Want to bring qualified prospects to your store without paying thousands in ad spend? This complete Shopify SEO guide and checklist is what you need to read.
First things first, why invest in SEO?
The SEO drum has been beating for so long that people have begun to turn deaf to it. Comparisons like SEO vs Google Ads have started making their rounds. And with Google continuously upgrading its algorithms, people wonder if investing in SEO is still worthwhile in 2022.
It’s not because they doubt the benefits of SEO for a business. It’s actually the opposite. Since SEO has huge benefits and everyone knows about it, it has become more like a tough battleground than a marketing channel.
Every business, big or small, starts its marketing with SEO. That’s why it has become trickier than ever to get past the multiple checkpoints Google has put in place and make it to page 1.
This coerces marketers to look for other channels besides organic search that can give them faster results and a higher ROI.
And they keep searching fruitlessly…
There are definitely tens of channels to drive qualified traffic to your eCommerce store. But no matter what channel you choose, you can expect a hell of competition there.
This is due to the business landscape becoming competitive in general.
Every marketing channel is overcrowded today with advertisers and marketers trying to steal business away from you.
With so much noise out there, SEO is still a top contender that deserves your attention as a marketer. Why?
Let’s quickly go through some key reasons why you should consistently put in the effort to optimize your Shopify store’s SEO.
One, organic search is the only channel that will drive conversions and sales on your Shopify store long after your PPC budget runs out.
Plus, if you manage to rank for the right commercial keywords, you can consistently acquire qualified traffic – visitors who are looking for what you are selling and are ready to purchase.
What’s more, if you’re able to secure those ideal positions on the SERPs, you’re basically telling your prospects that the Big ‘G’ trusts you and considers you credible enough to give you a spot on the first page.
That’s actually better than paying $$$ to get your ad shown on the same spot. Because everyone knows that you have paid to be there.
On the other hand, if you earn a 1st-page spot organically, it’s a sign that Google finds your site most relevant for what the user is searching for.
So, does that make you want to jump into the SEO weeds right away?
Just hold on a second.
Before we get our hands dirty with actual SEO stuff, a few realities related to eCommerce SEO need to come out in plain, visible sight.
You need to understand the magnitude of the challenge you’re going to face before you hire a Shopify development company to set up your eCommerce store and optimize it.
Ready? Roll up your sleeves and read through these carefully.
Whatever you decide to sell online – baby stuff, camping tents, BBQ grills, or home furniture – there’s a mighty chance that Amazon and other eCommerce giants like Walmart and eBay are selling them too.
This means you’re planning to go up against giant eCommerce websites that are almost impossible to beat for a small business owner like you.
Why is that so, you ask?
Because at the time of writing, Amazon has a domain rating of 96 with billions of backlinks coming in.
That’s like comparing a tiny acorn to a mighty oak.
The oak grew from an acorn, sure. But growing another one in today’s turbulent business landscape and expecting it to become as gigantic as the previous one is a tough battle to get into. It’s simply not worth it.
So, stop aiming for the mighty oak. Be creative and grow something else.
When optimizing a business or brand website, you can usually focus your SEO on a handful of keywords.
But with eCommerce stores selling hundreds or thousands of SKUs, all products will each have a few keywords you’d want to rank for – meaning hundreds of product pages you’re trying to push on SERPs.
The more pages and the more keywords you try to rank, the more diluted will be your SEO investment and the harder it is to rank.
That’s a challenge, no doubt!
And to be honest, there’s only one way you can succeed in Shopify eCommerce SEO today: niching down and presenting your brand as an authority in your niche.
The real secret of Shopify SEO success is out: niche down. If you be the store that sells everything under the sun, your chances of having success with SEO are slim. Even when you take care of all the things in this Shopify SEO checklist, you’ve next to none chances of beating Amazon and the likes that are already dominating the SERPs for your target keyword.
But if you be a store that specializes in one industry and one niche, you’ll be more credible in the sights of Google.
For example, if you sell only baby strollers on your Shopify store and your domain reflects that – say with strollershop.com as your domain – Google will see your website as an authority in this industry and will give you more weight than Amazon, given that your site takes care of all on-page and off-page optimizations.
