chapter 7

SEO | Help Clients Improve Their Search Rankings

What is SEO?

That may seem like a ridiculous question to many. The first response is easy—Search Engine Optimization. The subsequent explanation, however, unlocks a world that many dabble with, some loathe,
few embrace, and others try to cheat. As for you, I hope you’ll add it to the list of services you can offer to your clients.

I like to think of SEO as a three-dimensional puzzle that requires each piece to fit together correctly for the entire website to function and rank at an optimal level.

SEO is the practice of getting a website’s pages listed and ranked highly in search engine result pages.

Why SEO matters

On average, search engine users click a link on the first page of results 71.33% of the time. The top five results on the first page make up 67.60% of all clicks. Positions six through 10 account for only 3.73% of clicks. Links on pages two and three only get 5.59% of clicks. The other clicks are lost to advertisements, instant answers, and users refining their searches. These numbers vary year to year, but the impact is always the same—the top search results get the vast majority of click-through traffic. 

Google does a great job of bringing relevant data to the top of its results. As users, we expect that the top search results will be just what we’re looking for—and more often than not, they are.

Having a site that ranks highly in Google increases site visibility, which translates into more visits that have the potential to convert to sales. This should be an easy pitch to your clients. The goal of SEO is to rise in the ranks and capture top search engine result positions.

Getting started with SEO

KEYWORD RESEARCH

In order to start ranking better in search results, you need to have a set of target phrases that you want to rank for; these phrases are better known as “keywords.” Search results are generated based on the keywords users search for, and ranking for the right keywords can make or break your website.

By researching your market’s keyword trends, you can discover which terms you should utilize in your SEO efforts. Keyword research can also help you predict shifts in the market, as well as discover related terms that users are searching.

Finding keywords with Google Search Autocomplete

It all begins when a user types something into the search box, at which time Google tries to autocomplete the phrase you are entering. This feature is intended to help people save time. Luckily for us, it’s also a handy way to do simple keyword research. The phrases that Google suggests are popular search terms (keywords) that other people have searched for in the past. 

A search for “Baseball Bat” autocompletes to the following:

  • Baseball bats 
  • Baseball batting gloves 
  • Baseball bat display case 
  • Baseball batting cage

If your client was selling baseball bats, you can use the Google Autocomplete suggestions to your advantage and add these phrases into the content of their site. Google Autocomplete is a great way to find phrases or “long tail keywords” you may not have considered.

In-depth keyword research

In-depth keyword research is very valuable but can be daunting. Entire books have been written about finding the perfect SEO keywords for a site. I suggest that you spend some time researching the subject before making drastic changes to your client’s site. Subscribing to advanced SEO tools like Moz Pro can help you discover the right keywords to target.

Free keyword research tools:

Keyword research resources:

TITLE TAGS

When it comes to SEO tuning, the title tag is one of the most important things to focus on. Search Engines directly use the title tag in search engine result pages. The page title is the first thing about the site that users see in search results.

The title denotes what a page is about and is highly valued by search engines. Therefore, this is where you should place the most important keywords you are optimizing the page for.

Here is where the art of SEO comes into practice. You need to truthfully describe what the page is about, but at the same time, include the keywords that people would search for to find the page. To complicate things even further, it is recommended that you do this in 70 characters or less (and you thought Twitter was restrictive!).

Uniqueness is also an important factor for titles. If the site contains several pages with the same title, Google may have a hard time listing them properly. In some cases, Google will only keep the most popular page, and exclude the other pages with duplicate titles; something that you definitely do not want.

The title tag should:

  • Be 70 characters or less 
  • Describe the content of the page 
  • Contain descriptive keywords 
  • Be unique per page

META DESCRIPTIONS

The description meta tag is another important on-page item that search engines look at closely when ranking a site. The meta description is not seen by users when they visit your site, however, search engines display the meta description on search result pages. In Google’s case, the meta description is displayed below the title of the page.

Meta descriptions help search engines and users quickly understand what a page is about. The description is a brief explanation of what a user will find on that page and why it matters. This is where you sell the users on why they should click into the site.

Your description needs to be something compelling, truthful, unique, and containing the key phrases that people would use to find this page. You need to do this in 160 characters or less (only 20 more characters than a tweet).

CONTENT ISSUES TO AVOID

Duplicate content

Duplicate content is extremely harmful to SEO. Google and other search engines view duplicate content as “spammy,” and it can lead to a site being devalued in search results. With Shopify, URLs are automatically generated for products and collections. If you have a product that exists in two collections, multiple URLs will be created for that product.

To avoid this, your theme needs to support “canonical URLs.” A canonical URL tells search engines to always use the URL listed in the code instead of the URL for the current page. This means that you can have 100 URLs show the same product, but Google will only see and index the one canonical URL that is defined in your site’s theme.

You can determine if the theme supports canonical URLs by looking at the “theme.liquid” file in your theme bundle, and by locating the following code:

<link rel=“canonical” href=“” />

If you are unable to find it, you can always type it in yourself. Add it anywhere between the <head> and </head> tags.

Copied content

If your client is selling a mass-market product like electronics, shoes, name brand clothing, or anything else that is not unique to their store, do not use the stock descriptions of the products. The odds are that someone else is already using the exact same content on their site. If your client’s site has the same content as another site that is already indexed, Google has no reason to add it to the search listings. Basically, if you do not take the time to create unique content for each site, do not expect to rank highly in search results.

