How do you do ecommerce SEO in 2020 and especially during crisis times? We’re in a crazy time right now, and reality is that it likely won’t be over any time soon. A lot of businesses are hurting, especially location-based businesses relying on foot traffic through their doors.

But the truth is also that ecommerce buying is way up because of that. It is a good time to be in ecommerce!

Crazy times like this also lead to opportunities. Not opportunities to take advantage of people, but opportunities to take advantage of situations so that you can better serve people.

So if you are in ecommerce, then you need to make sure that your site is optimally optimized for organic traffic. No site is perfect, so there are almost definitely things within this presentation that you can leverage to improve your ecommerce site’s SEO.

In this presentation I cover:

  1. Structuring your website templates so they can rank
  2. Focusing on categories and not products for SEO traffic
  3. Speeding up your site
  4. Focusing your navigation to optimize internal linking
  5. Understanding facets vs filters, and controlling duplicate content
  6. Using site search to drive page creation and traffic
  7. Focusing your link building on high leverage pages
  8. Proactively monitoring your site for SEO issues

Structuring your website templates so they can rank

Properly structuring your ecommerce site’s page templates is the first step to ranking well. In fact, we in the professional SEO industry often see where a well-structured page outranks a page with external links to it, simply because the well-structured page is a better experience for the user.

Some of the things to look at when auditing and then fixing your templates are:

  1. Make sure that your <title> and H1 contain your main keywords. It’s incredible how many sites don’t get this right, or have titles that are too long and thus get truncated in the search results.
  2. H2s and H3s can be used strategically above and below products, and used to target secondary keywords. We also see that unique content (guides, stats, etc) help category pages rank better and provide opportunities for link building.
  3. You can probably increase the number of products on your category pages. Look at how many you display, then look at your competitors. Increase at least to as many as they have. This adds more relevant content to your pages, and reduces the amount of pagination which improves how well the search engines can crawl your site.
  4. Pull in the first 50-100 characters of product descriptions to your category pages (and cache aggressively) to add semantic content to your pages.
  5. Use Product and Review Schema to augment your current rankings.

Focusing on categories and not products for SEO traffic

eCommerce SEO is driven by category pages, unless you are a giant brand with search volume for specific products. Even then, category pages tend to rank better than product pages for large volume keywords.

To drive more traffic, you can do two things:

  1. Improve current rankings with more external and internal links, better on-page optimization, and site speed.
  2. Increase the number of pages on your site that are robust and able to rank for new keywords.

When focused on driving more traffic through categories, I recommend:

  1. Tagging products with rich data like brand, type, color, gender and size and then looking for opportunities to combine these into long tail specific categories. EG brand, type, and gender can be combined into Nike clothes, Nike shoes, Nike men’s shoes, Nike women’s shoes, Nike men’s basketball shoes, and so on.
  2. Use breadcrumbs and subnavigation menus to drive internal links and users deeper into the site to these specific pages.
  3. Building links to these pages will help not only the top level page rank, but also pages linked from it because of internal link equity. For deeper pages, usually only a few links are needed to rank.

Speeding up your site

Fast sites are well ranked sites, so everything you can do to speed up your site will dramatically improve your traffic and conversions. Fast sites convert well too, so this is a great investment in your growth.

Some things you can do to improve your site load times on ecommerce sites include:

  1. Only loading properly sized images on any page, and avoiding resizing images with CSS. If you’re loading thumbnails, load that properly sized image!
  2. Defer as much non-essential JavaScript as possible to the footer. This includes things like form plugins and others not required for the initial load.
  3. Use a tag management system (Google Tag Manager) to load scripts asynchronously.
  4. Remove multi-hop and internal 301 redirects. Discover these via Screaming Frog and eliminate them where possible. Each redirect is usually ~100ms, so this improves user experience and search engine crawler performance.

Focusing your navigation to optimize internal linking

When you have a large catalog of products, it can sometimes be hard to get all of your category pages and products indexed and ranking. This is where internal linking comes into play.

