Shopify is one of the fastest-growing content management systems. According to usage statistics from W3Techs, WordPress is the only major CMS used by more websites. It’s also used by highly-trafficked websites at a rate similar to WordPress.

Scatterplot showing Shopify second place among CRMs.

Though it’s particularly popular as an ecommerce platform, today it’s even used by major publishers like the Economist and the BBC.

No matter your business model, running a Shopify website comes with its own set of challenges. And according to a business tutorial producer with Shopify, one of the most common among Shopify store owners is: “What can I do to help my store rank in search engines?”

The quick beginner’s SEO guide for Shopify store owners

Shopify SEO (search engine optimization) refers to the process of improving your Shopify site to make it more visible in engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. With more visibility comes more organic traffic to your site, which means more potential customers.

Though Shopify does come with some SEO challenges specific to the CMS and not others, like WordPress, Drupal, Wix, or Joomla, most of what you’ll need to get your store appearing on the first page of Google is knowledge that’s applicable to all websites. Here we cover the basics in a short guide, complete with some SEO tips to solve problems unique to Shopify.

Formulate a plan for on-page SEO

On-page SEO strategy is about improving content on your web pages. This means the content on your home page, pricing page, product pages, about page, etc. Whether it’s an image or a video, a blog post or an infographic, content creation and optimization is the cornerstone of good on-page SEO. Here are the on-page SEO techniques you need to boost organic search traffic for your Shopify store:

1. Research valuable keywords

In-depth keyword research will help you find out the terms that your target audience is using to discover your product or service. Look for keywords with high search volume (short-tail) and keywords with high intent (long-tail), and use them in product descriptions, blog posts, page titles, meta tags, headers, and other high-value content areas. SEO tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, and popular plugins like Yoast can help with this.

2. Create comprehensive content

To beat your competitors on search engine results pages, your content needs more than just keywords in the right places. It needs to better satisfy the searcher. Make sure your product page content is unique, descriptive, easy-to-use, and comprehensive.

And remember, as a Shopify ecommerce store, the likelihood you’re going to rank highly with a product page is pretty low unless your product is very unique. Other kinds of content, like blog posts, can help you outrank other businesses that only create product page content.

For example, the search “smart tvs” shows several listicle posts for smart tvs ranking on page one.

A search engine results page for "smart tvs."

If the product pages on your ecommerce site can’t compete with major retailers like Target or Amazon, you may be able to compete with a creative approach to content, the way lesser-known www.rtings.com and www.tomsguide.com do above.

3. Optimize for search intent

Discovering keywords is the first step to identifying search intent. Search intent is a term that describes the intent of the searcher when they type a query into Google. What are they looking for when they search your keyword? A product page? A blog post? Studying page one of Google search results will help you figure out what kind of content to create to best satisfy the searcher.

4. Make your content easy to consume

Organization is as important for content as it is for site structure. You want the searcher to be able to consume your content as efficiently as possible. With HTML header tags, you can organize your content in a way that makes it easier to skim.

Use an H1 once, H2s to describe broad concepts under that H1 category, H3s to describe more specific ideas within those H2s, and then H3s and H4s if you’re getting even more specific. With bullets and bold text, draw attention to important words within the body of your content.

5. Make your online store structure intuitive

Your website should be as easy-to-use as possible, meaning the design of your site should allow visitors to find what they’re looking for efficiently. A lot of this comes down to site structure. Your home page should offer a broad range of content, then get more specific through category pages, and then product pages, and then product variation pages. A structure like this helps visitors self-select. They can start with an idea of what they’re looking for, then narrow down to a specific product, whether that be model, color, size, etc.

6. Optimize your images for SEO

Both image alt tags and file names should be optimized for SEO. For files, use dashes between words and keep your names short. Include your keyword only if it’s natural.

An image file name optimized for SEO.

For image alt text, write in sentence format and describe the image as if your audience couldn’t see it (because this is actually the purpose of alt text). Also include your keyword if you can. Google uses these to determine the relevance of your content to a particular query.

An image with optimized image alt text.

These tips can not only help improve the SEO of your page, but they may even earn you traffic through Google image search, too.

7. Optimize internal linking structure

Internal links on your web pages help visitors get from one area of your site to the next. They can go from broad to more specific content, or explore other information related to a specific term. Internal links also help search crawlers find and index all your pages. For best SEO, ensure your anchor text includes your target keyword.

Create an off-page SEO strategy

SEO is more than just what you do on your website. It’s also about how the rest of the internet engages with your website. This is known as “off-page SEO.” The goal of off-page SEO is to prove to Google that you’re an authoritative and trustworthy source of information. Tactics for SEO success in this area include:

1. Turn views into backlinks with high-quality content

One of the best ways to get backlinks is with high-quality content marketing. When you create something unique and valuable, it compels your site visitors to not just consume it themselves, but share it with their friends and networks as well.

2. Become a guest blogger

Sites will often accept contributions from guests. If you have the opportunity to contribute to a blog related to your industry, taking it will not only allow you to expose your content to a new audience, but it can also boost the likelihood you earn backlinks from that content. Those backlinks may come from the audience or the site you contributed to.

