1. How online shopping behavior has changed
  2. Don't forget about SEO as you move from selling offline to selling online
  3. 3 Key Areas Of Enterprise SEO For Profit In Ecommerce
  4. Website optimizations to improve e-commerce rankings
  5. Technical SEO & Site Improvements
  6. Conclusion

The world of search engine optimization is constantly changing as Google adjusts its algorithm based on click data, website speed, links, location, personalized results, and numerous other factors.

In e-commerce, the pandemic has highlighted the need for companies to be agile in their marketing strategies and focus on growing organic traffic to protect the brand when the paid media budget may need to be cut.

What we learned over the past year is that during difficult times, consumers seek answers to meet all of their needs.

A solid ecommerce SEO strategy is key to positioning your business to withstand any storm.

How online shopping behavior has changed

Many brands had to close in 2020, and for some, those closings were permanent.

In late 2020, Coresight Research reported that more than 8,000 stores were permanently closed, and estimates suggest the potential closings are possible at over 25,000 locations in total.

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The closings of physical retail stores will have an even bigger impact on the e-commerce industry than the massive 9,800 stores that closed in 2019.

These life changing events have dramatically changed shopping behavior.

Research from Shopify found that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was 10 years of ecommerce growth in just 90 days.

There is still uncertainty about how this could affect the economy for the rest of the year.

With all this, buying habits are constantly fluctuating, as is marketing spending over the course of 2021.

Don't forget about SEO as you move from selling offline to selling online

In a recent retail survey, retailers shared their reactions to how they plan to move from offline to online sales.

  • 23% plan to hire or relocate resources for e-commerce.
  • 77% plan to change marketing campaigns.
  • 42% plan to relax their current return policy.
  • 28% laid off employees.
  • 42% plan to stop pickup at the store and return availability.

One tactic retailers will do well to get more attention is SEO.

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Google processes over 40,000 searches per second and approximately 3.5 billion searches per day.

If you optimize your website so that it ranks high on search engine results pages and often target keywords, you can achieve significant results for your business in the years to come.

3 Key Areas Of Enterprise SEO For Profit In Ecommerce

If you're planning on tweaking your online sales strategy, use organic search as a key channel that has the potential to generate instant traffic and sales.

1. Information architecture

Site hierarchy

The information architecture should be used to structure websites in such a way that the findability and usability are improved for both search engines and end users.

In simpler terms, it takes the complexity of the website and turns it into an understandable structure.

If you can't find something on your website, Google search bots don't want to find it easily either (let alone buyers).

Organizing site information becomes more complicated the further you get into the taxonomy of the site.

Websites are structured to include categories and subcategories, as well as faceted navigation pages.

Take REI for example; The top-level categories shouldn't be too difficult to figure out.

Your header navigation includes things like camping & hiking, paddling, running, biking, etc.

SEO Keyword Navigation Structure for Ecommerce

However, if you move to the actual Product List Pages (PLPs) or Product Matrix (PMP) Pages, for example, things get more difficult.

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You need to organize filtered content in a simple and effective way, and give users options on how to filter and find information.

SEO keyword navigation for faceted pages

Not only do you need to organize all of this information, but there are other areas such as blogs, community forums, or guides that need to be structured so that search engines understand how relevant you are to a query.

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Once you have all of this information organized, you can come up with a plan on how to better organize this information on your website so that search engines can more easily crawl it.

When organizing a website's taxonomy, consider the types of information a consumer would need if they are on the buyer's path to conversion.

Many company pages organize topics in keyword buckets to create overarching topic ideas. In this way, you can see whether you have organized and created content around the core topic areas.

Planning all of this can be tricky, but I suggest nailing your content buckets first.

In the case of REI, they could take the main bucket with their backpack and start organizing things like these:

Keyword groups for backpack terms

Pro Tip: Tools like MarketMuse can help companies understand the gaps in their SEO strategy. Once you have this data, you can organize information on the website based on an SEO plan that fills those gaps.

