• Is SEO Still Worth it in 2018?

Last year at this time I was writing about how SEO has changed in the last couple of years to become more about relevancy than just keywords.  This year the SEO trends are similar, but there is also the nagging question about whether or not SEO is still worth the effort at all.  Before you go deleting your blog, let’s walk through what is causing more and more people to focus less on SEO and more on other sources of traffic and sales.

The Amazon Factor

In case you haven’t heard, there is this site called Amazon that has kind of taken over the world of e-commerce.  Last year Amazon was responsible for a whopping 44% of ALL e-commerce in the US, and that number will continue to grow.  The result of this growth is that many people have started using Amazon AS a starting point for shopping instead of a traditional Search Engine.  So basically, Amazon has become a Search Engine, but one that all of the SEO in the world won’t help you get listed on.  That means less and less traffic to Google, less queries for your keywords, and thus less traffic to your site.  Selling on Amazon is certainly an option, but it definitely isn’t for everyone.

Yes, Google still works just fine, but they are definitely losing to Amazon in the product search arena.  That doesn’t mean you should be shutting down your site and throwing all in with Amazon though.  There is still plenty of search traffic to grab, but it is definitely becoming increasingly competitive.

Other Sales Channels

Amazon isn’t the only game in town for selling your product on a Marketplace.  Here are a few more that you may or not be aware of:

  • eBay – yep, it is still around and you can still make some decent money selling here
  • Etsy – while not as great as it used to be, if you make your own products (jewelry, crafts, bath and body, etc) you can sell your products here.  Beware the Chinese knock-off artists!
  • Walmart – bet you didn’t know you could sell on Walmart.com did you?  Not as popular as Amazon, but it is still Walmart, so there is definitely potential here
  • Newegg – if you sell electronics this is the place for you.
  • Sears – hard to believe it, but you can sell on Sears – for as long as they are still in business at least!

Facebook/Instagram Advertising

Here is where you can really get a lot of bang for your buck.  Facebook has over 2 BILLION active users, and there are over 800 million on Instagram.  The potential target audience here is hard to ignore.  This isn’t a simple pay per click bidding war like Google AdWords, but a system that lets you target your audience by age, gender, interests, income, location and even audiences that are similar to your existing customers.  Quite simply, you can deliver ads to people who are almost guaranteed to like what you want to sell them, and then track them and re-target them with ads after they visit your site.  Scary, but also highly effective. I cover this in more detail in my Facebook Advertising post.  No SEO needed, just a budget of a few bucks a day and a simple tracking pixel on your web site.

Social Media

This one ties in a bit to advertising, as the goal is similar but without the cost.  Unlike SEO, the results here are instant with no ceiling.  If you have a post go viral, your potential audience could be in the tens of millions.  With SEO the ceiling is the number of users who search for that particular keyword and it often takes years to build up a decent rank.  Many of our clients spend most of their marketing time these days on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and build up tens of thousands of followers.  One post about a new product could easily bring in hundreds of sales.

If you like instant results and the thrill of a post getting lots of likes, Social Media is definitely for you!  One thing to note is that you will likely get much less of a conversion rate from Social Media traffic.  Why?  Because most of the time a user isn’t looking for your particular product when they stumble upon your site, they were just killing time on whatever social media platform they found you on.  While that user may not purchase the first time, you have your foot in the door and they may come back later when they ARE looking for what you are selling.

Google Shopping

If you want to bypass the search results and just get your products listed at the top of a search results page, there is always Google Shopping. It is a paid service that lets you export your products out of your e-commerce store and list them in Google’s ‘shopping’ tab (and also at the top of the search results). Here’s what it looks like for a search for ‘video cards’:

Google Shopping

So What About SEO?

Now that we have covered alternatives to SEO, what is new in 2018 as far as actual SEO goes?  Here are some important factors to consider:

META Description and Titles

While these are still relevant, they are mostly for enticing a user to click on your search result listing and NOT as a ranking signal.  That means that stuffing your keyword in the tags 100 times won’t help your rank, and will not help getting a user to click on your listing either.  There are some changes this year, as Google has increased the allowed character count of the description tag from 155 characters to 300.  Keep in mind though that Google will often ignore your painstakingly crafted custom META description for one they feel works better for the search query.  Here’s a bit more detail on the specifics of META Description tags.

