On-page SEO can help your ecommerce website rank higher, engage users, drive more traffic, and convert more leads.
People typically start their product research with a search (usually on Google).
To make an informed buying decision, they usually:
Compare prices and features.
Search for tips and advice.
If your website isn’t visible when people are searching for the products you sell, you’re losing out on potential customers and profits.
Let’s examine some of the most significant concepts for improving on-page SEO and winning valuable organic traffic.
Keyword Research & Optimization
If you want people to find you, you have to use the right words.
If you want greater visibility in search engines, you have to use the right words.
Notice a pattern there?
You must optimize for both people and search engines.
You can choose from many useful keyword research tools.
For example, Ahrefs Keywords Explorer provides keyword suggestions for any business niche or search engine. You can monitor and manage the metrics that reflect how efficiently your keywords match user queries.
Some other free keyword research tools include Google Trends, Keyword Shitter, Google Correlate, Wordtracker Scout, and Google Search Console.
Here are a few tips on how to use the keywords you find:
Place the most important keywords in page titles, headers, subheaders, paragraph copy, product descriptions, image file names and alt text, meta title and description, and URLs. Use different variations.
Put all details (shipping costs, user reviews, return policy) on the product page. If the customer has to leave the page to look for extra information, they are more likely to leave the website altogether.
Provide users with real value by writing a helpful copy. Avoid unnecessary keyword stuffing, which can appear suspicious to Google.
Update your seasonal sales in a timely manner. Don’t disappoint your customers.
Remember that people, not Google, buy your services and products, so it is vital to optimizing your ecommerce pages to satisfy users’ intentions.
Start by evaluating your competitors’ websites. Your analysis can shed some light on which factors are worthy of attention. Look for:
Specific colors used in product page designs.
Characteristics of services/products.
The number and the appearance of calls to action, or CTAs.
To improve your on-page SEO, consider removing unavailable products from your index. When left in indexing for an extended period of time, these pages can eventually hurt your ranking.
You can arrange your work in the following manner:
Compare the number of indexed pages in Google Search Console with the number of indexed pages from your Sitemap, as well as the number of pages from Google organic.
Make sure that only pages from your Sitemap are open for Google indexing.
Ecommerce website owners often pay the most attention to product pages, landing pages, and the homepage of their websites, forgetting that category pages in their catalog should also look great because they directly influence conversions and search rankings.
If web users do not like the appearance of a category page, they will not even open product pages, and all your SEO efforts will be in vain.
Here are some key metrics to monitor in order to keep your category pages optimized:
Conversion rate: The ratio comparing the number of sales to the number of site visitors.
Engagement: The time visitors spend on the website’s pages. The longer people spend viewing your content, the more likely they are to buy something.
Click-through rate: Transitions from category pages to product pages.
Revenue per visitor: The ratio between your revenue and the number of visitors. This metric is even more important than the conversion rate. It is better to have fewer clients buying expensive items than many customers buying inexpensive products.
A decade ago, blogging was mainly perceived as an entertaining add-on, but today, this powerful tool is actively used by ecommerce companies.
A blog can help your ecommerce site deliver valuable information to customers, gain their loyalty, and build strong relationships. Also, by incorporating popular keywords into blog articles, you will attract more visits from search engines.
Here are some criteria for high-quality SEO optimized content:
It should include strong queries that bring your pages to the top of search rankings.
Your posts should answer questions that are frequently asked by your clients: how to use some products, how to choose among several similar services, how to extend the lifespan of items purchased, etc.
Apart from text, your articles should include vivid and captivating visuals to break up text segments and keep readers engaged.
Your articles should contain links to product and category pages in your catalog.
You should thoroughly proofread and edit your content for grammatical errors, as well as misleading or obsolete information.
Meta Title & Description
The meta title and description are short but meaningful elements. They give you favorable exposure in search engines because web users see them when choosing from among a number of similar sources.
Your meta title and description should briefly summarize the subject of the page in a way that makes people want to visit and further explore it.
Header tags (H1, H2, H3, and so on) are extremely important, since they make up the structure of your articles. When visiting blogs and product pages, web users first look at headers and, within a few seconds, decide whether the material is worthy of their attention.
