Shopify SEO [2021]: tips to make your eCommerce store profitable

shopify seo

Are you one of those Shopify users, dying to get extra traffic and create a super profitable eCommerce store🧐? Well, then you are certainly in good company😬. That’s why we created this hands-on Shopify SEO guide with tips and tricks to implement directly🤠. 

In this post you will learn everything about Shopify’s possibilities and how to use those to get top rankings, traffic and sales.

Watch the full walkthrough in the video below!

This blogpost is also fully covered in the video below for your ease 😄.

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1. Shopify: becoming an eCommerce giant

Shopify is one of those platforms that has gained huge success over the past few years. Chances are pretty big that you already have a Shopify store or that you are thinking about opening one. It is now the second most popular CMS in the world after WordPress.

Shopify YoY revenue growth

Since its IPO in 2015 where Shopify stocks started trading for $28, it has gone up more than X35 and it keeps on growing, especially since COVID accelerated eCommerce spending worldwide.

Shopify grew to be an established eCommerce player and one that people love for its easy usability and good designs. However, just having your website online and your products ready to ship isn’t enough to actually make your business into a success.

Because you need traffic!

And you can either pay for it or grow it organically. Since many of you eCommerce starters don’t have huge amounts of ad budgets lying around, we thought it would be helpful to provide you with a guide on how to get those customers in without paying for them.

Therefore let’s do a deepdive into the world of Shopify SEO and all its wonders and try to answer the question if Shopify is an SEO-friendly platform.

Obviously there is a lot of overlap with “regular SEO” and not all things are Shopify specific. Nevertheless it will still be relevant for creating your Shopify goldmine.

The core principles of SEO (also apply to Shopify)

Let’s start with the basics:
The general rules of SEO still apply, which means the following three pillars are extremely important:

  1. Technical SEO
  2. Content
  3. Authority

This article will cover these topics in depth for Shopify and guide you through the best practices per pillar.

You still have to pay attention to the same elements. However, the key difference with other platforms is in:

  • Default Shopify settings
  • Interface
  • Possibility to customize
  • Apps (or at WordPress referred to as plugins) for Shopify SEO

That does not seem much, but it can make a huge difference between success and failure.

2. Where do you start?

Assuming that you’ve chosen a topic, based on our side hustle guide or seo niches article😏, you’re ready to go. But where do you start? As with any SEO project including heads and tails, the first thing you do is research.

Keyword research will allow you to:

  • Get an idea about search potential and behaviour
  • Naturally make you categorize into different topics
  • Get ideas about main keywords, related keywords and long-tail keywords
  • Get ideas around different types of content (buying intent vs. blog intent)
  • Create a clear site architecture based on data

For next steps, it is crucial that you don’t skip this step as your Shopify store will most likely fail.

Then you start with your Shopify account and have to make some choices directly. Make sure to pay attention to the following:

  • Get a paid plan: websites on a trial account won’t be indexed! This means no rankings, so no organic visitors.
  • Use a custom domain: by default your website will be a subdomain of Shopify: your-store-name.myshopify.com. So connect your own domain!
  • Make sure to add a SSL certificate and activate it: this is provided by Shopify. Security of your webshop is hugely important!
  • Choose a mobile-friendly theme: Shopify offers a great selection of responsive e-commerce templates.
  • Connect Google Analytics and Google Search Console as you would need to do to any website!

And the real SEO work will start…  🤓

3. Technical SEO for Shopify

After your research, the technical base should be there so search engines will be able to crawl and index the website, which will allow you to obtain those top rankings. The most important elements around technical SEO for Shopify include:

  • Robots.txt
  • XML sitemap
  • Site architecture
  • Duplicate content
  • Site directives (canonicals, noindex etc)
  • Structured data

Robots.txt for Shopify

Let’s start where the bots 🤖 👾 would start, right at the robots.txt. If you don’t know what it is, just a short and simple explanation:

Google states:
“A robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers which pages or files the crawler can or can’t request from your site.”