In general, think about internal linking as how you surface important pages that both contain more popular products as well as are targeting more competitive keywords (higher cost per click, higher competitiveness according to SEMrush/Ahrefs). The more competitive, the more internal and external links it needs to rank.

Here are a few ways to optimize your internal linking on your ecommerce site:

  1. Use your top navigation to link to your most popular and highest search volume terms and pages. Mega menus as dropdowns still work very well on large sites.
  2. Use breadcrumbs to flow link equity from products to categories/subcategories. This also helps search engines discover your site architecture.
  3. Consider contextual top navigations (like Zillow has) to bring more categories and subcategories into the top navigation depending on the page)
  4. Link between similar levels of pages. E.g. link from Nike to Adidas, and Nike men’s to Adidas men’s.

Understanding facets vs filters, and controlling duplicate content

Duplicate content is a major issue for many ecommerce websites, so it’s necessary to understand what should and should not be indexed and then to control that effectively.

First, determine which terms are facets (and should be indexed and used for building long tail categories), and which are filters but don’t have search volume to justify having a separate page. For example, gender might be a facet (men’s Nike shoes), but color might be a filter. Color can also be a facet if there is search volume for “white men’s Nike shoes”, so do your own research in your niche.

Once you do that:

  1. Use Google Search Console or a Screaming Frog crawl to identify linked-to parameters that do not contain a canonical to the base.
  2. Stop internally linking to filtered pages. Internal links should only go to pages that you desire to rank.
  3. Crawl your site with Screaming Frog or Sitebulb to find internal redirects that kill equity.
  4. Ensure that filters that should not be indexed are not included in XML sitemaps.
  5. Tell the search engines to ignore URL parameters that contain filters.
  6. Canonical filtered pages to their base (e.g. /cat/nike?color=blue to /cat/nike) using rel-canonical.

Using site search to drive page creation and traffic

Site search has always been a goldmine of data on what your customers are searching for. Here’s the strategy:

  1. If you’re not currently tracking site search, do it now. Use Google’s resource for doing it in Google Analytics.
  2. See what products and categories are trending.
  3. Move these up in your architecture. By shifting internal links, you can drive up rankings for these terms and products people are searching for more!
  4. Can also use Google Trends to find trending products. Better with your data though!
  5. Cross-reference searched terms against current categories/subcategories. Create new pages!

Focusing your link building on high leverage pages

When thinking about SEO, everyone thinks about external links. Link building is hard, and links are required to rank well in most verticals. But depending on what page you are trying to rank, you may not need as many as you think.

Here’s how I think about link building for SEO:

  1. Produce industry-leading content around your main types of products that can earn links and funnel link equity back to your main pages.
  2. Consider building buying guides, statistics, or a tool on your pages to make them more link-able. Stats are amazing here.
  3. Identify the top sites in your niche covering your topics, then plan to get links. Strategies include founder thought leadership, guest posting, and PR stunts. Guest posting is a waste of time for most of you.
  4. Prioritize link acquisition efforts on pages targeting competitive terms (categories), while also building a few links to less competitive terms to get early traction.
  5. Get partner link.

Proactively monitoring your site for SEO issues

Finally, SEO is not a one-and-done thing. You can’t just “SEO your website” and move on to other things. This is because websites are constantly in flux with products coming and going and new things being set live by development/design/product teams that affect the site and onsite SEO. Thus, it is important to proactively and consistently monitor your site for new SEO issues.

Here are things to look for:

  1. You need a proactive crawl of your website to identify issues. I recommend SEMrush (free 30 day trial at https://www.getcredo.com/semrush/)
  2. Find 404s and internal redirects and fix.
  3. Use Search Console to identify errors as well and proactively fix.
  4. Make sure your XML sitemaps are as clean as possible (no non-200 status code pages).
  5. Improve/increase internal linking where possible.
  6. Watch for changes in issues, such as errors or titles too long, and fix.

I always recommend that SEO teams at companies reserve either a percentage (10%) of their team’s time or a sprint every X sprints to tackle what is often called SEO hygiene.

