Shopify SEO Guide: How to increase organic traffic to your store
SEO tips to fully optimize your Shopify site for higher rankings and more sales.
This guide was first published on May 21, 2020. It was updated to include new information on February 4, 2022.
Optimizing your Shopify online store for Google, Bing and other search engines is critical for helping potential customers discover your site. Many of the tenets of search engine optimization (SEO) are based on providing users with a positive experience. The easier it is to discover and use your Shopify store, the more likely people are to shop with you.
The fundamentals covered in our SEO guide also apply to Shopify SEO, but there are some tricks involved in getting a Shopify site fully optimized for search. There are also nuances and other factors to be mindful of when evaluating the platform’s SEO capabilities.
In this guide, we address the SEO fundamentals and technical considerations to improve your Shopify store’s search rankings to increase traffic and sales.
Shopify SEO basics
Shopify’s page editor. Shopify’s content management system (CMS) has a page editor with a simple user interface to build landing pages, collections pages, product detail pages and blog posts.
The page editor allows for basic formatting options, headings, tables and the ability to edit in HTML. You can also upload photos and embed videos to the pages.
The search engine listing preview section automatically generates a page title and meta description based on the content you enter in the page details section. By default, your page title is used for the title tag and H1 and your description is used for the meta description. Site owners can overwrite these automated defaults by modifying their search engine preview section.
Page titles are an important ranking factor. They provide search engines with information about the contents of your page and they often appear as the headline for your search result.
Meta descriptions are often what appear under the title in search results. They should summarize the content of the page for prospective customers, and can help improve click-throughs to your site.
The Shopify page editor allows you to manually revise your titles and descriptions. If you’re not content with the ones automatically generated, optimize them to include the target keywords you’d like to rank for and appeal to customers browsing the search results.
Analytics. Shopify sites are compatible with two very useful, free tools: Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Google Search Console helps site owners monitor and troubleshoot their site’s presence in Google search results, and provides data on the queries that are leading prospects and customers to your pages. Google Analytics shows you how people arrived at your site and behaved once they got there. Search Console and Analytics are critical tools for SEO.
To connect your Shopify store to Google Search Console, you’ll need to add a piece of code to your homepage (Shopify has a great video on this). There are two things to keep in mind when verifying your Search Console account for your Shopify store: Google will only index the current theme and only if the theme is live and not password protected (new merchants often password-protect their sites because they’re not yet ready for launch).
Setting up Google Analytics is as simple as enabling it in your Shopify site preferences, acquiring your tracking ID and pasting it into the associated field within Shopify.
[Pro Tip] Use Shopify’s URL structure to help segment your analysis
Thanks to Shopify’s strict URL structure, it’s easy to segment certain types of content in Google Search Console, Google Analytics, etc. For example, if you want to see how your products are performing, simply filter your data by URLs that contain “/products/” and voila! The same trick works for collections (/collections/), blog posts (/blogs/), and pages (/pages/).-Kevin Wallner, founder, First Chair Digital
Domain and security. You can buy a custom domain through Shopify; the platform even has a free tool to check domain name availability and generate alternative domain names. If you don’t want a custom domain, your site’s URL will be yoursitename.myshopify.com. Having your own custom domain is much better branding, conveys more professionalism and greatly increases your chance of ranking well in searches for your business’ name.
If you opt for a custom domain, check that your .myshopify.com domain redirects to your primary domain by logging into your Shopify account and heading to Settings > Domains (within the left-hand navigation menu). Your primary domain should say “Traffic from all your domains redirects to this primary domain.” If it does not, click on “Enable redirection.” Doing this will help to ensure that search engines only show your primary domain to searchers, instead of presenting both the primary and the .myshopify.com domain.
All Shopify plans also come with an SSL certificate, which encrypts data sent between your site and its visitors. This is important because Google gives a small ranking boost to secure sites and because many browsers will display a security warning when users attempt to visit a site without an SSL certificate. You can check this one off your worry list.
