Shopify is hosted e-commerce platform that is used widely by thousands of retailers online. We are told that there are over 25,000 websites built on the Shopify platform, at the rate of 100 new shops a day! Shopify is an ecommerce solutions made by designers, for designers. Because of this Shopify got the bad rap that it wasn’t an e-commerce SEO friendly platform when it first came out and for a number of years after. While that used to be the case, they have taken great strides to find a balance between being highly customizable yet not overly complicated from an SEO standpoint. The result has been a blend of robust features yet ease of use. But as simple as Shopify has tried to make it, it still takes work to get your SEO efforts on Shopify just right, and above that to go beyond just the basics, to actually making your Shopify website a leader that brings in the bacon for years to come.
So like most people, you have setup a Shopify e-commerce website and are waiting on the customers to come flying in. While that would be truly awesome, reality dictates that more is needed to help customers find your amazing products online. As you probably know, Google can play a large role in getting potential customers to your e-commerce website by sending search traffic related to your products to your site. Google does a pretty good job without any extra help in finding your content and making it findable, but it takes a bit more work to outpace your competition in the search results. We work with Shopify clients every day and decided that it would be useful to those who aren’t our clients to have an in depth guidebook on all things Shopify + SEO. This guidebook is a work in progress and will be regularly updated with more tips to succeeding using Shopify.
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If you are new to SEO and need a crash course to get you up to speed with some of the techniques and suggestions in this guide then head over to SEOmoz and have a look at the Beginners Guide to SEO that they have created. That will get you ready to have an SEO throwdown on your website to teach it who is boss.
SEO is a learned practice. It takes a while to understand the big picture of how what you do on and off your site can dramatically improve how well your business fairs online. One of the most important things to remember when embarking on this journey is to never give up! Nothing good happens fast and the same is true of SEO on an e-commerce website. Just like the tortoise and the hare, Slow and steady wins the race. It helps to immerse yourself in the goings on of the SEO and internet marketing world by following some popular bloggers and resources. Below is a short list that can really provide you with valuable advice and motivation:
- SEOmoz Blog
- CPC Strategy’s Blog
- Search Engine Land
- Shopify’s Blog
- Google – Inside Search
- Inbound Authority Blog
Doing SEO on the Shopify platform is not much different than on any other platform. For what we call the on-page SEO you just need to know what to put in the proper places in the code of your page. Thankfully, Shopify has made this easy by providing a place in the backend to enter this information. Here is a list of features that Shopify has built in to help your on-page SEO.
- Editable title tags on all pages/products
- Editable URL’s on all pages/products
- Editable ALT attribute on most images
- Editable home page meta description
- Built in .xml sitemap
If you have already upgraded to Shopify 2 you may notice that things look a little different on the product, collection, and blog pages in the SEO section. Below is an example of what you will see if you have chosen to upgrade. The fields for SEO are now at the bottom of the product page but perform the same functions. The one noteworthy addition is the option now to customize your own meta descriptions that show beneath your SEO title in Google search results. This is a much requested feature and it is nice to see that Shopify has listened to its users and added this. Although you may see a automatically populated description field, we highly recommend you craft your own custom meta description field that is appealing and motivates customers to click on your listing. You have to do this in around 160 characters so keep it fairly short.
One of the most common mistakes website owners make is spending a lot of time working with a designer while building out the look and feel of their new e-commerce website, but not giving any thought to SEO during this process. The result, a great looking site that will get little traffic. Yes, you could spend thousands of dollars on Google Adwords or other paid search options to drive traffic to your site. But unless you have deep pockets that will put you out of business before you get started. The other option is this; think longterm and really provide something useful to your potential customers by means of a great set of products, awesome customer service, meaningful content on your site, and an attention to common SEO techniques and your site will prosper.
“If you build it, they won’t come”, “If you build it, own it, love it, and always make it better – THEN they will come”!
So what are some important things to keep in mind when building a website on the Shopify platform?
Yes, this can be a complicated subject, but lets break it down and make it easy. Site structure/architecture can be likend to an architect planning to build a home. When you walk up a flight of stairs to get to the floor above, you are really glad that somebody planned for that staircase to actually attach to the floor above keeping you from falling flat on your face. Likewise, when you as a user visit a well planned and structured website, you are glad that you can get where you need to and find all the relevant information fast without getting frustrated and leaving the site, the equivalent of the website owners online business falling flat on its face due to poor planning.
Here in this picture is a pictorial representation of a good site structure for a Shopify e-commerce website:
Category & Product Pages
The top ball would be your homepage, the next three down your category pages, and the smaller ones below them would be the subcategory pages and finally the bottom row would be product pages. The important part of understanding this is that you can then can create URL’s (or have your web developer who is building out your Shopify site do it) that clearly indicate this simple yet powerful architecture to the user and search engines. For example:
*Shopify requires that you use certain keywords in the URL to conform to their platforms requirements. For example – “Products” “Collections” etc will show in your URL. There is nothing you can do about that and doesn’t really cause any major SEO issues. You would simply continue with the naming convention for your URL’s shown above after the required shopify string. For example: http://www.mystore.com/products/software/adobe/acrobat-pro/.
