If you’re running an e-commerce website, then you’ve got competition. At last count, there were more than 20 million e-commerce sites in operation around the globe. Every one of those websites has the same goal – stand out, attract traffic and pick up conversions in the process.
With millions of sites crowding the online picture, it’s never been more important to pursue best e-commerce practices when developing and marketing a website. That’s what we’re going to go over, along with some tips to help Google find and rank your e-commerce site.
What is an e-commerce website?
We’re going to be talking about e-commerce websites here, so let’s get the definition straight. Fortunately, it’s an easy concept to understand. E-commerce sites are those focused on selling a product or service to clients (other businesses or consumers), using a set of tools that make the process as simple and efficient as possible.
An e-commerce website should provide the following functionality:
- Allow users to select and add products to their shopping cart.
- Securely process orders and payments.
- Manage shipping and provide shipping details to the user.
- Provide customer service to users.
There are additional functions that e-commerce sites can perform. For example, an e-commerce site may allow people to create a profile, save previous order details for one-click ordering or let buyers redeem discount codes.
In general, though, if your website sells a product or service, and it allows users to do this using a shopping cart and payment portal – you’ve got an e-commerce site.
To support a successful e-commerce site, you need the right platform
Now that we’ve defined e-commerce, what does an effective e-commerce site look like? It looks like one built on WordPress. Anything else will hold your site back.
There are tons of website creation platforms out there for business owners. Pretty much all of them make money by convincing business owners to use their platform. That means they’ll make big proclamations about how SEO “friendly” their site is or how easy it is to get started.
Here’s the problem: Almost every single site creation platform out there is poorly optimized for Google-centric SEO. If you’re using Shopify, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace or any other popular site creation platform, your site is already facing serious SEO headwinds.
WordPress sites now blanket more than a third of the internet, and it’s the leading platform for e-commerce websites, too. Because WordPress is so ubiquitous, Google works hard to understand how WordPress websites are built and designed. Google’s familiarity with WordPress gives WordPress sites a major crawling and indexing advantage, which means better overall ranking potential.
In summary, Google prefers WordPress sites because it can understand them better. If you’re using any other platform, you’re making it that much harder for Google to figure out what your business does and what it sells.
Choose organic when it comes to website traffic
So search engines understand and rank WordPress websites better. So what? Adwords work with Wix or Shopify sites and you can get traffic that way.
It’s true that Adwords can pull additional traffic toward sites built in most platforms, but you’re paying for that traffic. And if your site is operating in a competitive space with competitive keywords to fight for, your ad costs can be eye-popping. We’re talking thousands of dollars every month to sustain traffic flow to your site. Even worse, your pay-per-click (PPC) expenses can, and likely will, change from month to month depending on how your ads do. It’s difficult to budget for this.
That’s why digital marketing professionals prioritize organic search traffic for their clients.
What is organic traffic and why is it valuable?
Organic traffic is traffic that arrives to your site without clicking an ad. You don’t pay to attract them, in other words. Organic listings sit under the paid spots on Google’s SERPs, and top organic listings occupy some of the most valuable digital real estate on the web.
In practice, generating organic traffic means building and maintaining a website according to best SEO practices. Producing strong content and maximizing page upload speeds are two examples.
Here’s why you want organic traffic to be at the forefront of your digital marketing strategy:
- Again, it’s free – Organic traffic is free traffic. Sure, you have to spend time on producing content and optimizing your site, or pay someone to do that. However, once you’re ranking well, you don’t have to spend extra for the traffic that clicks on one of your links featured on a Google SERP. If your excellent ranking earns you an extra 10,000 visits a month, you’ll pay the same as if you were getting only an extra 10 visits a month. That’s a big difference compared to PPC and Adwords campaigns.
- It’s also durable – The great thing about organic listings is that once you’re in a top spot, you’re in a top spot as long as you maintain your SEO efforts. You don’t have to worry about other sites outcompeting you for valuable keyword phrases. You don’t have to worry about budget-tightening shutting off your traffic.
Organic listings are far more durable than ad-fueled SEO for these reasons, so even if your business does go through a downturn, you can still lean on your organic traffic.
- It builds credibility – We’ve all been using search engines long enough to know the drill. Google and others place the paid spots first and the organic listings next. Knowing this, a lot of users skip right past the paid spots and go straight to the organic listings. Why?
People know that just because a company can pay for a top spot, that doesn’t mean that company deserves that top spot. But a business that’s landed a top organic listing? People know that there’s a good reason for that, and that means a credibility bonus.
