eCommerce Migration Checklist: How to Migrate Your Website Without Losing Your SEO

Review this eCommerce website migration checklist before you migrate to a new platform to keep your SEO.

Public service announcement: Migrating your eCommerce site to a new design, platform, or domain means that you have to be ultra-diligent in executing the move.

Otherwise, you risk a hit to SEO that affects your traffic, conversions, and revenue.

In our experience with helping dozens of eCommerce stores migrate, we’ve seen that a lot of “gotchas” can occur. These are a variety of little errors with the potential to create a big downswing in your organic traffic and rankings.

Most eCommerce migration checklists present a vague list of SEO factors to consider, without giving you a real, strategic workflow to follow that avoids those errors. Fulfilling this checkmark or that checkmark without knowing the strategy and reasoning behind those actions leaves your site vulnerable.

Here, we’re sharing our internal 5 Phase Migration Checklist that we implement for clients who want to protect their SEO from a potential hit after migrating. Review it before launching your new site in order to minimize any potential negative SEO impacts caused by a site migration.

At Inflow, we handle migrations often and are here to help you make sure any SEO impact is minimized. If you’d like us to handle this on your behalf please give us a shout.

What to Expect with a Website Migration

Getting your ducks in a row prior to an eCommerce website migration is crucial for ensuring its continued success.

While a downward bump in SEO is usually to be expected when migrating a site, historically: we’ve observed that fixing errors prior to launch can actually help traffic remain steady. In some cases, it can even help traffic go up by improving the new site’s SEO.

Not all migrations are the same ⁠— things change and it’s smart to consider certain specifics for each scenario when you migrate to:

  • A new design
  • A new hosted or self-hosted platform
  • Or a new domain.

Migrating your website can be a stressful process given its risks.

The goal here is for you to understand how to reduce any organic rankings/traffic drops by adopting an optimized and streamlined SEO migration strategy.

Why Migrate?

If you’re thinking about a migration, it’s important to know why that migration is occurring so you don’t do it superfluously.

It makes sense to migrate in certain situations, including when:

  • You have an old/outdated website design.
  • Your business changes priorities or service offerings, so you need to add new information or change existing information to be more current.
  • You rebrand (this can involve migrating to a new domain when the business name changes).
  • There are problems with your CMS platform and you want to change to a platform with more/different robust features, or a lower cost.
  • Your site just isn’t converting, and you want to start from scratch on a new domain.

What is the best eCommerce platform for SEO to migrate to? In a previous article, we outlined what to consider when picking a new platform to migrate to, so we won’t be covering that here.

Instead, we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of migrating successfully. Starting with the risks involved.

Before You Start: What Type of Migration Is It?

The risk of impact to your SEO varies depending on the type of migration. Some migration scenarios are more risky than others.

Low SEO Risk: Site Redesign/Reskin

When the extent of the migration is limited to simply changing the design of the website, the risk is relatively low.

When comparing a design change or reskin to other migrations, there is a lower risk of an SEO drop simply because no URLs are changing.

Depending on your team’s experience, it may not be necessary to enlist help from an outside agency to keep SEO protected from a site redesign or reskin.

Side note: Certain designs contain JavaScript that cloaks content. Hiding or “cloaking” content is not something Google tends to like. This type of code is common on spam sites attempting to keyword-stuff their pages without the text visually displaying.

Watch out for such designs containing JavaScript that could trigger inadvertent SEO impacts.

Medium SEO Risk: URL / Changes (With No Platform Change)

You’ll want to monitor things carefully when your domain changes, or when other changes occur that require a new URL structure with abundant redirects.

In this scenario, there is a moderate amount of risk as any URL changes create a risk to your SEO. Your website’s new URLs will need to be indexed.

The goal is to get new URLs indexed quickly by Google post-launch by making them easy to crawl. Whether the actual design changes or not, new URL paths are a fundamental change to a site’s SEO and should be monitored.

Medium SEO Risk Scenario 2: Change in eCommerce Platform

In general, a platform change means that the site’s URLs will also change. This is due to the way that various eCommerce platforms structure their URLs differently.

For example: As a path to products in Shopify’s “collections,” the URL structure has to be domain.com/products/productname or domain.com/collections/collectionname/products/productname

An example of Shopify's URL structure

Meanwhile, WordPress and other CMSs have their own URL structures with different needs. This is why in many cases, maintaining the original URL isn’t possible ⁠— even if you want to.

Changing platforms also presents the risk of losing core functionality that your SEO (or your other marketing channels!) are currently benefiting from. Evaluating and minimizing such a risk is key when migrating platforms.

High SEO Risk: Domain Migration

Regardless of any URL changes or design changes, migrating your eCommerce site’s domain presents a lot of risk.

The problem is that a domain name has a lot of context and history with Google. So, unfortunately when starting from scratch you are bound to lose some equity.

In this scenario, be prepared to do a bit more work to mitigate the SEO impact and pain of losing traffic.

Why change domains in the first place? In this case, the short term hit to SEO should be for a long-term gain ⁠— like a rebranding or name change of the organization.

So, what migration scenario fits yours? Now that you understand the risks, below is a detailed list of all the factors to verify.

Note: Please do not be overwhelmed by the level of detail we’re presenting.

There are many small factors in SEO. Usually, drops happens as a result of multiple little factors going wrong…or one catastrophic miss.

So while the list of checks is numerous, there’s a reason for it:

  • First, to create the optimal website structure for Google to index
  • And second, to catch any potential errors prior to the launch of the new site

Let’s start with Phase 1.

Phase 1: Evaluate Live Site & Opportunities for Improvement. Collect Benchmark Data. 

A very important first step is to review the live site in order to see where everything stands.

Since this is a data migration process from one platform to another, you’ll use the old site’s data as a benchmark for reference and comparison to the new site in a later step.

The goal is to launch the development site with as few discrepancies as possible when comparing its features to the live site.

Step 1. Crawl the Current Domain Using DeepCrawl and/or Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a widely used tool and its data output is suitable for this process.

A view of the Screaming Frog Dashboard

We like to use DeepCrawl for larger sites or Screaming Frog as a cheaper and easier option for smaller sites. That said, you can use the crawl tool of your choice.

A view of the DeepCrawl Dashboard

Crawling the current live domain provides us with a list of URLs on the site plus a wide variety of data about those URLs that we can use for checks and benchmarks.

Step 2. Perform Google Search Console Analysis

Google’s own data about your site is important to review.

Data is provided in GSC in a dashboard format, where you’ll:

  • Export .csv data of the site 
  • Does any structured data need carried over to new site?
  • Do hreflang tags need to be carried over to new site?
  • Do any 404 errors need to be addressed pre-launch?

If any data is present that should be transferred, or if any errors exist that Google says should be corrected, that’s a checkbox to mark early on in the process.

Step 3. Crawl and Analyze the Old Site

Now that you have crawl data and Google’s data, you’ll document the following points to be able to reference them in comparison to the new site:

  • Look for Meta robots nofollow tags in source code
  • Document GAID & type of code being used (Universal, GTM)
  • Look for pages with noindex tag
  • Review canonical tags
  • Review Title tags
  • Review Meta description tags
  • Review header (h1, h2 etc) usage
  • Collect all known live URLs (via a site crawl, serp scrape, GSC, GA, etc. as needed) in a file (to crawl & verify working redirects upon go-live).

Often, we’ll look at this data and use it to identify opportunities for optimization of the new site’s SEO as well. It is generally part of the process for doing an SEO content audit.

Step 4. Other Considerations

The data collected from the above steps is necessary regardless of the type of migration.

To double check your relevant migration scenario before doing further work, make sure you have evaluated the characteristics of it so that you can take the proper steps.

To determine the ‘type’ of migration as mentioned earlier, identify if it’s a:

  • Redesign (the site’s design is the only change)
  • URL Changes on the Same Platform (with or without design changes)
  • A Platform Change (usually involving URL & design changes)
  • A New Site on a New Domain

Some other important questions that help determine the risk level of your situation are:

  • Is the domain name changing?
  • Is the URL structure changing?
  • Is the site architecture changing?
  • Have you performed keyword research, created a keyword matrix and/or a keyword gap analysis to ensure a solid keyword strategy is in place?
  • Is conversion optimization a consideration?
  • Do you currently need help selecting a new eCommerce platform, system, software etc? (If so, please reach out to us for help to determine it.)

In the next phases, you’ll identify the needed action steps and fixes to implement to the staging site prior to migration.

Phase 2: Evaluate Stage Site & Technical Opportunities for Improvement

Now, we’ll do the technical work of going through the possible errors (“gotchas”) and take the needed steps to test and address them.

eCommerce sites have many facets that can get affected during a migration.

Revenue is linked to SEO, and a migration presents a risk of impact to it. If there was ever a time to be thorough with a technical checklist: this is it.

Tip: Understand Your Development Timeline

Without the right approach, technical SEO can seem like a never ending process. If the migration is to be completed by the target date, the team needs to have the scope of work and a deadline to help keep things moving.

Structuring the work according to the below outline should help you to do that.

Step 1. Check for Server Changes

Is the server changing?