Using a structure like this is powerful for a few reasons:
- It allows your site visitors find what they are looking for with a limited amount of clicking on the site.
- It allows the power of other sites linking to your homepage to pass smoothly throughout the rest of your sites categories and pages, thus improving their power to rank.
Understanding site structure BEFORE building or designing your Shopify website is imperative, and it is always wise to get an SEO consultant that you trust involved before and during the buildout phase to make sure to get it right.
Plan to Write Unique Product Descriptions
If your website is going to be selling products from a manufacturer or other provide, chances are you are planning on just copying and pasting the product description from the manufacturers website onto yours. Bad idea… Here is why. All of your competitors selling the same products from the manufacturer are doing the same thing on their e-commerce websites. Therefore you are all competing for the same keywords with the same copy. Also, when was the last time that you were moved to buy a product from the boring and dry description on a manufacturers website. Your description is unique not only because it isn’t a copy of everyone else’s, it is unique in that it has your company’s flair for selling the product behind it. It has your Unique selling proposition in it. It has the power to motivate someone who sees your site in the search results decide to click your product page to see more. Then its power continues as it sells your product to the user using the power of persuasion.
It may take quite a bit of extra time to write unique product descriptions for all of your products, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of them, but it is worth it. Start slowly and like we talked about at the beginning, never give up!
The Benefits of Planning for SEO in Advance
The chart below shows the untold benefits of building in SEO from the start. It may be more expensive, time consuming, and technical but your competitors are doing it. Their efforts if they started sooner than you may already be paying off in the form of great rankings and even greater traffic to the site. How can you catch them without a strategy and hard core plan? Once you put that effort forth to build with SEO in mind and keep that momentum you too will break-even in that you will be making more money from your e-commerce website than you have put in. Then you begin the exciting road to a large return on investment for thinking longterm.
Shopify comes with XML sitemap functionality built in. A sitemap is a webpage that lists all of the various pages on your website in one easy to format that the search engines can use as a starting point when their web crawlers visit your Shopify site. Basically it is a cookie jar for the hungry Googlebot crawler who wants to find as many pages of content on the web as possible.
According to the Shopify knowledgebase, “All Shopify stores automatically generate a sitemap.xml file that contains all your products, pages, collections, and blog posts. The sitemap file is located at http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml. Because this sitemap file is referenced from your store’s robots.txt file, you do not need to manually submit it to Google and other search engines.” You will need access to your XML sitemap when you begin to submit your website to Google’s Webmaster Tools.
There is another type of sitemap called an HTML sitemap that helps both your users and the search engines find what they want on your site. Often times you will see websites with a link to this type of sitemap in the footer of their website. It provides a list of all the pages on the site in an easy to read format for users to quickly find the page they are looking for. It also has some search engine value as well. In Shopify you will have to create this file manually as a page on your site. You can use a tool like XML-Sitemaps.com to assist you with this, but you will have to place the resulting HTML code on your site manually.
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Google Webmaster tools and for that matter even Bing Webmaster tools are important dashboards that the search engines provide to monitor the health and various search data for your site. It is also used to communicate site changes, submit sitemaps, and remove or add URL’s from or to your site. Think of it as an answer to this question, “How Does Google view my site”? As an e-commerce site that depends on the search engines to send traffic to your site and thus money, you should be interested in how your site is viewed and provide as much info as possible to the engines to make it easier for them to index, crawl, and serve your pages in their results. The first thing you need to do to be able to access Google Webmaster Tools for your Shopify website is to verify that you own the site.
Verify Your Shopify Site on Google Webmaster Tools:
- Head over to Google’s Webmaster Tools and login with your google account or create a new one. You should use the same account as your Google Merchant account if you plan on advertising on Google Product Search.
- Find the “Add a Site” button and click it.
- You will then be prompted to verify that you own the site and given two options, “recommended method” and “alternate methods”. Due to some restrictions that Shopify has you will need to use the “alternate methods” option to verify the site.
- Choose the “add a meta tag to your site’s home page” option, then copy the code provided so that we can add it into Shopify.
- Next, login to your Shopify backend and click on “Themes -> Template Editor” to access the code behind your Shopify theme.
- Next, paste the code that Google Webmaster Tools provided you into the theme.liquid file in the editor. You want to place is in the <head> section before the closing </head> tag as shown in the image below.
- Once the code has been entered into Shopify, go back to your Google Webmaster Tools account and click “Verify Site”
- To add your Shopify sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools look for “Optimization -> Sitemaps” in the sidebar.
- Next, find the “Add/Test Sitemap” button and click it
- Now enter your Shopify sitemap.xml file into the box. Remember the URL will be like this: http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml where “www.example.com” is your website or shopify url.
- Lastly, verify that there are no errors with your sitemap and you are done.
