TLDR; SEO Strategy and the ability to capture more organic traffic are becoming increasingly important for e-commerce businesses’ digital marketing strategy as more customers search and shop online over retail. This makes SEO proportionately more relevant for e-commerce so it’s important to know which aspects of SEO are most impactful. This article covers seven e-commerce unicorns (startups with a value of over 1 billion) as a survey of innovative ecommerce SEO best practices and some things to not do.
Major Takeaways for Ecommerce SEO Best Practices
- How to improve your ecommerce SEO:
- Use product schema to feature your merch directly in search results
- Optimize your Knowledge Panel or Google Business Profile
- Strategically use Social Media to squeeze out search competitors
- Don’t undervalue engaging video & photo content for product landing pages
- Build resource pages as a highly effective way to increase organic traffic
- Optimize your site structure for visibility & speed with mobile users
- Many Unicorns experience profound, sustained growth with SEO programs
Table of Contents
- Why is SEO important for ecommerce?
- How to improve your ecommerce SEO: Dominate Search Engine Page Results (SERPs)
- Creating Engaging Product Landing Pages
- What Content is Best for E-commerce?
- Site Architecture
- User Experience/ Mobile Considerations
- Linking Strategies
Why is SEO important for Ecommerce?
Over the past 2 years, the e-commerce industry has been expanding rapidly for a variety of reasons. Initially, the change in consumer behavior was related to COVID-19. Those who had been shopping in person shifted quickly toward e-commerce (i.e. Amazon, Shopify, & other online stores) for goods and services when the coronavirus made retail options a hazardous proposition. However, this consumer trend shows no signs of slowing, and the importance of SEO has become even more important for e-commerce brands.
For that reason, we took a look at some of the top unicorns in the e-commerce industry to see how they were faring with respect to SEO. Unsurprisingly, many are doing quite well in forming proactive and innovative SEO strategies while others are struggling. We’ll break down some of the most important aspects of SEO for unicorns and businesses operating in the e-commerce industry so you can emulate their success and avoid potential pitfalls.
How to Improve Your Ecommerce SEO and Dominate Search Engine Page Results (SERPs)
When a customer Google searches your brand you want to make sure you own all the real estate they will see on the search results. This is for a few reasons, some of which are obvious, and some less so.
It’s important customers are able to find your website and/or products and services easily but it’s also important they be able to find the information they need to convert with as few steps as possible. Fortunately, Google makes this simple for both you and your customers in a number of ways.
Structured Data for E-commerce
Structured data is a way of describing your website to make it easier for search engines to understand. As a result, your site might be presented better in search results, for example, in the form of rich results like rich snippets.
Featured Snippets & Product Schema
In the case of e-commerce websites, structuring data with Featured Snippets and Product Schema Markup can add tons of opportunities for new customers to be exposed to your products directly on the search results pages. Product schema lets you add specific product characteristics & product descriptions to your product listings. These listings and characteristics show up as rich results on the search engine results page (SERP).
The additional product listing information can include a range of things like pricing, reviews, and availability. It also means your products are more likely to appear in the “Popular Products” section of the results page, making it easy to convert users. If you have products, this should be a major part of your structured data strategy. Also, don’t forget to mark up your product images.
One additional thing worth noting is that Product Listing Ad (PLA) product feeds override your schema for popular products. So keep that in mind as you are developing structured data as part of your SEO strategy if you are using cost-per-click (CPC) too.
People Also Ask (PAA)
People Also Ask (PAA) is a very nice way of influencing where users are getting product information from. PAA is populated by Google near the top of the SERP to address related queries it thinks are associated with the user’s initial search.
By developing a content strategy you may be able to control the language and source of truth for user questions related to your product. To be clear you can not guarantee that it will rank and be an authoritative source of information Google chooses but there are strategies for optimizing content to give you the best shot.
Think about queries related to your products and develop content to answer questions in search. The video game company, Zwift, has seized the opportunity to do this by preparing content that plugs into the concise and direct answer format Google is searching for to populate this section.
In order to develop a content strategy that does this, you’ll need to research associated target keywords and questions about your product(s). Ideally, you narrow your search to the top questions and focus your attention there.
You can also use jump links to take view immediately to answers which make the work easier for your site visitors to quickly see just the answer that they want. Jump links to specific answers lessen your chances of a low bounce rate and improves crawling and indexing.
Optimizing the Knowledge Panel and Google Business Profile
The knowledge panel is another portion of the SERP results that can be a target-rich place to gain more ground. The Knowledge panel can look quite similar to Google Business Profile however GBP is only allowed for businesses that have in-person interactions with customers. That said, a knowledge panel is available for e-commerce businesses and also works as a hub of information a customer needs to learn more about your brand.
