Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic from natural, un-paid search results on search engines like Google or Bing, by taking steps to improve the content of your website (and for retailers, your product listings and webstore) so that the search engine will consider the content relevant to users. The most relevant content will be displayed at the top of the natural search results.

By incorporating some basic SEO tactics like those outlined below, your potential shopping base can grow exponentially. Plus, you'll be laying the foundation for a successful paid search campaign. One of the most common mistakes retailers make on the e-commerce front is ignoring the steps needed to ensure that customers who are seeking your products can find your site easily. Don't fall into that trap - stay on top in both your search engine ranking and sales!

Buying a Domain

If you're just developing your site, take the following tips into consideration:

  • Select a domain with keywords that mirror your industry. You might sell thousands of unrelated products that all fall under one umbrella such as apparel. Use the keywords that best represent your offering.

    For example: Say you're an environmentally conscious apparel retailer and your brand name is "A Greener Path". Select a domain name like This type of keyword use in your domain name will help define your purpose to the search engines.
  • Conduct a domain background check. Perform a background check on your domain with tools like the Way Back Machine, Ahrefs, and WHOIS. Also, try going to Google and searching for your domain (e.g., and carefully study your results. Specifically, look for "spammy" or unusual results that you would want to be associated with.

If you have a domain in place and have developed your site already, it's time to think about using tracking and analytics tools, accessing your online reputation and evaluating the content on your site. Remember, SEO drives people to a relevant landing page based on a search query, but there are many other factors that come into play to create a conversion. And unfortunately, there isn't a magic bullet that will solve every issue. Proper SEO takes time and experience, but will a little practice, you'll have your site at the top of the results page.

Monitor and Track Everything

  • Use Webmaster tools. If you haven't already, verify ownership of your site in Bing and Google webmaster tools. Sign up for email notifications so you can stay current with messages from Google about your site.
  • Check your rankings. Use the average rank data provided in your Google Webmaster Tools to determine your average position on the search engine results page. This step should help you determine where you need to focus your energy. Use it as a general barometer, though, and don't get too hung up on individual rankings. Every person querying a search engine will have a different experience based on query history, location, and behavior history, so your ranking will vary depending on the searcher. For example, you may be ranked number one on the search engines for "Used iPhone Store" in Chesapeake, Virginia, but number six when you do the same search in San Francisco.
  • Add Google Analytics code. Google Analytics is an incredibly helpful and easy-to-use analytics tool. In a single dashboard, you can evaluate the health of your website and online advertising campaigns. Even if your company uses another type of tracking, such as Coremetrics, it's smart to add Google Analytics as well. Google Analytics is an industry standard that provides data that any marketing consultant can understand - and provide feedback on if you run into an issue. If you operate multiple websites, don't link them together in Google Analytics. Keep them separate. 

Create Great Content

Remember, without content, search engines wouldn't exist. Search engines essentially organize all the information on the internet. As search engines find and organize content, they rank the findings and determine where they'll be displayed for a relevant search query.

Developing content takes some planning and creativity. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

  • Be dynamic. Including dynamic content is especially important for an e-commerce site. More forward aggressively with site widgets that include features like "people who bought X also bought Y." Add dynamic flags such as "New," "Out of Stock," or "Marked Down for Father's Day." If you recently published a blog post that's relevant to the product, make sure a link to the article is on the product page.
  • Create a voice for your site. Have separate areas on your site dedicated to content that speaks to prospective customers, the community, investors, regulations, and the press. To begin, try to imagine the needs of each type of visitor and create the content that would meet these needs.
  • Brand is what other people say about you. It's important to write content that sells how great your products are. After all, this content builds your reputation. But remember to publish customer comments and reviews, too, because until your customers are saying it, it's just not branding.
  • Include relevant keywords. Use natural language in your text. Keywords are like query terms that normal people would use to find your product or your business. For example, say you sell "residential phone service." In your actual web copy, tags, and URLs, it's better to include the term "home phone service." That way, search engines will send people searching on "home phone service" to your website. Just be careful to not overdo it when using keywords in your content. The text needs to be easy and pleasant to read.
  • Thinking about site links. Sitelinks are the links shown below some of Google's search results that can take users directly to a specific page on your site. They're randomly selected by Google, but they can be influenced by good site design. To make it easier for Google, place the most important links on your site near the upper left-hand corner of your webpage. If Google selects a sitelink you don't want, simply remove it in your Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Every page should include a tight-knit topic. While developing each product page on your site, select one keyword phrase that most accurately describes the page topic. Include this keyword phrase in a unique title and description. Then, assign an HTML heading tag. Heading tags are used to differentiate the sections within a webpage. The first tag you assign will be an H1 tag. Additional heading tags (H2-H6) can optionally be added to reflect content hierarchy, but every page must have an H1 tag.

Successful SEO will help lay the foundation for continued success with your paid search campaigns.
Learn why it's important to balance your SEO and paid search strategies.

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