SEO changes dramatically from year to year - perhaps even moreso than ecommerce. And ever since Google's big Hummingbird update in 2013, SEO has changed from simply having links on as many other sites as possible to the quality, quantity, and regularity of content.
Google's changes upset many in the SEO industry at the time, but the Hummingbird update was the first step in the right direction for giving everyone a fair shot at ranking on Google's first SERP. As Flying Point Digital put it,
"Google is now using the content of the page, in addition to the meta information presented, to answer more and more complex searches that touch on a greater number of words.Google has also been rolling out updates that place a much higher emphasis on user engagement metrics, the most recent of which was the Quality Update released earlier this year. Content quality, time spent on page, return visitors, bounce rate, and even things like social sharing—all these factors can play a role in your rankings."
SEO is no longer writing guest posts for obscure sites in India with three backlinks to your site embedded in a content-mill article. So with that in mind, let's take a look at what you need to know about ecommerce SEO in 2016.
User engagement is key
As mentioned in the above quote, user engagement will affect your site's SEO. As Danny Goodwin wrote for Momentology.com,
"If 2015 was the year of becoming mobile-friendly, then 2016 is shaping up to be the year of user experience."
Your ecommerce store's SEO success in 2016 is going to depend in large part on the quality of your content. While the amount of traffic coming to your site certainly has an effect on your site's ranking, all the traffic in the world won't mean anything if your content isn't meeting your visitors' needs. Consider the following example from the above-mentioned Flying Point Digital article:
"Pretend you are a search engine, but it’s like a regular job in a regular office where you sit behind a desk, and people come in and ask you questions. You then tell them which office down the hall they need to visit to get the answer to their question. You get a person who asks “how to change a spare tire”. You send them down the hall to Ted’s office to get their answer. (Ted is the tire expert in this imaginary world.) They return immediately and ask the same question. Apparently your first choice (Ted) didn’t have the right answer, or at least not the one this person was looking for. Knowing the fate of your last unsatisfied customer, how often would you send people asking that same question back to old Ted? Probably not often right?
"Believe it or not it’s highly likely that search engines actually DO behave in a similar fashion. Whether or not a site shares all of its data with Google through Google Analytics, Google can always see how quickly a user comes back to Google asking for the same thing or something similar. Google’s main objective is to help you find the best answer for anything you ask it. That being said, if users keep bouncing off pages that for one reason or another Google has ranked favorably, Google might start to rethink that ranking."
This is why content-mill articles that are just fluff surrounding a few choice keywords don't work anymore. They don't work because users rightfully don't find that content helpful, and since users see that content as useless, so does Google. As a result, sites that had keyword-stuffed 500-word articles churned out by one of the dozens of content mills on their blog have been penalized in their rankings.
The increased need for better, helpful, reliably good content has spurred the inbound marketing movement, and as a result, marketers now have to focus more intently on content quality as the keystone of their content strategy.
The good news is that, even if your ecommerce store is small traffic-wise, as long as you're creating content that evokes engagement from users (shares, retweets, links on other sites that you didn't pay for, etc.), Google will reward you for that effort. The hard part is identifying what type of content best resonates with your audience to earn their engagement.
Figuring that out requires trial and error. Here at Doba, I'm still trying different things, different methods of content delivery, headlines, subjects, post dates and times, anything I can think of to shake things up to see what my audience likes the most. And I'm almost nine months into this job. It's no easy task, but when you find the right kind of content that clicks, it'll be worth all the hard work.
Long-tail's importance will increase
This is another insight from the Flying Point Digital article, but they weren't the only publication to highlight how important it will be to make sure that your long-tail strategy is finely-tuned.
Michael Bonfils, President and CEO of International Media Management Corp. is quoted in the Momentology article as saying that,
"To survive as an SEO in 2016, it means to expand our knowledge, as well as the ability to provide this keyword-based world of ours to reach into social, display, and paid search in a mobile world. Our job is no longer just driving Google searchers to top rankings, it’s also driving them to the platform experience – be it mobile, social, or apps – and having these visitors hopefully use our keywords and clients to advocate for that experience."
Without a good long-tail strategy, you're not going to be able to achieve the results that Bonfils talks about. With all the updates to Google's search algorithm, Google has gotten "smarter" in the sense that it can differentiate between two separate phrases that, on a semantic level, are relevant. This not only enables you to use a broader keyword vocabulary in your content, but it helps you give Google more information about your site's theme, purpose, and value.
For example, at Doba, I'll optimize certain pieces of content for a half-dozen keywords that are all semantically related, and together tell Google what that landing page or blog post is about. Instead of using "dropshipping suppliers" as my target keyword, I can use "wholesale suppliers," "dropship suppliers," "product sourcing," and even "wholesale items" to tag my content or landing page with. Including these keywords naturally in the page content and meta description is where the challenge in content writing comes into play, but it can be done.
This plays right into a concept that Rand Fishkin presented in a Whiteboard Friday session. The topic was why SEO professionals should put more of their focus on optimizing for topics, as opposed to keywords. Keyword targeting isn't dead by any stretch of the imagination, but it's also a ridiculously competitive, time-consuming task. Fishkin's advice helps SEO professionals find a balance between keyword and topic optimization.
Site structure and technical SEO will be more important
Another trend that's mentioned by more than one source is that technical SEO - or how your site is coded.
According to Custom Fit Online, the following aspects of your site's coding will affect your 2016 SEO performance:
- XML sitemaps: these are "semantic markups" that tell Google everything about everything on your site. Your sitemap needs to be specific and all-encompassing; otherwise, you're missing out on an opportunity for Google to index all of your site.
- 404 pages: we've all seen great examples of funny 404 pages, especially from The Onion. They need to incorporate key elements of your site and redirect visitors to helpful pages, or you'll get penalized.
- 301 redirects: if you take a page on your site and put it in another location, then you need to put a 301 redirect code in your sitemap that tells Google that the content that previously existed in location x now exists in location y. These will also redirect visitors to the right page. For example, if you move your blog from www.mysite.com/blog/article to www.blog.mysite.com/article, that'd be an example of needing a 301 redirect.
- Efficient coding that makes your site load faster: get rid of any unnecessary code. Sites that load quicker are obviously more appealing to visitors. If your site is slow and clunky, you'll start seeing really high bounce rates. As we already know, that'll be terrible for SEO in 2016.
Going over your site structure and the technical side of your SEO can be one of the more time-consuming tasks when it comes to ensuring your SEO is up to date, but it's an infrequent requirement that often pays quick dividends for your search rankings and user experience.
Improving your SEO to match the evolution of 2016's trends is only going to benefit you, and your profits, in the end. It's a time-consuming, technical process, but if you want your ecommerce store to succeed in 2016, you're going to have to play with the big boys - and you can bet they're all staying as on top of their SEO as they possibly can.
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