Whether you’re an online automotive retailer or a brick-and-mortar hairdressing salon, SEO is crucial in bringing more customers to your store.
In essence, search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving – or “optimizing” – your website to make it easier for shoppers to find you online.
That’s the simple explanation. In reality, SEO can be very complex – encompassing a range of on-page and technical tasks, as well as marketing tactics – and, for a beginner, it can seem daunting.
The good news? Once you understand the basics, it’s possible to make changes to your website that deliver noticeable results – and traffic.
Why SEO is important
SEO has always been important, but over the past year – with the global pandemic driving more people from physical stores to online shopping – it’s become a critical part of any retailer’s marketing toolbox
In fact, according to a BrightEdge study, 53.3 percent of all website traffic now comes from organic search.
But how do you capitalize on it? Read on.
How SEO Works
Search engines trawl everything on the world wide web with what’s called a “crawler.” The “crawler” crawls through the “index” – a list of all the web pages that the search engine knows about – and finds the pages that are most relevant. (Google’s crawler is called Googlebot.)
Search engines (particularly Google) don’t tend to give too much away about exactly how they operate, in case people abuse the system. But the most important thing to understand is that a search engine’s goal is to help users get the information they want by delivering the most relevant content.
That means that your SEO goal should be to show Google you are the most relevant when it comes to searches related to your business so that you rank the highest in search results.
In fact, your goal should be appearing on the first page of search results (or as close to this as possible) because 75 percent of people don’t scroll past the first page of results.
“retailers are missing out on turning browsers into buyers”
— ERIN MORRIS, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF YOUNG FOLKS
Erin Morris, founder and director of Young Folks Digital, puts it simply: “If someone is Googling a product, retailers are missing out on turning browsers into buyers if they’re not showing up in search results.”
And how do you show up in the search results? By having good SEO.
The Difference Between SEO & SEM
SEO and SEM are sometimes used interchangeably – but they’re not the same.
In simple terms, SEO is an organic (unpaid) approach, while SEM is a paid marketing strategy.
SEO: An organic strategy focused on pushing your website higher in search results to gain more organic traffic. It is considered a long-term plan.
SEM: Paid marketing strategies to improve your place in search engine results, most commonly pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns using Google Ads.
Paras Raichura, director of PNdigital, recommends using a combination of both SEM and SEO, if possible. “SEM helps to drive immediate, targeted traffic to a website, while SEO helps your business rank organically over time so [it can] rely less on paid clicks/SEM.”
Understanding Search Engine Rankings
What is a search engine ranking?
When someone types a query into a search engine like Google, that search engine then orders the results in relation to relevance. “The ranking refers to the order of search results based on relevancy,” explains Alex Hoffman, head of SEO and technical operations at Passion Digital.
“The higher your website is displayed, the more traffic you’ll receive”
— ALEX HOFFMAN, HEAD OF SEO AND TECHNICAL OPERATIONS AT PASSION DIGITAL.
Why does a search engine ranking matter?
“The higher your website is displayed, the more traffic and customers you’ll receive,” explains Raichura.
Not only that, says Hoffman, if you’re in one of the top positions, it builds trust and credibility in the eyes of your potential customers.
What impacts search engine rankings?
A website’s ranking is determined by the “crawler” based on relevancy. This relevancy is decided by factors such as:
- Crawlability (including the sitemap, navigation and information architecture)
- Responsiveness and mobile-friendliness
- Site security and stability
- Site and page load speed
- Usability and user engagement (determined by things like bounce rate)
- High-quality optimized content with the right keywords (including headings, links, HTML images and alt-text)
- Domain age and date of last update
- Metadata and URLs (both the main domain and individual pages)
- Backlinks and consistent business information
There are three key elements that make up the facets of SEO – “technical,” “on-page” and “off-page.”
Types Of SEO
Technical SEO: Focused on making a website operational, accessible, and easy to use – including site load speed, responsiveness, information architecture. It’s most often done by web developers.
On-page SEO: Optimizing content on each webpage using keywords, digestible structuring, alt-text, image descriptions, etc. This is often created by the content team.
Offsite/off-page SEO: Backlinks to your website from other people’s websites that assert your authority over Google.
“On-page SEO is all about the content, whereas technical SEO looks at things like website speed, responsiveness, and performance,” explains Morris.
Do you need all three? Yes.
You can have the most beautiful website, with the best content in the world, but if it’s not technically operational or mobile-friendly, it won’t rank and no one will find it, explains Hoffman.
“On the other hand, having a site that is technically perfect but filled with unoptimized, poorly structured, and badly written content won’t be engaging to users, and the bots won’t allow it to rank.
“a webpage needs to be as relevant as possible to the topic you are trying to rank for”
— ALEX HOFFMAN, HEAD OF SEO AND TECHNICAL OPERATIONS AT PASSION DIGITAL.
“A search engine like Google is in the business of providing the best results for a certain query; therefore a webpage needs to be easily accessible, easily readable, fast, and as relevant as possible to the topic you are trying to rank for.”
Hoffman explains that, as well as on-page and technical SEO, there is also a third category: “offsite” or “off-page” SEO – other websites linking to yours.
