If you’re in the e-commerce business your website is your lifeblood. And SEO is vital to it.
The e-commerce world has become a cutthroat arena for businesses. Most niches are overcrowded. Everyone wants to be ranking #1 in Google and will do whatever it takes to get there.
When you slip up, not only does it undo the progress that it took weeks or even months to achieve, but while you’re scrambling to recover, the other guy is profiting. By means of education and our tool we try to make this clear.
Whether you’re in the process of starting a new e-commerce business or your business is already up and running, it’s essential for your SEO success to have a solid website architecture.
The architecture of a highly visible e-commerce website comes down to:
- Keyword Research: what keywords are interesting for your business?
- Keyword Strategy: how to effectively incorporate these keywords in your website?
- Information Architecture: what pages do you have in your website, and how do they relate to one another?
Let’s get to work!
Keyword Research: Know what your Audience is Looking for
Before we get into website structure and the technical side of things, first we need to establish what keywords your target audience is using when searching for the products you offer. Figuring out what keywords are actually used by your audience, and which ones are most interesting to incorporate into your website is called keyword research. These keywords fuel your entire SEO strategy, so it’s absolutely essential that this is done right. To prove our point, the next section on this checklist, Information Architecture, heavily relies on that keyword list.
In short, keyword research comes down to researching which keywords:
- Are relevant for your target audience
- Are actually searched for
- Are realistic to rank for
- Carry business value
To give you the rundown on how this process works, we’ve put together an extensive guide on keyword research. Use its step-by-step instructions to build the list of keywords you want to target. Again, and we can’t say this enough: the keyword list fuels every aspect of SEO.
Make sure you only target keywords that are within reach. Sure, you may have the ambition to rank for very competitive keywords right from the start but that’s just not going to happen. You have to be realistic, and pick your battles.
Keyword Strategy: Location is everything
You’ve got a list of interesting keywords that you want to rank for, so now what? In order for you to rank for these keywords, you need to have pages where you can incorporate these keywords. First, you need to map the keywords to pages and second you need to define how to incorporate the keywords. Incorporating keywords in pages is done by including keywords in important HTML elements, the body content and links.
All this results in something we call the keyword strategy.
Step 1: mapping keywords to pages
Let’s take the keyword examples used in the Keyword Research article:
Create a new tab in the spreadsheet with the following columns:
- Keyword #1
- Keyword #2
- Meta description
- H1 heading
- H2 heading
Now we start the mapping process. Fill in the columns “URL” and “Keyword #1” and “Keyword #2”.
- Map keywords with a similar meaning to the same page. Example: “television” and “TV”
- Don’t try to incorporate too many keywords per page, in most cases two keywords is the maximum.
- Group related pages in subdirectories. Example: “led tv samsung 40 inch”, “led tv samsung 42 inch” and “led tv samsung 46 inch”.
- Keywords with a high difficulty score need to be mapped to strong pages within your website, pages such as your homepage and category pages. Example: “television” has a high difficulty score. Map this keyword to your homepage since it’s your best bet to be successful with ranking for this keyword.
Soon you’ll see your website structure taking shape. You’ll also see gaps in your keyword research list. For instance: you included the keyword “smart tv samsung”, but forgot to include the generic keyword “smart tv”.
Add it to your keyword research list, and fill it in in the keyword strategy spreadsheet. You see people are searching for combinations of one brand’s television types and sizes. They’re probably searching for the similar keywords with the other brands too.
Step 2: incorporating keywords in the pages
Incorporating keywords in pages is done by including keywords in important HTML elements, the body content and links.
Now define the contents of the other columns “Title”, “Meta description”, “H1 heading” and “H2 heading”.
- Incorporate the keyword at the beginning of your title, H1 heading and H2 heading.
- If you can’t incorporate the exact keyword in the title or headings then don’t force it in. Choose whatever is best for your visitors.
- If you have multiple H2 headings, don’t try to force in your keyword in every H2 heading.
- When defining the titles, meta descriptions and headings, think about your visitors. What triggers them to request more information, or, even better, make a purchase? Is it price, delivery time, or personal advice? Try to weave the (potential) answers to these questions into the content in these columns.
When you’re done, your spreadsheet is going to look something like this:
Pro tip: use templates to generate the contents of the title, meta description and headings. Make sure you can manually overwrite the generated contents. Good templates will get you 90% of the way, but the remaining 10% often needs manual adjustments.
Example of a title template:
$productName – Buy online at $companyName
Example of a meta description template:
Looking for $productName? Only $productPrice at $companyName. Order today before 9 PM, delivery next day.
Image optimization plays an important role in on-page SEO too, but we’ll touch on that a little later.
On e-commerce websites, body content is often placed above and/or below the products. Body content gives search engines a better idea of what the page is about, as well as a clear signal that the page is unique and needs to be considered for indexing. Without this context, search engines have trouble understanding what pages are relevant for what keywords.
