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Whether you just started your e-commerce business or have been around for a while – attracting more customers is likely important to you. For e-commerce websites, higher (and better quality) traffic often equals more sales.
When it comes to funnelling higher quality leads to your website, there’s no better strategy than SEO. Advertising experts agree that SEO produces the highest ROI of any marketing tactic, and the results it brings last longer.[i] Despite this, it’s common for online sellers to build and maintain their store with almost no SEO strategy.
If up until now you’ve been ignoring SEO or have simply been unsure of how it adds value to your online store, this guide is for you. Here, we will be explaining what e-commerce SEO means, why it’s vital for success, and how to get started.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It includes a whole range of tactics designed to help increase the quantity and value of search engine traffic that goes to a website. Essentially, the goal is to help your website pages rank higher on search engines, allowing you to have better visibility and leads.
E-commerce SEO is specially targeted towards improving the number of leads, and ultimately the sales volume of e-commerce sites. Even if you already have a lot of website traffic, SEO tactics work to attract better-qualified leads. So, you not only boost your website traffic, but also draw more visitors that are willing to make a purchase.
SEO works by tweaking and sometimes overhauling various aspects of your website. These include improving your website content, creating a better website design, and making your web pages load faster.
SEO strategy isn’t arbitrary though, instead, it follows a meticulous plan to improve your website in relation to certain factors that search engines use to rank search results. These factors are called ranking signals.
Consider this: Every time you search for something on a search engine, it produces a list of numbered results. The main factor that determines where your website shows up, in 1st place or 1,000,000th, is the performance of your website compared with these ranking signals. Examples of ranking signals include:
- Page load speed
- Content relevance and quality
- Website and content structure
- Domain name authority
- User experience metrics, such as bounce rate, page speed, and time on page
- Backlink number and quality
Most of the popular search engine platforms, such as Yahoo, Bing, Google, and Baidu all use similar signals. However, it’s important to note that Google is by far the most important platform to rank on, simply because of its dominance.
Google controls a jaw-dropping 92.27% of the global search engine market share,[ii] while more than 90% of all search queries around the world take place on Google.[iii] Thus, it is clear that Google is THE search engine to rank on, plain and simple.
Why is SEO important?
You now know what SEO is and what it does. But why is it important?
We’ve already mentioned that SEO is the most effective marketing strategy ever utilized. Here’s just how effective it is.
According to research, 68% of all online experiences start with a search query.[iv] Amongst online shoppers, 81% consult Google or some other search engine before making their purchase.[v] Many of those searchers don’t have a brand name in mind, or even know what they’re looking for.
By helping your e-commerce website rank favorably in search engine results pages (SERPs), SEO helps you enjoy a higher level of traffic. The higher you rank, the better your chances of earning the lion’s share of those leads.
For example, the Advanced Web Ranking reports for websites in the top spots on SERPs have a more than 40% click-through rate (CTR).[vi] (CTR measures the number and frequency of clicks your website gets when it shows on search results pages.) The lower you drop on the page, however, the fewer clicks you get.
Result number two receives less than half the number of clicks that result number one gets, and the lower you go, the more dramatically the CTR falls. If you’re on the second page, your website may as well not exist — as 95% of people never go beyond the first page.[vii]
You may be thinking that paid ads already do the job of putting you on the first page — after all, the first few results on Google search pages are usually ads. That mindset is often wrong for two reasons, however:
- First, you may be surprised to know this, but people hate ads, especially on SERPs. Research shows that 70-80% of users avoid paid search ads, choosing instead to click on organic search results (unpaid results).[viii] That’s not to say paid ads don’t work, but wouldn’t you rather bank on a tactic that’s attractive to the majority of people?
- Second, paid ads are not nearly as effective as SEO. That’s because paid ads only make sense for a small category of searches – they’re only suitable for users who want to buy right now. Compared to this, SEO lets you cater to all of your prospective customers, no matter what stage they’re at in the buying process. So, whether they’re still asking “what are the best ways to make coffee?” or have started searching “best coffee makers for $100,” your website can be their go-to for help.
We’ve discussed why search optimization is essential, but how does this translate into tangible benefits for your business?
