SEO Is About Humans First, Search Engines Second

An illustration of a group of characters holding up a search engine's search bar in celebration as they have conquered their learning curve on SEO marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since the days of keyword stuffing and clickbait copy. 

To rank first in a Google search result, your store's content needs to match a potential visitor's intent. Optimizing your site for SEO can feel intimidating and tedious, but really it’s all about understanding how search engines work and how searchers use them and implementing that insight into your pages copy, then methodically running through some completely accessible backend tinkering.

We've put together a step-by-step guide to optimizing your Shopify store—no SEO experience required.

A venn diagram displaying the three types of SEO; technical, on-page, and off-page. The sweet spot is in the middle when you get these three to work in harmony.
Getting your efforts across each SEO discipline to work in harmony is the sweet spot to ranking your ecommerce store in search engines.

Why is SEO so important?

1. The majority of traffic comes from organic search

If you don’t have an SEO strategy for your store, you might be missing out on traffic and revenue. Online stores can expect 35% of total traffic to come from search engine results pages and 33% of revenue from this organic traffic making it the marketing channel that can produce the highest traffic and revenue, according to Wolfgang Digital.

2. Paid advertising costs are increasing and SEO is “free traffic”

If you’re generating most of your sales through paid advertising channels like Facebook or Instagram, this can eat into your profit margins. Although generating organic traffic takes time, it should eventually become your best acquisition channel which makes its costs sustainable. Putting work in to increase organic traffic through SEO may cost you time and effort, but its compounding effect makes organic traffic the best value for money channel to produce customers. SEO should never be an afterthought even though the return is not immediate.

3. Ranking first in search engines can get you up to 30% more daily traffic

There’s a joke in the SEO world that if you wanted to hide a dead body, you’d put it on page two. That’s because being in first place gets the most clicks—disproportionately so compared to ranking in 11th position.

If you happen to have a page that is performing well for organic traffic even without having done any optimizations for search, the likelihood is you can improve the page to bring more traffic, sometimes with the smallest tweaks. 

Image displaying the click through rates for searches performed with a shopping intent and how they start at 30% for first position and slowly tail off.
Click through rates for searches performed with a shopping intent. Image source: Advanced Web Ranking.

Before you start: Essentials to improve your Shopify SEO

There are a few vital things you need to set up before jumping into improving your Shopify store’s SEO. These are:

  • Purchase a custom domain. Simply put, your store needs its own domain to succeed in SEO. Custom domains create more trust with potential shoppers clicking through from search engines and they’re also more memorable. If you still have brandname.myshopify.com it’s time to upgrade to a custom domain like brandname.com. You can pick up a custom domain for anywhere between $10–$20 a year. If you need help, we have a resource on how to choose a domain name for your store.
  • Ensure you have Google Analytics installed on your site. Google Analytics is free to install on your website and lets you see how much traffic and what it does on your site. Learn how to set up Google Analytics on your Shopify store.
  • Ensure you have Google Search Console installed on your site. Google Search Console gives you insight into what pages rank for which queries, where they rank, and how many clicks you get amongst other useful insight. Learn how to set up Google Search Console on your Shopify store.
  • Have a mobile ready theme. Shopify offers a handful of free themes and they are built with Responsive Web in mind out of the box. If you’ve made any customizations to your theme or had one built, it’s best to test its mobile readiness with this Google tool even if there haven't been tweaks made.
  • Remove password protection. If you’re still getting your product pages created and sorted, you might want to wait to unlock your store to the public and search engines. But if your store is password protected, search engines won’t be able to see beyond your homepage and crawl or rank your pages on their search engine results page.
  • Be on a paid plan. While stores on free trials can be crawled and indexed, if you’re not on a paid plan you’re going to put all this work and not see the fruition of your efforts once your trial is over as waiting for a new store to rank will take longer than 14 days.

Once you’ve confirmed all of these are in place, you’re good to go. Use this SEO guide to improve your store's organic traffic and visibility in search engines like Google and Bing.

Free Download: SEO Checklist

Want to rank higher in search results? Get access to our free, checklist on search engine optimization.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the under-the-hood type of SEO. Like the fresh engine oil that keeps a car running, it often can’t be seen but can dramatically improve search performance of your website. Technical SEO ensures that your website is optimized for search engine crawlers, has good page speed, and is mobile device optimized. It also optimizes your site for humans by making sure its structure, navigation, and internal links allow easy browsing, and that meta tags are filled in so both search engines and humans know what the page is about.

If your website has discrepancies in these areas, it can stifle your rankings until errors are identified. By resolving these errors you’ll see the benefits like: 

  • Users engaging more with the site because it’s faster and all important content and pages are easy to access
  • Increased crawling activity from crawl bots because the site is easier to crawl, which increases organic traffic over time

Note: This is not a full guide on technical SEO for Shopify, it’s a list of the must-haves you need to get in place for your site to perform well in search.

Cost: $0, or $4/month for one app

SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪💪

Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀

It’s easy to overlook internal linking, especially in the early days of building your online store. I understand—it simply doesn’t seem that important compared to publishing new pages and promoting your business. 

Creating internal links isn’t just about pasting links to appropriate anchor text across your website. It’s about creating the necessary pillar pages that will pass authority to dozens of other relevant website pages and blog posts, and/or vice versa. This can be done with a clear navigation system from your homepage that’s designed for both user experience and search engine crawlers.

