Shopify offers a user-friendly platform for setting up and running an ecommerce store.
This Shopify SEO Guide is for beginners looking to better understand the basics of SEO and how to optimize their own Shopify store. If you are familiar with the basics, check out our SEO Audit Guide for more advanced tips and insights.
If you have just opened a new store, SEO is one of the many methods you could use to attract shoppers.
The most gorgeous and well-organized site with a fabulous design won’t benefit any business unless shoppers who are searching the web can find it. That is what SEO is all about. This Shopify SEO guide will help you understand the basic first steps you should be taking once you launch a new store.
There is a lot of industry jargon that gets thrown around, and SEO can seem like something that is difficult and confusing. However, it doesn’t have to be. There are some simple things you can do to make your site work better from an SEO standpoint. These steps will make your site easier for search engines to understand and for shoppers to find.
What is SEO and Why Does it Matter?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is about making your site easier to understand. At the most basic level, SEO helps Google answer the following questions about your site:
- What is it about?
- What can web searchers expect to find there?
- Is it reliable and authoritative?
- Is it a safe place for users to browse/buy?
If Google can’t figure out what your site is about, they won’t know when to show it to searchers, nor will they be inclined to do so when there are clear and trustworthy alternatives to display.
The first key is to understand how search engines work. Google, Bing, and other search engines are not looking at the web “live”. Instead they have software “spiders” that go out and crawl the web, looking at new websites and visiting old ones to check for updates and new content.
These spiders send this information back to the search engine which then updates its own index of the internet. Think of this as a giant filing cabinet or card catalog. If your site is in it, in the right category, a searcher may find it. If it is in the wrong category, they may never find it, or only find it in the wrong type of search. The process of adding your site to this massive database is called indexing.
Various SEO techniques (See: The Three Pillars of SEO) are the signals that tell search engines what category your site belongs in, and how high it should rank in that category. This is very important to any ecommerce store.
Because higher rankings bring more traffic, and more traffic brings higher revenue.
Statistics show that most of the clicks, around 75% on average, go to results on the first page of a search result, known as a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Most show that around 50% or more go to the first few results.
This is not always 100% true, an advantage for ecommerce sites. These percentages are partly dependent upon search terms. For example, someone searching for “discount stereo speakers” is bargain shopping, and looking for the best deal, so they won’t just click on the first result.
However, some searches like “cheap sunglasses free shipping” will return very specific results. Therefore, it is important to understand what your typical customer is searching for, and how you can make sure your site is where they find it.
As you get started, remember, you don’t have to get SEO perfect, and you seldom will. You just have to do better than your competition. This also is why looking at who your competition is and what they are doing is important as well.
Who is my Competition and What are they Doing?
There is an easy way to see how you stack up in your shopping niche, but it does involve some research and some SEO tools. You need to know who your customers are and what they are searching for, who your competition is, and what they are doing to attract customers.
How do you figure this out?
First of all, you can use tools like SEMrush to look at specific keyword searches, and see the volume in those searches, and what other questions people are asking. For instance, using our example above of discount stereo speakers, a searcher might also be looking for “best quality discount stereo speakers” or even “best reviewed discount stereo speakers.” There could even be niche categories in those searches, such as “discount home stereo speakers” or “discount car stereo speakers”.
The point is that these tools will show you what people are searching for. Of course, you can then do competitor analysis with various web tools to determine what your competitors rank for and what their back link profiles look like. However, if you are new to the niche, how do you know who your competition is?
A simple way is to perform a Google search in an incognito window of your browser for the various keywords mentioned above. Do several searches and make note of some things as you do.
- Who appears in more than one of the searches? This is your real competition.
- What is ranking in those search categories? Is it product pages, blog posts, reviews, articles?
- What do those pages that rank have in common? Titles, colors, photos, descriptions, and how often keywords appear in the text are all factors. Look at them all.
- What do the sites that rank have in common? Are they niche specific or variety sites?
One key here is that you do not ignore sites like Amazon and other large sites like eBay because you feel you cannot compete with them. They often appear in those searches because specific product entries are optimized. Look at and imitate the best. You would be surprised at how often a niche site set up properly will outrank a larger site for a specific item.
The other important factor is to look at your competition’s back link profile. What sites are linking to them, and how did they acquire those links?
Are they being covered by mommy bloggers or major news sources? The more information you gather about the number and quality of links pointing to competing sites, the clearer your plan to outperform them becomes.
