Optimizing your e-commerce website for search is a must to reach the widest possible audience and grow sales.

E-commerce has become a retail landscape mainstay. In Canada, which has grown into the world’s ninth largest market for e-commerce, revenues are predicted to hit US$62 billion in 2023 and soar to US$94 billion by 2027.

The benefits of e-commerce are clear:

  • Low operating costs, thanks to relatively inexpensive solutions that help you sell online and integrate sales and inventory management between your online and physical storefronts.
  • The ability to affordably scale and expand your reach to new target audiences and markets.
  • A better customer experience, as people can shop where and when is most convenient for them.
  • A more holistic understanding of your target audience and customers. E-commerce provides the opportunity to use web analytics to track customer behaviour and purchases — information you can employ to improve digital marketing campaigns, personalize offers, and upsell and cross-sell to drive sales online and at your bricks-and-mortar locations.

The best way to build awareness about your e-commerce site and make sure it’s visible to the widest possible audience is to invest in search engine optimization (SEO) for e-commerce.

What is SEO for e-commerce?

SEO is a digital marketing strategy to help businesses improve their rankings on search engines’ unpaid or organic results pages. SEO for e-commerce is a strategy tailored to online retailers to help their online stores rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) to generate more organic traffic.

With more than 90 per cent of global searches happening on Google, it’s important for retailers to make sure they rank high on the world’s most popular search engine. This is what will get you noticed and open the door to more visitors and more sales.

Ensuring a great user experience is key for Google’s algorithm and the core of an effective SEO strategy. When it comes to SEO for e-commerce, this means providing customer-centric, easy-to-navigate web design, relevant product pages with high-quality product descriptions and images, user reviews, and a streamlined checkout process.

8 SEO for e-commerce best practices

1.   Create a better online user experience

Web accessibility is a foundational principle behind Google’s mission to “make a better web.” Start by simplifying your URL. State in plain language who you are and what people can expect when they visit your site. Make sure your e-commerce site is easy to navigate and designed to help customers – all customers – find and purchase the products they’re looking for. This means considering text size and colour contrast, providing logical internal links and HTML sitemaps, employing alternative text to explain images, and providing transcriptions of audio. Incorporate apps that allow customers to take a close look at products and chat with salespeople. Ensure your site is secure (i.e., hypertext transfer protocol secure, or HTTPS, is part of the URL), has no broken links, loads quickly in a web browser and is optimized for mobile. Google considers all these factors when ranking.

Fast fact: 85 per cent of online shoppers skip over unsecured sites.

Tip: Google reads sitemaps (i.e., files with links to the pages, videos and other files on your site and the relationships between them) to crawl your site more efficiently. Google’s automated webmaster tools can help you build a sitemap your users will find helpful.

2.   Use the keywords and phrases people are using to find your products

A strong keyword strategy is a key aspect of SEO and will help more people discover and visit your site. For maximum impact, use keywords that target potential customers who have indicated they are ready to buy based on the search terms they’re using. There are two types of SEO keywords:

  • Short-tail keywords are general in nature, include one or two keywords and are impactful because lots of people use them when searching online.
  • Long-tail keywords are much more specific and can consist of more than 10 words, which means they are used less.

Tip: There are several free online research tools to help you find the best keywords for your business, including Keyword Tool and Answer the Public. For a fee, Keywords Explorer by Ahrefs will both suggest and analyze the ranking and traffic potential of keywords.

3.   Be strategic with your title, header tags and meta descriptions

A title tag is the title of a web page. It can be found in the browser title bar and search engine results pages and plays a key role in organic search rankings.

Header or heading tags are distinct headings and subheadings that allow you to clearly organize blocks of copy on a web page, making it easy for users to find what they want.

Meta descriptions appear below your title tags and provide a short summary of what viewers can expect from your content.

To improve visibility on search engines:

  • make sure title tags are accurate, compelling, concise and feature your core keywords;
  • ensure your header structure is logical and in sequence; and
  • use keywords early in the meta description.

4.   Optimize your product pages

Write robust, clear and persuasive descriptions with relevant keywords on all product pages. Add impactful product images and product videos. Demonstration videos are a great way to help customers experience the product. Post product videos on YouTube and link back to your e-commerce site to increase your reach and generate traffic. Be sure to include testimonials and clear calls to action.

5.   Build your online presence and credibility with reviews

Generating positive reviews is a powerful way to improve your SEO ranking. Make it easy for customers to leave a review by creating and sharing a URL specific to your business they can click to share their thoughts on your products, customer service and brand. Include the link in emails, on receipts and at the end of chat exchanges.

Tip: Google recommends businesses reply to reviews because it shows you value your customers and their input.

What you should know about the importance of customer reviews:

  • 92 per cent of consumers read at least one review before making a purchase.
  • 88 per cent of consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • 97 per cent of consumers say customer reviews factor into their buying decisions.
  • Reviews for local businesses influence up to 10 per cent of the search ranking.

6.   Create and regularly share relevant, high-quality content across all your channels

Google’s algorithm is focused on finding and prioritizing high-quality, relevant content. Create content that searchers will find useful and engaging. Adding relevant audio, video and photos will help you boost your ranking even further. Post content across your social channels and encourage customers to comment, share product photos, post reviews and offer testimonials. This builds awareness and credibility and will help drive people to your e-commerce site.

Tip: Create content that answers your customers’ questions.

7.   Build your backlink profile

The number of links you have to other high-quality websites is one of the factors Google’s algorithm uses to determine its rankings. The more quality sites your site is connected to, the more likely you are to rank high on Google.

8.   Structure and optimize content to earn rich results and featured snippets

Rich results (also known as rich snippets) are often image-based, animated, interactive search listings designed to help users find what they need quickly. Google generates rich results based on the way a page is structured (i.e., broken down into component parts) and presents information. Applying HTML tags or schema markups that provide additional information about the content produces rich snippets. These can include product markup snippets and review snippets.

Another type of rich result is a featured snippet. This is a short excerpt of relevant, informative content on a web page that answers users’ questions. Featured snippets are made up of a concise excerpt, the page’s title tag or meta title and the URL. Google pulls these excerpts to help searchers find what they’re after and highlights them on SERPs by placing them ahead of the first organic result. With e-commerce on the rise, the online marketplace has never been more crowded. Employing an effective SEO for e-commerce strategy is essential to help your target audience find you.