Blog

11 Benefits of SEO for eCommerce Brands

Published on: 
December 7, 2021
Updated on: 
April 29, 2022
by
Tyler Tafelsky
Tyler Tafelsky

First things first, let's call out the obvious elephant in the room: the world of eCommerce SEO is incredibly saturated and fiercely competitive. 

It’s a jungle! 

Brands and retailers dump big bucks into their SEO, making it an uphill battle in nearly any market. For most, the feasibility of ranking for any sort of high-volume, short-tail product query is a distant long-shot.

But that doesn't mean it’s unattainable territory, nor does it discount the importance of SEO for any business selling online. The crux is deploying the right strategic blend that delivers the greatest benefits and returns (and ideally, a ton of momentum). 

Going beyond the basics, this post observes the limitless benefits that a sound SEO strategy can bring. We also outline several creative and out-of-the-box tips to help recalibrate the way you think about SEO for eCommerce. But first, the benefits.

1.  Start the Conversation, Organically

Let's get down to brass tacks for a hot minute. If you haven't yet figured it out, let it be known that SEO is by and large the most powerful form of marketing available (we’re not biased or anything...) 

It's the ultra-endurance workhouse in the marketing mix. It's the biggest game-changer. But when it comes to eCommerce, SEO is also one of the most difficult channels to figure out,  not to mention the one that requires patience… 

Search engine users are actively looking for particular products, answers, and guidance that you have to offer. Getting in front of those users with the right message is the best conversation starter for your business, and it's a connection that forms completely organically. 

Sure, it may be a long-term effort ranking for short-tail product keywords that see 5-figure monthly searches. But the dynamics of eCommerce SEO are changing, and even small-to-medium sized players can leverage creative SEO strategies that generate traction (e.g. like showing up in Featured Snippets, answer boxes, popular products, etc.)

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "how to choose a comforter" with The Company Store claiming the featured snippet
Featured snippet example

By melding product page SEO, eCommerce content strategy, and cross-channel marketing efforts, the growth potential is limitless. Organic traffic delivers some of the highest conversion rates, not to mention the loyalty and repeat buyers. It’s inherently unobtrusive, legitimate, and growth-enabling.  

2.  Create Cross-Channel Symbiosis

One of the most profound (if not the most profound) benefits of having SEO in your eCommerce marketing mix is the cross-channel symbiosis that can occur. In simple terms, the work you put into one channel can apply to several others. 

Think about the type of content that gets hype on social media or click-throughs via email, but also gains traction with SEO. It’s a natural order and collaboration that intuitively empowers each channel. Like how Rapha, a bougie cycling apparel brand, stacks their email, social, and SEO. 

Screenshot of 2 products - Gilets - from Rapha
Rapha's products benefit from a cross-channel promotional strategy

Not only do they push their Brevet-series “insulated gilet” (essentially an all-weather cycling vest) across email and social media when the temperature dips in October, but they’ve done the SEO due diligence on the gilet’s product page.

Screenshot of a post from Rapha's instagram account featuring products in use
Rapha's Instagram Account

The foundation for this symbiosis is tailoring strategies (inspired by SEO/keyword research/search trends) that seamlessly meld efforts in content marketing, SEO, email marketing, social media, and paid media. It could be videos, graphics, photos, long-form write-ups, or all the above. The idea is to harness all relevant channels as one big-picture campaign while supporting the long-term growth that SEO can bring.

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "insulated gilet" with Shopping Ads and Rapha's organic listing
Oh look, Rapha is ranking in Google Search for these same products!

3. Put UGC & Reviews Work 

When it comes to SEO, UGC (user-generated content) can add a lot of fuel to the fire. It’s customers writing reviews, submitting photos, or telling their life stories. And it can make important pages on your site deeper, more authentic, engaging, and fresh. 

Screenshot of product ratings and reviews
Ratings & reviews (source: backcountry.com) make for great UGC

But as with all content, there are challenges to getting the most of UGC. Identifying objectives and desired outcomes, and deploying the right set of systems is key. 

From security and protecting your brand to auto-building SEO fields and using your UGC imagination, our own Tory Gray scribed a Twitter thread on the topic, and it’s definitely worth the short and entertaining read.

4. Future-Proof Your Tech Stack

The chosen tech stack (or combination of platforms, programming languages, applications, frameworks, tools, etc.) used to develop an eComm store or mobile app can have major implications (and sometimes limitations) when it comes to SEO. 

