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shopify seo guide

Shopify SEO: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Higher Rankings

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By Matt Cayless - SEO Director

Posted on July, 24, 2019


Today, we’re going to show you how to optimise your Shopify website to rank higher in Google and why competent Shopify SEO is key to success in ecommerce. 

In fact, it’s the exact process we’ve used to rank 92% of our clients’ Shopify keywords on page one.

Whether you’re an SEO newbie or a seasoned pro, you’ll love the step-by-step tutorial and the handy downloadable checklist at the end of this guide. 

Let’s get started. 

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Is Shopify Good for SEO?

Before we dive into the Shopify SEO tutorial, we’re going to answer the question that nearly every ecommerce store owner or soon-to-be owner asks. 

Is Shopify good for SEO?

It’s a great question. SEO is a long game and, of course, no-one wants to spend days, weeks or even years working on an SEO strategy if it’s not going to work.

Warning, unpopular opinion ahead:

Shopify isn’t perfect for SEO. (In fact, no ecommerce platform is.)

seo ecommerce

For instance, you can’t customise the robots.txt file, there are limited customisation options for URLs and there is a lack of subcategories. These are all SEO limitations. 

On the other hand, Shopify offers a ton of easy-to-use SEO features including editable title tags, meta descriptions, URLs, image alt tags, image file names and automatically generated canonical URL tags to stop duplicate content. 

What’s more, the proof is in the pudding; there are plenty of Shopify sites that are killing it in the SERPs, such as KKW Beauty, Tattly and  MVMT

Shopify SEO Issues (And How to Fix Them)

Issue #1: Shopify Does Not Submit Your Site Structure to Google

Arguably, one of the most important aspects of your Shopify website, in terms of SEO, is your website structure

However, with tens, hundreds, or even thousands of products and/or collections, without a plan, your website architecture will get quickly confusing. 

Search engines and users need to be able to easily understand your website navigation, meaning it has to be organised in a logical and user-friendly manner. 

Your ecommerce store structure (in an ideal world) should look something like this:

shopify site structure

Image source 

This structure tells the user where to go, it’s not confusing or illogical. Not only does this help your customer and reduce bounce rates, but it also allows Google to easily index all of the pages. 

On the other hand, a website with an illogical or confusing architecture will cause users to bounce, conversion rates to decrease, and waste the Google crawl budget, meaning fewer pages are indexed. 

Here’s an example of an ecommerce store, see how the categories of product categories flow in a simple, linear fashion: 

shopify site structure with labels

A well-organised website also means when you come to add additional products or collections in the future, the process should be straightforward and not involve changes to the existing architecture. 

Here’s what you’re trying to avoid:

  • Customers relentlessly clicking around your website trying to find the information they need. You’ll lose them and the sale. 
  • Spending tons of time reorganising your site every time you add a new product or category. 
  • Pages which are too many clicks away from the homepage, as that’s where the core of your link authority will be. 

You’ll be pleased to know, Shopify does a lot of the work for you. For example, pages follow a logical hierarchy of categories, URLs are simple and readable, and you can easily add or remove products if needed. 

But there’s one important piece of the puzzle missing. 

While the sitemap file and links to separate sitemaps for your products, collections, blogs, and webpages are generated by Shopify, it isn’t automatically submitted it to Google. 

Of course, however well structured your Shopify website architecture is, if you don’t submit your sitemap to Google, it isn’t going to get indexed regularly. So instead of telling Google exactly what your website is about, Google will be left to figure it out on its own.

xml sitemap

Image source

Luckily, there’s a relatively easy fix for this Shopify SEO issue.

1. Find your sitemap: Your sitemap can be found in the root directory of your primary domain e.g. yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml

2. Verify your domain with Google: Before you can submit your sitemap, you need to verify your domain with Google. Follow the instructions in Shopify’s video:

3. Submit your sitemap: The final step is to submit the sitemap to Google Search Console. Follow the instructions in Shopify’s video:

This three-step process is all it takes to fix this potential Shopify SEO issue. Once it’s complete, Google can index your website and the effective architecture means that customers can easily navigate your store. 

