Have you ever done a Google search on your competition and wondered, “How did that business get up there?” If the result doesn't have an 'ad' button next to it chances are it got there thanks to SEO, or search engine optimisation. It can often sound really complicated, but with a little practice get's really easy. In this article we break down the mystical world of SEO and show you a few ways you can start improving your strategy today.
In this article:
- What is SEO
- How does SEO help your online store?
- SEO Best Practices for your online store in 2022
- Tools for reviewing and improving your SEO
What is SEO?
To some it may be a familiar term but for others it’s a new concept. SEO stands for search engine optimisation. The goal of SEO is to make it really easy for the search engines’ information-crawling bots to index your site and understand what you’re offering. SEO done right helps to increase your website’s visibility and drive more visitors to your online store which can increase your chances of making a sale (or six).
There are lots of ways to improve your organic (non-paid) SEO - which we introduce below - the simplest way to think about it is that you’re helping the search engines find the information that they need to provide the best search results for a user.
Tip: Be conscious of your SEO and optimise your website for search engines but never forget that your customer is the one who decides whether to buy or not - they must be catered for.
How does SEO help your online store?
TIP: Simplified, SEO drives two main things for your online store: rankings and visibility.
In order to make sales, you need to get visitors to your online store and, if you’re serving up what they’re searching for, your online store will get more visits. This equals more opportunities to sell and connect.
We want to provide the best experience for our customers, right? Well, so does Google. According to Statista, 60% of people research a brand online before making a purchase.
This is probably a good time to mention the SEO tricks that were so popular in the first decade of the 21st century. Many businesses have tried to trick the Google search system - pages of backlinks, misleading links, keyworded-loaded meta descriptions and other tricks - to appear higher in search results and website rankings. But Google realised that this wasn’t returning the best results for their customers and so they periodically change their algorithms to avoid these “black-hat” SEO tricks and penalise websites that try to trick them.
SEO is here to stay. You don’t want to trick the search engines, you just want to make it really easy for them to index our site so that when people search for your product or service, your website shows up. Below are some best practices for doing just that:
TIP: Learn about Google’s Core Web Vital here. SEO takes time to take effect, sometimes months so make a long-term plan to work on or revisit your SEO regularly to check in and make adjustments as needed.
SEO Best Practices for your online store in 2022
I like to think of optimising a website for SEO like serving up a balanced meal, you’ll want to make sure you’ve covered all nutrition bases and are serving up a dish that is both appealing and easy to digest. Not one that’s hiding all the calories!
Key SEO Points to Note
Key best practices for SEO involve the following:
- Providing fresh (up-to-date), relevant and unique content
- Consider user experience when evaluating SEO because, if people find what they’re looking for on your site, they’ll either spend more time or make a purchase/sign up and Google will appreciate that.
- Remember E-A-T when considering content and your SEO: expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Although these aren’t measurables, keep them in mind when you’re working on your content and your SEO.
- There’s no Google dude sitting in an office indexing websites. Google uses “bots” to index your website and determine where to place your website in search results. These bots are pretty clever. We still want to make it as easy as possible for them to index our website.
- Once the bots have indexed the website, they store this information on our website’s topics and keywords in a database of all content found on the web. This isn’t a once-off deal, changes get reindexed thus SEO optimisation is an ongoing project.
Technical structure and design
Since Google wants to provide a great search and result experience, the technical structure and design of your website matter. Top points to remember are the following:
- Set up Google Analytics for your website so you can evaluate visitor behaviour.
- Website and page loading speed. Google Analytics explains this here.
- Mobile-first design. Google now predominantly uses the mobile version of the content on your website for indexing and ranking. Mobile websites are the new default.
- SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) security certificate for your domain (https not http) builds trust and tells Google that you’re legitimate. Your .shopstar domain automatically falls under our SSL certificate. Learn more here.
- Fresh, unique, relevant content that answers questions or solves problems.
Every time you Google search, you’re looking for content: answers to a question or a problem you’re trying to solve e.g. the prettiest lingerie in South Africa or the new iPhone, how to set up your WiFi or the phone number for the local plumber. We’re all searching for content (video, information, recipes or any others). The more you publish, the more bots return to index your site and the better the chance of people seeing your results in search.
