SEO and online retail – a difficult and challenging relationship, mainly because of the dynamics of the eCommerce industry. Where one requires simplicity, the other thrives on complex visuals and powerful and intricate integrations. To achieve it, merchants usually have to make difficult decisions, many times involving questions like ‘Is it worth it?’ But once they’ve come to a synergy, it’s a match made in heaven which transforms browsers into buyers and clicks into conversions.

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In this article, we will explore the nuances of this relationship and unravel how mastering SEO can become a game-changer for any eCommerce business aspiring to thrive in the digital marketplace.

The Role of SEO in eCommerce

Because it significantly influences a website’s online visibility and its ability to reach customers, optimizing for search engines has become a fundamental part of digital marketing. It’s well known – users rarely venture beyond the first page of search results and this is without any doubt, one of the main reasons for striving to achieve it.

The connection between search engine rankings and eCommerce success is both direct and influential. In the digital marketplace, visibility is paramount, and high search engine rankings often translate to increased visibility and accessibility for potential customers. When an eCommerce site appears on the first page of search results, it gains more traffic, which often leads to higher sales figures. This is because top-ranking sites are perceived as more credible and reliable by consumers. 

There are many merchants that come to the same result by injecting capital into paid ads. However, being there organically, means a lot more than visibility. The process is difficult and lengthy, but once an online shop gets there, it’s a highly regarded recognition that it offers not only quality content, but also an intuitive and trouble-free shopping experience. 

Effective SEO strategies lead to faster load times and easier navigation, which are critical factors in retaining customer interest and reducing bounce rates. Additionally, targeted keywords allow eCommerce sites to attract a more specific and interested audience, potentially increasing the likelihood of purchases.

In essence, the higher a site ranks in search results, the greater its chances of capturing and converting online traffic into actual sales, underscoring the vital role of SEO in the success of online businesses.

SEO for eCommerce sites – a challenging endeavor

One of the primary reasons is the highly competitive nature of the digital marketplace. Countless online stores fight for consumer attention, therefore standing out in search engine rankings becomes a formidable task. 

eCommerce websites usually require complex integrations that can significantly impact SEO scores. Advanced search filters, customer review systems, personalization engines, and various third-party plugins, enhance user experience and functionality, but they also add complexity to a website’s structure, increasing load times and making the site more difficult for search engines to crawl and index effectively. 

Merchants often face situations when one integration that negatively affects the score is so important for offering a better shopping experience, that they simply have to choose one over the other, if optimization is not possible. 

The algorithms in search engines see site speed as a valuable metric and any feature that slows down a website, no matter how beneficial it is for improving the shopping experience, can negatively affect its SEO ranking. 

Not only that, but complex integrations can lead to increased JavaScript and CSS files, which if not properly optimized, can further slow down the site and impact its search visibility. 

However, there is a way out. In most of the cases, when these integrations are well-implemented with SEO in mind, such as ensuring clean coding, efficient loading, and mobile responsiveness, they can significantly improve the user experience, keeping visitors engaged for longer periods and potentially boosting SEO scores. The key lies in having a highly skilled team of developers who can balance the functionality offered by these integrations with the need for a fast, responsive, and easily navigable website.

Key Components of eCommerce SEO

Google employs a complex algorithm to improve the quality and relevance of search results, but it is important to acknowledge that it evolves constantly, hence the fact that merchants need to constantly keep up-to-date with Google’s guidelines and best practices for SEO.

Many of the components have been around since the beginning of search engines. Content quality still stands on a high position when it comes to optimizing for search engines. Content has to be relevant, original (beware of stealing content from other users) and informative. 

The concept of freshness of content is equally vital for effective SEO. The addition of new content tells the search engines that the website is active and continually offering up-to-date information. Furthermore, using keywords that enhance the text and not clutter it ensures the relevance and timeliness of the content. Classic requirements also include a clean, logical URL structure, and on-page SEO elements like title tags, meta descriptions, H1 tags, and alt attributes for images.

