Search engine optimization (SEO) is still one of the most important strategies to make your online shop visible in 2021. But many online shop owners still don't know exactly how to optimize their shop to stand out from the competition and get visitors in a cost-effective and sustainable way. Today, I'm going to show you how to optimize your online shop for search engines for long-term success.
In ecommerce, many online retailers rely on paid ads to get visitors to their store. This may well work fine for many shops, but the number of competitors is increasing and so are the prices for paid advertising. In the long run, paying more for ads reduces your profitability.
SEO can help here because, with good rankings on Google, visitors can find your shop without your paying for it. According to the article "63 SEO Statistics for 2021" from Ahref, 86 percent of all online experiences start with a search engine. So if you're serious about your shop business, it's a channel you can't afford to ignore.
In this guide, I'll explain the most important levers and things you need to know about online store SEO - regardless of whether you use WooCommerce, Shopify or any other ecommerce solutions.
The right keyword research
Before you can start optimizing your shop, you first need to undertake extensive keyword research. The research of the right keywords is essential because if you focus on the wrong keywords, even the best search engine optimization isn't going to yield great results.
So how do you go about it?
Behind every search term is the search intent. If you search for something on Google, you want to find a certain type of content. There are two types of keywords here:
- Informational keywords: Someone wants to inform and educate themselves about certain topics. Here, the intention to buy is not yet particularly strong. These keywords indicate that the person searching is at the beginning of their customer journey. Examples of informational search terms: "gardening tips" or "how to become more athletic?".
- Commercial keywords: Here the intention to buy is already stronger because whoever searches for this type of keyword is looking for a specific product or a solution to a problem. Examples of commercial keywords: "buy garden furniture" or "gyms nearby".
Now, if you want to rank well for "buy garden furniture", you need to choose the right content format. A category or a product page matching the search intent should be used here. For the search term "how to become more athletic", however, a different content type is needed as a category or product page does not match the search intent. Guides or blog posts are more suitable.
Therefore, it is important that your online store has an advice section or a blog area where you can cover the informational keywords.
How do you find the right keywords for your online shop?
Now you know what keyword types there are and what the search intent is all about. The next step is to find out the correct keywords for your online shop. I recommend using tools to carry out this ecommerce keyword research as it will make the task easier. There are free SEO tools that do a good job but if you want to do everything optimally from the beginning, go for a paid tool like Ahrefs, SemRush or KWFinder.
To find out exactly how this works in detail, check out our article on keyword research.
On page optimization for online shops
After you've found out for which keywords you want to rank with your shop, it's time to tackle the on page optimization to make sure all the elements on your website are optimized.
Texts are the heart of your online shop SEO
Texts are still essential in search engine optimization. Contrary to what is often believed, there is no hard-and-fast rule about how many words a text needs to have. On the contrary, take a look at say the first three search results, see how many words the competition uses and adjust your word count accordingly. There are some search terms where it's necessary to write more than 2000 words. And there are searches where users expect short answers to their search query.
Furthermore, you should take a close look at the content of your competitors and try to create better content than them. The aspects of readability, accuracy, scope and timeliness are particularly important.
What else is important in writing texts?
Headings: The texts you publish on your category, product and advice pages must be structured. Heading and subheadings should be used to give your texts this necessary structure. The H1 heading is the most important heading on a page; it shows Google what the topic of this URL is. Your keyword should always be mentioned in the H1 heading! Use different variations of your keywords in the subheadings.
Images and media: A picture is worth a thousand words. Use media and images to spice up your text and enhance your content. Videos and images can often present certain topics better than text. At the same time, images are also included in Google Image Search and bring in additional traffic.
Snippet optimization is also an important part of on page optimization. A snippet consists of the meta description, the meta title and the URL.
Many online shops use the automatically generated display from Google for this. But this variant rarely encourages clicks.
To increase the click-through rate, you should design the snippets of the most important pages of your shop yourself.
What's important for the meta title?
