June 29, 2018

Shopify SEO Basics

Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce solutions available, currently, it is used by more than 600,000 businesses in approximately 175 countries to run their eCommerce store. The platform is feature rich; comes with beautiful templates, and ultimately offers its users a very easy way to sell their products online.

However, it’s one thing to create a great-looking Shopify website and quite another to drive organic traffic to it. I have seen so many small businesses build an ecommerce store, add all of their products, make it look fantastic and then sit back and ask why they’re not getting any sales. Now there are multiple reasons for this, from SEO to social proof and paid advertising. In this post we are going to cover the basics of the SEO side.

Below you’ll find a checklist of key things you need to do to maximise the chances of your Shopify site appearing in organic (free) search results. Although most of these steps apply to optimising any website, we have aimed to provide pointers that are as specific to Shopify SEO as possible.

1. Get your Shopify page titles right

The title tag is the boldest, most obvious element in a search result and therefore a major part in the decision-making process of whether a searcher will click on your result or not. According to Moz, title tags have “long been considered one of the most important on-page SEO elements.” And the closer to the start of the title tag any given keyword is, the more likely it will be to rank for that keyword-based query.

From an SEO point of view, the title tag should contain all the keywords you wish to rank for. And the most important keyword should be at the beginning, followed by second most important, then finally your brand name.

Moz provides this handy reference:

Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name

However, one thing you must remember: write title tags for humans.

Although they should be formatted to some degree for search engines, it’s vital that the tag makes perfect sense to humans and reads like a legible sentence.

(popular ones include Ahrefs and Moz’s Keyword explorer).

In Shopify, there are two different processes for editing page titles - one for your home page, and one for every other type of page.

Editing your Shopify home page title

To edit your home page title, you need to click Sales Channels > Online Store > Preferences. Then, use the box provided to enter your home page title. 

Editing other page titles in Shopify

For other pages, the method you use to edit a page title in Shopify is more or less the same, regardless of whether you’re working with a static page, product or post.

You need to locate your page, product or post in the Shopify dashboard - once you've found it, it’s simply a case of scrolling down to the bottom of it and clicking the ‘Edit website SEO’ link. You’ll then be able to edit the page title (along with your meta data and URL - see below).

Edit Shopify SEO

2. Use headings properly

Not using headings is a common mistake made by people who build and update their own websites using platforms like Shopify. Instead of applying headings correctly (H1, H2, etc.) to their text - as a developer or webmaster might do - they add bold or capitalised text to break up their content.

This causes quite a few problems: first, from an aesthetics point of view it can look bad. Second, it makes it harder for visually impaired visitors to your website using screen readers to understand your content. And third - and of most relevance here - it makes it more difficult for search engines to index your content properly.

Give each page a unique H1 reflecting the topic the page covers, using your primary keywords in it.

Use H2-H6 tags where appropriate (normally, there’s no need to go further than H3), using secondary keywords relevant to each paragraph.

Don’t overuse the tags and the keywords in them. Keep it readable for users.

In terms of adding headings and subheadings in Shopify, it’s very easy: when editing a page, you just highlight a piece of text and then choose your desired heading from the formatting drop down menu, as per the screenshot below.

Shopify Heading SEO

To add a heading in Shopify, highlight the relevant text and then choose the heading type using the formatting bar.

Of all the heading types, your H1 is the most important, because search engines use it (along with the page title) as a primary way of ranking the page. So it should always include (and ideally start with) your focus keyword.

3. Use engaging meta descriptions

Meta descriptions provide short summaries of your web pages, and usually appear underneath the blue clickable links in a search engine results page.

Although Google says they are not a ranking factor, a well-written meta description can encourage more clickthroughs to your website - which raises the clickthrough rate (CTR) of a page. The CTR of a page is generally believed by most SEO experts to be a ranking factor, so getting meta descriptions right is very important.

Your meta description should:

  • be concise (under 300 characters)
  • relevant to you content
  • contain the keyword you are hoping to rank for

As with page titles, different processes apply depending on whether you want to edit your home page meta description or the description for any other page.

To edit your home page's meta description, you'll need to click Sales Channels > Online Store > Preferences and use the box provided on the right of the screen to add or change it.

