Every piece of content you produce – homepage, about page, blog posts, videos, podcasts, images – can all be optimized to show up in Google search results. But there’s another type of content that can help you not only get more website visitors, but also make more sales: optimizing ecommerce product pages for SEO.
SEO Elements of a Product Listing
Product pages have lots of the same SEO elements as other types of content — SEO title tag, meta description, headline, image alt text, etc — and each of these can be optimized similarly to a blog post.
However, there are ways that product listings are different from their educational counterparts (and some of these factors can make it more difficult for SEO):
- The goal of a product page is to make a sale, not to tell a story or educate the consumer (which is typically the case for blog posts)
- Product listings tend to be more structured than educational content
- Often shops have multiple products with similar factors, which can make it difficult to write unique content for each one
- The role of images is way more important on a product page than on an educational blog post
- There’s a limit to the amount of information you can share about a product
But although it’s a bit harder to optimize a product page than a blog post, it’s definitely possible. Here’s how to do it.
How to optimize a product listing
There are 5 key locations to consider when you’re thinking about the SEO for an ecommerce product page:
Title tags for product listings
Just like writing a title tag for any page or post on your site, think about how these important 67 characters will look on the search engine results page.Think through …
- What are the key 1-2 things you want Google to know about that product?
- What are the search terms people might be looking for if they want this exact product?
- How is this product different from others within my shop?
Ok, you’ve told Google what’s different & desirable about that product in your title tag. But what can you tell the searcher? There’s a real person out there, looking for what you’re selling, and they might be overwhelmed by the number of results showing up. So if they see your listing in their results, what can you tell them that will sway them to come visit your site?
This is a place to show some of your personality or tell a little behind-the-scenes of the product, and also to invite the searcher to click through to your site (not the other 9 results they’re looking at). What can you say to make them want to choose your business instead of your competitors?
Ok, the searcher actually clicked through to your product listing. Awesome! What information can you include in the headline (typically what looks like the title of the product) to let them know that they’re in the right place?
The SEO title tag has to be a little informational by nature, but the headline can be more fun. If you’re selling a piece of art, your title tag for the search results might be “blue & white acrylic painting of Nantucket Beach, 24×36” and the headline might be “Nantucket-inspired beach & seagull painting.” Similar, but they don’t have to be exactly the same.
Image & video of product in use
For product pages, images & videos are incredibly important. Your reader is considering buying this item of yours to wear on their body, hang in their home, read on their couch, or interact with in some other way in their life. Think about all the ways that you can help them to envision their experience with this product, which might include:
- a video of somebody using the product
- an image of someone holding or wearing the product, to show the fit or size
- a mock-up of the product in a real space, like a painting on a wall
- a rendering of what that piece of furniture would look like in their living room
Most ecommerce software allows as many photos as you’d like to upload, so consider every opportunity to feature the product visually …
And then, explain to Google what’s in each picture. Google’s robots can’t see photos (or watch videos, or listen to podcasts), so we have to use code to tell it what’s in the media. Here are the 3 places you can optimize an image:
- File name: When you upload the image from your desktop to your website, give it a descriptive file name. Google is way more likely to understand yellow-umbrella.jpg than IMG_1724.jpg. (Pro tip: For file names, you should include dashes or underscores between words; Google would think that “yellowumbrella” is a whole ‘nother word.)
- Alt text: Every image on your site has a place for you to include a description called “alt text” (which stands for ‘alternative,’ like if the image doesn’t load). In almost all platforms, you can add alt text hovering over the image and clicking “edit,” or it can be added at the same time that you upload the image.
Alt text can be more conversational than file names, but have all the information people might be looking for about that image. An example could be “Couple shares first kiss at The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, TN | Wedding photography by (brand name).” That way if people are looking for wedding details at that venue, your image might show up in the Google image search, and they could potentially click through to your website to see more.
- Caption: On some platforms, you also have the option to include a caption to go underneath the image. You can leave this out entirely if the relevant information is in the body text, or think of this like a shorter descriptor that goes with the image.
Think of the caption like a wall label under the paintings at a gallery — you probably don’t need to explain what’s in the image, because they can see it, but they might want more details about what’s in it.
Pro tip: File names and alt text are only visible within the code, but captions are visible to any visitor on your site.
And the last key element of the product page: the ever elusive product description …
How to write a product description that Google loves, but isn’t boring or repetitive
I’ll be honest, writing product descriptions for SEO isn’t easy, because sometimes, the information that you know you need to include is yawn-inducing. BUT.
The product description is really important, not only in explaining to users why they should buy the product, but also in helping Google to send the right traffic to the product page.
So what should go into a great product description?
- All the relevant specifications (think: dimensions, shipping weight, materials used) — typically these can be included in an accordion design or a bullet point list
- Delivery method (is this a digital download, or are there shipping costs?)
- Product features & benefits
Don’t forget to ask for reviews! Nearly all ecommerce software allows you to easily collect & display product reviews, and these are incredibly helpful not only to help users to trust that your product is awesome, but also as additional searchable content that could help you rank for terms you wouldn’t have considered.
My product listing is short. Is that considered thin content?
Let’s define the term “thin content” for those who aren’t familiar. Some people think “Thin content” means “low word count,” and while that CAN be associated with thin content (and is often a factor), Google doesn’t actually care about word count, it cares about VALUE.