Ask your developer to host the development site on the new server to identify potential issues. Don’t forget to ask the developer to block search engine bot access to the staging or development sites using the robots.txt file.

Step 2. Establish a 301 Redirect Strategy

To get new URLs indexed, a systematic approach to implementing redirects is a vital step.

To do it:

  1. Formulate a 301-Redirect Strategy using the site crawl data.
  2. Document how the redirect strategy will be implemented, and who is responsible. Everyone should be on the same page on how redirects will be structured and implemented
  3. Are there legacy redirects that need updated? Eliminate redirect hops it’s best to have fewer redirects if possible.

We’ll also be checking for success of the redirects upon launch/migration.

Step 3. Conduct Technical Dev Site Optimization

Remember: we’re trying to get the development site optimized prior to launching it.

Conducting a technical audit is key for success:

  1. Review Sitemaps & Wireframes for new site
  2. Ensure site is being blocked from indexation
  3. Verify a custom 404 error page exists & properly issues a 404 header response. Page title for 404s should always read “Page Not Found” (or similar) so errors can be found in GA, as well (aka those errors that users access)
  4. Crawl the Dev Site; fix 404 and soft 404s
  5. Ensure links/URLs that you don’t want indexed on the dev site are Nofollowed. This would be needed for new faceted navigation, for example
  6. Test redirects (if possible)
  7. Browse the Dev site with multiple devices
  8. Plan for Faster Indexing; Create an XML sitemap (if necessary) with all of the old URLs and plan to leave this up after the site has launched
  9. Test & enhance site speed, as much as is possible for a dev site.

When possible we do a live site to dev site comparison of site speed. But staging environments don’t often have caching setup, or other things that make site’s actual speed visible. 

Since the speed of the dev site is an estimate, enlist the development team to help you see where things are lacking and what you can do to improve it.

Step 4. Determine Analytics Migration Strategy

In this step, we’re essentially preparing to share information about the new site with Google to get it indexed faster.

To do it:

  1. Add the analytics code to the dev site. (Block the IPs of team members accessing this site.)
  2. Goals: Compile a list of URLs to update in the analytics goals when the new site goes live
  3. Check mobile-friendliness of different types of pages on the site
  4. Check that parameters function as expected (and critical tracking parameters aren’t dropped from the URL during a page reload or redirect)
  5. Check parameters report in GSC for duplicate content issues (this feature from the old GSC may not remain around for long)
  6. Check GA to ensure that this website cannot be its own referrer (on the Property level, in Tracking Info > Referral Exclusion List)
  7. Social Media Shares: Compile a list of URLs with highest social counts. Maintain old embed code to keep social counts. If no pages have worthwhile counts, don’t waste development efforts to implement this.

Now, your dev site is further prepared for parity with Google.

Phase 3: Compare Live Site vs. Stage Site to Ensure Parity (or Better!)

To further evaluate the stage site prior to making it live, compare it to the old site to find a list of prioritized discrepancies to fix.

The broad steps for this phase are:

  • Look at the new site, compare to old site,
  • Make a checklist of things to fix with the goal of keeping traffic as close as possible to flat during migration.

Note: Content and mobile site specific tasks will apply to everyone, but some are more specific (for example, if your site has AMP pages or is hosted on WordPress).

Content

  1. Is the site at risk for duplicate content and/or URLs?
  2. Migrate all content to Dev site; is as much as possible staying the same?
  3. Ensure title tags and meta descriptions are being carried over and are the same as or better than the current site.
  4. Check page content, canonical tags, internal linking, usage of H1s/H2s, IMG ALT tags.

Mobile Site Specific Tasks

  1. Crawl as mobile googlebot in Screaming Frog; validate mobile parity among page: titles, descriptions, headers, content, inlinks, images, directives, etc. 
  2. Implement meta=”viewport” tag to <head> section of site <meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1”>

Javascript Site Specific Tasks

  1. Visually audit all major page types (Fetch & Render in GSC if possible)
  2. Audit HTML source for missing content 
  3. Audit using inspect element for missing content
  4. Compare HTML source vs. inspect element for contradictions
  5. Identify content based on user-interaction (any pages that are critical for search engine access, any that are not?)

AMP Page Specific Tasks

  1. Each non-AMP page (i.e. desktop, mobile) should have a tag pointing to the corresponding AMP URL.
  2. Each AMP page should have a rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the corresponding desktop page.
  3. Any AMP page that does not have a corresponding desktop URL should have a self-referring canonical tag.

eCommerce Specific Tasks

  1. Do category pages contain indexable links to the products?
  2. Check faceted navigation, pagination for best practices
  3. If link to image comes before anchor text link, is keyword rich ALT text used?

WordPress Specific Tasks

  1. Redirect URLs in WordPress on Dev site using Simple 301 Redirects Plugin
  2. Install Google Tag Manager Plugin on WordPress site & CMS and configure it
  3. Set up Yoast WordPress SEO & Yoast Analytics plugins
  4. If you use a CMS like HubSpot – Install & Set Up the CMS plugin
  5. Set up Yoast Analytics

As a separate task, we also create conversion optimization recommendations based on the Dev site to help optimize the new site’s conversions.

How to Prioritize Tasks

The live site to dev site comparison helps you to launch the new site while minimizing the effect on your current traffic.

As you create a list of fixes for the development website from this migration checklist, keep in mind that launching a worse site (in terms of SEO) is what is most likely to harm your traffic potential.

We’d urge you to ensure that, at a minimum, the new site is “on par” with the previous site to reduce the risk of traffic drops post-migration. Any fixes that help establish parity between the old and new site should be prioritized as a necessity.

And if your goal is to actually grow traffic, try to ensure that there are clear wins/improvements in addition all other factors being equal.

A Warning About Waking the Beast

Finally, if you are a larger, more complex site with any present SEO issues and a long (favorable) history in Google, keep in mind that “on par” is likely not a good enough standard to hold yourself to.

A site migration represents an opportunity for Google to focus on your site in detail, and, rest assured, they do. They may suddenly start noticing things wrong with your site that you’ve been getting away with for years… but suddenly you aren’t getting away with them anymore. We’ve seen this enough times that we’ve nicknamed it: “waking the beast”.

If you have any major issues present: fix them, and do so prior to migration. Otherwise, you risk stepping off your current rankings pedestal to a lower one, and spending the next several months (to years) recovering your existing rankings. 

It isn’t really a separate phase, but at this point: launch the new website!

Phase 4: Launch Checks to Ensure All’s Gone Well

Now, the benchmark data collected from the old site to aid in parity of the newly-launched site comes into play.

Even the best planned migrations can have technical issues.

Data that was prepared to be migrated seamlessly hit an undetected technical snag that changed its parameters or didn’t transfer it through. Another common mistake is accidentally including things that were part of the staging environment, such as the bot-blocking robots.txt code on the live site. Catching such issues early on and fixing them is crucial.

We always make sure to stay on deck when a launch happens or shortly after to verify that everything is functional and working properly.

With all of the many moving parts and URLs that are typical to eCommerce stores, we’ve found that the earlier things get fixed the better.

Step 1. Site Crawl / Analysis Checks

In this step, you’ll check for matching data between the live site and the staged site:

  1. Verify 301-redirects were all properly implemented:
    • Run a redirect chain report in Screaming Frog
    • Identify redirect chains
    • Use the crawl file from Phase 1 to verify all known URLs correctly 301 to the expected, 200-status code pages
  2. Crawl the new site to identify technical issues and accessibility. 
  3. Ensure the new live site is not blocked from being crawled and indexed.
    • Check robots.txt
    • Look for noindex tags in site crawl
  4. Verify that a “Nofollow” tag was added to pages you don’t want indexed. These should have been identified on the dev site, such as on faceted navigation links.
  5. Make sure the “index, follow” meta tag is on each page as necessary
  6. Look for 404 pages that shouldn’t be there
  7. Check internal links: Look for broken links, AND links to the Dev site
  8. Verify proper implementation of canonical tags
  9. Check for canonicals and duplicate URLs (“www” vs non-www, “http” vs “https,” /trailing-slash/ vs. /non-trailing-slash URLs)
  10. Check Title Tags (match to old data)
  11. Check Meta Descriptions (match to old data)
  12. Check H1, H2 usage (match to old data)
  13. Check IMG ALT attributes (match to old data)
  14. Check word count (match to old data. Account for all template text within <body> tags)
  15. Check internal link counts by page (match to old data; are any critical pages losing links?)

Step 2. Google Analytics / Search Console Checks

Now you can see what data Google has registered for the new site:

  1. To ensure its accurate: verify analytics code is on all pages, and that the correct code is implemented
  2. Update goals in analytics; verify they are working correctly
  3. Annotate analytics with the date the site launched

Step 3. Site Speed Check

  1. Run a few pages through the site speed tool. Compare to site speed on old site & dev site
  2. Make notes for improvement, if applicable

Step 4. Other Tasks

  1. Did the site change servers? Make sure there are no server-related issues
  2. Compare top landing pages; before and after (title, meta description, headers, page content etc)
  3. Verify 404 pages return a 404 status
  4. Verify old XML sitemap is on new site; re-submit to Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools
  5. If the domain is changing, claim the new domain variations in GSC and submit a change of address request.