To edit a meta description for other types of pages, you just need to locate your page, post or product and then click the ‘Edit website SEO’ link.


4. Use alt text and optimised file names with your images

Search engine algorithms don’t just look at the words on your website when indexing your site; they factor in your images too.

To do this, they look at two bits of data associated with your pictures: ‘alt text’ and file names. Accordingly, you need to ensure both are up to scratch from and SEO perspective.

Adding alt text in Shopify

There are three main reasons why you should add alternative text (‘alt text’) to your images:

  • Screen readers use it to provide a description of an image to visually impaired users of your website.
  • Search engines use it to categorise and better understand your context.
  • If your image fails to load, a description of will be displayed to help avoid confusion.

You should aim to add alt text that works for both screen readers and search engines - a description that that contains your focus keyword but is still perfectly understandable to anybody who is using a screen reader to access your content.

Editing alt text is very straightforward in Shopify.

For images on pages or posts, you just locate the relevant picture and double click on it. You’ll then see a box appear which allows you to edit various aspects of the image, including alt text.

For product images, you simply locate the relevant picture, hover over it and then click the word ‘ALT.’

Shopify alt tags

Click the 'ALT' icon to change the alternative text for a Shopify product

You’ll then see a box appear which gives you the option to edit your alt text.

Shopify image alt tags

Changing image file names in Shopify

Changing file names is actually not very straightforward in Shopify - so it is better to get your file names right before you upload them to the platform. This essentially means ensuring your focus keyword is in the file name, and that the file name is short.

For example, if you are selling rose gold watches in your Shopify store, ensure that the image you upload is called ‘rose-gold-watch.jpg’ instead of something indecipherable like ‘IMG379A-2.jpg’

If you do have to change an image file name after you’ve uploaded it to Shopify, then it’s unfortunately going to require you delete your existing image and replace it with a re-uploaded version that contains your focus keywords in its file name.

5. Use clean URLs

Using ‘clean’ URLs with a simple structure is encouraged by Google. Clean URLs are short, simple and intelligible: as an example, if you were selling hooded blankets, it would be advisable to use a URL of www.yourdomain.com/hooded-blankets rather than www.yourdomain.com/products/p101.php?ref=375hdblkt

Fortunately, with Shopify, you're not going to end up with long-winded URLs like the latter example, but unfortunately the platform does generate URLs in a way that is slightly less clean than we prefer.

This is because the platform adds prefixes to your pages and products, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages
  • /posts/ before posts
  • /products/ before products

This isn’t ideal from an SEO perspective, but it’s not going to stop you ranking highly in search results, as there are many other ranking signals which will take priority over this.

What I would say is that you should still aim to ensure that whatever comes after the above prefixes is as ‘clean’ as possible and includes a focus keyword. The focus keyword helps both search engines and humans understand what your content is about.

To edit a page URL in Shopify, go to the page, product or post you wish to edit, scroll down to the bottom of it and then click 'Edit Website SEO.' Then, make your changes in the 'URL and handle' box (see screenshot below). If you DO change a Shopify URL, make sure that you tick the 'create URL redirect' option. This lets Google knows that you have changed the URL.

Shopify URLs

Changing URLs in Shopify for SEO purposes - if you do make a change, don't forget to tick the 'create URL redirect' box!

Note: changing URLs of pages that aren't currently performing in search results is usually a good idea - but if you are contemplating changing a page that IS already ranking highly, you should tread carefully.

This is because a high-ranking page is likely to have a lot of backlinks to it, and these don't count for quite as much if you change its URL (and won't count for anything at all if you don't create a redirect from your old URL to the new one).

Changing a URL can also affect the 'social proof' of a page because it will reset the stats displayed on your social shares counter for that page to zero.

So in an ideal world, it's good to get the URL structure right at the point at which you create your Shopify page or product, or shortly afterward.

And if you do end up changing a page URL on your Shopify store, always check that 'Create a URL redirect' box!

6. Register your Shopify store with Google and Bing

Registering a website with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is something all website owners who are serious about SEO should do, regardless of the platform they have used to build their website. By registering your site with both of these services you are telling the two major search engines that your website exists and you’re ensuring it gets crawled.

