The Guide to Ecommerce SEO

If you want to run a successful ecommerce site, you can’t ignore SEO. Organic search is a vital channel for delivering customers and growing your revenue. As the internet and ecommerce has gotten more competitive, being found on Google for your brand name isn’t enough. You need to outperform your competitors for categorical searches to help your users discover you when they are aware of their need but not your store.

Trying to figure out SEO can be a daunting task, but in this comprehensive guide to SEO for ecommerce sites, you’ll find actionable SEO recommendations based on my experience helping ecommerce sites with their SEO. I’ve designed this guide to take you through the entire process of optimizing your ecommerce site for search and included specific recommendations around problems that are unique to ecommerce sites.

 

Table of Contents

Note: In linking to resources and tools in this guide, I occasionally use affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I receive a small commission for referring you. Please know that I would never promote a product that I don’t believe in and would not use myself


Ecommerce Keyword Research

As with any form of SEO, keyword research is the basis and foundation for all other optimizations you will leverage – if you’re not targeting the right keywords, it really doesn’t matter how well optimized your site is since you won’t attract the right customers. Scale is the one point that separates ecommerce keyword research from keyword research in the general sense.

While you can perform keyword research for every single product and category page on your site, if you have a large number of pages on your website, this is not going to be an effective use of time. Rather, you should perform keyword research for a subset of your pages to determine a template keyword phrase that you can apply across all similar pages (product, category, review, etc).

 

Keyword Templates

For products, this template will typically be something along the lines of [brand] [product name] [product type], such as Arcteryx Beta AR Jacket. For categories, the typical keyword phrase mirrors the categories and faceted navigation – such as [modifier] [category] example: (shell jackets), or [modifier 1] [modifier 2] [category] (black shell jackets).

Many less authoritative, and newer, ecommerce sites will find they are not competitive enough rank for simply a product name or category. These sites will have to find keyword modifiers to include along with the product or category name. Modifiers might include words like “deals” or “on sale” (Arcteryx Beta AR Jacket on Sale).

Category KW Template With Modifier

While these modified product name keyword phrases will have much smaller search volumes, they are easily attainable, yielding more traffic than ranking poorly for high volume terms. To determine the competitiveness of the phrase, the Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool is a great starting place. However you should also manually review the SERPs in your ecommerce keyword research process to better understand your competition and whether you will be able to rank.

Developing a keyword phrase template for product and category pages is efficient, but since you are not individually reviewing each keyword phrase you will miss out on some opportunities. To minimize the missed opportunities stemming from using keyword phrase templates, you’ll want to manually research and create keyword phrases for your most important product and category pages.

This list of important pages should be a combination of high revenue, high margin, and high demand (search volume) pages.

The top pages typically represent 5% – 15% of the entire product/category matrix.

How to Find More Keywords

While many of your keywords will inherently be derived from your your products and categories, there is still the opportunity to optimize for even more keywords. These may be synonyms or search queries that are adjacent to your set of keywords that you haven’t discovered yet.

There are 3 ways to do this:

Scrape Google Search Suggest

Google has a ton of data on what users are searching for. If you are trying to discover additional keywords around a specific product that you sell, start by typing it into Google. They will often suggest related keywords that you probably want to rank for.
bedliner auto suggest
While you might not sell all of the products suggested, you still may benefit from ranking for these terms. You can find more auto suggested terms at the bottom of the page in the “related searches” module:
searches related to bedliner

If you want to collect as much data as possible from Google, try using a tool like KeywordTool.io. They will scrape hundreds of results for you and provide you with search volume data.

See what your competitors are ranking for

If you want to make sure you’re keeping up with your competitors and monitor what they are ranking for, a tool like SEMrush is indispensable. You can use SEMrush to:

See which keywords drive the most traffic to your competitors’ sites


*aff links to SEMrush above
 
 

See keywords your competitors rank for but you don’t

You can use the advanced filters in SEMrush to show keywords that your competitors rank well for but you don’t rank well for. These are often keywords you are not targeting or not targeting well.

*aff links to SEMrush above
 
 

Identify what your competitors’ top SEO landing pages are


*aff links to SEMrush above
 
 

Identify additional competitors to spy on


*aff links to SEMrush above
 
 

Scrape Competitors’ Keywords

The third good way to identify additional keywords is to scrape your competitors data. While this will often yield some overlap with data from a tool like SEMrush, you can often identify keywords that your competitors are targeting but are not yet ranking for.

