E-commerce sales now account for 18% of all retail transactions in the UK for a total value of £533 billion in 2015.
If you sell online, then one of the most important channels you have to reach consumers is search engine traffic. This study by Infront highlights the value of first page Google results by position. If you’re not on page 1 of Google, then you’re seriously missing out: 91.5% of traffic only views the first page.
Even if you are on the first page, it can be difficult to get traction with around 30% of users clicking through to the top result on the SERPs page dropping to only 13% for position two and then diminishing returns as you head to the bottom of the page.
The chances are if you’re here, you already know the value of search engine traffic to your business, and you may already realise that your competitors are outpacing you. So what do you do about it? Our Ecommerce SEO checklist is here to help.
The Big Trends In E-commerce Marketing
Before we start, the two biggest trends we’d love you to think when you optimise your e-commerce pages are:
- Mobile first
- Everything is about the user journey
These two factors are paramount in how successful e-commerce is delivered online. They should be foremost in your thinking when you engage with any aspect of digital marketing. According to OuterBox
On Cyber Monday in 2018, 54% of visitors came from a mobile, and 30% of the roughly $8 billion spent came from mobile transactions.
The growth of mobile e-commerce is in part driving the increased focus on user experience, because of reduced screen real estate and the need to keep user journeys simple, uncluttered and efficient, and deliver what customers are looking for quickly.
But there’s also a growing sophistication among search users who want increased relevancy and speed in getting to where they want to go. People are impatient with short attention spans. They are coping with a constant deluge of information that you need to stand out from if you’re going to make a sale. Keep that in mind when you’re optimising your site.
Because we’re a content marketing agency, we’ve focused here on the SEO essentials that relate primarily to content. There are a bunch of technical SEO steps such as internal linking, product review schema, site speed etc. that you should add to your list but for this article, we’re aiming at content managers, content professionals, and anyone who commissions SEO content or product descriptions.
How to do keyword research for e-commerce
The first step in any e-commerce SEO activity is to make sure you’re targeting the right keywords to reach your consumers.
If you’re not a heavy-hitting multinational with an SEO budget to match, ranking for a term like “men’s luxury watch” or “buy iPhone X” ain’t going to happen. These holy grail terms are often referred to as head terms or short tail keywords. There are usually 2 – 3 words max and can drive a significant amount of traffic if you have the resources to compete for them.
If you’re in a specific niche (and you either have the budget or an established presence online) then ranking for a head term that matches your niche may be attainable – for example, if you’re a musical instrument retailer, and you want to rank for “Gibson Electric Guitars” or “Nord Keyboards”. The more niche you are, the more attainable these head terms.
Head terms are the phrases that you will use in your primary pages – home page, about us, category pages etc. However, when it comes to your product pages most of your effort should be focused on long-tail keywords. Why? Because they are less competitive for one thing, but they also convert far more effectively than the short tail phrases.
There’s also the consideration of relevance – you want your page to be as relevant to the consumer search as possible. The perfect alignment of this is when a customer searches for the particular make and model of your product, and that’s what comes up first on the search results page. Long tail key phrases convert better because they’re more likely to match precisely what the customer is searching for.
There are many guides on keyword research out there that discuss this in more depth, but for a down and dirty version you can follow these steps:
- Create a list of seed terms
The best place to start here is from your own experience. What are the names and types of your products? For example, if you’re a musical instrument retailer, you might start with keyboards, guitars, drums etc. Then break that down by type – synths, pianos, organs; electric guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitars etc. Then you can break down by brand or by a particular feature (12 string acoustic guitars vs 6 string, analogue synths vs digital or hybrid.)
- Use Amazon
It’s the world’s biggest retailer so Amazon can be an amazing secret weapon in your keyword research. Use the standard search bar from the Amazon home page then enter your seed term. Amazon will then suggest a list of items related to your term. Again, look for the long tail terms of 4 or more words. Here we might look at “acoustic guitars for beginners” or “acoustic guitars full-size fender”.
You can also look at what categories your competitors use on Amazon – that can help you decide what category level pages and category level keywords you need to have on your site (as well as letting you know what categories you need to enter if you’re also selling on Amazon!)
- Use a keyword tool to research ideas
Most good keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner or SEMRush will tell you how many people are searching for a particular keyword, how competitive that term is and suggestions for other terms you can use.
