SEO is a powerful tool for any ecommerce merchant. It can bring in more interested customers, improve conversion rates, and easily put you ahead of your competitors in those early stages of customer discovery. Of course, when we’re talking about optimization, we frequently also talk about climbing search results rankings. After all, you should want to be the number one result, right?
While this might initially make sense, it can actually distract merchants from what really matters in SEO - the user i.e. their potential customer. If you’re too focused on climbing rankings and getting that #1 spot, you might be tempted to take some SEO shortcuts, or find yourself focusing too much on what might appeal to search engine bots.
However, it always about which link ranks #1 on a search results page. In fact, once you take a step back and start focussing on other aspects of ranking, you may actually see more valuable traffic come through your store.
Is ranking #1 on search engine results pages (SERPs) important?
The assumption that ranking #1 is the most valuable thing in SEO is somewhat of a myth. While it is of course a great position for any page to be in, the top link on a SERP only actually sees about 28.5% of clicks. That’s not even half of clicks, and goes to show that maybe #1 isn’t the only valuable goal in SEO.
It comes down to the nature of how users engage with SERPs. After all, if only the top result mattered that would be the only result search engines display. Especially if a user is searching for something to do with a purchase, they’re not always going to go for the first link they see. Consider if you’re in a physical store looking for a t-shirt; you might look at different brands, colors, or sizes, you may look in another store to compare. The user’s search intent more often than not will mean they want to explore, compare, and investigate.
So, if the top spot isn’t as important, what is?
There are a few things that are going to matter more. First of all is being on the first page of results. In one study, only 0.63% of users clicked on a result on the second page. The higher up the first page of results, the higher the click-through rate so getting closer to the top of the page should be a goal rather than always aiming just for #1.
Aside from this, if you’re a local business or you have a physical storefront, your Google Business Profile is going to have an impact on discoverability and ranking. In years gone by, SERPs were just 10 blue links. Nowadays, there are not only many features on results pages but search engines like Google are always developing new ways to make the search experience more engaging. When a user is searching for a local business, they’re likely to encounter local SERP features that display reviews and ratings, business type, distance, etc. Here, it’s going to matter more to users that your store has lots of positive reviews and clear information than if you’re the top spot on the results page.
These SERP features also extend beyond just local businesses. Appearing as a featured snippet, results displaying sitelinks, and snippet features appearing such as availability, are all things that will catch the attention of users even if your page isn’t the number 1 result for their query.
How to improve rankings and how you appear in SERPs
Rather than looking at how to get to #1, let’s focus on how you can instead focus on improving page ranking and optimize for more than just the #1 link.
The biggest factor in climbing search rankings is how good an experience you offer users. Google prioritizes experience above all, as the better the page experience is the more likely users will be to use Google in the future for other queries.
Here’s what matters in creating a great UX:
Optimize these, and you’ll have a user experience that delights site visitors and in turn, search engines.
When we’re thinking of buying a new product, we often turn to different forms of social proof to aid our decision. Online reviews, blog articles, word-of-mouth recommendations etc. Backlinks are essentially the social proof of SEO - they act as sort of endorsements from other sites. In short, it’s when one domain links to another i.e. when a site adds a link to your product page in a blog about gift ideas. These links then show search engines that your site is more trustworthy, and useful for their users.
However the key to backlinks is that they come from authoritative sources. Lots of backlinks from less reputable sources can actually be damaging for your SEO and search ranking. Instead, focus on earning backlinks from high quality sources - even if it results in fewer links. It’s the same as getting a restaurant recommendation from a well known chef - it’s more trustworthy because it’s come from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
Earning these backlinks will not just improve your search ranking, they’ll increase your brand reach. Having your page featured in an article by a high quality source potentially exposes your brand to more potential customers.
Most backlinks are earned organically, or through some kind of active reach out. Creating shareable content that answers questions is a great first step in boosting your site’s chances of being linked to by another source. Blog articles give you the opportunity to write with authority in your niche, target long-tail keywords, and earn backlinks.
You should also research sites in your niche and reach out for opportunities. For example if you sell cooking equipment, and through research you discover that not only does Food Network share your ideal audience but they also regularly write gift guides or product recommendation articles. It’s then worth reaching out, and seeking out opportunities to have your product pages featured in future content.
If you’ve ever been looking at search results and seen the price of a product, or if it’s in stock, that’s due to something called schema or structured markup or structured data. This is an extra piece of code within your page which tells Google and other search engines more about that page. In ecommerce, that’s usually things like price, how many reviews it has and its star rating, and availability.
When this information appears in search results, it’s called a rich snippet. These give users more detail on a link that they may find valuable and aid in their decision on which link to click. It helps your link to stand out from the rest, especially if a competitor either isn’t utilizing schema or it shows that in fact your price or reviews are more attractive to customers.
Another major benefit is that it can lower your bounce rate, which can help demonstrate to Google that your content is worthwhile to users. Structured data in a way helps to manage expectations from potential customers. Say your product is out of stock, but this appears in search results as an option. The user clicks through to the page, and almost immediately leaves because it isn’t in stock. They’re then less likely to return to your store, and it can harm your ranking. If they see on the SERP itself that the product isn’t in stock, they won’t click the link. The argument could be made that this can decrease traffic and lower ranking, but it can be more harmful to have lots of users bouncing from the page.
The more positively people are talking about your brand online, the better it’s going to look to search engines. Reviews are a cornerstone of the customer journey, and this makes them highly valuable to SEO. Having reviews on your product pages is only just the beginning, you also need to consider off-site reviews.
As the name suggests, these are reviews hosted elsewhere online other than your own site. The reason these can be so valuable is that you are in control of your site - if you want to hide bad reviews, you have that ability and Google knows this. If you have amazing reviews on your own site, and this doesn’t match up with what search engines find on other sites, it can make your site seem less trustworthy. On the other hand if your reviews are glowing on all sites, this can improve your ranking.
There are two primary channels for these off-site reviews - trusted third party review sites, and Google Business Profile. Different industries have their own third party sites that people turn to for reviews. The most common in ecommerce is usually Trustpilot, and many stores will display their Trustpilot rating on site to offer further proof that their products are worthwhile. Trustpilot also verifies purchases, to ensure that the reviews displayed are from real customers.
Google Business Profiles are of course hosted and managed by Google, so you can essentially funnel positive reviews directly into the search engine itself. Reviews on Google typically aren’t verified by Google, however disingenuous reviews are usually easy to spot and report.
In the process of asking for reviews post-purchase, add Trustpilot and Google as options for leaving a review as well as on your own site. You can encourage customers to leave reviews, so long as you don’t incentivize them for a positive review as this is against Google’s terms of service.
In the game of SEO, everyone wants to be #1. However SERPs have 10 links and features for a reason. By optimizing to focus on the first page and appearing in snippets, you can add more value to your SEO, climb rankings, and attract even more customers.