So, before you jump into the SEO weeds, ensure that you’ve chosen a niche and a domain that reflects that. Make sure to do some market research and ensure that your niche has enough demand and people are actually searching for products in that category.
Here are some simple SEO tasks that need to be done consistently to give you more visibility in search engines.
Once you’ve decided what industry to niche in, it’s time to choose a domain for your Shopify store.
If you’re considering continuing with your free myshopify.com domain, think again.
Getting a custom domain is the first thing you should do if you’re serious about your eCommerce business.
It’s not just about SEO – a custom domain is a credibility signal that’s effective no matter which channel you’re acquiring your traffic from.
When choosing a domain, include some references to your niche. For example, if you sell backpacks, a domain like Ainysbackpacks.com will give you an edge in SEO.
Also, keep in mind that a .com domain is better than other domain extensions.
The next thing to do after securing a good domain is to find a fast and responsive Shopify theme for your eCommerce store.
To check its responsiveness, view the theme’s demo and check how it renders on mobile devices. You can do that by right-clicking and selecting Inspect on the menu that appears. A modal window will open on the right of the screen. Click the mobile device icon on the top left of the window to see how the theme looks on mobile devices.
In the same way, you can check the theme’s speed using tools like Google Page Speed Insights.
Next, research keywords to focus on for optimizing your Shopify store’s SEO.
There are a few approaches to use when researching keywords.
One, you can step in the shoes of your customer and think about all the keywords your customer might use when they want to buy your product. Brainstorm your ideas and then run through a keyword research tool like Ahrefs or Semrush and check the monthly search volume and competition for those keywords.
Other than search volume and competition, you also need to consider the search intent of the shortlisted keywords.
Search Intent is the main goal a user has when typing a query into a search engine. For example, a user typing in “buy backpacks Houston” is probably looking for online stores that sell backpacks and deliver in Houston.
This keyword can be classified as a transactional keyword. These keywords are the hardest to rank for but have the highest return.
On the other end of the spectrum, a user typing in “leather vs canvas backpacks” can be someone considering buying backpacks in the future but is confused between two different backpack materials. A user typing this keyword is known to be in the consideration stage and the keyword can be classified as a commercial keyword.
The four different keyword types for different search intents are:
When starting with Shopify SEO, focus your efforts on transactional keywords as these will give you the most qualified traffic. Prospects you acquire through transactional keywords will be the most eager to make a purchase and if you have optimized your Shopify store for conversions, you can easily convert these visitors into buyers.
Once your transactional keywords are ranking, the next set of keywords to focus on would be commercial keywords.
Users who type in commercial keywords indicate their intention to perform a transaction in the near future. Capturing their interest at this stage will increase your odds of acquiring them as your customers.
When researching keywords for your Shopify SEO, you should be creating a list of keywords for each SKU and product category you’re targeting.
Also, ensure that you’re not optimizing more than one web page for the same keyword. This is called keyword cannibalization and should be avoided if you want to see results with your Shopify SEO.
It’s important to organize your site’s architecture in a way that makes it easy for search engines to crawl and index your website.
A few things need to be considered when organizing your site’s architecture or navigation:
Now that you’re ready to start your SEO fight, it’s crucial that you’ve set up the tools necessary to measure and track your traffic so you know what’s working and what’s not.
Here are the essential tools you need to set up and integrate with your store.
Google Search Console will tell you which keywords you’re ranking for, the CTR for each keyword, your page’s position in the SERPs for that keyword, and the impressions it is getting.
And honestly, I just scratched the surface!
There is a ton of insights you can extract from the search console so make sure you have set it up and integrated it with your Shopify store correctly.
Google Analytics will tell you what channels are driving traffic to your site, the demographic of your web traffic, and their behavior on your site.
Whatever question you may have about your website visitors, there’s a good chance Google Analytics will have an answer to that.
You need a way to track your position in the SERPs so you can measure how your SEO efforts are moving the needle. Setting your site up on a rank tracker tool can help you do that.
Further Reading: The 15 Best Rank Tracker Tools to Rock Your SEO in 2022
Crazy Egg or Hot Jar generates heat maps of your web pages so you can analyze how visitors are interacting with the website. These insights will inform you about what to tweak on your site to increase conversions.