Full Transcript

Brad:

Alrighty. This is a 30 minute webinar and looks like we have a good group of folks that are on already. Did the sound check. We’re good.I’m going to do a quick intro on myself, then pass over to John, and we’ll run through the eight step SEO framework that we can take advantage of during crisis times. Very quick, my name is Brad, founder and CEO of Elevar. We help eCommerce businesses automate their data analysis, and John and I were talking to a couple of weeks ago about what are some ways that we can just, obviously the webinars are big now and that we’re all working from home, so there’s a lot more time we can spend online. We’re talking about different ways to drive traffic and the strategies that you know might be the zag if everyone’s zigging.

Brad:

We thought now was a great time if you have some extra time to focus on SEO, just shore things up, especially if you’re pulling back on paid media spend. John is an expert. John’s been doing SEO for 10 or 11 years and John was a founder and CEO of Credo, where Credo helps eCommerce businesses and businesses vet and hire digital marketing agencies. John, I will pass it off to you.

John Doherty:

Thank you, Brad. I appreciate that introduction. Hello, everybody. Welcome to today’s webinar. As Brad said, it’s going to be about 30 minute a webinar and plan to finish up. I’m in Denver, Colorado, so plan to finish up here at about 10:30 my time, in about 28 minutes. I’m also a dad. I have an 11 and a half month old, almost year old and I can attest those early mornings are great, but I’m not getting out of bed too early these days.

John Doherty:

It’s a trying, tiring time right now, but I’m super, super excited to be here and talk to you guys. As Brad said, my name is John Doherty. I’m the founder and CEO here at Credo. We are an online network. Sometimes they call it a marketplace, but we’re really a network of agents, pre-vetted agencies and consultants. I’ve been in the SEO game for about 11 years now. Worked agency side in house, and then for the last four and a half years I’ve been doing some SEO consulting while getting Credo off the ground. I’ve just been doing Credo full time for about the last year. Very little consulting of my own, but worked with a lot of eCommerce sites.

John Doherty:

I’ve also worked with a lot of the largest websites on the internet, worked for Zillow in house for two years as well on a few of their brands. A lot of experience with eCommerce SEO, big site SEO, all of that. As Brad said, we’re Credo and help eCommerce businesses generate traffic, customers and revenue by connecting them, connecting you with the best pre-vetted digital marketing firms and consultants from our proprietary network of talent. That’s who we are. That’s me and my dog Butter Bean in our old apartment in San Francisco from years ago. But that is who I am and that is who we are.

John Doherty:

Today as I said, I’m going to talk you through this eight step process. My promise to you is I’m giving you all the information that I know that you need to help you grow your eCommerce business during these trying times. I’m tired of the word unprecedented so I’m not using that. But they are trying times, but hopefully a lot of you are seeing growth because there was a lot of buying that was going on in person that is now coming online. I’ve been talking to some people, a lot of people in eCommerce that you’re seeing really just growth that you’ve never seen before. It’s pretty amazing. You’re really excited about it.

John Doherty:

I’m going to bring you as much value as I can today. At the end, there will be a way for you to basically contact us, schedule a demo with me and talk about your business. If you’re looking to hire a firm to kind of help you take care of a lot of this, we can do that. But I’m not holding anything back. I’m here today. That’s my promise to you. You can also download these slides at getcredo.com/ecommerce-seo-framework. They’re there, you put it put in your email and it’ll redirect you to where you can just download these slides in PDF format, getcredo.com/ecommerce-seo-framework.

John Doherty:

Today, I said it was eight steps. You can also call it five plus three because that equals eight, five steps to growing your eCommerce SEO rankings. This is basically, these are the first five things that we’re going to cover, but there’s also going to be three other bonuses towards the end. Let’s go ahead and jump into it. Of course all of you are here, hopefully you run an eCommerce business or you work at an agency that works with eCommerce businesses, and you’re trying to grow your search engine optimization rankings, traffic, business from that because there’s a lot more searches going on these days.

John Doherty:

Also, I do recognize a lot of you are probably on Shopify, so there is going to be some specific stuff here for Shopify. But whether you’re on Shopify, Woo, Big Commerce, whatever your platform of choice is, this applies across the board. Obviously the specific solution and all that might change a little bit depending on which platform you’re on and some have things that you can’t change. Some have other things that you can change, but these are the things that we are going to be talking about today.