Phase 5: Site Monitoring Over 1-2 months

Now, the benchmark data collected from the old site to aid in parity of the newly-launched site comes into play.

To minimize a traffic drop, the priority is to look for organic traffic decreases. If there are any, dig into why and where they are happening.

For example, are the traffic drops widespread, isolated to a few pages, or affecting just one section of the site?

Knowing where the drops are happening clues us into what is broken that needs fixing.

We recommend to monitor new websites periodically: 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, and 2 months after launch to ensure that everything is going smoothly and correct anything that isn’t.

Sometimes monitoring should go on even longer because the bigger and more complex the site, the longer you’ll need to monitor its indexation.

1 Week Post-Launch

  • Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Check GSC for new indexed pages (and check for any that haven’t)
  • Check the old GSC profile to ensure the old pages are getting de-indexed
  • Leave old XML sitemap(s) up for Google to re-crawl 

2-3 Weeks Post-Launch

  • Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Remove the old XML sitemap(s). Replace them with the new XML Sitemap(s)
  • Check the sitemap.xml file. Are the correct URLs in there? (no extraneous URLs, no Dev URLs etc)
  • Submit the new XML sitemap to Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools

1 Month Post-Launch

  • Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Check analytics for loss of traffic. If so, which pages lost traffic and why?

2 Months Post-Launch

  • Continue to Monitor Google Search Console (crawl stats, rankings, traffic, indexed pages, etc.)
  • Most migrations typically see a dip and rise in traffic after launch. That said, every site and migration is different, so the actual impact is hard to predict. At Inflow, we work to negate any drops prior to site launch and the result tends to be steady traffic or sometimes gains.
  • The best bet is to follow this process. Doing so ensures that the data of the new site remains indexed by Google and thus visible to potential customers.

Conclusion

We know that this checklist seems comprehensive and technical, but believe it or not we could go on. There are so many unique situations to consider that are individual to specific eCommerce websites when they migrate.

A successful migration is definitely worth it for many businesses, and to keep its value in doing so, it’s important to get the technical aspects of migration right.

This migration checklist is something we developed to help make migrating as streamlined as possible, and make sure the new site is launched on time.

We believe anyone knowledgeable in SEO should be able to execute on the above process, That said, this checklist was originally something that we developed for our internal team.

If your team isn’t highly technical, we highly recommend you enlist our help to migrate your store! We’ve handled all kinds of situations to help make sure our clients’ ducks are in a row before migrating.

Contact us to learn more and get our recommendations for your migration scenario.

A Simple eCommerce SEO Tactic We Used to Help Drive 46% More Traffic to Category Pages Over 18 Months

Here’s how adding descriptions to the top of eCommerce category pages helped drive 46% more organic traffic over an 18 month period.

In March of 2016, we began adding approximately 150-word descriptions to the tops of category pages for one of our clients, in addition to updating pages that already had some copy. This client was an eCommerce business offering a wide range of products grouped into 400+ categories. Our goal was to increase organic traffic to their category pages.

Over the course of about 18 months, we found these category pages to have 46% more organic sessionscompared to the 18 months prior. While we can’t attribute these positive results solely to the page descriptions because there were many other tactics being used simultaneously, we believe they are at least in part responsible for this increase in traffic to this page type.

In general, we think this SEO tactic (adding short 75 – 100 word descriptions to category pages) is something many eCommerce sites could possibly benefit from exploring as part of their overall SEO strategy.

While no tactic works 100% of the time, we feel that testing to see if adding short descriptive copy on category pages produces a positive impact is worthwhile for most brands (we discuss possible exceptions below).

In this post we will cover:

  1. Our process for creating the page descriptionsincluding reasoning behind specific decisions that were made.
  2. Which sites may be more or less likely to benefit from this strategy.
  3. Other tactics that we commonly deploy when optimizing category pages.
  4. Specific considerations that you should think about when making SEO decisions for your store’s category pages.

If you’d like to talk with someone on our team to see what actions could be taken to improve SEO for your eCommerce business, you can start a conversation with us here.

The Importance of Category Pages for eCommerce SEO

Before we dive into the process we followed for creating the on-page descriptions, I want to step back and take a look at where category pages fit in eCommerce SEO.

When we talk about foundational pages on an eCommerce site that we want to optimize, we’re typically talking about the (a) homepage, (b) product pages, and (c) category pages.

  1. Homepages are typically seeking to rank for the brand name and more general keywords related to that business, whereas…
  2. Product pages are optimized to rank for more specific search phrases when they’re most relevant to the user.
  3. Category pages are where we optimize for the many users who begin their search with a more general term of what they’re shopping for, when they would usually expect a list of products rather than get taken to a specific product.

Users who search terms that are best answered with category and product page results show high product/conversion intent, and that’s why these pages are particularly valuable to rank for.

Now let’s look at the steps we took to create category page body copy for our client.

Our Process for Creating the Category Page Descriptions

With this particular client, we started with a batch of category pages that we prioritized based on organic traffic and revenue potential. When we finished that batch, we moved onto the next batch of priority pages. And we’d work on 10-15 pages at a time.

For each batch of pages, we followed these 3 steps:

  1. Keyword Research and Selection
  2. Keyword Organization
  3. Writing the Copy
  1. Keyword Research and Selection

For each category page, we began our keyword research using Google Search Console and Keyword Planner (although today we typically use Ahrefs). We looked at current page rankings and competitor keywords to identify which phrases looked promising.

We selected keywords based on key criteria including:

  • They showed good traffic potential
  • Searcher intent matched the purpose of that category
  • Keyword difficulty wasn’t too high

  1. Keyword Organization

Once we chose our keywords, we organized them into primary, secondary, and tertiary keywords.

The following keyword type descriptions are from our eCommerce & SEO Copywriting Guide (updated last year) where we write about optimizing product and category pages in depth.

  • Primary Keyword – this keyword has the best combination of relevancy and search volume.
  • Secondary Keyword – this keyword has the 2nd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary keyword.
  • Tertiary Keyword – this keyword has the 3rd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary and secondary keywords.

  1. Writing the Copy

We then wrote 100 to 150 words trying to incorporate the keywords described above naturally within the copy, titles, and headers.

Back then we were recommending 150 words, but more recently we’ve been recommending 75-100 words. This is in part due to wanting to balance SEO with other factors like conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experiencewhich we’ll discuss more below.

For Whom Does this Strategy Work Best?

As of right now, we think this tactic applies to the majority of eCommerce sites.

For clients that have category pages that are ranking well but coming up just short of page one (with page two performers for good related general keywords), we have seen that these sites can really benefit from adding body copy.

We have also seen cases where clients saw no improvements in traffic.

If a client comes to us and their category pages are already ranking well for the general keywords that we would want them to, we may not see much additional benefit from adding descriptive copy to those pages.

And if you’re an extremely large brand like Nike or Home Depot, with a lot of authority, this may not be a high priority tactic to test (along with other common SEO tactics).

But for the vast majority of sites, by signaling to search engines about the contents of the page, the body copy can be both helpful for the user and give a better shot at getting that bump from page two up to page one.

Let’s now take a look at some other tactics we use to help them get that bump.

Other Tactics We Deploy When Optimizing Category Pages

Adding page body copy is just one of a number of other category page SEO tactics we can test. Here are some others that we’ll also analyze and/or use when we think they’re necessary or appropriate.

Descriptive Title Tags

A title tag is the category name and it should be descriptive and specific. For example, if the category page only contains yoga pants for pregnant women, we’d use something like “Pregnant Women’s Yoga Pants” for the title tag instead of just “Yoga Pants.”

Interlinking

Interlinking is the tactic of linking to 1-3 related categories or subcategories contextually within the category description. Sometimes it’s a mix between categories and links to popular products within that category page.

Category Maintenance

This is the practice of making sure we maintain categories by fixing broken links (from other pages) as categories and subcategories are deleted.

Checking Technical Aspects

  • Canonical tags
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Site speed

Reviewing How Filters/Facets Are Currently Working

In an effort to not waste crawl budget spending time on thin pages that are essentially duplicate content, we check to see if filter/facet pages are indexable and crawlable.

Other Considerations for Category Page SEO: Conversion Rate and User Experience

Because context is so important when it comes to SEO, tactics like adding category page body copy is mostly used on a case by case basis, and not just simply done no matter what.

When we consider using this tactic of adding on-page descriptions, we think about balancing SEO with conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experience concerns.

In particular, one of the biggest issues to consider when adding descriptive text to category pages is the risk of conversion rate reductions due to pushing products down the page. At Inflow, since we also have a CRO team, we have the privilege of discussing these issues with them on a case-by-case basis when working on SEO for a client.

To make decisions about balancing CRO with SEO, we think about things like:

  • Are the products going to be pushed below the fold?
  • Will the content take away from the product browsing experience?
  • Is it possible to add the content elsewhere besides the top of the page?
  • Would this page benefit from using “read more” links?
  • Is endless scroll being used (which would prevent us from being able to add content at the bottom)?

