Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Taha in Chicago, who asks:
My question is about e-commerce SEO. Currently, I am working as an SEO Executive for an e-commerce brand. They don’t have any content on the site and their total backlink profile is around 1000 links (which is nothing compared to the competitors).
What area should I focus on first in order to rank category pages? Should I go for on-page content and improvements or build backlinks to compete with competitor profiles?
Taha is a great question.
The short answer is: you should start with on-page content and optimization.
Now, let me give you the long answer, which applies to more than just the category pages you mentioned.
Start with On-Page SEO
Backlinks are important and we know they are part of the ranking algorithm.
However, you must have optimized content on the website so that the search engines know what your website is ranking for.
Here is a short checklist of what to focus on in terms of on-page optimization before you start investing time in link building.
1. Determine your keywords and topics
If you haven’t already, spend some time defining your keywords.
Go from wide to narrow as you create your list, but keep in mind that fit is the most important consideration.
Even when you define broad terms, they should still be targeted and relevant to your categories and products.
Once I create my list, I will then prioritize it, generally into three categories: Priority 1, Priority 2, and Priority 3.
You will need to set keywords for the pages on your website, this is referred to as keyword mapping and will help you avoid keyword cannibalism.
After you’ve completed this process, it’s time to optimize your pages.
Keep in mind that it is common to have 2-3 primary keywords on each page, and many secondary keywords.
2. Optimize your pages
When you’re optimizing your pages, focus on title tags, heading tags (especially H1s), body text, and image alt attributes.
Although the meta description does not play a big role in the ranking, you should improve it too.
There are best practices to follow when optimizing, which you can find in our complete on-page SEO guide.
Here’s a pro tip: Use Google Search Console to determine if the search engine is already recognizing your pages for relevant queries.
The performance report in Google Search Console will show you the queries for each page.
If any of these queries sound like good keywords, or maybe they are already on your list, focus on those keywords when optimizing the linked page.
You can update the page title and/or H1 to include the keyword(s).
You might also look for opportunities to weave keywords into the body text more, but never keyword stuffing. Content should read normally.
3. Add relevant content
Adding optimized content is critical no matter what type of website it is – and e-commerce is no exception.
Since you mentioned category pages in your question, I’ll focus on recommendations for this type of content.
First and foremost, know that category pages offer plenty of opportunities for adding text.
However, a lot of companies are hesitant to add a lot of text on category pages because they think it will take away from the shopping experience.
The good news is that there are creative ways to add enhanced text without being intrusive.
Target.com provides a good example.
Below is a screenshot of category of children’s gifts.
When you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can see enhanced text with a consumable option (such as Show More).
TheCompanyStore.com Provides another example of category content that also includes FAQ.
In both of the examples given, the website visitor can still easily scroll through the products as they work their way down the page.
The content at the bottom of the page is fine for optimization purposes, but also useful to the visitor.
Revision + refinement
One final note: after you’ve optimized your pages, always be on the lookout for improvement opportunities.
This is where the professional advice I’ve given can help.
Get in the habit of monitoring the performance of your pages and making updates as needed.
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Featured image: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, hand-selected by Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about search engine optimization? Fill out our form. You may see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!