John Doherty:

Number one, properly structuring your templates. When I talk with people about SEO as I’ve been doing for a long time, most of the questions I get are about link building, which I’m going to cover later. I believe that’s 0.5, but link-building is, in my view, it’s something that you’re constantly doing and it’s something that you’re pouring on top. Once you’ve set the firm foundation, right, you can’t really accelerate and you can’t keep on accelerating if you don’t have a firm foundation. You’re also not going to rank nearly as well if you don’t have your foundation set, so your technical foundation, your content foundation.

John Doherty:

Point number one is properly structuring your templates. Well-structured pages rank better than pages that are not structured. By structured, I mean H1s so you have your title tag right, that has your main keywords in it. You have your meta-description, which doesn’t affect rankings, but the words are bolded when the searcher sees your ranking. Then you have your URL and then on page, you have your H1s, H2s,, your other content, that sort of thing. Having these properly formatted will be a big boost to you.

John Doherty:

Probably a lot of you already have this, but I would recommend using a Screaming Frog or a Sitebulb or something like that, a crawler like that, or SEMrush to basically do a crawl and tell you which of your templates are not properly formatted. I worked with the company a few years ago that had it all style [difs 00:08:52], and we changed to H1, H2s, H3s, and we tripled their traffic to their long tail pages. Those can be super, super effective for you if you haven’t already done this and you have good links and a good brand.

John Doherty:

H1s, H2s, H3s, H1s have your main keyword, H2s, H3s can have secondary keywords. People also ask in Google for your main keywords to identify what other things you should be answering on that page. Second, look at your competitors and who’s ranking and how many products they have on their pages. You can probably increase the number of products on your page. Of course, you have to balance this with load and page load times. We’re just going to talk about, I believe in 0.3, but I’ve seen where if you go from say 10 products on page to 30 products on the page, traffic increases, rankings increase, all of that.

John Doherty:

Also pulling in the first 100 characters of a product description on the category pages, bulk up those pages with this semantic language goodness right here. Then of course using product and review schemas to augment your current ranking so you can pull aggregate rankings on the category pages. Put a review, aggregate ratings on your individual products, and sometimes search engines will show those.

John Doherty:

Number two, as an eCommerce business, think about categories, not products. Of course, Google is putting a lot of ads above the fold. There’s Google Shopping, right, which shows individual products, but category pages are the lifeblood of your eCommerce website’s SEO. How do we think about category? Instead of thinking about an individual type of shoe, which say you’re selling custom shoes and like custom Jordan Nikes, that would be an individual product page, potentially if you just have one. But if you have a bunch, you should think about having a category page that’s targeted towards custom Jordan Nikes, and then have your individual product pages down there as well.

John Doherty:

The way to do this, to think about this, is first off tagging your individual products with rich data. So thinking about things like brand, color, size, location, whatever these attributes are that apply to your individual products, you need to be tagging those. Then using keyword research, once again done via SEMrush, Ahrefs, Google’s Keyword Planner can be useful as well. Thinking about how you can combine that data as well in order to kind of build out your full information architecture, right?

John Doherty:

For example, keeping with the shoes analogy, write Nike shoes, men’s shoes, men’s basketball shoes, that sort of thing. But you can also combine this into men’s Nike shoes, women’s Nike shoes, that sort of thing. This just increases the number of keywords that you’re able to rank for, and if you have these specific individual pages, I usually say if you have a combination that has… If you have fewer than three products for that, then it might not be worth building out, because that page is going to be pretty thin and probably isn’t going to rank. But if you have three or more, you should definitely build this out and make sure it’s linked internally from your products, from the higher category pages, all of that.

John Doherty:

I already talked about building category templates with SEO in mind on the last point, but also as you’re building out these categories you, so you do your keyword research, start tracking these terms and see where they’re ranking, because then afterwards you can see the improvement. You can see what’s ranking well now, what’s not ranking quite as well, and then you can prioritize your link building to pages that have more search volume that might be a bit more competitive because your competitors have more links and made more products and all that. You can kind of reverse engineer what you need to do to be more competitive with those category pages.

