In this interview, I’m talking with SEO expert Rebecca Gill. The topic: how to effectively use search engine optimization with your eCommerce site or online store. Rebecca has not only taught people how to use SEO, but she walks the talk as she optimizes her clients’ sites via her agency. Read it as she drops some serious knowledge bombs to help the search engines find your online products, which, of course, leads to better sales.
We chatted about:
- Whether optimizing SEO for an online store is any different than the process used for other sites
- How to make the most our of your product descriptions
- Why you should pay special attention to your product images
- Important factors to keep in mind when creating the mobile version or an app for your online store
- Deciding to use your theme’s built-in SEO vs. a plugin
- SEO plugins and add-ons— and how to use them most effectively
- Local SEO and the effect it has when you are both a brick and mortar store and an online store
- Some extra tips when it comes to search engine optimization and your eCommerce site
Bob Dunn: Today we are talking about search engine optimization and your online store. What better guest to have on the show than one of my good friends, Rebecca Gill.
Rebecca Gill: Thanks Bob, thanks for having me!
Rebecca Gill: I am a Michigan native and I founded Web Savvy Marketing— 7 years ago in July, actually. For Web Savvy, we do custom design and a lot of SEO work for clients internationally. We also have a theme store online for Genesis child themes. Recently, I launched DIY SEO Courses and we have a full SEO course for people who want to learn more about SEO and do it themselves. There’s an add-on course for selling SEO services and then I will have additional courses being rolled out soon that are industry-specific.
SEO courses for the do-it-yourselfer
Bob Dunn: Very cool. I must admit I did go through the SEO course. In fact, you can see a review on my blog, Bob WP. I would highly recommend it. It’s a great course. I’m a big one for breaking down SEO into terms people can understand and Rebecca does an excellent job with that. I take my hat off to you for that course. It’s good.
Rebecca Gill: Thanks, it was definitely a labor of love.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, I’ve done courses, I know I was going through the whole thing thinking, “Okay I know this is some serious work here.” Anyway, we’re going to start off with a question that’s a bit broad and I know it’s going to actually probably touch on the other questions or lead into them. But when you’re doing SEO for your online store, optimizing your site, is it really a lot different than optimizing another site like just for maybe your business services?
Rebecca Gill: The process that you go through is the same. I mean, you still need to do keyword research and competitive analysis and do some planning with site mapping and site architecture, and on page optimization But where it starts to vary is you’ve got more elements to worry about. If you’re using Woo Commerce, for example, in addition to trying to keep what your keyword focus is and what you’re optimizing with standard pages and posts and blog post categories and tags, now you’re entering into new elements, such as products and product categories and product tags and it becomes more complex.
Then you can add in additional features that you really need to be cognizant of. Which is like manufacturing numbers come into play and if you’re representing a product that is manufactured by somebody else and you’re one of many people selling this product, what type of descriptions are you using and are they short or long or generic and duplicated with other websites out there. You have more elements that come into play, although the typical process itself is very similar to that of a regular service or business website.
How do you avoid duplicate content when it comes to your online products?
Bob Dunn: Okay and that takes me into the next question perfectly because you’re talking about products as a unique challenge for SEO on an online store. Do you have some tips for product description optimization and also when you do have a lot of similar products that others are selling as well, you mention the duplicate content issues. Second part of that question, are there any tips for getting around the duplicate content issues?
Rebecca Gill: One of the biggest challenges with products is you have … You’re duplicating your efforts. Whether you’re duplicating your efforts with yourself and you’ve got very high number of products that are very similar, whether they be colors or sizes and if you set up individual skews for those and have individual products, now it’s really difficult to optimize those because they’re all so very similar to each other and trying to keep things unique is difficult.
Then, the flip side. You have that duplication issue with products you may be representing and having all of those products out in the internet that other distributors are representing as well. What most companies do, and this is even with really large websites and it always floors me, that … So say you’re an eCommerce site and you’ve got 15 different manufacturers that you represent and you bring in a data feed, whether you’ve imported it or it’s an API, but you’re bringing in data and you’re bringing it in straight from the manufacturer. You’re feeding in all of their content and a lot of times it’s limited content. There isn’t a lot there and it’s duplicated with everybody else.
