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Want to Rank Your Store? Get On Page One With This SEO Checklist

An illustration of a scroll like checklist full of SEO ideas to apply to your website to get it ranking

Of all the digital marketing channels at your disposal, in my experience nothing leaves new store owners scratching their heads quite like search engine optimization.

Though most of us use and rely on tools like Google in our daily lives, understanding how search engines index and rank web pages doesn’t come naturally to most people—at least not at first.

As a former Merchant Success Manager at Shopify, I spent much of my time helping merchants find new ways to identify and scale their marketing and SEO efforts.

Much of my experience with SEO comes from growing my own store, Weave Got It Canada, where organic traffic has become a key pillar for our overall growth. In fact, search has been so effective for us that I haven’t had to rely on paid advertising at all as we’ve scaled our business.

What I’ve learned is that while SEO is ultimately a long-term investment, new store owners can get a lot of value by building a simple strategy and making sure their storefront is following recommended on-page practices. To help you do just that, I’ve outlined my suggested steps for getting started in an easy to follow checklist.

Basic SEO checklist

Buy a custom domain

Register a custom domain name through Shopify. Your store needs its own domain to succeed in search. It also builds trust with potential shoppers when clicking through search engines. It’s also memorable. Choosing a domain name related to your industry helps you rank higher for related keywords. Configuration and setup are fully automated through Shopify.

Stuck on a domain name? Try Shopify’s domain name generator. Simply enter your brand or ideal domain name and get ideas that are available to buy.

Set up Google Analytics

Create your Google Analytics account. Head to Google Analytics and click Start for free. Follow the instructions to set up a property and set up a tracking code so Google can collect your website data.

Create a Universal Analytics property. Next you’ll want to connect Google Analytics to your Shopify Store. Start by creating a Universal Analytics property. Then turn on ecommerce tracking in your Google Analytics account. You can enable basic ecommerce tracking, which only tracks transaction and revenue data. You can also enable enhanced ecommerce tracking, which provides more information about visitor behavior.

Learn to set this up by reading Setting up Google Analytics in the Shopify Help Center.

Set up Google Search Console

Submit your sitemap to Google through your Webmaster Tools account you just created. All Shopify stores automatically generate a sitemap file, which lists your website’s individual pages. A sitemap tells Google and other search engines about the organization of your site. If you’re curious, Shopify store owners can access their sitemaps through [www.yourstore.com/sitemap.xml].

Use Google Webmaster Tools to check for any crawling errors. Search engines index websites through bots that “crawl” a website and its pages. A crawling error happens when a bot tries to reach a specific page (or site) but fails. If you are alerted about any errors, work to fix them immediately.

Verify your Shopify domain. Third party services like Google Webmaster require you to verify your domain. This makes sure you are the correct owner of your Shopify store before they provide services for you. Learn to verify your domain to use Google services.

Set up Bing Webmaster tools

Create a Bing Webmaster Tools account. Bing is the second largest search engine in the United States. Bing Webmaster Tools is a free Microsoft service that lets you add your store to the Bing crawler. Once added, you’ll show up in the search engine. Open a free Bing Webmaster account by going to the sign-up page, then add and verify your website.

Read the Bing Webmaster Tools Getting Started Checklist to learn more.

Be on a paid plan

Get a paid Shopify plan. Stores on free trials are crawled and indexed. But, if you’re not on a paid plan, the work you put in will disappear once your trial is over. It’s also important to remove password protection on your pages, even if you’re still working on some. Unlock the finished pages so Google can start crawling and indexing your site.

Consider SEO tools

Note 💡: Shopify online stores have built-in SEO features to help optimize your content. Some things are taken care of automatically: canonical tags are added to pages to prevent duplicate content from showing SERPS, your website’s robots.txt files and sitemap.xml, and a theme’s automatically generated title tags that include your store name. Themes also have social media linking and sharing options to make it easier to market your store.

Keeping up with algorithm changes, rankings, and competitors is challenging but necessary for online businesses. There are good paid and free SEO tools you can use to meet search goals. You’re already one step ahead by setting up Google Search Console and Analytics.

Paid:

  1. Ahrefs, a complete SEO tool suite for audits, research, tracking, and more
  2. Keywords Everywhere, for simple keyword research

Free:

  1. Surfer SEO Chrome plug-in, for free search data and content guidelines
  2. Keyword.io, for free keyword suggestions
  3. Screaming Frog, to find crawl errors on your site.
  4. Moz, for a full SEO marketing suite
  5. MozBar, for on the go SEO research

We’d also recommend downloading an app like the Plug in SEO Optimizer for your Shopify store. It’s similar to what Yoast SEO is for Wordpress. It’ll help you run SEO audits, fix broken links, add redirects, optimize HTML title tags and meta tags, and more.

