At the time of publishing this article, the world is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the economy is largely shut down. Many businesses are evaluating options for pivoting into new service categories — some as revenue diversification efforts, some as new opportunities for exploration. 

For instance, this farm animal sanctuary out of Half Moon Bay, California is offering you to invite a llama or goat to your next Zoom video meeting. You can thank me later for sharing this!

Over the last five years, On The Map, Inc. has earned a reputation as local SEO experts with a strong web development department and as one of the leading agencies in the ultra-competitive Lawyer SEO niche.

While ranking $300.00 CPC (cost per click) keywords like “miami car accident attorney” is a lot of fun, we’ve been quietly working on our arsenal in the ecommerce space. 

Yes, to many this might come as a surprise or maybe even as a desperate marketing gimmick to leverage the current corona frenzy. But truth be told, we’ve been gearing up for an ecommerce SEO service offering for some time now. 

Our thinking was that if we’re going to offer our services to growing ecommerce stores, we should show people our technical credibility and the strategies that work! 

Starting point – become a certified Shopify Expert agency. Then, launch a highly-demanded Accessibly App that helps with ADA compliance, and then, the last push… 

Seeing mind-blowing SEO results with our employed ecommerce SEO strategies. 

Filter King - Google Search Console Results
Filter King – Google Search Console Results

This is a screenshot of us reaching nearly 1000 organic visitors for one of our client’s websites. 

From 0 to 1000 Organic Visitors a Day (Not so Quick)

Not many projects get to see their full potential. They are started with great aspirations and future plans, but then the reality hits, and everything seems to be taking twice as long and costs twice as much as initially planned.

The On The Map team was fortunate enough to see Filter King unfold from a brand new domain to a power-house website selling household commodities such as AC and furnace filters. 

To set the case study time-line, we will be evaluating three phases of the project. 

E-commerce SEO Journey - Google Analytics (3-Year Timeframe)
Ecommerce SEO Journey – Google Analytics (3-Year Timeframe)
  • Phase #1 – “The Ramp-Up”
  • Phase #2 – The “Is SEO Profitable?” 
  • Phase #3 – The “Holy S***, It’s Working!” 

Without further adieu, let’s dive into our case study time capsule and evaluate the work the On The Map team executed!

The Ramp Up 

Brand new domain SEO projects are always received with mixed feelings. Some agencies and professionals might even turn down those types of projects. 

Referring Domains Chart – Ahrefs Referring Domains

When beginning the work on the Filter King website, it had zero backlinks and it wasn’t even live on the internet. For all intents and purposes, the website did not exist. 

Last but not least, we’re going to come back to the domain topic because in Phase #2 we did something interesting that helped us speed things up tremendously!

Selecting an Ecommerce Platform for SEO

Many might ask, what is the best ecommerce platform for SEO? In our experience, we prefer working with Shopify, Big Commerce, Woocommerce (WordPress), Magento, or Laravel/PHP custom-built ecommerce sites. 

In the Filter King’s case, we built out an entirely custom Laravel/PHP ecommerce system. Why custom? The clients ordering fulfillment systems had very specific needs.

If the platform selection process gets overwhelming, start asking yourself questions like: 

How many products are you planning to manage? 

What is your previous experience with ecommerce platforms?

What are the technical requirements to fulfill the orders?  

A couple of the most popular ecommerce platforms for someone just starting out are Shopify and Woocommerce. It’s a broad topic with many opinions. Our two cents on what we like and dislike in both systems: Shopify vs Woocommerce

Keyword Research for Ecommerce SEO

While the platform you’re building the site on is important, the real fundamental question is what keywords are you planning to target to build a profitable SEO campaign. 

When beginning the Filter King SEO campaign we wanted to identify the largest possible keyword pool possible. 

Thankfully, I had just signed-up to Traffic Think Thank, (Wow, can’t believe it was two years ago!) and Ian Howells had just launched his keyword categorization training video.

