Getting more traffic is top of mind for any ecommerce business owner, so the thought of mastering ecommerce SEO has probably crossed your mind once or twice.
Consistent, high-quality organic traffic you don’t have to pay for? Sign me up.
But between search engine algorithm updates and excessive industry jargon, it can be pretty difficult to get the hang of this whole SEO thing.
This beginner’s guide will take you from newbie to novice as quickly and simply as possible. We’ll cover keyword research, site structure and organization, and on-page SEO.
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What is ecommerce SEO?
Ecommerce SEO is the search engine optimization of an online store. Writing long descriptions with relevant keywords on every product page is an example of an optimization. Obtaining backlinks from relevant websites can also improve your online store’s ranking position.
Ecommerce SEO is the process of generating more organic (i.e., non-paid or free) traffic from sites like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to your online store.
When you search for something on Google, for example, you’re taken to the search engine results page (SERP):
There, you’ll find 10 organic results, like this (in red):
These organic results appear alongside the paid ads (orange) and Google Shopping ads (purple) results:
Ecommerce SEO is all about ensuring your product pages appear among those 10 organic search results. Of course, there are many more pages to explore:
But the further from page one you rank, the less traffic you’ll generate.
In 2013, a study found that only 4.8% of searchers make it to the second page of search results. Page three? Only 1.1%.
That number has shrunk with time—and the click-through rate from search results to most websites is also much lower. In 2019, Backlinko found that only 0.78% of searchers click on any link found on page two of search results.
Your ranking position on the first page matters as well. Let’s take a quick look at the click-through rates for the top 10 positions, according to Backlinko.
- Position 1: 31.73%
- Position 2: 24.71%
- Position 3: 18.66%
- Position 4: 13.6%
- Position 5: 9.51%
- Position 6: 6.23%
- Position 7: 4.15%
- Position 8: 3.12%
- Position 9: 2.97%
- Position 10: 3.09%
However, in 2021, it’s rare to find search results where 10 positions are neatly laid out. When searching for something in Google, you might see Google Shopping ads, text ads, featured snippets, or a “People also ask” or “Top stories” rich snippet, among other things. The inclusion of these rich snippets can drastically affect the click-through rate to your website.
The name of the game, then, is to rank as high on the first page of engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo as you can for search terms that your potential customers might be using. Let’s break down the steps you’ll need to take as you learn ecommerce SEO for beginners.
How to create an ecommerce SEO strategy
If you’re new to search engine optimization and want to learn how to rank first on Google, this SEO best practices tutorial is for you. We’ll explain the basics of SEO in a way that makes it simple and, above all, actionable.
Step 1: Keyword research
It shouldn’t be surprising that the first step is identifying those high-value search terms that your potential customers might be using. You can do that through ecommerce keyword research, which can be conducted a number of different ways.
First, note that ecommerce keyword research is different from most of the keyword research you’ve read about online. Why? Most sites care about informational keywords, like this:
You, on the other hand, might also want to rank for commercial keywords like this:
Can you spot the difference? Information keyword searchers are looking for, well, information. Blogs and content-heavy sites care about these keywords. Ecommerce sites care most about commercial keywords that show buying intent. You can also create quality content for your ecommerce store to increase domain authority, traffic, and conversions.
Amazon and Google Suggest
Note: Since Google is the most popular search engine in the world, I’m using that in screenshots and examples. You can repeat similar processes with most other search engines as well.
You’ve undoubtedly noticed the Google search autocomplete feature. When you start to type your search query, Google suggests relevant queries:
At the bottom of the page, you’ll spot some additional related search queries:
These can be a goldmine for keyword ideas, especially when you already have a few basic keywords in mind.
You can complete a similar process on Amazon, likely a competitor of yours. The great thing about Amazon suggestions is that they’re product-focused, unlike Google, which may contain some information keyword suggestions.
The process on Amazon is similar. Search for a keyword that’s relevant to one of your products:
This gives you some potential price categories you can add on your website:
As well as some other potential keywords:
Be aware of long-tail keywords, which are usually three to four words in length. The longer the keyword, the more specific it is. That means lower competition and, often, higher conversion rates by nature.
You can use tools to automate this process. This will save you a ton of manual labor time, especially if you have a big product catalog.
