing your qualified traffic leads.
2) Create Dynamic Meta Descriptions
The meta description appears directly below a page’s title in organic search. Google won’t read what you write in the meta-description, but your customers will. In addition to the title, it’s the only thing they’ll read about your site before deciding if you get their click, or if it goes to one of your competitors.
For eCommerce sites, offering thousands of products that often get replaced seasonally, finding a way to write engaging meta descriptions at scale is a challenge. Some companies invest the time creating a unique description for every page, but this is not always feasible if you’re a small business or sell tens of thousands of products online.
What smart SEO’s do is use “Concatenation schemas” to establish a set of rules to follow in efforts to automate meta description creation through generating unique content. This is a small piece of code that uses a predetermined set of “rules” to write relevant descriptions automatically.
In eCommerce, most retailers use a product’s category, sub-category, and name to write something unique to that page. For example, the following rule could be written for photography retailer B&H Photo:
Shop for PRODUCT NAME at BRAND. BRAND provides SUBCATEGORY and CATEGORY for all photography and electronics enthusiasts.
It turns out something like this…
Shop for Canon EOS Rebel at B&H Photo. B&H Photo provides DSLR Cameras and Digital Cameras for all photography and electronics enthusiasts.
Instead of taking days or weeks to update a category, this schema allows you to update your entire site automatically. With a little testing, you should be able to find a description that helps drive organic click-through rates.
3) Rel Prev/Next Tags For Category Pages
On category pages with thousands of products, the last thing you want to do is force a user to load everything at once and then scroll through listings until they find something they want. Most eCommerce websites solve this by breaking up the category into easily digestible pages with just a portion of the listings.
While this is great for customer experience, it can have a negative impact on organic performance since Google isn’t sure which category page to display for users in search results. The rel/prev tag can help solve this by letting Google and other search engines know how pages in a sequence are related to one another.
This gives your site two potential organic benefits. First, it enables the consolidation of parameters, such as link value, to be associated with a single category lancing page instead of spread out.
Secondly, it gives websites an alternative to a “view all” option if this is not something they have implemented.
Note: If you do have a “View All” option at your category level pages, we recommend using Canonicals as outlined by Google.
4) Embrace Schematic Markup
Semantic markup has the potential to be one of the most effective, but underutilized tools for eCommerce marketers today. These little snippet of code create rich results with star ratings and price tags directly in Google search results. While not a direct ranking factor, these visually pleasing additions give context for potential customers, and can increase click-through rate.
According to a study by Search Engine Land, structured markup appears in 36% of search results, in spite of the fact that only 0.5% of websites implemented it at the time.
Implementing structured markup on your website means adding a bit of code to your page templates from Schema.org. We’ve written about the benefits of Schema before, but it bears repeating: this is a potentially powerful tool for any business willing to set it up.
When properly integrated into your code, this technology enables Google to render a more effective search results and can positively influence click-through rate.
Incremental click through rate gains will vary depending on industry and competition, but websites sampled by the Search Engine Land study saw an average increase in 30% or higher in click through rates within mass implementations of Schema.org and semantic markup syntax.
Wondering where to start with semantic markup?
If you have it within your pages, go to the Google testing tool to make sure the search engine recognizes your code without returning any errors.
If you do not have it today, go to Schema.org, and identify the syntax designed for your industry. With a little coding, your web development team can systematically populate your pages with structures markup, helping to improve SERP visibility.
5) Keep Product Descriptions Unique
Having unique product descriptions for your content is a very effective way for most eCommerce sites to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Many websites, including Amazon.com, use the descriptions that come from the manufacture.
The quality of these descriptions varies from a series of bullet points to something that’s genuinely creative, but the problem is that they exist everywhere. One way that Google determines what page to serve to potential customers is by looking at the information that site provides. If your product description answers their question, they give you page a boost in rankings.
But, if you share your product descriptions with a major site like Amazon, Google assigns the value of that description to Amazon. Informative content only provides an SEO benefit if it’s unique.
Unique content became paramount following the quality algorithm update the search engine named “Panda.” The update focused on increasing the relevancy and quality of Google results by reducing the rankings of sites that presented “thin,” unoriginal content.
One of the first things that any CMO or digital marketer should know within their eCommerce SEO dataset is what percentage of total product pages (SKU’s) contain duplicated copy, particularly pages that have the same description as products offered by competitors.
