Over my 10 years of experience in SEO, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several e-commerce SEO strategies. Below are some e-commerce SEO tips that I’ve been able to use and that have proven effective in driving better rankings and more revenue for nearly every e-commerce client I’ve worked with.
Before you read: Bear in mind that these tips are specific to e-commerce websites and that all general SEO best practices still apply.
1. Your cart must work for consumers
This one spans outside of the world of just SEO. If you drive consumers to the site and they find that the shopping cart either doesn’t work, is too long and tedious, or is not user-friendly enough, then kiss all your prospective revenue goodbye.
According to the Baymard Institue, the average documented online shopping cart abandonment rate is approximately 68% so consumers are very fickle. If things aren’t exactly right, they will leave and they may never come back.
According to Statistia there are 14 main reasons why shoppers abandon their carts. Take these very seriously!
Don’t let this happen. You’ve already done the hard work of getting people to the site and convincing them to buy. Don’t lose it all on a technicality.
Test your cart often – especially during peak seasons. If you can, use analytics to track any cart-related error pages so you know if/when things occur.
2. Your e-commerce site must be fast
I’m a huge proponent of speed. It’s kind of a no-brainer – yet is the single biggest thing that I see most sites get wrong when I look at them with a technical SEO lens.
Like your shopping cart, blazing fast site speed is absolutely critical to conversion. Like I said above, consumers are fickle creatures and have little to no patience when it comes to waiting for webpages to load.
According to a KissMetrics site speed study:
- Abandonment rate increases exponentially the longer a page takes to load.
- If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.
On the flip side, there are clear positive benefits to improving site speed, as is evidenced by this 2012 case study discussing speed enhancements to Walmart.com:
- For every 1 second of improvement they experienced up to a 2% increase in conversions
- For every 100 ms of improvement, they grew incremental revenue by up to 1%
- SEO benefits for entry pages and reduce bounces
And don’t forget that site speed has been a minor Google ranking factor since 2012, and with the rise in mobile consumption this likely will only become more significant – a fact which is clearly evidenced by Google’s recent focus on Accelerated Mobile Pages.
So, making your site fast is good for users and SEO.
3. Site navigation should make all key categories easy to find
I’ve had this battle many times with design and UX folks.
Common questions include: How can we simplify/reduce the number of categories we show in the site’s navigation while not hurting SEO? How can we avoid over-categorization? Can we just use faceted navigation and get rid of static categories and sub-categories.
These conversations can quickly get frustrating and they can often be counter-intuitive to what you’re trying to do – get people’s eyeballs on all of your e-commerce site’s products without overwhelming your audience.
However, in my experience, you can balance it out by being pragmatic and letting your consumers make the decision for you.
I tend to lead towards having more categories than fewer as that allows you to support more topics, and can allow you to be very niche with your keyword targeted.
The flip side is this – it’s likely not possible to shove every single category you have in the site’s main navigation. You’ll have to have a good internal linking and sub-categorization (e.g. grandchildren) strategy.
The balance should be on determining which categories are absolutely mission-critical and must be in play at all times, versus which categories can be made into grandchildren.
Target does a really nice job of this:
They do a good job of including a lot of high-end categories and sub-categories, but wait until they get into the category pages themselves to get highly specialized.
Additionally, while their URL’s aren’t super SEO-friendly, they do create a new URL/page for every category/sub-category. While I think faceted navigation is useful, it should never be a replacement for static categories and pages.
4. Evergreen categorization of products is critical
If you have enough product SKU’s to support a category (e.g. +3-5), build that page!
One of the biggest things that I see with e-commerce sites is that they tend to be under-categorized.
Having fewer categories means that you can logically target fewer topics and keywords.
On the flip-side, having more categories means that you can target more keywords and can even get more niche if you’d like.
For instance, take the above example of Target.com. On their high-level ‘dresses’ category they target the keywords womens clothing and womens dresses which get pretty decent search volume.
However, by building out grandchildren/subcategories within ‘dresses’ you can see that they can get more niche in terms of categorizing which kinds of dresses they offer, which will be a big plus for the consumer experience.
Also, in this case, the subcategories themselves have much greater search volume than the parent. Woo-hoo!
The question I ask is, how would they be able to realistically target those niche keywords well without building those subcategories/grandchildren?
They wouldn’t. Not well at least. They could saturate the main dresses category with all of those niche terms, but we all know keyword stuffing will likely hurt more than it helps.
I rest my point.
5. All e-commerce category pages must be fully optimized
Not only must you have an appropriate amount of categories for the products and SKU’s that you offer, but they must be technically well-optimized.
Each e-commerce category page should have the following SEO elements in place:
- A unique category-level keyword strategy that focuses not just on the obvious keywords, but also works in high-value modifiers.
- Unique URL that is inclusive of target keywords
- Unique title tag that incorporates target keywords while staying at an appropriate length.
- A unique meta description that is an appropriate length, incorporates multiple variations of the page’s target keywords, while focusing on a call-to-action that drives click-throughs
- An H1 tag the incorporates the page’s primary target keyword and that is fairly consistent with the product name/page title.
