How to Optimize Homepages for SEO & CRO

Your homepage is your first impression to the outside world, so make it count! Read this post about ecommerce site optimization to learn more about how to make your homepage rank highly in search engines and convert potential customers from our SEO Manager.

It’s often difficult in terms of SEO to optimize the homepage of an ecommerce website that features a wide variety of products over a wide range of categories. Choosing a single keyword or key phrase that accurately groups multiple product categories may be the easiest part e.g. Performance Wheels and Custom Exhaust Systems are product categories of the single key phrase, Performance Auto Parts. The problem often lies in gaining a top organic search engine ranking for such an incredibly competitive key phrase. We’ll examine how to solve for this type of issue in this post. We’ll also discuss homepage conversion rate optimization and why it’s best not to think of the homepage as a typical landing page.

 

SEO for Ecommerce Homepages

If you have an existing ecommerce website and you’re struggling to gain a high ranking for your most important keyword or key phrase, it may be time to reevaluate your on-page and off-page SEO strategy. Here’s what to do.

The best place to start for homepage search engine optimization is your Google Analytics reports (or similar analytics program). Gather a list of non-brand keywords driving traffic to your homepage over an extended period of time. If using Google Analytics (GA), search under Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Search -> Organic. The longer amount of time the better, as it gives you a more complete picture of the homepage’s past and present activity. Paying attention to the visits metric is important, but also focus on the conversion rate for each keyword. If using GA, add in the secondary reporting dimension, Landing Page and then filter the results to display your homepage only.

Be sure to note if one keyword/key phrase seems to be outperforming all others. As you move through the report, try to discover groupings of keywords or themes. If you have at least 6 months worth of keyword data, you should be able to Identify at least one or two keyword/key phrase groupings.

The next step is to see where your homepage currently ranks for these keywords in organic search. Remember that your positioning in organic search – whether you’re in the top 3 results of Google or the bottom half of the first page for example, has a large impact on how much traffic your homepage receives for any given search query. You can see search volume estimates for your keywords using Google’s free keyword research tool.

Next, open your Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) account and locate the anchor text (within the Traffic category) for the incoming links to your site. Beyond brand keywords, you should see a connection whereas the anchor text GWT presents mirrors the keywords you see in your keyword analytics reports. Chances are, your homepage ranks well for these keywords because you have both supporting keyword content on the homepage and because Google has recognized other websites linking to your homepage using those keywords in text links.

Besides GWT, there are other useful tools like Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO available to help you analyze the anchor text of your incoming links specifically to your homepage. GWT is free and it’s a great resource to embrace for everything related to SEO. Understanding that every ecommerce site is different you may see something otherwise. If you need help with SEO it’s always best to work with Volusion’s ecommerce SEO services team.

Moving ahead, if you don’t see the keywords or key phrases you want your homepage to rank for in any of these reports, it means you need to do two main things:

  1. Adjust your current homepage SEO strategy towards incorporating your most valued, relevant and high search volume keywords into your homepage content. Ecommerce homepages are notorious for neglecting text-based copy. It’s understandable because there are typically several competing objectives fighting for real estate on the homepage, but it’s important for both users and search engines to have crawlable text on this page. We’ll discuss a method for identifying and prioritizing homepage objectives in a minute. For now, understand where you can better incorporate your keywords on your homepage by paying particular attention to your title tag, meta description and on-page copy. For more tips on on-page SEO, watch this SEO video.
  2.  Adjust both your internal linking strategy and your off-site, external linking strategy to your homepage to mix these keywords into the text links. Again, use GWT and/or one of the before mentioned link analysis tools to see both your internal and external links and their sources. It’s usually best to begin with your internal links because you can more easily control/change these links.

Word of caution: Be careful with your linking strategy. Google’s more recent algorithm updates have focused on penalizing websites with linking strategies that appear unnatural. Websites link to each other as a normal part of business on the web, and it’s natural that the text within these links will vary. It’s very unusual that a website will have a back link profile containing only certain keywords beyond brand keywords. So while the tendency may be to get every link to your homepage to contain your most important keyword/key phrase, make sure that you’re focusing on the right kind of on-page content that will earn you more of the links you seek naturally.

 

CRO for Ecommerce Home Pages

Since you’re working so hard to get your homepage to rank for that most important keyword, make sure you’re maximizing the value of that targeted traffic with an ecommerce conversion rate optimization strategy. I mentioned before that copy is usually in short order on the homepages of many ecommerce websites. The reason is simple: your main goal is to get people to buy products, and the homepage seems to be the most plausible place to highlight those products and start the sales process.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this thought process, however if you don’t have a proper methodology for identifying and sorting all your homepage objectives, you’ll likely end up with a homepage that’s cluttered with content, videos, images, CTAs, social call-outs and opt-in forms – all competing for the same attention, all with compromised effects.

