On-page SEO or link building?

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Taha in Chicago, who asks:

My question is about e-commerce SEO. Currently, I work as an SEO Executive for an e-commerce brand. They have no content on the site and their total backlink profile is around 1,000 links (which is nothing compared to competitors).

What area should I focus on first in order to rank category pages? Should I favor on-page content and optimizations or create backlinks to compete with my competitors’ profiles?

Taha, excellent question.

The short answer is: you should start with content and on-page optimization.

Now let me give you the long answer, which applies to more than the category pages you mentioned.

Start with on-page SEO

Backlinks are important and we know they are part of the ranking algorithm.

However, you need to have optimized content on the website so that search engines know what to rank your website for.

Below is a brief checklist of what to focus on in terms of on-page optimization before you start investing time in link building.

1. Determine your keywords and themes

If you haven’t already, spend some time identifying your keywords.

Go from broad to narrow when building your list, but keep in mind that relevance is the most important consideration.

Even if you identify general terms, they should still be targeted and relevant to your categories and products.

When doing keyword research, I like to brainstorm first, then expand my seed list using tools like Semrush, SE Ranking, or SpyFu.

Once my list is built, I will then prioritize it, generally in three categories: Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3.

You will need to assign keywords to your website pages, which is called keyword mapping and will help you avoid keyword cannibalization.

After completing this process, it’s time to optimize your pages.

Keep in mind that it’s common to have 2-3 main keywords per page and several secondary keywords.

2. Optimize your pages

When optimizing your pages, focus on your title tags, header tags (especially H1s), body text, and image alt attributes.

Even though the meta description does not play a big role in ranking, you should also optimize it.

There are best practices to follow when optimizing, which you can find in The Complete Guide to On-Page SEO.

Here’s a pro tip: Use Google Search Console to determine if the search engine is already recognizing your pages for relevant queries.

The performance report in Google Search Console will show you the queries for each page.

If any of these queries sound like good keywords, or maybe they are already on your list, focus on those keywords when optimizing the related page.

You can update the page title and/or H1 to include the keyword(s).

You might even look for opportunities to embed the keywords more into the body of the text, but never stuff keywords. Content should read naturally.

3. Add relevant content

Adding optimized content is essential for any type of website, and e-commerce is no exception.

Since you mentioned category pages in your question, I’ll focus on recommendations for this type of content.

First, know that category pages offer many possibilities to add text.

However, many businesses are reluctant to add too much text on category pages because they believe it will hurt the shopping experience.

The good news is that there are creative ways to add optimized text without being too intrusive.

Target.com is a good example.

The following is a screenshot of the Baby Gifts category.

When you scroll down the page, you can see optimized text with a consumable option (i.e. Show More).

Screenshot from Target.com, June 2022

TheCompanyStore.com provides another category content example that also includes FAQs.

e-commerce category optimization business storeScreenshot from TheCompanyStore.com, June 2022

In the two examples provided, a website visitor can still easily scroll through the products as they move down the page.

The content contained towards the bottom of the page is good for optimization purposes, but also useful for the visitor.

Revise + Refine

One final note: after optimizing your pages, always be on the lookout for opportunities for improvement.

This is where the pro tip I provided can help.

Make a habit of monitoring the performance of your pages and making updates as needed.

More resources:

Featured image: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO tips column written by some of the top SEO experts in the industry, who have been handpicked by Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO article!

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