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Ep. 85 - SEO Strategies for Small Businesses on Shopify with Chris Long

Chris Long is a Senior SEO Manager at Go Fish Digital who works with unique problems and advanced search situations to help clients improve organic traffic through a deep understanding of Google's algorithm and web technology. 

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:24] Chris’s journey towards SEO and Go Fish
  • [03:20] When should SMBs start focusing on SEO
  • [04:39] Free resources and tips for starting SEO
  • [06:47] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com
  • [07:27] The importance of meta and product descriptions
  • [08:29] Is Shopify really not good for SEO?
  • [11:02] Every CMS has its own quirks
  • [11:36] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.link/honest
  • [12:26] Shopify is still the best for starting out
  • [13:04] Other small Shopify SEO quirks
  • [13:44] Shopify blogs for SEO
  • [15:56] How to check the intent of keywords
  • [16:50] Sponsor: Postscript postscript.io/install
  • [17:20] Building your “1.0 Content Strategy”
  • [19:40] Shopify site optimizations to improve performance

Resources:

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Transcript:

Chris Long  

From the beginning, from the moment you decide you want a site, try to have SEO in mind

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. 

I'm your host Chase Clymer, and I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.

Hey everyone, Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. Today, I am welcoming to the show, Chris Long from Go Fish Digital. Chris is a senior SEO manager over there Go Fish Digital.

And they work on unique problems and advanced search situations to help their clients improve organic traffic through a deep understanding of Google’s algorithm and web technology

Chris, welcome to the show. 

Chris Long  

Hey, appreciate you having me Chase. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely, SEO is such a vast topic. And I myself, I am not an SEO expert by any means. So I like having experts on because I get to actually learn things. 

And I asked really dumb questions because I am not that good at SEO. So it's a great... It's gonna be a great time. All right. Chris, how did you get started down this path in SEO? What led you to Go Fish?

Chris Long  

Yeah. So my SEO journey is a little bit unique. Actually, coming out of school, I was a finance major. When I started applying for real world jobs, I quickly realized that that wasn't for me. 

Around the same time, I stumbled on to a few different SEO agencies in the area and  got really interested in the topic. It seemed really interesting to me that you could essentially help drive more users and more conversions to your site passively through something like the Google search engine. 

So I thought it was a really, really cool and powerful thing at the time. I started by really just trying to get as many informational interviews as possible in my area, which was Pittsburgh at the time. 

And then [I] just applied to every place that I could possibly imagine. I finally found a smaller shop that was able to give me a shot. 

And then from there, I applied to move down to Raleigh to work at Go Fish Digital. Before then I was more broad... I was SEO, but also content marketing and social media. But when I came to Go Fish, I really started focusing on SEO. 

[I] got a lot more deep in terms of how technical you could go, and I was just really, really fascinated with it. So it has been history ever since then.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Yeah, that's amazing. And I like how you said [that you] started to specialize and focus a bit more just because it is such a vast technical area of, I guess --not necessarily Ecommerce-- but just digital in general. 

There's optimizing for so many different things for so many different types of products or services. [There are] so many ways to go about it. So these days, you're working a lot with Shopify stores?

Chris Long  

Mm-hmm. Yep, that's correct. We have a lot of clients who are on Shopify. And through that we started to get really, really familiar with the SEO ins and outs that come with the platform.

Chase Clymer  

Alright, so here's a really basic question, I guess. And this is something, I guess, I think a lot of our listeners will want to know. 

When should I as a small business on Shopify, or just a small Ecommerce business in general --there are obviously other platforms to get started on-- when should I start focusing on SEO? When should it be a priority for me?

Chris Long  

Personally, I think it should be a priority from the beginning. As soon as you plan on even having a website, SEO should be a really, really high priority. If you kind go into... If you are planning the site, but maybe choose a theme that doesn't have the best performance or do something that doesn't take SEO into consideration.

Maybe you don't build out the site in a way that's going to make sense in terms of SEO, that's going to be a problem later down the line, especially when you do start to generate more interest in "Hey, I want my product, I want my category pages to rank and actually generate traffic." 

If a site isn't set up for that framework, it can be even more time-consuming and even more costly to fix. So really, ideally... I know it's tough, especially when you're just starting out with a store. 

But as best as possible, from the beginning, from the moment you decide you want to site, try to have SEO in mind. That's what I probably say, to really have an ideal setup for you moving forward.

Chase Clymer  

Well, I'm all... I'm on board on that. If someone tells me it's a priority, I want to do that. But as a small business owner, it sounds expensive. And we've got limited budgets and we've got to spend it wisely. 

