“If you’re just relying on paid traffic, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and you’re not building a sustainable brand,” Keval Shah, founder of the agency Inbound Pursuit, says.
SEO, or search engine optimization, can be a more cost-effective and stable revenue driver than paid advertising. By ensuring your business shows up on the front page of Google, you’ll maximize views of your online store. While it might take longer to see results with SEO than it would with a paid ad, you’ll set your business up to make money for the long term. One beauty brand the agency has worked with for a year and a half, for example, has quadrupled its traffic and sees about $500,000 in revenue every month from its SEO efforts.
While SEO has plenty of benefits, it can also come with lots of technical requirements and confusing terminology—making it a pain point for busy small business owners. Ahead, Keval demystifies the SEO best practices and quick tips that will help your ecommerce business grow.
The benefits of investing in SEO
The marketing landscape, especially for small businesses, is rapidly changing due to the increased cost and decreased effectiveness of paid ads. And it’s just going to keep getting worse, says Keval, because of issues with supply and demand.
SEO, on the other hand, is generally more stable. Once you invest time and resources in SEO, or choose to hire an agency to help you out, you don’t have to keep “paying to play.” As your website pages start to show up at the top of search results, the traffic you get to those pages grows over time. Showing up top gives your brand more credibility, gets you the most eyeballs, and means you’ll make more sales.
You don’t even need the volume of traffic that a paid ad generates. With SEO, “you can just bring in a couple hundred visitors and they’re going to convert a much higher percentage,” says Keval, “because there’s intent behind those keywords. It’s higher quality, more predictable traffic.”
While the time commitment or cost of hiring experts to tackle SEO might feel high upfront, with less-immediate results than paid-ads, you create a stable, ongoing source of revenue, while with paid ads you have to consistently put money in if you want to get money out.
For example, if your brand shows up number one on Google for a search for rare succulents, people are going to buy plants from you as opposed to your competitors. The person searching for that succulent has a higher intent to purchase it than someone who sees a paid ad pop up while they’re browsing the internet elsewhere.
📙 Get the in-depth overview: What is SEO Marketing and How Does it Work?
Now, we’ll jump into the SEO best practices that can help your ecommerce business grow.
1. Find the best keywords for your ecommerce shop
Keyword research will uncover the words that people enter into Google when seeking a product just like yours. Once you uncover those words, you’ll put them in key places on your website to help different pages show up on the first page of search results on Google. When a page “ranks” on Google, that means that it shows up in search results on the first page for a given keyword, also referred to as a search term.
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Research the best keywords to target
A keyword research tool will help you identify the best keywords for your business to target. Ubersuggest is a free tool with upgrade options, as is the Moz Keyword Explorer. While Ahrefs doesn’t offer a free version, the $99 per month option provides everything you need to search for keywords and track your rankings.
Once you’ve chosen a tool, you’ll identify the words people most often search for when they’re looking to buy a product that you sell.
“The easiest way to do that,” says Keval, “is to search your product in Google. Find the business ranking on the first page and then just plug them into a tool, see what keywords they rank for, and just copy them.” For example, searching for “rosette shaped succulents for sale” generates search results where the brand Succulents Box ranks first.
Ensure the keywords you found have purchase intent
There are a multitude of reasons why someone searches for something online. What you’re looking for are the people searching with intent to buy. For example, someone might Google “prickly pear cactus” because they’re looking for photos of one, or they might do so because they want to purchase one for their garden.
To uncover the keywords that actually have purchase intent behind them, you need to look at what keywords Google ranks product and collection website pages for. “If Google’s ranking product and collection pages for that keyword,” says Keval, “then you know it’s buying intent.” For example, the keyword “prickly pear cactus” generates images, a definition explaining what they are, and care instructions. A search for the keyword “prickly pear cactus for sale,” on the other hand, yields collection pages. So, that’s the keyword with purchase intent behind it, and the keyword you’d need to target.
Place them strategically across your website
Now that you’ve uncovered a set of keywords aligned to the different products you sell, you’ll need to place them strategically on different pages on your website and build content around them. That means placing keywords in:
You can do all of this in the back end editing section of your ecommerce website. While it’s important to ensure your keywords are strategically placed, avoid overuse—a practice known as keyword stuffing.
The content in a blog post or on the collection page, Keval says, should focus on the features of your product, what makes it unique, and how it’s better than competitors. If you can, putting that message on the collection page “makes it a little bit easier for Google to understand what the page is about rather than if it’s just a list of products,” says Keval.
📚 Learn more: Keyword Research for Ecommerce: A Beginner’s Guide
2. Build backlinks and internal links to different types of content
Link building involves reaching out to different brands and publications online and seeing if they will link to a page on your website from their website. The more links you have, the more credible you are to Google. Google rewards that credibility with a higher position in search results. In short: If a lot of other folks trust your content and see it as worthy of a link, Google will as well.
According to Keval, building backlinks to your website is one of the most important parts of crafting a successful SEO strategy for your store, and building relationships with other brands is one of the best ways to do it.
“You’re going to have to create content that’s worth linking to,” Keval says. “And once you create that content, then you can build the relationships and pitch that article to get links.”
This is where creating content for a blog comes in. While other brands might not want to link to a collection page that shows a list of the products you have for sale, they may get excited about a helpful blog post. For example, they’ll be more likely to link to a blog post that shares succulent care tips than they are a collection page of succulents.