TIP: SEO isn’t necessarily about getting the highest number of visitors to your site. You’ll want to attract people who want what you’re selling and who may become a part of your community and, in time or immediately, your customers. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, especially if you’re a niche boutique online store.
Keywords and Phrases
If you’re at all familiar with SEO, you’ll know that Google uses keywords and phrases to place your website in search results. In the past, we’d focus on optimising a website or page for one or two top-tier keywords: e.g. Accommodation Cape Town or Shoe Shops in South Africa, however things have changed as the internet has gotten busier and online shoppers have gotten more specific. While we do still want to provide Google bots with exactly what our website is about, we’re also aware of search behaviour of users and how long-tail keywords (less popular, more specific keywords) can benefit our SEO e.g. pet-friendly accommodation in Kalk Bay or Sustainable shoes stores in South Africa. Can you see how these would produce vastly different search results and how by focusing on the long-tail keywords, we could possibly reach more people because general searches are tricky. In our On-Page SEO section below, we’ll cover best practices for keywords and key phrases. For now, think about how people search, what they search for and how popular those searches could be, then think about how you’d phrase your content to help those searchers.
TIP: Hubspot has a neat downloadable, Keyword Research for Beginners, if you want to check that out.
Website navigation and links
We briefly mentioned pages of links in our black-hat SEO section above. This is different: for starters, we need to provide Google with a good site map to help bots index the website and secondly, we need to provide both internal (links or buttons from page to page) and external (linking out to other sites) links to illustrate the relevance of our website and the context within which it lives on the web. Backlinks (links from reliable sources back to our website) are also super useful in indicating both authority and authenticity. Great examples of useful backlinks could be editorials in the online news or you being featured on another blog as a guest blogger (which would then link back to your website). The better the reputation of the website linking back to your store, the better for you. Imagine a feature on Sunday Times’ website linking back to your store: there’s serious authority in that or a blogger very prominent in the field of your online store featuring your product and linking back? Pure gold. And totally relevant.
TIP: Check your website regularly for broken or old links as this decreases user experience and may affect your ranking.
Now, down to the nitty gritty - SEO on your home page and other pages of your website.
Each page of your website is indexed by Google so it’s a good idea to spend some time on the following:
- Keywords and key phrases: try to incorporate these naturally into the text of your website and include them in the following: your page/post’s title, the page/post’s URL, your main heading, image file names, and the first paragraph (or first 100 words) of the page/post’s text.
- Meta descriptions: these appear under your page/post’s title in search results and can sometimes be overlooked but they could mean the difference between someone clicking on your website or someone else’s. Meta descriptions show 160-220 characters in search results and only 120 in mobile results, so keep it succinct.
- Content: fresh, unique and relevant. Ensure that information, images and videos are up-to-date
- Content: consider making videos from your blog posts (Youtube is the second largest search engine in the world after Google) and relevant videos often return right at the top of search results.
- Content: look for opportunities to link to content on other pages/posts on your website.
- Content: optimise for readability (think bullet points, short sentences and headings) as many of us are lazy readers and we scan text. Bots scan, too.
TIP: Optimise your keywords and phrases for voice search. Think about how people will phrase their enquiries and try to answer those questions on your website.
Tools for reviewing and improving your SEO
Google Analytics - to analyse how people are finding your site and how they’re behaving when they are on your site.
SEOsurfer - amongst other things, analyses your written content and provides suggestions for keywords and phrases that might provide additional opportunities.
YoastSEO - if you’re using a Wordpres site, Yoast is an invaluable tool that gives you a ranking for each page and suggestions for improving SEO per page.
Download this Hubspot SEO starter pack (it includes 22 SEO myths to let go of in 2022)
TIP: Hubspot FREE SEO Certification Academy TIP: Hubspot has a free short-course in SEO Training if you’d like to learn more.
SEO may seem like a vast topic and it is. Our advice is to start small and put aside a little time each week to learn more and slightly adjust your SEO. If you’re following Google’s guidelines and thinking creatively about how people are searching, we’re sure you’re going to see good results.
And remeber, if you're in a hurry to get your business off the ground try Boost. Our personal marketing solution.