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After you've gathered and organized your site information, the two most important things to do to optimize your information architecture for SEO are Findability and Ease of Use.

2. Findability

Findability refers to the ability of search bots and end users to find content on your website using internal links, external links, sitemaps, and internal website search.

Ordered information ranks higher in Google search due to its availability and findability.

Google uses a crawl budget based on the website's authorization to find and process the information on a website.

An important part of business SEO is helping Google and other search engines find the information that matters most without spending their entire crawl budget on JavaScript, CSS, and other files that should be excluded from indexing.

This is not a problem with smaller websites. However, with large corporate websites, Google can search hundreds of thousands or even millions of pages to find information that a buyer finds useful.

Google search console data Source: Google Search Console data

A good way to understand what information Google is finding on your website is to look at Google Search Console (GSC) data.

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This data gives you an overview of the pages Google is crawling on your website, as shown in the "Crawl Report" table above.

The aim is to help Google access your website efficiently and find useful information as quickly as possible.

By analyzing GSC data, you can quickly understand which pages they are finding and indexing.

Use this data to make sure you're using robots.txt logs or meta-robots noindex tags properly, and tell Google not to crawl and index these pages.

Key takeaway: Using a Robots.txt protocol suggests Google not to crawl the page. However, there is no guarantee that the page will not be crawled and indexed, so the page may still appear indexed. If this is a problem, you can:

1) Add noindex meta tags to the urls you want to remove.

2) Be patient and monitor GSC to see if Google removes the pages once they are crawled by Google.

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3) Manually check if the urls have been removed from the google index by doing a website: url search.

4) Add the URL parameters to the robots.txt file that should not be allowed in order to save the crawling budget.

3. Ease of use

Ease of use is commonly referred to as user experience, the combination of user interface and information architecture.

Google announced in May that it was introducing a new algorithm for ranking page experiences that was specially developed to evaluate and rate pages based on how users perceive their interaction with your website.

When creating an effective information structure for SEO, it is important to consider which pages are most valuable to your business.

The higher the architecture of a website in your site, the more likely it is to be ranked for competitive keywords.

Start wide and move on to conversion-focused pages.

This approach naturally takes users from the top of the sales funnel to the bottom of the funnel conversion pages as users research, learn, and convert.

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Some variations to consider when building your information architecture include:

  • Gender (male, female, unisex), color, height (small, medium, large, etc.), size type (normal, petite, maternity, etc.), age group and size system.
  • Brand, gender, product type (top, bottom, dress, etc.) and attribute (color, size, material, etc.).
  • Seasonal products like swimwear, backpacks sometimes use the occasion as an attribute in the title along with product type, attribute, etc.

Keyword research can help you decide how to structure your organic search website most effectively.

Keyword clusters

In the example table above you can see that knee-high socks have a much higher search volume (an average of 33,100 searches per month) than the term crew socks (search volume of an average of 18,100 searches per month).

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If you sell both types of socks and need to decide which link to add to the navigation, given the larger search volume, you want to put more emphasis on a category / subcategory / facet of knee high socks.

Website optimizations to improve e-commerce rankings

Enterprise-level organizations have a number of locations, products, services, and support resources that need to be optimized.

With hundreds to thousands of web pages to optimize for, this level of optimization can be extremely time-consuming and costly.

For this reason, it is important to find a balance between automation and manual site optimizations.

Manual vs. automated SEO

Depending on the complexity of the system in use, manual search engine optimization can take a lot of time and resources to implement the most fundamental changes to each page like title, meta description, and content container elements.

Automated optimizations involve using software to implement the strategies you want, which means it is faster but more limited in its capabilities.

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Some general rules of thumb for automation and manual execution are:

Manual SEO elements:

  • Heartland pages.
  • Landing page core elements (i.e. title tags, meta description tags, header tags, and content).
  • Meta Robots Tags for Core Pages (i.e. Noindex / Index / Nofollow / Follow Tags).
  • Content container for product pages.
  • Core landing page url structure.
  • 301 redirects.

