Ecommerce SEO: How to Drive Sales With Organic Traffic

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A quarter of all online sales comes from organic traffic. So there is just no way an ecommerce website can afford to ignore search optimization. Problem is, online stores are typically large-scale and complicated — so trivial on-page optimization tasks can turn into a never-ending nightmare for SEOs and business owners. Moreover, ecommerce SEO is not exactly the same as regular SEO and some additional considerations have to be made.

In this guide, you'll find a set of content and technical issues anyone doing ecommerce SEO will face, and learn how to solve them.

Step 0. Cover the basics of SEO

In this guide, I will be talking about the things that are unique to ecommerce SEO and product pages in particular. I’m excluding most aspects of regular SEO, but they still apply and should be considered in your SEO strategy. If you are very new to SEO, I would recommend these guides on technical optimization, creating landing pages, PageSpeed optimization, and off-page SEO.

Step 1. Find ecommerce-related keywords

When people search for anything online, they usually have one of the four types of search intent: informational, navigational, commercial, or transactional.

With the first two types of intent, people are just looking for information. They use keywords like what is bitcoin or weather today or nasa website. They might also be looking for information about certain types of products, like how to choose a bike, but they are still a long way from making a purchase.

With the last two types of intent, people are either looking for product categories or specific products. Like if someone is googling nasa merch or official nasa t-shirts, they are clearly looking to browse a product catalog. Or if someone is googling buy new balance 574 dark, they are clearly ready to pull the trigger on a particular product model.

With this in mind, commercial and transactional keywords are best suited for ecommerce purposes.

Ecommerce keyword research for a new store

If you are just launching an online store, you can use keyword research to decide what kind of product categories to create on your ecommerce website or even what kind of products to stock.

One of the best ways to perform keyword research for ecommerce purposes is to launch Rank Tracker, go to Keyword Research > Autocomplete Tools, and choose Amazon. There, you can enter a few of your seed keywords and see autocomplete suggestions from the largest online store in the world:

Amazon autocomplete in Rank Tracker
Amazon autocomplete in Rank Tracker

In the example above, I’ve used a few bike-related seed words and got over a thousand autocomplete ecommerce suggestions. I’ve sorted the list by search volume and there were a few surprising discoveries. I did not expect bikes racks and bike shorts to be so high up on the list — if I owned an online bike store I should have probably made these two into separate categories or subcategories.

Another way to kickstart your keyword collection is to see which keywords are used by your immediate ecommerce competitors. To do this, switch to either the Ranking Keywords or the Keyword Gap tabs in Rank Tracker and see which keywords your competitors rank for:

Competitor keywords in Rank Tracker
Competitor keywords in Rank Tracker

Once you are out of seed word ideas and out of competitors, switch to the Sandbox tab, where all of the keywords discovered in the previous step are now stored:

Sandbox in Rank Tracker
Sandbox in Rank Tracker

As you can see in my example, I was able to discover over 15,000 ecommerce keyword ideas. Now I can sort them by search volume or use other filters to choose keywords with the best ranking potential, i.e. the most searched products on the market.

Ecommerce keyword research for an existing store

If you already have an established online store, then all you have to do is make sure that your existing pages are optimized using the best ecommerce keywords with proper intent.

To do that, create three lists of words:

  • Transactional and commercial intent words like buy, purchase, price, sale, review, compare.
  • Brands available on your website, like Campagnolo, Trek, Bianchi.
  • Categories, products, and product properties like bike, frame, road, mountain bike, carbon bike, steel bike.

Now launch Rank Tracker and go to Keyword Research > Keyword Combinations > Word Combination and enter each list into a separate field:

Keyword combinations in Rank Tracker
Keyword combinations in Rank Tracker

Click Search and the tool will mix your words together, delivering a full list of shopping intent keywords to be used on your ecommerce website:

Keyword combinations in Rank Tracker
Keyword combinations in Rank Tracker

Now you can select those keywords that are relevant to your website, map them onto your product or/and category pages, and optimize pages for the keywords.

Step 2. Mind ecommerce website structure

Having a good website structure is important for any website actually. But it’s double important for ecommerce websites, as they usually have way more pages than any product website or blog. With this in mind, the structure of your online shop has to make it easy for both users and search engines to discover all of your pages.

