If we were to oversimplify on-site and off-site optimization (SEO) for e-commerce, we could say that the former refers to the content you publish on your home page, category pages, product pages and blog, while the latter refers to link building.
This is only partially correct, as both on-site and off-site optimization are more complex, and include more strategies. Optimizing your e-commerce website means, therefore, more than creating and publishing content that is visible for customers, and more than building external links for sending referrals to your webshop.
What on-site and off-site SEO involve
Let’s take on-site optimization first. SEO is the abbreviation for “Search Engine Optimization”, so although we refer to content that is created for readers, with the purpose of convincing them to buy your products, we still need to take search engines into consideration when optimizing on-site.
This means that we should pay attention not only to blog articles and product descriptions, but also to:
- Meta elements like title tags, meta tags and headings (H1, H2 etc.)
- Alt texts for images
- The length and structure of URLs
- User interface, layout and design elements
- Keywords and search queries
- Content’s freshness and relevancy
- Internal and outbound links
- Loading times
- Redirects and error pages
Through all these elements, your e-commerce website tells search engines and potential customers who you are, what you are selling and why people should buy from you.
Here’s a practical example. Let’s say I want to buy a 2017 diary / agenda, so I google “buy diary 2017”. The two images below are from the top results for this search query:
And the second example:
In the first example, you can easily identify a series of elements such as the product description, price, availability, position in the website’s hierarchy (this is very useful in case you don’t like the product and want to browse more, through the entire category), product SKU (stock-keeping unit, a unique identification code), return and shipping details, as well as product pictures.
All these elements are well organized, so the page provides a good experience. The meta elements are also in place, the page loads quickly, the URL is descriptive, the content is relevant, so overall this page is well optimized.
The second example on the other hand makes it a lot more difficult for me to decide whether I want to buy that agenda or not. The meta elements are there, the loading time is good, the page ranks well in Google so it’s easy to find, but once I land on it, my experience isn’t the best.
The price, color and availability are displayed in the right side, but they don’t catch my attention, on the contrary. They seem completely unrelated to the product, and so do the product details, which are placed under the recommendations and reviews. There’s no description, no product code, no reviews, so we can say that this product page could be optimized.
So from these two examples you can get an idea of on-site optimization means. The internal links were not included but they refer to links that redirect users to pages within your website, while outbound links refer to links that redirect users to other websites. Both are useful for on-site optimization, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Now let’s see what off-site optimization means. Besides the link building techniques you use outside of your online shop for attracting visitors, off-site SEO also refers to:
- Press releases
- Guest articles
- Directory submissions
- Local listings
- Social media posts
- Comments left on other websites, forums, blogs, platforms
- RSS feeds
- Paid ads
Basically, all the techniques that you can use for improving the position of your online shop in search engine result pages (SERP) are part of off-site SEO.
For example, you can run a paid PPC campaign on AdWords, and at the same time post guest articles on renowned websites, post press releases, or submit your webshop to relevant directories. Or you can be an active contributor on a forum or in a community that is relevant for your potential buyers, as this can help not only with driving more traffic but also with building trust and authority. Outreach campaigns and video marketing campaigns can result in backlinks for your e-commerce website as well.
If you’re just starting with SEO efforts for your webshop, pay attention to the so-called black hat SEO techniques which can get your website penalized. You should always aim for natural links instead of trying to buy them or to create blog networks or link exchange schemes. Google doesn’t like these strategies, and the latest updates in its algorithms can quickly identify such techniques.
Which is more important: off-site or on-site optimization?
Basic on-site SEO is fundamental for your e-commerce website; if the pages of your webshop aren’t well optimized, all your off-site SEO efforts will be useless, so your first concern should be to perfect your on-site SEO. Then, you should focus on off-site strategies that can generate traffic and qualified leads. That includes link building, content marketing, PR strategies, social media strategies.
Which of them is more important? Both on-site and off-site optimization are necessary, and there’s no unique formula that guarantees maximum results. What we do know is that search engines like Google change their algorithms frequently, so certain SEO factors can become more or less relevant. For example, keywords played a huge role some years ago, but are no longer the main factor that helps a page rank better.
Here you can find a useful list of on-site SEO elements that are still relevant and should be considered when optimizing your e-commerce website. If your resources are limited, start with the basics and look at more complex and time-consuming strategies only after the basics are in place.
[Image source: vitaltrafficsolution.com]
On-site SEO is easier to do even for beginners, and there are a lot of tools that you can use for optimizing your webshop’s content. Here are the basic rules for on-site optimization:
- Optimize your page titles by keeping them around 60 characters and adding your target keyword.
- Optimize the meta descriptions by adding relevant information that encourages visitors to take action. Include keywords as needed, but make sure the meta texts sound human and keep them around 150 characters. Avoid keyword stuffing, as although the meta descriptions will be indexed by search engines, they will be read by humans.
- Optimize H1 tags and ALT texts for images with relevant keywords.
- Build internal links where possible, but make sure they help the visitors instead of confusing them. Don’t overuse this technique, and avoid adding external links unless absolutely necessary. Your purpose as an online shop owner is to keep visitors on your website, not to redirect them to external sources.
- Make sure your pages load fast, are well structured and organized, and make it easy for customers to buy your products. The “Add to cart” buttons should be colored differently than the background, and should be the main CTA on product pages.
- Keep your product descriptions valuable and relevant for visitors. Don’t just write text to exceed a certain character limit; instead, provide information about the products and shipping and return conditions.
- Additionally, use structured data and make sure your 404 page is also optimized.
After you set the foundation, you can focus on off-site SEO as well. In most cases, on-site SEO is done when you build the webshop, and continued by posting fresh content on a regular basis, but the biggest part of the work is done at the beginning. Off-site optimization on the other hand should start after your website is launched and functional. Off-site SEO for an e-commerce website will take more effort and will require commitment and consistency, as results may not be visible in the first few months.
Hope you’ll find this article useful. If you have questions regarding the on-site or off-site optimization of your e-commerce website, feel free to post them below, and we’ll gladly answer!