An e-commerce SEO checklist to help fix critical elements

SEO Checklist featured image

Traffic is the lifeblood of any e-commerce business, bringing with it the potential both for immediate sales and for long-term customer relationships. Paid and organic search are two of your most important options to drive traffic to your site. This study of over 250 million e-commerce websites across Europe and America shows how important organic search, driven by your SEO efforts, can potentially be for your business.

Traffic percentage through different categories

E-commerce SEO is tough. SEO initiatives that will really make an impact on your rankings are best done on a monthly basis for at least 6 to 12 months. Our checklist is a good start though and will help you get the basics of your site SEO-ready to welcome webcrawlers from any search engine.

If you’d like Comalytics to take care of your SEO and help you rank higher on Google and other engines, contact us today to discuss our packages.

Why is e-commerce SEO so critical?

SEO helps your e-commerce site move to the top of the search engine rankings, so your ideal customers can easily find you and then (hopefully) buy from you. If you’re not on the first page of the search results, it won’t matter how incredible your site or your products are – very few people will see them.

To get onto that crucial first page, you need (a) to know what the search engine webcrawlers are looking for as they make their way through your site, and (b) to optimise your site accordingly.

Also bear in mind that e-commerce SEO is more complex than SEO for a normal blog or information (also called content) website. Products come and go, or are in or out of season, and so product pages get shuffled around or deleted. To keep track of this, it’s important to manage your e-commerce SEO using a spreadsheet containing keywords, as well as a periodic checklist with tools.

This process takes both initial and ongoing work on your part, especially if you have a large e-commerce site, but it’s well worth the effort in the long run. If you’d rather not deal with it yourself though, we can take care of your e-commerce SEO for you.

Let’s look at the basic points to get your SEO in good shape.

A basic SEO checklist for your e-commerce site

Search engines base their algorithms on good user experience. So as a general rule of thumb, if you consider what will help your users have the best experience on your site, encourage them to spend time there and link to it from elsewhere, you should be on track with your SEO too.

Note: We primarily mention Google but the same principles apply to other search engines too e.g. Bing, Yahoo, AOL, Ask.com, etc.

For ease of use, we have created this shortened e-commerce SEO checklist for you to download.


1. Find the right keywords

Keywords are the phrases that people type into search engines when they’re looking for something. Short- and long-tail keywords are phrases, or groups of keywords that show the intent of the searcher. The more popular the keywords, the more likely people are to type them in, but also the more other e-commerce sites you will be competing with, which makes it more difficult to rank highly.

Actions:

  • It’s extremely important to choose correct keywords right from the beginning, so research for keywords is best done by experts. Here are the (simplified) steps:

    • In a spreadsheet, consider your customer segments and make a list of search terms each segment would use to search for your business (homepage), types of products (category pages) and products (product pages). Think of all the phrases you (as a customer) would use to search for each page.

    • Your spreadsheet should contain all your URL’s, with a list of search terms for each URL. For big e-commerce sites, start with your most important pages and systematically include more over time.

    • Use free tools like Google Search Console, Google Trends, Ubersuggest, KW Finder or this list of free tools to verify the keywords you have jotted down per URL and to build it out further with variations if possible.

    • Don’t choose keywords that are too broad or too competitive, as your bounce rate will be high and your conversions low. For example, for Comalytics, we don’t want to choose ‘e-commerce’ as a keyword because people searching for ‘e-commerce’ may be looking for places they can shop online, or they may be doing research about e-commerce in general. Whereas if we use ‘e-commerce software’ for our homepage, then the visitor typing in that search term is definitely looking for our services. A few tips:

      • Your homepage keyword should clearly reflect your unique selling proposition (USP).

      • Category page keywords should clearly speak about the type of products in this category.

      • Product page keywords can and should very specifically be about the product on that page, while also taking into account what the layman will search for.

      • Your About page could use the founders’ names as keywords.

    • Neil Patel suggests that you use Amazon as another source of ideas for keywords (especially long-tail keywords for products and blogs). For example, typing in ‘water bottles’, Amazon gives “water bottles for kids, water bottles stainless steel, water bottles bulk, water bottles 24 pack, water bottles with straws” etc.

    • This research process should be repeated taking into account what your competitors are doing. Domain authority and page authority comes in here, and the free Moz toolbar can be useful.