Also, headers are valuable from an SEO standpoint. Google pays more attention to these tags than to the body text.
Keeping in mind these two nuances, compile H tags reflecting an idea of each textual segment and including relevant keywords.
You may run a top-notch advertising campaign and sing the praises of your company through all available information channels, but prospective clients will still approach your brand with a bit of skepticism, suspecting you are emphasizing your products’ advantages just to hit high sales.
It is another story when web users read unbiased testimonials on independent review platforms.
People tend to trust other consumers, and 91% of all consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family.
Posting a lot of positive reviews on your product pages can pay off big. Negative comments won’t have as much of an impact, as long as they are in the minority.
Let’s be honest, every product has some drawbacks, and the absence of dissatisfied buyers may seem suspicious.
Customer opinions are more helpful for on-page SEO than you may think.
Reviews provide original, fresh and consistent content that is helpful for both search engines and potential customers. Not to mention that reviews often contain relevant keywords, which come as an added bonus.
Encouraging users to leave reviews is more or less a marketing goal. As an SEO specialist, your task is to analyze existing comments and point out their quality and quantity.
The best way to gain more reviews is through well-thought-out email marketing and by making it easy and convenient for shoppers to leave reviews on your website.
Remember that content does not exist to simply fill empty spaces in your blog and catalog.
Content is your weapon for conquering the market. So make it powerful and striking.
You will never know if your content is truly effective if you don’t evaluate it.
Regular analysis and updating outdated information will help you achieve excellence.
Choose a specific point in time to revise all your published content. That could be once per month or once per year.
Monitor the behavior of your target audience in terms of comments, clicks, average reading time, and other metrics.
Analyze questions that customers frequently ask of your customer support team, and use them as topics for your blog articles.
Also, if you notice some interesting content solutions on your competitors’ websites, be sure to leverage them.
Image optimization is a smart investment of your time, as it has the potential to improve your page speed tremendously.
Here are the most crucial points to keep in mind when working with images:
Perfect format: PNG and GIF for large areas of solid colors, JPG for photos.
Compression: There is a variety of free or paid tools and online services to compress your images.
Aesthetics: Product images should be appealing, awaken positive emotions, and stimulate web users to place an order. It is best to enlist the support of a professional photographer to showcase your products from the best possible perspective.
SEO: Incorporate keywords into alt text, especially text surrounding images.
When working with video, pay attention to the following practices:
Use MP4 format, as it produces the smallest file size.
Select the optimal file size with your visitors’ screen size in mind.
Remember to compress all video files.
Reduce the length when possible.
Upload the video to YouTube, Vimeo, or other similar resources instead of serving them locally.
Checking and improving usability is an essential task for every SEO specialist.
Your job is to perform an accurate analysis, including the following factors:
How much time does the average user spend on the page?
What is the bounce rate?
How well do the CTAs perform?
Which pages are most visited?
Bring your results to the table, and get your marketing and development teams involved. Issues that negatively affect usability can be either technical or non-technical.
For instance, too many ads, poor copy, too big or too small fonts, buttons that don’t work, and other issues can dramatically affect usability.
Your task is to find those weak points and to delegate relevant tasks to other team members.
Below, we list the most important elements influencing user experience.
It should be easy for customers to find the information and products they need. Make sure your menu is convenient, intuitive, and provides the shortest pathways to different sections. When your website is pleasant and easy to use, visitors will stay there longer.
Internal linking should be well-thought-out for ecommerce sites.
There are three major reasons to use internal linking:
Simplify on-site navigation for users and offer them engaging content related to the information they are interested in.
Help search engines to crawl your site and identify the themes of your content.
Encourage users to stay longer on your site by visiting multiple product pages.
Let’s say a customer is not totally delighted with an item they clicked on in Google SERP. Will they leave the website immediately? Not necessarily, if you offer them links to other similar options. This can be your first step toward converting leads.
Internal linking also helps establish your own anchor text. This is an excellent way to ensure your top keywords will occupy the first positions in search.
The best takeaways for a proper internal linking strategy:
Add links where appropriate only.
Don’t place too many links with similar anchors.
Leverage the power of breadcrumbs to help users understand the site’s multi-level hierarchy for better navigation.
