2019 is just around the corner, and with the new year closing in, we knew it was time to gather data and assess the current behavior of ecommerce companies, their strategies, and how it affects consumer behavior. Search engines and easy access to customers have only become more competitive, making it even more essential for businesses to be aware of how they measure up.
To help you assess where your business stands and uncover every single tactic you can use to give yourself an edge, SEMrush collected and analyzed data from more than 8,000 ecommerce sites, the Hallam Agency shared detailed insights from their experience with ecommerce clients, and we rounded up advice from 9 influential ecommerce experts from all across the world.
In this post, we have combined our data on the most successful tactics so you can improve your online marketing strategies as we move forward into the new year.
1. Prioritize Mobile Traffic
We have officially reached the point where far more traffic is coming from mobile devices than desktops. Your site must be properly indexed and formatted to be competitive in the SERPs. Invest in a fully responsive, mobile-optimized site that can give visitors the full experience they would get on desktop.
Our research clearly indicated that mobile traffic is dominating ecommerce overall, regardless of the individual industry or the country in which the searches originated. When we looked at 13 popular ecommerce categories altogether, we found that mobile beat desktop in total traffic by approximately 46%. This trend is more prominent in some industries than others. The food industry, for example, had exceptionally high amounts of mobile traffic. This makes sense, as users are likely to search for “restaurant near me” when on the go.
All this considered, it does not mean that desktop traffic is irrelevant; the book industry still had 40.3% of its traffic coming from desktop users, and for the music industry that figure was 37.3%.
Mobile clearly matters a great deal, but in certain industries, substantial amounts of traffic are still coming from desktop users.
2. Optimize for Mobile-First Indexing
Start focusing on your ecommerce site’s mobile users. Make them your priority for the year ahead, rather than thinking of desktop as the primary platform. More traffic is coming from mobile devices, and if your site can’t match mobile users’ needs, you could lose sales. Optimize now for mobile-first indexing and you could see your overall site traffic and sales increase as a result.
Using SEMrush’s Site Audit Tool, we took a look at how top ecommerce companies are optimizing their sites for mobile users. We searched for the most common mistakes made on mobile websites and found that the vast majority of sites were plagued by significant problems.
The five biggest errors we found were:
- 4xx error codes, which impact a user’s ability to utilize or access the site correctly.
- Slow page loading speed, which will drive users away and negatively impact SEO.
- Issues with mixed content, which will negatively affect user experience and reduce confidence in your website.
- Missing or empty title tags, preventing Google from identifying the content correctly.
- Redirect chains and loops, which prevent users from getting to the correct destination quickly.
Probably the biggest SEO news this year was Mobile First, but since then, there hasn’t been much information about it with lots of companies wondering what they need to do.
In theory, as long as a site is responsive or had a dedicated mobile domain, then this ‘should’ be enough – but this is Google we’re talking about and it is never that straightforward.
The biggest tip I would give any site owner is to head into Search Console and look for mobile issues. Look at the Mobile Usability and Coverage sections for issues that you can resolve quickly or for bigger problems and get them resolved.
On top of this, you must pay attention to site speed and usability, which are two huge mobile factors for so many reasons. Google has said that site speed isn’t a ranking factor, but it does have an impact on user satisfaction by making sure site visitors aren’t kept waiting. Indirectly, this can feed into the parts of Google’s algorithm that look at user experience.
By making sure that users are happy with the whole mobile experience, you show Google that your site visitors are important to you.
3. Utilize SERP Features
SERP features are becoming more valuable. They increase your visibility, authority, and, as a result, sales. As highlighted by SEMrush’s research data, the top search results often display a variety of SERP features, with the most common across the globe being reviews, site links, carousels, and images.
Our research has indicated that the “Reviews” SERP feature is most common; this makes sense, given that reviews are one of the most powerful tools you can use to increase sales. They can build trust quickly, and convey value to your audience.
Each feature listed above should all be readily apparent to search engine users and can be added using schema markups so that you can provide more information to users in the search results. This method will make you much more competitive and these features can be the difference between getting a sale or losing it to the business immediately above or below you in the search results.
4. Diversify Your Backlink Profile
When deciding which sites to prioritize in the algorithm, Google looks for signs of quality and credibility. Backlinks to your site from high authority domains will indicate that you have credible content and will help you to rank higher in the SERPs.
Pay attention to your competitors’ tactics and analyze which backlink types appear most frequently. By following their example, you can effectively grow and build a diverse backlink profile for your own site.
There are steps you can take to improve your backlink profile. Creating useful content on your site is a good step; your audience and industry peers will find this valuable and share it, linking back to you in the process.
Founder of Ecommerce Platforms Catalin Zorzini had some great advice to share about link building:
I always remind our readers that the number 1 rule in “link building” is to have link-worthy content on your own website. Weirdly enough, many entrepreneurs focus their efforts on outreach, but ignore their own content strategy. I think we should think of a strategy to earn links only after we have absolutely fantastic content on our website. Do we only have an About Us page and a few standard product pages? Why should anyone link to our website?
Let’s focus on “content building” first. Create some in-depth guides aimed at your audience: what do they need, what do they want, what are their difficulties, what are their dreams? And then you can reach out to others and show them what outstanding content you have created on your site, and ask if they are interested in a guest post from you.
We all know that link building is important, but knowing how to actually establish a backlink strategy is something else altogether. Elle Pollicott from Hallam Agency had a few best practices to share:
At Hallam, the link building strategies we create for our clients focuses on larger content campaigns, that are so interesting and engaging, websites actively want to link to them. In addition to that, we also focus on guest posting and link reclamation – which involves monitoring our clients’ brand names, service and products.
