Exploring every thread: Learning SEO (part 1)
Kate here - I’m back with our startup business series, Exploring every thread! This week we’re going to learn about using SEO and keywords to make your business easier to find online. Although I have lots of experience working with themes, I’m new to the world of marketing and search ranking. Thus, I decided to enlist the expert help of Chris Rempel, the VP of Growth at Pixel Union so that we can learn from the best!
Kate: Let’s start at square one. Can you give me a really basic breakdown of how keywords relate to a site’s search engine ranking?
Chris: Sure! I’ll explain how Google works in a nutshell and then how the keywords you choose fit into that nutshell. The way Google indexes content is by going across every website it can find and navigate through links. It discovers the internet through hyperlinks and links to other websites.
While Google crawls the internet, it tries to categorize the content that it comes across. What is the page talking about and how can it be cataloged?
In the early days, Google relied on metadata - so you had your title tag set to “Toyotas” and a meta description reading “the Toyota Camry is a great car”. With that data, Google could infer that this page is about Toyota as a company as well as the Camry as a car. When a person searches for these things, this page would show up as a result.
That’s the relation to how keywords get derived from content. Keywords are the search intent of the customer!
K: Gotcha, so it’s making sure the right content will show up when a person is searching and in my case, that person could be a potential customer.
C: Right! These days Google will look at the intent of language, which they refer to as “natural language”. The purpose of the page could be about “bbq strategies for a wedding” and Google will be able to infer that you are also talking about “gas grills” even if those words aren’t necessarily on the page.
K: That is very smart! With that in mind, if a store is getting set up and they need to get their keywords in line, how much is required at the get-go? Does it needs to be solid from the start or is it an iterative process?
C: In an ideal world, you’ll want to have your content strategy, including your keyword strategy, largely understood before going to market. You don’t need to have the whole roadmap, but you should have the infrastructure to allow for expansion instead of going back and changing things.
For example, let’s say you’re naming your products by a code or SKU. This kind of naming may be relevant to you as the business owner but it’s not relevant to your customers - and it’s filling in your title tags. You’ll get points by being accurate with your product naming and meta descriptions throughout your site. But you’ll get bonus points if you repeat the same ideas on a single page.
By doing so, Google will have multiple places to see that you’re saying similar things and that will give you a higher relevancy score. It’s keeping the same topic on a page so Google can answer “What is this page about?”. The easier you can make it for Google to answer this question, the more you’ll benefit from it!
K: So if a business is doing their research to get set up before they launch, what tools would you recommend they use?
C: There are definitely a lot of tools available. Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest is a good one - it is basically a lateral keyword tool. You’ll put in a seed keyword and from there it will extract what users are searching for, how your competitors are using it and what the demand is.
K: In my next post I’ll be linking out to more resources I tested as well!
K: The Shopify admin gives you a lot of structure to make sure a lot of SEO content is pulled in from your content and descriptions. Outside of that, what else can a merchant control and work with, especially if they are in a particularly saturated market?
C: There are a few best practices, especially when it comes to making sure that your content isn’t suppressed by Google. For example, duplicating content throughout your site will negatively affect all page rankings on your site, not just the rankings of pages with duplicate content. This is a really common mistake that people make when setting up their business.
A couple of easy wins would be to remove duplicate content and to look at existing ranking with title tags. See if you can adjust both your content and titles to use a more human voice or natural language. By doing those two things alone, they’d see a big jump in traffic.
As for standing out in a competitive market? No matter what, you’ll want to get into some kind of external SEO or promotion. So remember how I mentioned that Google discovers and indexes content through links? They also use links to establish authority. The more links that point to a specific website, the higher that site’s ranking will become.
Google also evaluates the worth of each link and that worth is tied to the person or business that is linking it. The bigger the company or person, the more important it will be. There’s a big difference between links included in a Forbes article or a piece written by an industry influencer and links included in Reddit posts.
K: So the idea is to grow your connections and leverage your existing ones - then that will improve SEO as well?
C: This might sound counterintuitive, but for SEO they are looking for where real exposure happens. Google knows what it looks like when it’s a real brand and they are looking at social signals. What I would do is find the crossover of fans and do some contests. Google will see that! Get your customer base to get involved and broadcast your products to improve your reach and that will also improve your SEO too.
Find the people who will talk about your products and get it out there for you! That will come across as a real interaction with your site.
K: If you were me, what questions would you be asking?
C: I would ask if SEO is the right channel for this business. And my answer would be that in time it would help, but this type of business is more cultural and community-based. That means that hitting a nerve with an active audience will do you more good and positively affect your SEO ranking! Then this won’t rely on conventional channels that SEO represents. SEO outcomes are often a bi-product of other work!
K: Thanks so much, Chris!
We’ve just gone through quite a bit here so next time I’ll be going through what I did with this information and what the best takeaways have been for me (and hopefully you!)
Talk to you soon,