So do you have any tips or tricks or resources that I should check out when I'm setting up my website for the first time to make sure that I'm doing things the right way as you said?

Chris Long  

Yeah, definitely. So in terms of resources, one of the go-tos is the Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, pretty much the standard. And in terms of people getting familiar with SEO, they update it every year. It's truly phenomenal content that makes it very, very palatable to learn SEO. So if you just have one resource, I'd recommend that. 

We also have built out a Shopify SEO Learning Center as well. So it can be a little more in-depth on the technical side. But if you are looking for specific Shopify advice, that's a great resource as well. In terms of just general best practices, I really start with 2 for a Shopify store. 

Make sure that you have a unique category page for every topic that you cover. So let's say if you have bed sheets, you might have a general bedsheets category page, but then you might have an Egyptian cotton bed sheets page because that's a different subtopic of that. 

So as much as you can break your products out into individual categories, and then build landing pages for those categories, that's really gonna set you up really, really strongly in terms of SEO. As well... 

A really good thing, just a low input-high output return is just ensure that all of your title tags are optimized in Shopify to go to any category or product page and scroll to the bottom of the page. 

You'll see an area where you can edit your title tag, and just ensure that those are optimized, that you have the core topic of the page or the core keyword of the page assigned in that title tag. 

That's going to set you up in terms of a really strong foundation. So especially if you're working with limited resources, maybe a developer isn't available, those two things are at least going to get you a really good bid on the way there.

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Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And I'm just gonna pile on there. I look at so many stores and maybe they have the title tag, but they don't have the description filled out either.

Chris Long  

Yeah, definitely. That, a little bit. more depends, I would say. If you have a really high traffic page, then a description is probably going to be worth your time. 

Descriptions don't really influence rankings, but meta descriptions will influence rankings by [influencing] click through rates. So if you have a high-ranking page, then a meta description is definitely going to be useful. That can help draw more clicks.

In terms of products descriptions, so the actual content on the page, those are always going to be helpful. So ensuring that you're filling out your product descriptions as robustly as possible is really, really key because any organic traffic driving at product pages is generally very high intent and very transactional. 

So that those are some of the page categories I focus on first, because if people are searching for specific products, that means their mind is made up in terms of what they want. They're just looking for where can they get it and at what price point

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Alright, so I've got a.. I'm going to try to ask a question without it being a loaded question. 

But when I first started getting into the Shopify game --many moons ago, before I had gray hair-- I would randomly get these inquiries from people and they would question how Shopify was built, or maybe, they were implying that there were issues with the Shopify platform in terms of how Google or just search engines in general deal with Shopify stores. 

I guess, is there any proof to that statement? Or how does that work? I guess there's a rumor going around that Shopify maybe isn't the best for search engine optimization. 

Chris Long  

Sure. So Shopify does have a few things that can be a little more limiting from a store owner's perspective. The big ones are you can't make manual adjustments to things like your robots.txt. That's a file that controls how your website is crawled

That only really matters if you have a really, really big website where there's a potential for Google to find a lot of contents. So it is limiting there. 

As well [as] you can't get to the log files from Shopify, which actually tell you exactly "Hey, here's how Google is actually encountering your site's URLs." That's a little bit of data that webmasters don't have. 

So a few things that limits you in terms of what you can do and what you can access, a lot of that is going to depend on the size of your site, and how technical you want to go, as well [as] the biggest opportunity we've seen --just in terms of technical adjustments-- is on Shopify category pages. 

If you notice, on Shopify category pages, there's actually links to product pages that aren't the ones that actually rank in Google. If you check any of your ranking product pages in Google, they actually only have the term "products'' in the URL. 

However, if you check your category pages by default, oftentimes, they'll have the term collections and products in the URL. And essentially, what Shopify does is it creates these  duplicate pages, and then links to them on your category pages. 

Now, they do take steps to kind of consolidate that a little bit. But just in terms of technical SEO, it's not a best practice. And there are... There is a very, very easy fix for that. 

Essentially, by adjusting your product to grid in Liquid file, you can actually have a developer make those adjustments for you to ensure that your category page is always pointing to the proper product pages.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. And now, I guess, just going back to the question at hand, sure Shopify has its quirks. But I would probably go as far as to say [that] every CMS out there has its own individual quirks? Is that pretty true?

Chris Long  

Sure. Yeah. Some more than others. But yeah, there's going to be pitfalls of really any CMS. We know whether it's Wordpress, whether it's Shopify, so it's not just Shopify specific. 

We've just worked with a lot of the ones where, "Hey, these are common amongst the Shopify stores that we've seen." 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome.

