Beginners dropshipping SEO guide
Search Engine Optimisation. Bleurgh. Unless you have a background in digital marketing, SEO can seem like a minefield of jargon, rogue marketing companies and frustration fuelled migraines. But it’s important. When done right, the benefits outweigh the headache, especially for new businesses.
Think about it: SEO offers the ability to be seen by people searching specifically for what you’re selling, and for free. It’s a powerful tool to help you gain traffic to your online store.
Rankings can have insane results for businesses, positively and negatively. When you’re on top you’ll have high volumes of organic traffic being sent to your site, but when you’re not, you won't. And disappearing from rankings after being on top can be damaging.
Take for example the demonstration Google made with Interflora when they used black-hat tactics to enhance their ranking in the run-up to Valentine's day. Google penalised them by removing their visibility for all their major keywords. It had a massive impact on their business for months:
“Interflora is lucky that this penalty was applied straight after Valentine’s Day, which is clearly one of the biggest dates for the florist. This penalty will be a major setback to Interflora’s sales, as recovery from penalties like this can take months,” said Yousaf Sekander, director at a digital marketing agency, RocketMill.
Black hat tactics are simply going below the belt to win. Fish-hooking Google into doing what you want them to, rather than doing what they recommend for best results. For example, one of the old tricks was repeating one keyword over and over in a font colour that matched your homepage background colour; it wasn’t visible to those viewing the page but it tricked Google’s algorithm into thinking the page was super relevant to that keyword. DON’T try this at home. It doesn’t work anymore and you’ll only see your rankings drop as a result.
Customers ask us a lot about SEO. We’re not experts; we don’t offer marketing or copywriting services, but our content team do know a thing or two that can help you get started.
We always suggest implementing the following practices on your store to give your products the best chance of being found, but we also urge small businesses to not put all their eggs in the proverbial SEO basket. It’s a tough marketing channel to crack, especially these days when the bigger retailers have monopolised so many keywords. (Can you afford to pay £1 per click for ‘dog toys’? Amazon can.)
But don’t get us wrong. It’s still well worth your effort to give SEO a go. Just remember it’s not something that can be set up and then left to one side, reliably bringing constant traffic. Algorithms and best practices change, and it’ll take trial and error and time for your changes to take effect, and then constant work to maintain. But it’s incredibly rewarding if you get it right!
So what is the goal here?
SEO is all about optimising your site to appear in search rankings. You’re aiming for the top spots in major search engine result pages (SERPs) and the following helps illustrate why.
Google currently has a 74.54% share of users compared to Yahoo and Bing with a 5-10% share. Most suggestions in this post will have an effect across them all but some will be Google-specific too.
This Smart Insight chart shows how many clicks through rates drop the further down you are in the results. By the 5th position, click-throughs are almost non-existent compared to the top spots, so it really is all or nothing (31.52% of click-throughs go to the first result on desktop)!
By getting to the top spot for relative keywords you’re getting a direct line to potential customers - ones you know are already interested in what you’re selling. The ultimate goal is converting a visitor into a paying customer, and if they’ve found you high in the rankings for what they’re looking for then that goal is going to be a lot easier to achieve.
Bear in mind that this guide isn’t a checklist. You can do none, one, or all of the things suggested based on what you feel comfortable with.
So let’s take a look at how we get to that prestigious no.1 spot…
Keywords & related text
Part of Google’s ranking system is based on the content it finds on your page. This includes everything from the code and text to images.
As most dropshipping stores use platforms like Shopify you can rest assured that the coding of your theme will be optimised already for search engines, as long as it’s a platform approved theme from Shopify’s theme store.
If you’ve commissioned a theme, or you’ve paid someone to edit the code, it might be worth getting in touch with them to make sure their coding is optimised for search.
Websites are built on HTML. This structural code is designed to give priority to different elements based on their tags, for example, something written inside a <h1> or ‘heading one tag’ gets more priority than something in a <p> or ‘paragraph tag’.
