e-Commerce Marketing and SEO Guide:
The Best Tools, Tips, and Strategy to Optimize
Do you want to learn how to improve your e-Commerce stores’ SEO and marketing? Do you own an e-Commerce store on BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, WordPress or WooCommerce? Well, e-Commerce and website building platforms such as the ones above have opened the door for just about anyone to open their store online. And as the online shopping experience has evolved, so have the tools and strategy you can employ to build a winning e-commerce experience.
While there is massive opportunity online, there is also harsh competition because it can be anyone's game now. Prepare your business for success with the right tools and strategy to build an optimized website everyone wants to visit and shop.
Here are the nine awesome marketing and SEO tools and tips to help you optimize, boost, and increase your e-Commerce website sales:
The great benefit to SEO and the right tools is that you put the time and effort in early on and don't have to spend tons of money on advertising later to drive traffic to your website.
The Best e-Commerce Platforms for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
… and How to Optimize Your Site too.
E-commerce falls in a category all its own when it comes to websites. That's because handling transactions and security of a site where you can buy goods is completely different than just safely hosting content.
Plus, search engine optimization (SEO) is a bit different for product descriptions and landing pages than it is for blogs. Four main platforms do a great job of providing for the needs of e-commerce businesses.
Each platform has its own set of strengths and weaknesses and caters to different types of e-commerce websites well. Let's dive in deeper to understand what makes each platform great so you can pick the right tool for your e-commerce business.
WordPress and WooCommerce
Magento Review for e-Commerce
Magento offers the ability to do robust customization of the ordering process and customizable products. It's an excellent tool for companies that complete complex orders and manage many different products.
If you have limited development skills and are just starting your journey into e-commerce, Magento is probably too complicated for you. Magento is not as simple to use when it comes to SEO because it has such robust functionality. You'll need to be more diligent when creating each product and ensure that you know the platform inside and out before launching your e-commerce website.
Because Magento is part of the Adobe Experience Cloud, it can integrate your analytics, advertising, and e-commerce all in one tool for easier management. However, the Adobe products are still sold separately so be ready for the price tag of the Adobe suite offering.
Be sure to bookmark our recommended Magento Marketing Guide too!
WordPress and WooCommerce Reviews for e-Commerce
If you've ever considered starting your website, you've probably heard of WordPress. With 75 million sites out there powered by WordPress, it owns a massive part of the market share, mostly because it's free and open source.
There are many plugins designed to enhance the easy-to-use WordPress platform. One such plugin is WooCommerce. It is also all open source and free. You can manage an unlimited number of products on your WooCommerce website.
Because WooCommerce was designed for WordPress users, it is straightforward and intuitive to use. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to engage your audience through user reviews and ranking.
For those who have never used WordPress before, the setup process can seem lengthy. You'll need to choose a host, install WordPress, choose your WooCommerce-compatible theme and install WooCommerce.
Because WordPress hosts so many websites, it sadly can be the victim of hackers. This can mean downtime and issues with the security of your site.
Also, there’s an amazing guide to understanding how to optimize your WooCommerce site for marketing and SEO.
Shopify Reviews for e-Commerce
Shopify offers a little bit of something for everyone. It's great for beginners because it's straightforward to set up products and manage inventory without any prior website management experience. But then as your e-commerce website grows, you can adapt the CSS and HTML in the more advanced features of the site.
The platform offers simple and modern themes so that you can get started right away but present yourself professionally. Shopify has a very robust out-of-the-box feature set, and whatever they don't have, they allow you to install.
Additionally, Shopify can be a good choice if you're planning to open a physical store location. By offering a POS system that integrates inventory management between your brick and mortar store and your online presence, you can manage both with ease.
We also recommend that you read our Shopify guide to marketing and SEO.
How to Do Canonical links and SEO for e-Commerce
Search engines are quite smart. They can figure out context in ways that 10 years ago we never could have imagined machines would be able to do. But despite their advanced algorithms and skills, they still need a little help sometimes.
That's where canonical links come in. Canonical tags tell search engines what to follow and when to ignore duplicate pieces of content. There are a variety of reasons you might have the same content but with different links, such as printable content or URLs with tracking parameters.
Canonical links can be beneficial for various e-commerce situations, including:
Product variations – your URLs might be different for a blue product versus a red one, but you want to make it clear that it's still the same product and benefit from all that traffic.