Issue #2: Twitter-Like Character Counts

In Shopify, the page title tag field is limited to 70 characters. While this may not seem like the biggest deal (it’s not), it does have implications for SEO. 

seo title tag

To give you a bit of background, Google measures width by pixels, not characters. The width of the title tag is 600 pixels, which equates to approximately, but not exactly 60 characters (remember, a “W” is wider than an “I”). 

That means if you use the full 70 characters offered by Shopify, instead of limiting it to 600 pixels, you are incorrectly optimising it for SEO. In other words, you’re missing out.  

Fortunately, the solution is relatively simple. The easiest way to find out if your title tag is too long and therefore truncated is to search Google. 

Run either of the following commands through the search bar:

  • site:yourdomain.com
  • site:yourdomain.com/exact-url

Now you can see how long the title tag appears in a Google search and whether or not it needs shortening.

google search example

Be sure to note that any changes you make need to propagate, so you won’t always get instant results. 

Issue #3: Forced URL Structure

Herein lies the biggest gripe of ours — Shopify’s forced URL structure. 

When Google reads your URL, imagine it reading from left to right. The more time it takes to read it, the less time it has to index your page. 

In an ideal world, URLs should be short and simple, with the product as close to the root domain as possible e.g.:

> domain.com/yarn

But with Shopify’s forced URL structure, the same domain will actually look like this:

> domain.com/products/yarn

And, when you get into collections, it gets even worse:

> domain.com /collections/collection-title/products/product-name

As you can see the domain gets longer and longer, reducing its impact in terms of SEO. Do we want this?

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Another issue with Shopify’s URL structure is the lack of sub-categories. Imagine you’re a large ecommerce store selling hundreds of products with a series of sub-categories. 

Ideally, you want to create hyper-targeted landing pages to soak up the long-tail search. Let’s use the keyword “women’s white winter fur coat” as an example.

That’s a highly specific term which deserves a specific page e.g.:

> domain.com/coats/winter/white

But, with Shopify (out of the box), you can only add one layer of categories, which means your landing pages will be less granular. 

A half-hearted workaround is the use of use tags, but it’s not a perfect solution. The forced URL structure adds a pesky “+” sign instead of a SEO-friendly “/”.

> domain.com/collections/coats/womens+filter-colour-white

As with most of the potential Shopify SEO issues, there are a couple of simple workarounds. 

First, you can use apps like Buddha Mega Menu or Globo Mega Menu, which give you more options to add more subcategories.

Second, most of the long URLs are automatically ‘canonicalised’ back to a nicer version e.g. 

> domain.com /collections/collection-title/products/product-name

would be canonicalised to 

> domain.com /products/product-name

While this does work, you do need to check whether any filter or tag pages cause crawling and duplicate content issues. If they do, you can noindex them using the Sitemap & NoIndex Manager.

Issue #4: Blocked Robots.txt Access

You can locate your robots.txt file at the root directory of your Shopify store’s primary domain name — domain.com/robots.txt. 

But, unlike other ecommerce platforms, you can’t edit the contents of the file. 

The job of your robots.txt file is to block content which might affect your website’s SEO strategy. For instance, Shopify blocks your shopping cart from being indexed because it’s much less valuable for that page to rank than your product pages. 

That makes sense and while Shopify claims to have properly optimised the robots.txt, so you don’t have too, it is one of the major limitations of the platform in terms of SEO. 

There’s a sort-of solution to this potential Shopify SEO issue. 

If there are pages you’d like to hide from Google, which are not already included in the robots.txt file, you can add some custom code to the <head> section of your store’s theme.liquid and by adding some code to the specific page. 