- The keyword must be included (very important!) and preferably at the beginning.
- It mustn't be too long, otherwise the title will be cut off (check the length here).
- Variations of the keyword should be included if space allows.
- To make your result stand out visually, you can use emoticons & special characters.
What's important for the meta description?
- Here you have a little more space available. You should use this to encourage readers to click (mention features, advantages for users, etc.).
- Your keyword should also be included here (it will then be marked bold on Google)
- Use emoticon and special characters to visually lift your result
If you're using WooCommerce, plugins like Yoast SEO can make your job easier. These tools allow you to automatically adjust all snippets according to your preferences.
Internal linking is particularly relevant for online shop SEO. Internal links distribute the PageRank, which the shop has, to the subpages. The distribution of the PageRank plays a major role in search engine optimization. It's important that you link the most important categories and the most important products very frequently.
The menu is a good choice here, as it ensures the most important pages are accessible from every subpage.
Unlike external links, you should always put the keyword in the anchor text.
Another point you should consider is the page depth, also known as click depth. Nobody wants to click loads of times to get to the information they want. The fewer clicks from the start page are necessary, the better. Your visitors and the search engines will appreciate it!
From time to time, you may have product pages that are not accessible internally - so-called "orphan pages". If these pages are irrelevant, simply delete them. If they are important, make sure these pages have a place in your internal link structure.
The URLs in your store also need to be optimized to get better results in the search engines.
What exactly should the URLs in your shop look like?
The URL should...
- ... be "speaking" (i.e. a natural term and not technical abbreviations).
- ... contain the main keyword.
- ... not be too long.
- ... have a hierarchical structure.
Here are examples of what the URLs in your shop could look like.
yourshop.com/furniture/ (category page)
yourshop.com/furniture/table/ (subcategory page)
yourshop.com/furniture/table/couch-table/ (subcategory page)
Here is an example of what the URLs in your shop should not look like:
With most shop systems, such as WooCommerce or Shopify, the URL structure can be changed very quickly and easily.
In online shop and ecommerce SEO, category pages are of particular importance because the majority of traffic should be directed to these pages. The commercial keywords such as "coffee tables" should rank for the category pages.
What does the optimal category page look like?
- An H1 heading containing the keyword.
- A short teaser (maximum 100 words) above the products - again containing the keyword.
- Then the products are displayed.
- To the side is a sidebar with filter.
- Below the products there is a longer text which serves as a guide for the customers.
- Aggregated customer reviews should be displayed on the page (for the stars on Google).
The product pages are not as important as the category pages, as most users are looking for a selection and not just a single product. There are also products with a very high search volume, e.g. "iPhone 12", but this isn't the case for most online shops.
What does the optimal product page look like?
- An H1 heading containing the keyword.
- High quality pictures are a MUST.
- The product pages should also contain SEO text (this doesn't mean a list of technical details). These texts should be unique and at least 100 words long.
- Customer reviews should ideally be included.
- Breadcrumb navigation to optimize internal linking.
As already mentioned, there are commercial and informational keywords. To also achieve good rankings for informational search terms, I recommend setting up a guidance and advice area or a blog on your online shop.
Informational keywords usually have a high search volume and there are significantly more of them than commercial keywords. The purchase intention is not yet high because the users are still in the research process and are only looking for information on certain topics. Nevertheless, you should be on top for these terms too so you can pick up your potential customers right at the beginning of their customer journey.
What could content for guides or blog sections look like?
- Guides, e.g. "How to properly care for wooden furniture".
- Information, e.g. "What is scaffolding lumber?"
When you have such content on your online shop, the probability that other sites with link to your shop increases. I'll explain why this is important in the next section.
Off page optimization for online shops
Of course, off page optimization is also a significant factor in search engine optimization for online shops. Don't forget, even if your shop has undergone perfect on page optimization, it won't rank well without backlinks. Google loves authority - and you build authority with external links from other websites.
You might be thinking it must be difficult for online shops to build backlinks because who really wants to link to a purely commercial website? But it's certainly possible and I'd like to explain how.
