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May 7, 2020 · 15 min read

What you need to know about SEO for retail sites

Organic traffic from search engines is a crucial source of potential customers. Here you can find the key strategies to optimise your website for retail SEO and make it easier for your customers to find it.


Why is SEO important for retail sites

Search engines are a vital part of our digital lives. We use it to find information, news, or research about the products we want. We use search engines to find products, reviews and comparisons. For retail and eCommerce sites, having a strong retail SEO presence means you’ll be able to position yourself in front of the customer right when they need you and are ready to make a purchase decision.

1. Optimise your site for local SEO to attract customers to your stores

Optimisation for search engines is not just for online businesses. If you have a physical store, improving your local retail SEO can help you generate visitors to your local store or your store chain from the areas you service.

Appearing in a prominent result in searches like “flowers in Melbourne” or “phone cases near me” would allow your customers to find your store at a critical moment on their purchase journey: when they have made a purchase decision.

You will need to list your business on online directories like Google My Business. Follow these steps to sign up and optimise your listings.

a. Add your store to Google My Business

Creating a business profile on Google is easy. Go to Google My Business and follow the steps to claim or add your business. 

Once you have verified that you are the owner of the business, you can manage its appearance on Google Maps and Google Search. You do this by adding extra information that can be useful for your potential customers, like:

  • Name, address and phone number. This information must match other listings and your website.
  • Business hours.
  • Customer reviews.
  • Pictures of your store, products and a virtual tour.

Providing all this information will make it easier for a potential customer to choose your business from all the other possible options. Be as detailed as possible, and, in the case of images, use professional pictures if you can to improve the effectiveness of your listing.

You can use Google My Business to communicate with potential customers too. Using Posts, you can publish announcements like new products, offers, sales, events, or take away options. You can include targeted call-to-actions in those messages, like Buy or Sign up. 

b. Go beyond Google

Google may be the most significant player today, but it is not the only one. You will be missing opportunities and potential customers if you do not take advantage of other business listing sites. Some apps take data from different business directories than Google, so having listings in other directories would ensure that your business is featured with accurate and rich information there too.

Where to start? Creating a business listing on Apple Maps, Yelp, Bing, Facebook and Foursquare is essential. But since we are talking about local retail SEO, it would be necessary to explore other sites specific to your country or location. In Australia, for example, there is Local Search, Search Frog, Pure Local and more.

The key is to make sure the information you post is accurate, consistent and as detailed as possible. Keep a list of the business directories you use, as it will make it easier to update them when you need to change your location or your opening hours.

c. Use structured data on your site for enhanced results in local search queries

Search engines have become adept at understanding the user intent behind each search query. As a result, they have adapted their result pages (SERPs) to accommodate specific information that may be useful for their user. In the case of local business search results, it can include reviews, ratings or addresses. In this case, it’s information pulled from your website, instead of being submitted to Google or other directories.

To take advantage of this and make your site eligible to be featured in these rich results, you need to make specific changes in the way your data when you code your website. By using structured data, you allow search engine crawling bots to understand better the information you show and present them in a useful way.


2. Retail SEO optimisation strategies for eCommerce sites

For businesses selling products online, the objectives and strategies are a bit different. Instead of attracting local visitors to your physical stores, you want them to find your products and make a purchase directly from your site, wherever they are.

a. Optimise page titles and meta descriptions

One of the first actions you can take is to work on your page titles and meta descriptions to make them more relevant to users. The objective is not to include all the possible relevant keywords in the title, but to increase the click-through rate on the search engine results page. By doing so, the search engine understands that your site is a relevant result for that query, improving their position in the SERP. 

You can include a call to action like buy now or free trial. But what’s important is to add the key information that will allow a user to decide on visiting your site before any of the other results in the SERP. Depending on the product or service, that information may be different. 