The topic of keyword bucketing really should have an entire article on its own. For now, I will focus on the methodology and keyword groups we identified for 

What is Keyword Bucketing? 

It means organizing a list of target keywords with specific pages and site categories. This process is also known as keyword mapping.

In the results of the keyword bucketing you will have a website map laying out pages by keyword information topics and by larger page categories (also known as silos). 

Keyword Bucketing in SEO
Keyword Bucketing – On The Map, Inc.

 In our agency we like to tackle it from two angles: (1) pull a huge list of your competitor ranking keywords, (2) use the keyword explorer to see a full list of certain topic keywords.

Why is Keyword Bucketing Important? 

When building or managing large sites, we want to make sure we have a clear direction of what page content is getting indexed on Google. When we have control over this, we can build a proper site page optimization and interlinking system.  

In ecommerce SEO, especially, we need to have control of what page content is indexed and how it impacts the site page optimizations. 

When the keyword bucketing process is completed, the compiled sheet will look something liked this:

Keyword Research fro E-commerce Website
Keyword Research – On The Map, Inc.

Keyword Categorization by Page Level

To visualize the process and a very clear direction for page and category (silo) optimization, we set-up two simple pivot tables. This process can be extremely helpful to have an all page overview broken down by pages and keywords that the respective pages are targeting. 

Keyword Bucketing - Page Level Pivot Table
Keyword Bucketing – Page Level Pivot Table

Favorite part of the pivot table categorization is the ability to see the total sum of search volumes by categorized page levels. In addition, the same then can be broken down by page category levels. 

Keyword Categorization by Silo Level

Now that we have all pages identified, let’s go ahead and look at how these pages will sit in our identified silos. Remember, the silo categorization means that you will interlink all these pages within its own category. 

Keyword Bucketing - Page Silo Level Pivot Table
Keyword Bucketing – Page Silo Level Pivot Table

After completing the keyword research, we developed the following roll-out plan. 

Target KeywordsTotal Search VolumeNumber of PagesNumber of Silos

Site categorization is a topic close to my heart, so I’ll expand on this a little more. 

As a result of keyword bucketing, we have identified that the site will have four main categories. Here’s a diagram of the site structure we ended up implementing on site. 

Website Architecture -
Website Architecture – 

The most important part during the website page roll-out process was creating the proper category interlinking. 

Website Page Interlinking Side-Bar
Website Page Interlinking Side-Bar

Thanks to our amazing developer team, we created a page side-widget that automatically interlinked all respective category pages. 

This type of structure was applied to all four site silos. For the larger page sets, we had to create third-level interlinking silos. 

Our goal during the website planning/development process was to create a scalable page structure that has the potential to yield high-volume traffic. 

Further along in the case study, we will evaluate the website authority building factors that helped Filter King reach five-digit figures for organic search visitors monthly. 

Building Your E-commerce Website Authority 

A short story from my life. My parents really enjoy playing golf. In the beginning stages of playing, we had a coach who would train us. The first thing he told my brother and me: “don’t even look at the drivers until you’ve learned to use the seven iron.”  

OK, I realize for non-golf players this example might not make any sense, but the moral of the story is … 

Until you learn how to walk, you won’t be able to run. 

The same goes for the heavy-hitter keywords in SEO. You won’t be able to rank for them until your site has gained the necessary authority. 

How is Website Authority Measured in E-commerce SEO?

In our experience, the most common two metrics that we come across are DA (Domain Authority) by Moz and DR (Domain Rating) by Ahrefs. 

We mainly use DR, so I will focus on that one. 

Domain Rating (DR) -
Domain Rating (DR) –

DR Definition (Ahrefs)

Domain Rating (DR) shows the strength of a website’s backlink profile compared to the others in the database on a 100-point scale.

Essentially, the tool examines the domains linking back to your site and gives yours a grade based on how (1) many sites are linking back to yours, and (2) on the authoritativeness of the linking domains. 