  1. Go to Online Store > Themes
  2. Find the theme you want to edit
  3. Select Actions > Edit codeedit code robots
  4. Click the theme.liquid layout file.
  5. Add the following code to the <head> section to exclude the search template:exclude search template
  6. To exclude a specific page, paste the following code in the <head> section:exclude specific page
  7. Make sure that you replace page-handle-you-want-to-exclude with the correct page handle.
  8. Click Save.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer not to get your hands dirty with code, use this app which easily manages your noindex, nofollow tags, and XML sitemap without any coding required.  

Shopify SEO Tutorial: Nine Steps to Rank a Shopify Store 

Luckily for Shopify store owners, when optimised correctly, using all of the available SEO features and a well-considered strategy, it can be excellent for SEO. 

Coupled with ease of use and beautiful, high-converting store templates, in our opinion the pros far outweigh the cons (particularly for beginners). 

If you’re ready to dive in and optimise your Shopify store for SEO, here are 8 ways to help your store rank higher in the search engines:

Step One: Install the SSL certificate

SSL (secure socket layer) certificates provide a website with the secure https://, which is highly important for SEO.

Not only does Google prefer sites with an SSL certificate, but if you don’t have one, internet browsers can display a non-secure website warning which will devastate your conversion rates and bounce rates.

In fact, we’d go as far as saying, no ecommerce store can or should be live without one installed. 

Luckily, Shopify provides one free with your subscription and makes it stupidly easy to install it.  

To activate it, do the following easy steps:

  1. Log in to your Shopify dashboard
  2. Go to Sales Channels > Online Store > Domains
  3. In the SSL Certificates section, click Activate SSL certificates 
  4. Activation can be instantaneous or take a few hours. Either way, once it’s done, you’ll receive a success notification inside your dashboard.

how to install ssl certificate

A brief word of warning.  

If you’re installing a brand new SSL for a brand new domain, great, dive straight in.

If you’re installing an SSL certificate for an existing Shopify site, go ahead, but proceed with caution. While, Shopify automatically creates permanent 301 redirects from all your non-secure (HTTP) URLs to your new, secure ones, you do need to make the change carefully and thoughtfully. 

Finally, if you’re moving to Shopify from a different provider, and you’re making your site secure for the first time in the process, there is some additional technical work to ensure you don’t damage your position in SERPs. We’d highly recommend reading Google’s guidelines on securing your site with HTTPS or reaching out to a Shopify SEO expert, such as Bubblegum Search.

Step Two: Make Your Shopify Store Load Lightning Fast

Google prefers websites which load faster and it is most definitely an important ranking factor. 

With Shopify, you don’t have the option to choose your servers, host, or your template specifications, which does mean you’re slightly limited in options. However, there are some easy ways to make your site load as quickly as possible. 

  • Before uploading any images, compress them with tools like Tiny PNG or Compress.io.
  • Minimize the use of apps, external scripts, or additional custom code. 
  • Use fewer types of fonts or use web-safe fonts, which load faster. 
  • Use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to format your pages and posts, to ensure they load quickly on mobile. 

shopify amp view

Image source

Step Three: Optimise Image Filenames and Alt Tags

When you add an image to your Shopify store, make sure that the image filename and the alt tags are descriptive and relate back to your keyword research. By doing this, you’re giving more information about the page to the search engines. 

Add alt text to Shopify posts or pages

  1. Locate the relevant picture and double click on it 
  2. Enter the Image Alt Text from the box that appears
  3. Click Done

add alt text to shopify

Adding alt text to Shopify products

  1. From your Shopify admin, go to Products > All products
  2. Click the product that you want to edit
  3. Hover over the product image and click ALT

add alt text to shopify products

Changing image file names in Shopify

You cannot change an image filename once it’s installed into Shopify. Either make sure to consider the filename before you install it or if you need to update it later, you will need to delete the image and reinstall it with the correct name. 

Step Four: Descriptive Anchor Text

Anchor text is important for SEO as it tells the search engines what the page is about.

