eCommerce SEO Checklist: 45 Steps For More Organic Traffic
Reading time: 15 minutes
For the ecommerce manager or marketer, there’s a lot of distractions. There’s also a lot of opportunities. One of the keys to success is knowing the difference.
It’s important to remember the crucial role of organic search and ecommerce SEO.
SEMrush conducted a study and identified that 37.5% of traffic to leading ecommerce websites comes from organic search.
If you want to get more traffic and sales from organic search, then this ecommerce SEO checklist will be a valuable resource.
User Experience (UX)
For the ecommerce manager, UX is always going to be a priority. But to many, it has always been vulnerable to a trade-off with the SEO guys. However, great UX improves the likelihood that the searcher will accomplish their task. UX is a hot SEO topic and widely considered to be an influencing factor.
Here’s what you can do to create a great user experience,
- Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
- Have HTTPS and security seals
- Show off your reviews and ratings
- Have site search functionality
- Have information pages
- Have payment options
- Have an HTML sitemap
- Ensure your pages have a maximum of three navigation clicks
- Have breadcrumbs
- Enable GZip compression
- Keep third-party resources to a minimum
- Lazy load your images
- Resize your images
- Delete any images no longer required
- Compress your images
- Use ALT tags
- Use file names
- Check Google’s index
- Check the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
- Have an XML sitemap
- Be careful with product variations
- Use canonical URLs
- Use your robots.txt file
- Redirect your discontinued products
- ‘Noindex’ low-value pages and products
- Use priority keywords
- Have introductory content
- Add pagination if necessary
Presenting your user with a mobile-friendly website is a no-brainer. The majority of your orders might get attributed to desktop users, but you need to understand that a lot of them will have started their experience on their mobile. Disappoint them there, and you lose a sale.
Check your mobile-friendly credentials with Google’s test. You don’t need to test every page on your site, but I would test all of your page templates. For example, your product, about, home, cart and checkout pages.
You should be renewing your SSL certificate every year to ensure that your checkout process is secure. You also need to make sure your entire online store is https and secure. Google is actively encouraging this and close to 60% of sites in Google’s Top 10 are https.
Be sure to let your users know about our security, particularly on the cart and checkout pages by prominently displaying your SSL provider’s security seal.
They influence your users and Google knows it. So, start asking for them as part of your after-sales process. You want to encourage reviews on all platforms that make up part of your buyer’s journey, including Google itself and Facebook.
Note though that Google has been busy releasing product review updates, the first in April 2021 and more recently the third was released March 2022. Essentially Google wants to add more weight to more insightful reviews. In an ecommerce sense, you have a situation where you can lean on experts to leave reviews for your products but for more general reviews, you want to be encouraging and displaying reviews that provide more product information and experience.
By allowing users to search your site, you make their experience infinitely better. Don’t make them spend more time than they need to when browsing through your product pages. You can also analyse their search terms to improve your keyword strategy.
Your customers will likely want to seek additional information that is not directly related to your product. For example, they may want to clarify your shipping times or returns policy. Or they might have a more general query about your business.
If you don’t satisfy their query right then and there, you risk losing the sale.
So, make sure you treat your informational pages with the same care as your product pages. Informational pages include your shipping and returns policies, information about your company, and your FAQ page.
It’s helpful to communicate your payment options early. You don’t want to let your user get to your checkout only to find out they can’t pay. Allowing them to get this far in the checkout journey only to fail is a bad user experience, and when they don’t come back, you can consider that bad for eCommerce SEO too.
Ecommerce websites can contain a vast amount of content that can be confusing to navigate for some people, despite your best efforts. To help them quickly find what they’re looking for you should provide a user-facing HTML sitemap.
Having pages that take more than three clicks to reach is not great for the user, and it’s also a poor indicator of that page’s search engines value.
I could categorise website speed as a single item under UX, but it’s so much more important these days and is worthy of its category. Slow websites kill conversions, and Google is openly encouraging webmasters to improve the speed of their sites.
