A Guide to Ecommerce SEO Strategy in 2023

laptop and phone depicting ecommerce web shop
Sabrina Dougall

An ecommerce search engine optimization (SEO) strategy has the potential to drive up your business revenue in a year or less. While bench stickers, product samples and printed ads spread word of mouth slowly, organic online marketing can strap a rocket to your web store's popularity.

According to BrightEdge research, retail ecommerce sales grew by more than a quarter in 2020, which shows that consumers are flocking to digital channels to shop. On days like Cyber Monday (after Thanksgiving weekend), you'll need SEO to help customers find your web store, or you'll end up on page 15 of Google – where nobody ever goes.

Ecommerce is an extremely competitive space, so you need professional expertise in SEO for a chance to get noticed on the search engine results pages. We're happy to match you with a trusted expert if you outline your basic business needs.

In this guide, we'll go through SEO best practices for ecommerce sites. Let's get started!

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What is SEO for Ecommerce?

Imagine downtown stores physically moved closer to customers who like them more. Sounds magical, doesn't it? Well that's exactly how search engine results pages (SERPs) work online. Google, Bing, Baidu (and Amazon, eBay and Etsy) list shopping sites in order of how well they match a given search query from online shoppers.

Ecommerce SEO refers to the range of techniques used to show your online store to a wider audience. Research reveals that the higher your website ranks on SERPs, the higher your click-through rate is from the SERPs to your website, meaning more traffic to your site from search engines. To get your domain in front of the right eyeballs you need to tailor your web pages to satisfy specific search queries.

etsy ecommerce SEO example
Etsy search results for "halloween costume for dogs" show paid adverts first and automatic results next.

All search engines list results in order of how useful they are to the web user. Usually paid adverts are listed first. Then come the automatically-generated “organic results”. This simply means the search listings are not paid for, but end up there thanks to algorithms. Ecommerce SEO involves updating your web store with the algorithms in mind.

What's an Algorithm?

Simply put, it's the list of rules a computer program follows to solve a problem. Search engine algorithms are a black box – we don't know exactly what the rulebook says. But we do know some of the basic rules which lead to certain pages ranking better than others.

Ecommerce SEO Best Practices

Creating an online store is not rocket science. We instinctively know how an online product page should look. And we've all left a website that was too glitchy to make a purchase from. But, did you know these are key ingredients for search engine algorithms to rank your store in SERPS?

If you're looking for the secret formula for algorithm favor, then look no further.

Lawn chairs from Lowes ecommerce SEO
This Lowes product page has a 360° view of the lawn chair, a video and plenty of images.

We've spoken to our in-house SEO experts to get their professional opinions on the best practices for ecommerce SEO. Here's a top-down summary of what your web store needs:

  • Web page works well, loads fast and looks good on mobile thanks to technical SEO
  • URL contains the keyword
  • Title tag with keyword at the front
  • Meta description includes keyword near beginning
  • High quality product images and video
  • Detailed product descriptions

We can see from the above the importance of keyword research. You need to understand the keywords your competitors are targeting, and they need to feature prominently in the salient sections of the page. You want your customers – and the search engine bots – to understand, at a glance, what the page is selling.

Positive user experience is vital for good ecommerce SEO. You can help customers navigate your site using breadcrumbs. These are strings of URLs often located at the top of a page indicating where the user is on the site. For instance Womens>Sale>Handbags which help shoppers find their way back to product categories as they browse.

Images are everything in ecommerce! Your users want to see what your products look like before they purchase. Make sure you use high-quality images, but make sure they’re not too large in size otherwise your page speed will suffer. Use a compression tool to reduce image size while preserving quality. Videos also help to showcase your product in action, and help users visualize how they can use the product, or how it may look on them.
Caitlin Hathaway
Caitlin Hathaway SEO Manager, Expert Market

Structured Data for Ecommerce SEO

You should organize your web pages according to structured data policies recommended by Google (which holds 92% of the search engine market share). This refers to a specific way of writing website code that signals to bots the information a page contains. Examples include flagging up when a page contains a product review or a how-to guide. But the best use case for ecommerce SEO are product snippets and merchant listing experiences.

