SEO for online stores is an ever-changing and evolving game, so what worked yesterday could be the complete opposite of what works today.
That’s why conducting regular eCommerce SEO audits is a must for maintaining (and exceeding) your current search engine rankings.
How does SEO change?
Google updates happen (like the recent update to their Quality Rater Guidelines), competitors pick up steam, and trending keywords begin to lose their popularity.
Not only that, but technical issues can also affect your SEO profile, like broken links, indexing errors, and page speed issues.
If you don’t periodically audit, optimize, update, and refresh your page content, your web pages may disappear from the SERPs (search engine results pages) entirely.
Yet, if you stay on top of your SEO audits, you will maintain your rankings as your content will remain relevant & optimized.
The benefits don’t stop there, though.
eCommerce SEO audits will help you identify opportunities for quick wins (traffic & revenue boosts that happen within a week or two), avoid duplicate content, boost your conversion rates, and generate more organic traffic overall.
Quite a bit of work goes into an SEO audit, but it’s worth it in the long run.
To make auditing your online store easier, we’ve prepared this extensive checklist containing everything you need to do to conduct a successful audit – so read on to learn how.
How are eCommerce SEO Audits Unique?
While most SEO audits follow the same formula, there are a few factors that make eCommerce audits unique from the rest.
For one, traditional SEO audits involve analyzing blog posts, infographics, videos, and other forms of content for proper keyword placement and other SEO best practices.
eCommerce stores are a tad different in that they primarily feature product descriptions, category pages, and product pages as their main form of content.
Some eCommerce sites have blogs, but for the most part, you’ll be dealing with product pages and category pages.
You’ll need to optimize them for your target keywords, as well as uncover your top-performing pages with the strongest conversion rates.
If your store features blogs and other types of online content (videos, infographics, etc.), you’ll need to audit those, too.
Besides that, you also need to focus heavily on technical SEO factors like page speed, site security (SSL certificates are a MUST for eCommerce stores), and mobile friendliness.
Page speed is a vital SEO factor for any website, but it’s doubly important for online stores.
Modern internet users aren’t known for their patience, so they won’t stick around if your product pages don’t load at the drop of a hat.
60% of modern consumers prefer to shop on their mobile devices, which is why mobile optimization is so crucial.
Lastly, another unique challenge facing eCommerce SEO is the prevalence of duplicate content. Since online stores tend to sell multiple sizes and colors for products, that leads to nearly identical product pages – which confuses search engines.
As such, eCommerce stores deal with duplicate content issues far more often than other types of businesses (more on how to remedy them in a bit).
In traditional SEO strategies, blog posts tend to be your main focus when conducting a content audit.
eCommerce websites are different in that you need to focus on optimizing your product pages and category pages the most, even if you also have a blog.
That’s because your ultimate goal is to drive the most traffic to pages where potential customers can convert and try out your products.
While blog posts are handy for attracting prospects at the top of your sales funnel, most of your revenue will come from commercial and transactional queries.
To see the best results, you need to optimize your product pages for both search engines and your customers.
That means using SEO best practices like keyword-rich product descriptions while not neglecting the quality of the copy (i.e., writing engaging descriptions that encourage users to convert).
You also need to optimize your product images by compressing them to help with page speed – and adding alt text containing your target keyword for each product.
Metadata is another crucial factor for your product page optimization.
You need to write enticing meta descriptions that contain CTAs to encourage users to choose your content over your competitors on the SERPs.
Including your target keyword in your title tags is also a must, as it helps search engine crawlers understand which keywords your content relates to.
Equally as important as your product pages are your category pages, so you’ll need to optimize them for search engines and users too.
Most of the product page optimizations also apply to category pages, including:
- Using keyword-rich meta descriptions and title tags.
- Optimize all images with compression (if necessary) and alt text containing keywords.
- Include keywords in category page titles.
Besides making these tweaks, you’ll also need to ensure the following:
- Your category pages need to follow a logical structure that’s easy for search engine crawlers to understand (i.e., categories, subcategories, and products).
- You need to employ a user-friendly UI that’s effortless for customers to navigate.
- Highlight your best product images on your category pages (without forgetting to include keyword-rich alt text).
These optimizations will ensure that your category pages are easy for search engines to crawl & index and for customers to navigate and find the products they need.
Optimize for humans first, search engines second
Remember that your overall goal is to provide an outstanding user experience for your customers and that the SEO tweaks are simply a means to an end.
Search engine crawler bots won’t be the ones placing orders for your products, so you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on catering to them.
For instance, while it’s crucial to include your target keywords in your content, you should always do so in a way that doesn’t affect the quality of your copy.
