There has been a lot of information recently about how important quality content is for a websites Search Engine Optimization, with a recent study by Backlinko saying that the average web page in Google's top 10 has 1,890 words.
Webmasters with ecommerce sites often wonder how to optimize sites that don't lend themselves to large volumes of content. Another challenge with ecommerce sites is how to generate backlinks, particularly if you're selling something that might not inspire the general public (for instance, selling a machine that helps process raw sewage, is not likely to get a lot of Facebook shares!)
Here are the main ways you can optimize ecommerce sites in order to build quality content and help generate links to your site.
Optimize categories, not products
With most ecommerce sites, other than a handful of best-selling products, the category pages are your landing pages (the pages that appear higher in the search results). These are therefore the pages you should spend more time optimizing and building links. One reason for this is that Google look at the internal link structure of a site and pages with the most internal links tend to rank better in the search results and these tend to be category pages.
To optimize your category pages, write a short description at the top of each category page and a longer one at the bottom of each page, so that there's plenty of text, but visitors aren't overwhelmed by having to scroll down past text before they actually see the products. Use a single h1 title tag to describe the products on the page and use bold, h2, or h3 tags for the actual product names. It also helps if your category page shows an image of each product and if you use varied ALT tags on these images.
Look for a niche
Let's say that you're a UK retailer and are optimizing a page about toy cars. It's very tempting to target a generic term like “cheap toy cars”, however, if you do your keyword research, you'll discover that actually only 70 people a month in the UK search for this term, plus there's likely more competition for such a generic term. You're better off targeting a phrase like “toy cars for toddlers” that 480 people a month search for and likely to have less competition.
There are plenty of keyword tools online, with Google Keyword Suggest being a popular one (this requires an AdWords account to use, but is still useful for SEO. Though keep in mind that the competition is only relevant to AdWords, not organic SEO, if you use this tool).
Even if you found a generic keyword with 50,000 monthly searches in the UK, you would still be better off targeting a niche, as there will be too much traffic for a new website to appear high for such a broad search term. Find the niche and build traffic from there.
301 redirect expired items
Ecommerce sites tend to have several pages with products that have expired. If you delete them, then you lose the benefit of any links that previously went to them, plus visitors who click them in the search results arrive at a Page not found page.
The best solution is to 301 redirect them to the Category page, or another relevant page on the site (don't simply redirect them all to the home page, as that won't be relevant enough). CMS systems like Drupal and WordPress provide easy ways to manage redirects.
If a product is out of stock, it's more appropriate to show other related products on the page instead perhaps configure your site so a block of other products appears above the main product whenever a page is out of stock.
Use visual content
The Backlinko study found that having at least one image on the page is one of the important factor to ranking high in search engines. Numerous studies have found that including images, videos and other visual content vastly enhances the effectiveness of a message. Ecommerce sites also lend themselves to visual content as you're likely to have plenty of photos of your products. For a useful guide on using visuals, I recommend Seven Atoms blog on ecommerce strategy.
Let your visitors add content for you!
Provided you review it before it goes live, product reviews are a great way of increasing the content on your product pages. The average review on Amazon is 582 characters long and reviews help give customers confidence that they're buying the right product. Sure, you might get some bad reviews and certain product lines won't sell, however you will sell more products and have better SEO as a consequence of allowing product reviews.
Target long-tail keywords with a blog
Adding a blog to your site (this should ideally be in a sub-folder of the same domain name and include a few cross links between the blog and your main ecommerce site) is a great way to target long-tail keywords. Long tail keywords are longer phrases that people might search to find a specific item, (e.g. “toy cars for toddlers with free UK delivery”). There's a huge variety of long-tail keywords, therefore, any one variant won't have a high monthly search volume, but overall it adds up to a significant amount.
The blog's purpose is not to sell the product directly (that's for the ecommerce part of your website), but to educate your customers so that they can make a more informed choice. Which toy cars are safe for toddlers? How fast do they go? Which brands will survive in the bath? Which are the most popular?
More technical products (e.g. mobile phones or laptops) particularly lend themselves to this SEO strategy. By writing an educational blog that tells visitors what different stats mean in an easy-to-understand, human way, it's more likely that visitors will stay on your site and place an order. It's also more likely that your blog pages will receive organic links.
More SEO Tips for 2016
Indigoextra recently compared the results of several SEO studies to try and identify the best SEO strategy in 2016, from an analysis of more than 1,000,000 search results and surveys of 7,900 marketing experts and this is a good resource for first tips on how to optimize a website.
This article also compares what SEO experts think is the best way to build links to a site, with the winner being via content marketing (adding useful content in the form of articles and infographics to other people’s blogs that then links back to yours). Having your own blog on an ecommerce website helps with a content marketing strategy, as it gives others something valuable to link to, rather than just asking them to link back to your shop front.
Daniel Clark is a blogger and works with Clickmatix, a social media marketing agency helping clients achieve their business goals through the help of the best social media marketing company. Follow him on twitter at @DanielClark123.