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SEO Website Audit

Building an eCommerce Site with SEO in Mind

June 24, 2009
By Karon Thackston © 2009, All Rights Reserved

Have you ever noticed that ecommerce sites have their own set of challenges when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO)? If you're a small ecommerce site owner, I'm sure you have. One reason is that copy plays such a vital role in the optimization process. Because ecommerce sites typically have significantly less content than many other types of websites, they can face struggles that others don't have.

There are a few elements you, as an ecommerce site owner, can put into practice that will boost your tendency to get ranked highly. However, you'll need to start from the ground up. Keep in mind that words on any part of the page or coding count as content.

Keywords First and Foremost

The basis of any optimized website is the keyword list. Why? Because the search terms you choose to focus on will be used in every area of development from the navigational structure all the way through to the copy.

As you look through your choices, think of the structure of your site. When you create a list of terms to use on each page, start broad and work your way to the more specific keywords. For instance, if your site sells shoes, you'll want phrases such as [discount shoes], [shoe store] or [shoes online] for your home page.

As you move through the different sections, select search terms that reflect what's available on those specific pages. In fact, I find it helpful to create a chart and on it I list which terms will go where. It makes keyword usage much easier to keep up with as you move through your site.

Do not use the same exact keyphrases on every single page of your site. Do not try to shove as many keyphrases as you can onto every page of your site. Each page gives you a unique opportunity to rank with the engines because each page stands on its own. Select search terms specifically for the individual pages.

Where do you use the keyphrases that you select? In all these places:

Navigation / Links

As you're setting up site navigation, keep your keyphrases in mind. You'll want to create category and page names using keyphrases whenever possible. Of course, length is always a consideration for navigation names.

Let's say (for the sake of example) that you plan to have separate categories for men's shoes, women's shoes, and children's shoes. After looking at the keyword research, you find that these are, indeed, viable keyphrases.

Those are certainly easy enough to work into your site and they are applicable to your particular categories. In your content management system (CMS), name your first category [women's shoes]. Also name your first navigational link [women's shoes].

When possible, also use keywords in your individual URL page links. While I used to think this carried little weight (if any) with the engines, I've recently read several comments from Google that recommend using keyphrases with dashes in URLs.

This isn't always possible due to the constraints of the CMS, but when you're able to do so, insert keyphrases into URLs.

Breadcrumb Trail

This is a very important SEO and usability feature to add to your site. Breadcrumb trails look like this:  home > women's shoes > designer shoes > black > pumps.

It helps visitors see where they've been.  But do you notice what else it's doing? It's creating long-tail keyphrases of sorts. If you look on our imaginary keyword list, you'll see that [women's designer black pumps] is another viable keyphrase.

As customers click through the navigation, they are following a trail of keywords. The Googlebot can follow that same trail.

Alt Tags / Image Attributes

Here's another little-known or forgotten area to include keyphrases in. The text used in these tags counts the same as anchor text used in your copy. Be very sure that the keyword-rich descriptions that you include in alt text and image attributes apply to the image they're related to.


Last, but certainly not least, we move from behind the scenes to the forefront of your site. Good copy is vital for many reasons. Yes, it helps you with search engine rankings, but it also communicates with your site visitors.

The biggest mistake I see ecommerce site owners making is not using copy to connect with visitors. They look at copy as the enemy: something they *have* to include for the sake of the engines. But well-written SEO copy can quickly convert lookers into buyers.

As you write copy for each page, interject keyphrases into your headlines. Google and other engines give particular importance to headlines, so include search terms if at all possible.

In addition, work keyphrases naturally into your category page copy as well as individual product descriptions, using search terms that are specific to each.

Granted, it takes time and planning to build an ecommerce site with content that's truly engineered to rank high. However, if you give due diligence to the steps above, you'll find success comes much easier.


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Post Comment

 Don Kaufman said:
re: "if your site sells shoes, you'll want phrases such as [discount shoes], [shoe store] or [shoes online] for your home page." It concerns me that no advice is given re: finding keyword phrases with a high KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index) rating. Just coming up with phrases on your own that are related to your primary keyword, without assessing competition for those keyphrases, will not produce the desired visibility.
 Buck Lawrimore said:
I was wondering if you or others on the high rankings team have an SEO-friendly content management system to recommend for purposes like this. I am trying to choose one for a client site - we are a web design firm but have always used HTML for best SEO results. Now I'm finding more and more clients area asking for CMS upfront. Any recommendations?
Thanks for continuing to share your insights and knowledge!
 Jill said:
Hi Don,

As this was not a keyword research article (and we have many), I don't think it was necessary of Karon to discuss that aspect.

