What exactly should you do to improve the search engine ranking of your online store? 

There is no single, simple answer. Instead there are many small actions you can take to help.

Our advice is always the same, start at the beginning and just gradually work your way through. Cover off each step before you move onto the next one. Most importantly, don’t approach these steps like a robot. Consider your customers and their ease-of-use as the core basis for each step.

How To Use This List

This list is a starting point for discovering whether your online store is ‘search engine healthy’. Some of the steps may feel a little technical in nature, but when you break them down into a logical, common sense approach then it will be easier.

Some of these steps have a related how-to guide. Many of these are available for free on Small Revolution, and some are only offered via a premium subscription.

Follow the steps to ensure YOUR online store is customer AND search engine friendly.

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Step 1 – Keyword Research

  1. Keyword research
    1. Find keywords for your product pages and homepage and add them to a spreadsheet.
      1. Write down keywords you would use to find your products
      2. List all your products per category
      3. List all keywords mentioned on Bing and Google related searches
      4. Use tools like MajesticSEO and Open Site Explorer to see your competitors’ link anchor text. They already know what to rank for.
      5. Put those keywords in tool like Ubersuggest to find other variations
      6. Download search query lists from Google Analytics and/or Webmaster tools if you have them
      7. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner to check search volume, competition levels, click prices and get ideas for other keyword variations
      8. Write down the best keywords in terms of relevancy to your site, high search volume, mid to high competition and revenue
      9. Use Google Trends to see which keywords are trending upwards or downwards
      10. Pair those keywords with pages on your site. Relevance is the key.
    2. Find long tail keywords for your blog
      1. Using your keywords and tools from previous step find 3 to 4+ word queries with less volume but even fewer pages related to them
      2. Add them to your spreadsheet
      3. Figure out a title for a blog post for every long tail keyword you extracted
      4. Revisit these steps choosing even lower volume keywords when you exhaust previous list
  2. Competitor Research
    1. View your competition for their chosen keywords
      1. Add Moz Toolbar to your Chrome or Mozilla browser
      2. Go to Google search and type one of your keywords
      3. Check Domain Authority and Page Authority of your competitors on SERP
      4. Decide whether to continue pursuing this keyword based on those metrics
      5. Continue these steps for other keywords on your list
    2. Get competitors’ backlinks
      1. Go to Open Site Explorer
      2. Type in your competitor’s URL
      3. Get a list of backlinks
      4. Remove backlinks from pages with low Domain Authority
      5. Put the rest in the spreadsheet
    3. Check competitors’ site architecture
      1. Check out what are the most popular products per category so you can feature those too on your product category page
      2. Check out the way they are showcasing their related products on product pages
      3. Check different filters and sorting features (top sellers, lower prices, higher prices, top rated) your competitors are using when giving a list of product
      4. Check out their recently viewed products to see which products are trending

 

Step 2 – Identifying problems with your site

  1. Visit Screaming Frog
    1. Download their software called SEO spider tool
    2. Enter your store’s URL and run the reports
    3. Check for Client & Server errors
    4. Check for Redirect issues
    5. Check for URI issues
    6. Check for Duplicate page errors
    7. Check for errors in meta data
    8. Visit Pingdom
    9. Test your site speed
    10. Research your options if your site loads longer than 3 seconds
  2. Add your website to Google Webmaster Tools to find out what issues Google has with crawling and ranking your store.
  3. Add your website Bing Webmaster Tools

 

