If your organic performance is not where you want to be, or you’re thinking about a new traffic channel for your e-commerce store, this checklist is a perfect starting point for all your SEO efforts!
Before we start, I just want to mention that all the points in this checklist, except for the third one, won’t give you instant rankings or traffic bursts. SEO is always a long-term game, where you need to continuously make small improvements and wait to get great results.
The time it will take to get those results will be unique for each website and will depend on your current DR, positions and the amount and quality of work you put in. It will also depend on Google’s updates. Most of the traffic increase you’ll get will happen after each update. Since these updates are unpredictable, it’s important to always keep your website in perfect condition.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into the 9-step eCommerce seo checklist for 2023!
#1 Setup Google Analytics
As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Analytics setup is the first step you need to take before you start doing ANY traffic acquisition. Aside from tracking how many new users you get every month, you can also set up conversion tracking for viewing products, adding to cart and checkout completion.
With the right setup, you will know exactly what channel brings you the most sales and where you lose customers: it could be bad UX on a cart page, poorly working filters on category pages, or maybe your product page template is missing some vital elements like review stars above the fold.
Google Analytics works perfectly for this. The only additional app I always add is Hotjar. It automatically creates screen recordings and heatmaps and helps you understand your users even better.
#2 Setup Google Search Console
To track SEO metrics like positions, impressions, clicks and CTR (click-through rate), you need to set up Google Search Console.
One of the most important things here is impressions. If you’re doing everything right and constantly increasing the amount of content on your website, your impressions will grow every week.
The number of impressions will also show whether you got hit by an algorithmic update. If you see a sudden decline in impressions, it’s time to do the full audit and find what triggered the algorithm.
Another important metric here is CTR. It shows how many people click on your links when they see them in search results.
You can easily filter your pages and the queries your website shows up for and see what links get the least clicks. Pages with CTR below average for your website are the ones you can experiment on freely because they bring the least traffic anyway.
To fix pages with low CTR, you need to do the following:
- Check if the content matches the search intent. If it doesn’t, it’s time to rewrite it or update the main keyword.
- Update the meta title and meta description. Check how the top 5 competitors for this keyword have done it.
- Add/fix schema code to get rich snippets and take more space on a search engine results page (SERP). Only if page content matches one of the schema types.
- Request reindexing for updated pages.
- Wait for at least a week and compare the results.
Setup Link Disavow Tool
After you set up GSC, you will also get access to one of the crucial SEO tools – Link Disavow Tool. This tool is only available for the “URL Prefix” properties at the moment, which means that ideally, you need to set up both a domain and URL properties.
With its help, you can clean up your backlink profile and stop any attacks that will be attempted on your site in the future. But more on this a bit later.
Submit Your Website Map
To make sure all of the pages you want indexed get indexed as soon as possible, you need to submit your sitemap to GSC. Before you do that, make sure you’ve excluded all irrelevant or low-content pages to save your crawling budget.
If you use any popular CMS, and I hope you’re not trying to run an online store on pure HTML, sitemaps will be automatically generated for you. What you need to submit is usually the main one: sitemap_index.xml, because it contains links to all other ones.
All you need to do is to find the URL of your sitemap, add it here and click “submit”. Sometimes GSC might display the status of your sitemap as “not found” right after you submit it. In that case, check it after a day. If it’s still showing up as “not found” after that, you need to check your URL.
#3 Check That Your Website Can Be Indexed
Even though this step is related to the second one, it deserves special attention. I can’t overestimate its importance. It is so easy to do, yet I’ve lost count of websites that couldn’t get any organic traffic because of this!
After you setup up the search console, try inspecting several URLs using this search box:
If your page is open for indexing, you should see a message like this one:
If you get an error that the page is not indexable, you need to check your robots.txt setting as soon as possible because the wrong robots.txt configuration can prevent all of your pages from appearing in the search results.
Once you’re certain that all of the pages you want indexed can be indexed by Google, the work is not over yet.
You should check for indexing errors at least once a week. Most of the time, you will get notifications from GSC about the indexing errors, but I wouldn’t rely on them too much.
You can find all information about the indexed pages and reasons why some of your pages are not indexed in the “Pages” tab in the Search Console.
#4 Remove 404 Erros and Unnecessary 301 Redirects
Each website has a crawling budget allocated to it by Google. The more often your core pages are indexed, the more Google will show them on top to test the engagement. Hence, they are more likely they are to appear at the top of search results.
To make sure this budget is spent on indexing new pages and reindexing updates on existing pages, you need to eliminate as many 404 errors and 301 redirects as possible.
As mentioned before, this report can be found in the “Pages” tab in GSC:
With 404 errors, the best practice is always to redirect them to similar content that is relevant to the search query. If you don’t have a relevant page, use the 410 code, which indicates that the page is gone and will never be available again.
As for the 301 redirects, the main thing here is to avoid “redirect chains” when a link is forwarded to another URL, which forwards it again to a different URL. Avoid them at all costs, but if you do have to use them, never use more than 3 redirects in one chain.