You can do even more digging on Amazon or, really, any major ecommerce store you compete with. First, check out their relevant product subcategories for keyword and category ideas for your store:
Jackpot! Let’s say you sell women’s fashions. Find the category and choose the most relevant subcategory. Now you can see all of the different ways Amazon sorts and organizes its fashions for women:
Repeat this process for any other major competitors.
Keyword research tool (Ahrefs)
Up until now, we’ve been doing keyword research on the cheap. If you have $99 to spend on a one-month subscription to Ahrefs, it can be a helpful ecommerce SEO tool, as it provides keyword suggestions, showcases your ranking, and much more.
Let’s say you compete with BustedTees.com, a geeky t-shirt ecommerce store. All you’d have to do is enter the domain into a keyword research tool like Ahrefs and click the number under “Organic keywords” at the top:
Scroll down and you’re looking at all of the keywords BustedTees.com ranks for:
Boom! You’ll also notice metrics like Volume in the screenshot above.
You can click on Volume to see which keywords on its website have the highest volume. You can include or exclude keywords that’ll help you narrow down your search. For example, if you notice its website name comes up as a keyword, you can exclude it from the list by typing in the brand name and checking only Keywords under Any Target.
You can view which sites link to BustedTees.com, which may give you an idea of which sites may be willing to link to your website. You can do this for any website that matches your niche. Getting backlinks helps improve your ecommerce SEO by increasing your domain authority.
Choosing the right keywords for your store
At this point of the ecommerce SEO tutorial, your list of keywords is probably pretty big. So, how do you narrow it down and focus on the keywords that matter most? Start with a few key factors.
- Volume. The higher the search volume, the more potential traffic to your site. Ahrefs will give you volume data, but so will free tools like Google Keyword Planner.
- Competition. The lower the competition, the more likely you are to rank for the keyword. Again, Ahrefs will give you keyword difficulty/competition (KD).
Page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA) give you insight into how difficult it would be to rank higher than these organic results. The higher the numbers, the more difficult (in general) it’ll be to unseat the result.
Overall, you’re looking for high volume, low competition, and high-intent keywords.
- Relevancy. How relevant is your product page or category page to the search term? This is a huge ranking factor that’s often neglected. Stick to keywords that your products would genuinely satisfy. You’re not foolin’ Google.
- Intent. Again, you want to target keywords that show commercial intent. Usually, you can evaluate intent just by looking at a keyword. For example, if you own a bridal shop, which search has more of the right intent: “ball gown wedding dresses” or “work dresses”?
Which of these searchers is more likely to buy something on your site? The former, of course. A bridal shop might sell more than just wedding dresses, such as evening dresses, wedding guest dresses, or even mother-of-the-bride dresses. However, you typically won’t find work dresses at a bridal shop.
Step 2: Site architecture for ecommerce
When it comes to SEO ecommerce, how the pages on your site are organized and structured affects your search engine rankings. It also affects your user experience (UX). Basically, you want to make it easy for actual visitors and search engines to find stuff in your store.
Easier said than done.
As you add and remove products and categories, site structure gets complicated quickly. If you can get this right from the beginning, you’ll save yourself a ton of time down the road. So:
- Make sure your site structure is simple but easy to scale as your store grows.
- Make sure every page of your site is as few clicks from your homepage as possible.
Simplicity is underrated. You don’t want to have visitors relying on the back button to get around your site, running in circles trying to find what they’re looking for. You also don’t want to have to reorganize and rearrange your site structure every time you add a new product category, for example.
Most of your link authority is on your homepage, because that’s the most common page other businesses link to when referring to your website on theirs. So, it makes sense that the more clicks away from your homepage a product page gets, the less authority it has.
Those are the basics. If you want to get a bit more advanced, Aleyda Solis of Orainti, shares her top ecommerce SEO tip, which is all about site structure:
“Use the supply and demand principle to identify which levels of the website structure—from categories to attributes, brands or filters listing pages—are worthy to index and optimize for, as they fulfill an actual audience demand.”
For those of you wondering, “index” is another name for the database used by a search engine. So to “index” a page is to have it added to that database. In other words, Google has discovered your page and added it to search results.
“This is because one of the most common issues for ecommerce sites is thin content, as well as content duplication issues. Many of the thin content and content duplication scenarios happen because there are many internal levels of the website structure, such as filters and attribute-focused pages that have very few products, which are also included in other pages.”