If you follow structured product data guidelines then you stand a better chance at your products being pulled into Google (or Bing) Shopping snippets on SERPs. The key is to have clear, colorful images alongside pricing and product availability. If you change your pricing over time, search engines may indicate this as a “price drop”, which stands out to bargain-hungry shoppers.

Ecommerce Keyword Research

Finding the best search phrases is par for the course in any SEO strategy. So what are the need-to-knows for ecommerce keyword research?

As ever, you need to maintain a laser-focus on keywords with transactional intent. These are the money-makers that signal your web visitor is ready to open their wallet. Sometimes search terms are ambiguous. For instance, someone who types “chocolate cake” into Google may be looking for a recipe, a calorie count, a picture to download, or a place to buy one.

On the other hand, a netizen who searches “order chocolate cake online” has a clear mission in mind. This is commercial, or even transactional search intent. Here are more phrases that signal commercial/transactional intent:

  • “buy”/”order”
  • “for sale”/”delivery”
  • “price”/”cost”
  • “discount”/”deals”

During your keyword research, you should collate a list of commercially relevant terms that include phrases like the ones above. You can then include them in your title tags, meta descriptions, H1s, and other on-page optimizations.

Tracking Metrics for Ecommerce SEO

Once you've got your keywords, the next stage is keyword rank tracking. This means keeping a close eye on the position of your web store pages for certain keywords. In SEO terms, this is known as organic performance monitoring.

The process involves using tools such as Google Search Console, Semrush, Ahrefs, or Botify to evaluate changes to SERP rankings over time. Of course, these programs require subscription fees (except Google's). Plus, you need a level of expertise to manage performance drops properly. You can hire SEO companies for ecommerce that'll take care of all of this for you.

Another important metric is, of course, conversion rate: the percentage of your web visitors who are making a purchase after landing on your site. Low web traffic may be acceptable if your conversion rate is high enough to keep your profit levels where they need to be.

You should also be paying close attention to your bounce rate: the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. If this figure is particularly high, then it's cause for investigation into the UX (user experience) of your shopping site.

Promote your USPs for Ecommerce SEO

As you track web metrics, don't get hung up on trying to be the biggest brand in your niche. Our advice? You should snuggle down into that niche as hard as you can. Get ‘nicher'. Because therein lies your best conversion opportunities. As we learned in Nicholas Lovell's The Curve, fewer committed brand followers are worth more revenue to your brand than crowds of half-hearted onlookers.

A million websites are selling water bottles. But how many are selling terracotta water bottles with a lavender fragrance? Not everyone is going to be a fan, but those who love it will be willing to pay more than you might think. If you want to succeed in the organic search league, you need to double down on promoting your USPs (unique selling points).

Screengrab of Google Trends search buy water bottles
Google Trends gives insight into the popularity and related search terms of keywords.

With free tools like Google Trends, you'll never run short of relevant ideas for any given search term. These can inspire content creation, targeted marketing campaigns, and competitive analysis. The above screenshot shows trends data on “buy water bottles”, indicating greatest popularity for this product in Georgia and New Jersey.

There's a myriad of reasons why this may be the case – be it a particular celebrity has mentioned the product, a heatwave, or even competitor ad campaigns gaining popularity. The reason doesn't actually matter, but now you've got some basis for an ecommerce SEO strategy pivot.

Instead of just targeting “buy water bottles” you could look into the value of optimizing web pages for “water bottles for sale in Georgia” or “buy water bottles in bulk New Jersey”.

SEO for Ecommerce Product Pages

Ideally, you want a customer to land on your product page ready to make a purchase. What you don't want is a customer to reach an irrelevant page of your website, fail to find what they want, and leave frustrated – never to return. So your SEO for ecommerce product pages achieves two goals:

  • Draws in users from search engines
  • Convinces users to buy

As we've mentioned already, user experience is critical to good SEO (and happy customers). While it may seem obvious that you want to draw in web users with a transactional intention, you also want to remove any barriers that stop them from making a purchase. This means you'll need to apply all of those classic sales techniques – just updated for the SEO era of shopping.

A common technique today is the question-and-answer section of a product page. This solves multiple problems: customers buying a product with features they don't like (and returning it); uncertainty as to product specs (leading to abandoned purchase); social proof that other users liked the product (increasing likelihood of purchase).