This means that you can disallow search engines from visiting certain pages, but this isn’t the method to actually prevent them from being indexed, which is done by no-index directives.

Anyway, usually you change a robots.txt file to prevent search engines from visiting certain URLs, because they’re actually wasting crawl budget. A website’s internal search engine that creates parameters is an example of this. For example:

On the search page https://www.example.com/search/ you type in seo hustlers, something like this is likely to happen: https://www.example.com/search/?q=seo+hustlers. This isn’t an existing page, just a result page from the internal search engine. And imagine that anyone can be typed in this search box. Do you want those parameter URLs to be found? NO, because they’re irrelevant.

Therefore you set rules and make sure the search engine knows what pages not to visit (and also what they do need to visit). This will look something like this:

Robots txt example

HOWEVER, Shopify does not provide the option to customize the robots.txt (easily). Instead they deliver a default robots.txt and are not planning to change it anytime soon. Their argument is:

  • They don’t want users to enter such an “advanced” and potentially threatening part of the website.
  • Shopify advises using other directives (such as nofollow, noindex and canonical attributes) that would provide a good enough alternative.

Although we disagree with their statements – as it would make life so much easier to just be able to disallow/allow certain URL paths if they’re causing any issues – it is true that there are alternatives. The ‘best’ solution is rather devious:

Using Cloudflare Workers, which basically allows you to build applications on top of Shopify. Sloth lets you optimize advanced SEO settings via Cloudfare Workers and one of these features is the robots.txt.

XML Sitemap

Let’s quote Google again:

“A sitemap is a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them. Search engines like Google read this file to more intelligently crawl your site”

So XML sitemaps are basically lists of the contents of your website, most commonly web pages, which can improve crawling of your website, especially when it’s large or complicated.

Search engines will try to find the XML sitemap in the robots.txt and fortunately the XML sitemap is referenced in the default robots.txt settings from above. Next to that is always recommended to upload it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, which will also provide you with extra crawling and indexing data.

Over to how Shopify handles XML sitemaps, because by default, Shopify generally creates four types of sitemaps within your sitemap index:

  • Product Pages (sitemap_products_1.xml)
  • Collection Pages (sitemap_collections_1.xml)
  • Blog Posts (sitemap_blogs_1.xml)
  • Pages (sitemap_pages_1.xml)

Customizing the XML sitemap

At this point it is not possible to customize or upload your custom XML sitemap, which means:

  • You cannot add specific sitemaps for images or videos.
  • You cannot change the way the XML sitemap is built up or what is included and what not.

For basic websites this is no problem at all, for larger or more complex websites, this can become an issue. However, of course there are ways to overcome this:

  • There are certain apps that allow you to modify the XML slightly. Smart SEO, Site Robot and Image sitemap are three examples.
  • Uploading your custom sitemap to your files and then redirecting the old XML sitemap to the newly created file. For more info, check this thread.
  • Using Cloudfare Workers, which is pretty advanced stuff😵.

Site architecture

So what is site architecture and is it important?

Site architecture or site structure is referring to the way the webpages on a website are set up, structured and linking to each other. This is extremely important for both search engines and users. The image below shows what that would look like:

Site architecture shopify

Having an organized flow prevents you from having pages that cannot be reached (orphan pages), groups pages into categories and subcategories (Men’s clothing > Men’s t-shirts > Men’s black t-shirts) and determines hierarchy and therefore ‘importance’ based on internal links.

By default Shopify uses the following:

  • Collections represent the top category
  • Products naturally represent the products underneath

Shopify doesn’t distinguish between categories and subcategories, which means that in the default system it isn’t possible to change the URL structure in such a way that there would be subcategory (example.com/mensclothing/tshirts/).

However, Shopify does allow nesting submenus in the navigation bar. If you head to the ‘navigation’ section in your Shopify admin, you will be able to customize menu settings and create dropdowns. This will look something like this:

Shopify cms categories

Find a step by step guideline by Shopify.