- Health -> Crawl Errors: This section will show you any errors that are found by missing pages or other server related issues. Since Shopify’s servers are loked after by professionals you shouldn’t see too many problems in the server related section, but you will find any 404 error page messages here. It is important to look here for 404 errors every couple weeks and correct the issues. More about that in the Advanced SEO section of the guidebook.
- Optimization -> HTML Improvements: This area will provide you with some simple areas for improvement with your title tags and meta descriptions.
- Messages: Here you will find any messages Google sends to you about your website. Since these are often very important and need to be acted upon immediately, it is a good idea to have these forward to your email. You can select that option by clicking this link after your logged in: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/preferences.
It is vital as a website owner that you are able to track everything that visitors do on your website. What products are the most important to the majority of your users? Where is the traffic on your website coming from (Google, social media, comparison shopping engines, or directly from people typing your domain in their browser)? How much revenue are you making from each traffic source? What mobile device are people using when they visit your site? These are questions you should be asking yourself and the answers lie in Google Analytics. Yes, you could use any analytics tracking platform, but Google Analytics can provide Shopify users with a free and robust way to get rich details about their sites demographic.
There are two primary methods of setting up Google Analytics on a website. One is regular tracking. The other is e-commerce tracking. Since Shopify is an e-commerce hosting platform, we want the second one. By enabling e-commerce tracking on your site you will be able to associate revenue amounts with each visit in Google Analytics. This is very important and will benefit you greatly over the lifetime of your shop. Lets get started setting this up. Don’t worry, Shopify makes it easy.
- Head over to Google Analytics and create a new Google account or login with an existing one (it is two separate accounts we are setting up, one for Google itself like Gmail and the next is for Google Analytics).
- In Analytics “create a new account” and fill in the appropriate information, agree to the terms and conditions and allow it to complete and send you to the “tracking code page”.
- Copy the User Account code at the top of the page to your clipboard. The number shown in the image below:
- Then login to your Shopify backend and look for “Preferences -> General Settings” in the admin dashboard on the top right as shown below.
- Next scroll down on this page until you get to the Google Analytics box near the bottom and paste your User Account (UA) number into the box and hit save.
- The last step now that you have added the proper code to shopify is to make sure Google Analytics has e-commerce tracking turned on. This is simple to do and can be found by going to your Google Analytics account you created, clicking on the top right “Admin” button, click on the “profile settings” tab, then look for the dropdown under “E-Commerce Settings” and say yes.
Migrating a website from one platform/host to another can be one of the most nerve wracking events in the life of your online business. There are myriad’s of hidden dangers that are never fully anticipated until it is too late and something goes wrong. Since this guide focuses mainly on SEO we will try to look at a site migration from that standpoint and only focus on the dangers from a search engine perspective. Here are some very important things to do before moving your website to Shopify:
- Make sure to have a list of all the current live pages of your website and their exact URL (this is case sensitive since a URL with capitalization and one without are treated as two separate URL’s by search engines).
- You can use a tool like Screaming Frog SEO Spider to crawl your old site before you migrate and get a URL list to work from. The free version will crawl up to 500 pages of a site.
- The preferred method to get this list would be to already have access to Google Webmaster Tools on your old site and go into the “Traffic -> Links to Your Site -> Your Most Linked Content -> More” page and export the .csv that Google provides of the majority of your content sorted by which pages have the most links. That will come in handy when we have to handle the 301 redirects so we don’t lose search rankings during the migration.
- Gather a list of all of the logins for your payment gateway, shipping carrier, 3rd party plugins you may use like live chat, review providers, etc.
- Make sure you have working access to your domain registrar like Godaddy, Namecheap, Network Solutions, or whomever you use so you will be able to point your domain to Shopify when the site is ready to go live. For more on this you can check out Shopify’s DNS wiki.
- From your list of URL’s from Webmaster tools or Screaming Frog, start with the most valuable pages/URL’s from the old site and determine what the new URL is that most closely represents the content the old URL had.
- Next, open your Shopify backend and go to the “Navigation” tab.
- Look at the very bottom of the page for the section called “URL Redirects“. This is where you will enter the old URL on top and the New URL on the bottom. Once you save this your old page from the past site will now redirect to the new page you entered. This is called a 301 redirect and for the search engines, it tells them to pass most of the link juice from the old page to the new page.
- You will need to do this manually for each and every URL you wish to redirect. This is a tedious and painstaking process but it is vital to the health and future progress of your new Shopify website. If there are any URL’s that don’t really have a good corresponding page on the new site you can simple 301 redirect them to the homepage by entering a “/” (without quotes) into the new path box in Shopify.
- If your new site on Shopify is already live you should be able to test the 301 redirects to make sure they are working properly. Simply enter the old URL in your browser and hit enter and you should automatically be redirected like magic to the new URL you put in. If you are still setting up your Shopify store but haven’t pointed the domain to Shopify yet (you are still using the https://shopname.myshopify.com/ URL), the 301 redirects won’t work until you actually make the site live by pointing your domain to Shopify.
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