There’s nothing for the search engine’s to say, “You know what? I really want to rank you over and above these other hundred websites that are pushing the same product.” Because if you’re just grabbing what the manufacturer’s giving you, there’s nothing that stands you out. Nothing that makes you unique and that is the one thing that I see. The biggest error I see in eCommerce sites that I review, whether it be for my clients specifically for SEO or comparing them to their competition, everybody does it. It makes it challenging for the search engines and if you think about it, if it’s challenging for the search engines to tell one website from another and rank one piece of content from another, imagine what it’s like for the user who’s actually searching for something on the internet and seeing all this, the duplication.
They’re not going to be inclined to embrace your site, nor are the search engines. The best thing you can do is, if you are in that kind of scenario, don’t just take the generic description that the manufacturer gives. That’s most likely short and incomplete and duplicated. Write your own. Use their content as a basis, but create your own descriptions, add information to it so that both the search engines and the users find something unique in your website so that they want to purchase from you versus somebody else.
Bob Dunn: And when you’re doing that specific to Woo Commerce, you have the summary and then the description, the short summary and the description.
Rebecca Gill: Yeah.
A rule of thumb on keywords
Bob Dunn: When you’re doing those two, is there a rule of thumb on one, where you should put the key words in both of them and two, the length on those two?
Rebecca Gill: For me, I use both of them, right? Part of the answer, Bob, is going to depend on your design. Because the default with Woo is that short description that appears above the buy button, right? In a lot of themes, if you load up that short description with lots of information, it’s going to push the buy button down, which you don’t want to do. If that is the way that your WordPress theme operates as a default, you want to have some information in the short description like, you know, two to four, five sentences and then use that long description for a lot of really good, unique content that will help bring in traffic through search, because Google’s going to see something and Bing will see something that’s very unique and worthy of sending traffic to you.
Then once the user gets there, they can see right away that this is the page they want to be on with a short description, see the buy button and then scroll further if they want to get additional information to validate their purchase. So I use both and you want to use the keyword in both as well. If your product has a focus keyword, make sure that you have it right away in the short description so it validates to the search engines, to the users that they are in the right place for that search term. Then, repeat a few more times within the long description.
What should the length of your product description be?
Bob Dunn: On the long description, is there a minimum length that Google frowns upon for that particular piece?
Rebecca Gill: There’s not a minimum length on any piece of content right? But there’s definitely studies that show longer pieces of content produce better search engine results, they produce more social shares, more inbound links and they help people convert better. It’s because, you know, you’re allowing everyone to validate what this is about.
Bob Dunn: Okay, excellent advice.
Rebecca Gill: Yeah, I would definitely not say, you know, throw in a hundred words and call it good or throw in two hundred words and call it good because you’re just not going to have enough to warrant traffic and purchases.
Bob Dunn: So maybe like around three hundred minimum or-
Rebecca Gill: I would say it’s going to vary based on your product. Consider it like if it’s a pair of shoes. There’s only so much you can say about a pair of shoes, right, but if it’s a WordPress theme that you’re potentially buying, or WordPress plugin, there’s a lot more text that you really need to put there to both compete in that environment as well as validate the purchase for the user.
Best practices for optimizing your product photography
Bob Dunn: That’s an interesting concept because I really never thought of that because yeah, some products you just can’t really do tons and tons of description on. You can only say so much about it. Now when you’re talking products, probably just as important is the image of the products, so what are some of the best practices as far as your product images?
Rebecca Gill: Images help sell everybody on the internet, right? Because it’s a reinforcement of what you’re reading in text. Search engines love images, users love images, they help sell you both on the page and social media, in Google search and that type of thing, so images are very important. Making sure they’re clear and crisp, but when you’re optimizing those images, it starts before you even upload them to the website. Make sure that your image has a very good file name. If it can have the keyword in the file name without appearing spammy, because you want it to be natural, that’s great.
