On-Page SEO: A Beginner’s Guide to Optimizing for Ecommerce
When you land on a product page for a new brand, there are a lot of pieces of content that you engage with. Reading a product description, using links within the content to find more information, and using the site’s menu to browse different categories. All of these elements fall under one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization - On-page SEO.
What is On-page SEO?
Put simply, on-page SEO is the process of optimizing your site content for search engines and users. On-page is anything which site visitors can see or experience such as your content, page titles, URLs, and site navigation.
It’s worth noting here that as well as on-page SEO, you also have off-page SEO and technical SEO. Off-page SEO is, as the name suggests, optimizing for anything that happens off your site such as backlinks. Technical SEO is part of on-page, but typically refers to optimizations you can make in the back-end of your store that affect how it is crawled such as your robots.txt file, and structured data. Today we’ll be focusing on content and page experience.
How to write SEO content for ecommerce
Your SEO strategy centres around content. It’s what users come to your page for, what customers base their decisions on, and the most basic aspect search engines use to base their ranking on. Your on-page SEO efforts begin with the content you have on your site. This includes your product pages, catalog pages, blogs, FAQ, About Us and more.
Let’s start by looking at how you can ensure you’re writing SEO-led content for your store.
Page Purpose and Type
Whether it’s product pages with descriptions and CTAs, or blog posts that go into detail about how to care for that product, every page on your store has a purpose. That purpose is the key to determining what kind of content should be included - length of written copy, visual elements, links, etc.
Purpose and type will play a big role in whether or not a page will rank for specific keywords. For example if you were to search for a target keyword and all the results were blogs and news articles, it may be less likely that a product page would rank. This helps you to determine which content will stand the best chance of ranking for specific keywords. You want to strike a balance between the purpose of the page, keywords, and satisfying search intent.
Useful, Relevant, and Reliable
Google’s mission revolves around delivering the best possible information and experience to their users. Three qualities they highlight in particular are that search results should be presented in a useful way to the user, relevant to their queries, and from a reliable source. If this is how Google wants to present content to a search user, it makes sense then to keep these qualities in mind when creating content which is optimized for search.
Your content should be presented in a way that’s going to be useful to the user. This means giving them the information and tools they want and need when they land on a page. What would be most useful on a product page, for example, would be descriptions, photos, perhaps a video, sizing guides, an easy to use call-to-action, clearly displayed pricing, and reviews.
Consider what information and content would be the most relevant to the page. Keep the content of the page focussed on the primary topic. For example on a product page this would be the details and description for the individual product, rather than going into detail about an entirely different product. If another product is relevant such as complementary products, use internal links to show topical relevance and direct the user to that other product page if they’d like more information.
Keep your information up-to-date and accurate, and make use of trust signals such as reviews displayed on key pages throughout your store. On product pages, perhaps since you first launched a product an ingredient or component has changed - you then need to change the description and any other details so that they’re accurate. Reviews also help to demonstrate to users that your site can be trusted, and that the content on the page is reliable i.e. product images are accurate to what the customers actually received.
The key questions you then should ask when creating new content are:
- What information or content types would be useful to the user? i.e. images, CTAs, etc.
- Is all the content on the page relevant to the focus topic? i.e. a blog about BFCM discussing only items included in the promotion.
- Is the content up-to-date and accurate?
If a piece of content is published without keywords, does it even exist? Keywords are a crucial piece of the SEO puzzle, as these are the terms which users input in order to potentially find your store. They’re the most basic signal to Google and other search engines that your content will be relevant to their users’ queries, so they are in many ways the first step in ranking a page.
When writing content, you should always keep keywords near the top of your priority list. Use a mix of short and long-tail keywords and phrases incorporated throughout content in a way that’s natural and authentic. In other words, avoid keyword stuffing or adding in a phrase where it seems out of place.
We’ll look into further detail about where and how to incorporate keywords into your on-page SEO later in this article.
Search intent and customer journey
We’ve just covered that Google wants to show users the most relevant content in search results, and that will largely depend on the intent behind the search. Search intent is a crucial part of content creation for SEO, as it gives us the purpose behind a search query. Satisfying that intent provides a positive user experience, and this in turn is beneficial for your store’s SEO.
Most searches can be grouped into four different categories of intent:
- Commercial Research/Investigation
Consider the target user and how content you create can satisfy different types of intent they may have. Say for example you sell candles, and a user searches for “what does cedarwood smell like?”. You want to write a blog that gives them that information, as you’re helping satisfy informational intent. Perhaps instead they search for “Best cedarwood candles”, you want to ensure you’re featuring reviews throughout your store’s key landing pages to give them those reviews which will satisfy their intent to research the product.
As well as intent, you should also consider the customer journey and how your content throughout your store plays into that. Think about what content you could include on key pages you want to rank that will help the customer along in their purchasing decision. This might be adding more detail to your product description, or including featured reviews. Customers at different stages of the purchasing journey with differing levels of brand awareness will need different types of content. For example if someone is purchasing a gift for a friend, rather than someone who is already familiar with your products.
What you should optimize for on-page SEO
Your site’s navigation or architecture is crucial to the user experience, as it’s how visitors will be able to actually move around your site. If your categories are confusing, your main navigation is cluttered, and it isn’t easy to locate key information, then visitors won’t stay on your site for long. Not only will users find it difficult to navigate, but so too will search engines. A straightforward and well-organized architecture will make it easy for bots to crawl and index your site, and then to rank it for search results.
To optimize your site architecture, you should:
- Keep the structure simple, and stick to this as new products are added and your store grows.
