Chapter 6
SEO for Ecommerce Businesses

You are here: Home The Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce SEO for Ecommerce Businesses

Chapter summary

SEO is a huge opportunity for ecommerce businesses. When managed correctly, an ecommerce website has massive potential to generate high volumes of organic search traffic because, by their very nature, ecommerce websites tend to have a lot of content, which is usually (and should be) well categorised and has clear metrics to monitor engagement (namely conversions) that let Google know how good those sites are.

At the same time though, ecommerce is an incredibly competitive area. This is because so many websites exist to sell products and it’s likely that, unless you’ve found a real niche, you’ll be coming up against a lot of similar businesses in the search results.

There’s also potential for things to go wrong if you haven’t managed the SEO of your ecommerce website well. With so many products, going in and out of stock, often having very similar variants and so on, there’s a risk that your website could fall victim to issues like duplicate content, an inefficient crawl or broken pages driven by out of stock products.

In this chapter, we’ll walk you through all you need to know about ecommerce SEO. If you are concerned or would like expert advice on managing your ecommerce SEO efforts, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Keyword research for ecommerce businesses

As with all variants of SEO, keyword research is an essential part of your ecommerce SEO strategy. To start to understand the opportunity available to your ecommerce business, invest some time in reviewing the terms your potential customers could be using to find products like yours.

Tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner remain useful, in spite of having been around for many years – you’ll need a Google Ads account to access its data. You can also use tools like Ahrefs, Moz, Keywords Everywhere and many more, the aim being to review different variations on terms your audience might use to describe your products to identify the one which represents the highest monthly search volume.

Of course, keyword research isn’t as simple as finding the highest volume terms and whacking them into your pages. Modern SEO requires you deliver the best possible experience for your users, so as well as considering search volumes, also invest time into making sure each term you use is the best representation of what you have to offer. To do this, review any data you have already (we covered this in chapter 1) and also look at the existing search results for the phrases you’re considering – if what appears in the search results pages is similar to your offering, it’s probably the right keyword but if not, it might be worth further research.

Prioritising your keyword research

One of the primary challenges of running an ecommerce business can lie in the fact that you’ll often have a huge number of products to manage. That’s not true of every ecommerce website of course (as you may only sell a small selection of products) but in any case, prioritising your research will help make the best use of your time.

If you think of your website as a pyramid, those items which sit at the top are the primary keywords or categories you want to target. All other content / product pages will sit below that and the broader the keywords and the deeper they go beneath each primary term, the more important the ‘pyramid’ will be considered to be overall. So if you have a primary category of ‘shoes’, you’ll want to identify the best terminology to use there and then branch out into other related terms such as ‘women’s shoes’, ‘running shoes’ and so on.

Prioritise your workload by focusing first on your categories and how best to optimise those. As per chapter 2, the categories you choose may well be logical to you, but it’s also a good idea to allow keyword research to steer the categorisation if it can open up bigger search marketing opportunities for you.

Do bear in mind though that, especially if yours is a newer ecommerce website, you’ll likely be competing in a much more competitive marketplace for those category terms. The basic theory is that there are far more people searching for, and therefore optimising for, something like ‘shoes’ than there are for ‘womens road running shoes wide fit’, for example. So though you do want to prioritise your research to your category pages first, you should also give time to what we call ‘long tail keywords’ (those which are more specific, as with the ‘womens road running shoes wide fit’ example) because those are often less competitive – and have a higher propensity to buy in most cases too.

Site structure in ecommerce SEO

The premise here is simple; once you have conducted your keyword research, you need to understand what category and product pages are necessary to include on your site. From there, you can connect everything together in a logical site structure that makes semantic sense.

The aim is to create a structure which is intuitive for customers to use, and where the way the pages are interconnected makes each page more optimised by association. Topic hierarchy and relevance should be made clear in the way you structure your site, which will help Google (and users) to understand where your areas of expertise lie and what your brand therefore deserves to be known for.