#5 Do Keyword Research
Keyword research should always be your first step before you build your website or start optimizing the content on an existing one. If you don’t do it or do it the wrong way, all your efforts will be worthless.
To get the traffic that will convert into sales, your website needs to show up for relevant keywords.
Each business will have its own set of target keywords based on the industry, offer, location and so on.
To make sure you’re choosing the right ones for your store, there are 2 things you need to understand: search intent and keyword difficulty.
And yeah, the keywords you choose must have a search volume that is bigger than 0.
Search intent is what people expect to get after they press the search button.
Depending on how they phrase their search query, it is always one of the 3 types:
- Transactional Intent – “Coleman Evanston Screened Tent”
- Informational Intent – “best tent for camping with a dog”
- Navigational Intent – “Coleman”
If you want to learn more about each of them, check out this guide on types of search queries.
A comprehensive SEO plan always has all 3 types of keywords.
Transactional will bring people that are ready to buy, informational will convince people who are still not sure that your product is right for them, and navigational keywords will help your website appear at the top when people are searching for your brand’s name.
Keyword difficulty is a measurement introduced by Ahrefs that supposedly tells you how hard it will be for you to rank for that keyword.
In my experience, it’s not the only metric to measure the difficulty because it looks at the number of referring domains a page has and mostly disregards the DR of the domains.
Here is an example for a local keyword, “seo Vaughan”:
The Keyword Difficulty here is 0, even though the average DR for the top 10 results is 59, which will make it difficult to rank for new domains even if you add backlinks to that page.
#6 Fix On-Page SEO Errors
Now that you know which keywords you’re going to target on each page, it’s time to optimize pages for them.
Your site structure is also one of the things that can make your life a nightmare when done wrong.
Your structure should always be logical and go from a large category to a small one:
- Bad example: /live-edge-slabs/wood/walnut-slabs/
- Good example: /live-edge-wood/walnut-slabs/
Here are 4 additional rules:
- Try to include a full keyword without separating it. For example, “walnut-slabs”
- Avoid duplication of keywords in the URL. For example, “/wood/live-edge-wood/wood-walnut-slabs/”
- Try to make each page no more than 3 levels deep. Otherwise, search engine crawlers will have to spend extra resources to get to those pages.
- Avoid making the final URLs too long. Since product names are quite often very long, it’s best to strip the category base for them. For example, “domain.com/the-coolest-product-12-name/”
Meta Title and H1 Tags
These are the basic tags that explain to Google what your page is about.
Meta Tags show up in the search results when a person has typed your keyword, and H1 is what they see as the, hopefully, largest heading when they click on a page.
There are several rules for writing them:
- Keep your meta title and H1 no more than 60 characters long.
- Include your page’s primary keyword in both of them.
- Make your title engaging and worthy of a click and your H1 worthy of scrolling down.
This is the text that goes below your title tag in the search results.
Although it’s often rewritten by Google these days, it never hurts to write a good one to get a couple more clicks.
The are only 3 rules for writing meta descriptions:
- Include your primary keyword.
- Keep it below 160 characters to avoid truncation at the end.
- Add a clear CTA at the end of it.
Structured data that is created using schema code is a way to help Google understand the content on your page better and show rich snippets near your links in the search results.
In short, it can turn a regular link into this:
For product pages, it can help you show reviews, prices, and stock information directly in product search results.
If you want to learn more about it, check out this guide on rich snippets.
Internal and External Links
Internal links (from one page of your website to another) and external links (from your page to another website) are extremely important in SEO.
Internal links pass authority from one page to another and can help pages with fewer backlinks get to the top of the search results much faster.
External links increase the trustworthiness of your content, as you show Google where you got your information from.
To make sure you’re doing internal linking right, follow these simple rules:
- Always use the page’s target keyword or its variation in the anchor text. Never make links with no anchor text, as they will be close to useless.
- Only link together pages that are relevant, i.e. have a common topic.
- Don’t create several links to the same content on one page. If you have two or more relevant keywords on a page, try to link only one of them.
- Open all external links in a new tab.
- Always make authority links (external links) dofollow. If you make them nofollow, Google won’t consider them as your sources.
What this means for you, as an eCommerce website owner, is that optimizing your website for speed is no longer optional if you want to get the first positions for your main keywords.
This means that you need to focus on 2 things:
- Before you choose a theme for your store, make sure it’s properly optimized.
- Use plugins or manually resize your images since they are the most common cause of slow speed.
If the first point is hard to implement on an existing website unless you decide to do the redesign, the second point is almost always doable.
For WordPress owners, I recommend Imagify. They have an affordable unlimited subscription, which means that you won’t have to worry about the limits each time you upload a new product. They also have an automatic webp converter, which will dramatically increase your PageSpeed score.
Another thing with images is ALT text. It describes what is shown on an image for those who aren’t able to see it. It also helps Google understand the image and show it in the “image search”. The rules here is simple – add alt text to all images that matter and are not just design elements.
