Running a successful online shop isn’t just about having the goods, it’s about how you present them as well.
It doesn’t matter whether your e-commerce site sells directly to customers, auctions its merchandise or is host to third-party sellers – unique and well-crafted product descriptions are vital to performing well in search rankings and attracting as many customers as possible.
Keep it original
The first step to making sure your business has the best possible product descriptions is writing unique ones. It can be tempting to use the descriptions straight from the manufacturer’s website but this creates duplicate content, and duplicate content is bad.
Using ready-made descriptions is the e-commerce equivalent of a journalist claiming a press release as their own work. Google doesn’t like that just as much as it doesn’t like unoriginal entries for goods in online shops, and the pages containing them will be punished in the search results and are quite likely not to appear in them at all. Bing is also a stickler for duplicate content so it’s always important to stay original.
Shortcuts such as editing the existing descriptions to make them more unique may help to avoid Google’s traps but creating your own quality descriptions will help boost rankings, improve sales and show you’re knowledgeable about what you sell.
Quality, quantity and frequency
Quality, quantity and the frequency with which you post the descriptions are all important factors to consider when creating your content. Quality goes without saying and the more useful the content is to your customer the higher it will rank.
It’s hard to put an exact figure on quantity but good product descriptions should be at least 300 words long. Generally speaking a few hundred words, around 500-800, will be enough to avoid duplicate content, allow for a natural distribution of keywords and give you room to show off your expertise.
Frequency will be determined by how often you update your stock but it’s worth publishing on a schedule and keeping to it as Google likes and rewards regularity.
Tone of voice
Although Google can’t detect tone of voice your audience can and it’s important to write in the right style for what you’re selling and who you’re selling to.
Being too serious and using long words isn’t going to help you sell toys, just as being too jovial probably won’t get people coughing up for coffins.
Finding the butter zone when it comes to tone of voice will help you to engage with your customers and keep them coming back for more, while not alienating those outside your core audience.
Finally a great tip to avoid duplicating the manufacturer’s description is to sell the benefits of the product rather than describe its features.
This approach of “selling the sizzle, not the sausage” will not only help your products to perform better in Google’s searches but will also make your copy more engaging and more likely to sell the product it’s describing.
We’ve already looked at how to write effective product descriptions, now it’s time to focus on keywords – the little lighthouses that will guide your audience to the information they’re looking for.
If you are looking for your ecommerce website to rank well on google then you will need to do a number of things well, target the right keywords, optimise your website and create the right link structure through your website and from other authoritative websites – all parts of effective search engine optimisation (SEO). Let’s start with keywords today.
Keywords when used correctly will help Google to understand what your web pages are all about so that they can be indexed in the right searches.
Getting creative with keyword selection
The Google AdWords keyword tool is a powerful way of analysing the popularity of a keyword and how much competition there is for it in the search rankings. For keywords with a high level of competition it will be harder to make it to the top of their search engine results page (SERP), for lower competition keywords it will be easier though they tend to generate less (but more relevant) traffic.
To find out how keywords have performed over time and in specific locations Google Trends is another useful service. Trends simply displays the popularity of search terms over time in graph form, clearly showing whether a keyword is attracting more interest or is falling out of fashion. If it happens that your keyword of choice is not doing so well Trends will offer more popular alternatives.
Pin a tail to the keywords
When it comes to keywords there are two types – short-tail and long-tail. Short-tail keywords are basically one or two words in length and because they’re so common are very hard to rank for.
Long-tail keywords consist of three words or more and generally don’t need to be used so often on a page to help it rank well. Because long-tail keywords are more specific the pages they’re featured on are more likely to be relevant to the people performing the searches. And when it comes to ecommerce more specific is more helpful. For example if your niche is multi-coloured men’s footwear made from napped leather it’s going to be more beneficial for your customers that you rank well for the long-tail keyword “blue suede shoes footwear” than poorly for “men’s shoes”. This will help people find the shoes they’re looking for, and distinguish it from information about the song.
Searchers are also asking more questions than before so it also might be worth posing a question in the form of a heading. If you’re selling kitchenware people might be wondering “what is the best way to store jam” and your pots with the kitschy lids may be the answer they’re looking for.