So what structure is good? It has to be: a) simple, b) scalable.

The simplicity of a website structure means that the pages are logically arranged (i.e. home > category > subcategory > product, not home > about > locations > product). Moreover, simplicity means that any page on a website could be reached within a maximum of three clicks from the homepage.

Audit your ecommerce website with an SEO audit tool you prefer to see if there are any issues with the structure simplicity. We’ll proceed with WebSite Auditor. Launch the tool, assemble your project, and go to Site Structure > Pages > switch to Links & technical factors workspace. Find the Click depth column and sort the pages in descending order. Investigate any page with a click depth rate of more than 3, and consider restructuring your website to make all these pages closer to the surface.

Click Depth analysis in WebSite Auditor
Click Depth analysis in WebSite Auditor

Scalability means that you can add new pages without affecting the overall structure of your website. So if you are planning to sell new goods, you’ll need to create new product or category pages, keeping your already existing pages reachable, too.

These days, most CMSs and ecommerce platforms like Shopify or Magento feature this ecommerce-perfect website structure by default or make it available with plugins. So all you have is to set up navigation and sort your product within categories.

Here’s an example of a good website structure and navigation (nike.com, assembled on Magento CMS):

Nike.com website structure
Nike.com website structure

The homepage lets you choose a category (Men), a subcategory (Shoes), and a sub-subcategory (Lifestyle) by not even clicking but hovering. Then you can click on any product to see the details.

Products of Nike.com
Products of Nike.com

It took you two clicks to get to the product page. And it will take the same two clicks for Google, thus all the pages of the website will be fully indexed.

Step 3. Perform on-page SEO in bulk

An ecommerce website typically has a limited set of category pages and thousands of product pages. Everything is more or less clear with category pages — they are usually subject to the traditional on-page SEO approach.

Things get trickier when it comes to product pages. You'll hardly have the time and resources to create unique titles, H1 tags, and descriptions for each product page.

To automate the process of your ecommerce SEO, create a title, meta description, and H1 templates for your product pages. For example, you may use this template for the title tag:

Buy [ProductName] online | Your store name

[ProductName] is a variable that changes for every page depending on the product. If your ecommerce CMS does not support variables, ask your development team for help.

Do the same for your H1s and descriptions — and remember that titles and meta descriptions are displayed in your listing's snippet in SERPs, so make sure to use a strong call-to-action to entice clicks from search results.

If you need detailed information on how to create perfectly polished SEO-friendly pages, do not miss this comprehensive guide on landing page optimization.

Step 3. Add Schema markup to product pages

Schema markup is a collection of special HTML tags that help Google understand what’s what on your pages. Google can then use this information to better represent your pages in search. For example, if you use product and review Schema on your product pages, then your regular search snippets will be enhanced with additional features:

Product snippets in search
Product snippets in search

Unlike regular snippets, rich product snippets can feature reviews, prices, and other product details, depending on the product type. As you can guess, this can boost your ecommerce SEO strategy greatly.

If you’ve built your online store using an ecommerce CMS, there is a great chance that the CMS implements product Schema by default and all of your products are already tagged. Or, if not, you can probably install a plugin that will do the job for you in a matter of seconds. The only thing left for you to do is go to Google Search Console > Enhancements and make sure that Google recognizes your Schema and that it’s implemented without issues:

Enhancements report in Google Seach Console
Enhancements report in Google Seach Console

If your website is custom-built, it’s likely you will need to implement Schema manually or ask your developers to automate the process. 

As the last resort, if you have a manageable number of products or if you want to use Schema on only the most important product pages, you can use Structured Data Markup Helper. It’s a Google tool where you can choose the type of markup you want to apply and enter your URL:

Structured Data Markup Helper
Structured Data Markup Helper

And then simply go through the page, highlight product details, and choose what they are:

Structured Data Markup Helper
Structured Data Markup Helper

Once you are done tagging your product, download the piece of Schema code, and add it to the code on your website.

You can verify your Schema with a testing tool or, as before, check with your Google Search Console dashboard.

Step 4. Fix duplication issues

Make sure every page on your site is unique. For ecommerce websites, duplicate content issues fall into two categories:

  • Off-site — the content appears on many websites across the web.
  • On-site — many pages of the website feature the same content.