As you can see Zwift has made this feature a very proactive part of its SEO strategy. Knowledge panels are initially created by Google’s algorithm and populated from data drawn for various places, like Wikipedia, which it finds to be authoritative. However, you can claim a knowledge panel and control more of the information that is shown to users including product photos.
Notice that Zwift populates this panel with a few pieces of information that are key for potential customers. They have high-quality product photos that demonstrate what their product is and how it works, which were drawn from their Facebook page, Google Play Store, and Zwift.com. Additionally, they list the price of the product and a customer service number which are great things to add for content usefulness signals.
Bad Uses of Google Business Profile
Pharmapacks is a health and beauty marketplace that sells wellness products, such as medicines, nutrition products, home medical equipment, health and beauty products. If you Google the brand you’ll find some troubling search results.
Looking at the SERP we see a very bare-bones meta-description that simply reads, “Pharmapacks – Health & Beauty Marketplace”. Fair enough, but it definitely leaves a lot to be desired from a marketing perspective.
Furthermore, the GBP knowledge panel on the right indicates that they set up a GBP account but didn’t try to optimize it. It lacks relevant brand or product images that indicate what Pharmapacks is or does. The photos look amateur rather than professional and don’t make me want to buy any kind of drug, beauty, or health-related product. I also think it’s a red flag to see these things in combination with a less-than-stellar rating.
When analyzing their organic traffic it is not difficult to understand why it seems to be on the decline. Without more data, it’s hard to say for sure but given this graph of paid traffic, it appears that Pharmapacks has chosen to invest quite a bit in paid advertising instead of SEO with uneven results. They had a couple of spikes in traffic from paid which quickly fell away while organic traffic consistently reduced over time.
Using Social Media and Video Content
Everyone knows that social media is a great way to engage with your customers and develop brand awareness but it’s also a great way to block off all the 1st-page results for your brand.
Your social media presence can lend brand legitimacy to a scrolling user and give them a better idea of who you are as a brand which can influence whether they choose to click-through to your website. This is particularly important if you are a newer brand trying to break out.
Beyond influencing click-through rates social media platforms like Youtube allow you to upload videos that will likely get featured directly in search engines like Google.
As you can see above, Zwift has taken the initiative to make “How To, a lot” videos for their video game that appear in the “Videos” rich result so they appear immediately for the searcher. The Youtube videos are embedded on their website so the user is taken that much is closer to the bottom of the sales funnel.
Creating Engaging Product Landing Pages
It goes without saying that having attractive landing pages is essential for e-commerce both in terms of good search engine optimization as well as conversion rate optimization. This is another sliver of advice that sounds obvious but is executed with uneven results.
Image and Video Optimization
When constructing a landing page, elements like professional product images and videos are a great first impression for users. Visual queues often say a lot about the brand before your customers ever start reading the product copy. Be sure you are following SEO best practices when you add these elements to your page.
The title of a product image should never be random or arbitrary. Use the product name and main keyword when you label the title for the image file.
You should consider having more than one view of the product to properly showcase it on all sides. When you do this remember to include target keywords that people might associate with that perspective if they search for those pictures. For example, the title could read, “widget-brand-side-view.jpeg”. Additionally, it’s a good idea to include the product name and keyword in the ALT text for the picture.
As mentioned previously, videos can be a great feature for expanding how to appear to users in search results but even if they are simply seen on the product page itself they can have tremendous value.
Videos increase retention and content usefulness signals which tell Google how valuable your product page is to users. They can be informational like a product demonstration or commercial. Similarly, they can feature customer reviews and testimonials.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Having product-specific FAQ content on your product pages is a key to conversions as it will address common questions customers may have before they want to buy your product. If customers have questions that you don’t answer, they’ll go somewhere else to find those answers — and likely buy from the source that answers the questions.
You can format these answers in combination with efforts to address and rank for the “People Also Ask” section of Google. A good product page will feature lots of traffic and rank high in SERP. This means it’s much more likely to be eligible for a slot in this coveted spot as most answers are drawn from the top 10 pages for the query.
What Content is Best for E-commerce?
If you are a startup e-commerce business or looking to scale then web page and editorial content strategy is likely going to be anthe the SEO priority. Many unicorns have been implementing very successful content strategies, both to help them rank well and to drive new traffic to their respective websites. We’ll cover some of the basics and then dive into specifics that they are implementing well so you will be able to implement best practices for your own business.
On-Page SEO Content Quality Tips
The quality of content is one of Google’s ranking factors and is particularly important for e-commerce. Before you build out website pages for any eCommerce store, bucket queries into groupings you know are associated with your product and brand. The goal should be to have each page well structured and the page targeting specific keywords.