The big hitters, Shopify for example, will mark up your content automatically. They’ll add things like your business name, product titles and collection titles in h1s to make sure search engines know exactly what the page focus is.
Other elements will likely be down to you. For example, product descriptions. When exporting products from Inkthreadable to a linked store some information will be automatically exported to the product description (which you can add to before the export) but for full creative control, you’ll want to get down and dirty with your platform’s editor.
Product descriptions are a great way to lace your subheadings and content with highly relevant keywords that give it more of a chance to rank for those terms. For example:
In the poor example, all content is formatted in paragraphs. This doesn’t tell search engines what the focus of your page really is. It can parse the content for a general idea, but nothing stands out as more important than the rest.
In a good example, the first paragraph has been swapped for a h1 tag that says THIS IS A RED CAT T-SHIRT! The tag is just two characters but it’s like a fog-horn for search engines. The second paragraph becomes a h2 subheading, one priority level down from the h1, telling search engines that this product relates to cat fashion. The third and fourth paragraphs remain paragraphs, and the fifth becomes another h2 with the key phrase ‘kitty tees’.
And this is where some discipline comes in to play:
Only use one h1 tag per page. HTML is structural, with the most important info given priority. A h1 tag is your page title, and you should only have one.
The temptation to fill product descriptions with keywords and phrases is strong, and some can’t resist. But resist you must. Search engines, especially Google, want to show their users content that is well presented, well written, and genuine.
Format your content correctly, and write genuine, informative copy and you’ll be golden.
The biggest coding element you need on your store for optimisation is schema. This is code that specifically tells search engines what the page is about and covers everything from the business name and category to reviews and business location. They all piece together and help search engines suss out how relevant you are based on the customers search, and adding you into Google’s smart categories like Google Maps etc.
Again, this is something your platform will likely handle for you, and if you’ve had any custom work done it’s worth having a chat with the developer to make sure your schema is in order.
On popular platforms your coding will be taken care of, and if you’ve had some custom work done make sure you speak to your developer to make sure everything is in order.
Content markup is a great way to supercharge your SEO efforts, and most platforms have a HTML editor that you can learn to use in no time. But follow good practice.
Schema tells search engines about your brand and what you’re selling. It’s important to get it right, but you’ll only need to be hands-on if you’re actually writing the code yourself. Your platform or web developer should be on top of this for you.
Search engines use your store’s web pages to decide how relevant you are to a search so it’s worth taking your time to consider your content. We’ve touched on including keywords and phrases in your content already, so let’s dive a little deeper.
Sticking with the cat t-shirt example above, if you only refer to them as ‘kitty tees’ in your content then you’re less likely to rank as well for the search term ‘cat t-shirt’. This is where keyword research comes in. And for that, we have a suggestion.
Our Jenny recommends the Keywords Everywhere Chrome extension.
This extension shows how many people search your chosen keyword, as well as providing alternative keywords and their search volume. This means you can see how popular the keywords you’re using are, and alternatives that you perhaps hadn’t thought of!
This can be a great insight into what product names would actually help you in your search engine rankings, and changes can be as simple as swapping tee to t-shirt, or cat to kitty.
But remember, Google’s algorithm is intelligent. It knows how words are related, and takes synonyms into account when returning search results. So you can use kitty and still rank for cat, but appear lower in the rankings compared to search results that include the keyword cat.
‘But what’s the point in doing keyword research if I can rank regardless of what I use?! And if I do do the research, which keywords do I choose if I can use any?!’
We’re right there with you. It can definitely be a little confusing. And you’re right, you’d think it would make sense to go with one if you’ll rank for all anyway, or go with the highest searched word since most people are using those terms. But think about it — won’t everyone else be doing the same?