John Doherty:

Number three is site speed, and I know Shopify controls a lot of this, so you can’t use like a CloudFlare or something like that. If you’re on Woo, you definitely should, but basically faster websites convert and rank better than slow websites. Speeding up your website, there’s a few things that you can do right here, right now. First of all, only loading properly sized images on any page, especially thumbnails. If you’re resizing images with CSS, so you’re uploading a giant image and you’re resizing it on page load, your page is going to load a lot slower.

John Doherty:

Instead, people talk about using image sprites as a kind of a pain in the ass to build. What I say is basically for every image you need to determine what’s our thumbnail size, what’s the main image size on the product page, all of that, and size according to that. WordPress has some tools that do this as well, so you can use the properly sized one. I’m not quite sure how Shopify does it, but this is a really easy way for a lot of sites to speed up their site speed.

John Doherty:

Deferring as much non essential JavaScript as possible to the footer, so this is one that a lot of people don’t do. They just load a ton of JavaScript up in their head and just let it run. WordPress sites are notorious for this. Honestly, my site does this right now, when we’re working on deferring a lot of non essential JavaScript, but basically if it’s like lazy loading or something that that doesn’t need to happen before the visitor can actually see the content on the page. Put that down into the footer.

John Doherty:

One point of note here is I would not load your Google Analytics tag in the footer because if they can see all the products, and they click away quickly to an individual product for example, that visit isn’t going to register in Google Analytics. Keep that in the head, put that in tag manager and defer it off to tag managers because that all loads asynchronously, as I just said in the next point. Another thing that a lot of sites do that really slows down your load time is a multi hop and internal 301 redirects. These are bad for a couple of reasons.

John Doherty:

Well first of all, you can discover these via Screaming Frog, SEMrush, and if you want to a free 30 day trial of SEMrush, SEMrush or getcredo.com/semrush, we’ll get you a free 30 day trial. You can find these via Screaming Frog, via SEMrush, these various places, and these are bad for SEO for two reasons. Number one, load times, so you’re making the search engines do more work as they’re going through trying to discover your content, call your content and figure out what they should rank. Then this is also bad for site speed.

John Doherty:

The faster your sites are, the more you’re going to convert, and also these internal redirects dilute your internal linking as well, so you’re not passing as much internal link equity to those pages that you’re linking to via an internal 301 redirect. You want direct links from say your categories to your products or between categories or what have you. Discovering these and fixing them can help you out on multiple sides for SEO and conversion.

John Doherty:

Number four, focusing your navigation, so websites with clear and contextual navigation we see do rank better and convert better. First of all, use your top navigation to prioritize your most popular and highest search volume terms. Keeping with the shoes example, you’d have shoes and then you might have brands, have Nike and then Nike men’s shoes, that sort of thing. Then using breadcrumbs to flow link equity from products back up your categories and subcategories.

John Doherty:

What a breadcrumb is, is basically on a lot of product pages you’ll see, and you may already know this, but a lot of websites, especially bigger sites, you’ll see it’s basically home. What’s the top level category, shoes, next level, Nike shoes, and then finally men’s Nike shoes. Then you can also go down to the individual product level. What this does is help search engines discover your site architecture. It also drives internal links back to these subcategories and categories that you want to rank that we talked about in point number two.

John Doherty:

Number three, consider contextual top navigation. Zillow, obviously not an eCommerce site, but they are a very large website, and so what they have done is they bring more categories and subcategories into the top navigation depending on the page. If you’re on an individual house in Denver, Colorado, you’re going to see their top level houses for sale just overall nationwide, but you’re not going to see St. Louis houses for sale. You’re going to see Denver, Colorado, houses for sale, townhouses for sale, that sort of thing. If you can contextualize it like this, what this does is it dramatically improves your internal linking to these category pages that need more internal links in order to rank.

John Doherty:

Then finally linking between similar levels of pages. Say you have Nike shoes, some of that searching for Nike might also be willing to consider Adidas or New Balance or what have you, and so linking between these different these levels. So Nike and Adidas are top level brand pages then you get down to Nike men’s shoes, also linked to Adidas men shoes. Once again this improves your internal linking as well.