You can use a tool like Screaming Frog to pull your competitors keywords in their and <h1> tags. It is often a good idea to look at competitors’ meta keywords tags as well – while these don’t benefit SEO, many sites still put the keywords they are targeting in this field which makes it super easy for you to snag their keywords. </p> <p><strong>Action Items:</strong><br /> <ul><br /> <li>Develop a keyword phrase template for product pages</li><br /> <li>Develop a keyword phrase template for category pages</li><br /> <li>Develop a keyword phrase template for review pages</li><br /> <li>Generate a list of your most important pages</li><br /> <li>Identify keyword phrases for top pages</li><br /> </ul><br /> <strong>Related Tools</strong><br /> <ul><br /> <li><a href=”http://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner”>Adwords Keyword Tool</a></li><br /> <li><a href=”http://ubersuggest.org/”>Uber Suggest</a></li><br /> <li><a href=”http://keywordtool.io”>Keyword Tool</a></li><br /> <li><a href=”http://moz.com/tools/keyword-difficulty”>Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool</a></li><br /> <li><a href=”/u/semrush-kwd”>SEM Rush Keyword Difficulty Tool</a> (aff link)</li><br /> <li>Guide to Keyword Research: <a href=”http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/keyword-research”>1</a>, <a href=”http://backlinko.com/keyword-research”>2</a>, <a href=”http://www.copyblogger.com/keyword-research/”>3</a></li><br /> </ul></p> <p></div></p> <p> <p class=”description”>Here you can create the content that will be used within the module.</p><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_disabled_on”>Disable on: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <div class=”et_pb_checkboxes_wrapper”><br /> <label><input type=”checkbox” class=”et_pb_checkbox_phone” value=”phone”> Phone</label><br/><br /> <label><input type=”checkbox” class=”et_pb_checkbox_tablet” value=”tablet”> Tablet</label><br/><br /> <label><input type=”checkbox” class=”et_pb_checkbox_desktop” value=”desktop”> 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et-pb-range-input et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet” data-default=”1.7em” value=”1.7em” data-device=”tablet” data-has_saved_value=”no” /><input id=”et_pb_text_line_height_phone” type=”text” class=”regular-text et-pb-range-input et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone” data-default=”1.7em” value=”1.7em” data-device=”phone” data-has_saved_value=”no” /><input id=”et_pb_text_line_height_last_edited” type=”hidden” class=”et_pb_mobile_last_edited_field” value=”” ><span class=”et-pb-mobile-settings-toggle”></span><span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_background_color”>Background Color: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <span class=”et-pb-custom-color-button et-pb-choose-custom-color-button”><span>Choose Custom Color</span></span><br /> <div class=”et-pb-custom-color-container et_pb_hidden”><br /> <input class=”et-pb-color-picker-hex et-pb-color-picker-hex-alpha” type=”text” data-alpha=”true” placeholder=”Hex Value” data-selected-value=”” value=”” /></p> <p> <input id=”et_pb_background_color” class=”et-pb-main-setting et-pb-custom-color-picker” type=”hidden” value=”” /><br /> <span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-custom-color-container –></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_background_image”>Background Image: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <input id=”et_pb_background_image” type=”text” class=”et-pb-main-setting regular-text et-pb-upload-field” value=”” /><br /> <input type=”button” class=”button button-upload et-pb-upload-button” value=”Upload an image” data-choose=”Choose a Background Image” data-update=”Set As Background” data-type=”image” /><span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_use_border_color”>Use Border: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <div class=”et_pb_yes_no_button_wrapper “></p> <p> <div class=”et_pb_yes_no_button et_pb_off_state”><br /> <span class=”et_pb_value_text et_pb_on_value”>Yes</span><br /> <span class=”et_pb_button_slider”></span><br /> <span class=”et_pb_value_text et_pb_off_value”>No</span><br /> </div></p> <p> <select name=”et_pb_use_border_color” id=”et_pb_use_border_color” class=”et-pb-main-setting regular-text et-pb-affects” data-affects=”#et_pb_border_color, #et_pb_border_width, #et_pb_border_style”><br /> <option value=”off” selected=”selected”>No</option><br /> <option value=”on”>Yes</option><br /> </select><br /> </div><span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option et-pb-depends” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_border_color”>Border Color: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <input id=”et_pb_border_color” class=”et-pb-color-picker-hex et-pb-main-setting” type=”text” maxlength=”7″ placeholder=”Hex Value” data-selected-value=”#ffffff” value=”#ffffff” data-default-color=”#ffffff” /><br /> <span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option et-pb-depends” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_border_width”>Border Width: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <input type=”range” class=”et-pb-main-setting et-pb-range” data-default=”1px” value=”1″ /><br /> <input id=”et_pb_border_width” type=”text” class=”regular-text et-pb-range-input” value=”1px” data-default=”1px” /><span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option et-pb-depends” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_border_style”>Border Style: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”></p> <p> <select name=”et_pb_border_style” id=”et_pb_border_style” class=”et-pb-main-setting”><br /> <option value=”solid” selected=”selected”>Solid</option><br /> <option value=”dotted”>Dotted</option><br /> <option value=”dashed”>Dashed</option><br /> <option value=”double”>Double</option><br /> <option value=”groove”>Groove</option><br /> <option value=”ridge”>Ridge</option><br /> <option value=”inset”>Inset</option><br /> <option value=”outset”>Outset</option><br /> </select><br /> <span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label class=”et_custom_margin_label”>Custom Margin: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”></p> <p> <div class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tabs”><br /> <a href=”#” class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tab et_pb_mobile_settings_active_tab” data-settings_tab=”desktop”><br /> Desktop<br /> </a><br /> <a href=”#” class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tab” data-settings_tab=”tablet”><br /> Tablet<br /> </a><br /> <a href=”#” class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tab” data-settings_tab=”phone”><br /> Smartphone<br /> </a><br /> </div></p> <p><div class=”et_custom_margin_padding”></p> <p> <label><br /> Top<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_top auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_top auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_top auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <label><br /> Right<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_right auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_right auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_right auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <label><br /> Bottom<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_bottom auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_bottom auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_bottom auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <label><br /> Left<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_left auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_left auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_left auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <input type=”hidden” name=”et_pb_custom_margin” data-default=”” id=”et_pb_custom_margin” class=”et_custom_margin_main et-pb-main-setting et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” value=”” /><br /> <input type=”hidden” name=”et_pb_custom_margin_tablet” data-default=”” id=”et_pb_custom_margin_tablet” class=”et-pb-main-setting et_custom_margin_main et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet” data-device=”tablet” value=”” data-has_saved_value=”no” /><br /> <input type=”hidden” name=”et_pb_custom_margin_phone” data-default=”” id=”et_pb_custom_margin_phone” class=”et-pb-main-setting et_custom_margin_main et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone” data-device=”phone” value=”” data-has_saved_value=”no” /><br /> <input id=”et_pb_custom_margin_last_edited” type=”hidden” class=”et_pb_mobile_last_edited_field” value=”” ><br /> </div> <!– .et_custom_margin_padding –><span class=”et-pb-mobile-settings-toggle”></span><span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label class=”et_custom_margin_label”>Custom Padding: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”></p> <p> <div class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tabs”><br /> <a href=”#” class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tab et_pb_mobile_settings_active_tab” data-settings_tab=”desktop”><br /> Desktop<br /> </a><br /> <a href=”#” class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tab” data-settings_tab=”tablet”><br /> Tablet<br /> </a><br /> <a href=”#” class=”et_pb_mobile_settings_tab” data-settings_tab=”phone”><br /> Smartphone<br /> </a><br /> </div></p> <p><div class=”et_custom_margin_padding”></p> <p> <label><br /> Top<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_top auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_top auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_top auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <label><br /> Right<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_right auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_right auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_right auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <label><br /> Bottom<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_bottom auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_bottom auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_bottom auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <label><br /> Left<br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_custom_margin_left auto_important et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” /></p> <p> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet et_custom_margin_left auto_important” data-device=”tablet” /><br /> <input type=”text” class=”et_custom_margin et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone et_custom_margin_left auto_important” data-device=”phone” /></p> <p> </label></p> <p> <input type=”hidden” name=”et_pb_custom_padding” data-default=”” id=”et_pb_custom_padding” class=”et_custom_margin_main et-pb-main-setting et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_desktop et_pb_setting_mobile_active” data-device=”desktop” value=”” /><br /> <input type=”hidden” name=”et_pb_custom_padding_tablet” data-default=”” id=”et_pb_custom_padding_tablet” class=”et-pb-main-setting et_custom_margin_main et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_tablet” data-device=”tablet” value=”” data-has_saved_value=”no” /><br /> <input type=”hidden” name=”et_pb_custom_padding_phone” data-default=”” id=”et_pb_custom_padding_phone” class=”et-pb-main-setting et_custom_margin_main et_pb_setting_mobile et_pb_setting_mobile_phone” data-device=”phone” value=”” data-has_saved_value=”no” /><br /> <input id=”et_pb_custom_padding_last_edited” type=”hidden” class=”et_pb_mobile_last_edited_field” value=”” ><br /> </div> <!– .et_custom_margin_padding –><span class=”et-pb-mobile-settings-toggle”></span><span class=”et-pb-reset-setting”></span></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-options-tab_advanced –><div class=”et-pb-options-tab et-pb-options-tab-custom_css”></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option et_pb_custom_css_regular” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_module_id”>CSS ID: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <input id=”et_pb_module_id” type=”text” class=”regular-text et-pb-main-setting” value=”” /></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option et_pb_custom_css_regular” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_module_class”>CSS Class: </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container”><br /> <input id=”et_pb_module_class” type=”text” class=”regular-text et-pb-main-setting” value=”” /></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_custom_css_before”>Before:<span>.et_pb_text_2:before</span> </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container et-pb-custom-css-option”><br /> <textarea class=”et-pb-main-setting large-text coderegular-text” rows=”4″ cols=”50″ id=”et_pb_custom_css_before”></textarea></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_custom_css_main_element”>Main Element:<span>.et_pb_text_2</span> </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container et-pb-custom-css-option”><br /> <textarea class=”et-pb-main-setting large-text coderegular-text” rows=”4″ cols=”50″ id=”et_pb_custom_css_main_element”></textarea></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option” tabindex=”-1″><br /> <label for=”et_pb_custom_css_after”>After:<span>.et_pb_text_2:after</span> </label></p> <p> <div class=”et-pb-option-container et-pb-custom-css-option”><br /> <textarea class=”et-pb-main-setting large-text coderegular-text” rows=”4″ cols=”50″ id=”et_pb_custom_css_after”></textarea></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-option-container –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-option –></p> <p> </div> <!– .et-pb-options-tab_custom_css –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-options-tabs –><br /> <div class=”et-pb-preview-tab”></div> <!– .et-pb-preview-tab –><br /> </div> <!– .et-pb-main-settings –></p> <p>


Onsite Optimization for Ecommerce

Onsite (on-page) optimization is one of the few optimizations that can yield a fast and significant impact with relatively low investment. In this process, we will be taking the keyword phrases we identified in the previous step and applying them to elements of our pages. The most important onsite elements for your ecommerce site are outlined below.

 

Content

Content is the most basic part of a web page, the most fundamental way that search engines evaluate what a page is about. If you can only use your keyword phrase in one element of your page, it should be the actual content on the page.

Content has the biggest impact on search engines associating your page with a given keyword phrase.

Implementing 200 words of optimized content instead simply having a sentence or two will have a dramatic impact. In one circumstance, this led to a 6x increase in organic traffic to the set of pages we optimized.

ecommerce seo - adding content to category pages

While you want to incorporate your keyword phrases into your content, you don’t want to “stuff” your pages. Typically a good approach to your ecommerce onsite optimization is to include the exact keyword phrase 2-3 times for 200 – 500 words of copy and then include a few secondary keyword phrases and variations of the original keyword phrase once.

The test is whether or not the content reads well. If it doesn’t, start over. Your content is as much (if not more) to convert users as it is for search engines. It doesn’t matter if you bring people to your page if they don’t buy anything.

 

Page Title

Page Title Example

In terms of importance, the page title is right behind the on-page content. You want to make sure your primary keyword phrase is in your page title. If we go back to the templates from the keyword section, they will likely end up looking something like:

Products: [brand] [product name] [product type] | Store Name

Categories: [modifier] [category] | Store Name

Review Pages: [brand] [product name] [product type] reviews | Store Name

 

H1 Tag

H1 Tag Example

As with the page title, it is important to include your primary keyword phrase into the page’s H1 tag. While it is ideal to use your exact primary keyword phrase in the H1 tag, the H1 doesn’t have to be limited to only include this phrase.

As such, if your keyword phrase is “laptop computers”, your H1 could be “browse laptop computers” or “high performance laptop computers”.

While the H1 tag is not as influential of a ranking factor as it once was, optimizing this field still helps to create topical relevance for the keyword phrases you are targeting.

 

URL

While the use of your keyword phrase in the URL is less influential than it was years ago, it still has an impact on organic performance. Further, the use of your keyword phrase in your URL can significantly increase a user’s perceived relevance of the page and its click through rate, improving your organic traffic.

That said, you may not want to change your URLs in all circumstances. Updating your URL structure necessitates that you do a 301 redirect. When you do the 301 redirect, you will likely lose 10% – 15% of equity and traffic associated with that URL. If your URLs are ok (crawlable, includes all or part of the keyword phrase, or variations of your keyword phrase), you’re typically better off not changing the ecommerce URL structure.

If you are starting up a site, you should try to optimize the URL structure for your ecommerce site before launch. Similarly, if you’re launching new pages, you should optimize your new URLs to ensure that you’re squeezing as much value out of your page as possible. If you have horrendous URLs that utilize random numbers and/or parameters, it will be worth it for you to revamp your URL structure in most circumstances.

 

Image Name

Incorporating the primary keyword phrase into your image name can help increase topical relevance of your pages and help with your performance in image search. While this isn’t likely to have a huge impact on your organic performance, optimizing your image names should still be done if the amount of work required is reasonable.

 

Image Alt Text

Alt Text Example

Similarly, the primary keyword phrase should be integrated into the alt text to help improve the topical relevance of the page. As with the image name, this won’t have a huge impact on the organic performance, it is another signal that helps reinforce the keyword association and will help improve your performance in image searches.

If you need to audit your existing pages for keyword inclusion, running a crawl in Screaming Frog will help collect data (URLs, page titles, h1 tags, etc) that will help in your audit.

