Getting your site to rank for Google is vital to your success. Google is just an algorithm and you can outsmart it! This guide will help you see your online Shopify store the way Google sees it and give you the secrets to getting Google to pick your site instead of your competition.
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It seems cruel after you have spent so much time making sure that your site is compelling, visually interesting, and represents your brand in a meaningful way, that none of it means anything to the bots that crawl the web. While great design and beauty pay off when customers get to your site, they won’t increase your page rank. Google determines page rank by how well you speak bot (tags, descriptions, hierarchy, internal and external links), and it uses other metrics like time on site, events and return visits to determine engagement, and engagement is the key to outsmarting Google, but first you’ll need to understand how Google sees your site.
Companies mistakenly think that they are Google’s primary customers, but it is actually the person searching who is Google’s primary customer. If Google doesn’t serve up relevant results, then searchers will go to another search engine and Google will lose market dominance. Google’s key performance metrics are all bout how happy searchers are—not ads, not keywords, not ad spend. I’m not saying they don’t care deeply about those things, they do. Google makes it’s money on ads, but they live or die by giving their primary customer, searchers, results that they like and that they engage with.
The more you help Google determine what is relevant, the more Google will serve up your products in search results, without making you pay for ads. Pro tip: Google ads cost less if your SEO is dialed in as well. That’s why SEO is so very important. We’ll cover that first, but engagement is where the real magic happens. If you’re already an SEO expert, turn to page 7 to learn the ingredients for creating engagement.
Don’t get mad at Google, outsmart it! Having trouble getting your site to rank well? Wondering how to get to the top positions without paying for placement? Google is just an algorithm, once you understand how it works, you can learn how to outsmart it. Download your copy today!
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Once a product is popular and well known, i.e. Bean Boots, iPhone, Levis; the name is the keyword. For most products though, the product name is an easy opportunity to get keywords into the most important tag for Google, the H1tag.
Example: Essential Cashmere Sweater
What would a customer type into Google if they were looking for this sweater? In this example, the manufacturer named the sweater “Essential Cashmere Sweater” so we’ll use that as the starting point. The more you can drill down on what sets a product apart, the more likely it is that you’ll find a connection.
What sets this sweater apart from the competition is that it is made from more expensive, but cruelty-free, methods of wool-gathering. Cruelty-free is a good keyword for this product and we’ll add it to the title. So now we have Cruelty-free Essential Cashmere Sweater.
Are there any other things that customers would type into Google if they were looking for this sweater? The (fictitious) company that makes the sweater has created content on their site that supports their mission. They also have a large following on social media, so the brand name, Karma Isles, may be something customers would search for. Women’s is another keyword that could help Google determine if it is a good fit for what their customers searched for.
Women’s Karma Isles Cruelty-free Essential Cashmere Sweater is a mouthful, but it is also a goldmine of searchable terms. You could also call it, Karma Isles Women’s Essential Cashmere Sweater—Cruelty-free, or The Essential Women’s Cashmere Sweater, a Cruelty-free classic from Karma Isles. If you’re thinking “Oh hell no!” don’t panic, just make sure it all goes in the product description. Google ranks H1 text tags higher than Paragraph text tags, but your brand may not want long wordy names, so work on other ways to outsmart Google.
When manufacturers share product images, the image name is often something like 0893-98_RE.jpg. Manufacturers are not worried about your SEO issues, they speak in SKUs. In order to make that image rank in Google, you’ll need to change the name to something more bot-friendly. First take the product name and concatenate it. (Concatenate is just an SAT word that means: string it all together using underscores or hyphens.)
The concatenated image name for this image becomes Karma_Isles_Cruelty-free_Essential_Cashmere_Sweater.jpg. There are two more things we can add that will help Google understand what the image is, the color and the gender served. The color “Robin’s egg” is a bit vague for most customers who aren’t already familiar with the product. They are more likely to search for “Blue” or “Light Blue”. Add those terms in and we end up with Karma_Isles_Cruelty-free_Essential_Cashmere_Sweater_Womens_Robins_Egg_Light_Blue.jpg, and now all of your keywords are front and center.
This matters more than you think because images always appear at the top of Google searches. Google can’t glean any information from 0893-98_RE.jpg, but it understands Karma_Isles_Cruelty-free_Essential_Cashmere_Sweater_Womens_Robins_Egg_Light_Blue.jpg. Having your beautiful cashmere sweater appear in the images above a search for “Cruelty-free cashmere sweaters” vastly increases the chances of your product being clicked.