Site speed. Site speed and security are Google ranking factors, and they go hand-in-hand with user experience. Slow load times may lead customers to bounce before your page loads, which means they won’t be buying from you.
Selecting a lightweight theme for your Shopify store can help you get a head start on your speed optimizations. Loading times can vary across themes, said Chris Long, director of e-commerce at Go Fish Digital, during our Shopify SEO session of Live with Search Engine Land.
His agency found that the average theme takes approximately 3.8 seconds for First Contentful Paint (FCP), makes 171 requests and weighs in at about four megabytes. If you’ve already selected a Shopify theme, those benchmarks can help you gauge whether your online store is performing below or above the mean.
If you haven’t selected a theme, or are considering switching themes, Long has compiled a list of the top-performing Shopify themes according to FCP and Time to Interactive (TTI) and the late Hamlet Batista also published a list of page speed scores for numerous Shopify themes.
Shopify features a content delivery network (CDN) that can help keep page load times down no matter where in the world your customers are browsing. Even so, it’s in your best interest to compress your images (more on that below) and implement lazy loading functionality to shave down your loading times as much as possible.
Instead of loading all your images the instant a visitor lands on your page, lazy loading enables the visitor’s browser to load images as they scroll, decreasing the upfront load time. “It’s actually exceptionally easy for developers to implement in most cases,” Long said.
Being conservative with your Shopify apps (more on that below) can also help you manage page load times. And, tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights can help you identify more opportunities to increase site speed by suggesting different image formats and other speed optimizations.
Image optimization. Since e-commerce stores typically feature many product photos, image optimization is key. Even with Shopify’s CDN, image file size can disproportionately increase page load times.
Selecting the appropriate format to compress your images is one way to keep file sizes under control: JPEGs will generally result in smaller file sizes than PNGs, which are more suitable when you need a transparent background in your image.
Every image should have an alt attribute assigned to it. Image alt text provides search engines with more context as to what the page is about, which can improve relevance and thus rankings. Additionally, the alt text is read aloud for site visitors that rely on screen readers, so adding it will help you comply with digital accessibility standards.
From your Shopify admin, alt text can be added by navigating to the desired product detail page and clicking the desired image or media item. A media preview page will open and you can click “Add alt text” to edit the field. Once you’re done, save the alt text and exit the preview page.
Store owners can use image optimization apps (more on Shopify apps in the next section) to automate some of these tasks. TinyIMG SEO Image Optimizer has hundreds of five-star reviews and can help keep your load times down by compressing your images.
Shopify does provide an image sitemap, which helps Google find your images so that they may potentially appear in image search results and provide searchers with one more way to discover your products. However, Shopify’s image sitemap only includes one image per product and does not include additional metadata. To get more of your images indexed, Kevin Wallner, founder of First Chair Digital, recommends the Image Sitemap app, which can build, submit, monitor and update XML sitemaps for all the images in your store.
Shopify apps. One big advantage of a platform like Shopify is the app ecosystem that makes it easy to add more features and tools to your site with little to no coding. There are apps to help you manage inventory, take customer support tickets, run affiliate programs and, yes, optimize your site for search.
Shopify has dozens of SEO apps, including Yoast SEO, which offers much of the same functionality as its well-known WordPress counterpart. Yoast SEO can help you control your titles and descriptions in Google Search and social media and provide feedback on readability. It can also help you implement structured data, which can come in handy as structured data is used to power product information in image search results, which may, in turn, help you guide searchers from Google’s image results directly to your product pages.
In 2021, both Google and Bing launched Shopify integrations. These integrations are actually apps (the Google Channel and Microsoft Channel apps) and they both allow merchants to include their products in Google’s and Bing’s free product listings. This is a welcome addition for Shopify retailers since these integrations make it easier for them to get greater search visibility without necessarily needing to rely on an expert. And, both apps can also be used to launch shopping campaigns, in case you want to advertise your offerings.