One important thing you should remember with these services is that you should register BOTH the www and non-www version of your domain (i.e., www.yourdomain.com and yourdomain.com), and, if you’ve got a secure and non-secure version of your website, the http:// and https:// versions of each.

Registering a Shopify site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is pretty straightforward - but for more information please review the below resources:

7. Submit your Shopify store’s sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

Once you’ve registered your Shopify site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, you’ll need to submit an XML sitemap to both services - this helps them to index your site accurately and quickly.

Shopify generates a sitemap automatically for you - the URL for this on your store is simply www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml - and you just need to enter this link into Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

In both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools you do this by going to your site’s dashboard, and then clicking ‘sitemaps.’

Shopify sitemap

8. Ensure your Shopify store is loading fast

Page speed is a signal used by search engines to rank websites, with fast-loading sites given preference over slower ones.

Your options for reducing page speed are a bit limited with Shopify - because rather than being able to buy your own hosting and code your own template, you have to use Shopify’s servers and their templates (although good, you won’t have detailed control over the speed with which your site loads).

That said, let us focus on the things you can do to make your Shopify site load as quickly as possible:

  • Use compression tools like Tiny Png to reduce the size of any image before uploading to Shopify.
  • Minimise the use of any external scripts or custom code on your site.
  • Avoid using a large number of web fonts on your site, or even consider removing them entirely in favour of web safe fonts  as these will load faster.
  • Use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format for your Shopify pages and posts - this displays extremely fast-loading versions of your content in mobile search result. AMP content is sometimes prioritised by Google in results (it’s more likely to appear in its ‘Top Stories’ carousels) and because pages in AMP format load so quickly on mobile devices, they’re more likely to be read (thus increasing the dwell time on your content, which many SEO experts believe to be a positive ranking signal). To use AMP with Shopify, you’ll need to install and pay for a third-party app like RocketAmp, but I’d argue that it’s worth it.

Rocket Amp app will speed up the load time of your Shopify store on mobile devices - this is something which will also improve SEO.

9. Add rich snippets to your content

Rich snippets data can be added to your content to help both searchers and search engines understand what a page is about - are an important part of how your website behaves in search results (check out this Search Engine Journal article about rich snippets to find out why).

Rich snippets feature visual clues about the content of a page or post - for example, star ratings, author, prices and so on - which appear just below the page/post title and before the meta description, as per the example below:

Shopify rich snippet

Example of a rich snippet. Using them can help improve a search result's CTR, which can in turn ultimately improves its position in search.

Rich snippets are typically generated through the addition of 'Schema Markup' - HTML code featuring tags defined by Schema.org (a collaborative project involving Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Yandex aimed at helping webmasters provide more accurate information to search engines).

There are a couple of ways to add rich snippets to a Shopify store. The first is to add some ‘data markup’ code to your Shopify templates (you’ll find some more information about this along with a code example here).

The second approach is to use a rich snippets app - there are tons of these available from the Shopify app store.

Either way, it makes sense to add rich snippets as they can help increase the click-through rate (CTR) of search results - something many SEO experts believe to be a positive ranking signal.

10. Focus on creating great content and building backlinks to it

A lot of Shopify users focus so much on their product pages that they forget a hugely important aspect of SEO: creating great content, usually in the form of blog posts.

Sites that feature in-depth, informative posts on topics that people are genuinely interested in tend to perform very well in search - and particularly so if there are lots of backlinks pointing to them.

You’ll also find some more resources on how to go about creating strong content and building links to it below:

A word of warning however: before you invest time in writing great content and building backlinks to it, some keyword research is essential. This helps you get a strong understanding of the niche topics that people are actively searching for, as well as how hard it will be to rank for a particular niche.

11. Assess the quality of your on-page SEO

On-page SEO is a set of steps that are taken to ensure that as many ‘ranking signals’ as possible are present on an individual page.

These include:

We’ve touched on some of these above, but there are many other things you need to do to ensure your on-page SEO is of a high standard. One way of checking that you’ve ticked all the relevant boxes is to make use of an SEO-checking app from the Shopify App store - there are several available which check the quality of your on-page SEO and supply a report containing a list of things you need to do to improve it.

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