Unless you are a massive social media influencer or have a large curated list of contacts to sell to, you’ll need to rely on organic search engine traffic to sell online.
Just like an ice cream maker depends on sunny days.
That’s why before purchasing Shopify, you should really check their SEO options and see if the (few) limitations it has will be a deal breaker for you.
Thankfully, Shopify makes a good effort in trying to educate their users by providing SEO learning materials. For example, you can find many in-depth SEO articles on their blog and even SEO-focused video tutorials.
To help you out even further, we’ve put together this in-depth guide, outlining the things you need to know about Shopify’s SEO.
|Table of Contents|
What do people have to say about Shopify’s SEO?
When researching forums and communities about what people think of Shopify’s SEO, it seems there is a whole range of opinions on the topic.
Some people seem to love this store builder’s SEO features and others recommend steering away from it. But when digging a bit more, one can see that the negative comments are mainly about the lack of advanced SEO features – most of which have been added in recent years (e.g. automatic 301 redirects on URL changes).
For example, some SEO experts complain that:
- It’s difficult to edit URL structures (more on this below)
- You don’t get access to the Robots.txt (although you can ignore this, as editable robots.txt files are now available in Shopify)
- Sitemaps are generated automatically so you can’t edit them.
But overall, most users seem to be happy with Shopify’s SEO.
Are there any Shopify stores that are successful at SEO?
But of course, the best way to prove if Shopify’s SEO options are good enough to rank in Google (and other search engines), is to look for actual Shopify shops doing well in search engines.
Did I find any?
Truth be told, there are many examples of Shopify stores with great organic (SEO) rankings.
For instance, check Mindzai out. According to Ahrefs, this online toy retailer is doing quite well organically. It even has good rankings for relatively high traffic keywords like ‘bearbrick’ (a Japanese toy), ‘unicorno series 5’ or ‘art toys’. Hats off to Mindzai!
Even Kim Kardashian herself seems to have heard about Shopify’s SEO goodness and has ‘conquered’ some interesting beauty-related keywords with her online beauty shop.
Another really successful example of a well-performing Shopify shop is Tattly. As you can see below, this temporary tattoo online store has great rankings for competitive keywords like ‘temporary tattoos’, ‘temporary tattoo’ or even ‘purple orchid’ – I didn’t know temporary tattoos were such a big thing.
And if you are looking for ‘watches’, ‘men’s watches’, ‘ladies watches’, ‘waterproof watch’ or even ‘nice watches’ on Google, you have probably seen MVMT coming up as they seem to have extraordinary rankings.
You’ve seen the proof – Shopify seems to do well with SEO (at least for some).
Now, let’s check the main pros and cons of their SEO system so you get a quick overview of what it can and can’t do.
Shopify SEO Pros & Cons
|Shopify SEO Pros||Shopify SEO Cons|
|+ Easy to implement: Most on-page SEO implementations are really easy to carry out as their backend is very intuitive.
+ Fully SEO-armed: Shopify comes with the main SEO options that most store owners need. E.g. automatic sitemap generation, canonical instructions, personalized URLs, 301 redirects, customizable title tags, editable robots.txt file etc.
+ Speed: Shopify is an agile system and if you choose a ‘lightweight’ template, your online store will load fast.
+ Uptime: They have a good uptime, this has a positive effect on your ecommerce.
+ Support: Having reliable support to contact when in doubt is a great thing for SEOs.
+ Apps: There are many useful Shopify SEO apps (read below), that can make your life easier.
|– Strings in URLs: Sadly, Shopify adds some strings to certain URLs that you can’t change. For example, a product page will have a mandatory ‘/products/’ in their URL.
– Not easy to create content: You can create non-ecommerce content (e.g. pages and blog posts), however, it’s not the most flexible system. Therefore, it may not be good enough to implement some content marketing strategies.
– Some SEO features are locked in: For example, accessing and modifying your Sitemap isn’t possible. However, only true SEO geeks (like us!) need this.
– No Subcategories out-of-the-box: It’s possible to create subcategories – Shopify calls them subcollections. However, this involves messing around with the code and it’s not beginner friendly.
I personally think that Shopify’s SEO pros outweigh the cons – it’s not the system with the most flexibility, but is dead simple to use.
In my opinion, its SEO disadvantages will only bother those store owners that really want to have absolute control over the on-page SEO optimizations. Sitemaps are generally not things most store owners would need to touch anyway.
Typical SEO mistakes & Shopify SEO tips
As you can imagine, at work I get lots of messages from users. A lot of these comments are people experiencing SEO issues and blaming it on their tool.
But I’d say that +90% of the time these problems aren’t related to the online store or website creation tool themselves, but the SEO implementation. In other words, store owners not doing their SEO homework.
