Ecommerce SEO is distinct from regular SEO.
You see, Google — and other search engines — have taken it upon themselves to protect their customers from defective, low-quality online stores. As a result, ranking high on results pages has become much harder than it used to be.
In such a competitive environment, any SEO mistake can cost you dearly in terms of revenue.
But don’t fret; we can easily fix many of these mistakes. In this guide, I’ll outline some of the biggest SEO mistakes in e-commerce and provide you with solutions.
What Are the Worst Ecommerce SEO Mistakes?
Anyone who’s ever run an ecommerce website knows how cutthroat the competition can be. In order for an online store to succeed, they have to rank on search engines — period.
In this article, I’ll review some of the biggest ecommerce SEO mistakes that can tank your rankings if you don’t fix them. Let’s get started.
1. Confusing Site Structure
Your site structure is the navigational organization of your website (sorry for the mouthful). If your website is hard to navigate, you will annoy not only your customers but search engines as well. That results in lower rankings.
Search engine web crawlers navigate your ecommerce store from top to bottom to evaluate site structure. If the bots have a hard time getting around, that’s going to translate directly into low lower user engagement.
It’s one of the more common ecommerce SEO mistakes to just throw things together and hope it works out. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work like that; you have to be smart about how your ecommerce site is organized.
The key to optimal commerce organization is a hierarchy.
You want every product and every page to be assigned to a specific category or subcategory. Not only in terms of the user interface but also with internal linking structure — such as slugs and breadcrumbs.
Let’s give an example of a well-organized online store with Dick’s Sporting Goods. On your homepage, your primary category pages should be easily accessible as seen here:
From there, it should be easy to access those sub-category pages so visitors can find what they need:
See how easy and intuitive that is? It took me one mouse hover to find exactly what I needed. That’s the kind of organization a search engine looks for on ecommerce sites.
2. Poor Backlink Presence
I talk a heckuva lot about link building on my website, and I’m not sorry. Without high-quality external links, you’re going to be struggling to rank over other ecommerce websites.
Your backlink presence across the web is the most defining aspect of your domain authority, which makes building those backlinks your #1 job for success (besides selling quality products).
Building links for ecommerce websites is a bit different than other websites, such as blogs. This leads to the temptation of merchants to hire out freelancers to perform less-than-legal tactics (in terms of webmaster guidelines) in a vain attempt to increase their search rankings.
If that’s you, let me save you some time: it doesn’t work — not anymore.
You see, once upon a time in the Wild West phase of the Internet (think around 1995-2010), some of these shady tricks DID work. Since then, however, Google has become much, much smarter and is excellent at sorting out the good from the bad.
Not only will shady tactics not help you, but you’ll also actually get penalized for using them. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise: paying directly for do-follow links is strictly against Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Link Building Done Right
Now that you’ve read my little rant about shady link building, we can talk about doing it the right way.
The first step to any kind of link building is making sure your website’s pages and your store’s products are of excellent quality.
If your content is worth linking to, people will link to it. Conversely, people will not link to it if it’s of poor quality.
Here are some additional ways you can build backlinks — the right way:
- Start an affiliate program: If your ecommerce store has an affiliate program, you will heavily incentivize influencers to link to your content. While these links are mostly NF (no-follow), they will still have a positive impact on your ranking and bring direct traffic.
- Start a blog for your website: If you look around your favorite online stores, you’ll find that about 99% of them have blog posts. This isn’t by accident; content marketing is a massive industry and an essential part of ecommerce SEO strategy
- Guest posting: Reach out to the content managers of other blogs in your niche. Ask to write for them, and link back to your website in the content. This can also be a source of organic search traffic if those posts rank well
- Write content for long-tail keywords: Blog posts about very niche content without much coverage are more likely to build natural links, just because there’s not a lot of competition. You can identify these sorts of phrases with a keyword research tool, like Ahrefs
Just as a general rule, links to your store will pop up around the Internet if you’re selling quality products that people enjoy — just as a natural extension of word-of-mouth.
Prioritize an amazing experience for your customers and links will build up.
Believe it or not, building internal links is just as important as building external ones. For every internal link a given page has, the more important Google is going to see it as. When writing an article, always be sure to link to related blog posts in the content.
3. Keyword Stuffing
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing — we find a great example of that in keyword stuffing.
What is keyword stuffing? Google defines it as “the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.”
If anyone is telling you that this kind of thing helps, then they’re giving you the outdated 2008 playbook. Google wants to see natural-sounding language; they don’t want to hand off organic traffic to spam websites like they used to.
What to Look Out For
You might be curious where exactly the line is between “keyword stuffing” and a natural description that includes your target keywords. Keep an eye out for things like this:
- Keywords out of context
- Keywords unnaturally grouped together
- Blocks of text consisting of cities, states, and phone numbers
- Unnatural, repetitive phrasing
The key to keeping your keyword inclusion natural is just to have a natural cadence at all times.
Write naturally and include your keywords where they make sense, and ONLY where they make sense.