Back in the early days of search engines, SEO was a lot shadier: lots of keyword stuffing, bad copywriting, and duplicate text across multiple pages. Google was basing rankings on quantity (the number of times a word shows up on a given page or site) instead of quality (something that people are actually looking for and want to read).
Thankfully, in the past decade, the Google algorithm has gotten more complex and smarter, and pays attention to more than word count or keyword density … factors like whether people return to Google search results, how much time they spend on the page, etc.
But there’s still a prevalent myth that for SEO, short content is “thin” (bad) and long content is “rich” (good).
But what if I have limited information to share about the product? What’s the minimum word count of a product page?
I always wince at the question, because the answer is “as long as they need to be, to give the reader what they need.” There is no minimum word count for good SEO.
With educational cornerstone content, this often looks like a long-form blog post of 2000-3000 words. But that doesn’t mean that every page or post or product on your site needs to be 2500 words or it won’t rank. Far from it! I have pages on my site that rank well that have 500 words … because they answer the question people are searching for!
So back to the question at hand: Are short product listings considered thin content?
The answer: Maybe. But the distinction is not only based on the word count.
If you include the bare minimum, it’s probably thin content. If you copy/paste someone else’s description of the product, it’s probably thin content. If you don’t think about what people would be looking for when they’re searching for that product, it’s probably thin content.
(Ok, now this is starting to sound like Jeff Foxworthy’s old “You might be a redneck” jokes, so I’ll knock it off.)
So the REAL question inside the question here is not “is it thin content?” but “how do I make sure it’s NOT thin content?” And that answer is: Give as much value as possible.
Think of every question somebody could ask about that product. Answer it. Tada! Your content has value, and therefore it shouldn’t be penalized as thin.
(And if you really have nothing to say about the value of the product, ask yourself, “Is this really something I want to sell?”)
I have similar product listings in my shop. How do I prevent duplicate content penalties?
Oof, this one is hard too, because naturally, as we specialize, we tend to create products with similar factors! But there are some ways to make the best of this situation.
Here are 3 tips to prevent duplicate content between products:
- Consolidate product listings and allow choice within the checkout process.
If you have one t-shirt design in 5 colors and 5 sizes, you don’t need 25 product listings, you need one product with 2 drop-down menus.
- Group similar products by category, then include information about all those products on the category archive page. If you have 7 different herbal tea blends, don’t try to get each of the teas to rank for “herbal tea blend.” Specify a different keyword for each product, like “chamomile herbal tea” or “lavender herbal tea,” then put all those teas into the same category. Then on the category page, optimize for the phrase “herbal tea” and include information in the blurb about all 7 types of herbal tea, rather than copy/pasting it to all 7 products.
- Organize shop-wide policies & link. If you have specific shipping details or return policies to share, but don’t want to be penalized for including that same info on every product listing, you have two options: Link to “shipping details” or “return policies” pages, or (if you’re really fancy) create that page and then embed it into the product page as an iframe, so it still appears to the user on the page but doesn’t have the same info on every product.
Reminder: Product pages are different from blog posts
Do you know the key differentiator between a product listing and a blog post?
No, it’s not the length, or the structure. It’s the goal.
Typically a blog post is a way to educate your audience about something they’re curious about. This article that you’re reading now is an education blog post, without a hard pitch. I’m just trying to answer your questions, in an effort to get you to trust me. Maybe if I’m lucky, you’ll click onto another related link within this post or on the sidebar, and you’ll learn more about how I talk, and you’ll start to trust me, and maybe you’ll sign up for my SEO Starter Kit, and then I’ll be lucky enough to be invited to your inbox where I can tell you more about the SEO courses I sell. A blog post is a long game about developing trust.
But a product page is a short game. It’s more of a display: “Here’s the thing I have, take it or leave it.” Product pages aren’t meant to educate, their goal is to sell.
THere are two ways that somebody can find a product page:
- They are looking for that very specific product, and you encouraged them to click through to your site to look at your version, OR
- They are looking for a related topic, they land on a blog post, they educate themselves via the blog post, the blog links to a product page, and then they have the option to purchase.
When somebody lands on a product page through search, chances are they have their wallet out and they’re ready to buy, they’re just looking for the right website to purchase from.
There’s not a ton of search volume for this specific product, and/or it’s in a pretty competitive market. How can I make sure it gets found?
Your product page has a really specific goal on your site: show up for people ready to buy, and make a sale.
But if people don’t know you exist, they can’t look for you.
And if they don’t know how your product can solve their problems, they won’t buy it.
So in addition to those product pages, which are meant primarily for people who are ready to buy, what are the questions or problems that people have that prevent them from finding this product?
And what are the things they need to learn before they’re ready to buy?
Identify any objections that people have towards the purchase, then create educational content (blog posts, video, podcast, infographics) to help them understand why they need your product and all the ways that it can improve their quality of life, then link to your product page from there.
Getting your product page to show up in search results is awesome … but you can’t expect your ecommerce shop to do all the heavy lifting for your website. It’s also up to you, as part of your marketing efforts, to educate your prospective customers about why they need what you’re selling, how their products will improve their quality of life, and why they should choose your products instead of your competitors.
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