Search engine optimization: you know it’s important and you know you have to do it. But where do you start? After all, there are people who spend all day, every day doing nothing but SEO. You, on the other hand, are a busy online business owner with more priorities than you can count.
Fear not. Underneath all the acronyms, keywords and links, SEO is just marketing applied to the web. It’s a relatively simple, easy to apply strategy that admittedly demands patience, but that with a little planning, any ecommerce entrepreneur can wield to their advantage.
As PrestaShop’s resident SEO guru, I’ve put together the 11 SEO questions you need to ask—and answer—before launching your online store. The questions build on one another to construct a simple SEO strategy that covers all the basics. If you follow my advice, you’ve got a good chance of breaking through the noise and rocketing to the top of search results.
Here we go...
1. Who am I selling to?
Before you start brainstorming keywords or developing a social media strategy, or even writing product descriptions, you need to know exactly who your audience is. This is basic marketing criteria than any business, online or offline, must establish. Consider these two questions:
- What problem or desire does my product respond to?
- What is my ideal customer looking for?
Sit down and think about your ideal customers. Who are they? What motivates them to search for the products you’re selling? Creating customer personas is a vital first step that will help you home in on your target audience and focus your marketing efforts accordingly.
You can do all the SEO you like, but until your audience is crystal clear, none of it will be of any service to your online business.
2. What search engine key words should my ecommerce store rank on?
Now that you know who you’re talking to, make sure you’re using their vocabulary. Make a list of all the words that relate to your product and sector, and also more specific “long tail” combinations that your customers might use to search for your products.
The more specific your keywords are, the more likely you are to respond to a particular customer need. (i.e. “non-stick heart-shaped cake pan” versus simply “cake pan”). These keywords will help you determine your site structure, write compelling product pages and generate meaningful content.
3. What keywords do my competitors rank on?
When it comes to SEO, there are two types of competition:
- Search competition
- Real competition
Search competition is everything that appears when you enter your keywords, from Wikipedia pages to news articles; these results share the same search universe as your store and compete for user attention.
Real competition comes from competitors in your sector selling similar products. They’re competing for user attention and user dollars.
Don’t copy your real competitors, but keep tabs on what they are doing and try to identify how you can differentiate yourself and position your ecommerce store on specific keywords that reflect your expertise, specialty or unique differentiator.
4. Is my catalogue strong enough to rank my store on my key words?
You’ve identified your keywords, you know what your competitors are doing. Now it’s time to look at your catalog and make sure it’s up to the task of ranking your site. Just because you create a page for dresses doesn’t mean you’ll show up in any searches.
I once met a business owner who couldn’t figure out why his store didn’t appear in search results for “men’s face cream.” So I asked him, “How many creams do you carry?” His response: “Three.” Clearly, he was not going to stand out from all the other stores with dozens of references for “men’s face cream.”
The internet is a bewildering sea of information. You are guaranteed to drown in it if you don’t have a strategy. You either need to have a strong catalog with many references corresponding to your keywords or own an incredibly specific and highly specialized niche.
5. Does my store website structure correspond to my key words?
You know who you’re selling to, you’ve got your keywords figured out and you have a strong catalog. Now that you’re done with the theory, you can get down to mapping out your online store.
Remember that you’re creating a store to please customers, not search engines. Building a site that ranks requires a combination of attention to keywords and user experience. Read my article on using keywords to structure your ecommerce site for an in-depth tutorial.
6. Do my product pages respond to actual customer questions?
You’ve developed a beautiful site architecture; now it’s time to populate it with super informative product pages. Remember, you’re not writing them to rank on Google; you’re writing them to provide a service to your customers.
If your online store is akin to a brick and mortar shop, then your product pages stand in for your expert sales staff. Answer all your customers’ questions—including the ones they didn’t even know they had—and you generate trust, build loyalty and increase conversions. And that’s how you rank on Google.
7. How do I get people talking about my store?
You can have the greatest product ever made, but if no one knows about it, your business isn’t going to get far. Take some time to think about your sector: who are the influencers? Who do people turn to for advice and recommendations? Those are the people you want to know about your online store.
If you’re a women’s apparel retailer, start cultivating relationships with high-profile fashion bloggers. Or maybe you sell perfume: send samples to a few bloggers and ask them to review your products on their site. The backlinks from these respected sites will put in front of your target audience and increase your own reputation.
8. Should I have my own blog?
When we talk about blogs, we’re really talking about content marketing. A blog gives you the opportunity to highlight your expertise, as well as your products. A blog is where you can give advice and explanations that create meaningful content. And Google loves meaningful content.
The big question is how to make your blog work for you. A blog is most valuable when it generates customer loyalty. You might think about (judiciously) using pop-ups to encourage people to subscribe to your newsletter or using incentives for “liking” on Facebook or tweeting helpful articles. You’ll create a valuable database with your newsletter and increase your visibility through social shares.
9. What is my social media strategy?
If you have a blog, you’re half way to having a social media strategy. But before you go wild on Vine, remember that social media is likely to give you visibility, but it doesn’t guarantee ranking high on search results. Social media is a secondary activity that should come once you’ve answered the previous SEO questions.
If you’re just starting out, the minimum requirements for establishing your social media presence are Facebook and Twitter. Then you can add Google+. Pinterest and Instagram are extremely effective if you have highly visual content to share.
10. How do I tell if my SEO efforts are paying off?
Testing your SEO strategy is as important as putting it into place—how else will you know if what you’re doing is a waste of time or driving conversions? Use Google Analytics to identify your main sources of traffic and which ones are driving sales. Google Webmaster can give you a glimpse into what keywords are driving traffic. Read my article on the many tools available to measure the impact of your SEO action.
11. Is there more to online marketing than SEO?
Yes! SEO is a powerful, free way to attract visitors and convert them into customers, but it takes a long time to implement an effective SEO strategy, and the results are not guaranteed. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket; get your SEO in place and then consider including these elements into your online marketing strategy:
- Google Adwords: SEO gives you free visibility, Google Adwords lets you pay for it. This can also be a great tool to test keywords and see what works before applying them to your SEO strategy.
- Marketplaces: EBay, Amazon, PriceMinster and other online marketplaces can be a great way for a new store to get visibility and ease into the ecommerce business.
- Good, old-fashioned publicity: word-of-mouth recommendations are still the most valuable form of advertising. It should be clear to you and your customers why you are the best place to shop for what they want.
Have you optimized your website? What’s working for you? What do you wish you could do better? Let us know!