IMAGE ALT TEXT

ALT data was first introduced to the web when people had slow internet connections, and it took a long time for images on webpages to load. ALT data allowed page authors to describe the image that was loading.

Now, image ALT text also helps Google better understand what your image is about. If you are selling baseball caps, you should update your product images’ ALT data to reflect this. Additionally, the ALT text should include information regarding the brand, color, and other characteristics that you want the product to be ranked for. Also, keywords that you have uncovered as having a high value to the brand should be included.

Speed matters

The world around us is changing; things are getting faster. Movies are on demand, car rides are a click away, and Amazon will deliver a package the same day you order it. As consumers, we are conditioned for immediate gratification. Recent studies have shown that 57% of visitors will abandon a page that takes three seconds or more to load. Amazon found that if their pages slow down by even one second, they lose $1.6 billion a year.

In the last few years, Google has actively awarded higher search positions to sites that load faster. If your client’s site takes a long time to load, their chances of ranking on the first page of Google are limited, as are their chances of getting visitors to convert to customers.

SPEED TESTING

Google provides a great tool for checking the speed of a site: Google PageSpeed Insights.

Google PageSpeed Insights is free, and awards your site a score out of 100 possible points. The faster the site is, the higher it will score. Google grades the site from the perspective of a desktop computer and a mobile device. Google also provides suggestions on how to increase your score.

Getting a perfect score of 100% is very difficult to do. Aim for 70% or higher—Google will show your site’s status in green when you are within an acceptable range.

COMMON AREAS FOR SPEED IMPROVEMENT

Image optimization

Images tend to make up the bulk of a page’s weight, which is determined by the amount of data that needs to be downloaded to view the page. The 8MB photos that your camera takes are simply too large for most websites. Optimizing the images on a site can greatly improve its speed, and is highly recommended.

The simplest way to reduce your image file sizes while retaining quality is by processing them through an optimization service. There are several Shopify apps that plug directly into a store to compress your photos. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, there are websites that will optimize your images for free.

Shopify apps:

Free compression services:

JavaScript and CSS

For every JavaScript, stylesheet, or image a webpage uses, the web browser has to make a connection, download that file, then process it. The number of files that need to be downloaded (along with the size of those files) can dramatically decrease the speed of your client’s site.

A simple way to speed up a site is to combine your script and stylesheet files into one large file. There are many tools online that will help you join and compress (minify) your style sheet and your JavaScript files.

Online CSS compression tools:

Online JS compression tools:

If you need to make any changes to your JavaScript or CSS, you need to go back through the combination and compression process. If you do this often, I suggest looking into development tools like Grunt, which can easily combine and compress files with little hassle.

Mobile matters

To be successful as a search engine, Google must provide the most relevant and useful links at the top of their search results pages. With more and more people searching via mobile devices, Google has naturally shifted toward giving preference to sites that provide a good experience for users on mobile devices.

Mobilegeddon

Mobilegeddon is the nickname given to the Google update that placed SEO value on mobile-enabled sites. Google started rolling out this change on April 21, 2015. Many top ranking sites without an acceptable mobile experience were penalized. The impact has been undeniable— having a site that is not optimized for mobile will hurt your search rankings. New sites that are not designed for mobile have little chance of highly ranking, or ranking at all.

Is your client’s site mobile friendly?

The Google Mobile-Friendly Test is a free tool that checks the mobile readiness of a site. If your site fails, Google will tell you what areas need to be improved. It’s important that your site passes all of the tests. In most cases, switching to a mobile-ready theme is the easiest solution.

The future of search

In 2014, Shopify announced that mobile-based customers accounted for 50.3% of all ecommerce traffic. Simply put, more people are shopping on their phones and tablets than laptops and desktop computers. If your client’s site does not easily accommodate mobile users, they’re missing out on search rankings and sales to mobile-based users.

Speech recognition-based searches, along with predictive search suggestions, are already here and are becoming more popular every day. As our mobile devices become more embedded in our everyday lives, and as Google collects more information on our habits, search results will become more and more relevant. Mobile search is here to stay, along with mobile-centric SEO practices.

Implementation and execution

The aforementioned information outlines some of the basic steps that can be taken to improve your client’s Search Engine visibility. It is in no way comprehensive. I recommend reading my book Shopify Empire to deepen your understanding of SEO as applied to Shopify.

That being said, subscribing to the Moz blog and reading their introductory guide is also a great launching point for general SEO knowledge. The deeper you get into the SEO world, the more challenging and confusing it can become, which is why SEO professionals exist. Hopefully, this will help you on your way to becoming one.

Be wary of guaranteeing SEO results to your clients, as you simply can’t—at least, not ethically. It can be enticing to game the system and get to the top of the rankings as quickly as possible by using black hat practices that may or may not work. Never do this—you will regret it, and it will eventually come back to haunt you.

Additionally, always remember that optimizing your client’s store is not a one-time only solution; it’s meant to be a best practice that is continued and implemented throughout the lifetime of your client’s business—the perfect opportunity for a continued upsell.


About the author

Josh Highland is an entrepreneur, app developer, and author from Redlands, California.

Next chapter

8. Content Marketing | Create Compelling Content That Moves the Needle for Your Client

5 min

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more