Not only that but getting too crazy with keywords can lead to keyword stuffing, which is very bad for your SEO.
Let’s say that you’re selling customized dog bowls using the keyword ‘dog water dish.’
Here’s an example of how to write a product description containing the keyword in an organic manner that doesn’t diminish the quality of the copy:
“This premium dog water dish is large enough to quench any pup’s thirst. It’s fully customizable and comes in a wide variety of colors & designs to perfectly match your dog’s style.”
It’s concise, contains the keyword, and lets users know how the dog dish will benefit their lives.
Conversely, here’s an example that puts search engines first instead of customers:
“Need a new dog water dish that you can customize? Our five-star dog water dishes are sure to satisfy, as they’re customizable dog water dishes that come in a variety of colors and designs.”
While it contains the target keyword three times, the sentences are clunky, awkward, and don’t provide enough value to users.
What Can eCommerce Audits Do for Your Business?
If you’ve recently started an SEO strategy for your eCommerce store, you may be wondering why it’s necessary to conduct regular audits.
After all, if your product pages are ranking where you want them to be, why try to fix what isn’t broken?
As stated in the intro, SEO is always changing and evolving – so if you want to maintain those rankings, you need to keep a close eye on your website’s content.
That means conducting regular audits even if things are running smoothly.
You never know when an indexing error or new Google update will rear its head, both of which can cause top-ranking content to vanish from the SERPs overnight.
Consider Google’s recent Link Spam Update as an example of this.
In December 2022, Google released an update that negated the impact of backlinks that had been purchased through third parties.
Almost immediately, thousands of websites saw huge drops in their online visibility due to this single update.
That’s why regular audits are a must, as you need to do everything you can to stay on top of new trends, changes, and algorithm updates.
Besides preventing potential issues and ranking fall-offs, eCommerce SEO audits can provide numerous benefits for your business, so let’s take a look at them.
Find ways to boost your organic traffic
The chances are high that some of your product pages & category pages aren’t performing as well as they could be online.
There are plenty of reasons why, including targeting the wrong keywords, poor page speed, indexing errors, and a plethora of other SEO issues.
The point is you won’t ever uncover these issues if you don’t conduct a site audit to analyze how well each page is performing.
For instance, let’s say that you uncover a product page that’s lacking relevant keywords. As a result, it’s one of the lowest-performing pages on your entire website.
By conducting some new keyword research to find more relevant search terms, you can boost the page’s online performance by a significant margin. That means the page will start to generate more organic traffic than before, granting you more opportunities to convert organic visitors.
Or it could be that a page lacks authority due to a link deficit.
Once again, the only way to identify these types of issues is to conduct thorough eCommerce SEO audits.
Besides discovering your lowest-performing pages, you will also identify your most important pages.
These are the product & category pages that are currently ranking the highest and generating the most organic traffic for your store.
It’s crucial to identify these pages because you can pinpoint why they’re working so well and then copy their success to other pages.
Increased conversion rates
Site audits are also invaluable for finding ways to boost your conversions.
Just like organic traffic, you can use tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics to discover your highest-converting pages.
What about these pages causes them to convert so well? Did you use any techniques that you aren’t using on your other pages? Is the CTA on your top converting page especially convincing?
These are all crucial questions to ask once you know which pages are seeing the most action from customers.
From there, you can copy the techniques that worked so well on those pages for the rest of your products & categories.
That’ll increase your conversions across the board, earning you more revenue as a result.
Gain an edge over competitors
eCommerce SEO audits can help you gain a serious competitive edge in your niche if you’re thorough enough with them.
First, your goal should always be to outdo your competitors, as that’s the only way to reach and maintain the top spots on the SERPs.
As such, the more in-depth you are with your audit, the greater the chances that you’ve outdone your competition.
You should never leave it to a guessing game, though.
There are plenty of tools out there that can help you gauge where your competitors are at, not only on the SERPs but also with their domain authority, backlink profile, and more.
Of course, all it takes is a quick Google search of one of your target keywords to see who’s outranking you.
But you can also use free tools like our backlink checker from The HOTH.
With it, you can view the complete backlink profile of any website online, which is invaluable for gauging your competitors.
Additionally, you can also use our free SEO audit tool to view crucial metrics for competitors’ websites instantly. You’ll get to view their keyword usage, current rankings, domain authority, and more.
You can use these two tools to not only size up your competition but also identify ways to outdo competitors and copy their success with your own content during the audit.
For example, you can use the backlink checker to find high-authority links that you can poach from your competitors through the skyscraper technique. You can also copy their keyword strategies, site structure, and structured data markup.
