[FYI: This article was initially published on the Ahrefs Blog. However, it has been subsequently rewritten, and I decided to share the original version here.]
Your store is all set up. The problem is that nobody’s visiting your website or buying anything. You’ve heard that a great way to get more customers to your store is by using SEO. But how do you actually rank in the search engines and get more organic traffic?
In this guide, you’ll learn a few essential tips for optimizing your Shopify store.
To get the most of this guide, you should first:
- Be on a paid plan. Shopify doesn’t let search engines index stores on trial accounts.
- Have a custom domain. People are more likely to click a result from handbagstore.com than handbagstore.myshopify.com. Learn how to connect your custom domain here.
- Be secure. SSL encrypts data sent between your visitors and your store. Shopify provides this. Just double-check that it’s enabled.
- Be mobile-friendly. Most Shopify themes are responsive. Check using Google’s mobile-friendly tester.
- Set up Google Analytics. Google Analytics tracks visitors coming to your store. It’s free. Here’s how to set it up in Shopify.
- Set up Google Search Console (GSC). Google Search Console shows what keywords you rank for, amongst other things. Learn how to set it up here.
- Submit your sitemap to GSC. Shopify creates an XML sitemap for you at yourstore.com/sitemap.xml. Follow these steps to submit it.
Have you already done all of that?
Now follow these tips to take your Shopify SEO to the next level.
1. Create a logical site structure
A good site structure helps users navigate your content more easily. It also helps search engines understand your site, which may help you rank higher.
How do you create a good site structure?
It’s all about hierarchy; you want your main categories at the top, followed by subcategories, followed by products.
For example, if you own an online guitar store, one of your categories might be “electric.” Under this, you might have a few subcategories, like “Ibanez” and “Jackson,” both of which are makers of electric guitars.
Under these sub-categories will be the range of products you’re selling.
How then do you organize them?
In Shopify, category pages are known as “collections,” and product pages are known as “products.”
To create a collection page, go to Products > Collections, then click “Create collection.” (You’ll learn how to fill in the titles and descriptions later on.)
To create a product page, go to Products > All Products, then click “Add product.”
You can also use automated collections to add products to collections automatically. This is useful if you have lots of products.
When you’re done, go to Online store > Navigation to add these collections to your main menu.
What about sub-categories?
Shopify does not differentiate between categories and sub-categories. If you want to create a sub-category page, you’ll have to create “collection” pages and nest them within a hierarchy in the menu.
Learn how to do this here.
2. Find the right keywords
Your site structure is done. Now it’s time to find and map keywords to your product and category pages.
This process is known as keyword research.
If you want a free way to do this, search Google for a word or phrase that describes your page. If the top-ranking pages are similar to yours, look at their title tags to try to deduce the keywords they’re targeting.
Sometimes it’s obvious:
Sometimes it’s not so obvious:
Either way, this method is far from foolproof. You have no idea if the keyword is actually popular or if competing sites optimized for it properly. It’s all guesswork.
A better (and more data-driven) way is to plug your best guess into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, then look at the Parent topic. This tells you the most popular way people are searching for a product or type of product.
Here, our best guess of “wheeled duffel bag” gets around 200 searches a month in the US, but the Parent topic gets about 1,800.
So, in this case, “rolling duffel bag” is probably the best keyword to target.
Just remember that deducing the best keyword to target from the Parent topic still isn’t 100% foolproof. Due to the way it’s calculated, it can sometimes kick back topics that are too generic.
For example, the Parent topic for “duffel bag with wheels” is simply “duffel bag.”
This is too broad. People searching for “duffel bag” probably aren’t looking specifically for duffel bags with wheels.
If this happens, scroll down to the “SERP Overview” and look at which keywords send the most traffic to the top-ranking pages.
Choose the most relevant one with the highest search volume—where your page aligns with search intent.
What does this mean?
Google wants to show the most relevant results for a query. That’s why almost all of the results for “duffel bag with wheels” are category pages, not product pages. Google knows that searchers are looking for choice, not a specific product.
The opposite is true for a keyword like “eagle creek no matter what rolling duffel,” where all of the top-ranking pages are product pages.
Trying to rank a product page for a query where Google mostly ranks category pages will be an uphill battle. Always make sure the type of page you’re trying to rank aligns with what currently ranks.
3. Optimize your titles, meta descriptions, and URLs
Now we know which keywords and terms to optimize pages for, it’s time to implement those findings.
You can start by optimizing the title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs of your product and category pages.
Editing them is pretty easy with Shopify.
Choose one of your collection or product pages, scroll down, and you’ll see “Search engine listing preview.” Click “Edit website SEO” to edit the metadata.
Note: If you rename the URL slug, make sure the box is checked to redirect the old URL to the new.
Here are some best practices:
- Write a unique title tag and meta description for each page.
- Include your target keyword (where appropriate).
- Avoid truncation—follow the character recommendation in Shopify.
- Create something click-worthy.
- Be brief but descriptive.
4. Write unique descriptions
As you’re creating product or collections pages, Shopify will give you the option to write a description:
These descriptions are important.
Search engines use your product descriptions to understand more about your page—which can help you rank higher.