When you bring up that image into WordPress, make sure that the name you give that image is also very descriptive of the product and if it can include your key word, excellent. Then as you’re bringing it in, write a really good description. Write a description even if you’re not going to display it. Write that description about what that actual image is inside WordPress, because what that does is, if you’re allowing your images to be indexed, that gets pushed out to the search engines and you’re going to have a much higher chance of those images showing up on Google search if they have good file names and they have good names for the image that sells inside WordPress, as well as a strong description that really describes what it’s about.
Bob Dunn: This is probably really for the person just getting started with WordPress, but what if they start playing around with captions? Is that going to … Is that good, bad, indifferent as far as products?
Rebecca Gill: Yeah, I think captions are fine as long as they provide value. I have clients who I’ve seen, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s eCommerce or just a regular website, where they start putting in captions just to have captions and they provide no value whatsoever. The image just doesn’t warrant a caption and in that case it’s just distracting; however, if the caption helps describe the image and helps give information to the user, it’s important and it’s worth providing.
How important is it to have your online store mobile-friendly?
Bob Dunn: That’s something I get asked a lot is … and I give them that same spiel. Captions, I think, people get a little carried away with and like you said, if it doesn’t provide any value for the image, it’s totally worthless so great points there as well. Now this is a huge one and probably everybody should know the answer to this, but I’m going to ask it to you anyway. Does having your store be mobile-friendly play into SEO and how?
Rebecca Gill: It definitely does. It’s going to play into SEO just in the sure nature of the fact that the search engines want mobile-friendly websites and they’re going to display mobile-friendly websites because they have more traffic on mobile devices than they do on desktop. How important that’s going to affect the website and SEO, it’s really based on the nature of the product again. We don’t have a lot of high mobile traffic for our type of product because we sell WordPress themes. People aren’t generally looking for those on mobile devices.
But if I’m playing a fun card game with my girlfriends and I’m on my phone., if I want to purchase it, I definitely want a mobile-friendly website to be able to whip it up and order it on. That’s going to come into play for both bringing in traffic and then conversions. Because if it’s not … If your website’s not or your store and your checkout process isn’t all optimized for mobile, people are going to abandon the website as soon as they hit it because they’re not going to be able to pick it up on their device.
Responsive theme or app for your online store?
Bob Dunn: Now this is a question I hadn’t prepared you for and I don’t know if there’s a good answer or a direct answer for it, but if somebody’s doing an online store, probably again it depends on what they’re selling as far as having a mobile-friendly site, responsive theme and it works well. They’re using something versus actually having an app created for their online store. Are there any words of wisdom for that or is it kind of the same thing? It really depends what you’re selling?
Rebecca Gill: I think it depends on what you’re selling and how large of a brand you are. If you’re a small online store and you don’t have a lot of brand exposure, are people really going to want to download the app, are they going to be encouraged to download the app? Probably not, until you’ve gained their respect and have some authority with them.
If you’re a very large brand like Home Depot and you’ve got an app that’s really easy for me to search on and find products and order. Like I will tell you that I use Zulily a lot, I love Zulily, the app. I use the app all the time, I never go to the actual website on my desktop because it’s something that I browse in my free time. I think it’s critical for those kind of eCommerce solutions and those sellers to be able to have a an app for that. What does drive me crazy is when, and this is as a person, is when I’m shopping for something, I’m looking for something on my iPad or on my phone at somebody like Lowe’s or Home Depot and they have a separate mobile site than they do their regular website and they scale back everything.
You really can’t get to what you want because they’ve limited the information. I mean I’ll literally say, “Please give me the desktop site,” even though I’ve got to shrink and expand stuff with my fingers to be able to read it, but just because I get more information that way. There’s a balancing act that you have to go through. I mean in some cases I think apps are great and in some cases, mobile sites are great and in some cases, responsive websites are the best route to go.
Bob Dunn: We only want to have so many apps. It’s like we don’t need 500 apps on our phones. Yeah, it’s totally understandable. It’s well, “I don’t know who you are. Why are you making me use an app now?”
Rebecca Gill: Yes.
Should you use the Genesis built-in SEO or a SEO plugin?