And when we consider balancing user experience with SEO, we ask questions like:

  • Could the user benefit from some explanation of the category and/or links to popular products to help them start exploring?
  • Is there helpful content that the site has produced that we could link to for those that need more information before browsing products?

Adding Descriptions to the Bottom vs. the Top of Category Pages

Before we wrap up, I want to touch on the tactic of adding copy to the bottom of category pages, as this topic comes up often in eCommerce SEO. Our overall stance on this topic is that it could insinuate to search engines that the content is not important.

Google has suggested that content this far down the page is deemed unimportant (because if it was important, why would it be at the bottom of the page?). Most readers may not get this far down the page and the content can be seen as over-optimized.

To summarize, for clients with opportunity to improve rankings for category pages, we explore the possibility of adding content if we believe there’s a lot of opportunity, but also keep in mind all of the possible issues mentioned above.

When it comes to the time it takes to see results from tactics like adding category page body copy, it could take as little as a few weeksand on the flip side, it could produce little results.

The key is to always be thoughtfully testing and trying to make improvements to overall site quality.

Are you in eCommerce? You can always reach out to see if this or other SEO tactics would be a good fit for your business. It’s what we do!

Case Study: How Pruning This Online Store’s Blog Boosted Strategic Content Revenue by 64%

For the subject of this case study, one of our clients benefited with a 64% increase in strategic content revenue after we helped to prune their blog content. Read on to learn more!

This content pruning case study demonstrates how deindexing blog content can lead to a better ROI from content overall.

Based on our experience auditing hundreds of online stores, we know that deindexing “dead-weight” pages is a relatively easy method to boost your SEO and revenue.

Most eCommerce stores focus on improving their content and expanding on it to improve their SEO. As you know, this often requires significant time and resources.

It’s counterintuitive, but you can increase the traffic brought in by your existing content without adding new content or improving existing content.

This can be done by deindexing low-performing blog posts.

Pruning low performing content typically requires way less work than adding more content. Thus, pruning is a tactic with a great ROI for eCommerce thanks to the high SEO impact and low investment of time and effort.

In this case study, we’re going to show you:

  • The criteria and process we use to quantitatively evaluate which content to deindex or remove.

  • How to determine which content to keep and allow Google to crawl.

  • How pruning pages for one of our eCommerce clients led to a 64% increase in revenue from their strategic blog content.

In short: If you want your best-performing strategic content to bring in even more traffic and revenue, you’ll want to read this case study. (Or contact us to see whether your site could benefit from a similar SEO strategy.)

The Benefits of Pruning Blog Content

It’s a persistently common misconception that more content is better.

Google released their Penguin update in 2012 to reward sites for having quality content. This was Google’s algorithm adjustment to improve user experience during a time when many websites tried to rank through mass-publishing low-quality content (like those 300 word keyword-stuffed articles).

Despite current best-practices, the idea that more content will always help a site rank hangs around quite stubbornly.

The bottom line is: You can’t assume that all of the pages on your site are helpful. The pages with low stats might be dragging your overall quality down.

In our audits of online stores, we’ve seen many lifts in traffic and revenue following a full content audit of both blog content and content in the store or shop pages. This involves a comprehensive analysis, followed by executing the action steps that will lead to improvement.

Usually, this results in deindexing up to 5%-20% of a store’s product and category pages in order to create better SEO results.

That said, we know that sometimes it takes a small SEO win through pruning a limited amount of content and seeing the results to get the confidence to do more.

For that reason, we’ll occasionally suggest starting with a strategic content audit (sometimes called a blog content audit) to “prove” the results from pruning non-catalog content first.

After seeing the positive and measurable results, most clients go on to perform an audit of catalog content as well.

For the subject of this case studyHomeScienceTools.coma store we assisted, benefited with a 64% increase in strategic content revenue after we helped to prune their blog content.

Pruning Dead Weight: A Real Life Example

HomeScienceTools.com is an online store that provides educational scientific products.

A screenshot of the Home Science Tools homepage

The “Learning Center” blog on this store is hosted on its own subdomain.

We did a content audit of Home Science Tools Blog

We performed a content audit of this section of the site and handed off our recommendations of pages to prune in early August, 2018.

This was followed by pruning roughly 200 pages, or about 10% of total pages from the blog’s subdomain. Starting with the worst quality offenders.

These pruned pages had little or no organic traffic, total traffic, conversions, and links pointing to them. These metric factors are the basic criteria for what constitutes an underperforming page.

The results after removing this blog content?

Pruning has provided an increase in organic keywords for Home Science Tools
Rankings went down very slightly for HomeScienceTools.com primary domain initially, then went to spike up quite a bit in the 90 days after pruning (a typical pattern we see) – with a continuous increase.

Clicks and impressions to the store reflected the upward trend in rankings:

There has been a significant upward trend in clicks and impressions since pruning, as show on this graph.

The stats after pruning blog content from the subdomain?

  • Organic sessions to content grew 104%
  • Transactions grew 102%
  • Strategic content revenue grew 64%

What HomeScienceTools.com Had to Say

We followed up to see what this store’s impression of the process was.

According to Brandy Hansen, marketing director at Home Science Tools, doing this audit was part of a general track of continuous audits and improvements to the website.

On the subject of continuous improvement, Hansen also stressed that they were seeing results continue to trend up past these cited numbers. In her own words:

“At Home Science Tools, we continually focus on improvement what needs to be done to take our service, business and offerings, to the next level. This audit was timely, necessary and strategic; it helped us not only appropriately remove underperforming assets but synergistically brought together what we needed in order to escalate our organic growth.”

In other words: this was a crucial part of a larger overall growth framework for improving performance, and it provided tangible and significant results.

A full-on audit of the site’s vast amount of catalog content could yield similar but larger performance improvements.

However, even limiting the scope of pruning to the blog content alone allowed the best content on the site to stand out to Google in terms of quality…and get recognized by the algorithm with better rankings.

Link Equity Distribution

One reason that pruning low performing content works is because of its impact on link equity distribution.

The big idea here is: if a page doesn’t bring you value through total traffic, conversions, or links pointing to it, then it’s dragging down the potential benefits provided by quality pages that do carry their own weight.

In that case, pruning the low performing content can (and should) be seen as a business decision to stop flow of resources (link equity) to a part of the business that doesn’t bring value.

What is Link Equity?

Link equity is a search engine ranking factor predicated on how links distribute value and authority to pages.

When thinking about link equity, I liken it to having a set amount of money in a bank account.

You can distribute a link’s equity any number of ways, but the more pages you distribute equity to, the smaller the amount transferred to each page.

Websites that distribute their link equity over a smaller number of pages tend toward more strength and value per page, and thus a higher quality overall.

Many sites unintentionally dilute their link equity over many low quality pages. A content audit and pruning helps to optimize link equity distribution and improve performance.

How to Identify and Remove Low Performing Pages

While you will be quantitatively evaluating pages according to their metrics and pruning them, there’s more than one way to prune.

Actual removal is generally better for SEO (for crawl budget reasons), but sometimes the content warrants a “noindex” tag.

There are going to be some low performing pages that meet most of the criteria for pruning but provide other value to your business.

For example, tag pages on a blog where categories are also present, because they help with navigating a site:

Inflow homepage

Example of a blog category / tag page on our own website listing published case studies.

In cases like tag pages that provide usability or some other value outside of their SEO and revenue metrics, a “noindex” tag reduces their weight from your site’s SEO while still allowing the page to remain usable outside of the search engine results.

The Strategic Content Audit Process

When we perform a content audit for client sites, part of that larger process is a sub-process specific to auditing strategic content.

The criteria are quite detailed but also systematic and easy to follow. You can get started with this process by downloading our content audit toolkit.

The outline of this process is:

  1. Make a copy of our “Strategic Content Audit Template” Google Sheet.
  2. Export strategic content URLs and their data to Google Sheets
  3. Determine Action and Strategy
    4. Look for Pages to Prune and Consolidate
  4. Look for Pages to Keep As-Is
  5. Look for Pages to Improve
  6. Prune Outdated and Off-Topic Content

Where should you draw the line on what to prune and what to keep?

A good general guideline is to prune pages with little to no organic traffic, little to no conversion data, and little to no links from external websites by removing them entirely.

Pages that don’t match this criteria but have other intrinsic value to your business or customers, such as blog tag pages, should remain on the site because they enhance user experience but cause SEO issues when overdone and indexed.

In these “keep” cases, you can either deindex the page or improve it if it needs to be indexed. While tag pages don’t usually need to remain indexed, the content that should be indexed are FAQ, About, and Author pages, and you can mark those pages for improvement if they aren’t performing well.

Results and Impact on Traffic and Revenue

We perform this strategic content audit process very often for clients.

As mentioned, it’s part of a general site audit where we find adjustments and improvements to make.

For clients who aren’t ready to do a full-on audit, we’ll often recommend to get your feet wet with a strategic content audit and track the results.

What tends to happen is a noticeable improvement from the strategic content audit (as in this case study). That proof helps clients become comfortable with pruning their low-performing catalog content, too, to create similar results.

A site with over 500 pages can benefit greatly from pruning. Generally, a bigger site will see bigger results from this process as the results become magnified by the size of the website.