Why am I bringing this up? In the Filter King case study we started working on the website when it’s DR was a solid zero

Getting Started with Link Building 

The site authority building process is also known as “link building.” Why link building? Essentially, link building is a process in which one creates connection points between websites.

Why is Link Building Important? 

Each connection point (link) between websites serves as a bridge for the search engine crawler bots to travel from one website to another. The more crawler bots are sent to your website, the more authoritative it becomes in Google’s site evaluation system.

Can Google Penalize Websites for Link Building?

Yes, they totally can. Google emphasizes utility for websurfers. They see any attempts by webmasters to gain their system as a counter to that goal. Google may shut down your site if they detect a link-building campaign that they believe games their system. So, be careful.

DR Based Link Building Strategies

Just as the title indicates, link building is the process of acquiring backlinks from other websites to build your website authority (DR). 

Domain Rating Growth Through Link Building - On The Map, Inc.
Domain Rating Growth Through Link Building – On The Map, Inc.

As the site DR grows, your website rankings should gradually grow as well. This is under the assumption that the website page optimization is done correctly.  

The correlation usually is pretty close. If the DR is much higher than the site we’re optimizing, it’s an indicator that we’re not ready to rank for a certain keyword. 

When starting with link building, it’s essential to find low-hanging fruit phrases that you can use to rank the website. 

Before you run, you need to learn how to walk! 

Let’s take a look at the decision-making process we went through when beginning the link building campaign for Filter King. 

Selecting Link Building Targets

When deciding on the initial SEO goals, we always evaluate the difference between the website we’re optimizing and the websites that are already ranking in top spots for target keywords. 

In the Filter King case, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle. 

SERP Analysis Screenshot - On The Map, Inc.
SERP Analysis Screenshot – On The Map, Inc.

When identifying the sites ranking on page one for target keywords like, “air filter,” “air filter sizes,” or “16x25x1 air filter,” we would see sites like Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart, not to mention the filter industry leaders. 

While ranking for the phrase “air filters” — which gets 50,000+ searchers monthly — might seem like an unattainable goal, you start small but consistent.

In the case of Filter King as well as any other brand-new domain case with super low DR ratings, the link building progression has to be natural. To achieve “natural” one has to observe three variables: (1) the number of backlinks built monthly, (2) target page selection, (3) the anchor texts used for backlinks.

I’d like to expand what we understand with each point and how it was applied in the Filter King case study.

  1. The number of backlinks built monthly – for a brand new domain, increases the built backlink count gradually. For more mature sites, you can start testing a more aggressive approach. (Part 3 of our case study will talk a lot about this!) 
  1. Target page selection – when building backlinks, it’s not a bad idea to diversify the link targets. Think about backlinks as page popularity recognition. A website with only one popular page would seem a bit unlikely.
  1. Anchor text selection – this is an interesting topic in SEO overall. Rule of thumb here: don’t use exact matching anchor texts on every backlink you get. Even more to this point, if you’re acquiring high-quality backlinks, it won’t be a possibility. 

Now, back to the Filter King. We began our link building campaign in March 2018. Our goal was to increase site authority gradually and to start ranking for low-difficulty keywords. 

So let’s see how we did!  

The Ramp-Up Period Summary 

E-commerce Backlink Building Annual Summary Graph
E-commerce Backlink Building Annual Summary Graph

As mentioned, when starting the link-building campaign, the domain had zero backlinks. This meant that we needed to start things gradually and maintain them in such a way over a period of time. 

In total, 2018 finished with 39 built backlinks. The average backlink metric we targeted was DR 30+ and the site has at least 1000 organic search visitors monthly. As far as the website category niches, we were looking for categories such as home improvement, architecture, real estate, lifestyle, and other similar sites that would educate people on air filter usage benefits.

Here’s an example of one of the more authoritative backlinks acquired: - Air Filters and 10 Reasons Air Quality Affects Real Estate – Air Filters and 10 Reasons Air Quality Affects Real Estate

A total of 39 backlinks was split between the following target pages.

