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Content is king. That’s true about SEO and it’s true about your product listings.

And although product listings aren’t as competitive as search engine rankings, achieving success still requires the same hard-nosed approach to optimization. Lucky for us, good product data, i.e., good content, is still the key to success.

Fully optimized product listings will still require an understanding of what works specifically on each comparison shopping engine and marketplace, but applying classic SEO techniques – with some tweaks – will go a long way toward getting you there. Here are some of the ways classic SEO techniques can be adapted to put new life into your product listings.

Keywords & Relevance

When most people think about SEO, keywords are the first thing that come to mind. Keywords are what people search for when looking for something. How your page relates to a keyword (both in terms of the actual presence of that keyword and, more recently, how the meaning of the keyword is reflected in the page’s content) are incredibly important.

Search engines also often allow you to specify negative keywords, or specific search terms that should be ignored for your page. For example, if you sell lawn maintenance products, you would want people to find your site when they search for things like “lawn maintenance,” “lawn care,” “lawn care products,” “weeding diy,” “mowers,” and so on. But since you’re not offering lawn care service, visitors looking for local landscape services would be useless to you. Because of this, you might want to add terms such as “services,” “landscapers,” and others as negative keywords.

How can you apply these principles to CSE and marketplace listings?

Don't skip keyword research.

If you were going to search for your product, what would you type into the search box? Those are the keywords you should include in your titles, descriptions, bullet points and any other listing text fields available for each channel. More about titles and text later.

So how do you come up with keywords? Consider synonyms, related products, and things like nicknames or “street” names. Incorporate word stems (“ing,” “ed”) and word snippets (for example “lawn” and “mower” for lawnmowers). Look at the listings for products similar to yours that appear at the top of search results and see if there are any terms that look like good keywords.

You can also use a traditional keyword research tool to learn what the most common search terms are. The most popular of these tools is Google’s Keyword Planner.

Be exhaustive. Miss out on just one common search term, and you could lose a lot of sales.

Alternatively, Google AdWords allows you to use negative keywords for Google Shopping campaigns to filter out unrelated searches. Don't neglect the power of negative keywords. These will save you wasted impressions resulting from irrelevant searches.

Focus on search intent.

People can refine their search to only those listings that have exactly what they want by using filters. They can rule out your product with just a click of their mouse. Essentially, filters are some channels' version of negative keywords – except that the searchers are in control.

But not totally in control. Brands and retailers can take advantage of this ability by paying attention to the types of filters available for their product category. Much of this relates to the categories you choose and specific product details you add, but there are additional things to consider as well. The manipulation of your product data will determine how these filters apply to your products.

For example, Google lets shoppers filter by price, color, brand, gender and age group.

Will you offer free shipping? For Amazon, will your product be Prime? For eBay, is your product new or used? Is there a particular age group that your product is designed for?

One of the biggest things to think about in terms of filters is price. Your best bet is to research what competitors are selling similar products for and price yours close to theirs, but preferably slightly below them.

This will not only make it more likely that you show up in the results of people who are filtering by price, but also that your product will actually sell – something that plays an important role in where the product appears in search results.

Keywords can also help with categorization, something we’ll cover in-depth later.

Word Count & Keyword Density

For some things, such as titles, Google and Bing have pretty clear SEO rules that apply across the board, regardless of the site you’re posting on. How long posts should be, however, is something that SEO experts continue to debate. Some say shorter is better. Others argue for expansive, lengthy posts and pages. And even when there are clear “rules,” there’s nothing stopping you from violating them.

Not so with shopping channels. Every channel differs in terms of how long titles, product descriptions, and other information can be, and you absolutely have to adhere to these rules.

Mind your maxes.

Each channel has a max character limit and a recommended count. Max is not always best. Google, for example, gives you a max title limit of 150 but anything past 70 usually gets cut off in results. Get as close as you can to the recommended limit.

Additionally, some channels offer the option of adding subtitles, while others don’t. And some enable you to write longer, more informative descriptions, while others may force you to be painfully short. Whatever the case, try to get as close to max limits within recommended lengths.

In general, put in as much detail as the site in question lets you include. Now, this doesn’t mean that your product listings should have useless filler just to seem But if you have valuable information to add and the space to do so – use it! The more information you “feed” marketplace search engines, the better.

Avoid keyword stuffing.

In the past, many websites had a longer word count because they were simply “stuffing” as many keywords as possible onto each page. This practice that is frowned upon (and no longer works) in SEO today. It’s a reason that a search engine may penalize your entire site.

