20 SEO Best Practices to Help Ecommerce Brands Rank Higher
In today’s competitive ecommerce market, the accessibility of your online store is critical. If your website is buried on page 10 in Google searches, customers won’t be able to find your business and make a purchase.
That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. By implementing common SEO best practices for ecommerce throughout your website, you can ensure your store tops search engine results and meets shoppers where they are.
Below, we outline 20 key SEO best practices for ecommerce websites to follow, along with details on why they’re important and how to implement them.
Search engines evaluate your site based on the structure and quality of your linking. Follow these best practices to show engines that your store is relevant and reputable, and they’ll likely rank your site higher in search results.
1. Include Relevant Internal Links
Linking to other pages on your site makes it easier for Google to find your content. It also helps pass search authority to the pages you link to, so they’re more likely to rank for relevant keywords. As Founder and CMO of Link-Assistant.Com Aleh Barysevich explains:
“Your website is an interconnection of pages. Whatever SEO and user experience issues it has, the problem always boils down to its two basic elements: (1) The pages themselves. (2) The connections between them, a.k.a. internal links. This makes internal links your second biggest priority.”
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when building internal links:
Use internal links to connect related pages. This tactic helps search engines understand your site’s structure and recognize which content is relevant to appear in your shoppers’ searches.
Use keyword-rich anchor text to help search engines identify the page’s topic.
Audit your site to find and fix any existing internal links that are broken. Broken links don’t contribute to your site’s search “authority,” and they create a poor experience for users.
2. Build Backlinks
Backlinks are a signal to Google and other search engines that your website and content are legitimate. Other reputable sites are sharing your content, so engines figure that it’s worth presenting in search results.
But remember, you want to build relevant backlinks. Harsh Agrawal, CEO of ShoutMeLoud, explains it like this:
“If, for example, you have a site about fish, and you are creating links from other niche sites about monkeys, these links will be of no use.”
In this case, Google will assume that your target audience is people who want to learn about monkeys, not fish, so your content won’t appear in relevant search results.
To start building authoritative, relevant backlinks, follow these tips:
Find websites that mention your brand without a link and reach out to ask that they link to your website. Adding a link to existing mentions is a much easier ask than adding a brand-new linked mention.
If you come across a broken link on pages related to your brand, ask the site to consider replacing it with a link to your site. Broken links harm a website’s SEO, so site owners have an incentive to fix them. By offering your website as a replacement, you’re making that job even easier for them.
HTML is the code your website is built upon. Since search engine crawlers don’t really see your website, the HTML code is how they come to understand it. That means your website’s HTML is one of your best opportunities to tell search engines what your website is about and which keywords it should rank for.
3. Keep URLs Short and Descriptive
Short, descriptive URLs are easy for search engines to understand. Knowing what the page is about from the URL, search engines are more likely to share your content in relevant search results.
A good rule of thumb is to ensure any website visitor can get a solid sense of what a page is about just by looking at the URL. Consider, for example, the URL for clothing retailer Madewell’s category page: https://madewell.com/womens/clothing/jeans. Just by looking at that URL, it’s easy to see that it’s a page full of women’s jeans.
Here are a few tips for optimizing your URL addresses for search:
Include relevant keyword(s), and search engines will be more likely to discern your page’s topic and place the content in relevant SERPs.
Create an overarching structure for your URLs that echoes the hierarchy of your online store to help search engines navigate your site. Here’s the optimal URL structure Moz recommends: http://www.example.com/category-keyword/subcategory-keyword/primary-keyword.html
4. Use HTTPS
With hackers and data breaches abounding lately, you want shoppers to know their data is secure with you—especially if you’re asking for sensitive data like payment information.
The HTTPS protocol—seen as “https” in URL addresses—indicates to search engines that your website is encrypted. This feature is viewed favorably by search engines, with Google announcing site security as a ranking factor way back in 2014.
To start using HTTPS in your URLs, check with your ecommerce platform or web hosting provider about their compatibility. Many platforms (including BigCommerce) have a simple setting you can toggle on to use secure “https” URL addresses.
5. Write a Clear and Compelling Title Tag
Your title tag is the page title searchers see in search engine results.
A strong title tag—one that’s clear, detailed, and compelling—encourages shoppers to click through to your online store, and a high click rate signals to search engines that your website is relevant to your audience. That leads the engine to rank your store high for shoppers’ searches.
