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.
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.