Volume vs. Value: How to Choose E-Commerce SEO Keywords That Drive Sales

Volume vs. Value: How to Choose E-Commerce SEO Keywords That Drive Sales

By Ian McCue, content manager at Grow Wire
4-minute read

In short:

  • Many e-commerce businesses mistakenly target SEO keywords that garner the most traffic, instead of those that will increase sales.

  • Site managers must understand the difference between transactional queries and informational queries, then focus on the former.

  • After identifying transactional keywords, it’s important to try to rank for them with shopping pages and ensure multiple pages don’t compete for the same keywords.

Any business that sells products online understands the fundamental importance of search engine optimization (SEO). A search engine query often marks the beginning of a shopper’s journey, and first impressions matter.

However, business owners and e-commerce site managers often go after the wrong keywords. The good news is that these mistakes are easy to correct, with some additional knowledge of the inner workings of Google’s ranking algorithm.

A common mistake is to simply find the highest-volume keywords related to a brand and target those in an effort to drive more traffic. 

But higher search volume does not necessarily equate to more sales, said Diego Gallo and Kabir Merali, two SEO experts who help companies build and enhance their search engine strategies. For example, a business’s home or “about us” page could draw a lot of visitors, but its value is low because many visitors have no intention of buying products or are in the early stages of the buying journey. A product detail page, on the other hand, will not attract nearly as much traffic, but it has greater value because many visitors arrive with high purchase intent. 

Furthermore, it’s much easier to rank for more specific keywords with lower search volume than generic ones that have high search volume. For example, in the auto parts world, there is far less SEO competition for “2018 Honda CR-V rims” than “rims” or “Honda rims.” And yet, the “2018 Honda CR-V rims” keyword, which directs to a product detail page, will drive more conversions.

Keyword intention is another crucial – and often overlooked – consideration when searching for high-value e-commerce keywords. 

When a user types in a query, the search engine finds pages related to the words in that search. This is how SEO has functioned since its beginning. But in 2015, Google introduced a machine-learning algorithm called RankBrain to help identify what kind of content users prefer. 

Over time, searchers will usually show a preference for either transactional or informational content. 

  • Transactional content directs the user to purchase something, so it’s typically dominated by product detail pages and sometimes by subcategory or category pages. (In other words, it’s critical for e-commerce.)

  • Informational content helps a user learn more about a product, event or topic and includes results like blog posts or e-commerce home pages.

Gallo and Merali explained that when Google receives a new query, it will display both transactional and informational results at first. But, over time, RankBrain measures which links searchers click on most often to determine whether that query is “informational” or “transactional.” From then on, it serves up primarily or exclusively one type of results. Today, RankBrain is one of the most important factors in determining how your site’s pages rank on Google.

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How to choose e-commerce keywords

Here’s how e-commerce companies can ensure they’re targeting the right keywords with the above information in mind, according to Gallo and Merali. 

1. Figure out whether a certain keyword serves up transactional or informational results. 

The best way to do this is a simple Google search of that term in Incognito Mode, so past search history doesn’t influence results. See if the results for your term include mostly reviews, lists and articles (informational) or product detail pages to buy products (transactional). E-commerce companies should focus on transactional keywords since those will drive more revenue.

2. Once you identify keywords associated with transactional results, try to rank for them with shopping pages. 

That means product detail pages where a shopper can add an item to their cart and, in some cases, subcategory and category pages that cover a specific group of products (for example, “men’s gym shorts” or “Honda CR-V rims”).

3. Make sure multiple pages on your site are not competing for the same keywords. 

If both the home page and a product detail page rank for a query because they use the same transactional keyword, you’re only hurting yourself. Google Search Console is a valuable tool here because it will reveal any self-inflicted competition. It shows the ranking position, clicks, impressions and click-through rate for different pages on your website for a given search term. 

4. Target less specific transactional keywords. 

Once you’ve optimized product detail pages with the most impactful keywords like the product name, the next sensible step is to target keywords that aren’t so obvious. Mixed queries, which have both transactional and informational results, could also be something to tackle after optimizing your most valuable pages.

👉 It’s important to note that e-commerce sites should first improve technical SEO before optimizing for RankBrain. Technical SEO includes the basics, like ensuring Google is able to crawl and index all relevant content on your site, minimizing duplicate content and improving site speed, mobile-friendliness, user-friendliness and more. When technical SEO is in good shape, better keyword targeting will have a much bigger impact.


🌱 The bottom line

Targeting the wrong types of keywords for e-commerce is a common mistake, and it’s easy to see why it happens. But no matter how much you try, a transactional page will never rank very highly for a query Google determined is informational. 

Adjust your SEO strategy with these factors in mind, and remember to prioritize driving sales over traffic when mapping out that strategy. When it comes to e-commerce SEO, work smarter, not harder!