Step 3 – On-page Optimization

  1. Do keyword optimization (without keyword stuffing)
    1. Make sure the page title contains desired keywords
    2. Make sure heading contains desired keywords
    3. Make sure subheadings contain desired keywords
    4. Make sure paragraph copy contains desired keywords
    5. Make sure product descriptions contain desired keywords
    6. Make sure product tags contain desired keywords
    7. Make sure image file names contain desired keywords
    8. Make sure image alt attributes contain desired keywords
    9. Make sure meta title and description contain desired keywords
    10. Make sure meta description focuses on the sales pitch and doesn’t sound like gibberish
    11. Make sure URLs contain desired keywords
  2. Improve internal linking
    1. Link your most linked-to pages to your new SEO targeted pages to harness all link equity from best pages on your site
    2. Interlink your SEO targeted pages using “related link” section on a page to quickly get new pages indexed and ranked
    3. Link to most important SEO targeted pages from homepage to get the most link equity to them
    4. Link SEO targeted pages with pages “closer” to a homepage in Information Architecture
    5. Link SEO targeted pages with privacy policy, terms of service, contact us, etc because they are close to a homepage
    6. Add links to SEO targeted pages in footer (without stuffing the footer)
    7. Use breadcrumbs as it’s a great internal linking tool
    8. Put all internal linking efforts into a spreadsheet
  3. Create video sitemap if you have a lot of videos promoting your products
  4. Implement search feature so your visitors can easily find what they want or even just to check if you have it
  5. Improve usability of your store
    1. Make sure visitors understand what your store is about in a few seconds after landing on your a page
    2. Have a clear call to action. Tell them what you want them to do
    3. Construct a good site navigation to allow your visitors to explore pain free
    4. Avoid long paragraphs because most visitors just skim-read over the text
    5. Use product images where you can (properly tagged)
    6. Use search engine-friendly URLs that contain targeted keywords to give information about the link to users and Google
  6. Develop a mobile version of your store as people surf the web using mobile devices more and more
  7. Add customer reviews so you can demonstrate how good your products are, get a good amount of useful content and get on the good side of Google’s algorithms
  8. Install rich snippets so you get more visible on search engine results pages
    1. Learn about rich snippets
    2. Figure out what pages you want rich snippets on
    3. Learn about microdata
    4. Create microdata rich snippets on desired pages
    5. Test your rich snippets using Structured Data Testing Tool from Google Webmaster Tools
  9. Integrate social media on your store as it gets more and more important for ranking on Google and for community
    1. Add share plugins on product pages
    2. Highlight your positive user content from social networks on your store
    3. Allow sign-ins with social network login information
    4. Use social-based comment system
    5. Invite users to share on social network after they have completed a purchase
    6. Show which products are trending on social networks

 

Step 4 – Blog

  1. Choose a content management system to easily manage your blog
  2. Design your blog to have a similar template as your online store
  3. Set up your blog categories to group your content in a way where a visitors can easily find what they are looking for
  4. Set up Google+ Authorship and Publisher links for gaining rich snippet visibility
  5. Figure out your content strategy
  6. Start writing and publishing blog posts using long tail keywords previously researched

 

Step 5 – Link Building

  1. Pull up your spreadsheet with your competitors’ backlinks
  2. Start guest posting and building relationships with other site owners to get backlinks
  3. Get backlinks from manufacturers. Sending them an email usually does the trick
  4. Find influencers in your niche and interview them
  5. Create infographics
  6. Organize contests and giveaways
  7. Write buying guides and how-to guides
  8. Do a weekly roundup of best blog posts in your niche
  9. Answer users’ questions on sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora
  10. Write testimonials for other businesses
  11. Research other strategies

 

Step 6 – Local business

  1. Make sure full contact information is showing on a page
  2. Add phone number and physical address to store’s footer area
  3. Submit your site to all relevant local shopping directories
  4. Use Whitespark Local Citation Finder to find where your competitors listed
  5. Add your store to Google’s Business Listings directory, but make sure you choose a Name, Address and Telephone number that you will ‘never’ change. (Note from Ed: In our experience it is virtually impossible to wipe Google’s ‘memory’ of an old contact set.)

 

