This article picks up right where The Beginner’s Guide to Ecommerce SEO left off. If you haven’t already read it, please be sure to do so before continuing on.
Here’s a quick refresher on steps one through three (hey, I know you’ve got a lot on your mind):
- Amazon Suggest and Google Suggest can be great keyword ideation tools.
- Use SEMrush to generate a list of keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you’re not.
- Choosing the right keywords comes down to volume, difficulty, relevancy and intent.
- Make sure your site structure is simple, but easy to scale as your store grows.
- Every page of your site should be as few clicks from your homepage as possible.
- Short, keyword-focused URLs are ideal.
- Reduce thin content pages with long product descriptions.
- Take advantage of Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords.
Without further ado, let’s dive straight into step four.
Step 4: Technical SEO for Ecommerce
Diving Deeper Into Site Structure and Site Architecture
We talked about site architecture a bit when we addressed site structure in step two of the beginner’s guide, but now it’s time to do a deeper dive.
John Doherty of Credo recommends starting by getting a clear picture of your current architecture:
John Doherty, Credo
"Crawl your website using Screaming Frog's SEO Spider or a similar tool of choice, then export the data and look at the Levels column to identify pages that are 5 or more levels from the homepage."
Here, you’re surfacing the pages that are far from your homepage. As we learned in step two, the more clicks away from your homepage a page gets, the less authority it has.
John Doherty, Credo
"These are the pages that you should build a strategy around to bring them higher up in your site's architecture. You still want to prioritize your site's categories and subcategories over these, but if you have too few categories/subcategories, you can build these out further using additional keyword research.
The goal with this strategy is to expand the number of categories and subcategories you have that target specific longer tail keyword phrases while at the same time bringing your specific products up in the architecture so that they can rank better as well."
When thinking about your site architecture, and particularly subcategories, you want to keep both SEO and user experience (UX) in mind. Remember, it’s not all about the bot overlords. It’s also about organizing your site in a way that makes sense for your human visitors.
Make sure any changes you make using John’s strategy appease both parties.
Tyler McConville of NAV43 continues:
Tyler McConville, NAV43
"When thinking of the best site architecture for your ecommerce store, try looking as if it were a big box retail where every product category silo is like an aisle. Place things where they make the most sense, and don't get too tied up in keywords and over-optimization."
Tyler suggests taking a step back to really understand the current architecture before making changes. “If you have an existing site,” he says, “use tools like Screaming Frog or Slickplan to visualize your website’s architecture. Take a good look, and identify any pages or categories that don't quite make sense where they’re currently located.”
It’s important to spend time purposefully thinking about how your site should be structured. Map out the current architecture and ask yourself:
- Am I taking advantage of my keyword research from step one?
- Are my most important pages a few clicks or less from the homepage?
- Which pages should be brought up? Conversely, which pages should be pushed down?
- Does this make sense for human visitors? Is it intuitive? Can they find what they want quickly?
- Does this make sense for SEO? Have I optimized my subcategories and properly indicated page importance?
If you skip this step, you’ll end up with a very messy architecture as you grow and scale.
See What’s Indexed
We talked about indexation in step two of the beginner’s guide as well. Aleyda showed us how to noindex or canonicalize pages to avoid thin content and duplicate content issues.
Troy Fawkes of Delta Growth encourages you to dive deep into what’s indexed and how:
Troy Fawkes, Delta Growth
"One of the most important aspects of technical SEO in general is indexation.
A million things can go wrong with your indexation, which is whether your page is in a search engine's database. Simpler, if your page isn't indexed, then it's never going to get visitors.
Google offers us a quick way to check if a page is indexed. Just take the URL of the page in question and add ‘cache:’ in front of it in your address bar. For example, try putting ‘cache:https://www.shopify.com/’ in your browser's address bar."
You should see a snapshot like this, if the page in question is indexed:
If the page is not indexed, you’ll see an error.
