Anna Crowe: Episode 7

Anna Crowe from Search Engine Journal on SEO that gets ecommerce shops onto page one

Anna Crowe is an SEO expert and Assistant Editor at Search Engine Journal. She’s also Head of Content and SEO at Leadfeeder and has worked with brands including Dollar Thrifty Rental, Marriott, Kissmetrics and Moz.

We cover how to choose keywords, Google’s EAT framework (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trust), search volume, link building (good and bad!), URL’s, page structure, canonical tags and schemas.

We also discussed the regular algorithm changes and Anna suggested following John Mueller and Danny Sullivan on Twitter who both work for Google and provide semi-official advice on changes.

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Andrew Veitch: Welcome to the Joy of Marketing with me, Andrew Veitch. This week, we’re talking about SEO, which is something I know almost nothing about. And so I’m looking forward to learning a bit about the subject myself. Our guest is Anna Crowe, who’s an Assistant Editor at the Search Engine Journal, and is also Head of Content and SEO at Leadfeeder. It’s great to have you on.

Anna Crowe: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It’s so great to be here.

AV: Of course, that’s the British equivalent of saying, I’m super excited and totally pumped to have you on. So I guess starting off, I mean, obviously, the first thing has got to be what keywords do you select? And I guess, I mean, obviously, I have done keyword selection when I’m doing Google PPC. But the great thing about Google PPC is you see a result, you know, within 15 minutes of putting the keyword in whereas obviously SEO is going to take a little bit longer. So I guess you don’t want to spend three, six months building up a reputation and keywords and then it turns out that it’s maybe not, not the right keywords.

AC: Right. Yeah, it’s really interesting in the ecommerce space, when it comes to SEO, I’ve noticed SEO tends to get tweaked a little bit, and it doesn’t follow the right path. Because people tend to focus mostly on uber-competitive, high volume, ranking keyword terms. For example, “women’s shoes”, that’s super broad, you’re not going to be able to compete in a space against someone like Amazon or Macy’s, or Nordstrom, who’s ever on the first page. So you really have to focus on ranking individual pages and break them down. And I typically categorize them based on their kind of value. So product pages is a category, category pages are another category, and then informational pages. So like your blog posts, your web, like about us pages. And all of these should be targeting more longtail, less competitive types of keywords. And all of this kind of encompasses the EAT considerations. And EAT stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. And this is part of Google’s quality rater guidelines. And they’re public, they’re on the web, if you haven’t read them, go and read them and then read them again. And again. And again, I’ve probably read them 100 times. But they actually break down what EAT is, specific for ecommerce and they do a really good job. So whenever you’re thinking about keywords and coupling it with EAT and prioritizing it based on these types of categories. That’s how you begin your keyword research. So I’ll start crawling the website with Screaming Frog, and it’ll pull all the URLs into a spreadsheet. And then you start to prioritize that spreadsheet based on what we talked about. So like you categorize the product page, category page, informational page, and then you bucket together those types of queries that match search intent. So for example, your product page, if the search intent, if you’re looking at women’s shoes, maybe you would do red women’s shoes, and then I would copy that into Google search and see what Google is serving as those search results. Is it serving product pages? Or is it serving maybe how to, you know, size the right shoes kind of guide? And then that ties together the search intent. So when I talk about search intent, that means on a product page, I have words like “buy”, “shop now”, those types of keyword terms that match together with your longtail keywords terms can really help search intent and really help rank those product pages properly. And then you don’t have to go back and redo it, you know, a year from now.

AV: Cool. I mean, just this was a really basic question is, I mean, we’ve all got some sales targets that we have to hit. So which, which kind of means of reasonable volume. So I guess these long tail keywords by their nature aren’t going to have a huge volume. So I suppose that means that you just have to have a lot of them. Is that right?

AC: Yeah. And you have to kind of stick to themes, too. So like, we could go back to the women’s shoes, so red women’s shoes, size eight, you could get super nitty gritty into that. But the more nitty gritty, you get into it, the more longtail, the more likelihood you’ll get on that page one, you know, most people don’t really scroll to page two or page three whenever they’re shopping whenever it comes to ecommerce. So your goal is to get on page one. And if you can’t compete on page one for those broader terms go longtail so that you can get on page one.

