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How to Do Ecommerce Keyword Research

keyword research for ecommerce

If you’re new to the world of ecommerce or digital marketing in general, you’ve likely heard about search engine optimization (SEO). In a world where the majority of online traffic stems from a string of text typed into a search box, search engine optimization can be a deciding factor in the fate of your ecommerce business.

SEO encompasses many tactics, but the underlying principle is that you’re helping Google and other search engines better understand what your ecommerce site is about and what it sells. This, in return, increases your visibility by increasing the chance search engines will list your site in the search results when potential customers are looking for the products you sell.

One of the foundational tactics of SEO is keyword research. SEO keyword research is the simple art of better understanding the terminology your potential customers are using to find the products you’re selling, then matching your website and marketing terminology.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of keyword research for ecommerce. The ultimate goal is to build a relevant list of keywords that you can refer back to and use as you build and optimize your site, write your product descriptions, and craft your blog posts.

Why is keyword research for ecommerce important?

Every time someone does a search, the search engine must decide which handful of results to display from hundreds of thousands of possible pages. It’s up to the search engine algorithms to determine the best and most relevant matches for every single search. This is why it's so important to choose your keywords carefully, so that the search engines can match and display your site in the search results to the most relevant keywords searches.

Not only is it important to rank on the first page of a search engine results page for relevant search terms, but it’s equally important to rank in the top positions of the first page. To understand how big of a difference position can make, consider the graph below, which shows search result position and average traffic share:

keyword ranking chart
Photo courtesy of: Advanced Web Ranking

From the graph we learn that the first three search results receive over 58% of the traffic.

Keyword research helps you:

  • Understand search demand so you can create an optimal SEO strategy 
  • Create a list of relevant phrases that match your marketing goals 
  • Prioritize your keyword investments to target high ROI keywords first 
  • Close keyword gaps in your store

In short, the closer you are to the top of Google Search for relevant terms, the more traffic (and potential sales) you’ll receive. Depending on the search term and the volume of searches per month being made for that search term, the difference in just a few positions can represent significant revenue loss in the long term.

Ecommerce keyword research: the basics 

Before you jump into doing keyword research for your online store, there are a few basic terms you’ll come across that are important to know and understand.

These terms include: 

Keywords

A keyword, in the context of search engine optimization, is a particular word or phrase that acts as a shortcut to sum up the content of a page or site. Keywords are part of a webpage’s metadata, and helps search engines match a page to an appropriate search query. 

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are simply keywords that contain three or more words. Long-tail keywords are important (hence them having their own name) because they catch people further along in the buying cycle and, thus, tend to have higher conversion rates.

Someone searching for “hair extensions” is likely in the early information gathering stage. However, someone searching for “20 inch brown hair extensions price” is likely further along the buying cycle and much closer to purchasing. These keywords are referred to as “high purchase intent” or “high commercial intent.” SEO often assigns one of three search intents to a keyword:

  • Navigational: when searchers are looking for a specific website
  • Informational: when searchers want to know or do something, like create a homemade recipe
  • Transactional: when a searcher wants to buy something 

Search volume (average monthly searches)

Search volume is usually measured in average monthly searches. This is the total number of searches each month for each particular search phrase (keyword). Ideally, you’re looking for the keywords with the highest search volume. Ranking highly for search terms with higher search volumes means more potential traffic and conversion potential for you and your store.

Unfortunately, there is not a magic number that represents the perfect search volume for everyone. What constitutes the “right” search volume is going to be different for every site.

Competition

Search volume isn’t the only thing you need to consider. Competition is equally important, if not more. There’s no point trying to rank for specific keywords you have no chance of ranking for. Competition refers to the difficulty of ranking for each particular keyword. 

In an ideal situation, your strategy will have high search volume and low competition keywords. However, these gold nuggets are difficult to find and will require some hard work, patience, and maybe a little luck to find.

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How to research keywords for your ecommerce SEO strategy

  1. Identify your keyword universe
  2. Find niche keywords to win
  3. Create a keyword research process
  4. Build a topic map
  5. Map the different content types
  6. Develop a content calendar

Step 1: Identify your keyword universe

There are a lot of nuances between new stores and existing stores, so for the sake of brevity, I’ll assume you’re working on a brand new website.