In simple terms, search engines use backlinks from other sources as a signal that your website is credible in your market. The more links you have, the more likely you are to rank.
After all, adds Hoffman, “If everyone is talking about your article and linking to it, then it must be great, right? And if it’s the best, it should be in the top position of the search results.”
What is a keyword?
A keyword is a word or phrase used in your web content that helps users (or the crawler) find your website and products via the search engine.
How do you choose the right keywords?
When identifying the best keywords, it’s important to think like your customer. What search terms might they be typing into Google to find your product?
Think about your brand name, your category, and the actual products or services you sell. And, says Hoffman, try to get as specific as possible.
“Let’s say your website sells sunglasses. Most people will want to make ‘buy sunglasses’ or ‘sunglasses online’ their main priority, but will immediately be competing with massive established brands, which makes it a lot more expensive and sometimes impossible to reach the top three positions,” explains Hoffman.
Understanding user behaviour
To avoid this, it’s important to understand user behavior and consider how and when people might be searching for your product, and to consider what’s called “long-tail informational keywords.” These are longer, more specific, search terms (that will be less competitive).
“For example,” says Hoffman. “Try ‘What are the best sunglasses for the beach?’ or ‘Are plastic sunglasses more resistant than metal to saltwater?’ – which are a lot less competitive than the main commercial terms.”
“If you can hook potential customers at the start of their buying journey by providing useful content, they will be more likely to remember your brand and come to you directly when it’s time to buy.”
Pro tip: When coming up with keywords, think about the following factors:
- Buyer’s intent: Understand your customer – what would they search for specifically?
- Quality traffic: Find keywords that will deliver traffic to convert into paying customers – not just keywords you can rank with
- Long-tail keywords: Use keywords that relate specifically to your product description to generate high-converting traffic
- Competition and volume: Don’t try to compete on the most popular terms, but ensure people are using your chosen search phrase – find your keyword sweet spot
It can be overwhelming at first, but if you’re building a website from scratch, it’s important to carry out keyword research as early as possible to help inform the structure of your site.
Once you have a long list of keywords, you’ll need to create a logical website structure with one target keyword or search phrase associated with each page.
Pro tip: Do keyword research for both your product and category pages – category pages are often overlooked but can generate high-quality traffic.
Now that you have a basic understanding of SEO, it’s important to look out for common mistakes. Our experts have pulled together seven SEO errors they often spot.
Common Retail SEO Mistakes
1. Picking short-tail keywords
“Short-tail keywords do not convert,” warns Raichura. “When people are searching on Google, they are searching with high intent – therefore their need is specific.”
Morris agrees, explaining, “If you’re an ethical clothing brand that makes organic hemp clothing at a premium price point, you want to rank for ‘ethical clothing’ or ‘organic hemp T-shirts’ – not just ‘T-shirts.’ The latter is so broad and could be attracting a buyer who might just want a $5 Kmart T-shirt. That buyer is unlikely to pay a premium, and ‘T-shirt’ is going to be a much more competitive keyword.”
2. Using the wrong formats
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that long-form text is the only way to rank with Google. Instead, remember that videos and images can also rank for SEO.
3. Doing a rush job
The key with SEO is creating a quality website – from function to content – and naturally integrating the right keywords into your content. Google knows if you’ve just jammed keywords on a page. “Avoid spammy link-building, repetitive tags and poorly written content – bad SEO is far worse than no SEO!” advises Raichura.
4. Forgetting website basics
Websites are crucial for retailers – particularly in the current global landscape – and need to be given adequate attention.
Hoffman recommends “fixing site-speed issues, user-experience issues and dysfunctional navigation, and avoiding producing content that is hard to find due to a lack of information architecture.”
5. Ignoring backlinks
Another common mistake Hoffman sees is businesses “thinking that backlinks are a thing of the past. This is most definitely not the case, and any good SEO strategy will incorporate backlinks and outreach,” he explains.
Advanced SEO Tactics
SEO isn’t just about keywords – although they are a key part – but a holistic approach to your website. If you really want to take your SEO to the next level, also consider:
Information architecture: Keep it simple and scalable – it’s recommended that every page on your website be three (or fewer) clicks from your home page.
User Experience (UX): Improve your user interface (UI) and UX as much as possible.
Site Cleanup: Tidy up your site structure and code, removing any error pages, broken links, duplicate content, or anything that is confusing for the crawler.
Structured data: Add metadata and rich snippets (search results with extra information displayed at the top of the results page, which have a very high click-through rate).
Accessibility: Include image descriptions and alt-text to not only make it easier for the crawler but also people with a disability who may rely on auto-readers and access tools.
Focus On Your Customer
Remember: SEO is not just about driving traffic, but connecting with the right customers.
“Ensure your SEO is customer-focused – this relates to everything from quality content to a good user experience”
— PARAS RAICHURA, DIRECTOR OF PNDIGITAL.
“Ensure your SEO remains customer-focused – make sure your customers can find you and once they do, make it easy for them,” explains Raichura. “This relates to everything from site speed and quality content to a good user experience.”
So, make sure to combine quality content (with long-tail keywords!) and a positive user experience for your customers – and Google will reward you for it.
Isabel Sandercock-Brown is a writer and content marketer, who has worked for a range of brands.
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