A Primer on Search Engine Optimization

There are no tricks to search engine optimization. Some will lead you to believe there are, but chances are they're only temporarily gaming the system. There are best practices you should understand though, and we'd love to share some of 'em with you.

Search engine optimization (commonly referred to as SEO) is the process of increasing traffic to your site by doing everything you can to make sure you show up high in the list of search results. If you've never created a site with a focus on how people might find it, this could be a completely new concept to you. Not to worry, while SEO can be a complicated game, there are a few simple steps you can take towards having a more discoverable online presence.

Understand the basics

Google and other search engines will check in on your website every so often. Because there's no set schedule, your site may not show up in updated search results right away. If you're starting a new blog, this wait may not be a big deal. But if you're running an online shop, every visitor and every sale can make a huge difference to your business. It's important to realize that the search engines hold all the power in how they display and update their search results. Be at peace with it. If you're relying on search results to be your primary source of traffic, we'd recommend a different strategy. Still, it's important to get your site optimized early, so any trickle of traffic from Google or Bing can build over time.

Have a brand new shop, use a bunch of common terms in your products and descriptions, or work in a crowded product category? It's going to be an uphill battle, but there are steps you can take to help.

Above all else, focus on the variables you can control. Your goal should be to create solid, unique content. Don't spend too much time wringing your SEO for every last bit of juice. If your work is relevant, Google will notice. If it's not, no number of tweaks will make a lasting difference.

What does this mean? Take the time to create interesting products, great photography, and a detailed about page for your business. This may mean you need to break open the piggy bank to hire a professional photographer, or up your game on your copywriting skills. If your shoppers want to share it with their networks, so will the search engines.

Write interesting descriptions

Clear, colorful descriptions are key. Sure, you could write a description like this and call it a day:

Wax candle

But doesn't this feel more alive?

Hand-dipped candles made of only the finest beeswax. Handcrafted with care in the United States. Based on a top secret recipe passed down through generations, given to me by my grandfather.

Not only is that good practice for SEO, it's a lot more engaging for your customers. In the first example, search engines have two words to pick up on. In the second, they have a much more complete picture of you and your audience.

Pro-tip: If you've made major updates to your shop, or it's been awhile and Google still hasn't listed your store in their search results, you can try submitting your URL to Google. But a word of warning: Only Google knows how much this speeds things up, so you may just need to hang tight.

Use a custom domain

Using a custom domain not only gives your shop its own unique home on the internet, it also helps with SEO.

Once you're using a custom domain, you can connect your domain with Webmaster Tools in various search engines. That can help improve your ranking, and it also offers diagnostic information about your search engine visibility. Both Google and Bing offer Webmaster Tools where you can submit a sitemap (here's everything you need to know about sitemaps). Submitting a sitemap will help ensure they don't miss anything while they're indexing your shop.

Psst! Using Big Cartel? We generate a sitemap for you automatically.

Once your custom domain is up and running, share it on all kinds of social media to drive traffic to your store. It can be that simple - a lot of traffic and relevant links to your shop will improve how Google sees you.

We've got more tips for promoting your shop in our Marketing Guide.

Don't spam

This one's easy. Don't post your link over and over without providing useful content that people want to see. Don't email people who didn't sign up to hear about your products. Don't try to trick people into visiting your link.

There's no reason to risk getting your shop on the naughty list for a few quick hits.

Be ready to adapt

As social platforms increase in size and influence, the idea of SEO matters in different ways. Optimizing for Facebook (and their audience of over a billion people) can be just as important as Google for your business. That's why we want to be honest in our presentation on SEO. We're not here to sell you 10 tricks to beat Google at their own game. It just doesn't work that way.

As a reminder, here are the five most important things to focus on when it comes to building your SEO game plan:

  • Understand the basics
  • Write interesting descriptions
  • Use a custom domain
  • Don't spam
  • Be ready to adapt

For some more resources, you can check out The Beginner's Guide to SEO and Google's SEO recommendations.