AV: So typically then if you’re doing SEO for a site, I mean, I roughly how many keywords would you be targeting?

AC: There’s no right answer. And if someone tells you specifically there’s a keyword or a specific amount of keywords you have to target please run in the other direction. But no, there isn’t a good rank or determination for that, but pretty much every product page should be targeting a different keyword term. So it depends on how many products you have, I guess.

AV: Cool. So then we’ve got a mixture of the product pages, and I guess, blog articles is the big one really, isn’t it? I mean, what sort of length of article would you go for?

AC: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And I actually did a really great presentation with Search Engine Journal’s eSummit on article length and how it’s adapted over the last 10 years. So if we jump back to 2010, in 2011, everyone was really into long form content. When I talk about long form content, I’m thinking pages that are 2000 words, 5000 words, you know, really meaty content. And in 2011, that’s what worked. That’s when the Panda algorithm rolled out. And when Panda algorithm rolled out, that really kind of started to shape the way that we look at content and what we look at like high quality content. So it used to be back in the day, you would want to aim for around like 2000 words or more, that’s what the goal was. But now since search engines have adapted, they’re getting smarter, you need to adapt the way that you look at your content now, too. So for blog posts, I typically aim for anywhere between 800 and 1200 words, that’s not set in stone, I’m not going to tell you that that’s a make or break for you. And then product pages, I aim for around 600 to 800 words. And then category pages, I actually put content on category pages, that’s a big thing I think a lot of ecommerce sites miss, they don’t put content on their category pages. But if you go to like Best Buy, and you scroll down on their appliance page, you see all this meaty content at the bottom of their page, and it’s around 300 or 400 words. And those category pages can really help rank your product pages better, because they’re all linked internally together. So beefing those up and making sure that Google knows, you know how to connect those dots with the content really helps.

AV: Yeah, actually, you just mentioned that the algorithm changes, which is something else I find quite hard to understand. Because it does seem that whenever you make some progress in SEO, the algorithm changes. And you’re back to step one again.

AC: Oh, yeah. Yep, I can’t tell you they had a little hiccup this past September, they did an algorithm change with canonical tags. And that threw everyone in the world for a loop pretty much for the whole month of October. So you have to take Google algorithm updates with a grain of salt. The good thing is, if you’re doing SEO, the natural way, the good way, you’re not doing anything spammy, algorithm updates should really benefit you. It shouldn’t be a scary scenario. So I really, I personally get excited for these algorithm updates, because like, oh, good, now all this hard work I’ve been working on these past couple months is gonna start to, to benefit us. But you have to understand these algorithm updates in order to structure your website and your ecommerce site to drive the most revenue, to get the most traffic. So really kind of understanding them going back all the way to 2010 to 2016, to see how it’s adapted, really helps you structure your website, your UX, everything.

AV: Yeah, in some ways, it actually reminds me of the problem, is similar to the problem, I think we have in email marketing at Machine Labs, because there’s a constant war really between us trying to get good inbox placement. And for us, it is also Google too because we most of the, roundabout half the mailboxes that we send to, are on Google. And of course, Google aren’t at all transparent about the algorithms they actually use on whether to accept email or whether to put it in the primary, primary tab or not. I mean, when these algorithm changes happen, do Google actually say what they’ve done or do you just have to try and work it out?

AC: That’s the tough part. So it used to be they would give an announcement whenever it came out. But a couple years ago, they stopped doing that. Now, we’ll stalk Twitter a little bit. And we’ll look at people that are like John Mueller, Danny Sullivan, people that actually work at Google will be open on Twitter and released little tidbits about what these algorithm changes mean. But Google makes thousands and thousands of changes every year, every day, there’s tons going on. So there’s no way to know what they’re really changing. But I’d say probably once a month, there’s going to be a big or semi big update that you should be wary of.