  • With the aid of an expert, choose the best keywords for each of your URL’s and list them at the top of your research list for that URL. Let’s call these your PRIMARY WEB PAGE (PWP) keywords.

  • Each page on your website must have a UNIQUE keyword – hence the need to keep track of your keywords in a spreadsheet. Otherwise your pages will compete against each other.

  • Now that you have your PRIMARY keyword per page, put this keyword into Google and at the bottom you will find related terms. These are called LATENT SEMANTIC INDEXING (LSI) keywords. For example, if I enter ‘Deck Chairs’ in Google, I get “Wooden deck chairs, canvas deck chairs, deck chairs for sale, patio set” as alternative suggestions at the bottom of page 1. List them on your spreadsheet for each URL too. These can be added to your content to boost your SEO.

  • With the help of the same expert, take a look at your spreadsheet full of search terms per URL and below your PRIMARY WEB PAGE and LSI keywords, choose other good keywords for each of your pages. These particular keywords will be used for blogs or other helpful content (linking back to the original URL they were listed for) to create extra opportunities to get your business and product pages out there. These we will call BLOG KEYWORDS. When you write a blog using ONE of these keywords at a time, that keyword will be your PRIMARY WEB PAGE (PWP) keyword again for that blog. Also use Google again to look for LSI keywords for this chosen PWP keyword.

  • This spreadsheet is now the ultimate guide for your on-page SEO activities, as well as for your content creation actions. Review it from time to time, but in general it shouldn’t change drastically. If you do change it, you will need to re-do your on-page SEO, and very often change your URL – which means you have to redirect pages. Although this is sometimes very necessary, it should be limited as far as possible.

2. On-page SEO – use your keywords correctly

On-page SEO includes all the actions you take on the pages of your own website to rank better. This is one aspect of your website which you can control and the rules for it are pretty clear. Note: Google can read variations, so always use your PRIMARY WEB PAGE (PWP) keyword in a natural way. For example, if my keyword is ‘African organic coffee beans’, but to use it naturally in a sentence I need to write ‘organic coffee beans from Africa’, then that is still considered use of your keyword.

  • Keyword optimisation per website page or blog page – use your PWP keyword:

    • In the page title

    • In headers, especially your H1 header – every page must have an H1 header and may not have more than one

    • Several times in the paragraph content of a page and especially in the product description on product pages.

    • In image file names and image alt tags – don’t leave these blank!

    • In your meta title and meta description – these should read like an ad for the page or blog they apply to

    • In your URL’s – make sure your URL’s are short, legible and self-explanatory

    • In your product title – this is very important for e-commerce companies

    • In both your product description and title – make sure these are closely related

  • Use your LSI keywords:

    • In some of your headers

    • Several times in the paragraph content of your page

  • Don’t keyword stuff. Your wording should look natural and human-friendly. Always aim to write useful content for humans.

3. On-page SEO – use metatags wisely

The title tag is essentially the name of a page. In search results, it appears at the top of a listing with the slightly longer meta-description below that. The metadescription tempts the right people to click through to your page.

Actions:

  • Write a unique title tag that describes your content in 70 characters or less.

  • Follow a formula, taking the page type into account:

    • Homepage: Brand | PWP keyword (this should reflect who you are)

    • Category page: PWP keyword | Brand

    • Product page: Product name |Brand (product name is normally the PWP keyword)

    • For blog pages: Blog Title | Brand (blog title should contain the PWP keyword)

  • Write a metadescription of 155 characters or less that matches the content of the page. If you don’t fill this in, Google will do it for you, often badly.

4. On-page SEO – optimise architecture and interlinking

Both these issues impact the user’s experience as well as something called SEO link juice. This is the non-technical term for the SEO value or power that flows through a link from one page to another, giving it added authority.

Take actions:

  • Keep the architecture of your website as flat as possible. A deep structure will dilute the link juice flowing from the homepage down to the bottom pages. Look at our Product Categorisation blog to understand more about taxonomy on your website. How you organise your products will influence the depth of the structure and also your keyword strategy.

  • Make sure all your pages are three clicks or less away from the homepage.

