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A Primer to Storefront Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

There's a common question we hear from customers - "I have a great store with great products, but I'm not selling much through it. How do I improve my storefront sales?"

An Intro to e-Commerce Search Engine Optimization

SureDone Storefronts are great for e-commerce search engine optimization. We have taken a lot of care to incorporate plenty of modern SEO features into them. Page titles, meta descriptions, canonicals, schema markup for items, footer links, Google shopping feeds, sitemaps and more. And if you're using one of our templates, you can be assured it's mobile optimized and "responsive". You can Google each one of these to see their importance. I've included some links below.

But there's more to e-commerce search engine optimization (SEO). The items I've described above are what are called "on-page optimization" in the world of SEO. They are hints and triggers for Google to better understand what your page is all about when it's indexed and included in their vast database of the world's content. Things like page H1 tags on a page tell google, "This section of the page is about XYZ." And footer links help Google figure out which are the most important pages on your website. Make sure you take advantage of all of these features in SureDone. Not all of them are automatic (like filling out meta descriptions on each page). And having lots of relevant words on each page - especially your home page - is a great thing to do.

On-page optimization is great, but as we said above - there's more to e-commerce search engine optimization than just the elements on a page. 

What is the importance of ranking on Google?

Studies have shown that the top five results for a Google search get 68% of the clicks. That's huge! And the more competitive a phrase is (think "credit cards" or "auto insurance price quotes"), the more people click on these first five links and the more opportunity there is for massive increases in the businesses that appear there. Conversely, links on pages 2 and 3 get 5.59% of the clicks combined! That's not very helpful when you're trying to grow a business.

Today, your website might appear for 500 different search terms. Some of them might be short phrases (also called short tail keywords) like "car bumper" or "gold rings". Some of them might be longer phrases (also called long tail keywords) like "exhaust for a 1998 porsche 993" or "best t-shirts to give to your wife on valentine's day". You might appear on page 3 or 4, or 10, of the Google Search Engine Result Pages (also called SERPs).

One of the goals of e-commerce SEO is to increase the number of search terms (both short tail and long tail) that can be used to find you. Another goal is to move where you're found in the SERPs from page 10 to page 1. And while it's great to be ranked high for short tail phrases since they are less specific, it's easier to get ranked high for long tail phrases. 

The more phrases people can find you for, the more traffic will be pushed to your website. If you rank for 500 search terms, and one person clicks on each of those terms, you'll have 500 people visiting your site. If you rank for 5,000 search terms, and one person clicks on each of those terms, you'll have 5,000 people visiting your site. And the closer to the top of the first page of Google you get for those terms, the more people are likely to click on on the link to your site. So now you have three, four or five people clicking on those 5,000 links, driving tens of thousands of visitors to your site. 

And, as we said above, it's easier to get ranked at the top of page one for long tail phrases. You'll find that people spend a huge amount of money to rank for short tail phrases. When we say huge, we mean it. Some of the most competitive short tail phrases will require companies to spend upwards of $100,000 per month to rank in the top five for. Long tail phrases, on the other hand, don't take a lot of effort or money.

So how do I Rank my E-Commerce Website on Google?

This is a great question, and because Google is constantly changing their algorithms, how you can rank changes on a frequent basis. There are all sorts of ways to get incremental gains in rankings and traffic, but we'll focus on the big two because they are the most effective for websites that don't rank today. There's a great quote from an SEO consultant - "The days of SEO being a game where you outsmart algorithms is over. Today content strategy and valuable, sustainable strategies are essential - not just tricks and links.” This is ridiculously important, as Google has implemented all sorts of their own strategies to figure out when someone is trying to trick them - and your site could actually be removed from Google if you are found to be employing them.

The first approach is what's called "Content Marketing".

Content marketing is literally what it sounds like. It means creating great relevant content on your website. The word "relevant" is very, well, relevant here. Google doesn't like it when you post irrelevant information on your website, so putting an article on the the history of the Superbowl on a website about clothing wouldn't make much sense. Google could actually lower your rankings for articles like that. However, an article on the evolution of Superbowl uniforms, or on the ten coolest team football jersey's, would be appropriate on a clothing website. Especially if you sold team branded clothing. 

But what is "content"? In its simplest form (and least expensive to create), it can be articles and blog entries about a subject. Google loves these, Especially when they contain links to other sources of authority (e.g.  links you used to do your research), pictures and other multimedia items. Google likes to know you've done your research, and they have algorithms to verify this. You can't just make stuff up, and it can't be what's called "thin" content - content that doesn't really inform the user or leave them with anything more than they already knew.

But there are other forms of content. Here are some of the most popular: Infographics, Videos, Lists (think top 10 ways for...), curative posts (here are ten resources for...), guides, surveys, interviews, giveaways, awards, contests (best pictures, best videos, etc.), widgets (embed our "Time until the Superbowl countdown clock" on your website), and news articles. 

The Elements of an Article

We'll talk about the "marketing" component of content marketing in a moment, but first let me talk about the important elements of blog entries and articles:

  • You should pick a primary topic as opposed to dancing around several related topics.
  • It's a bit old school, but you should pick a few different phrases that you would like the article to rank for, and repeat this 5-10 times throughout the article. For example, this article is about how to rank your e-Commerce website, and we'd love for people to be able to search for "how to rank my e-commerce website" and find this.
  • It should be at least 750 words in length.
  • It should include pictures to illustrate your message.
  • It should include links to other websites that are relevant to the topic you are discussing - preferably not wikipedia links but rather links to journals, respected blogs and other genuine non-spammy websites.
  • It should be relevant to your website in some way.
  • You should break it into multiple sections and use headlines to explain what each section is about (for those of you that know HTML, we recommend the use of H2 or H3 tags for headlines - you should only have a single H1 tag on a page).
There are many more articles on the web about creating this type of content. We highly recommend that you do your research.