Now that you know how it works, you can try it out on all of your pages. That might be a bit overwhelming, depending on the size of your site, so Troy recommends focusing on three types of pages:
- Category Pages (e.g. Men's Shoes)
- Facet Pages (e.g. Nike Men's Shoes)
- Product Pages (e.g. Nike Free RN 2017 Running Shoes)
For example, here’s an Amazon category page:
And an Amazon facet page:
What’s being indexed is important, but so is how it displays. According to Troy, rich snippets can help you stand out from the search competition and make the buyer’s decision easier:
Troy Fawkes, Delta Growth
"In ecommerce, we use existing code to provide search engines and users with valuable information. The most valuable of which is Review Schema, or specifically, Aggregate Rating.
If you do a search for ‘Nike Men's Free RN’, you'll see star ratings everywhere. The listings generally have a rating number (4.2) or percentage (92%), followed by the number of reviews or votes."
Take a look for yourself:
How to Run a Technical SEO Audit for Ecommerce
Most SEO tools have technical SEO audit functionality. Since we used SEMrush in the beginner’s guide, we’ll continue using it for the technical audit as well.
Open SEMrush and choose “SEO Toolkit” from the drop-down list, and then select “On Page & Tech SEO”:
Click “Go to Site Audit”:
Enter how many pages you’d like to include in the audit and set a schedule (you can do this one time or re-run the audit on a regular basis). You’ll end up with a report like this:
Select the “Issues” tab of the report to find more detailed error, warning and notice information:
Some common problems, in addition to thin content, duplicate content and too much content, which Aleyda already covered in the beginner’s guide, are:
- Slow Site Speed: It’s been known for quite some time now that slow site speeds are punished by search engines. Needless to say, your human visitors don’t appreciate long wait times, either. The culprit is usually large product photo files, so consider compressing them before adding them to your site.
- 404s and 500s: A 404 error is a “page not found” error. You’ve likely come across a few. A 500 error is an “internal service error”, which are perhaps less common. These errors will reveal themselves in a technical SEO audit, but you can use Google Search Console to check for them regularly, according to Zain Husain of Staples:
Zain Husain, Staples
"One habit you want to incorporate is checking your Google Search Console for any errors such as 404s or even 500s. You want to show Google that you have a ‘clean’ house. You can clean up by checking for server errors in two easy ways.
The easiest way is to ensure you have Google Search Console hooked up to your site. Then click on your Crawl Errors, download the CSV and sort. You'll want to redirect pages that have traffic or authority to the most relevant page. Or you can even redirect them to a new page that shows alternate products for the unavailable product.
The second way is using a crawling tool like Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl to look at server errors. I would then use the same process of redirecting the 404s to a relevant page or create a new page to redirect them to alternate products."
An entirely new article could be written on redirection, so if you’re unfamiliar, allow Moz to take you through the process.
Step 5: Link Building for Ecommerce
The more high quality sites link to your site, the better. Think of link building as the SEO version of word of mouth.
While word of mouth and link building will happen organically, you can help expedite the process and amplify the results yourself.
Value Is Everything
If you want other sites to link to your site, you need to provide them with some sort of value. If linking to your site doesn’t improve their site, it’s not going to happen. You can send dozens of emails, but you won’t get the ROI you’re hoping for.
People will only link to your site if it improves their site.
It sounds simple, but this cardinal rule is broken hundreds, if not thousands, of times a day. Your goal is not to build links, your goal is to create products and content worth linking to.
Ecommerce vs. Everybody
The link building process changes based on a number of factors. What works and what doesn’t depends on your business, your vertical, and your products. A content marketer and an ecommerce store owner, for example, do not go about link building the same way.
Marc Nashaat, a digital PR and SEO consultant, explains why link building is different for ecommerce sites:
Marc Nashaat, PR & SEO Consultant
"One of the major differences between link building for ecommerce and a traditional website is that the ‘authority’ of individual pages is far more important than the authority of the website in general. This is especially true for a merchant with a diverse range of products.
If you’re running an ecommerce site, you want to ensure that you focus on link building that targets not just your homepage, but your product, category and manufacturer pages.
If your site’s architecture is optimized, any value from links built to these parent-pages will flow through to their subpages, which is great for SEO."
The ROI is higher for links directly to your product and category pages, but getting someone to link to a product or category page is often more difficult than getting someone to link to a content resource.