 

Example

Below is a mockup showing these elements applied to a category page:

Amino - Ecommerce Page Elements Optimized

 

Action Items

  • Include at least 200 words of unique focused content
  • Optimize the on-page content
  • Optimize title tags
  • Optimize H1 tags
  • Optimize URL structures (sometimes)
  • Optimize image names
  • Optimize image alt text

 

Related Tools


Core Content

Content is integral not only to the organic performance of a page and site, but to your consumer’s purchase journey. While the product and category pages are core content for any ecommerce site, there are many more opportunities to build out useful content.

Over the next couple years, we will see an integrated content experience where there will be fewer central content centers on sites in favor of content access points across the majority of pages. This means that content will be accessible from different page types such as category, product detail, and review pages.

For example, on Tire Rack’s winter and snow tires category page, you can find links to content right next to links sending users to shopping. While their content has a dedicated “home”, they’ve created multiple points of entry to the content from relevant pages.

Content on Category Page Example

 

Soon we will see that most of the content on a page is tailored based on a user’s experience. In the example above, if the user had looked at all season tires and winter tires, we should be showing content that compares the two categories rather than showing generic content on winter tires.

As such, it is important not to simply think of content as an article. Content can take on several additional forms including video, interactive content pieces, or even infographics (provided they’re actually useful). Providing multiple forms of content will help connect and engage with a wider array of users who prefer to consumer different content formats.

 

Product Pages

On your product pages, you need to integrate content in different ways in order to bring in traffic and then convert it.  The sections below focus on different types of content that can be integrated across page types.

 

Product Descriptions & Specifications

Generally, you want to be as detailed as possible in your product details. This helps create topical relevance for search engines and equips users with the information needed to purchase the product. Typically, you should have a minimum of 200 words of content for the product descriptions from an SEO perspective.

 

Adding User Generated Content

You can also improve conversion and improve your organic performance by incorporating user generated content (UGC) onto your product pages. The added benefit of adding UGC to your site is that it helps fend off duplicate content problems (more on this below). There are two common ways to integrate UGC into your product pages: Reviews and Q&A.

When you add reviews to your site, you should never take reviews from other sites – this defeats the purpose of adding UGC to your product pages for SEO benefit. After a customer has purchased a product and had the opportunity to use it (typically a month or so after purchasing the product), follow up with them and ask them to leave a review.

If you add the opportunity for your users to ask questions about the product, email customers who have purchased the product asking them to answer the questions as they come in. Adding the ability for users to ask questions about the product creates very unique and compelling UGC that helps give people the confidence needed to purchase.

 

Related Content

As mentioned earlier, we’re going to see the integration of content across a site rather than being concentrated in one place – this includes product pages.

On product pages you should incorporate related content to help consumers learn more about purchasing this type of product and to visualize themselves using the product.

Evo does a great job with this; they incorporate their buying guides into their product pages to help their customers make the right choice.

Related Content Example

To help people make the purchase decision, you can feature content such as relevant buying guides. Note you should feature these content pieces, not copy and paste them onto the page. For example, on a miter saw product page, it would be useful to users to provide a general guide on buying a miter saw. You could also include an article on 10 inch miter saws vs 12 inch miter saws to help the customer decide which one better suites their needs. A review of the particular miter saw and reviews of similar miter saws would also be beneficial.

In addition to this purchase oriented content, you could also include how to’s and tutorials to make the user feel confident that purchasing the product will enable them to accomplish a task. While it is going to be difficult to feature every use case for a product, covering some of the most popular use cases would help improve the confidence in purchasing the product. Similarly, it will help visual consumers see themselves using the product.

 

Category Pages

Category pages end up being a significant source of duplicate and thin content as they typically have no real unique content.

From an SEO perspective, we want to integrate optimized content (content, <title>, H1) on category pages to help reinforce topical relevance and to stand apart from the competition. Again, it is a good idea to incorporate at least 200 words of optimized copy in order to help search engines understand what a page is about. If you’re able to incorporate more text this would be beneficial as it seems Google favors content heavy pages.

This is no small feat for many ecommerce sites. It’s best to start with the top category pages (by organic performance, revenue potential, and margin) if you’re unable to revamp all category pages.

In addition to the SEO opportunities, investing in category pages is a good opportunity to stand apart from competitors. As with the product pages, the category pages present an opportunity to create a rich experience where you can integrate content alongside products – This not only presents products to users but also serves to educate users to help them purchase the right product.

As with the product pages, we recommend incorporating everything from buying guides to how to’s.

 

Ecommerce Content Inspiration

Backcountry has done a great job of this. Their top level category pages (ex: snowboard page) integrates local guides, Q&A, video content on how to buy gear, and snowboard related blog posts. On some of their more specific category pages they have integrated relevant videos (ex: men’s down jackets page) or short content sections (ex: mountain bike helmets page).

While Sierra Designs should make a better attempt to put content on their sleeping bags page, they quickly display relevant products to users.

On the other hand, 5.11 Tactical incorporates SEO focused content to the bottom of the page (check out their backpacks page), but they could work to add content to engage and educate users.

 

Action Items

  • Write detailed and useful product descriptions
  • Add user generated content to product pages
  • Add relevant content and links to relevant content on product pages
  • Add relevant content and links to relevant content on category pages
  • Add 200+ words of optimized content to category pages

Ecommerce Content Marketing

Content might be a hard sell for a lot of ecommerce sites as it may seem auxiliary to the primary purpose of the site – to sell products. In reality, you should have content that targets users at different stages of the funnel. This helps bring in customers, convert them, and then retain them. Having content that addresses these three tasks will help you sell more.

Content is a significant investment. If you’re only halfway in, content will not be successful for you. You need to invest in not just creating content, but striving for your content to be the best on the web. Your content should span media types – written, visual, experiential. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will pay off.

 

Educational & How To

Educational content tends to be great for top of funnel acquisition as it is very SEO focused and centered around carefully selected keyword phrases. This has led to a lot of educational and review content from retailers and brands. The strategy has worked well for many ecommerce sites and brands.

If you search for “hiking boots”, you’ll see REI’s educational content on How to Choose Hiking Boots ranking very well.

How to Content Example

Creating content like this can have a huge impact on your organic performance – it is much easier to rank educational content than category pages for competitive keywords. Further, writing in-depth content will help bring in long tail traffic that a category page could never get.

While educational content helps educate a user about a product or a product type, it doesn’t inherently get the user into a conversion funnel like a category page would. There are three approaches that you can take to solve this problem.

The first is to include a link or button to shop for products related to the article. You can even go as far as highlighting a few of the top related products (similar to a related products box on a product details page).

The second option is to retarget people who visit educational and how to content with ultra specific ads across search, social, and display. This is very effective at getting the sale after you’ve educated the user.

The third approach is to create consideration content (content that helps move users down the funnel, teaching users that they have a problem you can help fix). This content can be featured in a related content widget at the bottom of the page.

While “how to” content may be less specific to a single product, there are a few upsides to how to content. How to content allows you to build up confidence in users to accomplish their mission at hand. This helps to inspire confidence in the user that they can accomplish their task, often necessitating purchases to facilitate the task or project. Providing high quality tutorials can help build trust with users, increasing the likelihood they will buy from you.

Further, how to content allows you to show the user all the products needed for the tutorial to get them onto the purchase part of the site. If they click through to products or category pages, you can then retarget the user to try and get the conversion.

Home Depot is a good example of a site producing quality tutorials. If you search for “how to install crown molding” they actually have two pages that rank well. The written tutorial does a better job of highlighting the tools required and moving consumers towards the purchase side of the site.

 

Comparative / Review / Q&A Content

The next group of content focuses on users who have moved beyond the high level education focused concepts and are working to understand differences between products. This content includes comparative, reviews, and Q&A content; it serves both acquisition and conversion.

Comparative content is great for helping people understand the difference between product categories, or products within a category. This can be very useful in technical niches, or niches that are not familiar for most consumers.

Bridgestone has done a great job developing useful comparative content to help people understand the difference between categories (winter tires vs all-season tires) as well as different products within a category (studded vs studless winter tires). As the content is more in-depth and lower in the funnel, you are more likely to drive users to the store and product side of the site than high level ecommerce content.

Comparative Content Example

As with the educational content, comparative content not only does great in search but is prime content to leverage for retargeting. Based off the products or categories featured, you can retarget visitors with ultra specific ads. With the knowledge of what choice a consumer is trying to make, you can provide very specific ads that competitors are unlikely to be able to match.

Review content is very similar, except that it focuses on one product, follows the same principles for retargeting.

 

Brand Focused Content

Though brand focused content won’t drive a ton of organic traffic to your site, it will help people like you and turn visitors into customers.

People do business with people, or the persona projected by a company. They choose brands based on how the brand’s perception compared to its competitors. This is what your brand-focused content is for. While you can’t get to know your customers through branded content (this is what social/community efforts are for) you can show your customers who you are and why they should buy from you. This doesn’t mean create a top 10 list of why people should buy from you, but rather open up and share about your brand.

What’s your brand’s personality? Do you give back to your community? What are your core values?

What will help people identify with and like your brand?

One of the best examples of this is REI – on their site they highlight their stewardship priorities, community partnerships, and their company story. Their values and initiatives resonate with many of their customers, making these customers more loyal.

While many companies have this content, it is stuck in “About” sections.  This content shouldn’t be hidden from customers. Instead there should be many access points. Highlight your values, sustainability program, story, or other “company” content that will resonate with users in prominent places. Put a banner in your sidebar, or showcase it on your product page.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to connect customers with your brand; don’t make them work to know you.

 

Action Items

  • Create how to, educational, comparative, review, and Q&A content
  • Highlight relevant products on your content pages
  • Set up retargeting ads for educational content

Create content to help customers connect with your brand


Ecommerce Duplicate Content

As a general rule of thumb, each page that you want to perform well in organic search should be primarily unique content – this means content that isn’t anywhere else on your site or anywhere else on the web. As search engines try to rank the original source of content, this helps with your rankings and helps to ward off penalties, such as Panda, associated with low content quality.