AV: Okay. And sort of stepping back to content. I guess again, one of the things I find difficult, sometimes you see this on the web, where you read a page and you think this page has been written for SEO, there’s no way that the author of this page had a human reader in mind and it really jars very badly. I guess you’ve got that double audience isn’t it, so how do you manage to write a page that’s good for the human reader, but also good for Google?

AC: Yeah, you know, that’s something that Google’s actually been working on with their algorithms. And when they came out with RankBrain, and they just came out with passage indexing last week, they’re really adapting their algorithm to be more in the natural spoken way. We saw that with voice search. That’s what they’re doing now with, with accessibility on the websites. So they’re really trying to adapt it to be more natural tone. And what I do whenever I’m writing, I don’t write for SEO, what I do is I prep my outline, and I use my header tags as kind of a guideline. And then I just write naturally as I would. And if you’re writing naturally, and you’ve already done your research on keywords, you know what to put in there based on the theme and topic that Google’s aiming for, when it comes to ecommerce again, if you look at the Google quality rater guidelines, they give a really good example of product page, examples of what they want to see in there. So whenever Google talks about content, it’s not just text on the page, it’s actually the features that you see. So you can take, you can kind of walk away a little bit from that SEO-ish type of language and just really think about the user. So what does the user want on your product page, product videos, reviews, shipping and returning types of things. So you can switch those up, even though they might not be keyword driven, or SEO driven, they’re better for the user. And Google does take those into consideration now. And and they help rank you better because of that.

AV: And then I guess, you mentioned there, just briefly, the title tag, but there’s obviously a lot of other structure on the page that we should be thinking about.

AC: Yeah, absolutely, schema. Schema markup is probably the big the big one for 2021. It’s all about, you can do different types of schema. So there’s product schema, specific just to your product, you can do ratings, like the reviews, even discounts. So you want to have all that schema on there. And what it does is it sits on the back end of your website, it’s just a code that only Google can read. But it helps them digest and understand what the content on the page is actually about. So it helps rank you better based on those types of search queries. And it even gives you some little key features that you see in the search results. So I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the stars that you see in the meta titles and meta descriptions in the search results, that’s part of schema markup. Work with your developers to get that those are great images, image quality, the types of images you’re using, Google has done some amazing improvements into their image search results. So I’m really all about the 360 imagery. And it also means like compressing your images, naming your file size, certain certain things. And then reviews, reviews are going to be huge for product pages, not just because of schema, but because of the content that those reviews bring. So think about it when I mentioned, you know, you should have six to 800 words on your product pages, those reviews count towards that word count, and that that content quality. And then kind of whenever you’re getting those reviews, shaping the questions that you’re asking from those reviewers so that you’d get better review quality, if that makes sense. So that those reviewers are actually putting those keywords into their reviews for you based on those products. So you have to serve up those types of questions to them.

AV: Sure. And again, just also more more basic, I mean, I guess we’re still looking at things like the title being very important. And I notice actually now on my web browser, it’s not showing the full URL anymore. But are things like the the URL is still important?

AC: Oh, absolutely. You know, keeping it short and concise and to the point, that’s where you can actually go super broad with your URL because you want it to be short. One thing I noticed too, with ecommerce is the parameters when it comes to URLs. So everything you see, you see a question mark, and then you see a bunch of you know, jumbled lettering, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s called a parameter URL. And if those aren’t structured properly, you can get duplicate content. So you want to make sure that you just have simple clean URL structures, try to stay away from those parameter URLs, if you can, if you do have to go into parameter URLs, work with your developer on getting canonical tags implemented properly, so you can avoid any duplicate content issues.

AV: Okay. And of course here, we’re also often using canonical tags, I guess, because we’ve got different pages for different countries, which is something you probably have a lot more of in Europe than then than you do in the States. Cool. And I suppose links are still the other, the other, wll going back to the early days of SEO, I guess links was the single most important thing, are they as important as they used to be?

