Setting up an ecommerce store requires multiple skills. Whether it’s good business acumen, in-depth knowledge of your product/market niche, or an understanding of web design, you will need to understand the bigger picture if you want to get your business off the ground.
Whilst some of those skills can be outsourced, it’s safe to say that marketing your online store is one of the most essential skills any ecommerce entrepreneur needs to have. And like it or not, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to promoting your store online.
Even if the very sight of that three-letter acronym usually makes you want to bury your head in the sand, or if you’re considering hiring an external SEO agency, it’s important to have an understanding of the basics.
After all, you don’t want to be blinded by buzzwords or have to pay out a lot of cash for something that isn’t getting results.
SEO Doesn’t Equal Spam
Before we dive into the basic building blocks of a great SEO strategy, let’s get something out of the way. There is a misconception out there that SEO marketing is in some way spammy or “underhand”.
This false impression has come about because many people have used aggressive tactics in an attempt to rank higher in search results. However as companies like Google have updated their algorithms, those tactics have largely backfired. Good SEO practices focus on quality and a long-term strategy.
What Exactly is SEO, Anyway?
SEO is a way of setting up your website and marketing it so that it is considered useful and valuable by search engines like Google. Therefore, it’s important to have an understanding of how search engines work in order to understand how to optimize your online store for them.
Search Engines like Google and Microsoft’s Bing (which also powers Yahoo! Search), use automated robots or “spiders” to crawl the web and build an index of all of the sites out there.
They then use a complex set of algorithms (automated mathematical equations) to rank that content in terms of relevance and importance, so that the user gets the best possible results when they look for something online.
It helps to look at it from the perspective of the search engine provider, in particular Google, which according to StatCounter currently accounts for 90% of all worldwide searches.
Google’s main aim is to provide the most useful search results for their users, so those users keep coming back for more. The company can then sell ads based on their huge audience base.
Because search engine algorithms are automated, they are only capable of understanding a limited amount about your website.
That’s why they depend on data about how real people engage with your website such as traffic, time spent on site, and links from other credible websites to determine how important, popular and useful your content is.
Given that there are usually thousands or millions of results for each search term, you have to make sure your pages are as useful as possible if they are to show up in the search results – and with a good SEO strategy you can influence these factors positively and increase your ranking.
We’ve already given you the lowdown on how to create great content for your ecommerce Store. Needless to say, the higher quality the content is on your site, the more engagement you can expect from visitors, and the better you will rank in search engines. There are however some specific elements of your site’s content that you need to pay special attention to.
Indexable Site Content
Search engines have a hard time reading non-HTML or multimedia content like images, audio and video or Flash and Java plug-ins.
Of course, multimedia content can be very engaging for visitors, but if you are going to have it make sure there is accompanying or supplementary text so that Google can see it.
If in doubt, you can look at the Google text cache of the page to get an idea of what their robots are seeing when they crawl your site (just click on the green arrow beside the link to your page in Google, select ‘cached’, and then click on ‘text-only version’).
You will also want to ensure your site’s structure can be crawled by search engines, by ensuring all of your pages are clearly linked to in your navigation – otherwise the ‘spiders’ might not find them at all.
Google are able to retrieve results so quickly because they categorize websites based on keywords, and then rank them based on their relevance to the query in question (as well as some secondary data such as spelling and punctuation).
One of the most important things you can do when setting up your online store is to decide what keywords you want to appear in the search results for.
Make sure you do your research so that you can be sure you are targeting keywords that your customers are actually searching for! We’ve outlined how you can use Google’s keyword tool in our previous post on how to pick a profitable ecommerce niche.
Targeting ‘long tail’ keywords is often the best way for customers to find your site via search engines. These are more specific but less popular search terms which actually make up the majority of search queries and have a lot less competition than those that attract large numbers of searches on a daily basis. You will need to spend some time looking into which of these will work best for your business.
Once you know the keywords you are targeting, you can optimize your site and each page on that site to rank for them specifically, by placing them prominently in the title and throughout the page’s content.
It’s best to use your keywords at the beginning of the title, as well as near the top of the page and a few times in the main body text of the blog post or page. You can also add your main keyword in the alt attribute of any images on the page and in the URL.
The meta description determines what searchers will see in Google’s listings, so whilst it doesn’t affect search engine rankings, it can make a difference on whether people will visit your site. It’s best to keep your titles below 65-70 characters and meta description to under 160 characters as that’s all search engines will detect.
For more detailed information on this you can read Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
This is an area of SEO which has probably attracted the most controversy. For a long time, search engines have judged the popularity of a web page or site depending on the number of links to that page or site from external sites. This led to some unscrupulous practices from the more spammy sites where they would buy as many links as possible and point them to their site.
However, things have progressed since then, and now Google can identify whether the links to your site are from trustworthy sources. This means that a link from a very popular site will matter much more than a link from an unknown site.
Google also tracks whether the link comes from a site with a relevant topic, and how fresh that link is. Increasingly, social shares from sites like Facebook, Twitter and in particular Google + (for obvious reasons) are also influencing search engine rankings, though not to the extent of links.
When marketing your ecommerce store, therefore, you will need a link building strategy. Creating great content is a good start as it is likely to attract natural links from relevant sites in your niche.
If you have been busy building up a network of influential bloggers then you can also leverage this to your advantage by requesting that they link to your store, and of course you can pay for listings or other links – however be careful as Google is likely to penalize this type of activity if it they notice it is happening.
This brief guide to the basics of SEO for ecommerce stores should give you a good idea of what’s involved in optimizing your website for search engines.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics such as keyword research, ensuring your site content is indexable and that your pages are optimized.
With the addition of a good link-building strategy, you should be able to secure more of that all important targeted traffic from Google and really boost your business’s chances of success.
Have SEO tactics have worked for your ecommerce store? Let us know in the comments.