If you've ever used Google or a similar search engine then you’ve contributed to Google’s search algorithm, which uses over 200 ranking factors to determine how webpages rank in Google’s search engine results page (SERP).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), at its core, is the process of optimizing these 200+ factors to ensure your page ranks higher. Higher rank means more organic traffic, which means more sales for your e-commerce business.
Below, we’ll go over some of the e-commerce SEO best practices to get you more organic traffic. We’ll focus on Google, but the similar principles apply with other search engines such as YouTube (world’s #2 search engine), Amazon, and others.
Let's get started.
1. Create Consistent, High-quality and Relevant Content
There’s no point in trying to “game” the Google algorithm, especially as Google’s algorithm is constantly updated to weed out blackhat SEO practices such as link or keyword stuffing. Even more sophisticated over-optimization practices that used to work (e.g. churning out content for the sake of content) is being penalized by Google for not focusing on “people-first content” (see Google’s Helpful Content update). The same aggressive practices that worked yesterday may be penalized tomorrow, causing you to scramble as you lose traffic.
Google is increasingly relying on Artificial Intelligence such as RankBrain and human raters to better intuit user intent when searching. This means that things like using keyword synonyms, link stuffing, content spinning, etc. aren’t as relevant as they used to be.
Why content matters (Beardbrand example):
The Beardbrand case study is an example of a small men’s grooming brand that used SEO content strategy to go from $30 to $100,000 monthly recurring revenues (MRR). Beardbrand tackled SEO with a blog writing strategy that focused on top-funnel keywords that potential customers were searching for such as “how to grow a beard” or “styling balm vs. utility balm.”
They took out time to write articles and even developed a comprehensive, 7,706-word how-to guide for growing a beard. This single how-to guide helped them rank for 3,239 keywords, including second for “how to grow a beard.”
This along with other SEO best practices helped them achieve over 500,000 monthly visits and over $100,000 in MRR. While content marketing alone isn’t sufficient, combining it with some of the other practices below can help your brand rise to the top of Google’s results page.
So besides content, what else is important to Google?
According to FirstPageSage, high-quality content is given a 26% weight in their 2022 Google algorithm study (see chart below).
After content, the next most important factors are keywords in meta title tags, backlinks, niche expertise, user engagement, internal links, followed by a host of other page optimizations. We’ll go over each one below from largest weights to smallest, and offer some best practices.
2. Optimize your Meta Title and Description Tags
What’s a meta title tag? For example, if I’m searching for “soccer shoes” on Google, here’s a typical first page result:
The meta titles and descriptions are what Google uses to show the snippets that are displayed to a user when searching. In the above example, “soccer shoes” (or cleats) appear in Nike.com, Soccer.com, and Addidas.com’s meta title tags and product images, helping Google display the items and product images.
For Shopify users, you can find out how to add keywords to your meta title tags here. This doesn’t mean that you should over-optimize and start spamming keywords in your metatags. This hasn’t worked since the early 2000s, and Google doesn’t factor in meta keywords in rankings. Google may sometimes even ignore your meta descriptions and pull descriptions algorithmically from your content.
However, this isn’t to say that meta titles and descriptions are wholly ineffective. In fact, when Google does use your well-thought out meta descriptions, it often leads users to click through more on your site. More clicks and engagements do factor in your engagement scores (11% weight in rankings). Yoast, one of the leaders in SEO optimization software, has a few more recommendations on meta tags here.
3. Try to rank your Long-tail Keywords
Meta titles and descriptions (whether pulled from your content or from you directly) may also help you rank higher for long-tail keywords. In the soccer shoe example above, if I changed the search keywords to “best soccer shoes,” I get a different result than when searching just for “soccer shoes”:
Dickssportinggoods.com is now the top result for “best soccer shoes”, as they have a blog on their page that directly answers this search query titled “Best Soccer Cleats of 2022.” Google likes this content more than the content from Nike or Adidas because (1) it’s fresher (from 2022), and (2) it answers the user’s query more directly.
