With the explosion of ecommerce in the Philippines during the past few years, the demand for ecommerce SEO services has proportionally spiked. Search visibility is essential to an online store’s survival and investing in it can spell the difference between becoming a household name and fading into obscurity.
Several years ago, doing SEO for Philippine niches was relatively easy. Basic on-page SEO and a little content creation used to be enough to propel your webpages atop Google’s local results. As niches became more crowded with the emergence of new players, ranking on Google started to demand a little more savvy and a lot more work.
If you’re doing SEO for an ecommerce website, this post is for you. Here’s a list of optimizations you can make on your website right now to gain an edge over the rest of the field:
Choose a SEO-Friendly Ecommerce Platform
Since Google is the number 1 traffic source for most of the world’s successful ecommerce websites, you need to make sure that the website is built with SEO in mind. The first and most crucial step in doing that is choosing an ecommerce platform that has the right set of SEO features. These features can come with the platform right out of the box or they could be added to the system by installing plugins and other extensions.
To eliminate guesswork on your end, here are the ecommerce platforms that either come with sufficient SEO features or at least can be modified to accommodate them with plugins:
- WordPress with WooCommerce
Some ecommerce operators opt to build their own online stores (usually with Ruby on Rails), and that works as well — as long as you have dedicated web developers who can maintain the website and update it periodically.
Prioritize Mobile Friendliness
In 2016, searches on Google using mobile devices surpassed desktop queries. More than 5 years later, mobile search’s lead over desktop continues to widen as more people gain access to smartphones and tablets.
In the Philippines, mobile search has completely take over. We handle over 30 local websites at any given time from across all sorts of industries. On average, at least 80% of the organic search visits that go to these sites are from mobile devices. This means that if any online business wants to succeed in the Philippine market, it needs to prioritize delivering a great user experience on their mobile websites.
If you’re doing SEO for a local ecommerce website, the first order of business is to check whether it’s mobile-friendly or not. Fortunately, most of the ecommerce platforms cited on Tip 1 are mobile-ready. The next decision to make would be whether to adapt a responsive web design scheme or an adaptive one.
A mobile-responsive design means that the website’s text, layout, images and other visual elements will scale up and down depending on the size and resolution of the screen where it will be displayed. An adaptive design, on the other hand, promotes the creation of different versions of the same webpage to perfectly fit the devices accessing it. This means that there’s a version specifically for desktop computers and there are versions for tablets or smartphones.
Both responsive and adaptive designs can work well for any online store as long as the web designer takes the time to pay close attention to all the details. Responsive websites have the advantage of being faster to develop while adaptive ones have the edge when it comes to perfectly fitting the bill for the desired look and feel of webpages on every device type.
As the person in charge of SEO, you’ll want to make sure that both the mobile and desktop version of the site are properly optimized for faster load times. You can see how your pages are performing on Google’s Page Speed Insights tool. The tool will grade each webpage on a scale of 100 and it’ll provide insights on what you can do to boost your score.
Categorize Your Products Finely
To keep things organized and to promote good user experience, most ecommerce websites group their products into various categories and subcategories. This helps users navigate the website intuitively when they aren’t sure of what they want to buy. Categories and subcategories narrow down products according to relevant criteria so shoppers can zero in on items that best suit their buying intents.
In ecommerce SEO, category pages are often the most important landing pages for organic search traffic. That’s because the names of category pages typically correspond with the kinds of keywords that your target audience uses.
For instance, if you’re running an online footwear store, you can’t expect to rank for dress shoes, athletic shoes, driving shoes and their subcategories using just your home page. You’ll want to have specific category pages for each of those keywords where Google can see a high degree of relevance between your target search term and your landing page’s content.
That means you’ll have to finely organize your product portfolio with as many category pages as possible so your website can be represented for a wide array of keywords. Following the footwear store example, you should have a category page for athletic shoes but you should also have subcategory pages for running shoes, basketball sneakers, golf shoes and so on so your website can rank more easily for those specific terms.
Use Static Pages for Categories
For the purpose of brevity, let’s just agree that static webpage URLs are good for SEO and dynamic ones are generally bad. You can tell if a webpage’s URL is dynamic when it has all sorts of gibberish and special characters such as “?,” “=,” “%” and others like them. Static URLs, on the other hand, typically don’t have any special characters and most of what you’ll see are human-readable words separated inly by dashes.
