SEO Best Practices for Ecommerce Stores
Nick Adkins, Associate Web Developer at Miva Merchant, leads a discussion about On-Page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices for ecommerce, offering suggestions on how to improve your search engine ranking position (SERP). It is important for ecommerce store owners to follow these best practices in order to help keep their website visible on search engines.
What Is Google?
Remember, Google is the searcher, not you. Google, for any particular search, has millions of pages that it can rank. So what Google is really trying to get at is the 10 most valuable, most useful, most helpful, or most interesting search results that will serve the searcher’s needs out of those millions of results. It is Google’s goal to give searcher the answer they want or need, so that he/she will come back and use Google again next time they are searching for something.
As a store owner, it is important to evaluate your website and determine where it should rank among the millions of pages similar to it. Then, the goal is to make it as valuable for the searcher as you can, so that your goals align with Google’s goals.
Google makes hundreds of tweaks to their algorithm for finding the most valuable pages. One of the reasons that Google makes so many changes is because of people who try to trick the algorithm into choosing their webpage for the top result. But Google’s main reason for changing the algorithm is that they aim at improving the way that they measure the quality of results.
Ask yourself these questions about the quality of your website as a valuable search result: Am I doing the best that I can do? Is there more that I could offer my visitors to make sure that my website is more valuable, more interesting, more amazing and useful than any other search results out there?
What is Google’s Algorithm?
There are hundreds of criteria to meet, but you really need to only be concerned with a few of them. Google uses a complex mathematical formula called an algorithm to give a score to every website, so Google can rank the results.
Think of the algorithm as a collection of empty baskets. One basket gives you a score for the quality of the site and another gives you a score for how many people trust you. Your job is to fill up as many baskets as you can to rank better than any other website.
So, optimizing your site for search results really means getting the highest score for as many baskets as you can. Now, different baskets rank higher than others. The most important 3 baskets for search rankings are:
- Quality – Does your site have something valuable or unique to searchers? Ex. If you are selling t-shirts and you are using the same descriptions as everyone else, your site will not rank high in quality content. Instead, offer people unique and interesting product descriptions. Offer customers the ability to share their favorite t-shirt on social media. Give them information on how to wash your product. Show Google that your page is unique and different to any other website selling t-shirts.
- Trust – Is your website the trustworthy? Google penalizes sites or stores that have consistently poor reviews. So, prove to Google’s algorithm that your website is trustworthy. Ex. Get trusted, highly-authoritative websites, partners, vendors, newspaper articles, and happy customers to link back to your website to show Google that you are a highly credible and trustworthy store.
- Authority – Is your website popular? Ex. If a searcher is looking for a t-shirt store, then Google will want to show the most popular t-shirt website. Send Google signals that your website is the most popular site for your product. Build a fan base by encouraging customers to share your products on social media, saying, “I want this!” Get people to engage with your brand on social media by sharing pictures of themselves wearing your product. Create a fan base and then rally them to link to you and talk about you.
How To Get a High SERP
SEO is really just a process of proving to search engines that you are the best site, the most authoritative, the most trusted, the most unique, and interesting site that they can offer to their customer – the searcher.
Get people to talk about you, produce good quality content, get people to link to you, and Google will be more confident that you are the best search result that they can offer to their searchers, and that’s when you will start ranking on the first page of Google.
Getting to the top of search engines is no easy task. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work. The good thing is that it can be done.
Content is King
In order for Google to recognize your site as quality, trustworthy, and authoritative, you need to have great content for SEO. That comes in a number of different forms:
Good Quality, Unique Content
Create content that people actually like. Write articles about your products and what they do. For example, if you sell watches, you could write an article on the latest watch trends, different brands of watches, how they work, how to extend its life, or how to change the battery. Create a blog, and write about time keeping in general. This kind of content will demonstrate that you are an authority in this space. This indicates to Google that you know what you are talking about, and that somebody is buying from a retailer that is actually an expert in the product they are selling.
Unique Product Descriptions
Keep in mind that there may be other retailers selling the same exact product as you. If you are selling shoes, then those shoes might have the exact same product description in tens of thousands of other online stores that sell those same shoes. More importantly, you might even have the same description as the product manufacturer. Google does not value duplicate content. Duplicate content is not a signal of trust or authority. Rewrite your product description in your own voice and put your own spin on them. Talk about the features of your product and what makes your product better - and the only person who can really describe what makes your product better than anyone else’s is you. You understand the value of what it is that you are selling. Make sure that your product descriptions are unique so that others can see that same value.
Reviews and Testimonials
Be aware of the importance of having positive ecommerce reviews. Google is interested in stores that have positive reviews and great user experiences. Try to encourage customers to leave reviews about your products. There’s lots of data that positive reviews can actually help sell your products. Positive reviews also tell Google that your site is a current and updated store that is actively used - that people are actually buying from your store and having a good experience. Try to encourage customers to leave feedback on your site after they purchase a product.
Consider having a blog attached to your website. It doesn’t have to be direct sales content. You could talk about the benefits of the different features of your products. Try to get people to subscribe to your content, so that you can market to them on an ongoing basis. If you write a new blog article every week, then Google will know that your website is still in business and that someone is still maintaining and updating it. That is the kind of content that Google wants to show to its searchers.
Once you have the content on your website, one of the most effective ways to target specific keywords that you rank for are Title Tags. Title Tags won’t appear in your actual content, but when Google comes by and it crawls your site or page (and actually ranks your site for search results), your Title Tag is going to be the name of your link. In general, try to make sure that your Title Tags are only about 60-70 characters long.
The Meta Descriptions tag has absolutely no affect on your ranking. You could put as many keywords in your Meta Descriptions as you want, and it’s still not going to help your rank. However, what the Meta Descriptions tag does is it affects the click-through rate from organic search results. Your Meta Description are a lot like sales copy, where you compete with the ten different sites that are on the Google search results. Although Meta Descriptions don’t have any affect on your rank, they are still very important in moving potential customers from the search result page to your website. Meta Keywords are now extinct and can actually hurt your marketing.
You have to build links to your website from relevant, highly- authoritative websites to prove to Google that you are also an authoritative, highly-trusted website. So, building links is going to be where you will spend 90% or more of your effort in terms of getting rankings for your website. Do you have vendors, partners, happy customers, and bloggers talking about your product? Is there anyone you know in the industry who can write about you and link back to your website? These are the people you should be targeting for link-building purposes.
Avoid Google Penalties
Link building will help you as long as they are high-quality, relevant links. However, if someone links back to your website and they have nothing to do with you, then you could get hit with an irrelevant link penalty. People were creating thousands of links back to their website, all using the same anchor text, because they wanted to rank for that number one keyword. This obviously was encouraging spam to happen and helping spammers to rank better in search results. Obviously, that is not what Google wants to encourage, so they created the Penguin Penalty. If you get too many links back to your website that are all the same keyword and not your brand name, then you might get hit with the penguin penalty. So, the majority of your back-links should be your brand name or your URL.
Once you’ve worked on all of these steps and you start to show up for the searches, it is time to measure whether or not you efforts are actually working.
Free Analytics Tools
Install free analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, to tell you how many people are actually coming to your store and how much they are purchasing. These free tools will tell you what keywords Google thinks is relevant for your store, how many links are going to your website, and how many people actually clicked on your link when it showed up in their search results.
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