Make sure that the hypertext is over the relevant keyword and not the action you wish the customer to take. 

Take these two examples, which do you think tells Google more about your page?

  • Buy red yarn
  • Click here to buy red yarn

You guessed it. “Buy red yarn” is a far better choice to use. It’s much more descriptive, telling the bots exactly what your page is about.

Step Five: Optimise Your Meta Titles 

Your page meta titles tell the search engines what your page is about. It tells Google how to categorise it and also where to rank it. 

It also informs the user whether or not the page is of interest to them, which will affect your click-through rate. 

The page title should include the core keyword you would like the page to rank for (make sure you’ve conducted keyword research first) and it should be concise and to the point. 

How to edit your home page title

  1. Log into your Shopify dashboard
  2. Click Sales Channels > Online Store > Preferences
  3. Enter your page title in the field labelled “Homepage title”
  4. Click Done

How to edit the page titles for other pages 

  1. Find the page, post, or product 
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Edit website SEO”
  3. Enter the page title
  4. Click Done

edit page titles shopify

Step Six: Optimise Your Meta Descriptions

This refers to the description displayed on the search results page. Not only do they need to please the Google bots so you actually rank, but the text also needs to appeal to real people so they click

As a well-known SEO case study by Moz shows that click-through rate is likely an important ranking factor, therefore, the latter is equally important. 

optimise meta descriptions

In other words, as well as ensuring your keywords are included, you also need to make sure the copy will compel a user to click. 

Consider your value propositions. Do you offer free shipping or free returns, or is there an offer on? 

For instance, to encourage click-through on to its website, Deramores.com uses the description to tell the user that all purchases over £25 get free delivery. 

value propositions in meta tags

While Amazon’s hook is to tell potential customers that next day shopping is available on some orders. 

usp in meta tags

What do you have on offer to convince your user to click?

How to edit your home page meta description:

  1. Select Sales Channels > Online Store > Preferences
  2. Use the box provided on the right of the screen to add or change it.

How to edit other meta descriptions: 

  1. Locate your page, post or product
  2. Click the ‘Edit website SEO’ link
  3. Enter the meta description
  4. Click Save

Step Seven: Optimise Your URLs

Your website URLs are important for a few reasons. 

First, clean, simple URLs are important for user experience — for people and for search engines. As a rule of thumb, if your page title is hidden, your URL should still clearly explain what the page is about. 

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Second, a keyword in your URL will act as a ranking factor (albeit minor), so unless it’s going to look spammy, try to include a keyword as part of the URL following the domain name. 

We’ve already covered the issues with Shopify’s forced URL structure above. It’s one of the major SEO drawbacks of Shopify, but as long as you follow other Shopify SEO tips and our URL best practices, you can still rank highly in the search engines. 

At Bubblegum Search, in order to optimise your URLs successfully, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Your URLs should be simple and easy to read.
  • Where possible, include your keywords (e.g. yourdomain.com/red-yarn).
  • Try to keep your URLs short and sweet.
  • Make sure the URLs are closely tied to the page title.
  • Don’t use stop words (e.g. “no”, “up”, “to”, “of”).
  • Don’t stuff keywords and don’t be spammy.

To edit a page URL in Shopify, follow these easy steps:

  1. Log into the Shopify dashboard
  2. Go to the relevant page, post, or product
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Edit website SEO”
  4. Make the applicable change to the “URL and handle” box
  5. Create a URL redirect, if applicable

Changing a URL for a poorly performing page might be a good idea. But, tread very carefully before making any changes to the URL of a page which is doing well in the SERPs. 

As you need to make sure that all old URLs should be 301 redirected to the new destination pages, if you’re not an SEO pro, I’d recommend having a chat with a team of Shopify SEO experts first, like us, at Bubblegum Search

Step Eight: Add Useful, Relevant and Detailed Content

If your product page has limited content on it, you’re missing a huge opportunity. The more words on a page, the more chances you have to inform Google about the purpose of your page. 