Duplicate content

Duplicate content basically means having multiple pages available to search engines that have similar or exactly the same content. This can be caused by multiple factors even without the intention of duplicating your content. Contrary to popular beliefs, duplicate content does not cause a Google Penalty. However, it could cause crawling and indexation issues that prevent content from ranking well. The most common duplicate content challenges with Shopify are:

1. Domain-related duplicate content issues:

Reaching different versions of the website:

  • Non-www / www
  • Http / https
  • Example.myshopify.com

This means that when you don’t 301 redirect to one specific version, there’s a chance multiple versions of your shop will be indexed.

To overcome this, you can easily follow these provided options by Shopify:

Online store > Domains > Enable redirection (if this hasn’t already been done automatically).

2. Canonicals

Another way of overcoming duplicate content, is by using canonical tags. This is a tag in the html code that helps search engines to understand the most representative (and original) page with content – the so called canonical URL. So with this tag (and if the search engine follows it) you will allow just one web page to appear in the search results and to consolidate link value.

3. Collection and product URLs

By default Shopify uses the following ways to structure URLs:

  • Collections to create categories, i.e.: https://example.com/collections/* > https://example.com/products/*
  • Default product pages that do not fall within a collection: https://example.com/products/* > https://example.com/products/dog-toy-bone
  • Product pages that fall under a specific collection. Then Shopify creates a duplicated version of the URL by default:  https://example.com/collections/*/products/* > https://example.com/collections/dog-beds/products/wool-donut-dog-bedThis last URL will also exist under the regular product page URL path:
    https://example.com/products/wool-donut-dog-bed

This means that there would be two product pages with exactly the same content on two different URLs. Although this by itself is definitely not a best practice, it becomes problematic because by default Shopify links to non-canonical URLs from the collection overview page. Therefore your URL structure would be set-up in a suboptimal way and you’re not making use of all the link value.

So how do you make sure the right product URL will be linked?

This needs to be adjusted in the theme’s code and fortunately it is relatively easy and explained and instructed on Shopify’s help community.

In short, go to:

  1. Online store > Themes
  2. Actions > Edit code
  3. Select product-grid-item.liquid
  4. Change the code: “{{ product.url | within: current_collection }}” class=”product-grid-item”> to { product.url }}” class=”product-grid-item”>
Shopify theme edit

4. Pagination

Pagination occurs when there’s a sequence of pages that have similar content or are connected to another. This is often the case with product overviews that continue on page 2, 3 etc.

This visualization by Ahrefs gives a nice idea of how pagination works:

The rel=”next” rel=”prev” code helps to identify a sequel of pages. Although Google (also known as  “🍌 John 🍌”)  has stated that they’re not actively using this code anymore, pagination could still be an important element due to the following factors:

  • The content – although only slightly – is different and it helps search engines to discover the content (differences) on individual pages.
  • Other search engines (yes they exist 🤓), such as Bing still use these tags.
  • Important from an accessibility perspective

So what is Shopify’s default setting for pagination?

This really depends on the theme, but many themes allow a default pagination setting. There are two things to be cautious of:

  1. Duplicate content can occur, because in the series of pages, page number 1 will contain a parameter, such as “?page=1”, which will be duplicate from the original version. If this occurs, you need to customize the theme to fix this.
  2. Another issue that arises with pagination on some themes, is that all the paginated pages contain a canonical tag pointing towards the first page, which basically makes the pagination redundant. If this happens, you either need to customize canonical tags, making them self-referencing or remove the pagination tags.

Structured data

Structured data is an umbrella term for all the schema mark-up and data that can help to provide more data and context around your website. It is a way to organize information around all different types of content on your page, such as recipes, reviews, videos, FAQs and way more. Google prefers JSON-LD as a format to deliver this information, which will look like this (example for recipes):

json ld structured data

What types of structured data are relevant for Shopify stores?

Obviously this is an overgeneralized statement, but there are some crucial elements that would bring in that little extra for your store, which could lead to higher visibility, more traffic and more sales. Check out Google’s overview of structured data features that are supported.