Here’s an example of body content on Amazon’s Plasma TV page:
Amazon deliberately chose to place the body content below the products because they didn’t want the body content to push the product images down the page. They wanted the best of both worlds: to give their visitors the opportunity to dive into their products right away (good user experience) and offer search engines a clear context for this page (good SEO).
Add body content to all of the pages you want to rank for in search engines. Be pragmatic and apply the 80/20 rule. Start by adding body content to your most important pages. Often these are the homepage, category pages, subcategory pages and your top product pages. After that’s done, continue with the rest of the pages.
- Body content should be unique for every page and consist of at least 200 words.
- Again, don’t force usage of exact keywords in the text. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.
- Focus on writing useful content for your visitors. Explain what types of products you’re offering, what’s so great about them, and what they should keep in mind when evaluating them.
- Mix singular and plural forms of your keywords.
- Include related keywords and links to useful content.
Links play a vital role in SEO. Because navigational elements like such as the main menu, footer menu and breadcrumbs include links, these play a vital role too.
You’ll define these in the next section “Information Architecture”, what you need to keep in mind for now is:
- Incorporate keywords in the link texts of the links in the navigation. Try to incorporate the exact keywords, but again don’t force them in. Choose readability over SEO.
- Focus your navigation to link to important, relevant pages. Link from your homepage to the category pages. And from your category pages to your subcategory pages. Are some of the category pages related? Then link to one another.
Information Architecture is the art and science of designing a structure for presenting your website’s content. In a nutshell, it’s about defining what content will be presented and how it will be made accessible. Information Architecture is essentially where User Experience meets Search Engine Optimization, and both visitors and search engines will benefit from a well-crafted design.
Common Information Architecture deliverables include:
- Sitemaps, providing a visual representation of the sections and pages on your website and their hierarchy;
- Wireframes and mock-ups, providing a schematic blueprint of the lay-out of individual page templates; and
- Content Inventories, commonly maintained in spreadsheets for tracking the most important pieces of information for the essential pages of the website (the purpose of the page, the title, a short description, its relation to other pages, etc.).
While your situation may not call for all these deliverables in high fidelity, it is always important to think about the essentials. The information architecture is the foundation of your e-commerce website, so you need to make sure it’s solid and allows for expansion in the future. The last thing you want is to paint yourself into a corner.
Keep these aspects in mind during your planning and you have 90% of the best practices covered.
In your Keyword Strategy you’ve already thought about the role of the navigation from an SEO point of view. Now let’s fill in the blanks by looking at it from a user point of view.
Describe all of the pages you want to include in your site navigation and add hierarchy to them.
When doing so, make sure to:
- Keep related pages together (“siloing”)
- Choose page labels that include important keywords and that make sense from a user’s point of view.
Define the content of each of the following navigation types:
- Main navigation
- Sidebar navigation
- Footer navigation
Define the different page templates you need. These needs may be based on specific product categories, or you may want to include specific landing pages. From an SEO perspective, every e-commerce website has these high-priority templates:
- Category page
- Product page
- Regular text page
For each page, make a list of the following information:
- Applicable page template
- Short description
- Parent page
- Relevant keywords (see Keyword Strategy)
- Page title (see Keyword Strategy)
- Meta description (see Keyword Strategy)
- Headings (see Keyword Strategy)
- Special links, such as upselling or cross-selling of products
- Link relations (for instance link rel=”canonical”, rel=”prev” and rel=”next”)
- Indexability guidelines: yes/no
For e-commerce websites with a lot of products it doesn’t make sense to define the properties above for each individual product category and product page. The goal here is to get you thinking deeply about the whole process, and along the way it’s likely you’ll come up with a template that applies to a lot of product categories and pages.
We recommend defining the properties above for at least your most important product category pages. When it comes to product pages, it’s a good idea to at least define them per product category.
Choose your product names wisely. Ideally they are the same or at least very similar to the queries users would use to find your products.
Optimizing your product images for search engines is a no-brainer for e-commerce websites. If done well, image optimization can drive solid traffic that converts.
Be sure to incorporate important keywords in the elements described above, as well as in the ones that matter specifically for images:
- Filename (“product-name.jpg”)
- Image alt attribute (“product-name”)
- Image title attribute (“product-name”)
- Caption (“Short description of product name”)
A general best practice is to offer the right image size for the right device. This means high-quality images on desktop and lower quality images on mobile.
Make sure your e-commerce website has a solid architecture. This architecture is the basis for your SEO success. Stick to it, work hard and SEO success will follow.
Remember that the SEO game really begins after either releasing your new e-commerce website, or releasing changes to your existing website. Only then you’ll see the effect of your strategy. Monitor your website for SEO changes and issues continuously.
Keep improving and expanding your e-commerce website, it’s never “finished.” What are your best tips for SEO?