If you run an eCommerce business, chances are you use Shopify as your CMS.
Industry numbers show that usage of the platform has been steadily on the rise for years, and the company reported last year that more than 2 million global full-time jobs are supported by businesses on Shopify. That number is up from 1.4 million in 2019, and 1 million in April of 2017.
While its utility for eCommerce is not in question, Shopify presents its own unique challenges when it comes to SEO compared to other platforms that feature a more straightforward, streamlined approach. But regardless of your preferred CMS, if you’re in eCommerce, SEO should be a key component of your digital marketing strategy.
Below, we’ll discuss how to optimize Shopify for SEO and explore some of the common issues we encounter on Shopify sites, as well as some SEO tips for Shopify stores like yours.
How to Set Up SEO for Shopify
Setting up SEO on Shopify has some quirks. For instance, while crawling and indexing are crucial to e-commerce SEO, you couldn’t update the robots.txt file on your site until June 2021.
While SEO-related features are certainly improving on the platform, there are still some important issues you need to be aware of. Here are some of the most common challenges when setting up SEO for Shopify.
Collections and Product Variant Pages Create Duplicate Content
Shopify creates duplicate product pages for each product sorted into a collection by default. It also creates duplicate product, collection, and blog post pages through pagination, which can be driven by various factors, including how many users comment on a page.
For instance, if your product is a white t-shirt, and it’s in a product collection with other shirts, you will wind up with two URLs that lead to identical pages:
Variant pages can also be created for different variations of the same product, such as different colors or models. Every variant created on Shopify has a unique variant ID number. You can look up a variant ID by following these instructions.
Many stores create URLs that are identical with a slight variation, such as /products/t-shirt-wh/ and /products/t-shirt-bl/ for the same shirt in white and black, or they may be generic variations like /products/t-shirt?variant=12345678901234/ with the variant ID number included in the URL.
You’ll find a lot of SEO tips for Shopify regarding variants — Shopify creates unique variant URLs to provide a better user experience. Reducing customer effort on product pages by a few clicks can increase conversions, and you can also highlight key variants to help customers find and purchase them by loading specific drop-down options pre-selected straight from a link.
Keep in mind, though, that these variant pages can create duplicate content issues when it comes to SEO — you don’t want these variant pages to compete with each other in search results, especially where variations are minimal or insignificant.
Ultimately, how to handle variant product pages on Shopify depends on your store’s unique offerings. You can read more about that below, or get detailed advice straight from the source.
Internal Links Don’t Use Canonical URLs by Default
On Shopify, when duplicate product variant and category pages are created, they contain canonical tags referencing the original product pages, so search engines know to prioritize the original product page URLs on SERPs.
This is helpful to mitigate cannibalization among duplicate pages, but the opposite is true for Shopify’s default internal linking preferences, which favor the duplicate /category/ and ?variant pages over the canonical URLs.
Internal links to non-canonical pages send mixed signals to search engines since you’re linking to one version of a page while noting that a different version should be the one served to users in search results, essentially leaving it up to the search algorithm to decide which one to serve. Instead, make sure internal links, XML sitemaps, and canonical tags all point to the same canonicalized URL.
Beware of Paginated Series
You will also want to pay close attention to canonical tags on any paginated series that are created. When a paginated series contains a reference to ?page=1 with no canonical link element, this causes duplicate content.
Ensure the URL with the paginated parameter canonicalizes to the non-parameterized URL for the first page in a paginated series. So, /collections/shirts?page=1 should have a canonical tag referencing /collections/shirts/, and all internal links should point to the canonical URL.
This is easily manageable on Shopify, but if you weren’t able to include canonical tags on your paginated series, you could also reduce duplicate content by disallowing ?page=1 in robots.txt, though this method should always be a last resort.
Redirects and Noindex Tags for Old or Unimportant Pages
While checking your XML sitemaps for non-canonical URLs, you can also look for any outdated or insignificant pages published in the past that are still included in your sitemaps.
Shopify tends to include legacy pages in sitemaps, even if they are no longer linked to, but they also explain how you can “noindex” these pages to hide them from search engines.
Implementing a consistent redirect strategy is one of the most crucial Shopify SEO tips, we know, due to the platform’s penchant for duplicate content. Just keep in mind that any redirects you implement on Shopify require you to delete the page you’re redirecting from, so make sure these aren’t pages that will be useful to you in the future or back them up.
Leaving up unnecessary pages for search engines to crawl detracts their attention from the pages you really want them to see. Regularly maintaining URLs with redirects to new or refreshed content shows that you run a properly maintained and well-organized site.
How to Improve SEO for Shopify
Once your Shopify store is set up and you’re aware of all the quirks, it’s time to embrace your optimal e-commerce SEO potential. Below are some SEO tips for Shopify that will take your store to the next level.