We recommend trying out the following for your website:

  • Covid-19 announcements: still in beta, but could be very relevant right now, especially if there are changes to your store due to covid.
  • FAQs: you can mark up your FAQs to have extended search results and directly answer questions visitors might have.
  • How to’s: if you sell products that require a certain how-to, there’s search behaviour and you can create content around it, then mark it up.
  • Local business: does your business have a physical location, definitely use this type of mark-up to provide more information.
  • Logo: More information and visual references about your business could enhance the visibility.
  • Product: one of the most important ones for your eCommerce store and sometimes already integrated in Shopify themes. This creates more information and a broader presence of the products and reviews on your website.
  • Recipe: when you’re selling anything food related, recipe mark-up is a very nice way to gain more presence.
Structured data for products

So how does Shopify deal with structured data?

There are three ways that structured data can be integrated with Shopify:

  1. Themes: some themes already integrate specific types of structured data. Especially product mark-up to get reviews in the search results are integrated in many themes and will allow the option to give details about price, stock and reviews.
  2. Apps: apps such as Smart SEO will help you to generate different types of structured data generated in JSON-LD. Pretty easy method with plenty of options.
  3. Manually: only do this if you’re a Shopify expert and have enough knowledge of coding and JSON-LD. Obviously it offers the most freedom of these options, but it is also the most sensitive to errors.

4. Shopify content elements

Content is basically the most important to rank well on a set of keywords. Besides your own keyword research and copywriting skills, does Shopify allow you to make use of the right templates and options to publish optimized content? Let’s do a deepdive in the most crucial SEO elements:

Metadata

Metadata basically means data that says something about other data. In this case SEOs often are referring to the page title and meta description that provide information about the page.

These can be edited at the section “Search Engine Listing Preview”, which looks like this:

search engine listing preview shopify

In this way you are able to manually adjust the page title and meta description for every page and make sure they are compelling, keyword-specific and have the right length.

Especially when a website has many pages, it may be recommended to use templates, rather than fill in metadata for all pages individually. Shopify uses default settings for different page types for this.

If you’d like to customize, you’ll need to make use of an app. Creating templates can help you to save a lot of time, so it’s definitely worth considering. What would such a template look like?

Collection pages:

Page title: $collectionName – Buy Online | $shopName

Meta description: Check out the complete collection of $collectionName. $shopName offers free next day delivery!

Apps such as Smart SEO and FavSEO could help you to achieve this.

Headings

Pieces of content need to be built up with titles, subtitles, “sub-sub titles” to increase readability and to allow the user to scan through the content. Therefore it is vital for SEO to use headings in the correct manner.

In short the following guidelines are important to remember:

  • Ideally there should be one H1 on a page and it should be descriptive containing the main keyword (phrase), but don’t overdo it and make the H1 too long!
  • Don’t use heading elements for sitewide link elements, product names or collection pages.
  • Make sure to use H2s as subtitles for your paragraphs, which will naturally create a hierarchy as presented below:
Headings seo shopify

By default, Shopify determines what elements will become H1 (and sometimes other headings). This is dependent on the theme and can be customized, but often will mean that the name of your page automatically becomes the H1.

Other text can be marked up in a similar way to many WordPress templates that allows you to add or edit text elements, including headings. This looks like this:

Headings shopify

Image optimization

Image SEO is becoming increasingly important as people are more likely to search visually, especially with some product types. Visual optimizations are often overlooked, but make sure you’ll include these best practices to be visible on Google Images as well:

  • The right file size: you can (bulk) compress images via Crush. This will help to increase the webpage performance.
  • Choosing the right descriptive file name. Instead of a series of digits, make sure the file name describes the image.
  • Add ALT text: a piece of metadata that describes the image. Extremely useful for accessibility and search engines. Make sure to include describing keywords in here.
  • Add a separate image sitemap and upload it to Google Search Console.
images and alt text shopify

Adding content on different types of pages:

Many e-commerce stores lack a good dose of descriptive keyword-focused body text. In a Shopify store you will probably end up with three main page types next to the homepage and general (about us, contact, etc.) pages:

  1. Collection pages: these are your category and subcategory pages that will have pretty generic high volume keyword focus, but are extremely important to add some high quality content (ideally 300+ words) to describe the (sub)category and product characteristics.
  2. Product pages: especially this will often be overlooked and seen as too much of a hassle, especially when there are numerous products you will have to write content for. Still try to write unique pieces of content per product. It is possible to standardize certain parts, but include the most important traits per product.
  3. Blog pages: not included by default, but Shopify offers the option to include a blog section and we highly recommend you do so! Many Shopify stores don’t integrate a blog, because it is so product focused, but if you care anything at all about SEO (and thus “free traffic” 😏), then make sure to integrate a blog to focus on long tail keywords.

5. Building authority on Shopify

Not any different than on other platforms, but just as challenging of course and as crucial to get some high quality powerful backlinks in. There are so many ways to approach this.

One of these ways is described in our article about expired domains. Other highly effective link building strategies can be found in the whitepaper that can easily be downloaded on the homepage.

6. Is Shopify a good platform for SEO? 🧐

Especially if you’re just looking into some basic stuff, Shopify is definitely recommended for SEO, because it allows you to customize just enough for the right results. The complicated stuff is already done for you – especially when you choose the right theme and as a CMS it is pretty straightforward.

To summarize the elements that make it the right platform for SEO:

  • Though it’s dependent on theme and contents, the platform is mobile-friendly and can get you pretty good pagespeed.
  • It allows to change the most important content elements, which is already incorporated in the platform itself.
  • Most technical SEO elements are already implemented correctly by default.
  • There are options to add Shopify apps for more advanced settings.
  • Shopify allows users to start a blog on their website.

Besides that it is just a very user-friendly system for selling products. Where WordPress definitely has more options, it is less specialized as an eCommerce platform (although it offers the option to integrate WooCommerce).

7. What makes it suck?💩

So when should Shopify not be considered the best option? Especially if you’re looking for customizing everything, the platform will not be the best for you. Many advanced SEOs will probably find many limitations and they’re right. If you want to overcome these limitations, things become pretty advanced really quickly. You will need to use software such as Cloudfare Workers which requires some dev knowledge.

Elements that are not (fully) optimized for SEO and/or can cause issues are:

  • Robots.txt
  • XML Sitemap
  • Duplicate content issues
  • Site architecture

Not saying, you cannot get them right, but it could require a bit of extra work and some customized setting.

8. Shopify SEO checklist: 10 key takeaways✔️

Again this is not a one-size fits all model where the list of 10 points will work for any Shopify website, but we would definitely recommend doing the following when you decide to work with Shopify:

  1. Choose a mobile-friendly theme with high site performance
  2. Connect Google Analytics and Google Search Console
  3. Perform a keyword analysis
  4. Create the right site architecture based on keyword data
  5. Add a blog and write blog pages based on keyword data
  6. Make sure every relevant page gets crawled and indexed by having technical SEO basics optimized
  7. Optimize metadata for all pages
  8. Add keyword-driven copy to (sub)category and product pages
  9. Optimize images
  10. Build links

9. Top SEO apps for Shopify 🔌

A lot of people wonder if the most popular SEO tool for WordPress – Yoast – also exists for Shopify. And no, unfortunately it does not exist for Shopify (yet?  🧐).

Fortunately there are some pretty good alternatives that can help improve and customize SEO for your eCommerce platform. The following will definitely help you in the right direction:

  • Smart SEO: overall SEO tool | Free & Paid plan ($4.99/month)
  • FavSEO: content editing & audits | Free & Paid plan ($9.99/month)
  • SEO Booster: allround scan(s) and recommendations | Free & Paid plan ($24.99/month)
  • Plug in SEO: checks and recommendations | Free & Paid plan ($20/month)
  • SEO manager: allround very extensive SEO tool | 7-day free trial & Paid plan ($20/month)
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