Multiple categories – you might want to list a product in multiple product categories without confusing search engines.
Products with similar descriptions – if you market a suite of products, you might have some copy that crosses over. To avoid having search engines ding you for those duplications, use canonical tags to make it clear.
Learn how your platform handles URLs
Each e-commerce website platform is different. For example, Magento creates multiple URLs for various products and categories. This means that the same product can show up with multiple URLs based off of search criteria or product filtering.
The more you know about how your platform is handling URLs, the better you can manage these nuances to ensure the best outcome.
In Magento, there's a simple fix to use canonical links in this scenario. Navigate to System > Configuration > Catalog > Search Engine Optimization. In the menu options, choose "yes" for the item labeled "Use Canonical Link Meta Tag for Categories/Products."
Shopify automatically inserts canonical tags, so you don't have to worry if you use that platform.
How to Create an XML Sitemap for e-Commerce
XML maps help search engines understand the structure and relationship of your content. There are many benefits to using sitemaps:
Provides a full list of URLs on your website
Tells search engines how to prioritize content by providing a hierarchy
Delivers even more data about your website including the last time it was updated and when updates regularly happen with "lastmod" and "changefreq" tags
Enables you to see further information about when and how your website was last crawled so you can spot errors and omissions
In e-commerce, providing an XML map is especially helpful if your site creates dynamic links based on products and categories.
Providing an XML map helps search engines index your site when it's brand new because the search engine can quickly understand your structure.
Another good reason to ensure you have a site map is if you don't have much internal linking in your site. Internal linking is another way search engines understand how pages relate to one another.
While many website platforms can automatically create an XML sitemap, you should still review it before submitting to search engines. There are standards for how your sitemap should be formatted and without adhering to those standards your sitemap can do more harm than it does good when it comes to SEO.
Outside of ensuring that the formatting is correct in your XML sitemap, you also need to make sure that the right pages are reflected in your sitemap. This means that you shouldn't be telling Google all about a page in your sitemap that you ultimately have marked as a no follow or no index page. This just further confuses search engines as to your intentions for the page.
You should regularly update your XML map to ensure you are providing the most relevant information to search engines.
How to Format your URLs for e-Commerce sites
Your URLs are so important for SEO. They are like the lens into which search engines can see what your webpage is all about. The URL provides context for what your page is, how it relates to others and what the big idea is that's covered on the page. There are many aspects of your URLs that you should pay close attention to.
Importance of consistency
Your URL is a search engine's starting point. This means that what it sees in the URL should be reflected on the page. If your page is all about red hats, you shouldn't have a URL that includes the keywords "blue shoes."
Additionally, that "big idea" keyword in the final portion of your URL should be in your H1 heading, your body text, and ideally, a photo alt text for your product image. The more consistency you give search engines, the more confident they can be that you are a reputable website that offers what your URL claims to provide.
Now, that doesn't mean stuffing the page with keywords randomly to meet the goal of having those words in each section of your website. We'll discuss keyword density in more detail later but be careful not to squeeze them into places they don't belong.
As described in the last section, the keywords in your URL are essential. You don't need to have the URL 100% match the product name though. For example, your product page might be something like: A red hat with silver gemstones.
Your URL might look like this:
That's because the word "with" is what you call a "stop word." Stop words are words like articles and prepositions that are nonessential to telling search engines what is on the page and what it's all about.
Avoiding special characters
Auto URL generation can be a beautiful thing because it means less work for you. However, they can also be your worst nightmare because they can also mean messy and non-optimized URLs.
You want to be sure that your URLs are nice and tidy. They should not include special characters. Have you ever seen "%20" in a URL? That's what can happen in URLs with spaces that a web content management system doesn't know what to do with.
Other platforms don't put any indication of spaces in URLs, which can make it difficult to tell where one word starts, and one word ends. The optimal way to show spaces is by using a hyphen (-) in between words so search engines can understand where words start and end.
Under no circumstances should you allow your web content management system to churn out URLs that look like this:
Notice how now we have no context for that red hat with silver gemstones? We know the main domain for the website is hats.com and that the product we will be viewing has something to do with red hats, but then we get a series of characters, which is no help at all.