If your store is more established, you’ll likely already have a nice baseline of data from which you can pull to help determine the direction you want to take with your research. But for a new site, you’re going to need to lean on competitor research.

The right way to do this is to find the major players in the space that aren’t colossal brands—steer clear of Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and other established, generalist ecommerce websites. Don’t be too dismissive, however, because you don’t want to necessarily stay away from the big informational brands like Wikipedia or Quora. These sites can actually be treasure troves of keyword terms and topics.

You can also start your search using an SEO tool like: 

  • Ahrefs
  • Moz 
  • Semrush
  • Google Keyword Planner 

For this tutorial, we’ll use Ahrefs. Let’s say you’re an organic pet supplies brand and your main competitor is Only Natural Pet. You can enter its website URL into the Ahrefs search bar and pull up a list of organic keywords the brand ranks for. 

competitor research

You can also browse by Top Pages to see which webpages get the most traffic, and the top keyword for each URL.

top pages in Ahrefs

Open a Google Sheet and start writing down the keywords you want to rank for. Logging each keyword is how you begin to build your keyword universe.

Step 2: Find niche keywords to win

To compete against the 800-pound ecommerce gorillas these days, especially if you’re just getting started, you need to begin with a hyper-niche—a niche within a niche, and sometimes even a niche in that niche (it’s niches all the way down).

Highlighting the importance of specialization, let’s run through the entire keyword research process from start to finish with a real example. Examining something tangible is a good way to make the concepts we’ll cover easier to understand and apply.

Continuing with the pet supplies example above, let’s look at how we can find the right keywords to rank your store for. 

Our first step is going to Google and doing some basic searching, starting with good old common sense. All we’re looking to do right now is see what Google comes back with from auto-suggest. For this search, I typed in “dog food,” just to kick things off.

dog food google auto suggestions

Many commercial terms are more competitive than ever. At the time of this writing, Chewy was ranking in position one, and Petco ranked in position 2, followed by Amazon in position 3. You can view search volume and CPC right in Chrome and FireFox with Keywords Everywhere.

keywords everywhere

Next, let’s see what all the Google suggestion keywords look like. To do this, we can use a keyword research tool called Ahrefs. Let's start by entering our main keyword, “dog food,” and looking at the potential keyword ideas.

keyword research with Ahrefs

Immediately we see that supplies (containers) and type of food (raw, fresh, homemade) are common terms used to specify what these searchers are looking for. Not all of these terms are going to be relevant though. We’ll want to scan the terms and look for modifiers that we can remove using the “Exclude” keywords function.

For example, I’m noticing that some searches have brand modifiers like Royal Canin and Purina. We want to add as many of those to our negative keywords list as possible to further clean up the results. It’s OK if you don’t get every branded term in. You’ll see we included 60 of the top brands in the space. The goal is to get your list down to something more manageable. 

keyword exclusion

This leaves us with 342,384 unique keywords, so from here you want to sort by monthly search volume to get a sense of how popular these keywords are.

keyword list

Before going any further, let’s look at what each of these columns means in terms of the metrics they’re showing.

    feature

    If you're new to the world of ecommerce or online marketing in general, you've likely heard about search engine optimization (SEO). In a world where the majority of online traffic stems from a string of text typed into a search box, search engine optimization can be a deciding factor in the fate of your business.

    SEO encompasses many tactics but the underlying principal is that you're helping Google and other search engines better understand what your ecommerce site is about and what it sells. This in return increases your visibility by increasing the chance search engines will list your site in the search results when potential customers are looking for the products you sell.

    Template Icon

    Shopify Academy Course: SEO for Beginners

    Entrepreneur and Shopify expert Casandra Campbell shares her 3-step SEO framework to help your business get found through Google searches.

    Enroll for free

    One of the foundational tactics of SEO is keyword research. Keyword research is the simple art of better understanding the terminology your potential customers are using to find the products you're selling, then matching your website and marketing terminology.

    In this article, we'll cover the basics of keyword research for ecommerce. The ultimate goal is to build a relevant list of keywords that you can refer back to and use as you build and optimize your site, write your product descriptions and craft your blog posts.

    Over time, you'll help search engines better understand what your site is about so they can better match your store as a result for relevant search terms, leading in increased traffic and sales. 

    What is keyword research?

