I asked Victor Karpenko, the CEO of Ukraine-based SeoProfy, to describe the common organic search mistakes of ecommerce merchants. Most are technical, he told me, adding, “You can answer 99% of any SEO question by looking at competing, high-ranking sites.”
To Karpenko, analyzing competitors is crucial SEO research. He should know. He founded SeoProfy in 2010 in Kyiv. It’s now a global search-engine-optimization leader with 200 employees, sophisticated internal tools, and a roster of impressive clients across multiple industries.
The entire audio of my recent conversation with Karpenko is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Practical Ecommerce: What are the common SEO mistakes of ecommerce merchants?
Victor Karpenko: Most SEO mistakes are technical, such as structuring a website with the right categories, links, and keywords. Most errors happen at the initial setup, during the research phase. You can answer 99% of any SEO question by looking at competing, high-ranking sites.
Here’s an example. I recently spoke with a client who sells pillows and mattresses online via WooCommerce. He asked me if he should move to Shopify to obtain better rankings.
To answer, he should search on Google for keywords such as “foam pillow” and look at the top 10 results. We have a plugin that shows the CMS of those sites. He might see five competitors using WooCommerce and another five with Shopify. He could narrow the search further by analyzing the top three and studying their data and commonalities.
This approach — analyzing tactics of successful competitors — answers pretty much any SEO question.
Beyond the CMS, we would analyze different parameters for the top results, such as the number of links, content size (how many words and how it’s optimized), and page speed, which Google calls Core Web Vitals. (Google doesn’t disclose all the information about a site’s page speed, incidentally.)
Search Console provides a lot of essential info about a page and a site — keywords in the text, internal and external links, and much more.
We rely on Ahrefs, Majestic, and Semrush, too. Using competitor analysis, we look at the dynamics of other websites’ links — how many links, how long it took to accumulate, and how many pages are impacted. From there, we can estimate what it would take to rank on page 1 and how long.
URL age is another crucial factor. If a competitor’s URL age is, say, two years and you are just starting, it will likely take some time to build page trust and rankings.
PEC: You mentioned tools — Search Console, Ahrehs, Majestic, Semrush. Does a merchant need all of those?
Karpenko: We have roughly 200 employees, so we use many tools. For links, we mainly use Ahrefs and Majestic. For keywords and search volume, we use Semrush. We use a search metrics tool to get data. We look at mobile and desktop search results. Google says its rankings are mobile-first, but many services analyze only desktop data, which can be inaccurate.
The critical factors for an ecommerce site (or any site) are whether you have enough links and content, whether the links are natural, whether they have anchor text, whether the text is over-optimized or under-optimized, and whether the technical parts need fixing.
PEC: Can you elaborate on the technical parts?
Karpenko: Consider your sitemap and whether your site has an indexing API, which notifies Google when pages are added or removed. The robots.txt and .htaccess files are important, too. Look at titles, descriptions, headers (H1, H2, more), and breadcrumbs. Analyze how internal links are distributing authority throughout the site.
PEC: Say I’m an established merchant about to launch a new line of products. How would I achieve high organic rankings for those items?
Karpenko: Go step by step. First, collect keywords and separate them into groups. Prioritize which products you want to rank organically for, then put together keywords for that group. Next, check for search intent. Type a keyword in Google and see what pages are ranking.
If an article ranks in the top 10, it’s probably not the best idea to try to rank an ecommerce product page for that word. It’s better to ask that article site to insert a link in its article. That would put you in the top 10; you’ll get traffic straightaway. And don’t take on the high authority stores such as Amazon, Target, or Walmart. Focus on competitors similar to yours.
Pick the top 15 competitors from a keyword group, and narrow it to five. Look at trust and consider this group’s domain and URL parameters. I would use Majestic’s Trust Flow and Citation Flow. URLs with a trust ratio of more than 2 usually don’t rank well. Over-optimized websites typically rank poorly. We gather that trust data and assemble the keywords. We’ll analyze which competitors rank for them, how many of those keywords they use, and their main page or product category. Then we look at the content. We analyze content structure from the size of the page to the Schema.org markup to headings, H1 to H6.
Look at how many words are between H1 to H6. What’s the code? The content can be checklists, images, quotes, or comments. Looking at what they have in common. You can glean the best practices from top websites. After that, structure your page. A store with 100 categories needs to prioritize. You can’t rank for everything from the beginning. Organize the main categories and pages, add a few tweaks, and then task your designer for a mock-up.
It’s crucial to design a site after implementing SEO tactics, not before. Otherwise you’ll redo stuff. Once we have an SEO strategy, we code and then write and analyze text using a tool such as SurferSEO or Copywritely.
PEC: You’re the founder and CEO of SeoProfy, in Ukraine. Tell us about the company.
Karpenko: We have around 200 employees. Roughly 75% are in Ukraine, throughout the country. The war impacted us. We stopped working with the Russian clients. We finished the tasks promised them and then stopped. That was about 25% of our overall revenue. It was hurtful, but we didn’t lay off any employees.
The first two weeks of the war were stressful. Our human resources department coordinated with the entire staff to see how everyone was doing, where they were, and if anyone needed help, such as relocating. Things are more stable now.
To date, none of our employees have received injuries from the war. Some of our people live in Kyiv, but they are safe and don’t want to leave. We’ve adjusted and adopted a sort of dark humor. A team member might say, “There’s a siren. We need to go to the bomb shelter.”
It’s hard to find good talent. We don’t want to fire people. We have a plan to survive.
PEC: All of us value our Ukrainian colleagues. How can people reach out and support you?
Karpenko: Our website is SeoProfy.com. We have a LinkedIn page, too. I’m also on LinkedIn.