E-Commerce SEO for Beginners: 7 Straightforward Ways to Grow Sales

Brad Smith
Brad Smith
May 2, 2018

Do you remember everyone loading into the car to go to the store when you wanted to get a look at the latest toys or electronics? It doesn’t seem that long ago, does it?

After all, Amazon’s reign over e-commerce is a fairly recent event. Malls used to make a lot more money for retailers, and very few of them had a retail presence online.

All of that is changing.

Amazon dominated e-commerce during the most recent holiday season. It is estimated that the online retail giant will account for more than 50% of the growing e-commerce sales by 2021. That leaves a smaller piece of the pie for the rest of us if the trend continues.

ecommerce retails sales

E-commerce still accounts for only about 10% of retail sales in the United States.

The latest data from Forrester states that 71% of consumers in the US will use a search engine to discover new products, brands, and services. If you are not ranking in search, you are missing out.

It’s simple. If you want to compete online against giants like Amazon, Walmart, and others, you must win at SEO.

It might feel a little like David fighting Goliath with just a sling and few stones, but there are ways to stack the odds in your favor to topple the giant armies of marketers you’re competing against.

Better e-commerce SEO ensures that your products get discovered online, help consumers make the best buying decisions, and give them something worthwhile to share with their friends and followers.

Here are seven areas where you need to focus for better e-commerce SEO.

1. Right place, right time

Online search is crucial throughout the customer lifecycle—from product discovery, to purchase decision to engagement and retention.

If “search is king” then “retail sites are queen.” If you are an online e-commerce retailer, you have to do more than optimize your site. You simply can’t ignore how you rank in the search engines for your key product, brand, and service terms.

how consumers discover ecommerce sites

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In global search, there is Google... and then there is everyone else. It is crucial as a seller that you understand what it takes to get discovered on Google, first and foremost.

google market share

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Even when the purchase ultimately doesn’t happen online, 65% of consumers still research online before making their final purchase decisions in a brick-and-mortar store. This is known as ROBO (research online, buy offline).

If you are selling electronics, appliances, autos, or apparel, then discovery and consideration practices do matter online even if the purchase ultimately happens at a retail location 90% of the time.

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If you have been selling online awhile, then you know the benefits of being on page one of Google.

While the top result on Google tends to have a click-through rate above 20%, the drop off is steep—falling below 1.5% for anything after the first page. It doesn’t matter if you’re searching on a desktop or a mobile device—the search ranking and click-through rates fall-off a cliff the further you get from that first page.

ecommerce seo google rankings

Your potential customers have to go somewhere to shop. If they are not purchasing with you, then they’re likely buying from Amazon or going to your competition instead.

Are you ready to reach page one?

2. Keywords are key

Ranking on the first page of Google is great, but unless you’re ranking for the right results, it’s not going to do a lot of good.

That means you’re going to need to do your keyword research.

It’s a great feeling to rank on the first page of Google for a competitive search term, but for pages that aren’t ranking well, you should consider a long-tail keyword strategy.

First, you need to understand the shortcomings of broad keywords.

Broad keywords tend to be very competitive, and it can take months or more to rank for them. They might also cast too wide of a net to capture your target audience effectively.

It has been said that the “riches are in the niches.” This is where long-tail keywords come into play.

According to Moz, 70% of search traffic comes from long tail searches.

ecommerce seo long-tail keywords

The trick is to find the sweet spot of keywords that convert your ideal customers in search while also helping you rank. That is a win-win for your potential customers and you as a seller.

If you aren’t sure where to start, take a look at your competitors’ keyword data to get a better idea of which keywords they are bidding on.

keyword planner spy feature

Ready to get started? Take a look at this list of eight competitive keyword research tools.

3. Be a content machine

One of the best ways to start ranking for your targeted keywords is by creating an informational blog. Once you do that, you can incorporate SEO into it by using keyword research to frame topics that proactively answer your customers’ questions.

Marcus Sheridan does a great job with this approach. He is frequently featured online for answering questions about pools. He answers the questions that buyers were asking, but no one else was bothering to answer. In turn, he became an early digital rockstar for inbound marketing.

By proactively addressing buyer questions online, this once-small pool seller quickly rose to page one on Google and is now a leader in pool sales.

Marcus even formed The Sales Lion to teach others how to be successful in ranking their site.

The benefits of blogs go way beyond higher search ranking. The conversion rate for websites with content marketing is nearly six times higher than websites without it.

ecommerce content marketing for seo

Content entices your potential customers to spend more time engaging with your brand—helping them feel much closer to your brand than they otherwise would.

70% of consumers prefer to learn about a brand through a blog post rather than through corporate messaging. Help your audience get to know you and your brand by providing them with relevant, consistent blog content.

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Not only should your site be optimized for SEO, but the blog content needs to be optimized too.

If producing content for your e-commerce site does not come naturally, don’t worry. You don’t have to create an airtight SEO strategy in one fell swoop. Just pick one channel and try it.

Take video, for example.