You may notice some product descriptions on marketplaces and shopping channels that look like this – just a long list of keywords. Don’t follow suit! Remember, the user experience is of top importance for making a sale. Listings that read like gibberish will be less likely to sell and, thus, less likely to appear at the top of listings in the longrun. Instead, find organic ways to include the keywords you desire within the content limits.

Meta Data

Before we begin, let’s be clear about something: product listings for shopping channels don’t allow you to input meta data in the traditional sense. They do, however, include hidden searchable data that serves the same function.

So what exactly is meta data? When talking about web pages and traditional search engines, meta data refers to descriptive information that helps search engines to understand what the page is about. Common types of meta data include the title of the page and the page description.

Meta tags show up in the coding but are invisible on the page to visitors. These tags can be seen by search engines for easier categorization. It may also be used to populate what appears when your page shows up in search results.

In creating a web page, you not only want your meta data to be clear and easy to understand, but also include keywords likely to help it show up in more searches.

How does this apply to product listings? Well, if your goal with webpages is to get search engines to identify your page, here that goal is to help searchers identify your product, click on it and – most importantly – buy it. That means:

Put keywords in titles.

The “meta data” in your title needs to include things like the brand name, material, size, color, important features, and any other pertinent information. Why? Because these are all potentially things that people search for.

Use keywords in product descriptions.

Just because many online marketplaces provide you with a separate place to add in keywords that you believe people are likely to use when searching for your product doesn’t mean they can’t be used in the actual product listing text.

Again, this does not mean that you should force keywords in or try to use a lot of them. But if they fit in naturally – and some of them should – make sure that you use them. Also, keep in mind that modern search algorithms are quite adept at recognizing keyword synonyms and even inferring keywords from context.

Go deep in categorization.

At its heart, meta data is about helping search engines to categorize webpages. Shopping channels do this much more literally and visibly for products with – wait for it – searchable categories!

When you think about it that way, product categories are kind of like meta data that shoppers can actually see and click through to find what they are looking for. Instead of organizing web pages into groups, marketplace categories organize products.

And if you’ve spent any time on these kinds of marketplaces, you know that categories can get incredibly specific, often incorporating sub-categories. And sub-sub-categories. And so on.

If you want to give your products the best chance of being found, take full advantage of the categories offered, going as deep and being as specific as you can. And, of course, make sure you are choosing the right category for your product. Sometimes there’s more than one option that makes sense, so you may need to do some research to determine what’s best.

What kind of research? One thing that can be a great kind is to learn what keywords people are searching for when they look for your product. Say, for example, you sell something that could potentially go under the TV & Video category or the Home Audio category. Learning the most commonly used search terms for this type of product can guide you in when category you should choose.

If you have a massive product catalog, this process can seem daunting, but the right product data management software will help streamline the process and even auto-suggest categories for you.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO errors can do significant damage to your organic rankings. It’s important to check in regularly with resources like Google Webmaster Tools, which reports crawl errors, security issues, and other problems that might prevent Google from listing your site highly – or at all.

Why is this so important to search engines? Because they would prefer to only refer their searchers to websites that are safe, fast, and functioning properly. Similarly, marketplaces only like to list merchants and brands that can deliver accurate descriptions, available products, and on-time shipments. Keeping that in mind, it is vital that you:

Avoid errors and inaccuracies.

The marketplace equivalent of Google Webmaster Tools is your product data management tool, which should be able to report feed errors and channel compliance issues to prevent you from submitting poor data in the first place.

Check in regularly, and stay on top of issues as they arise. Maintaining an accurate, up-to-date product feed is one of the most powerful ways you can improve your listing’s ranking – and avoiding sinking it.

Authority

Good SEO is reliant on site authority, i.e., backlinks to your site from credible sources. Similarly, in online shopping channels, authority is important -- only here it's built with reviews instead of backlinks.

Collect product reviews.

Your customers will have the opportunity to rate your services. Do your best to make sure they do, but don't stop there.

Monitor review sections regularly. Reply -- without being defensive -- to negative replies. Give customers the white-glove treatment even if you feel they're asking for too much. It'll take some effort from your part but the payoff could be glowing reviews in return.

Build social credibility.

Like reviews, social mentions can go a long way toward building your brand's authority in your space. Monitor social media for brand and product mentions.

Use tools like BuzzSumo, Google Alerts and Mention to continuously and consistently monitor your brand terms for social mentions.

Good or bad, reply. Thank your supporters, convert your critics.

SEO at its core – whether for traditional search engines or marketplaces and shopping channels – is about improving the user experience. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for searchers to find what they are seeking. Use this as your guiding principle when optimizing your listings, and you’ll be on the track for success.