There are a number of ways to drive traffic to a website. Typically, a mix of various methods and channels works best to create a steady stream. However, if you are to be successful on the Internet, you will need to engage in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as part of your marketing strategy.
I have always viewed SEO as a long-term strategy; meaning that the fruits of your labor typically will not show themselves until several months or more into the effort. If you are looking for fast traffic, SEO is not your best option. However, it does play an important role in your overall traffic generation plan and should not be overlooked. Having said that, one of the best things you can do to help your store in this area is to get the right components in the right places. The following list of tips presents strategies that can be completed fairly easily and often in-house. Although not the only factors that will affect SEO, paying attention to these will go a long way toward boosting your overall effort.
Do Not Copy and Paste Product Descriptions from the Manufacturer: This is tempting, especially if you are short on time, but do not simply copy and paste a product description from the manufacturer's website. At the very least, rewrite the description in some way to make it unique. This will not only help SEO efforts, but can also help conversion.
Focus Keywords Down to the Individual Product Level: Some carts dynamically generate the keywords, meta information, etc., that appear on the product pages. This is better than nothing. However, you should have the flexibility to override the dynamic content with your own set of keywords if needed.
An SEO keyword field in your product database that can be displayed in the title tags, meta tags, and preferably the body, will help here. If your shopping cart does not have this built in already, and many decent carts do, add it. As you add products to the site, enter commonly searched for keywords in this field. Not everyone will search by the brand name or item number, so this will greatly help your product pages rank for long-tail searches.
Use Singular Keywords on Product Pages: As a general rule, try to optimize for plural keywords on the home page or other SEO landing pages. Focus on singular terms on the product pages by using the SEO keyword field mentioned in the prior strategy.
Keep Products Two or Three Clicks from the Home Page: When possible, keep your product pages as close as possible to your greatest source of Page Rank, which is often your home page. Many sites bury part of their product catalog deep within dozens of pages of categories and subcategories. Keeping products within close "click range" not only helps SEO efforts, but can help from the conversion perspective as well.
Unique Title Tags: For the most part, and as agreed on by many SEO experts, you should not include extra keywords that are repeated in every tag as these can dilute the value of the rest of the tag and potentially cause duplicate content issues. For example, if the name of your company is "Products R Us" and one product you sell is a "Blue XYZ Widget 2000," then it would be better to use that term in the title tag on the product page, not "Products R Us Blue XYZ Widget 2000."
Unique Keyword Meta Tags: Meta tags, including keywords and description, should be entirely unique on every product page. In addition, do not stuff keywords into your meta tags that are not relevant to the specific page they are on. Though meta content likely does not directly affect your ranking, unique tags can prevent duplicate content penalties. If you are familiar with Google Webmaster Tools and have not practiced using unique tags in these areas, you have likely seen alerts indicating "duplicate content" relating to this very issue.
Unique Description Meta Tags: Do not simply repeat the site description on every page. It is hard to believe, but you would be surprised how many sites I find doing this very thing. The meta description should be unique to each page or product. One way of accomplishing this would be to insert an altered version of the product description that appears in the product page into the meta description tag. I say altered because many product descriptions are so long that they will be cut off at some point. In addition, most product descriptions do not contain important calls to action that are needed to "get the click" when viewed in the search results.
Let Customers Contribute: Offering product reviews, and implementing a system that ensures they are used, is a great strategy for guaranteeing unique content. Allow customers to review products they have purchased or comment on ones they have not.
Avoid Session IDs in URLs: A number of ecommerce software platforms use unique session IDs in the site URLs to help "cookie-less" visitors. Unfortunately, this can create an infinite amount of duplicate content for the search engines to crawl. There are two options for preventing this: Use an ethical type of cloaking which serves URLs to spiders without the session ID, or ensure your ecommerce system prevents known spiders from ever creating a session.
Both require a little work, but I have seen a few shopping cart platforms, including open source, come built with the second option already in place.
Create a Product RSS Feed: Create a product feed and submit it to relevant content aggregators. Product feeds can also be a great way of picking up free backlinks directly to your product pages. These come in very handy when working with shopping comparison engines as well.
Use Search Friendly URLs: Ideally URLs should consist of keywords, not useless ID's or other parameters. If possible, use keyword-rich page names. A page name such as www.yoursite.com/keyword-phrase-here.html tells search engines a lot more than a URL such as www.yoursite.com/?ID=1234.
If your cart does not provide the opportunity for using URL rewriting software, at least limit the number of variables passed in the URL.
Links in Product Descriptions: Create keyword-rich links from within the product descriptions of one product linking to another. This can be a very effective strategy for targeting long-tail keywords. Be careful not to overdo this, as it can possibly affect conversion. It takes the visitor away from what they are interested in to another page on the site, further away from the action desired.
I have seen sites do this in an effort to increase search traffic, only to find that while it might increase traffic, it hinders sales. You need the right mix of traffic and on-page presentation for it to be effective. After all, what good is traffic if it doesn't buy what you sell.
Avoid Keyword Stuffing in Your Navigation: This is useless, unattractive, and it will negatively affect your conversion. Keywords that show up universally in the navigation on every page are not as important as they used to be. Instead, use keyword-rich anchor text pointing to your important pages within a paragraph of relevant text. Do not sacrifice usability in an effort to increase organic search rankings.
Optimize Your Images: With images now popping up in the regular SERPs, every image on your site should be optimized. Make sure all your product images contain unique alt text attributes. Simply populating the alt text with the product and brand name has been known to increase traffic from engines like Google Image search. Make sure the text you use to describe the picture actually fits. Optimizing a picture of a golf shoe with the terms, "golfing in South Carolina," might not be the best option.
Consider Brand Landing Pages: If your site sells branded products that customers may be searching for, set up an optimized landing page for every brand.
Use Title Attributes in Links: For all anchor text on your site, be sure to use appropriate title attributes in order to provide search engines more information about what the page contains.
Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce blog at, www.TheEcommerceExpert.com. He coaches storeowners using his online coaching system www.EcommerceAmplifier.com, teaching them how to increase website sales using his proven six-step process. He can be contacted at 1-866-602-2673.
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