E-commerce SEO - Backlink Building Target Pages
E-commerce SEO – Backlink Building Target Pages

As you can see, the majority of the backlinks were built into the site’s home page while the remaining ones were diversified between new page targets. 

The next important element to evaluate is the organic keyword index growth. Ahrefs tool does a great snapshot summary identifying how many keywords are being picked up by Google.

Here is an Ahrefs organic keyword index and position graphic.

Indexed Keyword Comparison Before and After Link Building Efforts
Indexed Keyword Comparison Before and After Link Building Efforts

Let’s take a look at some of the ranking highlights and pages that could possibly start driving e-commerce sales. 

By creating a large net of website pages that can drive traffic we can see how with the only forty acquired backlinks website keyword index jumped to over a thousand keywords.

Let’s get a little more granular look at the search traffic. 

E-commerce SEO - Filter King Case Study - Website Traffic in January 2019
E-commerce SEO – Filter King Case Study – Website Traffic in January 2019 

After our link-building efforts, we can see that in the month of January 2019, we drove 447 organic clicks and reached an averaged ranking position of 36.

Did we drive any meaningful traffic? 

For the starters, we were very pleased to see that the 447 clicks were divided between 144 website pages. 

Here’s a list of the top-10 pages for January-2019:

Website Traffic Screenshot - Top-10 Most Visited Pages
Website Traffic Screenshot – Top-10 Most Visited Pages

That is a sign of a healthy site with tremendous potential. Again, thanks to keyword bucketing our site targets 100,000+ searches monthly.

Let’s take a look at a specific keyword summary that could lead to some massive success in the near feature. I have highlighted the ones that we identified as high-value phrases together with the client.

Phase 1 - Highest Value Ranking Keywords
Phase 1 – Highest Value Ranking Keywords

Few heavy-hitter phrases with four digit number searches monthly. Important to remember that these are only individual keywords. During the keyword bucketing phase we have categorized them in groups and the actual search volumes when combining all page keywords is much higher. 

Let’s identify our low hanging fruits:

  • Search volume <1000
  • Position >20

If both of these align we know it’s a high-traffic keyword that with additional work could start driving valuable traffic very soon. The key here is to find the phrases that are on the bottom of the page one or are sitting on page 2. 

Low-Hanging Fruits - Money Keyword Identification
Low-Hanging Fruits – Money Keyword Identification

We have a match! 

“Air filter sizes” has broken the lead as one of the high-value phrases to focus on in further site SEO strategy. 

Main Takeaways from Ramp-Up Period

Site structure is massively important to build scale: We drove traffic from 154 pages! 

Link building is a key to build site authority for brand new domain: We built 40 backlinks! 

Result: In an eight-month period we went from 0 visitors organically to 450+ monthly! 

FAQ About E-commerce Link Building

How Much Does Link Building Cost?

In most cases, link building is offered as part of an SEO package. Here at On The Map, our heavy-hitter campaigns receive up to 5-15+ high-authority backlinks monthly. The cost for the service monthly is between $2,500.00 – $5,000.00+ monthly.

How Quickly Could I Build Up My Site Authority? 

Considering the Filter King case study we needed to acquire 40-backlinks to see the first substantial results from the SEO campaign. Let’s say an active SEO campaign would build 10x backlinks monthly for four months it would be equivalent to around $20,000.00 one time investment. Learn more about Ecommerce SEO Pricing.

Can SEO Agency Provide Link Building for Me?

Absolutely yes, only be very careful with the types of backlinks they will build. We do only outreach based backlink acquisition on real websites. Talk to one of our strategists to see what type of plan your website needs.

Author’s note (05/31/2020): Phase 2 and Phase 3 content is currently being developed. The post will be updated once the case study information is gathered.

Related Content

Do you want more rankings?

Book a strategy call and grow your business now