Once you identify duplicated content, rewrite it from scratch. Doing this makes your content unique compared to your competitors, and well-written descriptions provide Google with additional context around what you’re selling, increasing the likelihood that they’ll show your product for relevant searches.
For smaller sites, this is a time consuming, but finite process. If you sell tens of thousands of products, however, this task might feel impossible. If this is the case, create content for your high margin/best selling products first. Then, develop a strategy to replace duplicated descriptions with unique ones in phases, or as new products get added to your lineup. Eventually, you’ll convert your entire site to new descriptions.
If you sell your products through other sources, such as an Amazon or eBay store, do not use your unique descriptions in these product feeds. Doing so will undo all the hard work you put into making them. Instead, use the manufacturer’s descriptions for these additional storefronts, unless you can take the time to create unique ones for them as well.
Well-written informative and original content is not only better for your customers, but it also increases the likelihood of Google serving your content above your competitors.
6) Only Index One Version Of Your Domain
In addition to making sure that the content on your website is unique, you want to make sure that there’s only one copy of any given page on your domain. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for companies, even large ones, to have their entire website duplicated.
This is usually happening when a site has an active “www” and “non-www version”. As an example:
http://mystore.com and http://www.mystore.com
This duplication leads to problems of distribution of ranking equity. As with product descriptions, the authority and value of your content is diluted across every duplicate page. This means your pages compete against one another in search, causing competitors with only one page for a given product to outrank you.
The amount of traffic this duplication costs you can vary depending on your industry and how competitive it is, but one of our clients saw a 50% reduction in organic traffic when a development sub domain, where they were testing new features, was accidentally indexed by Google.
This sub-domain was not blocked by Robots.txt files or gated behind a password-protected log-in wall, which meant that the search engine’s crawlers found the duplicated pages and split equity between them and the primary domain.
Upon re-directing all the old URLs and adding the domain to the robots file for the future, the organic loss of 50% immediately rebounded.
You can identify if you have multiple versions of your domain indexed in several different ways:
- Perform a crawl on your webpage using a tool like screaming frog, deepcrawl, or SEMRush
- Review Google Analytics data for organic landing pages to see if unwanted subdomains appear.
- Search Google’s index of your site by using advances modifiers, such as “site:mysite.com -inurl:www” to display all indexed pages on your site that are not located in the www subdomain.
Ideally, you’ll block test subdomains before creating them, but if you notice them in your index, be sure to update your robots.txt as quickly as possible.
7) Prioritize Speed
Google’s best practices say that a page should load in under 4 seconds, and the faster your site becomes, the better. Because of the growing availability of high-speed internet, users have an expectation that the content they want will be immediately available.
If your website takes too long to load, many customers will simply go back to the search results and find a competitor with a quicker website. For SEO, everyone needs to think fast and become an expert in identifying and correcting anything that slows your page speed down.
Google’s first hint that they meant to take page speed seriously came with their Caffeine update, which created a fresher, rapidly updating search index. In the years following this change, the studied user behavior to identify how people interacted with slow sites.
Bounce rate, load time, and time on site are three metrics that should be monitored in your analytics alongside traditional session metrics. While site speed is not directly a ranking signal, it does affect user signals, which Google uses to determine which site to serve up as a “best guess” to user queries.
Free tools, such as Web Page Test allow you to identify bottlenecks in page speed. As new technologies are developed, look for ways to improve you page speed using them. Google’s recently announced AMP project promises to provide much quicker loading on mobile devices, though it’s still not optimized for eCommerce.
8) Canonical URL’s
Unsurprisingly, eCommerce sites have the messiest and longest URLs you find online. The bigger the store, the worse it gets, as the inclusion of parameters from search and navigation systems can add millions of unique URL’s based on clickpaths.
At Trinity, we see large retailers with up to 1,000 URL variations for a single product. Thanks to search functionality, this outcome is often unavoidable, since the last thing you want to do to your customer is prevent them from finding the products they’re looking for.
Unfortunately, this scenario is troublesome for retailers and brands since it risks “wasting” Google’s time as the search engine’s crawlers track down and index every version of the URL.
If this is the case with your business, be sure to eliminate index bloat by using canonical tags as well as the parameter exclusion tool (which we discuss later).
9) Limit Architecture Depth
A key aspect of eCommerce SEO that is overlooked is the depth of architecture. Reducing the depth can increase rankings of core category pages by consolidating site equity.