- Organize and name your categories by what makes sense for the user - i.e. if you sell both men and women’s clothes, have a section for “Men” and “Women” rather than “Jeans” and “t-shirts” with men’s and women’s subcategories for each to make it clear and obvious to the user.
- Consider how many clicks it takes for users to navigate to key pages such as your core products and checkout. The fewer the clicks, the easier it is to find.
- Be smart with internal linking (we’ll come back to this later)
- Have clear sitemaps - both XML and HTML - to help both bots and users find your content.
Shopify merchants have the added advantage of Shopify stores automatically following best practices for site architecture.
Of all the on-page features to optimize, page title tags are one of the most important. It’s one of the first signals to search engines as to the content and relevance of your page to search users. What you enter as the title will be what is displayed as the title in SERPs, which will largely be how users determine which links they want to click on.
In Shopify admin, here’s where you can change your page title for search engines:
Here are some easy ways to ensure all your page titles are optimized:
- Include your anchor keyword for the content, but don’t stuff it with keywords.
- Try to keep it under 70 characters. Any longer and it’ll be cut off in SERPs.
- Include your brand name in the title.
- Keep it relevant and try to use similar language to the type of long-tail search terms people might use to find it.
After page titles, header or body tags are important for telling search engines what content is on a page and how it is organized. They also help users with navigating your content, so they can easily skim a page and understand what they’ll find if they read further. These appear as H1, H2, H3 etc. and both indicate important or noteworthy content within a page as well as represent the content hierarchy of the page. H1 should closely match the page title you’re using for SEO, used only once per page, and be unique. It will indicate to users and search engines what the topic of that page is, for example the product name or blog title.
Following on from H1, other body and header tags should be used to organize your content on a page. Here is a brief summary of how to use these tags:
- H1 - Page title
- H2 - subheadings
- H3 - subsections contained in content under H2
- H4 - subsections for further detail for content in H3
And so on up to H6. You should avoid using these tags to highlight or change the styling on another piece of information within the page such as using a H2 tag to highlight a phone number or price.
Here’s an example of an H1 tag on a product page:
And here’s an example of header tags used to denote content hierarchy in a blog post:
As with page titles, search engines also display page URLs in results. The way these are named and formatted can impact how both search engines and users see your page. They serve a very important role in on-page SEO, and luckily they’re also easy to optimize with some best practices:
- Make sure URLs are descriptive, telling users what to expect from the page
- Include target keywords
- Avoid using special characters
- Separate words using dashes
Here’s an example of an optimized product page URL:
The above example from La Colombe shows clearly what the user or search engine should expect from the URL - it’s in the category for “products” so it’ll be a product page, and it’s a “pumpkin spice draft latte”.
Luckily for Shopify merchants, all URLs for your store are automatically optimized with a readable structure and only use simple characters. You can tweak these for length and keywords, but know that some elements are already taken care of.
Next up - meta information. These are the descriptions that appear under your links in SERPs:
This gives users information about the contents of a page, but it also gives you further opportunity to help your link stand out on SERPs and include your keywords for that page. The reason it’s so important to include keywords in the meta description is that you may notice in the above example that some of the words are in bold; Google has highlighted in the meta description the words which were used to find this result.
To write a good meta description, you should:
- Keep it short - around 120-160 characters if possible.
- Consider the search intent that would lead a user to that page.
- Include your keywords for that page.
- Summarise the page, and expand on the page title
Internal links give your users more information and additional help with navigation, as well as giving search engines a better idea of how your site pages connect to one another. Internal links can include navigational links and additional content links. Navigational links aid in guiding users through the site, for example linking your homepage to your catalog page. Content links can direct users to additional content which is contextually relevant that they’d find useful or interesting such as directing them to a product page from a blog article.
For best practice when adding internal links:
- Use descriptive, keyword-rich anchor text - this helps users and search engines understand what content they should expect if they follow the link.
- Link from high-authority pages to pages you want to get a boost in authority, e.g. homepage to catalog pages.
- Don’t overdo it by adding too many links - only add links which will be relevant to the content on that page, and be useful or interesting to the user.
Bonus: Mobile Responsiveness, Site Speed, and Structured Data/Markup
As we’ve covered, on-page SEO are elements which the user can see on the page and this applies to less visual but more experienced led elements such as site speed and how your site performs on mobile. These elements are often classed as technical SEO, but as they’re still perceived by the user and part of their experience they also fall under on-page as part of that overlap previously mentioned.
Mobile friendliness/responsiveness is part of Google’s page experience ranking signals, and is therefore vital to your site’s optimization. If you’re a Shopify merchant then this factor is mostly taken care of as all themes in the Theme Store are mobile responsive as standard. When adding any new content to your site, consider how this will perform on mobile. Also ensure that any images or other visual content elements are compressed and optimized before you add them.
Slow loading sites indicate a poor experience, and this is of great importance to search engines like Google when ranking sites. If your product page is slow to load, then the user might not even get to see all the on-page content you’ve created. There are a number of ways to improve your site speed, such as removing any unnecessary or unused apps, optimizing image sizes, and browser caching.
Structured markup or data tells search engines more about the page in question through HTML. This could be review rating or stock availability on product pages, or the author and publication date of a blog article. It won’t directly impact your page’s ranking, however it does make it more likely that it could be featured as rich snippets on SERPs. These are more visual for the user rather than just clicking on links, so can be more eye-catching and potentially make it more likely the user will visit the link. If you’re a Shopify merchant you can optimize for this by using an app that automatically generates structured markup.
Understanding on-page SEO sets merchants up for success with the content they’re carefully created for their store. Knowing which features impact SEO and how to optimize them will mean your content has a better chance of ranking and actually being seen by users.