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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.