SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the key to lasting eCommerce success. It’s basically FREE traffic. Sure, you have to invest in the time to get it done but it will continue to serve you for the long term and it’s how you get NEW people to find your website without running ads!
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What is Search Engine Optimization
Before we get into it, I want to clarify what SEO is and why it matters.
SEO is the process of making it easier for search engines to serve up answers to a searcher’s query. If you think about the search engines and I’m mostly going to refer to google, but there are of course others, their #1 goal is to get the user to the content they're looking for in the least amount of time.
Do you remember back in the day when Bing first came on the scene? They aired all those commercials talking about search overload and how irrelevant results are. If you’ve never seen them, find them on youtube, they’re pretty funny. Anywho…
The point here is to illustrate that when a searcher types a query into a search engine they have a very specific intent. The search engine wants to understand that intent and show them what they’re looking for. It’s seriously that simple.
Our job, as the eCommerce CEO, is to help the search engines understand what our site is about to help them do that.
We can’t go into everything there is to know about SEO, that would make this a VERY LONG podcast episode, but I want to go through some basic things that you should have in place at a minimum to get you started on your SEO optimization journey.
One more thing, before we get into it… you might be asking yourself if SEO is even worth it, can you compete with the big guys, etc. and the answer is a big FUCK YES. It won’t happen overnight. SEO is a long-term process. And that’s exactly why you should start it sooner rather than later.
Plus, the longer your site has been around, the faster you’ll see results – because you’re already indexed and the search engines have already been crawling your site. Once you add these few things you should see results pretty quickly.
I worked with a client recently who has had her site for a couple of years. She started her business on Etsy and has had a lot of success there. She wanted to diversify so she started a Shopify site and was doing pretty well there – but wanted to continue to grow that business. We worked on a lot of things together, SEO being one of them. Because she had already been around for a while we saw results within a month or two and that will continue to grow. If you’re just starting out it will take at least 6 mos. To see any growth. I just wanted to set the stage there for you.
First things first. If you don’t already have google search console installed on your site, get that set up asap. Even if you never look at it, get it set up so it’s collecting data. I’m not going to go too deep into this today, but Google Search Console is a tool that tells you how your site is performing in organic search and what Google sees. I’ll put the link for that in the show notes.
One other note: some of the things I’m going to mention today are also relevant to increasing conversions on your website – so they are doubly important. If you haven’t listened to episode 5 of the podcast, definitely go back and listen to that one too!
The main way Google and all search engines understand what your content is about is the written content and links on your website. This includes your product titles and descriptions, the names of your collections, the links in your navigation menu, any blog posts you have, and any links you have pointing from one place on your website to another – for instance, if you feature a product in your blog post.
Today we’re going to focus on 4 things you can focus on to improve your overall on-page SEO. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start and to build the habit of doing it consistently as you continue to grow.
Let’s start with Images. As an eCommerce store, you have a lot of images on your website, from product images to home page banners and even blog post featured images. On the web, images have a field called the ALT tag. This serves three purposes.
- It’s what will show to a user if an image doesn’t load.
- It’s what screen readers will read for the visually impaired – and what they’re really for.
- It’s how google understands what those images are
You need to be adding alt tags to every image on your website. This includes your product images and the banners on your home page.
Don’t go stuffing these with keywords, Google can see right through that. It should be an accurate representation of what the image is. And you’ll want to make them unique. So if you have multiple angles on your product images, differentiate them by adding the words front, back, closeup. Etc.
H1 Heading Tags
The h1, or heading one is a signal to the search engines that this is the most important information on the page. It’s generally the title of a collection, a page, and your product title.
You want to make sure the words you’re using are descriptive, clear, and accurately represent the content on the page. Use the language your customer would use to search for products like yours.
Fix 404s and Broken Links On Your Site
While Google has said that 404s are not necessarily a ranking factor in SEO – if you go back to the main goal of the search engines… to help the user find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible and provide them a good experience… then having a bunch of broken links on your site certainly won’t help them do that.
Anytime you have a product, a collection, a page, a blog post, etc. that was published on your site and visible to the consumer, and then you remove it – you’ve created a broken link. If that page is indexed and comes up in search, or a user navigates to it from a link in an old email or somewhere else on the interwebs, they will end up on a 404 page. At this point, the user has two options. They can continue to browse your website to try and find what they were looking for, or they will just leave. When they leave after only visiting one page, that is called a bounce. And if you have a high bounce rate, Google can only assume you are not providing a good experience for the user and push you down in the rankings.
So… what do we do about it? You have to redirect those pages. The redirect tells the search engines, this page has moved. If someone clicks on that old link, they’ll be redirected to the new one.
When creating redirects, you want to send them to the most relevant page possible. So either to the collection page the product was in or if there is a newer version of a product you can send them there. If there is nothing else relevant you can redirect it to the home page.
If you’ve never done this before, you likely have a lot of broken links on your site. You can download a list of these from Google Search Console once you install it and then import the changes into Shopify. I’ll put some resources in the show notes for you about this.
Clean Up Your Old Categories and Collections
Okay, so as I mentioned earlier, Google uses all the content and links on your site to understand what your site is about. It crawls your website and reads everything and then adds what it thinks is relevant to its index, which it can then serve up to people who search.
If you think of all the pages that exist on the internet, that’s a lot of information for the search engines to take in and sort through. So it’s in our best interest to make sure we’re only showing google what we actually want them to see.
If you’ve been in business for any length of time, it’s probable that along the way you have created collections for products you no longer carry, or you’ve created special collections for specific sales or promos that you ran, or even for a brand you no longer carry. It’s also possible you removed those collections from your navigation menu or from a feature on your home page, but maybe the collection itself is still published on your website.
If it’s published, then Google can see it. And it could be taking some of the attention away from the collections that you actually want them to see.
Go in and do a collection/category audit and get rid of any old collections that you’re not using anymore. Make sure you redirect these like we just talked about as well. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve gone into clients’ websites to find duplicate collections of things like bestsellers, new arrivals, sale, and even collections that don’t have any products in them anymore, yet they’re still live on the site!
Don’t feel bad about it, it happens to all of us – especially if we have a wide product assortment and have been around for a while. Get it cleaned up and give google fewer pages to remember.
We’ve really just scratched the surface here, but I wanted to be sure to give you just a few things to focus on to get you started. We’ll definitely talk more about SEO as we go and I’m putting together a mini-training on this very topic. If you want to be the first to know when that’s available click the link in the show notes to sign-up for my email list. Plus you’ll get a download with the notes from today’s episode so you’ll have it to reference when you start working through this stuff, plus it will include some additional resources to help you along the way!