For the record, KEI is actually a very poor way of judging the competitiveness of keywords. You might want to check out our keyword research articles here:

keyword research articles

Many of those provide info on good ways of choosing keyword phrases and determining their competitiveness.
 Mark Knowles said:
@Buck Lawrimore

I am not a member of the High Rankings Team but, I do have some experience in this area. Pixelsilk is a nice CMS that gives an SEO all the control they need to implement their best practices. Also, it integrates with ecommece systems like Microsoft AX, BV Software, etc. What we like about this approach is the store management and checkout are all handled by the ecommerce system but, the product and category pages are rendered by Pixelsilk so, again the SEO has full control over those very important pages.

To be fair, as the President and CEO of Pixelsilk, I am a little biased ;-)
 Don Kaufman said:
Hi Jill. I appreciate all the good advice you offer, but must question the value of Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker. I ran into the founder of Wordtracker at an SEO tradeshow in NY last year and asked him pointedly what % of Google searches did his service track. His answer shocked me: ".68%." Keyword Discovery said their search data was very similar.

So i'm rather confounded by the quality and popularity of these services. I currently rely on the Google AdWords keyword tool for 100% Google data. Then I run the output thru a program called SEO Sniper, which picks up where that tool leaves off and extrapolates KEI.

re: your point that KEI is a poor index...don't WordTracker and Keyword Discovery present their findings in terms of KEI as well?

I would love to know what you consider the most effective keyword research methodology. Is there any particular article that outlines it?

Thanks again.
 Jill said:
Hi Don,

Agree. I only use Google's keyword research tool these days as well. The paid services used to be the best thing we had, but since Google has really upgraded their service, it's definitely the service of choice.

 greg cryns said:

The best takeaway for me is the "breadcrumb trail" concept. I vaguely understood it but when you emphasized the keyword factor I had an ah-ha moment.

I was so thrilled I followed you on Twitter. LOL

 Finn Skovgaard said:
"When possible, also use keywords in your individual URL page links. While I used to think this carried little weight (if any) with the engines, I've recently read several comments from Google that recommend using keyphrases with dashes in URLs."

Despite the former advice to the contrary in this newsletter, I found this out by myself 1-2 years ago when trying to find out why a competing site got so much better results than I did. I also noticed Google highlighting keywords in the URLs in the search results. Why would Google bother to highlight the keyword parts of the URLs if they didn't take them into account? I introduced keywords in my URL file names and saw the positive effect.

I did not measure this in a scientific way, but I'm glad to see that my finding are now confirmed.
 Karon Thackston said:
Don: I mentioned at one point that we were using an imaginary keyword list for this article. Yes, I agree that thorough keyword research is vital. However, as Jill said, this article was not about KWR.

Buck: I don't have a CMS to recommend. Thanks, Mark, for the input.

Greg: Glad you got a good tidbit.

Finn: I got direct feedback from Matt Cutts about this. That was good enough for me. I hasn't always been this way with URLs, however.
 MinuteMan SEO said:
Nice and concise article, Karon. I agree ith both Jill and Karon that this article really was not about HOW to select keywords but rather, where to place them throughout your site. I think Karon was tossing out keywords as examples to highlight the points of placement (which would come after initial KP is done).

Also, Wordtracker and KW Discovery do not present their findings in terms of KEI solely, it is more of an ancillary option, but certainly not pushed as the "WAY" to distinguish what is or is not an important keyword. I agree with Jill on that as well - it doesn't take into account a few factors that make it not something to rely on.

My only critique is the Alt Tags / Image Attributes area, which doesn't really differentiate between the importance of alt attribute text for image navigation and just plain images that are not used for links. I just think this area was a little vague, but other than that, nice!
 Bonnie Parrish-Kell said:
Great tips and reminders, Karon. Thanks so much!

I'm creating an e-commerce site to sell off my inherited collectibles, books and attic junk literally from scratch (HTML) because I haven't found a e-commerce solution that is truly SEO friendly (and user-friendly). While this approach certainly won't be easy, I do expect the SEO results to be much better.