Plug In SEO app

Free Download: SEO Checklist

Want to rank higher in search results? Get access to our free, checklist on search engine optimization.

On-page SEO checklist: product, blog, and collections pages

Keyword research

Use Moz’s Keyword Explorer to determine the search volume of keywords and get keyword ideas. Familiarizing yourself with a keyword research tool is a good idea. When we say search “volume,” we’re talking about the rough number of monthly searches for a specific keyword.

I also use and recommend Ahrefs, but regardless of which keyword tool you go with (there are dozens), it’s more important that you explore it fully and continue to learn the fundamentals.

Map keywords to content types. It’s important to remember each page on your site—product pages, categories, blog posts, homepage—can rank for different keywords. Keyword research can actually inform what pages you should create. For example, some of your pages can target searches for information (“what is aromatherapy”), while others target keywords with a lower volume but that indicate an intent to buy (“buy aromatherapy bottles”).

Page optimizations

Ensure you are using one, and only one, H1 tag on your pages. H1 (header 1) tags often are used as the main headline for a page and usually contain the page’s main keywords. Note that Shopify page titles are the default H1 tag for pages created through Shopify—avoid manually adding an H1 tag anywhere else on the page.

Keep your page titles under 60 characters so they aren’t truncated in results. Currently, Google consistently displays the first 50–60 characters of most webpages. Always include your main keywords near the beginning of your page title. Finally, remember that you can structure your page title to look more like a listing rather than an editorial title or complete sentence, including appropriate characters or callouts to highlight key information.

Keep your meta descriptions punchy and under 155 characters. Google has confirmed there’s no exact character count for showing or truncating meta descriptions. Research from Moz indicates many meta descriptions are being cut off around the 155–160 character mark. To adapt, include your target keywords and strongest copy at the very beginning of your meta description, and try to avoid going over 155 characters.

meta description example for SEO

As a refresher, a meta description is the text under a page title in a search result—the copy you write here should clearly describe the content on the page and also be compelling enough to click.

Write compelling page titles that are human-readable. The copy you write for page titles and meta descriptions should clearly describe the content on the page, include important keywords, and be interesting enough to click. Don’t forget about the people reading your copy: Appearing in the search results is only part of the job, as you also need to convince users to visit your page over all the other options.

Include a keyword in your page URL. Shopify store owners should note that a page title becomes the default URL. I recommend including your target but keeping URLs short and sweet by avoiding filler words (note the URL we’re using for this very blog post).

Ensure your images have descriptive alt text and filenames. Google Images now make up nearly 23% of all web searches. To ensure your photos appear in Image results, you should name each image file something descriptive (i.e., don’t name an image “298343798.jpg”) and write descriptive ALT tags that explain what each image is.

adding image alt text in Shopify

Add schema markup to get rich snippets. Schema markup helps Google understand your website content better. It improves how your page shows up in SERPs, which can lead to higher click-through rates and more website traffic.

For example, this Shopify article that ranks for “online selling sites” uses schema markup.

SERP listing with Schema markup

Here’s how it looks without schema markup.

SERP listing without schema markup

Setting up schema isn’t too hard. Just follow this Getting Started guide by schema.org.

Content

Start planning a basic content marketing strategy. Developing and executing on a full-fledged content marketing strategy can take months, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t simple exercises that can help get you started:

  1. Brainstorm customer questions. Consider what questions customers may ask when they’re aware of your product category but aren’t perfectly informed. For example, at Weave Got It, we help customers understand the different grades of hair extensions available and what to consider when deciding between each grade.
  2. Help customers get more value out of products. Have you ever noticed how many stores that sell food products also feature simple recipes to get started? This is a smart approach for many products—often, customers aren’t expert users and may not understand the tips and tricks you know about in order to get the most out of their purchase.
  3. Use keyword research to match questions with search terms. Of course, content ideas should be paired with the actual terms people are searching for.

SERP listing example

Helping customers make the most of your product can also lead new customers to your site. Above we see Kettle & Fire ranking for “bone broth soup recipes.”

Informational pages and blog posts should aim for ~500 words. Clear, concise content is valuable, but there’s usually a minimum length needed to fully answer a question and have a chance at appearing in search results. Most questions warrant at least a few hundred words, though keep in mind quality is far more important than quantity.

Write original product descriptions. All content on your website should be original and written just for your store. For example, don’t use product descriptions from manufacturers. Writing your own descriptions also gives you the chance to better sell the features and benefits of your products.