Let’s continue with the musical instruments, using the term “acoustic guitar”:
For a musical instrument retailer, “acoustic guitar” would probably be a top level or secondary level (under “guitars”) category page. If we wanted to create other category pages beneath that, we might look at the phrases “guitar strings”, “Martin guitars” or “Yamaha acoustic guitars”.
Google suggests 783 terms in total and many are related to playing the guitar rather than buying a guitar so we can eliminate those phrases.
The next thing we want to look at is the search volume – that indicates the number of average searches per month. We want to target phrases that are getting a reasonable amount of volume. How many that is depends on your industry: you might be in a small niche where 1000 searches per month is significant or a bigger market where 100,000 is just average.
You can also refine by competition. What’s critical here is that competition is measured by who is bidding for the term on Google Ads. That means that if it’s a low competition phrase then it’s probably not worth going after commercially (otherwise someone would have recognised it already!) Medium or high volume suggests that there is a market there because advertisers are committing budget to the term and therefore would expect to be seeing some return on their investment. Which in turn suggests that people are willing to spend money on products or services related to that term.
- Separate into two “piles” based on search intent
Firstly, be aware that just because a term gets lots of searches and is high volume, it might not fit with your business. The more you can narrow it down to terms that are super relevant to what you offer, the more likely you are to connect with users and convert them into customers. It saves money and will deliver more sustainable results in the long term.
Once you’ve eliminated any non-relevant terms, separate your phrases into two piles.
Any phrases which contain a question (“how to…”, “how do I…”, “what is…” etc.) should be categorised as informational. These phrases can then be used in your content strategy to answer user questions with blog posts or long-form guides. You can add to this list by looking at the real questions your customers are asking your sales team and by using tools like BuzzSumo or Answer The Public to look at what other topics people are writing about based on the same keywords.
Any phrases which are more driven by a purchase intent (“buy xxx” or just the name of the product” etc.) can be used on your category or product pages.
You can further categorise by head terms or long tail – any terms with four or more words are likely to be long tail terms.
Site architecture: get your hierarchy right.
I’m not going to talk much about site architecture here as it’s a technical issue that your developer also needs to play a part in. But it still deserves a place in our ecommerce seo checklist, and here’s why:
When it comes to content, you need to make sure that the user can get to the right page in as few clicks as possible from your home page. As we mentioned above, with a mobile-first approach this is more important than ever.
It makes sense to categorise pages efficiently – it makes it easy to find your destination from anywhere within the site, it makes it easier to manage your online inventory, and it gives you an opportunity to create SEO-friendly category pages which can rank for some of your head terms. So if you can create a nice, easy-to-use structure like:
Home > Electric Guitars> Gibson Guitars> Flying V
Then you have a path that gets you from A to B and back again as simply as possible.
Your keyword research above should inform this process, but you should also look at your current stats to see which pages get the most traffic and ensure these are as high up in the user journey as possible.
Once you’ve planned your hierarchy, then use your head terms for your category pages, becoming more long tail as you move down the hierarchy.
How to write a good URL
When you have a zillion products on your site, you can easily get into bad habits when it comes to the URL structure. Using long, convoluted URL structures with lots of numbers and special characters can be confusing to search engine robots and users. What you should do is:
- Use a simple, short structure
- Use your main keyword for the page
- Keep it clean – no capitals or special characters
- Use hyphens, not underscores, to separate words
In short, a user could look at the URL and know pretty much what the page is about.
How to write a good meta title
The meta title shows the name of the web page – you can see it displayed on your browser, usually at the top. It tells users – and search engine bots – what page they are on. Again, it’s about thinking about what’s useful for the user, but it’s also a place where you can not only optimise for search by considerate keyword placement, but you can also optimise for conversions by including action words like “buy now”, “limited offer”, “learn how to…” etc
Bad meta titles:
- Debt Information
- Medieval History
- Digestive Supplements
Good meta titles
- HiFi Speakers, Buy Our Award-Winning Speakers
- Debt Advice, Learn How To Get Out Of Debt Quickly
- Free History book, Download our Medieval History PDF
- Relieve Upset Stomach: Sale On Digestive Supplements
How to write meta titles
- Keep them short: no more than 55 characters is a good rule of thumb
- Use your target key phrases – it’s good to use a couple of variants within the text if possible
- Use initial caps to make words stand out
- Align your meta title with your other metadata
- Use action words to engage users and boost conversions
- Read it aloud – does it make sense? Does it appeal to the consumer?
