Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Search Engine Optimisation Is Art Not Science
Authority ~ Relevancy ~ Trust
If you are going to be successful at promoting your site or understand what the heck is going on when you hand over bundles of cash to an SEO company, then in this guide I'm going to show you what it takes to rank your eCommerce website and where your money gets spent.
Every website is different. Some are big, some are small, there are those in between, and those websites all began at varying points in time. The SEO required for a little microsite founded in 2018 is different to the requirements of an extensive eCommerce website started three or four years ago. Hence why SEO is ART (in the artistic sense) because merely applying science in formulaic fashion is a waste of resource and budget. What works for one may also work for another, but depending what has already been achieved dictates which jobs get promoted to the top of the to-do list.
If you haven't already, insist on an SEO report of the work that has been done on your site, do not accept glib generalisations. Every decent SEO exponent worth their SEMrush subscription knows how to produce an SEO site report.
And of course, the budget is a significant factor, because with an unlimited budget you can create unlimited content. With endless cash, you can generate endless clicks. With infinite links, you can have infinite website traffic. You can become One with Google.
But we all have budgets to work with, some bigger, some smaller and all of us have deadlines by which we expect a return on our investment. With pay per click, the return on spending can easily be measured through conversion tracking, but this isn't the case with SEO and organic traffic, where, seeing the benefits of work done can take several months to take full effect. The good news is that robust SEO work lasts for years to come and doesn't disappear overnight. Unlike your PPC budget.
What Is Search Engine Optimisation?
Your SEO strategy is a core part of your online marketing effort. The goal is to increase visibility in organic (as opposed to paid for) search results resulting in more traffic from a user search. SEO encompasses the way your site is structured (technical SEO), on page elements (page titles and descriptions, alt tags and content) and off page elements (link building). You should also consider the overall usability of your site as part of the SEO process because an easy to use website retains visitors, reduce bounce rate and increases session time all of which may contribute to your ranking position today but definitely will in the future.
Identifying the correct keywords for your site and identifying the pages that will serve those keyword searches also comes under the SEO umbrella. Yep, there's a lot to learn, and in this guide, I am going to concentrate on “on page” elements with a follow up to cover “off page” shortly.
White Hat v Black Hat SEO
At this point, it would be a good time to talk about those infamous shortcuts and how easy it is to rank by cheating the Google algorithm. Otherwise known as Blackhat SEO.
I started working on the internet in 2000. So I have seen a lot come and go. When I made my first website all you had to do was keyword stuff the page title and page description and you were good to go. However, then Alta Vista became a victim of Google, and by turns Google was not so easily fooled, stuffing your pages full of keywords became a sure way to plummet down the search engine rankings.
In c2009 I joined a link network where everyone pooled their links with other network members websites. It was known as link-vault and the more pages you had, the more virtual voltage you had to spend. Everything was working great until Google devalued sitewide footer links and the system was suddenly put on life support, eventually dying as desperate a death as the cries for help that went with it.
So it is fair to say that in the early days I did my share of silly things and the reality is that trying to clean up a messy backlink profile is very difficult once it has got out of hand.
If you try to gain an advantage by targeting a search engines blindspot, then you are setting yourself up to fail. Once you start getting search engine traffic and begin building a business by it, you will be devastated when it all falls apart.
There are many more examples of people trying to gain a quick advantage of course. Some are crude, like keyword stuffing or generating hundreds of pages for very similar search terms (gateway pages). Some are complex like setting up many blogs on many different servers to create a link network. What is inevitable though, is that eventually, they will all fail or become too time-consuming to manage. Google improves its search algorithm on a daily basis, and significant updates are becoming less frequent in favour of logical evolution.
As Blackhat sites tumble down the search engine rankings, so the Whitehat sites inevitably rise to take their place. There is no future in gaming the search engine.
Experts Who Claim To Know The Search Engine Algorithm
Moreover, for those that claim to know the secret to the Google Algorithm or how it works – how could they? There are many things we know about how Google ranks websites, and we can determine pretty much what works and what to avoid but understanding how the algorithm works? Has anyone successfully made anything that remotely tastes like Coca-Cola? Does Bing give as good a return for a search query as Google? If anyone wanted to know the secret sauce recipe, it would be Microsoft?
Why work on something for hundreds or even thousands of hours only to jeopardise it by trying to take shortcuts? Being the recipient of a site exclusion message in Google webmaster tools sends a shiver down the spine. Getting a penalised site reincluded is a fraught process. Don't let that be you.
The way forward is to be entirely Whitehat. Completely spotless, unspoiled by anything possibly interpreted as spammy. Stay away from paid links, particularly in the early days when you have not yet established a natural link profile. Those links will stick out like Eskimos on the beach at Blackpool until you have enough natural cover to make them hard to find.
Let me be clear that I do not condone the practice of buying links. Of course, many websites do it, and that's the way they maintain high search engine rankings across the board, but it's flirting with disaster, and you want to sleep easy at night, don't you?