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Chase Clymer  

I guess I just want to put it out there like, hey, don't let this stop you from using Shopify. If you're building an Ecommerce brand, Shopify is a no brainer. 

Chris Long  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

I wouldn't let these small bugs.... They're not bugs. They're just their quirks, I guess, I wouldn't let those like influence your decision. At least that's my opinion.

Chris Long  

Sure. Yeah. And I think Shopify is definitely very, very good, especially if you're an Ecommerce store, especially if you're selling any type of B2C or direct-to-consumer product. Shopify is a really, really easy out of the box solution for that. So definitely that's a good path to go down especially if you have that type of Ecom product.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now, are there any other common issues that I forgot to ask about?

Chris Long  

Those are generally the big ones that we've seen. Some other small ones, is just you're not able to adjust your sitemap.xml. Your sitemap.xml, it provides Google a list of all the possible pages for it to crawl on your site. 

[It] gives Google different access points to your different pages. You can adjust that. But overall, most Shopify sites really don't need to. 

And Shopify does auto generate that file, which is actually very, very nice for a lot of webmasters. So [it’s a] small thing in terms of a limitation in terms of your ability to edit. But something to keep in mind if you are working through Shopify.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So let's pivot a little bit here. And this is very... It's a very funny question that we have next. 

Because we, at the agency, are actually redesigning one of our clients blog pages. And so my partner... I was looking around for some blog inspiration and he... It dawned on him. He's like, "Wow. There are like a lot of brands that just do not utilize their blog." Which leads me to this question. How can Shopify store owners better utilize their blog for SEO?

Chris Long  

Right. Yeah. And it's a great question. And it's something I think a lot of Shopify store owners can benefit from. 

Commonly, in terms of Google, while you might think --a lot of webmasters may think--"Hey, this keyword is mapped to a product or category page." Oftentimes, you actually type that keyword in Google, you'll see a lot of blog content ranking for it. 

We've actually used the term like "cloth diapers" as an example. When I queried that term, yes, there are some products and category pages. But there's also a lot of aggregation lists, listicle types of articles that say, "Hey, here are the 20 best cloth diapers of 2020." 

And it's going to be really, really hard in some queries to rank a product or category page, or those terms, if Google shows a certain intent and says, "Hey, users want informational comparison content." Then that's content that you're going to need to rank in order to compete for your core terms for Shopify. 

So if I wanted to rank for cloth diapers, and Google wasn't showing any product or category pages, I would need to actually write a blog post to have a chance of ranking for that. Maybe compared to some of the top products and maybe some of the different sub categories of top products. 

I think that's where Shopify owners have a lot of opportunity. It's to really check the intent of your core keywords first. And if you see it's informational, then go out and create informational content around that. 

Because no matter how hard you push to rank a product or category page, if Google isn't showing that, or Google isn't ranking those products and category pages, it's going to be really hard for you to get yours to show up in top 10 results for Google.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So you said go out and check the intent of your keywords. How would someone do that?

Chris Long  

Yeah. It's very, very simple. Once you've recognized your core keywords, you've identified, "Hey, here are the keywords we know we want to rank for.", maybe have some AdWords data behind it. 

Simply go into Google, type your keyword and then just note, what are the top types of content that Google's ranking. These tend to be comparison articles, are they competitor category pages, or are they product pages? 

And then from there, you can say, "Okay, what page is on my site? Can I either optimize for that keyword? Or what types of content do I need to go out and create to rank for that keyword?" 

And oftentimes, the answer is [a] blog post, because Shopify sites are really getting a lot of increased competition from maybe more affiliate type of sites that do have that informational type of content.

Chase Clymer  

There are some amazing data.

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Chase Clymer  

One final question I'd have for you. I know you're not doing as much content marketing these days over at Go Fish, but I guess, do you have any advice for brands that are looking to build their "1.0 content strategy", utilizing their blog? 

Oftentimes, I find that brands aren't doing it because they just don't know what they should be writing about on their blog. And it almost gets repetitive to keep talking about their product over and over. 

So, what are some ways to create content that is maybe a little bit... It's in the same realm but not specifically about their product? Does that make sense to you? 

Chris Long  

Yeah. It makes sense. In terms of a 1.0 content strategy, the path I would take first would be to really need to identify the core keywords that you're up for your site. 

Maybe if you bid on AdWords in the past, take a look and see what those are. And then just start querying your top 5, top 10 keywords in Google, seeing, A, which ones are mapped to informational content and then start to create a plan to actually execute that content. 

And really, what we like to do or we recommend is, have webmasters outline that content to find, "Hey, the pages that rank in the top 3 of Google tend to cover these different topics." 

