SEO for eCommerce – The Beginners Guide to Keyword Research
If you are moving around in eCommerce, you probably know a thing or two about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Although the starting point of content consumption is nowadays transforming to social media, most people still search interesting content using search engines. SEO for eCommerce (and keyword research as well) is a harder task than search optimizing a corporate website or blog.
SEO is a complex science, however its principle is simple: if you want as many people to find you organically as possible, which means simply from match pages of search engines, you must tell the search engine what your site is about.
However simple this may seem, for several reasons it is not.
Once you have understood this, it is time to apply search engine optimization on your website, communication and advertising campaign based on this.
We will guide you through the following steps:
- Why is it essential to find your keywords?
- Basic concepts
- Place of keywords with Google today
- Step Zero: You must learn about your customers
- …and you must also learn about your competition
- How to make lists?
- How to expand your list?
- Learn from your competition
- Refine your list
- Number of searches
- Purchase tendency
- Watch your architecture as well
- Do not expect immediate success
Why is it essential to find your keywords?
If you search something in Google, the algorithm usually has to sort out hundreds of millions of sites what to show you.
The winner is always the one with the best position. Over half of the clicks are divided among the first three matches, one third of the clicks go to the matches shown in the first result page.
It is said that you might as well hide corpses in the second result page of Google. Only the desperate dare to wander there.
The reason for this is that years of sophisticated development and hundreds of indexes have led to the algorithm being extremely precise in determining which sites have real value, which sites actually have the content the user would find useful.
Of course, search engine optimization is not only about setting the keywords – if you wish to get a good position, the following are equally important:
- your site should be fast,
- you should have quality content,
- your system should not break down by a bit of overload, etc.
In case of a car it is also not only about the wheels to be able to speed on the highway. The engine is also important, the fuel and that the car is streamlined. But one thing is sure: you are going nowhere without the wheels.
Just like without the right keywords.
Before getting deeper into more complex issues, let’s discuss what the most important basic concepts of search engine optimization exactly mean.
Long tail keywords
These are keywords that are very rarely searched (e.g. on a monthly basis), they are mostly special long expressions or even complete questions. The reason they have an individual name is that in search engine optimization they have a huge role. Searching just one word, the user has a much smaller chance of getting an exact match, therefore most people enter multiple words at the same time (for example: “womens black jeans”) or they set specific questions or sentences (“How much does a pair of black jeans cost?”).
How important is long tail? If only your matches appeared in all existing search engines to the most popular 1000 keywords, around 89.4% of the traffic running through search engines would still not reach you. This means that a vast number of searches are made up of long tail keywords, based on the principle: ‘Look after the cents and the euros will look after themselves’.
Speaking of which, what exactly does competition mean in respect to SEO? Of course, all sites you wish to beat by optimization. You probably have no chance to appear on the first page with simple words like “book”, “clothes” or “car”.
The top of the results pages are usually “granted” to companies who have already spent enormous time and effort to keep their positions. It is extremely difficult to compete with their resources, and it is also needless: there are more cost-effective solutions than this.
Place of keywords with Google today
A couple of years ago SEO was much simpler: you took the appropriate keywords, placed them on your site, and you were more or less done. The algorithms watched fewer variables, therefore it was a widespread solution to apply keyword-clouds (keyword-stacks) making the website basically unusable and ugly.
This has obviously led to the user experience not being very high. If you searched an expression, you did not get the best matches for your page, but for the one that was better ‘optimized’. It was possible that you could hardly find any really useful content on the first couple of search results pages.
This is why Google and other search engines have changed their search methods, and have come up with much more complicated solutions.
Nowadays, they primarily watch how the users behave. If a website is basically well-optimized for an expression, it does not necessarily guarantee a good position. It is also essential that the users’ behaviour reveals that it is really useful what they have found after clicking the link. They simply get what they expected.
Of course, keywords are inevitable parts of the whole process, this is where it all starts from.
Since the Hummingbird update, the intention of Google is not only to try and give good matches, but to find out our objectives during the search.
