In SEO, we’re always looking for ways to ensure pages have the best possible chance at ranking with search engines. Where can we include keywords? How does the page speed measure up against competitors? Is there enough rich content?
Today we’re talking about one of the most vital pieces of the search engine optimization puzzle - technical SEO. We’re going to look at what technical tools Shopify merchants have out of the box, and what more you can do to deepen your store’s technical optimization.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO is part of your on-page SEO, but refers to technical optimizations of a page that will affect how it is crawled. While the quality of the copy and content in a page can affect how successful it is in search rankings, technical SEO looks at more behind-the-scenes elements such as page speed, meta descriptions, URL structure, and site architecture. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for search engines to find and index your site, and demonstrate its user-friendliness.
Its importance to a merchant’s SEO strategy cannot be overstated; optimizing your technical SEO is vital to discoverability with search engine bots, and will also lead to a better user experience, which ultimately leads to better rankings. Having great content is one thing, but if your site isn’t performing technically then you’ll start to see it slip down SERPs.
The Basics - What does Shopify take care of?
All the various aspects of search engine optimization can be a lot to wrap your head around, especially if you’re a new merchant or you’re just new to Shopify. Replatforming is a big move already; getting used to how different platforms work when it comes to SEO. Luckily for Shopify merchants, a lot of technical SEO comes ready out-of-the-box with your store.
Shopify’s site architecture is inherently good for your store’s SEO - it follows an easily navigable structure that makes sense both to customers and to search engines. By sorting everything into Collections, Sub-Categories, and Pages, your store will have a really simple structure that’ll be easily crawled by search engine bots.
As with your site architecture, your URL structure with Shopify follows an easy to read pattern using simple characters. These are customizable also, and easily changed from within Shopify Admin.
Security is a big concern when shopping online, and especially for search engines. They want to ensure the pages they’re recommending to search users are secure, and to a high standard to safeguard users against fraud. Shopify itself is Level 1 PCI DSS compliant, and every store automatically has an SSL certificate generated during domain registration.
Whilst there are many ways in which a merchant can improve their site speed, Shopify does a lot to help things along with its global CDN (Content Delivery Network) via Fastly. This ensures that content is delivered as fast as possible no matter how far a customer is from your home base.
Mobile responsiveness is a big deal not just to customers, but to search engines. Clunky, unresponsive sites make for a poor experience, and Google takes page experience seriously when ranking pages. All of Shopify’s themes are mobile responsive as standard, meaning you don’t need to worry about whether or not your site will adapt to different screens.
Even better, Shopify made several big announcements at Unite 2021 that will undoubtedly mean big wins for merchants’ SEO strategies as new tools and developments are launched. In particular, they announced Dawn - a new benchmark theme for Shopify merchants that is on average 35% faster than their current most popular theme. Moreover, they’re making improvements to checkout that will result in checkouts being 2x faster, and aiming to bring all the capabilities a store needs within 50ms of any customer, anywhere in the world. This greatly improved experience especially around speed and efficiency will serve Shopify merchants very well when it comes to technical SEO.
Digging deeper - What more can merchants do for their store’s technical SEO?
Whilst Shopify will set you along the right path with SEO, there are always ways that you can make improvements. We’re going to talk through key areas where you can dig a little deeper and really make the most of the tools you have to hand for technical SEO
Improve your site speed
Shopify may put focus on speed and content delivery, but it’s down to merchants to ensure that their stores are fully optimized for speed. After all, what matters is your page speed according to Google. Check out our other article about core web vitals for a bit more in-depth analysis about what those mean for your store’s content. There are two major ways you can make huge improvements to your store’s speed - content optimization and reviewing your apps. Start by using tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights to get a better understanding of where your store is falling behind.
The images and other content on any given page is a big factor in how fast that page loads, therefore optimization is key. The primary culprit in loading speeds tends to be poorly optimized images, even though this is easily avoided. Compress all images that will be featured; this can be achieved manually, or using an image compression tool. If you do use a tool, you should manually resize images that will be featured on high priority pages, to ensure the quality is retained.