Bob Dunn: Now I know you’ve been involved with themes. You’ve built a lot of genesis child themes. I’ve actually used quite a few of them myself. Now as far as SEO, I know that Woo Themes even at one point, they removed their built-in SEO and their theme was actually settings within the theme itself. I also know that if you install an SEO plugin with the Genesis framework, the built-in options, they have those disappear. So tell me a bit more about that and if they do stay, is it better to ignore those and use a plugin instead?
Rebecca Gill: My view on where SEO’s should reside is … I’m very adamant about it being in the plugin and here’s why. I love Genesis, I love the developers behind Woo Commerce. They’ve done a great job. But when I look at people’s expertise in SEO, I’m going to look at the front, you know, the folks at All in One SEO and at Yoast, for guidance because that’s what they do. That’s their specialty, that’s their focus. They know SEO and they’re going to give me a lot more features and be a lot more on the cutting edge of what’s happening than a framework developer or a theme developer.
In my opinion, you should always have your SEO in a plugin and a respective plugin like All in One or Yoast because you know they’ve got your back. They have core features that you need and they’re also keeping an eye on what’s happening with the search engines, what’s happening in marketing online so that they’re coding in what’s coming. It’s difficult for a framework or for a theme developer to do that, in my opinion.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, and speaking of … This is interesting because this made me think of a question that I know a lot of people struggle with. Let’s take the Yoast SEO for example, that plugin. If the normal user, the average user, they haven’t gone through your course, they don’t really understand SEO, when they install that plugin, is there … You know, it’s in a one way a fairly straightforward plugin and another way it can be very overwhelming for people and if they can get in and if they start doing stuff, they can obviously mess it up big time.
Is it recommended to follow their tutorials step by step to make sure you do things right or maybe get somebody … If you have any questions, get somebody in there to help you because of that fact that you don’t want to do one little thing wrong? Or is it set at default where, okay this is probably good to start with. I know that’s kind of a loaded question, but-
Rebecca Gill: I think the plugin settings aren’t going to get you in trouble for the most part unless you tell the plugins to not index any of your content, which it does happen, but it’s a rare thing. The bigger challenge is the fact that you can way over optimize a piece of content and do more damage than good or you can get a false sense of security, and this is with Yoast with the green that it gives you or that the plugin gives you. Here’s an example.
I write, or I’m going to be selling … I have an online store that sells food. I have a product and I’m going to put in my keyword of “parsley”. Parsley’s got over 200,000 searches per month in Google. There’s 30 million results that show up in Google for that. If I put that in as a keyword, and no matter what my product is that has parsley in it, the Yoast plugin most likely is going to give me green because I’ve used parsley in it. It doesn’t have the intelligence to come back to me and say, “You know what? That’s not a really good keyword focus because it’s way too broad.” You’re not selling parsley, what you’re really selling is parsley juice or a parsley … You know, something else that’s related to parsley.
People get very comfortable with seeing that green dot and thinking they’re good to go and they’ve got no optimization at all. A plugin is great, again, Yoast is a great plugin, All in One SEO is a great plugin, but you need to have education on SEO best practices so you know how to use it, because otherwise you’re just throwing it in there and you’re giving yourself false sense of security that isn’t going to produce results.
Bob Dunn: I love that because it’s like, it can’t logically think, “Okay, this is what’s happening out there,” so that’s got to all be done in your keyword research, right?
Rebecca Gill: Yes, I mean, if you’re a store owner and you’re going to take the time to either purchase a custom website or purchase a theme and do it yourself and put in that sweat equity, you’ve got to go to the extra trouble to learn SEO and learn best practices so you can bring in traffic. You cannot expect a plugin to do that for you because it can’t. Yoast can’t do it, All in One can’t do it because it’s automated. It’s a computer. It’s binary code, it can’t give all of that intelligence that a user can do, particularly a website that really knows that product and knows that industry and hopefully their target market. You’re powerful, you just need to educate yourself so that you can use your internal powers to make great things on the internet.