One quick way to get a potential link is to contact the manufacturer or distributor of your products. Many manufacturers have a subpage on their website where they list where users can buy their products. Simply ask the manufacturer to link your shop there.
Another option is to take a closer look at your competition. With tools like Ahrefs or Majestic SEO, you can look at the backlinks of the competition and simply rebuild these links where possible.
Guest articles are still a good way to generate links. If you have a small shop, you should only write to smaller blogs in your niche and ask if you can publish a guest article. How to effectively carry out guest article outreach is explained well in this article.
For more tips on how to generate backlinks for your online store, check out this article from wp unboxed.
Technical optimization for online shops
The larger and more extensive your website is, the more significant the technical aspects of the become. Online shops are usually much larger than normal websites so technical optimization is also important. So you don't end up quickly losing the overview, you should keep the number of pages low at the beginning.
HTTPS is a ranking factor and that means Google ranks websites with HTTPS better than websites without HTTPS. You should therefore definitely use an SSL certificate on your shop page. But ranking isn't the only reason for using HTTPS. As you're transferring sensitive customer data, the shop must also be secured accordingly. If the customer data is not secured, you could face legal consequences.
Online shops tend to suffer from duplicate content. Duplicate content arises for various reasons.
- Online shops take over the product descriptions from the manufacturers or even from the competition.
- Many shops also the same product descriptions for different product variants (for example, product A in the color yellow and product A in the color green have an identical product description).
- A product can be called up under two different URLs.
(Example: yourshop.com/furniture/couch-table/couch-table-blue & yourshop.com/new-articles/couch-table-blue)
Canonical tags are there to solve this problem. This tag shows Google that only one URL should be indexed, i.e. the URL that has the canonical tag.
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.beispiel.de/original-url”/>
Dieser Code wird im <Head> Bereich einer Unterseite eingesetzt, um den Suchmaschinen anzuweisen, bei welcher Seite es sich um das Original handelt.
Performance and loading time
Loading times have always been important in the world of online shops. I mean, who wants to wait more than five seconds for a product page to open? Exactly, nobody!
Page speed is therefore important for both achieving good rankings in the search engines and for keeping users happy.
How can your online shop's page speed be improved with a few small tweaks?
- Compress images (e.g. with tools like TinyPNG or image optimization plugins for your WooCommerce shop).
- Go for very good hosting, such as from Raidboxes (do not save at the wrong end)
- Use a CDN (content delivery network) if you also have international traffic.
- Use caching (e.g. WP-Rocket for WooCommerce).
For more tips on page speed optimization, check out our article!
The correct pagination
As far as pagination is concerned, you can choose from a variety of options. Most shops use scrolling pagination for their category pages (page 1, page 2 etc.). Infinite scrolling, i.e. when the page is reloaded again and again, is not really suitable as the reloaded elements are no longer crawled by the Googlebot (unless the reloaded elements appear in a different URL).
Many large online shops such as Zalando or Otto have all subpages from page 2 set to noindex. This avoids duplicate content and only the first page of a category is ranked. If you don't look into the topic, it could be that page 5 or page 6 of a category rank best on Google.
An older solution is to use rel="next"/"prev" in the HTML code. In 2019, however, Google announced it would no longer use this practice.
How did rel="next"/"prev" work?
site 1 linked to site 2:
<link rel="next" href="http://www.beispiel.com/Artikel-Teil2.html"/>
site 2 links to site 1:
<link rel="prev" href="http://www.beispiel.com/Artikel-Teil1.html"/>
Overall, however, one can argue there's no best practice when it comes to pagination. Instead, various different but adequate approaches exist.
For larger shops, the practice of deindexing from page 2 onwards has established itself.
Of course, I could go on for hours with more tips and tricks but I wanted to show the basics today so you can bring your online shop forward effectively and for the long term. If you take these SEO tips to heart, you're sure to perform better than 80 percent of your competitors.