06 Jan SEO planning for your online store
No matter what you plan to sell online, you will need SEO. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation” and it is a big part of any online marketer’s toolkit. It the practice of making your online shop website relevant to the search engines for the search-phrases that your customers will use to find your products, and building its popularity so it is seen by search engines as a website that should be recommended to potential customers when they search for your products online.
SEO saves you money. If you rank well on the search terms that customers use to look for the products you sell, then you won’t have to advertise as much to generate visitors to your website. The traffic will just come looking for you naturally. SEO is a both an art and a science, and it is an ever-changing topic for an online shop owner to keep on top of. Like in any part of starting an online business, good planning up-front can save you time and money down the track as you launch and scale up your shop.
Some of the best practices for SEO look very different than they did even a few years ago. This reflects the different ways that people search for information on the Internet and the growing importance of smart phones. Search engines like Google and Bing have been regularly updating their search engine ranking formulas to adapt and change to the changing patterns of searchers, as they try to deliver the most relevant results for searchers on any given search phrase.
Google regularly updates its search engine behind-the-scenes. Their formula for ranking websites attempts to identify valuable content that is relevant to the industry that you are in, and penalising those websites that try to manipulate search results by over-using words or gaining less than reputable links to over-inflate the perception of their site in the search engines. This update, known as “Hummingbird” in search engine marketing circles, is designed to cope with natural language searches like questions and comparisons by using contextual clues to understand what the person is actually looking for rather than just looking at the raw words that are typed in.
The technology behind the Hummingbird update has also allowed Google to better understand things like synonyms for particular search words (rather than trying to match the exact words being searched for) making the overall context of your website more important than the words used on one particular page.
Google is trying to emulate how a human decides what is important – through taking into account personal referrals and the credibility of the referral, as well as what is being said and all of the other factors that go into making a great online product.
What does this mean for SEO in your your online store?
The basics of your approach to search engine marketing for your shop will remain unchanged. You still need to have fresh, relevant and original content for your website if you wish to rank well. You will also need to be recommended by other relevant, trusted websites.
You will also need to think about the specific content in your store:
- What non-product content will you have on your website? Think about what will help your customers the most. Including buying guides, product manuals, usage ideas, tips and help in your blog rather than just posting product feeds from manufacturers will be more important. Keep your information up to date and fresh. One thing that is even more important today is the quality of content – it’s not good enough to have a quick 200 or 300 word list of items unless it’s completely original and really helpful to customers. You need to cover the topic well as Google is judging your breadth and depth, as well as just the topic.
- What other marketing techniques can you use to drive traffic to your site that will be endorsed by the visitors who reach the site. For example, advertising landing pages and newsletters can attract qualified leads to your website and attract signups or referrals. Referrals by others on their websites can improve the perception of your website in the eyes of search engines.
- Write your own product descriptions and don’t just rely on manufacturer’s descriptions or a reworded version of competitor’s descriptions. When you write descriptions don’t try to use your search phrase and its synonyms as many times as possible – write a helpful, useful, honest description of your products. You’re thinking about the questions that people might be writing into Google, rather than the specific key words that they are searching for. Key words are still important as many people might search for those phrases directly, but they are now one part of the puzzle and not the sole important factor.
- Take advantage of reviews and recommendations. If your shopping cart supports it, use Facebook comments on your product pages, or encourage customers to write reviews about your products and like your products on Facebook. These are all social signals and definitely matter.
Industry associations and business partnerships through related but not competing businesses can help you build up authority, credibility and trust in the eyes of search engines but also in the eyes of customers – particularly through social referrals on Facebook, or shares and links to your site. You can also engage in guest blogging between your sites, as this can be a good way to build social authority.
As Google now thinks indirectly and not merely literally, everything you can do to help your customers and generate more interest in your products and website could potentially lead to links and indirectly help back to your own website – a kind of “SEO Karma”.
A note about links
Not all links have equal value in the eyes of search engines, so more links is not necessarily best. For example, one great recommendation from a highly trusted authority in your industry is worth much more to your business than 20 recommendations from people who others do not know. The same is true of links – search engines place weight on the importance of the website linking to you, and the relevance of that website to your business in order to determine what value this website contributes to your overall standing.
