"It is not the quantity that matters" - an interview with the SEO specialist and the co-founder of ROI Foundry, Gabor Imre
Today we interviewed Gabor Imre, the SEO specialist and the co-founder of ROI Foundry. He gave us many meaningful insights about SEO and content marketing in eCommerce and Magento in particular.
What is SEO? Why is it important for an eCommerce website?
The easiest way we could put it is this: it helps to provide adequate results on our website that match the search intent of our potential target market and audience, and thus we can direct organic visitors to the site without using paid ads. It consists of two main parts: on-site SEO, which is basically the optimization of the site, and off-site SEO, which covers everything that happens outside of our website.
What is content marketing? How is it related to SEO?
Separating the two makes little sense today: quality content is one of the basics of good SEO, as is thorough SEO research of creating quality content. If you don't create content that provides value and solutions to the problems of your audience, you have little chance of earning backlinks from other sites - and without building a strong backlink profile you have little chance of earning good rankings. Through internal linking, you can also strengthen the product and category pages of your site.
How long it takes for a new eCommerce website to get to the first page on Google?
It is greatly industry-specific and depends on how competitive the given niche is, hard to say without online market research. We usually do in-depth keyword research targeting specific product groups and the problems they provide solutions for, and targeting the words and phrases the target audience uses. Based on the few hundred hand-picked keywords we get, we determine an approximate volume of search potential and pick the keywords that are easier to rank for because of the lower competition. In the case of online stores that just launched or have a weak backlink profile efforts and resources should be focused on achieving a few realistic goals if we want to see a significant increase in the volume of visitors in 4-6 months. This topic is very well covered in-depth by a study of Ahrefs.
For a person who just launched an eCommerce store and wants to start working on its SEO - what are the first steps that he should perform?
If it hasn't been done before launching the store, the first step should be in-depth keyword research. (I suggest doing it before launch, as it should be a part of business planning.) Based on the keyword research and basic logic the category system of the store and titles for the product pages should be determined. Note that it makes little sense to just copy the structure and product pages of the most popular stores as it is unlikely that you will be ranking better for the same search terms and phrases. Try to find alternative but still popular keywords. For example, if you are selling electronics, you can put the product code in the title and URL of the product page, or you can use specific differentiating features like color, etc.
You are also going to need quality content. It is not the quantity that matters, don't just publish blog posts of a few hundred words every day just to make sure you are up-to-date. It is better to publish 1-2 in-depth, very high-quality skyscraper articles a month that covers a specific niche topic in the greatest detail possible, thus being useful even to niche experts. It is best if you have 8-10 of these long-form (2500+ words) and skyscraper (5000+ word) articles ready by the time you launch your store.
The goal is to have content that is properly researched and answers the most common questions, reflects on the most common problems of potential customers. (For research purposes, have a look at message boards, customer groups, and Q&A sites, and if possible interview customers.)
These are important not just to provide answers to questions your audience searches for, but also because your more complex content will serve as linkable assets, worthy for other niche sites and industry experts to refer on their own sites, thus gaining high-authority backlink organically or via outreach. They are necessary for link building, which in turn is vital to rank properly in Google.
Can you mention a few common SEO / marketing related problems that the eCommerce merchants encounter, and the solutions to them?
This is a list worthy of its own article:
- Many merchants don't even know who their competitors are. It may be interesting to note that more established, older companies tend to name competitors who are local (in the town or state), many of whom are not even ranking for important keywords. So it's clear that they haven't done any research on who their real online competitors are despite that they could get a lot of important information this way.
- This is based on the above: if there are no real competitors, how can you analyze their strengths, weaknesses, online strategy? What keywords are they focusing on that are easy targets, what kind of articles are they publishing, how and where from do they get backlinks? So mostly they are not performing in-depth competitor analysis regarding SEO, while they want to achieve good SEO results.
- They are also rarely analyzing their on-site SEO. For one, they are often don't know what sites are referring to theirs. (Including spam and malicious backlinks, degrading their rankings). They are also rarely aware what are the keywords that they are ranking for in the TOP 11-20 with their pages - which is important because if you develop some more content aimed at these keywords in your articles or product descriptions, they have a good chance of ranking for it in the TOP 10.
- They are not comparing on-site SEO of their product and category pages to that of their competitors', despite even with smaller modifications in the content they could achieve much better results.
- A typical SEO problem for Magento stores (still affecting more than 100K sites) is the many thousand (in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of near-identical pages created by layered navigation that are left indexed. This can greatly affect and hurt the rakings of product and category pages as the Google crawl budget is wasted on automatically generated pages with mostly identical and minimal low-quality content. Attention should also be paid to the extensions that help with filtering products, because some generate other types of URLs in addition to the ones Magento uses, and in many cases, these also remain indexable for Google. The solution is to set the give types of URLs to noindex in the Robots.txt.
This is of course not by any means a complete list, but these are very typical problems that very face very often.
What are the things that eCommerce merchants should avoid when working on the SEO of their websites?
Don't ever purchase SEO services from companies that promise exact rankings they can achieve or even guarantee these. Even Google itself cannot guarantee rankings. A realistic commitment could be a certain percent growth in organic traffic in a given timeframe, and in the next step increasing the conversion rate on the site itself. (This is not pure SEO of course, it requires UI/UX planning and marketing techniques, but a good team can solve the problem.)
If you can avoid it, don't purchase backlinks (as it is against Google policy), but if you must, first always check if the target sites themselves have significant organic traffic (real visitors arriving at their site from the search results pages and not only as direct traffic from 1-2 other sites). If there is no organic traffic, you might have been offered to be referred from a PBN (Private Blog Network), which can be very risky considering Google penalties.
Is it necessary to hire an SEO professional or an SEO agency to succeed in SEO?
10-12 years ago SEO mainly consisted of a few on-site optimization processes and sending the URL of the website to link farms. Luckily these manipulative practices are no longer effective and SEO requires a bunch of different workflows, more than what one person could effectively deal with.
It is strongly connected to copywriting, UI/UX planning, and it is hard to find a professional who is an expert in all these fields. (Regardless, all of them must have some, if limited knowledge about the relevant fields of expertise.)
When a store owner is considering who to hire or work with, the following is important: they need not only an "SEO guy", but a team of 2-3 people who need to be working full-time on the project if they want to achieve long-term results (especially with a weaker site).
Considering the budget you have to calculate how much it would cost to hire 3 people and compare it to the offers you get from agencies (after checking their references of course). If you decide on an in-house team, you need someone to oversee and coordinate the workflows, the same applies if you decide to work with cheaper freelancers. But an agency has to be accountable for their job and they have to deliver even if someone drops off their team as you contracted the company where all the necessary expertise and capacity have to be available.
Is Magento platform good for SEO?
It is absolutely appropriate, and what it's not good in it has extensions for. We mustn't forget that SEO is not all about technical optimization, success does not rely solely on the platform. What you have to consider all times is that if you have a Magento 1 framework, don't put much work into optimization as it is more worthwhile to switch to Magento 2 on the long term, but the code is not compatible as the two versions are fundamentally different.
Do you have a few SEO tips for Magento based websites?
- Exclude all unnecessary pages from Google indexing.
- Regularly check your site with Google Page Speed Insights and GTMetrix, and do what optimization needs to be done in order to keep load time under 2 seconds on all pages. With CDN and various server-side caching solutions, you can even achieve 0.5-second load speeds that will surely give you an edge against competitors.
- You don't want to blog under Magento. Install a Wordpress framework in a subdirectory of the main domain, so you get complete freedom in terms of content marketing. In our experience results are not that good when using the various blogging extensions for Magento compared to WordPress which was built to be a content delivery framework.
- Don't forget that your articles will attract visitors to organically with a much greater chance than your product pages. Focus on good readability (font sizes, formatting, etc.) and try to increase dwell time on the page so the ranking of these URLs can improve.
- Don't forget internal linking, link to your blog posts where and if necessary and logical. You can also link to category or product pages (also, where it is logical).
Gabor has been working as an ecommerce project manager at a Magento development company, but he has been dealing with search engine optimization for a much longer time, since 2008. He switched to being a full-time SEO expert in 2015 and co-founded his own agency, ROI Foundry in January 2018.