Review your apps
Something many merchants won’t consider is how apps may affect their site speed. You install an app into your store, you use it for a while, then you outgrow its use and install a different one. The problem is that the original app you no longer use is still part of your site, and is causing speed issues without you even realizing it. The quickest way to combat this issue is with regular app usage reviews:
- Step 1: Look at the apps currently installed
- Step 2: How many of those apps are currently being used?
- Step 3: Of the apps being used, are any of them seldomly used? Are there any other tools that would be of better use/value to your store and would be used more?
- Step 4: Clean up the unused and low-use apps, taking time to fully remove them from your store.
From here, you should continue to seriously monitor the apps you install into your store, taking the time to consider the value they’ll actually add. If you trial an app and decide not to use it, make sure it’s fully removed when you’re finished with it.
Shopify recently announced that merchants would now be able to edit their robots.txt file; something that was previously unavailable, and was a major sticking point for SEO experts and merchants alike. This opens up a very valuable opportunity for merchants to improve their technical SEO by controlling how bots will actually be able to crawl your store.
We’ve previously published a brief overview of how merchants can edit their robots.txt file, along with some best practices. The key takeaway is that you should use this tool in order to prioritize the key content you want bots to crawl and index, and take their focus away from crawling low-priority and legacy content.
Smart implementation of keywords
Your on-site content isn’t the only place you can implement your keywords - there are plenty of opportunities to do so with technical SEO elements. Within Shopify admin, you have access to edit key technical SEO elements for your pages and products, offering up ideal placements for your most important keywords.
Ideally you should implement your keywords into your title tags, meta description, and URLs:
You should do the same with image alt tags, and image descriptions. Ensure each of these elements is descriptive and keyword-rich so you can make the most of the SEO opportunity available.
Make use of structured data
Structured data allows Google’s bots to better interpret and understand the content of your pages. It’s a standardized format that allows you to tell Google about the explicit contents of the page and classifying that content. It looks like this:
The above example is from Google’s own information about structured data. What this example does is tell Google about a recipe - its author, prep time, yield etc. In the context of ecommerce, it can tell Google about your products such as sizing, pricing, reviews etc. By making this information more easily accessible to Google, it can be better displayed to search users in results beyond just the page link:
Structured data is also used to create rich snippets; these aren’t guaranteed however it’s worthwhile giving your content the best possible chance.
To implement structured data, you can use a Shopify specific tool such as SEO Manager to easily enable you to include structured data for your store without needing to understand Shopify Liquid and JSON/JSON-LD.
Once you’re ready to implement the structured data, use tools such as Google Structure Data Testing Tool and Rich Results Test to make sure your data is correctly marked up and eligible for rich results.
Simplify your homepage
For many sites, their homepage will be their highest traffic landing page. This means many also make the mistake of adding lots of content to their homepage, so that they can make the most of the opportunity they have when a user lands on it. Your homepage should act as a summary of your store and brand, encouraging visitors to explore the rest of the site rather than including everything on a single page.
Here’s a quick guide on how to do this:
First run your homepage through tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights to determine what elements are causing the biggest drops in speed.
From there, look at each element on your homepage and eliminate unnecessary sections. For example rather than a large paragraph of text, give a keyword rich summary and link the user to visit another page to learn more.
Hero image sliders are also a culprit when it comes to homepages with poor user experience. Stick to one hero image, swapping it out as necessary during sales or product launches - data suggests that the click through rates on hero image sliders are very low, so reducing these will only have a positive impact.
- Look at what navigation is included on your homepage - is it easy to navigate? Do the categories and subcategories make sense together?
After looking at these elements and optimizing your homepage, you’ll have a streamlined, technical SEO-friendly homepage that search engines will love.
Even with the technical SEO benefits of hosting your store on Shopify, there will always be ways you can further your optimization efforts. By taking the time to dig a little deeper into your store’s technical SEO, you can ensure that every opportunity to improve your pages’ chances of ranking are maximized.