Identify quick win opportunities
A notorious drawback of SEO is how long it takes to start to see results. On average, it takes around 6 – 12 months to start to see an ROI from your SEO efforts.
That’s a long time to wait while you’re constantly putting in work or paying a digital marketing agency.
The good news?
There are ways to identify ‘quick win’ opportunities that can speed up the process and provide results within a few weeks instead of months.
To find these golden opportunities, you need to conduct an SEO audit.
How do you find quick wins?
You can start by identifying pages with keywords that are within ‘striking distance’ of ranking near the top 10 SERP results.
These are pages that just need a little push to obtain a desirable ranking on search engines like Google.
By implementing a few SEO best practices like proper keyword placement (in the first 100 words, title tag, meta description, alt text, etc.), you can push the web page over the edge and start generating more organic traffic in a week or two.
Other quick-win opportunities include acquiring a few high-authority backlinks that don’t take too much time to build.
For instance, a savvy SEO agency may find a few opportunities for link placements (also called niche edits), which can provide a quick boost to your link profile.
The great thing about link placements is they occur in existing content that’s already in Google’s index, so you don’t have to wait long to see its impact on your rankings.
Further, develop your eCommerce SEO strategy
Lastly, a significant reason why you should conduct regular website audits is to keep evolving your SEO strategy.
Running an online store is extremely demanding, so you won’t have much time to focus on developing your SEO during the day.
eCommerce SEO audits are so essential because they give you the time to slow things down and focus on improving your tactics. You’ll be able to closely examine every aspect of your online presence, which will help you brainstorm ideas to take your SEO to the next level.
For example, if you last conducted keyword research 2 years ago, it’s highly likely that those keywords have begun to lose popularity.
While not every piece of content is evergreen (meaning it stays fresh forever), you can always update outdated posts with new information and fresh keywords.
Audits can also spark ideas for backlink opportunities, either by examining your own backlink profile or your competitors.
Let’s say that you’re examining a competitor and find that they’ve been guest posting on sites you didn’t know about.
Since they’re in your niche, you can also conduct outreach to the same websites in the hopes of obtaining guest posts.
It’s crucial to keep your eyes open when auditing your eCommerce store, as you never know when you may uncover something new that’ll take your SEO strategy to new heights.
An Extensive eCommerce SEO Audit Checklist
Now that you know more about how comprehensive website audits benefit your business, it’s time to learn how to conduct one.
Quite a bit goes into an eCommerce SEO audit, and it can easily get overwhelming if you don’t have a guide to follow.
To make things easier to digest, we’ve broken down the audit into three main categories: on-page SEO, technical SEO, and off-page SEO.
Auditing Your On-Page SEO
Let’s start by looking at all the tasks that fall under the umbrella of on-page or on-site SEO.
As the name implies, this type of SEO involves making tweaks that occur on your website – and are usually visible to both search engines and your users.
That means optimizing visible on-site factors like adding keywords to product descriptions, writing enticing meta descriptions, and using stand-out images with keyword-rich alt text.
It also involves making user experience optimizations, such as including pricing and all other essential product information on the top half of the page so the user doesn’t have to scroll down.
Here’s a look at all the top on-page SEO factors you’ll need to consider when conducting your audit.
Keyword research and placement
Everything related to keyword optimization falls under on-page SEO, so now is the time to analyze every target keyword for your product & category pages.
You can use our free keyword planner tool to check the validity and relevance of each search term.
The tool will let you know if the keyword is currently trending up or down in popularity, which is useful information. If a keyword is trending down, it may be worth retargeting similar keywords that are gaining traction and have the same context.
For the most part, you need to ensure that each page has a viable target keyword and that it’s placed in the following locations:
- The title tag and meta description
- Your H1 tag
- The first 100 words of the product description/category page
- Your URL (this matters most to search engines like Bing & Yahoo, but it’s still a good rule of thumb)
- Image alt text
- Headings (H2, H3, H4, etc.)
- FAQ pages
As long as your target keywords appear organically in these key areas, you should be golden.
Pro tip: To get the most bang for your SEO buck, you should front-load your keywords in your headings, especially your H1 tag. That means placing the keyword at the very front of the headline so that it’s the very first thing that search crawlers (and your users) see.
It’s best not to overthink or overuse keywords, as that can lead to keyword spam, which will harm your SEO instead of helping it.
Optimize your metadata
It’s imperative that every product and category page on your store has a title tag and meta description.
It’s all too common for larger eCommerce stores to neglect or forget about their metadata entirely, which will cripple your SEO efforts.
Why is metadata so essential for SEO?