Thin content is the idea that there’s not much actual text on an ecommerce site compared to, say, a blog or software site. Imagine dozens and dozens of thin content pages created because of random product attributes and product filter pages. Some of those pages might only list one or two products. Adding blog content to your online store’s website is a good way to help counter thin content on your website as a whole.
Content duplication is as straightforward as it sounds.
Aleyda explains: “The easiest, and very common, way to handle this situation is to just noindex, or canonicalize, to others, these types of pages. However, you can also create relevant and useful content for those pages to become different, relevant, and competitive. After all, although noindex or canonicalizing pages might be the most straightforward way to handle this, it is not the best way to make the most out of the existing search opportunities and effectively address the user search behavior with your content, and product, offering.”
Canonicalizing a page is a way of telling Google that a URL is the “master version” you’d like to display in search results. This is helpful in duplicate content situations, because Google certainly picks up on them. Without canonical tags, Google might:
- Miss unique content while wading through too much duplicate content
- Dilute your ranking ability
- Choose the wrong master version for you
Note that if you’re using Shopify, auto-generated canonical tags are added to pages to prevent duplicate content from appearing in search results.
Aleyda suggests going beyond noindex or canonicalization when you’re ready, though:
“It’s then fundamental to assess first if there’s enough search queries around the specific product’s characteristics, types, or brands that you’re offering with each level of your ecommerce content, in order to identify if it’s worth it or not to index it. And if so, if there’s enough content offering on the specific page and if it’s aligned with the way the user searches for it or if you should take additional effort to expand and optimize it to make it relevant and competitive.
“If there isn’t and it’s also not optimized and you need to take additional effort with it, then you know it’s going to pay off, as you have already validated that there’s a demand, with enough searches for it.”
That’s a lot of information, especially for someone new to ecommerce SEO. Luckily, Aleyda left us with this handy chart to help visualize the process she goes through:
The big takeaway here? Not every level of your site structure is worth indexing and optimizing, so be strategic and refer to the chart above.
Pro tip: Add breadcrumbs to your product pages to improve website navigation for people and Google. Breadcrumbs tell Google how your site is structured and let people know where they are on your site.
Notice how Allbirds uses breadcrumbs on its product pages to orient users. If someone decides they don’t want to purchase the Everyday Sneakers, they can easily click back to Men’s Shoes or the homepage and look for a different product.
Use the app Category Breadcrumbs ($4/month) to show your customers the path they’ve navigated down through your category tree.
Step 3: Technical SEO
Technical SEO is an “under-the-hood” type of search engine optimization. It’s unseen by shoppers, but ensures your website is optimized for crawlers, has optimal site speed, and is optimized for mobile. Technical SEO done well can lead to:
- Better website engagement because your site is fast and easy to access
- More organic traffic because your site is easier to crawl
Some ways to improve your technical SEO for ecommerce include the following:
- Create logical internal linking with your menus.
- Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console and fix site errors.
- Optimize images to load quickly.
For a more in-depth look at improving your technical SEO, read the step-by-step tutorial in our guide: What is SEO Marketing and How Does It Work? Or, you can hire a technical SEO expert to do a site audit and optimize your site in the Shopify Experts marketplace.
Step 4: On-page SEO for ecommerce
Now that you’ve done your keyword research and your site structure is ready to rock, in this part of the SEO guide we’ll talk about how you can optimize your two highest value pages:
- Product category pages
- Product pages
Not surprisingly, it starts with the basics.
If you’re already using Shopify, you likely know that there are some built-in SEO features you can take advantage of. Some are automatic:
- The canonical tags we talked about earlier are included.
- Your website’s sitemap.xml and robots.txt files are generated.
- Themes generate title tags that include your store name.
- Themes are required to have social media linking and sharing options.
But some features require your optimization skills:
- You can edit the title tags, meta tags, and meta descriptions to include your keywords.
- You can edit the alt text for product images to include your keywords.
- You can make sure your file names include your keywords.
- You can choose the URLs for blog posts, webpages, products, and collections.
When optimizing your title tags and descriptions, note that these are Google-facing. So, step one is ranking on the first page. Step two is convincing searchers to actually click through to your site.