Consider adding product reviews to your product pages. 95% of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase, which makes them essential for building trust. But product reviews also provide additional, related content to your product pages, which can help them rank for long-tail keywords. You can install Product Reviews, a free app developed by Shopify, to add SEO-friendly review scores to your product pages. I use it across all my product pages.

adding product reviews to product page example

Set up your business on other platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. When you’re just creating your brand, registering your name on social accounts will help you protect your identity down the line, but it also gives people a place to find you today. Link to your social accounts from your store, too, but stick to the channels where you plan to reach and sell to potential customers.

Building links for SEO checklist

Create a link-building strategy. Search engines such as Google use the number, quality, and relevancy of links to a specific page or website as a ranking factor. You can think of links as “citations” that establish trust in the eyes of search engines.

In my opinion, the best way to approach building backlinks is to focus on partnerships or determining who (publishers, other sites in your industry, etc.) you can provide and share value with. If you know a beauty blogger who regularly reviews the kind of skin care products you sell, a simple introduction can be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Analyze your competitors’ earned links and mentions. Thanks to tools like Moz’s Link Explorer and Ahrefs Site Explorer, you can explore what sites and pages are linking to your competitors. What’s especially useful is understanding the context: Why did these sites decide to link to your competitors? What about the page made it worthy of a link?

Spotting these trends—like if competing stores earn lots of mentions in gift guides—can help you come up with ideas on which partners to work with and how you can provide enough value to earn a high-quality link.

Look for opportunities for press mentions. Start by reading our guide to getting press coverage to help you brainstorm a list of ways to land a mention on other websites. If you’ve already picked up some traction, look into using a brand monitoring tool to find “unlinked” mentions of your store or products on other sites. Once you receive an alert, you can politely ask the writer or publication to add a link.

Technical SEO checklist

Check if your store is mobile-friendly

Review your site on mobile. Every theme on the Shopify theme store is mobile friendly, but if you’re not using Shopify, use this tool to see how it looks on a mobile device. All pages should be just as readable on mobile as they are on desktop.

If you want to double check your mobile optimization, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Enter your website page and see if it’s optimized or not.

mobile friendly webpage test

Ensure your store is fast

Speed is a ranking factor for both desktop and mobile searches. You can run your site through PageSpeed Insights to get Google’s recommended list of tweaks you can make to your store’s performance.

Use redirects where necessary

When a page on your site becomes inactive—such as when you remove a product that used to be for sale—you can redirect that page to another relevant existing page on your site, giving visitors a new destination instead of a dead link. To add a redirect in Shopify, read our documentation on how to easily set one up.

Create internal link strategy

Internal linking is one of the most important tactics in SEO marketing. It involves linking from one page to another within your own website. Done right, you can improve your search engine rankings.

The idea is to link pages of specific topics to other pages with relevant content. This helps search engines recognize your topical authority, categorize your content, and rank your pages.

Ecommerce store owners can create internal links through:

  • Related items. When a visitor is on your product page, you can show related products. Google will understand these two items are related and index accordingly.
  • Feature items. Show featured items on your homepage or category pages that link to product pages. Aim to include the most popular products here. Use anchor text that includes keywords when linking to products.
  • Blogging. Create articles about specific products and topics related to your brand. You can link to products or other pages from the post.

Learn more about links by reading the Internal Linking [SEO 2021] guide by Moz.

Build a global navigation menu

A website’s global navigation holds the most important links in your online store. These links tell visitors which pages you consider important. It gives them an easy way to get to specific pages, be it product, collection or sale pages. For SEO, your global navigation links tell crawlers what pages are most important on your site.

Common types of navigation links include:

  • Single-bar navigation. All links live in one bar and are limited.
  • Double-bar navigation. Primary and secondary links live in the navigation bar. They are stacked above each other.
  • Dropdown navigation. Designed so when a user hovers over the navigation link, a list of links dropdown.

Footer menus are also included in your store’s navigation. Shoppers will probably look at your footer menu to find contact and policy information.

Learn to set this up by reading Understanding navigation in the Shopify Help Center.

Optimize your URLs

URLs seem like a small piece of the puzzle, but they are important for SEO. Your URLs tell search engines about the content on your page. Since both search engines and visitors read your URL, you’ll want to follow a few best practices:

Make URLs readable.

https://yourdomain.com/pink-socks

🛑 https://yourdomain.com/index.php?24551=p44=?