AC: Yeah, definitely. So that’s actually how I got my start in SEO I was doing link building, doing a lot of spamming link building stuff. So I know what bad link buildings looks like and what great link building looks like now, but yes, links are still very important. But now link buildings going more into like digital PR realm. So it’s not necessarily about these big guest blog posts link building campaigns that you have or directory link building. It’s more about building that positive reputation and getting back to those EAT guidelines, you know, expertise, trustworthiness, all that, the types of backlinks you build tie into that. So working with influencers, sending your products to them to get product reviews, those are good quality backlinks that Google likes to see it’s a true natural review of your product. I think that’s the easiest way for ecommerce brands to build backlinks. And you can do that really easily with like a brand ambassador program, I worked with a company Tiny Tea Blends I help them build their ambassador program. And it’s amazing all the content they use is from their ambassador program is for their social, their email marketing, their blog content, all of it. So it’s just great user generated content that helps their SEO, social media and their bottom line.

AV: Great, so links from Facebook or from Twitter are tracked by Google?

AC: Yeah, actually, Google only indexes Twitter and Facebook posts. So if you’re not on social, do it anyway, just because Google likes it. They don’t index Instagram, unfortunately, or Pinterest. So that’s kind of a negative for ecommerce companies.

AV: Well, funnily enough that the most successful link building I ever did was by accident. In my Diet Chef days, I had a TV advert which was banned. And the advert being banned was covered in all of the press and as a result, we got onto page one for diet, which is quite…

AC: That is awesome.

AV: But that’s probably not the ideal way of link building really.

AC: Yeah, you got creative with it. That’s awesome.

AV: Yeah, though not intentional. And something else I noticed in one of your presentations, you mentioned a Content Audit, what’s that?

AC: Yes. So if you are an established e commerce site, you’ve been around for a year, I highly recommend a content audit. I do. It depends on how big your site is, you know, if you’ve got 10,000 pages or so you might want to do one every quarter, if you’re you know, 500 or less once a year is totally fine. But essentially, what you do is you scrape all the web URLs on your website. And then you look at your content, and you look at your keywords, your backlinks, which pages are driving the most traffic and which pages are driving the most conversions. And then you take that content, and you make sure you’re not duplicating efforts across your site. So you don’t want to be competing against yourself for anything. And that’s what the content audit tends to solve, making sure that the right products are being ranked for the right keyword terms, and so forth. And then it goes down to your blog content too. So a lot of people back in the day used to think, oh, my gosh, you need to publish one blog post every day in order to be able to rank. That’s not true anymore. If you publish just one blog post a month, but it was a high quality piece of content, that’s enough, that’s all you need. So going back and through, if you were one of those people that’s posting, you know, once, once a day, once a week, go back and gut that content, maybe rewrite it, rework it, and actually at Search Engine Journal that was a big thing we did a couple years ago, was we went back through and we gutted all of our content. And we saw, you know, within three months of doing that, we saw a 20% spike in our traffic just because we’d cleaned up that old crappy content that wasn’t really performing anymore, and we made it perform better. So that’s kind of what the content audits was, yeah.

AV: And something I quite often see is people say, even sometimes in the title, updated 2021, or things like that, as, as they do that. I mean, is that a sensible thing to do?

AC: So Google knows if you just updated the title just for 2021. And then you update your publishing date. That’s kind of a bit of big, you’ll see a ton of SEO is experiment with that just updating the publish date and the title to 2021. That helps your users but it doesn’t really help Google. Google knows, hey, you just updated the date and only the title, they want to see that you updated the meat of that copy the body copy. Did you really update the screenshots? If you have like a list of pool of tools did you update the like at least 30% of the copy and and then push it live? So Google doesn’t know if you’re trying to play that little trick?

AV: Okay, so there’s not an easy way out of it.

AC: Yeah.

AV: Thank you very much, Anna. I learnt a lot, thank you for taking the time. And you can follow Anna on Twitter @annaleacrowe. And if you have a Shopify store and are wanting to increase your sales try the Machine Labs app, which is free until you have 1000 customers. So see you next week on the Joy of Marketing.

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