If your head’s spinning as you try to keep up with the latest search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines, we don’t blame you. In the last 10 years, you’ve likely heard:
- eCommerce SEO is all about keywords
- Keywords aren’t that important any more
- Yes, actually, you still need keywords
So what’s the real deal with eCommerce SEO and keywords? Do you still need them—and how should you use them to make more sales?
TL;DR: Keywords are an important part of SEO. And since eCommerce SEO is one of the most important customer acquisition channels, that means yes, you still need keywords.
Obviously, there’s more to SEO than just keywords, but we’re focusing on them here because optimizing keywords is a relatively simple SEO solution that can drive great results. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics on:
- The definition of keywords
- Types of keywords
- The importance of keyword intent
- How to find the best keywords (with some tool recommendations)
- How to stay on top of recent eCommerce SEO changes, like Google’s evolving algorithm and voice search
One more note before we dive in: We’ll be focusing mainly on what works for Google, since that search engine has almost 88 percent of the search market. The good news is that because of Google’s dominance, what works for Google also generally works for other search engines, which tend to employ many of the same principles.
Keywords are the words and phrases people type into search engines when searching for information. For example, when someone types “Samsung phones” into a search box, they’re using keywords.
Keywords are also essential for creating and optimizing content so it shows up for the right searches. As an eCommerce retailer, when people type in “apple,” you’ll optimize differently depending on whether you’re selling fruit or smartphones.
If you optimize your content correctly, you can bring the right traffic to your website and make some sales.
SEO keywords for eCommerce (or any other niche) can get a bit confusing because there are LOTS of different ways to describe keywords. There are:
- Head keywords
- Long tail keywords
- LSI keywords
Here’s a bit more detail on those keyword types.
Head keywords are broad terms that describe something. They’re usually no more than a couple of words. Examples are “phones” or “women’s clothing.” These keywords have a high search volume—and, usually, lots of competition for the elusive first page of Google results.
But if you’ve ever searched for the perfect item, you know you need to get a LOT more specific—and use longer, more specific phrases to find what you’re looking for. These longer phrases of three or more words are called long tail keywords.
Long tail keywords are much more targeted but have a lower search volume, as fewer people search specifically for them. Examples of long tail keywords include “women’s goose down winter coats” or “2019 Lenovo IdeaPad HD”.
Long tail keyword phrases are crucial in eCommerce SEO because they let you optimize your content for the exact items people are looking for. While fewer people will search those long tail keywords than the head keywords, as the graph above shows, those who do find your site through long-tail keywords are more likely to make a purchase.
Understanding LSI keywords
Another key term for eCommerce SEO is latent semantic indexing (LSI). LSI keywords are words or phrases related to search terms. When you start typing a term into Google, and that list of autocomplete entries comes up, those are LSI keywords.
You will also see LSI keywords at the end of search results pages as “related” terms.
Here’s why LSI keywords are important. First, not everyone is going to use the identical terms to search for your product or service. Second, because when you properly weave LSI keywords into your content, Google can tell it’s more relevant, which means a better chance for good placement on search results pages.
Google looks for LSI keywords when it’s determining whether your page is a correct search result for a user. To go back to our “apple” example, if your page also has LSI keywords like “red delicious” or “pie a la mode,” that’s a sign to Google you’re talking about the fruit. If your page has LSI keywords like “Steve Jobs” or “iPhone XR,” that’s a sign to Google you’re talking about Apple the company.
In this era of much more intelligent search engine algorithms, simply stuffing your site with keywords isn’t going to work. As you saw with LSI keywords, it’s increasingly important to think about keyword intent. Keyword intent is all about people’s purpose or intention when searching.
With keyword intent, there are four types of keywords to be aware of:
Navigational keywords are the words and phrases people type in when trying to find a particular site, like “Amazon” when looking for Amazon. Ideally, you’ll want your site to show up when people type your brand name into Google.
Informational keywords are what they sound like: the keywords people type in when they’re searching for general information. For example, if someone types in “cell phone tips,” they’re looking to find out more about the topic, but haven’t got as far as identifying specific brands and features.
That said, if you write useful, educational content in your niche—and optimize it for informational keywords—you’ll start to grow an audience and become a trusted source of information, which can lead to sales in both the short- and long-term.
Investigational keywords are the phrases people type when they’re actively thinking about buying. Think of them as pre-purchase searches. These include phrases relating to:
- Specific product categories
- Specific brands or products
- Words like “top” or “best”
- Price-related words like “affordable” or “cheap”
Optimize successfully for these phrases, and you’ll find that at least some of your traffic is ready to buy.
Finally, there are transactional keywords, which some call “buy now” or commercial keywords. These are the phrases people use when they’re ready to purchase. As well as ultra-specific product names and types, these keyword phrases will include words like “buy”, “purchase”, “coupon”, “discount” and “shipping”.
Neil Patel segments visitor intent by whether people are looking to browse, shop, or buy, corresponding to informational, investigational, and transactional keywords, respectively.
Now you know the types of keywords that exist, it’s time to start thinking about the right keywords for your eCommerce site. Here are the steps to follow:
- Brainstorm possible keywords based on your knowledge of your target customers and your products. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to validate your choices later.
- Check Google Search Console and Google Analytics to find the keywords that are already attracting traffic to your site and think about how you can better optimize for those.
- Search Google in ways you think potential customers might search for your products, paying attention to the LSI keyword suggestions in the search box, the related terms, and the “people also asked” entries.
