Optimising your website for SEO purposes can sometimes feel a bit like wizardry – some powdered root of asphodel here and an infusion of wormwood there – especially with Google changing the goal posts every few months with new rules to follow and old principles to disregard.

But there are a number of things retailers should be dong in order to beat Google and soar to the top of search rankings. Essential Retail spoke to several industry experts to ask for their number one tip.

Here are the Essential Retail 10 SEO Commandments:

‘GET THE BASICS RIGHT’, says Andrew Kirkcaldy, group director of brand, AO.com

“At AO.com we understand the importance of SEO and how it impacts our visibility in the marketplace. My advice as an in-house SEO department is to make sure you get the basics right. Make sure Google can access all pages on the site you want it to see, that it can easily understand what they are talking about and that you have the technical resource to optimise these pages. There is no point in time consuming (and expensive) audits of the site if you cannot improve it. Google is the market leader at understanding sites and becoming ever stronger at catering for the searcher's intent. You can move away from keyword targeting and focus on themes, topics and meeting the needs of the user.” 

‘OPTIMISE FOR MOBILE’, advises Richard Willis, VP of solutions management EMEA at Aptos

“There are a number of factors that will ensure a high ranking in Google searches, however, with a significant majority of interactions with retailer sites now coming from mobile devices, retailers need to ensure their site is optimised to be mobile first. Ease of use and simplicity of information presentation are important to the customer experience, with mobile optimisation and site speed ever increasing ranking signals for search engines. Google now treats the mobile version of a web page as the primary page to index, with desktop versions being secondary. A missing or poorly performing mobile version of a page will have a negative impact in the search results.”

‘IMPROVE YOUR PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONS’, says Wulfric Light-Wilkinson, CCO, Quill

“It’s well established that content is search engine gold dust and category pages (e.g. a retailer’s ‘casual trousers’ page) offer a fantastic opportunity to display informative content, optimised for high-volume generic searches. Yet surprisingly, our audits show that just 15% of retailers have fully optimised category descriptions for SEO. Similarly, product descriptions can attract traffic from long-tail searches with high purchase intent (e.g. “brown cargo pants, slim-fit, long’”) but regrettably that level of detail is often absent. Likewise, retailers often overlook buying guides and how-to guides that even have the potential to be picked up by Google’s Instant Answers box at the very top of search engine results. “

‘GENERATE ORGANIC CONTENT’, says Jas Bagniewski, founder and CEO, Eve Sleep

“There are a variety of things you need to do to ensure your business performs as well as it should do in search but if I had to pick one, I’d say that generating organic content, be that via press, bloggers, or customer reviews, is essential. Third party endorsement proves you’re a trusted source, which is essential for online retailers with only a digital footprint; and the more there is written about you, the more you’ll be recognised as an expert in your field.”

‘INTRODUCE USER GENERATED CONTENT’, suggests Evan Pryce, account manager at Barracuda Digital (which looks after The Dune Group’s SEO efforts)

“Pro tip – user reviews can help increase the amount of unique content on your product pages without having to pay for a copywriter.”

‘CONTENT AND CONTEXT’, suggests Tom Smith, senior manager, product marketing, EMEA for Salesforce Marketing Cloud

“My one piece of advice would be it's all about the content and context. Your organisation needs to create highly differentiated and inspiring content that your target consumer will share, value and use to connect with other like-minded individuals, ultimately driving them to purchase and advocacy. Your content – whether it's in the form of blogs, social media, video, bespoke imagery, lookbooks or customer service content – should be part of an integrated, multichannel, mobile-native content strategy that tailors to the context of your customers: where they are, who they are, what they're doing, and what stage of the customer journey they're in. Focus on the content and context, and not only will you climb up the search rankings, but you'll win customers, too.”

‘QUALITY NOT QUANTITY’, says Nick Marley, head of eCommerce at The Jewellery Channel

“Quality not quantity is the one piece of advice to keep your website at the top of Google’s rankings. Recent changes to Google’s algorithms, including better machine-learning, means that you must focus on the quality of your content and ensure it is written for the user not just for keywords. The quality of inbound links to your website and the quality of your users’ experience on all device views are also key to remaining at the top.”

‘INCLUDE RICH CONTENT’, says Matt Brown, director of earned media, Syzygy

“Retailers can achieve and retain top rankings by treating Google as a valued customer. Providing rich and engaging brand content and products, including imagery and video, will attract customers and entice others to link to your site. Over 200 factors affect Google rankings and content accounts for around 25% of these. However, high-quality content that attracts links, increases social shares and engages customers equates to about 70% of these factors. Removing technical barriers such as broken links and slow loading times, that hinder both customers and Google, is also crucial. Combining high-quality content, relevant links and minimal technical barriers will make for a rankings boost.”

‘DON’T FORGET ABOUT VOICE SEARCH’, advises Kevin Flynn, head of retail at ThoughtWorks

“Over half of all search queries globally today are done on mobile, however, pages will not rank in mobile search unless they meet Google’s ‘mobile friendly’ criteria. Google estimates that around 20% of searches today are voice related and the vast majority of these voice searches come from mobile devices. Furthermore, Forrester estimates that voice search will double by 2020. Therefore, businesses need to become mobile and voice ready to stay at the top of Google’s rankings.

"Intelligent assistants like Siri and Alexa will increasingly use more contextual information sources (such as semantics, search history, user interests, location and behaviour) to provide the best results; meaning a rich understanding of the customer journey and key decision points will be required to effectively tap into people’s intent and interests.”

'THINK ABOUT CROSS-DEVICE CONVERSION', says John Gillan, MD of UK and Northern Europe, Criteo.

“Organic search is basically non-existent in retail anymore as ad space commands most real estate at the top of Google search results.

"CPCs for ads are rising and retailers must ensure that they have a strong technology solution to remain competitive and maximise ROI.

"Additionally, shopping behaviour varies by shopper and by device. Mobile, for example, has fewer visible slots and lower conversion rates than desktop. It is vital for retailers to have solutions that measure these nuances, determine the long term value of clicks, and maintain top rankings when a purchase is most likely”