Take Gymshark, a fitness apparel brand. Its homepage lists only two top-level menu options—simple. Once you hover over either Womens or Mens, you get a dropdown list of products and collections offered. The dropdown is split into what’s trending, Gymshark’s staple products, styles that are specific across its product range, and accessories that don’t quite fit into other categories.

Image showing an example of good SEO within menu hierarchy which makes it easy for users to browse and search engines to crawl GymShark's website, respectively.
Gymshark has a clear and easy to navigate menu system and structure, which benefits both users and search engines.

What is worth calling out here is that this menu structure is built for humans first and search engines second. This is vital for building buyer trust. Our research on what solidifies trust with new shoppers found that category navigation that is easy to understand and use across all devices is a must-have if you want to win sales.

Yes, while Gymshark does create an easy to understand menu and category navigation system, it also lists its most important pages that will get organic traffic in this menu and optimized the anchor text for it. You can see this under Womens > Products. When you click through to Shorts, you’ll find that this page ranks for ideal search terms like “workout shorts” and “women’s workout shorts,” which draw ideal customers in from search engines.

Now the question is, "how do I apply this to my business?"

Let’s take our content demo store, Kinda Hot Sauce, which sells hot sauces, as our example. Say we hear from customers that they love our habanero hot sauce and want more variations of it, and so we've added three new flavors to our habanero range. Here’s what we do next:

  • Conduct keyword research. We use a free SEO tool like Ubersuggest and type “habanero hot sauce” into the keyword analyzer to get an idea of monthly search for that term (4,400). Great! We’ve found a new category for our new line of products to be nested under.
  • Create product pages. In our Shopify store, we go to Products > Add product to create the product listing, and we ensure that everything is filled in from the title and descriptions to the SKUs and shipping information.
  • Create a collection page. Navigate to Products > Collections to create a new page and add the three new product pages. While creating the collections page, we make sure to follow on-page SEO best practices when filling in the Search engine listing preview by aiming to use “habanero hot sauce” in the page title, description, and URL and handle.SEO example on Shopify when including keywords in page title, description, and URL
  • Add our new page to the menu. In our Shopify store, we go to Online store > Navigation > Main menu. From there we easily add our new habanero hot sauce collection to our navigation system under Shop.
  • Add a breadcrumbs app to your store. An app like Category Breadcrumbs ($4/month) makes it easy to show your customers the path they’ve navigated down through your category tree. Their “breadcrumb trail” gives them an easy route back by clicking on the appropriate link. For example, you’re reading this blog post on the Shopify blog, and you can click “Shopify blog” to take you back to the blog homepage.

2. Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console and fix site errors

Cost: $0

SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪💪💪

Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀

In the beginning of this article, we noted that you should create a Google Search Console account. Once you’ve done that, the next step is to submit your sitemap. Submitting your sitemap on Google Search Console allows your store to be crawled and indexed by search engines. This simply means that a crawl bot visits your ecommerce site, explores the homepage, and makes its way down all your product categories, collections, and product pages and back up again until it’s complete. It does this so it can list them on search engine results pages.

A visual example of how indexing and crawling happens across pages
A visual representation of how crawl bots explore your website and its pages.

The good news is that Shopify creates a sitemap for all stores right out of the box. You won’t need to build your own—this is only recommended for truly advanced SEO managers. If you’re on the Basic plan, you’ll get one auto-generated sitemap; if you’re on the Shopify plan or higher and use international domains, then you need to submit the sitemap file for each domain. 

This three minute video will teach you how to submit your Shopify store sitemap to Google Search Console.

⚠️ UPDATE: You're now required to enter your full domain (for example: https://www.store-url.com/sitemap.xml, rather than just /sitemap.xml).

Next up is to fix any potential errors on your site. If you’ve just submitted your sitemap, you’ll have to wait until a crawl has taken place to get this insight, so perhaps bookmark this section and come back to it in a week or so. Here’s what to do:

  • Log in to Search Console and view the Coverage report. On the left hand side, click Index > Coverage. You’ll see a graph appear with the tick box options Error, Valid with warnings, Valid, and Excluded. For now, you want to pay attention only to Error.
  • Identify any 404 errors or redirect errors (if they’re reported). Search console will report these in the list as:
    • “Submitted URL not found (404),” which is when the page does not exist on your site. To the user it displays a page-not-found message. This error occurs because somewhere on your site you are linking to this broken page, or another site is, and the search engine crawler is trying to index it. This is bad for SEO and users because you’re sending them to a dead end. It’s essential we fix this issue. Click on “Submitted URL not found (404)” and you’ll get a list of all the URLs that are returning errors. Click “Export” on the top right of the screen and export to your spreadsheet program of choice.
    • “Redirect error” is when a Googlebot crawled the URL but the page didn’t automatically update to the new location for the user. This is because the chain is too long, there is a redirect loop, the URL exceeds the maximum URL length, or there is a bad or empty URL in the redirect chain. As above, click on “Redirect error” to get a full list of these URLs and export the list.
  • Fix 404 and redirect errors in your store. This is where being handy with spreadsheets can help you out. These problems can be complicated to fix, but here’s what to do:
    • Reference your spreadsheet of 404 errors (this is the sheet marked “Table”). Now you need to find the most relevant page to redirect to. For example, on our Kinda Hot Sauce demo store, if we discontinued a product it would make sense to redirect its page to either the closet match or the collections page. Make a note of these next to the URL (you can remove or hide the “Last crawled” column). If you can’t find a match, redirecting to the home page is a good default.
    • From your Shopify admin, go to Online Store > Navigation. Click “URL Redirects” and then “Add URL redirect.” Here, reference your spreadsheet of 404 errors and enter those into the relevant fields and click “Save redirect.” If you need more detailed steps for this, try our help article on creating redirects. If you have more than a few redirects to create, you may want to consider using the bulk import function for URLs.
    • Next, I’ll briefly recommend how to fix redirect errors. Redirect loops make visitors and search engines literally get stuck in a loop by trying to load a sequence of two more pages on your website that all point to one another. The redirect is configured so that page C should load page A, page A is configured to load page B, and page B is configured to load page C.
Redirect loops make visitors and search engines literally get stuck in a loop by trying to load a sequence of two more pages on your website that all point to one another.
A visual of what a redirect loop error looks like to search crawlers and bots.
    • Follow the instructions on how to export your list of URL redirects from your Shopify store. Now you need to identify which redirects are broken by referencing both your Google Search Console and your Shopify redirect exports. If you feel competent on spreadsheet programs, combine the sheets and filter them so you can get a list of where the errors lay. If not, copying the URL error cell then using the Find function (“Cmd+F” on Mac, “Ctrl+F” in Windows) can work, but it’s a lot of clicking around and back and forth.
    • Similar to updating 404 pages, make a note in your spreadsheet of where you want the redirect to go to, then head to Online Store > Navigation > URL redirects. Use the search box to find the redirect you need to edit, click on it, and update the redirect.
    • After all this, the next step is to make sure your work has paid off. You can do that by returning to Search Console and checking the Coverage tab every few days or weeks until you have caught all the errors. 

    Note: Ultimately, if any of this feels too complex or intimidating for you, use the Shopify Experts marketplace to find an agency that offers SEO services or a dedicated SEO expert to implement this for you. Find an expert.

    3. Optimize your images to load quickly and be found by search engines

    Cost: $0, or $4/month for one app

    SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

    Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪

    Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀 

    Search engines not only crawl the text on your webpage, they also crawl your images. Optimizing your images doesn’t stop you from displaying beautiful photography. In fact, it better helps show off and display your images to shoppers. 

    Reducing image sizes should be a priority for your store. HTTP Archive reports that images make up 46% of the average webpage’s overall size—meaning images are large and can make a page load slowly if not optimized. The good news is that since Shopify is hosted ecommerce software, you don’t need to worry about technical aspects of finding a CDN that is secure and readily loads your images, as that’s included in your plan. However, here are some simple tricks for reducing the file size of your images to help them get found and indexed easier by search engines:

    • Use images in JPG or PNG formats. Shopify automatically serves images in WebP, a format that provides superior compression for images on the web, with an average saving of over 30% in file size over traditional file formats like JPEG and PNG. Alongside this, when possible, use only JPEGs and PNGs for images when uploading them to your site, as they’re already the smallest image file formats. This can be done in most native image programs that come with your system. For example, on a Mac, you can use the Preview app to save images in different formats by clicking File > Export, then choosing either JPG or PNG from the dropdown menu.
      Note: A good rule of thumb is to use JPEGs for photography and PNGs for custom graphics or illustrations, etc., and never GIFs, unless it’s for a moving image.
    • Reduce the file size of your images. In short, the larger the image file size, the longer it can take a load a page. Reducing your image dimensions speeds up the loading of your images and the page. Resizing images can affect their quality. Be sure to use standard resolution, which is 72 pixels per square inch (PPI). If you’re new to this, we recommend you use Shopify’s free image resizer to get started.
    • Add images to your sitemap. It’s vital to have your images appear on search results, as many people are visual searchers, especially when it comes to products like apparel. Adding images to your sitemap makes it easier for search engines to crawl and index them. Shopify includes your primary product page image in the sitemap, but if you want to include all images on your products pages, I recommend installing Image Sitemap ($4/month), an app that automatically builds and submits to Google Search Console an .xml Sitemap for all images associated with each product, blog article, and page in your Shopify store.
    • Optimize your alt attributes carefully. Alt attributes are the text alternative to images used when a browser can’t properly render them. They’re also used for web accessibility, meaning if a person with impaired vision is looking at your blog they will be read the alt text. Alt text is important for ecommerce stores and image SEO as it helps products show up in Google images. Our advice here is to describe in plain language what’s in the image to help people with imparied vision have an idea what the image displays. In turn, this can also help your images rank. Instead of “facial toner 250ml” try “Image of Pixi’s Glow tonic facial toner in 250ml, a highly concentrated, invigorating facial toner to deep clean your pores”.
    • Name your images in plain language. This is the file name of your image when it’s saved to your computer. When you upload it, its web address will be the same. Ideally, it should match the keyword on the page. For example, if our page is about habanero hot sauce, we want to save the image file name as “habanero-hot-sauce.jpg.” This means that alongside our product page appearing for queries “habanero hot sauce,” our product images hopefully also will appear under the images tab on search engines.

