In 2012, search engine optimization for ecommerce websites should start before the websites are even built. Updates to the search rankings algorithm associated with Google Panda and the rise of the social graph have made landing page hierarchy, usability, conversion rate, social engagement, and unique content more important than ever. Here are a few ways that you can get a head start on SEO for your ecommerce site.
Organize the site into categories that make sense for users and search engines.
Well-optimized product category pages are the most important SEO tool at the disposal of ecommerce websites. In 2012, Google and other search engines have placed a premium on unique, query-relevant content as a rankings factor. For sites that sell a variety of different products and services, creating targeted landing pages (pages created for the purpose of attracting a specific type of visitor) oriented around a keyword or group of keywords is critical to expanding search volume.
An ecommerce website selling snowboards, snowboarding gear, and accessories, for instance, may want to start organizing the site for SEO by dividing their products into broad categories that make sense from a user perspective. Dividing snowboards, snowboarding apparel, and snowboarding equipment are easy decisions from a user perspective, and allow for the creation of custom landing pages that attempt to engage the broadest search terms. Pages optimized for broad search terms, however, can’t hope to engage all of the more specific branded, product-type, or longer-tail search terms that your potential customers may be using to try and find the products that you sell. If you don’t optimize for more specific searches by creating more custom landing pages, you risk letting their business go to a competitor.
To gain insight into how I might organize my broader snowboard category, I consulted the Google Adwords keyword research tool. Here is my initial search:
This search tells me how to organize my snowboard category. I can see that the highest volume searches are for snowboards by brand. K2, Burton, Salomon and others get by far the most searches. I know that I want to create custom landing pages for each of the major brands of snowboards that I sell, to draw in users searching for a specific brand. The second most searched metric seems to be “sale snowboards,” “discount snowboards,” or even “$150 snowboards.” This tells me that I want to create a category page with unique content and products that are on sale, to engage these search terms. Third, it tells me that the potential customers of my theoretical snowboard store are searching based on gender and age. “Kids snowboards” and “women’s snowboards” are popular search categories. So, I will want to create custom landing pages for kids, mens, and womens snowboards, to engage this search volume.
I’ll repeat this process for my Apparel and Accessories categories. So, after about an hour considering my business and some help from Google Adwords, I have a basic structure for organizing my ecommerce site. Here’s what I have:
Obviously, there is more research to be done and more variables to be considered than overall search volume, including competition, conversion rates, and profitability of different products, but you get the idea: Organize your site into categories and sub-category pages that makes sense from a common sense, usability perspective as well an SEO perspective.
*A note of caution: There are made-for-seo sites and made-for-seo sites. Creating a large number of landing pages to engage too many variations of similar keywords can hurt your site from a SEO perspective because you run the risk of duplicate content penalties, and hurt your usability (which also affects your search rankings) because it can create a bewilderingly large number of pages selling similar or identical products. Finding the right balance between SEO and usability is important, but error on the side of usability.
Here is a real-world example from our experience at Customer Paradigm:
Customer Paradigm does internet marketing and SEO for Discount Decorating, a large online retailer of wallpaper and wallpaper borders. In order to increase their organic search traffic, we built out their category and subcategory pages by creating static urls for pages that had previously been internal search result pages, and added unique content and meta data to most of the new category pages we had created. The new category pages allowed Discount Decorating to rank well for a wide variety of more specific and long-tail keywords. The impact was immediate and dramatic. Within two weeks, Discount Decorating’s organic search traffic had doubled, and sales jumped at a corresponding rate. Here is their traffic graph:
Add SEO value to your landing and product pages with unique content
In 2012, the key to ranking well for Google and other search engines is uniqueness. This means each of your category and product pages should have unique text, images, schema.org or RDFA tagging, header tags, title tags, alt text, etc. Pages with duplicate content, meta descriptions, or title tags can negate the SEO value of your pages, and category page text or product descriptions copied from a manufacturers website can be very harmful. Search engines aren’t impressed with content that they can find elsewhere, and they may penalize you for it. You have to add something new and unique to climb up the rankings.
One great way to add uniqueness to your website as a whole is through a regularly updated blog. Include special offers, news, how-to guides, and other information relevant to your business and industry. Regularly updated content tells Google and other search engines that your site is an organic, growing site that is regularly adding unique content for its users. The search engines will reward you accordingly.
Usability is becoming increasingly important to ranking well and selling products
Not only is the usability of your site critical to your conversion rate (the % of people who visit your site who make a purchase), Google and other search engines are using increasing sophisticated ways to determine whether or not ecommerce sites are usable and using this analysis in their rankings calculations. Things like bounce rate, time spent on the site, number of pages viewed, and engagement metrics such as whether or not a person filled out a contact form, signed up for a newsletter, or made a purchase account for a significant portion of the search engine rankings algorithm in 2012.
The undisputed most important element to usability for ecommerce websites, particularly larger ecommerce websites, is the search feature. Almost every ecommerce site that sells more than a few products has a search tool that allows visitors to quickly find a product based on a series of custom filters. How quickly and with what precision a user can find the product they’re looking for often determines whether or not a visitor becomes a customer, and can go along way in determining the success of failure of an ecommerce site. Careful thought and attention must be paid to your search/filtering features.
*A note of caution: Many site owners and developers rely too much on search tools and other custom filters and ignore or under-develop their category pages. While search tools are great from user perspective, they don’t gain the SEO value that comes with category pages that have unique content and static urls that can be submitted in a sitemap. It’s important to keep both your users, and Google in mind when building an ecommerce site.
Prepare to engage with Social Media
Social media is a great way to interact with your existing customers and keep them coming back with updates, special offers, and other promotions. In 2012, social media signals can account for as much as 14-18% of the Google rankings algorithm: things like Google “+1s,” Facebook “likes,” and Twitter “mentions.” Adding social media buttons to your home page, category pages, and all product pages before the site is launced will give you a running start into social media.
SEO for ecommerce websites can be very competitive, but forethought, smart organizing, and awareness of SEO principles during the development of the site can allow your site to move up the search rankings faster, allowing you to make more money from you site sooner.
Customer Paradigm is a complete internet marketing agency for ecommerce websites, including search engine optimization, search advertising, and custom ecommerce website development. For more information, visit customerparadigm.com or call 303-473-4400 or contact us to speak to a real person now.