Use hyphens not underscores.

https://yourdomain.com/pink-socks

🛑 https://yourdomain.com/pink_socks

Include target keywords.

https://yourdomain.com/mens-yellow-socks

🛑 https://yourdomain.com/polkdotsocks-yellow-white-for-men

Your goal: Keep your URL structures simple. Organize your content so that URLs are built in a way that is understandable by humans. Read Google’s guide on URL structure to learn more.

Fix duplicate content

Duplicate content refers to when similar content exists on two different URLs. This makes it hard for search engines to determine which of the two pages they should rank. Product pages and collections pages are the most common duplicate content in a store.

If you have duplicate content that are dynamic pages, use a canonical URL. Use this tag when you want to tell Google which page it should prioritize. You’ll need to add a rel=”canonical” link to the head of any page with duplicate content.

Read this help guide to order search engines to not follow a specific page.

Free Download: SEO Checklist

Want to rank higher in search results? Get access to our free, checklist on search engine optimization.

Local SEO checklist

Set up Google My Business

Google My Business is an excellent free SEO tool for local businesses. You can set up your business listing in minutes. It helps customers find you across Google Search and Maps. Start by heading to the sign-up page. Then follow the prompts to create your listing.

You’ll need basic information about your business such as: Name, Category, Location, and Contact Details. Once finished, optimize your Google My Business Page to get found in search and connect with customers.

List your store on major directories and platforms

You’ve probably heard to list your business on web directories at some point. While there are a ton of directories out there, few will make an impact on your rankings.

The top 10 directories you should consider are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Apple Maps
  3. Google My Business
  4. LinkedIn Company Directory
  5. Bing
  6. Yelp
  7. Better Business Bureau
  8. Foursquare
  9. Yellow Pages
  10. Angies List

Feel free to explore more web directory lists. You may find niche directories you feel are best for your business. Add your business listing accordingly.

Fill out your Contact Us page thoroughly

A lot of thought goes into creating your homepage and landing pages. For local businesses, your Contact Us page is important for building trust and attracting local customers. A contact form can provide shoppers with your name, address, and phone number. This is crucial for local SEO because Google values consistent, accurate information for searchers.

Consider city-specific landing pages

If you have physical locations in multiple cities, consider creating a unique landing page for each city. This makes it easier to rank for each market area without having to build a separate website for each place.

Be sure to create location-specific copy for each landing page. This tactic may take time and resources to create, especially if you have a lot of locations. Avoid publishing thin, unhelpful pages. Google may penalize your site.

What to do if you get stuck?

Search changes often, so stay informed with a reading list. There’s a lot more to learn about SEO, and it’s a discipline that sees many small, frequent changes as search technology moves forward. You can start by getting updates straight from Google by reading its Google Search Center Blog and Think With Google publications.

When in doubt, refer to Google’s official recommended practices. I always remind our merchants that customer experience comes first, and not every bit of advice from Google matches the SEO best practices that work today. However, as a general rule of thumb, Google’s guidelines can help you avoid the questionable practices that may get your site penalized. If you ever have doubts, revisit Google’s recommendations.

If you need extra help, you can always hire a Shopify Expert to help with your search marketing strategy. Or download an SEO plugin for your website in the Shopify App Store.

Giving searchers what they want

While the way people use search engines will continue to evolve, one thing that will remain consistent is why we bother to use search at all: in order to discover things we want or recall things we’ve seen.

With that in mind, the only timeless SEO strategy might simply be to provide searchers with what they’re looking for. Search engines, particularly Google, have in turn rewarded websites that keep this in mind. The vast majority of what we covered above—fast-loading websites, interesting content and copy, clear page and image descriptions—are things that make searchers’ lives easier.

As you build your site, always keep in mind this connection between the user experience and search optimization. As search technology improves, these two things seem to march in lockstep, which means the easiest way to please a search engine is to please the people who use it.

Illustration by Rose Wong


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SEO Checklist FAQ

What is an SEO checklist?

An SEO checklist is a list of items required or points to be considered for ranking a website in search engines. It helps ensure consistency and completion in carrying out your SEO tasks.

What are the 3 steps to successful SEO?

Three steps to successful SEO include: (1) knowing your target audience and their search habits; (2) Optimizing your website and adding new content regularly; (3) Maximizing for conversions from visitors.

What are requirements for SEO?

Some basic SEO requirements for a new page or website are mobile responsive design, a secure website, limited use of Javascript, fast page speed, robots.txt file, XML sitemaps, HTTP status codes, and good information architecture.

Can I teach myself SEO?

Yes, you can teach yourself SEO by reading articles from reputable publications and following the SEO checklist above. The more you practice improving SEO on your website, the better you’ll get at it.
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