Driving traffic to your online store is one of the most fundamental aspects of running an online business. SEO is one of the best ways to increase the amount of organic search traffic (web visitors from non-paid search-engine search rankings), because you can leverage the massive amounts of web traffic originating from Google and other search engines, and increase the probability that those search queries end up on your site. Unlike paid advertising methods, once your pages are “ranked” on Google, the traffic doesn’t cost you anything, so sales generated via SEO don’t have any incremental cost associated with them, allowing you to maximize your profit margins.
There are many SEO guides that you can find in various resources that provide tips and other optimization strategies. In my experience, however, I have found that focusing on providing quality products, content and user experience is the best way to grow overall organic search traffic, and recommend that for a newly established ecommerce store, this is also the best approach. In fact, I recommend avoiding any “SEO Experts” who claim to provide a boost in Google rankings, and simply focus on building a high quality ecommerce store.
Complex SEO Made Simple
Back in the 1990’s, when Google first started indexing and producing search results, they primarily relied on an algorithm called PageRank. At a very basic level, the algorithm counts the number and type of websites that link to a particular website, to estimate its level of trustworthiness or reputation. The idea here is that if a reputable website links to your website, this serves as a signal to the algorithm that your website might also be reputable, by virtue of this association.
The number and quality of “backlinks” to your site still remains one of the factors that influence Google’s determination in where you rank in the search results list, but throughout the years, Google has continuously added countless other ranking factors, and made modifications and enhancements to their overall approach. A quick search for “SEO tips” will give you thousands of tips and recommendations that attempt to optimize for each of these various ranking factors, and they range from basic good practices to those that attempt to dishonestly game the system.
The reason Google has added all of this complexity, and why it remains to be the dominant search engine, is that all of these ranking factors are designed to predict whether or not a website is likely to provide the best and most useful information to the searcher.
My recommendation, and an approach that has served me well in growing my traffic to more than 50,000 monthly organic search visitors, is to simply focus on creating an ecommerce store with quality products and educational content that solves people’s questions and problems.
One way to look at Google Search is to see it as a referral service that recommends certain websites as potential sources for solutions and answers to “customer” issues and queries. From this perspective, it only makes sense that Google will rank websites that are most likely to provide their searchers with what they are looking for, and evaluate your website in terms of whether or not it serves Google’s search “customers” well. In short, you are in a constant competition to produce content that is simply the best, from the perspective of Google searchers.
After all, if Google kept showing websites that had poor quality content but checked off all items on the SEO to-do-list, users will only grow frustrated with its core product, and eventually consider alternative search engines. Though it’s hard to believe a world without Google, the search ranking methodology that puts its users first is the fundamental reason for Google’s dominance over all other search engines.
Your SEO Strategy
My recommendation for SEO is to simply focus on building a user-friendly ecommerce store that offers high quality products and informational content.
Below is my four-step guide to making sure your ecommerce store is on the right track to begin generating a strong stream of organic traffic.
- Sell products and services that customers actually want
While it may sound like obvious advice from a business perspective, this same principle applies to organic search ranking as well. For organic searches, the issue is two-fold. First, if your product is too specific or obscure, there will be no one searching for the product in the first place. So, even if Google thinks you are the best website for purchasing “used garbage bags” – there’s probably no one looking to buy something like that in the first place. That’s not to say it’s a bad idea, necessarily – there are many products that rely on the impulse buy, for example.
The second part of the issue is that if your product offering is inferior to alternate options, Google will rank you below those alternate options. This could be related to price, style, selection – or really, anything that gives a customer reason to believe your product or service isn’t as good as another. All else equal, Google will want to direct its users to websites that provide superior products, and will correspondingly rank these websites higher.
- Provide useful, quality content, even if it doesn’t result in a purchase
Not all content on your site should necessarily be about a product. Blogs, how-to’s, industry analyses and other informational articles can all drive traffic as well. The principle behind quality content still holds, however. If you create what Google searchers believe is the best resource or article on a topic, Google will reward you with a high ranking for that particular search query.
Keep in mind that organic traffic that leads to these informational pages are less likely to turn into purchases than those web visitors that find their way directly to the product page. That’s because their purchase intent is lower – rather than being at the “ready to buy” stage, they may still be researching, comparing or deciding whether or not buy at all. That’s not to say this type of traffic is not valuable – these users may very well come back to you when they’re ready to buy.
- Speak the customers’ “language” and be an expert in the topic
Remember, websites that give its searchers what they want tend to rank higher in Google. What this means is that you must cater to Google searchers, because in this case the customer is indeed always right. In writing product descriptions or blog posts, use the language and tone that your potential customers will be most receptive too. Better yet, show your authority and expertise in the topic that shows why your website and/or products are the best.
From the perspective of search rankings, perception is reality. If Google searchers perceive your website or product to be well put together, authoritative or useful, Google will reward you with higher rankings. It’s not about what you or your business believes about your product or website – it ultimately comes down to how Google search users interact with it.
- Ensure your site provides a positive user experience
Finally, make sure that your website is user-friendly and easy to navigate. A website that is difficult to use will lead to more users going back to Google and browsing a different site instead. This is a strong indicator to Google that your site didn’t provide what the user was looking for. Again, this isn’t about whether your site actually has the products or content the user was seeking – the fact that they didn’t find it desirable for whatever reason is enough to count against you.
There are many ranking factors that determine your position in Google search results, but successfully generating sales from organic search traffic doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in SEO or other “optimizations.” In fact, simply focusing on aspects of your ecommerce store that focus on quality and customer experience is the best approach.
If you ever get bogged down, it might help to think about these questions in the context of brick and mortar stores. Do you value hardware stores that have knowledgeable staff that provide expert recommendations, even if it doesn’t mean purchasing something from their store? Would you want to go grocery shopping at a store that doesn’t have its products sorted or organized by aisle?
SEO doesn’t have to be intimidating, difficult or confusing. Focus on building a high quality ecommerce store and customer experience, and over time, Google will reward you with higher organic search rankings!