Many ecommerce websites put their focus and effort on paid ads.
While this is an excellent tactic for instant performance, it is highly competitive and costly — and once you turn it off, your activity will halt.
Implementing a solid long-term ecommerce SEO strategy solves this.
Not only is it less expensive, but it also ensures you’ll be more profitable and enjoy long-term success.
To help you get your SEO strategy going, I’ve written the complete guide to ecommerce SEO.
Ecommerce businesses of all types and sizes should apply the tips in this article. You’ll find a plethora of tidbits that will apply whether you’re an SEO manager, a business owner, or you’re just trying to expand your ecommerce SEO knowledge.
In this comprehensive guide, I develop a potential ecommerce SEO strategy for MandM Direct and cover all the basics, including:
- Finding commercial keywords
- On-page optimization
- Technical SEO
- Link building
- Content marketing
- Tracking ecommerce SEO
So, let’s get started, shall we?
Find commercial keywords
As with any SEO strategy, it all starts with keyword research.
Keyword research is integral to your strategy, and it’ll direct your ongoing approach. You can be sure your keyword strategy will lead to every activity you do - or it should be.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Competitor keyword research
We begin with competitor keyword research.
An easy way to do this is to search for a keyword you want to rank for and pick out some competitors.
This will bring up your competitors already ranking for this term; now it’s time to investigate.
Look at their mega menu to quickly spot keywords they are optimizing for.
Next, use a competitor analysis tool to see what keywords drive traffic to which URLs on their website:
Another great way is to identify keywords is by searching on Amazon.
We want to focus on finding those commercial terms. As Amazon is the biggest ecommerce website out there, we’ll find lots of those terms there.
Start by choosing a keyword that best describes one of your products, and type it in the search bar (but don’t hit the enter key just yet). Amazon will suggest other terms related to that keyword.
These suggestions are often long-tail keywords, and this is what you want. Long-tail keywords have a much higher chance of converting because they’re highly targeted — and are easier to rank for because they’re less competitive.
Unless you’re a big player in this space, such as ASOS, Levi, or Gap, you won’t stand a chance with broad keywords like “ladies jeans.”
However, go for something more targeted, such as “ladies bootcut jeans,” and it wouldn’t be unrealistic to begin ranking.
You could also use Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer and use their Amazon keyword database to gain insights. Doing that is as simple as heading to the explorer, entering a keyword, selecting the Amazon database, and searching.
This is incredibly useful, as you will only get pages with commercial intent.
If you are looking to optimize your Amazon store, use this guide on Amazon SEO to get started.
Everyone knows the importance of keyword research when it comes to SEO. Picking the right keywords to target and optimize can make or break an SEO campaign.
Traditional keyword research processes that solely rely on the Search Volume metric is not sufficient when it comes to Ecommerce SEO. Determining the intent of each keyword is extremely important – not all keywords are created equal.
The best way to quickly determine intent at scale when it comes to keyword research for Ecommerce is to identify what SERP features are present.
Tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs have SERP features included as part of their keyword research tools.
Gather a list of keywords and identify keywords that have Google Shopping ads; these would be high purchase intent keywords that you should be prioritizing.
If the keyword contains featured snippets or people also ask box, chances are the keyword has a lower purchase intent and is more informational.
On-page optimization for ecommerce
Now you’ve got your keyword set; you want to ensure your website is as optimized as it can be.
After all, why work to drive someone to your website, only for them to get frustrated and go to a competitor?
Fortunately, I’ve put together four points for you below so you can easily avoid this.
When you’re optimizing, I recommend using the keyword set you just created. If you’re optimizing existing pages, also filter for the URLs in Google Search Console performance reports.
This is useful, as a live feed of impression data shows which keywords currently drive traffic; this is more up to date than the 12-month averages you often get from third-party tools.
Alternatively, I have recently written a guide + free template for using Data Studio to show quick-win keywords and highlight optimization opportunities here.
1. Run a content gap analysis to inform new category creation.
A content gap analysis helps identify the keywords that your competitors rank well for that you don’t. If multiple competitors are ranking for a specific keyword, it’s likely a keyword you should be ranking for, too.
Domain-level content gaps
My tool of choice for finding content gaps at the domain level is Ahrefs. It is as simple as using their website explorer and going to the content gap report.
One at a time, put your competitors into the tool, which will bring up their top-performing keywords.
Ahrefs provides a wealth of data for you to start going through to try to spot opportunities for creating new pages.
One handy tip is to exclude brand keywords from the report.
Also, show only higher-intersection keywords to start with, then move to lower intersections later. That way, you only see keywords that multiple competitors rank for.