While there is no magic ratio for unique content vs duplicate content on a page, a good framework to think about this is – if all the duplicate content on the page were ignored:

  • Would your page provide enough information for Google to understand what your page is about and rank it well?
  • Is there information that would be valuable to visitors that is not available on (many) other websites?

Duplicate content presents a unique challenge for ecommerce sites and is why ecommerce sites can easily fall prey to Panda. If you have thousands (or millions) of products, it is a huge investment to create this much unique content. But, sites who do invest in content have a significant advantage over their competitors and typically perform better in search.

 

Product Descriptions

If you want your product pages to bring in organic visits, you need to get a significant amount of unique content onto these pages. The problem here is that most ecommerce sites utilize product descriptions and specifications provided by the product manufacturers. This results in duplicate content populating the majority of product pages on many sites.

Product Description Duplicate Content

To fix this, the product description should be completely re-written. While this is a huge cost, if you’re competing using duplicate content, you likely won’t rank well, unless you have an exceptionally authoritative site. Worst-case scenario is that you get very familiar with the Panda algorithm.

If you have a huge product catalog, this cost might seem really high and you might have a hard time convincing managers that you need to rewrite every product description. So start here:

  • Go to your analytics and see how many products have had at least five visits in the last 30 days and compare that to the total number of products on your site. Is the difference a big number? This should give you a good idea of how Google views the quality of your product pages.
  • Take 100 products (a mix of pages with and without traffic) and create unique descriptions to test the impact of this effort and create a case study to help you lobby for rewriting product descriptions.

To maximize the value and results yielded by your test, test this on high revenue, high margin products that rank on the second page or bottom of the first page.

There are several options, such as CrowdSource, for outsourcing product content, that typically produce adequate quality content.

 

Duplicate Products

Multiple versions of products is another one of the most commons sources of ecommerce duplicate content.

The image below is from a page on Banana Republic – you can see they have two product pages for the “Slim-Fit Multi-Check Utility Shirt”, one for grey and one for teal.

Ecommerce Duplicate Content

This is likely done to be able to show users the different colors the shirt comes in. While this was well intentioned, it can be very detrimental to SEO as a significant amount of duplicate content can be created this way.

The ideal solution would be to display images of each product on the category page, but have both the images point to a single URL where the user can choose between the colors, as depicted in the image below (Target).

ecommerce product page example - no duplicate content

If this single page solution is not viable, the next best option is to have a canonical version of the product and to set the canonical tag of all product variations to the canonical version. This is actually what Banana Republic did in the above example – both of the URLs canonical to this one.

 

URL Based Duplicate Content

Duplicate content can also be created systematically by some content management systems. This happens when a product is displayed in multiple categories and the product URL is based on the category (but is not “anchored” to any one category).

An example of this would be if a product was listed in both a jacket page and a brand page, the resulting URLs for the same product could be:

/jackets/product-id and /northface/product-id

 

Another common scenario is when the URL is based on the user’s click path. In this situation, the URL would be different when the user went to jackets and then North Face vs North Face then jackets:

/jackets/northface/product-id vs /northface/jackets/product-id

 

In short there are multiple URLs for the same product.

When this happens you first need to decide which URL you want to be the canonical URL. Typically, it is best to choose the URL based on the most external links, most organic entries, or the highest converting entry page. Then you should set the canonical tag on the duplicate points to the chosen canonical version.

 

Similar Category Pages

A frequent source of duplicate content on category pages is the creation of multiple category pages for the same topic. There are many reasons this happens and the most common is creating a category page for site navigation and another version of the same page to display in internal or external search results.

Even if these pages are different (different products, title tags, or one even has a sentence or two on it), it’s still duplicate content and compete with each other in search as they are focused on the same topic. There are two primary problems associated with having multiple similar category pages:

  • Search engines have to pick a version to show in search results and they often show the less favorable page
  • Link equity is split between multiple pages instead of being concentrated on one page, which makes both of the pages less likely to rank than if there was one stronger page

The simplest solution is to get rid of the extra category pages, 301 redirecting extra category pages to proper category page.

If this isn’t possible, the canonical tag on the variations should be set to point to the proper category page.

 

Action Items

  • Create unique product descriptions
  • Consolidate duplicate products into 1 page
  • Remove any URL based duplicate content
  • Remove redundant category pages

Ecommerce URLs & Parameters

While the optimization of URL structures (covered earlier) is helpful, another element to review are potential technical problems created by your URLs.

Though search engines have come a long way and no longer have issues with many URL structures (such as using underscores instead of dashes), parameters still pose a significant problem. Previously, search engines were largely confused by parameters; now search engines are able to crawl parameters which can lead to significant duplicate content problems, dilution of link equity, and wasting crawl bandwidth.

url parameters example

The four most common parameter types found on ecommerce sites are:

  • Tracking parameters (analytics, path/session based, etc)
  • Pagination
  • Filters
  • Product variations

Google will attempt to figure out whether a parameter is significant to resolve the duplicate content problem, but even if Google gets this right (and this is often a big if) we can still run into problems with diluting link equity and wasting crawl bandwidth.

There are four ways to attack parameter problems – the robots.txt file, the canonical tag, the noindex tag, and updating parameter handling in webmaster tools – there is no perfect solution though.

 

Robots.txt

The robots.txt file is the simplest solution and can often be the fastest solution to get implemented. You can use your robots.txt file to simply prevent search engines from crawling any parameters. To do this you have to identify the common parameter that you want keep from being indexed. Then simply add the following line of text to your robots.txt file:

Disallow: /*&parameter=

Learn more about blocking parameters in the interactive DistilledU module or in this Built Visible post.

There are a couple problems with this solution. The first is that adding a directive to the robots.txt file will not remove a URL from the index, it only prevents crawling. If you need to remove a URL from the index you should look into the noindex command, the canonical tag, or the Webmaster Tools URL Removal Tool. The second problem is that if you have any link equity associated with the parameter based URLs that you are linking to (such as if someone linked to a category page that has a filter applied or to a URL that has campaign tracking parameters) you will be orphaning this link equity.

If you are adding parameter based functionality to your site, you can effectively prevent pages from being indexed with the robots.txt command. Again, the downside is that any links generated to this pages will be lost and the link equity will not be associated with the page.

 

Canonical Tag

To employ the canonical tag, you will need to be able to modify the <head> section of every page. It works by telling search engines what the canonical, or best, URL for the page and the content is.

If your parameter URL was /mens/shoes&color=black and this was causing a duplicate content problem with your shoes category page (/mens/shoes), we could add the canonical tag on the mens/shoes page to point to:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://store.com/mens/shoes " />

Depending on how your site is set up, you may be able to apply the canonical tag when the filter is applied to canonical to a more relevant category page than the parameter-less version of the URL (ex: /mens/shoes/black vs /mens/shoes)

Implementing this solution should allow you to remove the parameter based URLs from the index, solving duplicate content issues (though it does not do this 100% of the time). Further, this solution would help consolidate any link equity with the parameter based URLs onto the proper URLs.

As the canonical tag is able to concentrate link equity, it is typically one of the optimal solutions for duplicate content problems.

That said, it is not without its drawbacks. The canonical tag doesn’t help managing crawl bandwidth at all. If you have a huge site with a lot of parameter based pages you could find Googlebot spending a lot of time on the wrong pages with this solution. To mitigate the crawling you’ll want to update the parameter settings in Google webmaster tools to ignore the parameters. This should help reduce crawl resources being wasted on your parameter pages though this is only a suggestion for Googlebot, not a directive.

 

Meta Robots Noindex Tag

The meta robots tag is another solution that requires being able to modify the <head> section of your site.  The sole function of this tag is directing search engines to refrain from indexing this page (or to remove this page from the index). To do this, simply add the following code to your <head> section of the page you want to prevent from being indexed:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,follow”>

While this is a great tool to prevent a page from being indexed, it has several limitations. The first is that you may not be able to make the tag only impact parameters. Your site configuration will determine whether the tag can be applied to parameter specific URLs or only the base URL. For many configurations, this is not the right solution because you want the base page indexed. It can be the right answer if you have two different versions of a page and you only want one indexed.

As with the canonical tag, this tag won’t prevent search engines from crawling URLs.

 

X Robots HTTP Header Noindex Tag

The X Robots HTTP Header works the same as the meta robots noindex tag, but it is applied in the HTTP headers rather than the <head> section. This is useful when you can’t access the <head> section of a site.

X Robots Noindex Duplicate Content

 

Webmaster Tools

The final option for preventing parameter based URL problems is to change how Google handles URL parameters in Google Webmaster Tools. To change these settings, sign into webmaster tools, click Crawl, and then URL Parameters.

WMT URL Parameters

The default behavior for any parameter that Google has detected is “Let Googlebot Decide”. To change how Google treats these parameters you will need to click edit. From there you will see the screen below where it asks what the parameter does.

URL Parameters - content

Select whether or not the parameter changes the content on the page. If you select that it does not change the content, simply click save. If the parameter does alter the content, you will have to tell Google what it does.

From there you can tell Google how to crawl URLs with the given parameter. If you’re having duplicate content problems as a result of parameters, you most likely want to select “No URLs”. This should prevent Google from crawling the URLs, much like the robots.txt directive.

