On-Site SEO is essential for ecommerce websites because products need to rank higher than competitors and display clearly so consumers can find the products in search engine results. Optimizing an ecommerce website can result in increased organic traffic to a business’s website, which can mean more conversions. About 38% of ecommerce traffic comes from organic search, the second highest source of traffic after direct traffic at 49.3% (Kalyadina, 2020). User experience is also important and because consumers conduct purchase decision research on desktop and mobile devices, product pages must be optimized for both (Kalyadina, 2020). While some ecommerce websites overlook the potential of on-site SEO and user experience, implementing these strategies is good for business.
The first on-site SEO technique is optimizing the page titles, or title tags, which are the blue clickable titles on a search engine results page (Kalyadina, 2020). These pages can impact the click-through rate because they inform users and search engines about what the page is about. Ideally the title should be between 55 to 60 characters, descriptive, and use chosen keywords (Kalyadina, 2020). Many ecommerce sites choose to add a company name to the end of the page title, but it should not be first because it does not reinforce users’ search intent (Kalyadina, 2020). For example, Zappo’s homepage title is “Running Shoes + Free Shipping | Zappos.com” (Zappos, n.d.).
Ecommerce websites should utilize header tags (such as h1, h2, and h3) because search engines use them to understand a page’s content that sets the tone and purpose for the page (Tietbohl, 2021). Header tags help support the overall theme or purpose of a page, and header tags are often used to define sections on the page (Tietbohl, 2021). Appropriate short and long keywords should be inserted into header tags because as search engines crawl the site, they will recognize the headers and keywords (Kalyadina, 2020).
Right underneath the page title on a search engine results page is the meta description, which also plays an important role for click-throughs and ultimately conversions. To optimize the meta description, one should ensure its length is about 150 characters, each description should be personalized to the webpage, each meta description should be accurate about what the page contains, and they should explain why a consumer should visit the website (Kalyadina, 2020) or they can give an answer to a question (Crowe, 2016). Below you can see that Zappos’ meta description is listed, along with the header tags, and each has a unique description (Google, 2021).
Some ecommerce websites feature perks and discounts in their meta description to attract attention, such as “free shipping” or “buy one, get one free”. Some examples of action words brands are using in their meta title include decide, shop, free, limited time, win, exclusive, and sale (Crowe, 2016). While meta description may not improve search rankings alone, it will earn a website more clicks when optimized correctly (Crowe, 2016). Above you can see that Zappos uses terms like “free shipping and returns” and “1000s of styles” to get click-throughs (Google, 2021).
Surprisingly, a whopping 10.1% of all Google traffic is for images.google.com; and daily pageviews of Google Images are over one billion (and that number is seven years old) (Patel, n.d.)! Google Image search is another way of generating website traffic, and optimizing images are like optimizing webpages. Images rank in search just like websites do, and the having first image in the search is like being the first position on the search engine results page (Patel, n.d.).
To optimize a website’s images for search, edit the file names so they are user-friendly and reflect the image contents (Patel, n.d.). Then, modify the image’s alt tags (which help visually impaired users) to be short and descriptive (Patel, n.d.), and include the product name and relevant keywords where appropriate (Kalyadina, 2020). And finally, the images should be high-quality but small in file size (under 1 to 2MB) so that they do not slow down page loading speed (which impacts user experience and bounce rates), and this task can be achieved through file compression (Patel, n.d.).
Further, using original images for a website is always preferred because they are more likely to grab peoples’ attention (Patel, n.d.). While Zappos does use original images for its products, there is room for improvement with file names (Zappos, n.d.). The Brooks Canopy Jacket image included in the screenshot is titled “71TftAbTByL._AC_SR700,525_” (Zappos, n.d.).
Next, adding Schema.org markup will help Google understand a site’s content and help potential visitors navigate the site (Kalyadina, 2020). It can also result in a higher click-through rate of up to 30%, resulting in further sales (Kalyadina, 2020). Some of the most common schema properties include reviews and rating schema, product schema, breadcrumb markup, business details including contact, product availability schema, and FAQs (which can generate a lot of traffic if a site gets a Featured Snippet) (Kalyadina, 2020).
Website content is another form of on-page SEO that draws in consumers from the search engine results page. Each webpage in a site should have unique content, which can be time-consuming if the ecommerce website has thousands of products (Kalyadina, 2020). The written content on a page allows search engines to understand what the page is about and rank it accordingly based on a user’s search intent (Kalyadina, 2020). Every webpage should have at least 250 to 500 words that differ from all other webpages, including each product or topic page (Kalyadina, 2020). Product descriptions with 3 to 5 chosen keywords, product features, awards won by the product, technical specs, utilize customer reviews, comparison to other products, and a frequently asked questions section (and answering consumer questions) can all beef up a product page (Kalyadina, 2020). Zappos’ includes all these on-page SEO tactics on its product pages, including breadcrumb navigation at the top and social media share buttons (Zappos, n.d.).
Internal linking on ecommerce product pages is also necessary for on-page SEO. Strategically linking from high authority pages to high priority product pages will increase the likelihood of ranking in the search results for these products. A few options for links on product pages include breadcrumbs navigation, related products, and related categories (Crowe, 2016). Zappos uses breadcrumbs, “wear it with”, “customers who viewed this item also viewed”, and “you may also like” links on each product page (Zappos, n.d.). Internal linking should add value for users and provide an intuitive structure that prioritizes the content that is more relevant to the user (Crowe, 2016). Internal linking will boost SEO because one can choose their own anchor text, helping a website to rank for chosen keywords, as well as improve user experience by suggesting related pages (Kalyadina, 2020).
Tied closely to internal links is the having an on-site search engine, which is critical if an ecommerce site is large and has several tiers of content (Tietbohl, 2021). Zappos has a huge inventory, and it places its search bar at the top of its main page for ease of access (Zappos, n.d.). While on-site search engines may not directly impact search engine results page rankings, it does provide a better user experience and can provide useful consumer data in Google Analytics (Tietbohl, 2021). Around 30% of users are likely to use a website’s search engine when it is available and those who search are twice as likely to convert (Tietbohl, 2021).
While social media share buttons on a website does not impact search engine rankings, it provides the potential of free promotion (Crowe, 2016). Millennial shoppers are twice as likely to buy a product that was personally shared on social media (Crowe, 2016). Similarly, while product videos will not directly impact search engine rankings, it will increase engagement and time on-site, which increased the chances of a product page ranking higher (Crowe, 2016). About 73% of consumers are more likely to buy a product or sign up for a service after watching a branded video that explains the product, and 52% of consumers say watching videos makes them more confident about a purchase (Crowe, 2016).
Videos also give ecommerce websites the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition (Crowe, 2016) and improve visitor engagement, which can be tracked in Google Analytics. Videos are one of several ways to keep potential customers surfing an ecommerce website. Zappos’ embeds a video right at the top of its website to keep customers on the page (Zappos, n.d.).
Keeping users on a website longer increases the consumer’s likelihood of buying something and increases the likelihood the consumer will remember and trust the brand/company (Mohrman, 2017). A poorly designed website can cause the time spent on-page to be low and the bounce rate to be high (The Daily Egg, 2020), therefore user experience is important for ecommerce websites. Increasing visitors’ time spent on a website means optimizing a website’s design and content (The Daily Egg, 2020).
For example, the website should have intuitive navigation, easily scanned pages, links set to open in new tabs, valuable original content, and include calls to action on every page (Mohrman, 2017). The Daily Egg (2020) makes the point that most pages are scanned by visitors instead of being read in their entirety, which makes the words not always as important as the format and visuals. Better content, such as graphics, videos, and photos can increase a consumer’s duration on the page (The Daily Egg, 2020).
Finally, ecommerce websites that want to improve on-site SEO must ensure that product pages have a key-word rich, simple, and unique structure (Crowe, 2016). Guidelines for page URL include using lower case letters, using hyphens instead of spaces or underscores, and removing special characters (Crowe, 2016). While search engines do have the ability to remove special characters in an URL, a consumer viewing a complicated URL may lose confidence in purchasing from that website and move on (Crowe, 2016). The goal with a simple URL is to improve user experience and increase search result rankings that way (Crowe, 2016). This is another area where Zappos has room for improvement, as the first screenshot shared has a URL of http://www.zappos.com/p/brooks-canopy-jacket-fluoro-pink/product/9388826/color/217603, which is descriptive but also has many superfluous numbers (Zappos, n.d.).
Crowe, A. (2016, May 10). SEO for Ecommerce Websites: A Step-By-Step Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-guide-to-ecommerce/162353/
Google Search. (2021, March 1). Zappos. Retrieved from: https://www.google.com
Kalyadina, M. (2020, May 27). The Definitive Guide to Ecommerce SEO for 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.semrush.com/blog/ecommerce-seo/
Mohrman, E. (2017, November 8). 12 Ways to Keep Users on Your Website Longer. Retrieved from: https://www.create180design.com/12-ways-to-keep-users-on-your-website-longer/
Patel, N. (n.d.) How to Drive More Traffic Using Google Image Search. Retrieved from: https://neilpatel.com/blog/drive-traffic-using-google-image-search/
Tietbohl, M. (2021). Week 5 Lesson: SEO – On-page Optimization and Technical SEO, Introduction to SEMrush [Online]. Retrieved from https://ecampus.wvu.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/displayLearningUnit?course_id=_155927_1&content_id=_7582547_1&framesetWrapped=true
The Daily Egg. (2020, May 14). The 15 Second Rule: 3 Reasons Why Users Leave a Website. Retrieved from: https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/why-users-leave-a-website/
Zappos. (n.d.) Running Shoes + Free Shipping | Zappos.com. Retrieved from: https://www.zappos.com