Doing The Basics Right
The goal of SEO is to help people who are looking for your product or service find you.
That is it, that is SEO in a nutshell. Your job as a website owner is to optimise your website pages and the website as a whole so that it can be spidered easily by a search engine. Once the search engine has all websites in its database, it then ranks them according to its algorithm to determine the placement of each site in the search results.
In this way, each search engine can have the same amount of websites in its database, but the output of each varies because they all have different algorithms with which to benchmark the results. Different algorithms used by various search engines is why your site ranks in different positions depending on the search engine.
Your job is to tell the search engines precisely about each page on your website. More importantly, you have to match your pages to the subject for which people are searching.
How Do You Do That?
Keyword Research: How To Find The Right Keywords
Keyword research is a cornerstone part of SEO. If you get this bit wrong, then everything else you does becomes a struggle. You have to know which keywords have a high search volume and which keywords are trigger keywords.
Trigger keywords are those that carry purchaser intent. For example, searching for “which UK eCommerce platform is the best” is a clear indicator that the person searching is in the early part of the research process. Someone searching for “EKM v Shopwired” is a lot further down the research path and the final search “EKM Review” is loaded with purchase intent. Think about how you do the research for your purchases and how you refine your keywords.
The aim of keyword research for an entirely new website is to find those keywords that have a high monthly search volume but are also trigger keywords. It is fruitless to rank for high volume keywords that don't carry purchaser intent.
It does not end there though. You also need to find keywords that don't have a high amount of competition to improve your chances of being visible on the front page.
A good starting point for keyword research is Googles Keyword Planner
Discovering Long Tail Keywords
Finding high volume, low competition keywords that also convert into paying customers is the objective of keyword research but that can be a hard prospect, especially in saturated markets. High competition is why targeting low volume, high trigger keywords can be more profitable, but it takes a lot more work to unearth them.
Long tail keywords are those that people take the time and trouble to type in because they know what they are looking for.
“UK eCommerce website builder that supports eBay and Facebook.”
“UK website builder for multi-channel selling.”
A good keyword strategy is a mix of both higher volume and long tail keywords. Attracting long tail keyword traffic is also a by-product of great content marketing.
Creating Content And Optimising Your Pages
Once you have chosen your keywords, it is time to begin writing and to weave them into your content.
By incorporating keywords from your research into your content you begin to tell a story to the search engine, but watch out! You are not writing for the search engine, you are writing for real people.
You can always tell when content has been written purely for search engines because it is stilted and devoid of emotion. Write with your reader in mind and try to answer the questions they might have for you. In that way, your content will flow naturally, and sentences will not have to be manufactured to cram in your keywords.
The way I like to write is to picture a particular customer of mine and compose the article as if I was informing them of the subject, talking one to one. Don't think about writing for a broad audience, just focus on the one person you have in your mind's eye, and your words will flow smoothly.
When considering pages as a whole, keep in mind that search engines can only understand written text. Video, flash and audio files are all unable to be “read” by search engines. The inability of search engines to spider this content is why it is a good idea to offer full transcripts as well as the video itself on the page.
There are five different areas of each page that you need to pay attention to and “optimise.” There is an explanation for each element, and then I will give you an example at the end to show you how they all come together as a whole.
Page Title Tags
Your page title is a significant indicator to a search engine of your page content. Be creative when writing page titles and strive to pique the reader's interest. When faced with a wall of text from which to make a selection in the search results it is the most compelling titles and descriptions that gain the most click-throughs.
Always include a heading one on your page and this heading should duplicate or reflect your browser page title so that you are consistent in informing the search engine what your page is all about. Then you should use headings to break up your page and introduce white space and make your text easily scanned.
This Is Heading One
This Is Heading Two
This Is Heading Three
This Is Heading Four
Meta tags used to be the place for you to stuff all your keywords into but now they are used much more subtly to improve CTR (click through rate). Pay particular attention to the meta name = "description" as this text is used by most search engines to display under your page title.
Often overlooked, ALT tags are there to describe an image. If that seems a bit counter-intuitive, then bear in mind that many people used to browse the web with images turned off to save on bandwidth costs. ALT Tags would help those people understand the page.
Filling in all your ALT Tags is best SEO Practice so don't overlook them.
To make it easier for people to access your content, you should link to key pages on your site where it is relevant. Don't overdo it though because too many links can make a page unreadable. It is good practice to link to your essential internal pages where applicable and make them as accessible as possible.
Internal links also tell search engines what pages on your site are all about so don't miss out on the opportunity to link to your key pages.
On the face of it, SEO is very simple; you do your keyword research to identify those keyword phrases that you can realistically hope to rank for when you first launch your website. After that make each page of your site reflect a keyword term that for which you want to appear in the search engine results.
The reason you would pay an SEO expert to do this job for you is that they are experienced in finding the low hanging fruit - those keywords that will convert into paying customers but don't have an excessive amount of competition. Of course, this is becoming harder every day with more people building sites than ever before continually raising the standard.