We get a lot of questions from clients about how to improve SEO rankings on their websites. SEO (search engine optimization) is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to your overall ecommerce marketing strategy, but it is an important piece if you want to have a successful online shop.
Improving your SEO on Shopify
As Shopify Experts, one of the things we love about this ecommerce platform is how easy it makes SEO to implement for non-SEO experts. Shopify automatically takes care of certain technical SEO things like generating your sitemap.xml file and creating canonical tags for your product pages. When we develop custom Shopify websites, we also follow SEO best practices to set our clients up for success.
Of course, there is plenty that you can do yourself to improve your SEO rankings on Shopify. You’ll want to do keyword research to determine which words or search phrases to optimize each page of your website for. (Each page should focus on a different keyword or search phrase.) Once you’ve decided what to focus on, you’ll want to weave that keyword phrase into your product or page titles, your product descriptions, meta descriptions and other parts of your page.
Shopify offers a handy SEO checklist on their site that you can use as a guideline when updating or creating pages on your website. We also have a post with more info about SEO for Shopify websites, or you can check out DIY SEO for E-commerce, a short online class I created (1 hour and 20 minutes of videos) that offers an introduction to search engine optimization specifically for artists, makers and online shop owners.
Help! An expert says my site has SEO errors!
We sometimes have clients who forward us unsolicited emails from “SEO experts” that have identified SEO errors in their site: too-short meta description, no phone number, no blog, etc. Most of their advice isn’t flat-out wrong, but it may not be so right, either.
How can you tell which SEO advice you should be listening to? For starters, we suggest treating any unsolicited advice the same way you might treat door-to-door steak salesmen — with extreme suspicion. These folks don’t know the constraints of your web design project, and they’re often using a spray-and-pray approach to sales outreach, sending the same message to everyone they can find.
SEO should be considered holistically, as part of your big-picture brand and marketing strategy. On-page aspects of your SEO (like your page titles, meta descriptions, and website content) can be pretty straight forward to manage, and the technical SEO aspects of your website can be handled by an experienced web developer, but when it comes to off-page SEO, the line starts to blur with other types of marketing, like PR and influencer outreach.
How to improve your Google ranking organically
By “organically,” we mean by producing great content and getting it out in the world in order to see more traffic coming to your site from the search engines, rather than focusing solely on ranking #1 on Google for a specific keyword.
1) Get mentioned on high profile sites that are relevant to your products and/or customers.
Google wants to show relevant results to people searching, and they want the authorities to show up on top. If you can get a bunch of bloggers, influencers, or media outlets in your niche to mention and link to your site, that will be huge in and of itself, and also lead to Google having more “respect” for you. As a small business owner with limited hours in the day, your time is better spent pitching than fiddling around with keywords.
2) Have interesting, relevant content that people read on your site.
This is why people recommend you have a blog, though there are certainly other ways to do this. Google loves to see a constant stream of new info on your site. The information that is the most interesting and helpful to customers will help you rank higher in Google and other search engines.
Even if you prefer not to blog regularly, creating an incredibly useful resource page that is relevant to your customers and niche can be a huge boon to your online traffic. Is there a question or problem that your customers have that hasn’t been answered sufficiently anywhere else? You could become the expert on this topic, and in the process, get lots of traffic to your website! For example, a few years ago, I realized that it was hard to find a comprehensive list of all of the conferences and similar events that are useful for artists and creatives. So I created it! Each year, I update my Ultimate Guide to Conferences for Creatives, and it’s become one of the most visited pages on my site.
If you’ve been writing blog posts or creating content for awhile, I find it helpful to look back at what’s already been working, and improve it or “upcycle” it. In fact, I wrote an article about what I call the Content Upcycle Method and how it’s helped me generate a ton of traffic and revenue to my own website. Brian Dean, who is a leading SEO expert, uses something he calls the Skyscraper Technique to build amazing content and get tons of links back to his websites.
When writing, keep it natural and remember to write on your site from your customers’ point of view. You want the wording on your site to match their searches.