If you click on a website’s category pages and you see that the URLs are dynamic, that’s a red flag for SEO. This means that the online store’s category setup is driven by filtration actions and there aren’t any “physical” webpages with real HTML files behind them. While this might make sense from a web development standpoint, this type of categorization setup doesn’t allow a whole lot of optimization to happen on the all-important category pages of a website.
If you see that the ecommerce site you’re optimizing uses dynamic URLs on its category pages, flag it immediately and ask the website’s developer if it’s technically feasible to use static category pages instead.
Add Rich Category Copy
In and of themselves, category pages are mere doorways that enable users to navigate an ecommerce site’s sections to zero in on the product they’re looking for. As such, the typical category page is a mere collection of images and links that lie in wait to catch a user’s attention and to generate a click.
The problem with having a page that only has images and links without much text is that Google struggles to figure out what it’s mainly about. The search giant’s algorithms were designed to use latent semantic indexing (LSI) and other techniques that allow it to grasp a content piece’s essence using the text in a page. When there’s not much text to get context clues from, the search engine struggles to determine what keywords a webpage is relevant to.
To work around this, we recommend adding a couple of paragraphs’ worth of text just talking about the page’s nature and context. For instance, if you’re trying to help a category page that sells smart TVs rank for its keywords, you can significantly improve your chances of succeeding by adding text copy that talks about smart TVs in the category page’s above-the-fold section as well as the section right before the footer. Here’s a couple of examples:
For best results, we typically recommend adding a 2-3 sentence blurb above the fold. In the copy at the bottom of the product list, we recommend at least 2 paragraphs. Some of the more competitive ecommerce players like Lazada and Shopee, however, write article-length copy in these areas. It’s part of the reason why they dominate our local SERPs.
Make Product Descriptions as Unique as Possible
It’s been well known for a long time that Google’s algorithms tend to favor sites and webpages that have unique content. By ranking unique search listings higher, the search engine is able to show users more diverse content. Conversely, Google tends to either keep non-unique content off of its first page. In some cases, it may not even display search listings for webpages that egregiously borrow content from other sources.
In ecommerce, this principle applies, too. If your product pages have descriptions that were lifted word for word from the manufacturer’s website or catalog, there’s a good chance that the copy isn’t unique. Google is likely to see the manufacturer of the products as the original source of the content while your page and the pages of other ecommerce websites that sell the same products will be viewed as duplicates. Ultimately, this will result in lower rankings for your webpage since it can’t distinguish itself from the rest of the pack.
The solution, of course, is to use descriptions that are unique to your own website. While product specifications can’t be written any other way for the most part, descriptions that state benefits and features can be written in your own way using a tone that follows your website’s brand identity.
Some ecommerce sites use templated descriptions that only switch out words to fit the product while making the copy unique. However, more SEO-savvy ecommerce operators use human-written content to produce truly unique product descriptions that resonate with customers while aiding SEO.
There’s no hard and fast rule on the percentage of original content needed on a page to make its SEO work. However, our agency follows the classic 30% threshold on quoted or lifted content. The rest has to be written originally.
Canonicalize Very Similar Products
With big online stores, it’s pretty normal to have a lot of very similar items that will have very similar content in their pages. Examples of these are clothing styles that vary only in colors or sizes. This can also happen to gadgets, furniture, tableware, and may other product categories. If left unmanaged, many of the duplicate pages will be left off the index by Google while those that are indexed are likely to underperform in the SERPs.
Google recognizes this and has provided a way to manage the potentially massive duplication issues that may arise from the situation. Enter rel=canonical.
This HTML element allows webmasters to “tell” Google and other search engines that there are very similar webpages in their domains, but the duplication is intentional and not meant to act as search engine spam. Applying rel=canonical effectively lets a webpage say that it should not be included in Google’s main index and that there’s another webpage that should take its place.
In practical terms, rel=canonical lets you designate one “master” webpage that will represent a group of similar pages in the SERPs. While it may seem counter-intuitive to have fewer webpages indexed, you have to keep in mind that Google will likely ignore duplicate pages anyway. By using rel==canonical correctly, you can at least have the master version of a webpage group indexed perfectly with a greater chance to rank high for its target keywords.