How Much Content do I Need?

This is where it gets interesting, because the phrase "less is more" does not apply here. HubSpot performed a research study on the impact of monthly blog posts on inbound traffic and made some startling discoveries. I've included a few charts below, but here are some of the stats:
  • Companies that published 401+ total posts on their site generated 3x more traffic and 3x more leads as companies that published 0-100 total posts.
  • Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month generated 3.5x more traffic than those that published 3-4 posts per month and 4.5x more leads.
So - it's important to post a lot of content and to do it frequently. "But we're a small business and don't have time to write!" you might say. 

There are actually numerous individuals and companies you can hire to write the content for you. Expect to pay between $25 and $75 for a 1,000 word article depending on the knowledge required, the amount of research that needs to be done and the quality of the writing you need. Around $35-$45 should get you a pretty decent article on a non-academic subject, with links to other sites. If you're going to hire someone to do your writing, make sure to get samples of their writing first, and make sure to give them explicit instructions on everything from tone (i.e. conversational, academic, informal, etc.), key words and phrases, links that shouldn't be included (like your competitors), etc.

Do a search for content writers on Google, or you can put "bids" out for the job at a site like www.upwork.com or www.freelancer.com. These are also great sites to find people to create infographics and illustrations.

What About the "Marketing" in "Content Marketing"?

It's great to have great content, but if nobody knows it exists then it's kind of a moot point. It's kind of like opening a store in the middle of nowhere and then not telling anybody where you are. The more billboards you have, the more TV advertisements, the more buses that go by with information on who you are and where you are, the more people will visit this store in the middle of nowhere.

Content marketing is pretty much the same thing. You're getting the word out about the new and interesting articles on your site, and you're encouraging people to come check them out.

There are numerous ways to get the word out, and here are a few in order of cost (least costly first, most costly last):
  • Including a variety of social share buttons on your article for viewers to share it with their own audiences
  • Local and National News (hard to get publicity, but it's free!)
  • E-Mail blasts (use products like MailChimp to push out your message daily, weekly, monthly to subscribers)
  • Social Media (consider using a product like HootSuite to pre-schedule pushing your new content to all of your social media)
  • Press Releases (sites like PRNewsWire and PRWeb can push your press releases out to hundreds of sites for a fee)
  • Pay Per Click (PPC)/Social Ads (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, etc. - this strategy can work great but you need to balance the cost vs. profits)
  • Link Building (We'll discuss this below)
The object is to do more than just get your message out to the first round of people. You want those people to then share your article with others. This is sometimes called "viral marketing". The more interesting you make the headline of your article (Buzzfeed has this formula perfected for the moment) and also the content, the more likely it is to be shared with others.

The Second Approach to e-Commerce SEO is Called "Link Building"

We'll start by saying that link building is not for the faint of heart, and it takes a lot of work and organization to do it yourself. We'll cover some information here so you can familiarize yourself with the concept, but we're not going to get too in-depth.

Link building literally means getting sites to build links to your site and your content. That's it. It's that simple. Content marketing is the number one way to get more phrases to show up in Google results (since you're literally putting more phrases on your site). Link building is the number one way to get those results to move up in the rankings, and eventually show up on page one.

Why? Because Google assumes that if your content is worth linking to, then there must be value in it. And the more sites that link to your content, and the more reputable those sites are, the faster and higher you'll rise in the google search engine results. As an example, having a one year old site with a small amount of content linking to you might give you a small bump. However, having a ten year old high traffic big name site linking to you gives you a big bump. And having a .gov site linking to you (since they so rarely do) tends to give you a huge bump. .edu sites are up there too.

A word of warning here. People used to game the Google link algorithms by buying links or building what were called link networks. Google banned this practice several years ago and even created an algorithm to specifically look for abusers (it's called Penguin). If you are found to have a lot of spammy links or Google thinks you paid for a link you will be massively downranked, and you'll have to do a lot of work to prove to Google that you got rid of all of these links. What am I trying to say? Having lots of links to your site isn't always good. Having quality links to your site IS good.

Link Building is a LOT of work, but it WORKS

We mentioned above that link building takes a lot of work and organization. That's because people - especially these days - don't create links from their website to your website easily. High quality sites are inundated with people asking for links so it's hard to be heard above the din - even when you have written great and interesting content (sites usually link to your content, not your homepage). So you research the web and find a few hundred sites that might be interested in your content. Then you have to find contact information for all of these sites (and on many larger sites there are different contacts for different pages). Then you have to draft an e-mail that will convince these people to link to your site (we've heard that phone calls to site admins are actually working better these days than e-mail). Then you have to send the e-mails and followup e-mails. And you have to keep track of who you contacted and what you said so you can potentially repeat winning e-mails with other sites. And with all this, you'll only get a small handful of sites linking to you.

Many sites actually hire contractors and companies to handle their link building for them. It's easily a full time job. But, once again, make sure you use a reputable SEO firm to do this work. Ask them how they get their links, how they make sure they aren't spammy, how to make sure they are from relevant sites (if you get someone to link from their site on Mozart to your cell phone case site, Google will call that a spammy link and downrank you).

With all of this said, link building still remains the best way to get your content ranked. Period. So you need to invest in it and let people know you exist.

So Where do I Start?

We've presented you with a lot of information, and yet we've barely scratched the surface. The best place to start is with a content strategy approach. Figure out what your customers and prospects are interested in reading about, and then develop 20-30 topics and headlines relevant to this. Then either write the articles or hire someone to write them for you, Rinse and repeat.

And then, once you have money, or time, or both, start a link building strategy to get your terms ranked higher.

Hopefully this article helped. Let us know!