John Doherty:

Number five, controlling your product filters. I guess link-building is coming up here in just a minute, so number five, controlling your product filters. eCommerce websites are notorious for duplicate content and often this happens because of index filters. This can also happen when you’re combining your category pages. That’s something to look out for and plan it out before you even roll this out because you don’t want to have like slash Nike, slash men’s, slash shoes, and then slash Nike, slash shoes, slash men’s, which will basically give you that duplicate content. You need to control in which order those happen.

John Doherty:

When we’re talking specifically about filters and facets, so filters are… Sorry, facets are basically, these are your category pages, subcategory pages that we were just talking about, Nike men’s shoes. But for example, color might be a filter, right? For you, for your… But you should also make the decision based off of search volume in your specific niche, right? White men’s Nike shoes might be a specific page that you should have, that is a facet that’s indexable. But for other types of products for other verticals, color might just be a filter, and it’s not something that you want indexed.

John Doherty:

Usually these are done via parameters, right, so you have slash shoes, Nike, men’s, and then question mark color equals white, right, and if that is a filter that’s not something you want indexed, then you can use a Google search console, is the best one here to look at individual parameters and you can tell the search engines to ignore those. You can also use Screaming Frog to identify these, and the way to fix this is so you can tell Google to ignore it, but also you’re going to want to implement a canonical tag that goes back to the base. If color is a filter, then you’re going to… Any URL that has a question mark color equals white, you’re going to want to canonical that back to basically the subcategory that that came from.

John Doherty:

Number three is stop internally linking to these filtered pages, so you don’t want to link to question mark color equals white if that is a filter that you do not want indexed. If you do want it indexed, and once again make it a part of your overall URL structure. Internal links should only go to pages that you desire to rank. If you have to do this, then if you have to link to a filter like this because it’s good for your users or your customers, then once again, make sure it’s canonical back.

John Doherty:

Then another thing to do here is crawling your site with Screaming Frog or Sitebulb, as I’ve said, to find internal redirects that are killing your link equity. So internal redirect, so what a lot of sites will do is they will still link to these filters, but then they’ll also implement a redirect back to the base. That basically puts the search engines into a crazy crawl loop, which is really, really bad for your SEO.

John Doherty:

One of the biggest takeaways here for eCommerce SEO right now is find internal redirects and fix them, change them, whether it’s removing internal linking. There’s a bunch of different ways that this can be solved, and you’re going to have to solve it on a case by case basis. But one of the biggest ones that you can do right now as an eCommerce store.

John Doherty:

Number, I guess that’s five. Ensure that filters are not indexed. That should not be indexed are not included an XML sitemap. Once again, keeping with the color example, you don’t want to be adding your URLs with question mark color equals, and then whatever color it is, to your XML site maps that are then submitted to the search engines. Because if you’re submitting them to the search engines, then basically the search engines are like, oh, we want this… They want this to be indexed. But that’s not necessarily but that’s not what you want to be telling them.

John Doherty:

Make sure that those are not in your XML sitemaps. You can find these by looking in your sitemaps in Google Search Console and seeing basically the non 200s, and then you can also take that site map, plug it into Screaming Frog. You can upload directly into Screaming Frog, and then find all the non 200 status code, which of course is just load it. Find all the non 200 status codes and remove those from your sitemaps or make them to hundreds if you want them to be indexed. Then we already talked about canonical lane filtered pages to their base, so here’s just the example for you.

John Doherty:

Number six, using site search to drive page creation, so this is a big one. If you’re an eCommerce site and you have site search, you need to make sure that you’re tracking site search. You can do this in Google analytics. I linked right here to Google’s resource. Once again, you can download this at getcredo.com/ecommerce-SEO-framework or just search for it. Google has a really good resource for tracking this in Google Analytics. Shopify might give it to you, other eCommerce platforms will give it to you as well, and see what people are searching for that you don’t currently have a dedicated page for, or see what you do have a dedicated page for that is trending.