Showing page hierarchy
One of the beauties of well-formed URLs is they tell search engines exactly how the content fits into your website. Your URLs should include the navigation of how to get to your product pages. From our prior example, you'll notice that before getting to the product name, we have a product category of "red hats."
By including this information, search engines now know that this product page sits nice and neat under red hats and provides the search engine further details about the product. It also helps it relate to your sitemap about the structure of your website.
Keeping URLs the right length
From an SEO perspective, URL length is not an issue. Search engines can handle URLs no matter how long they are, so long as they have proper context and follow the guidelines we've outlined above.
When your URLs are too long, they're difficult for users to copy and paste into browsers and social media for sharing. This portion of your URL structure is much more about user experience than it is SEO.
If your deep linked URLs for product pages exceed 100 characters, you might want to re-evaluate the pages and your linking strategy. These will simply be unwieldy for your users and you don't want to discourage sharing.
Winning on-page strategies for SEO optimization:
All e-Commerce site owners need to know these tips…
Up to this point, we've covered some of the more backend features of SEO. Just as important as the inner workings of your website are the on-page strategies for how you describe your products and what content you put on the page.
A winning on-page SEO strategy begins with keyword research. You need to know how people are searching for products and services just like yours. Google Search Console and Google Keyword Planner are two fantastic and free resources.
Google Keyword Planner allows you to search a keyword you know is related to your product or service and see other related keywords you might not have thought about.
Let's continue with our hat store example. You know people search for red hats online, but you might not know why. "Fancy red hat for the derby" might be one way people get to your website. In this case, you might want to include information on how formal your hats are within your product description.
While this arms you with details that can help you win at long-tail keywords, don't just stuff your product pages with a bunch of different event names for where people can wear your hats. During certain times of the year or seasons, you can add information to certain sections of your website or put up blog articles that help people find your website for that purpose. There are a variety of strategies for getting at these long-tail keywords that don't involve cluttering your product descriptions.
Once you know what keywords you want to target, you can begin implementing them strategically on the major sections of your pages. Here are the areas you want to ensure your keywords are highlighted.
The title on your webpage is really important. When someone does an online search, your page title shows in search results as the hyperlinked portion of the results page. This is the eye-catching part of your search engine result and more read than the page description.
Your page title should be less than 60 characters. Most search engines display 50-60 characters on the results page. Ideally, you don't want your page title getting cut off because it then provides less context to the read about the page and gives them less motivation to click.
Your main keyword should appear early in your page title to ensure it doesn't get truncated by the search engine. Using your keyword research, structure your page title in order of importance when it comes to keywords. However, don't just put keywords in the page title for the sake of putting keywords in there. Be sure that the page title still makes sense and tells the reader what they need to know about the page.
Meta descriptions are the next aspect of the result consumers see in search engines when looking for products and services related to you. Underneath the page title and URL sits a short description of what the page is about. That's your meta description.
The ideal length for a meta description is 160 characters, though Google can show up to 300 characters. Once again, you want your primary keywords up front in the meta description to ensure that people skimming results see your primary keyword reflected when they do a search.
Your meta description should be full sentences though and as the name indicates, describe what's on the page. Avoid meta descriptions that are just a series of keywords separated by commas. This won't invite your potential customers in or entice them to buy your products. This is prime selling real estate so don't waste it with keyword stuffing.
Back in the early days of search engines, algorithms were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today. This means that the person with the most keywords on the page won in search results no matter whether or not the keywords were used well in context and provided value to the page.
Today, these strategies no longer apply. Search engines are much more sophisticated. You want to ensure your keyword resides in your page title, H1 heading, body text and image alt text. You won't win search engines over by writing product descriptions that look something like this:
Red hats for the derby, red hats for holiday parts, fancy red hats for every occasion, red hats to impress.
That isn't a complete sentence and Google will know it. Not only is it not a complete sentence but it doesn't provide true value to the reader to understand why they should care and buy your product over your competitors. So don't fall for the early SEO strategy of just using our keywords as often as possible.
Write product descriptions that truly tell the reader what they are buying and why it matters. You'll likely get all the important keywords in there without having to really work at it.
How to Improve your e-Commerce Website Site Speed
Site speed is a major factor in your SEO. In fact, Google has indicated that it's the most important factor. Outside of SEO, page speed also affects how many pages Google can crawl in a given time period, which might mean your website doesn't get fully indexed during each crawl.