Bob Dunn: With the Yoast SEO, I know that they have a WooCommerce add-on and I’ve put it on a couple sites and it’s fairly easy to set up, but sometimes I’m still like, “Okay, exactly what is this doing?” And sometimes I’m good with, “Okay must be doing something.” But have you had any experience with that and do you think it’s worth adding to your Woo commerce site?
Rebecca Gill: I have it on both our web savvy site, as well as our DIY SEO courses site because I do like it. I think it does great, because what it does is it sends a Schema over to the search engines. It allows user reviews to show up with stars within the search engine result’s page and that’s good because it highlights you on that search engine results page for users, and it can elevate your click-through rate from the results over to your website. It can also help with SEO.
But again, if you don’t have the basics of SEO and you’re not optimized on a product level, it’s not going to help. It can’t fix something that’s already broken. All it can do is take good SEO at an eCommerce level and make it better.
Should you use Local SEO?
Bob Dunn: That’s good to know. And I know they also have a local SEO add-on, which brings me to my next question. Not so much about their add-on, but there’s a big thing about local SEO. Now, if you have a brick-and-mortar shop and you do online sales and you have an online store, how can you use the local SEO effectively? Is there a method to the madness, or does it really matter?
Rebecca Gill: If you have both a local brick-and-mortar store and you have an online store, there’s a couple ways to look at it. First, the online store can help the brick-and-mortar store because a lot of people will do online searches before they actually physically go into the store and make a purchase. You’re allowing people to educate themselves and learn more about the brick-and-mortar store before they come in and actually spend money at the physical store.
On the flip side, the local presence can help the online presence. If you’re optimized at a local level and you have the right elements in your website like a local area code number, a physical address, you’ve gone to the trouble to set yourself up on Bing local and Google, I think it’s Google My Business now. I think that’s what it’s called, which is basically Google plus, Google maps. You’ve gone to the trouble to get yourself on local directory sites so that you have geographical references associated with your website so the search engines know you’re a local business. All of that can work together to help increase your online search.
It’s another element that brings in more complexity to that optimization process.
Bob Dunn: I kind of figured it would be good, but it seems like it’s just another layer and got to make sure you’re doing it right so-
Rebecca Gill: It is and it’s got its own nuances just like eCommerce SEO does.
Bob Dunn: Well, speaking of plugins, and we’ve been talking about Yoast, I’m going to kind of shoot back to our sponsors, ServerPress, because they have released a fairly new plugin. Has nothing to do with SEO, but as a sponsor, I wanted to share it with everybody. It’s a seeking plugin called WPSiteSync, and what it does is it lets you selectively sync content between WordPress sites right from the admin area without having to migrate entire databases. WP Site Sync will save you a ton of time in migrating content which can take you a long time to do. It also helps you easily implement better testing practices and it prevents unintended overrides to settings, widgets, menus or other content. That’s WPSiteSync. You can get it free right from your WordPress admin area.
Now, back to Rebecca. We’re going to have her take off her Web Savvy Marketing hat and her SEO hat, but before I do, is there anything, any other words of wisdom you have around SEO and online stores that we haven’t touched on?
Rebecca Gill: A few things that I always encourage people to do is make sure that their online stores have, again, the long product descriptions that are detailed and unique, manufacture numbers if they are applicable to your products. Breadcrumbs are great for usability and for SEO. Social media at a product level is very important because social media will definitely alter how you’re going to rank with organic SEO. I’ve tested it with my own products and I can tell you, I have definitely seen a change in ranking in both speed and how far you get up on page one. It’s highly dependent on whether or not you’ve shared that product on social media, so having social media, sharing icons there so people can share your product is really, really important.
Building links into your products from other sites. I know it’s not something that I push on people to do, but it definitely does make an impact and the reason I don’t push that on people to do it is because it’s either so many ways you can get yourself in trouble with the search engines if you do that wrong and you can make it look spammy. Consider brand outreach. You’re just trying to get people to know about your individual products so that they can be aware of it and if they like it or find it of interest, link in.
The last item is making sure that you have an active, current, up to date XMO site map that is connected to the search engines—both Google and Bing. They both offer that service. You definitely want to have that in place, so that every time you update or add a product, they’re notified and they can keep your products fresh in their index. Those are all really important things that site owners should be aware of and just keep in mind as they’re running their stores.