Usually, best practice within SEO is to construct a more “horizontal” architecture, one that limits the depth of pages that Google has to absorb in order to find and isolate categories. The easiest way to think of this is like a tree, with your homepage as the trunk and your site’s categories and subcategories as branches that grow thinner the further they’re removed from the trunk.
In eCommerce, it’s not unusual to see architecture that seems to go on forever, such as: Home > Category > Sub-Category > Family > Brand > Product.
While this granular architecture might make sense for your products, it buries those smaller category pages, since each time you create a new “branch,” you’re making it less likely that Google will assign any value to that page, which means it is unlikely to rank in valuable searches.
Having “shallow” site architecture, with most pages located only one or two subcategories off the primary domain, on the other hand, increases the value Google assigns to each page. To go back to the tree metaphor, this gives your site thicker, stronger branches.
10) Fix Dead Links
Due to product cycling, it’s not uncommon to have your eCommerce
sites riddled with 404 errors (a page no longer exists) and/or broken pages within the user experience.
If a product goes out of stock, or if it’s replaced by a newer model, most webmasters remove the content on the old page, which means browsers won’t find any information if they attempt to navigate to it.
These 404 pages are often linked to by internal and external sources, and provide “traps” to Google crawlers, since if they try following too many broken links the bot gives up and abandons that section of your site entirely.
Products always go in and out of rotation within a retail brand and this is to be expected. What a retailer can do to reduce 404 pages is to establish a process to gracefully remove the old page from the Google index quickly.
11) Drive Social Signals
The lines between traditional digital marketing, customers service, and SEO have blurred tremendously with Social media over the past three years.
It’s evident that social media interactions help drive branded search, increase visibility, and help companies develop a community of active fans online.
While there is no direct correlation between social media and SEO, all other things being equal, the content with the greatest user interaction (via likes, shares, and tweets) tends to appear higher in search results.
More importantly, however, social media provides you with another opportunity to reach and interact with your users. Instead of a promotional platform, an official Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram gives you a way to answer questions or showcase the human “face” of your business. The most successful eCommerce companies on social media are those that effectively promote their brand in some unique way.
12) Dynamic Sitemaps
In eCommerce SEO, the brands that win are the ones that have success with the “long tail.” These search queries typically have four or more words and do not have a large search volume. What they lack in volume they make up for in revenue, however, as these terms typically have a higher conversion rate, since customers using them are generally closer to making a purchase.
Properly targeting the long tail often requires the creation of content deep within your site structure. While these pages might have the exact answers your customers are looking for, Google has to find them before they offer them in search results.
A great tactic to ensure that you are putting your best foot forward with the long tail is using dynamic sitemaps. Dynamic sitemaps are auto generated XML files that outline all URL’s on your website in a format that makes it easy for Google.
Essentially, you are giving search engines hints into how your pages are stored and classified to make their job easier when crawling.
Where brands typically fail is that sitemaps are outdated, have broken URL’s and are an afterthought within a technology operation. This represents a great opportunity for a retailer.
By ensuring that your eCommerce system creates dynamic sitemaps, auto generated at a certain frequency, preferably daily, you can feel more confident that Google gets the intelligence they need on a daily basis into the pages within your hierarchy so they can properly construct your live organic footprint.
13) The Value Of Being Local
Have physical stores? Then creating local pages can drive substantial SEO improvements to both branded local and non-branded local traffic.
These results appear when a user geographically near your store searches for products or services you offer. Instead of directing them to your eCommerce store, a local page informs customers about what to expect if they visit the physical store they’re near. This includes houses of operation, user reviews, the managers name, and the store phone number.
In the description of the store, be sure to highlight services and products that might be unique to that physical location (ex. Snowboard tuning) so that your business has a better chance of appearing in the search results of local customers looking for those services, such as “Boulder Snowboard
A key aspect of your local page strategy is how it is deployed. We see many brands utilizing hosted local solutions that publish the content within a sub-domain. An example would be Stores.MySite.com/Philadelphia.
This approach is sufficient and serves the purpose well for the user, but if you want maximum SEO benefit then the local site should appear on the root URL (ex.
Not only will this make your locations easier to discover for your users, but it allows Google to assign some of the equity your eCommerce store has to your physical location for the products they sell. This means that they are more likely to show your business location when local customers search for your products.
14) Promote Your Content
Content promotion is another neglected tactic by brands that can drive dramatic results to an SEO program.
By content promotion, we are referring to manual outreach that introduces your content to a publisher of your target audience.