    Learn more: 10 Must Know Image Optimization Tips

    On-page SEO

    On-page SEO is the primary method of directly telling readers and search engines what your page is about. Search engines look for certain on-page factors that can help them in ranking your page on search engine results pages (SERPs). On-page factors include keyword and topic relevance, meta information, the slug in the page URL, and your images, among other things. For more information on on-page factors, this Moz article is a great resource.

    Here, we’re going to cover the basics of keyword research, how to decode search intent, and some content optimization tips to help your pages rank for their target keywords.

    1. Keyword research

    Cost: $0, $99/month for an SEO tool

    SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

    Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪

    Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀

    A simpler way to think about keywords is as queries people use and type into search engines. Often, this replicates how we talk when asking questions; sometimes it is more of a “caveman speak” format, where you might type “buy new iPhone” versus “I want to buy the new iPhone.” 

    First up, let me share how there are two different types of keywords: short tail and long tail.

    • Short tail keywords are two or three words in length and typically of high volume, e.g., “mens shorts,” which returns 38,000 monthly searches in ahrefs keyword explorer.
    • Long tail keywords are four words or more in length and generally of lower volume, e.g., “mens shorts with pockets,” which returns 40 monthly searches in ahrefs keyword explorer.

    How people use keywords in search engines to buy products

    When it comes to choosing a keyword you want your page to rank for, it helps to understand the intent behind the associated search query. Search queries fall into the following categories:

    1. Navigational queries are searches entered with the intent of finding a particular website or webpage. For example, a user might enter “facebook” into a search bar to find Facebook’s site rather than entering the URL into a browser’s navigation bar or using a bookmark.
    2. Informational queries normally begin with “how to,” “what,” “why,” etc. Content that genuinely provides helpful information relevant to the query ranks for these keywords.
    3. Transactional queries are searches that indicate an intent to complete a transaction. This entails typing a product name directly into the search bar, e.g., “samsung galaxy.”

    When it comes to the customer journey in search engines, it’s important to understand how people move from not knowing what product they are looking for or want to confidently making the choice to purchase.

    Let’s start with a general product such as smartphones. If you’re a long-time smartphone user, then you may use or have considered using the current iPhone model. But what if you want to see what else is on the market before you jump to your next upgrade? 

    At this point, you’d turn to a search engine and type in an informational query such as “best smartphone.” You’d get a lot of buyer’s-guide-type articles listing the top 10 to 15 smartphones, and you’d most likely click the top result. After reading the article, you might come away thinking the new iPhone model doesn’t sound too bad after all, but you also like the look of the new Samsung Galaxy. Here, you’d probably like to learn how they compare on features and reliability, so you’d turn back to a search engine and search another informational query, such as “apple iphone vs samsung galaxy.” After reading one or more of the articles on the first page, you’d have a clearer idea of what smartphone is for you, and maybe you’d decide to give the new iPhone one more chance. You turn back to the search engine and type in a transactional query “buy iphone.” From there, you most likely find Apple’s site, and you complete your transaction.

    Image showing how search queries take your down the sales funnel from informational searches to transactional searches as a consumer

    How to choose a keyword

    Now you know how users go through the purchase journey and how to understand the intent behind a search, so let’s now find ways to do keyword research.

    Keyword research can feel overwhelming. You’ll have questions like, Where do I start, How do I find one, How do I know if my keyword is going to rank, and How long does it take? We’ll walk you through getting answers to these questions.

    • Where to start with keyword research. First, think about what your product is or what category it exists within. For example, Shopify is an ecommerce platform, so we want a page to rank for this search term. What’s a general term to describe your product?
    • Use paid tools or free tools to get competitive insight. There are a lot of free and paid tools available, but the best free tools for Chrome are Keyword Surfer and MozBar, both available as extensions. With Keyword Surfer, you type your keywords into Google and it gives you keyword volume in the address bar and on the SERP. MozBar lets you know the domain authority and page authority of a website—essentially how reputable or strong a website is and how well trusted a page is, respectively.

    Example of using Moz and Keyword Surfer to get competitive SEO insight for keyword research .

    • What to do with this data. Now you’ve got insight into a short tail keyword. Begin to filter down on a long tail keyword that goes with it. If you’re a new or emerging business, often these short tail keywords are competitive to rank for, so you need to find a differentiator. Remember, your business got its edge and way into the market with a unique selling proposition. It’s time to channel that into a long tail keyword, as this can help your product get found and acquire more traffic. If you’re using Keyword Surfer, click the star in the address bar to add the short tail keyword to the clipboard. Do this while going through the “Keyword ideas” list, looking for long tail keywords. Once you’re finished, click “Clipboard,” the three dots, and “Export.” Now you have this data saved in a CSV file, which you can use when creating or optimizing your page.

    2. Match search intent and create pages relevant to your keyword

    Cost: $0, $99/month for an SEO tool

    SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

    Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪

    Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀

    No matter what type of search query your page is targeting, know that when it comes to choosing a keyword, Google and other search engines want to rank the pages that have the highest likelihood of concluding the searcher’s journey. In the specific case of Google, it wants no additional searches, and it doesn’t want the user to hit “Back” and click on another search result.

    When you’re picking a keyword to target, you can get a good idea of what the search intent is from the top 10 results on a SERP. To do this, simply search the term and make a note of whether the page is either an article or a product page. For now, pay attention to only the organic listings and not the ads, which are marked “Ads” to the left, or any SERP features like People Also Ask, images, videos, or local listings. 

