These days, it’s surprisingly easy to set up a web store. As a reseller, you don’t even need to handle product inventories yourself; you just set up a store and rely on someone else to handle distribution. Whether you’re in reselling for money or you’re operating a small business website, there are a million decisions and a million factors to keep in mind while establishing yourself.
This article assumes that you already know the basics. You know to scope out the competition and to avoid jumping into a niche you can’t handle. You know not to waste hundreds of dollars each week on PPC ads that don’t bring in lasting traffic. You know whether you’re going with a hosted shop or a website completely managed in-house. You know it’s going to be a lot of work, and you’re prepared. What follows are five marketing and SEO-specific problems many ecommerce sites forget in their rush to set everything up and get selling.
1. Thin, Copied or Missing Product Descriptions
Product descriptions and product pages can be the utter bane of your existence as a new ecommerce site. You need them, or you can’t sell products. The issues come when your product pages are exceedingly thin or devoid of original content.
• Never copy your product descriptions from the manufacturer or any other source. Copied content can earn you search penalties. Hire a writer to create them for you, or have someone in-house write them.
• Make sure you have text on the page. A product page with a handful of images and drop-down boxes for customization options looks pretty, but from a search perspective it’s basically empty. A picture is worth 1,000 words for a user, but it’s invisible to Google.
• Make sure you include more than just a simple product description. You have plenty of room to include images, usage guidelines, detailed specifications and even user reviews. The more content you have on the page, the better that page will likely perform, within reason. You obviously don’t want a product page to stretch on for thousands of words of unrelated content.
Additionally, make sure you don’t cram your pages full of long exact-match keywords. Keywords as a whole aren’t all that important. You need them, but you don’t need them more than once.
2. Ignoring Product Search Keywords
Speaking of keywords, make sure you’re using them properly. This can be quite complex, particularly if you’re looking online for advice. Their appropriate usage has changed significantly over the last decade.
• Use keywords sparingly. In most cases, it only takes one mention to show up in the search results for that keyword. Higher densities, particularly for long multi-word keywords, begins to look like spam.
• Make sure to include as many different, relevant keywords as possible. An item size, a serial number, any relevant safety or manufacturing standards, colors, brands, product names and common search terms; they’re all important.
• Make sure the keywords, when they show up in your text, do so naturally. Forced keywords are a sign of spam and can lower your search ranking.
• Make sure to include the most important 1-2 keywords in your meta title and description. These are important both SEO and for organic search discovery. Users see your meta description and title as the link and description of the search results. Optimizing them for maximum attractiveness helps bring in users.
Keywords are tricky to use. Some businesses will need to focus on the less common keywords, simply due to the competition in their niche. Others will have the full range of product keywords to choose from, and should focus on the highest traffic search terms. The decision is a case by case basis.
3. Incomprehensible URLs
If you’re a consumer looking for a copy of the book The Fault in Our Stars, and you were presented with two URLs, which would you choose?
The second is what is most commonly the default for an ecommerce website. The string of letters and numbers is unique, but it doesn’t provide any value to the user. It’s a boring, incomprehensible URL. The example above is tame as far as these things go; some URLs, filled with referral tags, UTM parameters and search reference information, can stretch on for hundreds of characters.
The first URL is what is known as a speaking URL. They have a number of potential advantages.
• They can include keywords, such as the title of the book in the above example.
• They tell the user what to expect when they click on the link. The first example is going to go to the book; the second could be anything.
• Anchor text. In some cases, when another site picks up your page and wants to link to the product, they’ll simply copy and paste the link without adding their own custom anchor text. Having keywords and your store name in the URL gives you a bit more of a search boost than a random string of characters.
Thankfully, speaking URLs are easy to configure in just about every ecommerce platform.
4. Missing Image Descriptions
As mentioned above, pictures are valuable for boosting the content of your product pages, but they suffer from chronic invisibility to search engines. Thankfully, this condition is entirely curable, with the right treatment.
The treatment for image value invisibility syndrome is to include image alt text on every product image. This alt text should be, at minimum, a sentence that describes the product image and offers a brief call to action about the product. It’s beneficial to include more than just a single line, however; more text means more space for additional keywords in organic text.
While you’re at it, you can make sure the filenames are filled out for your product images. If you’re wondering how or why, just look at all of the rationale for page URLs above. For the two example URLs, just add .jpg to the end for relevant examples here.
5. Failing to Support the Site Through Blogging
It’s possible, but difficult and unlikely, to establish an online storefront and grow without some form of blog. A blog is a great way to build trust in your brand, and that trust is how you gain a reputation. Users buy products based on the strength of your reputation. Even Amazon, in the early days of web commerce, had a hard time gaining user trust. Now they have a huge reputation as a trustworthy retailer online, so they thrive.
As a user, coming upon a new shop and finding a product you want is great, but if the store is one you’ve never heard of, it’s hard to tell if it’s legitimate or not. An active blog with a visible culture of users helps ease those fears.
Of course, a blog is also useful for promoting individual products, posting usage guides and gaining traffic to grow your site. It’s very valuable, if you put it to work.