While we mainly cover PPC on the CPC Strategy blog, it’s also important for online retailers to pay attention to SEO and site optimization.

After all, an optimized ad may drive a click to your website—but if your site is confusing or slow to load, you’ll lose conversions. That’s why we consulted four experts about SEO for ecommerce sites. These experts include:

 

Read on for their take on what’s important, what’s not—and what online retailers should know about the future of SEO for ecommerce sites.

 

Expert Advice on SEO for Ecommerce Sites


Sean Switzer| CEO & Co-Founder of SEO Expert

What’s a common SEO mistake you see on ecommerce sites that hurts conversions?

sean switzer“Probably the biggest thing we see is the use of duplicate content…not just within the content on the page, but also in the meta description, the page title, and the file names.

There’s a reason Google negatively ranks for these very basic optimizations—it’s a part of the user experience. If Google provides a great user experience, then people will come back, and [Google] can charge more for ads…on top of the fact that Google is trying to provide relevant results.

You’d be shocked how many ecommerce companies have this problem. We have a client right now we’re working with that has 9,000 pages with all duplicate page titles…and that hurts conversions. Customers see that stuff too…and it may not consciously affect their purchasing decision, but in the end, it’s going to because of all the duplicate content.”

How should retailers approach keyword research for SEO compared to PPC?

“You are trying to accomplish two different goals. There are similar threads between the two, but with SEO you’re taking into account different variables…our goal for organic is to improve rank in the SERPS.

For PPC research, you’re looking at different variables that will help you do a better job of increasing your likelihood you’ll get clicks and you’ll get conversions, and that will help identify the keywords that will help you improve your PPC.

I guess it’s also rank, but in SEO, the variables we’re looking at are a lot more in tune with where they currently are in SERP. So that’s the biggest difference—if you’re researching PPC, you’re going to be [asking] ‘How is this keyword relevant to the landing page?’ whereas with SEO, you’re asking ‘Where am I with this keyword, or I’m not ranking for this keyword—how can I start ranking for it’?”

What do you anticipate will be the most important organic ranking factors in the future?

“I’m fairly passionate about the new gTLDs [Generic top-level domains]. I think they will drive SEO in the future. I know they’ve been out for two years, and they haven’t really made a huge impact yet, but they will have to in the future.

But if you think about it critically, and think about the reasonable-ness of it—if you have two websites that have the exact same domain prefix or a different suffix—so if you’re at like bananas.com, that’s obviously going to be different than bananas.clothing.

I just don’t see how Google can wait forever on gTLDs impacting both paid and organic search. And like I said, I know they haven’t had that big of an impact yet, but you’re starting to see media companies using .tv and .xyz and all of them—.expert, .guru—there’s so many of them available now.

I think it was a great move to open up the domains, which will make it a little harder for squatters to sit on big domains…so maybe it’s not included in the algorithm yet, but in the future, it will be.”

Sean Switzer
has spent over 15 years in online marketing and ecommerce, focusing on fast fashion, brand strategy, and lifestyle brands. With an MBA from Arizona State University, Sean has leveraged leadership roles in multiple vertical markets to significantly increase revenue while driving organizational change. As CEO & Co-Founder of SEO Expert, he has led the company’s efforts to increase revenue through a mix of data analysis and innovative marketing techniques. In his spare time, Sean travels abroad and writes about his overseas adventures. He’s getting ready to publish his first book about his journey.

 


Alan Bush | Director of Strategy at Ignite Visibility

What’s a common SEO mistake you see on ecommerce sites that hurts conversions?

alan bush“Common mistakes pertain to the website architecture. It’s the foundation of the website, and how easily a user can navigate throughout the website determines whether or not a user has a good experience. If a user can’t find what they are looking for, or in many cases contact the store, they will get frustrated and leave. This holds true especially during the checkout process.”

Keep things simple and don’t assume users understand how to navigate your website.

“I would suggest adding heat-mapping software for the checkout process to understand if users have a good or tough experience when they are purchasing products. Also add calls to action on the header such as a phone number, social icons, and a clear “Contact Us” or “Buy Now” button—preferably something that is a different color than the other parts of the navigation in order to standout. Also, mobile friendliness is a common mistake for older websites and they often lose users due to their website not being responsive.”

How should retailers approach keyword research for SEO compared to PPC?

“PPC and SEO have very similar objectives. However, with SEO, retailers should also utilize long-tail keywords in their strategies. Keyword and phrases that may not get a lot of search volume, but over time can add up to larger numbers of visitors collectively. The key is to find out pain points and target utilizing blog content. Benefits of SEO is a retailer can cast a very wide net, essentially for free and get some great results over time.”

What do you anticipate will be the most important organic ranking factors in the future?

“With the advent of Google updates like RankBrain and AMP that happened fairly recently, the future is definitely correlated with intent. [Retailers] have to be aware of how their customers think and not just by the actionable words, but their intentions behind them.