Step 7: Advanced SEO Techniques

  1. Create an information architecture and URL structure
    1. Write a list of all your products
    2. Provide A-Z list of your products on one page or give a convenient search box for new users who are not familiar with your site
    3. Group your products into categories
    4. Understand which product categories are interesting to the highest number of your visitors to know which ones to emphasize in your site navigation
    5. Put your primary categories in main site navigation
    6. Spread sub-categories under relevant primary categories
    7. If your sub-categories can be combined, think about implementing tag/label based navigation of sub-categories and allow visitors to combine tags when searching for products
    8. Keep your labels short if they are self-explanatory. If they require more clarification think about adding a picture and/or descriptions to avoid confusion
    9. Learn about breadcrumbs navigation
    10. Implement hierarchy and history based breadcrumb navigation
    11. Consider hiring SEO consultant before site development to avoid mistakes at this step
  2. Use SEO automation
    1. Make your Page title dynamic so every new product has relevant Page title. Your developer can automate insertion of your product name into Page title
    2. Automate your Meta description so every product has its own. Your listings on search pages will be more attractive to searchers. Your developer can help you add a sample of your product description here.
    3. Learn about rich snippets and talk about automating them with your developer
    4. Think about using different SEO tools
  3. Track your SEO impact
    1. Go to Google Analytics
    2. Create and set up your account
    3. Get help from your site developer in implementing the tracking snippet
    4. Implement ecommerce tracking on your site to get data about SEO activity impact on revenue
    5. Create dashboard of the most important metrics and revisit it often to keep an eye on SEO impact on your business
    6. Create automated reports to be emailed to you daily, weekly or monthly so you can make informed decisions about your products
    7. Consider hiring an expert for web analytics
  4. Start testing
    1. Your web shop isn’t a one-and-done. Think about what can you improve on and start thinking about how you will test it
    2. Consider using testing software like Optimizely
    3. Design your copies yourself or seek help from a professional
    4. Set up your test
    5. Revisit your test results often and conclude test only when statistical significance is reached
    6. Apply winning copy to all visitors
    7. Track the impact looking at a few key metrics
    8. Think about what to test next
  5. Use pages about obsolete or expired products
    1. Identify product pages that are still live on your site but you are not selling those products anymore
    2. Consider redirecting users from those pages to relevant category pages or category search pages
    3. Consider setting up 404 pages with relevant content (apologizing and suggesting similar products, giving links to top sellers, category pages, etc.)
    4. Consider leaving those pages alive, inform your visitor you are not selling those products anymore and provide them with alternatives form the same category
  6. Optimize filter and tag pages
    1. Identify most used filters and tags
    2. Write unique content for top level filters and tags so you can successfully promote those pages
    3. Create unique content only for top level filters and tags to avoid duplicates
    4. Use Google Analytics or similar tool to monitor traffic to those pages
  7. Use GEO indicators on product pages (local business only)
    1. Add geo modifier in your Title tag so you reinforce your brand locally. Keep it well within 70 characters
    2. Write locally optimized Meta description. Include primary keywords, areas of your business and phone number. Keep it within 165 characters if possible
    3. Have you address and phone number on all product pages to signal Google you are a local business
    4. Go to Geo sitemap and KML generator
    5. Fill in company details
    6. Download the files and upload them to your website’s root folder
    7. Upload your files to Google Webmaster Tools also
  8. Implement pagination correctly
    1. Learn about pagination and its problems
    2. Inform yourself about advantages and disadvantages of possible solutions
    3. If all the content is relevant and only first page needs to be indexed use NOINDEX, FOLLOW method
    4. If every page needs to be indexed and you don’t have a lot of products (meaning your page with all products listed loads quickly) use VIEW-ALL PAGE and REL=”CANONICAL” method
    5. If every page needs to be indexed and you have a lot of products (meaning your page with all products listed loads slowly) use REL=”PREV/NEXT” method

Step 8:  Bad SEO Practices To Avoid

On-page:

  1. Don’t duplicate content because quality of content is more important. You can quote parts of other articles
  2. Don’t hide text because Google will penalize you with an exclusion from SERP
  3. Don’t do keyword stuffing because it hurts user experience and possibly your Google ranking
  4. Don’t rely on keyword metatags because it stopped working a few years ago
  5. Don’t do cloaking as it will most probably get you banned
  6. Don’t copy manufacturer’s product description, instead write your own
  7. Don’t write low quality articles with less than 500 words

Off-page:

  1. Don’t submit press releases to free PR sites because it means you probably don’t have anything news-worthy to submit
  2. Don’t do mass directory submissions, but hand pick only relevant authority directories to submit to
  3. Don’t spam unrelated forums with links to your store because it can hurt your reputation and rankings
  4. Don’t use links from private blog networks (PBN) because you can get penalized
  5. Don’t buy keyword rich domains, fill them with similar content and link them to your site
  6. Don’t buy links because Google started to penalize sites doing mass link building practices
  7. Don’t get everybody to link to you using same anchor text because Google sees it as a manipulative SEO technique. Check out this good anchor text practices
  8. Don’t submit your site to Google using submission tools, but get a link from trusted site and you will be listed soon after

Spot bad SEO companies:

  1. Free trial in exchange for your account access
  2. Underpriced or overpriced services on sites like Elance
  3. Guaranteed Page Rank
  4. Guaranteed Top ranking in short time frame
  5. Offers massive search engine submissions
  6. Promising hundreds or thousands of links to your site
  7. Asking for copyrights to SEO and metadata
  8. Low monthly fees and flat rate companies
  9. Not answering your questions
  10. Claiming they know SEO secrets because they know someone from Google
  11. Threatens you and extorts

What’s Next?

Don’t forget to leave a comment below if you believe we’ve missed any steps. The list is changing as we learn more from our own efforts and so we welcome your contribution.

Our aim is to have a comprehensive list of steps that any store owner can use as a basic guideline for their own efforts. Bookmark this page, or share it with colleagues.

Check the eCommerce Guides section for all how-to guides.