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An easy online shopping experience can also yield a search boost

New research finds an easy online shopping experience can yield search benefits.

Retailers gain search visibility by giving shoppers a seamless, generally ad-free experience in which they can easily find the products they want and check out fast. That’s according to a new study from SEO firm Searchmetrics, which identified the factors that e-commerce marketers should consider to help their sites perform better in Google US searches.

Searchmetrics said the paper, E-Commerce Ranking Factors 2017: Ten Things E-Commerce Sites Need to Know to Rank on Google, is a response to Google’s growing capacity to interpret the intent behind queries, which is aided in part by AI and machine learning techniques within its RankBrain system. RankBrain helps Google deliver more relevant results, such as identifying whether queries relate to retail, travel, finance or other verticals and ensuring that high-ranking results most effectively address what searchers are looking for.

"This, in turn, means marketers can no longer focus on universally applicable ranking factors to drive search performance and must instead take a more verticalized approach," said Daniel Furch, head of content at Searchmetrics, in a release.

“Most marketers appreciate that you need to create relevant, high quality content to perform well in search, but our latest study highlights that online retail and e-commerce marketers must also pay close attention to a variety of retail-specific factors,” Furch added in a statement.

“This includes considerations such as ensuring content is structured with bullet points so that product details can be more easily scanned by visitors, making the online checkout section easily visible without scrolling and – in most cases – avoiding ads on the page.”

The study is based on an analysis of the top 20 desktop search results on Google.com for over 6,000 industry-specific keywords that are relevant to online retail and e-commerce. Searchmetrics said it identified the common factors present in these results and how strongly they correlate with search rank. The findings were compared with Searchmetrics’ earlier study of Google ranking factors, which analyzed the results for a general set of 10,000 keywords.

Here are six takeaways online retail and e-commerce sites should consider when planning their content and SEO activity to see maximum benefit:

1. Keep content well structured.

Searchmetrics found 62% of the top 20 Google results for online retail/e-commerce-focused searches have at least one unordered list on the page versus 52% for general searches. Further, Searchmetrics said the results for online retail queries also tend to include 70% more bullets per list on average than those for generalized searches.

“It appears that Google knows that searchers who show an intent to research online purchases prefer better organized, structured content that lets them quickly scan product details and easily compare potential purchases,” Searchmetrics said.

2. Use menus and internal links.

Pages listed in the top 10 search results for online retail and e-commerce queries have 70% more internal links than those found in general searches, Searchmetrics said. Well-structured internal links and menus help visitors easily locate and browse through products, it added.

3. Ensure checkout functionality is highly visible.

Of the top 20 search results for online retail queries, over half (56%) have a checkout section visible above the fold, Searchmetrics said.

“When Google senses a consumer is researching a purchase, the pages it presents tend to make it quick and easy for visitors to make a transaction,” the software provider said.

4. Don’t panic about file size on product pages.

While Searchmetrics said Google seems to reward pages that have smaller file sizes that load faster with higher rankings, it makes some allowances for retail and e-commerce searches. In fact, Searchmetrics said file sizes for pages that appear in the top ten search results for online retail queries are on average 30% larger than those for general queries.

“It may be that Google’s algorithm recognizes that file sizes for some retail and e-commerce pages, such as those that cover an entire product category or range, are necessarily larger because they have to display numerous product images,” Searchmetrics added.

5. Eliminate unnecessary video.

Embedded video content is found in almost half (49%) of sites that appear in the top 10 Google search results, but it is only present in 35% of e-commerce and online retail searches.

“Video is obviously useful for demonstrating product installation or setup, but Google has learned that the most relevant results often tend to be retail sites that carry catalog-style listings, allowing searchers to easily compare choices from an overview of products featuring small product images and descriptions,” Searchmetrics said.

6. Avoid hosting ads.

Just 3% of sites that appear on the first page of Google for online retail searches carry Google AdSense advertising compared with 9% of first page results for general searches, the platform noted.

“While in many other industries, advertising is an acceptable form of website monetization, Google appears to believe it is less well suited to online retail sites,” Searchmetrics said. “This could be because too much additional information -- such as ads and offers about other products – could distract from the product the searcher is currently viewing.”

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