How can SEO help an e-commerce business?
Since there is a lot of discussion, knotty terms, and technical concepts around SEO and its usage, it’s easy to think that SEO has no real impact on your bottom line. The reality, however, is quite different. SEO is one of the most effective ways to increase your revenue and profits.
E-commerce stores thrive on a steady stream of new customers and a loyal core of repeat buyers. Without new buyers to drive new revenue, it’s harder for your store to grow.
SEO helps funnel-in new buyers that are more likely to buy from you. SEO enables you to gain the trust and confidence of online buyers, and thus increases their lifetime value to your business.
Here’s how these benefits work out for your store:
Attract more leads
There’s no better tactic than SEO for driving leads to your website. According to Outbrain, search is the number one driver of traffic to content websites – it’s over 300% more effective than social media.[ix]
Likewise, 39% of all e-commerce traffic comes from search engine hits.[x] Simply put, SEO puts your business directly in front of those looking for it, giving you more opportunities to sell.
Increase lead quality
E-commerce SEO doesn’t just attract more site visitors, it also helps pre-qualify your leads. Too often, e-commerce sites find themselves receiving clicks from people who aren’t ready to buy or who aren’t sure your store has the quality or reliability to meet their needs.
Unfortunately, merely clicking on your product pages won’t give them that information or help send them down your sales funnel. Instead, with SEO, you can identify precisely what those people want and present the information they need to make a decision.
The more clicks from people interested in your products, the better your chances of higher sales and profit. Showing just how effective SEO is at attracting better sales, Backlinko reported that search engine leads have a 14.6% close rate.[xi]
That’s absurdly impressive, considering that the average conversion rate for e-commerce stores is 2-4%.
In search terms, domain authority refers to how trustworthy and respectable search engines think a website is. The more relevant and user-friendly your web content is, the more authority you have. Authoritative websites rank higher in search results and enjoy the trust of web searchers.
SEO is probably the most crucial tool for building authority. SEO helps you build a website that people trust and want to visit through the medium of spot-on content and reliable information.
Reduce marketing spend
SEO has the highest long-term return on investment (ROI) of any marketing tactic. For example, one study found that technical SEO (including keyword research and site speed fixes) produces an ROI of 117%. Amazingly, content-based SEO brings in even more, with an ROI average of 748%.[xii]
Essentially, these stats mean that with SEO, your marketing will eventually pay for itself. In fact, it will more than pay for itself — it will often bring in far more than it costs. But that’s not all.
The results of SEO are long-term, meaning you’ll enjoy their benefits for longer. Clicks from ads typically end when your campaign ends, but a well-designed product page will keep driving traffic for as long as it remains relevant.
Types of keywords and how to use them
Having covered the meaning and benefits of SEO, it’s now time to delve a bit deeper. Search optimization revolves around delivering relevant content to search users. But to produce relevant content, you need to know what searchers consider relevant. That’s where keywords come in.
According to Ahrefs, “keywords are the words and phrases that people type into search engines to find what they’re looking for.”[xiii] These are also called Google searches or search queries.
Keywords may be a single word, like “dogs,” or it could be a couple of words, like “dog toys.” It could also be an entire phrase, such as “rubber toys for dogs.” No matter their length, however, all keywords play the same role: they’re the core of what your site visitors are looking for.
Keywords are important because your website can show up in a search query if you write your web content with those phrases or words. Content relevance is one of the ranking signals that search engines use. And keywords are one of the ways that search engines can tell if your website content is relevant.
Types of keywords
There are various types of keywords. Depending on where you look, keyword types can number into the double digits; but you don’t need to concern yourself with many of those keyword types, as most are only used for technical purposes.
That said, the following are some basic types of keywords you should know:
- Long-tail keywords: These are generally referred to as Google searches with two or more words; although it would be more accurate to call them keywords with low search volume. Long-tail keywords are more specific variations of a root phrase. For instance, “rubber toys for dogs” is a long-tail version of “dog toys.” It’s often more valuable to target these keywords because it can be easier to rank well with them.