- Robust body copy (preferably above the fold as Google has an algorithm for that), but not so much that it pushes products below the fold.
- Good internal linking in body copy and navigation.
- All text should be HTML and not images – surprisingly a common problem.
- Reduce banner imagery that will push products below the fold.
It’s incredibly rare to have this one done well, but the folks over at ASOS seem to be doing a pretty good job.
It looks like this strategy has paid off, at least according to the growth in organic rankings for this page reported by BrightEdge’s DataCube:
6. You must have a page-level retirement/hibernation strategy; it must be followed every time
I can’t stress the importance of this enough! You must have a retirement/hibernation strategy for pages that are either going away forever or going away temporarily, and you must follow it every single time.
The alternative is suddenly losing potentially high-value, long-standing rankings unexpectedly, likely having to rebuild those lost rankings without guarantees that you can, and/or losing all age and link equity from retired pages (both permanent and temporary).
You can avoid these significant SEO issues by doing this:
- Only delete category pages when they have too few SKU’s, and/or when SKU’s will NEVER come back. The idea is that you want evergreen category pages that accrue age and SEO value over time.
- If a category page truly is going away for good or moving spots, 301-redirect (permanent) them to the next-most highly-related category (could be the parent, might not)
- For categories that have the potential to come back at some later date (but that you don’t want in the navigation), DO NOT DELETE THEM. Keep the pages live – let them hibernation. You can drop them from the navigation (which is likely to change the URL in most e-commerce systems), but let them live on in the background. Then, 302-redirect (temporary) the legacy URL to wherever the page lives. When the category comes back, put it back in it’s old spot (e.g. same URL as before), and lift the 302-redirect. This will ensure that the old page will maintain, and maybe even build upon the rankings it had before it was put into hibernation.
- For products that are out of stock temporarily, keep them live but ensure that the product page provides consumers with clear messaging letting them know that the product is not available at the moment. Provide consumers with alternative product options, and if you’re really good you can alert them either via messaging or via an email sign-up when the product has more inventory.
- For products that are permanently expired, according to Google it’s absolutely okay to allow them to 404 or 410. Google also states that you can utliize the unavailable_after meta tag which will tell Google that product page will expire based on an auction date or a go-stale date, and they will in turn treat it as a URL removal request. As a note, I’m also okay with 301-redirecting really high-equity products to alternative products/categories where necessary.
7. Product pages should be fully optimized
Like category pages, product pages should be fully optimized when it comes to their on-page SEO.
It can be a pain, but it’s worth it in terms of capturing long-tailed, product-specific searches with the primary benefit being that these pages are deeper in the funnel and will convert at a much higher rate.
- Unique URL’s that are inclusive of product name, SKU
- Page-level navigation breadcrumbs
- Unique page titles and meta descriptions
- Robust product descriptions
- High-quality product pictures with Alt text
- Indexable customer reviews
- Alternative product options
- Easy conversion points in all areas of page
Some of this may have to be accomplished through the use of dynamic optimization since it’s likely that all products use a single template. This likely means using concatenation schemas, pulling information from databases, etc.
If you’re looking for examples, Amazon does an amazing job optimizing their products pages – most of which appears to be dynamic:
8. Products & reviews should be indexable and marked up with structured data
In my experience, this one is pretty hit or miss when it comes to e-commerce product pages.
However, when the rubber meets the road, your product pages should contain reviews that Google can crawl, and those reviews should be marked up using Schema.org Product, Aggregate Rating, Offer, and Review markup.
In many cases, I’ve seen e-commerce product pages that contain reviews, but where the review content isn’t indexable for crawlers.
This creates two problems:
- All of that potentially SEO-friendly user-generated content doesn’t get credited to the page.
- Doesn’t allow you to mark things up properly
The benefits are clear, you get more SEO text for your page, users and Google trusts pages that get frequent reviews, and there are clear SEO benefits as the Schema.org markup mentioned above will trigger a rich snippet, which has proven that it can (and in my experience does) substantially increase click-through rates in SERPs.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be far more likely to click on the second result over the first, primarily due to the way the star ratings make the listing stand out, as well as the fact that the page has high ratings and 278 reviews (which like 88% of consumers I trust).
9. Good category-level merchandising will aid conversion
You can drive as many folks as you want to your e-commerce site’s categories, but if the products that are being merchandised aren’t what consumers would expect (or there are too few options), then your page’s conversion will be dead in it’s tracks.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- While I talk a lot above about having a lot of categories, if you truly only have a few SKU’s, it probably isn’t a great idea to build a category just for a handful of SKU’s.
- However, if you do create category pages – every category should have merchandise. There should never be a category missing merchandise, unless it’s hibernating.
- Ensure that the best-selling and most-relevant products are at the top of the category results. For example, if you have a ‘Black Friday’ promotion that advertisers a 50% off of certain products, it would be bad to merchandise products on that landing page that are only 15% off.
10. Build evergreen pages for holidays and special events; promote the crap out of them
Holidays and special events are huge drivers of sales for most retail and e-commerce websites.