    You’ll have a score such as “9/10 product pages,” and from there you get an understanding of the user’s search intent, which will be to make a transaction. If you’re doing content marketing for your store, you’ll want to look for the majority of the 10 listings to be articles as articles best cater to informational searches.

    To further narrow down the search intent, you can get ideas from Google or other search engines. For example, if I’m looking at building a page to target “habanero hot sauce,” I’ll have a look at the “Related searches” box at the bottom of the SERP. In short, this list gives me an idea of what users are expecting to find from their search queries. 

    As “habanero hot sauce” is a short tail keyword, if users get to result 10 and still don’t see a listing to click, these pre-populated terms might help get them to the query they’re really looking for but didn’t know how to phrase.

    I can make a note of these phrases because some of them are good long tail keywords that I can use while creating my product page with the goal of getting it to rank. I can use them as subheadings, in the product description, or in meta description and title. We’ll dig into how to do this below.

    Example of the eight pre-populated queries that show when typing in "haberno hot sauce" at the bottom of a Google SERP

    3. Content optimization to make your pages visible

    Cost: $0, $99/month for an SEO tool

    SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

    Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪💪

    Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀

    Content optimization helps your pages rank higher in search results for their target keyword. Examples include tweaking or optimizing a page’s content, meta description, and title tags. Content optimization becomes much easier when you have a clear keyword you’re trying to rank for. 

    The easiest way to understand content optimization is by asking yourself, “How can I make it clear to visitors what this page is about?” From there you can run a health check on your pages:

    • Does the heading clearly explain what is on the page? 
    • Am I using the keyword or some variation of it in subheadings or in the body of content on the page?
    • Does the URL slug contain the keyword? Is it overly long or short?
    • Is the title of the page enticing? Does the meta description make this page seem click worthy?
    • What are the image file names? Do they have alt text filled in that clearly explains what’s displayed in the image?

    Let’s dive into how we can do specific on-page content optimization.

    1. Build your keyword into your heading

    With transactional pages, such as product pages, using your focus keyword in page titles can make sense if it’s an identifier, but usually this is best reserved for collections pages. Ideally, your products are named something enticing. Let’s take The Lip Bar as an example. It has a collection with “concealer” as the target keyword, but its product pages within the collection are specific to which shade range the product is within and the product’s function (e.g., for the product 6:00 Ebony Caffeine Concealer, “6:00 Ebony” is the range, “Caffeine” is the function it serves (to help wake the skin), and “Concealer” is the wildy known name for this product, which can tie in some SEO benefits ranking for “caffeine concealer”).

    Example of how Shopify Store, The Lip Bar, balances using a keyword in their product pages and collections pages

    ⚠️ Important note: When creating your pages it’s vital that your formatting includes only one H1 (or Heading 1 as this is called in the Shopify page editor). This should be reserved for the Title entry.

    With navigational pages such as your About or Contact pages, it is best to use the purpose, or what function the page serves (e.g., “Contact us,” “Get in touch with us at [brand name],” or “How can we help?”) The goal is to keep it clear and simple.

    2. Understand the topic behind the keyword and build it into your page

    Building keywords into your pages doesn’t mean keyword stuffing or finding ways to use awkward long tail keywords that are grammatically incorrect. This was a trick to get pages to rank for target keywords over 10 years ago, and search engines have since evolved to be able to understand without them what a page is about and how to rank it accordingly.

    Instead, when optimizing pages to rank for keywords, the first step is to try and understand the topic behind it (as we looked at above), and then do your best to cover the topic.

    If you’re using a paid SEO tool to get keyword insight then it becomes much easier to gather keywords around a topic. However, this is still possible to do with free tools. Let me show you how I might optimize my new collections page on habanero hot sauce for Kinda Hot Sauce.

    • Start with Google. We’d want to look at the bottom of the search results, where Google lists related searches, as this gives ideas on related searches for “habanero hot sauce,” as well as shows what the autocomplete suggests.

    Example of using autocomplete from Google for keyword research ideas

    • List what’s in the related searches and autocomplete. Next, I’d fire up a new Google Doc and put all of the above entries into it. From this list, I already see which phrases I can use and which phrases to strike out or delete. Next, I’ll have a go at writing a description for my collections page.
    • Draft out a title and description. To enable me to write a good description for both users and SEO, it helps if I ask myself honest questions about some of these phrases:
      • Do I have mango, pineapple, or garlic flavors? If yes, how can I share that on the page?
      • Is “spicy” or “ghost pepper” a good fit for me to include if my brand is focused on tasty, not overly spicy hot sauces?
      • During manufacturing, are my hot sauces fermented? 
      • How important are Scoville levels to my customers?

    I’m easily able to use the answers to these questions to help me write. As mentioned above, I’m not looking to cram all of these phrases in. I’m looking to use individual words and simply tick them off as I use them.

    Image showing a list of keywords gathered from Google's searches related to and the autocomplete to help with page copy

    • Upload to your store. Now I’ve written a collections page I’m happy with, and I can upload it to my store.

    While this example specifically pays attention to collections pages, you can repeat the process for any page of your choosing, such as product pages or blog posts.