If there is a keyword you want to be a top Google result for, make sure that keyword is part of your product descriptions. Don’t go overboard with this and make your descriptions a list of keywords – Google can tell when you’re sucking up to it and may penalize you. (There’s actually a name for this — it’s called “keyword stuffing” and it’s no bueno.)
3) Work with micro-influencers to build your brand.
When you hear the words “influencer marketing” you might think of scantily clad Instagram celebs hawking beauty products or weight loss gimmicks. Maybe the Kardashians spring to mind. Sure, that certainly does represent one type of influencer marketing, but for small businesses like yours, working with micro-influencers who have a smaller, but much more loyal fan base that aligns with your target audience is a win-win. Finding the right micro-influencers to work with can take some time, but you might be lucky and realize that some of your most passionate customers have a sizable online following. Creating brand ambassador or referral programs can be a great way to leverage your existing customers and widen your online reach.
Make sure that your hard SEO work pays off
Getting more online traffic from search engines is certainly important, but if you’re sending all of the traffic in the world to your online shop and no one is buying anything, it’s sort of like that tree that falls in a forest that doesn’t make a sound. That’s why we talk so much about conversion rate optimization.
Here’s how to ensure that all of your search engine optimization efforts pay off:
First, know your numbers
If you have an e-commerce site, what was your revenue last year? How many site visitors did you have? How many return visitors? How many visitors added an item to their cart; how many proceeded to checkout; how many completed checkout? Did anyone add items to a wish list? How many visitors came from social media sites? What keywords did visitors use to find you on search engines? How many visitors created new accounts?
Dig into your sales data and your site statistics. Hosted e-commerce platforms like Shopify and tools like Google Analytics provide deep insights into your website’s performance. Set up an out of office auto-reply for your email, pour a frosty beverage, and get lost in the numbers for an afternoon. (Or, when you work with us you can have Helen, our Google Analytics-certified web analyst, do it for you!) You’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on with your site (and your business) and can make better decisions. Not to mention that you’ll be better at evaluating claims about your site’s performance from experts.
Those who don’t know history…
Once you know a thing or two about how your site is actually performing, you can start setting some goals. Say your site earned $100,000 last year and you want to improve that by 10%. Or you have a blog and your subscribership was at 15,000 at year’s end and you want to add 5,000 more subscribers this year. You don’t want to charge into the mechanics of SEO without having clear goals.
If your goal is to increase sales, you may get more bang from your buck by improving your site flow from product page to checkout. SEO may improve your site traffic, which may in turn increase overall sales, but if your conversion rate is poor, you’re going to get a poor return on your SEO investment (not just money, but your time investment).
Start with goals, so you’re more open to the different ways to achieve those goals.
It’s not all about SEO
If you’re in a very crowded market, focusing on keywords, meta descriptions, image alt tags, etc. is probably going to have only a marginal effect. Visitors searching for your site keywords are still going to be drawn towards the major players in your market. You might get more bang for your buck in exploring a smaller niche, engaging more with a specific social media platform, or running a highly targeted Facebook Ads campaign.
If you’re selling letterpress wedding invitations, but your site design is more appropriate for outboard motors or hunting gear, you can craft your heading tags, meta descriptions, and alt tags all day long, but the brides-to-be won’t stick around.
SEO is still important
Of course, SEO still matters. Your site should be built well and it should be updated from time to time to take advantage of new developments. Good SEO is more than just search engine rankings.
If you think your website is in need of a redesign or your gut is telling you that SEO is the way to go, ask us. Send us a link to the website SEO grader you found or forward us that email from the SEO expert. Together we can review the data, discuss goals, and make a plan.
If you build it (well), [more of them] will come.
We know you have questions!
What questions do you have about search engine optimization and methods of improving your site? We’d love to share more info based on what you’re finding tricky.
If you’re wondering if a website redesign is worth it, request our rate sheet or download our guide to forecasting your website design ROI:
What's It Worth? Forecasting Your Website Design ROI
How long will it take for your new website to pay for itself? This PDF helps you decide if it's the right time for your business to invest in design.