There is also another type of link to be aware of. There are bad links, and these can result in penalties for your site from Google and other search engines. If a site is linking to you that is an untrustworthy site or it appears your links were built using what is known as “blackhat SEO techniques” like keyword stuffing articles and hiding links behind suspicious text or photos, they will be counted against you.
There was a time when companies would use such techniques to unseat their competition from high ranks in certain keywords, although this is not as common now. Still, if you see that you have some negative backlinks in your profile, you can “disavow” them and get them removed with the Google Disavow tool.
If your competition has them, be vigilant and check your profile often. Someone could be targeting sites in your niche for whatever reason, or it could just happen accidentally. The point is to do the good things your competition is doing better than they are and avoid the negative things they are doing.
It is for this reason you must understand what makes a good link and what type of links should you avoid, so that you don’t repeat the mistakes of your competition.
Knowing your competition is not enough though. You need to set up your site for success. Remember, it is not about perfection, but about constantly striving to get better.
6 Simple Shopify SEO Tips
Now that you have determined what keywords both you and your competition are ranking for, you can start to optimize your store for them using basic tools in Shopify. Here are six simple steps you can take to improve the likelihood of your site being found in the SERPs.
1. Add the Terms Shoppers Are Searching When They Plan to Buy
The first is to add the keywords and long tail searches you have found in the step above to your website content. Before you start with this, it is important to understand what content really is. Content is anything that a user sees on your website. This is everything from your page titles (blog post titles in the case of your blog), descriptions of products, the body of blog posts, and even the alt-text for images.
This is an area to be careful in though. Don’t just repeat your keywords over and over. While mentioning key terms in your content is useful, your focus should be on creating useful,
informative content that helps potential buyers better understand your products.
Be sure the title matches the content on the page and vice versa. The smarter search engines get, the more they read posts just like a person would. Besides, the real reason for your content is the user. Google or other search engines may be how the user gets there, but your content is what gets them to stay, trust your site, and make purchases.
If you have never completed keyword research before, here is a great guide on keyword research: https://www.shopify.com/blog/14207073-the-beginners-guide-to-keyword-research-for-ecommerce
2. Match the URLs and Filenames
Often you will see something called the slug under the SEO section in Shopify. This is to set up the URL for your page or post. This URL should match the content on the page. Think of it this way. You are browsing the web and see a link in an article or an add that leads to discount stereo speakers, something you have been looking for anyway.
When you click on the link though, you end up at a site that has dog beds, not the speakers you are looking for. First, you are frustrated. You have not found what you were looking for and what the link said it went to. If this happened to you, you would probably do what Google calls “bounce.” Users leave a page within a few seconds of arriving and continue their search elsewhere.
The same is true of filenames, but as much for Google as it is for the user. If you have photos, make sure the file name is not just “image123435.jpg”. This does not tell Google or the user what the photo is of. Use the filename to help with SEO by including keywords that describe the photo. Then even someone doing an image search may land on your site and find what they are looking for.
This is also where the alt-text for an image comes in. This text tells search engines what your photo contains. Since Google cannot see images, you need to help them decide if your image is discount headphones or a dog bed, alt-text is one way to do just that.
Don’t just use generic terms like “speakers” either. Include descriptive keywords like “red wireless ear bud headphones” and other search terms in your alt-text and even your URLs.
For instance, a product page URL might read yoursitename.com/discount-polarized-aviator-sunglasses. This tells the search engine and searchers what to expect when they land on the page.
3. Use Google Search Console
Add your sitemap.xml to Google Search Console, so that your online store website can be easily crawled and indexed.
This is the deal: not every page will be crawled by Google and other search engines and added to their index. You can learn more about which pages get crawled by looking at the Google Search Console help page, but the key is you don’t want Google to crawl every page.
The reason is something called index bloat, which can slow your site down, cause duplicate content, and make it harder to find. This is a technical discussion but suffice it to say that if you need help with this issue, you may need a web developer’s assistance. You can see index bloat in your Google Search Console if you see a large increase in the number of URL’s crawled or indexed. Be sure to watch these numbers so you have an accurate idea of what is normal for your site, and what should cause you to be alarmed and seek help.
Once you have done these basics, we can move on to some more technical aspects of SEO, things that are a little more advanced, but can really help your site stand out from your competition.
If you are not familiar with Google Search Console, check out “A Complete Guide to Google Search Console“.
A moment ago, we mentioned sitemaps. But how do sitemaps affect what Google and other search engines see, and how your site ranks? Sitemaps show all of the pages on your site, and what their titles are. In this case, Shopify creates a sitemap for you, and updates it every time you add a page or change something on your site.