Here is how you can fix each one.

Fix off-site duplication

Off-site duplication is natural for ecommerce. Online stores often use product descriptions, images, and specifications provided by the manufacturers. This is logical since you cannot invent new specs for the latest iPhone. However, there are a number of solutions to the problem:

  • Write unique descriptions for each item. If you have a team of copywriters to get the entire inventory covered — go for it. Just keep in mind that as the inventory scales up, you'll need to keep up with the copy as well.
  • Leverage user-generated content. Create incentives for visitors to write reviews of the items they purchased. Send follow-up emails and ask for a review nicely, or offer discounts or bonuses to customers who leave a review. 
  • Add a Q&A section for each product. You can make your product descriptions unique by adding a FAQ section with questions customers often have about the product. As a side note, if you do this, you can take advantage of the Q&A Schema markup and further enhance your page in the eyes of Google.

Fix on-site duplication

On-site duplication is a frequent problem across the pages of online stores. It can be caused by the ecommerce content management system or an illogical website structure. There are two typical scenarios.

First, a product may belong to several categories, e.g. the same Samsung TV set could be found in Home, TVs, and Samsung. The CMS may generate different URLs for the very same product depending on the path a user takes in the product catalog. For example:

http://mystore.com/tv-sets/samsung-un65hu9000-65-inch.html
http://mystore.com/samsung/samsung-un65hu9000-65-inch.html

Second, the CMS could generate a separate URL for each variation of one product (e.g. size, color, or other specifications). For example:

http://mystore.com/women-hoodies/juicy-couture-velour-hoodie-white.html
http://mystore.com/women-hoodies/juicy-couture-velour-hoodie-black.html

The best way to resolve on-site duplication is through canonical URLs. Luckily, most ecommerce CMS platforms that tend to create duplicate pages also tend to set the canonicals automatically. If your canonicals are not set automatically, then see Google's canonicalization guide for detailed info on implementing them yourself.

Step 6. Handle out-of-stock product pages

Create search-friendly pages for unavailable products. There are times when your store runs out of a certain product — or even discontinues an item completely. These two cases should be handled differently.

Create smart pages for temporarily unavailable products

If an item is temporarily unavailable, removing the page is not an option — it will drop out of search and you’ll have to re-rank it when the item is back in stock. The page should clearly state that the product is out of stock, and provide all the relevant information the visitor may need to either wait until the item arrives or order an alternative from you.

  • Include the item's planned arrival date. This will help the visitors decide whether they're ready to wait until the item is available, or if they should look for alternatives.
  • Offer a notification for when the item arrives. Even if you don't know when the item is going to be available, it's a good idea to give your visitors an option to get notified via email when it's back in stock.
  • Give visitors a preorder option. If you're positive the item is going to be available soon, let users preorder it. This will assure your customers that when the product is in stock, they will be the first to receive it.
  • Add a list of similar products. Whenever you can, offer visitors alternative options to make sure they purchase from you and don't go to competitors instead.

Handle permanently discontinued products

If the item is permanently removed from sale, you have several options to deal with its product page.

  • Return a 404 page. A 404 page is a natural way to remove pages from the search engine index; the overall rankings of the website will not be affected. Make sure to remove 404 pages from your site's XML sitemap — this will send a strong signal to the search engines that the page should be removed from the index. This approach is suitable for pages that don't have a lot of backlinks and don't serve as an entrance point to the website. If the page ranks well for some queries though, consider other options.
  • Create a 301 redirect to a similar item or relevant product category. The redirect will help you save link juice; on the downside, 301 redirects can increase load time and confuse the visitor.
  • Keep the product page, but state that the item is discontinued and offer an alternative. This way you will preserve the link juice and the page's rankings. However, this option is not recommended if the online store's inventory changes often — you don't want to end up with thousands of ghost products wasting your crawl budget.

Final thoughts

Remember, the things mentioned above go on top of your regular SEO activities, which should include technical optimization (speed, security, responsiveness), content optimization (if content marketing is a part of your strategy), and off-page SEO (backlinks, citations, and GMB).

Do you know of any other ecommerce aspects that are tricky for SEO? Let us know in the comments below and we will make sure to answer them in our article.