- Buyer/search intent keywords: Search intent keywords help you understand the reason behind a search query. For instance, the intent behind a search for “how to style a silk scarf” is different from “best places to buy a silk scarf.” One is informational, while the other is commercial. We’ll dive deeper into why these keywords are important and how to use them below.
- Geo-targeted keywords: This is just a fancy term for local searches. Essentially, these keywords relate to a specific location — and are therefore of great value to local businesses. Google reports that 50% of people that do a local search visit a store within one day.[xiv] An example of a local search could be “buy dog food in Manila.”
- Related-vertical keywords: These are keywords that are related but not the same. For example, “how to style a silk scarf” is related to “fashion styles for women” because they target the same search category — fashion. Optimizing for related-vertical keywords helps you attract a larger audience or unearth new opportunities.
- Latent semantic indexing keywords: Otherwise called semantic keywords, these phrases are essentially synonyms. They relate to words and phrases that are synonymous or closely related. For instance, “French Bulldog” and “Frenchie” refer to the same type of dog and are therefore semantic keywords. You can vary your content with these keywords to add richness to your web page and help drive organic traffic.
How to use keywords
There are two basic ways to use keywords: pay-per-click (PPC) ads and SEO.
Google allows businesses to bid on specific keywords and create ads that target those keywords. When a search query includes those keywords, your ad can appear at the top of Google SERPs. In return, you pay the bid amount every time someone clicks on your ad. That’s how you use keywords in PPC advertising.
With SEO, the process of using keywords is far more involved. There’s a lot to do, from conducting keyword research to selecting and optimizing your content with the right keywords. Here’s what that process looks like.
- Keyword research: You might have some idea of the keywords you’d like to rank for. But it’s impossible to tell exactly what people search for and why. Keyword research helps you learn what search queries to target and how you should target them.
With proper research, you’re able to discover how many people search those terms and how much competition you face in the SERPs. There are many ways to do keyword research, but the best (and easiest) is using a keyword research tool.
- Choosing keywords: Once you figure out what people search for, your next task is keyword selection. Again, there’s so much to consider when making your selection. Relevant factors include keyword search volume, search intent, keyword value, and difficulty. Ideally, the phrases you pick should have a high search volume, high search value, and low difficulty.
- Optimizing for keywords: Once you’ve picked your keywords, the next step is to place them optimally within your content. Best practices for keyword optimization include inserting them in the page or article title, as well as within the URL. In addition to this, you should strategically mention the keyword throughout the page and in subheadings.
This is just a little summary of the work involved in using keywords, however. As you learn more about e-commerce SEO, you’ll better appreciate the work involved here and how to proceed with it.
The importance of buyer and keyword intent
Buyer and keyword intent is one of the secrets behind SEO’s effectiveness. While much of marketing is simply trying various things and hoping that one works, buyer and keyword intent make your efforts more accurate. This section will explain what they mean, why they’re so powerful, and how to use them.
First of all, it must be noted that buyer intent, keyword intent, and search intent all mean the same — they are the “why” behind a search query. They inform you of the searcher’s purpose and give you the information to anticipate and meet your potential customers’ needs.
Buyer intent plays a significant role in easing and refining SEO tactics. For example, it allows you to better strategize on the kind of content you should deliver. It can help you know, for instance, that a user searching “10 best ways to knot a tie” needs an informative blog post.
Additionally, it tells you that instructional images and videos may be even more valuable for the searcher. Without the insight that buyer intent provides, it’s harder to meet a searcher’s needs, even when you know what they need.
There are several other reasons why buyer and search intent are critical. They let you:
- Screen uninterested buyers by optimizing your content for the exact people you want to attract
- Capture buyer interest with high-quality content or product descriptions that speak to their needs
- Leverage account-based marketing to deliver relevant content to specific high-value prospects
Types of buyer intent keywords
There are four main categories of buyer intent keywords.
- Informational: These keywords indicate that the searcher wants information. They’re usually in the form of questions or generic phrases. An example of information keywords is “best silver brooches in 2021.”
- Navigational: Keywords with navigational intent have a specific destination. Usually, they’re looking for one particular tool, website, etc. For example, “Facebook login” is a navigational search term.