Page-level content gaps
Another way to do a content gap is at the page level.
You compare a page on your website to competitors, or just compare multiple competitor pages to gather insights into additional keywords you could be optimizing for.
Again, you can do this in Ahrefs. Rather than entering a domain, you add multiple pages.
To start, use Google to search for a keyword you’re looking to target and gather pages you’re competing against.
In this example, I’m looking to optimize the “womens chelsea boots” page.
I chose a few URLs from the SERP and entered them in the content gap tool:
You may want to do this just for keyword discovery rather than finding things you don’t rank for, so the fourth entry above is optional if you don’t want any keywords excluded.
The results returned are okay, but some of the keywords aren’t exactly related to the page I’m looking to optimize.
To improve the results, change the “All intersections” filter so that all three domains must rank for each keyword suggestion.
And voila, the results are now a lot more targeted to “womens chelsea boots.”
I want to point out the highlighted long-tail keyword variations below. You can see users are searching for black, leather, and tan variations of chelsea boots, which you’ll want to remember as you’re optimizing.
Once I’ve highlighted these opportunities, I start looking at my page compared to competitors.
For an ecommerce website, some things you will want to ask yourself when comparing are:
- Should we create an additional category page to target this page?
- Should we update our on-page copy to target any long-tail keyword variations?
- Should we better optimize our meta titles for these long-tail keywords?
- Should we introduce more products to our website to better satisfy this search intent and begin to rank higher?
Looking at the page for each keyword in your gap may sound tedious, but once you’ve gone through a couple, you may spot a trend.
For example, just from looking at the above, I know we could be doing more to optimize for variations by material and color.
This could be the start of a larger plan to expand your categories to have subcategories that better target these terms.
Or, you may just decide to better optimize for colors and materials in your titles as Debenhams has.
2. Optimize titles, descriptions, and headings
Title tag optimization
Your title tags should follow these guidelines:
- Be shorter than about 70 characters
- Include the page’s primary keyword you are targeting (usually the keyword with the highest monthly search volume or most impressions from Google Search Console)
- Include secondary keywords or variations when possible
- Be optimized for clicks from the SERPs
- Include your brand name
Say we’re optimizing for the term “mens jackets.” You may want to do something simple like this:
Men’s Jackets - Jackets for Men | MandM Direct
If there isn’t a variation you want to include or there is additional space, try testing promoting your unique selling proposition (USP) or putting “buy” or “send” in front of keyword variations.
In this case, we have enough room to include long-tail variations, primary and secondary keywords, and a USP to try to improve the clickthrough rate (CTR):
Buy Men’s Jackets - Jackets for Men - Free Shipping | MandM Direct
The title tag has a significant impact on your rankings, so you must get it right.
Meta description optimization
Your meta description isn’t going to impact how well you rank, but it can impact CTR.
Some key things to remember for meta descriptions are:
- Include keywords and variations for bolding in the SERP.
- Try to include a CTA.
- Keep them less than around 160 characters.
There is a good chance Google may rewrite your meta description for you, but I still recommend creating unique meta descriptions where possible.
Your audience must know what page they’ll be landing on from the description, and the description should entice them to click.
Optimize in bulk
Templating the creation of titles, meta descriptions, and headers will save many hours, especially if you’re a large ecommerce website with tens of thousands of products and categories.
If you’re using Magento, WooCommerce, or Shopify, many SEO plug-ins offer these features, so I recommend you make use of them!
Here is an example of using the popular Rank Math plug-in for WordPress.
To help you out with creating these template, here are some example titles you could use:
Category Pages: $categoryName - Free Delivery | $brandName
Product Pages: $productName - Free Delivery | $brandName
And here are some examples of meta descriptions you could use:
Category PagesBrowse from our vast selection of $categoryName with styles to suit everybody. Buy ethical, sustainably sourced $categoryName with free delivery.
Product PagesAdd our ethically made and sustainably sourced $productName to your $categoryName collection. Take advantage of free and fast next day delivery.
For headers, these should just match either the product or category name.
To make the most of templates, consider your primary keywords, and try to name each category after the appropriate keyword.
Once you start to get some more traction and have time to optimize, you can go back and do this manually via Google Search Console, adding in secondary keywords where it makes sense.
You should revisit the optimization outlined in this section regularly. Review top-performing titles/descriptions/H1s every couple of weeks and manually optimize for new keywords or variations — it can make a massive impact on traffic.
Your H1 needs to be structured correctly, too.
Search engines use the H1 to understand the page topic, so the H1 (and other headings) should provide a recognizable structure to the content on that page.