- Use all this information to write a starter list of keywords.
Here’s a pro tip when searching for eCommerce keywords: use Amazon. Amazon is a goldmine where you can find product categories and sub-categories, tags, and autocomplete entries to add to your starter keyword list.
Once you have your list, it’s time to figure out which keywords will make the cut. There are a few tools to help you with this.
In the example below from SEMrush, a search for “buy books” shows the top phrase match keywords (keywords that include the exact search term), and the top related keywords.
SEMrush also gives you information on competitors’ keywords and keyword competition and difficulty. If your competitors are targeting certain terms, then consider targeting related terms (or even the same ones) to capture some of that traffic, and some of those sales.
And use the Google Ads Keyword Planner to check out search volume, competitiveness, and Google Ads bidding. Even though you’re searching for SEO purposes, not ad buying purposes, if people are spending money to have their ads appear for a certain keyword, it’s a good sign that that keyword deserves your focus.
Use this information to whittle down your keyword list. Note that there’s a trade-off. If you go for only the most popular or competitive keywords, it will be more difficult for your content to rank. Consider including slightly less popular but more targeted keywords for a better ranking opportunity. Appearing on page one for a keyword that gets 300 monthly searches will get you more traffic than ranking on page 30 for a keyword that get 3,000 searches.
Now that you have your keyword list, it’s time to use them in your content. Thankfully, we are well past the days of keyword stuffing (a no-longer-effective practices of adding as many keywords as possible to a page). Instead, the rule is: optimize each product and category page for a different single head keyword, and include long tail and LSI keywords in the page content.
In the example below, Shoes.com has optimized different sub-category pages within the men’s shoes category for different keywords. The first has the head keyword of “men’s shoes”; the second has the head keyword of “men’s casual shoes.”
When you optimize each page for different keywords, it helps you avoid keyword cannibalization where pages on your site are competing with each other to rank for the same terms. And, as we’ve said, using long tail and LSI keywords helps tell Google and potential customers that your content is relevant to what they’re searching for.
Here’s where to put your eCommerce SEO keywords:
- In the URL, but avoid overly complex URLs, and try to keep your keywords as close to your domain as possible.
- On product pages, category pages, and product descriptions.
- In the SEO page title. This is what will appear on search results pages.
- In the headline/on-page title (what people see on your page) or SEO/HTML title (which is a different element that appears in the browser tab).
- In the meta description, which is the other part of a search engine result. In this example below, the SEO title is “Men’s Basketball Shoes | High Top & Low Top Sneakers”; the on-page title is “Men’s basketball shoes”; and the meta description is that paragraph in the search result, “Shop online at…”
Here’s an example of a Best Buy product page with two versions of the product keywords:
You can also use keywords to create internal links to your products. Internal links help search engines understand your content, and which pages are relevant to a particular topic. For instance, if you sell different types of apples, link the words “honeycrisp apple” in a blog post to your honeycrisp apple product page.
And if you are building external links to your pages via blogger outreach, affiliate promotions, guest posting, expert content and more, you can also use keywords in the text of your article and your author bio.
Green Flag Digital suggests that you use keyword phrases to:
- Link to related product pages within your product descriptions
- Link to product pages from blog posts
- Link to category pages from blog posts
Doing this makes it easier for both website visitors and search engines to find even more relevant information.
Everything above describes how eCommerce keywords are today, but things in the SEO world are changing. (Aren’t they always?)
First, Google is getting even smarter about serving up relevant information. Its BERT guidelines show how the search giant is now starting to use natural language processing to better understand what people are looking for and show them the right results. This means eCommerce retailers have to get even smarter about optimizing their sites correctly. It also means relevant content has become more important, as trying to “trick” Google is even less of a viable or sustainable strategy than ever. So focus on creating good content, and make sure your keywords are relevant and flow organically into what you write.
And second, voice search is now a huge phenomenon, driven jointly by increased use of mobile devices and smart speakers. So many people now ask conversational questions instead of typing keywords to get the answers they need.
You still need to optimize for traditional keywords, however, it’s also a good idea to optimize for voice, and build questions and answers into your content. Phrase questions the way web users ask them, and include short answers on your pages. You’ve probably seen eCommerce sites including Q&A sections on product pages—those can help with conversational searches.
One way to find the right questions to include on your pages: The “people also asked” section that comes up in some Google search results.
Another good resource for finding questions is AnswerThePublic. In the example below, you can see questions from buyers interested in surge protectors—which, if you sell surge protectors, you could then incorporate into a category or product page.
It’s essential to optimize your eCommerce site to help as many customers as possible find what they need—so, of course, they buy from you. Here’s a recap of some of the key points we covered on using keywords for your eCommerce SEO.
- Using keywords correctly helps bring traffic to your eCommerce website.
- There are different kinds of keyword intent, all of which have a place when optimizing an eCommerce site.
- Know that transactional keywords target those who are ready to buy, but you also need other types of keywords to give people the information they need before a purchase.
- LSI keywords help give context to your content, assisting Google’s efforts to figure out whether your page is the right result for a user’s search.
- Find the right keywords for your site by using Google, Amazon, SEMrush, and other SEO and keyword tools.
- Avoid keyword cannibalization by optimizing each page for a single head keyword, and some related long-tail keywords as well.
- The future of search is getting smarter; so make sure your content is relevant and helpful, and consider adding a Q&A section to your pages to help with conversational searches.