Practically speaking, we can think of this in terms of content ‘silos’. That means visualising your site as being split into sections relevant to each category, such as tables, beds and seating, let’s say. The way you portray this categorisation in your navigation and folder structure will communicate to Google what your primary areas of focus are. Here’s an example:

  • www.examplesite.com – this is the root domain
  • www.examplesite.com/tables/ – this is one folder into the site structure and, using the example given above, would be accompanied by www.examplesite.com/seating/ and www.examplesite.com/beds/
  • www.examplesite.com/tables/coffee/ – this is two folders into the site structure, with ‘coffee tables’ now appearing as a subfolder of ‘tables’; using this example, we may also introduce www.examplesite.com/tables/dining/ or www.examplesite.com/tables/office/

As per the example above, the deeper into the site structure you go, the less important (generally speaking) the page is considered to be. But also, the folder in which the page sits will be indicative of its topical relevance and, where more pages sit within a folder, it can be assumed by Google and users that the brand has a large range of product within that category and is therefore (generally speaking) a better search results for users searching for that category. That means that, if you have a website with 20 pages in the ‘tables’ folder vs one with just 2, it’s likely Google will consider the former to be the authority in ‘tables’ (if all else is equal).

Basic on page optimisation techniques for ecommerce businesses

While the basics of SEO are well documented across the web and therefore do not justify a detailed deep dive here, there are some fundamentals that you should seek to incorporate into your ecommerce site – and some pitfalls to avoid.

Using keywords in your content

It sounds simple, but the inclusion of keywords in your content is an essential step to ensuring Google (and users) understand what the page is about. That means incorporating your target keyword into your page title (H1) and throughout your descriptive content, utilising semantically related terms as well as the exact term you’re trying to appear for.

Often, ecommerce websites will use product codes in their headings, and this does little to serve an SEO need. Consider incorporating your product codes if you really need to, but prioritise the search term at the beginning so the user and search engines know what the product is quickly.

Unique product descriptions

If yours is an ecommerce business selling products produced elsewhere, it’s likely each product will be accompanied by a manufacturer provided product description.

While this might seem like a great idea and a time saver to avoid having to write unique descriptions of your own, the issue with using these provided descriptions is that other resellers are likely doing the same. This means the same content exists on your site just as it does your competitors. And, where all else is equal, Google will struggle to differentiate between your pages and to choose which to rank higher – which will likely result in both sites seeing lower search ranking positions.

Instead, it’s a worthwhile investment to create unique content for every product. Of course, this can be daunting if you have a lot of products to describe, but plan it into your content calendar to get through as much as possible in a logically prioritised manner.

You can also use automation to an extent to do this; this would involve crafting a ‘template’ of copy which has blank spaces to be filled from a database. You can then create ‘unique’ content and go back through it when you have time to create genuinely unique copy for each of your contents.

You might also consider inviting user generated content to support this effort. If you know yours is a popular product, you can encourage users to leave reviews and then display those reviews on your product pages to create uniqueness from your competitors.

User over search engine

Modern ecommerce SEO calls for a user-focused approach. Gone are the days where you sculpt your on-page content purely to satisfy the search engine. While it’s still massively important to include keywords amongst the rudimentary SEO components – your title tags, meta descriptions, URLs, header tags and body copy, for instance – it’s just as critical to engage your customers.

To develop this idea further, try expanding your copy to detail the benefits of your products and the benefits your customer will experience when they purchase them from you. It’s all about communicating your USPs and value proposition amongst an SEO content strategy.

The above approach isn’t meant to undermine SEO best practise. A user-centric dynamic just allows for you to make further strategic and informed decisions. Take duplicate content, for instance – whilst search engines devalue you copying and pasting content from other sites (a strategy that’s still utilised by many ecommerce sites), users won’t appreciate this, either. It devalues your digital presence and paints you as an untrustworthy and idle retailer. By qualifying decisions on the user just as much as the search engines, you can make for a robust SEO strategy overall.

Topic analysis is also important and another component of modern SEO methodologies. This is where a simple process of competitor research comes into play. By physically searching for the keywords you wish to rank for, you can visualise how competitors sculpt their content to satisfy these searches. Not only will this reveal keyword intent, it’ll also enable you to visualise the types of language used and how to better your content so it conquers the ecommerce SEO landscape.

Technical considerations for ecommerce websites

While your content needs to be primarily constructed with the user in mind, this isn’t to say search-specific tactics are dead. They still have a place and technical SEO is testament to that. A site is, afterall, a technical construct and its crawled by search engines which are run by AI frameworks – if that doesn’t beg for a technical lead, then we don’t know what does!