The key is to approach the problem as a consumer and think of the question that your content is an answer to.
While taking this two-pronged approach will help with your SERP success it’s important to keep monitoring the performance of keywords to identify which ones are working and which ones aren’t, so you can make the necessary tweaks and improve your rankings. Even when one keyword is working well fluctuating tastes and search trends means that regular performance monitoring is essential.
How you write your product descriptions and choosing the right keywords will help your site to be indexed better by Google, but to really rank high you’re going to need good quality inbound links.
And quality sites only link to quality content. In this part of our guide about how to sell better with SEO and e-commerce we’re going to look at boosting the linkability of your content, and that means showing off what you know and giving people something they can’t get anywhere else.
Demonstrate Your Expertise
Rewriting manufacturers’ product descriptions to make them more original is one thing but to really stand out you’re going to need to show off the things you know that your customers don’t. Useful information that isn’t common knowledge is not only valuable to potential customers and will encourage others in your field to link to you.
One way to approach writing a product description rich in useful information is to think about it like writing a magazine article. Magazines, whether print or online, aren’t selling products directly but they want to provide readers with the information they need to make informed buying decisions. A technology site might review the latest smartphone, a motoring website the latest family saloon, but they won’t just rattle off a list of specifications. They’ll provide insights into the product that you won’t get from a simple spec sheet.
Ultimately people are paying you for your products not your knowledge so don’t be afraid to give what you know away for free as it will boost your sales.
Baiting your Links
Linkbait might have negative connotations in the world of SEO but it is a perfectly legitimate tactic and one that can seriously improve traffic to your e-commerce store. If you have knowledge that can’t be found anywhere else, or think you can present in a better way, then it’s time to share it. If you’re writing about something that has already been well covered then there are a couple of key ways you can show your expertise in a more original way.
One way to add value to your descriptions and demonstrate knowledge of your products is to offer some kind of resource that will help people to use your product. This could take the form of a top ten list (for example top ten microwave recipes for white goods sellers) or even an instructional video.
Showing off your knowledge in a blog is another strong digital marketing tactic. While this is a more indirect way, and requires a store to have a blog first, it can draw people to your site who might not be looking to buy something and convert them into customers.
While you may be doing everything else right when it comes to the techniques you use to grow your business online if you don’t know who your core demographic is a lot of your efforts are going to be wasted.
Before writing any product descriptions or creating a list of keywords you’re going to focus on it’s important to know who’s going to be reading them and searching for them.
Knowing Your Audience
If your niche is very specific, say you’re selling decorative tea pots or customised skateboards, then you’ll probably already know who your audience is. However if you have a more varied inventory of goods, or sell a product that has broad appeal, then it might be less easy to determine the demographic, or demographics, you should be targeting.
Established businesses will have less work to do as they’ll either already be aware of their audience or have enough information at their fingertips to quickly come to some conclusions. Existing customers can be surveyed for their opinion and feedback while pages that are already performing well will offer guidance on tone and style for pages that are under-performing.
For startups it’s less easy to establish the right tone of voice and determine the keywords you should be using for your product descriptions. A good starting point is gathering feedback from family, friends and the people you do business with.
It’s also worth finding someone who’s already been successful in a similar niche to you and see the audience they’re targeting, the tone of voice they use and the keywords they rank well for. Another tactic is to put yourself in a potential customer’s shoes, if you were buying your product what factors would make you want to buy it?
Whether you’re well-established or just starting out Google Analytics can be a valuable source of information about who your audience is, showing where they came from, what they looked at and what their response was.
Finally social media is also your friend when it comes to gathering feedback. Whether it’s through direct interactions on your social media accounts or through likes, shares and comments on your product pages, you’ll be able to assess what’s working while improving social media engagement.
Now we are going to cover Search Engine Optimisation for Ecommerce, or SEO for short.
It is important to note that although we are writing with a focus on ecommerce, the SEO tactics we discuss are equally relevant for any website, not just for ecommerce websites.
Let’s begin with the basics.