Write Title Tags with Commercial Intent
Far too often, ecommerce sites that do SEO are so focused on ranking for their target keywords that they forget to humanize some of the most basic SEO elements. This is particularly true with title tags as many online stores have the tendency to simply write the main target keyword, add a separator like a pipe or a dash, then affix the website’s name at the end. Here’s are some examples:
- Men’s Shoes | YourSite.com
- Prada Shirts | YourSite.com
- Budget Smart TVs | YourSite.com
While these aren’t bad title tags, they can certainly use some improvements. One way to do that is by adding words that signify what kind of intent the webpage caters to. In the case of ecommerce sites, that’s a purchasing intent, so these title tags can be rewritten as:
- Shop Men’s Shoes | YourSite.com
- Buy Prada Shirts | YourSite.com
- Buy Budget Smart TVs | YourSite.com
This not only helps Google recognize what kind of queries are best matched with your webpages’ content, it also humanizes your title tags by making it clear to people what they can expect when they click on your search listing.
To audit the title tags of your webpages, you can use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool and crawl URLs of concern. This application will list all of the important technical and on-page SEO information in every URL it crawls and tabulate them. The tables can also be exported to CSV files that you can open in Excel for easier data management.
Use Keywords on Your H1 Text
The main headline or H1 text in a webpage is a small ranking factor in Google’s algorithms. While its ranking impact isn’t massive, neglecting it deprives your webpages the extra edge they need to perform as effectively as they possibly could on the SERPs.
With ecommerce websites, it’s pretty common to see website logos or mundane text being marked up with the H1 HTML tag. This practice is wrong and it’s a missed opportunity for optimization.
Make sure that the H1 tags in your online store are the main headlines of your webpages. You also need to make sure that the main target keyword of the webpage is mention at or near the start of the H1 text.
Again, Screaming Frog is your best friend here. The tool allows you to easily see the H1 text of each page.
Shoot Your Own Product Images
Here’s a little-known SEO fact: duplicate content doesn’t just involve text – images are also treated as legitimate content assets that Google features in its Image Search function. Similar to regular search results, the Big G tries to keep image results as diverse as possible by weeding out duplicates.
In ecommerce sites, the most common practice is to use product images that the manufacturer sent your way. While this is perfectly fine for user experience and it’s the easiest way to finish your product pages’ development, it also means that you and other retailers who carry the same products are duplicating each other’s image content.
While this doesn’t drastically affect your webpage’s ability to rank in the regular SERPs, it does limit your ability to get found on image searches. To address this, consider taking your own original photos of the products your website carries. It not only sets your website apart from the rest, it also gives you that extra SEO edge that you’ll need when you’re trying to outrank tough competitors.
And while you’re at it, make sure that your product images have optimized alt text for even more SEO impact.
Blog with a Publisher’s Mindset
Having a blog section in an ecommerce website can be a powerful asset in your SEO campaign. After all, blogs help grow your audience, earn you backlinks and act as a hotbed for positive user engagement signals. However, it rarely works out like that just because a lot of online store owners and their SEOI service providers tend to miss the point of blogging.
To many SEOs and business owners, blogging is simply the act of writing articles and slapping them onto a website. With this sweatshop mindset, the reader is rarely the focal point of the blogging operations and content quality tends to suffer. When content pieces are treated as commodities rather than actual literature, they often get no love at all and are barely even promoted to the target audience. At the end of the day, the content goes live on the website but is hardly ever found by human users who can make all the magic happen for an online store’s blog.
When you decide to add a blog to an ecommerce site, make sure that it’s done so with a publisher’s mindset. Think of your blog as an online magazine for your industry rather than simply a page where you post soulless articles. When you adopt a publisher’s mindset, the interest of your target audience comes first.
Pleasing your readers means hiring a subject matter expert to write the content on your blog. It also means promoting the content strategically on social media, your email list and other channels to bring people’s attention to it. When your blog starts gaining some traction, you also need to make sure that someone’s there to answer questions and comments pointed at your content.
You can find more blogging tips here.
Ask for Links from Suppliers
Link building is probably the most time-consuming and resource-intensive part of any SEO campaign just because you don’t control every variable involved. You can put in all the work, but if another site’s webmaster isn’t feeling it, you’re not getting those critical backlinks that boost your ranking power.