Ensure your ecommerce site utilises the following for a technically sound infrastructure. Consider the following a mini SEO audit for your ecommerce site:

XML Sitemap

First thing’s first, ensure your ecommerce site has an XML sitemap. Usually found via the directory /sitemap.xml, this presents search engines with a list of all pages indexable on your site. Ensuring your XML sitemap is up-to-date should be part of your usual content rotation schedule. Include pages that have recently been pushed live and remove those that are no longer part of your content offering.

Robots.txt

Whilst ensuring that you have a robots.txt file (navigable by placing /robots.txt at the end of your domain), you need to ensure that every disallowed directory has been done so for a reason.

Straight off the bat, you want to check whether your customer login pages and checkout pages have been disallowed, as these serve no real purpose in search and may even pose security risks.

Disallow: /checkout/
Disallow: /customer/

Meta Robots

Although several meta robots tags exist, the ones you need to look out for are the “noindex” and the “nofollow” meta tag. The former instructs search engines not to index pages while the latter instructs search engines not to follow, or pass link equity to, the links that appear on that tagged page. An immediate consideration is determine whether any of your pages have been noindexed and/or nofollowed and, if so, why they have been tagged in this way.

Canonical tags

Canonical tags allow you to further control the technical duplicate content that’s occurring across your site. However, unlike meta robots tags, they allow you to preserve internal link equity. Best practices eCommerce SEO dictates that every page on your ecommerce site features a canonical tag. However, where you point your canonical tags is entirely up to you. It simply depends on which versions of a page you want indexing.

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.myecommercesite.com/” />

By and large, most pages on your ecommerce site will self-canonicalise to avoid any duplicate content issues occurring via query strings (through product filtering) or incorrect domain handling.

However, a popular application for canonical tags in ecommerce is to reduce duplicate content across product pages and category pages. Take the example below for instance, where the same product page can be found across 3 URLs:

URL #1: https://www.myecommercesite.com/product-a
URL #2: https://www.myecommercesite.com/category-a/product-a
URL #3: https://www.myecommercesite.com/category-b/product-a

This is a typical instance of duplicate content across ecommerce since the same product page content can be found across so many URLs. While most CMS’s should solve this problem out-the-box, it’s a great example nevertheless as it allows us to visualise the application of canonical tags.

The solution here is for all 3 URLs to utilise a canonical tag that points to URL #1. This allows for “product a” to be nested under as many category pages as necessary for user experience without incurring duplicate content issues from search engines.

Redirects

Implementing 301 redirects across your ecommerce site allows you to avoid crawl errors, which can be found within Google’s Search Console. Crawl errors tend to occur from removed pages. Fixing them can improve user experience and consolidate link equity. In most cases, 301 permanent redirects are preferred over 302 temporary redirects as the former allow link equity to pass. This is especially the case within ecommerce as you may be handling lots of crawl errors and redirects at once, affecting much more link equity to your standard lead generation site.

While 302 redirects should rarely be used, one application of them is when you have to temporarily remove a product, for example, because it’s out of stock. A 302 redirect will be honoured by search engines in this instance but only if you have the intention of reintroducing the product at a later date.

Site speed

Site speed has always been an important technical factor, even before the mobile revolution. A slow site will not only take longer for a search engine to crawl but it will also result in a frustrating shopping experience for your customers. It’s paramount, therefore, that your ecommerce site offers a smooth and speedy navigational experience.

Whilst you can use industry tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom to determine the speed of each of your webpages, simply using your judgement can work just as well. So, if it feels slow, fix it!

HTTPS

While implementing an SSL certificate has numerous usability and security benefits, including increased customer trust, HTTPS is now considered a ranking factor by Google. It’s all a strategy for Google to make the web more secure.

While ecommerce sites typically have the shopping cart journey under the https:// protocol, it’s now considered best practise to have the entirety of your site using an SSL certificate. Once you have https:// activated across your site, it’s important to register this via Search Console. From there, you also need to ensure the http:// variant successfully 301 redirects to the https:/// variant.

Impression’s Aaron Dicks has written at length about the value of https:// to website design. We recommend starting here if you’re keen to find out more about the subject.