Remember that the title tags for each page should reflect some homework. Do keyword research to find the best arrangement of keywords and search terms aligned with your individual pages to optimize them appropriately. Don’t try to target the same keywords on every page, duplicate content can negatively impact your search engine rankings. If this does happen you may see a dip in traffic metrics for organic search with SEO tools like Google Search Console or Google Analytics and need to choose a canonical page. If you delete any pages make sure you setup a 301 redirect so there are not broken links.
You can also consider pursuing long-tail keywords if you are in a competitive space where it’s difficult to rank for your shorter, high search volume terms. Try using Google keyword planner, Semrush, or ahrefs for new search queries that include your target words.
Resource Pages for E-commerce Brands
You may be asking, what kind of content should an e-commerce brand produce? It’s important to understand search intent and areas of interest related to your products and services. There are lots of ways to drive traffic for topic clusters that are adjacent to your branding or associated activities and interest areas. This is where resource pages can help realize new streams of traffic.
Much of this should become clear during your keyword and query research. For example, Whoop, the unicorn making a cutting-edge fitness tracker, has developed a content hub (https://www.whoop.com/thelocker/) where they rank for several terms their core customer personas would find informative.
As you can see Whoop ranked quite well for branded search terms and brand + product terms like “whoop strap” however they also get quite a bit of traffic from creating blog posts related to fitness topics. Some of the searches they rank #1 in are, “how to increase blood oxygen level”, “heart rate variability”, “resting heart rate by age and gender”, “how much rem sleep do you need”.
This underlies a clever investment they have made to break out in a competitive environment and get seen by people interested in fitness tracking and community leaders online who would be searching for these topics. Not only does this help raise their authority but it puts their brand in front of people who may not have heard of them. That’s very useful when breaking into a market with a new product where they have to compete with more established brands like Fitbit and Apple watch.
Ecommerce SEO strategy: Beyond Blog Posts
Optimizing web pages for keywords and making blog posts are great starting points, but they aren’t the only kind of content that you should consider. There’s also downloadable content, guides, webinars, white papers, case studies, infographics, e-books, research reports, and videos.
A good example of a unicorn making a variety of content is AppDirect. AppDirect is a subscription e-commerce platform that sells software as a service. You can, “Sell any product, through any channel, on any device—as a service”. As such their resource page reflects a content investment for various types of customers.
Looking at the top 100 pages they have on their website, it’s clear that this content investment is paying off. Some of the top pages of their website come from the resource section.
How Often Should You be Producing Content for ecommerce marketing?
So, we are clear that the quality and type of content that you produce is important for E-commerce, but what about the quantity of editorial content? Many of the unicorns in the e-commerce industry that are performing well with organic traffic are producing over 10 posts per month.
Whoop – Organic Traffic – Past 2 Years – 11 posts per month (SEMrush.com)
Tonal – Organic Traffic – Past 2 Years – 34 posts in January 2022 alone (SEMrush.com)
We discussed Whoop in the previous section, as you can see they are receiving quite a bit of organic traffic– the same is true for Tonal, the unicorn selling Lebron James’ home gym equipment. Tonal content cadence is a bit more ambitious and produced 34 pieces of content in January 2022 alone. Furthermore, they have been producing high levels of content for some time consistently– which is key.
Ultimately, the amount of content you need will be influenced by your niche, budget, competitors, and the level of search competition you are operating in. That said, there are plenty of ways to seize opportunities for people operating in a blue ocean environment who want to produce product guides and how to’s to educate customers and interested users about their brand. Conversely, investing in content development is also a significant way for a red ocean marketing strategy to carve out ranking spots amid heavy competition. You can create content hubs, like Whoop or Tonal, and draw in your personas by targeting topics adjacent to your product.
Site Architecture for an ecommerce site
The site structure you pick directly influences the site’s usability, visibility, and how successfully you can convert those users. This means making the structure such that it’s simpler for consumers to discover the items, services, or information they need.
- Site Search pages: a site search page allow users to quickly search for products on the website. This can include, a Faceted search, which allows users to filter products based on the initial search results.
- Product pages: this is a web page that assists clients in deciding what to buy. It covers a variety of specifications and features to assist in answering inquiries, providing reviews, comparing products, and facilitating the purchasing process.
- Category pages: this page groups individual pages together by a common theme and serves as a kind of bridge between a product page and the home page.
- Landing pages: A landing page is a single web page built for the purpose of promoting or publicizing a marketing or advertising campaign. It’s the place where a visitor “lands” after clicking on a link.
Keeping URLs as simple, relevant, compelling, and accurate as possible is key to getting both your users and search engines to understand them (a prerequisite to ranking well). Although URLs can include ID numbers and codes, the best practice is to use words that people can comprehend. Improve your user experience by using a logical URL structure with page hierarchies.
