Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important, and elusive, elements of an ecommerce website. It is important because of the impact organic search traffic can have on ROI, and it is elusive because search engines are always changing the rules. Still, there are a few core SEO principles that Google and other search engines recommend which should play an integral part in your online strategy.
1) Stop Any Black Hat Stuff. Do not buy links online or allow anyone to do so on your behalf. There are many fly-by-night SEO firms that will guarantee you the world and do nothing more than purchase lots of bad links pointing at your website. Buying links is against Google's guidelines, and Google is penalizing websites that participate in such schemes. Go white-hat, and follow Google's guidelines.
2) Collect Data. SEO without data is like a pilot flying blind. You absolutely must know the keywords that are converting on your website. Set up Google analytics with proper conversion and goal tracking in order to see where your revenue is coming from on a keyword level. This will help direct your SEO efforts.
3) Social Media. Long ago, if you were putting a link online, you were likely a Webmaster doing so on a website that you managed. Things have changed drastically. Today, consumers are posting their own links online via social media like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and Google is paying attention to these metrics as well as to consumer reviews. More than 60 percent of adults worldwide are using social media and online sellers, at the very least, should start a Facebook page and Twitter account. A strategy and time are required to be successful in this realm, and you should commit your resources to social media as another extension of your business.
4) User Experience. User experience is one of the most important factors with which website owners should be concerned. Providing a great user experience will help you gain customers, obtain social clout and get natural backlinks. You can enhance the user experience by:
- Optimizing images and relying more on CSS to improve load speed
- Testing for the best performing, or best experience, pages
- Identifying and fixing pages that have a high drop-off rate
- Reducing the amount of clicks users must make to accomplish their goals
- Making sure content messaging is clear and concise
5) Have good, useful content that is coded properly. The number one recommendation Google makes to webmasters is to develop excellent content that will help users accomplish their goals. Users tend to share good content on social media and even blog about it. Offer content that is aimed at helping consumers fix problems and/or answering their questions. Think about the keywords for your content, and the search intent behind them. For many ecommerce customers this can be accomplished with a well-written blog about your products and services. Content is still king, and the best content drives sales.
6) Include images and video. Rich media is often user-friendly and some people prefer video to text. Use optimized markup to ensure the topic of your content is clear to Google, and provide a heading with an H1 tag, and sub-headings with H2, H3 and H4 tags as needed. Use an alt attribute within your image tags and title attributes on your links. Don't be afraid to link-out to useful resources either. You are not "leaking page rank," you are providing a useful reference to improve the quality and breadth of your content.
The overarching theme is that when you provide customers with the best possible experience, search engines treat you well. Search engines rank websites they believe will provide users with the best possible experience, and they rely on several metrics to do so. By ensuring an excellent user experience, you will get more traffic, more backlinks and more social media buzz. For online sellers who want to optimize their websites, but may not feel they have the time or expertise necessary, many skilled ecommerce providers offer in-house SEO.
Mike Auger is president and CEO of Pinnacle Cart, a hosted shopping cart and ecommerce software application that allows you to create, manage and effectively market your business.
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