John Doherty:

Search behavior has changed over the last couple of weeks, and so what people were searching for before might not be what they’re searching for now. What you can do here is we see these products and categories trending, you can then move these up in your architecture, right? So top navigation, internal linking, that sort of stuff, which I already talked about, you can change that up. You should change that up to drive more internal links towards these terms because by shifting these internal links you can drive up rankings for these terms and products that people are searching for more.

John Doherty:

You can use Google Trends to find trending products as well, but it’s much, much better to use your own data. If you don’t have these dedicated pages for these now highly searched for terms in your category, subcategories, you can then create new pages for these and link to them internally as well to get them ranking. Interesting case study here is a friend of mine used to be the head of SEO at eBay, and they basically built an algorithm, actually.

John Doherty:

You don’t have to get this fancy of course, but they built an algorithm that basically in the springtime, they would stop linking as much to winter searches and start linking more to summer searches, right, people searching for summer products. Come fall, they would stop linking as much to summer stuff and would link to winter stuff and basically they were able to push their rankings up, and let some go down, because people weren’t searching for them as much, but they wanted to make sure that they are ranking more highly for relevant searches based off of how search volume was spiking. You can do a similar thing here in a more manual way or if you want to get fancy, write an algorithm.

John Doherty:

Number seven, focus your link building. I get asked a lot about link building because a lot of people have been told that, hey, you have to have links to rank, and that is absolutely true. But link-building is one of the three pillars of SEO, of technical content, and then link building is being the third one. Links are still required to rank your eCommerce site, especially if you’re in a more competitive niche, but there’s also a lot of bad link building out there.

John Doherty:

Let’s talk about link building and the kinds of link building that you can consider doing for your site. A lot of this is what you do kind of depends on your budget, the internal team you have, that sort of thing. If you have a content team, the best ways to do this are, number one, produce industry-leading content around your main types of products, so putting this on category pages, putting statistics, putting buying stats, that sort of thing that people are going to want to link to. Then you can actually take those stats, use them for outreach to other sites for people to reference back to you.

John Doherty:

You can also produce buying guides and that sort of thing that then link back that are much more linkable, and those can then link back to your individual product pages that you’re wanting to rank. Basically, this is kind of internal second tier link building. Second tier link building is usually where it’s like you get a link from another site and then your build links to that site, so that link get to that page, so that link gets stronger as it’s pointing to your own site. What I’m talking about here is you’re actually putting this onto your own website, and then you’re building links to it and it’s linking to your own pages that you want to rank as well. It’s a couple of different strategies there.

John Doherty:

Obviously, it’s best to get direct links, but it’s really hard to get links to, for example, you’re not going to get links to just a generic men’s Nike shoes page unless you’re nike.com. You need other ways to do this. Another way to build links is identifying the top sites in your niche, covering your topics and playing to get those links, right? If you’re running a shoes brand, once again, don’t think about who’s writing about shoes. You can do that, but it’s going to be a lot smaller than, for example, people writing about sports, right? Or basketball, that sort of thing. You can do… I think Fanatics has done a great job of this in that specific space.

John Doherty:

Looking at founder thought leadership, you can think about new novel products, that sort of thing. Guest posting, guest posting is a lot of work and everyone does it and it’s super spammy these days, so I would honestly keep away from that a lot more. But PR stunts just like building out a custom jersey for example, could be a… If you have a sports eCommerce site could be a good way to do it. I built a lot of links through PR stunts in the past when I was in house.

John Doherty:

Then prioritizing link acquisition efforts on your pages targeting competitive terms, right? We already talked about this a little bit, but by building out these buying guides, statistics, that sort of thing on your individual category pages, so this might involve some template updates, then it’s going to make it a lot easier to get links as well. One pro tip here is, I haven’t talked a ton about content on your individual template pages beyond structuring it correctly, having more products on the page, bringing in the start of individual product descriptions.

John Doherty:

One thing that I’ve done to great effect on a lot of different sites is on these individual category pages that they’re just generic with a bunch of products listed right now. Build out these longer guides, 1500 words, 2000 words, something like that. Just that alone is going to help you rank better. But also if you’re able to then leverage that to build links into those individual category pages. Once again, things are just going to continue to improve for you.