Site Speed

This is becoming more and more of an important factor in Google’s algorithm, but more importantly, it is important to keep your potential customers on the site.  The difference of 1 second of load time can mean all the difference in the world.  Many shopping cart platforms are simply not well-written for optimal speed, and most store owners don’t know how to compress their images, and both can lead to massive slowdowns.  So what can you do?  Google has provided a handy testing tool which will not only identify where your problems are, but actually give you compressed files to upload to your store. Can’t beat that service!  If you are on Pinnacle Cart and you are not comfortable uploading files or editing the code, we can get your site humming along for $250.  I guarantee we’ll improve your speed by at least 10 points or we won’t charge you!

Full-time HTTPS

If you have been putting off upgrading your site to full-time https, your time is up.  Chrome will be displaying a ‘not secure’ tag on all http pages starting in July, so time to get cracking on that change!

Having a Mobile-Friendly Site

Time is up on this one as well, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly not only will Google hate you, but so will anyone looking at your site on their phone.  Most shopping carts these days are designed with ‘responsive’ templates, meaning they adjust to the user’s device.  If you are on an older shopping cart or one that doesn’t support responsive templates, time to upgrade!

Backlinks

This is still one of the core factors in your ranking, and if you aren’t actively building backlinks to your site you will simply not appear in the search results in Google.  Remember, the links to your site have to be from sites that are relevant to your business/products.  A link from your local dive bar isn’t going to help you.

Blogging

Yes, you are still going to have to write some quality content, and the best way to do that on an e-commerce site is still via blogging.  The added bonus of blog articles is that they make great content for social media posts, so you keep your customers engaged.  Adding a new blog article once a week and blasting it out on all of your social media channels not only helps for SEO, but it gives your customers a reason to visit your site regularly as well.

Optimizing for Voice Search

With more and more people using devices like Google Home or Amazon Echo, the way people search for things is changing.  When people use voice search, they will typically use a longer, more precise query that is more conversational in nature.  Here’s a specific example of how someone may search by typing vs voice search using a popular bath and body product:

Traditional search

Chocolate Bath Bomb

Voice Search

Find chocolate bath bombs that are moisturizing

As you can see, the voice searches tend to be much longer and more precise, and are also more conversational in tone.  That means you need to also optimize for ‘long tail’ keywords, or keywords are are much more specific than a typical keyword.  The beauty of long-tail keywords is that they typically have much less competition than a broad keyword, meaning you have the chance to be one of the top results if you optimize well.

Another aspect of voice search is that the Featured Snippet result for the search query often gets read aloud by Alexa, Siri, etc.  If you aren’t familiar with the Featured Snippet (or Answer Box) in Google, it is the featured answer at the top of the search results and looks like this:

Featured Snippet

Unfortunately you can’t do anything to get your site listed as the Featured Snippet other than providing good content, Google picks what they want to show.  However, if you are optimizing for long-tail keywords and your results match the query exactly, you have a good chance of getting your result listed as the Featured Snippet.

So is SEO Still Worth It?

While it isn’t the gold mine that it once was, SEO is still a valid technique that should be used in conjunction with paid advertising and alternate sales channels.  I definitely don’t advocate relying solely on Search Engine traffic any longer, as there are just too many other channels that customers are using for product search.

If you are an in ultra-competitive market or find yourself directly competing with Amazon in search results for your keywords, SEO may not be worth it for you.

If you focus more on your brand name or authority on a subject and not just products, you can still do quite well in the search engines, as your task is more about brand awareness than selling a specific product.

No matter what strategy you hope to implement, I strongly advocate a comprehensive keyword and competition analysis first.  This will give you a much better understanding of who you are up against and what keywords offer the best potential for you.  No one wants to optimize all of their copy for one keyword only to find out that there is a more lucrative one with less competition that you didn’t catch.

We can also provide you with a monthly tune-up to make sure you don’t have any major problems that can hurt your SEO.  Every little bit counts much more than it used to now, so your site needs to be absolutely perfect in order to stay on top.

Questions?  Comments?  Drop us a line!