But first, let’s talk a bit about why SEO is important to begin with.
Importance of SEO for Shopify
E-commerce is a multi-faceted and extremely complex topic, and success doesn’t come from just one place.
But if you’ve been around for a little while, you know that you can’t just rely on paid traffic to turn a profit.
You need organic traffic to your site to create more sales and generate more revenue.
And this is true for everyone. Even users of Shopify.
Which means you need to learn how to focus on SEO (search engine optimization).
While I won’t go in depth on SEO in this article, it’s good for every e-commerce entrepreneur to be familiar with the basics.
Elements like keywords, title tags, and URLs go a long way in helping your SEO overall.
But more importantly for our purposes here, SEO helps you with sales.
And that isn’t just speculation either. Click-through rates have been shown to decline as Google position decreases.
What this means for you is that you need to find ways to increase your SEO.
Even incremental changes will help you sell more.
So I want to look at a few of the ways that Shopify is potentially hurting the SEO on your e-commerce site.
Because building customers who are devoted for a lifetime requires that they find you first.
Understanding your consumers and giving them what they value plays a huge part in this equation.
Some of these topics will be fairly simple, and others a bit technical.
But I think you’ll find at least one thing you can improve on in this list.
To get started, let’s talk about your site’s structure.
Issue #1: Google doesn’t know your site structure
Every website has a structure, but not all of them are good.
E-commerce sites are especially prone to poor site design because of the sheer number of pages needed to display everything.
When you have dozens (or hundreds) or product pages, it’s way too easy to lose track if you’re not careful.
Ideally, your site should have a structure that looks something like this:
If everything flows in a logical order, you’ll be able to map out your site in a way that’s easy to both see and change.
It frustrates your user less and allows you to make revisions in the future that don’t undermine your SEO.
Because when it’s hard to navigate your site, your bounce rate will increase and it will be harder for Google to index everything accurately.
So an e-commerce store that sells clothing would have a breakdown like this:
But now for the big question. How does this affect your SEO in relation to Shopify?
First of all, I highly recommend using a site like Shopify to help you keep your site organized.
You can easily add or remove products, which means it’s not usually too much of a hassle to clean up the structure of your site.
So use this tool to create a natural flow to your site like we looked at above.
But where Shopify lets you down is with how it communicates your site’s structure with Google. To be more clear, it doesn’t.
Google allows you to upload a sitemap of any website you own so that it can be indexed.
They typically look something like this:
And while Shopify generates that sitemap for you, it doesn’t actually do anything with it. You have to do all the uploading yourself.
Without a sitemap, Google won’t index your pages regularly. This means your SEO takes a hit because Google just has to use its best guess.
Don’t leave SEO up to Google’s guesses.
Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy fix because Shopify will help you generate one.
Here’s a quick video that shows you how to find it on your Shopify account:
Once you’ve downloaded the sitemap, you need to upload it to Google Webmaster Tools.
In the Dashboard section of your Webmaster screen, you’ll see an option that says Crawl. You’ll want to click it, then click on the navigation option that says Sitemaps.
Once you do, you’ll be sent to a page that shows if Google has an existing sitemap for your website. If you haven’t already uploaded one, it’s pretty simple to do so.
At the top right of your screen, you’ll see an option that says Add/Test Sitemap. Click it, and then upload the file you got from Shopify.
Congrats, you’ve now fixed your first potential SEO issue.
Google can index your site, which means the hard work you put into creating an effective structure and flow will start to pay off.
As long as you upload a sitemap when you make changes, your SEO should see improvements over time.
Issue #2: It’s harder to nail meta descriptions and title tags
One of the other issues that Shopify tends to fall prey to has to do with your product page’s meta description and tag title.
Shopify allows 70 characters for a title and 320 for a meta description.
On the surface, this sounds like a good thing, especially since Google now allows 320 characters in a meta description.
But using the maximum amount isn’t generally recommended, because you’re still dealing with a limited amount of screen space.
While you might think this is a little picky, it can actually affect the cleanliness of your site on a results page, which means your SEO takes a hit.
The point is that Shopify is giving you way too much room to work with, and that’s a bad thing.
The only upside here is that you do get a bit of a preview at the bottom of your page. This feature can help you steer clear of this particular issue if you’re careful.
As you can see, I just set up a test profile for this example.
It has a short title and a nondescript meta description. If you keep your titles and descriptions on the short side, you’re in the clear.
But here’s what it looks like when you max things out:
I realize this is a bit of a blunt example, but no one wants to read a title that goes off of the page.
They don’t want to read that wall of text either.
A character based approach doesn’t encourage best practice for SEO. In fact, it’s encouraging users to use too many words in this instance.
This could potentially inch you over the edge in terms of the cleanness of your Google listing.
And even being an inch over the edge means your description or title get truncated.
The solution here is simple. Stay cautious on the character count, and don’t trust it.
Once you publish your product, find it in a Google listing and make sure everything looks good. Just don’t stop until you’re satisfied.
Issue #3: 404 pages abound with any redesign
When a user gets a 404 error, it means that something went wrong with your site.
But in the context of e-commerce, this usually means that someone found a link to a page that no longer exists.
And while you might not be too worried about this, it can create a big hit on your bounce rates, and Google notices that.
Bounce rate is a tricky analytic, but generally speaking, it’s the sign of a frustrated user. When a 404 error sends someone away from your site, Google sees the quick bounce as a sign of low quality.
Too many bounces and your SEO will start to see a decline.
Thankfully, Shopify does provide a way to fix this issue in conjunction with Google Webmaster Tools.
In the same menu we looked at earlier, you should see an option that says Crawl Errors:
This will send you to a page that provides a breakdown of elements on your site that need to be fixed.