URL Parameters - Block Content

 

Action Items

  • Determine whether parameters are causing duplicate content on your site
  • Review the current application of the canonical/robots.txt/meta robots/webmaster tools
  • Implement updates to the canonical/robots.txt/meta robots/webmaster tools if needed

Ecommerce Site Architecture & Internal Linking

There are three main purposes of your site architecture – to help users find what they want as efficiently as possible, to flow link equity to key pages throughout the site, and to aid search engines in discovering all of your pages.

 

Helping Users Accomplish Their Goal

Making it easy for users to find what they’re looking for is no small feat. While this is distinct from SEO, it is important and should be a main consideration when working on the site architecture.

Balance is critical. You don’t want to build a site architecture for SEO that either confuses or inhibits users. At the same time, you want to make sure you don’t build something that is awesome for users but is prohibits the flow of link equity to important pages or doesn’t help interior pages get indexed.

To determine the proper site architecture from a user perspective, you should utilize multiple research strategies to understand the ideal path of a user.

To start with, review your analytics data. In Google Analytics, the “Behavior Flow”, “Site Search”, “All Pages”, and “In Page Analytics” are all useful starting points. The goal here is to understand what pages consumers are trying to get to. With e-commerce sites, a frequent large problem is confusing taxonomies – things aren’t categorized the way that customers expect.

User Flow GA Report

If you want to understand what users are expecting, there is no real substitute for sitting down and watching your customers navigate your site. You can learn insights from both people who are return customers and people who have never seen your site before.

Heat mapping software is another favorite tool for understanding what people are trying to do on your site. Crazy Egg and Hot Jar both have very capable heat mapping features. While traditional analytics software packages can provide insights into user interactions, heat maps tend to provide a clearer picture of how your users are navigating your site.

While heat maps scale well and tell you what is happening, the data does not tell you the why behind the actions. This is another reason you should spend time sitting down with your customers to understand what they need to buy from you.

To get qualitative feedback to use for shaping your categorical structure and navigation, you can try tools such as User Testing and Feedback Army.

To truly understand how users and engaging with your site and why, you will need to use a mixture of the methods outlined above. You will have to synthesize data from multiple research points to understand how your site architecture should be structured.

 

Content Discovery

In order for search engines to index your site well, you should have a clickable path to every page you want indexed.

While Google uses a several different tools for indexation (xml sitemaps, social shares, etc), having a crawlable site with a clickable path to all pages that should be indexed is the foundation of all content discovery efforts.

This means your links must be in HTML and should not be in technologies like JavaScript or Flash. Though Google has made advances in their ability to understand content in these technologies, it shouldn’t be relied upon for your site architecture. Though Google has made significant advances in its crawling abilities, Bing is not nearly as strong as Google in its ability to handle JavaScript. In order to ensure maximum discovery from Google and Bing, make sure your links are delivered in HTML.

 

Passing Link Equity

Typically most link equity will be concentrated on the homepage. As such, it is critical that there is a clickable path down to all pages on the site – this will flow link equity from the top of the site down to all of the other pages.

As equity flows from one page to another, the amount of equity is reduced at each level. The diagram below shows the dilution of link equity throughout the different layers of the site.

flow of link equity

 

For this reason we typically want all important pages to be within three clicks of the homepage, such as:

> Category Page > Sub Category Page > Product

>Category Page > Pagination Page > Product

 

Internal Linking Structures

There are two primary linking structures for ecommerce site – vertical (or intra-category linking) and horizontal (or inter-category) linking. Intra-category linking structures link to other categories (or products from other categories) while inter-category linking structures link to other sub category pages or products within the same category.

Linking structures2

 

Integrating both types of linking structures is important to maximize the amount of link equity passed around the site, enabling optimal organic performance.

Intra-category linking is often achieved through automated structures such as:

  • Related products
  • Recently viewed products
  • Top rated products
  • Related brands
  • Similar categories
  • “You might also be interested in”
  • “Other people who viewed this product bought”

Inter-category linking is typically accomplished through navigation menus, but can also be done through the use of automated structures such as:

  • “You might also be interested in”
  • Related categories

Additionally, it is important to look for ways to integrate links from the content side of your site back to product and category pages. While your navigation will automatically generate links from all pages on your site, content pages included, it is important to look for additional ways to integrate links to additional pages.

 

Action Items

  • Review inter-category linking for opportunities
  • Review intra-category linking for opportunities
  • Develop updated internal linking strategy

 


SERP Snippet Optimization

If you already have the number one spot, how do you get more traffic? Optimize your search snippet. While your title tag is likely to be re-written about 30% of the time, you should work really hard on your snippet. This is your opportunity to sell yourself and get users to come to your page instead of your competitors.

I have seen 20% improvements in organic traffic from improving the search snippet.

The good news is that there is a relatively straight forward process to testing thanks to a tool called SERP Turkey. This tool will let you test different variations of your snippet to see what will generate the best click through rate.

SERP Turkey Snippet Optimization

 

While the test results typically don’t translate exactly (due to Google re-writing your snippet and test sample is not 100% accurate), there is a lot of opportunity to improve what you are doing.

 

SERP Turkey Example

 

If you’re not able to test your SERPs through SERP Turkey, you can leverage data from paid search efforts to find common themes in your snippets that correlate to higher CTRs or you can make changes to your titles and review changes in performance in Google Search Console. Siege Media has provided an overview of this method here.

While the space in your title tag is sacred, you do have a lot of opportunity to play the meta description. Highlighting unique features, reducing objections, and reasons to buy can significantly improve your CTR. Some examples are “free shipping”, “free returns”, “no hassle returns”, “#1 in x”, “risk free”, “best selection” and “lowest prices”.

 

Action Items

  • Identify pages that currently rank well
  • Review paid search data to identify common trends in ad snippets which are associated with higher click through rates
  • Leverage SERP Turkey to test revamped snippets for improved CTRs

Mobile Ecommerce SEO

While mobile compatibility is becoming increasingly important across the web, your mobile needs and recommendations will vary depending on your industry and customers. Your mobile site should be functional and it should be easy enough for your customers to purchase from you on their phone or a tablet. Even if people are unlikely to purchase when they are on their phone (such as if you have really expensive or complicated products), people are likely to be searching and browsing your site with future purchase intent.

mobile year over year traffic

(data from Define MG)

 

There are three options for mobile sites (responsive, mobile site, dynamic service.  All three of these options have the ability to perform well in organic search though responsive design is Google’s recommended solution.

Both responsive design and dynamic serving have a distinct advantage over a separate mobile site – all links will be concentrated on the same URL, reducing potential link dilution.

One important point to consider when deciding how to build out your mobile site is the use cases for each device. One such use case is the user is in a store trying to see if they are getting a good deal or to read reviews to verify what a sales person has told them.

Though this user is not likely to buy right at this moment, they have a very high intent and if you have a competitive price, they are likely to come back and buy from you. This means that features like “email this product to me” are important as are cross device retargeting efforts (and inherently adding user data to your analytics accounts).

You should talk to your customers to understand why they are on your site when they are mobile to create a mobile experience optimized for your customers.

An important mobile design consideration for ecommerce sites is balancing text and information on a mobile device. While having a lot of information on category and product pages is beneficial for search and helps consumers pick a product, it is important to consider the way in which the information is displayed on a phone or mobile device.

With such small screens, it can be difficult to navigate significant amounts of text on a page to find a product on a category page or the price, rating, or pictures on product pages.

You should design your mobile pages with a good understanding of your customer, their needs, and use cases in mind. With a clear understanding of your customer’s mobile intent and mobile needs, you can develop a mobile experience to facilitate a purchase, whether it is on their mobile device on a computer at a later point in time.

 

Action Items

  • Review analytics to understand how users are interacting with your mobile site
  • Survey mobile visitors to better understand their use cases and objectives on mobile
  • Audit your current mobile site (if applicable) to determine shortcomings
  • Develop a strategy to improve your mobile experience

HTTPS for Ecommerce Sites

https as a ranking factor

In August 2014, Google announced that https was now a ranking factor. When this was announced, many SEO’s performed tests and research which yielded no clear link between organic performance and whether a site uses https site-wide.

Shortly after Google’s announcement and no clear evidence of https impacting organic search results, Google’s John Mueller said “I wouldn’t expect any visible change when you move from http to https”.

As of now, there is no evidence that Google uses https as a ranking factor, but this may change in the future. For ecommerce sites, https as a ranking factor should be thought of like the site speed ranking factor: not a powerful (at least now) ranking factor, but is still very beneficial for users and conversion.

HTTPS as a universal ranking factor doesn’t really make a lot of sense. If a site doesn’t collect any personal information, there is no real need or advantage for a site to be secure. For this reason, it isn’t logical that https would be rolled out as a universal ranking factor.

We already know that Google treats different types of sites and pages differently, it would make sense that https as a ranking factor would be applied to some pages, but not others. When one of the goals of a page is for a user to give a company personal information, for instance any page where there is a buy button or submit form, it would arguably be beneficial for Google to make https a ranking factor.

For ecommerce sites, this means that it would likely be a good strategy to get ahead of the curve and migrate the entire site to https rather than only use https for checkout pages.

In addition to the hypothetical future ranking factor benefit, https has the potential to impact conversion. There have been numerous case studies that show security badges improve conversion rates for some sites. As consumers become more tech savvy and more security minded, it is not a huge leap to project that having your entire site in https would increase consumer confidence in your store and your conversion rate from the zero moment of truth.

There are several types of SSL certificates that you can acquire which vary in cost and the actual security level provided. If you’re not familiar with the different types, this is a great primer from Search Engine Land. Though you can get a free SSL certificate, if you are running an ecommerce site, you should really be running a paid SSL certificate (it’s not that much). An EV SSL certificate should be strongly considered by all serious ecommerce sites. This is the most rigorous SSL certificate and will display a green padlock in the URL bar and turn the address green.

