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Optimizing and launching a new eCommerce website

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for an eCommerce website is a key step as you optimize and launch your online store. Learn how to do it here. (Part 2/2)

Optimize for speed and SEO on your eCommerce website

This is it: the last five steps leading up to your site launch! The key concept we're going to cover now is optimization, especially search engine optimization or SEO.

Previously, we covered the critical five pre-launch steps. Have you checked them all off? Have you double-checked and tested your cart and payment system? If you're ready, let's move on to the final steps.

eCommerce Website Launch Checklist Essentials

๐Ÿš€ Your eCommerce website launch โ€” the final five steps:

Here you can see the key theme is “optimization.” But let's not overdo it.

“Premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

Donald Knuth

As Donald Knuth famously said for software programmers, “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

If you get preoccupied with SEO while trying to get to the top of the search results for a key phrase, you are probably overlooking a more important priority. Maybe your web host's stability and speed are bigger problems that SEO can't fix.

When you worry too much about your site's load time (as long as it's adequate) and miss what your analytics reporting is telling you about your customers, you have lost sight of your main purpose as a business.

Or, suppose you are sweating over the size of your images rather than their quality and appropriateness for your brand and products. In that case, you are missing the big marketing picture and being blinded by tiny details.

All of these optimizations are important โ€” SEO, load time, and image optimization โ€” but any one of them may not be the most important thing to all to demand your attention at any given time. You're going to have to assess them all constantly and determine which one really requires your attention at the moment.

Let's start with Search Engine Optimization or “SEO” for short.

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1. SEO for an eCommerce website ๐Ÿ”

There is no magic, dark art, or mystery about SEO for an eCommerce website or any other type of site. You will get good search results placement if your pages are full of accurate, well-edited writing, quality images, and other media that your customers or potential customers find meaningful and valuable.

  1. Write good, unique (not copied) product descriptions โ€” Good writing is well edited and clear but also not copied from manufacturers. Describe your products as they are, but also use words that people are searching for. Find out what those words are by using a keyword research tool like ahrefs.com, Google Trends, Google Search Console, or Wordstream. Find out the questions people are asking too with this very handy tool, Answer the Public.โ“
  2. Don't neglect product category pages โ€” Good and unique writing also helps a lot on the pages that anchor a whole product category. Don't miss that opportunity. ๐Ÿ—ƒ๏ธ
  3. Offer product guides โ€” A free PDF guide to your products may be just the thing to help visitors convert and become customers. ๐Ÿฆฎ
  4. Display customer reviews โ€” Customer reviews matter โ€” a lot! ๐Ÿฅ‡

If you'd like to get deep into SEO, BigCommerce has a good guide and so does ahrefs. There are many other free tools you can rely on as well.

2. Performance Optimization for eCommerce websites

  1. Figure out what pages load the slowest. Do some testing with Google PageSpeed or GTmetrix to identify your slowest pages.
  2. Keep pages simple โ€” and small. Slow pages are typically the longest ones. Pages packed with images that are too large or unoptimized should be trimmed and cleared of anything that is not essential.
  3. Use good hosting with caching and a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A solid managed host or eCommerce platform like Shopify or GoDaddy's eCommerce hosting for WordPress and WooCommerce will offer both of these features.

3. Image Optimization for your eCommerce shop

Optimizing images will especially help with SEO on an eCommerce website because there are so many images of products.

  1. Image filenames matter. The actual file name for your images should be descriptive.
  2. alt text descriptions of images matter too. “ALT” text explains what an image is to someone who is visually impaired.
  3. Don't make images larger than necessary. Scale them down to the minimum necessary dimensions using image editing software.
  4. Reduce file sizes. As much as possible, try to make big photos smaller.
  5. Use the best file format for each image. PNGs and GIFs are good for illustrations; JPGs are best for photos.