On the flip side, prioritizing SEO and related project specifics can help narrow your decisions, thereby building a more sustainable, future-proof tech stack. Among key considerations include:

  • Server ecosystem, databases, and storage, and how they contribute to website performance and page speed.
  • Programming language familiarity - like Ruby, Java, Python, Scala, PHP, and what makes the most sense for the site & your team.
  • CMS platform, like Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Magento, etc., and which offers the best foundation for SEO - and your other business needs.
  • Third-party service integration, for tools like CRMs, email marketing software, payment gateways, delivery modules, analytics tools, etc.

There’s a lot that goes into eCommerce tech stack selection. But SEO can help narrow options when making big decisions - and it should certainly be a key stakeholder in that decision. Choosing a platform without considering SEO can be a big miss, especially if you're already benefiting from SEO. It's often the case when teams with newly platformed sites panic, because they've missed the boat to better SEO and it's too late to back track. 

For most brands operating an eCommerce store, it’s not feasible to start from scratch. Adopting new technologies often involve additional considerations, like compatibility with existing systems, available support and resources on hand, and overall scalability. 

5. Optimized User Experience

Among the most harmonious relationships is the one between SEO and UX. Much of the same data and planning that instructs SEO also translates into better user experiences, like: 

  • Choosing which pages or blog posts to create - i.e., what topics to write about and what questions will you answer for your users
  • Leveraging Information Architecture to organize content
  • Determining how pages are linked together and how users can easily navigate the journey through your site
  • Designing page layouts and content structure
  • Optimizing for page speed, engagement, and conversion
  • Writing copy that grabs and inspires users

Providing seamless experiences will subsequently yield stronger conversions. But there are a lot of things you have to get right to make it work. Delving into keyword research, search trends, and competitors are a few good places to start.  

Perhaps you’ll find that product pages aren’t the best assets driving your SEO strategy. Maybe your competitive edge is in-depth review posts and great photography. Or maybe it’s YouTube videos. How about all of the above? Avoid thinking one-dimensionally and take a zoomed-out look at all the possibilities to serve up stronger user experiences.

6. Lower Customer Acquisition Cost

While it's easy to fixate on performance metrics like Conversion Rate and Cost Per Acquisition, one of the more important, big-picture financial metrics is Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Typically calculated across a given timeframe for monthly, quarterly, or annual reporting, CAC can provide different perspectives behind what's working and what isn't. 

For retailers, lowering CAC is a constant, never-ending battle. With so much money spent on paid media and advertising to acquire customers, CAC can help eCommerce marketers know where to make cuts and where to put more money. With SEO, eComm brands can make strides to reduce CAC by driving traffic and sales organically, thereby balancing costly investments in social media ads, Google Ads, out-of-home media, etc.

Nowadays, the fundamental elements of modern SEO are about creating helpful content and exceptional experiences. It's about forging deeper connections with users organically, rather than simply pushing them to click. 

Good content marketing, clear messaging, compelling USPs, and flawless user experiences - these SEO-rooted components can provide a serious edge in reducing CAC. And if your eComm brand will eventually seek investment, it’s music to investors’ ears hearing that business acquires its customers from organic SEO and at a very low cost.

7. Cultivate Brand Awareness

Brand awareness can be a powerful byproduct of improved search visibility. But making it work requires a very strong brand that stands out - with something impactful and memorable to your potential buyers. 

“Keeping up” with the competition won't cut it. A brand needs to produce content that's visually impactful, surprising, funny (or punny!), or so invariably rich that it's highly shareable next to being potentially viral.

Screenshot of Pinterest Pin from Terra Nova - the World's Lightest Tent
Terra Nova's the World's Lightest Tent Infographic on Pinterest

SEO can be an effective tool in cultivating greater brand awareness, but it requires working parallel with content marketing and other channel initiatives. That means having your best content resonate across multiple channels, but also appearing as a featured snippet or supplementing search in other creative ways.

Screenshot of Google search results for query "lightest tent for backpacking", in the People Also Ask section, with Terra Nova winning that section
Oh look, Terra Nova's infographic is listed in Google's PAA section!

Brand awareness and visibility are the first stages of a marketing funnel that later leads to sales. With SEO, the value-add is that prospective customers actively found you, versus you pushing your brand onto them. Ranking organically - especially in a competitive search landscape - is one of the most trusted endorsements a brand can receive.