Link building requires outreach and relationship building, but internal linking involves creating links between pages yourself. That means linking to one of your blog posts from a different blog post, or linking to a collection page from a relevant blog post. Both types of links are effective in helping pages rank.
3. Focus resources on getting collection pages to rank
A product page features a singular product, like a blue candle cactus. A collection page shows all of the products in a category, like all plants within the cactus family. While it’s challenging to get product pages on page one, Keval notes that collection pages are much easier to rank.
Google usually ignores product pages, but if you build links to a collection page, “Google will actually rank you pretty well for it,” Keval says. “The collection pages respond really well to links based on the data we’ve seen. So, it’s just a little bit easier to spend your resources ranking those.” Because there’s so much you can do SEO-wise, if you’re doing it yourself, Keval recommends focusing energy on helping collection pages show up in search results rather than product pages, which can become a dead end.
Urban Americana, a vintage midcentury modern shop in Long Beach, California, has found success with this. Its collection page for all midcentury modern furniture ranks #1 for the keyword “vintage mid century modern furniture.”
A big benefit of ranking a collection versus a product page is that shoppers can see your entire inventory for a certain category. It gives them more options, rather than sending them to a single product page where they have only one choice.
4. Create a blog that gives you authority in your niche
According to Keval, creating a blog is an important part of an ecommerce SEO strategy, but not for the reasons you might think. Rather than thinking about blog traffic as something that drives sales, “the real benefit of having a blog is that it creates something called topical relevance,” Keval says.
“Google likes ranking sites that are authoritative in their space. That could mean having a really good link profile. It could also mean having very high quality content that answers all the questions that people have about a particular product,” he says.
For example, plant shop Succulents Box creates short pieces of content around informational keywords that relate to succulent care, such as:
Once you create these pieces of content, Keval recommends adding an internal link from each blog post to the corresponding collection. For example, you might link the article about growing succulents in sand to a collection page of succulents that thrive in sandy soil.
“By doing that, you create that layer of relevancy and those blogs help the collection pages rank,” Keval says.
A blog post doesn’t need to be a long, in-depth piece of writing. In fact, Keval says, shorter, more-specific pieces perform better. “Nowadays Google likes granular content,” says Keval. “Instead of creating an ultimate guide and ranking for all these keywords, it’s actually easier and more effective to create separate articles for every type of fix, so that your article is hyper focused on one topic.”
That means ditching the ultimate guide to succulent care, for example, and opting for articles that tackle smaller sub-topics—a practice known in the SEO world as targeting “long tail” keywords. Succulents Box, for example, publishes short blog posts about caring for specific varieties of succulents:
5. Add keywords to every meta title
A meta title is the title of your page that shows up on the result page of a search engine like Google. Optimizing your meta titles by adding keywords to them is a low-effort, high-reward SEO fix you can make to your site.
This fix increased traffic to the business’s collection pages of one of Keval’s clients by 15% in one month. “People always say that you don’t see SEO results for six months, but there are times when the biggest jump in results are from the first month just because the meta title is so important,” he says.
You should be able to set a meta title for any page on your website on the back end of the ecommerce platform you use. On Shopify, within your admin dashboard, navigate to the page you need to edit in the sidebar and scroll down to the “search engine listing preview” at the bottom of the page.
It looks like this:
For example, Succulents Box ranks on the first page for the term “tulip prickly pear cactus for sale.” The meta title for the page that ranks is “Tulip Prickly Pear Cactus | Succulent Care Instruction.” The brand likely added “succulent care instruction” to capture the people looking for how to care for the succulent in addition to those looking to purchase one.
Similar to adding the keywords you’re targeting to meta titles, an SEO best practice is to add that keyword to the corresponding meta description as well.
6. Remove duplicate content
Most ecommerce sites have multiple pages of product collections. This can cause Google to index the wrong page, which will hurt your rankings. “A lot of times,” Keval says, “Google will try to index page two or page three instead of the homepage of a collection.”
A way to know if there’s a duplicate content problem like this is to take a look at your URLs. If they include a 2, 3, 4 etc.—like this: https://www.example.com/collections/all-items?page=2—then you might be at risk.
One way to fix this problem is to no-index duplicate pages. If you’re on a platform that doesn’t let you no-index a page (stop it from showing up in search results on Google) or you have a custom-built CMS (content management system), you can use what’s called a canonical tag. If you’ve built your store on Shopify with a theme from the Shopify theme store, canonical URLs are built in automatically.
The canonical tag is a bit of HTML code that tells Google which page is the most important one, and the one you’d like to rank for. So, you’d want to let Google know with a canonical tag that the homepage of each collection is the one to check out or “crawl,” not a sub page. This will really help with rankings, Keval says.
✅ Check all the boxes: Want to Rank Your Store? Get On Page One With This SEO Checklist
SEO provides more predictable and cost-effective traffic
SEO can have a strong impact on your revenue, brand awareness, and brand trust if you take the time to invest in it. While paid ads can seem more immediate, they’re extremely expensive and unreliable, and when you stop paying for them, you’ll stop seeing traffic and conversions.
SEO is a much more stable way to send shoppers who have a high intent to purchase to your website. It’s a reliable, steady traffic source that will create a much stronger foundation for your business long term.
Shopify has the SEO tools to help you implement these SEO best practices on your website.