The most clickable links are those with engaging images. Take this into consideration, to keep users on your website.
When someone is ready to take action and buy something on your website, why not offer related products to increase your revenue?
For example, a furniture brand might offer a set of chairs to a customer buying a table. A hotel booking website might offer discounted deals on rental cars.
People appreciate helpful services that satisfy all their needs and make their lives easier.
FAQ / About Us / Contact pages
When optimizing your general pages, think about your FAQ content. People will go elsewhere if you are unable to answer their questions.
No matter how descriptive your products/services pages are, users will still have some questions. Having an informative FAQ page on your site can help fill the gap.
Make sure you cover all the basic information, including the website’s security measures, shipping options, and return policies. Providing this information can increase buyer trust and skyrocket your sales.
An engaging About Us section will add stars to your reputation. Tell prospective clients about your history, corporate values, and your company’s key merits. This lets visitors know they are dealing with a reputable business and not a fly-by-night website.
On your Contact page, list all the ways users can contact you, including phone and FAX numbers, email addresses, Skype, WhatsApp, social network pages, website contact forms and live chat.
Simplify the decision-making process for your buyers by providing a convenient product comparison tool.
It should collect and compare basic data from product descriptions and suggest the best options, based on customer needs.
Make videos showing how your products can be used. Choose a suitable format for your niche.
If you sell equipment, for example, provide installation and maintenance tips. Or if you sell cosmetics, you could create your own beauty vlog and publish makeup lessons.
Showing visitors how to use your products builds trust and boosts conversions.
Spare your customers from having to browse through your entire site to find what they need.
A prominently displayed search box helps them quickly find the product they are looking for.
Amazon is a good example. Their search box takes shoppers directly to the desired product category.
On-page SEO can help your business grow by leaps and bounds.
You can think of Tobiko as a kind of anti-Yelp. Launched in 2018 by Rich Skrenta, the restaurant app relies on data and expert reviews (rather than user reviews) to deliver a kind of curated, foodie-insider experience.
A new Rich Skrenta project. Skrenta is a search veteran with several startups behind him. He was one of the founders of DMOZ, a pioneering web directory that was widely used. Most recently Skrenta was the CEO of human-aided search engine Blekko, whose technology was sold to IBM Watson in roughly 2015.
At the highest level, both DMOZ and Blekko sought to combine human editors and search technology. Tobiko is similar; it uses machine learning, crawling and third-party editorial content to offer restaurant recommendations.
Betting on expert opinion. Tobiko is also seeking to build a community, and user input will likely factor into recommendations at some point. However, what’s interesting is that Skrenta has shunned user reviews in favor of “trusted expert reviews” (read: critics).
Those expert reviews are represented by a range of publisher logos on profile pages that, when clicked, take the user to reviews or articles about the particular restaurant on those sites. Where available, users can also book reservations. And the app can be personalized by engaging a menu of preferences. (Yelp recently launched broad, site-wide personalization itself.)
While Skrenta is taking something of a philosophical stand in avoiding user reviews, his approach also made the app easier to launch because expert content on third-party sites already existed. Community content takes much longer to reach critical mass. However, Tobiko also could have presented or “summarized” user reviews from third-party sites as Google does in knowledge panels, with TripAdvisor or Facebook for example.
Tobiko is free and currently appears to have no ads. The company also offers a subscription-based option that has additional features.
Why we should care. It’s too early to tell whether Tobiko will succeed, but it provocatively bucks conventional wisdom about the importance of user reviews in the restaurant vertical (although reading lots of expert reviews can be burdensome). As they have gained importance, reviews have become somewhat less reliable, with review fraud on the rise. Last month, Google disclosed an algorithm change that has resulted in a sharp decrease in rich review results showing in Search.
Putting aside gamesmanship and fraud, reviews have brought transparency to online shopping but can also make purchase decisions more time-consuming. It would be inaccurate to say there’s widespread “review fatigue,” but there’s anecdotal evidence supporting the simplicity of expert reviews in some cases. Influencer marketing can be seen as an interesting hybrid between user and expert reviews, though it’s also susceptible to manipulation.
About The Author
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.
When used creatively, XPaths can help improve the efficiency of auditing large websites. Consider this another tool in your SEO toolbelt.