Cross-selling and upselling

Cross-selling and upselling are product recommendation techniques typically utilised within the ecommerce industry. When implemented correctly, these strategies can be a highly effective driver in boosting your unit per traction (UPT), average transaction value (ATV) and ultimately, your revenue. Forrester’s research analyst, Sucharita Mulpuru, even suggests that cross-selling and upselling are responsible for approximately 10-30% of all ecommerce revenues.

With the strategies being undoubtedly important, let’s unpack both techniques to see how they differ and their application.

Cross-selling

Cross-selling is the strategy of suggesting an accompanying product to an original product your customers have shown purchase intent towards. Whether your customers have already added the original items to their shopping basket or they’re simply browsing that product’s landing page, there are several checkpoints on an ecommerce site where you can display cross-selling opportunities. The key with cross-selling is that the suggested products need to be both logical and relatable to the original product in order for the customer to justify an additional purchase.

Amazon are arguably the leaders in ecommerce cross-selling since they execute the strategy perfectly. For example, if a shopper browses their site for digital cameras, Amazon suggests a wide array of additional products on each respective digital camera’s product page.

Though the suggested product are relatable to the shopper’s core product, another interesting observation is their price point. Amazon are not suggesting anything of great value here, rather, the products are affordable. They actually serve to increase the usability of the original product in question. For example, suggesting a compact case will help the customer protect their digital camera while offering a storage card will enable the photographer to take more photos on the move. Both of these products are substantially cheaper than the digital camera so it’s a modest cross sell for Amazon to offer their customers.

Although their price-points aren’t high, the potential then lies when you scale this strategy to the entirety of their product range. For Amazon, this must be a substantial amount of income considering how many product pages they have.  Understanding what the affordable products are and how to present them through your user journey is therefore key in successful cross-selling implementation.

Most cross-selling opportunities usually lie within the core product’s accessory product(s). For example, the accessory products below are all related to their core product and thus, serve as justifiable products to cross-sell.

  • Batteries in addition to many electronic goods
  • Knitwear accessories like scarfs, beanies and gloves in addition to a winter jacket
  • Speedometers, puncture repair kits and bike in addition to bicycles
  • Pumps in addition to ball sports
  • Guitar strings, capo and tuner in addition to an acoustic guitar
  • Insurance when purchasing electronic good, e.g. mobile phones, tablets, PCs, tablets

Upselling

Upselling is the strategy of suggesting an alternative, higher valued product to the original product a customer is showing purchase intent towards. These are largely typical with electronic retailers where the customer is giving the opportunity to upgrade or customise their product selection

While Amazon can be considered leaders in cross-selling, Apple can certainly consider themselves leaders in upselling. Their approach is nothing overt, instead, it serves to inform their customers on their technology better. Upselling is actually noticeable throughout the entirety of their user journey too, even starting with each of their four core products having a corresponding compare pages:

However, their Mac Pro pages are perhaps the most indicative of the brand’s focus on upselling. When the customer proceeds to buy a Mac Pro, for example, they’re introduced to two styles of computer, the Quad-Core variant and the 6-Core variant.

Once the user decides which Mac Pro variant they wish to purchase, they can then customise their selection further, choosing from an array of different processors, memory options, storage options and graphic cards available.

Each customisable item even comes with its own guide, for example, “Which processor is right for you?”. This enables Apple’s customers to determine which upgrade is right for their specific needs. It’s these types of details that makes their upselling strategy justified. It’s nothing intrusive and doesn’t serve to dissuade the customer, rather, users are given options that could genuinely make improvements to their purchased products in accordance to why they were purchasing that product in the first place.

Taking inspiration from the case studies above, it’s important to consider the following when implementing cross-selling and upselling strategies into your ecommerce site:

The price-point

In order to make your recommendations work, you need to consider the price at which your additional products are being sold. Amazon’s cross-selling works because they’re offering products that are cheaper than the original product. It’s considered best practise with cross-selling and upselling to not let the ATV of your purchase exceed 25% more than the original product’s RRP.

The chosen products

Ensure that what is being up- and cross-sold is relevant to the original product that’s been selected. The examples given above work because customers genuinely may want an affordable SD card for their digital camera, or they may want additional storage with their Mac Pro. GoDaddy have a notoriously bad upselling and cross-selling strategy since they bombard their customers will literally all sorts of recommendation, many entirely superfluous to the original selection. Don’t take your customer for granted and remember to be reasonable with what you’re recommending them.

