How to Build an SEO Strategy for E-commerce Websites in 2021

By Shea Lynch / December 9, 2020 / Search Engine Optimization

While paid search campaigns can drive the most short-term ROI for an e-commerce site, many online shops overlook the importance of search engines to help achieve long-term marketing success, too.

And, with 90% of e-commerce sites failing within the first 120 days, according to Marketingsignals.com, having a sound SEO strategy from the start is a great foundation for growth, consistency, and longevity.

Utilizing a good SEO strategy can drive stable and consistent monthly traffic to a brand’s website, regardless of budget, and can help businesses grow.

Creating an SEO strategy for ecommerce utilizing on-page and off-page optimizations to help improve the organic performance of an e-commerce site can be tough depending on the product(s) being sold but following these steps should help:

On-page optimizations refer to direct updates and improvements on each page of a website to help it rank higher organically in search engines.

Off-page optimizations, on the other hand, refer to marketing-related efforts that happen away from the website to further help raise rankings on search engines.

Combining both on-page and off-page optimizations will help to increase a site’s search market share for organic traffic.

Step 1: Keyword Research

Keyword research is by far the most important aspect of SEO to focus on first.

Understanding the intent of an audience can help structure and group products appropriately. This can also help increase the overall rankings for a website.

It will be difficult to outrank every e-commerce website for highly competitive keywords. But, understanding what competitors are ranking for and capturing important intent-driven keywords can help to define the niche.

It will then help in the process of drilling down specific on-page content.

For example, if a company sells pet supplies, ranking for “dog toy” might not be achievable right away.

But, looking into more intent-driven searches, there are likely searches related to “toys for large dogs” that could be ranked for by the brand website by creating category-level pages around product categories and/or writing content to support those categories and products.

screenshot of autofill keyword ideas on Amazon for a search of dog toys

Amazon is a good place to start keyword research. Search for products you are selling and making notes of the autofill suggestions (or use tools such as the Amazon Keyword Tool) is useful.

Be sure to put these keyword ideas in a spreadsheet for later.

Next, you’ll want to do some research into what your competitors are ranking for.

Google Search product keywords and see what websites are currently ranking for them. Use the results to get keyword ideas from their product categories and product pages.

There are also third-party SEO tools, such as SEMRush, that allow us to input competitor URLs in and get a list of ranking keywords in bulk, which will include highly competitive and long-tail keyword options.

Lastly, to wrap up Step 1 with all the keyword ideas gathered so far, you will need to find the search volume and competition.

Again, you can use tools like SEMRush to get the search volume and competition. While the competition metric is used by paid search marketers to plan budgets, SEO professionals use this metric to understand what keywords to capitalize on. Focusing on the “low-hanging fruit” — keywords with low competition and higher search volume — will allow marketers to understand the highly sought-after keywords for that industry while finding new long-tail keywords to fill in the gap.

Prioritize the low-hanging fruit by optimizing product categories around these searches or develop content around these keywords.

Doing so will help maximize organic visibility, while not wasting time on keywords that are too competitive for your niche.

Step 2: Use Keyword Research to Optimize Site Structure

Once target keywords are set, you can start to understand the intent of the audience and reflect that on your website.

This is where site structure plays an important role.

Getting it right the first time is imperative for success in organic search.

Parts of site structure include the URL structure for product categories and product pages as well as internal linking.

Having an optimized URL structure and internal linking not only helps search engines crawl your website, but it allows customers to navigate your website with ease.

The URL structure of your e-commerce website should be scalable and simple.

Since e-commerce websites contain thousands, if not tens of thousands, of products, categories, and pages, using keyword research can help prioritize top-performing or high-value products.

One of the biggest issues with e-commerce sites is duplicate or unnecessary category pages.

Category pages should be grouped together based on intent rather than the products themselves to avoid keyword cannibalization.

For example, if you sell outdoor clothing, the search trends of your users might indicate the need to create categories around outdoor activities or seasons, rather than the type of clothing.

This may relate more to your users who are looking for ski apparel rather than coats in general.

screenshot of product categories being organized based on activities on Eastern Mountain Sports

The goal is to reduce the amount of clicks it takes a user to get to the most important content on your site. If your product pages are buried and users must navigate through multiple category pages to find what they need, the website has failed in its core mission.

By forming a healthy site structure with user intent in mind, the internal linking of your brand’s site should achieve this goal quite easily.

Consolidate duplicate or unnecessary categories and decrease the number of clicks to deeper pages on your site through internal links and the use of breadcrumbs.

Your target audience and search engines alike will thank you.

Step 3: Invest Time in Adding Product Feeds to Google Merchant Center

Google used to direct retailers to utilize Product schema markup to help their product pages rank higher in Search and Images search.

But in Spring 2019, Google opened its Google Merchant Center to any retailer (free of cost), even if you are not running Shopping Ads through AdWords.

Google Merchant Center is a dashboard where retailers can upload their product feeds, which will filter in the organic Popular Products listings and Images search results. All you need to get started is an existing Google account and the ability to verify your website through Merchant Center.

Businesses still use Product schema to markup their product pages, as Google and other search engines will still use this markup to populate their SERPs.

Quality product pages will rank higher and should include long-form content, high-resolution images, and reviews. You can even import product reviews from other online marketplaces you use, such as Amazon.

For example, if you search “gas grills” on Bing, there are rich results that appear under certain listings. This can help increase click-through rates for these product pages.

screenshot of rich snippets of gas grill products in organic search on Bing

Step 4: Develop Content to Drive Additional Organic Traffic

Most B2C marketers are using content marketing as part of their SEO strategy.  

Since product and category pages can only rank for so many keywords, developing content around these products and their categories can help fill in the long-tail keyword gaps.

Writing content on your blog or resource pages can also earn backlinks naturally, which will increase the authority of your e-commerce site and increase ranking.

Learn more about the 10 pieces of content Sam Hollingsworth, VP of Digital Strategy wants you to become familiar with. These pieces of content can help your website earn links in a natural manner — not spam tactics.  

You can find many long-tail content ideas through your keyword research in Step 1.

Focus on needs-based search queries, specifically questions, and write hyper-focused content to drill down on meeting the individual needs of your audience.

Working with a Professional SEO Strategist

There is much more that encompasses a good SEO strategy for e-commerce websites than what is stated in this article.

But it can be quite cumbersome, especially if it isn’t your niche or expertise.

Having a marketing team working in your corner to fully optimize your online marketplace can make this a scalable and efficient endeavor.

For more information on strategic SEO services, contact us today!