There are endless types of information you can unlock with XPaths, which can be used in any category of online business.
Some popular ways to audit large sites with XPaths include:
In this guide, we’ll cover exactly how to perform these audits in detail.
What Are XPaths?
Simply put, XPath is a syntax that uses path expressions to navigate XML documents and identify specified elements.
This is used to find the exact location of any element on a page using the HTML DOM structure.
We can use XPaths to help extract bits of information such as H1 page titles, product descriptions on ecommerce sites, or really anything that’s available on a page.
While this may sound complex to many people, in practice, it’s actually quite easy!
How to Use XPaths in Screaming Frog
In this guide, we’ll be using Screaming Frog to scrape webpages.
Screaming Frog offers custom extraction methods, such as CSS selectors and XPaths.
It’s entirely possible to use other means to scrape webpages, such as Python. However, the Screaming Frog method requires far less coding knowledge.
(Note: I’m not in any way currently affiliated with Screaming Frog, but I highly recommend their software for web scraping.)
Step 1: Identify Your Data Point
Figure out what data point you want to extract.
For example, let’s pretend Search Engine Journal didn’t have author pages and you wanted to extract the author name for each article.
What you’ll do is:
Right-click on the author name.
In the dev tools elements panel, you will see your element already highlighted.
Right-click the highlighted HTML element and go to Copy and select Copy XPath.
At this point, your computer’s clipboard will have the desired XPath copied.
Step 2: Set up Custom Extraction
In this step, you will need to open Screaming Frog and set up the website you want to crawl. In this instance, I would enter the full Search Engine Journal URL.
Go to Configuration > Custom > Extraction
This will bring up the Custom Extraction configuration window. There are a lot of options here, but if you’re looking to simply extract text, match your configuration to the screenshot below.
Step 3: Run Crawl & Export
At this point, you should be all set to run your crawl. You’ll notice that your custom extraction is the second to last column on the right.
When analyzing crawls in bulk, it makes sense to export your crawl into an Excel format. This will allow you to apply a variety of filters, pivot tables, charts, and anything your heart desires.
3 Creative Ways XPaths Help Scale Your Audits
Now that we know how to run an XPath crawl, the possibilities are endless!
We have access to all of the answers, now we just need to find the right questions.
What are some aspects of your audit that could be automated?
Are there common elements in your content silos that can be extracted for auditing?
What are the most important elements on your pages?
The exact problems you’re trying to solve may vary by industry or site type. Below are some unique situations where XPaths can make your SEO life easier.
1. Using XPaths with Redirect Maps
Recently, I had to redesign a site that required a new URL structure. The former pages all had parameters as the URL slug instead of the page name.
This made creating a redirect map for hundreds of pages a complete nightmare!
So I thought to myself, “How can I easily identify each page at scale?”
After analyzing the various page templates, I came to the conclusion that the actual title of the page looked like an H1 but was actually just large paragraph text. This meant that I couldn’t just get the standard H1 data from Screaming Frog.
However, XPaths would allow me to copy the exact location for each page title and extract it in my web scraping report.
In this case I was able to extract the page title for all of the old URLs and match them with the new URLs through the VLOOKUP function in Excel. This automated most of the redirect map work for me.
With any automated work, you may have to perform some spot checking for accuracy.
2. Auditing Ecommerce Sites with XPaths
Sometimes, stakeholders will need product level audits on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes this covers just categories of products, but sometimes it may be the entire site.
Using the XPath extraction method we learned earlier in this article, we can extract all types of data including:
And much more
This can help identify products that may be lacking valuable information within your ecommerce site.
The cool thing about Screaming Frog is that you can extract multiple data points to stretch your audits even further.
3. Auditing Blogs with XPaths
This is a more common method for using XPaths. Screaming Frog allows you to set parameters to crawl specific subfolders of sites, such as blogs.
However, using XPaths, we can go beyond simple meta data and grab valuable insights to help identify content gap opportunities.
Categories & Tags
One of the most common ways SEO professionals use XPaths for blog auditing is scraping categories and tags.
This is important because it helps us group related blogs together, which can help us identify content cannibalization and gaps.
This is typically the first step in any blog audit.