Remember to keep your titles below 60 characters and your descriptions below 160 characters to make sure that they show in full in most possible scenarios in Google and other search engines. Include the most crucial information at the beginning, and your brand name at the end.

b. Write original product descriptions aligned with your brand

Most suppliers to multi-brand eCommerce sites provide descriptions that you can add to your product pages. It can save you a lot of time. But it’ll also mean that you will have a description that will be used by lots of other retailers which also carry the same brand. 

Writing original content for your product page has two clear benefits:

  1. It allows you to differentiate yourself from other retailers, and you will be able to avoid penalties in your search rankings for using duplicated content.
  2. The original descriptions will be in your brand voice. It will help to increase your brand profile and make you more memorable. That will increase loyalty and repeated visits from search. And this, in turn, will send a positive signal to search engines about the relevance of your site.

c. Differentiate your site with user-generated content

Another option to have strong, unique content on your product pages is to take advantage of user-generated content, like questions or reviews.

A positive side effect of including this feature has content on your site that uses the vocabulary and language of your users. It will make it easier for them to find your website.

d. Use schema markup to prepare your site for rich search results for eCommerce queries

Google and other search engines can add more information to their search results, like reviews, price and product description. To take advantage of this, you need to add schema markup to your product pages. There are several schema markup configurations you can use for product pages, like product, price, availability and ratings and review.

Being able to show this information directly on search results will allow you to attract more visitors to your site, as they will be able to make an informed decision on where to purchase the items they want.

e. Create organic product listings in Google

Google is now in heavy competition with Amazon and other big retailers for product search. As a consequence, they are showing more and more product listings directly in mobile Google search results

By transferring information from the merchant’s sites to their search results, Google is increasing their role and their value to search users.

To take advantage of this new search feature, besides adding schema markup to your pages, you can submit your product feed to Google Merchant Center.

f. Mobile speed and usability help improve your overall rankings

Google started the switch to a mobile-first index in 2016, which means their bots will crawl your mobile site first and take it into account when ranking their search results. Also, in 2019, roughly 2 billion people made an online purchase via their mobile device

Having a mobile site with reduced speed or usability will not just damage your brand, but your search rankings as well. And the opposite is true as well. Excellent mobile experience will help your rankings, not only on mobile search but on desktop too.

g. Organise navigation and taxonomy to boost rankings on category pages

A study found that optimised category pages performed significantly better on search than product pages, driving 413% more traffic. This is even more important on broad keywords and phrases. You can’t optimise each of the electric guitars of your store for the keywords “electric guitars”, as they will compete against each other. You can instead target that keyword with the category page for electric guitars.

For products with a short shelf-life, like fashion, this is even more important. SEO is a long-term effort. If a dress is only available for a few months, you won’t be able to rank the product page for the relevant keywords accurately. And your effort will be wasted once that dress is retired. 

Having robust navigation will help users find, sort and filter products. And search engines will be able to crawl your website more quickly and efficiently. Use a taxonomy that reflects your user’s vocabulary and keep a website structure as flat as possible to minimise the number of links necessary to reach any product from the home page.

h. How to manage updated and non-available products

It is best practice to redirect your users using a 301 redirection if you have discontinued products, out of stock items or items not replenished, to a similar product or an updated version, or the category page, if you choose to remove the product page. This way, you’ll keep the traffic and the search rankings.

If you decide to keep the product page, you can present the user with the available options (related products or updated version) in prominent links, which will help search engines to find them as well.

i. Organise internal links to optimise crawl budget

Using breadcrumbs, you can easily optimise the navigational structure of your site and make sure each product links back to their main category. Breadcrumbs are a small text, usually located at the top of the page, which provides information about where you are in the structure of the site. For example, it could be something like: Home > Home Decor > Furniture > Sofas. It will make it easier for Google to understand the structure of your site.

Google assigns a crawl budget for each site. A crawl budget is the number of pages Google’s crawling bot will visit each day before moving on. An excellent navigational structure will help Google prioritise the essential pages of your site, which is especially important on big eCommerce sites with thousands of products.

j. Optimise product images

Product images are a crucial asset to improve your overall search engine rankings. There are two main ways to optimise them with search engines in mind. 