Joshua Hardwick, head of content at Ahrefs, offers these three tips on writing engaging title tags:
Write for humans, not search engines: Trying to shove a bunch of keywords into your title tag looks unnatural and will encourage humans not to click—which, in turn, will discourage engines from ranking your content high on pages.
Make sure every page has a title tag: According to Hardwick, this is a shockingly common issue.
Keep all title tags unique: Duplicate title tags are a no-no in the eyes of search engines and can harm rankings for those pages.
6. Write a Compelling Meta Description
On the search engine results page (SERP), the meta description appears as a brief paragraph underneath the title and URL.
Through this description, you tell search engines what your page is about, so it knows what terms it should rank for. A compelling meta description also encourages clicks, which helps your page’s ranking.
“When a link is frequently clicked on in search results, it sends signals to search engines telling them that the page is important and a good result that users prefer,” Jennifer Yesbeck, marketing manager at Alexa, said. “This helps boost a page’s rankings in search results.”
Here are a few tips for writing engaging meta descriptions:
Keep your description between 135 and 160 characters, so it doesn’t get cut off on the search engine results page (SERP).
Never use the same meta description for multiple pages. Craft new sentences to give search engines a clear idea of what each page covers.
Keyword Selection and Placement
Keywords are the building blocks of SEO. Ranking well and bringing in plenty of qualified traffic for organic search comes down to identifying the right phrases to target—keywords that will bring in shoppers who fit your target audience and are ready to buy. Then you must communicate to search engines that people searching for those keywords will find value in your store. The best practices below are aimed at improving both sides of that coin.
7. Conduct Keyword Research
If you’re targeting keywords that don’t relate to your brand, your SEO efforts likely won’t bring qualified traffic to your store. That’s why investing time in keyword research upfront is the best place to start with SEO.
In order to do comprehensive keyword research, you’ll need to choose an SEO tool to help. Here are a few options to choose from:
Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword research tool. It’s designed for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, but it works just as well with organic content.
Ubersuggest is a free keyword suggestion tool that can help you compile your initial list of keywords.
Keywords Everywhere is a browser add-on that allows you to get traffic, cost, and other information about keywords and related searches in real-time.
Once you’ve picked a tool, here’s how to get started with keyword research:
Identify and target common keywords for your industry. Sometimes called “seed keywords,” these define your industry and reflect what your customers frequently search. For example, “running shoes” is a seed keyword in the athletic footwear industry.
Narrow in on specific long-tail keywords by looking at Google’s People also ask section. Seed keywords can bring in a lot of search traffic, but they’re often difficult to rank for since an entire industry is competing for them. Related long-tail keywords may be easier to rank for—meaning you can actually funnel people searching for them to your store. The People also ask box in Google search results is a good option for identifying long-tail queries related to your seed keywords.
Start with bottom of the funnel (BOFU) keywords. These tend to be less competitive, and they also signal a searcher is close to making a purchase. For example, someone searching for “Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37” is more likely to buy right now than someone searching for “running shoes.”
8. Match Search Intent
Search intent refers to the content shoppers are seeking when they use a particular keyword. For example, when someone searches “nike vs new balance running shoes,” they’re looking for a detailed breakdown of the differences between each brand’s running shoes.
Matching your content to the search intent is key to ranking well, according to Hardwick:
“If you want to rank long-term, make it your mission to give searchers what they want. Google will almost certainly reward you for doing so.”
Determine what information shoppers are hoping to find with keywords by following these tips:
Note the language of the keyword. Different language modifiers can offer hints as to what searchers are looking for. For example, if the keyword includes the word “buy,” the intent is likely to be transactional—they’re looking to make a purchase.
Consider what type of search results appear for the keyword. They may be articles, featured snippets, videos, shopping results, and more. Create similar content for that keyword if you hope to target it.
Pay attention to the style and format of ranking articles. Say, for example, you’re a kitchen goods brand, and most of the search results that appear for “nonstick cookware” are listicle posts. To rank for that keyword, you’d want to also write a blog post that features a list of the best nonstick cookware.
9. Assess Keyword difficulty and competition
Some keywords are more difficult to rank for than others. If they have high search volume, for example, or high buying intent, many other brands will be trying to rank for them. For that reason, it’s important to consider keyword difficulty when building your keyword strategy.
A new handbag company, for example, may realize that “leather purse” is a highly competitive term. In response, they can balance out their keyword strategy with more keywords that are easier to rank for—like “leather purse with fringe” or “crossbody leather purse.”