This is what the research is for: to find out what keywords you can use to rank the best you can. Your chosen keyword (cat tshirt) or long tail keyword (womens blue cat tshirt) needs to be 3 things:
What’s the point in ranking for dog tshirts when you’re selling a cat tshirt. Anyone who does land on your product page will leave immediately since it’s not what they’re looking for, but you might also end up losing traffic as a result. Search engines want to send their users to relevant pages, and they’ll notice that visitors are not spending any time on your page and stop sending them there as a result.
Have a good amount of traffic per month
If no one is searching for cat tshirts then there’s no point trying to rank for it. You could have the most captivating content on your site but nobody will land on it organically through a SERP.
Have minimal competition
When we look at cat tshirt searches we can see that the results are mainly tshirt specific stores like Red Bubble and Tee Fury (who are massive competitors) as well as Etsy (a marketplace hosting tens of thousands of stores). Realistically, you can’t go toe to toe with these giants and win as a small, independant startup.
Instead, fight the enemy where they aren’t. Use your keyword research as a tool to find those that have little to no competition, especially from sites like those mentioned above. You can test out a few different keywords by searching them in a search engine to see what competitors come up, and if you see another small business on the 1st SERP it can mean you’ve got a good chance of ranking there too with enough time and effort.
You may find that cat tshirt is going to be tough to get on the first page for but funny cat tees still gets a good amount of traffic and is less competitive. Usually being at the top of the search results for a keyword with less traffic still brings in more leads than being on the 2nd or 3rd page for a highly searched term.
It’s all about trial and error and seeing what works for your brand. There’s a lot of competition selling tshirts, but if you find your niche and create content accordingly then you’ll start seeing the results.
We’ve touched on content above when going over using the correct markup, but there are a lot of areas that have potential for more keywords to be included. Following your keyword research it’s worth revisiting these areas to see if you can make some improvements:
About us page.
Homepage text (brand overview etc).
To blog or not to blog?
Writing a blog is a great way to naturally add more keyword rich content to your store. In days gone by it was common for companies to blog about anything and everything they could think of that would let them inject more relevant keywords onto their site, but things have changed.
We’ve mentioned a few times now that search engines want to send their users to high quality and relevant content. The longer people stay on your page and the more often they revisit the more credibility your website will get.
If you have the time and you’re confident with your writing (or you can work with someone who is), then the answer is yes. Blog. Definitely. It doesn’t need to be weekly or monthly, what’s important is the content. We’ll cover this a little more below, but just keep thinking ‘what would be interesting to my readers?’. The more shareable the better, which means adding graphics and videos is a must.
We’ve touched on this already; using useful keywords is a balancing act. Google and the gang know that sites try to use keyword stuffing to their advantage in an attempt to rank higher. Have you ever come across a website for Bob’s building work Blackburn who does building work in Blackburn. They have been in Blackburn for 20 years and do building work there?
Search engines realised the quality of websites was suffering with people keyword stuffing their content. Algorithms have since changed, and if your content is not well written then you’re going to get penalised.
The advice? Be natural. By all means make sure you’re including highly relevant keywords, but you should be aiming for well written, informative and relevant content that is valuable to those reading it. If your content has genuine value for your visitors then you won’t be penalised, and you’re more likely to rank higher as a result.
Say that again?
Duplicated text is a big no-no. The problem is that search engines don’t know who created the original content, so when multiple sites are using the same product description everyone gets penalised and will appear lower in SERPs. Small amounts of similar content typically go unnoticed or are forgiven, but if you start duplicating full paragraphs you’re going to draw some unwanted attention.
We provide basic product information when you set up your products, but no description of the product — leaving you the opportunity to write content that’s unique to your store. There’s no real need to reword the basic product information, but if you want it to be more in keeping with your brand voice or want to be 100% sure of avoiding duplication penalties then go right ahead.
Mix it up
You want to try and target a different keyword for each page of your site to make sure you don’t end up competing with yourself. For example your homepage you could target cat tshirts and then your product page could be womens funny cat tshirt.