One is to reduce their size to maximise site speed. Fast loading times are a key positive signal for search engines.

The other action is to provide alt-text for each image. Alt-text is an HTML property of images where you can describe the image. This text is used by search engines to understand better what the page is about. Having a compelling alt-text optimised with the product keywords will also help the image to rank higher in image search.


3. Keyword research

If you want to succeed in reaching the top of search engines and selling as many affiliate products as you can, the first thing you need to do is ensure that you’re using the most relevant keywords to your target market.

Successful retail SEO optimisation starts with in-depth keyword research. You need to think about the kinds of searches customers will make when they’re looking for the goods you’re promoting.

Product pages and category pages will target fundamentally different keyword types. Product pages will be more specific and brand-oriented, while category pages will focus broader, generic keywords relevant to any of the products inside that category.

There are three elements you need to analyse in a keyword to consider targeting them in your retail SEO optimisation efforts: 

  1. User intent. Looking at search result pages will help you find out if a keyword is to search for information or products if the purpose is informational or transactional.
  2. Search volume. Of course, you want to target the keywords most used by your customers.
  3. Competition. Using keyword research tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs, you can see how difficult it would be to position your site on the first page of search results.

By combining these three factors, the ideal keyword is a transactional keyword with high volume and low competition.

a. Create related content to drive traffic to your site

Besides product and category keywords, you can create educational and informational content to target content keywords. So if you sell fitness equipment you can publish content about fitness and nutrition: benefits, tips, guides or instructional videos to name a few.

Visitors to these pages would be in the early stages of the customer journey. Your job is to move them to the next step by asking them to subscribe to a newsletter or offer them a first-purchase offer, like free shipping.


4. Link building

Links are still the best and most reliable signal for search engines about the relevance of a website. The more links a page has, the more likely it’ll dominate the rankings for the relevant keywords it is targeting. There are several strategies a retail site can use to generate incoming links.

  1. Content marketing. Besides creating high-quality content, you need to promote that content in social media and online communities to make sure you reach your target audience.
  2. Events. You can create events, which would also help you develop a local community if you have physical stores. If you can not manage an event, you can also sponsor an existing event.
  3. Public relations. You can work with influencers or journalists to have them try and review your products.


How can you apply SEO to your affiliate marketing strategy

SEO can help affiliate sites to drive quality traffic to your website to increase revenue. Affiliate sites can prioritise their SEO efforts by focusing on products with high search traffic potential and a good commission per sale. You could build a prioritisation matrix using those two factors, which would instantly give you a list of products where you can start applying your SEO strategies.

SEO for affiliate sites is quite similar to SEO for a regular retail website. But there are a few things you have to take into account:

  • Focus on a specific niche. Having a site with a quite narrow focus will allow you to be more relevant to that niche. To pick a suitable niche, find something that: has traffic potential (check the niche keywords search volume), has low competition, and it’s something you are passionate about. 
  • Differentiate yourself from all the other affiliate sites targeting that niche. A good way to do that is to perform a
    competitive analysis to see where you could add value to the user. Truly unique and valuable content is the only sustainable approach and will work for you on the long-term.
  • On the technical side, make sure to set all your affiliate links as nofollow. It is a link attribute placed on the HTML of your site, which tells Google that its crawler bot should not follow that link or use it in their authority rankings. Google’s policy is that every link that generates money for the site, like in advertising or affiliate marketing, not placed in the content naturally, should have a nofollow attribute. Not following this policy may cause your site to drop in the rankings.


Retail SEO is a long-term effort that requires constant work

Optimising your site for search engines is a constant process that needs monitoring and maintenance. Analyse your results to see what works and what does not. Monitor not just traffic quantity, but traffic quality and the impact of SEO on conversions and revenue. SEO is a long-term effort, but the results you achieve have a more in-depth and longer positive effect on your business growth.

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