Optimizing an e-commerce site for SEO purposes can be a daunting task. Especially if you have a large number of products and pages, you may wonder where to begin or what keywords to choose. Additionally, you may wonder how to choose keywords that will actually bring sales along with web traffic. Here are three tips to help you understand the nature of keywords for e-commerce sites.


1. Understand the Buying Funnel

It’s no secret that most consumers go through a decision process before making a purchase. If you have an e-commerce site, understanding that process is crucial to reaching your audience and capturing the sale you’re looking for. According to Google, the average B2B researcher does 12 searches before they engage in a brand’s site. With so many searches for one purchase, it’s important to understand what the user is looking for with each search and how you can be found at the right spots in their searching process.

Several years ago, I developed some ambition to become a runner. While I can honestly say I have never really achieved “runner” status, it makes a point, nonetheless. I started running in an old pair of tennis shoes that I’d already worn for some time. However, I soon realized that my knees and shins were taking a serious toll and realized my shoes were the main culprit. Suddenly I knew I had a problem that needed to be solved, most likely through the purchase of a new product.

We call this phase of the buying funnel problem awareness. Problem awareness is often triggered by either internal stimuli or external stimuli. The buyer begins to look for information at this point but isn’t really sure how to solve the problem yet.

I started looking for information online about how to choose running shoes. I was new to running and didn’t know what I needed for my specific feet, gait, distance, etc. In my research, I found out that I needed to be aware of how my foot strikes the ground when I run. I did several more searches trying to figure out how I could determine how my feet and gait would affect what kind of running shoes I should buy to avoid pain. During all of this time, I was merely gathering the information that I felt was necessary to make me aware of what my solutions were.

After gaining what I felt was an adequate understanding of what kind of shoe I needed, I was aware of many different types of shoes that could potentially help decrease my pain when running. This is called the solution awareness phase.

Next, I engaged in solution comparison. I searched for different shoes that were along the lines of what I wanted. This phase involves comparing brands, prices, features, etc. of possible solutions. Keyword searches will be slightly more specific, but the searcher isn’t yet ready to purchase.

After searching through many options, I finally decided on which shoe I was going to try. At the time, the Nike Free was all the rage for a lightweight running shoe that encourages a midfoot strike. I had found my solution.

Nike Free

After all of this research, when the consumer is sure of their purchase decision, her final search or searches are going to be much different than those at the beginning of the process. The buyer will search with much more detailed, descriptive terms than they would at any other part of the funnel because they are ready to purchase. As a business, you’ll particularly want to focus on targeting keywords at this part of the funnel. How do you do that and what will those keywords look like? Read on.


2. Be Found at the Right Part of the Funnel

When performing keyword research for your site, all keywords are going to fit into some part of the buying funnel. Vague keywords and queries about pain points will fit into research and education portions of the buying process, as was discussed above.

When you get to the buying portion of the funnel, however, keywords look different because the intent of the searcher is different. At earlier phases of the buying funnel, when a searcher’s intent is less defined, their search terms are going to be far more broad or query-based. These keywords have very high search volume but also have high competition, making it difficult to rank in the top spot for them.

E-commerce buyer's funnel

A keyword like “women’s running shoes” will result in a multitude of non-specific results. As the searcher gets more and more confident as to what specific product she wants, her keyword searches are going to get more and more specific. In the SEO world, we call these keywords long-tail keywords.

In e-commerce, long-tail keywords are your bread and butter. Conversions come off of long-tail keywords that you’re not going to get off of less specific keywords a searcher will look for in earlier phases of the buyer’s searching. What does a long-tail keyword look like? To see how a searcher might progress through the phases of their purchase, take a look at the following keywords:


“Womens running shoes”

“Womens minimalist running shoes”

“Womens nike minimalist running shoes”

“Womens black nike minimalist running shoes”

“womens black and white nike free runs size 9”


You can see that the first keyword doesn’t carry much buying intent. If the searcher searched that phrase, the results they would get in Google would be broad. However, as she narrows down her search, she is more likely to get the exact product she is looking for.

For your product pages, be sure to focus on targeting specific, long-tail keywords that have high relevance to your products. Use keyword modifiers that target the specific product – color, size, style, brand, features etc. will get you further and further down the buyer’s funnel and closer to a conversion.


3. Capitalize on Other Parts of the Buying Funnel

Don’t forget that you also need to optimize your home page, other main navigation pages, and category pages. This gives you an opportunity to catch your audience at other points in the buying process.

  • You can create content around queries that might be related to searches a buyer would make earlier in the funnel. Research pain points a consumer might have related to your product or service and focus on providing content surrounding those pain points. By doing this, you may be able to capture customers earlier in the buying funnel.
  • Utilize category pages to target keywords that are less specific but still related to more specific terms with buying intent.
  • As you choose keywords for all pages, look for keywords with low competition. Include some competitive research in your process to make sure you can outrank your competitors if you choose the same terms they are targeting. If you can’t outrank them due to lack of authority, backlinks or other reasons, choose another relevant term that works for you.
  • Researching the way other e-commerce sites who are ranking at the top of search engines have named their products can also be helpful in determining the best phrases.

In summary, it is important to understand all phases of the buyer’s journey and capitalize on those phrases that are going to bring you the most sales. Create content surrounding pain points that may be able to bring you even more conversions. Focus on optimizing your home page, main navigation and category pages, and your product pages. If you have a site too large to optimize all product pages at once, begin with your most popular products and those that bring you the highest revenue. For more tips about how to optimize your e-commerce website, try these resources.

Nathan Somsen