Bob Dunn: Cool. Thanks for those extra tips. Now everybody has their work cut out for them and we’re going to actually pull off, like I said, the working hat of Rebecca and we’re going to ask her three questions as a shopper. When Rebecca’s sitting around on her smartphone, doing a little bit of shopping and I know that’s always kind … You’re laughing because it’s not a little bit, right?
Rebecca Gill: I shop all my Christmas shopping is from online. I’m a big fan of shopping online.
Bob Dunn: I know your professional SEO experience plays into it and just, you can’t get out of that, but when you are online, and you kind of mentioned it already in one sense. What is the most frustrating thing you find when you’re shopping online and it happens over and over and over again?
Rebecca Gill: I have three pet peeves as a personal shopper. One is the lack of mobile, so that when I plan out … I have an iPad mini and I use my iPad mini a lot at night. When I pull something up and I can’t read it because nothing is optimized. It’s not responsive, that’s frustrating.
My second item is the lack of descriptions, so I’m really not sure what I’m buying. I can’t really compare what I see versus what I see on another site. I ran into this with having to buy a camera for my daughter for her photography class in high school. They had very specific criteria that we had to utilize for this camera and it wasn’t a traditional camera because of the nature of the class. It took me hours of research on the internet to find what she needed, and I do this for a living. I should’ve been able to find it in five minutes and be done.
My last one is not having information on product availability and lead time for shipment and receipt. It drives me crazy that if … Big box retailers will do this. They’ll have a product on there, but they’ll not really say whether it’s in stock or it’s not in stock, then you don’t really know when you’re going to get it. That’s also frustrating to me.
Bob Dunn: So everybody listening, if you have an online store, you have till Christmas to fix those three things to make sure Rebecca, can do her online Christmas shopping.
Rebecca Gill: And then I’ll shop a lot, because that’s where I’ll do it all.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, so you’ve got a few months to work on that, so get on it, everybody. You shop a lot and I know other people I’ve talked to, they do a lot of online shopping. Is there anything you will not buy online that is available online?
Rebecca Gill: Not really. As long as the website and their location that I’m buying it from is … It’s got authority and it makes me feel safe as a buyer, I don’t really have restrictions. It’s when the website kind of looks sketchy or there’s not enough information to really validate that it’s a true shop and I feel comfortable giving them my credit card number, that’s where that process starts to break down.
Bob Dunn: That makes sense. Now the big loaded question: If you could sell anything you wanted online, you didn’t have to worry about whether it was profitable or not, it’s just something you’d love to sell online, what would that be?
Rebecca Gill: As odd as this is, it would be WordPress themes and plugins. Here’s why: People can do such amazing things on the internet when you give them quality products to work with and it’s fun to see what they do with it. I love seeing what people do with our stack themes, I would love … Plugin ideas. I would love to be able to develop, but there’s only so many resources that you have available within your team and your own given work day. You have those constraints.
If I didn’t have constraints, we would have a ton more themes out there and then we would have some really cool plugins that have been sitting in my head for a while that I’d love to build. But that’s not real life and real life puts a restraint on us, so you’ve got the number I have available.
Bob Dunn: That’s interesting because Shawn, and you know Shawn from WP101, I know you know him well-
Rebecca Gill: Love him, yes.
Bob Dunn: That was his exact same answer, except it wasn’t themes, it was videos. If he could do more videos and I find that interesting that yeah, we have those constraints and we love selling that stuff, but boy, we wish we could push out more and not have to worry about all the other resources we need so-
Rebecca Gill: Absolutely.
Bob Dunn: Once again, we’ve had another show that’s going to hit the archives and Rebecca, man, you shared some incredible SEO wisdom. As they say, knowledge bombs. I so appreciate that, but before I let you go, you have to tell us where we can find you on the web.
Rebecca Gill: On Twitter I’m @RebeccaGill and then for our websites, you could either just search for Web Savvy Marketing or you can visit, if you’re interested, our course.