If we type in “dollar euro”, we can immediately see the current exchange rate.
If we type in a mathematical formula in the search field, we get a calculator with the result shown.
If we insert a geographical name, Google Maps will be at the top of the list.
Step Zero: You must learn about your customers
In order to find the right keywords, you must dig deep into the communication of your target market.
Random brainstorming can also be fruitful, but researching simplifies your work, and you can learn about ideas that you would never have thought about yourself.
First of all, you must set segments interesting for you.
The segment is relatively simple, it is revealed by your experience and market survey. 40-50-year-old men working as office employees is a segment, for instance. Within this, you must create ‘buyer personas’.
Buyer persona, in other words the sample customer, is a semi-fictitious personality: has the most characteristic statistic features of the given segment. You give it a name, set the age, marital status, number of children, what he/she does in his/her free time, what content he/she consumes and so on.
After this, you must observe how each of your buyer personas communicate. You must find the places where they speak to each other, or even to experts like you, and you must pay attention to them.
Read the incoming customer emails, visit online forums, professional groups on social portals. Go to conferences, events where you can find your target audience.
Pay attention to how they communicate.
- What words do they use?
- What style do they use?
- How do they ask questions?
…and you must also learn about your competition
The way your target audience speaks about a product is not the only important thing, as it might happen that they will search differently. This is why you must also watch how your competition speaks about products like yours. What expressions do they try to plant in common knowledge? What words do they focus on?
How do they refer to it offline? What is said in ads, on billboards, what do sales representatives say about the products? All this affects how your potential customer will search for your product.
As a result, there is the phenomenon that two-thirds of those searching for a product because of an advertisement end up not buying from the one who originally paid for the advertising. Others are better at optimizing on the net, and ‘by-pass’ the traffic.
How to make lists?
Take a seat with your team (if any), or with professional acquaintances of yours, and start a brainstorming session.
Write down each expression that comes to your mind that the users may use relevant to your site.
- What search expressions do they type in when considering your products?
- What are they interested in when they are actually searching for your content?
- How do they put it in words?
Do not waste time with single terms because of the competition mentioned above. Target expressions compiled of at least two words. Use long tail keywords as well, e.g. you can put 5 or more words in what you think your target audience will type in the search bar.
How to expand your list?
The easiest way is to see what Google recommends for you. Take your list and search everything you have listed. If you scroll down to the bottom of the match page, you will find the related searches, among which many can be useful for you.
Of course, you can use smarter tools than that. One of these is Übersuggest, which recommends potentially effective search expressions with the help of Google. The method is simple: the service takes the given keyword, then runs through all the letters in the alphabet to see what permutations most often occur in searches.
To make it simple: for a given keyword you get all search expressions that include it and are most often used.
The most popular solution, of course, is using Keyword Planner.
It gives you the possibility to check how many searches are initiated regarding certain expressions from your compiled keyword list in a month, how big the competition is, meaning how useful they may be for you. Besides, the tool also shows you related relevant expressions – ones which are more often searched, or where the competition is smaller, or perhaps simultaneously both.
When using the tool, you must first create an AdWords account. After signing in, you can find Keyword Planner under Tools. Once you open it, you must choose the first option, which is ‘Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’.
After filling out Targeting, add each keyword from your previously compiled list, then click ‘Get ideas’.
On the next screen, below the graph you will find the necessary information on the ‘Keyword ideas’ tab. (If you are not a paying AdWords user, you will only see numbers of scale.)
In the first column you will see the searched phrase and the relevant search engine expressions, in the second you will find how many searches have been initiated regarding the given phrase in the geographical location you have set, according to the language target, within a month.
You can refine your filter by only showing relevant terms where the competition is low, meaning where you have better chances to dominate the market. From this list you can easily select the keywords which best describe your website’s content.
However, you should be careful using the tool: experts say Google tends to glorify the number of searches initiated to the keywords upwards. The reason the system works this way is that it is the interest of the search engine company to illustrate more and more phrases favourably, as AdWords customers will only pay for advertisements on the given keyword if they see it has high potential. The system does not explicitly lie, it just does not always show the exact truth.