While it’s challenging enough to build links to an informational website, it’s even more so for an ecommerce website. Linking back to you has monetary and promotional implications, so expect webmasters to hesitate or ask for compensation. Fortunately, there are lots of simple yet effective ways to gain potent backlinks for online stores.
When starting a link building campaign, the first websites to look at are those that you already have relationships with. In ecommerce sites, these would be your suppliers or the manufacturers of products that you carry. For instance, this would be the likes of ASUS, Samsung or Huawei if you sell electronics. If you peddle appliances, this could be brands like Condura, General Electric, Sony and more.
These companies often have highly authoritative websites that don’t sell their own products. Instead, they point people to retailers and distributors who do the actual selling. If you’re the retailer, look for pages like “Where to Buy” in your suppliers’ websites. If there’s one, contact your supplier and ask to be listed in there with a link to your online store.
This usually involves very little work and no exchange of goods or money. What’s more, the websites of manufacturers usually carry tremendous link authority, allowing them to pass on a significant amount of ranking power to your pages.
Tap Bloggers for Links
After exhausting every possible supplier link source, it’s time to turn your attention to the blogosphere. For most industries, there’s usually a blogging community that regularly posts content related to your products. Many of them have followings of their own, making them not just good referrers of potential online shoppers, but also good sources of quality backlinks.
There are several ways to get links from bloggers. The most common of which is to guest post on their websites. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, guest posting is basically the art of contacting a blogger and asking if you can contribute an article to their website. If the blogger agrees, your content gets published and you’ll be allowed to plant a link back to one of your pages.
However, guest posting is sometimes discouraged by Google as it falls into the gray area of SEO where links are given out not as referrals but as promotional tokens. In some cases, link builders even pay bloggers for the privilege of guest posting and planting a link.
At SearchWorks.PH, we have nothing against getting links from bloggers, but we do recognize that guest posting isn’t the only way to do it. There are a number of arrangements that you and a blogger can enter in order for you to get that all-important backlink without being viewed by Google and human readers as self-promoting.
An example of this is by inviting bloggers to review some of the products you sell. In this arrangement, you can reach out to a blogger and ask if they might be interested in reviewing one of your products. If the blogger agrees, you can send them the items for review and you can discuss whether they’re expected to return the goods or not. Typically, more expensive goods such as electronics are returned while smaller, more personal items such as clothing are treated as gifts.
For the most part, bloggers will only write reviews if they have positive things to say about the product. If they don’t, they will likely give you a heads up that they’d rather not review the item than bash it online. If they end up writing the review, it usually comes with a link that refers to the product page.
Here are some tips to refine your blogger outreach game.
Focus Your Links on Strategic Pages
Since links are a finite resource and there’s only so many you can build per month, you have to make sure that you’re getting the greatest amount of yield from each one. You can do this by pointing your acquired backlinks to webpages that have the greatest potential to attract customers.
In ecommerce sites, those would be your product category and product detail pages. Product category pages are used to target short to medium-length keywords that people search for when they’re at the consideration stages of the buying cycle. In other words, they search for these terms when they have a good idea of the kind of product they want but they haven’t settled on the brand or variant of the item.
Product detail pages, on the other hand, represent your website for long-tail keywords that have very specific buying intents. People usually search for these terms when they know exactly what they want to buy but have not decided on whom to buy it from.
At SearchWorks.PH, we usually start link building campaigns by pointing links to the home page if the website still has a relatively weak backlink profile. Doing so strengthens overall domain authority by focusing link equity at the top of the online store’s page hierarchy and allowing internal links to distribute to inner pages
For websites with decent domain authority metrics, link building to the home page can be kept at a minimum while the majority of links can be made to point to important product category pages. This helps you pass ranking power more directly to webpages that target short and mid-length keywords, allowing them to climb the SERPs faster.
In the case of websites that have products that they want to prioritize ranking for, links can be pointed directly to product detail pages. Like in category pages, ranking power is applied more directly to the product page and this helps jumpstart its ascent in the rankings faster than it would take if links were just pointed to its category or in the home page.
Ecommerce SEO isn’t rocket science. Strategy is typically straightforward, but it can get pretty hectic due to the sheer size of the websites and the number of pages involved. However, if you have the manpower, resources and the know-how, it can be quite fun and very rewarding to do. Follow the tips above and you should find your online store in very good shape after just a few months.