    3. Build your keyword into the URL or slug

    The URL is anything that you type into the address bar that ends with .com, .ca, etc.. The “slug” is what comes after the first forward slash. Slugs and URL paths are used interchangeably but mean the same thing. 

    Once you’ve chosen a domain name, your URL is set and you can’t change it. However, slugs can be changed or customized. Note: If you are changing slugs, be sure to add redirects to your new pages. We covered how to do that above.

    The reason to build your keyword into the slug of each page is primarily to make it clear to both the user and the search engines what the page is about. Also, you want to be careful of keyword stuffing in your URL and slugs.

    Take a URL like this:

    https://kindahotsauce.shop/products/hot-sauce-habanero-hot-sauce-mild-sauce-150ml

    And consider, instead, structuring it this way:

    https://kindahotsauce.shop/products/hot-enough-habanero

    Why? Keyword stuffing like this doesn't help your search rankings. Search engines have moved far beyond algorithms that positively reward a keyword appearing multiple times in the URL string. Don’t hurt your chances of earning a click by overdoing keyword matching or stuffing in your URLs.

    General rules of thumb:

    • Avoid hashes/the pound sign in URLs. The hash key is a way to send a visitor to a specific location on a given page through hyperlinks that when clicked, allow you to jump to a subheading (like within the table of contents on this page).
    • Be wary of case sensitivity. Avoid capitalization in URLs or slugs—even for nouns. While most CMSs these days aren’t case sensitive, it’s best not to use anything other than lowercase.
    • Use hyphens to separate words. “/collections/mens-short-with-pockets” is much more readable than “/collections/mensshortswithpockets.” Try to avoid both underscores and spaces, as they render awkwardly in URLs as %20.

    For a full list of safe characters to include in your URLs, refer to this Character Encoding Chart by Perishable Press.

    4. Build your keyword into the meta title and description

    Your meta title and description are your ways of communicating to users and search engines what your page is about, and of encouraging people to click on it from a SERP. Shopify pre-fills the title and meta description with the product/collection name and the product/category description, so you don’t need to worry about there being glaring errors with empty meta fields. However, if you haven’t customized these for each page, it’s likely the meta data isn’t communicating what your page is about to users and search engines or isn’t making it enticing to get a click.

    Here’s how to prepare the meta title and description on your pages:

    • Write a page title with less than 55 characters. Find a way to include your target keyword to help search engines index your page, but also make sure it’s legible and not written in “caveman speak,” as search engines are smart enough to know what the page is about even if words are separated by stop words (the, if, and, a, etc.).
    • Write a meta description with a max of 145 characters. This is the spot to make your product page or blog post alluring to the searcher. While using your keyword here can help it rank, it’s not essential. Instead, focus on the customer. Read more about how to write meta descriptions.

    Note: See how your meta information looks on desktop, mobile, and other devices with ryte.

    Image showing how to build your keyword into the meta title and description in Shopify

    5. Build your keyword into your image naming system

    Building your keyword into your image naming system means both saving files with the same name as the keyword target (e.g. habanero-hot-sauce.jpg) and using the keyword as its alt text when you upload the file to your store.

    If you have more than one image being uploaded and you’re confused on what to name your files, use differentiators like habanero-hot-sauce-ingredients.jpg for a photo of the ingredient label and habanero-hot-sauce-example-dish.jpg for an action photo of a model applying sauce to food.

    As we said above regarding optimizing images, you want to write your alt attributes carefully. Alt text is used when a browser can’t properly render the image, and also for web accessibility. It’s best to describe in plain language what’s in the image to help people with imparied vision have an idea what the image displays. If writing an accessible alt text attribute and you naturally use the target keyword, that’s great, but it’s recommended to prioritize this approach over keyword stuffing alt text.

    Image showing naming an image file name and writing alt text that is optimized for SEO

    6. Build rich snippets with product details and user generated content

    Rich snippets are search listings that include information about a product’s price, availability, and unique information about a range of products within a category. User generated content comes from your customer reviews and their ratings. They’re useful for learning more about a particular product at a glance from the search results page without having to visit it. 

    Screenshot example of Google's SERP showing rich snippets with 4.9 star ratings of 5, number of votes, price, and stock availability

    Rich snippets can get up to a 30% increase in the number of people that click on your product from SERPs, according to Search Engine Land. Compare a 30% increase in organic clicks versus adding 30% more budget behind paid search ads—that’s a lot more clicks to your product page, for free. While creating rich snippets and schema certainly falls into the bucket of technical SEO, the end results can be worth the learning curve.

    Before you prioritize rich snippets, know that Shopify includes structured data and rich snippet functionality for your product pages out of the box in all of its free themes. This means you don't need to worry about adding structured data markup to get the product info in SERPs. Price and availability (in stock/out of stock) will be grabbed automatically and placed on a SERP, but only if Google decides to show it.

    If you’re using a third party theme or you have one custom built, check in with your theme developer if it includes structured data and rich snippet functionality before you proceed. If it’s without product schema structured data capabilities you have a couple of options:

    For displaying user generated content and star ratings in SERPs, these require an app or custom coding. However, before you jump at this ask yourself some questions:

    • Do you have a product reviews app? 
    • Are your reviews positive or negative? 
    • What’s the average star rating? 