To show you other cases of amazing results brought on by auditing and deindexing content, look at these case studies for further reference:

Conclusion

Regular marketing audits are essential to running any online business. Auditing content should be a regular audit for online stores, as eCommerce stores often deal with index bloat from too many low quality pages.

Dipping your toe into content auditing by pruning strategic content is a great place to start if you aren’t ready to do a full-on audit of your online store.

We have experience from helping hundreds of online stores perform this and other SEO audits. If you’d like to see how we can help, please contact us about auditing your site today.

Google Shopping: How to Set Up, Optimize, and Execute Your Campaigns

In this guide, we’re diving into Google Shopping campaign setup and execution. Here we’ll teach you the nuts and bolts of setting up, optimizing, and executing your ads campaigns.

In this guide, we’re going to share the strategies and tactics we use to help our clients set up and run top-performing Google Shopping campaigns. We’ve previously written case studies and strategy articles (which we link to below) around Google Shopping, but in this piece, we’re diving into campaign setup and execution and linking to our other resources for readers looking for more detail on any particular topic.

Google Shopping consists of two platforms—Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Google Merchant Center. Google Merchant Center is where your product data feed lives and Google Ads is where you can build and optimize your campaigns, set your budget and adjust your bid strategy.  

Here’s what we’ll cover to teach you the nuts and bolts of setting up, optimizing, and executing your Google Shopping ads campaigns:

(Who We Are: At Inflow, we work with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. You can talk to one of our Google Ads specialists to see how we can help you increase ROAS. Get started now.)

What Are Google Shopping Ads

Google Shopping campaigns—also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs)—are somewhat of a hybrid between dynamic search and dynamic remarketing ads. You upload your product feed to Google and then Google automatically displays your ads based on searches it deems relevant. You might think this is bad since you aren’t creating the ads and bidding on keywords. However, if you are doing the work of optimizing your data feed frequently, this can work in your favor as you are showing up for only the most relevant searches at a fraction of the cost of PPC search ads.

In fact, Google Shopping campaigns drive 76.4% of all retail search ad spend, and contribute to 85% of all clicks.

Say you sell Levi’s blue jeans. While there is nothing wrong with this text ad per se, it does lack most of the purchasing triggers like high-quality product images, product descriptions, and customer reviews.

A Google search text ad for Levi's jeans.

Whereas with Google Shopping ads, it looks and feels like you are on an eCommerce listing page already. You have all the info: images, price, review ratings, details, size information, etc.

So you can browse and find the one you want instead of two text ads offering little information. In addition, the ad takes you directly to the product you see as well, instead of a more generic landing page. So, you send traffic further down the funnel and decrease the amount of clicks to final purchase.

Optimizing your data feed allows you to show up for the long-tail keywords with higher buying intent.

Speaking of relevant, when you take the time to optimize your data feed, you can make sure you show up for the long-tail keywords that are the most likely to lead to a sale (such as Levi’s men’s black jeans, size 38) and deliver a shopping ad that specifically takes traffic to a jeans product page with that size and color.

Creating Your Google Shopping Campaign

Choose Your New Campaign Goal  

The first step is choosing your goal or objective such as:

  • Sales
    • If you are first starting out, we’d recommend choosing this goal. If you want to change it later on, it’s easy to adjust.  
  • Leads (and showcase shopping ads)
  • Website Traffic
  • No goal

After selecting “Sales” you can then proceed to “Shopping,” choose your merchant center, and finally select the “Standard Shopping” campaign option to proceed. The next part of the campaign setup includes items like geo targets, budget, bidding strategy, campaign priority and device specific bid adjustments. (We’ll cover these shortly.)

Set Up Your Ad and Product Groups  

You will now be able to create ad groups and product groups. This should be influenced by your business, product performance, as well as your data feed. One quick way to start is to create multiple ad groups, each of which covers a category of products.

For instance, shoes vs pants vs shirts etc. Make sure to pull out the appropriate category and exclude the rest. To make sure you have your bases covered, we recommend having a very low bid, catch-all ad group as well (in case you forget to pull out a specific category).

You’ll want to adjust this approach as you collect data, incorporate more insights and take advantage of custom labels for attributes such as product margins, seasonality, sales, etc.

Pro Tip:  If you want to brainstorm additional campaigns, ad groups, or product group structures, check out this article.

Bidding

While automated bidding can be effective as you can set it to either maximize clicks, enhance CPC, or target ROAS, it can also lead to some wasteful spending if not managed properly. You also need to reach a minimum conversion threshold to use many of the automated strategies. It’s usually best to start with manual bidding until you have a better idea of how the products will perform (conversions, conversion rate, ROAS levels). Then based on performance, you can test out automated bidding more selectively.

In addition to starting with manual bids, it’s a good idea to review the “Products” report for your campaign regularly. Filtering products with low or zero impressions can help you identify opportunities to bid higher on products with little data. You can also filter based on product status (in case products are getting little-to-no impressions due to warnings or disapprovals), which you’ll need to fix in Merchant Center.

You can also build campaigns that specifically target seasonal products (for example, snow blowers) and implement geographic bid modifiers for regions where your products are more relevant such as in North Dakota and Minnesota. By doing so, you can maximize your exposure in those regions while maintaining a more cost-effective bid in other regions (or removing them entirely).

You can also do this with device bid modifiers, as they tend to perform at different levels. In general, while you can use bid modifiers to increase or decrease bids, you can also use them to remove a device/region/audience entirely, particularly if you have to be budget conscious.

Pro Tip: Before you start running any campaigns, make sure your ad account is properly linked to Google Analytics and you have set up eCommerce conversion tracking.

In addition, it can be easy to get carried away with all the segmentation, which we’re typically fans of! The big thing to keep in mind, however, is that granularity should be dictated by volume of data as well.

For instance, if a product category is getting few impressions (5000/month), it probably doesn’t make sense to group this one in its own campaign, which has multiple campaigns based on regions and device types. That’s overkill, unless you have all the hours in the day to manage it 😉

Set Up Promotions

One way to increase conversions is to run promotions. There are four types of promotions you can run for specific products including:

  • Offering a monetary discount (ex: $10 off)
  • Offering a percentage discount (ex: 10% off)
  • Including a free gift with purchase (ex: Buy one pair of jeans and get a free pair of socks)
  • Free shipping

For example, say you sell wooden desks, you could offer $20 off to anyone who sees your ad on Google.

An example of a desk for sale that has a $20 off coupon if you see their ad in Google.

Enable Product Ratings

Another tip for increasing sales is to enable product ratings, which allows customers to rank your products from 1 to 5 stars.

To enable product ratings, you need to apply within your Google Merchant Center account. This feature is open to anyone with 50 or more customer reviews. In your application process, you’ll have to upload your review feed or link to one of the many third-party review aggregators.

Smart Shopping Campaigns

Smart Shopping campaigns are fully automated campaigns powered by Google AI and machine learning algorithms. You set your desired goal target ROAS (so be sure to group products that perform at similar ROAS levels in these campaigns) and then Google automagically surfaces the most relevant products to potential customers across search, display, YouTube and Gmail.

While these campaigns may save you a ton of time, we wouldn’t recommend throwing your entire product catalog and ad campaigns to Google AI.

For one, Google optimizes for transaction history. If your eCommerce store doesn’t have a lot of data, this can lead to subpar optimizations. In general, you have little-to-no control outside of choosing the products and setting the ROAS target. You can’t add negative keywords. You can’t create product-specific bids in case you’re more concerned with outranking a competitor. You can’t add any bid modifier for device type, etc.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is, you can’t really do too much analysis either, no search queries or network placements to determine what specifically is working. All that said, it’s still worth testing.

It is for these reasons that we recommend starting small with only one ad group, letting it run for at least 15 days and then analyzing the results.

Set Up Remarketing for Your Google Shopping Campaigns

Another way to increase sales is through remarketing. There are two types of remarketing campaigns — Dynamic Remarketing and Remarketing Lists for Search/Shopping Ads.

  • Dynamic Remarketing is display ads that follow shoppers across the web on the Google Display Network. These ads also create dynamic image sets of products people have viewed or added to cart (i.e. YouTube Ads and Google Display Ads).
  • RLSA—Remarketing Lists for Search/Shopping Ads—to use this targeting, you build audience lists either via Google Ads or Google Analytics based on pages someone visited on your site, time on site, specific goals you create, sources of traffic, etc. Most segments you create in Google Analytics to do analysis can be turned into an audience. Once you build this audience, you can attach it to either a Search or Shopping campaign and add a corresponding bid modifier (or leave it in observation mode just to collect data). From here, if someone meets the criteria of your audience list AND searches for one of your targeted keywords (or product), you can decide to bid more aggressively on them, or you can even create a search campaign that only targets this audience and deliver custom messaging.

When you see how effective remarketing ads can be, it can be tempting to go all-in. However, we recommend paying attention to ad frequency (particularly for dynamic remarketing in the display network) as ad fatigue is a real problem. You could end up turning off potential customers. For example, Monday.com use of YouTube ads are a great example of remarketing overkill.