Seven ways to boost your e-commerce site up the Google SERPs
Organic traffic is the best kind of traffic, then, but how can your e-commerce site earn more of it? By adopting the same digital marketing and SEO tactics that work for most other websites. Of course, there’s no such thing as a simple digital marketing playbook, but if you’re trying to make an immediate impact on your site’s traffic, then these four strategies will improve your chances:
Organize your category, subcategory and product pages into a directory format on your home page –When designing an e-commerce site, the first thing to do is visualize your product and service offerings as a hierarchy. In other words, can you group your products or services into certain categories? For example, an apparel company may categorize their products into “winter wear” and “summer wear” categories. A plumber may categorize their services into residential and commercial buckets. Each of these categories gets its own page that you’re linking to from a directory-like main page.
Ideally, under each of these categories you would have several subcategories that you can also link to, so you’re essentially building a hierarchy here. For instance, that apparel company may have “winter jackets” and “winter shoes” as subcategories under the “winter wear” category. That plumber could list “commercial plumbing installation” and “commercial plumbing inspections” as subcategories under the top commercial services category.
You can then build you product pages off of the subcategory pages, or off the main category pages if you’re only going one layer deep with your hierarchy.
Why this directory-like and hierarchical format? First, this approach is easy for users to understand and it gets them to where they want to go quickly. Second, this approach makes it much easier for Google to understand how your website is organized. If Google understands your website, it will be more likely to rank it.
Ensure there is keyword-rich content on each of these pages –At every level of your hierarchy, whether it’s a category, subcategory or product page, there should be keyword-rich content there to greet the user. The more content, the better, as long as it’s written well and not duplicated across multiple pages. Google hates duplicated content.
If your content is of good quality and if it’s keyword-rich, this will also provide Google with important clues about what your site is about. Even better, if the content on your category, subcategory and product pages is good enough, Google may rank those pages for relevant queries.
Back to the apparel company example. If the content on its “winter wear” category page is strong enough, then when users search for “winter wear” on Google, they may see that category page come up instead of the company’s home page. You’re getting the user exactly where they’re most likely to make a purchase.
Build nav menus for both the user and Google –Google uses your navigation menus as another hint as to what your website offers. However, what Google wants to see in your nav and what users want to see in your nav may be two different things. So, why not both? Give users their product menu and Google something else.
There’s no harm in creating a secondary nav on your site’s pages, one that links to the content on your website. Now, users may not care about this menu – they’re likely here for the products, after all – but Google will find this second nav menu and use it to better crawl and index your website. It’s essential that Google’s spiders don’t get “trapped” while crawling through your site. Offering those spiders a navigational path to your site’s content ensures those pages are discovered and reinforcing your content signals to Google.
Add alt text to your images to land on Google’s image search –When you add images to your website, you can easily change the file’s name and put some information in about the image. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s worth it.
That’s because Google uses that information, the alt text, to understand what the image is about. Remember, Google’s spiders don’t have eyes. They don’t process images visually like we do – at least not yet. They need that alt text to make sense of an image.
And if you do add in alt text, Google may feature that image on its image search, which provides another avenue for organic traffic to reach your site.
Broken links are unacceptable, so redirect or promote a similar product instead –Broken links will put a big dent in your company’s trustworthiness. If potential customers hit a dead end on your website, they may wonder about your company’s attention to detail or professionalism. A lot of these broken links are due to product pages that are no longer relevant, because the product is no longer offered.
You don’t want broken links hanging out there, though, so tie up those dead ends with at least a 301 redirect. Even better, if you have a product page for a product no longer available, state that on the intact product page and link to a similar product offering. That way, you avoid issues with dead links and you send that user over to a product they’re likely to be interested in. It keeps the conversion funnel going.
Minimize user choice with your product listings –The more choices you give a customer, the harder it will be for them to make a choice. The psychological research into this behavior is conclusive.
If you want to prevent users from getting overwhelmed, confused and therefore hesitant about making a purchase, don’t hit them with too many choices. At each level of your site’s hierarchy, users shouldn’t have more than three or four choices on how to proceed.
If you haven’t developed a strategy for picking up customer reviews, do that now –Google is putting increasing emphasis on customer reviews because users really want to see those. More than 90 percent of online shoppers will check reviews before making a purchase, so users want them. Google considers recent customer reviews a good sign for freshness and credibility, so search engines want them too.
That means your e-commerce website needs a way to pick up customer reviews. There are strategies here, including tools that can be used to request reviews from users. You could also incentivize users into leaving a review, such as offering a future discount.
However you plan on doing it, you need to plan on doing it.
The e-commerce competition is fierce, but your site can succeed with the right strategies
There are many more things you can do to your e-commerce website to improve its ability to pull in traffic and convert. This list is a good start, though, that every business owner should aim for if they’re also aiming for online success.
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