    If you’re not using a product reviews app, Shopify has a free one that supports review snippets. Once users write their reviews it will add the markup to your page and once Google comes back to crawl the page and read the markup data, the reviews will appear. There are other product reviews apps in the app store as well but you will need to check that they support schema markup. 

    Rich snippets can take some time to appear in search listings, so if you don’t see them instantly, that’s normal. To check for errors, use the Google Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure there are no display problems. 

    An important takeaway for on-page SEO

    Creating an SEO-friendly page is about making the information digestible for the reader, not necessarily the search engines. It’s the formatting that can get readers where they need to go, through use of headings, bullet lists, or numbered lists. It’s about reducing friction for the reader experience by helping them get there and easily find what they want. You may hear that length is a deciding factor on whether a page ranks or not. My take has always been, if you have a monster-sized article or page, that’s because the topic deserves it and is in need of a 101 or beginners’ guide. It’s rarely a good idea to add more words to an article to hit a metric that promises a ranking page.

    Off-page SEO

    Off-page SEO can include reputation management like customer service and being present on social media, but essentially it boils down to building backlinks, which are links that point to your site. The more high quality, relevant backlinks you have, the better your pages will rank. You know the importance of having high ranking pages in search engines based on where clicks go from the earlier diagram above.

    There are two methods in which you can build links to your website: active efforts and passive efforts.

    Active link building

    Active link building is when you put together a plan and strategy for the pages you want to build links from—with an understanding of why you want to build them—and then executing that plan. Generally, active link building is time intensive, as it’s a competitive strategy to get into. Journalists, influencers, and other writers get pitches all the time, so your pitch has to be compelling.

    There are a couple of principles you can take forward when requesting anything from another site:

    1. Put what’s in it for them up front in your pitch. Yes, the nature of your request is to get something (a link), but what’s in it for them? Is what they’re linking to out of date or a page that no longer exists, or are they missing something vital in their list? Give them a reason to consider your request.
    2. Don’t request links from people who are your competitors. This may seem obvious, but a lot of link requests come from people who want coverage in the same product and topic area because there’s an existing resource. For example, if you’re selling athletic gym shorts and you find a buyer’s guide on what to look for when buying gym shorts and it’s by a brand that also sells shorts aimed at your niche, it’s better not to waste time reaching out to them.

      Now that you’ve got the principles down, let’s look at some active link building tactics:

      1. Foundational links 

      Cost: $0

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀

      Foundational links are links from social media profiles, local business directories, and niche directories. If you haven’t signed up for social media accounts on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., then do so now. Also it’s recommended you create a profile for Google My Business, whether or not you have a physical retail store, as this can improve your local SEO which can help you get local customers. The SEO benefits here are small but it’s easy to set these up and it increases discoverability of your brand from different channels.

      2. Pitch gift guides

      Cost: $0

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀

      Gift guides are a list of recommended products or gift ideas, typically centered around a holiday (like Christmas) or a person (like your dad). If you’ve ever Googled for gift ideas, you’ve likely come across several gift guides.

      Getting your product in the right gift guides can increase sales and traffic to your website. However, inclusion in these guides does not happen randomly and requires some effort. In many cases, business owners lobby to get their products included. You’ll need to contact gift guide publishers and ask to have your product listed. There’s no guarantee, but if your product is the right fit, you could be included.

      3. PR campaigns

      Cost: $0

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀

      Traditionally, a press release campaign involves submitting a release to media to get featured in local, regional, national, or industry press. Press publications have a good chance of sending your website visitors, as well as giving you a high authority and trustworthy link to your website—all good things from an SEO point of view.

      Instead of hiring a PR company, take a shot at getting your own publicity. If you have a great story or an interesting product that people will want to write about, put it out there. Get in touch with bloggers and journalists who cover businesses like yours and tell them what you’re up to.

      While it’s true that most writers are inundated with requests, they are still always on the lookout for a good story. Make sure you target the right publications (i.e., don't ask a tech writer to cover your clothing line), and offer them a compelling story to improve your success rate.

      📚 Recommended read: Still No Media Coverage? This Press Release Guide is Helping Businesses Get Seen

      4. Skyscraper technique

      Cost: $99/month for an SEO tool

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪💪💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀

      If your brand does content marketing or is considering it, the skyscraper technique could help you build links. It stems from internet marketer Brian Dean, who describes it as a method where you find link-worthy content by your competitors, make something even better, and then reach out to the right people to steal their links.

      To perform this technique well you’ll need an SEO tool to find links to your competitors’ sites and a tool to help you find emails for people to reach out to. Remember, you need to invest in creating a quality piece of content and plan an outreach campaign, which takes some planning and a lot of effort.

      5. Guest blog

      Cost: $0

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀

      If you’re writing on your own blog to drive traffic, you know it takes time before you start to see results. Guest posting gives you a way to get in front of someone else’s audience while you’re growing your own. Not only does it drive traffic back to your website, but the links back will help with search engine optimization.

      Find and connect with other websites, publications, or industry bloggers who have the type of audience you want to reach. Offer to write a guest post that their audience will love. Make sure the topic you write about is also related to your business or it won’t drive any traffic.

      6. Broken link building

      Cost: $99/month for an SEO tool

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪💪💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀🚀🚀

      Broken link building is where you find pages that link to sites that have a page removed, recreate content similar to that of the dead content, then tell anyone linking to the removed resource to instead link to your content. This works because it’s bad for a website's SEO to be linking to pages that don’t exist. 