Your sitemap can be found by adding /sitemap.xml after your root domain name. Once you have uploaded this to Google Search Console as mentioned above, you don’t need to do it again.
How often Google crawls your site and looks at your sitemap largely depends on how often you do updates to your pages.
5. Canonical URLs
What does this mean? Well, often on an ecommerce site, there is more than one way to get to the same product page, and as a result that product page may have more than one URL associated with it. This can be interpreted by a search engine as duplicate content, and this can be a problem because search engines don’t like duplicate content.
The solution is a canonical URL. This is a tag that tells the search engines which URL to rank, because it denotes which one was the original, and which URLs are created by different search parameters.
This isn’t something we can cover fully within this tutorial, but if you aren’t familiar with canonical tags, here is a great resource from Shopify: https://www.shopify.com/partners/blog/canonical-urls
6. www. vs. non-www.
Most Shopify stores are www. sites, in other words www.myshop.com. However, even if searchers don’t put the www. in front of your site name, you can direct Shopify to redirect them from the non-www site to the www one. In your dashboard, click on online store, then domains, and verify that the check box to redirect all traffic is marked.
If you don’t do this, your pages could be viewed under two different URLs, causing duplicate content issues.
So, check the box and make sure this simple fix isn’t costing you traffic.
Shopify vs Shopify Plus
There are a couple of different plans you can use with your Shopify store. While the standard Shopify features are fine for a small to mid-level business, Shopify Plus is much better suited for larger and enterprise level businesses. Why? Well the features in Shopify Plus are much more advanced, but they also come at a higher cost.
What is that cost? That’s the good thing. It depends. Plans start at around $2,000 a month and go up from there, but your plan will depend specifically on your needs, including traffic, number of administrative team members, design needs, tech support, and growth variables.
What are the real-world differences? Shopify Plus comes with some really great features.
- Customization: Your store can be customized exactly the way you want, and you can make your checkout page more responsive with more payment options. This is a big advantage for larger businesses.
- More Staff Accounts: As mentioned above, if you have more than 15 people who need access to the back end of your store, and you want each of them to have their own accounts, Shopify Plus is for you. Individual accounts keep people accountable, and help you track who is doing what with your website.
- No Coding Needed: The drag and drop features of Shopify Plus let users add more products without the need to know code. Shopify does all the back-end coding for you. The software also takes care of order management, freeing you up to do other more important things. Without any additional coding, it also integrates with platforms like Facebook and Messenger, Instagram, Kik, and even Amazon.
There are also features that help sites with international selling. You can clone sites in other languages, to take other currencies, or even to set up regional ecommerce platforms.
Transaction fees are also lower with Shopify Plus, a big advantage when you get into larger volume orders. This increases your profit margin and makes you more profitable overall. Plus also comes with a higher level of support reserved for enterprise level businesses. This includes billing support, sales channels, and even help launching new stores if you choose to expand.
In short, if you are a larger business, Shopify Plus could be a good choice.
Shopify SEO Apps
Yes, Shopify has an app store, and there are several apps there that can help you dial in SEO even further. You can shop around and try them for yourself to see which one works best for you. Here is a short list:
- Smart SEO
- SEO Doctor
- Plug In SEO
- Shop Pad
- Ultra SEO
- SEO Meta Manager
- Blog Feeder
All of these have different features, but all are simple to install and use. Shop the app store for other plugins and apps that will help with other aspects of your store. The more apps you have, the more in control you will be of your store and your site. They will help you with product optimization, collection optimization, and pages and blog optimization.
Again, the better you do things, the more of an edge you will have over your competition. Add one thing at a time and optimize as you go.
So how do you optimize your Shopify site for SEO and rank better than your competitors?
Here is a quick Shopify SEO checklist to get you started on the right foot:
- Find Keywords
- Add them to content and pages for visitors and search engines
- Be sure titles and page names match the URLs and vice versa.
- Your meta description is your sales pitch for your pages, so write them well.
- Identify your competitors and look for trends between sites ranking for your target keywords
- Add alt text to your images and modify file names to match the content of the pages.
- Find apps and plugins that help improve SEO and make your site run better and be easier to modify.
- Setup Google Search Console to make sure your site is being indexed properly
- Tackle issues one at a time and focus on getting better daily, not on being “perfect”
Use the tools provided, and with a little understanding and work, you can pull ahead of your competition and get more traffic, more conversions, more sales, and eventually more profit.
If you are looking for help in expediting growth or solving specific issues with your store, inquire about our ecommerce SEO services.