Follow the Google Merchant Center Guidelines

Google Merchant Center has a ton of guidelines and not all of them are obvious. Some of the biggest mistakes we see our clients make are:

  • Not having a returns and refunds policy on their site (or hiding it).
  • Promoting pre-orders or products that are out of stock (Note: This is why optimizing your data feed regularly is so important.).
  • Data mismatches between the product feed and the website. For instance, the price may not match, or the image may not be correct. A dynamic feed solution can help deal with this stuff before it becomes a problem.

Optimizing Your Google Shopping Campaign

To increase sales, make sure your campaigns are set up effectively. There are several tactics you can use with product groups, priority settings, and negative keywords.

Set Up Product Groups to Increase Sales

Instead of manually building ads and bidding on keywords as you have with text ads, with Google Shopping campaigns, you have product groups.

You can then divide your products into groups based on 8 categories:

  • Item ID
  • Brand
  • Category
  • Product Type
  • Custom Labels
  • Condition
  • Channel
  • Channel Exclusivity

If you are not sure where to start, structure your ad/product groups by product type. This gives you more flexibility to optimize your campaigns and adjust your bidding strategy.

How you structure campaigns should be catered to your eCommerce business’s objectives, seasonality, margins, etc.  For example, if you have product-specific margins, then you can create a custom label that tells you what your margin (percent or dollar value) is for each product, and group products into those tiers so you can optimize towards profitability. If you have a blanket margin, then you can be a little more flexible with your setup.

Use Negative Keywords and Campaign Priority Settings to Increase Conversions

An additional way to increase sales is through negative keyword lists and adjusting your campaign priority settings.

Campaign Priority Settings

There are three levels for any campaign—high, medium and low. Google will serve the campaign with the highest priority.

Negative Keywords

Campaign/Ad Group negative keywords will prevent your products from appearing in certain Google searches for that campaign or ad group. These can be exact, phrase, or broad match.

  • Exact Match– only the exact keyword you select will be excluded. If a search query contains more terms before or after keyword you select, it will not be excluded.
  • Phrase Match– only the exact keyword you select will be excluded in addition to the search terms that contain your keyword in that exact order with any terms that precede or follow your keyword.
  • Broad Match– as long as every word in your negative keyword can be found in the search term, in ANY order, it will be excluded.

We recommend updating your negative keyword list at least once a week. Some good negative keywords to include are any search terms with low buyer intent.

A more advanced tactic is using a tiered strategy. Say you have an online business selling Men’s Levi’s Boss Jeans, you can use a tiered strategy using campaign priority settings and negative keywords to bid higher on specific long-tail search queries and lower on more generic ones.

So if you know that when someone searches for “jeans,” they convert at a low rate, but after performing analysis, you find that when the search term contains “Levi” in addition to “jeans” it performs at a higher ROAS, and when it also contains the term “Boss” on top of the brand name, it does even better, then you have the opportunity for 3 campaign tiers.

  • The first campaign (tier 1) will be high priority and low bid—intended to capture general search terms. You can use negative keywords to remove brand and style terms.
  • The second campaign (tier 2) will be medium priority and medium bid—and will catch all brand and style terms to start with. However, you will want to use negative keywords to remove style/model terms (like “boss”) so that this tier will only capture brand terms without the style modifier.
  • The third campaign (tier 3) will be low priority and highest bid—intended to catch whatever you negated from the prior tiers, including the combination of brand + style terms.

Once you secure the proper negatives in place, then you can focus on tiers. However, be careful when you optimize. There is always the possibility that you bid too low in tier one and general terms go to tier 2, which you’re bidding more aggressively on.

Also, if you exclude a product in tier 1 but not the other tiers, that product’s general terms will go to the other (higher bid) tiers. So you have to make sure your campaigns are set up with the same products and that you keep a close eye on them.

There are 3 tiers: tier one (high priority, low bid), tier 2 (medium priority, medium bid), and tier 3 (low priority, high bid).

Analyze Google Shopping Campaign Ad Data Regularly

It is always important to review your ad data on a regular basis. There are several segments you can review in Google Ads, and there’s endless performance data you can review using Google Analytics.

Google Ads can help you understand traffic potential (search impression share), competition (auction insights) and so much more. Google Analytics is excellent for reviewing other engagement metrics, attribution (how does your channel play with all the others?), etc. You should use your findings to:

  • Update Negative Keywords regularly
  • Analyze conversion rates by product group (such as by product id, product category or product type)
  • Perform geographic and device analysis
  • After collecting enough data, test bidding strategies including dayparting.

This will help you steadily increase ad performance over time.

Conclusion

In summary, these are some ways to improve Google Shopping ads performance, lower cost per click, and generate more sales.

Note: You can talk to one of our Google Shopping experts about how we can help you improve your ad performance by reaching out here.

16 AdWords (Google Ads) eCommerce Strategies to Maximize ROAS

Discover our favorite strategies for improving AdWords (Google Ads) eCommerce performance covering Google Shopping Ads and more. Find out the exact strategy used to maximize ROAS for our clients.

In this piece we’re going to take a systematic look at how we optimize Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) eCommerce campaigns to find the best performing strategies.

We’ll be covering a total of 16 different strategies that apply for Google Shopping ads and Smart Shopping Campaigns, Dynamic Remarketing, Search Ads, In-Market Audiences and finally Dynamic Search Ads.

For each Google Ad type, we’ll be covering:

  • The core strategies we use to get the best return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Use-case scenarios where we’ve seen good results from implementing these strategies.
  • Some of the newest features and product offerings — and how to make the most of them.

Because these strategies all fall inside two of Google’s main product offerings, we’ve split this guide up into two parts:

Part 1: Google Shopping ads

We’ll walk you through 7 different strategies that bring the best ROAS for eCommerce companies. We’ve gone into a lot of depth explaining how you should be building out and optimizing your shopping ads from scratch.

Part 2: Google Search ads

Here we cover 9 of our favorite internal strategies for maximizing ROAS from search ads. We’ll also answer the question: does my company need to run search ads in tandem with Shopping Ads?

  1. Google Shopping Campaigns (or Product Listing Ads/PLA’s)
  2. Google Search ads

First we’ll start with a quick review of the different Google Ads platforms and their use cases. If you know these already, feel free to skip ahead using the links above to get straight to the strategies of choice.

(Who We Are: At Inflow, we work with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. You can talk to one of our Google Ads specialists to see how we can help you increase ROAS. Get started now.)

What’s the Best Google Ads Platform for Selling My Products?

You’re probably already using Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) to sell your products, but if you’re not, it’s important to have a bit of background info on the Google Ads ecosystem.

Google Shopping ads (also known as Google Product Listing Ads, or PLA’s) are probably the best fit if you’re a B2C selling products online.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Google Shopping ads are useful if you're a B2C selling products online.

All you need to participate here is a product feed and an eCommerce website.

Google Search ads is perhaps the most well-known of the Ads products due to its longevity and it’s where your text ads are displayed when they match keywords you specify.

Search Ads is different to Shopping Ads because of the way the platform operates. Search Ads gives you more control over keywords, and in turn, shows text ads within your Google search results.

Google Search ads give more control over keywords and are displayed with text ads.

Shopping Ads, on the other hand, are based upon your Product Feed — which needs careful optimization to target the right searches. The product feed contains all the necessary information relating to your product: brands, quantities, sizes, colors, and so on.

This renders a shopping-product ad within the Google SERPS, as well as the relevant pricing and review information.

If you’re a big online retailer, you’ll probably be investing most of your paid ad spend on a mixture of Google Shopping ads and Google Search ads. Participating in both platforms often leads to enhanced product visibility across the customer buyer’s entire journey, from research through to purchase.

This is key when you consider how the customer’s research and purchase journey spans across multiple devices and is made up of many micro-moments — even if you’re only running search ads to cover branded queries.

Our Tried-and-Tested Google Shopping Strategies for Maximizing ROAS

Here at Inflow, we’ve helped hundreds of online retailers from all kinds of industries to maximize their return on ad-spend (ROAS). This is the number one goal afterall.

What follows are 8 of the strategies that have worked best for us on Google Shopping ads over the years.

Note: Do You Trust the Reliability of Your Google Analytics Data?

It goes without saying that you need to be 100% sure of the accuracy of any analytics data before you start investing in Google Ads — or in any other kind of marketing activity.

We always spend time digging into Google Analytics, or whichever reporting tool is being used, to ensure the historic data looks clean and there are no nasty surprises.

If we can’t measure performance to a good degree of certainty, we can’t measure the growth we’re about to deliver. (Then we can’t create case studies like this one.)

Having a reporting tool is not a prerequisite, but we love it when a client comes to us with at least 6 months historic data to delve through. (A full 12 months of data is even better when you’re in a seasonal industry.)

1 – Our 3 Tiered PLA Structure: To Bid More Aggressively on Specific Search Phrases to Maximize ROAS

This is by far our favorite way to achieve the best ROAS from a PLA campaign.

In a nutshell, the 3-tiered campaign structure allows you to focus your spend on the search phrases that drive your sales — something which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

There’s no point wasting spend on non-performers: you want to focus on Search Queries that drive the highest ROAS.

