Your ecommerce site is essentially just like any other storefront.
But unlike a brick-and-mortar store, you can’t just put up a sign or an inflatable tube guy to grab a paserby’s attention. You have to command attention through SEO. You need to win the trust of search engines—the landlords of the internet—in order to earn prime real estate online.
To boost your chances of ranking on Google’s first page, you’ll want to audit your site regularly. You’ll want to understand all the different variables that play into your SEO performance and optimize them to the best of your abilities. Here’s a guide for how you can get started with that.
What is the purpose of an ecommerce SEO audit?
An SEO audit is like an annual physical with your doctor. The purpose is to check up on the health of your site, which can deteriorate over time if not given proper attention. The rules of the internet are constantly changing, as are user behaviors, so it’s not uncommon for you to uncover areas of improvement every year.
At minimum, you’ll want to audit your ecommerce site once a year, if not quarterly. You’ll also want to pay attention to several types of SEO signals: on-page, off-page, and technical.
Search engine algorithms are programmed to reward sites that delight visitors, so the goal of any audit is to ultimately find ways to strengthen your user experience. Other benefits of a site audit include:
- Finding ways to outrank competitors on Google
- Making sure that all of your product pages are easy to find online
- Diagnosing weaknesses in the content, structure, and/or usability of your site
- Increasing organic traffic and sales opportunities
- Identifying new keyword opportunities
How do you prepare for an ecommerce SEO audit?
To ensure that you have all the data you need for your audit, connect your site to Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides insights like traffic data, visitor demographics, conversion data, and more that are all specific to your site. If this is your first time installing it on your site, you’ll have to give yourself enough time to collect statistically significant data.
Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager are other great tools for analyzing site performance. Google Search Console allows you to see what queries brought visitors to your site and identifies any technical issues that you should address.
Tag Manager, on the other hand, lets you set up tracking for specific user behaviors, like how many times your visitors click on a certain button on your page, or how many of them abandon their shopping carts. Tag Manager integrates into Analytics to provide rich, customizable reports.
Last but not least, you’ll want to have a content optimization platform on hand. ContentEdge is one popular tool that allows users to discover keywords, blog topics, and dynamic tips for creating SEO-friendly pages.
An 11-part SEO checklist for your site audit
Without further ado, here are 11 steps for auditing your ecommerce site. By tracking down the answers to the below questions, you can identify ways to strengthen your site and capture Google’s attention.
1. Is your site appearing on Google?
When you publish a new webpage, it won’t instantly show up on search engine results pages (SERPs). It can take several days for Google to crawl and “index” it, which—in plain English—means being able to read and file your page away in the database.
To check if your content is being indexed, type “site:yourwebsite.com” into Google. The total ‘results’ number represents the total number of pages indexed from your site. This isn’t 100% accurate, but it can give you an idea of how much of your site is currently accessible by Google.
Alternatively, you can go check the number of “valid” pages on the Index Coverage report of Google Search Console. Note: it’s not uncommon to see a higher number of indexed pages than you expected. Many ecommerce sites face the problem of zombie pages, or dormant product pages, thank-you pages, duplicate listings, and other content that Google regards as low quality. If you notice this problem, delete, update, redirect, or add a ‘nofollow’ tag to your zombie pages.
On the flip side, if you see far less indexed pages than you expected, then you could be dealing with crawl issues. This leads us to the next question…
2. Can Google crawl your site properly?
Crawl errors often hatch from technical issues on your site. You can check if anything’s blocking Google’s crawlers from fully reading your webpages by examining errors on your Google Search Console Coverage report.
Not all ‘errors’ that appear on this report are bad. For instance, in the example above, the page that generated an error actually includes a ‘noindex’ link directive. This means that the site owner likely intended for Google to ignore this page.
However, you may be surprised to find broken links, excessive redirects, or rogue robots.txt files weighing down your site. Many ecommerce sites tend to encounter 404 errors because of out-of-stock listings or discontinued products. Too many 404s can cause Google to think that your site has a poor customer experience. If this happens, you’ll want to either restore or redirect those pages to another page that’s similar to them.
To further help Google properly crawl your site, check that you’ve submitted an up-to-date XML sitemap. Your sitemap shows search engines the lay of the land and how your pages all relate to one another. If your online store has hundreds or thousands of product pages, a sitemap is especially critical.
3. Are you ranking for relevant keywords?
Once you’ve checked that your site is being crawled and indexed properly, you’ll want to make sure that it’s being ranked properly.
This is where keywords come into play. Use a tool like ContentEdge or SEMRush to identify which keywords your site currently ranks for. Are these keywords important to you? What position(s) do you currently hold? Which pages are people landing on?
Compare this information with Google Search Console data, which will show you specific queries that brought visitors to your site. You’ll want to keep an eye on both branded versus unbranded keywords:
- Branded keywords – These refer to any terms that include your company name, like “YourBrand coffee beans.” Branded terms represent how many people have already heard about your brand prior to coming to your site.
- Unbranded keywords – These are broader terms that may apply to you, as well as other competitors in your space (“coffee beans”). These keywords help you reach a wider audience and engage first-time shoppers.
As you analyze these, think of the keywords that your site should be ranking for, as well as terms that you should be ranking higher for.
Google Analytics metrics like bounce rate, time on page, and other user behaviors can provide additional context. You can see what people do once they enter your site from a query like “coffee beans.” Are they actually sticking around to check out your products? Or, are they bouncing immediately?
If engagement isn’t looking so hot, consider whether your page needs to be beefed up or if you’re targeting the wrong keywords. It’s possible that someone googling “coffee beans” isn’t looking to actually buy beans, but to research different types of coffee beans. Look for other long-tail keywords to target, and double-check that they attract consumers with an intent to buy.
