Did you know that as much as 53% of site traffic comes from organic search? As much as merchants might promote on other platforms, search continues to come out on top as the best channel for bringing more traffic to ecommerce stores. This is reflected in how customers use search, with 49% saying they use Google to find new products, and 59% use it to research a purchase they plan to make.
It’s no wonder then that many merchants decide to engage with search engine optimization, or SEO, to help their store climb search rankings and get in front of more customers. However it’s one thing to want to optimize your store, and another thing entirely knowing how to do so.
Along the path of learning about SEO, there’s a good chance you’ll come across some great advice…and some less than accurate advice. This might be down to it simply being outdated, word of mouth, or a sort of game of “telephone” where the advice has changed as it has been passed through different people and sources.
To help you along your SEO journey, we’re going to go over 5 common myths around SEO best practices, as well as 5 things that actually could harm your SEO that you may not think of right away.
5 common SEO myths
#1 - Backlinks are the most important part of SEO
Spend any amount of time researching SEO and you’ll see a lot of advice around the importance of backlinks. In fact, there’s a strong chance there will be a huge emphasis on backlinks as the be-all and end-all of SEO for your store. The truth is, without great content to back them up, links are most certainly not the most important part of SEO. While they can be of huge benefit to your store, you need to have really high quality content first. After all, the content on a page is what users following those links will engage with, and if it’s great quality then that’s what will attract backlinks.
Moreover, links are all about quality over quantity. It’s much better for your store to have a handful of really good backlinks, than hundreds of poor quality ones. These backlinks should come from trusted, authoritative sources in the industry or topic at hand. For example if your store sells coffee then you want to get a few backlinks from sites which are influential and trusted in that niche as these will indicate to search engines and users that your store can also be trusted.
#2 - Backlinks are irrelevant
On the flip side of the backlink debate, it may start to seem like links are irrelevant to your store’s SEO. If you have great content and fine-tune your site’s performance, then that’s all that matters and backlinks are just a “nice to have”. That’s most certainly not the case. While it’s valuable to have that high quality content and your site optimized, links are also valuable in giving your store something which those factors alone cannot - authority.
You can control everything on your site, and this is often called on-page SEO. These are factors like the copy on the page, images, alt tags, meta information, and so on, which you directly control and can influence. Backlinks are part of off-page SEO, and these are outside of your control as you need to rely on other sites linking to your store to earn backlinks. These demonstrate to search engines that your site is relevant and trustworthy, and that it may be worth ranking over a like-for-like page which hasn’t got the same backlinks. It’s comparable to getting a recommendation for a medication from a doctor, versus someone without the same qualifications. You trust the expert, as they’re speaking from a place of knowledge and experience. Similarly, if you’re reading an article on a site you trust to give you good information about cooking and they recommend a specific brand of pots and pans, you’re going to trust their expertise in considering that brand. The more experts that point to that brand, the more trustworthy it comes across.
#3 - Content creation is all that matters for ranking
Content is crucial, we’ve covered that already when talking about backlinks. It’s what your users read and interact with, so of course this must be the most important part of SEO. You want to constantly be creating content, and that’s all that matters…right?
Well, not quite. As important as it is, fresh content isn’t the only thing that matters for your store’s SEO and there are two facets to busting this particular myth. The first is the quality of the content - only high quality, relevant, useful content is going to matter to users and search engines. Low quality content will actively harm your store’s SEO, so it needs to be properly planned, considered, and executed to reap the benefits.
Beyond your content, there are many additional factors which can affect a page’s SEO outside of its content, such as on-page and technical SEO. This covers everything from page speed, mobile responsiveness, site navigation, internal linking, URLs, and meta information. Your content may be amazing, but a poor user experience will harm your search engine ranking.
#4 - SEO is all about what search engines want
Between content, backlinks, page speed, and everything in between, it’s easy to get caught up in optimizing your store for search engines. You’re making these optimizations so that Google will take notice and rank your store higher, so that more of your target audience will find it and come to your store.
Did you spot the problem in that sentence? While you’re hoping to bring more people to your store through search, the optimizations you make shouldn’t be for search engines. Google is so successful because it consistently satisfies its users; it gives them the answers and content they’re looking for. Google only wants to provide its users with relevant, quality content and a high standard of user experience. That means that all those optimizations you’re making are really for users, and that’s how you should approach SEO for your store. Think of users and customers first, and lead with making the experience as good as possible. This will then be reflected in how search engines rank your content.
#5 - SEO for ecommerce is too difficult as a beginner
SEO is a multi-faceted, ongoing process which can seem daunting if you’re a beginner and the cost of hiring an expert may seem steep. While it’s not a bad idea to bring in an expert to help you get started, there are plenty of SEO tasks you can do in-house within your own team. Content creation, site optimizations, SEO maintenance, keyword research, and more are all fully possible with a bit of education and learning as you go.
