The SEO challenges facing eCommerce sites are huge – products and topics are often similar across in different shops, and the competition is fierce. SEOs working for online retailers have to work out the best strategy regarding which Top-Level Domain to use, how to create high-quality shop texts, and how to optimize product and category pages. Based on your questions, we’ve compiled a list of the top SEO strategies for online shops in 2019.
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1. Does it make sense to use the manufacturer’s name as a target keyword?
If you sell the manufacturer’s products in your shop, then I don’t see a problem. What would be an issue would be if you were offering rival products but you were trying to entice visitors to your shop using one manufacturer’s name so that you could then sell a different product. If, however, you have a standard distribution agreement with the manufacturer and, for example, have a category page with their product range, then there is no reason not to optimize for the brand name.
One place you have to watch out is when looking at paid search results like Google Ads, because some manufacturers block advertising that uses their brand name in order to prevent third-party websites from appearing above their own site in the search results. However, if you do manage to rank for the manufacturer’s brand name in a higher organic position than the manufacturer’s own website, then this is primarily a sign that something is wrong with their SEO, and you’re not doing anything wrong.
That said, there are limits to the benefits of optimizing for brand keywords because you normally won’t be serving the right search intent in a useful way. If someone enters the keyword “Searchmetrics” into Google, then this indicates a navigational search intent – the user wants, in all likelihood, to visit searchmetrics.com. Other websites that rank for this keyword will probably experience poor click-through rates. You are better off trying to serve keywords with a transactional search intent, such as “buy + manufacturer name”, as these are more likely to lead to clicks. This can be particularly effective if the manufacturer doesn’t have their own online shop, because then your site is a fully legitimate search result and, indeed, more relevant for transactional searches than the manufacturer’s own page.
2. Is Google still interested in seeing a lot of text on a domain homepage?
Google is only interested in text if it is useful for website visitors. Whether you need a lot or a little text depends on the context of your website. The homepage of a website or online shop will normally mainly rank for the company brand name, and it should make it immediately obvious what the company offers, with clear, useful links to sub-pages. Take a look at the homepages of Booking.com or Airbnb. You won’t find any big blocks of text. You’ll find a large number of images and a wide array of links to sub-pages. They do without long explanations of exactly what the company does and what you can do on their site. Instead, they let you easily navigate deeper into the site where you can move through the booking process.
In eCommerce in particular, many visitors don’t enter a shop via the homepage. People search on Google for particular product categories or specific products, and the homepage is unlikely to rank for these. That’s why, when optimizing your shop, you should always consider the needs of the customer, rather than the needs of the search engine. Would it help your customers if there was a long text to read on the homepage? Are they looking for detailed explanations or are they aiming to find the product they’re looking for quickly – and buy it? Only make your texts as long as they need to be in order to say what is relevant for your customers.
3. Seasonal goods, like fashion items, sell out after 6 months, when they are replaced by new products. How does Google deal with products that sell out quickly, meaning that the shop content often changes?
You won’t have much opportunity to do any real product-level SEO for products with a short half-life, simply because SEO is a channel that needs to be built up long-term, with the full benefits often only appearing after several months. This means that online shops should only optimize pages that are going to be available to users in the long term. This will normally mean focusing not on individual products, but on category pages. Instead of optimizing the page for one specific pair of sneakers, it is much more worthwhile optimizing the category page for sneakers, because the category can be expected to remain part of the product range for a long time.
For seasonal products like winter boots or swimwear, you should optimize both categories individually and leave them online all year round. What changes is your internal linking. In the summer, you want prominent links from the homepage to bikini subpages, and in the winter you should link to your faux fur coats. One condition of doing this is that you at least have a backstock of products from this category available all year. If a category does completely disappear in the off-season, only to become available several months later, then I recommend identifying a related category that is relevant all year, and setting up a (temporary) 302 redirect to that page.
4. How quickly does it take for the SEO effect to become visible for targeted keywords?
If you’ve optimized a page or category in your shop, then you can use the Google Search Console to have the URL (re-)crawled. This is how you let the GoogleBot know that something has changed on your website. In my experience, rendering and indexing happen quickly – I’ve often seen this done within an hour. However, the “SEO effect” is something else, because indexing is not the same as ranking. Google will first experiment by displaying your shop for various keywords on various ranking positions, in order to test how satisfied users are with your page as a search result. How long it takes for a ranking to become established depends on numerous factors. For low-competition keywords, you might see an effect after just a few weeks. Analyses have shown, however, that for high-competition keywords with a large search volume, you can expect it to take a long time before you can aim for the coveted position 1 in the Google rankings. Most top 10 search results tend to be at least one or two years old, meaning that the path to the top can be a slow one. On the other hand, this means that once you have made it to the summit, the chances are that you’ll be able to enjoy the view from the top for some time.