- Commercial: When a searcher uses these terms, they’re on the way to making a buying decision but aren’t there yet. Usually, they’re weighing their options or looking for reviews. An example of these keywords is “iPhone 13 vs Samsung S21.”
- Transactional: These queries show that the searcher is just about ready to make a purchase. Often, they have a specific product in mind. All that’s left is where to buy. An example of transactional keywords is “iPhone 13 features and price.”
By structuring your content with the right intent, you can provide the exact value that your web visitors are after. In return, Google will reward you with a higher ranking, and prospective customers will deliver the clicks and conversions you want.
How to use keyword gaps between competitors
Just as traditional businesses learn from their competitors, your SEO strategy can involve competitor analysis. You can assess your rivals’ e-commerce websites for content opportunities and learn from their success by using keyword gap research.
Keyword gap analysis is also called competitive keyword analysis. As the name suggests, it involves analyzing your competitors’ websites to identify valuable keywords for which they rank higher than you.
Typically, you’re looking to find the high-volume/high-value keywords that your business can also benefit from. Understand that those you consider as competitors might rank for thousands of keywords. You don’t want, and probably cannot afford, to try ranking for all those keywords. So, the goal is to just pick the keywords that are achievable for you.
In addition, you should have a clear understanding of who your competitors are. The fact that you’re an e-commerce business does not automatically mean your only competitors are other online stores. In this case, your competitors are other websites that rank higher than you for the keywords you’re targeting.
With keyword gap analysis, you’re in a great position to:
- Identify the roots of your competitors’ SERP ranking success
- Detect where your top opportunities for competing lie
- Compare the common keywords shared with your competitors
- Utilize your findings to aid your keyword research and SEO efforts
How to use keyword gaps for SEO
Conducting competitor analysis can be extremely time-consuming without the right tools. Thankfully, there are many dedicated keyword gap analysis tools from popular SEO providers like Semrush[xv] and Moz.[xvi]
Here’s what the competitor analysis process looks like:
- Competitor selection: It is best practice to compare your website with two or more competitors. Many tools allow you to compare with up to five competitors at once.
- Keyword comparison: Here you’ll find information about the keywords your opponents rank for. High-quality tools allow you to refine this analysis from domain level to subdomain and even folder level.
- Opportunity assessment: This tool will also show you where keyword opportunities lie. For instance, Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool shows you semantic variations of specific keywords and their search volume, helping you learn if they’re helpful to target.
- Exporting results: Lastly, you’ll typically export your results for further keyword research as you plan how to create content around the selected keywords.
Which are the best SEO tools and platforms?
As you have probably already noticed, SEO is a lot of work. While that work can pay off massively for you, it’s hard to get past the ton of effort it will take. The good news is you don’t have to do all that work by yourself.
There are hundreds of SEO tools, both free and paid, to help you address every aspect of search optimization. These range from on-page SEO strategies, such as site architecture upkeep and internal linking, to off-page SEO covering backlinks and more.
Utilizing SEO tools is about more than just convenience, as much of the work that search optimization entails would be impossible without these tools. Additionally, it’s only with SEO software that you can measure your efforts and identify where tweaks are necessary.
We’ll identify some of the best tools and platforms around, from premium software like Moz Pro to free platforms like Google Analytics.
Best paid SEO tools
In no particular order, here are the best paid SEO tools in 2021:
- Ahrefs: Ahrefs is famous for many features, but its site audit feature and web crawler stand out. With the Ahrefs tool, it’s easier to quickly assess your e-commerce website and identify where your SEO is lacking.
- Semrush: Just like Ahrefs, this tool is also an all-in-one SEO solution. It helps you stay ahead of competing retailers with its competitor analysis features. In addition, Semrush enables you to assess and manage backlinks (links to your website from other sites).
- Moz Pro: Moz is another comprehensive SEO tool that takes care of your entire search optimization strategy. From site audits to backlink analysis, keyword analysis, and site ranking tracker, Moz has everything you need.
