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11 ecommerce SEO tips, from the trenches

If you are a small ecommerce business owner, chances are your budget is limited for areas such as advertising, search engine optimization, email marketing, and website design. I’ve been in that situation for years, deciding how to spend my limited budget wisely. I decide which projects are beyond my expertise, to outsource, and which projects I can learn and do myself. One area I am self-taught in is SEO. I gained my knowledge through reading books, blogs, journals, and putting my skills to the test – on my own websites.

Before I decided to explore SEO, I had hired a company to do it for me. I thought it was beyond my scope and it would be difficult to rank my site without much knowledge. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way, spending an enormous amount of money every month for something I could do myself. The company I hired said it would focus on getting my site ranked for five keywords per month, by tweaking landing pages, performing keyword research, and creating content. It sounded great for a time-strapped entrepreneur. But several thousands dollars later, I learned that the company had very little knowledge of my business or my products and the content it was producing was substandard and generalized.

I decided to take SEO in my own hands, the do-it-yourself way. What I learned and tested produced very favorable results.

This month, I’ll share 11 tips you can do by yourself — without an SEO company — for on-page optimization. Next month, I’ll share tips on how to promote pages with off-site optimization.

I’ll begin by focusing on a category (landing) page. This page should be where your product listings are, but not the individual product pages themselves. If the page focuses on “blue widgets,” that is a keyword term you want to rank for. When a visitor clicks on the link in the search engine results you want him to see your entire product offering of blue widgets, not just one particular widget. Individual widgets can be optimized for long-tail keywords, such as “1 Inch Blue Hexagon Widget.” The same tips apply for individual pages as category pages. But for now, I’ll focus on your general category page for “blue widgets.”

11 Ecommerce SEO Tips

  • Perform keyword research. Using a tool like Google Keyword Planner, you can get a general idea of how many searches there are per month for the keywords you’d like to target for your page. I perform keyword research annually because sometimes keyword popularity changes over time and terms I once used are no longer popular. While you may think “blue widgets” is the best term, it may not be. You may find “blue scrapbooking widgets” is more specific to your category page. The term “blue widgets” may be too broad. Find the most appropriate keyword(s) for your page. I make a list from 1 to 7 in popularity for each category, specific to the products I sell.
  • Use your top keyword for the URL page. If the keyword that received the most searches was “blue scrapbooking widgets” I would use that term in the URL of the category page, such as Be careful of the length, however: search engines often truncate the URL display at 75 characters and appear to pass less keyword value in longer URLs. If you’re page is already ranking well, skip this step. If you already have a page established and it is not performing well, create a new page and do a 301 redirect to alert the search engines of the change.
  • Use the exact keyword in the page title. There is a high correlation between use of your keyword in your page title and the search ranking. When search engines rank your page for a keyword, the page title tag is the most important place it should appear. This also is the text often used for the blue links found in the search engine results. I tend to use just one keyword per page title (plus my company name to help with brand recognition). This keyword should match the URL you created in step 2.
  • Keep page titles short. Page titles should be around 55 characters, as the new Google redesign cuts off longer ones. You want your full title to show — keep titles short and sweet.
  • Use your keyword in H1 tags. Using your keyword in the page’s H1 tag is said not to greatly affect rankings. But it doesn’t hurt either. It helps users visually determine the page’s content. Users will notice the H1 text on your page as they are browsing It.
  • Create content for your page. The search engines love pages with readable content. Even if your page is just products, you should aim to write at least 50 words, if not more, per page. This content should be unique and not be found anywhere else on your site. Write for your shoppers, not the search engines. Give shoppers information they can use: tips, tricks, and helpful data.
  • Exact use of keyword in content. Use the exact keyword in your content at least once. Use it in the beginning of your content, in your first sentence. You can also use the keyword list you generated in step 1 and incorporate variations of your main keyword in your content. But be careful not to overuse your keywords – too many could be seen as keyword stuffing, which can be penalized.
  • Use meta descriptions. While meta descriptions do not influence rankings, those descriptions are often (but not always) used as the text below the blue link in search engine results. This text should be compelling enough to make users click on your link. This is the sales pitch, in other words. This one-to-two sentence pitch should be 150 to 160 characters, but not more or it can be cut off or changed by the search engines if it is not relevant.
  • Use your keyword in the meta description. If you use your main keyword in the meta description, it is more likely the engines will use your snippet in the results pages. You can use a variation of it, too, if it fits in the flow of the sentence. Users will likely see your keyword in bold, which increases your visibility on the results page.
  • Keywords in alt image tags. Do you have an image on your category page? Make sure you use a keyword in the image’s alt tag. It can help rank that image in image search results.
  • Links are important. Too many links on your page will dilute your link juice to other pages. You don’t want links pointing to outside sources either. You want to keep your visitors shopping on your site.

Keep the list of keywords you created in the first step. The list will help in the off-page SEO tips I’ll discuss next month. With these few simple steps, you can start working on a page or two on your website and monitor your results — without outsourcing.

See the second installment of Erica Tevis’ SEO tips, at “5 off-page SEO tactics, from a do-it-yourself merchant.”

Erica Tevis
Erica Tevis
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