So, how do you go about the process in ecommerce, specifically? There are two easy ways to get started:
- Take advantage of outdated and moved resources.
- Take back your brand mentions.
Idea 1: Take Advantage of Outdated and Moved Resources
What happens when someone in your industry goes out of business? Thousands of new backlink opportunities are created.
Why? Because chances are that competitor acquired backlinks. Now all of those sites linking to your out of business competitor need to link somewhere else, which creates an opportunity for you.
So, how do you find competitors that have gone out of business? It’s easier than you think.
- Check the Auctions: Most sites that sell domains, like GoDaddy, offer expiry auctions. You can use the advanced search functionality to isolate valuable domains (i.e. domains with lots of backlinks) in your industry or vertical that are expiring (or already expired).
- Check the News: It sounds simple because it is! Monitor sites, like Google News, for bankruptcy and out of business articles in your industry.
Once you have a list of domains that are out of date or quickly becoming out of date, you need to find the sites that link to them. For that, we’ll use another SEO tool, Ahrefs.
- Use “Site explorer” and enter the URL of the expired domain or closed business.
- Navigate to “Backlinks” in the left column.
- Export the backlinks for the expired domain or closed business.
Now you have a list of sites that are linking to a no-longer-existent competitor or an expired domain. Wouldn’t it be valuable to them if you offered a very-much-existent replacement for their dead (or soon to be dead) link?
All you have to do is reach out and let them know how you can be of service. The email you send can be incredibly straightforward.
Fun Fact: I used to work in PR and “Hey NAME! Got a sec…?” was my top performing cold outreach subject line for three years running. That said, please test it! When you find something that works better, let me know in the comments.
Idea 2: Take Back Your Brand Mentions
Dat To at Great-West Life offers a step-by-step solution for turning brand mentions into backlink opportunities:
Dat To, Great-West Life
"The purpose of this off-page SEO tactic is to find opportunities where other websites have mentioned your products, brand name or website by name, but have not linked to your site.
1. I would suggest taking the different ways people might type your business name into Google.
So, let's say your website domain is ‘elleskincare.com’ and people refer to your business as ‘Elle Skincare’, ‘ElleCare’, or ‘Elle Products’.
2. Take each name and put it into Google along with the fourth variation of ‘elleskincare.com’.
For each of your four searches, there are scraping extensions for the Chrome browser, like ‘Oscraper’, which will put all the search results into a text file so you don't waste any time clicking each one and copying it into a spreadsheet.
Repeat the brainstorming of names if you have well-known product names or any other names associated with your business. For example, ‘Elle Lip Gloss’, ‘ElleCare Beauty Start Kit’, ‘Elle Facial Cleanser’, etc.
3. Then visit the links that are not owned by your company and see if the site mentioning your business has linked to your site or not.
4. Mark down the sites that mentioned your brand and did not link to your site in your trusty spreadsheet.
5. Create a simple, friendly request email template for them to help you do this.
Make sure that you have the exact URL of the web page, the exact URL that you want them to link to. It's the best to get a link to a product page that is related to the content on their page that mentions your brand. If they won’t comply with linking to a relevant product page, your homepage is less desirable, but will work.
6. Go to each company's site marked 'not linked' and find contact information. To make sure your request goes to the right person, it may be better to check their team page or sort through their employees on LinkedIn.
7. Message them using your template. Put their name, be friendly, not spammy.
8. Follow up every 3-4 days until they tell you 'yes' or 'no'.
9. Repeat with the next brand mention."
For the best results, be sure to test different variations of your request email template.
You may also see a change in the number and quality of the responses you receive depending on who you reach out to at the company. For example, you might find that more managers respond vs. directors (or vice versa).
The Next Level
From beginner to intermediate in about 10 minutes? Not bad, my friend. Congratulations!
There’s still so much left to explore when it comes to SEO for ecommerce sites, though. The deeper we dive, the more complex this world will get.
A more advanced SEO guide is in the works, but in the meantime, put pen to paper. Take what you’ve learned in steps one through five and start experimenting.
If you have any questions about what you’ve read so far or if you run into any roadblocks during implementation, leave a comment below. I’ll try my best to help!