This means you should beware of off-shore search engine freelancers or marketers that promise you 1,000s of links or directory listings in unknown directories, or search engine firms that promise you irrelevant links as comments on blog posts all around the world. You need to be looking for places to get recommendations that are relevant to your industry. The more credible the website giving you the link the more it will count. In this regard, search engine marketing can be a bit of a popularity game. There are no quick wins, as Google knows all the tricks in the book! Attempts to gain quick exposure through building links on irrelevant sites – even if it seemingly works in the short run – will come back to bite you. These types of practices, known as “black hat SEO” in the industry are severely frowned upon by search engines.
SEO tactics you can use for your online shop – before you go live
Shopping cart software packages like Ozcart give you a wealth of search engine marketing tools that you can use to help make your site more relevant to search engines, but they will only help you if you approach their use the right way. There are no quick wins, only a careful, thoughtful, well planned approach.
- Understand your customer – this is absolutely essential if you want to get the right results. There is no point in ranking well on search terms that your customers don’t use to find your products. You want to rank well on the search phrases that are most likely to lead to sales, so getting the right people and right phrases is essential.
- Understand the search phrases being searched – to understand the specific words that people might be searching for, you must know a little about your buyer psychology: who they are, what motivates them to buy the products that you sell, what need your product serves, and how well that need is being met by the existing competitors. You can use this to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and think about what kinds of things they will search for. You can then cross reference this using data about search volumes for particular terms to zero in on the search terms you will focus on. See how to research phrases using Google’s keyword tool for more information about this topic.
- Use search engine friendly URLs – while search engines are able to index complex URLs, from a marketing perspective using a human-friendly name in your search URL will add more memorability of the page and allow you to push it via promotion as well (e.g. in flyers promoting your site or on your blog). In Ozcart, SEO friendly URLs are generated automatically based on your page titles (i.e. product names) but you can also customize them to suit your needs manually. You can also redirect discontinued products to their replacements or other pages, and choose to send “page not found” options to another page – like the search page – so that customers keep shopping rather than leaving when they come to your site and don’t get what they want immediately
- Fill in “meta” descriptions and titles for your products – meta data is information that is added to pages for the benefit of describing the page to search engines. Search engines typically use the “meta description” as the search phrase that appears in the preview-snippet that Google shows when it returns a website search result. Titles are used in a similar way. In general, there is no benefit in using “meta keywords” any more if your objective is to rank in Google and Bing, but shopping cart and website applications still include this functionality for backward compatibility with other online applications and needs for this tag in your website. In Ozcart, every product can be given a title, meta description, keywords and URL from the administration panel of your website.
- Share your content on Facebook once you do go live, to start to build a social profile and authority for your website. Do this also to generate social interaction. Even if they have email, some people will feel more comfortable contacting you via Facebook’s messaging system instead of via email. It makes you more accessible and provides new potential customers with social proof that you are a legitimate online store.
- Consider guest blogging where you write a piece and it is published on another website’s blog. If your content is relevant and of good quality, it will help drive additional traffic to the site where you have blogged, and it helps build credibility and link authority back to your site. When choosing a site to guest blog on consider factors like the relevancy of the content to your own customers and the potential to turn any of the blog’s audience into paying customers of your own, the title, content and other content on the blog where your article will appear. The more of a quality industry leader that the site is, the better the candidate it is to be a guest blog partner. Your business partners or a business in a related or complementary industry to your own is a great fit in this regard.
Search Engine reporting – Ozcart customers
As a courtesy for all Ozcart customers, we offer customer the opportunity to receive a free monthly search engine rankings report that is personalised to the specific search terms that you nominate – comparing you to your competitors. Also offered is a free monthly optimisation report, suggesting specific changes that you can make to your main page content to make your site more relevant to your search terms, relative to the sites that are already ranking for those terms. This also includes analysis of the links pointing back to your site from other sites (but please see the note about links above).
The cart also includes the ability to use tools like Google Analytics to set your own marketing objectives and monitor traffic from mobile and desktop visitors.
If you are selling to your predominantly local market (especially if you are offering local pick up in your store), then don’t discount the value of registering your location with Google so it comes up in searches for the products that you sell in your local area.
SEO is an ongoing part of your marketing
SEO is an ongoing and essential part of your marketing, not something you can totally outsource to a third-party and forget about, or something that you can simply do once. With good planning it’s possible that you can use SEO to drive additional traffic to your site and convert more of the site’s visitors into active paying customers.