It is because title tags and meta descriptions are what appear in the SERPs. So if you don’t have an optimized title tag and enticing meta description, search engine users will have little reason to click on your result instead of the others that DO have engaging descriptions.
Your title tag shows up as the blue hyperlink on Google results pages, and the meta description is the brief sentence describing the web page that appears underneath.
You should include your target keywords in both, but it’s doubly important for your title tag.
That’s because search engine crawlers will look at your metadata BEFORE they crawl the content of the page, so your title tag will be the first instance of your keyword they come across.
Meta descriptions are more for online users, but they’re equally as important for your business, especially for improving click-through rates (CTR).
When auditing the metadata for your online store, you also need to ensure that your titles and descriptions fall within the character limit.
Your title tag should be no more than 60 characters, and you need to keep meta descriptions within 160 characters.
These character limits represent the dimensions of Google results, and exceeding them means your title or description may be too long to display in full.
Refining product and category pages
Remember, you’re not just here to cater to the needs of search engines.
You should also focus on improving the user experience of your online store, especially when making on-page optimizations.
In particular, you should refine the user interface (UI) of your product and category pages to ensure a pleasant experience for shoppers.
Here are the components you should strive to include on each page:
- Keyword-optimized product descriptions that hype the benefits customers will enjoy from purchasing your products (benefits over features)
- Pricing and purchase options are included in the same window
- All relevant information is listed at the top of the page, so there’s no need to scroll down
- High-resolution product images that show off your products in great detail (multiple angles and focal lengths)
- Add to cart options
- A concise CTA that lets users know what you want them to do next
These optimizations will make your eCommerce store effortless to use, which will increase your chances of landing conversions.
When writing product descriptions, remember to focus on benefits instead of features.
What do we mean by that?
Features are static, and while they may be impressive, they don’t let customers know how the product will change their lives.
While you shouldn’t completely ignore features, always include benefits to go along with them.
For example, instead of just saying a pair of gardening shears has remarkable tensile strength, also include that it’ll tear through any stubborn bush with ease, which will improve their landscaping skills. These types of benefits will appeal to customers more than simply listing a product’s features.
URLs and site architecture
Next, you need to optimize your URL & page structure to make your website easier to crawl and index.
If you’re running SEO campaigns on Bing and Yahoo, then you’ll definitely want to add your target keywords to your URLs.
That’s because keywords in URLs are a direct ranking factor for Bing and its related search engines.
URL keywords used to hold the same clout on Google, but updates in recent years have changed that significantly.
It’s still a good idea to use your target keywords in your URLs, but it will matter far less for your Google SEO.
What matters equally to both Bing and Google is the architecture of your online store.
In other words, every page on your website needs to follow a logical structure to make it easy for search engines and users to navigate.
In general, it’s best to stick with a flat site architecture, where every page is only a few clicks away from the homepage.
For eCommerce stores, this type of structure works best:
- Your homepage links to your primary category pages
- From there, each category has a list of subcategories
- Lastly, the subcategories link to all your products
This is the quickest and easiest way to organize an online store, and it’ll help you avoid orphan pages.
A page is considered ‘orphaned’ whenever it doesn’t have an internal link pointing to it, making it difficult for search engines and users to navigate to it.
Orphan pages often don’t appear in the SERPs at all, so use a site crawler like Screaming Frog to get your URL structure in order.
Optimizing product images
Rounding out the on-page SEO checklist is to optimize all your product images, both on your product pages and category pages.
High-resolution images are a necessity for any online store, as your customers will want to get an in-depth preview of your products before making a purchase.
Ideally, you should have multiple photos of each product from different angles and focal lengths.
While you want your images to have flawless quality, it’s also essential to compress them as much as possible.
Why is that?
Images can quickly start to accrue in size, especially if you’re using multiple images for each product. If the file sizes become too great, it can start to slow down your site speed.
Poor loading times will tank your online visibility & conversion rates, so you should strive to compress each image as much as possible without sacrificing quality.
Every image also needs a line of alt text containing the primary keyword for that product page.
What’s alt text?
It’s a brief description of what an image displays and it serves two purposes. For one, it improves the accessibility of your site by enabling blind visitors to understand what your images show. Next, it helps search engine crawlers understand your images and how they relate to your target keyword.
Since crawler bots are technically blind (they lack computer vision), they won’t be able to see any of your images – hence the need for alt text.
If you don’t include alt text for your product images, Google & other search engines will have no way of knowing that you’ve included images in your content (which is a pretty important ranking factor when gauging the quality of a post or product page).
Technical SEO Audit Checklist
Now that your on-page optimizations are complete, it’s time to move on to technical SEO factors.
