Though physical stores are worlds apart from e-commerce in so many ways, there are some similarities, because both have customers that are, well, human. As we’ve discussed in our previous article, there are principles from brick and mortar stores that e-commerce can learn from and they also apply to SEO. Some of those principles are securing a good location, having efficient interactions, earning people's trust and keeping your competitors closer are all essential for a successful store.
Search engines work like townfolk
First, let’s talk about how search engines work. Our claim that search engines are just like “town folk” may sound weird, but check this out. Imagine going to a city you’ve never been to before for vacation. Your first day in town, you ask a stranger, “Where’s the best place to get hot dogs in this area?” You’re gonna get four possible answers:
“Well, I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard Hot Dog Haus is pretty good. They’re basically a tourist spot here. Just go to the church on 7th street, and you’ll see the Hot Dog Haus across the street.”
“I’ve been going to this one place for years, and I highly recommend it. Hot Dog Haus on 7th street has the best dogs in town.”
“Sorry, son. I ain’t from here.”
- “Do I look like a map? Get out of my face!”
Hopefully, you don’t encounter the fourth stranger. We can assume that the first two answers are from locals. Both arrived at the same conclusion: go to Hot Dog Haus on 7th street.
Let’s look closely at those answers. Notice that our “locals” have the same answer but with different sources. The first one based their answer on word-of-mouth, and the second one based their answer on their own experiences. If you combine them both, it’s very similar to how search engines work. Search engines try to listen to what people say all over the internet and they look at their own archives.
Another point that we can take away from this analogy is how much effort it will take for a new store to be known. If you ask the locals about hot dog places, they will only tell you the ones they’ve already been to or heard about. Just like brand new brick and mortar locations need advertising or strong word of mouth, new stores won’t show up in search engines unless they have proper marketing and have had the time to grow their reputation.
SEO helps with page ranking
Securing a top rank in the search engines is almost the same as finding a good store location. Every consumer would rather go to a store that’s easier to find than wander the streets for a long time looking for a lesser-known place. If it’s well-known, it must be good. Plus, most people don’t want to spend a lot of time searching.
This is especially true for online shoppers. Prospective customers online are way less patient than normal consumers going to a physical store. Most online customers only click on the websites on the first five pages of search engine results. It’s about convenience and being where the other buyers are. Both contribute to traffic. More traffic, more chances for conversions, sales, and advocates.
Convenience for an online customer is measured by how soon they can get the shopping done with the least amount of work (or clicks). The fewer clicks it takes to reach your store, the more accessible it is.
It’s a really wise investment to secure a spot where your customers frequently visit, such as social media or Google. Impulse buying has a very high percentage of contributing to e-commerce sales, 40% to be exact.
The best way to take advantage of this phenomenon is to be highly visible. Being at the first page of search results means that when a customer tries to search for “cute pet collars,” you’ll be there to satisfy their impulse.
SEO means efficiency and user-friendliness
Optimizing for search engines ultimately translates to efficiency and specialization.
For example, a bread knife is a really dull knife. It can’t cut certain things, but it works perfectly well on bread. It’s optimized for bread cutting. An optimized Shopify store is designed to be easy for customers to shop--which means loading quickly without problems and being intuitive to use.
An optimized store is a big plus for customers. Your store WILL NOT rank high if it’s not optimized for speed and good navigation.
If a user is unable to find what they need quickly or has to wait several seconds for your site to load, they will exit your website. If enough people exit quickly, that tells the search engines that it’s not a relevant or credible website to suggest.
Think of Google as a wine seller. You say to Google, “Show me your best wine!” Then Google opens up his top shelf, displaying all his best wine. You picked the topmost wine as it is supposed to be the best.
But once you taste it, the wine is not even fully fermented yet. It’s disappointing. And you won’t blame the company who produced the wine, you’ll blame the wine seller because they placed an unfermented wine on the top shelf, giving you the impression that it’s the best wine.
The wine seller doesn’t want to damage his reputation, so if enough of that top-shelf wine is returned by customers, he’ll take it down a few shelves. Similarly, Google does not want to be blamed for bad top search results, so they will demote pages that see a lot of quick exits.
SEO: Relevance to people’s needs
If we go back to our wine scenario earlier, “top-shelf” items have an expectation that they are the best of the best. These are the items a store owner is proud of and wants to highlight to be seen immediately by customers.
But the wine store is also organized by type of wine. There’s a top shelf for Italian wines, for Californian wines and for French wines. There’s a top shelf for white wines, for red wines, for dessert wines. When a customer comes in and asks for a “sweet after-dinner wine,” the wine seller directs them right away to his top-shelf dessert wines, because he knows those are the wines they’ll like the best based on their needs.
In the same way, customers perceive the first search results on a search query page to be the most relevant, quality results for their specific needs. They type in what they want into a search engine, and it directs them to a specific “top shelf” of results.
This is why SEO specialists recommend producing content that includes relevant keywords and synonyms for those keywords. Search engines connect the keywords on your web page to the query someone has typed in to know that your web page is relevant to their needs.
Relevance is achieved through context. The more information you have about a product, the more relevant it will be to a customer. Think of your about page as an example. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that Google only considers the page for SEO. On your about page, you only have this as your content: “We are a textile company, trusted for 40 years.”
If a customer searches for “uniform manufacturer US,” you might not show up on the results page because you used “textile.” But if your about page says: “We are a textile company in the US that specializes in manufacturing uniforms,” your Shopify store has a better shot at being one of the top results.
The customer CAN give more context to their search, but you can’t depend on them for that. I suggest you watch the skits by College Humor, “If Google Was A Guy.” It’s a funny take on how people use Google, and it shows that people don’t use many contexts when trying to search for something.
The burden of providing context, then, falls on you. This is why content marketing works hand in hand with SEO. The more information your store gives about your product or things related to your product, the more relevant you will be to Google and to prospective customers.
The inevitable, yet the unintended consequence of producing more and more quality content to give your customers more context is Topic Authority or Thought Leadership. Producing content about and around your product tells the search engines and potential shoppers that you are one of the experts on that specific topic. This not only makes customers trust you more, but it also incentivizes search engines to show you on top.
Keeping your competitors closer
Your competitors are already close, in fact, you are already in the same space. However, we don’t mean its literal sense. Learning from your competitors is the best way to be competitive. See what types of content they are producing and base your upcoming content on it. A rising tide raises all boats, meaning the trends that you and your competitors ride will push you to the top.
SEO is a constant and huge effort, but it pays off
SEO is a very challenging feat. The process of optimization is time-consuming and could take months of preparation and implementation. Sometimes, benefits can be felt immediately, but more often, the real benefits happen over time.
Also, unlike securing a physical location which is basically set-and-forget deal, SEO requires maintenance; it’s a constant struggle to be on top. There are other e-commerce sites that are also vying to be on top who are maybe doing similar things as you are. Lastly, there may be updated to the algorithm that can change the progress you’ve worked hard to gain.
However, focusing on SEO is worth it. Think of it as working out. It takes a lot of effort just to get in shape. But once you are in shape, you will feel stronger and more confident, and your lifestyle will be healthier. Once your efforts in SEO take effect, the maintenance will be easier, and you’ll reap the benefits of being a well-known, accessible, efficient and trusted store.