Usually, I see these:
- Missing on-page SEO: Believe it or not, I come across many users that don’t bother filling their title tags, creating customized URLs or who don’t take the time to fill in the alt attribute for images. If you don’t know what all these are, please check this guide.
- Keyword research: Only weirdos (like me) enjoy doing keyword research. I get it, looking at endless rows of numbers and terms is not everybody’s favorite hobby. But the reality is that if you’d like to be successful at SEO, you need to get your keywords right. I would say that 50% (or more) of the people don’t look at this or don’t do it properly.
- Bad content: There’s no set of rules that define bad content. However, we all recognize it at once when we see it. Having a site free of spelling and grammar mistakes, using multimedia content (e.g. images and videos) and having excellent copy is a good place to start. More about Copywriting at Shopify’s blog.
- Image-based content: Don’t place text on images (e.g. using Photoshop), that text will go unnoticed by search engines. Their algorithms can’t understand images (yet). This is probably the most repeated mistake among beginners.
- Too much competition is a no go: The same way a reasonable businessman or businesswoman would not open another fast food burger place between a McDonald’s and a Burger King, you should not go into niches that have intense SEO competition. You’ll need lots of time, advanced SEO strategies and potentially deep pockets to, perhaps, not even rank in the Top 10.
- Internal linking: Backlinks are really important for SEO. Moreover, a good internal linking strategy (links within your online store) can also make a huge difference and is relatively easy to implement.
Sidenote: Whenever I am unhappy with the rankings of a page, one of the first things I’ll look at is its internal links. Don’t underestimate this technique.
- Duplicate content: Don’t be lazy! A common practice (and an SEO issue) among store owners is to copy the manufacturer’s content. Yes, you should use your own product descriptions, product titles and ideally product images and videos. Thus, you’ll avoid duplicate content issues that will deeply hurt your rankings.
Sidenote: Typically, one of the most complicated jobs when doing SEO for an ecommerce is avoiding duplicate content. Online stores tend to have a lot of similar pages (e.g. category pages and product variants) that will scare the hell out of Google. In general, Shopify makes it easy to deal with them.
- Ignoring content marketing: I’ve seen many examples of stores that don’t make an effort creating content. For example: running a blog, creating product guides or video demonstrations are a great way to get organic visitors (and perhaps buyers).
- Don’t just delete product pages: when running out of stock some store owners remove the page rather than offering a pre-order form or redirecting the page somewhere else. Needless to say, this is poisonous for your SEO as you will completely lose any rankings the page used to have.
A Shopify SEO Review
Now for the exciting stuff – let’s check what features Shopify comes with and what will you be missing, so you have an idea of what to expect from their SEO system.
|SEO Feature||Comment||Available in Shopify?|
|Page Title||The title is shown in the SERPs (search result) as the main heading for a page. This is one of the most important on-page SEO optimizations and having the right keyword in it is crucial.||Editable|
|Meta description||The short blurb that can be found for each result. SEO experts seem to agree that this optimization is not important anymore. However, it can give a visibility boost to your page as keywords may appear bolded.||Editable|
|Personalized URLs||Your page URL is another really important ranking factor. Having the targeted keyword in it should be a priority for you.
Note: Shopify will add some extra strings (e.g. ‘/products/’ or ‘/news/’) to URLs.
|Headings structure||Headings help you structure your content. Google and other search engines rely on them to understand the structure of your page better.||From H1 to H6|
|Customize image alt attributes||Search engines can’t understand images, they read the HTML ‘alt’ text of your images to know what they are about.||Editable|
|301 Redirects||Sometimes there are URL changes and to avoid broken links a 301 redirect is set up – 404 are really bad for SEO.
Learn how to create 301 redirects with Shopify.
|Automatically generated. Possible to manage them manually.|
|Mobile Friendly||Google won’t like if your website doesn’t display great on all devices (e.g. tablets and smartphones).||Responsive design|
|SSL encryption||Having an SSL encrypted site is a ‘must have’ for online stores. This will make sure that the data exchange between your ecommerce and your customers is safe and secured.||Out-of-the-box|
|Search engine instructions||Sometimes you don’t want certain pages indexed by search engines (e.g. contact forms, ToS, etc). The meta-robots tag (e.g. ‘noindex’) is the way to go here.
An easy way of doing this is crucial to manage and maintain ecommerce projects. Sadly Shopify isn’t straightforward with this. However, there are apps (e.g. SEO ) that can help you with this.
|For some pages (e.g. products and collections) only available via custom code or a Shopify App.|
|Sitemap||It’s an XML file that lists all the pages of your site. This is a great aid for search engines to discover and (hopefully) index all your pages.