A search engine exists to organise information. It finds information on behalf of its customers and ranks it according to how ‘well’ the information fits with the search.
A search engine listing
Search engine optimisation, SEO, is essentially three components that work together to ensure that search engines ‘understand’ what information your site contains (your key topics) so that they can ‘recommend’ your website to the searcher.
How well you rank in the search listings does not depend on how many people visit your website, but on how well you execute and balance the three components of SEO:
- The design and technical aspects of your website are critical in how search engines understand what is on your site is about, this includes keyword friendly addresses (URLs), content that can be indexed (e.g. words within images are not ‘read’ by the search engine), site speed, the quality of the user’s experience of your site and other quality factors.
- Search engines look at ‘offsite’ aspects of your website: the number of websites linking to yours and whether they are popular for similar topics, and if their niche (key content) matches your own and how many people are recommending your key content on social media sites, reviews and ratings.
- Ongoing creation of relevant content to your market segment (if you only sell shoes, the majority of your content should probably mention something about shoes: laces, leather, care, making your own, stitching, etc). The content you create must use the keywords and keyphrases that your target customers are actually searching for within your titles, headings, onsite links, and in the body copy and product descriptions.
SEO is a long-term activity. It is something that must be planned for from day one, and must be maintained, checked, tweaked and re-implemented over time.
Know your place
There is no easy way to say this, so we’ll just get right out with it.
If you want to rank #1 for a single keyword – let’s say ‘tools’ – you better have deep pockets to take on Screwfix, Machinemart and Toolbox, occupying the first three places on Google. That’s not even including the next seven brand names on the first page like B&Q and the marketing engines of Amazon and eBay that get millions of inbound links!
If you’re wondering why you aren’t on the first page of Google for your single product keyword, then you need to look at your marketing budget, market share and reach and adjust accordingly.
SEO is not about tricking, deceiving or otherwise ‘gaming’ search engines into showing your site above others. They are smart enough to know when you are spamming them.
SEO is about creating value for your customers. This is something done long-term.
It is not done once and forgotten about.
Forget irrelevant ‘measures’ of SEO like being #1 in Google and instead focus on what you can actually do to connect with your customers on a realistic budget.
Begin with research
This is essential for getting the right words and phrases into your website to help the search engines recommend your ecommerce site to the searcher. The closer the match, the better you’ll do.
Abandon all thoughts about selling for a minute. That will come later. You need to find out what your potential customers are looking for and how they are looking for it.
This means knowing what words they are typing into the search field on Google, Bing, and Yahoo (even Facebook and Twitter) to find the products and services that your organic competitors sell.
By ‘organic’ we mean the websites you are competing with in search listings, not necessarily your brand’s competitors.
Make a target keyword list
Begin by listing out the likely words you think your target customers would use (start with the ones you would use) to find the products you sell. If you sell one or two products, then 5-20 keywords will do. If you sell hundreds of products…well, you do the maths.
By ‘keywords’ we don’t mean a single word. No one searches like that anymore.
People naturally search using multiple words because they know that the more they put into the search engine, the closer they will be to the result they are after.
“SEO tactics for ecommerce”
For ideas, take a look at the top listings in the search engines and at your brand competitors. What are they using for keywords and keyphrases? Are they using unique descriptions? How do they label photos? What is their information architecture? Do they use keywords in links? Are they targeting the same shopping personality that you are targeting?
Use what works for your unique product offering and for your unique target customers.
For an in-depth look at researching keywords, have a read of Keyword Research Tips & Strategies over at BlueGlass.
Create a strategy
Before you run off and start jamming words and phrases willy-nilly into web pages, you need to understand why you are putting those words in those places.
You need a plan.
Begin by answering this one simple question: How are you going to add value?
I.e. What is it that your ecommerce website business uniquely offers of value that no one else does (or that you do better)?
This is your story and it gives a clue as to the strategies you should use to grow your business using SEO.
If your offer is ‘helping people find the ethical products they desire,’ then you need to prove this with more content than products listings. What you write, how you position the products, even your strategies will be influenced by this objective.