Technical SEO refers to all the behind-the-scenes factors that affect your visibility on search engines.
In particular, technical SEO efforts revolve around making your web pages as easy to crawl and index as possible.
That means doing things like uploading your XML sitemap to Google Search Console (GSC), addressing any indexing errors, and using canonical tags to avoid duplicate content.
Here’s a look at the top technical SEO factors you need to look at during your eCommerce audit.
Addressing indexing and crawlability errors
First, you need to set up Google Search Console for your eCommerce store if you haven’t already.
That’ll grant you the ability to view the Page Indexing Report.
It will let you know the indexing status of all the URLs on your website (that Google knows about, anyway).
This is an invaluable tool because it lets you know how much of your website is visible to Google.
Why aren’t some of your web pages showing up in Google’s index?
There could be a variety of reasons why, including the lack of internal links pointing to them and any number of indexing errors.
The good news is you can view any indexing errors Google ran into straight from GSC via the Index Coverage Report.
Here, you’ll get to see all your web pages that are valid, excluded, contain errors, or are valid but contain warnings.
Besides that, you’ll get to view a full list of crawling & indexing errors that popped up on your site.
Common errors include issues with redirects, soft 404s, pages blocked by your robots.txt file, and more.
GSC will also provide recommendations for fixing these errors, which is a huge plus. Once you’ve addressed and fixed all your most pressing indexing errors, you can move on to the next step.
Avoiding duplicate content with canonical tags
As stated previously, eCommerce stores face many issues with duplicate content.
Whenever two pages attempt to rank for the same keyword, it confuses Google as it doesn’t know which one to rank on the SERPs.
The problem occurs whenever you sell products in multiple colors and sizes. That’s because you’ll have a couple of versions of the same product page that contain identical descriptions & target keywords.
The most common solution to this problem is to use canonical tags to distinguish the version of the product you want to rank from its duplicates (other colors and sizes).
The vanilla version of each product should receive a canonical tag, while similar pages need to receive a noindex tag.
That’ll let Google and other search engines know which version of your product to rank on the SERPs and which to exclude – effectively avoiding all duplicate content on your online store, which will help your SEO profile in a big way.
Improving page speed
By now, you already know that your pages need to load fast in order to stop customers from clicking off your site and back to the SERPs (which is bad for your bounce rate).
Moreover, your website needs to pass Google’s Core Web Vitals test if you want your content to appear in its search results.
It’s a test that checks your website’s loading speed and responsiveness.
The faster your website loads, the better you’ll perform in the organic search. Not only that, but you’ll also see more conversions by improving your website’s performance.
Website security (SSL certificates)
eCommerce businesses need to place a strong emphasis on website security, as your customers will be entering their sensitive financial information to make purchases.
That means you need to keep their data encrypted at all times, so HTTPS and SSL certificates are both necessities.
If your site doesn’t feature ample security, you’ll have a hard time finding customers willing to enter their credit card numbers into your purchase forms.
HTTPS will encrypt all user transactions that take place on your online store, so you need to make the switch if you haven’t already. Once your website is secure, don’t forget to advertise it! Your customers will appreciate knowing that their data will remain safe on your site, so don’t stay quiet about it.
Off-Page SEO Checklist
Lastly, you need to make a few off-page optimizations.
Off-page SEO refers to all your promotional efforts that occur off your website, such as on social media platforms.
Here are the off-page factors you’ll need to tweak during your eCommerce SEO audit.
Obtaining backlinks (outbound links that point to your website) is crucial for SEO, especially for campaigns on Google.
Common link-building tactics include:
- Getting your website listed on directories related to your niche (Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc.)
- Link placements and insertions (placing backlinks on existing pieces of content on related websites)
- HARO links (getting backlinks through press mentions)
- Posting links on related forums and social media groups
- Guest posting on other eCommerce blogs
If you aren’t sure how your backlink profile stacks up to competitors, you can use our free backlink checker tool that we linked previously.
Social media posts
You can and should promote your eCommerce products through social media profiles, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more.
Which channels you select will depend on the preferences of your target demographics.
For instance, if you primarily sell to Gen Z’ers, posting on TikTok is the most reliable way to reach them.
If you’re after an older crowd, Facebook and LinkedIn are the ways to go.
Ensure that your posts contain your target keywords and provide value to your audience, and you should be all set.
Wrapping Up: Conducting an eCommerce SEO Audit
eCommerce SEO faces some unique challenges, but it’s still the best way to boost your online visibility and acquire new customers.
Conducting regular SEO audits is a necessity if you want to maintain the rankings that you worked so hard to obtain.
Do you need help developing a winning eCommerce SEO strategy for your online store?