One of the most underused weapons in the SEO arsenal is linking. Google is trying to serve up the best results to any search, and to do that, it needs to determine what things are important and what things aren’t. You may have a better, prettier, or more socially beneficial product, but Google won’t know any of that unless you tell it. When a customer types “Cashmere Sweater” into Google there may be 140,765 cashmere sweaters to choose from, so Google has to narrow down the search to find the top answers. Links are Google’s window to what matters. Internal links aren’t ranked as highly as external links, but they are easy and they add up. Remember you are trying to get a nose up on your competition—it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be relevant.
Adding pages to your site that focus on your key attributes is a great way to add links that can be used on multiple products. For our example adding pages like “Why Tibetan goat herders comb their herds” or “Cashmere shouldn’t be cruel” where the copy talks about the subject and shows why your cashmere sweaters a better choice, would work well. These content pieces can be long or short, and they can also contain links to other resources. This tells Google that there is more to your store than just products. Google looks at the web of connections and ranks them. They won’t tell you exactly how. Good relevant content is also something that other sites may link to, which is SEO gold.
Linking to content outside your site tells Google that there is more to the story. Google doesn’t really care what the story is, just who is telling it and how relevant the content is to the search terms it’s looking for. For our example of cruelty-free cashmere, a link to PETA.org is not just appropriate, but also highly relevant to the customer looking for that product. Not every product will have an easy link opportunity like that, but there are always link opportunities. Say you are selling a teeshirt with sunflowers; you can link to a fan site for sunflower lovers, organic sunflower seeds, or the Van Gogh painting of sunflowers. Have fun with it. Want to know what Google thinks is relevant to sunflowers? Yup, just search “Sunflowers.” Don’t add links that will confuse Google. Keep it simple and targeted.
Google loves inbound links from trusted sources. How do you get links from trusted sources? Pages full of interesting, relevant content are the best way to make that happen. In our sweater example, people who care about cruelty-free wool are very likely to link to a page about what it is and why it matters. Leverage social media, and don’t be afraid to ask for links from vendors, suppliers, sites you have connections to, pretty much anyone. Directories are a good source of links though they don’t have as much juice as a link in an article or post. Guest blogging is another way to get good links.
Alt tags tell Google what an image is and helps people with disabilities navigate and understand the page. Adding alt tags to images shows Google that you care about others who may be less fortunate and that you. When Google has multiple sites that could be a good fit for a search term, they will serve the one that is properly tagged first. Alt tags aren’t tricky and you shouldn’t try to be tricky when writing them. Just describe the picture, and if possible, use a keyword or three. So from our example, the alt tag would be “Picture of a women’s Karma Isles Essential Cashmere cruelty-free sweater in Robins egg blue.” When a person listens to the page being read out loud, they will understand what the image shows. Alt tags are becoming more important as voice-activated devices grow in popularity.
Post tags are just another way to get keywords into your site so Google knows what is going on. Don’t sweat post tags, just use your keywords. If it seems like you are adding the same words over and over and over again, you are. Google is not smart, it doesn’t think less of you if you repeat yourself, it just crawls and indexes. The algorithm ranks different attributes and serves up the best result.
If you are selling to a specific geographic audience then make sure your store’s location is on your website. You can also geotag images of local interest. Getting tricky with geotags can be a double-edged sword. Let’s say we geotag an image of the Karma Isles Essential Cashmere Sweater with the village in Tibet where the wool is gathered; though that may increase the total views, those views may be in Tibet rather than where your store is located.
Social media loves a good hashtag. For our example #cruelty-free, #cruelty-free-cashmere, #PETA would all work. Google has started indexing hashtags and now you can use them in search. The jury is out about how effective they are without being tied to social media, but they aren’t hard to add.
It may seem like a good idea to stuff as many tags as possible everywhere you can. Nefarious characters have used this trick so much that it now works against your Google rank. Use as many tags as seems natural but more than five will probably hurt you more than it helps you.
Google’s first priority is to send searchers to the site where they are most likely to find what they are looking for. If a searcher is searching for red ladybug slippers, they need to find red ladybug slippers when they click the Google link. Remember, the searcher is Google’s primary customer. Google’s algorithm can’t know if a site is “beautiful” because one person’s “beautiful” may be another person’s “hideous”. It can’t know if a site is hip, or cool, or anything that brings up a human emotion or preference, because it’s just an algorithm.