Modifiers like “Deals,” “X% Off,” “Free Shipping,” “Wide Selection,” etc., can give you a boost when placed in the meta description. Why? Because Google is suspected to use click-through rate (CTR) as a ranking factor. So, it’s not enough to cater to the search engine overlords, you have to pique searcher interest, too.
Those modifiers can also help you attack long-tail keywords.
1. Choose the right URLs
According to Rand Fishkin, there are a few URL guidelines to follow for optimal ranking for ecommerce SEO:
- Your URL should be easy for real, live humans to read and interpret, because accessibility matters to Google.
- Using your main keyword in URLs is still highly encouraged, as they show up in search results.
- Short URLs are better than long URLs. Try to keep it below 50 to 60 characters.
- Make sure that the main keyword is used in the page title. Typically, you don’t want to include your entire page title in the URL though.
- Don’t include stop words like “and,” “of,” “the,” and “a,” unless they’re part of the keyword.
- Keyword stuffing (overusing a keyword) and pointless repetition don’t trick Google and make your store look spammy.
Keep these guidelines in mind when choosing your product page and category page URLs.
2. Reduce thin content pages with long and unique product descriptions
In ecommerce SEO, Google and other search engines use the content on your page to decide which keywords to rank your page for and how high your page should rank for each keyword.
So, if your product page has a short little description and not much else, Google doesn’t have a whole lot to go on. Copying and pasting a description from a manufacturer or supplier is called duplicate content and is also advised against. Writing a unique description with a lot of important detail can help improve the ranking of the product page and reduce thin content on your online store.
That’s why you’ll see product pages with longer descriptions, reviews, etc.
Write long, in-depth descriptions for your products so Google can work its magic more effectively. Include a few different relevant keywords on each page to help Google understand what your product is. If your catalog is huge, focus on your top products or on products ranking on the bottom of the first page or the top of the second page first. While it can be tedious, investing in your product description not only helps ecommerce SEO but also conversions.
The more you write, the more accurate Google can be in ranking your page. And, well, the more opportunity for using your keywords.
Plus, let’s face it, as long as you have a high-level description for the highly motivated, your customers won’t hate the extra product info either. It might even help persuade them to buy.
3. Take advantage of latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords
LSI keywords are keywords closely related to your main keyword.
You can find these through either a quick Amazon (or other big-name competitor) search or good old Google Keyword Planner, which we talked about above.
On Amazon, search your main keyword and look for secondary keywords that keep popping up. For example, let’s say you’re trying to sell a blender:
“14 Speed,” “450W,” and “48oz Glass Jar” all come up multiple times, indicating they’re strong selling factors and likely common elements of search terms.
You can also try running your keyword through Google Keyword Planner to get some LSI keyword ideas:
If you’re getting traffic from that main keyword, you might as well try to slide onto the first page for related secondary keywords as well. So use these LSI keywords whenever they make sense.
4. Create internal links
The longer you can keep your visitors perusing your online content, the more chance you have of snagging a sale. Relevant links to other landing pages on your site help your potential customers browse and discover information or products.
In your anchor text (the words that you place the link in), make sure you include the target keyword verbatim. Internal linking can be used to drive customers to relevant product pages, category pages, and educational content.
💡 Pro tip: If you understand your audience’s decision-making process, you can develop content that helps them through the various stages in the buying journey.
Also, make sure not to go too crazy with internal linking. One or two links every few hundred words is enough.
Step 5: Blogging
Blogging is a form of content marketing where you use on-page and technical SEO techniques to increase your website’s search visibility. It works to make sure search engines find your website credible to rank for specific keywords that align with your audiences’ interests and needs. When blogging, you’re using SEO to power an ongoing long-form content strategy.
Every blog post published has the potential to:
- Build your reputation as a credible source
- Improve your site’s authority
- Increase visibility in organic search
Imagine you were starting a company that sells running gear. You want to help potential customers understand your products, use them more effectively, and solve their running and fitness problems. If you want to get found in search engines like Google, blogging can help you get there.
A well-written blog gives your store a steady stream of original content. The more people that discover your content, the more reliable you’ll become as a source of information. This in turn helps you rank higher. Ecommerce businesses often struggle with blogging because it takes time, effort, and resources to get it right. Randomly publishing blog posts each month won’t bring traffic to your website.
