To explain the importance of SEO for ecommerce, let’s say you are opening a brick and mortar bakery instead of an online store. Your bakery is called “Clarissa’s.” You spend months, and a significant amount of money, renovating the inside of the new Clarissa’s bakery, and developing recipes for the tastiest cupcakes in the world. But when you finally open for business, you don’t put a sign anywhere on the front of your building.
Obviously, without a sign somewhere, no one is going to know that you have the best cupcakes in the world. So you, the owner, put a sign up that says “Clarissa’s.” But your windows are empty and no one can see inside... so no one knows what Clarissa’s does! You quickly go out of business, and no one gets to taste your amazing cupcake recipes.
Getting customers to visit a store involves more than simply sitting around waiting for them. That’s why SEO is so important: even if you rank for your brand name (the sign on your storefront), unless you offer some context (like putting cupcake displays in your windows), no one is going to know you exist. In the case of SEO, the context you need is keywords.
Let’s shift gears here. Clarissa’s bakery is going to give it another shot, but this time as an online cupcake delivery service. As the owner, you design a beautiful website, put up some great product photography, and make the checkout process easy. Then you realize that you should probably write a little “blurb” about your company for the homepage, which reads something like this:
Clarissa’s cupcake delivery service offers gourmet cupcakes delivered in style to your party, wedding, business, or special occasion. Our handmade cupcakes are baked right here in Erie, Pennsylvania, and can be ready to deliver in as little as three days after your order.
A month after your site is launched, you’re getting traffic, and your sales are higher than you expected. What made the difference? Keywords!
That little blurb you put on your homepage gave search engines the context needed to rank you, and get your site found by searchers. Look over that paragraph again. There are more than a few keywords contained:
- Cupcake delivery service
- Gourmet cupcakes
- Cupcakes in Erie
- Cupcakes in Pennsylvania
- Handmade cupcakes
- Gourmet cupcakes delivered
- Cupcakes delivered [to] party
- Wedding cupcakes [in] Erie
The list goes on and on. Even if the keyword phrases listed above don’t appear intact (that is, there are a few words between them), that’s still enough context for search engines to figure out that you can probably deliver wedding cupcakes to a party in Pennsylvania.
Without keywords in the right places on your site, you simply won’t rank for the phrases that people will be using to find your business or store. That’s what SEO is about: optimizing your site by getting the right keywords in the right places.
Identifying Your Keywords
Before you start writing any copy or throwing any keywords on your site, it’s important to take the time to identify the words and phrases most important to your business. Knowing the keywords your customers will use while searching online can help you decide when, where, and how much you should optimize your website.
Sit down with a pen and piece of paper and jot down all the words and phrases you would use to describe your business, brand, or product offering. Write down everything you can think of, no matter how long or detailed or short and non-specific. When you can’t think of anything else, evaluate your list. Cross off the following:
- Anything extremely long and specific (ex. “vanilla cupcake with hot pink frosting and blue sprinkles” – search volume is probably low, and you can rank easily)
- Anything not relevant to your products (ex. locations like “Erie” or “Pennsylvania”)
- Any term that won’t deliver the content users expect (if you try to rank for “cupcake recipes,” you’d better have some on your site!)
One thing you should definitely avoid is limiting your list to just one or two keywords. Businesses often set out to rank for broad keywords (like “cupcakes”) since they may seem the most relevant. However, competition is usually extremely high on these, making it very difficult to rank. Also, broad keywords often represent a general interest rather than intent to buy—for example, someone looking for “cupcakes” might be looking for pictures, recipes, baking ideas, decorating kits, or a local bakery.
