To understand search engine optimization, first you’ve got to understand search engines. Search engines’ primary directive is to provide answers to questions. To do so, search engines crawl and index and rank millions of web pages. The ranking is really just the order in which search engine algorithms expect those web pages to best answer the question posed by each search query, from most likely to answer the question to least likely.
When you think of keywords, the foundation of all things SEO, you’re really just thinking of search queries. These are words and phrases users type into Google and Bing with the intended purpose of finding an answer to something -- like the address to a nearby restaurant, or where to find a really cool iPhone 5S cover, or who the 23rd President of the United States was (Benjamin Harrison).
SEO Is Dead! Long live SEO!
You may have heard it: SEO is dead. And it’s true -- kind of. SEO as a lot of “SEOs” knew it is, in fact, dead. Ranking at the top of the search results by mere trickery is no longer a realistic expectation. SEO is no longer a matter of duping the search engines into believing that your site is good. Google Panda and Penguin ended that. SEO is now a matter of quality control. Best practices. Providing value. Answering a question.
The Google Panda algorithm update was created to keep low-quality sites from ranking well. Factors that can lower your ranking after the Panda update include a slow loading site, poor site design, duplicate content and/or thin content.
The Google Penguin algorithm update was created to penalize websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google passed this update to decrease the rankings of sites that practice what is commonly known as “black-hat” SEO. Black hat techniques include keyword stuffing, plagiarism, cloaking and bought links/link schemes.
Search Engine Optimization
By performing real, quality SEO, you are facilitating the crawling and indexing of your site and you’re providing reasons to the search engines to rank your pages. The goal prove to search engines that your site merits being ranked highly for search queries based on authority and relevance.
Authority comes in the form of backlinks and social cues that indicate to search engines that your content is a trusted source of information. Search engines consider every good link a "vote" of trust for your site’s content. But beware: links from poor quality sites or spammy sites can negatively affect that trust and hurt your authority.
Relevance deals mostly with the content of your site and the optimization of on-page factors (i.e., html formatting, meta tags, etc.). Here is where you ask yourself, “How relevant is my page to the keyword query of my visitors?”
These on- and off-page SEO elements provide search engines with the information they need to determine how a site should rank for a search query.
On-Page SEO Best Practices
We’ll start here because it’s more easily attainable. That’s not to say it’s easy or simple, but that it requires less reliance on external factors than off-page SEO.
The website architecture, design and layout of your site should maximize aesthetics and functionality. The main goal here should be to make it easy for your users to navigate your site while providing context for search engines.
A well-thought out category structure is essential to good website architecture. Organize categories according to audience search behavior. Arrange categories so they make sense and are useful to users (not search engines). It may be helpful to think of your categories using keyword themes starting with bigger-picture and narrowing down using sub-categories.
Meta descriptions and title tags are important for three reasons: 1) Search engines still highly value the title tag for SEO so make them count, 2) Title tags and meta descriptions should summarize pages for search engines and users, and 3) Title tags and meta descriptions are the first thing people see when they find your pages in search results so put your best foot forward.
Page text should answer a search query, inform visitors and give them a reason to buy. Doing so also feeds search engines contextually. Use words that show benefits and add value. Use relevant keywords in natural language. Use HTML formatting (h1, h2, alt/title tags, etc.). Use rich snippets and microdata whenever useful.
Product description text should make your products stand out from what your competitors are offering. To write compelling product descriptions write short paragraphs, highlight features and benefits and incorporate keywords without keyword stuffing. You should be making descriptions useful, unique and interesting, which could mean not settling for the manufacturer’s descriptions.
Off-Page SEO Best Practices
Links to your site can show search engines that your site is credible and trustworthy. Links should come naturally based on your site’s content, relationships and/or social presence. Good link building can happen without you even trying for it when you have great products, provide excellent service and/or give users a memorable experience. You can take control of your link building, however, by coming up with useful content that will make other site owners want to share it with their readership, make industry relationships with site owners who will want to tell the world about you and by being creative and striking gold through viral marketing.
Social media indirectly affects SEO. Social media works as a delivery system for your site’s products, content and relationships. The successful viral marketing is somewhat of a longshot but content-marketing and industry backlinks are actually fairly easy to achieve (with the right effort).
Optimizing for the Future
3dcart is committed to helping online merchants in their SEO efforts. We are proud to offer a ton of SEO-friendly ecommerce features on our shopping cart software as well as providing learning tools to help merchants grow their own knowledge of SEO. For more information about 3dcart’s search engine optimization features and services visit sem.3dcart.com or sign up for our free SEO webinar.
To learn more about the must-have SEO features for any ecommerce solution, download our free checklist.