Link building is difficult.
Link building for an e-commerce store is even harder.
Because, in most instances, you’re competing against big-name brands with huge budgets and extensive resources available.
That isn’t to say that you can’t outrank such sites or earn some great links to help you on your way to doing so through creative link building; it just requires great effort both in terms of time and resources.
It’s rarely – if ever – a quick win solution when it comes to e-commerce SEO but it continues to be the area where many focus the majority of their efforts.
Because every other run-of-the-mill SEO guide (as well some great studies) tells you that you need links and content to rank.
This is true, but there’s one issue with these guides:
For the most part, they’re aimed at beginners.
So many high-ranking SEO guides, including SEJ’s Guide to SEO, are primarily written for those just starting out in the world of SEO.
Newbies are typically the hungriest audiences when it comes to wanting to learn something new. There’s certainly no holes in adopting such a content strategy, however, things need to be kept simple for such readers. And for SEO, simple means repeatedly drumming into the heads of newbie marketers that, to rank a website, it takes great content and great links.
There are so much more areas of improvements to focus on as an SEO, however, especially when looking to rank an e-commerce store under highly commercial terms, and they often provide quick wins; offering much better opportunities and a better return on time than chasing yet another link.
This post will share five ways to improve your e-commerce SEO campaign without building a single link.
But before we dive into the list, there are a couple of things that need to be done. These aren’t in the main list because experienced SEOs should already have these areas covered.
- Make sure you’ve implemented an SSL certificate and that your site sits on HTTPS. Google have been using this as a ranking signal since 2014, yet many still overlook this and see it as something which web development should be doing. Make the switch and you’ll be glad you did.
- Don’t ignore page speed. Use a combination of Google’s PageSpeed Insights as well as tools such as Pingdom to understand easy improvements to increase the loading speed. Don’t underestimate the importance of this both on user experience and SEO, especially given the talk around the use of dwell time as a ranking factor.
These are, however, now considered to be the basics and, as such, something which most SEOs sorted out way back.
If you’re looking for e-commerce SEO quick wins, however, be sure to do the following:
1. Optimize Title Tags & Meta Descriptions for Real People
It is now more than six years since Panda first rolled out, five years since Penguin and four years since Hummingbird yet it doesn’t take much searching to find a site with a title tag and meta description which looks like this:
Keywords, keywords, keywords…
Lame, lame, lame.
Optimizing title tags and meta descriptions in this way doesn’t help anyone. They rarely result in top rankings on the SERPs – as Google sees them as over-optimized – and since it looks spammy, users aren’t enticed to click on the listing – further dropping both SERP positions due to a poor CTR .
Unfortunately, too many e-commerce sites still suffer from such over-optimization, usually due to the fact that no one knows well enough to change things or that a certain wave of success has been seen at some point in the past and senior management is too afraid to modify it.
Always optimize your title tags and meta descriptions for people, not algorithms.
It’s people who buy from you, not computers.
Looking at another example from the same industry, here’s a site which has been optimized in a much more natural manner:
Which result would you click?
In the second example, there’s no truncation on the title tag (which clearly outlines what the business offers without being difficult to read) and the meta description is used for its main purpose – to encourage a searcher to click on the listing and highlight a number of unique selling points.
Work through your site’s categories, pages, and products and if you see titles and descriptions which look like the first example, spend some time rewriting based on what humans want, not what you were once told Google wants.
2. Discover New Category-Level Keyword Opportunities
There’s nothing like a good bit of keyword research, yet this is something which some SEO professionals are prone to doing once and forgetting about.
You should never stop learning in any walk of life but it’s especially important when it comes to SEO. The more you can learn about competitors and searchers, the better experience you can serve to users.
A commonly overlooked area of e-commerce SEO is identifying additional category-level keyword opportunities, having perhaps initially conducted keyword research at the time of a new website launch, using it to inform of and propose the site’s architecture.
Think about how your potential customers are searching for the products which you sell.
It’s all too easy for a bedding retailer, for example, to run a few core terms through Google’s Keyword Planner and see that “pillows” is the most searched for term across that side of the business. While there’s no denying that, it’s a competitive term which will almost certainly have poor click-through and conversion rates due to being so generic.
It may have volume but will it convert traffic into sales? Probably not.