How to write a good meta description
The meta description is the first thing a customer sees about your company when they receive the page of search results. Again, it’s about thinking about the user experience first rather than trying to think too much about what Google wants.
One myth is that the meta description can play a significant role in the ranking of your page – that’s no longer the case: Google does not currently use meta descriptions as a ranking factor.
HOWEVER – and this is very important – because this is effectively your advert in a page of search results, it can make a big difference to the clickthrough rate (CTR) from the SERPs, and there is a significant amount of evidence that CTR is one of Google’s 200 or so factors. If you want to know more check out the video from SMX West in 2016 where Paul Haahr, Google Ranking Engineer, discusses how Google determines its ranking and algorithm changes.
So that’s the SEO case, but we think more importantly that the user journey is the primary consideration when writing meta descriptions. Sure, you need to include the keywords, but it’s more about trying to write something that stands out for your potential customers, that is highly relevant to the user’s search, and that will help to increase your clickthrough rate from the search engine.
How to write meta descriptions
- Think of them as your pitch for the particular product, service, article etc.
- Include your keywords – like the page title, use a couple of variants within the text
- Use compelling words – “quick”, “easy”, “bargain”, “sale” etc
- They should be between 160 and 300 characters
- Differentiate yourself from your competitors – include the things that make you different
- Don’t duplicate if you can avoid it
Essential tips for product description writing
Most of the product copy we write for our clients is short – 50 words, 100 words. We don’t want them to keep it so short necessarily – we’re champions of long-form content. However, there are often budgetary considerations and just the sheer time and organisation it takes to deal with hundreds of thousands of words.
However, we think it can be a false economy to make content too short. We’ve seen lots of research that long-form content – that is, upward of 2000 words – works best when it comes to blogs. But it’s also true of product pages. You only have to look at the product pages on Amazon which regularly outperform the brand manufacturer for the same product.
You don’t necessarily need to slave away writing individual product descriptions of 1000 words – that could get pretty tedious and/or very expensive quite quickly. Some of those words can come from customer reviews, technical specs and FAQs.
When it comes to the product description itself though, how long does it need to be? If you’re hitting the word count with other features on the page then it’s going to depend on the nature of the product and the level of awareness that people already have – the less they know about your product, the more you need to tell them. There’s also a certain amount of common sense required – a set of screws will require a shorter description than a car for example.
You also need to make sure that you’ve got enough room to include all your keywords, accurately describe the product AND get a sense of the brand and product story across.
Our experience is that the product description is there for several reasons:
- Information– the customer needs to know that this product is right for them. Some e-commerce companies think that the pictures can tell the whole story, but while images are important, they can leave a lot to the imagination.
- SEO – you need to get your keywords in the text in a way that looks natural which may dictate a longer word count. It doesn’t need to be excessive, but it helps search engines to index the page correctly AND it quickly indicates that the user (who has just clicked through from a search engine) is in the right place.
- Brand – don’t just think about SEO – this is the place where you can reinforce your brand tone of voice and build a relationship with your customer. This is so often overlooked by even some of the biggest brands but your product page is a great place to emphasise your unique tone of voice and engage with your customer – use humour, be conversational, be individual.
How do you write product descriptions?
Make it easy to scan – we have developed a standard approach to writing product descriptions that makes it easy for customers to scan the text quickly.
- H1 – headline to include the target keyword. Keep it reasonably short with just the essentials of the product.
- Standfirst – a short sentence – usually 1 or 2 lines that convey the main thrust of the product story. That could be the inspiration, the standout feature, an award – anything that gets the customer’s attention and summarises the product quickly. This should include the target keyword toward the beginning of the paragraph.
- Intro Paragraph – perhaps 2 – 3 lines that summarise the main benefits. We include a keyword variant within this text.
- Sub-header – contains a keyword variant and usually a secondary benefit that wasn’t in the standfirst.
- Sizzle statement – 2 – 3 lines on that little extra sizzle which summarises hidden or surprise benefits. It could be something like a celebrity endorsement, a cool feature or a stat (1 million have been sold this year)
- Standout features – 4 – 6 bullets on the main features of the product. We turn these into benefit statements (see below)
Get your keywords in there – your keyword should be in your H1 tag with 2 – 3 mentions of close variants depending on the length of the text. The trick here is that you want the text to be as natural as possible so don’t start bending the rules of grammar just to fit your keyword in – it should sound real, not like someone tripping awkwardly over phrases that are crowbarred in.