Test your site with Google’s Page Speed Tool for desktop and mobile scores and tips or use their Test Your Mobile Speed Tool to get a broader look at your mobile speed and how it compares to other shopping websites.
Further Reading: Learn more about Website Load Time Statistics.
Here are some essential items to cut your page loading speeds down.
By enabling GZip compression, you are compressing your web pages and style sheets before being sent to the user’s browser. This reduces the size of the files being transferred and makes your page load faster.
Test to see if you have GZip Compression enabled.
Ecommerce managers love third-party solutions and scripts. But by the time you add pop-ups, social proof widgets, marketing automation, social widgets, YouTube videos and remarketing tags, you’ve added a slew of extra scripts for the user’s browser to call. Each of these scripts will contribute to slowing down your page speed.
Images are the single-biggest contributing factor for slow websites, particularly ecommerce sites. One solution is to lazy-load your images. Lazy loading enables images on long web pages to delay loading until the user scrolls to the part of the page where they’re located.
Often images are saved or downloaded at sizes exceeding 1MB and 2,000px +. These large file sizes are not necessary for images to display well on the web. Making your user’s browser resize them when the page is rendering adds time to the download. Make sure you resize your images to optimise them for the web before you upload them.
Whether you have 50 products or 5,000, you’re invariably going to have a bloated image library over time that will slow your site down. I encourage you to delete any image from your library when you don’t need it any longer.
You may not know it, but images will often contain a lot of meta information (such as who took the photo and when). This information adds to the weight of the image and slows your web page download. So, compress your images before uploading too.
You can compress your images with tinyjpg.com.
As I’ve just noted, you should optimise your images to avoid slowing your website down. But remember that images are also assets that can help you demonstrate what your page is about to search engines. They also give you a chance to generate traffic from image search.
Here are two ways you can use your images for SEO.
ALT tags are the traditional way of adding a description to an image. They help a search engine understand what it is about.
Crawling and Indexing
Crawling and indexing is the more technical area of SEO, but it’s perhaps more important for ecommerce than most other verticals due to the complex architecture of these sites. If search engine crawlers are not crawling your website adequately or inefficiently, it may result in products not being indexed. Even worse, Google could penalise you for not meeting basic search guidelines.
Here are some tips.
Enter “site:yoursite.com.au” into Google, and it will return each of your pages that it has in its index. There can be a few potential scenarios, but the one to be worried about is when it shows your home page only referencing the robots.txt file. This result tells you that your site is blocking Google. Aside from that major issue, you also want to avoid Google indexing pages that are of little value to them or your users.
Your Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools accounts contain troves of super-valuable information. Check them on a regular basis for broken links, manual action penalties, HTML issues, etc.
Create or generate an XML sitemap with your ecommerce platform and submit it with the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
You may have colour and size variations for your products. The structure of these variations can be critical to your SEO. So, you need to get this right. Sizes will, of course, be options on each product page if they’re relevant. But if you sell shoes, what about colours? Do you have the one product page with both size and colour as options? Or do you have separate product pages for each of the colours?
Having all the options on the one page is good, but it may not be your best fit when you consider the user experience. But if you have separate pages for each of the colours instead, this situation is problematic because you’re diluting your ability to rank for that product. Which one should Google rank? You’re also going to run into duplicate content issues if you take that approach.
Take the example above where you might have separate pages for the different colours. Imagine that you have five different colours and five different pages. Compounding this issue is that this particular shoe falls under four different categories. Each colour would be on URLs such as:
This example would generate 20 different URLs for the one product. It’s a mess!
To solve this problem, you need to implement canonical URLs. These tell search engines which URL you would prefer to use for each variation. Ideally, you want to get the unique identifying keywords closer to the root URL.
You should have a robots.txt file in place. To check yours, head to yoursite.com.au/robots.txt. The directives in this file tell web crawlers (including Google’s) both what to crawl and what not to crawl.