Going back to the cloth diaper examples, it might be you know how to clean them, what different types of cloth diapers there are, those different types of things. 

And then make sure your content is talking about the same thing as well. So really ensuring that you're noting what the top ranking contents [are] talking about and emulating that in your content. 

And then the second part of that maybe the 2.0 strategy is how can I make my content even better than competitors? Can I offer insights that competitors can't? Do I have the time to go out and build content or build out more content to make this article even more useful and add additional functionality, like a table of contents or something? 

So really, then the second part is making your content above competitors and even better to be the best answer you can possibly be.

Chase Clymer  

You're just giving everyone so much awesome advice. I can't thank you enough. Thank you. (laughs) I'm just gonna take you right now in the middle of the episode. 

Alright, so I got a final question for you here. So it's what can Shopify sites do in order to improve their performance?

Chris Long  

Right. And I think that's a great question. Because this is something that's so, so key to Shopify sites, and not just SEO. 

SEO is definitely... Speed is a factor in terms of Google's algorithm. But it also impacts so much more. So a lot of Shopify sites are doing email marketing, running AdWords campaigns, promoting on social media, those types of things. 

And speed matters there too. It matters for your user experience and it matters for your conversions. And one thing, a lot of Shopify stores that we've run into --we've actually pulled original data on this are-- a bit slower than standard stores. 

And the reason is... There are several different reasons. 

One, just due to the Ecom nature, Shopify sites tend to use a lot of large images, so find opportunities to compress those images and reduce their size. 

[This] is often a very, very high priority win. As well [as] when you're creating your Shopify site, ensuring that you're using a nice and lightweight theme. 

We actually wrote a post called Shopify Speed Optimizations. And we took every single Shopify site in the Shopify Theme library and ran them through Google PageSpeed Insights, and then found what the fastest themes were. 

So you can actually check out that data to see "Hey, here's what the fastest themes are." if you want a theme that's nice and lightweight to start. The final aspect I'll cover in terms of Shopify performance will be using Lazy Loading

Shopify sites obviously use a lot of images, especially on category pages. Lazy loading is a technology that allows images not to load until the user actually scrolls to those images. 

So sometimes you might be browsing the site and see it takes images a second to pop up on the screen. That's lazy loading. And what it does is it allows your images to be delayed until the user sees them. 

So if you have 100 images on a page, they all don't need to load at once. Maybe only 10 need to load at first, and then users are only served the content as it's needed. And that's a really nice win for Shopify stores, just because they're so image-happy. 

So those are really good ones. And if you're interested in implementing that, there's a library called lazysizes. And you can just ask your developer, "Hey, how can we get this implemented?" And generally, it's a relatively straightforward thing for a developer to do.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. That's great advice. Now, is there anything that I forgot to ask you about today that you think would be worthwhile to share with our audience?

Chris Long  

Yeah. I think... Overall, the big... One of the big things with Shopify stores, is going back to the intent that we've talked about. I think that's where webmasters have some of the best opportunity, creating that informational content to better be mapped toward intent. 

That's a really, really big one, as well as other things that Shopify stores will benefit from are just your SEO basics. Shopify stores certainly aren't excluded from that. 

So obviously, ensuring that your title tags are all optimized, you actually have content that's built out as best as you possibly can be, and ensuring, once again, that your content is loading really, really fast so users are having a good experience. 

Those are some generally very, very good things for Shopify stores and really all sites. So those are probably the big ones. I'd point out that webmasters will get some of the most benefits from, in terms of improving SEO.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. And if I'm, if I'm enjoying what you're saying,and I want to reach out to you, get a hold of you, maybe it's a little bit too technical for me, how would I get ahold of you?

Chris Long  

Sure, no problem. Yeah, you can reach out to me via Twitter. My Twitter handle is @gofishchris. You can also go directly to the Go Fish Digital website and ask to chat. I'd be happy to do that. 

If you're interested in learning more about Shopify SEO in general, you can check out our Shopify SEO Learning Center [at] gofishdigital.com.shopify-seo

We build out a ton of different resources for Shopify webmasters to improve their SEO. I'm talking about best practices in terms of technical SEO, talking about best practices in terms of improving speed optimization, as well as showing Shopify owners "Hey, here's how you can create blog content to be a better mapped to more informational types of queries."

So we've created a good amount of resources, really with the goal of helping shop Shopify owners improve rankings, organic traffic, and primarily revenue to their stores. That's the Shopify SEO Learning Center.

Chase Clymer  

Chris, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Chris Long  

Yeah. Appreciate you having me and I would love to do it again, Chase.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely.

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well. 

If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect. Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!