How do you know which phrases are competitive and which aren’t? David Harry, owner of SEO Training Dojo, shared the following step-by-step advice:
Start with tools like Ahrefs Keywords Explorer and Moz Keyword Explorer to get a sense of how hard it will be to rank for a given keyword. These tools provide keyword difficulty rankings to help you evaluate competitiveness.
Look into pay-per-click (PPC) costs for the keyword to see how much brands are willing to pay to rank there. If the PPC is high, the term is likely competitive. You can use SEMrush’s Keyword Magic tool and Google Keyword Planner to find this information.
Finally, dig into the websites already ranking for the keyword. If they’re all big name brands with popular websites, chances are you’ll need a high domain authority (DA) to rank for that keyword.
10. Place Keyword(s) in the title tag
In order to rank for your target keyword, you have to let both search engines and users know that your page is relevant to that keyword. Including the keyword in the page’s title tag, among other locations, is one of the best ways to do this.
“Search engines ascribe a huge amount of SEO value to the tag’s content – but only if it’s well-formed, contains page-relevant text, and reflects in the limited space available what the page is about,” said DeJarnette.
While including the keyword in the title tag is pretty straightforward, Moz shared a few other tips for optimizing your title tag’s SEO power:
Keep your title under 60 characters long, so it doesn’t get cut off in search results.
Don’t stuff too many keywords into the title tag. Search engines penalize unnatural keyword stuffing, largely because it creates a poor experience for users.
Give every page a unique title tag, so you can include the relevant keyword and clearly state what the page is about. This helps search engines distinguish between your web pages and identify the most relevant page for each keyword.
11. Place Keyword(s) in the URL
Include targeted keywords in the permalink portion of the URL address—the space following the first slash.
Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, highlights three key reasons to include keywords in your URLs:
“First, keywords in the URL help indicate to those who see your URL on social media, in an email, or as they hover on a link to click that they’re getting what they want and expect.
Second, URLs get copied and pasted regularly, and when there’s no anchor text used in a link, the URL itself serves as that anchor text.
Third, and finally, keywords in the URL show up in search results, and research has shown that the URL is one of the most prominent elements searchers consider when selecting which site to click.”
Many ecommerce platforms allow you to change URLs, even after the page is published. However, changing existing URLs can get messy. The old URL may be linked in many different places that need to be updated. Not to mention, creating 301 redirects to the new URL can confuse search engines and drain link authority.
For these reasons, avoid adjusting your URL permalink text. If you must change URLs after the fact, Moz’s Marketing Scientist Dr. Peter J. Meyers shares a few tips in this article that may be helpful.
12. Place Keywords(s) in Your H1 Heading
Along with your title tag, always include keywords in your page’s H1 heading.
The H1 heading is the main headline users see on your web page. In the screenshot above, we can see Winc’s H1 heading “We hand-deliver a world of wine,” which includes “deliver” and “wine”—likely phrases that Winc is hoping to rank for.
Barb Dittert, digital marketing director for Volume Nine, says it’s important to include keywords in your H1, so Google can discern your page’s topic.
“Google assumes that if the H1 is the biggest thing a user sees, it’s worth paying attention to,” said Dittert.
13. Place Keyword(s) in the Alt Text on Images
Image alt text isn’t just helpful for site visitors—it also helps search engines understand what your visuals are about. While image recognition technology is improving, search engines still use alt text to interpret images. If the description is clear and incorporates your target phrase, it will help search engines see your page’s relevance for your audience.
Here are a few tips from HubSpot for using image alt text to boost your odds of ranking for target keywords:
Keep it short. Many screen-reading tools don’t read past 125 characters, so aim to keep your alt text under this length.
Use keywords, but don’t overdo it. Your keyword might not make sense in every alt text description—that’s okay! Avoid search engines penalizing you for keyword stuffing by only using the phrase in alt text copy where it makes sense and using related keywords, too. For example, if you’re targeting “organic bedding,” include that keyword in the alt text for one image. For the rest, you can include other related keywords like “all-natural bedding” and “organic cotton sheets.”
Site speed is a ranking factor for search engines, so you want to keep your loading times as fast as possible. Plus, the slower your site speed, the more likely users are to abandon your online store. That abandonment can also hurt your rankings since search engines penalize sites with high bounce rates. Follow these best practices to optimize your online store for faster page loading.
14. Enable Compression
Lowering your page load time is sometimes difficult for ecommerce websites. You need high-res images and videos to showcase your products, and those files are often massive.
File compression can help. As WooRank describes it, “Compression is the process by which files on a server are encoded to take up less space, making them easier and faster to send.” In short, when you compress the information on your website, it can load faster without sacrificing the quality of large files.