 

Considerations for Migrating to HTTPS

Though Google recommends migrating your site to https, this is no small project and there are several factors that should be considered before migrating your ecommerce site to https.

 

Internal Linking

When you switch your site over to https, you will need to make sure all of your internal linking reflects this change. If your internal linking structures leverage the non-secure version of the website, then all of your pages will be flowing link equity to the non-canonical version of your site. This will likely lead to a decrease in organic performance if it is not corrected.

May sites leverage relative URL structures to avoid creating linking problems when moving from a staging server to the live server. If this is how your site is set up, then you’re automatically good to go on this front.

Make sure to review not only your main navigation, but also your related products/categories widgets and your content.

 

Canonical Tag & Href Lang Markup

As with your internal linking, you’ll want to verify that your canonical tags point to the secure version of all your URLs. If the canonical tag continues to point to the non-secure version of your URLs, you could end up with indexation problems if Google doesn’t ignore your canonical tag.

Similarly, you should verify your HREF Lang code references the secure URLs. While getting this wrong won’t lead to indexation problems, it will likely hinder the right URLs from showing up in international searches.

 

301 Redirects

As you are inherently changing all of your URLs (though you are “only” moving from http to https), your pages will need to be re-discovered and won’t have any link equity associated with them. To solve these problems, we need to implement 301 redirects that point from your old URLs to your new, secure, URLs.

When you implement a 301 redirect, a portion of the link equity is not passed. Typically this is about 10%. As such, it is common to see a loss in traffic (about 10%) due to the reduced amount of link equity associated with the page.

 

XML Sitemaps

It is also important to verify that your XML sitemaps list the secure version of your URLs. If your XML sitemaps continue to list the old, non-secure, URLs, the integrity of the XML sitemaps will eventually be degraded and search engines will likely start to ignore them.

While you will want to upgrade your sitemaps, it would also be beneficial to replicate all of your XML sitemaps and submit them in Webmaster Tools to help Google discover the 301 redirects pointing to the new version of your pages.

 

Action Items

If you are going to migrate your entire site to https:

  • Review links used in site navigation
  • Review links used in content
  • Review links used in related products/categories widgets
  • Establish 301 redirects the new version of the site
  • Update XML sitemaps
  • Create XML sitemaps with the old URLs to re-submit to WMT

Ecommerce XML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps are simply a list of URLs in a file that is fed to search engines to help them discover pages on your site. For ecommerce sites that have a search focused user navigation model (minimal site architecture and clickable navigation) XML sitemaps seem like a great solution as they help search engines discover products that don’t have a crawl-able path. This isn’t really the case though. While XML sitemaps help search engines find a page, they are unable to flow any link equity to pages. This makes XML sitemaps for ecommerce sites a band aid (at best) for poor site architecture.

In addition to helping search engines discover new pages, XML sitemaps can be an indexation diagnostic tool.

Google Webmaster Tools (WMT) will tell you the number of indexed pages for each XML sitemap that is submitted. Leveraging this information, we can create an indexation diagnostic tool to identify which parts of the site are not being indexed.

To do this, you need to create an XML sitemap for each important dimension of your site. While this will vary from site to site, it is often beneficial to have XML sitemaps for:

  • All top level category pages
  • All 2nd level sub category pages (and 3rd, 4th, etc)
  • All product pages
  • All URLs within each category
  • All URLs within each sub category
  • All content of a certain type (reviews, blog posts, expert advice, etc)

WMT XML Sitemaps Example

 

Once all the XML sitemaps for your ecommerce site have been created, submit them to WMT. You may have to wait several days to get indexation numbers as WMT typically has some lag time associated with most actions.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is a directional tool – it will tell you which direction to look in, but due to limitations of WMT – an inherent margin of error and the fact that Google does not actually tell you which URLs are not indexed.

 

Action Items

  • Develop XML sitemaps for key groups of pages
  • Name the XML sitemaps so that you will easily be able to identify what the XML sitemaps include
  • Submit the XML sitemaps to Google Webmaster Tools

Ecommerce Site Speed

Though site speed was announced by Google as a ranking factor, this has yet to make a significant impact in the search results. From what Google has said about site speed as a ranking factor, a site’s speed only impacts rankings when a site takes a really long time to load. As long as your site’s load time is within the realm of normal, you shouldn’t be worried about this impacting your organic performance.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore site speed though. According to Kiss Metrics, a 1 second delay in page load time can decreases conversions by 7%. How fast your ecommerce site loads has a direct and significant impact on your conversions and your bottom line. Amazon found that slowing their page load time by 1 second would cost them $1.6 Billion in sales.

Revenue isn’t the only metric impacted by page load time though. Almost half of users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less. If your site takes longer than 3 seconds to load, you are losing the opportunity to engage with 40% of your visitors – these are people who don’t buy on their initial visits and are highly unlikely to come back.

While improving ecommerce site speed is very nuanced and unique to each individual site, experience has yeilded five common optimizations that yield the most significant wins. These are your server, GZIP compression, caching, optimizing images, and removing extra plugins/add-ons.

 

Your Server (and CDN)

Having a really fast and reliable server is one of the biggest things you can do to improve your site speed. A quality server will not only reduce your delivery time, but will reduce your response time – which can be one of the biggest culprits in large load times.

If you are on a shared host (likely the cheapest hosting you could find) upgrading to a good server for ecommerce should be your first step. While a VPS solution is likely ok for many small ecommerce sites, most sites will want to move to a dedicated server or cloud solution.

If you’re already running on a good server, you should look into leveraging a CDN. This will allow browsers to download images and other assets from a different and fast server in order to decrease the page load time. If your site is image heavy, you should definitely be using a CDN to optimize your ecommerce site speed.

 

GZIP Compression

GZIP simply compresses your files when your server sends them to your users’ browser. The browser then de-compresses the files and renders them. This allows for a faster page load time as the amount of data that has transferred to your users is significantly reduced.

How Gzip Works - HTTP Request & Response

 

 

How Gzip Works - Compressed HTTP Request

Using GZIP on text files (HTML, JS, CSS) provides optimal results, sometimes even in the range of 70% – 90% for larger files. GZIP tends to have a limited effect on images though; here you are better off optimizing your images (below) rather than trying to use GZIP to compress your images.

You can test to see if your site is currently leveraging GZIP compression here.

If you want to enable GZIP compression, and you’re running on Apache, simply paste the code below into your .htaccess file:

# BEGIN GZIP
<ifmodule mod_deflate.c>
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/text text/html text/plain text/xml text/css application/x-javascript application/javascript
</ifmodule>
# END GZIP

Official Apache documentation. Documentation for running on NGINX and IIS.

 

Enable Caching

Another way to speed up your browsing experience for your users is to make sure you have caching enabled. Downloading assets from your server to your users’ browsers takes a lot of time. Caching allows you to save common assets to your users’ computers so when they are requested, they can be loaded directly from the computer rather than requiring bandwidth.

To enable caching, you need to configure your headers to have a max-age command.

cache control

 

This is simply the amount of time (in seconds) that the browser should keep a saved version of the asset.

 

Optimizing Images

Images are a common culprit of slow page load times on ecommerce sites. If you’re using a lot of images (which you should to give your customers a good look at your product), you’ll want to make sure that you have optimized your images as this can have a huge impact on your page load time.

As a general rule, you should try to avoid using images whenever possible. Removing images in favor of HTML/CSS/JavaScript will often yield some of the most significant gains in site speed. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have any images, but you should make sure that you really need an image. Can you replace an image by using web fonts? Similarly, are there any effects (shadows, gradients, animations, etc) that can be done with CSS rather than using an image?

If you do need to use images, you’ll want to make sure that they are compressed in order to avoid requiring the user to download large image files. The simplest way to do this is to reduce the number of colors in an image since this reduces the amount of data that needs to be stored in the image file. When you are exporting an image file, you’ll need to experiment to find the most appropriate setting for the image that you’re working on.

You’ll also need to decide on the file type for your image. There are three main contenders: PNG, JPEG, and GIF. If you need animation in your image, GIF is your only option. If you need to preserve crisp details with a high degree of resolution, you should go with a PNG. For many cases though, a JPEG is the best solution – it is somewhat of a value option, providing decent resolution for most cases while providing a significantly reduced file size.

 

Reduce Plugins and Add-ons

Plugin bloat, especially with WordPress sites, is a common problem that can bring a site to a crawl. When you are running a ton of plugins, frequently, these plugins will all be making calls to the database each time the page loads. This can have a huge impact on how long it takes your page to load.

To combat this, start by removing any unused plugins. You should also look for opportunities to combine plugins – for example, the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin has capabilities that often makes several other plugins redundant. If you can remove several plugins by installing another, this can often reduce calls to your database and improve your site speed.

 

Action Items

  • Review your server and CDN setup; make sure you are running your ecommerce site on a fast server
  • Enable Gzip compression
  • Enable browser caching
  • Optimize your images
  • Reduce plugin bloat
  • Get more prescriptive recommendations from Google’s Page Speed Insights and Page Speed Test

Ecommerce Schema Markup

While the presence of rich snippets is significantly less than it was a couple years ago, implementing schema markup can be valuable for you as it will help Google better understand your site and it may lead to a rich snippet if you’re lucky.Schema Reviews Example

There are two different schema elements that should be marked up on most ecommerce sites. These are the product and review elements, each with their own attributes.