SEO and Internal Linking

You may be reading this guide to upselling and cross-selling to see determine whether it’s even worth implementing the strategies into your own ecommerce site. The perks actually go way beyond directly influencing your revenue streams. Cross-selling in particular, is a great method of getting your product pages to rank higher in SERPs.

This is due to the internal linking benefits involved. It’s worthwhile, therefore, to consider your key products amongst your “Customers also bought…” sections to influence that potential organic boost.

Link building to ecommerce websites

SEO is broadly comprised of three key ‘pillars’, these being technical, content and links.

The third – links – is all about building the authority of your website by encouraging external websites to talk about and recommend it in the form of links pointing from their site to yours. Essentially, every link is a vote and, where all else is equal, the website with the most votes will win out.

Of course, it’s very rare that all other factors would be equal and it’s essential you invest in your technical and content pillars too. However, link building is where we can support SEO goals while also building awareness amongst new audiences by using techniques derived from other tactics like PR (public relations), so is often an area where brands are excited to invest.

The different types of link building

There are a broad away of strategies and techniques that can be taken to link build. Not all websites are the same, which means approaches link building should be undertaken accordingly to a website’s individual needs and assets.

Below, are three example link building approaches that can be taken for an e-commerce site:

Writing guest posts for industry related websites

The guest post approach is a great way to shout out about your particular knowledge and expertise through written content, whilst building links! This strategy can get your content across to a particular target audience niche, which can then lead to referral traffic as a result of your articles success.

Offering a product or service for review on a 3rd party website

E-commerce stores want to be getting their products out in front of their target audience. Utilising the product review approach can mean that an earned piece of content can be created to feature your product or service. For e-commerce businesses, this can not only be  a great approach for gaining coverage for your products, but it can be a great way of link building too.

Usually, you won’t have to offer much other than the product itself and a couple of descriptive lines about the product.

Earning links through great on-site content

By creating great industry relevant on-site content, your website can serve as a resource for customers and professionals within your industry. This technique might be a bit more challenging than guest blogging or sending products for review, but getting featured for great on-site content can be really rewarding.

Finding target websites

When link building, it’s important to build a list of potential website’s who can potentially be link opportunities. There are many ways to identify target opportunities, but below, are two different ways:

Running a competitor backlinks analysis

Scoping your competitor’s link building efforts can be a great way to scope our potential opportunities who have been open to feature your competitors, which means that they could be willing to feature your website.

Using tools such as the Moz Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs, you will be able to run crawl of website’s backlink profile. With this information, you can start to get an idea of where your competitors have been featured, with reference to the quality of these websites.

Gaging an opportunity’s value

Finding opportunities is one thing, but we want to make sure that backlinks to our sites are going to be of value. Getting backlinks in a quantity over quality approach will not only reduce the effectiveness of link building, but it can actually do harm to a site’s ranking performance.

Analysing by estimated traffic

For an opportunity to be good, the potential website should get a reasonable amount of traffic in order for it to hold value. Ensuring this, means that the opportunity would have the potential to bring referral traffic to your website, as of successful link building.

Using SEM Rush, you can analyse a potential website’s estimated organic and paid traffic. This metric will give you a good indication of the quality of the potential opportunity, or, if the website actually gets any traffic and it’s just been made for link hosting purposes (which do more harm than good to site rankings).

Identifying “do-follow” opportunities

Getting “do-follow” links will be more rewarding for your website’s strength in your backlink profile. Therefore, it’s important to gage whether or not a potential opportunity tends to host “do-follow” backlinks.

By doing a quick inspection of the source code on-page, you can identify whether or not they use the “nofollow” attribute when hosting links.

With this example, the following article proves to use the “nofollow” attribute, which means the feature wouldn’t pass on any link equity as being part of a website’s backlink profile (although, not all link building is about gaining link equity, as referral traffic, brand mentions, can be just as important).

If a website does host followed links, the source code would simply show you href=[URL] and the rest of the html.

Further link building opportunities

There are many ways to build links to an ecommerce website and we’ve shared a small selection here. In the next chapter, we’ll go into more detail on how to use digital PR to earn links to your ecommerce website.

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