โ€œWhat gets measured gets improved.โ€

Peter Drucker

4. Analytics, KPIs, and Marketing for eCommerce

Continuous improvement is the essence of your ongoing commerce journey. As a store owner or administrator, it all comes down to observing and optimizing your site. Over and over. Based on the results you get, you'll adapt and refine most of the things we've covered so far. Your customer's experience and the journey you create for them will need to be modified and improved continuously after launch. Much of it amounts to making sure your site is loading quickly and coming up high in relevant search results.

Finding the needles in the haystack ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐ŸŒพ

You need data about your visitors' behavior on your site to learn how visitors become customers. Visitor tracking analytics, like Google Analytics, helps you assess your customers' (or prospective customers') behavior and a way of defining and measuring your success. Analytics without an understanding of your key performance indicators (KPIs) are just heaps of data. You need to be able to find the needles of KPI in the haystack of logs and statistics.

Good KPIs focus on your business's bottom line and tell you very simply if you are moving toward your business goals. KPIs are clearly defined and can be accurately measured. You also need to be able to compute them quickly enough for them to be useful for you to act on. Finally, you need to have a way of using them to make improvements.

For example, if your cart abandonment rate spikes to 90%, you need to know that as soon as possible and take a close look at your checkout process. Are there new barriers? What is causing friction there?

Here are some common KPIs for eCommerce:

  • Average order value
  • Total sales per week / month / quarter / year
  • Gross profit margin as a percentage (Revenue โ€“ Costs) / Revenue * 100
  • Conversion rate (Customers who make a purchase / All site visitors)
  • Cart abandonment rate (Typically runs as high as 70%)
  • Cost of customer acquisition (Total marketing and sales costs / Customers who make a purchase)
  • Customer lifetime value (Average order value * Average number of purchases in a year * Average customer retention time in years)

You're probably ready to launch when you can do these things โ€” define and track KPIs and respond to them meaningfully with an actionable plan.

5. Testing, Observing, and Adapting โ€” After you launch your new eCommerce store

Your top KPIs โ€” the ones you pay the most attention to โ€” need to be informed by your marketing plan, which you'll change and adapt based on what your KPIs tell you. For example, is higher spending on ads driving up conversions or total sales? If not, then it's a good reason to suspend a new ad campaign or try a different one.

You're probably ready to launch when you can do these things โ€” define and track KPIs and respond to them meaningfully with an actionable plan. As you do that, you're going to keep repeating the previous four steps regularly after you launch your new store.

After you announce you are open for business, then what? If you want your site to load quickly, rank in search results, and give you actionable data about your customers, these are the ongoing tasks every site owner needs to do day by day, week by week, and month by month:

  • Optimize for search and overall site performance; ๐Ÿ”
  • Use relevant and optimized images; ๐Ÿ–ผ๏ธ
  • Define and monitor key performance indicators; ๐Ÿ”ญ
  • Respond to negative KPIs with further improvements and optimizations; โŽ
  • Respond to positive KPIs with kudos to your team and money in the bank! ๐Ÿคœ๐Ÿค›

Now that you have made it through our recommended pre-launch and post-launch checklists, do you feel ready to start your eCommerce business? ๐Ÿค”

๐Ÿ“— If you are still planning your business concept or developing a marketing strategy, you should start with our free eBook: How to Start an eCommerce Business in 10 Steps.

Join us in the Commerce Journey Facebook Group to share your challenges and wins as you work on SEO for your eCommerce website. ๐Ÿ™Œ

Partner: GoDaddy Pro

We are proud to be in partnership with GoDaddy Pro on everything Commerce Journey. GoDaddy Pro is an outstanding way to get started with your eCommerce website. Use the promotion with Commerce Journey to get an amazing deal on your WooCommerce-powered website hosting.

By Dan Knauss

Dan Knauss is a writer, editor, speaker, and teacher. He's a long-time WordPress freelancer who enjoys helping people use digital publishing effectively. Dan also blogs about disability, neuropathy, neuromuscular disease, and medical research at cmt.blog.