 

Product Schema Markup

While there are a host of different fields that you can markup for the product schema, the required fields are:

  • Product name
  • Product price

While only those two fields are required, there are several other that should minimally be implemented. These are:

  • Image
  • Description
  • URL
  • Brand (name, logo)

Review Schema Markup

The review schema markup should be implemented on your product pages alongside your product schema markup. There are two different types of schema markup – aggregate review and (individual) review. For the aggregate review, you will want to include markup to indicate the:

  • Overall rating value
  • Rating count
  • Best rating
  • Worst rating

For an individual review, you should include the following markup:

  • Reviewer
  • Review date
  • Review value
  • Best rating
  • Worst rating
  • Review body

Schema Code Example

 

While adding schema markup to your site can seem overwhelming if you are not already familiar with it, Google has provided a couple tools which make the process much easier. The first is the structured data markup helper. Here you can select the markup type and enter your URL and you will be able to highlight the relevant information on the page and Google will show you how to markup your code. The second tool is the structured data testing tool.  This tool will help you to make sure that you’re properly implementing your schema markup.

 


Ecommerce Specific SEO Problems

While many aspects of ecommerce SEO are fairly similar to doing SEO for non-ecommerce sites, there are a few specific ecommerce SEO problems that are unique to the ecommerce space. Some of these have been touched on previously (unique content, little/no content, product variations) but there are a few more problems to watch out for.

 

What to do with out of Stock and Discontinued Products

Having out of stock products or products that are no longer available is inevitable, but how you handle these products can have a big impact on your SEO. While there are a few different approaches you can take, it is not recommended to take down the page when the product is not available.

If you take down a product when it isn’t in inventory and put the page back up when you have the product in inventory, this is going to significantly impact your performance. Taking a page down and putting it back up is the same as when a site goes offline for a significant amount of time, just on a much smaller scale. If a site goes offline for a while, it will have a big impact on their rankings, and even the indexation status, for pretty obvious reasons. Google really doesn’t want to be sending users to a site that is offline. We should expect similar results for our page. It is going to suffer long term ranking problems if we’re pulling it down for extended periods of time.

If the product is simply out of stock, we should try to maintain organic rankings by keeping it online and part of the site architecture. In order to avoid a disappointing user experience for searchers looking for the product, we should offer two solutions:

  • Offer to notify them when the product is back in stock
  • Show them substitute products in case they can’t wait

By offering to notify the user when a product is back in stock, we are able to let the user know when we get the product back and we can grow our email marketing lists.

What to do with discontinued products for SEO

 

With discontinued products, maintaining a product listing after the product becomes permanently unavailable, enables us to capture searchers who don’t know that the product is no longer available. If a product has been discontinued, we should:

  • Highlight the new version of the product, if it exists
  • Feature substitute products

discontinued products - seo

 

 

How to Optimize for Seasonal Products & Categories

Seasonal products and categories present a unique challenge for SEOs. While seasonal products are inherently not relevant year round, they need to be available to search engines in order to avoid the pitfalls associated with having pages offline for a significant amount of time. Further, in order to improve organic performance any link building efforts should really be done several months before the season starts when possible.

This means that you should keep your seasonal products and category pages live year round and you would ideally keep them integrated into your site architecture year round. While you might not want to keep a “Christmas Gifts for Her” page in your top navigation year around, you could still incorporate it into your site architecture by moving the link to the footer or to a gift ideas page that is incorporated into the top navigation.

If you plan to write blog posts about “top gift ideas for x” that you want ranking in season, you should write and publish them 3-6 months before your season starts. Unless you have an extremely authoritative domain, it is going to take several months for Google to firmly associate your content with the intended topics and then rank the content. If you want your content to be found in search, start early.

It’s ok to update the products highlighted or some of the details as you get closer to season. If you don’t want the content showing up in your feed in the off season, you can exclude it from your feed if possible or back date the post so it doesn’t show up at the top of your feed. If you back date the post and then want to promote it in season, you can simply switch the post date to a recent date.

 

Optimizing for Discount Codes

Everyone wants a deal. This means that everyone is searching for coupons and if you have an affiliate program, this means you’re giving away money.

Many customers, when they decide that they want to purchase a product from you will go out and search for coupons and promotions for your site. Unfortunately, this often leads to affiliate sites which will try and take credit for the purchase even though they didn’t really do anything to help get the customer to your site.

To combat this, you can create your own deals / promotion codes / coupons page. As the page is on your site, it should be very little effort to rank for these promo code terms related to your brand. While it likely won’t lead to any sales that weren’t already going to happen, you’re not going to be giving as much money away to your affiliates.

Shutterstock and Pipedrive both have great discount and promotions pages.

Coupon Page for SEO Example

 

Pipedrive promo page example

 

Action Items

  • Create out of stock product pages
  • Create discontinued product pages
  • Develop seasonal landing pages and content many months before they are needed
  • Begin link building efforts to seasonal pages at least 3-4 months before the start of the season
  • Do not take down seasonal landing pages after the season is over
  • Keep old seasonal landing pages integrated into your site architecture
  • Create a deals/promo codes page

Link Diversity

It is well known that the more high quality links you have, the more authority and trust you’ll associate with your site. And in turn, you’ll improve your organic performance as you generate links. Before diving into tactics, we’re going to touch on link diversity.

A diverse back link profile is critical to the longevity of your organic performance. If a significant portion of your backlink profile is made up of one tactic or anchor text phrase, you’re going to run into trouble with Google.

It is important to build links from a variety of sources and tactics and vary your anchor text – even focus solely on branded anchor text depending on your risk tolerance. This will reduce the likelihood of tripping filters and flags that are going to negatively impact your rankings.

Previous research on anchor text distribution from several years ago suggests that a safe, natural looking, link profile had about 70% non-optimized links. While the ratios are likely even more conservative now, the concepts and principles conveyed in the article hold true.

Overview of Anchor Text Distribution

 

General In Depth Breakdown chart

Your campaigns should be built around tactics that are proportional to your level of risk tolerance.

Ok, now on to the tactics.

 

Create (and Promote!) Data Driven Content

The concept here is really simple, create unique content that leverages data to bring something new to the table. The data can come from just about anywhere. You can leverage internal proprietary data if you can convince your company to do so (this is often the best data as no one can replicate this!), run a survey to generate data that no one else has or you can compile data from several sources into a single place.

When you’re creating this content, it is important to focus on providing data that people care about and need to validate what they’re saying. When you do this, you have created a link gold mine.

It is important to be creative with the format when you’re creating your content. Get your data before you decide on what the content should look like. Some data is best suited for a video while others are great for white papers, blog posts, or even press releases.

Once you have your data and you’ve shaped it into content, you need to promote it. While Google will tell you, “just create exceptional content”, this isn’t enough. If you want your content to do well, you need to promote it and get it in front of people who have the ability to link to you.

There are a lot of different ways you can do this. Outreach and PR teams can be very effective as can strong social accounts that are relevant to the content topic (while they can be your brand accounts, they don’t have to be). Another successful tactic is to run targeted social ads promoting your content to a very niche audience – Facebook is a great tool for this.

 

Interviewing the Experts – Ego Bait

When was the last time you saw a crowdsourced post on “92 SEO’s give their best link building tip” or “the world’s best SEO’s make their 201x predictions on what Google will do”? Probably pretty recently, right?

While the SEO and online marketing industry may be burning out on these group interviews, some may even say abusing, here’s the secret: these work. And the work really well in other industries.

A large number of ecommerce sites publish very tightly focused content around their products, which isn’t conducive to an ego bait post. However if you expand the scope of your content center to focus on your niche and the lifestyle associated with it, you’ll find a lot of room to include topical content like this.

Williams Sonoma does a good job of this with their focus on talking to chefs, bloggers, and personalities.

williams sonoma interview

One thing to recognize here is that a lot of bloggers are trying to build their own brand. If you lend them the credibility of your brand (allowing them to write on your site or otherwise contribute to your brand), this boosts their ego and makes them look good. This means that they’ll likely want to show off their new found awesomeness to their network.

While you’ll undoubtedly get a lot of social shares out of this, you can increase the likelihood of getting links by selecting bloggers to work with who do weekly round ups.

 

Links from Manufacturers

If you carry a wide variety of brands, you should review the manufacturers’ websites to see if they have a section of their site that lists their dealers. Often times, manufacturers’ will list their dealers and retailers on their site to help connect their users with people who sell their products. If you are not already on this list, you should ask to be included here.

Links from MFGs

 

Competitive Back Link Research

It’s always a good idea to know where your competitors’ links are coming from. While this will give you an understanding of their long term focus, it can also lead to new backlink opportunities for your site. In your analysis, keep your eyes open for sites linking to your competitors that may be receptive to providing you the same coverage. Whether they are new guest posting opportunities, links from manufacturers, or you discover a 404 page on their site that has links, there are typically at least a few opportunities to be gleaned from reviewing their links. While this typically won’t scale well, if you use your discernment, it doesn’t hurt to pick up a few more links.

link logos

 

Tools

Moz Competitive Link Finder

Ahrefs

Majestic SEO

 

The Local Angle

While being part of your local community can be great for your local reputation, it can also help your ecommerce site’s organic performance. In most communities there are a lot of local charities and events that need support.

Often times supporting these events will lead to links from pages like this one. Are all those links paid? Yeah, but they’re natural (as long as you don’t build your entire backlink profile around sponsoring humane societies around the country). Companies who put money down to support local events are building their brand by investing in their community. And Google loves brands, right?

Sponsors

There are tons of opportunities to get involved in your community (and get links for it) – supporting a non-profit, donating to school auctions, sponsoring community events, creating a local scholarship, 10k’s, relief events, supporting university clubs, etc.