Further Reading: The 21 Best SEO Tools to Power Your Search Engine Marketing
When you compare Shopify vs WooCommerce, Shopify has an SEO advantage. Unlike WordPress, you don’t need a separate plugin for optimizing your Shopify webpages. Shopify has built-in functionality to edit meta titles, meta descriptions, and page URLs.
Just ensure you include your main keywords in the SEO title, description, and URL. This small task will make a huge difference to your site’s SEO.
Further Reading: The Ultimate Guide to SEO for eCommerce Websites
Search engine crawlers feed on content- the more you have it, the better. That’s another SEO challenge for eCommerce stores since you really can’t add 2000-word articles on your product pages.
But that doesn’t mean you should get away with thin content.
Write detailed product descriptions for every product you sell. This will not only please google bots but will also answer questions your prospects may have and help them in their buying journey.
PRO TIP: Think about your end-user when doing Shopify SEO. Because trust me, Google is constantly trying to make their bots act and behave like real users.
Adding alt tags, optimizing file names, and compressing your images are important things that are very effective for your store’s SEO.
Make sure image alt tags and filenames have keywords in them.
Filenames cannot be edited once the image is uploaded to Shopify. So, ensure that you edit it while it’s on your computer before you upload it on Shopify.
Alt tags, on the other hand, are simpler to edit. Here is how you can do it:
Remember what I told you about Google crawlers? They crave content. Lots of it. But do you know that they have a secret obsession with fresh content as well?
Yes, you can instantly be their favorite if you regularly produce lots of new, fresh, and valuable content.
Adding a blog section on your eCommerce website can let you do that easily. Plus, this is also where you can create content targeting commercial and informational keywords you identified earlier in your research.
While you can easily add a blog section on your Shopify store, you may have a craving for the user-friendly WordPress platform which is mainly built for blogging.
Unfortunately, Shopify doesn’t provide any WordPress plugin that allows you to easily integrate Shopify with WordPress.
Talking about blogging, BigCommerce gives you an advantage here. When comparing BigCommerce vs Shopify, the former provides a WordPress plugin that allows you to use WordPress blogging features within the BigCommerce platform.
If those blog articles rank on the first page of SERPs, you can capture the attention of your prospects in the awareness and consideration stage. If you do that successfully and then guide your users through the other stages of the purchase journey by producing content for each of those stages, you’ll not only increase sales but also increase customer loyalty.
There’s no SEO without links. Period.
There are essentially two types of links. Internal and backlinks.
Internal links are links between different pages of your own website. So, if you have a product page selling a particular brand of a backpack and you’ve mentioned another brand anywhere in the content, insert a link to that brand’s category page. This internal link will help both the crawler bot and the user navigate your website easily.
Backlinking, on the other hand, are links you acquire on other websites that are pointing towards your site. These are crucial and hold extremely high value in the eyes of Google crawlers.
To build links, a natural approach would be to create content and marketing campaigns that automatically attract the attention of other website owners and persuade them to mention you in their content.
However, to kick backlinking in action and fast-track it, most SEO specialists engage in guest blogging, co-marketing, sponsorships, and influencer marketing.
Backlinking in itself is a whole SEO domain in itself and will be out of the scope of this article.
Do customer reviews make a difference to your site’s SEO rankings?
Simply put, yes. A good rating on Google is a strong SEO signal for Google bots, which along with other signals will make a big difference to your store’s SEO.
Positive 5-star reviews are signals that communicate your site’s credibility and trustworthiness – important signals for eCommerce websites.
Just like everything above, being actively involved with your audience on social media is a positive signal for Google crawlers.
Make sure to create a profile on every social channel and consistently produce good quality content on these channels. The more engagement you get, the better it is.
Further Reading: 10 Ways to Leverage Social Media in eCommerce
This blog got super long, I know right. But it has everything you need to know about your Shopify store’s SEO. When followed to the dot, you’re bound to see your efforts play out in a short amount of time.
One thing to remember though: niche down! Otherwise, you don’t have a chance in eCommerce SEO.
Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash
Maria Ilyas is the Head of Marketing at Codup, a 360-degree Shopify development company that specializes in eCommerce. You can find Maria on LinkedIn.