For example, if you’re searching for information about pancakes, a URL like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/pancake will help you decide to click on that link.
A URL like https://www.example.com/index.php?id_wca=470&clcp27sap does not clearly explain what the destination page is about and is not friendly.
URLs should be definitive but concise. By seeing only the URL, a user (and search engine!) should have a good idea of what to expect on the page.
When necessary for readability, use hyphens to separate words. URLs should not use underscores, spaces, or any other characters to separate words.
Don’t use randomly generated numbers that are confusing and don’t have any relevance.
Customize your website’s page URLs to be descriptive of the content within the page. This improves your user experience and can increase click-thru rates.
Breadcrumbs and Product Page Copy
Beyond the use of the right terms in the Title and H1 tag and simplifying the URL, you can also put specific keywords directly in the breadcrumb. Additionally, try to make an effort to use your terms throughout both the paragraph and H2 sections.
Having a general FAQ page on your website is also a good idea. Answering basic questions about your website’s security, shipping, and return policies can increase buyer confidence, leading to more sales.
User Experience Ecommerce SEO Tips
Make a Strong First Impression
We mentioned the importance of product photos and videos in the section regarding Landing pages but this is also true for other well-trafficked pages such as the home page. After searching your brand or product this is likely to be the page that will rank for the customer and be their first impression. Video heroes are a great way to communicate what the product is about before the user has to read or click anywhere else.
Tonal’s Video Hero
Zwift’s Video Hero
Whoop Video Hero
As you can see many of the top unicorns in the e-commerce world opt for this video hero design for their homepages. It’s not a requirement by any means for SEO but it does visually grip the user and add to the user experience. If you do choose to add videos and/or some high-quality pictures just be sure to temper those elements with an understanding of how that is impacting your page speed and load times. If you overdo it and your site speed suffers you can get penalized by Google as they assess Core Web Vitals as a part of how pages are ranked.
Consider the Mobile Version
When you are designing your website, consider how the elements will apply to the mobile version both from an SEO perspective and User experience. At this point, most e-commerce is being done on cell phones and tablets. So, it’s important to keep this in mind when you are initially designing your site and editing it.
Mobile retail commerce sales as a percentage of retail e-commerce sales worldwide from 2016 to 2021
A good way to do this is to use responsive design for mobile customers. This way images will resize to fit their screen size and won’t be overly cumbersome for a user’s device. As mentioned before, page load speed is a ranking signal, which holds for desktop and mobile versions. Generally speaking, the quicker your pages load, the higher Google will tend to rank you.
Linking Strategies for Ecommerce
Both internal and external linking are important for proper search engine optimization however they are important for different reasons and help your SEO strategy in different ways. Therefore, it’s vital to understand how they fit into your marketing strategy in a holistic sense.
Internal Linking Structure
Internal linking is key to SEO because it helps users to navigate through your website and to find the content they are looking for. Additionally, Google uses internal linking to find out what content on your site is related and determine its value. The more links a significant page receives, the more important it will seem to search engines.
Prioritize finding a natural way to insert internal links and drive traffic to your other pages which help you convert users. There are many ways to do this, but the unicorn AppDirect has implemented a specific method that has been effective for them.
They use footer links to guide users in resource and product pages that will help conversion. This can be a very effective and organized method of funneling traffic. Users are provided an array of useful pages that are AppDirect’s priority pages for SEO.
It’s difficult to understate the importance of backlinks & link building when talking about SEO. If content structure and keywords are the race car, then backlinks are the gas that makes the race car run. Backlinks give your website authority in Google’s eyes and tell it how to rank your content and website pages.
Fetch Rewards, a unicorn company offering gift cards for grocery and shopping data has acquired a number of backlinks that go directly to the home page via the “who is talking about Fetch” block. This block shows notable brands and news organizations.
Many companies advertise other brands with more visibility to bolster their credibility– that’s nothing new. What’s notable is that each of these brand images is a high authority link to the site that has written about them and these pieces of content link back to the home page.
They also place the QR code for the application download in the hero for the home page. So, they ensure the homepage ranks with backlinks to it and the user is taken immediately to the place they can be converted.
Final Thoughts on How to Improve Your Ecommerce SEO
E-commerce unicorns and other brands can learn a ton from their successful SEO strategies as well as their SEO fails. There’s nearly always room for improvement, so it’s a good idea to revisit how SEO is impacting your business’s ability to generate traffic and convert customers. While many E-commerce websites become preoccupied with paid channels that can be spendy and have traffic fizzle out after you stop dumping money into campaigns. Conversely, investing in SEO can offer sustained organic traffic that will pay dividends for years to come. If you are an ecommerce brand or start up and need help with growing your organic traffic don’t be shy. Drop us a line below and we’ll chat about how SEO experts experience with ecommerce can help you.