We have all tried to master search engine optimization (SEO) with one goal – to please Google and to rank higher – the higher the ranking is, the more visitors will come. You know the rest! But Google is tricky, and it’s far from easy figuring out what the almighty search engine wants.
That is why I sought help from Andy Crestodina. He is the co-founder of Content Jam, a content marketing conference and the co-founder of Orbit Media Studios, a company based in Chicago that builds websites including ecommerce sites, and he has spent many years mastering SEO and is now teaching others how to do the same.
So if you want to smash your competitors and rank higher on Google, you should keep reading. In this interview, Andy shares his very best tips and tricks to SEO – and I bet there’s a trick or two in there you haven’t tried.
I started out by asking Andy what SEO truly is, and Andy defined it as the art and science of attracting visitors to your website. You want the visitors to your site to convert them into buyers. SEO can be phrases related to questions or related to products.
So, if people are asking a question on Google, you want your page to show up first – and you do that by optimizing your website with phrases related to the questions that people might ask.
Here are the major takeaways from the Andy Crestodina interview
- Focus on optimizing the phrases or keywords on which you are nearly ranking on
- Create text that is helpful and includes phrases related to the topic or product
- Don’t forget loading times. There are countless things to take into account when designing a website. Loading times are one very important part of them
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How can ecommerce sites benefit from SEO?
Andy told me that SEO for ecommerce sites is mostly about content marketing. You have to create useful and helpful content on your site, as people most often ask questions related to products, and not just search for specific products.
How do you do that?
For instance, if you are an ecommerce site selling jetpacks, you must build up a body of pages, with phrases related to jetpacks such as jetpack safety, rocket maintenance, buying guides, advice for children’s use of jetpacks and so on.
Become a jetpack Wikipedia! Andy has mentioned before how SEO is a great way of increasing sales and getting more visitors. Listen to him explaining the entire underlying process of the enormous benefits of SEO – and why you also need to focus on content marketing:
The power of URL
Well, maybe there are several secrets, but Andy shared his best practice of doing SEO.
First of all, do not miss the importance of the URL structure and the structure of your product catalogs. You have to make sure you have a page for every topic. Let’s stick with the jetpack example – then you must have a page with electric jetpacks, diesel jetpacks and so on.
Create a sitemap that has a page for each category, as Google doesn’t rank sites; it ranks pages. A lot of sites don’t give you pages or URLs for certain topics—but they should. Design a search-optimized catalog with a specific URL for each category or phrase that you are targeting.
Including the key phrases – everywhere or nowhere?
I asked Andy where to include the key phrases as there are several examples of websites doing it differently.
His answer: He simply replied that (unfortunately), there are no set recipes or guidelines or prescriptive advice. It isn’t that simple.
His philosophy is to indicate relevance to that phrase—create the best page for jetpacks on the entire internet—focus on quality. However, I did manage to get a few specific tricks out of him as to where you should include key phrases and slowly climb the ladder of SEO success:
The biggest mistakes – all committed so that you can avoid them
The biggest mistake of all that Andy sees a lot is sites with product catalogues without search optimized category pages.
Also, ecommerce sites focus on merchandising, big pictures everywhere, a home page with featured products and focus images – but that means, there is nearly no text and therefore no place to indicate relevance.
Hear what questions you should ask yourself that will change the way you think about your site and SEO forever:
Methods to decrease load times and thereby your ranking
First of all, Google hates slow sites and pages – so you want the best possible load time to rank higher. Usually, pages load slowly because people aren’t great at managing the content – especially the images.
Design clients love pictures and tend to include as many as possible – that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but if the images are huge, the page will load more slowly. Fortunately, there are three ways to manage your pictures and minimize the load time:
So how do you figure out what really counts?
Andy recommended Pingdom Tools, in which you can enter any web page and see which assets in it have what impact on the load time.
Furthermore, coding has a lot to do with load times. Andy’s major point is that tools and small features that enhance functionality, and third-party plug-ins such as reviews and share buttons, suck up load times. Make sure all of your third-party plug-ins load last. Remember, there’s a big difference between being usable and being fully loaded – and very often, it doesn’t make that big of a difference to your visitor.
Internal link building – the forgotten gem
If you ask Andy about internal link building (and I did), his answer would be that it is an underrated part of SEO. That is because link building is important for your visitors. If they only view two or three pages during a visit, your site probably isn’t interesting enough, if they stay too long, your site is likely to be confusing.
What’s the ideal?
The ideal number of pages per visit is 7-10 pages, and link building is a vital part of achieving that goal.
Your links should help visitors navigate and increase your site’s usability. Also, when you do internal link building, one page’s authority or ranking is shared, as it passes some of the authority to other related pages – all thanks to internal linking and keywords in the navigation itself.
Certain things are more important than navigation keywords – and there are a couple of things you should look out for. Hear what they are here:
Navigation don’ts and examples of bad web design
Andy told me about some sites that have checkboxes with clickable filters instead of navigations (obviously a bad idea). He has even seen pages with huge drop-down menus with 200 different links available, and they all load in the code.
Why is that so bad?
Now imagine, if every page has 200 links, and the authority of that page is shared out among the links, the value of the page is going to drop dramatically, when there are that many links to other pages. However, having no dropdown menus is a problem too. There is a video called “15 Things To Remove From Your Website“, where Andy goes through, well, things to remove from your site.
An example of that could be to build an entire section called “products”. That is a huge missed opportunity to indicate relevance, as you could write “jetpacks” or “diesel jetpacks”. Also, a classic mistake is to answer simply “thank you” and delete satisfied customers’ emails. Keep them for marketing purposes; ask customers for permission to use their statements, and include the statements on your site.
If you do have reviews on your site, you might be missing an opportunity to improve your page’s ranking dramatically. Listen to find out what:
The future of SEO
SEO is going to play a much larger role in understanding the intent of visitors. Andy said that SEO will be more contextual and take more things into account such as implicit search results, search history, browser history, and apps on the phone—and everything is generally going to be more mobile and more personalized.
Ecommerce sites should include entire sentences as people type in complete questions such as “Where should I place the batteries in the jetpack?” If you include that whole sentence and a fulfilling answer with related phrases, you target the target. In short: semantic SEO is only getting more important.
All right, so SEO can be a tough nut to crack, but it is all about understanding what people are searching for and making your pages answer their questions. Focus on related phrases and focus only on the phrases where you are close to ranking—and simply become the best page on the internet on that particular topic.
Have you done some successful SEO, or are you having trouble ranking higher? Type in your experiences or questions below, and Andy will get right back to you!