8. Boost Confidence & Trust

Think about a time when you heard about a certain company and wanted to look them up to check out their website, products, etc. When you search their brand name, you see an organic listing that might be them, but at a glance, you're not totally sure it’s them.

Here’s a random example: let's say you hear about an exotic stoneware brand called XYZero, the ultimate gift for grandma. You search this obscure name and see a site with a rather naked title, "XYZero" and text from the about page as the description. Immediately, you start to question the legitimacy of the company.

Screenshot of Google search results for the branded query "xyzero", with confusing results
Yes, XYZero really is a stoneware/homeware brand!

Had XYZero implemented the most basic SEO on its homepage a title like "Handmade Stoneware & Porcelain Tableware | XYZero" and a well-crafted meta description (retaining some of the existing artistic merit!), our initial search and discovery would've been a no-brainer. No doubt, we’d have a lot more confidence and trust clicking into their website.

This is just one (silly 😂) example of how neglecting fundamental SEO - and the user experience - can really hamper consumer confidence when they’re actively looking for a brand. Conversely, showing up in the organic search results with compelling listings, whether for branded or non-branded queries, can have the reverse effect, instilling trust and confidence among those looking for what you have to offer.

9. Turn Product Photos Into Rankable Assets

eCommerce stores that take pride in their photography can leverage these assets for more than just product pages, blog posts, and social media. By optimizing image files and using them as part of greater SEO and content marketing strategy, these photos can appear in Google Search via “Images for” results (shown below) or in Google Image search.

Screenshot of Google search results for query "trail running shoes" with an "images for" result
Great product photography can help you stand out

Captivating photos can help level up content across multiple channels. In addition to serving as rankable assets, they can also tell stories on image-centric social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, or bring life to blog posts and press releases. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But when SEO is at work, a picture could be worth a thousand rankings, too.

10. Improve PPC Efficiency

Most eCommerce brands that are savvy with their search marketing will likely be running PPC ads. By also investing in eCommerce SEO best practices, a multitude of benefits can transpire. 

Screenshot of Google results for query "organic cotton face masks" with Popular Products organic results
This is organic. This is not Google Shopping.

One of the most obvious benefits SEO can bring to a PPC advertising account is improving Quality Score (on PPC & SEO shared landing pages), which is a 0-10 diagnostic score that provides insight into how well ad quality compares to other advertisers competing for the same keywords. The higher the score, the lower the cost per click, and the further your ad budget can reach.

Quality Score is based on three primary factors: ad relevance, expected CTR, and landing page experience. While the first two factors will hinge on crafting a solid PPC campaign, the latter can be optimized via several SEO practices, including faster load speed, keyword-relevant copy, quality visual media, clear CTA, and path to conversion.

Having a presence in both paid and organic search can double your visibility, too. Research from Google shows that sites with strong organic search results will see stronger PPC ad CTR on the same SERP. While paid search and organic search might be two different departments, there are many advantages to be had when these channels work together.

11. Take Advantage of Holiday Trends

We get it. Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales are overplayed. Offering a discount isn’t always enough to bring interested buyers to your site. But what cannot be denied is the enormous spike in search interest and sales that unfolds across the eCommerce industry in such a short period of time. 

Screenshoot of Google Trend results for the search term "kindle" in the US for the past 5 years, with obvious holiday seasonality spikes
Kindle shopping (and search) trends.

Take, for instance, the commonly gifted Kindle. Over the last five years, search volume has consistently spiked during the holiday season (almost double in late December). 

While these trends may seem most useful in scheduling paid media or ramping-up ad spend, they can help you get ahead of the curve with SEO. For instance, you may want to:

  • Upload product feeds to show up in Google Shopping’s organic listings
  • Refresh existing content, like top-performing organic pages, first and foremost before creating new ones.
  • Implement structured data to indicate relevance and inform search users.
  • Develop a plan to handle out-of-stock products without losing users or diminishing your SEO.
  • Get any holiday-specific product, category, or general landing pages indexed early - or, better yet, structure them to work well for you year-over-year!
  • Utilize SEO landing pages as email and social media landing pages.
  • Leverage holiday-specific search queries to guide eCommerce content strategies.
  • Check for errors and other disruptive mishaps (and perhaps update your 404 page).
Screenshot of Google search results for query "gifts for ultramarathon runners" with a content result from Vert in position 1
Can you tell I'm into running and biking yet? 

Now that we’ve discussed many of the wonderful benefits that an eCommerce SEO strategy can bring (including some strategic tips and insights), let’s look at additional tactics you can use to refine your approach and prioritize your investments.