Concentrate on benefits – our maxim for our writing team is that all features should have a benefit associated with them. It’s not enough to say, “front facing rivet” on a pair of sunglasses, it should be something like “front facing rivet adds a distinctive retro aesthetic”.
This adds a persuasive element to the copy as well as giving you an opportunity to express your tone of voice. It also ties directly to your brand – “distinctive retro aesthetic” is not going to be right for some brands, but for others it will be extremely evocative for their target consumer.
Don’t duplicate – Search engines don’t like duplicate content. Forget the scare stories about being banned from Google and the like – that’s unlikely to happen – it’s just that the search engines don’t know how to handle duplication so they may not index your page. This can lead to strange situations where a reseller of a product ranks using the content it has taken from the brand/manufacturer, but the brand itself doesn’t rank.
Avoiding duplication is not just a search engine thing. There’s also the fact that customers don’t like duplication.
Firstly, it’s confusing because many people like to browse your product collection and will visit many pages to make a decision. If the copy is all the same, it doesn’t help the customer differentiate and make the right choice.
It’s also a missed opportunity – if you think of every aspect of your copy as a conversation then repeating yourself continually is going to be a big turn off. Saying the same thing over and over again just gets boring!
Make it stand out – people love product stories
Our approach to brand stories is similar to the site architecture. We start with an overall brand tone of voice – what’s the DNA that runs through everything you do? Then we develop a collection story – what’s the inspiration and theme for this group of products? Then there is an individual product story – what makes this particular product stand out?
By developing this consistency to the narrative that runs through your site, you’re more likely to develop a deeper relationship with the customer.
Be accurate – it reduces returns
It’s important to get the essential features down in your product copy accurately – not only will this help to sell the product, but it can also minimise returns. Include materials used, size, shape, weight, technical specs etc. anything that will convey information that can’t be delivered in the image.
Do I need a page for every SKU?
The conventional SEO wisdom might suggest that you write a description for every product you have so you can rank for each page separately, thus increasing your keyword reach.
So let’s say you’ve got men’s Mr Tickle socks in four different colourways then you write a separate product page for each one. However, because customers are increasingly using mobile devices, it’s not good usability for them to have to click through four different pages to see each colour when you could just have that functionality on one page.
As we’ve come back to again and again in this article – the mantra is: think of the user. What benefits the user should also help your SEO.
How To Optimise Your Product Images
Product images can easily be left to one side – particularly if you’re a content writer concentrating on the product description text. However, there are some elements that you should not overlook when optimising your product pages.
Make sure your images aren’t too big – this could slow down your site speed which can have a dramatic effect on your SEO. Either adjust the file size before you upload, or you can use a plugin on your site to compress images like Smush
Use a keyword rich file name for the image file – if necessary, change the image file name before you upload it. This can make file management easier too.
Write a keyword rich alt tag – Search engines can’t interpret images, so they need some mark-up to tell them what the image is. This contributes to how a page is indexed and where it ranks. You can see the alt tag of an image by going to “view page source” in your browser.
- Keep your alt tags short and direct
- Use natural language – don’t keyword stuff
- Use the same keywords that you’re optimising the page for
There are so many components to a good product page that it can be easy to overlook some vital steps in your optimisation, whether it’s copy-and-paste meta descriptions, a lack of alt tags or a lifeless product description.
However, when dealing with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of products, product pages can often be an afterthought – time-consuming and low priority when competing with budgets for advertising, content marketing or social media.
When faced with those objections, we recommend clients take a phased approach to optimising product pages. Start with the top 20% according to your priorities – that could be the top 20% most profitable, highest traffic, least competitive to rank for etc. Our recommendation is to always start with your most profitable products because the returns are clearly worth the effort.
Once you’ve chosen those top 20%, then really go for it – work on a compelling product description that really conveys the product and brand story. Sell the benefits. Optimise every element of the page, and (particularly if it’s a high ticket item) then test every element on the page until you have achieved perfection.
Big Star has been creating optimised product descriptions (that actually sell) since 2005. Find out how we can help – get in touch
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