However, there are many ecommerce businesses that do blogging well. For example, retailer Au Lit Fine Linens sells everything to help you get a good night’s sleep, including luxury sheets, pillows, bath linens, and more. The brand also has a blog, Between the Sheets, that provides helpful articles about how readers can improve sleep quality.
The blog is SEO driven, meaning that its purpose is to rank in search engines. Posts often highlight a problem the reader is having, and offer Au Lit Fine Linens products as the solution. A fine balance between promotional and informational.
When starting a blog for ecommerce SEO, focus on the following three elements:
- Research what keywords to rank for. Publish content that targets keywords people are likely to search for when solving problems or making a buying decision.
- Optimize blog posts for SEO. Make sure each blog targets a specific keyword for SEO. These are often around problems readers are having about something.
- Present your products as a solution to the problem. Every post doesn’t have to be about your products. But, don’t be afraid to link out to a product page or two when appropriate.
Step 6: Link building
Rather than simply drawing results by keyword, the Google algorithm believes that the highest quality information could be found if webpages were given “authority” the same way academic papers are given authority, based on the number of citations they receive. Except in this case, citations are known as backlinks.
While there are hundreds of other factors used in their algorithm, Google uses the number, quality, and relevancy of links to judge a site’s quality and trustworthiness. New websites, as a result, have less authority in the eyes of search engines. While time can fix this, building quality backlinks can help Google recognize your authority faster.
Respected .com sites and .gov and .edu sites will provide the most authority when they give you a backlink. Starting with .coms is probably easiest.
One of the best ways to approach building links is to focus on partnerships. Determine what other related websites you can provide value to. Guest posts, for example, can be a great way to build backlinks, provided the content is relevant and gives your audience and your partners' audience real value. You can run a competitor keyword analysis and analyze backlinks on Ahrefs as a simple way of finding relevant sites in your niche.
Another way you can build backlinks is through press mentions. Building a press list or hiring a PR firm can be expensive, so here is a simple growth hack anyone can do.
Sign up for Help A Reporter Out (HARO) or Help a B2B Writer and you will get a daily digest of reporter requests right to your email. When a lead matches your brand, reach out to the email address provided and pitch a story. If you get an interview, make sure to ask for a backlink to your website.
Be weary of backlinking services. They can sometimes try and sell backlinks based on quantity rather than quality and that can hurt your site.
Shopify Academy Course: SEO for Beginners
Entrepreneur and Shopify Expert Casandra Campbell shares her three-step SEO framework to help your business get found through Google searches.
Best ecommerce SEO tools for beginners
SEO:Image Optimizer Page Speed
This Shopify SEO app by AVADA is the perfect plug-in for helping ecommerce stores outrank competitors. It helps with image compression, site speed optimization, schema markup, and more, to ensure your website is optimized for search. It also offers 24/7 customer support.
SEOAnt SEO & Image Optimizer
The SEOAnt SEO & Image Optimizer is a free all-in-one SEO tool you can use to run SEO checkup reports, monitor SEO health, fix broken links and redirects, and boost traffic from Google. You can also bulk edit alt text and meta elements in just a few clicks.
If you own a website, you’re going to use Google Analytics. This free SEO tool tracks and reports website traffic, giving you the insight to better understand customers, optimize your store for SEO, and improve marketing ROI. As a Shopify store owner, you can connect Google Analytics to Shopify Analytics and choose specific ecommerce data to track.
You’ve seen Ahrefs at work in the above tutorial, but it’s worth looking deeper at some of its key features. Many of the features are used by ecommerce marketing professionals to create SEO campaigns and rank higher in Google. Ahrefs is a competitor of Moz and Semrush, two other SEO software companies you’ll find when researching SEO tools.
Use Ahrefs to analyze a website’s link profile, keyword ranks, and overall SEO performance. You can also use it to conduct keyword research for Google, Amazon, and YouTube. Ahrefs has helpful features including:
- SEO audits
- Competitor research
- PPC features
- Top content analysis
Getting started with ecommerce SEO
There is so much more that goes into ecommerce SEO. I’m talking international SEO, off-page SEO, marketing analytics—the list goes on.
But these first six foundational steps will set you on the right path (and likely keep you busy) for now.