3. Amplify your content with social media

The more your content is read, shared, and linked to, the better it will rank in search engines. So how do you get your content read, shared, and linked to outside of Google? One of the most popular ways is social media marketing.

Like guest blogging, social media marketing can expose your content to a new audience in an environment that is made for sharing content. And although social media links aren’t a ranking factor, there’s a high correlation between top-ranking pages and social links.

4. Execute link-building strategies

Social media, email marketing, guest blogging — these are all SEO tactics that can result in backlinks, but they’re not considered pure link-building tactics. Some strategies are strictly for link building. Those include tactics like linking to vendors and partners, fixing broken links, and others listed in this SEO checklist.

Invest in technical SEO

Technical SEO is the third component of a killer SEO strategy. It focuses on optimizing website infrastructure for both users and search engines. Valuable SEO tactics in this component include:

1. Submit an XML sitemap to Google

Normally Google’s crawlers have to find their way to your pages through internal links on your site. But that can result in Google missing some of your pages, which would then mean they get left out of search engine results. To make sure that doesn’t happen, you can create an XML sitemap.

An XML sitemap is like a roadmap of your Shopify website’s links. It tells search engines exactly where to find all your pages so there’s no chance they get missed or excluded from search engines. You can create and submit a sitemap.xml file with the help of tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

2. Use a robots.txt file

A robots.txt file gives crawlers specific directions about how to process your site. You can use it to tell Google to crawl pages a certain way, or even to ignore pages that you may want to keep out of search engine results.

3. Use the canonical tag for duplicate content

Duplicate content is produced when two pieces of content are highly similar or identical but have two different URLs. For Shopify users, duplicate content issues happen a lot on product variation pages and paginated category pages. We cover a few ways to handle that below.

4. Use schema markup

Schema markup is a kind of labeling language that better organizes your content for search engines and users. Not only does it make crawling more efficient, but It can result in rich snippets on SERPs, which are more robust search results that may include reviews, ratings, and deep links to other pages on your site. Here’s an example of a rich snippet for a recipe:

A carousel rich snippet search result.

5. Optimize page speed

Page speed is an official Google ranking factor, so it’s crucial to make your pages load as quickly as possible. There are lots of ways to improve page speed, like getting rid of excess images, minifying JavaScript, and using AMP. Check your progress with Google’s Pagespeed Insights.

6. Create an SEO-friendly URL

An SEO-friendly URL is one that is easy for both users and crawlers to understand. It should be short, descriptive, and simple (not cluttered with unrelated characters). Your visitors should have an idea of what they’ll see on the page based on the URL.

7. Prioritize the mobile user experience

Since July 2019, Google’s algorithm has been using mobile-first indexing for new sites. That means it will crawl and index your mobile site first and your desktop version second. And the lack of a mobile-friendly functionality that doesn’t follow these requirements will negatively impact SEO.

Common Shopify SEO errors that you may need to address

For Shopify webmasters doing search engine optimization, there are a few common issues that you may need to address which are less specific to SEO in general and more specific to the platform you’re using. Here are a few of the most common:

Duplicate content issues

Duplicate content is produced when two pages have the same or similar content, but two different URLs. In Shopify, you can run into problems with duplicate content because the platform allows product pages to be rendered at two different URLs. And the way Shopify communicates with Google about which should be indexed in search engines is confusing. In a blog post for Moz, Christopher Long explains it well:

By default, Shopify will link to the non-canonical version of all of your product pages.

Duplicate content produced by product variation pages.

As well, we’ve also seen Shopify link to the non-canonical versions of URLs when websites utilize “swatch” internal links that point to other color variants.

Thus, Shopify creates your entire site architecture around non-canonical links by default. This creates a high-priority SEO issue because the website is sending Google conflicting signals:

  • “Here are the pages we internally link to the most often”
  • “However, the pages we link to the most often are not the URLs we actually want to be ranking in Google. Please index these other URLs with few internal links”

Ideally, the pages you’re linking to and the pages that are canonicalized are the same. To get Shopify to treat them that way, you should make edits to this particular file. That way, the signals you’re sending to Google are consistent with your behavior.

Uneditable robots.txt file

Robots.txt files are what you use to tell Google how to crawl your site. For Shopify users, they’re uneditable, which means specific commands to Google through robots.txt are unusable.

Shopify will automatically prevent Google from indexing certain areas of your site that you won’t want to show up on search engine results pages, like admin, checkout, orders, shopping cart, and more. But if there are other areas you want to tell Google to keep away from, you’ll have to add the “noindex” tag to your pages through the Shopify theme.liquid file.

Character limits for title tags and meta descriptions

The titles and meta descriptions you see on Google SERPs are truncated when they reach a certain pixel width. On Shopify, they’re cut off when you reach a certain character limit.

This problem isn’t going to affect SEO too seriously, but it may if you’ve come up with a compelling title and meta description that’s too long by Shopify standards but not by Google’s. Meta title and description contribute heavily to SERP CTR (click-through rate), and evidence suggests that metric may be used to determine ranking.

Get a complimentary SEO audit for your Shopify website

With a combination of general SEO practices and specific Shopify SEO tactics, you can hurdle your competitors on SERPs to generate more traffic and revenue. Want to see how you’re doing at Shopify SEO? Get a complimentary SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost traffic revenue by 700%.