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Marketing Best Practices: Search Engine Optimization

Marketing and driving traffic is arguably the most important piece of your eCommerce strategy. If shoppers don’t know you exist, then it doesn’t matter how good your product is or how nice your store is.  In our next series of posts, we'll discuss a variety of online marketing techniques, starting with organic search.  

Search engine optimization is the foundation of any web store’s eCommerce strategy.  Not only is organic search free, but it’s also the first thing a web store should address when entering the eCommerce market.  Ranking high on search engines, especially Google, is of course the goal, and most merchants believe that they must appear on Page 1 on their main keyword searches if they want to be successful.   

Configure Your Catalog URLs

One of the most important SEO strategies is optimizing your URLs.  By using relevant, high-value keywords, you can improve the way each of your web store’s pages is indexed by search engines.

Write Meta Tags

Meta information is essentially your first level of contact with potential customers that are searching for relevant keywords.  

A few years ago, Google officially announced that it would no longer use meta keywords for search rankings. That’s because, in the past, key words were used to manipulate search engine results and, therefore, lost their ranking value among major search engines.                     

However, search engines like Google still place value on meta titles and descriptions.  A meta title is used to give each product page a unique title, which can be seen at the top bar of a web browser.  It is also used as the title on a search engine results page (SERP).  The meta description is a short description of the page or product.  Search engines sometimes use this description in the little snippet on a SERP.  Your title and description are a selling tool that will either motivate a user to click your link or not, so it is wise to use a descriptive title and a description that includes relevant words that a potential customer might search. 

With this in mind, be sure to write a meta title and description for products you add to your online store.  Meta keywords should be given the lowest priority.  

Set up a Google Sitemap

A Google sitemap is an index of all the pages in your site.  However, unlike your store’s built-in sitemap, the Google sitemap is specifically designed as a roadmap that’s used whenever the Google search bot crawls your site.  Setting up a Google sitemap will improve the way your store is indexed by its search engine, and help it find pages that might otherwise be overlooked.

Have Good Content

Good, relevant content helps raise your search rankings.  Write rich, descriptive content on your web store using relevant keywords.  Also go outside your store and write content about your product or industry on other websites, including blogs, Facebook and Twitter.  If you link the posts and articles back to your store, they raise your search rankings, which brings us to backlinks.

Garner Backlinks

Search engines place importance on the number of quality backlinks that point to your web store from other sites or directories.  But the key here is “quality.”  Quality links include those from respected and high quality web sites that have content related to your store.  If you link to a page that has nothing to do with your product, Google may downgrade your store if it thinks you’re spamming.  For instance, if you own a clothing store, a link to your site from a fashion blog could help you, while a link from a web site about automotive parts could hurt you.  It also helps if the backlink to your site has a quality anchor text as opposed to something generic like “Click Here.”    As one of our merchants said, “Backlinks are like boats on the Internet.  Build relationships with people and get them to link to you." 

Create Internal Links

In addition to external links, internal links are also significant.  If you have a paragraph on your web storefront’s home page, use descriptive keywords and link them to different store categories.  When creating them, make sure that they have relevant keywords in the anchor text. 

Internal links help visitors navigate through the web store, of course.  But they also let search engines know each page’s content within the context of the entire store.  If more links point to a certain page, search engines consider it more important.

Since search engines notice pages that have a greater number of incoming links, it’s best to create more hyperlinks to the pages where you want the most traffic.  But be careful not to overdo it.  If you write paragraphs that include an enormous number of links to every other page in your web store, search engines might consider it spam. 

Optimize Your Photos

Google can’t read photos, so many merchants concentrate on text in their web content.  But it doesn’t mean you should shy away from using strong images.  Try to keep things balanced.  Many stores get a lot of traffic from Google image search, so it’s nice to complement text with flash and photos. 

Since crawlers can't search the text within an image, it’s important that you make your images findable through image search and optimized for crawlers, while still providing an optimal page design for your customers.  Here’s how: 

1. Don’t label photos with a number.  Include descriptive alternative text (alt text) with images that are the main focus of your home page.  The text should provide a brief, but relevant, description of the image. 

2. Use keywords in the file name.

3. If you’re going to use anchor text to link to the image, make sure the text accurately describes the image.

4. Make sure the content surrounding the image is related to the descriptions you’ve used thus far for the alt text, file name and anchor text.

5. All of these values should contain short descriptions and not just a list of keywords.  When creating alt text, file names and anchor text, you should keep visitor readability in mind.

Incorporate Video

Also consider using video on your web store.  Videos could show, for instance, how to use your product.   If you link the videos to your branded YouTube channel, it can boost SEO since you now has incoming and outgoing links connected to major website.  As an added bonus, shoppers are more likely to revisit your store to learn from newly posted videos, and every return visit could lead to a sale. 

Set up Google Analytics

Track your SEO plan using Google Analytics, which provides detailed statistics about your website visitors, as well information about the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.  

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