When we build links for clients, the majority are follow links, with branded anchor text. Follow backlinks tend to be more advantageous as they pass on “link juice” to your site. However, nofollow backlinks can bring benefits too – especially if it’s from a high authority website, and it brings you quality, relevant traffic.
A healthy backlink profile should contain a mixture of follow and nofollow backlinks, with a range of domain ratings (DR) – although the higher the DRs, the better.
Ultimately, whether you create a blog post, interactive graphic or an in-depth tutorial; having original, valuable content on your site that your audience and industry peers will want to share, is the way to go when building your backlink profile.
5. Invest in Technical SEO
Your site must be technically sound to find SEO success. If a search engine has difficulty crawling and understanding your site, how can it serve it to people in its results page?
We found that most of the top ecommerce sites included in the research did well with performance overall. Desktop sites scored 80% for crawlability, 85% for performance, 88% for international SEO, and 91% on HTTPS implementation. That being said, there is always room for improvement.
To perfect your technical SEO, you should:
- Perform a site audit immediately. Use SEMrush’s Site Audit tool to look for any problems, big or small, affecting your SEO performance.
- Look for small glitches like duplicate errors or broken links, which can affect the crawlability of your site.
- Utilize hreflang tags to optimize your site for international SEO. They explain what language and territory content certain pages are targeting. Fewer than 20% of ecommerce sites currently have them in place.
SEO expert Craig Campbell shared some of his easy-to-implement tactics to make technical SEO a little less intimidating:
Canonicalisation is another common problem with ecommerce websites that many people get wrong. If you are selling black leather shoes with a nice product description but the shoes come in sizes, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, then for each product variant you will have a new URL. If Google crawls those product variations, then you are likely to be penalised for duplicate content. Google also struggles to understand which URL is the best one for the search term you are trying to target.
To prevent this, implement the rel=canonical tag to any page to take you to the main page that you are trying to optimise, so that you are showing Google the main page you want to rank well.
6. Implement AMP On Key Pages
AMP is essential in helping web pages load faster on mobile devices, improving the user experience significantly. Faster load times increase the likelihood that users will stay on your site, engage with it, and potentially purchase from it.
AMP won’t be a strong choice for all sites, particularly those that rely on dynamic pages or site features, but the majority of ecommerce sites should consider implementing it.
Of the sites that we analyzed, we found that only 10.7% had dedicated AMP pages; the vast majority (89.3%) did not, creating an enormous missed opportunity for enhanced mobile performance. The overall implementation of AMP is extraordinarily low, so ecommerce sites that adapt now have a huge opportunity to outrank their competitors by getting that valuable, all-encompassing mobile traffic.
To implement AMP successfully and see its maximum impact, you should:
- Watch for the most common AMP implementation mistakes and issues.
- Implement AMP on the pages that matter most. For many ecommerce sites, this will be your homepage and your product pages.
- Utilize the current AMP features available to you, including the amp-carousel to highlight multiple products or the amp-video to offer mobile-friendly video content.
- You can link your AMP with your Progressive Web App to increase site speed overall. You can combine your AMP pages with your PWAs with tools like the amp-install-serviceworker.
Max Prin, Head of Technical SEO at Merkle, shared his expert advice on AMP with us:
Should E-commerce websites use AMP? If the answer must be boolean I’d say Yes, but like a lot of things, it depends. It depends on the audience, resources, goals, current state of the site, and more. If an e-commerce site has a poorly designed and slow mobile site, then AMP might be a good solution right, before a full overhaul of the site.
The AMP framework has considerably evolved over the last two years, especially when it comes to features required on e-commerce websites. And yet, adoption is very low like SEMrush’s data shows.
I believe AMP can be valuable if the rest of the experience on the site is as fast and if creating another set of URLs can be avoided. Combining AMP and Progressive Web App (PWA) features on the same URLs can create an ideal implementation for both search engines and users, leveraging AMP for the speed and SERP features, and PWA for UX, engagement and conversions.
7. Optimize Visuals For Search and Conversions
Users are unlikely to purchase online if they don’t see high-quality images, so it is essential to make image optimization a primary consideration for conversions. Visuals also provide a potential source of traffic and revenue: image searches make up 21.8% of searches on web properties. This number is likely to increase, as usage of the emerging technology of visual search keeps expanding. To capitalize on these facts, it is essential that your images are fully optimized to drive conversions.
To successfully optimize your images for search and conversion rates, you should:
- Use JPEG image files, as they have a high quality but low file size.
- Using multiple images per product can increase conversions and give you more images to optimize. Incorporate your own images instead of stock photos to better stand out in the SERPs.
- Optimize each image correctly. Every image should have a file name and caption that uses your target keywords.
- Include image sitemaps on your site, so that Google can receive information about the images that you have uploaded.
- Add product images to the structured data of product pages with schema.org markups, allowing your images to show up in the SERPs and in relevant searches.
- Include alt attributes like image alt tags for every image. Even among top ecommerce sites, 15% had missing alt tags, so check your site now.
8. Implement Schema Markup
Schema markup lets you tell Google and customers exactly what you want them to know about your product and site in one quick snapshot that is easy for both to understand.
Anyone not making the most of schema is missing out on better CTR, traffic, and SERP features – and right now, that includes 47.88% of even the top ecommerce sites. Of the 52% of ecommerce sites that had implemented schema markups, 44.96% were using Open Graph protocol.
After Open Graph markup, the next most popular option was Schema.org markup at 19.98%, and Twitter Cards schema which was used by 16.32% of businesses. Several sites that had implemented schema were using multiple types of markup.