Again, follow these simple rules, and you’ll have no issues.
- Use one H1 per page.
- Use your primary keyword, e.g., “men’s jeans.”
- Keep the H1 concise.
- Use text only, no images or logos.
MandM Direct already does this pretty well across all their categories:
3. Optimize URL structure
Your URL should be short, concise, and easy to read. Include your primary keyword phrase, use dashes between the words, and do not use parameters for pages you want indexed.
Here’s what you don’t want your URLs to look like:
And here’s what you do:
If you’re a large store, consider structured URLs to indicate hierarchy.
It’s much cleaner than the first example, and the user can easily see where they are in the website’s structure.
When making more of a hierarchy, try to avoid your URLs getting too long. Hierarchy is good, but not at the expense of clean URLs.
4. Create category and product page copy
Each category needs a brief description. This content not only helps inform your audience what they’ll be viewing, but it also helps Google understand what the page is about.
Here’s what John Mueller says about this in an interview for MHC’s SNYCU podcast:
It’s hard to say. The one thing that I notice in talking with the mobile indexing folks is that when the e-commerce category pages don’t have any other content at all other than links to the products, then it’s really hard for us to rank those pages.
Make sure this copy is unique rather than copied from the original supplier — this will only make it look plagiarized, and Google could penalize you for it.
I recommend keeping the description short and concise. Use it as an opportunity to add in a top keyword, long-tail search terms, and some information the audience will find valuable. Don’t write a description focused on adding as many keywords as possible!
Copy at the bottom of the page isn’t always necessary, although it can sometimes help if you don’t have many products.
So I’m not saying all of that text at the bottom of your page is bad, but maybe 90%, 95% of that text is unnecessary, but some amount of text is useful to have on a page so that we can understand what this page is about.
It’s also essential to optimize product pages, as they can be great for driving long-tail searches with high commercial intent.
Technical SEO for ecommerce
Ideally, all your pages should be easily accessible. The last thing you want is for a potential customer not to find what they’re looking for simply because the page exists, but a link to it doesn’t.
To find orphaned pages, you have to check for URLs from multiple sources such as:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- XML sitemaps
- Log files
Most auditing tools have features that make finding these easy. For example, in Sitebulb, you can just head to the internal report, and it’ll highlight them for you on a chart:
What do you do once you’ve found them?
Find ways to get these URLs into your website hierarchy, usually via either relevant pages or your main menu.
Logfile analysis is a somewhat underutilized tactic in SEO. There are good reasons for that. Most SEO’s struggle to get hold of logs due to bureaucracy and hosting providers’ limitations. But, if you’re persistent, you can find ways around this problem.
One of my favorite ways to acquire logs is to use something like Cloudflare for the DNS and pull logs directly from there using something like Logflare.
There are many uses for log file analysis. One of the use cases is finding orphaned pages. In standard cases, you have to look at ranking/Google Analytics data and combine it with web crawler data to see these pages.
But, it’s a lot easier and more accurate with using log files. You can use a web crawler and a log analyzer to find them. You look for the pages that are not seen by your web crawler, but search engines like Google & Bing crawled and discovered (information available via logs).
This way, you can isolate the orphan pages. It’s vital because orphan pages are not linked internally; they lose PageRank benefits. It isn’t good for SEO, as these pages might not rank well.
Also, a website’s information architecture is essential for SEO, and it can cause problems to your overall architecture as well.
Once you find these URLs, you can find an appropriate place to link the article and consider updating your sitemap so search engines can crawl them. In some cases, you can remove them from your website if deemed bad quality/irrelevant. You can later verify this by doing another log file analysis.
Keyword cannibalization is when a single website inadvertently targets the same keyword across multiple pages. Subsequently, this “confuses” a search engine into knowing what page ranks for what.
The most common cause of keyword cannibalization is not having a proper optimization plan for your website in the first place.
One of my favorite tools for highlighting these issues is Sistrix. Head to the keywords report and select the “Show keyword cannibalization” filter:
Once you’ve spotted an issue with targeting overlap, revisit things such as your content and title tag optimization to optimize for a different keyword, or merge the two pages and 301 redirect.
Pagination can play a vital role in improving your internal linking on your ecommerce website, so it’s something you should consider.
You can quickly check this by right-clicking on your pagination and selecting inspect to see if href links are there.
Use a view all page.
This one is simple. One of the best ways to avoid pagination issues is just not to use it!
Avoid noindexing pagination.
In most scenarios, you shouldn’t be applying the noindex tag to pagination. You should instead allow search engines to index them by adding self-referencing canonical tags to each page.
