SEO Guide: Best Practices for E‑commerce Websites

Incorporate keywords wisely and optimize on‑page content across devices to drive more traffic and get more sales.

Every hour, millions of people search the web to find the products and services they need. And most people don’t click past the first page of results.

As a small business owner researching how to market your business, you’ve probably come across the term “search engine optimization,” or SEO. This is the process of tweaking the content and structure of your website to improve your search rankings, usually in Google, which has, by far, the biggest market share among search engines.

Building good e-commerce SEO into your website improves your traffic, gets more eyes on your business, and generates more revenue. To get started, you need to know how SEO works.

What is SEO?

SEO for e-commerce is a lot like SEO for any other website. You’re trying to show the bots that crawl the internet that your web page is the one most relevant to a search term. It’s how you generate organic traffic (traffic you don’t have to pay for) for your e-commerce store.

Effective SEO can boost your page to the top of a Google search engine results page (SERP), right beneath the paid ads and next to the sponsored sidebar content, without you paying anything—it merely requires an investment of time and effort.

When Google and other search engines rank sites, they consider a number of factors, incuding:

  • How often relevant keywords are used on your site
  • What context those keywords are used in
  • How authoritative your site content is
  • The quality of the links on your site
  • How often other sites link back to your page
  • How authoritative those other sites are

SEO is split into 2 categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO includes elements directly on your website like the keywords you use, the sources you link to, the structure of your content, and page formatting. Off-page SEO involves external elements like backlinks to your site from other sources.

E-commerce SEO best practices

Your goal for your site is to combine on-page and off-page SEO to get as high a position as possible on the first page of search engine results—data shows that 67% of clicks go to the top 5 listings. One of the easiest parts of on-page SEO to tackle is your keywords.

Tip 1: Do your homework

E-commerce keyword research is somewhat different from keyword research for another type of page, like a blog. E-commerce keywords are geared toward purchase intent and product descriptions. You’re trying to rank not only in the top search results, but also in the top shopping search results.

Use keywords wisely

In 2017, Google launched its Panda update. Since then, their algorithm aims to move high-quality content to the top of its results, pushing aside content crammed with keywords designed to game the system.

If you stuff your ecommerce store page with keywords, even where it doesn’t make sense, it will create a bad user experience (UX) for your customer. Keyword stuffing indicates low-quality content, and Google’s Panda algorithm punishes pages for it by moving them farther down in rank.

You want your site to be the best, most valuable result that your audience can find for your particular category. And part of that is using the proper keywords in the proper way—basically, write like a human being, not a computer.

Use Google and Amazon suggestions

Autocomplete suggestions from sites like Google or Amazon can be a huge help in finding the right keywords to target. If you sell athletic shoes, for example, try typing “best athletic shoe” or just “best shoe” into Google to see what suggested searches come up.

Suggested searches for “best shoe” include “best shoes for nurses,” “best shoes for flat feet,” and “best shoes for walking.” You can work those keywords into your product descriptions and store page where applicable, so Google’s crawlers (the bots that look through pages for relevant content) know that your page is a good result for those terms.

Extrapolate that to what your target audience—runners, in this case—will search for. You’ll want your hypothetical shoe store to rank well for terms like “best shoes for running,” “men’s running shoes,” “women’s running shoes,” and so on.

Tip 2: Target the best keywords

Four factors determine which keywords are most effective to target.

  • Volume: How many times a keyword is searched on average—the more searches, the more potential for increased traffic to your site
  • Competition: How many sites have that same keyword and how common it is—the less competition, the more likely you are to rank highly for that term
  • Relevance: How closely the keyword relates to your product or service—make sure to include only keywords that genuinely fit with your product
  • Intent: What people are trying to find when they search—for e-commerce, use keywords people would search when looking to buy particular items, like “men’s size 12 running shoes”

The sweet spot you should aim for is a high search volume but low to medium search competition. If you choose the keyword “shoes” for your store, that may be relevant to your product, but it turns up 5 billion results in Google alone. It’s a keyword with very high search competition.

Long-tail keywords, usually 3 to 4 words long, greatly narrow the scope. The longer the keyword, the more specific it will be, and the less competition it will have.

You can also try using latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords to boost your site’s search rankings. LSI keywords are terms that are often found together and relate to a wider context. For example, a site that lists the word “apple” together with “Honeycrisp” or “Golden Delicious” would rank for searches about the fruit. A page that used the word “apple” together with “iTunes,” “iOS,” and “iMac” would rank for searches about the tech brand.

You don’t have to do all the work yourself. There are tools you can use to figure out which high-ranking keywords are the most relevant to your customers. Ubersuggest shows you the best keywords for a certain domain or industry phrase for free. Mozbar can show you keyword competition. If you have a little more of a budget, you might want to try a paid tool like SEMrush.

Once you’ve found the right keywords, work them in anywhere they can be used naturally and make sense.

  • Page copy
  • Product descriptions
  • Your URL
  • Headings
  • Image alt text

Tip 3: Optimize your on-page SEO

The proper keywords can move you a long way in your journey to the top of search results, but you’ll also want the rest of your on-page SEO to contribute.

In addition to keyword optimization, on-page SEO involves the following elements:

  • Mobile optimization
  • Site structure
  • Usability
  • Internal links

Mobile optimization

Make sure your site design is mobile-friendly. Your store should be responsive and adaptive to whatever size screen the user sees it on. They should be able to use all site functions in the same way on both desktop and mobile.

Site structure and usability

You should also structure your store page in a way that makes it easy to search and use. Headings, subheadings, bulleted or numbered lists, and white space make pages easily scannable.

Another user-experience best practice is to make sure all pages of your site are within a few clicks of your homepage. For e-commerce, you want people to find the product they’re looking for as fast as possible.

You can do that by organizing products into broad categories, then narrowing them into more specific ones. For example, your shoe website might divide products into “men’s” and “women’s” and then divide those into categories like “sneakers,” “boots,” or “sandals.”

E-commerce stores often have low or “thin” content on their pages relative to sites like blogs. They also have to deal with content duplication—some products fit into multiple categories and are displayed on multiple pages. To solve this, it’s helpful to add a canonical tag to the code of certain pages—these tags tell Google which is the master version.

Internal links

Internal links increase a site’s authority on a subject in the eyes of Google. Internal linking is when you link one page of your website to another. As with keywords, remember not to overuse this technique, as it could get you penalized in the same way keyword stuffing would.

For example, if you mention contacting someone at your business for more information, it’s natural to link that text to your contact page. If you mention a topic you’ve blogged about before, you can link to that blog entry to get it more traffic.

Too many internal links can dilute your site’s authority, however, so only use them when they make sense. Since you can create your own anchor text for internal links, it’s a good idea to make each one unique. Duplicate anchor text could make Google’s crawlers think your page isn’t legitimate.

Optimize for more e-commerce traffic

There are plenty of ways to boost your e-commerce SEO and maintain the quality of your content. All you have to do is research the best terms for what you offer and build them into your site in a thoughtful way. Then, make sure your site has a solid structure across its pages so that people have a good user experience. Do that, and you’ll be well on your way to greater visibility and more online sales.