The success of an e-commerce store can be determined by whether it generates enough quality traffic that ultimately turns into sales. SEO can effectively drive traffic for all websites; e-commerce, however, presents unique challenges.

Avoid the most common pitfalls of SEO for e-commerce by learning what those pitfalls are and how to prevent costly mistakes in the future. Our favorite tactic is to turn these weak spots into strengths.

This article will discuss how to identify a few of those issues, along with our best tips on how to make them work to your advantage.

Tip 1: Avoid keyword cannibalism

Though it aptly sounds like the subject of a TV horror show, keyword cannibalism is much more insidious than your average ghost haunting.

If multiple pages on your website feature responses to the same search query, they will compete against each other in search engine results, and you will lose control over which will show for the desired keyword.

E-commerce makes this issue especially tricky to work around—particularly if you have many similar products.

Avoiding keyword cannibalism calls for attention to detail; you'll need to research unique long-tail keywords for which to optimize each of your products:

  • Group together and cross-reference similar product pages. Assign each its own keyword to optimize for.
  • Avoid obvious duplicate-content problems by using canonical links.
  • Track that your site is properly implementing the correct canonical links and unique title tags. There are many tools available for doing so (such as Website Auditor).

Tip 2: Create informative out of stock pages

Imagine you're shopping online. You've found the perfect product and you're ready to buy—but it's out of stock! As a customer, what are your options?

What next?

You can...

  • Either leave that specific store to try and find it elsewhere
  • Or forget about your decision to buy and drop the whole ordeal

Your mood, budget, and how much time (or patience) you have will all play a role in whatever choice you make. Those are all variables that the e-commerce store manager has no sway over.

Don't give up yet. By putting yourself in the customer's shoes, you can deduce the best ways to prevent either of these behaviors from happening by offering more appealing options.

If the Item Is Out of Stock

When an item is only temporarily out of stock, you should list when it will be available again. There are four main ways to save the sale:

  1. If your item is unique or offered at a special price, knowing when it will be available again lets them choose whether it's worth the wait.
  2. Offer a way to subscribe to a notification when the item is available again. It could be email or text, and it would remind them of their decision to purchase later on.
  3. When you know the item is coming back soon, enable a pre-order option. Doing so enables you to take advantage of their current "yes" so they can purchase now. Now is always best.
  4. List similar options. Providing similar products creates a second opportunity to satisfy their immediate needs with a product currently in stock.

If the Item Is Discontinued

When the item will no longer be available ever again, you have two options to maintain the SEO benefits:

  1. Keep the product page, but add clear messaging to let viewers know that it is entirely discontinued. Capture the decision to purchase by listing similar products.
  2. Send the product page to its parent category with a 301 redirect. That keeps the SEO juice flowing while offering similar products to the visitor, but skips the part where they are informed that the product no longer exists.

You can combine those options by starting with the first one for the first several months of discontinuation, and then eventually redirecting the page to its parent product category or replacement product. That way, anyone who is a loyal visitor of your brand won't be confused if they bookmarked this item and suddenly can't access it any longer. Once you make the switch and redirect it to a relevant category after several months of notification, it will feel like a natural degradation of the page.

Tip 3: Offer a speedy experience

SEO for any business is about gaining potential customers by way of visitors who arrive through organic traffic. The question becomes, What good is it to rank high, if no one stays on your site after clicking it in the search results?

Here are a few important statistics about e-commerce and site speed:

  • 40% of people report ditching the cart if it takes more than three seconds to load.
  • If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a one-second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.
  • A one-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.

In other words, a slow website costs you money and renders your SEO efforts all but null and void.

If that isn't enough to convince you, consider that Google makes it no secret that it counts speed as a ranking factor. This factor may become more relevant as the emphasis on mobile continues to increase.

Ultimately, search engine traffic matters only if you can retain and convert your visitors. Speed helps you do just that.

To serve up a faster website, start by collecting this information:

  • The site load time of your website
  • The competition's average load time (and thus how it compares to yours)
  • The size of a typical product page on your site
  • The size of a typical product page for the competition
  • Load times at different internet connection speeds

Using Pingdom Tools to get a bead on load times

Now that you have some benchmarks to compare with, it's time to speed up your site. Here are a few basic steps for doing so.

Tip 4: Secure your site

You may have noticed that some URLs you visit start with https:// and others start with https://. What gives?

HTTPS stands for "HTTP over SSL" and provides authentication between you and a website's server. It makes it very unlikely that someone could hijack your connection to show you their own website (known as a "man-in-the-middle" attack). It also prevents the interception of sensitive data—such as a password or credit card information—that you were trying to communicate to the original site.

HTTPS is enabled by installing an SSL certificate. These certificates are data files that use a cryptographic key to activate a sort of padlock, creating secure connections between a Web server and a browser.

Acquiring and installing an SSL certificate requires a little elbow grease, but consider that HTTPS is yet another ranking factor that Google has already announced will continue to grow in importance over time.

Security is particularly significant, because you are requesting money from your visitors. If you accept credit cards directly on your site, it is not merely recommended but required by services such as Stripe that you protect that data with proper encryption.

Like speed, security is not merely a ranking factor ; it can also have an impact on whether or not your search engine traffic converts to customers: 84% of users are reported to ditch a shopping cart if it's not being sent securely.

HTTPS creates information security, and security builds trust.

So, why isn't everyone running to add HTTPS to their site? Simply because it can be a technical hassle:

  • All the external scripts on your site need to support HTTPS or your visitors will receive an error that makes your site look even more insecure.
  • All your internal links need to be updated to reflect the change to HTTPS.
  • You must automatically redirect your entire site from the HTTP version to avoid duplicate content issues.

Another reason that people used to avoid encrypting their site is that buying SSL certificates can be expensive. The good news is that there are now free options, like Let's Encrypt.

* * *

The success of your e-commerce site comes down to driving enough traffic to your site, and then converting those visitors into buyers.

You can double-down and improve both your traffic numbers and your conversion rates by...

  • Avoiding the same keywords on similar product pages, by intentionally targeting unique long-tail keywords for each
  • Offering informative "Out of Stock" messaging to capitalize on the visitor's desire to purchase now
  • Creating a speedy site experience, which boosts your rankings as well as increases the chance that visitors will stay on your site
  • Securing your site with an SSL certificate to protect your visitors and their data

Have you tried using any of these tips on your site? We'd love to hear more about what improvements you've noticed after doing so; let us know in the comments section below!

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Four SEO Tips to Apply to Your E-Commerce Website Today

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image of Aleh Barysevich

Aleh Barysevich is the founder and chief marketing officer of the companies behind SEO PowerSuite, professional software for full-cycle SEO campaigns, and Awario, a social media monitoring app. He is a seasoned SEO and social media expert and speaker at major industry conferences, including SMX London, BrightonSEO, and SMX East.

LinkedIn: Aleh Barysevich