The first thing you want to ensure is that you don’t see this:
This directive tells search engines to avoid crawling your entire site.
What you do want to do is use the file to ask Google to ignore private and unnecessary folders within your site. You will be able to optimise your crawl budget by using the robots.txt file to manage the areas of your site that you don’t want Google to crawl.
If you have a product that is discontinued, you need to redirect the URL because that product URL is providing no value to your user or Google.
But where will you redirect to? You could redirect to a relevant product URL, but what if that product is discontinued now or in the future? That will create a redirect chain. The best bet is to redirect to the appropriate category page instead.
These pages are among your most powerful assets. They’re consistent and evergreen. Unlike products, your category pages don’t go in and out of stock, and they don’t get discontinued. They’ll continue to build your authority and acquire links for you.
Here are some tips for your category pages.
Do your keyword research. Your category pages should be targeting the broader, higher-volume keywords. After all, they’ll see more traffic and acquire more links over time, so they’re more chance of ranking.
Too often ecommerce pages have product inventory on category pages with no supporting content. Treat these pages like the landing pages they should be. Add original content to describe the category. It’s a great spot to highlight any specific sales and to link to specific informational content.
Dealing with pagination is another critical SEO consideration. Traditionally you’ll see about 20 products on the one category page. If you have more than 20 products on the one page, you have a decision to make. You can:
- Serve them all
- Implement infinite scroll
- Add pagination
The downside is that you risk slowing the loading speed of that vital page.
This allows your users to click to different pages, i.e. /page-1/, /page-2/, etc.
But you don’t want multiple versions of your category pages being indexed and displayed in search results. However, you can add markup (rel=prev and rel=next) to sort that issue out.
UPDATE: Google has now told the SEO community that they realised they hadn’t been using rel=next and rel=prev for indexing in years. So this is not necessary, but do make sure that the pages are linked. Read more on SearchEngineJournal.
I’ve already touched on sizes and colours as product options, and these might be filters from your category pages or your main shopping page. Additional filters will also look at price and more, creating numerous variations that can get messy from a product URL perspective. Controlling this situation requires a skilful blend of noindex tags and robots.txt file directives.
While they may not be the landing page asset that categories can become, product pages are still essential of course to an optimised ecommerce site (and not just for their ability and role in converting customers).
Here’s are some tips for your product pages.
Keeping your user on your site until they convert is your ultimate goal. Displaying relevant and valuable related products is a great way to do this. It’s excellent for UX, and it also helps to get people browsing around your site and demonstrating the value of your other products.
A video is engaging and offers a rich experience. Video keeps users on your site for longer and gets vital messages across faster. A video adds to the user experience and in turn, demonstrates value to search engines.
Buying something online comes with risks. A customer wants to get a better idea about the product to reduce any anxiety about the purchase. Images can help to reassure your customer that the right decision is to buy your product.
One of the most common SEO issues with ecommerce is the ‘copy and paste job’ of product information from the manufacturer’s website. Not only are they all too often uninspiring, but they’re also the same descriptions as so many of your competitors use.
Seriously, if you’re guilty of this type of copy and paste approach, copy a snippet of your product descriptions and use it to search in Google. You’ll see just how many of your competitors have done the same. A unique and compelling product description is one of the easiest ways of distinguishing yourself from your competition.
General On-Page Optimisation
Of course, there are on-page optimisation factors that are important whether you manage an ecommerce site or not. They’re important to help communicate what your page is about to Google and your users.
Here are some on-page optimisation techniques.
Your page title is an excellent indicator of what readers and search engines can expect from a page. You should get your target keyword in there. But if it’s not unique, then Google won’t necessarily know which page to rank for that target keyword. If it gets it wrong, what will that cost you?