Major ecommerce platforms, like Shopify, typically automatically compress online stores’ files. If your host doesn’t offer this feature, there are a few different ways to enable compression—all of which involve adding to and editing your website’s code. You can find the required code snippets, plus more detailed instructions for adding them, in this WooRank article on compression for SEO.
Another way to minimize the size of your website files (and the corresponding time it takes to load and render them) is to minify your code. Whereas compression encodes your website files to make them smaller, minifying your code actually removes unnecessary and redundant data.
Here’s how WooRank describes the minifying process:
Minification is the process of removing unnecessary characters from code without changing the way that code works. These unnecessary characters are usually things like:
– Whitespace characters
– New line breaks
– Block delimiters (those curly brackets)
Many ecommerce platforms automatically minify your code. WordPress offers several plugins you can use to minify your code. There are also outside tools that can help you minify, including:
- cssnano minifies CSS code.
16. Reduce Redirects
Redirects happen when a given web page is permanently moved from one URL to another. Site visitors are automatically sent to the new URL when they enter the old address.
Redirects are essential in creating a smooth navigation experience. They’re helpful when you want to switch to a more intuitive URL, point site visitors to an updated page, or direct them to the secure https version of your store (if they type in an http address).
But when your online store includes a large number of redirects, it eats up your website’s limited crawl budget and even prevents them from properly crawling your website.
Here’s how to reduce the number of 301 redirects on your ecommerce site:
Use a tool like Ahrefs Site Audit to find all the redirected URLs on your site.
Remove the old (redirected) URLs from your sitemap, so search engines won’t crawl these pages.
Fix chains of redirects, so they send visitors (and search engine crawlers) straight from the old URL to the current one—instead of through a chain of multiple redirected pages.
Help your website load faster by removing unnecessary render-blocking code with these steps:
Use Google PageSpeed Insights to find specific files on your website that are render-blocking.
If the files show up in red, that means they are considered non-critical. Remove or defer these scripts.
Visit web.dev for a more detailed guide to removing and deferring render-blocking scripts.
18. Leverage Browser Caching
When a user visits your website, their website browser saves a static copy of each page they visit. This process is referred to as browser caching. In a nutshell, these saved (or cached) versions of your website enable it to load more quickly the next time that person visits your online store.
Browser caching varies depending on how your website is hosted—it can be disabled entirely or set for a period as short as a week or as long as a year. Updating those settings to allow for more caching over a longer period of time is one way to ensure your website loads more quickly during return visits.
If your ecommerce store is hosted on WordPress, you can choose from several ugins to help you leverage browser caching.
For online stores hosted elsewhere, you can reference web.dev’s resource on configuring your web server for browser caching.
For Shopify users, browser caching cannot be edited. Shopify promises speedy loading times due to their fast servers, so browser caching usually isn’t an issue for users.
19. Use a Content Distribution Network
Content delivery networks (CDNs) help improve site speed by sending data efficiently. When someone visits your website, your site’s data is sent to the visitor from the nearest server to increase the loading speed.
“A content delivery network (CDN) is a network of servers in different geographic locations working together to get content to load faster by serving it from a location near the visitor,” said Edwin Toonen, content manager for Yoast.
To start leveraging a content distribution network to improve page speed and boost your SEO, all you need to do is install a CDN provider.
If you use WordPress or another hosting provider, you can search for existing CDN plugins or choose from popular options like Cloudflare, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon CloudFront.
20. Monitor Site Speed for Improvement
To ensure your store has reasonable loading times, continually monitor your site speed with Google PageSpeed Insights. Simply type in your website URL, and the tool will analyze the entire site and provide a grade between 1-100 for both the desktop and mobile versions of your site. Generally, Google considers anything over 90 to be a good score.
Backlinko’s extensive study on page speed also provides benchmarks. According to this research, the average time to load all visual elements of a page is 8.225 seconds for desktop and 21.608 seconds on mobile.
Google will also pull together recommendations where you have the opportunity to improve your site speed even further.
On the right, you can see Google’s estimate of how each improvement will affect your site speed.
Expand Your Brand’s Reach with These SEO Best Practices
Your ecommerce website depends on search engines to help customers—both old and new—find your website and products. Optimize your online store for relevant, audience-driven keywords, and you’ll likely drive high-value, organic traffic to your online store. Start by implementing the SEO best practices above, and you’ll be well on your way to generating more organic search traffic and sales.