There are also plenty of other apps that can help you do things like add product reviews to give customers more information about what you’re selling, which search engines may use to show star ratings that can improve your clickthrough rates.
Before you load up on apps, keep in mind that they add extra code to your site. Apps that load on the user’s end, such as some that enable you to customize your store’s design, may slow the site down.
Sitemaps. Sitemaps contain information about your pages and files and are used by search engines to crawl and index your site — this process enables your pages to appear in search results. Shopify automatically generates a sitemap.xml file, with links to your pages, products, images, collections and blog posts, for all sites. After verifying your Google Search Console account, submit your sitemap to Google to help it find and index your pages.
Crawl optimization. For merchants that want to control which pages get crawled, Shopify now lets site owners edit their robots.txt files. This can be used to disallow certain URLs from being crawled, add extra sitemap URLs, block crawlers and so on.
International domains. In March 2021, Shopify launched international domains, enabling merchants to sell to more than one country using a single account. Merchants can now configure subdomains and language folders for international targeting. When you do so, Shopify automatically adds hreflang tags to your store, which can help save you time.
Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, more local merchants have made their way to Shopify. If your business serves a locale, ensure that you have an online presence wherever customers may go to look for businesses like yours, be it Google, Bing, Facebook or other platforms.
While your Shopify website will complement your local efforts, the range of options for local search optimization warrants numerous standalone articles. As a jumping-off point, check out our how-to guide on optimizing your Google local knowledge panel.
Technical SEO for Shopify
Search engines work by “crawling” websites, meaning that they look through a site’s code and URLs to discover each page on the site. That information is then added to the search engine’s index to be ranked and served as a result when someone conducts a relevant search.
Shopify enables store owners to bypass many of the technical aspects of launching an e-commerce site by providing pre-made themes with Shopify’s framework as the structure. However, that structure is rigid and in some instances, does not provide a straightforward way to make certain technical optimizations.
Being aware of the technical SEO challenges inherent to Shopify can help you find workarounds for a number of issues and inform prospective store owners about the trade-offs that come with building their store on Shopify.
Below are the most common technical SEO challenges that Shopify store owners encounter. Solutions to these issues are discussed in our Technical SEO for Shopify guide.
Duplicate product pages. Collections help group products together into categories, making it easier for customers to find them. They’re also an inherent property of the Shopify framework.
When you associate a product page with a collection page (as the vast majority of merchants are likely to do), Shopify will generate a second URL for that product page. For some of the free themes, this means you’ll have two URLs for the same product. The URLs you end up with will look something like this:
Duplicate product pages can split your link-building power as referrers may link to either URL. Duplicate content can also make it harder for search engines to determine which URL to index and rank. While Shopify has remedied this issue for some of its free themes, canonicalizing the duplicate, some themes may still be affected, so we’re leaving this guidance in place, just in case.
Internal linking. The duplicate pages issue mentioned above can also show up in your internal links. In the image below, Shopify uses two different links to direct customers to the same product detail page.
While internal links don’t directly play into Google’s algorithms, they do direct link equity to your product detail pages. That link equity gets diluted when it is spread across multiple links and search engines will have a harder time understanding which one is the primary URL.
Architecture issues. Shopify automatically generates the URL for your product detail pages using the following structure: myshopifystorename.com/products/product-name. Store owners can only modify that last part of the URL, where the product’s name (which is derived from the page title) appears.
URLs are a minor ranking factor, so you’ll want to use descriptive words in your URLs to inform search engines about your page, but also to give potential customers an idea of what they’re clicking through to. Removing the “/products” or “/pages” URL paths gives you more space to include those descriptive keywords; unfortunately, Shopify doesn’t have that option out-of-the-box. There are, however, solutions, such as Cloudflare and their Cloud Worker interface, that can be implemented with the help of a developer, as discussed in our Technical SEO for Shopify guide.
Product schema. Schema is a type of structured data that can help search engines understand your site’s content. Search engines also use schema to generate rich snippets, which can provide your products with greater visibility in the search results.