    In this video, learn what keyword research is and what methods it takes to rank number one in Google this year.

    Why keyword research is important

    Every time someone does a search, the search engine must decide which handful of results to display from hundreds of thousands of possible pages. It's up to the search engine algorithms to determine the best and most relevant matches for every single search. This is why it's so important to choose your keywords carefully, so that the search engines can match and display your site in the search results to the most relevant keywords searches.

    Not only is it important to rank on the first page of a search engine results page for relevant search terms, but it's equally important to rank in the top positions of the first page. To understand how big of difference position can make consider the graph below which shows search result position and average traffic share:

    Why Keyword Research Is Important

    Image Source: Chitika

    From the graph we learn that the first page of search results receives over 90% of the traffic share and the first three search results receive over 60% of the traffic. Most significantly, the difference between position ten (first page) and position 11 (second page) means a decrease in traffic from that particular search term by over 100%.

    In short, the closer you are to the top of Google for relevant search terms the more traffic (and potential sales) you'll receive. Depending on the search term and the volume of searches per month being made for that search term, the difference in just a few positions can represent significant revenue loss in the long term.

    Understanding keywords

    Before you jump into doing keyword research for your online store, there are a few basic terms you'll come across that are important to know and understand.

    These terms include: 

    Keywords - A keyword(s), in the context of search engine optimization, is a particular word or phrase describing the content of a web page or site. Keywords act as shortcuts to sum up the content of a page or site. Keywords are part of a web page’s metadata that helps search engines match a page to an appropriate search query. 

    Longtail Keywords - Longtail keywords are simply keywords that contain three or more words. Longtail keywords are important (hence them having their own name) because they make up over 70% of online searches according to Moz and also tend to convert better as they catch people further along in the buying cycle. Someone searching for "hair extensions" is likely in the early information gathering stage, however, someone searching for "20 inch brown hair extensions price" is likely further along the buying cycle and much closer to purchasing.

    Search Volume (Avg. Monthly Searches) - Search volume is usually measured in average monthly searches. This is the total number of searches each month for each particular search phrase (keyword). Ideally you're looking for the keywords with the highest search volume. Ranking highly for search terms with higher search volumes means more potential traffic and conversion potential for you and your store.

    Unfortunately, there is not a magic number that represents the perfect search volume for everyone. What constitutes the “right” search volume is going to be different for every site.

    Competition - Search volume isn't the only thing you need to consider. Competition is equally, if not more important. There's no point in trying to rank for keywords you have no chance of ranking for. Competition refers to the difficulty of ranking for each particular keyword. In an ideal situation, your chosen keywords would have high search volume and low competition, however, these gold nuggets are difficult to find and will require some hard work, patience and maybe a little luck to find.

    Keep in mind that the competition in Google's Keyword Planner Tool refers to paid advertising competitiveness of keywords rather than organic search competition, however, this is many times representative of the organic search competition as well.

    Brainstorming your initial list

    Now that you understand why keyword research is important and some of the basic terminology, it's time to do your own keyword research. To begin, you'll need to brainstorm an initial list of search terms you believe your customers would search for to find your shop and the products you sell. To help understand how your customers think, you can run tests like a contextual inquiryJust grab a pen and paper and begin making a list of search terms you would use. At a minimum your brainstormed list of each keyword should be two words but you'll want to think of longtail keywords as well, up to four to five words or even more. 

    The more words you brainstorm upfront, the more you'll have to work with to uncover new search terms so don't give up too easily. Try to build a list with as many relevant keywords as possible.

    You may want to ask friends and family for their input as well but avoid asking them directly what they would search for and try to get them in front of a computer and ask them to search for your brand/products. Monitor what they search for and the links they click. This can provide some great, real-world insight into what an average person would search for.

    Tools To Expand Your List

    After you've done some initial brainstorming, you can consider a few tools to help expand your list. One of the simplest tools is Google's own suggestion feature. To see some of Google's suggestions, simply do a Google search and scroll to the bottom of the page and look at the related suggestions. 

    Tools To Expand Your List

    A great tool for help with your brainstorming is Übersuggest. Übersuggest scrapes Google for Google suggestion keywords by taking your keyword and adding every letter of the alphabet from A to Z capturing the most frequently searched permutations.