Search engines are focusing very heavily on trying to understand user behavior so websites have to reflect this. RankBrain is the artificial intelligence that Google is implementing into their search algorithm that focuses on understanding intentions and adjusting accordingly. AMP focuses on mobile—so additionally, mobile friendliness is going to be more important over the course of the next few years.”


Alan Bush
is one of the premier digital marketing experts in the field. With over a decade of experience, Alan is currently the Director of Strategy at Ignite Visibility. He has worked on hundreds of clients (both fortune 500 and start-ups) and co-founded and co-hosted 2 internet marketing podcasts Win The Web and Owning your Own, which developed a large international following. In addition, Alan teaches an accredited course on Search Engine Optimization at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and conducts various guest lectures and webinars.

 


Matthew Campion | Director of Optimization Services at Teknicks

What’s a common SEO mistake you see on ecommerce sites that hurts conversions?

Matthew Campion“Three common SEO mistakes I see with ecommerce sites specifically are:

1. Not using “clean” or descriptive URLs—A user and Google should be able to understand what the page is about by just looking at the URL. For example, use www.example.com/shop/mens/jeans/standard-fit/, rather than www.example.com/browse/acb123xyz469/123.

The URLs should be in a clean directory form with hyphens being used as spaces. Also, many ecommerce sites use filtering and sorting options that result in a parameter being appended to the URL (ex:www.example.com/shop/mens/jeans/standard-fit/?sort=a-z). In these cases, it is extremely important canonical tags are being used to ensure only this version of the URL is being indexed: www.example.com/shop/mens/jeans/standard-fit/.

2. Not having any product reviews—Product reviews are extremely important for ecommerce stores. Having product reviews directly on the product pages allow users to do their “research” and purchase all within one session. Product reviews add natural keyword-centric content on the pages.

It is not only important to have product reviews enabled, but it is also important to trigger an email after the user receives their product to request a review of the product. You should also be using schema.org markup for the reviews and product information in general. Google may pull the reviews/ratings directly into the search engine results, which could have a positive impact on organic CTR.

The rich information in the results can also deter “pogo-sticking” from occurring because most, if not all, of the product information is being pulled into the search result. If the information in the result does not meet the user’s needs, then the user will likely not click-through just to bounce back to the original search results.

3. Not having a proper page XML sitemap that updates automatically—Most ecommerce sites have a ton of URLs on the site. Many products come and go, so it is important to easily provide Google and other search engines an up-to-date list of site pages that should be indexed. The XML sitemap should be configured to update automatically and you must submit the sitemap to Google via your Search Console.”

How should retailers approach keyword research for SEO compared to PPC?

“I actually utilize search engine PPC data more frequently in my keyword research because of the direction Google’s algorithm is going. It’s not simply about finding relevant keywords with high search volume. It is about finding keywords that drive conversions.

You can easily tie what keywords are driving purchases with PPC. Organic is a little tougher because of the “(not provided)” Google Analytics update a few years back when Google switched to HTTPS. I now utilize Search Console query and landing page data and connect it with the organic conversion rates of the same landing pages in Google Analytics to get an idea of how well certain organic keywords are converting.

Then, I also look at the queries that are being tracked in the store’s internal site search field. I look at the queries, then see how the user entered the site (what page did they enter on), what page did they make the search on, did they refine their search query, did they exit, or did they convert. This helps to understand what new pages are needed, what existing pages need to be tweaked, and what keywords to target organically to optimize conversions, which in return will help with SEO.”

What do you anticipate will be the most important organic ranking factors in the future?

“Your standard optimization of on-page elements, having good content, and building natural, authoritative backlinks will always be important in some capacity moving forward. However, I anticipate the following factors are going to increase in value when it comes to Organic rankings:

  • Mobile Usability and Optimization—Google’s more recent “Mobilegeddon” update is nothing compared to how important a mobile optimized experience will be in the near future. It is clear that shopping on mobile is becoming more of the norm. Not only is an optimized mobile experience important for SEO, but it is a must-have to maximize ecommerce transactions.
  • Site experience that meets the user’s needs—Google has incredible visibility in each user’s search and web browsing behavior. Therefore, Google is able to understand what site  met the user’s needs of a specific search query. This is why optimizing using “high-converting” keywords is much more important than just choosing keywords that have high search volume.
  • Site security—All of Google’s web properties load over HTTPS. There have been several updates related to HTTPS, including Google defaulting the indexed version of a URL to be HTTPS (if an SSL certificate is set up and if there is no other directive telling Google not to index the HTTPS version). Google is part of the movement to make the entire web as secure as possible. Switching an entire site, especially a large ecommerce site, to HTTPS can be a pain and a lot of mistakes can occur. It is still important to at least start planning for it.”


Matthew Campion
is the Director of Optimization Services at Teknicks. Teknicks is an agile digital marketing agency that is both a Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager Certified Partner. He drives the strategy and execution of the SEO, Conversion Rate Optimization, and Analytics programs at Teknicks. Matthew also co-founded LookTracker.com, an online eye-tracking company. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council and the NYC Chapter of the Digital Analytics Association.