Let Longtail Keyword Research Guide Your Product Variant Strategy
After you remove duplicate product and collection URLs from your internal linking structure and take care of duplicate pagination issues, you should decide how to handle your product variant pages in order to maximize visibility with your audience.
If your products have minimal variance (like different colored t-shirts), you probably want to handle these pages as duplicate content, implementing canonical tags where appropriate. But these pages could also serve a valuable function if variants exhibit their own unique demand.
Variant URLs enable you to highlight key variants, such as flagship or sale products, but you’ll also want to do some longtail keyword research if you think any of your variants could stand on their own as a featured product.
For instance, different audiences might search specifically for “white t-shirts” or “black t-shirts.” Unique variant pages provide the opportunity to target longtail keywords for these pages and optimize them accordingly while targeting a primary keyword on your original product page.
This would involve building out these variant pages with their own unique content so that they can rank for specific, longtail keywords, so you’ll want to be sure those keywords are popular enough searches with their own audience. Are different groups of people searching specifically for “white t-shirts” or “black-t-shirts” as opposed to just “t-shirts” — and are these groups large enough (and unique enough) to justify the effort to build out these pages?
A keyword gap analysis or related keyword tool could help you find out if there are longtail keywords you’re missing out on and how to create a content strategy around them.
If you think the audience for your product variants is essentially the same, or you don’t have the bandwidth or resources to tackle creating new pages for all of your variants, it may be better to handle the pages with a canonical tag referencing the original product page and make sure all of your internal links point there.
Use Structured Data to Improve Navigation for Users and Crawlers
We’ve talked about how to use internal links to signal which pages you prefer search engines to serve, but you can also use structured data to provide a clear blueprint to which of your pages you think are the most important, in order to ensure those pages get the most visibility on search.
Breadcrumbs are an essential feature of eCommerce sites — they simply make it easier for customers to shop, as they provide a directory showing users where they are on the site at all times. Using JSON-LD BreadcrumbList schema markup on your breadcrumb links will ensure that Google understands the page structure and flow of your site.
Shopify themes should implement Product markup as well to give Google your essential product data, including availability, pricing, and reviews.
Improve Shopify Site Speed Issues and More With Shopify Apps
We often find that our Shopify clients have issues with site speed when we check their Lighthouse audit. Thankfully, a few useful plugins can help bring up the site speed both by Google’s score and Shopify’s internal store speed score.
Unlike a lot of WordPress “Plugins,” Shopify “Apps” are typically not free. Most require either a one-time or monthly fee, but many come with a free trial. Here are some of our favorite apps for improving SEO on Shopify:
- Page Speed Booster, can increase your Shopify store’s site speed in one click by telling your browser to use idle time to start retrieving the contents of the link it anticipates the user will click next. The browser then loads content from its cache, and users can click through your site faster, increasing conversions.
- Crush.pics can be used to compress large image files that can lengthen page loading times.
- Product review apps let your customers share their experiences.
- Upsell apps (there are dozens of great ones depending on your needs) can show your users other products they might like on each page — and increase click-through rates and conversions.
- SEO tools like Smart SEO offer a suite of services to help you ensure your optimization efforts are on point, including inputing all of the JSON-LD schema markup discussed earlier.
Nurture High Funnel Traffic With Informative Blog Content
Using your blog to nurture high-funnel traffic is an important step to increase brand recognition and organic visibility. If your audience is searching for longtail or “informational” keywords that are related to your products but lack transactional intent, you might not have a presence on SERPs if your site is focused on product pages, with no articles to speak of.
This is where your blog comes into play. Blogs provide an organic place for you to put explanatory or informative content about your products, for members of your audience who are curious about your product but not ready to buy yet. This familiarizes users with your brand and develops consumer trust while giving you a natural venue to showcase your products.
If your product keywords are frequently searched for by people looking for more information about them, you’ll also find your products competing against blog posts in search results — it would be a missed opportunity if you didn’t have any articles of your own to compete with those.
You can start creating buyer personas to map out which customers you’ll want to target with each post, depending on the keywords you’re optimizing for. This will also give you better insight into what your audience is looking for, so you can better speak the language of your customers.
Blog posts are also a conduit for valuable inbound links — which can dramatically raise your visibility in organic search results. If your blog content is good enough or answers common questions about your products well enough, other people may want to link to it. This can make your blog an invaluable evergreen resource for organic growth.
There is plenty to know about how to write an optimized blog post, but if you’re generating good quality inbound links, you’re definitely on the right track!
Learn More About How to Optimize Shopify for SEO With the Muses
If you still want more tips on how to optimize your Shopify store, contact us about our eCommerce SEO service offerings today.
You can also find more digital marketing insights on our blog about Shopify, WordPress, and other digital marketing tools.