Lowes ecommerce SEO product Q&A
Lowes product pages contain a Q&A which resolve potential customer barriers to purchase.

In terms of content, you should be aware that search engines tend to penalize repeated text. So don't copy and paste manufacturer descriptions – you learned in school not to plagiarize! Instead, think of use cases and descriptive words for the product that spark the user's imagination. For example, a “straw hat” can be a “beach classic straw hat unisex”. A “steel shed” can be a “rust-proof motorbike storage steel shed”.

In SEO terms, you're targeting long-tail keywords here. That means search terms with five words or more. These tend to have lower search volumes with more specific intent. So you have a good chance of showing your product pages to customers looking for exactly the item you're selling. This works really well with product names, too.

Some examples:

  • Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order ps5

The above are much better keywords than “cameras for sale” or “buy playstation game”. As optimizing your product pages for these generic terms will more than likely attract too broad an audience. These users will have such a wide range of purchase desires that the chances are very low they'll want to buy the one product you're selling on that page.

Instead, your webstore should be divided into logical product categories, reflected in the names of your URLs. This is a fundamental rule of thumb for building your site architecture. In the hierarchy of website categories, product pages come under “parent” categories. For example, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III product is in the DSLR Cameras section of the We Sell Cameras website. The URL would look like this:

www.WeSellCameras.com/dslr-cameras/canon-eos-1dx-mark-iii/

Furnish your product pages with relevant content about your product, and tell your users why they should buy the product from your site. Any content you add should be unique. This takes time, but efforts will pay off in the long-term as Google aims to showcase content that is unique and valuable.
Caitlin Hathaway
Caitlin Hathaway SEO Manager, Expert Market

Here's a quick checklist of what you should include on your product pages for the best ecommerce SEO:

  • SEO-friendly URL contained within the relevant parent category
  • Keyword-focused title tag
  • Enticing meta description
  • Keyword-first H1 tag
  • Images (quality, but not too large)
  • Product specifications 
  • Features and use cases
  • USPs (unique selling points)
  • Reviews
  • Delivery and returns information (or a link to pages with these)
  • Q&A/FAQs about the product

Measuring the Success of Your Ecommerce SEO Strategy

Return on Investment (ROI) for your ecommerce SEO strategy can be measured in several ways. It's helpful to undertake a thorough SEO audit to set the benchmarks for improvement. Here are the metrics you should track to judge the success of your ecommerce SEO strategy:

  • Revenue (gross)
  • Number of transactions
  • Ecommerce conversion rate
  • Assisted conversions

What are assisted conversions? This refers to customers who visited your website and came back another time to make a purchase; for instance, a shopper may subscribe to your mailing list and convert from there. This kind of purchase journey is aided by your remarketing strategy.

You can set up ecommerce tracking on Google Analytics to start seeing how revenue is attributed to SEO efforts. As you do this, make sure that default Channel Grouping is set to “Organic Search”, to filter results to SEO.

Notice we've not included “web traffic” as a key metric for ROI. Just like follower count on social media, web traffic can be thought of as a “vanity metric”. It doesn't mean much, other than giving you bragging rights. If you had a million web visitors and 10 of them bought an item, that's worth exactly the same to your business as 100 web visitors and 10 conversions.

A Word to the Wise on Ecommerce SEO Strategy

SEO strategy is always a long-term investment. You may not see a boost in revenue right away, but that does not mean your strategy isn't working. It takes time for search engine bots to crawl through and rank the pages of the world wide web. Besides, newer websites are not favored as highly as older, established ones. Know why your grandma shops at Sears? Because it's where she's been shopping for decades. The same applies to online stores. Except, “decades” can be “eight months” when it comes to the internet.

You need to allow for a minimum of six months to a year after implementing your ecommerce SEO strategy before you'll have meaningful data to assess.

SEO simply means “making your website better”. The clue is in the word “optimization”, meaning “the process of making it the best it can be”. This is, of course, going to require regular updates and tweaks of technique. If you're getting stuck for ideas, then consider adding long-form content to your ecommerce website, such as how-to guides, and creative styling examples. For instance, if you're selling clothes you can put together look-books, write articles giving fashion advice, or offer gift guides around holiday season.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina Dougall Web Marketing Expert

Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master’s in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camen New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.