There are also plenty of tools you can implement as part of your Shopify store that are specifically focused on ecommerce SEO and can automate many best practices. SEO Manager, for example, keeps track of your store’s SEO performance along with recommendations for improvement. It can also help you identify keywords, track 404s, implement structured markup, and create templates for meta information.
5 things that can harm your store’s SEO
We’ve busted some myths, now let’s look at what actually can harm your store’s SEO. We’ve focused on 5 things which can come up not as a result of purposefully shady tactics, but simply not realizing that they can harm your SEO. Especially if you’re doing a lot of your SEO in-house and are new to the process, some of these can crop up simply due to a lack of experience.
#1 - Keyword stuffing
If keywords help people find your store, it feels like a logical conclusion that you should mention them on your target landing pages as frequently as possible. However, go too far and you’ll risk keyword stuffing. This is where the target keyword is included several times, in a way that feels unnatural and almost robotic. Let’s say for example you sell pizza ovens, and you want to target “best pizza oven”. If you were to keyword stuff, a sentence may read “Looking for the best pizza oven? At [x] we aim to make the best pizza ovens. Our pizza ovens are…” - it doesn’t read well and is immediately obvious. Your content isn’t providing any value to the customer, it’s just trying to mention a specific keyword over and over again.
To avoid this, use your target keywords in sentences where they feel natural, and make use of the other keyword real estate you have available on a given page. This means your URL, meta description, meta title, image alt tags, page title, etc. There are plenty of places you can cleverly include your keywords, without stuffing them where they don’t belong.
#2 - Lack of mobile optimization
When running an ecommerce store, more often than not you’re engaging with it on a desktop computer. It’s designed and built from a desktop device, and you often manage it from a laptop or something similar. That makes it very easy to become overly focused on your desktop site’s user experience and SEO, however your mobile experience is just as important to optimize. 90% of global internet users access online service through a mobile device, and over 50% of searches are performed on mobile. In fact, it’s so important to the user experience that it’s one of Google’s page experience ranking factors.
If you’re a Shopify merchant, then luckily all themes from the Theme Store are mobile responsive by default. That being said, there are still optimizations you can make to ensure a smooth, engaging and easy mobile experience for customers and boost your store’s SEO. This includes removing any unnecessary pop-ups, improving page speed, and adapting your store’s navigation for mobile.
#3 - Low quality backlinks
Let’s rewind to backlinks again for a moment. With the amount of importance placed on them as part of a good SEO strategy, it’s easy to assume you need to secure as many as possible. Something you’ll need to pay attention to though is the quality of those backlinks. Low quality backlinks can damage your store’s SEO - low quality directories, poor guest posts, spam comments, etc. These are definitely not the links you want pointing to your store.
As well as trying to secure some high quality backlinks, do some work on removing poor quality links also. You can do this by identifying which sites point to your own, and looking into the source behind them. Once you’ve found those poor backlinks, you can start the process of removing them by emailing the webmaster of the site in question and requesting removal, and disavowing them.
#4 - Poor use of internal linking
Internal links are those on your site which point to other pages on your site. The most recognizable example of this is your store’s primary navigation, linking from your homepage to catalog. These links help users navigate your store, and search engines to crawl your site and understand how pages are connected. They can also indicate page importance, and pass link authority to pages which may need a bit of an SEO boost.
So, you need to strike a balance. You want enough internal links that it adds value to a page, but not so many that it risks confusing users and search engines and diluting the value of that page. Internal links should be placed on a page where they’re relevant and useful for users, and that makes sense. For example, if in a blog you mention a product you should link to it. Or if you mention your FAQ on a product page, link to it.
#5 - Ignoring off-page SEO
With a topic as broad as SEO, it’s tempting to focus only on on-page and technical SEO as you can directly control the factors that go into both. Off-page SEO is more complicated, but still extremely - we’ve spent a lot of this article discussing the value of backlinks, which are a major element of off-page SEO. It’s also especially important if your business has a local element such as a brick-and-mortar store or local delivery. Getting started with off-page is thankfully not difficult.
Start by getting your Google My Business page organized and optimized - lots of up-to-date information, responding to questions, and engaging with your profile in general. You should also engage with reviews - good or bad. From there, ensure your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) is consistent across different sites, especially those trusted in your industry niche for example Yelp or TripAdvisor. Finally, look for those high quality backlinks - find where your store has been mentioned but not linked and request a link be added. Look at sites where you could be featured either as a featured product, included in a listicle, or as a guest contributor.
Navigating the world of SEO can be tricky, and while resources on the subject are plentiful online it’s valuable to be able to spot a myth or mistake before it has a chance to impact your own store’s SEO.