Google must narrow the possible sites from the infinite possibilities that are online to a list of good possibilities. It does this first by relevance. Does the site have the item the searcher is looking for? (Names and keywords) Does it have credibility? (Links) Is it accessible to everyone? (Alt text, Tags, Properly named images) Does it have expertise? (Links, Relevant content) Is location important? (Store location, Geo tags) But which site should they put in the top spots and which should go into the pages farther back? Google makes companies bid for the first three slots, but when it has 50,000 sites that sell white men’s shirts, or flip flops, or jeans, or diamond earrings, and 10,000 are doing a good job with SEO, how do they decide which will give their primary customer, the searcher, the best experience?
Google is limited in what information it has access to, and there are privacy laws that have forced it to be strategic in what it collects. What Google tracks isn’t a secret, you can see it in any Google Analytics dashboard. When you look at all the data Google can access you start to see it as a fseries of filters. First Google determines which site best meets the relevant search criteria and then which check all the SEO boxes. With all the sites left Google has only a few data points to figure out which is going to please searchers the most. There are three that stand out:
If Google sends a searcher to a site and they leave quickly clearly it wasn’t a good fit for the searcher. That‘s bad for Google. The longer a searcher stays on a site, the more Google ranks it as a good site to send searchers to. Pretty simple math for an algorithm to understand. Good design, best sellers, engaging copy are all great ways to get visitors to spend more time on site. Your home page needs to be really compelling and what to click needs to be clear and easy to find; but most searchers won’t come to your site through your home page, they come through a Google link or an ad.
Marketing to a targeted customer profile will help you create a site that appeals to a specific demographic, which is also something Google’s algorithm can understand and leverage.
Spin-to-win apps that seemed to be everywhere for a while added time on site but gave out 5% -20% discounts that killed margin. Fun once or twice, but not for everyone, and they may actually turn off some visitors since not all shoppers are motivated by price.
The Stylaquin Shopify app increases time on site by offering a new way to shop that is more visually interesting, faster, and fun to use. As shoppers flip through a site, like they flip through a magazine, they view more items and stay longer. Not all shoppers use Stylaquin when they shop, but those who do move the needle significantly, about 70% more time on site, and Stylaquin isn’t giving up margin by offering discounts.
Google keeps track of every click, swipe, open, close and tap. These are all counted as events, things that the user does while on a website. Switch pages—that’s an event. Click on a product—that’s an event. Pick a color—that’s an event. You get the idea. Each event is counted and the algorithm can easily see which site gets the most engagement by which site creates the most events for its users. Turns out fun has a real place in good site design. You’ve probably heard web experts talk about how gamification, or making things into games, can really increase engagement. Sales, collections, videos, and apps that suggest complementary items, can all increase events.
The Stylaquin Shopify app also increases events significantly. While not all shoppers use Stylaquin when they shop (typically between12% and 30% of shoppers) those who do create about 125% more events than shoppers who don’t use Stylaquin. Stylaquin shoppers view about 180% more items when they shop and each item viewed is not just an event, it’s also the first step to a sale.
Having shoppers come back to your site is the absolutely best way to tell Google that your site is an awesome site to send searchers to. Nothing says “I like this site!” as clearly as a visitor coming back again. It is also another easy data point for Google’s algorithm to measure. Interesting and exciting products, new products, sales, and special events are all great ways to get customers to come back. Email marketing excels at this—if you can get their email.
Apps that stalk visitors over the web, known as retargeting apps, can be creepy, but they work by reminding visitors what they were interested in, and by giving companies a larger online presence. Retargeting apps typically charge per click and though prices vary based on multiple factors and targeting options, they seem to be around $0.70 to $1 per click. The ads take time and manpower to create and manage but the ROI can be excellent. There are some privacy concerns and the Federal Trade Commission has called for more transparency and meaningful customer control, so be sure that retargeting is in line with your store’s privacy policies.
The Stylaquin Shopify app does a great job of increasing return visits. Stylaquin has an idea board where shoppers can collect and curate all the things that interest them. They can change colors and sizes, and even move things around so they can see items together. This adds a fun, playful element to the website. Items remain on the Idea Board as long as the tracking cookie remains. When shoppers return, all the items they were interested in are right there waiting for them on their Idea Board. Since shoppers aren’t being tracked outside the website, there aren’t any privacy concerns. Stylaquin shoppers return 28% more often than shoppers who don’t use Stylaquin and they buy more when they do.
It would be nice to think that another search engine will make it easy to dial in engagement, but most searchers use Google and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. Start with the basics. Here is a link to our handy planner that will get you started. We hope you consider adding Stylaquin to your Shopify site as well, Stylaquin is easy to add and doesn’t require any work to maintain!
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