- Screaming Frog: This tool is well-known for its impressive site crawling speed, and it is extensive in its analysis. It rapidly assesses websites and unearths problem areas. Screaming Frog also provides a detailed report that helps you tackle all the highlighted issues in one place.
- Serpstat: Serpstat stands out for its combination of SEO, PPC, and content marketing features. It’s also more affordable than most premium tools and is ideal for SEO beginners.
- Majestic: Although it’s one of the older tools around (launched in 2011), Majestic is highly regarded in the SEO industry. It’s a favorite tool for experts because of its first-rate keyword analysis tool. The Majestic Million feature, which ranks your website against the top one million around, is also a fan favorite.
Best free SEO tools
Paid SEO tools can be pricey, with most starting at $80-$100 per month. If you prefer to see what SEO can do before buying an all-in-one tool, these free tools are a great place to start.
- Google Search Console: Google has the best free SEO tools around, and the Search Console tool is right up there. This tool helps you see Google’s assessment of your website and your site usage metrics, as well as affording opportunities for optimization. All of this is presented in a simple, user-friendly format.
- Ubersuggest: This keyword research tool helps you analyze pre-selected keywords for search volume, difficulty, and even content ideas. There’s a daily limit to the number of free searches, however.
- Google Analytics: Another powerhouse Google Tool, Analytics provides in-depth assessments of your website. The tool lets you see everything from bounce rate (how quickly people leave your website after clicking on it) to web traffic figures.
- Google Ads Keyword Planner: While Keyword Planner was developed for Google Ads users, it’s also an excellent tool for content marketing. It lets you see the cost-per-click of specific keywords and how users are searching those terms.
- Answer The Public: Another content marketing tool, Answer The Public shows you semantic data for selected keywords. You can see all the ways users are searching for specific topics with this tool.
In addition to these tools, there are tons of other free tools you can exploit. Some of these include:
- SpyFu Keyword Gap Tool
- SEO Quake
- Fat Rank
- Google Trends
- Keywords Everywhere
- SEO Workers Analysis Tool
- Google Mobile-Friendly Test
How much does SEO cost?
Businesses around the world, from e-commerce to more traditional sectors, appreciate the value of SEO. That’s why they spent more than $325 billion on SEO and other digital ad strategies in 2019.
So, how much can you expect to pay for SEO? According to one survey, businesses spend an average of $2,500 to $5,000 on SEO per month.[xvii] Many companies spend far more, with around 31% paying up to $50,000 for monthly SEO services.
However, that cost can vary depending on whether you use an SEO agency or personally handle your SEO. If you’re doing SEO yourself, your monthly expense shouldn’t be more than the value of your subscriptions to SEO platforms (plus miscellaneous). Thus, this cost would perhaps fall between $300-$1,000 a month.
Other factors might also affect your costs, however, including how much work your site needs and the agency’s rates for your chosen services.
Regardless, it’s possible to plan your SEO tactics according to your budget. Here are some tips that may help:
- Figure out your position: Learn where your site is lacking and what you need for optimal performance. With this big-picture view, it’s easier to plan and budget.
- Focus on the low-hanging fruit: You may be tempted to turn your chugging website into a Rolls Royce overnight, but apart from the fact that it’s an impossible feat, it’s also best to go one step at a time. To conserve your budget, only focus on the less extensive, but still fundamental, issues. These may include your site speed and optimized product categories, among others.
- Set periodic objectives: take things one step at a time. This way, you can tackle each significant issue at your own pace or break them down into affordable bits that don’t stretch your budget.
- Leverage free tools: Free tools can drastically reduce your SEO budget, but remember that this hack only works if you’re prepared to tackle at least some of those SEO tasks personally.
Now that you have all you need to move forward with SEO and begin implementing best practices on your e-commerce store, keep in mind that the journey to SEO success will likely be long (plan for several months to a year), but it will be worth it.
In the meantime, however, you can leverage Alibaba.com’s global marketplace to reach buyers from around the world. Alibaba.com complies with SEO best practices to ensure a steady flow of enthusiastic buyers. By signing up on the platform, you can also cut yourself a slice of that traffic and enjoy profitable sales.
Would you like to begin today? Here’s how to get started.