SEO for Ecommerce

On November 24th I gave a talk on SEO for Ecommerce at the annual SAScon mini-conference. Below I will expand on some of the points I made during that talk.

Focus on the money

While for many sites a solid long-tail SEO strategy is important, budgets are often tight and we need to make decisions about where to spend our efforts. For ecommerce sites this is a relatively straightforward decision: focus on the keywords that bring in the biggest rewards.

So you need to identify your top earning keywords and make sure your on-page optimisation and linkbuilding efforts are directed there, aiming for top rankings and a maximum share of search volume.

Additionally, branded search terms tend to convert pretty well – be they searches for your shop’s brand or searches for the brand names of the products you sell – so anything you can do to encourage branded searches (Above The Line advertising for example) will help. Just make sure you rank well for those branded searches.

Internal Search

Your site’s internal search function can offer you a wealth of information on the types of products users are looking for. Always make sure you’re tracking your site’s internal search queries, and analyse them to identify potential keywords for SEO as well as promotional opportunities.

Internal search queries can also help inform you of potential changes you need to make to your site’s navigation structure. If a lot of users are typing in queries related to a specific product or range, that might mean you need to make it easier for people to find it on your site.

Site Structure

For ecommerce sites good SEO is built on a solid site structure. If your site isn’t well structured and laid out in a sensible way, your SEO work becomes a lot more challenging. So always start with analysing and improving the ecommerce site’s structure, including its navigation, category trees, and link anchor texts.

The goal of a good site structure based on solid Information Architecture practices is that products can be easily found in a logical and consistent way. New visitors should not have to learn how to use your website, but your navigation and layout should be intuitive and accessible.

One of the added SEO benefits of a good site structure is that – by virtue of the application of IA – your anchor texts will contain the right keywords, which will give your site added value when a search engine comes crawling.


A big mistake many ecommerce sites make is that they simply copy content supplied by product manufacturers and use them as product descriptions. You don’t want to do that. Instead you should put effort in to writing unique product descriptions, full of relevant (long tail) keywords. Don’t be afraid to make these descriptions long. Bulk them out with product features and benefits, because that’s the type of information users find valuable and are likely to search on as well.

Out of Stock

A cardinal sin of ecommerce is to remove products that are out of stock and serve a 404 error. Don’t do that. Ever. Instead what you want to do is show the product page with an out of stock message and offer related products instead. Or, if the product is out of stock permanently, after a grace period simply 301-redirect the page to a replacement product page. Just don’t ever show a 404, because any value that page might have built up in search engines will then be utterly wasted.

Google Shopping owns your @$$

Google Shopping results

Whether you like it or not, you will need to pay attention to Google Shopping. On almost every product specific search query Google will show its Shopping results. And if your site is not among those results, you’re potentially missing out on big chunks of traffic and revenue.

There’s a simple tactic to gain more visibility in Google Shopping results: be cheap and get seller reviews. Being cheap is important because clicks on Google Shopping results, like price comparison sites, are price driven. But because you don’t pay for Google Shopping clicks, you don’t need to cull your feed to only contain price competitive products. It’s OK, even recommended, to publish your entire catalogue to Google Shopping, as there’s no cost involved and some hapless soul might still buy your priciest or obscurest products.

Getting seller reviews is also relatively easy. The best approach is to work with a third party independent review aggregator such as TrustPilot, and actively solicit reviews from your customers. You don’t need to have a great deal of variety in terms of review platforms, but there’s a risk involved with standardising on a single review platform: if Google ever decides to remove reviews from that platform from its Google Shopping seller ratings, you’re screwed.

Lastly, optimise your Google Shopping feed’s data quality. You want as little errors as possible, and try to include every recommended attribute in your feed.

Duplicate Content Issues

With large ecommerce sites, especially those that use parameter-driven URLs and/or faceted navigation, there is a strong risk of duplicate content issues popping up. It’s easy to create site structures that cause search engine crawlers to endlessly crawl the same content over and over again, each time sorted in a slightly different way. You don’t want this to happen, so you’ll need to do some ‘index sculpting’ to make sure your money pages are properly crawled and indexed.

There are a variety of tactics you can deploy to prevent or fix such crawling issues, some of which are described in this post (be sure to read the comments as I made a small error in the post that’s addressed in the comments).

Additionally, if your site uses parameters in its URLs, you can let Google know which parameters do what in Google’s Webmaster Tools. I’ve yet to see big crawling problems fixed with this, but it might help Google identify issues on your site, so I think it’s worthwhile nonetheless.

Linkbuilding for Ecommerce

Getting links to your ecommerce site continues to be a big challenge for many. Below are some tactics that have worked for me in the past:

Blogger Outreach
These days you’ll struggle to find a consumer product that someone is not blogging about. If you want valuable links to your website, it pays off to find those bloggers and establish relationships with them. Don’t go in for the commercial hook straight away, but try to build a lasting relationship that’s mutually beneficial. Product give-aways tend to work well, as do invitations to product launch events or industry conferences. Make bloggers feel appreciated and valued, and in turn you’ll get exposure and links.