A couple years ago I attended a Marketing Experiments webinar on optimizing homepages. They laid out a 5-step plan for ROI-based homepage optimization. I have yet to find a better resource for optimizing ecommerce homepages. In particular, they propose an important concept:

“The primary purpose of the homepage is not to get people to it, but through it.”

In other words, once a user is on the homepage, the main goal should be to present the content in a way that will get users through to the destination pages within the site. In this sense, the homepage is not like a typical landing page on an ecommerce site and should not be created in the same light. I’ve included the methodology they outlined in the presentation for you to use on your own ecommerce homepage, adding in some additional insights as it relates specifically to SEO. Feel free to use it in your next homepage optimization meeting.

1) Identify all homepage objectives:

This should include everything you want the homepage to do – not just top level goals, but action-oriented objectives, as well as what you want the homepage to rank for in organic search.

2) Prioritize the objectives into three categories:

  • Primary:

e.g. Briefly greet users; introduce company and include keyword optimized text explaining who we are, what we do and what the user should do. Direct users to specific navigational paths to internal landing pages and product detail pages. Clearly ID the site search bar.

  • Major:

e.g. Highlight featured products and daily deal. Highlight free shipping promo. Highlight email opt-in. Highlight recent blog posts. Highlight customer service and log-in info. Highlight guarantee.

  • Minor:

e.g. Showcase security and trust badges and elements. Direct users to company info, affiliate info, social media icons, mobile apps and other ancillary info pages.

3) Connect success metrics to each objective. What are the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)?

Determine what you need to do to measure the effectiveness of each objective. Perhaps you’ll use GA to track traffic to the homepage – what do you expect to gain through your optimization efforts? Do you have site search setup in GA? Are you using event tracking parameters to understand clicks on homepage CTAs? How are you measuring email opt-ins and social media activity on the homepage? If you’ve developed specific conversion paths starting from your homepage, can you accurately track and visualize that funnel in GA?

4) Design the homepage to weigh objectives strategically according to priority.

  • This requires a clearly sequenced eye-path. There are 6 graphical elements that can direct eye path (too much of any limit effectiveness of all):
    1. Size
    2. Shape
    3. Color
    4. Motion
    5. Position
    6. Direction

If there’s an issue finding these dominant elements, there’s a problem. Either you have none, or too many. Should be able to identify 3-6 of them. Match visual weight with priority weight.

  • Most Common Pitfalls:
    1. Trying to achieve too many objectives and/or confusing the user because the objectives are visually designed the same, even though their executive priorities are different.
    2. Failing to start a conversation. Bullet points are not conversation. You need to effectively meet, connect and direct users answering: Where am I? What can I do here? How do I move forward?
    3.  Over-reliance on multimedia to communicate value. Some can be good if used to support priorities – but again, too much can de-value the effect. Always ask: What values do these images and videos communicate? How often is the video played? Can it be stated more clearly with conversation? Is this best in terms of user experience and SEO value?
    4. Making the homepage a landing page. It should not be designed for channel-specific traffic when a more channel-specific landing page can be used. Build your brand with story on the homepage -> Move visitors to appropriate destination page -> Convert.
    5. Assuming best practices will work for you. Trying to mimic other sites is not a sound strategy. You have limited access to understanding what works for them, besides no two ecommerce sites are the same.

5) Establish a landing page testing strategy and test the effect of competing objectives in future homepage revisions.

This plan is just the beginning, and depending on your site it may not feel all-encompassing. Think of it as a snapshot of how successful your homepage is today. You should feel encouraged to test future objectives and use your metrics and data to drive future changes. If this is set up properly today, nothing has to be left to chance in the future!

 

Because the homepage is typically the most valuable page of an ecommerce site, it’s crucial to understand how to measure and maximize its effectiveness for all your marketing initiatives. If you treat it as just another landing page, you’re likely missing out on additional ranking and linking opportunities, branding opportunities, as well as the opportunity pass targeted traffic through to your important internal landing pages and product detail pages.

 

About 

Nathan Joynt is the Marketing SEO Manager at Volusion, with over 8 years of professional search engine optimization, content marketing and website information architecture experience. He has helped many large and small ecommerce businesses maximize their organic search potential including several Internet Retailer top 500 companies. Nathan has a degree in music, likes to make up songs and thinks he could be a rock star, but most people agree - he's better at his day job. Have an SEO question for Nathan? Reach out on Twitter with #VolusionSEO

3 Responses to “How to Optimize Homepages for SEO & CRO”

  1. mark royall

    Well written and great information ….M

    Reply
  2. Steve

    CRO? what is that

    Reply
    • Nathan

      CRO stands for conversion rate optimization. This post points out a few tactics to improve online sales and therefore conversion rates.

      Reply

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