The first touchpoint you have with your potential customer is often via search results. These results will likely be a page title and a two-line description pulling from your meta description of it. Make that description unique, informative and appealing. More clicks indicate that you’re providing value and will be great for your SEO.
It’s important to understand that Google and other search engines crawl a website, they don’t browse it as we do. So, imagine your site as a sitemap with a hierarchical structure. Ideally, you want to link from your home page to your category pages. Then from your category pages to your product pages. Internal linking can be one of the easiest ways of giving poor-performing pages an SEO boost.
There are a few things you need to be mindful of with your URLs. When you’re adding your slug, be descriptive and use your target keyword. But keep it short, don’t use underscores and remove words like ‘and’, ‘if’, ‘to’, etc.
These ‘extras’ as tactics are no less critical to your ecommerce SEO strategy than the ones I’ve already outlined, but they don’t naturally fall into one of the earlier categories. If you follow these specific ‘extras’ tips, you’ll increase your domain authority and branded searches, improve your keyword targeting, and score yourself compelling rich snippets in Google.
As an ecommerce manager, you should be tracking both your conversions and your assisted conversions. But not only is conversion tracking essential in identifying the value of your campaigns, it can also provide you with valuable information for your keyword targeting. Subtle differences in search queries can change the quality of your search visitor or their readiness to purchase.
Schema is a markup language that helps you to add another layer of structured content to your pages. This markup will help to communicate what your page is about to all the major search engines. The direct result may include rich snippets in Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages). For an ecommerce site, these snippets can be stock availability, price, product rating and more. Schema markup is also a recommended tactic to score valuable voice search results.
UPDATE: Google has previously pulled shipping info from Merchant Center accounts to show in search results. Now they will do the same from Schema markup. So if you don’t have a Merchant Center account, get this markup implemented asap. .
Link building is still considered to be a reliable indicator for search engines. But be mindful that you want to source a healthy blend of high-quality, contextual and (where appropriate) local links to your site.
Further Reading: Check out ‘Link Building Strategies: 30 SEO Experts Share Their Secrets‘.
Is social media engagement a ranking factor? Google has stated that it’s not. But by having an active social media community, you’ll help your SEO by earning links and increasing branded searches.
While they could be considered link building (albeit low value), there is one crucial distinction; these shopping comparison sites can be great referrers of traffic and sales. Do your research into what comparison sites your competitors are listed on and try them yourself.
Links from .gov and .edu websites have long been considered high-value targets because they’re so much harder to acquire than other types of links. The good news is that it isn’t that hard for an ecommerce website to get educational links. For example, try reaching out to universities and offering an exclusive discount for their students. All they have to do is promote the offer on their website with a link to your site (ideally to a landing page that you’ve created for that university).
Blogging has been one of the prominent inbound marketing tactics of recent times, but for ecommerce sites, it’s a controversial tactic.
It does have a place though. It’s just that if you haven’t invested in your product copy or even the copy across your informational pages, then you should prioritise those areas first.
Once you’ve done that, consider blog posts. Identify your priority products. Is your audience researching those products? Are they searching for info that isn’t typically found on the same site that sells the product? If so, then there’s a significant blogging opportunity.
Create a streamlined experience for your user. Be the general source of information about the product and then offer it to them via your site. It sounds simple, but in many customer journeys, the research to purchase experience is disjointed.
BONUS: Utilise Google’s Free Shopping Listings
Google has launched free shopping listings with its Surfaces Across Google program. If you’ve been advertising with Google Shopping via Google’s Merchant Centre, then you don’t have to do anything. If you haven’t been advertising, then you’ll need to set up a Merchant Centre Account. It’s all pretty straightforward until you need to add your products or product feed. However, if you’re using Shopify, they’ve made it extremely easy – You’ll find what you need to know here.
Quentin Aisbett is the strategist at OnQ Marketing. He has a specific focus on local and mobile SEO, content strategy, and marketing automation. Blogging all the time, tweeting even more so. Pick his brain on Clarity.fm.