Below we’ve listed the 3 step approach we take when building out campaigns using the “Negative Keyword Waterfall” approach:

Step 1: Review Your Historic Search Volume to Find the Search Terms That Drive Your Revenue  

You need to find the search query themes that generate the most transactions for your company.  

The goal here is to create two groups; one that has the high converting search terms, and another with the low – medium converting search terms.

The best performing search queries group will likely contain several branded terms, with specific model names, SKU codes, part numbers, and other searches that show a high purchase intent.

Step 2: Begin with 3 Shopping Campaigns — Tiers 1, 2 & 3 with the Required Priority Levels

We will setup these 3 campaigns with a shared budget, and each with a different priority level.

(Note: When learning this strategy, remember that in this context, priority setting doesn’t reflect the group’s priority, it’s just the order in which Google will cycle-through the campaigns).

Tier 1 will have the highest campaign priority setting, which indicates to Google that search queries should start here.

This tier, like all the others, contains every product available on the site but with many negative search phrases applied (which we’ll come to shortly).

In tier 2 (or campaign 2), we’ll adjust the priority setting to medium and this is where the average to medium performing search terms live.

In tier 3 (or campaign 3), we’ll adjust the priority setting to “low” and this is where the best converting search terms exist.

There are 3 tiers: tier one (high priority, low bid), tier 2 (medium priority, medium bid), and tier 3 (low priority, high bid).

Step 3: Build and Apply the Negative Keyword Lists

In tier 1, we will be applying negative keywords based on the search queries we want active in tier 2 and 3.

By adding these negative keywords to tier 1, it prevents them from landing in tier 1 and pushes them to the next tier in the funnel — Tier 2.

At tier 2, we again add negative keywords but this time only the best performing search terms.

At tier 3, we don’t need any negative keywords applied as any of those lower value search phrases should have been filtered out already from tier 1 or 2. This was the ultimate goal —  to be able to exclude those lesser converting searches and to bid more aggressively on all searches making it to tier 3.

(Note: We’ve seen some agencies get a little zealous with the amount of tiers they create and it becomes very difficult to maintain — the smallest change in any campaign can completely wreck the entire system. For that reason, we typically keep it to a 3 tier setup).

2 – Identify Your Store’s Best Sellers So You Know Where to Prioritize Your Budget

One of the easiest ways to grow your ROAS is to do a deep audit of your Google Ad campaign to identify historic best sellers — then bid higher accordingly.

You can combine this strategy with the tiered approach outlined above in strategy #1, where you bid your best sellers up on the product or product group level.

Take a look at your historic data (if it’s available) and identify those top selling products.

You can also use the likes of Google Analytics to find best sellers and eCommerce conversion rates, plus the relevant ROAS/ROI metrics.

3 – Regularly Audit and Optimize Your Google Product Feed for Better Overall Performance

If you take away just one thing from this piece, it should be this: your Google Product Feed is essential for succeeding with Google Shopping ads.

Auditing your feed is one of the first things we do when working with a client. This is a vital part of the campaign as it’s a vital cog in the Shopping ads algorithm, so it deserves a lot of attention.

We recently wrote a more detailed piece on how to optimize your Google Product Feed that explains exactly why and how you should be optimizing your feed and covers how to setup and execute your campaigns.

In short, you need to ensure your feed contains all the required product information. If not, you risk a) not showing up when people are searching for your products, and b) being charged a higher CPC to show your ads.

Be sure to keep your product title names relevant without keyword-stuffing.

It’s also vital to keep product titles relevant without keyword-stuffing. This not only helps to enhance visibility for those high intent searches, but it also helps to boost CTR from the ads.

4 – Our Mobile-Optimized Strategy for Improved eCommerce ROAS

Our own research has confirmed that mobile shoppers behave differently than desktop shoppers — no surprises there. The actual queries that convert on mobile aren’t necessarily the same ones people use from desktop.

But many eCommerce teams don’t have a specific approach when it comes to mobile users, aside from reducing mobile bids — which can be a wasteful approach.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Segment mobile customers

We repeat the search query analysis as mentioned in strategy #1 to segment mobile customers so we can determine a historic mobile-only ROAS.

If we find a gap here, we setup our own tiers with the appropriate negative keywords for mobile users. In the end, we may have 6 tiers setup for a client; 3 for desktop and 3 for mobile.

This beats simply adjusting bids on mobile or desktop. It’s a more holistic and strategic approach to optimising for the customer’s device at that moment, and for the entirety of the customer’s journey.

We find it pays to go into much depth with this.

5 – Seasonality Is Often an Untapped Opportunity (Find Those Crucial Periods for Your Client & Bid Aggressively)

If our client’s in a very seasonal industry, it’s crucial to keep time of year in mind and bid on products/product groups within the tiered structure accordingly.

For example, you should bid higher on flip flops in the summer and snow boots in the winter—but the tiers will remain the same.

By bidding higher on the best converting products in summer, you can maximize ROAS during these peak months when there’s a bigger search demand.

And during those quieter periods in winter, we’ll reduce bids but ensure we’ve still got a good presence — so we often find ourselves bidding differently depending on the time of year.

Take one of our wholesale retailers as an example. They operate in the back to school vertical, so understandably they get peak traffic ahead of the new school year. Search behavior changes in the lead up to these months.

We want to ensure we’re visible during periods of high search activity, whilst ensuring budget for the year isn’t exhausted.

We’ve seen this work across a range of seasonal verticals, and it isn’t something that we’ve noticed many other agencies or in-house teams doing.

(Note: It’s important to fully understand the 3 tiered approach before diving into this strategy or the mobile specific one. The inventory listed will need to be the same across tiers, otherwise you may experience leakage!)

6 – Let Google Optimize (With Supervision!) When There’s No Obvious Tiered Structure or Search Query Tiers

Smart Shopping Campaigns utilize a mix of your product feed and Google’s machine learning to take care of campaigns on your behalf.

We like to bundle any products into a Smart Shopping campaign when they don’t necessarily belong to another tier as explained in strategy #1 above.

These are the smaller products, maybe those lower-priced accessories, which can be left for Google to deal with. Google will then optimize for best-fit based on transaction history: but it doesn’t always mean Google will do the best possible job.

We’ve witnessed occasions where there wasn’t much transaction data for Google to use. Then when we saw a couple of mobile transactions occur Google went very aggressive on mobile — and caused ROAS to plummet.

In this case it would’ve been best to wait until there was more significant transaction data available before leaving it in the hands of them to automate.

7 – Using Dynamic Retargeting to Boost Your PLA’s eCommerce ROAS

As annoying as some people might find them, retargeting ads do convert, and extremely well.

Over time they’ve been shown to have a great ROI so they really work well to supplement your search marketing strategy.

The dynamic retargeting feature from Google Shopping enables you to automatically show ads to people who came to your site without completing a purchase.

It makes use of your product feed to determine the products they display and can intelligently group these together based on what’s likely to convert best.

Using dynamic remarketing is a fairly straightforward strategy to skyrocket eCommerce performance — it’s a must for any online retailer.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Setup dynamic retargeting ads to close the deal
An example of a dynamic retargeting ad

The Best eCommerce Strategies for Google Search Ads

We’ve covered 7 Google Shopping Campaign strategies above in quite some depth.

But whilst it’s easy to forget, running Google Search ads in tandem with Shopping Ads is a good strategy to cover all your bases.

Here are 9 more essential strategies we use to maximize eCommerce brands ROAS from search ads:

8 – How to Best Structure Your Google Ads Account for More Granular Control (And a Better ROAS!)

Often the best way to setup your client’s account is to actually just mimic their own navigation menu.

They’ve gone through the effort to build it out the way they have — so it’s probably been made that way for good reason.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Structure your Google ads account in a similar way to how they setup their own website navigation.

If they’ve got a top-level page that contains a category of products (eg shoes) and then sub-categories that contain brands (adidas, nike) then it probably makes sense to have a shoe category, and individual brand-specific ad groups within your Google Ads account.

Setting up in the way above saves a bit of time when it comes to structuring the account, and will make budget control easy too.

With this approach you can also get as granular as you like when it comes to ad group and keyword grouping.

It will also help when other people on your team need to dive in to manage the account, as well as keeping things clean for the reporting team later.

9 – Deep Link to Best-Sellers Within Text Ads & Make It Easier for Your Customers to Checkout

Often within your store’s categories, there will be a handful of outstanding, top selling products.

Instead of directing customers to an individual category page it will often make sense to take them direct to the best selling product page instead — that’s usually where they end up anyway.

You could easily have a few text ads setup on rotate which deep-link to a handful of the top-selling products, and simply monitor which ads bring in the most conversions.

You can run A/B tests on this in the background and keep a close eye on the products that really push the needle on your ROI.

This makes the path-to-purchase cleaner for the customer, and helps to improve your Google Quality Score, too.

In this instance, the keyword/search intent, ad text, and landing page experience is all well aligned and optimized.

In the cases where there is no clear best-seller, it would make good sense to direct the customer to the most relevant category page instead. This approach is often used when bidding on the less specific, short-tail keywords.

10 – Have an Industry-Specific (But Agile!) eCommerce Approach and Test Everything

The strategy we use at Inflow for running Google Search Ads will ultimately depend on the industry the client operates in, and of course the eCommerce platform they use.