    Tools To Expand Your List

    Don't forget to consider keyword modifiers like “how to” or “where can I” etc. For example, someone may not be looking necessarily for "hair extensions" rather they may be looking for "how to get fuller, longer hair". 

    Keyword Research Using The Google Keyword Planner Tool

    Now that you have your initial list of brainstormed keywords, you can use these keywords to find more keywords using tools online. There are many tools you can use to conduct your keyword research, paid and free, however, one of the most popular tools for conducting keyword research is Google’s Keyword Planner Tool. The Google Keyword Planner Tool allows you to search for keywords to determine how many searches per month are being made for that term, how much competition there is competing for it and the related search terms.

    The related search terms are important because it's going to expose you to other keywords that are similar but may have a greater number of searches, less competition or a combination of both. 

    To use the Google Keyword Planner Tool, you'll need a Google Ads account which is free and only take a few minutes to get set up.

    Once you have a Google Adwords account you'll need to login to your account and select Tools from the menu at the top, and then select Keyword Planner.

    On the next screen, click Search for new keyword and ad group ideas.

    Keyword Research Using The Google Keyword Planner Tool

    Next, enter the keywords you've brainstormed from the previous section, either one at a time or a few at a time by separating each with a comma. We would recommend starting with one at a time to keep things simple. 

    Double check your settings under Targeting to make sure you're viewing search information that is relevant to you. For example, if you're based and ship to USA and Canada, you should be looking at information results for the USA and Canada.

    Under Customize your search and Keyword options, you should turn on Only show ideas closely related to my search terms. This will provide much more relevant keywords, however, if you feel the keywords are too closely related or you wish you expand your search, feel free to try a search with this option turned off.

    Keyword Research Using The Google Keyword Planner Tool

    On the next screen, it will default to the Ad Group Ideas tab. Change that to the tab labelled Keyword Ideas.

    Keyword Research Using The Google Keyword Planner Tool

    The first column will list the original keyword(s) you searched for as well as closely related keywords. The second column shows you the number of searches being performed each month in the geographic area you specified. The third column is the level of competition for each keyword.

    It is this information you'll now need to begin sifting through to begin building your keyword list. You can use the Keyword filters on the lefthand side of the screen to only show low and medium competition keywords and filter out the ones that would likely be too difficult to compete for. 

    Keyword Research Using The Google Keyword Planner Tool

    This will leave you with a list of keywords related to your original search that have a low and medium level of competition. As an example, we have colour coded one such query below, the yellow highlighted keywords being medium competition and the green highlighted keywords being low. 

    Keyword Research Using The Google Keyword Planner Tool

    With this list you'll want to take the best terms that describe your site, pages and product offering, keeping in mind the search volume and competition, and record them, ideally in a spreadsheet. You'll want to repeat this process for all the brainstormed keywords you came up with.

    Refining your keyword list

    Now that you've come up with a list of relevant keywords it's time you double check your work. You may have got a little carried away and added in some keywords that were low competition, or high search volume but don't accurately describe your store and offering. In this phase you're going to look at each of your keywords and:

    Ask yourself - Is the keyword relevant? If someone searches for that term and lands on an appropriate page on your site, will they find exactly what they are looking for?

    Search for the keywords in Google and Bing - You've already looked at the competition strength in Google Keyword Planner but as mentioned prior, those levels represent paid search competition, which doesn't always translate over to organic search. Understanding which websites already rank for your keyword gives you valuable insight into the competition, and also how hard it will be to rank for the given term. If the top results are for major and well established brands, it's going to be more difficult to rank highly for your keyword.

    Will all the keyword information you have gathered, you'll now want to really boil your list down. To start, you'll really want to focus on a handful of keywords (5-7) but it's a good idea to keep a bit of a broader list (15-20) to keep your options open and work on long term. 

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    Conclusion

    The good news is that after completing your keyword research and slowly implementing your chosen keywords throughout your site, Google should have a better understanding of what your online store is all about so it can better match you to the correct searches.

    Keep in mind though that SEO and keyword research is an ongoing process. It takes time and patience to research and implement your keywords and more time for Google to pick up on these changes. Most importantly, over time, SEO changes, search engine algorithms change and the terms your customers use will change so make sure you routinely go over your keyword research to make sure it up-to-date and accurate.

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