For example, Google uses product schema in image search results to display a product’s price, its availability and star ratings.
Google’s Popular Products section is another search feature that uses schema to provide potential customers with product information, although it is currently only available for apparel and fashion items.
[Pro Tip] Use schema and Google Merchant Center for additional organic visibility
With an app like Feed for Google Shopping or ShoppingFeeder, you can sync your entire product inventory with Merchant Center. Once you’re in Merchant Center, if you enable ‘Local Surfaces Across Google’ in Programs, your products can instantly appear in Maps results when people search product keywords . . . Surfaces Across Google creates a Google-hosted storefront, so you might see a decline in visitors in your Shopify analytics if customers are browsing products on Google instead; however, these visitors can be tracked in Merchant Center.–Lachlan Wells, Berlin-based SEO consultant
Product schema is built into most Shopify themes. The default theme, “Dawn,” supports the following schema types: “Organization,” “WebSite,” “Article” and “Product.”
SEO, beyond products and category pages
Creating valuable, informative and engaging content can help increase your store’s organic visibility. Content can give search engines more information about your site and prospective customers more ways to discover your business. More visibility can mean more traffic and more sales.
The pages every store should have. It’s highly recommended that you create an “About us” and “Contact” page; these pages help potential customers get familiar with your business and enable them to get in touch with you to resolve concerns before and after they buy from you.
Keyword research. Keyword research helps you understand how your target audience searches — for the kinds of products you sell, the types of problems they’re looking to solve and other queries that are relevant to your business. You can then use these words to inform your content strategy and optimize your pages.
There are a number of keyword research tools that help indicate how popular queries are, seasonal trends and related terms. Google Trends analyzes search query interest, which can be filtered by time and geographic region, displays related queries and allows you to compare interest between different target keywords. You can also examine the auto-suggested queries that populate in the search bar on Google, Bing and Amazon to get more keyword ideas.
Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising offer in-depth keyword tools that include monthly search volume and competition estimates and suggested bid amounts. Google Keyword Planner and Microsoft Keyword Planner are designed for advertisers, but they are both free to use and provide a wealth of information.
You’ll also want to evaluate what the search results look like for the keywords you’re researching. The “People also ask” box and the “Searches related to” section can supplement your keyword research.
Take a look at the search results and features present on the page to get an idea of what search engines are surfacing for that set of terms. Are the results filled with news articles, signaling an informational intent, or are they businesses selling products similar to yours? If it’s the latter, you have a higher chance of ranking for those keywords.
E-commerce content ideas. Providing your audience with pertinent content can help them get more value from your products or services while also signaling relevance to search engines. Here are a few content ideas that might help you get started:
- How-to’s and tutorials can inform your customers about how your products or services work. Consider creating a video to demonstrate these points; you can then upload it to YouTube and embed it on your blog post or product detail page to encourage visitors to shop with you.
- Behind-the-scenes content can bolster your branding and give customers a reason to shop with you over competitors. For example, if you sell vegan cookie dough, you could create a video that demonstrates how you test new recipes to teach customers about your process while getting them excited for upcoming flavors.
- Case studies can separate your business from a crowded field of competitors. If you’re selling tie-dye t-shirts, for example, you could create a video detailing how your shirts’ colors hold up against competing brands, wash after wash.
Looking for more ways to optimize and market your Shopify store? Check out these resources:
- The ins and outs of Shopify SEO [VIDEO]
- Technical SEO for Shopify: A guide to optimizing your store for search engines
- Shopify tradeoffs: What to consider before selecting your next e-commerce platform
- Blogging for Shopify: A unique SEO approach
- 5 easy-to-miss SEO mistakes blogs make
- E-commerce category pages outperform product detail pages in SERPs
- Raising the stakes on product category pages
- Download the Periodic Table of Digital Commerce Marketing
- Search Engine Land’s Essential Guide to SEO: Master the science of SEO
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.