If someone trusted by your customers or industry appreciates your content, they could share it with their audience, introducing you to their readers and creating a valuable backlink.
“Link building” as an automated process is dead, but links still matter. In today’s SEO environment, link quality trumps quantity. A link from a trusted writer, one that you build manually, counts for more than any number of artificial links placed in comment sections, forums, or related low-quality sites.
Where to start? To have a natural, authoritative link, you need to make something worth linking to. Whether this is an infographic, and interactive page, or original research, it has to be something that engages your readers.
By making your content educational and not promotional, partner publishers will be more open to presenting your content to their audience.
What’s the best part of this process? Once you get a relationship set and build trust with a publisher, you can revisit communication to get subsequent mentions and placements of your content in the months and years to come.
15) Consider Switching to HTTPS
In the last two years, Google has made a tremendous public effort to encourage the migration of domains to secure HTTPS environments.
In 2015, a variety of statements from the search engine stated that in instances in which two domains are theoretically “tied” algorithmically, the one with a secure domain will outright win from a ranking perspective.
Because there is a lack of clear empirical data stating absolute site-wide benefit to moving to secure environments, it is not something that is an absolute must for SEO in the short term.
Long term however, we recommend that your technical leadership review and document the internal costs and overall benefits of moving to a secure environment, to make your customer data and website more secure from hackers.
16) Help Google Understand Your Video
Videos are a great way to drive brand visibility. The world’s second largest search engine is YouTube and creating engaging, original content on the platform can help you attract an audience.
Many brands make a key mistake when constructing video –they don’t provide a written transcript of the audio. Google might see that you posted a video, but without the transcript they won’t have any context for what that clip is about.
If you are making videos frequently, plethoras of services exist to help you with this task.
Best practice for your video content would be to upload the video to YouTube and then create a page on your website where you can embed the clip, with the transcribed audio below it.
Make sure to format the text to make it easy to read. This text gives Google context for your video, but it’s also there for customers who might want to see what the clip is about before deciding to press play. Use headings to separate different ideas, and split the text into small, easily to skim paragraphs.
17) Know Your HTML
What it is: The elements within your webpage and underlining code that tells a customer’s browser how to display your content. Google also uses HTML to help understand the context of the content, and how it’s displayed to human visitors.
Why is it vital: Without HTML, your customers would see either a blank screen, or worse, a mass of illegible text. Title tags, meta descriptions, and headers all help a reader understand what your page is about, and how to quickly find the information that is most relevant to them. Some other elements, such as Alt tags on images, help browsers uses by blind customers understand the pictures you use even when they can’t see them.
Google uses your HTML tags to help the search engine understand the relevance of your content. In fact, effective use of HTML is a ranking factor since the easier it is for a crawler to determine what your content is about, the more likely Google is to show your page as a result for searchers looking for the information on your page.
18) Parameter Exclusions
Earlier in the article, we discussed the issue of duplication and how eCommerce systems can make things extremely difficult for search crawlers.
The canonical tag type examples we provided are the best way of dealing with these issues, but there are alternative ways to help Google in digesting your website.
Start with the “parameter exclusion tool” in Google search console. After getting your site authenticated by search console, this site section will provide you the ability to eliminate certain parameters from their crawl and your
URL’s (reducing your URL footprint which is a good thing).
Don’t eliminate parameters like color or size as these add value to users. Random parameters that add no value to users and are simply logic within your eCommerce system should be eliminated using the tool.
19) Identify Opportunity Pockets
If you are like most retailers, the rankings on your site vary widely.
Many category and product terms rank well while some are much deeper in the page listings within Google.
A core aspect of eCommerce SEO is to have a daily process to obtain these rankings in order to isolate which categories and product detail pages need focus and content efforts.
A tool like SEMRush allows you to get an updated view of your position in organic search, along with an estimate of how that positioning should translate into traffic. With a little technical experience, it’s even possible to integrate this data into a web-alerting document using their API.
This intelligence is very powerful when deciding where to put your limited resources when it comes to creating content at all site levels.
20) Answer Their Questions
Google gets more sophisticated every day. With the development of voice search more people are speaking into their phones to have Google tell them an answer.
Structuring an “answer” section of your site, like an FAQ, or even by using Schema markup to list answers directly on your product pages.
To understand what questions to answer, look at the historical data gathered by your on-site search. See the questions your users are already asking, and give them a way to find the information they need.
Be sure to make each question a unique page and answer the question as detailed as possible. Your fundamental
HTML should include the question as text into the code.