Adding the noindex tag can become an issue, as it will cause Google to stop crawling the pages as much.
Basically, we will try to crawl a few more times to see if the noindex is gone or if the page recovered from a 500 or whatever, and if the noindex is still there, then we will slowly start to move or to not crawl that page that often.
However, if you don’t feel your pagination provides value, and you have alternative crawl paths in place, heed John Mueller’s advice and consider adding the noindex tag.
... in the end, I think it mostly comes down to: "does this page in the paginated series bring joy?" and if not, then just noindex it.
Some websites feel all pages in a paginated series are important, so they keep them indexed (the fancy ones using rel-next/prev). Some websites cap paginated series at a certain number, perhaps letting the first one get indexed, and the rest not.
The decision is also sometimes based on the content of the paginated series. For example, if it’s a list of linked detail-pages, then you could decide by whether or not you can reach all pages even if you don’t have the full paginated set indexed (if you cross-link to related posts/products, then usually that’s the case).
Duplicate content issues
If the same content appears on multiple pages, you have a duplicate content issue. This again can confuse search engines in knowing which content should rank where.
Fortunately, this is something you can fix quickly.
My preferred method is to create a 301 redirect from the duplicate page to the “real” page. You can also use canonical tags, but a 301 is a strong signal to Google of what page to index while canonical tags are just a suggestion.
As always, when you do 301 redirects, ensure you update any internal links pointing to the redirected URL.
How to find duplicate content issues?
Most auditing tools make it easy to find duplicate content.
In Sitebulb, there is an entire report that shows duplication by titles, content, headers, and meta descriptions.
Ahrefs has a similar report, but also contains “near duplicate” pages.
There are two common types of duplicate content I see for ecommerce websites:
1. Product pages that sit within multiple categories
One type is when product pages inherit the category URL hierarchy into the URL, and that product sits within multiple categories.
For example, you would have these two URLs generated for a product merchandised in more than one category:
You could fix this by either using a canonical tag or by removing the category hierarchy from product pages and instead have the product URLs like the below.
2. Product variations
Another common issue is a product with variations by color, size, material, etc.
In some cases, these variations will create a unique URL for each version of that product, with only the product imagery changing.
So rather than having just one URL /product/cotton-t-shirt/, you will also have:
On top of that, you could have those three duplicate URLs again with different color variations.
One way to fix this is to canonicalize to one master product, in this case - /product/cotton-t-shirt/.
From my experience, fixing issues like this can provide huge benefits for ecommerce websites as you’ll be better consolidating PageRank and allowing product pages to better capture long-tail traffic.
Ecommerce structured data is an essential part of your ecommerce SEO strategy.
By adding structured data, you can upgrade your standard result to a rich result. A rich result is an enhanced listing that highlights price, availability, reviews, and more.
You also get an enhanced listing in Google images when browsing through the gallery.
As well as more detailed information when someone clicks on your image.
Google has a great guide on adding structured data for products to your website using JSON-LD.
Instead of chasing each and every issue separately, create a process that will do it for you in a more efficient way. It will help you combat the most common SEO issues in your online store.
For example, one of the potential issues is a flexible stock: products regularly get out of stock. So what do you do with these product pages?
A smart approach is to have a process of handling out of stock products instead of just returning 404 errors.
For example, if they get lots of traffic, you can leave them as they are but add related products to direct users to the items that they can actually buy. Or you can use a 301 redirect to send people to a (very) similar product.
Content marketing for ecommerce
Content marketing allows you the opportunity to rank for more keywords and more easily attract backlinks.
While category and product pages help you to rank for commercial terms, you also need to create content that targets potential customers starting their buying journey.
This content is not to drive direct sales. You’ll rarely see any sales via blog content when using last-click attribution.
When it comes to developing a content strategy, the main two types of content I consider using are informational and engaging pieces of content.
Informational content is keyword-led that targets micro-moments in the buyer journey to purchase.
It’s there to educate and inform your audience and to target users in the earlier stages of their buying journey.
From clients I’ve worked with whenever they execute this type of content correctly, it’s also excellent at driving link acquisition over time even with minimal outreach.
A great place to start is by creating blog posts that answer your audience’s commonly asked questions, which you can find through keyword research.
To highlight these opportunities, I usually start by entering broad terms into Ahrefs keyword explorer and heading to the questions section.
The questions section can miss some opportunities, though, so I also tend to use the phrase match report and enter some other common terms people use when looking for informational content such as “best, tips, trends, can, calculator.”
Make sure to select “Any word” rather than “All words.”
