Key tricks for retailers winning in SEO: Google’s top search ranking factors for ecommerce

16/02/2017

For websites selling straight off the screen, a well-structured site, with high checkout buttons and fewer ads are likely to get ranked higher on Google.

Getting a high listing in search engines is critical for achieving good ecommerce sales. Whether your brand is selling to consumers or businesses, search engines play a critical role in discovery, and when products are available through more than one online store, SEO can mean “make or break” for the business.

A new study of Google search results by Searchmetrics identifies the key retail-specific factors that ecommerce marketers should consider to help their sites perform well in the natural search engine results. While any business can leap high up the paid listings by dialling-up their advertising budget, successful ecommerce businesses have to scrutinise their marketing effectiveness to maintain their margins. That’s why SEO plays such an important role.

With Google using machine learning and AI to better understandi search intent, the role of SEO is changing. Shopper intent remains the starting point for building insights around discoverability, and search engines are getting stronger at identifying whether the words in people’s search queries relate to retail, travel, finance or other vertical sectors.

Key findings

• SEO remains critical in ecommerce success

• Retailers gain visibility by giving shoppers a seamless (generally ad-free) experience in which they can find things they want quickly, and checkout fast

• Many websites under-perform

The research, published in a paper, ‘Ecommerce Ranking Factors 2017 - Ten Things eCommerce Sites Need to Know to Rank on Google’, is a response to Google’s growing capacity to interpret the search intent behind individual queries, aided in part by the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques within its RankBrain system.

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What should ecommerce managers do to win in today’s SEO environment?

Here are a few of the key findings for what to consider when planning content and search optimization:

1) Keep your content well structured

62% of the top 20 Google results for online retail/ecommerce focused searches have at least one unordered (bullet point) list on the page, compared with 52% for general searches. And the results for online retail queries also tend to include 70% more bullets per list on average than those for generalised searches. It appears that Google knows that searchers who show an intent to research online purchases prefer better organised, structured content that lets them quickly scan product details and easily compare potential purchases.

2) Organise your site with menus and internal links

Pages listed in the top 10 search results for online retail and ecommerce queries have 70% more internal links than those found in general searches. Well-structured internal links and menus help visitors easily locate and browse through products and related products.

3) Google likes the online checkout facility to be highly visible on the page

Of the top 20 search results for online retail queries, over half (56%) have an online store checkout section that is visible above the fold (without scrolling). When it senses that someone is researching a purchase, the pages that Google presents in its results tend to make it quick and easy for visitors to make a transaction.

4) You can get away with slightly larger pages

In general Google seems to reward pages that have smaller files sizes (which will tend to load faster) with higher rankings. But it makes some allowances on this point for retail and ecommerce searches. File sizes for pages that appear in the top ten search results for online retail queries are on average 30% larger than those for general queries. It may be that Google’s algorithm recognises that file sizes for some retail and ecommerce pages, such as those that cover an entire product category or range, are necessarily larger because they have to display numerous product images.

5) Video may not be as important as you might think

In general embedded video content is found in almost half (49%) of sites that appear in the top 10 Google search results. For ecommerce and online retail searches it is only present in 35%. Video is obviously useful for demonstrating product installation or set up, but Google has learned that the most relevant results often tend to be retail sites that carry catalogue style listings allowing searchers to easily compare choices from an overview of products featuring small product images and descriptions.

6) Avoid hosting ads on your pages

Advertising is a distraction from purchase, and most ecommerce sites limit the advertising content heavily. Looking at the Google AdSense program, the correlation is clear: just 3% of sites that feature on the first page of Google for online retail searches carry AdSense advertising compared with 9% of first page results for general searches. While in many other industries advertising is an acceptable form of website monetization, Google’s search result rankings appear to show it is less well suited to online retail sites. This could be because, too much additional information such as ads and offers about other products could distract from the product the searcher is currently viewing.

AI is driving the changes

The search engine can now more precisely determine the search intention behind the keywords or phrases that people type into the search bar, allowing it to deliver more relevant results. For example, it can identify if queries relate to retail, finance or other vertical sectors and ensure that highly positioned results reflect the elements that will most effectively address what searchers are looking for.

These advances mean that focusing on generalised, universally applicable ranking factors alone is no longer enough to drive the best search performance. Marketers must now take a more verticalised approach according to Daniel Furch, Head of Content, Searchmetrics.

“Most marketers appreciate that you need to create relevant, high quality content to perform well in search, but our latest study highlights that online retail and ecommerce marketers must also pay close attention to a variety of retail-specific factors” said Furch. “This includes considerations such as ensuring content is structured with bullet points so that product details can be more easily scanned by visitors; making the online checkout section easily visible without scrolling; and – in most cases – avoiding ads on the page.”

The new study is based on an analysis of the top 20 search results on Google.com for over 6,000 typical online retail and ecommerce search terms. Searchmetrics identified the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these results, noting how they differ from its separate Google ranking factors study which analysed the results from 10,000 general, high search volume keywords that apply across all industries.

To download ‘Ecommerce Ranking Factors 2017 - Ten Things eCommerce Sites Need to Know to Rank on Google’ click here.

This is the first of a series of Searchmetrics industry-specific ranking factors studies focusing on individual verticals. Expect to see further studies focusing on finance, travel, health and media in the coming weeks and months.


About the study

Searchmetrics analysed the top 20 desktop search results on Google.com for over 6,000 industry-specific keywords that are relevant to online retail and ecommerce (including sectors such as clothing & fashion, games & entertainment, electronics, telephones & communications, home & garden, computers, sports equipment, books). It identified the common factors that are present in these results and how strongly they correlate with search ranking positions. The findings were then compared with Searchmetrics’ separate study of Google ranking factors which analysed the results for a general set of 10,000 keywords.

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