  • Follow this formula for your URL names, making sure they contain the keyword and are easy to read:

    • Category pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name

    • Subcategory pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name

    • Sub-subcategory pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/sub-subcategory-name

    • Product pages: yourwebsite.com/category-name/subcategory-name/sub-subcategory-name/product name

  • Google loves internal links because they show your content is cohesive and focused on your topic, and they help Google index your page faster. Internal links also pass link juice.

    • Link strategically from the homepage down to category and then product pages.

    • Link between product and category pages to distribute link juice.

    • Limit internal links to where linking is natural – don’t add links that aren’t logical.

    • Make the anchor text (the text linking to another page) very descriptive of the page you are linking to. Ensure variety of anchor text and don’t duplicate it.

Optimise architecture and interlinking

5. On-page SEO – create unique content

Content is copy over and above the words that automatically appear on a page e.g. the words in your navigation, footer or sidebar. Since the Panda update in 2011, Google has been heavily penalising duplicate content. Ideally your website content should be unique, valuable and updated often.

Take actions:

  • E-commerce sites are very prone to duplicate pages and often penalised by Google as a result. Analyse your site regularly using Siteliner.com, a free tool that helps you find duplicate (and broken) pages.

  • Write fresh, unique content for every page on your site. Don’t copy chunks of text from one page to another on your site or from other sites.

  • Include good quality product descriptions that inform the customer and create desire for the product.

  • Product pages need to contain 500 – 1000 words each. Reach this goal by writing detailed product descriptions, describing features and specs, and include interesting history, customer success stories or different uses of the product. Use the PWP and LSI keywords several times in this content.

  • Don’t use unedited content provided by manufacturers. It will be duplicated across many other sites which sell the same product, earning black marks from Google.

  • Use a tool like Yotpo to allow customers to leave product reviews on your site. These provide social proof, help others decide what to buy, readily appear in search results and add unique, constantly updating content to your site with no effort on your part.

  • Add Google’s built-in product review schema to your product pages, so visitors can see rich data such as review stars, prices or pictures next to the search engine listing.

6. On-page SEO – provide valuable information

Create content your customers can really use and show Google you’re an authority in your field. What matters is quality, not quantity.

Take actions:

  • Going back to your keyword research, there were probably many keywords that you couldn’t use on your pages. Use these for blogs instead.

  • Set up a blog schedule to help you consistently create new content.

  • Refresh old blogs wherever you can to keep them relevant.

  • Aim for at least 1500 words and preferably more than 1900.

  • Use a tool like Canva to create shareable visuals, like infographics, wherever possible.

  • Make sure your content is on the actual web page, not in an inline frame (iframe). Iframes can be useful to embed content like videos, ads and content from other websites but because they link back to the original source, at best, they don’t contribute to your own SEO. At worst, they may even count against you if Google decides there is nothing unique on that page. Definitely don’t use them on your main pages.

7. Ensure usability

The items in this section also appear in our normal e-commerce checklist and we will therefore keep them brief. The aim for usability is to provide a great experience for your customers. This will encourage them to stay longer on your site and to become repeat customers – two important SEO factors.

Take actions:

  • Design the checkout process to be as seamless and short as possible.

  • Add multiple ways to contact you and make them easy to find. One must-have tool here is live chat.

  • Make sure your site is responsive and works across all devices and browsers. Ask us if you need help with this.

  • Check your site loading speed with GTmetrix.

  • Navigation should be clean and clear.

  • Install rich snippets – these are the review stars or images you see in the search results on Google. Snippets help click-through and conversion rates, which are good for SEO.

Image of a google search with the reviews section being circled

8. Maximise your social activity

Search engines love social activity, so growing your community, sharing content and engaging with your customers all positively impact your SEO.

Take actions:

  • Share all your blogs to your social media platforms.

  • Encourage others to share your content with social sharing buttons. Put these buttons on your blog posts, product pages and homepage.

  • From an SEO perspective, Forbes believes that the most important social platform is Google+.

9. Optimise your technical SEO

This area of SEO can have a major impact on your rankings and it needs ongoing monitoring. Although it is best to get a full SEO audit done by an expert, here are a few pointers to check for and include in your site:

Take actions:

  • To rank your website, search engine crawlers need to be able to access your website and index it. To enable this:

    • Register your website with the search engines.

    • Get Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to verify your website.

    • Generate HTML and XML sitemaps on your website and submit them to Google, Bing and Yahoo! for indexing before going live, then periodically especially when making big changes.

  • Manage what you want search engines to crawl or not to crawl:

    • Noindex tells search engines to exclude a page from search results.

    • Disallow asks search engine crawlers not to crawl a specific page.

    • Nofollow asks search engines not to follow the links on your page and therefore Google should not pass any link juice via this link.

    • Canonical tags on your e-commerce site tell search engines which similar or identical pages form a group, and which one of them should be indexed. For example, when product pages are reached from different categories, they may have a different URL but the same content, creating duplication. The secondary pages are then not indexed and therefore not seen as duplication.

    • Canonical tags can also be used for ‘thin’ content pages which form part of a group.

    • Hreflang tells search engines which international versions of the same content are for which region, so they can prioritise the correct content for the intended audience.

    • Robots.txt is used for files you don’t want crawlers to crawl. These can include non-public pages like logins, forms, PDFs, cart, checkout, etc.

    • Dofollow links indicate endorsement for a link. These are normally important when dealing with Backlinks.

  • Use Google Search Console Dashboard / Crawl Errors to find and then fix:

    • 3xx redirection errors

    • 4xx client errors, importantly broken links (404 errors)

    • 5xx server errors

  • Ensure your site has an SSL certificate.

  • If a product is permanently out of stock, do not delete the page. Rather redirect it to its replacement product, to a closely related product or to the category page.

  • Use Google Search Console to manage your crawl budget (i.e. the number of pages on your site which Google search bots will crawl on any given day). You can make improvements to your budget by:

    • Optimising your overall link structure

    • Increasing the number of backlinks

    • Removing duplicate content

    • Fixing broken links

    • Updating your sitemap regularly

10. Back-link SEO: Leverage other relevant sites

When other authoritative sites link to you, it shows Google you are an expert on your subject and are providing valuable content. It also exposes your business to a whole new audience of potential customers. Creating backlinks is more important than any other SEO initiative, and it really needs to be done on an ongoing basis. Backlinks can be seen as your ‘virtual word-of-mouth’ recommendations and are extremely important to search engines. If you attempt this area yourself, make sure you build organic (not paid for) links from websites with high-quality content.

Take actions:

  • Links with explanatory anchor text (i.e. website design elements) are valued higher than irrelevant anchor text (i.e. click here)

  • Your backlinks must come from high authority sites. You can check their authority with a tool like Website Authority Checker

  • Benchmark yourself against your competitors. Put the Primary Web Page keyword (for the page you want to rank) into google and see who comes out at number 1 on the SERP’s. Put this competitor’s URL into the Website Authority Checker and note their Page Authority score and number of backlinks. Now you know what you need to aim for to reach number 1.

  • The profile of your competitor’s backlinks are very important. Use a tool like Ahrefs ($7 for 7 day trial) or Monitor Backlinks (30 days free) to find a list of all the websites that link to your competitor. Then:

    • Guest blog: reach out to the owners of the sites that link to your competitor’s – as long as their authority is high. Contact them offering your valuable content and ask if they can build a backlink to your site.

    • Alternatively, look for a broken link on the pages you’d like to backlink to you (again their authority is important). You can use brokenlinkcheck or many other broken link tools. Write content about that topic and post it on your site (creating more unique content for you). Email the site owner and let them know that you noticed the broken link and created a resource for it, to which they are welcome to link if they would like.

  • Ask your manufacturers if they would mind listing your online site selling their products in a directory-type page on their site.

  • Send your product to bloggers in your niche to do a product review blog and in the process they will normally link back to your site. These contacts may become a place where you may want to guest blog in the future.

  • Create valuable infographics – they are worth it. Use a tool like easel.ly to create interesting infographics relevant to your business. Submit your infographics to any of these directories or these submission sites. These can deliver many backlinks for you in the future as companies source information from these directories.

The bottom line…

Working on your e-commerce SEO is an ongoing task – which we have hopefully made easier with this checklist. If you need help, feel free to contact us. Once you understand the basic principles behind it, you can work the SEO formulae to make sure your site ranks well on search engines. That’s the key to attracting that all-important traffic and converting it to sales.



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