If your site speed is too slow, your user experience is also injured. The longer users have to wait for your site to load, the more likely they are to bounce and visit another website for their shopping needs. This is obviously something you want to avoid, so putting an emphasis on page speed is crucial.
As you look to improve your page speed, here are the best tips to improve your e-Commerce website speed:
Compress photos so they take less time to load.
Minimize redirects wherever possible. When you redirect a page, it essentially has to load two pages because it loads the original page and then redirects and loads the next page.
Use caching for return visitors so that the pages load faster on subsequent visits.
Additionally, there are many tools to evaluate you site speed so you can see where your bottle necks are. Google's PageSpeed Insights is one such tool that can show you where to focus your efforts first in improving your page speed.
The Best Analytics Tools to Use for E-Commerce Sites
The tool you choose to use for analytics will be highly influenced by the tool you choose to use to build your e-commerce website. For example, Shopify offers analytics within its platform. You can always enhance these analytics with a service, such as Google Analytics.
Google Analytics can integrate into any platform you choose to manage your website, plus its free, which is always attractive to businesses that are just starting out and looking to manage costs.
Once your analytics are set up, it can be difficult to know what metrics to care about and follow each month.
These are the top metrics to follow to understand where you need to grow and improve your online strategy.
Here are the most important metrics and stats for your e-Commerce site:
Conversion rate: for e-Commerce, this is how many of your visitors actually made a purchase. Depending on your industry, you should be aiming for one to five percent of visitors making a purchase. If not, you need to evaluate whether or not your page is providing the details needed to convert or if your traffic drivers are accurately portraying what's on the page.
Revenue by traffic source: when you evaluate where your greatest revenue is coming from, you can focus your efforts and resources in the places that matter. For example, if your greatest revenue is coming from search engine traffic, by all means, put more time into your SEO. Alternatively, if social media is driving sales, look at how to grow your audience and maximize your revenue opportunities from social media.
Shopping cart abandonment: analyzing this metric can help you understand where you are losing customers in the journey. If your abandonment rate is higher than the average (70%) there might be a factor that's driving that. These factors vary from shipping costs to poor mobile experiences. The more you know though, the better you can adjust and learn from the data.
Once you have a baseline of metrics, you can choose which ones are hot topics for you and work to improve them. If you're a small business just getting started, it might be best to choose an area of focus each quarter based on what you're seeing in your analytics.
How to Design a Better User Experience for e-Commerce
(…and convert more customers and leads)
The user experience on an e-commerce website can truly make or break sales. If it's difficult to find what you're looking for, add products to your cart or go through the checkout process, you'll miss out on potential sales.
Your website analytics will be a guide in knowing where you lose people, but you might want to invest in some user testing. This doesn't have to be paid or something you hire a user experience firm to do. Throw a pizza party and get a group of friends to go through the purchasing experience on various devices.
Ask them to find a product of interest, add it to their cart, checkout and provide feedback on how your website does compared to other online shopping experiences. If you choose to enlist the help of friends or family for this, be sure that you choose individuals who will be completely honest with you.
Allowing users to create a profile for expedited ordering on subsequent visits also improves your user experience greatly. Nothing is more annoying than having to repeatedly input shipping details and contact information.
If you're unsure what a good user experience is like, do some online shopping and take notes. You're likely a consumer of online goods, so start paying attention to what features you appreciate in your own online shopping experiences.
Write Content that Converts (E-Commerce Tips)
No matter how much time and effort you put into SEO, it means nothing if your visitors don't convert into customers. Your online content and experience need to be customer-centric and not just search engine friendly.
For e-commerce, this means ensuring you have clear photos and product descriptions for every item for sale on your website. This is a time-consuming experience when done right. But when done right, it also results in more sales and better value for the precious time you invest in your website.
When writing content for your e-Commerce website, use the following tips:
To write content that converts, you need to know these details first.
Who are your customers? The more you know about their interests, the better you can customize your online experience to match their needs.
Why do customers buy your product? When your content answers a customer question or need, it now brings value and makes them say "I need that."
Who are your competitors and what makes you different? Competitive advantage is a huge selling point. Visitors to your website might already be customers of your competitors, which means your job is to convert them to your product or service and showcase why you're better.