 


Nick Slettengren | Founder & Director of Marketing Strategy at Power Digital Marketing

What’s a common SEO mistake you see on ecommerce sites that hurts conversions?

nick slettengren“The biggest thing I’m seeing in ecommerce right now is people not knowing their technical SEO, especially on Magento platforms in particular. But pretty much any platform, whether it’s Shopify, WordPress, platform plugins for ecommerce—ecommerce is about UI/UX. You want to get your people there and figure out what they want.

The typical ecommerce store has hundreds if not thousands of products on average, and we’re seeing big issues in the filtering of that data. It’s great for your user experience to go into Nordstrom to be able to filter for a kind of shoe, and to be able to filter by color or brand—that’s great to get you where you want to go as a consumer.

But from an SEO perspective, we’re seeing big issues because it’s creating dynamic URLs…and when they go from static to dynamic URLs. So they’ll have all these dynamic URLs, and over time, people will continue to filter like that…and they’ll all go out there, and they’ll become the same page.

[These ecommerce sites] also have very little content, so they get low-quality scores, and ultimately, they become duplicate and get hit by Panda…this will hurt conversions because your organic rankings can be sunk. You’ll be penalized, and you won’t rank for non-branded terms organically.

There’s [also] a lot of opportunity with chat features on ecommerce stores. I know chat has been around for a while…we’re seeing higher conversions when we’re able to pinpoint what people are doing on the site. We’re using one right now called Lucky Orange. We can see a video recording of the user on the page…and we can [get in touch with them in that moment]. You can almost be there like a customer service person, and help direct people on the website as you see them start to struggle.

The last one that might be even more obvious from an SEO standpoint is the content. People neglect content all ecommerce sites all the time because they want…[image-driven design] especially for a lot of lifestyle brands, but that’s the worst thing you could possibly do.

SEO really is about the written word. Google reads top to bottom, left to right, and it indexes words and not images. It does index images in Google search, but google can’t decipher what writing is on the page. Not having writing on your categories, subcategories, or product pages—it becomes an issue.

It’s extremely important that people build writing into their UI/UX experience, and are able to fit a few hundred words on there so it gives Google enough knowledge so they can index the page and so your company can rank for keywords. 150+ words is really what you want to go with if possible.”

How should retailers approach keyword research for SEO compared to PPC?

“We all start off in the same way—utilizing keyword planner—however, it Google really is geared toward PPC…so really it is using a lot of AdWords data. And people who utilize AdWords vs. organic listings are two different types of users. When we see someone who comes onto a page from a paid ad, they typically act a bit differently and they click on different things than the organic user. Most people that click on an ad…know they’re being sold.
Keyword Planner is a good way to get ideas, and we use it much like you would use it to research topics for PPC the same way you would for SEO. But at the same time, [for SEO] you need to keep in consideration domain authority and page authority. We know that 98% of organic traffic stays on page one. So we really have to be visible on page one. Part of that is to understand competitively—can we go after this broad keyword…or do we need to dial it down to one that’s more long tail so they can be more competitive.

In PPC, you’re kind of playing in that stock market of keywords…and Google’s pretty transparent. You pay this much, and you can get on the first page. Whereas we don’t get that with SEO. With SEO, we just have to size up the competition, and really see what they’re doing and how authoritative their website is, and the starting point is Moz’s domain ranking and page authority.”

What do you anticipate will be the most important organic ranking factors in the future?

“I think it’s going to be more socially influenced…[Google has historically] shied away from this, because I think Google realized that social shares can be manipulated.

But now, I think they’re going to figure out who really influential people are in social spaces—which they’re already doing, and I think that’s what they were trying to do with Google Authorship—trying to find popular people in a particular space. And they’ll start basically ranking how popular you are in a particular space. Whenever you weigh in on something—in an article or something like that—that will [determine rank].

It makes sense—everything that we think about and enjoy in life gets pushed out into the cloud of social media—whether we’re snapping it or sharing it. Google’s trying to think more like a human every day, and we’re giving it a lot of data points through social media. There’s nothing more human than us putting stuff on the internet and archiving it digitally.”


Nicholas Bjorn Slettengren
is as an entrepreneur by trade and digital marketer by evolution, with over 8 years of professional agency experience Nick has gained a national and global perspective on the evolving digital world. Over the years, this has lead Nick to develop a score of successful digital strategies for Fortune 500 companies like Pfizer and Proctor & Gamble as well as aiding lean startups take flight by finding opportunity gaps in a multitude of digital channels.

 

Want to learn more about SEO for ecommerce sites? Check out these posts:

 

The E-Commerce Business Owner’s Guide to SEO Management

Lessons From Online Retailers Who Successfully Drive SEO Growth
 

About the AuthorLeanna graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University (NJ) in 2012 with a BA in Creative Writing and lived in NYC for two years. In 2014, she returned to her home state of California where she enjoys eating too many fish tacos, skipping winter, and writing quality web content for CPC Strategy. Follow her on Twitter @slylikeasmeagol. See all posts by this author here.