Look to break down categories into sub-categories, going as deep as possible without returning single products. In the example here of a bedding retailer and their pillows collection, you could look to break down the main ‘pillows’ category into:
- Pillow Type
- Sleep Position
This could return keywords ranging from “pillows for back sleepers” through to “anti allergy pillows” or even a step further: “hollowfibre anti allergy pillows.”
Ranking for such terms is far easier, due to decreased competition from big brand retailers, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a higher conversion rate due to increased relevancy.
Take the time to audit your site’s structure against fresh keyword research. Start by spending time checking out your main competitors:
- How have they structured sub-categories?
- Are they ranking for any category-level terms which you’ve not optimized for because you hadn’t created a category?
Pair this manual competitor research with search volume data and you’ll quickly discover fresh opportunities to expand your site structure in a way that aids both SEO and user experience.
3. Implement Rich Snippets
If you aren’t using rich snippets in e-commerce, you’re missing out on a wealth of SEO opportunities.
Would you sooner click on this:Or this?
Presumably the first! The result is enhanced in a number of ways, showing so much more than just a title tag, URL, and meta description, including the price, availability, dial shape, model number, and case size.
The second result shows only the basic information seen across every other result.
If you aren’t yet using rich snippets to enhance how your results on the SERPs are displayed, you’re missing out on both rankings and revenue.
To note, Google doesn’t officially use rich snippets as a ranking factor, yet it is widely accepted that organic CTR is at least an indirect ranking signal. That said, if you can improve your CTR through an enhanced result while also taking up a larger proportion of screen real estate, there is a good chance better rankings will follow suit.
4. Canonicalize or De-Index Thin Content Pages
Can you safely say that your e-commerce store doesn’t contain anything which you could regard as “thin” content? No price filters which load onto their own URL, using their parent category’s copy, title, and H1 tag?
The majority of e-commerce stores, depending on their platform of choice, will likely be using filters to improve UX and allow customers to sort products by price, color, and other variables but some will be creating a “unique” page on its own URL for these.
The same can also happen for category pagination. Not necessarily a problem, so long as you’re aware and able to do something about them.
The issue? Many forget about them and simply leave them, potentially opening up problems of keyword cannibalization without realizing so.
One surefire quick win is to conduct a site audit which looks to establish the number of pages in the e-commerce site against those indexed by Google.
Essentially, you’re looking to identify discrepancies here. Use tools such as Screaming Frog to run a full crawl of the site and compare the number of URLs returned here against that shown as indexed by Google in Search Console.
Be warned, however, a figure which is higher on your Screaming Frog crawl than shown as indexed by Google is most often a better scenario than matching (or closely matching) numbers. Why? Because a higher figure from Screaming Frog usually means that the issues have been dealt with. A figure that is the same, however, could mean no problems exist on a small store so always use your best instinct or dig a little deeper.
Should you discover large numbers (tens of thousands isn’t unusual) of pages indexed which you know shouldn’t be, you’ve got a quick win opportunity.
The best approach to resolve these issues is to either canonicalize them to the parent category or to de-index using your robots.txt file.
5. Curate ‘Best of’ Guides for Your Top Product Categories
Consider the quick win opportunities of curating “best of” guides for your top product categories to target consumers at the research-stage of their buying cycle.
In almost any industry, you’ll find searches for the likes of “the best pillows for back pain” or “the best shoes for long distance running”. These searches are typically made by those considering making a purchase yet so many e-commerce SEOs overlook the importance of working such content into their strategy.
A great example is Sous Vide Guy’s Best Sous Vide Machines for 2017, a great guide which is relevant and timely (targeted for 2017). It’s visual and it ranks the different products, helping consumers to make decisions. It’s important to note that the site in question here looks to be an affiliate site, however, there’s no reason you can’t do this within your own e-commerce store, hooking in your most relevant products.
If you already have an established store with a strong domain authority, there’s a good chance you’ll see some strong visibility fairly quickly with this approach. Just don’t forget to cover the products within the guide in depth; ideally aiming to cover at least 2,000 words to ensure it’s detailed enough to rank well.
Always look for your quick win opportunities – too many of your competitors are likely chasing links and working on the time-consuming tasks, putting their focus in those areas. By looking at areas where you can quickly see a return and value from your time, you’re putting yourself in a much better position to grow your e-commerce store.
Screenshots taken by James Brockbank, August 2017