4. How does page speed look?
Run a quick PageSpeed Insights report. This will give you a score between 0 to 100 that indicates how long it takes for your site to load once a person clicks on it. The report will also provide insight into what can be done to improve your score. For instance, you may have lots of large images or special formatting that’s taking tons of time to load. Google frowns upon slow sites, so you’ll want to address page-speed issues right away.
5. Is your site mobile-friendly?
More than a third of all U.S. ecommerce spending is completed through mobile devices, so it only makes sense that Google is placing increasing importance on mobile friendliness. Analyze your mobile performance in one of several ways:
- Use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool.
- Fire up the Mobile Usability report in Google Search Console.
- Go to your site, right click, and hit “inspect.” From there, click the “>>” icon to reveal an option called “Lighthouse.” The resulting report will score the performance, accessibility, and safety of your mobile site.
As a general rule of thumb, your site should be fast-loading and easy to read from any mobile screen. You shouldn’t have to squint or zoom in to see any text, image, or button. Any large filter menus should be consolidated into an accordion menu. And—many SEO practitioners today would agree—pop-ups have no place on mobile versions of your site.
6. How accessible is your site?
An “accessibility” test checks that virtually anyone, including people who may be physically impaired or disabled, can easily view your site. You can check this by generating the same Lighthouse report as mentioned in the previous step.
Google will want to see that there’s enough color contrast between your text, subheadings, and background images. Images should also include alt text so that screen readers can discern what your content is about. You should aim to provide a good, inclusive user experience that both Google and your buyers will appreciate.
7. Does each page have its own unique meta title and description?
While neither your meta title nor description has a direct impact on your ranking, they’re both important for generating clicks—and, in turn, communicating to Google that people actually like what you have to offer.
Google may not always show your custom copy. However, if/when it does, your metadata is the first thing that your buyers will see when they stumble across your URL on Google. Studies even show that pages with a custom meta description generate 5.8% more clicks on average.
Since your meta title and description are public-facing, make sure they’re strong and compelling. Hook buyers in with unique copy that includes your primary keyword. Each page should have its own custom title and description that are <70 characters and <150 characters long, respectively.
If your site has hundreds or thousands of pages, you can recycle the product name and descriptions in these fields (though beware of duplicate content issues). Or, start with writing descriptions for your best-selling listings first, then work your way through your other pages gradually.
8. Are your title tags optimized for CTR?
In addition to creating unique title tags per page, you’ll want to check that your titles are performing as best as they could be. If not, it may be time to launch an A/B test. (One dead giveaway is if you’re on the first page but not ranking within the top three results. This means you’re losing out on 63% or more of all clicks—despite being on the first page!)
Analyze the links at the top of the SERP and see if there’s anything that they’re doing that you can mimic. Using action words like “buy” could make a big difference, as well as rephrasing words to use more everyday language.
RankScience once performed an A/B title test for Coderwall that added the word “(Example)” into the site’s title tags. This simple tweak increased CTR by 14.8%, yielding 59% more traffic over time. The reason? The word “example” provided more context for Coderwall’s audience, who sought tactile, ready-to-use instructions.
The same methodology could be applied to your ecommerce title tags, which should evoke an emotion or directly speak to what your buyers value most about a product like yours.
9. Are your images optimized?
Large image files are a common culprit of a slow site. You can compress images using free tools like TinyPNG, which you’ll want to do before publishing them. Aim to get your file size as small as possible without sacrificing on quality too much. Sometimes, using the right image format can make all the difference.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your images have alt text. Alt text allows search engines to “read” your images and impacts the accessibility score of your site. Alt text should ideally be paired with descriptive image filenames, but you can tackle this step little by little.
Aside from lending to a strong user experience, good image SEO affords you the chance to rank on Google Images. This could be yet another valuable traffic source for your brand.
10. Do you need to address any thin or duplicate content issues?
“Thin” content refers to pages that don’t have enough text, images, links, or other media for Google to consider it a valuable page. Product and/or category pages often fall into this category. These pages will usually have fewer than 200 words on them, which can be enough to warrant this red flag.
One way to get around this is by adding a description to the top of your category pages. You should also optimize your product descriptions on your listings and/or add customer reviews to increase your word count.
Watch out for duplicate content as well. This issue can occur when you copy and paste a manufacturer’s product description to your site. In other cases, you may have variation listings that exist as separate pages, where the content is nearly identical.
Too much duplication can upset Google. To avoid this, write unique product descriptions for each page and/or use canonical tags that associate variation listings to one main product page (remember that all variations should point to the same primary page).
11. Is your site optimized for rich snippets?
Your site is full of valuable data. That data, however, can easily get buried or confused. To showcase some of your most important information, you can use something called “structured data” (aka, “schema codes” or “schema markup”) that tells Google how to interpret specific elements of your site, like your prices, product names, or product reviews.
This data may then be displayed as rich snippets on SERPs to help you snag more real estate and increase click-through rates.
You can retrieve specific schema codes from schema.org. There you’ll find data markup to highlight things like:
- Local business
- Product availability
There are hundreds of other codes that you can choose from, but you’ll essentially want to pick the ones that are most essential for converting a customer. Google offers a Structured Data Markup Helper that simplifies this process further and auto-generates the right HTML file for you.
Fun fact: A third of Google’s search results use rich snippets, but less than one-third of websites actually use schema markup—so adding it to your site could give you a big leg up!
Give your website the best chance at ranking
In full disclosure, an SEO site audit could (and probably should) include many more steps. SEO is a vast world. There are many layers that you can explore and drill down into. That’s why it’s never a bad idea to consult an SEO expert.
Our RankScience team includes some of the sharpest minds in the field. Don’t hesitate to let us know if you’d like to partner with us and receive expert guidance on your next site audit.