How to Sharpen Your eCommerce SEO Strategy

Let’s assume you already know the importance of page titles, meta descriptions, etc. (you know, all the basic SEO stuff) and you have those boxes checked. Here’s more food for thought to help you sharpen your sword and refine your eCommerce SEO strategy.

  • Use IA above all else to instruct UX and SEO. Sure, keyword research is very important to guide your site’s SEO roadmap. But information architecture takes it to the next level by focusing more on the psychology and behavior of users and how to organize content accordingly.
  • Leverage internal linking. If your site already has substantial domain authority, consider putting more time and effort into internal linking for SEO, and less into borderline-sketch backlink building. 
  • Harness every tech SEO edge you can get. A poorly performing website is a glass ceiling on your rankings. Prioritize optimizing for Core Web Vitals/site load speed, JavaScript SEO, responsiveness, canonicalization, and of course...
  • Deploy structured data. Another edge that you have full control over is implementing the right sets of Schema markup to better communicate your site’s content to search engines, activate rich snippets, and improve visibility. Using structured data effectively increases the understanding that search engines have about your site and products, as well power rich SERP features meaning your brand can take up more SERP real estate.
  • Invest in long tails. This might seem obvious but there are 100x more opportunities ranking for low-hanging long tails versus the “Everesting” attempt it may take - depending on your SEO traction today - just to show up on page one for uber-competitive short tails. Be extraordinarily mindful when selecting keywords and take inventory of all competitors ranking on page one and what it’s going to take to get there.
  • Incorporate personalization. Especially important if your eCommerce reach is international, take advantage of personalization based on users' previous searches, click history, location, language, and country.
  • Audit for duplicate content and cannibalization. eCommerce sites can be very large, oftentimes containing hundreds of thousands of pages. But even for the small online stores, it’s smart to audit for rogue URLs containing duplicate content and address (e.g. redirect or deindex) them to avoid cannibalization problems. 
  • Craft a plan for UGC. Whether it involves email follow-ups to encourage customer reviews or tech SEO tactics to get the most out of user-generated content, this is one area that can add substantial value to your product pages and beyond.
  • Clean up broken links. This is another common tech SEO hindrance that can occur in the vast sea of eCommerce sites. Make scheduled site crawls a regular practice and pinpoint any broken links that need to be fixed.
  • Bake SEO into your social strategy. Leverage social media to amplify content that’s slated for organic SEO. While not a direct ranking factor, the engagement that your SEO content receives can signal trust to search engines. It’s also a great way to widen the visibility of your content, improving the likelihood of earning links and generating repeat, direct traffic (which is in fact a ranking signal).
  • Rethink your content strategy. If you haven’t noticed by now, Google often favors informative, in-depth content versus product pages. Keep pushing out awesome and inspiring SEO content, like long-form blog posts, product review videos, and cute graphics. This content might not spike sales right away, but will help you win the long game that is eComm SEO.
  • Write URLs with longevity in mind. If you’re building out a new major product category or even an in-depth blog post, take a timeless approach with SEO-friendly URLs and build for the long term. For example, if you’re producing a gift guide, avoid including the year in the URL. That way you can update the same page each year, which will continue to cultivate more and more authority over time.
  • Ensure your eComm site is accessible. If you’re selling to customers in the U.S., is your website ADA compliant? It’s important to make sure your site provides easy access to its content for those with disabilities, such as keyboard-only accessibility, image ALT text, video transcripts and closed captioning, among other measures.
  • Measure eComm SEO performance. More than just determining KPIs, conversion goals, and which platforms to use for tracking, eComm stores often need custom analytics dashboards to facilitate these processes, along with reporting, data storytelling, and collaboration. 

Outside of traditional retail marketing channels, there are only so many ways to drive qualified traffic to an eCommerce store — paid ads, social media, email, or search. Investing in SEO might not yield immediate returns, but it can be the slow, sustainable path to long-term growth.

Take ownership of the things that you can control (e.g. keyword selection, content creation, tech SEO, etc.) and invest in opportunities that you confidently believe are within reach of your current means. If you’re a brand new eCommerce site, be realistic knowing that your SEO strategy isn’t going to be an overnight success. But also stay motivated knowing that if you make strides now, you may see big results later into the future.

If you’d like additional guidance making the most of your eCommerce SEO strategy, feel free to reach out and contact us.

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