As you can see, Google was also smart enough to figure out synonyms (cleats vs. shoes). The blog’s content was also previewed by Google as a “featured snippet,” which means it is displayed at the very top of the search results.
You should aim to become a featured snippet for these long-tail keywords you’re hoping to rank for by making good content and writing good meta titles and descriptions. If you think all keywords have been saturated, you’ll be glad to know that 15% of all Google queries have never been searched before.
4. Do your Keyword Research
For small e-commerce brands, we recommend tailoring your content and product descriptions to these long tail or more niche keywords, as they help you compete with the bigger brands. For help on keywords to target, try Google’s keywords planner or SEMRush tools, which show the keyword search volume and competitiveness.
For example, the below screenshot from SEMRush gives you the keyword rankings data for the query “dog food.” While you may not outcompete Chewy.com for dog food, you may be competitive for other terms like “canned dog food” or “best dry food for dogs” which still has search volume, but is less competitive.
5. Optimize your E-commerce Structured Data
Besides meta titles and descriptions, Google also has many surfaces and ways in which a user’s search query results may show up, especially for e-commerce brands. For example, if I search for “best soccer shoe shops near me,” Google Maps will display suggestions based on my current location for physical shops that sell soccer shoes near me.
In order to show up for these other search query surfaces, including Google shopping, you need to provide Google with as much information about your business and products as possible. Don’t forget to include obvious things like reviews, phone numbers, prices, colors, addresses, etc. Also, if you have a how-to-guide on your page or FAQ, you may need to mark up those pages' structured data to help them show up in search.
If you’re using a CMS like Shopify, there are plugins like SmartSEO, which can help you do these things. The more information you provide to Google about your store’s data, the better your store will rank and achieve Google’s goal of answering people’s queries more directly.
6. Build your Website's EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) and Niche Expertise
Google actually publishes its 167-page quality guidelines online, which it provides to its human raters. If you skim through the document, you’ll notice that E-A-T dominates the pages. E-A-T stands for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Essentially, Google wants to show information from trusted sources that have credibility, authority, and expertise.
One way the algorithm determines this is how often your site is shared or linked to by other authoritative pages. NASA.com, for example, will probably be cited more often than random space blogs. Likewise, Google prefers to show medical results from the Mayo Clinic rather than a random health forum for life and death topics (which they call “Your Money or Your Life” topics). This doesn’t mean that you can’t rank against those bigger sites. Niche expertise does factor into the algorithm, especially for non-YMYL topics.
For example, in the Google quality guidelines, a niche landscaping forum that answers a particular question about aquariums really well with lots of user contributions may still actually be deemed a high E-A-T site for the purposes of the page and still rank well. Again, this goes back to good content. The better content you have on your page, the more likely people are to share and link it.
You can find out who links to you directly from Google. This is why brands will often publish press releases or pay for media exposure and mentions. A few links from authoritative sites can really help build up your brand’s E-A-T. Good reviews also contribute to your E-A-T rankings, which help boost your page.
In the Beardbrand example previously mentioned, they created highly linkable unique content (such as a quiz) and worked with other brands and channels such as YouTube videos to build up their E-A-T. (Related: 7 YouTube SEO Best Practices That Will Skyrocket Your Views)
7. Optimize your Page for Technical Factors such as Mobile Content and Speed
We focus on these things last not because they’re not important, but because they should be secondary to good content. These factors certainly do matter in the hypercompetitive world of SEO, where not optimizing for mobile or page load times may cause you to rank on the fifth page instead of the first or second.
There are a number of tools that can help you perform what are called SEO audits for these other important ranking factors, including Google’s own Search Console.
SEO optimization can feel daunting and a long slog, but it’s helpful to keep the above weighted principles in mind and develop a strategy that tackles the most important weights first.
In our opinion, brands too often focus on the technical aspects of SEO optimization at the expense of good, relevant, visually engaging, and structured content. After all, Google will continue to update its algorithm, but good content and high performing sites will keep you on Google’s happy side better and longer than any small SEO tweak or tricks.