How to write better content for SEO

Google’s Helpful Content update means it is far less easy for copywriters to ‘game’ search engines, though this shouldn't be happening anyway. But what makes good content with a customer-focussed mindset?

Think about the last purchase you made. No matter where your interest in that book, 4K UHD TV, holistic health supplement, vegan cat food or VR headset for the metaverse came from, Ben Cooper, Creative Strategist at Organic can place a sportsman’s bet that search was a vital part of your buying process….

Whether you stumbled across said product on a blog, heard about it on a video in the depths of YouTube, or a friend told you about it – you will have at some point turned to Google or other search engines, to do some research and compare your options of finding the best price.

Search is an essential part of the buying process, and consumers use it at different parts of the journey, dipping in and out as needs and intent shift. Some journeys might be quite linear, consumers may have had their interest piqued outside of searching for something and are now going straight for a price comparison between known retailers. Others might be complicated, with customers reading articles, skimming through product pages, watching videos, and then spinning off to look at a related but different product that might better suit their needs.

So, how do you make sure you have the best chance of being in the mix? By having the best optimised site. And well written e-commerce SEO content is essential to achieving this.

1: User intent and its importance in retail SEO

We all know that Google cares a lot about users and what they are trying to do through their search engine. With Google’s latest ‘Helpful Content’ update this has been hiked up another notch.

The new update looks to boost the performance of sites where the content has clearly been written to help people and not just rank well in search. Google has said this is part of its “ongoing effort to reduce low-quality content and make it easier to find content that feels authentic and useful in search”. Google and other search engines want to match up the most relevant content to a user’s search queries. Understanding intent is vital to Google, so by extension it also has to be important for any brand creating retail SEO content.

What does this mean practically? Don’t just look at product pages as a transaction point. Yes, a customer is (hopefully) eventually going to be on a product page, click add to basket and then go through to buy. However, people use product pages for more than just buying.

To keep customers engaged brands should provide as much rich information as possible to deal with as many user queries without completely swamping them. Content that works well for e-commerce SEO should be heavily focused on the user and what they need, because the more relevant and useful the content is, the more favourably Google will view it.

2: SEO for e-commerce product pages

When writing content for a product page, think about the different scenarios a customer might be in when they arrive here.

Are they browsing? Doing research? In that final stage where they are considering exactly which product to buy? Whilst you definitely want your product pages to be optimised to aid conversion, a product page is where customers will want to delve into the benefits and features.

They may then disappear somewhere else for a bit to do further research, maybe do some comparisons with other products, or check prices before returning.

What should go on your product pages? There's no one-size-fits-all approach, but if we keep our customer focused hat on, from a content perspective, good product pages should be made up of:

  • Optimised page title and meta description: Including relevant information about your product, like the name, model number etc. in the page title is essential. Try to also make the meta description benefit-led with a call to action, to compel users to click through.
  • Unique product description: Google has said previously that it doesn’t apply any negative consequences to sites that use manufacturer’s descriptions or the same description for products where there is some small variance (e.g. different colours for a model of toaster). Nonetheless, offering unique descriptions for products can be useful to users.
  • Answers to common questions: There are a couple of ways to approach this. You could weave answers to common questions into the product description and supporting content, think about the five or six most common questions a customer might have about this product. It could be about the materials, manufacturing details, use cases, benefits – or anything else. Then put these into the content almost like preemptive objection handling. The other approach is to have a separate FAQ section of the page.
  • High quality images (don’t forget the alt tags): Good product images will help customers get a feel for the product and entice them to buy. Make sure they are properly optimised for the web so that they don’t negatively impact your page speed and make the page dirty from a CO2 perspective (lots of big images = lots of data transfer which makes your page carbon intensive). Remember to include alt tags to aid optimisation and accessibility.
  • Use structured data: This is a technical point for when it comes to implementing the content, but using structured data will help search engines better understand the content of the page. It will also improve the likelihood of your pages featuring richly in results, which can improve impressions, clicks, click through rates, and ultimately sales.

Don’t forget category level pages

From an SEO perspective, category level pages are really important. Many customers will start out with a broader level search and then narrow down during their journey.

A well optimised category page can reach people early in the journey and bring high levels of traffic, even if the customer isn’t in ‘conversion mode’. And of course, these higher-level pages are important for helping users and search engines understand the structure and hierarchy of your site, and to move around efficiently.

Making sure that category level pages contain good content is as important as it is for those product pages that people convert on. Content on a category level page should help orient the user and provide information that may be of use to them.

As always, consider under what circumstances a user would end up on this page. The tendency can be to see this sort of supporting content as simply a way to chuck in a load of extra keywords to the page, but that doesn’t help anyone.

It is also an ideal opportunity to provide more context for search engines, so that they better understand the focus of the page. Some relevant internal links should feature in the mix. Quite often these bits of text are found at the bottom of the page, like a footer. But if you’re creating content that is genuinely of use to the customer then having them at the head of the page makes more sense, as many people may not scroll down and see the copy.

Remember the new Helpful Content update is looking for content that is genuinely helpful to real humans…so if your chunk of content shoved in at the bottom of the page is just to try and game search engines, you might want to have a careful think about that.

4: Good content for retail is just good content

When writing content for retail SEO overthinking and over-egging is a real risk. With solid keyword research in place and a customer-focused approach it’s best to just write naturally and think about what customers would want.

Because in the end, that’s who the search engines aim to help.

By Ben Cooper

Creative Strategist