Optimizing your retail website for international SEO can be a bit like packing your wardrobe for an overseas trip. Certain items are essential for adapting to the new culture and climate. Certain others you'll bring only if there's room in your already-overstuffed carry-on.
Equal care should be taken with your SEO toolbox. Search engines weigh hundreds of specific factors to determine what's on your site and how highly to rank it. In any market around the world these factors touch upon every aspect of your site, from keyword focus, to page load speed, to dead page redirects, to mobile responsiveness.
Today's post will focus on optimizing content, something retail sites have in abundance. All those product names and descriptions and images can be overwhelming if you don't take an organized approach. This is where we aim to help: what matters most for optimization? And what doesn't matter (as much)?
Content Optimization that Matters
Titles and Meta Descriptions: Right, right, right. We can't get away with hammering home a keyword on a particular page and shooting to the top of the rankings quite like we used to. But SEOs agree that, next to the number of external links from quality sites pointing to your own pages, keyword usage sitewide and at the page level is what engines look at most.
The main content elements we optimize for keywords are URLs, titles, meta descriptions, header tags and image ALT tags. But I'd argue the title and meta description are most important for retailers to get a handle on from category pages down to the product level. Why? It's the first thing users at home see in search results that speaks to your brand – and most entices them to click.
Think of your page title as your headline. You want it to be concise and to send a signal to searchers that, yes, you've found it! That means using keywords that reflect what most people are searching for in your language and market.
For nearly a decade, keyword use in meta descriptions has been downplayed by Google as not factoring into search rankings. But then, Google gives a boost to search results that get clicked on more, treating it as a sign searchers found what they wanted. So it makes no sense to leave it up to search engines to just grab the first sentences on your page. Control your meta descriptions, write them like (very) brief advertisements: use compelling, active verbs that work as calls-to-action and, yes, mention your brand and the product using a keyword.
Headers: For as much as the title means in search results, by the time a shopper clicks in response to your enticing meta description the title has been relegated – and likely truncated – in the tab of their browser window. What's the first thing they usually see on the page? The H1 header.
It's one of the first things search engine spiders pick up on, too. They're not only looking for the html code designating the H1 header as "this is what this page is about," but spiders pick up on the size of the text as well. So consider your H1 your de facto on-page title, meant to reaffirm for searchers that they've ended up where they were looking to go, and visible to search engines as another signal - this page is great for this keyword.
Also, make sure that H1 header is only used once and as text at the top of your page. Deploy H2 and lesser headers for product names and sub-heads.
Images & ALT Tags: Today, website design is more visually-focused than ever. This is particularly true – and useful – on retail sites, where customers rely on product images to help them decide yes, I will buy that, and in that color!
Problem is, search engine spiders are blind. They don't see your gorgeous design, or colors or selection of your products. They merely read the text-based html that is in your page source code. So you've got to send them clues in text about what is on your page.
The key places to identify images are the actual file name and in the ALT tag. Set up editorial rules so your website content people title images descriptively – no more photo1, photo2, etc. The ALT tag is a place to describe the image simply, succinctly, and with a keyword. Do this and your images can end up in photo search results and shared on social media – linking back to your site, of course.
Content Optimization that Doesn't Matter (As Much)
Body Copy: While it's true content length is one way search engines measure potential content quality, great user experience on a retail site should trump any artificial impulses to write a book about every one of your products. Write a few original, informative sentences or paragraphs reflective of your brand on each product page but don't feel you have to hit a high word count.
URLs: In a perfect world, every URL would be static and have a memorable, keyword-rich product name. But particularly in retail we're measuring ROI – how much did we sell, how much did it cost, how much is left? Which can mean incorporating all those nifty tracking parameters which have the downside of making your URLs so garbled and ugly. You can tell search engines to ignore the param strings. But in weighing effort for SEO, I'd focus on the other elements you can optimize.
Internal Links and Anchor Text: As Google leads the charge for us to "be natural" and not spammy, you want to see a variety of keyword-rich anchor text, brand phrases, generic phrases and even whole URLs. If I was advising a blog site on how to drum up more link connectivity, I'd worry about getting the percentages just right. But for a retail site, where links are going to appear in the dozens and dozens on every interconnected page, I'm less concerned about policing every last anchor. Product name or category is probably going to work just fine. And if they want to "read more," let ‘em read more.
What Else Matters
Overall optimization of your site for SEO, of course, involves more than words on your page and in your html. Even the best-optimized content will struggle mightily these days if you have not:
- Optimized your site for mobile phones
- Kept page and content sizes down, or tapped into content delivery networks to speed up load times
- Implemented an XML sitemap – multilingual, if you're in other markets – and shared with search engines
- Actively engaged in social media and made it easy for shoppers to share links to their favorite pages on your site
- Considered Paid Search, particularly in new markets, to help add to organic visibility on brand and generic terms
We could probably write an article's worth about each of the above factors. But where content is the recognized king, we hope you've at least got an understanding on how to curry royal favor in the SERPs. Optimize on!
Colt Foutz is director of Digital Content Optimization at TransPerfect, the world's largest privately-owned translations and global services company. He is an ex-journalist, an ex-teacher, an ex-adman and very much current father of three.
To learn more about SEO content optimization, contact us today!