      To perform this technique successfully you’ll need an SEO tool that allows you to crawl pages and find broken links and an outreach tool that lets you hunt down email addresses. You’ll also need to find out what was once on that now broken page. Fortunately, you can do this with the Wayback Machine, a free archive of web pages from different moments in time.

      Here’s the process you can expect to follow if you use this tactic:

      • Choose a website that exists within your niche and publishes content you would happily have a link from (e.g., If I owned a business that sold skin treatments and essential oils, I would look for a website within the aromatherapy space, which could be a competitor business or a blogger).
      • Use your SEO tool to find any 404 links, the pages with the most referring domains or links, or a page that you know you have a product or collection on. Use the Wayback Machine to get an idea of what was on that page and see if you can create similar content to what was covered on it. Note: You should never copy the text from a dead page, as this is copyright infringement.
      • Use your outreach email tool to find the content manager and reach out to let them know about the broken link, how this is bad for their SEO and reader experience, and that you have a page covering this topic. Hopefully, the end result will be they replace a broken link with a link to your business.

      You can read more about broken link building on ahref’s blog.

      7. Unlinked mentions

      Cost: From $0

      SEO expertise (out of 5🕵️‍♀️):🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️🕵️‍♀️

      Effort (out of 5 💪): 💪💪

      Impact (out of 5 🚀): 🚀🚀

      Unlinked mentions are when your business is written about on another site without a link back to you. For instance, your business might be given as an example in an article that sells comfy loungewear apparel but doesn’t link to your homepage. With tools like Google Alerts or some SEO tools that have this feature, like ahrefs, you can get a notification to your inbox if your site is mentioned. Once you feel that getting a link from this site is worth reaching out to the writer or content manager, then go ahead and ask for a link to be credited to your mentioned business.

      Passive link building 

      Passive link building involves daily duties or business as usual but can help compound your SEO efforts over time, even though they’re not typical SEO-enhancing activities. 

      • Create an amazing product or service. The easiest way to get people talking about your business online is to have a great product or service that’s worth talking about. This is when people share your business with friends and family because you’re doing something special that makes you stand out. This takes a while to catch wind, but it’s the best way to build a business and a solid SEO tip.
      • Provide amazing customer service. Great customer service is spoken about. Equally terrible customer service is also spoken about. But it’s average customer service that goes under the radar. While bad customer service can get you written about, which, technically, is good for SEO (remember that time United Airlines dragged a passenger off one of their planes?), it’s obviously not good to be known for giving poor customer service. So focus on providing amazing service. You don’t have to go above and beyond—it’s a matter of doing the little things really well and finding moments to deliver delight. Remember this saying: “People remember what you did long after they forget what you said.”
      • Responsive on social media. Being responsive on social media isn’t about jumping on any and all conversations, or joining in on the banter between brands on Twitter. It’s about getting back to your customers when they reach out for help. Once you get the basics down, then you can consider liking or commenting on Instagram posts or Stories where your passionate fans tag your products.
      • Build connections with social media and online influencers. This is thought of as networking, but a better way to think about it is as trying to make friends online. If you know what an influencer or passionate writer of the field is interested in, send them that article or product they would love, or leave a thoughtful comment on their post. It comes down to building trust with these people. Once you have trust, then you have attention. Once you have attention, you have enrollment and permission to share ideas or your perspective.
      • Converse on forums and discussion boards and comment on blogs. Being present in communities like Reddit, Quora, or niche industry forums where your ideal audience hangs out online can help you build a good reputation and eventually customers. Use these spaces to encourage conversations with the right people, respond thoughtfully, and drive excitement and enthusiasm. But be careful of promoting your business too often. Aim to only do that if the person is looking for recommendations or your product solves the problem they describe in the comment.

      Build an SEO plan to scale your store’s growth

      When customers research products in your category, you want your store to be one of the top search results. But the only way for them to see your page in the results is to put time and effort into learning the rules that govern search engines and apply those rules to the structure and content of your site.

      Working on SEO for your store can feel overwhelming in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it and iron out any issues, it can be as simple as tweaking pages to help them rank better and finding new keywords to create pages for. You’ll begin to see results slowly, but you will see movement increase over time, and SEO will be a great flywheel to bring in new customers for your business.

      Illustration by Rose Wong

      Frequently asked questions on SEO

      What does SEO stand for in marketing?

      SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. It is a measurable, repeatable process used to send signals to search engines that your pages are worth appearing in Google’s search results.

      What is SEM?

      Search engine marketing, sometimes called SEM, is where you create relevant, quality content on your website to attract your ideal customers through organic search results (non-paid). You increase traffic by creating new pages or optimizing existing ones.

      What is SEO in digital marketing?

      SEO in digital or online marketing is where you aim to increase organic traffic to your website through tweaking pages to improve search engine rankings, creating new content to target keywords, and improving your site to be better understood by search engine crawlers.

      How do I start SEO?

      1. Find a keyword which has good search volume
      2. Understand the search intent of your keyword
      3. Write your page using your keyword research data
      4. Optimize your page meta title and description
      5. Publish your page
      6. Build links to your page or website

      What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

      The difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is that SEO focuses on increasing organic traffic, while SEM includes both increasing organic traffic and running paid ads to increase traffic.
      Topics: