For e-commerce brands, increasing site traffic is an ongoing priority. While it's true that many brands successfully generate revenue through Amazon and other platforms, the vast majority of e-commerce companies see their own website as the primary source of revenue.
Of course, to boost traffic to your own site, you need to invest in SEO. While activities like guest blogging on other sites or bidding on competitive keywords can certainly give you a rankings boost, I've found that many e-commerce stores have an unfortunate tendency to overlook the technical elements that influence their ranking.
These tech adjustments to your site and its content may not be as flashy as a PR placement in a big-name publication, but they can prove just as important for improving your online visibility.
The right back-end adjustments will send the right signals to search engines, while also making your site more user-friendly. This way, you won't just boost your SEO ranking and number of site visitors, you will also see an uptick in conversions.
1. Make your site mobile-friendly.
E-commerce brands should never assume that their audience is shopping from a desktop computer. According to Pew Research, 81% of Americans own a smartphone, a greater percentage than those who own a laptop or desktop computer.
The increased penetration of smartphones in the United States also means that people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of shopping from their mobile device. As reported by AdWeek, 46% of consumers "prefer to use their smartphones for the entire purchase process." Depending on your target audience, this percentage could be even higher.
Needless to say, you need to make sure that your e-commerce site is optimized for mobile users. AdWeek further noted that a whopping 73% of consumers will abandon a site that doesn't deliver a quality mobile experience.
Not only does a mobile-friendly site provide a better experience to your users, it has a direct influence on your SEO rankings. Google has recently switched to mobile-first indexing as part of a continued shift toward prioritizing mobile-friendly sites. If your site isn't mobile-friendly, your rankings will lag far behind the competition.
These days, a responsive website design is the easiest solution for ensuring that you don't miss out on mobile users. If you're not sure if your site is mobile-friendly, use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test so you can identify needed changes.
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2. Optimize site speed.
How quickly a website loads depends on much more than the user's internet connection. Much of it is largely dependent on technical elements related to your site, and any shortcomings will affect both the user experience and your SEO rankings.
Loading time is especially important for mobile users. Google research found that 53% of smartphone users would abandon a website that takes over three seconds to load. This increases your bounce rate, another negative ranking factor. Not surprisingly, Google executives have frequently advised site owners to ensure that their pages load in two seconds or less.
Even a relatively small improvement in site speed can make a big difference. In a BigCommerce case study, it was reported that e-commerce brand US Patriot Tactical improved its conversion rate by 17% as a direct result of increasing site speed by 30%. Upgrading its web hosting played a big role in this by helping prevent slowdown during spikes in traffic or shopping activity. This also kept the site from crashing during high-traffic periods, which had previously been a common issue that negatively affected consumer trust.
To enhance site speed, make sure you are using a quality server and content delivery system. You should also optimize images and other site content. Compressing images and other HTML files can greatly improve site speed by reducing the size of the files that will be loading on your page. Finally, enable browser caching. The faster your site loads, the better it will rank, and the easier it will be to convert your visitors.
Google has also recently begun encouraging sites to install its AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) plugin. This plugin is designed to improve site load time for mobile users, further boosting your overall performance.
3. Get an SSL certificate.
Digital security matters to consumers, and as a result, it matters to search engines as well. All the way back in 2014, Google confirmed that SSL certificates were being used as an SEO ranking signal. Despite this, I've seen far too many e-commerce sites that continue to only offer an unsecured browsing experience.
This puts consumers at a much greater risk of cybercrime, and can negatively impact your site's perceived trust with potential customers and search engines. When over 210 million cyberattacks occurred in Q1 of 2018 alone, it becomes clear that fraudulent purchases, particularly shipping and billing fraud, are a major threat to consumers.
This makes getting an SSL certificate an essential part of any e-commerce brand. By establishing encrypted links, these security protocols ensure that payment credentials and other personal information cannot be stolen by a third party. All communication between a customer's web browser and the site's server is safe.
Many browsers now provide "not secure" warnings to users visiting a site that doesn't use HTTPS. Such warnings could easily encourage users to click away from your site, increasing your bounce rate and giving your competitors an even greater opportunity to move up in the search rankings.
At the end of the day, however, SSL certification isn't just about avoiding a negative impact on your SEO rankings. It's about protecting your customers. Establishing trust by prioritizing their data security will go a long way in helping you grow your brand.
4. Find and eliminate broken links.
E-commerce brands are constantly updating and refining their product offerings. This can greatly increase your risk of having broken links on your site. Not only does this make your site harder for your customers to navigate, but it also disrupts Google's crawling process. Any time an internal site link sends users to a "404 error" message, you have a problem.
When Google discovers a large number of broken links on your site, it sends several negative messages to the ranking algorithm. It indicates that your site content is not updated or maintained with regularity. It can also hurt your site's perceived relevance and quality, further lowering your ranking.
To avoid these pitfalls, e-commerce brands should regularly audit their site to check for dead links, particularly after performing a refresh of their product lineup. There are actually several site crawling tools available, such as LinkMiner or SEMRush, that can crawl your site to identify potential red flags.
Once you've identified the dead links on your site, you can either remove the broken link entirely or redirect it to a new URL. You will likely need to update links after installing an SSL certificate to ensure that all links are taking users to an HTTPS page.
The larger your site becomes, the more likely these issues will occur. As your product lineup expands, you may wish to consider performing link audits on a weekly basis to ensure that everything is working as it should. Eliminating these technical issues will improve usability and help you avoid costly penalties from Google. In my experience, regular audits will keep broken links and other issues from getting out of hand.
5. Don't neglect the alt text.
Appropriate keyword implementation is an essential part of onsite SEO, but all too often e-commerce sites will only focus on the written content of their site. Keywords also play an important role in image optimization.
For images, keywords come into play via the alt text. This is text that is added to the HTML code to describe what appears in an image on a website. Alt text is important, because Google's crawlers don't actually see the image when going through your site. Instead, they rely on the image's metadata; namely, the file name and alt text to identify its content.
Because of this, the alt text plays a crucial role in signaling the image's relevance. Providing a descriptive alt text that incorporates your primary keywords can send a powerful ranking signal.
However, alt text is also meant to improve accessibility for web users who cannot actually see the image. Because of this, alt text descriptions need to be truly helpful, so that individuals who use a screen reader or have a browser that blocks images will still understand what the image was meant to convey.
This means you should avoid keyword stuffing. Instead, write a helpful description that sounds natural. I believe the best alt text reads more like a short sentence rather than a collection of keywords. Try to keep it as short as possible without resorting to a one-word description to achieve the right balance Google indexing and user-friendliness.
SEO is about much more than producing blog content and getting third-party links to your site. While these tasks are certainly important, e-commerce brands cannot afford to neglect the technical side of SEO.
By ensuring that your site is technically sound and better optimized for search engines, you will improve its discoverability and usability. As you use these tactics to help drive fresh traffic to your site, you will be far more likely to see the sales growth your brand needs to thrive.