5. If a shop domain is currently using .biz, is it worth switching to .co.uk or .com to appear more trustworthy?
If you are looking to launch a new shop, then it normally makes sense to use the standard country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for your target market. This means .co.uk in the UK, .es in Spain etc. International shops often use .com (, with Amazon a notable exception). If you already have a shop with a different top-level domain, such as .biz, and you’ve already managed to build up some good search engine rankings, then I would advise against switching. Ultimately, it’s the page content that’s most important for rankings, not the domain ending.
6. Is there even any point having a separate shop anymore or is it better just to use Amazon and other 3rd parties?
This is a question many online retailers probably ask themselves and I don’t think there is one right answer for all cases, but I do think that, as a rule, having your own shop is and will continue to be important. This is particularly true for products with a niche customer base, because Amazon is more interested in products with mass appeal. If you are selling products for the mass market, then it may be a good idea to try a mixture, using both your own shop and third-party platforms, and then measure which is more profitable.
The best argument for running your own shop is the direct connection with your customers that creates opportunities for generating repeated sales for low expenditure. If you are only selling via Amazon, then it is much more difficult to establish your brand and to build sustainable relationships with your customers. Each investment in gaining new customers starts from scratch, and the cost of customer acquisition has been rising for years, a trend that looks likely to continue. Therefore, you should always try to build up your own client base, and use email marketing activities to keep these customers active, or reactivate dormant contacts. Another point is that, if the big platforms should decide to change their conditions, your whole business won’t collapse as you won’t be completely subject to the whims of third parties.
7. How does Google evaluate the quality of shop texts?
The exact criteria that Google applies are, of course, a closely-guarded secret, but we do have some insight that can guide the creation of shop texts. One fundamental point is that the search intent is key – this means what the user wants to see when they are entering the keyword. Somebody searching for weather in London will be happy with a short text and some pictures of rainclouds. That’s all it takes to answer this query. If someone is searching for information about an illness or an insurance policy, then they are more likely to be looking for longer, more detailed texts.
In a shop context, this means that somebody searching for a specific product with the intention of purchasing it will be looking for a text somewhere between very short and very long. Shop texts at product level should include a detailed product description and explain not just the product specs, but also explain the added value it brings to the customer. Reviews from other (satisfied) customers are important too, and they also contribute to the overall length of the text. Besides being an appropriate length, text content should be unique in order to be evaluated as high-quality by Google. It is a bad idea to simply use texts provided by the manufacturers – it is much better to write your own product content. Furthermore, it is worthwhile checking the texts periodically to make sure they are up-to-date. Search engines like content that is useful, unique and up-to-date, and that serves the intent of a search query,
8. Subdomain or subdirectory: shop.my-brand.com or my-brand.com/shop?
You could ask five experts the same question and you’d likely get ten different answers. In my experience, a subdomain makes sense if the topics and target audiences differ greatly from one another. Because subdomains can build up their own rankings for a given keyword set, independent of the rest of the domain, I would use a subdomain if I can keep the content thematically separate. An appropriate use of subdomains would be if a shop owner also runs a blog about general eCommerce topics. Here, the target audiences could be very different, which justifies the use of a subdomain. On the other hand, if the whole domain is focused around a specific product portfolio, with little differentiation between target audiences, then I would suggest a subdirectory, as this lets the whole domain benefit from all the available SEO power.
9. How can I measure the load time of my online shop?
There are numerous tools that can be used to measure the load times of websites and online shops, but you often need in-depth SEO know-how to be able to interpret the values these tools return. For any shop owners who don’t consider themselves experienced SEO experts, I would recommend Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool gives a quick overview of your page speed, showing you how long it takes your website to load. Anyone looking to dig a little deeper can take a look at Google Lighthouse. Searchmetrics even offers customized Google Lighthouse Reports, including detailed recommendations from our SEO consultants.
Are you planning on setting up or optimizing your shop pages? Then get in touch with the Digital Strategies Group. Our expert consultants will be more than happy to see how we can provide the support you need: