According to recent reports, winning at SEO in 2024 revolves around the notion of ensuring your website is as helpful as possible. Whilst Google remains somewhat vague about the specifics (which ironically isn’t particularly helpful), you can read on for some ideas that will help to ensure your Shopify store delivers maximum value to your visitors and in turn, Google.
Perhaps one of the main reasons that Google hasn’t provided more detailed guidance to date is down to the fact that every business is unique, with its own value proposition and USPs, which means the ways that Business X can be most helpful won’t necessarily be exactly the same for business Y.
What we do know, is that Google states:
Google Search’s helpful content system generates a signal used by our automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results.
You can read more about the Google Search Helpful Content system here.
Clearly no business should be setting out with the intention of creating a website that isn’t helpful, but if you take a step back and critique your own site, you might find that despite your best efforts, it falls short of supporting helpful content signals in multiple areas.
How To Improve Website Helpfulness
The best starting point then in improving the helpfulness of your Shopify website is to go back to basics and consider the products / services you offer, the problems they address, your USPs, any potential pain points customers could face on their journey from awareness to completed purchase and any help, insights or expertise you can offer along the way.
The following list is in no way exhaustive but it provides a great starting point in identifying key areas you’ll need to consider in the ongoing process of content creation and optimisation.
Detailed Product Descriptions
Many retailers breathe a sigh of relief when manufacturers provide product descriptions, but if Google wants to see original content that adds value and is helpful, using the same descriptions that other retailers use to sell the same products just won’t cut it.
For independent businesses manufacturing their own products, it can be tempting to put as little effort as possible into the tedious activity of writing product descriptions and it’s not uncommon to see a product description broken down to just a few uninspiring bullet points.
Understand however that there is real value in spending time writing descriptions for your products in a tone of voice fitting with your brand that will appeal to your target audience and in doing so, you can add as much helpful information as you wish!
- Provide detailed and accurate product descriptions, including information about the materials used, dimensions and care instructions.
- Add some brand personality, say if it’s a customer favourite, whether you expect it to sell out, give insight into the production or design process, tell people how it can be used and more!
- Use bullet points to highlight unique features and key information that you have already covered in your detailed description.
- Use AI in the right way. Getting a helping hand from AI can be useful, but be wary of relying on it too much. Read our thoughts on using Shopify AI for product descriptions here.
Although website design can be highly subjective, best practice guidelines are there for a reason. Thank goodness the days of flashing and scrolling text on busy backgrounds are long gone, but there are many subtle rules that need to be adhered to in order to create a website that not only looks attractive and appeals to your target audience, but is easy to navigate and interesting to look at.
- Use high-quality images that showcase products in different ways, ideally a plain background, their intended use, various angles and at least one lifestyle shot.
- Consider short videos showing products from different angles, in different lights or used in different settings.
- Allow customers to enlarge or zoom in on product images for a closer look at the details.
- Keep everything visually consistent. Don’t chop and change fonts, colours, styles and so on as this leads to lack of cohesion which can ultimately look less polished and trustworthy.
User-Friendly Navigation and Searching
Whilst some websites don’t need complex navigation or have few product variants, it’s generally worth considering how you can make it as easy as possible for people to find what they are looking for.
From search filtering basics like brand, product type, colour, size or price range, through to advanced filtering and sorting options, consider the many ways people may use your website and ensure they can get to the information they want in as few clicks as possible.
- Ensure you use a clear and intuitive navigation structure with well-organised categories and filters.
- Make sure you navigation is located exactly where a visitor will expect to find it.
- Implement a search bar and filtering to help users quickly find specific products.
- Ensure often visited pages like ‘ordering & delivery’ and ‘about us’ are easily found where possible and not hidden away.
Independent Reviews and Testimonials
Signals like this remain a must and most customers will seek out the reassurance of reviews before shopping with a business for the first time.
Individual product reviews can be extremely helpful but can take many years to build up, however ensuring you have a company review system in place that you also promote is highly recommended. You will need to monitor company reviews so you can respond to customers and be regarded as being proactive.
- Encourage customers to leave reviews on your preferred review platform(s).
- As well as company reviews, product and service testimonials can be highly effective.
- Display reviews prominently on relevant pages to build trust and authority.
Adding related products and recommendations is a great way to improve the customer experience and be more helpful, especially when those recommendations are personalised. The best thing about doing this is that whilst you’re improving the helpfulness of your website, you’re also maximising your upselling potential.
- Implement a recommendation engine that suggests related products based on customers’ browsing and purchase history.
- Use personalised product recommendations on the homepage or in email campaigns.
The Google Helpful Content update in September 2023 saw some websites get penalised for faking freshness, for example, taking an old piece of content and republishing it or even just changing the publishing date to make it look more recent.
Do consider then that keeping content fresh and publishing high quality, interesting and helpful new content regularly can be crucial to success. That’s no easy task for those with a small, relatively static product range, but this makes the inclusion of a blog / news / guides section on a website even more pressing.
- Regular publishing of value-adding, helpful and educational content. Depending on your audience this could be adding new FAQs, answering customer questions in detailed blog posts, publishing news about new products, collections, collaborations and R&D or providing in-depth guides aimed at helping customers use your products.
- Revising old blogs to ensure broken links are fixed and that references are updated and new research or industry developments are added as needed to avoid misinformation.
- Don’t be tempted to pursue a quantity over quality approach to the publishing of new content. Similarly, don’t feel the need to make unnecessary updates to already high ranking content and don’t systematically delete old content.
- Situational content should also be considered, which essentially means providing people with alternatives, for example; you can do this, or you could try this instead. It’s a simple tactic, but one that can be very effective.
- Consider the need for content that clearly displays the human touch, content that can’t be replicated by AI. This could include roundup posts with insights from industry experts, commentary on industry news or the spotting of trends. Anything that provides real insight and demonstrates expertise.
Whilst Shopify generally offers a seamless mobile browsing experience, not all themes are equal and even the most basic Shopify theme can benefit from tweaking to ensure pages display properly and behave in a way that enhances the browsing experience and doesn’t stray too far from the desktop experience.
- Ensure your website is mobile-friendly to accommodate users on various devices.
- Optimise page loading speed for a smooth user experience.
- If you’re showing a huge hero image at the top of a page before a visitor can get to any meaningful content, you may want to do away with that completely when the page shrinks down.
Clear Policies and Information
Whilst certain content is an absolute basic requirement for a Google-friendly Shopify site, such as providing ordering, delivery and returns information, you don’t need to stop there. Providing additional information, known as supplementary content, can also effectively improve the helpfulness of your website.
- Display transparent information about shipping, return policies, warranties etc.
- Provide clear and detailed contact information and customer support options which is both helpful and builds trust. Not everyone wants to pick up the phone, likewise not everyone is comfortable simply seeing a contact form and may seek the reassurance of seeing a physical office address and published customer service email address.
- Let people know about any additional services you offer, like repairs, gift wrapping or buy-back schemes.
Whilst the effort to maintain social media accounts isn’t always perceived as being worthwhile, especially if activity isn’t directly translating into sales, consider it a must in terms of supporting brand awareness and in building trust.
Just as some new customers will turn to the likes of Google reviews or Trustpilot before making a first purchase, others, particularly younger generations, may be more likely to trust a business that’s active on social media.
- Integrate social media sharing buttons to encourage customers to share their purchases.
- Consider how ‘Insta-worthy’ your packaging is. Some people will be keen to share unboxing videos with their followers and attractive packaging can really help. Better yet, include a sticker on the outside of your packaging suggesting sharing the unboxing and first-look reaction.
- Ensure that none of your comments are switched off on any posts as doing this can be a red flag that negatively impacts brand perception.
- Showcase user-generated content on your website from social media platforms – people love knowing people like them are buying and happy with their purchases.
SEO Best Practices
It’s vitally important to ensure content is fact checked and isn’t misleading. Don’t be tempted to work in high traffic keywords if they aren’t completely relevant! Give special time and attention to your meta title and description, as this is what people will see in Google search results, so make sure every single product, collection and page is meticulously written to provide as much relevant information as possible.
- Optimise every page title and meta description with relevant keywords.
- Utilise alt tags for images with descriptive text to assist screen readers.
- Generate an XML sitemap and submit it to search engines for better indexing.
- Make sure you’re taking advantage of free Google shopping listings.
- Include detailed custom product descriptions for every product you sell.
- Cross link and use helpful anchor text.
By focusing on the above, you can create a helpful and user-friendly ecommerce website that not only enhances the customer experience but also aligns with Google’s criteria for strong SEO.
If you’re tackling your Shopify website in-house, we’d also strongly recommend taking a look at Google’s guidelines on creating helpful, reliable, people-first content but if you’re already spinning enough plates, you can get in touch with us, the Shopify experts, and we’ll gladly help you get it right.