Do you have a search bar on your website?
If so, it is splendid, use it. Watch what words and phrases people use, who have already found you but have not quite found in your site what they are looking for.
Why is this useful? As users we all have experience about how various search engines work. Those placed on websites are by far not as intuitive as Google’s algorithm, so you want to be as specific as possible. So that the simpler search engine will be able to come up with the relevant subpage.
In other words: in the search bar you should enter what you think will help to find what you are looking for. This way your users will tell you how to optimize.
At first it might sound strange, but I will explain what I mean.
Wikipedia pages perform awesomely in search engines, if there is a page related to the given keyword, it will most probably be within the first three matches. You can find loads of information on these sites. Related names, concepts, events, that is everything that might be relevant in connection with your original keyword.
Look at the entry ‘London’, for instance. Here, you will find a number of phrases, like:
- Capital of the United Kingdom
- River Thames
- Great Britain
- Tower of London
- cultural centre, etc.
If you want to optimize a website in terms of tourism, and already you set your buyer personas, you now have gained a good number of perfectly relevant search phrases.
Use Pinterest as well
You might have read our article about how to use Pinterest in ecommerce. Now we will see how it helps search engine optimization.
You can do this with the help of Promoted Pins: simply start planning a campaign, enter one of your main keywords and a relevant phrase, and see how Pinterest will flood you with suggestions. These will mainly be long tail phrases that are recommended for you based on user habits.
Learn from your competitors ‒ the power of product categorization
Visit online stores offering products similar to yours – preferably the ones with higher success. Examine how they categorize their goods.
You do not need to worry about main categories, as they contain keywords where you probably have no chance of getting a high rank, unless you sell in a niche market.
You should rather look at what sub-categories, or sub-sub-categories they have in their online store.
And since customers usually search using category keywords rather than specific product or brand names, there is a gold mine here to discover!
For example, in the end you get a route, something like: Laptop -> Acer -> Business
You can get brilliant ideas from routes like this, as your last category site search phrase in this example would be “business acer laptop”.
Don’t stop here if your product is somehow special, try to include it in your search phrases. Is the food organic? Is the car eco-friendly? Hand made, imported? If you include these expressions to your long tail phrases, you will have a much smaller competition to fight.
Refine your list
After you have done the necessary brainstorming and research, you have a good chance of still having dozens of keywords.
For optimization, you should determine the most relevant ones for you, about 5-7 items. Also maintain a bigger list with two-three dozens of keywords, which might also ‘come handy’ – the ones to which you can produce useful content, to which you can optimize your subpages, and so on.
You must observe several aspects of whether a keyword is really valuable for you.
1) Number of searches
You don’t want to optimize for keywords which are only searched two-three times a month. This is the way to count: it is not sure you will get the best search results position, and even if you do, only a third of those who click through (not the ones initiating the search!) on average will end up on your site.
This will be the audience where you must reach the highest conversion level possible with an excellent site, good products, good offers, good sales system. Calculate with cart abandonment, those who leave without finishing the transaction, and so on.
Also consider that most expressions are seasonally more or less searched – in some cases without any specific reason, so you cannot even safely forecast the trend. In case of “Christmas sweater” it is understandable there are more matches in December than in May, but there are everyday, all-season products, not related to holidays, which also show similar fluctuating results throughout the year.
Decide if you will have enough potential customers to make it even worth the effort.
When we say the keyword should be relevant for you, of course, we mean it should be relevant for your target audience.
If you optimize a site based on this, it will reach a good position in the search engine results and your audience will click on it ‒ will they get what they expect? If not, Google will also see this – the bounce rate will be high, and the rate of those staying on your site or even click through within will be low.
This will lead to losing your gained position, as Google very closely watches user behaviour. The algorithm weighs heavily whether real quality and relevant content is to be found on a site.
