01 Mar Getting started with shopping cart SEO
How do you get your new online shop to rank in the search engines?
When your site is all built and ready to go, how will you get traffic to your live website? A lot has been written about marketing your website to show up in search engines but with many recent changes in the way that search engines work, a lot of it is now out of date. What is relevant can be very technically heavy. So if you’re a non technical business owner who is opening an online shop, where do you start getting your online shop ranking in the search engines?
Make SEO part of your overall marketing
Marketing your website to the search engines is known as Search Engine Optimisation in technical-speak, and is often just called “SEO”. Unlike traditional advertising where placements in a publication is determined on how much you are prepared to pay, search engine marketing can be quite different. Search engines use a number of indicators to determine what websites to show first for a particular search phrase and there is no way you can spend more on any one thing to give you an instant boost. The so called “SEO tricks” that you may read about on some forum or SEO company websites can be merely ways to take advantage of loop holes in the ranking formulas used by the search engines like Google. Bing, Google and the other search engines work hard to plug these kinds of ranking anomalies and so they cannot be relied on for any kind of long term ranking results. Using these techniques is called “Black Hat SEO” and are not recommended as they will hurt you in the long run in every case.
What you need to do is include search engine marketing as part of the overall marketing plan for your business.
Optimising your site to rank well on a particular search phrase is something that will generally take some time to do, and the more competitive the industry the longer it will take.
Understanding your customers
When you’re trying to get your online shop to rank in the search engines, it’s important to choose the right thing to optimise on. To do this successfully you need to really understand the specific customers who will come to your website and actually buy from you. The most popular search term to find your website might end up not being the term that attracts paying customers.
You need to try and get inside the head of your target customer in a similar way to how a criminal profiler tries to get inside the head of their fugitive. Understand why they would want to buy the product that you buy. Understand what their buying criteria will be. Think like they do. What are the most important factors to them? For example, how important is service versus price? how much choice do they have? how complicated is it to understand the product? what are the things that would put them off buying from someone? what are the specific steps that these buyers go about in deciding who to buy from and where?
Once you have determined your buyer types and what motivates them to buy, try to sum up each group in one descriptive sentence. Doing this for all of the customer groups will really help you understand the main drivers of your customer and understand what they might be searching for at the time they want to buy.
You can then use tools like Google’s keyword tool to check the number of searches for the words and phrases you are particularly interested in so that you can work out the main phrases that you want to focus your shop website on. For details on how to do this, see our guide on using Google’s Keyword tool to research search phrases for your store.
Once you get down to the business of implementing search engine marketing for your website, your focus will need to be in two main areas:
- Your content (On-page optimisation) – this is all about the content and structure of your site. The titles you use for your products, the alternative titles you use for your product photos (called “alt-tags” in search engine marketing speak), the descriptions you write for search engines (“meta-descriptions”), the descriptions you write into the product that your customers can see, the category titles and structures, are all important for search engines in determining how to rank websites.
Balancing search engines and people – your store is about selling – The point of your shopping cart website is to sell products, so when optimising for search engines you need to balance presentation and clarity for customers with the technical needs for SEO. A big mistake that people make starting out is that they forget that sites need to be created for people as well. Otherwise it’s pointless getting search engine rankings. Nobody will buy from you if they can’t find things in your site that they want.
- Links to your website (Off-page optimisation) – this is essentially about the popularity of your website across the Internet (and specifically in places that the search engines already consider authorities on the subject matter for your site). So this might be amongst advocacy groups for your customers, industry related forums for complicated products like machinery or electronics.
When working with SEO companies or freelance workers they will often focus on the on-page elements as these are the easiest to identify and provide proof that they did the work. They’re important too – you can’t build incoming profile if your house is not in order first. But you should try not to get bogged down with tiny details – ask yourself (especially if you’re paying for their services) what aspects will give you the most value for your money?
You should not overlook the importance of off-page optimisation in your marketing strategy. Like in an election campaign, you don’t win without any votes. Not all votes are created equal however, so it’s important to get the right votes. Don’t be fooled by seemingly glorious offers to get listed in hundreds of directories or get x-number of back links because you might be buying low quality links that aren’t valued by Google or Bing at all. The best links are the ones that have the highest authority – so news websites, industry forums, etc rank better than random directories somewhere in Asia.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
There are a huge number of factors that can affect your search engine rankings, but as a new business starting out it’s important not to focus too much of your energy on areas that will have only marginal (if any) gain. Too many businesses focus on small things that Google doesn’t value that much any more. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to improve every aspect of your site but some areas will give you better gains than others.
If you are an Ozcart customer sign up for our free monthly search engine marketing reports which will be personalised to the specific search words that you want to rank on, and be relative to the actual competitors who you compete against. These reports contain a wealth of information and practical steps that you can take towards optimising your website – like whether you are over or under emphasising titles for example.