This step is a bit more Excel-focused and advanced. How this works, is you set up an XPath extraction to pull the body copy out of each blog.
Fair warning, this may drastically increase your crawl time.
Whenever you export this crawl into Excel, you will get all of the body text in one cell. I highly recommend that you disable text wrapping, or your spreadsheet will look terrifying.
Next, in the column to the right of your extracted body copy, enter the following formula:
In this formula, A1 equals the cell of the body copy.
To scale your efforts, you can have your “keyword” equal the cell that contains your category or tag. However, you may consider adding multiple columns of keywords to get a more accurate and robust picture of your blogging performance.
Over the almost 16-years of covering search, specifically what Googlers have said in terms of SEO and ranking topics, I have seen my share of contradictory statements. Google’s ranking algorithms are complex, and the way one Googler explains something might sound contradictory to how another Googler talks about it. In reality, they are typically talking about different things or nuances.
Some of it is semantics, some of it is being literal in how one person might explain something while another person speaks figuratively. Some of it is being technically correct versus trying to dumb something down for general practitioners or even non-search marketers to understand. Some of it is that the algorithm can change over the years, so what was true then has evolved.
Does it matter if something is or is not a ranking factor? It can be easy to get wrapped up in details that end up being distractions. Ultimately, SEOs, webmasters, site owners, publishers and those that produce web pages need to care more about providing the best possible web site and web page for the topic. You do not want to chase algorithms and racing after what is or is not a ranking factor. Google’s stated aim is to rank the most relevant results to keep users happy and coming back to the search engine. How Google does that changes over time. It releases core updates, smaller algorithm updates, index updates and more all the time.
For SEOs, the goal is to make sure your pages offer the most authoritative and relevant content for the given query and can be accessed by search crawlers.
When it is and is not a ranking factor. An example of Googlers seeming to contradict themselves popped this week.
Gary Illyes from Google said at Pubcon Thursday that content accuracy is a ranking factor. That raised eyebrows because in past Google has seemed to say content accuracy is not a ranking factor. Last month Google’s Danny Sullivan said, “Machines can’t tell the ‘accuracy’ of content. Our systems rely instead on signals we find align with relevancy of topic and authority.” One could interpret that to mean that if Google cannot tell the accuracy of content, that it would be unable to use accuracy as a ranking factor.
Upon closer look at the context of Illyes comments this week, it’s clear he’s getting at the second part of Sullivan’s comment about using signals to understand “relevancy of topic and authority.” SEO Marie Haynes captured more of the context of Illyes’ comment.
Illyes was talking about YMYL (your money, your life) content. He added that Google goes through “great lengths to surface reputable and trustworthy sources.”
He didn’t outright say Google’s systems are able to tell if a piece of content is factually accurate or not. He implied Google uses multiple signals, like signals that determine reputations and trustworthiness, as a way to infer accuracy.
So is content accuracy a ranking factor? Yes and no. It depends if you are being technical, literal, figurative or explanatory. When I covered the different messaging around content accuracy on my personal site, Sullivan pointed out the difference, he said on Twitter “We don’t know if content is accurate” but “we do look for signals we believe align with that.”
It’s the same with whether there is an E-A-T score. Illyes said there is no E-A-T score. That is correct, technically. But Google has numerous algorithms and ranking signals it uses to figure out E-A-T as an overall theme. Sullivan said on Twitter, “Is E-A-T a ranking factor? Not if you mean there’s some technical thing like with speed that we can measure directly. We do use a variety of signals as a proxy to tell if content seems to match E-A-T as humans would assess it. In that regard, yeah, it’s a ranking factor.”
You can see the dual point Sullivan is making here.
The minutiae. When you have people like me, who for almost 16 years, analyze and scrutinize every word, tweet, blog post or video that Google produces, it can be hard for a Google representative to always convey the exact clear message at every point. Sometimes it is important to step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself, Why is this Googler saying this or not saying that?
Why we should care. It is important to look at long term goals, and as I said above, not chase the algorithm or specific ranking factors but focus on the ultimate goals of your business (money). Produce content and web pages that Google would be proud to rank at the top of the results for a given query and other sites will want to source and link to. And above all, do whatever you can to make the best possible site for users — beyond what your competitors produce.
About The Author
Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.