What digital marketers and eCommerce professionals have in common is that they're both trying to market and sell through a digital landscape. With eCommerce competition increasing at a daily rate, it’s becoming an uphill struggle trying to get products in front of the target audience; no matter how great your brand or campaign, you won’t secure an uplift if people can’t find it.

As a brand, the focus is on optimising products with terms that buyers are likely to use. With sites like Ocado and Tesco carrying hundreds and thousands of products, retailers have come up with ways to display the most relevant products for a user’s search query.

Below, I've listed four things that SEO professionals adhere to when trying to win in search, all of which are more relevant than ever before for manufacturers looking to compete on a retailer’s website.

1. Research your keywords

Every SEO marketer spends hours researching keywords and competitors to be able to target those keywords. They then look at tactics and ways that can outdo the competition for the same keywords. Many times, this can be by discovering similar keywords that have lower search volume but a higher purchase intent.

Other times, they may focus on related keywords that aren’t being targeted by competitors in order to avoid direct competition. Once they gain traction with these keywords, they can then start branching out and competing more directly.

By researching what the top selling vendors in the industry are doing, eCommerce managers can look at replicating the elements that will bring success and also pinpoint areas for improvement that they can capitalise on. Using product reviews to optimise your digital shelf content is one tried and tested research method.

Carrying out this research can greatly help understand user behaviour and uncover exactly what they’re looking for when they search for x when they were really looking for y.

This is where semantic search comes in.

2. Make semantic search a priority

“Semantic search is a data searching technique in which a search query aims to not only find keywords, but to determine the intent and contextual meaning of the words a person is using for search.”
-  Search Engine Journal

This is a very well known concept within the SEO community and search engine optimisers are constantly looking to ensure that their content is leveraged for keywords that are highly relevant and likely to convert.

For example, as an Account Manager, you may be targeting the keyword ‘baking’ for baking potatoes. However, the shopper may have been looking for baking products for a cake. You’ll notice on Asda’s first page search results the keyword ‘baking’ presents a mixture of potatoes and baking products (and toothpaste made from baking soda!).

 
Asda search results
 

On the Waitrose site, you’re presented with various baking ingredients for the same keyword.

 
Waitrose search results
 


In this respect, the very first question you need to ask isn’t "how can my products get on the first page of search?" but whether there is a contextual relationship between your product and the keywords that shoppers are using. The example of Colgate being listed under 'baking' is a prime reinforcement of not a well thought out keyword strategy. Failure to do so could result in very poor customer journeys and limited engagement. 

3. Optimise product titles and descriptions

Most search engines give top priority to titles and descriptions associated with keywords.

Target keywords should be used near the beginning of the title to increase relevancy and ensure your product shows up both on Google’s and a retailer’s search engine. Doing this has been proven to increase click through rates as it allows prospects to decide whether the product is relevant, immediately.

Product descriptions should include at least a few mentions of the target keywords to increase the weighting search engines give to that product. This has become more critical over time as during the My Digital Shelf 2016 summit, Brandbank shared that 30% of people land directly on product pages.

Whilst it’s important to optimise product pages with keywords, it’s just as important to ensure keywords aren’t “stuffed” into titles and descriptions. Doing so can lead to spammy looking pages and even a Google penalty which make your product page lose all rankings and visibility in search engine results. Additionally, not optimising product titles and descriptions strategically will result in odd and inefficient outcomes like the Colgate example above.

4. Make mobile a priority

Mobile optimisation has become a high priority for practically every business across every sector. Where online shopping is concerned, 51% of shoppers use mobile and tablet devices to both research and purchase. Additionally, as brick-and-mortar continues to fall behind, teams managing eCommerce need to ensure that their products are mobile friendly on retailer websites and the buyer’s journey is optimised to work well across all devices.

Optimising your product pages for mobile requires a combination of both gaining insight about how your product pages are performing, and feedback from the retailer about how their traffic is interacting with your product page. These are two different things contributing to the same outcome. For example, slow page load can not only cost you a conversion, but also affect your future ranking on a website. As a Brand Manager, the action that you can take is to ensure that you fix the basics such as the size of the image and character count (this varies from retailer to retailer and a good eCommerce analytics tool will inform you what this is). The action that the retailer then needs to take is assess whether there is a problem with the back end of their website and that page in particular.

You will only be able to know what factors to look into and how to fix them if you have both an advanced eCommerce analytics tool and if your Account Manager and retailer having a strong relationship. As the former CEO of Sony EMEA, David Reeves, said in a recent Q&A about upskilling eCommerce teams, this is a completely new way of thinking and working, the avoidance of which will make manufacturers fall behind in the online race.

The key takeaway

A lot of SEO tips that marketers use to improve their ranking on Google also apply to brands looking to improve their ranking on retail websites. However, this is a new synergy which many manufacturers have yet to embrace. Though improving product visibility doesn’t happen overnight, using a combination of...

1. Readily available SEO tactics
2. Insight from retailers on user performance
3. Insight from your eCommerce analytics provider on your product performance

...will put you miles ahead of the competition.


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Arham Khan, Digital Consultant

Arham is a freelance digital marketing consultant specialising in SEO, paid advertising and content marketing. He works with a wide range of businesses across different sectors to strengthen their digital strategy, optimise their online presence and generate sales.