We’re forced to tailor our approach to suit our clients (and more pertinent: their shoppers) so when it comes to strategy we’re always flexible to changing our tactics to suit what works best.

It’s important to have an agile approach when it comes to eCommerce marketing since things change quickly and the search landscape is constantly evolving. You need to always be open to new opportunities and test everything!

We like to use Google Experiments within Google Ads to test how variations of campaign setups perform versus our original campaign, helping to shape our ongoing strategies.

11 – Don’t Neglect Any Google Ad Extensions, Especially Price Extensions

We always ensure that every possible extension has been built out when a campaign goes live. Setting up all eligible extensions will give you a better Quality Score on your account and enhances your chances of taking up more valuable real estate within the SERPs.

The obvious choice when it comes to eCommerce clients has to be the Price Extension. This will highlight the product price within the text ad when someone’s shopping for your product.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Be sure to utilize the 'price' extension because it adds more value to your site.

Ensure your account has the following extensions active and optimised:

  • Callout extensions
  • Structured Snippets
  • Promotion Snippets (essential for Black Friday and other sales)
  • Sitelink Extensions

12 – Product SKU’s, Part-Numbers, and Model Numbers Are a PPC Specialist’s Dream

When running search ads, you’ll want to bid heavily on product SKU and other identifier codes, model numbers, replacement part keywords, and so on.

Whilst these might not have a huge search volume when compared to some other non-brand search queries, they’re going to have a super high conversion rate.

Someone entering a search query for “washing machine” or even “best washing machine” is probably going to be fairly high in the purchase process. They’re probably still shopping around and trying to come to a decision about the particular model they want.

But what about someone searching for a specific washing machine model, like “Samsung WW70K5413UX”? You should be throwing your money at Google for that type of search query.

We often scrape our clients product feeds to get a list of these numbers or SKU’s before using Dynamic Insertion within the Headline of the text ad and the Display URL to help boost CTR, as well as using keyword level Final URLs to send the user to the exact product they are searching for.  

13 – Ongoing Scheduled Maintenance and Optimization Is a Must for All Google Ad Campaigns

Let’s say your ROAS is ticking over nicely at 300% each month. While that’s great, it’s not to say it’s bringing in the most possible revenue.

You shouldn’t neglect campaigns even if they’ve got a great ROAS (that 300% could all be based on a few branded search terms and nothing else that’s going to drive your sales).

Ongoing scheduled maintenance and optimization is vital to ensuring your search strategy doesn’t get left to stagnate.

From regularly reviewing the ‘Search Insights’ report and checking in on the ‘Search Impression Share’, while verifying that rogue searches aren’t eating up your budget — there’s always plenty to do.

eCommerce Ads Strategy: Regularly review your reports for accurate information on how your ads are running.

This goes back to strategies #4 and #5: mobile search behavior is different than desktop search, and seasonality is an important factor to consider too.

Checking how those two variants might affect your search campaigns on an ongoing basis wouldn’t go amiss — especially if you’ve got an old account that has gone a bit stale.

14 – In-Market Audiences Offers Keyword Flexibility (And More Aggressive Bidding Strategies)

In-market audiences can be used within your Search Campaigns to ensure your ads are being seen by a wider audience than normal with a different matching criteria applied.

The in-market audiences to choose from can be viewed from this downloadable Google resource and consists of groups of people who are supposedly in the market for a particular product or service.

Let’s take an example of an online retailer of car wheels and accessories. If somebody searches for a product that is similar to one that the car retailer sells, Google will place them in a particular audience group.

Be sure to target a specific audience with your ads.

As an advertiser, you can then choose to target that particular audience group with your own search ads.

It sometimes makes sense to adjust bids according to your audiences, upping them when they match a particular, high-intent group.

It can also give you flexibility when it comes to your keyword strategy — you don’t need to be quite as granular, because you know this person is (in theory) already interested in what you’re selling.

15 – Dynamic Search Ads Suit Clients with a Huge Product Inventory or No Accessible Product Feed

Dynamic Search Ads are perfect for those who have a lot of inventory but not a lot of time to list everything.

The penultimate Google Ads type we’ll share is our strategy for is Dynamic Search Ads.

This is Google’s offering for those with a massive inventory of products to sell, perhaps without the time required to list individual ads for each product.

Using this method, Google’s ad crawler will scan your entire website and create ads automatically based upon what it finds.

That might be a bit too much control for some, but for others it can be a real time-saver.

For us, we love to use it as a tool to create keyword lists in the unlikely case we may have missed some good search terms during our own keyword discovery phase.

(Note: If you do opt to make use of a Dynamic Search Campaign, you’ll want to ensure you’ve added your normal search keywords as negatives to ensure there’s no overlap.)

Ultimately, Dynamic Ads can be a good low-budget and minimal fuss campaign set to run in the background with low ongoing maintenance required.

16 – Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAG’s) Can Reduce CPC and Grow ROAS

Last but not least, Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAG’s) can be a really simple but incredibly effective way to push out the ROAS.

Using historic conversion data, you can quite quickly identify the few keywords which are bringing in most of your revenue (see the 80/20 rule).

These keywords should be listed in their own individual ad groups (1 keyword per group often gives the best results here) with exact match targeting enabled.

Ad texts are then optimised to match that specific keyword, which helps give a great quality score to Google, and hopefully generates a good CTR too.

In your other Ad groups, you’ll want to ensure exact match negative keywords are applied for the terms above to ensure there’s no overlap which may lead to bidding against yourself in the Ads Auction.

Often by making use of the SKAG strategy, you will see a reduction in CPC, and over time you can push more and more spend into the campaign; you’ll want to cover as much of the search demand as you can.

As with all of the strategies listed here, you’ll want to play around and test the above before you jump right in and make any drastic, lasting changes.

Understanding Google Webmaster Tools

As much as you might think Google is making it hard to get traffic, they really aren’t. They have tools like Google Webmaster tools and Google Analytics. The difference between the two are the fact that Google Analytics measures your traffic, and Google Webmaster Tools tells you how Google actually sees your website. This article…

The post Understanding Google Webmaster Tools appeared first on Diamond Website Conversion.

google-webmaster-tools-logo-thumbnailAs much as you might think Google is making it hard to get traffic, they really aren’t. They have tools like Google Webmaster tools and Google Analytics. The difference between the two are the fact that Google Analytics measures your traffic, and Google Webmaster Tools tells you how Google actually sees your website.

This article is written to help you understand Google Webmaster Tools better. In fact, this article is part of a series, so there will be other parts to check out so you can become more familiar with Google Webmaster Tools.

Understanding Google Webmaster Tools

As mentioned before, Google Webmaster Tools is designed for you to see how the search engine (Google) sees your website. Consider it kind of like the doctor promoting healthy search for websites. Some of the results are:

  • Sharing what type of markup data format the search engines are seeing in your site, like Schema.org
  • Suggesting how to improve user experience and performance
  • Allowing you to demote specific areas of your site from Sitelinks
  • Giving a details list of search queries done on your website
  • Giving a list of links to sites linking into your website
  • Listing internal links
  • Showing Index status
  • Giving a list of keywords that are organized by the most significant one first
  • Allowing you to remove URLs from your website
  • Displaying crawl errors, as well as what types of errors
  • Having the ability to block URLs from the search engines
  • Being alerted if there are any security issues

In order to be able to use Google Webmaster tools, you must sign up and submit your website. The process involves putting a verification code somewhere on your website or verifying it through your domain registrar. After you verify the site, you need to submit a sitemap, once that is a valid Sitemaps.org sitemap.

The Sitemap.org valid sitemap allows Google to easily crawl the site. The markup used that search engine crawl is XML. For website owners that use WordPress and have the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, finding the link to the sitemap is easy. For other content management systems, there is a somewhat equivalent method to find the sitemap. For static websites (ones not powered with a database and may be solely HTML), building a sitemap may be necessary.

Once the sitemap has been submitting, Google may take a little while to crawl the site. Some site are lucky to be crawled within the week, and others, two weeks. After your site has been crawled, you can view information on what Google is seeing.

search-queries-gwt-screenshotYou probably will want to make sure that there are no crawl errors like a page not found, or any server issues. You will also want to make sure to observe if you have any duplicate meta descriptions and duplicate title tags to improve your search results. You obviously don’t want the same article description for several posts, right? 😉

Another area you might want to check out is the search queries. It’s probably good to check out the first time in order to make sure that the keywords are relevant to what your website is about. If they aren’t, you might need to go back and improve your content.

One last area that you should check is to make sure your site isn’t flagged for spam, duplicate content, or has any security issues. If you’re accepting paid links, you probably should stop. Google has gone to great lengths to discourage website owners from accepting paid links. If you have any alerts, fix the issue. Once done with fixing anything that was flagged, you can reply to Google’s team and they will review to make sure your site is not violating any of their rules.

It’s important to understand that Google Webmaster Tools can be a powerful tool in making sure your website is listed as accurately as possible on the search engine results.

Do you use Google Webmaster Tools?

The post Understanding Google Webmaster Tools appeared first on Diamond Website Conversion.