Internal and external links in the website still play an important role, serving as endorsements, with each link pointing to the site acting as a vote of confidence in its credibility and relevance. However, the key to leveraging links for SEO is ensuring they are relevant and non-spammy. Links that lead to the company’s blog sites or to the active social media accounts are prime examples of valuable link usage.

Also, part of the traditional requirements for having a better ranked website are all actions that fall into the technical endeavours, such as a proper use of schema markup, creating XML sitemaps (vital for guiding the search engines in efficiently crawling and indexing the site’s pages), or the use of canonical tags which help prevent duplicate content issues. 

Alongside these, employing security measures are increasingly important. Implementing HTTPS ensures secure connections, safeguarding both the website and its users’ data from potential security breaches. Furthermore, adopting robust measures for data protection and privacy not only fosters trust with users but also complies with search engines’ growing emphasis on website security as a ranking factor. 

As we specified earlier, search engines constantly update their algorithms, and lately, doing all the above has become a prerequisite rather than something that differentiates your website.

Not surprisingly, In 2021, Google announced a new organic ranking factor – page experience. Judging websites by what a user feels when interacting with a page makes a lot of sense, especially for eCommerce websites, where the whole experience, from searching for the products to placing the orders, is integral to the success of the business. To measure it, Google developed the Core Web Vitals.

New metrics, like the Largest Contentful Paint, which measures the time measures at which the largest content element (may it be an image or a video) appears on the screen, the First Input Delay, that measures the time it takes for the browser to respond to the user’s first interaction, or the Cumulative Layout Shift which measures the page visual experience, determining how ‘stable’ stuff loads onto your screen – they all show the importance that Google is placing on having a seamless browsing experiences. 

Luckily, for all these , Core Web Vitals offers advanced analytics, so developers can easily find out and fix the issues making the website underperform. 

Another significant shift in how the search engine processes and ranks websites is Google’s mobile-first indexing. Google now predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. If a website doesn’t have a mobile version, Google will still index the desktop version, but the site might not perform as well in search rankings compared to mobile-friendly competitors. This shift requires webmasters and SEO practitioners to show an increased importance to the mobile version of their websites and ensure that all optimizations are present here, too.

While social media does not directly impact search engine rankings through conventional metrics, its role in enhancing online visibility, brand awareness, content distribution, and the potential creation of backlinks makes it a valuable asset in any SEO strategy.

Social media platforms serve as powerful channels for content distribution. By sharing links to your website’s content on social media, you effectively increase its reach. This broader distribution often leads to more traffic to your site, as users discover your content through these platforms. Search engines tend to favor websites that are well-regarded and frequently mentioned in various online spaces, including social media.

SEO tools offered by the main eCommerce platforms

Both Magento and Shopware, the e-commerce platforms that we work with are kitted natively with robust tools to enhance SEO. Creation of clean and user-friendly URLs for both products and categories, metadata customization, generating sitemaps, canonical tags, all are supported out of the box.

At the same time, Magento and Shopware themes are generally mobile-responsive, which is vital for SEO, especially with Google’s mobile-first indexing. This ensures that the site is easily navigable and usable on mobile devices.

Those who want to take it to a whole new level have many extensions available in both platforms’ marketplaces that can help automate and manage some of the SEO processes more efficiently. 

For Magento, SEO Toolkit Pro from Amasty is an all-in-one extension covering all the essentials that we talked about in this article. Additionally, it is able to run automatic SEO health check-ups to monitor your website SEO effectiveness.

Magento 2 SEO Extension from BSS Commerce provides all necessary tools to optimize your Magento website, and can be easily coupled with the new Magento 2 ChatGPT extension, for creating engaging content. The extension is compatible with the latest Magento version and also with the highly acclaimed Hyva theme.

For Shopware, SEO Ultimate is a highly reviewed plugin, which extends the platform’s native tools with many important settings & optimizations. The product features a SERP Preview Tool which lets users see how their web page will display in search engine results pages, helping them improve content and improve click-through rate.

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