Not only that, but a good product description can also entice a visitor to buy. This applies even if you’re selling a third-party product, as you can always create unique descriptions that align with your brand.
Unfortunately, most stores either don’t pay enough attention to this aspect, or they simply copy the product descriptions from manufacturers’ websites.
Here’s an example. This book entitled “How to Swear Around the World” has the exact same description on both WHSmith and Waterstones:
But Firebox—a retailer with a quirky brand voice—created a product description in-line with their brand:
Looks like it’s paying off for them—Firebox outranks both WHSmith and Waterstones:
Takeaway: be more like Firebox.
5. Make sure your site loads fast
Google announced page speed as a ranking factor in 2010. You should therefore make an effort to keep your site relatively fast.
However, since you’re using Shopify’s servers, your options for improving page speed are somewhat limited. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything at all.
Here are a few things to consider:
- When selecting a theme, choose one that’s fast. Generally speaking, if you’re using the themes from the Shopify Theme Store, you should be okay.
- Compress your images. Use apps like Crush.pics to compress your images before uploading them to Shopify.
- Install only the apps you need. The majority of apps downloaded via the Shopify App Store add code bloat to your store. This can make your site performance slower.
6. Add alt text to the images
Google Images is the second largest search engine in the world. It accounts for more than 20% of all queries Americans performed in 2018.
Translation: you can also get traffic from Google via your images.
One way to do this is to add alt text to your images.
What is alt text?
Alt text (alternative text) describes an image. It helps Google to understand what the image is about.
Here’s what Google says:
Google uses alt text along with computer vision algorithms and the contents of the page to understand the subject matter of the image.
Here’s how to add alt text in Shopify. Upload an image > Click “…” > Click “Edit alt text”
When it comes to writing good alt text, Google’s guidelines suggest some great tips:
When choosing alt text, focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and is in context of the content of the page. Avoid filling alt attributes with keywords (keyword stuffing) as it results in a negative user experience and may cause your site to be seen as spam.
7. Fix potential duplicate content issues
Shopify allows two versions of your domain to be indexed: your custom domain and the myshopify version of your domain.
For example, Beardbrand.com is indexed in Google:
But so is their myshopify domain:
This might cause duplicate content issues since the content on both the custom and myshopify domain is usually the same.
Luckily, this isn’t something you necessarily have to worry about. When you add your custom domain to Shopify, they should automatically redirect traffic to your primary domain.
Just make sure to double-check that this is the case.
To do that, go to Online Store > Domains. If you see the message “Traffic from all your domains redirects to this primary domain,” then you’re good.
If you see the message “Traffic from your domains is not being redirected to this primary domain,” then click “Enable redirection.”
This prevents Google from indexing both versions and potentially getting confused about which one to rank. It also ensures that all “link equity” is consolidated at your primary domain.
8. Add schema markup
Have you seen results in Google that look like this?
How do you get your pages to look like this? Use Schema markup.
Schema markup provides Google with structured data about the product or category, which it can then use to display rich results. These can often lead to more clicks, which may lead to more traffic and sales.
Fortunately, plenty of Shopify themes make adding “Product” markup easy. For example, all I had to do was fill in the details on the backend and the Schema markup was added automatically in the code.
If your theme doesn’t do this for you, don’t worry. There are plenty of apps in the Shopify App Store (e.g., Smart SEO) that can help.
9. Build links
Backlinks are important because they help with rankings. Our study here at Ahrefs has shown a clear correlation: the more backlinks a page has, the more organic traffic it gets from Google.
organic search traffic” width=”900″ height=”840″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-6057″ />
While correlation doesn’t prove causation, Google has admitted that links are one of their top three ranking factors.
The question is: how do you get more backlinks?
A good way to start is to find out who’s currently linking to your competitors’ homepages. The idea: if there are sites already linking to multiple competitors, they are more likely to link to you.
To find these sites, enter two or more competitors’ homepages into Ahrefs’ Link Intersect tool.
Choose the “URL” mode from the dropdown, leave the bottom field blank, then hit “Show link opportunities.” Link Intersect will show which sites are linking to your competitors.
Look through the results for easily replicable sources of links. For example, this site links to two of our targets:
If it makes sense to do so, reach out and ask them to include your product in their guide too.
10. Start blogging
Beardbrand gets an estimated 136,000 search visits per month.
Take a closer look and you’ll see that their blog accounts for 77% of their total estimated search traffic.
Traffic aside, blogging is useful for many other reasons:
- If you target the right keywords, you can easily “pitch” your product within the post (Beardbrand does this well).
- People who are ready to buy make up a small percentage of the marketing funnel. Creating informational content like blog posts helps you educate readers at different stages of the buyer’s journey and increase the chances of them buying from you in the future.
- Acquiring links to product or category pages is notoriously hard. It’s much easier to get links to informational content. You can then use internal links to send some of that “authority” to the pages that matter. This is known as the “Middleman Strategy.”
Your Shopify store automatically includes a blog named “News.” If you want to create a new blog, just go to Blog posts > Create a new post > Create a new blog
Is there more to Shopify SEO than this? Of course. But following the tips above should be enough to get you off on the right foot.