On average, web visitors spend 2.6 times longer on pages with video than those without it. Companies like ThinkGeek know this and use videos (optimized for SEO, of course) to drive traffic back to their website. With videos averaging around 600,000 views each, that’s a lot of potential web traffic.

4. Get organized

Structure matters in PPC, and it matters for SEO too. If your content is scattered all over the place on your site without any real structure, you will be working against your other efforts to improve organic traffic.

Search engines prefer structure when crawling your site. Put simply, it means that your most important content should be at the top of your site, and everything else should flow from that top-level infrastructure.

Internal links to content are one method to help refine the structure of your site and boost your chances of getting discovered.

Including links to your product and category pages inside your posts will capitalize on the SEO traction you earn from your blog articles to help guide your audience to specific product pages.

ecommerce internal links

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The long tail articles you create about topics that your prospects are searching for are a cornerstone piece in your foundation for bringing in customers that convert.

site structure for seo

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Don’t forget to link back to your own content, too. It not only helps Google better understand the structure of your site, but it also makes it much easier for visitors to find and share your content. If your audience has to work too hard to find your content, they will stop looking.

E-commerce sites should not be more than three levels deep for site navigation. Any more than that and you will lose sales from poor navigation.

ecommerce site structure

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This goes for both your products and your blog. The deeper you ask a site visitor to navigate, the higher the likelihood that they never return from the depths. Keep simplicity in mind as you design and manage your e-commerce site and menus.

Following the concept of keeping the number of levels on your site low for complexity, you should keep your URLs simple as well.

Make URLs readable with a glance. For example: mydomain.com/product-name not: mydomain.com/category/layer1/layer2/product-name and certainly not a string of random numbers and letters.

ecommerce url best practices

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One last tip: don’t forget that keywords still apply when considering URLs.

ecommerce url structure for seo

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5. Establish authority

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it fall, will it make a sound? No one knows for certain, but it is certain that if a site is on the internet and no other sites with authority link to it, it will never make a sound—especially not the sound of a cash register ringing.

Backlinks are foundational for any site on the web and have long been known as an important ranking signal in Google.

Another way to establish your authority online is through influencer marketing. It not only lends credibility to your story, but it also broadens your reach and creates better ROI.

marketing for ecommerce sites

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Bigelow Tea enlisted the support of influencers to help boost their blog traffic and online sales.

ecommerce influencers

Through the help of one influencer campaign, they saw 32,000 blog engagements and an 18.5% increase in sales.

Learn more about how to find influencers in your ecommerce niche.

6. The time to switch to HTTPS was yesterday

Back in 2014, Google announced that they were using HTTPS as a ranking signal. This sent some shockwaves through the web development community. It had site owners and developers up in arms because it means that if your hosting platform isn’t secured with a valid SSL certificate, you’ll be penalized in Google’s results.

https and seo rankings

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As if that wasn’t enough, Chrome now warns users that sites are insecure if they don’t use the HTTPS protocol for sites that request sensitive input data like passwords or credit cards.

Google recently announced they will be warning customers about every site still on HTTP. That site warning is a huge red flag to potential customers and could really lower your conversion rates.

Currently about 50% of the top 10,000 websites are using HTTPS.

E-commerce retailers should already be using SSL on their sites for security reasons and to give potential customers the security that they are working with a safe site and responsible site owner.

Most major shopping carts like Shopify and Bigcommerce now offer free SSL certificates with all of their plans, but if you’re self-hosted, you may need to set this up yourself.

Many hosting services like Kinsta integrate directly with Let’s Encrypt which provides encryption for free. Otherwise, contact your hosting company for specific instructions.

7. Make your site faster than fast

Site performance is a critical measurement area for any site’s SEO.

Harry Shum, head of AI at Microsoft says this: “Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web.”

If your page load speeds are slow, potential customers will abandon your site before they ever see your products or services. Why risk it? Sites need to convert to survive.

Recently, Google just announced that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking consideration for mobile searches.

Speed matters.

It should come as no surprise. The benefits for mobile far outweigh the investment, in the form of a better user experience that will convert to higher conversions and sales.

It’s easy to start testing for site speed, and you can’t afford not to. Use a free tool like Page Speed Insights to test your mobile performance, and then do the same for your web pages.

page speed for ecommerce sites

Sites like Shopify live and die by site speed metrics—and it’s paying off. Shopify Pay has an uptime of 99.8% and offers a 40% faster checkout than its competitors. That translates into an 18% increase in sales.

Get fast, test often and stay fast.

Good SEO is not optional

The effort you make with SEO to improve your e-commerce site can pay off with higher sales and greater discoverability of your products, brands, and service. If your competitors are ranking higher than you are in Google search, it is because they are doing more of the seven tactics described in this article.

You want an edge. The retail giants are not going to make this easy on you or their other competitors. It will require an investment of time and energy to improve your ranking.

There is still a significant slice of the pie in retail available to online retailers that take the time to research keywords, produce engaging and helpful content, and optimize their site for form and function. Give your customers a reason to keep coming back for more.

Brad Smith

Brad Smith

Brad Smith is a marketing writer and partner at Codeless Interactive, LLC.