Write for Search Intent
It’s very important to include the keywords you’re looking to rank for in your web pages.
However, the primary purpose of your website’s text — product descriptions, FAQs, and whatnot — should be to provide the information that people are actively seeking. We call this writing for search intent, and it is a huge part of ranking success in the modern era of SEO.
Before you even think about the placement of your exact keywords, think about the information the person using the search engine is seeking.
This entire post is an example. I could have filled entire sections with varied repetitions of “SEO mistakes to avoid for ecommerce stores,” but instead I’m simply providing the information naturally. The keywords, in turn, place themselves organically.
4. Lackluster Security
Search engines care deeply about protecting their users from compromised, malicious websites for the sake of both their service integrity and their legal liability.
Google would be seriously peeved if they found out that a website they ranked was compromised and resulted in a user’s credit card being stolen. They’ve invested a lot of time, money, and energy to prevent that.
Therefore, it’s critical you get security under control for the sake of your ecommerce site’s success.
Protecting Your Customers
Your store needs to be completely protected from malware, or you’ll get screwed over hard in rankings if you’re ever compromised. Here are some tips to protect yourself and your customers:
- Use a highly reputable ecommerce platform, such as WooCommerce or Shopify
- If you’re on WordPress, use a reputable host such as CloudWays (my host)
- Keep your website and plugins up-to-date
- Use a reputable payment processor, such as PayPal or Square
- Use a CDN, such as Cloudflare
- Store the bare minimum of customer data
- Use SSL
If search engines see that your website is secure, you’ll have a huge advantage in getting organic traffic over your competitors.
5. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is pretty intuitive: it’s when you have two of the same things (webpages, descriptions, et cetera) present on your website. This also includes content on your website that is too identical to another website, be it blog posts, product descriptions, or anything else.
Rather than being a simple error, duplicate content can have serious SEO implications. Look out for these common locations duplicated content:
- Header tags
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Blog content
- URLs and slugs
- Product pages
Directly reusing content throughout your site isn’t just lazy and poor practice in QA, it will negatively affect your rankings. Even if you have to discuss the same subject multiple times, hold off on that copy and paste and rewrite it.
6. Poor Site Performance
Nobody likes a slow-loading website, especially Google.
I’m routinely surprised at the laughable loading times of some fairly high-profile websites I’ve seen. Loading speed is absolutely critical for the overall success of your business — I would put it in the top five most important things.
These days, most browser traffic happens on mobile devices. That makes it extra important for ecommerce stores to optimize site speed since phones have slower processors.
Note that if you’re on a full-service ecommerce platform such as Shopify or Wix, you have a limited ability to fix loading issues. That said, I’ve used both Wix and Shopify and found both of them to perform quite well — especially Shopify.
If you’re on WordPress, the ball is much more in your court. Start with using optimization plug-ins (my favorite is WP Rocket) and then consider hiring a professional for further tweaking.
Additionally, make sure you are using a fast, well-constructed theme — such as Astra.
Continuing, here are some of the most common load issues you can audit immediately:
- Large image files: It used to be that JPGs were the fastest file types; now it’s Google’s WEBP. Make sure all your pictures are up to date
- Slow server response time: It’s incredibly important that you have a good host. No matter how good your code is, it’s only going to go as fast as your server response time will allow. If you’re on WordPress, I recommend Digital Ocean via CloudWays.
- Heavy DOM Size: If you’re using a page builder like Wix or Elementor, you may notice Google Pagespeed Insights telling you about your DOM size hurting your load speed. You can make tweaks to this, but the only real fix is getting on a faster platform
- Bland product page: When designing your product pages, don’t slap a few images together call it a day. Write detailed product descriptions, take beautiful photos, and make every page unique. Otherwise Google won’t even index your product pages, much less rank them
Additional Ecommerce SEO Mistakes
There are a few more common SEO mistakes we need to talk about in order to really send your SEO strategy in the right direction:
- Duplicate title tag: By default, your title tags will be the same as your page titles. This can seem over-optimized to Google, so it’s good to change them up a little
- Nonsensical URLs: Your slugs should form user-friendly URLs that make sense. For example, “exampledomain.com/how-to-knit” tells the user (and Google) exactly what your page is about
- No product reviews: Google will factor user satisfaction directly into the product pages they serve. Make sure your reviews are visible and happy
- No image alt text: Unless they’re purely decorative, make sure each image has an alt description. Accessibility is important to Google, plus it helps search engines figure out what the picture means
To the untrained eye, many of these ecommerce site issues may seem insignificant. However, all those little things can add up into big leaps in search rankings.
Remember, moves in SEO strategy usually take at least 3-6 months to show their full effect, so it’s important you tackle these ecommerce issues pronto. Every second these issues go unfixed, you lose traffic, customers, and revenue.
If you’re willing to put the work into optimizing every bit of your online store, you’ll be miles ahead already. Ecommerce SEO is a cutthroat business; there’s no room for laziness.
But you know what? I’m confident you can succeed. So get out there, optimize your ecommerce store, and make some sales!