The keyword must very precisely match your product, otherwise your conversion rate, the number of your potential customers will be lower.
3) Purchase tendency
If you reach large traffic, it is half success. If you really provide relevant and quality content on your site – whether it is a professional article, or just a product description – you will most probably not slip off the top of the list. Even if your offer is good (you have good products, you have written good descriptions to them, you apply proper Call to Action messages), you will not have problems with your conversion, either.
Nevertheless, there are some terms for which you can reach higher conversion rates.
Keywords signalling purchase intention. If the search phrase contains “price”, “discount”, “shipping”, “purchase”, “buying” or any words similar to these, it shows obvious purchase intention. As a result, a user facing a good offer is much more likely to convert on your site.
Keywords related to products. Such as “best” something, specific products or brand names, phrases like “compare”. These show that the user is currently collecting information. They are less likely to buy immediately, but can be pinned down by content such as a post about comparing within a product category or discussing the reasonable price of a product.
Information seeking keywords. “Product test”, “how to”, “what should I do” and similar phrases. All these illustrate that the customer is learning about the field, the product. They want information, specific knowledge.
Navigation keywords. Company and brand names. They show targeted search, the user searches for specific brands – these can be useful if the company, the brand or even the product you are selling is quite well-known, widely acknowledged. You should not optimize to brand names of the competition, experience shows they do not work well.
Finally there is one more category: the keywords of the hesitating visitors, those who are reluctant to buy. Among these are “free”, “free download” and others. No purchase intention is linked to these: the users search free options instead of buying. Therefore it is useless to fight for them: it is difficult to convince them to buy anything from you. They can perhaps make good audience.
If everything else is perfect, you can still discard the search phrase. And this is what you should do if you see that it would make an enormous effort to fight the sites currently possessing the best positions of the current search results page.
Most search engine optimization tools are capable of assessing the competition – you can also find details about this in Google Keyword Planner, just as in popular SEMrush, as well. The latter, for example, shows you in percentage, how “difficult” a search phrase is in respect to organic matches, meaning how hard it is to make a good ranking for it.
In case of large competition, optimization will be more expensive. Even if you want to reach the top of the results page thanks to organic searches only, meaning you do not use advertisements, but wish to appear among the “normal” search results, above a certain level you will have to employ an SEO expert for the job, generate loads of content, test, and further optimize.
However, if you find a long tail phrase the value of which is unexploited by others, but apparently the users use it, you will have a much easier job.
In most cases you can easily check yourself how optimized the first pages on the list are to the given phrase. Simply observe how precisely the keywords appear in the displayed matches – it is especially clear in case of long tail expressions, if you get poorly optimized matches.
Of course, thanks to Hummingbird and Google, ever since keeping in mind the quality content, the exact match of keywords is not as important as it used to be. It is easy to see, as it is only one variable out of 300 – but if you smartly optimize your website to exact long tail phrases, it will always give you advantage against the competition.
Watch your architecture as well
Not only your subpages, but also your website as a whole must be centred around a given semantic core.
What the hell does that mean?
Basically, it means that the main keywords must be phrases close to each other, and the rest, the less significant keywords must organically be related to them. You will not be penalized if it is not the way you build it up, but Google, Bing and other search engines will be less likely to see your website as a coherent whole, all this leading to damaging your position.
Do not only use relevant phrases, but synonyms as well. Regard Google as a foreigner only hardly speaking your language, who has to be exactly told and overemphasized what you want to say (even in English).
It is no wonder that SEO is an individual profession. Optimizing is a quite complex task, and keyword research is just the first step – content processing, further market research, refining are yet to come.
This is why you should not expect to get to the top of the match lists immediately. It might happen that even with the best optimization it will take you weeks or even months to reach the desired position, as users react more and more and better and better to your site, as you perform minor modifications in the face of the results.
However, you will not get anywhere without optimization. Your competition optimize, they “occupy” organic traffic, which today is and will be your largest and cheapest source of traffic for a couple of years. You do not want to get out of this, otherwise you are not a top-notch e-merchant.