As long as you’ve defined a niche, you should be able to come up with a long list of both short and long-tail keywords to optimize for on your website. Sure, it’s fine to optimize a little bit for “cupcakes,” but as the owner of Clarissa’s, you’d have much better luck with something like “buy cupcakes in Erie” or “cupcake delivery service in PA.” Those queries show intent, not just general interest—and the competition is much lower.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, do some research to get a better idea of how many searches are performed against your desired keywords. Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner is a great resource for this. Although it is designed to help create PPC ads, the tool provides information on search volume, competition, and difficulty that can be extremely valuable for SEO.
For example, let’s look at the number of monthly searches for “cupcakes”:
That is a lot of competition. However, in the keyword ideas below, you can see many suggestions with medium to low competition, but a fair number of search results.
But our theoretical business only serves a specific area. So let’s get some ideas for “cupcakes Erie.”
Now we’re talking! The search volume may be lower on these keywords, but the competition is also extremely low. People searching for “Erie bakery” are looking for somewhere to go, after all.
Finally, let’s look at keywords surrounding our business’s unique niche, which is cupcake delivery:
High volume, low competition. Can you say “jackpot”? Depending on how far away Clarissa’s can deliver, this business might be able to jump to the top of the search results for a number of those location-based terms with ease. Again, there’s no harm in optimizing a little for “cupcake delivery,” but keep in mind that you’re going to get the most conversions from long-tail keywords that show intent to buy or find something locally.
Where Should I Put Keywords on My Site?
There is a method to our keyword-selecting madness: once you have these words and phrases picked, they will need to be placed on your website. Where? Well, believe it or not, a lot of your keywords will probably be used naturally. If you’ve already created your site’s menus or navigation options, written some product copy, and added category pages, they’re likely already on there! By calling a page “Cupcake Recipes” or adding a title that says “Cupcake Delivery in Erie, PA,” you’re already optimizing for that keyword.
Some keywords need more work than others, though, especially if they have a higher level of competition. So do your best to get those keywords wherever you can—but in a natural way. Don’t stuff them into your footer or jam them into page URLs. Search engines know these tricks, and they won’t help your rankings.
Here are some ideas for additional keyword placement:
- Page titles
- Header text, like H1, H2, etc.
- On-page copy – never hurts to have a paragraph or two!
- Links to other pages on your site (where relevant)
- In menus, headers, and footers (where sensible—a line or two of readable text in your footer is fine, a long list of keywords is not)
- In image alt text
The key to keyword optimization is common sense. It’s important to get those keywords in when you can, but you need to do it in a sensible way. Focus on creating readable text that uses your keywords naturally – like the sample homepage “blurb” earlier in this chapter. It may take some practice, and you may want to consult an experienced website copywriter for a little help, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.
What Else Should I Do for SEO?
SEO isn’t just about keywords. If that were the case, the business with the biggest, most keyword-stuffed website would dominate the rankings. Search engines use keywords to determine relevance, true, but your position in the rankings also depends on some other factors.
User behavior plays a role in how well your site is ranked. If your site takes a long time to load, or if the content is misleading (for example, if you optimize for “cupcake recipes” but don’t actually have any), visitors will probably leave your site, or “bounce,” very quickly. A high bounce rate tells search engines that you’re not giving people what they expected, and this can push your site down in rankings. Why would Google want to keep serving a website that isn’t giving a majority of its visitors a great experience?
Links are also an extremely important part of SEO. Generally speaking, the more websites that link to yours, the more important and relevant you are. Search engines interpret a high number of incoming links as a signal of trust, which can help boost your rankings. However, link quality is important too: one link from a national news website carries far more weight than a hundred links from a brand new blog no one has ever heard of.
There are a variety of other factors that play a role in your ranking and visibility in search, like meta tags, website infrastructure, keywords in links, and so on. But your focus as a business owner should be on the quality of your ecommerce store. Try to avoid getting so concerned about SEO that you forget about your end goals. If you aren’t ranking well, you may want to contact a SEO company like WebpageFX for help, rather than trying to do everything yourself.
Now that we’ve explained and explored the topic of SEO, let’s move on to the final topic that needs covered before the launch of your website: customer service.