The Ultimate Guide to SEO for E-commerce Websites

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Foreword by Matt Diggity: Impressive.  Knowledgeable. Underrated. These are a few words that I would use to describe Brendan Tully. B.T. is one of the first SEOs I ever met in Chiang Mai.  He’s a veteran in the game and it shows.  I mean… the man used to be commissioned by the Australian government to teach SEO. The guy is good. He’s a beast at E-commerce SEO, as you’re about to find out in this monster of a piece. Introduction It’s tough when Matt Diggity asks you to do a guest post. The guy sets a seriously high standard and regularly wows the SEO space putting out stuff that nobody is talking about or has talked about before publicly. When I first started in this game in the early 2000’s, I had zero idea what SEO was, but knew if I changed certain things on my site it would move up and down the SERPs in a particular way. We grew that biz to 7 figures in the mid 2000s and ultimately ended up in client work at some point in 2008. Now through our services, one-on-one consulting, and in-person training workshops, we’ve worked with over 3000 different businesses or sites in some capacity, which has given me an awesome opportunity to try and test different approaches to determine what works and what actually moves the needle. SEO has changed a lot since then –  (strangely, stuffing a website footer with 200 suburbs and cities doesn’t seem to work anymore) with the SERP landscape changing week to week in some cases. While the tactics and SERP layout change massively over time, I think it’s safe to say search is here for the long term – which brings me to the next point. The more I speak with different SEOs and clients, the more ecommerce SEO in particular seems completely misunderstood. Because tactics change so rapidly, I’ve tried as much as possible in this article to stay away from short term tactics that have a use-by date. Instead, I focus on core fundamentals and strategies that are time-tested and supported by solid business, sales, and marketing principles – this article is not limited by just ecommerce SEO but instead is more broadly focused on ecommerce marketing and optimization – which is where you ultimately need to be playing if you want to stay competitive. I’ve included action items as we work through this article – some are going to be totally obvious but are things that are regularly missed and some you may not have heard of before but have the potential to make a huge impact with a small amount of work. I’ve also included an audio breakdown for most sections and a handful of videos too as some things are just easier explained that way. Please bear in mind that the bigger your site the chunkier the action items or todos, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to create 3 months of SEO work here for a 7 figure site. Ideally, if I can have you walk away after digging into this article with one easy actionable tactic or quick win, one new broad SEO strategy you can apply to your site, or one principle or SEO foundation you weren’t aware of before – then I’ll be happy to say this article was a success. If you have a question about a particular point here, post in the comments section and I’ll be happy to clarify for you. Ecommerce vs Local SEO vs Affiliate SEO Before we get into the meat and potatoes, let’s look at some of the key differences between ecommerce, local small business, and affiliate sites. There are some fundamental differences between them so let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Ecommerce Sites Typically an ecommerce site has a lot more pages than other types of sites, even if there’s only a handful of products. Most of these pages are auto-generated from the CMS, for example category, tag, cart, and checkout pages. When you add tags, especially if you’re using a platform like Shopify, tons of pages are auto-generated off those tags and can create a canonical and keyword cannibalization mess. For bigger sites, cleaning this mess up can take some serious work but is a key component of getting the site to rank. It’s easier to fix these issues on smaller ecommerce sites, but for bigger sites, it’s tough to handle auto-tags without automation or SEO techniques that work at scale. Local & Affiliate Sites Local SEO sites may offer 5 to 10 services or products. What that translates to are 5 to 10 target keywords or groups of keywords. Affiliate sites are targeting more keywords but generally still not as many as a mid size ecommerce site – for example, an ecom site that offers 100 products will typically have 100 or more target keyword groups. It’s difficult to hand optimise a large number of keywords without using automation, templating, or SEO techniques that scale well when you’re dealing with a lot of pages and keywords. SEO is not just backlinks What I often see is when SEO’s do ecommerce SEO, they do it poorly. A lot of the time the default thinking is SEO=links but that’s not the case at all. Particularly with ecommerce sites, on-page SEO is vital and you need to get it nailed before chasing backlinks and internal links if you’re going to get serious SEO traction. This should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how often we see well established ecommerce sites with glaring on-site issues. On page SEO should be your initial focus, especially for established ecommerce sites. Generally as an ecommerce SEO strategy, I handle backlinks last. Backlinks are usually the most expensive part of SEO compared to internal links but actually give you the least control and there’s often no direct correlation between a link and a result. With on-page, there’s close to a 100% direct correlation between doing the work and getting results. ACTION STEPS: Run a Semrush Site Audit across the site. I’ve tried dozens of onpage audit tools and right now Semrush is my favorite. It picks up a ton of things other ecommerce seo tools won’t and presents them in a way that it makes them easy to get fixed. Semrush will pickup many of the easy technical problems that are roadblocking rankings. Run the site through – this is a fantastic tool for uncovering content duplication and cannibalisation issues. Get a account setup. It’ll monitor your site on an ongoing basis and detect basic but critical onpage SEO problems that you wouldn’t otherwise notice until your rankings start to tank (shout out to Kevin from Bulk Buy Hosting for this reco) A Note On Ecommerce Client SEO… It can be tough working with smaller ecommerce sites as clients, brand new sites, or sites where the average sale size is small. Generally I’ll stay well away from these types of clients. Generally when we do client SEO for ecommerce sites we never do SEO only. It’s just too hard to get them fast results and if the client is not commercially mature, often the expectation is that you’ll make them a millionaire overnight Whether I’m talking with a prospect about Adwords, SEO or something else one of the first questions I’ll ask if what is their budget. You can usually tell by the way they react what they’re comfortable spending and how commercially mature they are. A common problem with client SEO is that expectation that SEO is free so that’s where the focus should be versus ads. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. At least half of SERPs are paid ads now. If you don’t include paid traffic into your ecommerce SEO campaign strategy, you’ll have a hard time matching the competition. Ecommerce SEO – The Current State of Play, SEO is not enough any more Let’s talk about the current state of play with ecommerce SEO. As you’re well aware the SERP is constantly evolving which means your SEO approach MUST evolve otherwise it’s simply going to be less effective as time goes on. SEO is becoming increasingly fragmented. 10 years ago, the #1 result on Google was the SEO search results. There might have been one or two adwords results at the top of the page but now the landscape has totally changed. The #1 search result could mean many different things today: Regular paid adwords Google Shopping Google Maps Featured snippet (learn how to get it) Knowledge panel Paid Google Maps, which changes depending on location And more To top it off, the SERP also changes based on device AND the location of that device at the time of the search. The traditional #1 result has been drowned out by ads and other SERP elements now. A lot of SEOs haven’t realised it yet: Google is a paid search engine with some free results. Google wants to sell ads, they don’t care about searchers. Read More Read More

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