Automated SEO elements:

  • Product page elements.
    • Title tags.
    • Meta description tags.
    • Header tags.
    • Alt Caption Text and Caption Text.
    • Image size and compression.
  • XML sitemap creation.
  • Canonical tags elements.
    • Product Pages.
    • Faceted navigation pages.
    • Blog tags / category tags.
  • Production of breadcrumbs.
  • Related product links.
  • Schema markup.
    • Pricing.
    • Product inventory (i.e. stock or inventory).
    • Product name.
    • Product description.
    • Product rating and star rating.
  • Meta Robots Tags for Filter Navigation Pages (i.e. Noindex / Index / Nofollow / Follow Tags).
  • Product page forwards (i.e. based on whether the product is replenished).

Consider balancing these two processes so that more web pages are optimized on your company website and high quality pages receive professional attention for better SEO results.

Technical SEO & Site Improvements

There are many tools that can help you find performance issues on a site and work with developers to make a cleanup plan.

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DeepCrawl, Botify, Screaming Frog, and the like are useful for crawling large amounts of pages on a website to understand how a search engine can find issues like broken links and code issues.

If you want to quickly understand a website's performance, use the Google Chrome inspection tools to get a performance report.

Open Chrome, right click the website and choose Review.

Once the window is open, select Lighthouse to generate a performance report.

technical SEO audit

Once you have a report, you will see things like performance, accessibility, SEO, etc.

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This is a good starting point for uncovering some basic issues.

Chrome check tool speed check

Depending on the platform on which the site is based, certain elements can either be fixed quickly or it takes a lot of time and resources to find a good solution.

It is important that the development team and SEO team work closely once problems are identified so everyone knows how much development time is or will be required to fix a problem and, more importantly, the financial implications will when time and resources are devoted to cleaning things up.

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Here is a short list of things to investigate to make sure it doesn't negatively impact your SEO:

Page speed

With Google's move to a mobile-first ranking system and Google's announcement that page speed will play a role in rating user experience, it is critical that all pages are fully optimized for fast loading speed.

The following are website enhancements to consider to increase your page speed:

Minimize JavaScript, HTML, and CSS

Let a developer tweak your code by removing code comments, unnecessary formatting, and unused code. Google recommends using tools like CSSNano and UglifyJS to aid this.

Reduce redirects

Every time a page is redirected to another page, additional time is added for the HTTP request cycle to complete. Make sure your redirects have the least resistance to improve the user experience.

Browser caching

Browsers collect information so that when a visitor returns to your website, they don't have to reload the entire website. Using a tool that allows you to set an expiration date for your cache is most useful for your site when you are making changes.

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Crawl budget

The crawl budget refers to the number of pages a search engine crawls and indexes within a certain period of time.

Businesses need to define the right crawl rate for their website to ensure that the most popular pages are crawled and indexed most effectively.

Crawl-related issues can limit a search engine's ability to monitor and index the most critical content before the crawl budget reaches capacity.

XML SiteMap

An XML sitemap shows Google where information can be found on your website and helps locate bots to find the information you want to rank accordingly.

Effective sitemaps take into account the following:

  • Format your sitemap in an XML document.
  • Follow the XML sitemap protocol.
  • Update your sitemap properly to include all of the pages on your website.
  • Properly submit your sitemap to your Google Search Console.

Conclusion

When done strategically, your corporate SEO can increase brand awareness, generate consistent revenue, and dominate your presence in the industry without paying for a click every time you visit the website.

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Brands that fail to properly invest in and develop a business SEO strategy run the risk of losing critical real estate on search engine results pages, which can lead to significant drops in sales.

As a company, your website already has strong brand awareness. Maintain your industry dominance through effective SEO optimization and consistent monitoring.

More resources:

Photo credit

All screenshots by the author, February 2021

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