Setup Weekly On-Page Audits
When you edit your website often, you’re destined to make a mistake somewhere. After all, we’re not robots yet.
To minimize the impact of these errors, you need to do website audits at least once a week.
For those planning to do SEO on their own, this option is available on all popular SEO tools: Ahrefs and SEMRush, which you will very likely subscribe to for keyword research. You can set up weekly audits that will be delivered to your inbox.
For those who are still unsure about this SEO thing or just prefer the free stuff, you can use Screaming Frog for that. Unfortunately, with a free license, you will have to start these audits manually.
#7 Check Off-Page SEO Errors
Off-page SEO is all about getting backlinks – links from other websites to your website.
Here it’s not as much about quantity as it is about quality. You want to build links from authority websites with traffic to tell Google that your website is worthy of traffic too.
The 3 types of backlinks any website needs are:
- Citations – listings in local or industry directories
- Guest posts – when another website posts an article on a topic related to your product and links to you somewhere in the content.
- Editorial links – links from high-authority news websites like Forbes.
The first one is the easiest to get, and it’s usually free. All it takes is a couple of hours to find those directories and submit your logo, business name, description and website link. In eCommerce, these links are useful only at the very beginning because they help you build some DR (domain rating) and look very natural.
Guest posts, or should I say just “posts” because it’s never a good idea to type “guest post” anywhere in the content of a page that has a link to your website, are the type that’s going to help you the most in growing your organic traffic. They are extremely hard to get for free, and you need to look at several things before you decide to purchase any of them, but more on this at the end of this block.
Editorial links are the hardest to get, but they are the most valuable. When you just start doing eCommerce SEO, don’t bother spending your time on them unless you really have a special product or an exciting business story they might be interested in posting.
How to Analyze Your Backlink Profile
The most common problem with backlinks I see on most websites I analyze is too many spam links. People heard somewhere that they needed links, and they went on and bought 50 of them at a time.
Unless your website has 100,000 monthly visitors, there is no way something like this will ever look natural. This means your website will very likely be penalized by Google or even get a manual action.
To avoid it, start building links slowly – no more than 5-8 links per month until you get to at least 1,000 visitors per month.
The easiest quality check I’ve come up with in terms of backlinks is as:
- The source website has to be at least DR30
- Organic monthly traffic on a source website needs to be no less than 1,000 and growing month-to-month
- The ratio of outbound to inbound links should be no more than 5 to 1.
Again, growing your website’s authority is a long process, and you should never try to take any shortcuts, like posting your links on gaming forums that allow dofollow links. Even if some of these black-hat tactics work right now, they will soon be detected by the new algorithm’s update, and you will get a penalty.
#8 Prepare Content Plan
Now that you have a list of informational keywords and your website doesn’t have any on-page or off-page errors, it’s time to start writing content. To get Google to visit and reindex your website often, you need to post content regularly – at least once a week.
Since your category pages very likely don’t need more than 2-3 paragraphs of text, your focus here will be on informational keywords.
Your goal here is to reach “Topical Authority” – make Google and other search engines understand that you are the trusted source people should go to when they want to learn something about your niche. As soon as you reach it, all your pages and posts about this niche will suddenly get a huge boost in search engine rankings.
To get to that level, you need to cover as many subtopics as possible. The easiest way to find them is to check what the 5 top competitors are doing and copy their topics. You should also add more topic ideas to the list by doing manual keyword research or using a tool like Surfer.
Remember that authority on one topic doesn’t automatically boost content on other topics. If you have a website with sports equipment and you only post about running shoes, your pages with swimwear products will likely lose some positions. That’s because Google will think that your website is only about running shoes and is not relevant for other queries.
#9 Using AI in eCommerce SEO
ChatGPT’s introduction at the end of 2022 has confused a lot of people trying to do SEO. The main question was: will Google ban my website if I use ChatGPT?
Although in 2022, the right answer wasn’t clear, in February 2023, Google updated their guidelines on the use of AI-generated content. They now say that they “Reward high-quality content, however it is produced”, which means you can use AI as much as you want.
The only problem with this content is the quality. At the time of writing, AI tools can’t produce a finished piece that is ready for publishing. As good as they are, they still require editing and fact-checking. If you do know the subject, they can help you write it much faster, but I wouldn’t risk it in a niche I’m not familiar with.
What you can do freely as an eCommerce site owner is use ChatGPT for your product descriptions. You can first ask it about the pain points of your audience and then ask it to generate a short and long description that will explain how your product solves them. I’ve tried it multiple times, and the outputs were great!
This checklist is a good starting point for anyone doing SEO for eCommerce sites. Remember that SEO is a never-ending game. After the initial On-page and Off-page setup, you need to constantly post new content and check the health status of your website and errors in Google Search Console at least once a week.
If you’re trying to do SEO yourself and find it extremely confusing, contact our Toronto SEO agency for help! We will provide you with a free audit and assessment of your current strategy, as well as give you tips on how to improve it so you can grow your search traffic, appear higher in search results and get more sales.