While obviously not as large, other events throughout the year are similar in that there is often a great deal of search volume around specific holidays, events, etc.
I highly recommend:
- Building evergreen category/landing pages targeting the holidays and events that are relevant to your business as there are likely some unique keyword opportunities.
- Don’t delete the pages after the season/event. Follow the hibernation strategy I’ve recommended above. This will allow you to maintain and build rankings for next year’s event.
- Promote these pages heavily so they’ll build authority. This means social posts, influencer promotion, linking via blog content, email blasts, etc.
Online retialer hhgregg does a great job at this:
11. Proactively manage duplicate content
It’s not uncommon to see e-commerce sites housing content/categories that are either exactly the same or extremely similar in multiple areas of the site (often using multiple URL’s). Additionally, it’s very common for almost all sites to have some varying level of duplicate titles, meta descriptions, heading tags, etc.
While duplicate content won’t explicitly hurt you in terms of a penalty (unless it’s spammy according to Google), what it can do is split up and water down your page-level authority and relevance over time.
Google tries hard to index and show pages with distinct information. Fixing duplicate content helps search engines to be able to consolidate the information they have for the individual URLs (such as links to them) on a single, as well as ensuring that every URL on your site is unique and relevant to a unique set of queries (so you’re not cannibalizing yourself).
Here is an example of duplicate pages from Burlington Coat Factory. Essentially the same page, two unique paths/URL’s:
- Page #1: http://www.burlingtoncoatfactory.com/burlingtoncoatfactory/Shoes/Womens-Shoes/Womens-Boots/Boots-68035.aspx?h=67885,67886
- Page #2: http://www.burlingtoncoatfactory.com/burlingtoncoatfactory/Women/Shoes/Boots/Boots-68037.aspx?h=57124
Unfortunately for them, it does not look as if they’re controlling the duplication proactively from an SEO perspective.
Don’t let this be you.
Here are a handful of quick e-commerce SEO tips regarding the management of duplicate content:
- Control duplication of pages via canonical tags and 301-Redirects’s primarily
- Be consistent with URL structure and internal linking (ex: don’t have/link to both a .com/ and a .com/index.html version of your homepage)
- Minimize boilerplate repetition in titles, meta descriptions, and on-page copy across pages
- Use Google Search Console to set preferred domain (e.g. www versus non-www), manage URL parameters, and proactively uncover instances of duplicate titles and meta descriptions.
- Know the quirks and limitations of your system, and use the robots.txt file and/or noindex nofollow tags judiciously
12. Your 404 page should not be a dead end
Don’t let your customer’s decision journey stop here. A good 404 page makes it clear to the custom that the content they were looking for (however they got there) is not there anymore, but provides them with close-match alternatives to ensure that their e-commerce shopping experience continues.
If done correctly, your e-commerce site’s 404 page can actually turn into a page that contributes significantly to the site’s conversion rate.
If done poorly, it can lead users to leave your site immediately without passing go.
Amazon and Target, for example, have really poor 404 pages.
Amazon’s 404 page
Takes users out of the primary experience, and only provide option to click on homepage. Essentially, forces them to hit the back button or start their shopping experience over from the top of the site funnel. Not good.
Target’s 404 page
Keeps users in the experience, but no alternative category/product/link options save for those in the navigation. Not great.
Conversely, Zappos and Best Buy have tremendous 404 pages.
Zappos’ 404 page
Keeps users in the experience, provides many alternative product options.
Best Buy’s 404 page
Keeps users in the experience, provides many alternative category/link options.
The hallmarks of a good 404 page are:
- Makes it clear that the page they were trying to access is gone
- Not a significant departure from the main site/architecture – e.g. keeps them in the experience without forcing them to hit the back button.
- Provides alternative links and or product options – hopefully that are a close-match to the URL 404’ing
- Gives users options to search site – e.g. a search bar
Do these, and you can ensure that your site has the potential to turn that content hiccup into a ring of the cash register that may have been lost otherwise.
13. Don’t forget branded searches
Don’t assume that you own your branded terms in organic search. You probably don’t.
Most SEO campaigns as a rule focus primarily on non-branded opportunities in which a consumer may or may not be aware of the brand. Not saying that should stop by any means.
However, as a result, many campaigns ignore and/or overlook branded searches as a potential opportunity to drive e-commerce revenue. You may not rank #1 for every branded term, and for each term you’re not ranking as high for, you’re probably losing revenue.
I see branded searches as low-hanging fruit. Of all sites, you by rights should stand the best chance of ranking at the top. Yet many brands don’t, and it’s probably because they’re not doing something easy.
For instances, take this example search for “best buy promo code” which receives a ton of search volume – especially in November and December.
By rights, they should be ranking near or at the top, but as you can see, they were not even in the screen in the incognito search that I’ve conducted.
Although it’s not as relevant now as it has been historically, we know that higher position in SERP’s equals more clicks. Seems to be a significant missed opportunity on their part.
Anyhow, that’s all of my e-commerce SEO tips. What has worked for you?