You’ll find your store’s sitemap under: your-store.com/sitemap.xml
|Speed & Uptime||Google doesn’t like slow pages and having your site down every other day isn’t great either.
Check our review to see the speed and uptime results.
|Canonical tags||An advanced feature that will help you deal with pages offering similar content. With them, you can tell search engines what page should be indexed and avoid losing rankings because of duplicated content.
Shopify adds canonical tags to certain pages automatically so you don’t have to worry. However, if you’d like to customize them yourself, you’ll need to tweak the code. More on this here.
|Via custom code|
|Structured Data||A way to provide further information to search engines about your site (e.g. star ratings or dates in Google results). It also helps Google to understand your website better.
Check out this thread for more information on structured data.
|Via custom code or external app|
|Google Analytics||Google Analytics will allow you to check your site performance and track your visitors’ behavior.
Be aware that this won’t have a direct impact on your rankings, but it’s a great source of information to improve your store.
|Easy to add|
|Google Search Console||The channel that Google uses to communicate with webmasters. For example, it’ll let you know about broken links, search performance, crawling issues and even manual penalties.||Easy to add|
|SEO Rating||As you can see Shopify makes most of the SEO basics easy. It’s also flexible enough, as you can access the code to implement custom coded solutions if needed.
However, there’s a bunch of optimizations that should be easier to make. For example, an easier way to deal with canonical tags and meta-robots would be appreciated.
In my opinion, Shopify SEO on-page basics are great, effective and easy to implement from the backend. I would only argue that the strings that Shopify adds to URLs are not ideal, but the rest is pretty decent.
Things go south when you look at more advanced options. For example, unless your theme comes with integrated structured data, this can be a pain to implement for non-coders. You’ll also need programming skills to manage canonical tags and noindex / index situations.
But if you aren’t keen on learning Liquid (Shopify’s language) to implement search engine instructions or define canonical tags, you can always get a Shopify SEO app.
On-page SEO options by page
There are many types of pages that one can create with Shopify (e.g. posts, products, collections, etc). So let’s see what SEO on-page optimizations are available for every page:
|Type of page||Title tag||URL *2||Meta description||Noindex / index||Heading structure|
|Product pages||Editable||Editable||Editable||Editable||H1 to H6|
|Collection pages||Editable||Editable||Editable||Editable||H1 to H6|
|Regular pages||Editable||Editable||Editable||Editable||H1 to H6|
|Blog posts||Editable||Editable||Editable||Editable||H1 to H6|
Title Tags: Shopify appends the name of your store automatically. Seems that this can be removed with a code change.
URL: Their system adds a string to the URLs that you won’t be able to remove. E.g. ‘/products/’ (for product pages) and ‘/collections/’ (for collections), etc.
Popular (and useful) SEO apps
As I’ve been mentioning throughout this Shopify SEO review, there are many apps that can help you with your ecommerce SEO. These apps will basically make advanced configurations easier.
Structured data is crucial for online stores. For example, rich snippets (like star ratings or dates) can boost your click-through rate. You can find apps to add structured data easily to your Shopify store, even for free!
Some may be looking for an app that helps them deal with meta-robots tags or sitemaps easily. If this is your case, you are in luck, there are a couple of SEO apps that will help you with these. But the most popular one is SEO Manager, which does this and much more – however it’s not cheap, currently it costs about $20 a month.
Other interesting apps:
- Minifier will compress your images to boost your speed.
- Plug in SEO and SEO Doctor are great apps to identify your store’s SEO issues.
- ReloadSEO is a keyword research tool that will make the research process faster.
- SEO Image Optimizer for those wanting to enhance their image SEO.
You can find all these solutions in the Shopify App Market.
In addition to these SEO optimizers, you should also use a rank tracking tool that sends you updates when your Google rankings change. We’ve reviewed 7 SERP tracking tools here.
So… is Shopify’s SEO good or bad?
SEO is a controversial topic and SEOs tend to be really opinionated, no offense. So I am sure you’ll find a zillion of different opinions on Shopify’s SEO.
However, after intensively checking under Shopify’s hood I believe the following:
- There are numerous examples of well-performing Shopify sites. So Shopify can’t be that bad.
- In my view, Shopify will satisfy 90% of users right out of the box. Additionally, they make it easy as pie to control most of the on-page stuff. Great for non SEO-geeks.
- You may need an app (or apps) if you need a lot of SEO customizations and you don’t want to code. These may be an extra cost.
- Finally, it can’t be ignored that Shopify has some SEO flaws – mostly related to having an inflexible system (e.g. URL appended strings).
But overall, I am satisfied with their Shopify’s SEO capabilities.
I’ll be happy to hear about your experience with their SEO, please leave a comment and let me know.
05 Jul 2021: Editable robots.txt file now available