And, therefore, the more chance you have to rank highly. 

shopify product description

Your product description, customer reviews, FAQs and your product specs are all opportunities to showcase what the page is about and to include (but don’t spam!) relevant keywords (based on the search demand). 

To see how this is done exceptionally well, visit Amazon. Select any of their product pages; take a moment to review how much information (e.g. FAQs, customer reviews, technical details, and a detailed product description) is included in a user-friendly way. Trust us, this isn’t a coincidence.

amazon customer reviews

Plus, put yourself in your customer’s position. 

You’ve landed on a new website after searching for a product online. You’ve never purchased from the website before and it’s the first time you’ve purchased this kind of product. 

Does the website and/or product page answer all of your questions? Is the page tightly aligned with your search query? 

If not, your chances of getting a sale decreases. 

Step Nine: Optimise for Secondary Keywords  

A landing or product page won’t just rank for one keyword. You may as well use this to your advantage and plan which secondary keywords you want to rank for, instead of leaving it to chance. 

Welcome, Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords. 

When you search for your core keyword, are there other keywords that pop up time and time again that are related to your product? 

latent semantic indexing

In this example, “100g”, “Ball” and “Cotton” all crop up multiple times. 

Add these ideas through your keyword research tool to come up with LSI keywords. Then, where appropriate, add these keywords as secondary keywords on your product pages. 

Shopify SEO Checklist

Phew. That’s a lot to take in. Pat yourself on the back for getting this far. 

Now, we’re not going to lie to you, Steps 1 to 8 aren’t the whole picture when it comes to Shopify SEO; you also need to work on your content creation, backlinks and so on. 

But the good news is that if you follow the steps above, you’ve built the foundations for a Shopify site which can rank highly in the SERPs. 

If your head’s spinning, you’ll be pleased to know that we’ve built a handy, downloadable checklist for your Shopify SEO tasks. It’s not designed to tell you how to do each task, it’s a quick guide to help you to get started quickly.

Ready? Here goes…

1. Getting Set Up

⃞  Set up Google Analytics

⃞  Set up Google Search Console

⃞  Submit your sitemap to Google via your Google Search Console account

⃞  Check for any crawling errors using the Google Search Console

2. Keyword Research

⃞  Conduct keyword research

⃞  Narrow down your keyword research to valuable terms

⃞  Prepare a plan for product pages mapped to primary and secondary keywords

3. Site Structure

⃞  Plan your website architecture based on your keyword research

⃞  Is your site structure simple but can still be scaled as you grow?

⃞  Can you visit every page on the website with just a couple of clicks from the homepage?

⃞  Ensure anchor text is focused on keywords

⃞  Add alt tags and filenames for your images, which are descriptive

4. On-Page SEO

⃞  Only use one H1 tag on each page

⃞  Make sure page titles are fewer than 600 pixels wide

⃞  Make sure meta descriptions are fewer than 155 characters

⃞  Page titles should be written for humans and include the keyword

⃞  The URLs for product pages and collections should include a keyword

⃞  Make sure product descriptions are detailed, long and original

5. Advanced SEO

⃞  Plan and conduct a link building strategy

⃞  Plan and conduct a content marketing strategy

6. Other SEO 

⃞  If possible, add customer reviews to your product pages

⃞  Check your website is mobile-friendly

⃞  Ensure your website loads as quickly as possible

⃞  Keep up to date with algorithm changes

Now It’s Your Turn

And now I’d like to hear from you. 

Which Shopify SEO technique are you going to try first?

Are you going to get update your page titles? Or are you ready to submit your sitemap to Google?

Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Matt Cayless is the Director of SEO at Bubblegum Search. He is an expert in Search Engine Optimisation having worked on campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands and has a passion for helping businesses grow online. When he’s not chasing the Google algorithm he can be found training for his next marathon. Follow him on Twitter

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