John Doherty:

Then number eight is proactively monitoring your site. This is a big one. I’ve already talked about internal redirects, that sort of thing, internal 404s that the search engines are finding that aren’t resolving, that are bad experience. But right now is the time to make sure that your site is as tight as possible technically. Start with a proactive crawl of your site. I crawl my site weekly actually and SEMrush does that for me. Once again, that’s where you can go to get a free 30 day trial. But I do a proactive crawl on my website to identify issues I need to go back and fix, because things are constantly changing.

John Doherty:

If you’re actively developing your site and fixing things, things are just going to break. You can always go back, find internal 404s, find internal redirects and be proactively fixing those every week. Also using Search Console to identify errors and proactively fix, I don’t use Search Console nearly as much as an SEMrush or something like that. Make sure that your XML sitemaps are as clean as possible as I already said. No non 200 status code pages submitted in your XML sitemaps. Another thing to think about as well when it comes to internal linking, I mean improvement, increasing that wherever possible.

John Doherty:

That’s kind of generic advice, so I want to point you to three specific areas. Number one is your top navigation, making sure your most competitive terms and the terms that people are searching for the most are in ways that makes sense, right? If you can make your top navigation relevant to the page that you’re on, that’s even better. Linking between levels of pages, so from Nike shoes to Adidas shoes, Nike men’s shoes to Adidas men’s shoes is going to work very well.

John Doherty:

Then also I would still consider having an HTML sitemap. Basically, this is a way to bring all of your pages higher up in your site architecture. I would start with, like have a Nike men’s shoes or have a brand, for example, and they click Nike, and then it goes down to like Nike men’s, Nike women’s, a Nike basketball, that sort of stuff. Those are three ways to bring stuff up in your architecture and improve your internal linking right now.

John Doherty:

Also within Screaming Frog, which I believe has a free trial but a limited number of you are… You can also get an annual license, best money every SEO spends every year. I just renewed mine the other week. I was super happy to do it. They’ll also tell you how many levels deep your page is. So if you have, for example, men’s Nike shoes and this is one of your most competitive terms that drives you a lot of business, but it takes five clicks to get to it. Figure out how you can link to that from two levels deep, for example, and you’re going to see a dramatic improvement in rankings there.

John Doherty:

That’s it. SEO is an investment in your future. This is going to help you out. These eight steps will all help you out with growing your eCommerce store, but nothing beats a holistic SEO strategy that you invest in over time. Right now is a great time to do it because we’re seeing a lot of eCommerce companies pulling back. I’m hearing about big companies that are competitors of yours that they’re furloughing their entire marketing teams or development teams, that sort of thing.

John Doherty:

If you’re growing and you have the resources to do it, now is a great time to start catching up to them and to start lapping them. I always say, start with a technical SEO audit. Make sure that your site is squared away, and then look at engaging with a content firm, link-building from, and those are usually one in the same these days to help you do that. If you want to do that, you can schedule a demo with me. We can talk about your needs, see how I can help. I’d love to help you out, helped 4,000 plus companies over the last four and a half years as they’re looking to hire.

John Doherty:

There you go, and once again you can download the slides at getcredo.com/ecommerce-SEO-framework, and thank you everybody for attending.

Brad:

Awesome, good stuff. Two quick questions that I have a minute left. Bernardo was asking about, so even if we’re setting the canonical tag, is it good to also set the no index tags? I know John Mueller from Google has talked a lot about this in the past. So just, John, want to confirm if you are canonicalizing to a different page than you would also… It is okay to no index that page as well to keep the [crosstalk 00:31:57] the same?

John Doherty:

It does not hurt to have a no index tag on that page. Search engines might not see it. They might grab just grab the canonical tag and go on over, but it doesn’t hurt to have it on that page.

Brad:

Cool, and then a second question was do you have any good examples today of sites that are showing the first 100 or so product descriptions from category pages?

John Doherty:

I don’t, but pretty much search any vertical and you’ll find one.