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by Michael P. Hill July 07, 2015

You’ve worked hard to create a great online store with your Shopify theme — not it’s time to make sales! However, in order to get the cash rolling in, you need to make sure customers can find you.

With billions upon billions of pages on the Internet, it can seem daunting to ensure your Shopify store is found by the right people.

However, using the simple techniques and tips found in this three part series can make a big difference in not only helping customers find your online home, but also make sales.

Last week we explored title tags and meta description tags. This week, we’ll be moving on to some more advanced Shopify SEO features: URL handles and image alt tags, as well as covering how to ensure your text sounds natural.

URL handles

URL handles are, as their name implies, part of the URL to a specific product, collection or information page on your Shopify site. Search engines look for relevant keywords in URLs to help determine both the subject of the page and structure of your site.

The URL handle is yet another place where one or two relevant or alternate keywords can be integrated.

When creating URL handles, be sure to separate each word with a hyphen and not an underscore or other character. Most major search engines recognize the hyphen as a space, which helps it understand where one word or phrase ends and another begins.

One thing that’s important to note, however, is that if you start changing your URL handles, Shopify will offer to automatically redirect traffic from the old URL to the new one — and you should almost always allow it to do this so any inbound links that point to that page will still work and direct the user to the correct page.

Good URL handle example

/product/handmade-black-wool-scarf

Contains relevant keywords in a natural sounding order that includes product details

Bad URL handle example

/product/scarf_shawl_silk

Uses underscores instead of hyphens and contains three almost random sounding words without any specific product details.

Image alt tags

Image alt tags are hidden tags that are used to help designate what an image is of. Since search engines can’t read images as well as text, they often rely on alt tags to help determine what, exactly an image features. This, combined with nearby text on the same page, forms a good portion of how a search engine tags an image.

In Shopify you, can control the alt tag of each image when you insert or edit an image by clicking the “Alt” link next to each image thumbnail on the product management page. If you insert an image into the body text of a page, you can dictate the text in the image window.

When creating image tags, you should accurately and completely describe what the image is illustrating. Avoid using too many keywords or using keywords on an image that isn’t relevant.

Good image alt tag example

For example, if a photo shows a red wool scarf for sale in your store, a good image alt tag might be “Red wool scarf.”

Bad image alt tag

For the same image, a poor image alt tag would be “Scarf, shawl, scarves, wool, green, black, yellow” because it doesn’t describe what the image is showing and also contains too many keywords.

Keeping it natural

With all of these areas, it’s vital to keep your writing natural. While integrating keywords and relevant alternatives is important, it’s also very easy to over do it and create text that sounds awkward.

Not only can this result in text that reads as overly commercial, most search engines have gotten pretty good at detecting this type of tactic and penalizing the pages in question.

Shopify will automatically populate title tags, meta description tags and URL handles based on what you type into the backend, but these suggestions should never be published “as is.”

It’s vital to review each one of these areas and, where time and resources allow, modify each of these to be fully optimized for both SEO and user experience rather than simply reuse the exact same title and description.

Remember that while a product description is a good start for a meta description tag, for example, the two items have two very different uses — meta description tags are meant to show the relevance of the page and get the user to open it, while product descriptions are meant to provide more details and ultimately encourage a purchase.

Shopify will also cut off these tags at the character limits listed above, so this is another important reason to carefully review this section of your site and, if time and resources allow, write unique text for each.

Natural sounding example

Handmade black wool scarf available in two sizes

Contains alternate names and product details while sounding like a naturally written sentence.

Unnatural sounding example

Scarf, shawl, wool, neck scarf, large, small

Simply lists related keywords and seemingly random order and with no context.

Another important tactic to keeping all of your SEO text sounding natural is to spread out alternate terms across all locations it appears in. You don’t need to include every term in every text field — by scattering them out, you’ll be able to work in all terminology you need and keep things sounding more natural.

Product descriptions

The final key area that can enhance your SEO efforts is in your product descriptions, which will be the focus of next week’s post.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn.

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2 Responses

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

August 25, 2016

@Hilary: Good question. Image “alt” tags are definitely important. When I’m thinking about how to write these, I tend to think back at their original purpose — to describe what is in the image if the user couldn’t see it (this dates back to the days when not all browsers could display images). Another common use of these tags are to help the visually impaired using screen readers. In both these cases, the idea is to sort of “paint a picture” of what’s in the image in a short and succinct manner. These tags are also a big help for image-based searches, such as those done via Google Images, though search engines have gotten pretty sharp at inferring the meaning of images based on surrounding text. One note: I would say that SKUs in the tags aren’t all that useful unless you anticipate users to be searching by that (e.g. if it’s a model number).

Hilary Nagler
Hilary Nagler

August 17, 2016

Hi Michael,

Quick question – I use all my alt tags which has been majorly helpful for google image ranking, but have been reading everywhere that product images should be descriptively named as well. To date I have just named my images with the product sku as the images are used by wholesale vendors etc so need to correlate exactly to product at a glance in dropbox.

How important is the product image name to seo? For some reason I was always under the impression that shopify automatically renamed files anyway?

Thx!


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