As a new ecommerce business, one of your business objectives might be to gain market share. One strategy to gain market share might be to grow your blog presence. One tactic to achieve this business strategy is SEO.
Write this down:
Business objective→ Strategy→ Tactics→ SEO
If your tactic is to optimise blog posts, you need to choose topics relevant to your target audience and optimise those posts around the topics and keyword groups that people will search for, find and share.
For our ethical ecommerce shop, we might create a set of SEO blog activities that would look something like this:
- write news-like posts about launches of specific ethical products and companies
- post product reviews of ethical products
- create research-based posts on how specific ethical activities influenced product design, shopping behaviour and marketing
- put up strong opinion pieces that get people talking and commenting about ethical issues and products
- comment on other relevant blogs with thoughtful and insightful ideas that contribute to the conversation or expand on your ethical stance
- create a social media presence and link to your own content, share ideas and link to other sources of ethical product information
- create external links to relevant ethical companies, organisations and information
- add posts to your email marketing efforts
- attend conferences in your niche promoting the blog
These activities might not (at first) seem like SEO tactics, but on closer examination, every single one of these tactics has huge SEO value: keyword-rich content for search engines to index, highly relevant content that will match a range of search parameters, regular activity, high-quality content that gets talked about and linked to, recommendations of your content from social sources, offsite links and an experience for your target customers that adds value.
It’s no good having a strategy if you can’t see how you’re doing (and no, counting ‘hits’ isn’t a good metric). You need to know how many unique visitors you get, what they do, where they go, how much they buy and which keywords they converted from. Do certain phrases convert better than others?
Get a good metrics package and use it.
When you create new content for your ecommerce website, you need to make sure you are following your SEO strategy and using appropriate keywords, or creating new keyword groups based on the new product lines you are adding.
Custom product descriptions
If you plan on cutting corners by just using the boring manufacturer’s product listing, make another plan.
If you have the same content as 100 or more ecommerce sites out there using the default description, how would you expect the search engines to differentiate your offers?
Using your own unique description content means you’ll be unique instead of 1 of 100.
Other on-site SEO tactics for your ecommerce site include:
- Keyword-driven links to other areas or related products on your site
- SEO-friendly navigation and URL structures
- Design and user experience considerations in favour of SEO
- Proper use of an internal search engine
One of the most recent developments in search engine rankings is the ability to use rich snippets to enhance the information shown in your search result. These are things like star-ratings, reviews, thumbnail images of the product and a price range.
One reason to consider using rich snippets is that they help the searcher make a decision before they go to your (or competitors’!) website.
This remains the single most effective SEO tactic because it tells the search engines (and searchers) exactly something about the value of the content that you have. In fact, social ‘signals’ are now a large influence on search rankings in both Google  and Bing .
That’s why in the last ecommerce white paper we stressed that link building is about making relationships. You build online relationships by adding value.
Going back to our SEO tactics for the ethical ecommerce shop, you would reach out to other bloggers in the ethical sphere, commenting on their posts, adding valuable information to the discussions on their sites, and building a relationship with these bloggers. You may then start reaping the rewards with their links to your content and products.
It takes time and you need to be interesting enough that people WANT to link to you.
If you need help with any aspect of your website, then please feel free to browse our services.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) for ecommerce involves first understanding your business objectives, then creating strategies to support those objectives, and finally identifying the SEO tactics to use to support that strategy.
To be successful in attracting links, visitors and buyers to your ecommerce website, your SEO tactics must add value to the shopper – how are you supporting, enhancing and ultimately fulfilling their desires.
Last note, be cautious when targeted in very broad searches, focus first on local or niche searches and gain visibility there first. Broad teams will already be dominated by established businesses. If you need support from a local digital agency for Website Design & Development in Devon, then please get in touch.
- SEOmoz, Social Annotations in Search: Now Your Social Network = Rankings, http://www.seomoz.org/blog/social-annotations-in-search-now-your-social-network-rankings, Accessed 07.04.2012
- Searchengineland, Bing Ups Ante in Social Search, http://searchengineland.com/bing-ups-ante-in-social-search-re-ranking-serps-with-likes-77269, Accessed 07.04.2012
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