Key elements of an effective retail SEO strategy, including sophisticated keyword targeting, great UX, customer reviews, and more.
With online spending hitting an all-time high in the UK, organic search is more important than ever for retailers looking to thrive in the new normal. However, building an organic search presence is tricky for online merchants, especially if you don’t have a business location to promote through local SEO or a healthy PPC budget to generate paid traffic.
This article is about how you can develop an effective retail SEO strategy to tackle the challenges that come from increasing organic traffic to your website.
Find organic keyword opportunities
As an online retailer, most of the product keywords are highly intentional in driving search engine ads. So when someone types in something like “Google Chromecast,” the top of the SERPs usually looks something like this:
Here we see paid shopping ads at the top of the results page and then a link to the Google Store as the first organic result. Then we have the People Asking section before we see another organic result for online retailers.
After that there are a number of feeds for “Top Stories”, videos and “Refine by Google Chromecast Product Line” listings with a single organic link from curries.
So here we have a high intent keyword that doesn’t offer much SEO opportunities.
This is often the case with high intent and competitiveness top level keywords for online merchants as Google is very good at monetizing those search terms with paid ads. While these are great keywords for PPC campaigns, they aren’t always that helpful in generating organic traffic.
The bulk of your retail SEO strategy will focus on long-tail keywords that will pique user interest earlier in the buying process when they are entering lower-intent keywords that are still showing interest in buying your products. Many of these keywords will still trigger ads, but the informative nature of long-tail keywords encourages Google to place organic links higher up on the results page.
Below is a long-tail keyword that identifies a number of key selling points that go beyond the product itself. This user is not just looking for a 4K TV. They are specifically looking for the best TVs for gaming on the latest generation of game consoles that take into account factors such as latency, refresh rate, color accuracy, and other technical considerations that that user needs to know about.
So, yeah, we see another pack of paid ads at the top of the page, but the blue links get thick and fast after that. If we look at the full page, this SERP is dominated by blue links pointing to informational content – not top stories, video feeds, or anything else that is pushing organic links to the page.
This is a search term that offers a great deal of SEO value to an online retailer.
How do we apply this?
- Long-tail keywords: Prioritize these in your retail SEO strategy as this is where the greatest organic opportunities lie.
- Produce the right content: You need to create informational content to answer the questions asked in long-tail keywords. You cannot optimize the product pages for this.
- Keyword research: There are high-intent, top-level keywords that offer organic opportunity but are less common and harder to find for retail brands.
- Two-pronged approach: Focus on long tail keywords to improve traction faster and gradually work on more competitive queries.
- PPC integration: Online retailers (probably more than any other type of brand) need to incorporate SEO and PPC into a single search marketing strategy to maximize coverage and ROI.
Organic product lists
Early last year, Google launched free product listings to help smaller retailers sell their products through organic search without paying for ads. The search giant had originally planned to roll out this feature at a later date but moved things forward to help retailers cope with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
Free product lists were launched in the UK last October.
These product lists can be viewed on mobile devices and on the desktop, usually under paid product lists. However, they can also be displayed independently, depending on the query.
To see free product listings in Google Search and Google Shopping, you need to create a Merchant Center account and upload your product feed. The official documentation can be found here.
How do we apply this?
- High Intent Keywords: With free product listings, you can generate organic opportunities from high-intent keywords that are typically only available through paid ads.
- Search coverage: By showing them up in paid and free offers, you can maximize search coverage and increase your chances of winning competitive keywords.
Research shows that 91% of online consumers read customer reviews and 84% trust them as much as they would a personal recommendation. While separate studies show that the average customer spends 31% more on a retailer that gets great review results.
Google knows the importance of reviews to online consumers who shop at faceless retailers. This is why the review results are so deeply embedded in the organic and paid offers as they increase the click rate and the likelihood of post-click conversions.
With seller ratings, you can see rating results in your organic and paid listings in Google Search and Google Shopping, and show potential customers that you are a reputable retailer to buy from. Unlike product reviews, seller reviews quantify the experience of buying from you as a retailer. This can give you a real advantage if you are known for providing excellent service to your customers.
Check out our guide to learn how to get seller ratings, and check out our comparison tool to learn more about the differences between seller ratings and product ratings.
How do we apply this?
Page Experience & Core Web Vitals
With the introduction of a new page experience signal by Google in May 2021, the user experience will become even more important for your search ranking. While we don’t yet know how this algorithm update will fully play out, online merchants could be among the worst hit because of the performance signals that Google is looking at.
The three most important signals highlighted in green in the graphic above are the new ranking factors that Google implemented in May, while the four gray signals underneath have all been ranking factors for some time.
So it’s these core web vitals that are going to shake things up, if at all.
- Loading: This only refers to load times, although Google is changing the way this is measured with a new standard called Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
- Interactivity: Measures the responsiveness of interactive elements on your page (links, buttons, etc.) after users click them using a new standard called First Input Delay (FID).
- Visual stability: Detects the movement of elements on the page and the instability it creates using a new standard called Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
We have already dealt extensively with the optimization of Core Web Vitals. We’d like to point out, however, that ecommerce websites are particularly vulnerable to performance degradation on these three measurements, especially on product pages and especially on mobile devices.
If your loading times are not up to speed (more than 2.5 seconds), interactive elements are taking too long to load (more than 100 ms) or elements are moving around the page after they have already been loaded into the browser. We’re going to miss out on the ranking boost these signals provide for high performing websites.
How can we apply that?
- User experience: Google has always been concerned about user experience, but it continues to make it a more important factor in search rankings.
- Core web vitals: These offer new metrics for website performance, and Google is also offering a number of new tools that website owners can use to measure and optimize these signals.
Turn organic searches into sales
For online retailers, paid advertising is usually the key channel for driving high-intent traffic to product pages and converting them into buyers. However, having a strong organic presence will help you attract a wider audience of potential customers in the early stages of the consumer journey and influence buying decisions through meaningful interactions.
Above all, these are potential customers who are likely to buy from someone else if you don’t influence the decision-making process early on. Here, organic search is a long-term strategy that promotes sustainable growth.