For more term variations to add to the includes filter, it can help to look at an unfiltered view in the phrase match report; sometimes, you can spot a trend of what people search for in your industry that is unique.
Outside of using the keyword explorer, an SEO competitor analysis can also help.
As well as informational content, I always also try to have “engaging content” as part of the content strategy.
Not that your informational strategy shouldn’t be engaging! But this content is purely meant to engage based upon audience interests. It isn’t keyword led.
One purpose of this type of content is to make your blog a place your audience wants to come back to.
While informational content is excellent at attracting traffic from search engines, if all you talk about is the “best shoes,” “best dresses,” “best t-shirts,” it gets a little boring.
People like human-interest stories, things that will make them laugh, interesting data and insights, and much more.
Engaging content works well when it has a PR hook and is something you can outreach and get in front of your audience via owned channels like email, as well as paid channels like social platforms.
So, how do you generate these ideas? Here’s how I go about it.
All content strategies start with the audience.
Keyword research is our first port of call for audience insights for informational content; with engaging content, we’re looking for the same insights, but using a different method.
Insights for engaging content comes from discovering audience behaviors, interests, and demographic data.
There are various tools to do this, such as:
- Facebook audience insights
- Sparktoro by Casey and Rand previously at Moz. It’s a relatively new tool that provides some great audience insights.
While I recommend starting here before using SparkToro, the tool is pretty intuitive.
You can find a ton of insights from playing around with the different ways of searching.
Just by searching your own website, you can find things like who your audience tends to retweet.
Websites they visit and amplify.
And podcasts they listen to.
Along with a whole load of behavioral insights.
All of this is useful information for you to digest to help you generate ideas.
Once I’ve found out a bit more about where my audience is and their behaviors and interests, I usually then try to find out what they’re sharing and what websites are linking to different types of content.
You can use Buzzsumo or Ahrefs content explorer to help you out here.
With Ahrefs, it’s as simple as adding in your broad phrases covering the topics you’d cover as we did in the keyword explorer.
Once you’ve done that, browse the pages returned and make notes of what’s working; you may spot trends of what tends to be highly linked to or shared.
With your audience insights and content research to hand, you’ll now want to perform an ideation to produce your engaging content ideas.
One of the things we see ecommerce companies really struggle with is creating, promoting, and attracting links to high quality, top and middle of the funnel content.
There is so much value in identifying content topics that don’t necessarily tie back to the exact products being sold on the website but can attract the right audience, introduce them to the brand and provide an opportunity to pixel and nurture.
When done right, this long-form, thought leader type content can rank very well for hundreds, even thousands of long-tail keywords, and drive extreme value for the brand.
Tracking ecommerce SEO activity
You should now have an idea of the things you could be doing to improve ecommerce SEO performance.
But before you start, you need to ensure you measure your SEO activity.
The main things you’ll want to track are:
- Sessions/revenue/conversion rates/engagement metrics through analytics tools like Google Analytics
- Ongoing rank tracking
- Competitor reporting
When it comes to implementing rank tracking for ecommerce sites, I’d recommend using keyword groups when uploading your keywords.
To make the most of this feature, make sure you replicate your site structure in your grouping strategy for enhanced reporting.
As an example of how you should do this for MandM Direct for their Men’s Boots page, you can easily understand the taxonomies of the site by taking a look at their mega menu.
Thanks to the well-organized site, we can see that grouping of boots keywords should have tags added of “Boots” as well its two parent categories “Footwear” and “Mens.”
To make this easier, you’ll want to find a rank tracker that allows you to import keyword groups via CSV.
CSV imports make the process of keyword research to tracking of those keywords much easier.
This is easy to do whenever you add keywords via Advanced Web Ranking.
Once you’ve got all your groups imported, reporting becomes much more useful.
You’ll now be able to see data for each different group from more generic keywords such as “mens clothing” and “mens footwear,” to more specific longer-tail keywords such as “mens boots.”
This can be useful for both comparing how different competitors do, depending on the keyword group.
How you perform for each keyword group.
And even how SERP features change by keyword group, as well as who captures them.
Once you have all of this handy data being collected, you can then bring all this data together in a dashboard with Data Studio, like in the SEO report template I created.
So there we have it, an in-depth guide to ensure your ecommerce website is on the road to SEO success.
Follow this guide, apply each of these recommendations, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
Sam Underwood, a digital marketing expert with proficiencies in SEO, data analysis, site speed, CRO/UX and content strategy.
Sam has experience working on enterprise search strategies for some of the UK's largest brands such as AO, Reiss & Compare The Market.