A word of caution here; be careful not to excessively scale this. While this one is easy to do, it’s just as easy to abuse. If your company only has an office in LA, if you’re sponsoring events and universities around the country, this doesn’t look very locally focused which could be a red flag if your site is manually reviewed.

 

Infographics

The internet is saturated with infographics, and it’s because they generate links. This tactic doesn’t work for all infographics, but if you make a great one, it can be really effective. To create an infographic that actually gets links, you’ll need to align the topic and hook of your infographic with the interests and passions of people who can link to you.

To create a successful infographic, start with who you want to get links from. Select a handful of people and dig into their passions and interests. How can you create content around these affinities in a way that is interesting or meaningful?

Once you know the area of your focus, take it a step further and look at what these people share. What angle or slant do they take when writing about the topic? If you read enough of someone’s work, you should be able to get a good feeling on what they will think is interesting.

At this point, you should have a fully developed idea and hook for your infographic. To validate your infographic, send a rough draft to the group of people that you want a link from. Ask for their input and expert opinion. This not only helps you create a better infographic, but allows them the opportunity to become invested in your infographic, increasing the likelihood that they will share it.

 

Interviews

Want to get some links from high quality sites? Get your CEO featured in interviews. While the tactic can be pretty hit or miss (depending on your industry), when it works, it works really well. Just remember, the interview is the opportunity for your company to be seen as a trusted advisor and authoritative figure in the industry. If you try to push your product, you’ll likely get cut from the interview, or people will dislike your company for being overly pushy.

 

Product Reviews

Despite Google’s decree that product reviews are paid links, they continue to be effective for SEO when used appropriately (relevant and conservatively). While this tactic obviously carries some risk, it can be a really great way to showcase your product and get in front of your customer.

The concept is pretty simple – you give people product, they write about the product and link back to you in the review. If you want to reduce your risk, start by focusing your partnerships with authoritative bloggers whose readers are likely to be your customer.

If you think about it, this is exactly what brands do in offline content. Brands send products to magazines, radio hosts, and tv personalities all the time in order to receive coverage.

The frustrating part is when was the last time you heard a radio host talking about the mattress that they love? If you listen to any radio morning show, probably too recent. Did the FCC happen to make them mention that they were given the product or that this was an ad. Nope. But bloggers have to declare when they’ve been given product.

If you are giving tons of product to bloggers with no following and who aren’t in your niche, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

 

Give Your Customers a Good Reason to Talk About You

While you want every customer to have a great experience so that they come back, you really want your customers, who blog, to have a great experience – you want to delight them. If you turn them into a fan, you not only have their repeat business, but if you give them a reason to write about your business, their readers might become your customers too.

How do you know who to reach out to though? The answer is simple – add a “website / blog” field to checkout so that users can add their site in if they desire. While the conversion team might fight you a little bit on lengthening the conversion process, A/B test it. Adding one optional field will likely have a minimal, if any impact on conversion.

Once you know who to reach out to, the possibilities are only limited by your creativity.

 

Contests and Giveaways

Similar to product reviews, you need to be careful with giving product away, but this can be a very effective strategy for not only generating links but for generating revenue.

[Case Study]

I was working with an ecommerce site and we reached out to a bunch of bloggers and told them that we wanted to send them a gift. We didn’t ask for a review or for a link, or anything. All we told them is that we wanted to send them something.

Shipping Out Boxes

Boxes of Links

We lied a little bit though. We didn’t just send them the product we were promoting. We sent the bloggers two products and a hand written note. The note explained how wonderful they were and that we simply wanted to give them a gift. Additionally, the note went on to say that we have included a second product for them to give away to a deserving community member any way they see fit.

Finally, the note gave each blogger a unique coupon code that they could share with their community.

The products were wrapped up nicely and carefully placed in the box with special packaging – we didn’t just throw the product in the box, we tried to create an experience.

Though we didn’t ask for a single thing, we got some spectacular results. We generated a lot of posts about the company (containing links), but we also generated a lot of revenue. We were able to track this through the coupon codes we had passed out.

As each coupon code was unique, we were able to see which bloggers produced revenue and which ones were dead weight, allowing us to see who we should continue to partner with.

While this strategy worked really well for us (producing revenue and links), it is important to remember that we can’t just scale one successful tactic. We need to use each tactic, especially the ones that carry a little more risk, in moderation to create a balanced backlink profile.

 

Fake Products

Fake products are a tough tactic. Typically, they either work really well, garnering you a lot of links, or they flop, and you’ve got nothing. This strategy works by dreaming up a product, working with a designer or photographer to create images of the product, writing up an exaggerated description, and then launching it as an actual product on your site.

And don’t tell people it’s fake, at least immediately. The possibility of the product being real can help generate links from the media, forums, and excited bloggers along with social shares.

The two main hooks for these fake products are to either leverage the humor angle, making your product funny, or to make the product too good to be true. A few examples are:


 

Ikea Cat Proof Couch

ikea cat proof couch links

 

Petbox

Petbox LInks

It is important to realize that, as with any other piece of content you put on your site to attract links, you can’t just put it up on your site and the links aren’t going to rain down on you. To get traction you’re going to have to put some outreach / PR effort into this. There are a few different approaches you can use to gain some attention and visibility for your product:

  • Send out an email to your existing customers / newsletter database to let them know about your product
  • Share the “new” product from your social accounts (provided that you have a significant social following)
  • Leverage targeted social media advertising to get your content in front of people who would have an interest in it
  • Highlight the product on your homepage (depending on the size of your catalog and site)
  • Work with your PR or outreach team to promote the product

Once you have your product and your outreach plan determined, the last thing you need to set up is your new product launch date. For some products, this will inherently be seasonal, but for others you’ll need to carefully determine the launch date.

Many people will want to default to launching on April Fool’s Day. While this sounds great, and is the most “appropriate” day to launch, be careful. April 1 is pretty much International Link Bait day – watch and see how many fake products, news stories, and outrageous announcements happen on April 1. As such, if you would like to do this as an April Fool’s Day prank, you may consider launching the product a few days early and announcing that it was a prank on April 1 in order to avoid competing for attention on April Fool’s Day.

The aforementioned 5.11 Tactical launched their fake Tactical Kilt on April Fool’s Day, but actually received so many requests for the product, they created a limited release for it. So even if you create a product as a joke, you might be surprised with actual interest in your product.

High Quality Guest Posting

Despite what Google has said about guest posting, it remains a highly effective link building strategy, when done with care. Guest posting is one of the best examples of “why SEO’s can’t have nice things”. As it was a successful tactic and highly written about, SEO’s degraded it to the lowest quality possible to still achieve results. As a result Google updated their algorithms to correct for this low quality guest posting.

So what does all this mean for you? It means that if you do low quality guest posting, you’re going to get hammered down by Google. This means that when you are prospecting, you should check things like:

  • Does it look like a real site that real people intentionally visit? Or is it an AdSense site trying to get free content from “guest posters”
  • Does the site actually have a topic or theme, or does the site post about pretty much about anything?
  • Are the other guest posts on the site good quality? If you read it, was it a waste of your time?
  • Are the links in the other guest posts all exact match anchor text?
  • Are there a ton of links in the other guest posts (and on the site) to non-related sites?
  • Are there sketchy links in other guest posts (and on the site)?
  • Is the site likely to driver relevant referrals?

If you can find sites that pass these tests, then you’ve likely found a site where you can guest post with confidence.

There are several great posts on how to find and pitch guest post:

Copy Blogger

Backlinko

KissMetrics

There are two more tips to improve your guest posting. The first is to include links other than the one you are setting out to build. This does a couple things. This helps prevent your link from sticking out like a sore thumb – many people will guest post and only include one link in the article, making it painfully obvious (especially after reviewing a couple posts) what’s going on and raising your risk profile.

The second tip is to make sure your link is justifiable. This means that if the editor removes your link, they end up doing their readers a disservice. While this is often harder to accomplish, it significantly increases the likelihood that you will get your link and it validates your guest posting effort (compared to sticking an exact match anchor link into the article randomly).

Broken Link Building

Another strategy that can be very useful for ecommerce sites is broken link building. With this approach you find content on another website that now 404’s, but still has many links pointing to the old URL. Typically, these are old resource pages or other data. Then you reach out to the people who are currently linking to the old 404ing content and let them know about your live, new and improved version.

While this is great for helping improve the overall authority and credibility of your site, it doesn’t build links to key landing pages. Despite this, it is a great way to generate a substantial amount of relevant (depending on the page you’re recreating) links and improve the overall organic performance of the site.

There are a few great resources to get you started with broken link building:

The Broken Link Building Bible

Broken Link Building: The New Testament

Guide to Broken Link Building

Broken Link Building from Noob to Novice

The Moving Man Method

 

If you’re going to leverage broken link building for your ecommerce site, there are a few tools you’ll find helpful:

Broken Link Finder

Screaming Frog

The Way Back Machine

Action Items

  • Create a backlink portfolio leveraging a diverse range of link building strategies
  • Be realistic about what a “quality link” is and don’t create spam
  • Don’t abuse a tactic
  • Focus on sites that are read by real people who comment on posts
  • Create and promote data driven content
  • Create expert interviews
  • Get listed on the websites of manufacturers that you carry
  • Review competitors’ backlink profiles for opportunities
  • Sponsor local events, clubs, non-profits, schools, etc
  • Make an infographic
  • Leverage expert interviews
  • Give products to relevant and authoritiative bloggers to review
  • Add a website / blog field to your checkout process
  • Launch fake products
  • Do high quality guest posting
  • Leverage broken link building

 

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