You usually don’t want to see a graph that looks like this:
Clearly, there’s some work to do on this site, and scrolling down a little doesn’t help that feeling.
Because here’s a list of every 404 error on this e-commerce site.
That’s a lot of frustrated users and dead-end visits.
But if you use Shopify, it’s pretty easy to fix using some simple 301 redirects.
Start by typing in “Navigation” to your search menu:
This will take you to the navigation page, which helps you organize and reorganize your site.
Just under the title, you’ll see an option that says URL Redirects. That’s where you want to click.
From there, you can add the old URL and the page you want it to divert to.
You’ve now successfully eliminated an overhanging SEO issue that you couldn’t have detected with Shopify alone.
Make it a habit to check out your Google Webmaster Tools to keep elements like this at a minimum.
Your SEO and your sales will be much better for it.
Issue #4: You won’t quite be mobile-first
It’s been in the rumor mill for a while, but Google recently announced that they’re adopting a mobile-first indexing policy.
And this makes sense when you look at the numbers. More than half of users are browsing primarily on their mobile devices:
What that means is that your mobile capabilities are going to be at the top of the checklist when it comes to SEO, which isn’t a great thing for brands that solely rely on Shopify.
The reason I say this is because the current state of e-commerce is behind the curve with mobile devices.
Currently, only 21% of e-commerce comes from a mobile device, which is pretty low considering how many people are browsing on mobile.
To make matters worse, just look at this breakdown of push notifications:
We rely on push notifications for pretty much everything these days, but e-commerce hasn’t quite adapted to this mainstream trend.
Even apps like Waze are getting more love than e-commerce.
So conversion rates are low and push notifications are in the pits. Could it be worse?
Yes, it can. To add to the mobile e-commerce misery, it’s been found that cart abandonment rates are abysmal on mobile devices.
All of this culminates to one point: e-commerce sites that don’t have a plan for mobile commerce are about to receive a huge hit to their SEO.
And unfortunately for brands who rely solely on Shopify, they’re not prepared for this mobile plunge.
What can you do then?
Use a service like BulidFire to “appify” your e-commerce.
In essence, you’ll be creating an m-commerce wing for your business that allows you to send push notifications, remind users of an abandoned cart, and increase conversions over time.
Which means your SEO will be bulletproof when Google changes the equation.
And the good news for Shopify users is that BuildFire does integrate with your Shopify store.
It’s super easy to set up too.
The app will auto-populate your existing inventory and give you a mobile option that allows you to be in constant contact with your customers.
This option just makes sense for your SEO and your business.
If you find that this approach can improve mobile conversions and generate more revenue, I say go for it.
Issue #5: Your zealous blog tags create duplicate content
Niche content marketing is a great way to boost your sales and SEO over time.
According to Smart Insights, content is more important than ever in the online sales process:
Brands are posting on blogs, social media, and other content sharing sites more than ever, and it all has to be good to be competitive.
The more content that gets posted, the harder it is for people to find your product.
And your content is what helps people research you and buy your products.
Shopify has considered this and does include a blog posts area on their site.
But they don’t really tell you how to use a few parts, like the tags.
You might not know this, but getting overzealous when adding tags to your blog creates a separate URL of that post for every tag.
Bloggers will sometimes put 20 or more tags on a post without knowing that this is killing their SEO.
While you might think that more pages are good for SEO, this isn’t like getting your products on other sites.
You’re just creating a bigger mess by amassing duplicate content that Google has to then wade through.
Unless you want to create a separate meta description for each page, you need to keep the tags to a minimum.
So Option A is to use fewer tags.
But I’m including Option B for any readers that may have already gone overboard.
Option B is to try to build backlinks to a specific version of a blog post.
So if you have gone overboard, my recommendation would be to use a service like Gmass for link building outreach.
This will let you signal to Google that your backlinked page is the authoritative version and thus right one to crawl.
Start by finding a unique piece of content, and then pitch influencers and bloggers to link back to you.
If you need help getting started, use a template to get the juices flowing.
Then load up Gmass, which allows you to send mass emails from Gmail easily.
By sending an email blast to influencers who might be interested in your content, you’ll begin creating more inbound links to certain posts or pages on your site.
This will drastically improve your SEO and mitigate any over-enthusiasm from tagging your blog posts.
As long as you personalize your approach and offer something of value to your potential backlinks, there’s a good chance you can succeed.
And as an added bonus, this method can also amplify your site’s content and make up for shortcomings created by other SEO issues.
At the end of the day, you’ll have a well-optimized site and hopefully a better Shopify experience.
Shopify SEO Issues Round Up
I stand by my belief that Shopify is a great platform for e-commerce newcomers and veterans alike.
It’s intuitive, easy to set up, and easy to maintain. But you can’t afford to ignore your SEO by solely relying on Shopify to do all the work.
That’s why I recommend taking steps to make sure your SEO stays top notch. Simple steps like ensuring that your site structure is sound and your sitemap is uploaded in Google Webmaster Tools are great first steps.
You should also take a moment to make sure your titles and meta descriptions are displaying well. Failure here means less traffic and fewer sales, and the same goes for your 404 pages.
Take steps to be more mobile-friendly, too. Use a service like BuildFire to develop an app that lets you send push notifications and tap into your mobile audience.
And last but not least, cool it on the blog tags. You’re only creating a bigger mess for yourself, and you’ll have to clean it up by creating backlinks to your authoritative page.
Just remember that whatever you’re selling, these tips can guide your SEO efforts and boost your revenue in the coming year. All you have to do is get started.
Author: David Zheng
Founder of Growth Wit and WiseMerchant. He helps e-commerce brands, venture backed startups, and Fortune 500 companies grow their revenue online.