Social Share Buttons
Put social share buttons – Like, Tweet, Bookmark, etc – on each individual product page, as well as on the order confirmation page. People like to show off when they bought something cool, so be sure to facilitate that with social sharing buttons, complete with a link back to your site of course. Also social share buttons on product reviews tend to see occasional use.

A statistic that was published recently is that 50% of ecommerce shoppers are logged in on Facebook. This makes Facebook integration quite interesting for ecommerce sites, especially if you can leverage peer pressure to your advantage (12 of your friends bought this product. Add to cart?).

A well-written piece of linkbait never goes amiss. Just make sure that when you first publish it, it’s mostly devoid of commercial messaging. The less commercial the linkbait piece is, the more links it’s likely to attract.

Once the linkbait hype has passed, then you can put links in to the content with keyword-rich anchors. And if the piece has totally died down, don’t hesitate to simply 301-redirect it to a relevant product page.

Foundational Linkbuilding
Despite the best efforts of various algorithmic updates named after cute fuzzy bears, the old-fashioned bulk linkbuilding methods of directory submissions, social bookmarking, PR pieces, and article marketing still work. Link volume is important, and while each individual link doesn’t carry much value, the sheer volume of links you can acquire this way will more than make up for that. If you don’t use this type of foundational linkbuilding tactics, you’re missing a trick.

About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.

22 thoughts on “SEO for Ecommerce

  1. Great blog post Barry, a huge factor for link baiting for e-commerce stores is the use of info graphics especially if they go viral and the chances of a good one is very high. You could end up finding it blogged about many design blogs as I’ve experienced in the past receiving over 40 back links within a short space of time.

  2. Awesome post Barry — many good ideas. I especially like the tip on data-mining internal search logs. Many potential good ideas in there. You mentioned duplicate content issues and one thing I notice is that many businesses try to capture local search by using duplicate pages where the only variable is the city or town name — surprised this gets by the Panda revisions but it does. Any comments on that ?

    1. Thanks Glenn. On the local search pages thing, if it works, why not? Google’s Panda updates are very hit & miss it seems, many high quality sites getting hit and content farms getting away unscathed.

      But when it comes to local SEO I’m far from an expert – I tend to suffice with microdata mark-up of locations on relevant pages on the site, and claiming local business listings. Try to find stuff from Mike Blumenthal or Lisa Myers, they’re much more well-versed in the art of local SEO.

  3. Great article!

    Internal search is great for gathering insights into what your visitors are looking for. But a well designed custom search engine can do a lot more than just that. They can help with SEO by making keyword related content available to crawlers from the any page on your website. Also, site owners can have control of their own algorithms and promote the content THEY want to, and decide how it gets indexed. Search widgets such as “top searches”, “related searches”, and “recent searches” provide users with a “discovery” experience and keeps them onsite for a longer period of time — leading to more conversions and sales.

    For information on adding an affordable and powerful custom search engine to your website, visit

    1. Hi James, good tip! One word of caution though: we have noticed that sometimes Google Shopping’s URL parser seems to go wonky and sends the click to a mangled URL (usually a 404) if you include GA tracking codes. Doesn’t happen too often, but it has managed to make me distrust that sort of thing. Still if it works for you, grand! It’ll also make segmenting the Google Shopping traffic so much easier, as GA tends to lump most of it under organic search nowadays (bastards).

  4. My colleague Anthony really insisted that I should give your post a closer look. I must say that it impressed me, Barry – great work and thanks for mentioning Trustpilot.
    Feeding Google with reviews is not only good for getting stars. People spend a lot of time comparing prices and checking recommendations from sources they trust, so the less known your company is, the more important it is to give the impression that shopping with you is safe.

    Keep the good posts coming. I’ll keep an eye out.

  5. Typically it’s advisable to optimize every page of a website. When it comes to an e-commerce website you need to weigh time vs. return. If you have thousands of product pages, that’s a hefty on site optimization job. Focus on the big products and the major sellers first.

  6. Re the Google Shopping Feed :-

    For anyone who wants actual figures before deciding on how much effort to put into setting up a Google Shopping Feed, one of my clients (admittedly with a fairly substantial feed) – managed to increase sales by around 10% (and that’s not taking into account extra sales from AdWords product extensions and AdWords product listing ads)!

    By the way – AdWords product listing ads are the best thing since sliced bread. If you have a shopping feed set up correctly already – you can sell lots of extra products by setting up one ‘product listing’ ad, and then letting Google automatically show the product people are searching for in the right hand side of the SERPS.. (Do ti now before everyone starts doing it).

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