Shopify SEO Case Study – Ranking Above Retailers & Going DTC

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shopify seo case study

Please note that we’ve made sure the client is not mentioned on the website to keep their identity anonymous per the client’s request.

The Issue

The client uses retailers for distribution and wants to increase brand awareness to drive demand while being able to drive in store velocity by letting a customer database know where they can shop in person.  The other goal is direct custom acquisition so there is a new stream of revenue if a buyer decides to stop purchasing.

At the time we began there was no non-branded search traffic coming in.  One of the biggest concerns was if they would be able to beat the big retailers and media publications dominating the search results.  After about a year and a half we accomplished each goal above.

The Situation

The store had no non-branded traffic when we began, and a semi-customized shopify storefront.  So we defined two goals with the client:

  1. Bring new customers from high-intent, non-branded phrases to the website.
  2. Drive conversions including:
    1. Direct sales
    2. Email and SMS sign ups
    3. Tagging consumers with remarketing pixels to reduce the cost of non-branded, high-volume, and high-intent PPC phrases

The first goal has two steps.  Step one is to get the site ranking for non-branded traffic in the top 100 positions.  From there we need to bring those keyword phrases to the top 3 positions so they get traffic.  This means outranking the big stores like amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Chewy.com, etc…  Which is not as hard as it sounds.

Below you’ll find the screenshots of the results from Google search console, the steps we took over the last year and a half, the signals we looked for, and a ton of tips we normally only share with clients.

Please note that in screenshots 3 and 4 the average position doesn’t look that great.  It is the average position in search console over the time period, not the day the screenshot was taken. If you spend two months in the 40’s or 50’s in Google, then 2 weeks in the top 3, your average position is going to be a lot lower.  Average positions being lower can also be a good thing for SEO, here’s more on it.

Screenshot 1: Increasing overall exposure and traffic

Shopify SEO case study dtc traffic and sales

Screenshot 2: YOY for January

dtc seo case study on shopify

Screenshot 3: Moving a page up in Google to the top positions

getting a search engine result from the bottom of the first page to the top

Screenshot 4: Getting a new keyword phrase into Google and then to a top position

get a page to rank in google and then climb to the top position

The Solution in 3 Steps

Step 1: Fix the Standard Shopify SEO Issues

Shopify is not SEO friendly as it has flat site structures, a sub-par CMS for blogging, and it is expensive to get developers to rewrite Liquid for everything from meta data to template designs, canonical links, and navigational elements.  We decided to build a new template with SEO and brand expansions in mind.

Some of the standard Shopify SEO elements you need to fix each time include:

  • Adding copy on the collection pages
  • PDPs (product pages) that allow for helpful copy and conversion elements
  • Galleries where we can add extra images or features as needed
  • Displays breadcrumbs (does come native, but sometimes has issues)
  • Has SEO friendly site search
  • Fixing common blog SEO issues like handling the indexing of tags, categories, and dual navigation
  • Creating interactive 404’s
  • Removing filtering and parameters from navigation and sub menus
  • etc…

Please note that none of the large shopping cart providers are good for SEO including Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, etc…  It isn’t only Shopify, so don’t count Shopify out.  Their stability and ability to expand is why I love them and recommend them more than other large shopping cart providers.

Bonus-tip: If you use the Shopify blogging platform, keep main site navigation on the blog so you don’t offset your internal linking structure and so consumers can go from content to conversion.

Step 2: On Page Optimizations

TL:DR:

For this client we looked through customer service complaints and questions being asked in live chat, especially when customers returned or wanted to return their order.  We also went to retailer websites to read reviews, marketplaces, and forums to look up what people were saying about the products, services, and brand.

By knowing why someone returned a purchase (whether it was size, fit, color, compatibility with other devices, etc…) or the issues the product does or does not solve, we pre-answer and pre-sell the benefits and uses to new customers.  This often leads to a better UX, higher conversion rates, and a better overall experience.  Once we did this we got some of our first keywords to populate in the top 100 positions.

The metric we looked for here was an increase in impressions.  That shows how pages are starting to populate for new queries and topics.  In our opinion that means the search engines are now better understanding what to show each page for as we made them easier to understand.

Full Story:

Collection pages should rank in search engines, and product pages and the homepage don’t necessarily need to.

