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Succeeding as an online retailer is tough. The market is dominated by huge marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, as well as firmly-established sellers with a lot of momentum in specific niches. If you’re going to thrive as a merchant, you need to use every tool at your disposal — and one of the key tools is SEO.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the practice of tweaking your website and your content to improve your chances of ranking highly for relevant searches. Since most online shopping journeys start out with searches, this is immensely valuable.

So what does ecommerce SEO specifically involve, and how can you use it to bring in more qualified leads and sell more products? Let’s take a closer look:

On-page and off-page SEO

There are two main branches to SEO: work you do to the pages on your website, and work you do elsewhere to bring in more traffic. On-page SEO involves a variety of things including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Choosing the right page titles and descriptions.
  • Meeting speed and mobile responsiveness standards.
  • Including high-quality and digestible content.
  • Providing useful links and features.
  • Offering consistent product information.

Off-page SEO, however, includes things such as the following:

  • Earning links to your pages.
  • Building brand awareness.
  • Being communicative on social media.
  • Networking with influencers.

Because the value of a visit to an ecommerce site is so high, there’s a huge benefit to covering all possible SEO angles. By bringing in the most relevant visitors and impressing them with your content, you can achieve optimal results. And since most SEO work has lasting effects, you’ve every reason to invest in it early on.

Covering the basics

The first key to meeting SEO standards is choosing a solid ecommerce CMS, because much of the on-page SEO will depend heavily on the platform. It’s strongly advisable that you set aside funding for a paid hosting solution: you’ll get vastly superior results out of the box using a popular one like Shopify than if you try to cut costs with something like Zen Cart or OpenCart.

All of the key on-page elements will be flagged up by a site analysis tool like Sitechecker, so run your store through it and see how it rates. Any issues that are identified are worth addressing — if you don’t know how to do things like update meta descriptions, and you’re not comfortable learning, then get some assistance from someone who can help.

Off-page SEO is essentially just about doing good marketing. Create good content for your brand, establish company expertise, and remember to ask for (but not demand) links to your site. The more links you build up from trustworthy sites, the better you’ll rank.

Targeting the right search terms

A big mistake that many online sellers make is trying to rank for the wrong terms. Extremely popular terms like “tablet computers” or “games consoles” have already been targeted heavily by massive retailers with huge budgets, and you can’t possibly hope to compete with them. A business with a modest budget has to use it smartly, and the key to that is finding ways to rank for terms that are much less popular but still valuable.

For example, if you sell shoes, don’t just try to rank for “shoes” by writing generally about shoes. Try ranking for something very specific, like “comfortable long-lasting shoes for distance running” — look at what pages already rank for long search terms, and find top pages that you’re sure you can outperform.

Committing to improvement

Plenty of things go into ecommerce SEO, as we’ve seen, but the biggest piece of advice you can follow is to keep making improvements. The SEO world moves quickly: ranking factors change, and competitors come and go. Your store may be optimized for search traffic today, but things could be totally different several months from now. Keep your eyes on industry updates, and make SEO an ongoing priority.