Research if you can reword your content, product titles and descriptions to help your SEO.
There is no minimum or maximum content length.
The priority is to add value to the customer, not write for the sake of writing.
Don’t keyword stuff; write for customers, not Google.
Spot opportunities in your text where you can add in keywords and their synonyms.
Try to target relevant keywords that have a good amount of traffic with minimal competition.
Don’t duplicate your text.
Focus on a different keyword for each page.
Metadata is data that comments on data. Which sounds confusing, but when you take a closer look it’s actually quite straightforward. They’re pretty important for SEO and can make a big different to your rankings, but are often overlooked by new businesses.
Most ecommerce platforms like Shopify have dedicated areas to add in this information for the homepage, product and collection pages, blog articles and informational pages.
Metadata is usually what appears in SERPs. If your site doesn’t have any and your pages appear in the result pages then search engines will fill the blanks, but if you have created your metadata then this is where it’s visible to your customer.
Using metadata is a great opportunity to get your keywords in front of search engines as well as an opportunity to write some persuasive copy to encourage clicks to your store from the listing page.
You can see with the examples above that the first few links are just lists of keywords but we’d recommend writing more like the last 2 listings that use more persuasive text to encourage the reader to click.
Pro tip: Did you know you can use emojis here too? Google doesn’t guarantee that they show them but if they do it really boosts your click through rate!
Everyone knows what a captcha is, right? That annoying process identifying text or random things within an image?
Captchas use images for a reason; only humans can understand them. They’re used to validate the authenticity of things you’re doing online, like ordering a knitted sweater for your dog or signing up to a newsletter, which is great, but there are times when machines need to understand images. And SEO is one of them.
Just like with your web pages, you can employ metadata to describe images to search engines for SEO purposes, and there are a couple of tools to do this: file names and alt tags.
Renaming images before uploading them to your site will not only help with you identifying them but will give search engines a way to understand what your image is showing.
And you can add keywords to the file names too. Make sure you follow the rules about using keywords above and you can give your store another little boost for those words and phrases in your image file names!
Alt tags are bits of code that were originally created for screen readers to explain the content on the page for the visually impaired. Again, how can a machine detail an image that it can’t see itself? Enter alt tags, a short image description that a screen reader could read off to describe the image.
Search engines reward websites that optimise their content to be accessible for everyone, so by adding alt tags you’re already doing yourself (and your potential customers) a service. But wait, there’s more! Search engine algorithms also use alt tags to better understand the image on the page. This means alt tags offer a double dose of that sweet, sweet SEO juice and it’s certainly worth your time adding them.
Again, if you’re using a popular ecommerce platform there is usually an area to add in these descriptions. Shopify has a guide on how to add alt tags on their platform to help you too. Shopify actually has free apps that can help automatically add alt tags and change file names based off the product name as a quick way to optimise. And if you’re not using a platform you can ask your web developer about adding alt tags, or even search for guides on adding them yourself.
Unlike your file images it’s best to be descriptive with your alt tags, so instead of something like ‘women’s red cat tshirt’ try ‘Woman wearing a red cat tshirt with ginger cat design’ as this is better for screen readers to convey the image.
Changing image file names before uploading them to your site is good practice to keep organised, but it also help search engines parse images that they’d otherwise be unable to understand.
Alt tags are a great way to boost your SEO efforts, rewarding you both for including them to make your site more accessible and for helping algorithms determine what your images are detailing.
Links point customers from one piece of content to another. They can be internal, say from your homepage to a blog post about SEO practices, or external, from your site to another or another site back to yours. Linking helps search engines understand how your content is related, but it’s the external links that do the lion’s share of the work in terms of SEO.
You’ll want to add internal links to your store to help search engines navigate your key pages.
Moz have a great video/article on internal linking and the do’s and don'ts, which actually serves as an example of an external backlink for Moz too!
In a nutshell you’ll want to link to internal pages where you can and where it’s relevant. Upsell links for similar or related products at the bottom of a product page are a great example of this for an ecommerce store. Search engines will pick up on what words you use to link to them so avoid using ‘click here’ and instead use keyword based wording, as in the example above.
External links (Backlinking)
External linking, or getting backlinks for your store, is a biggy in terms of how important it is for search engines.
We’ve already mentioned about how search engines want to show content that’s relevant to their user’s search, and a vote of confidence in your content from another website is wonderful boon to have. And the more reputable the site, the more valuable the link to your website.
For example, if Cats Protection, the largest UK cat welfare charity, shared a link to our cat t-shirt store it’s both highly reputable and relevant, meaning search engines will see this as a vote of confidence. But if we instead got a link from Bob’s Blackburn based builder’s site (remember him? The builder from Blackburn who does building work in Blackburn?) it’s not going to be worth anything since the content will be completely unrelated and his site doesn’t have much credibility!
If you have some free time to spend on SEO, our suggestion would be focussing on earning external links. Not only does it help your SEO but it also helps get your brand in front of your target audience and increases brand awareness.
1. Provide valuable content
The best way to build links is to create valuable content that your target audience and influencers in your market will want to share. Then it’s a case of sharing it within your network or reaching out to people who may find it useful/interesting.
2. Get featured
This is easier said than done, but by being featured on an influencers blog, review site, YouTube channel or social channel is a great way to increase your rankings and exposure and get those valuable backlinks.
A great way to go about this is with a giveaway to a blogger’s audience or gifting your product to influencers for them to review.
You can also pay to be featured with certain bloggers and influencers, but this can potentially turn people off sales and Google frowns on paid link building.
3. Guest blog
Guest blogging works for everyone involved. The blogger gets some free content, you get a link to your website and their audience gets introduced to a new brand as well as some useful content! See it as being paid to write content, only your payment is a super useful backlink.
Another way to give your SEO a boost is through uploading a sitemap. It will help Google crawl (or read) your site.
You can do this by setting up an account with Google’s search console. Your sitemap URL will be different depending on your website platform but usually is something like sitemap.xml. You can also do a similar set up for Bing.
Search engines are putting more and more weight on site speed, and according to Kissmetrics, 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with website performance say they won’t return to the site again.
Running your website through Google’s page speed test can highlight areas of improvement like reducing image sizes, but it’s worth mentioning with platforms like Shopify, some of these elements are controlled by the platform and won't be editable by you.
A rule of thumb for SEO starters is that big images slow your site down so try not to overdo it on your homepage. With a little knowhow, you can reduce your image sizes without compromising on quality, like using JPG files rather than PNG, and limiting your image resolution to 72ppi.
Having reviews on your store for your products, if coded correctly, can be a huge help to your SEO (as well as increasing trust in your products).
Apps and plugins like Shopify’s product reviews code up any reviews correctly so that your reviews can be read by search engines. And don’t forget to add getting reviews into your marketing plan; ask your customers for product or service reviews in follow up emails, or when a customer mentions they’ve had a positive experience with your customer support.
SEO isn’t easy. It’s sometimes confusing, always time consuming, and will likely at some point have you on your knees praying to Greek God of Algorithms for guidance.
But if you get it right, and you will in time, you’ll organically build a web presence that pulls in traffic and orders without having to spend a penny.
SEO is about making small, incremental improvements to your website. On their own they will make little difference, but you build a house brick by brick. Over time, and with solid, healthy practices you’ll have a cosy 4 bedroom website with all the mod-cons. Err… or just a healthy website that ranks well. Either way, you’ll see the difference your efforts have made.
To help you on your journey towards SEO perfection we’ve put together a checklist based on this article. You can work through it to make sure you’ve covered everything we’ve mentioned; we suggest rewarding yourself with a chocolate bar or three each time you check something off.
Good luck! And, more importantly, try to have fun.