A website homepage typically doesn’t need to show up for any non-branded phrases.  Part of our SEO process is looking at the product roadmap.  If the brand is going to have line and brand extensions, and they’re not part of the main niche, you’ll have to redo a lot of SEO and take risks in the future if you try to rank a homepage.

If you sell t-shirts now, and in five years you’re launching shorts and flip flops, you’ll be back to square one.  If you optimized your homepage for “t-shirts” vs. a collection, you’re going to need to redo your homepage for “summer wear stores” and hope you can pass the rankings to collections for t-shirts, flip flops, and for shorts.  Optimizing collections for your new lines and the homepage for your brand makes the company more successful later on.

Pro-tip: Landing someone on a t-shirts collection with product to buy is a better experience than a homepage with a giant hero images and extra steps to get to a conversion.

So now its time to optimize our on-page SEO elements.  This is a matter of prioritizing based on bandwidth, technical debt, and website needs.  Since there’s less collections than there are products on most Shopify sites, it’s easier to work on these first.  And they’re more likely to rank for the big phrases.

Here’s what we did copy wise, then the explanation of how we researched it.

  • Added in copy to each collection and product pages
  • Named the images, titles, and alt text properly for the intent on the page
  • When needed, we provided FAQs about the collection or category of products within it (not for SEO, for the customers based on their needs)
    • We did not do any general or brand FAQs, those belong on the company FAQ pages
  • Provided answers to complaints and questions above the fold
  • Did not keyword stuff or add word counts for the sake of “SEO”
  • Used internal links when they would benefit the end user by bringing them to the correct product or collection
  • Deployed schema when needed

We wrote copy based on the needs of the consumer to help them shop.  We did not use keyword densities or word counts because those are not part of SEO.  Those are SEO myths created by SEO tools for what the tool feels is important.

By writing user first content, we answer the shopper’s questions while they are deciding if our products or services are a solution for their current needs.  This reduces the amount of people going to live chat.  Less live chat usage saves customer support bandwidth lowering your overall costs.   This also stops customers from waiting for email responses from support so they can shop now vs. later.

Pro-tip: Don’t be afraid to say the product won’t work for a specific common purpose.  Letting the customer know may stop them from buying and returning product. This keeps inventory out of your warehouse and going to correct end users.  The company is more profitable by reducing the returns and warehousing headaches while keeping customers happy with working solutions.

If you sell phone chargers you could say the charger on the PDP (product page) is not compatible with X and Y device, then recommend the one that is compatible.  This gives you a naturally-occurring and keyword-rich internal link.  For fashion sites, talk about the events the garments in the collection work for, and what the garment will feel like being worn for hours (comfort), or look like wearing it (standing out, center of attention, being able to blend in if introvert clothing, etc…).  By doing this you create an “authoritative” and user friendly experience while adding content naturally for SEO.

Step 3: Move Pages to Traffic Spaces

Our collections, products, and other pages began showing up in the top 100 positions in Google for non-branded phrases that have high-intent.

i.e. if you’re a lingerie shop “balconette bras” would be a phrase, or if you sell phone cases “iPhone 14 case” would be one.  Now was the hard part, getting them to show up in traffic positions on the first page.

Every site has different needs, so we do custom plans for every client.  We did a mix of the following, but I won’t say in which order or the amount of it to help keep the client’s anonymity.

  • PR work to build brand awareness (backlinks didn’t matter, we wanted to drive branded demand with the types of products by being featured and in specific publications and content topics).
  • Used external signals (not backlinks) to bring search engines to crawl updated pages.
  • Created a content map and began a publishing schedule that contained topics related to the products and target audience’s needs.
    • This builds authority and some of the content has opportunities for natural internal links or to acquire natural backlinks.
  • We did no link building.  Links are important, but most links are garbage now, and almost all major media is affiliate and not an actual backlink.

There was a need to build authority and trust with the site experience.  The trust we built got us to start showing up for non-branded phrases, the authority and quality of the user experience brought us to top positions in search engines.  And this is something we have repeated with multiple stores, and something the big brands are not able to do because of red tape or SEO spam in the marketplaces.

The project is still going on and with the client’s permission I’ll update as we continue to make progress.  If you are having SEO issues and want us to take a look, we audit and do work on ecommerce stores, publications and media sites, as well as blogs and influencer channels.  Reach out through our contact form here.

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