How to Get More Followers on Instagram: 13 Reliable Ways to Grow Your Audience

How to Get More Followers on Instagram: 13 Reliable Ways to Grow Your Audience
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Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual advertising channel for your brand and an opportunity to build a loyal audience that grows with your business over time.

In fact, over 500 million Instagram users browse the app every day, making it home to some of the most engaged audiences around.

But like any social network out there, there are right ways to use it, wrong ways to use it, and clever ways to use it.

In this post, we will show you how to most effectively use Instagram to increase engagement and build a massive following over time.

How to Get More Followers on Instagram

There are 13 tactics that will help you reliably get more followers on Instagram:

  1. Use the right hashtags
  2. Use the right filters
  3. Post at the right time
  4. Steal your competitor’s followers
  5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews
  6. Use geotags to boost local discovery
  7. Organize your Stories into Highlights on your profile
  8. Ask new users who engage with you to follow you
  9. Be consistent
  10. Hop on trends
  11. Run a giveaway
  12. Monitor your following closely over time
  13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal

Let’s dive deeper into how to implement each tactic. 

1. Use the right hashtags

Your goal on Instagram is to engage your current audience while also growing your following. Posting new, interesting and engaging photos will satisfy the first requirement, but to begin growing you’ll find hashtagging your photos to be extremely important. Hashtagging your photos makes it easy for people to find your photos that are searching for those specific terms.

So which hashtags should you use?

Just like with Twitter and other social sites, users on Instagram use certain hashtags over others. If you use the right hashtags within your photos, you’re much more likely to reach new users and be discovered.

Here are the current top 20 hashtags on Instagram according to Websta:

  1. #love (1,271,692,015)
  2. #instagood (742,795,562)
  3. #photooftheday (507,358,504)
  4. #fashion (487,010,088)
  5. #beautiful (463,668,566)
  6. #happy (427,528,663)
  7. #cute (418,686,470)
  8. #like4like (417,887,839)
  9. #tbt (413,049,020)
  10. #followme (392,011,012)
  11. #picoftheday (380,504,677)
  12. #follow (371,102,705)
  13. #me (348,193,980)
  14. #art (343,874,151)
  15. #selfie (337,204,715)
  16. #summer (324,498,110)
  17. #instadaily (323,307,593)
  18. #repost (309,603,537)
  19. #friends (307,567,075)
  20. #nature (303,040,276)

If you looked at the list above and said, “But none of those apply to my products or brand”, you’re likely correct.

Using hashtags is one thing, using the right tags is a completely different thing.

Popular tags like the ones listed above will likely net you additional engagement and likes, however, they will not lead to increased long-term engagement, new interested followers, and most importantly, sales.

If you want to tag your photos properly, you’ll need to find and use the most relevant hashtags. This means doing the appropriate research to make sure you’re using hashtags that not only describe your brand, but are also being searched for on Instagram.

To find relevant hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online tool like IconoSquare or Websta to start.

Below, I used Websta to find relevant, related and popular hashtags for my men’s accessory brand by searching for key hashtags that are closely related to my brand.

As an example, searching the hashtag #MensFashion, I was able to pull the following list of additional keyword hashtags along with the number of times they have been used (popularity).

how to find menswear instagram hashtags

You can also find more related hashtags and their popularity if you search for any of your target keywords directly in the Instagram app.

You’ll want to go through this exercise trying different keywords that describe your brand and products, building out your hashtag keyword list as you go.

Keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Additionally, the popular words will change over time, so make sure you revisit your hashtag keywords every few months to make sure you’re using the best possible terms.

You can also steal hashtag ideas from competitors or similar accounts that have the kind of following you aspire to have, but you ultimately want to create your own groups of hashtags to use that relate to your specific account.

Protip #1: Here’s a trick that I use for my ecommerce businesses. For every product and product category for my stores, I have done the research to see which are the most popular Instagram hashtags around those product categories. I came up with 15-20 popular hashtags for each category of products I sell, as well as a base of 5-10 popular tags that describe my brand and product offering overall. Finally, I also created a list of popular local specific hashtags that relate to my brand.

For example:

(Brand Keyword Hashtags)

#mybrandname #mensfashion #mensaccessories #mensgoods #fashion #mensstyle #instafashion #menswear

(Product Category Keyword Hashtags)

#bugatchisocks #happysocks #corgisocks #socks #sockswag #socksoftheday #sockgame #sockswagg #socksofinstagram #happysockday #sockwars #funsocks #happysockday

(Location Specific Keyword Hashtags)

#Toronto #TorontoFashion #TorontoFashionBloggers

All of these groups of keyword hashtags are stored in a page on Evernote. This makes it easy and efficient when I’m on the go to post a new Instagram image, optimized for the most relevant keywords.

I can easily open my Evernote and copy my standard brand, product and location specific hashtags to post with each photo. Some Instagram scheduling tools also let you save caption templates that you can use to store your hashtag groups.

mens fashion hashtags in instagram posts

Doing the work upfront of researching, organizing and saving the most applicable and popular hashtags will save you a ton of time down the road, increase your engagement and help garner new followers.

Protip #2: If you’ve been posting to Instagram for a while and feel like you’ve missed out on all these opportunities to build your audience by using keyword hashtags, fret not. You can still go back and post a comment with your new hashtag keyword lists and watch the likes and followers roll in.

Using hashtags in Instagram Stories

Hashtagging on Instagram posts are a given, but you should also be using hashtags in your Stories for the chance to be seen by users who follow that specific hashtag.

You can use Hashtag Stickers (which can be found in the Stickers menu when creating a Story) or just hashtag directly in your captions for a chance to be featured in a Hashtag Story.

Now that users can follow hashtags, your Stories have a chance to be seen by both people who are following that hashtag and anyone who’s just checking it out.

using hashtags in stories

2. Use the right filters

Keyword hashtags aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to. The Instagram community responds to certain photo filters more favorably than others. Using these preferred filters can have an impact on your engagement.

Here are the 10 current most popular filters on Instagram according to Iconosquare:

  1. Normal (No Filter)
  2. Clarendon
  3. Juno
  4. Lark
  5. Ludwig
  6. Gingham
  7. Valencia
  8. X-Pro II
  9. Lo-fi
  10. Amaro

TrackMaven did a recent study on Instagram accounts to see how filters affected engagement and found that Mayfair, Hefe, and Ludwig drove the most interaction.

best instagram filters for engagement

But more important than the general Instagram community’s favorite filters, are your particular audience’s favorite filters. Consider this custom graph which correlates filter usage to engagement from my own Instagram account:

best instagram filters for engagement

You can use IconoSquare to review the performance of your own account to understand what is and is not currently working for you.

3. Post at the right times

Beyond adding the appropriate hashtags and using the best filters, you should also be considering the timing of your posts.

A targeted approach is to analyze what has and has not worked for you in the past. By visiting IconoSquare’s optimization section, you can get a detailed analysis of your posting history vs. engagement. This report will also highlight the best times of the day and days of the week to post.

The dark circles indicate when you usually post media. The light gray circles shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light gray circles represent the best times for you to post.

best times to post on instagram

You can also get a lot of great insight from Instagram Analytics for Business accounts for free, under the Followers section.

best times to post on instagram

You may want to consider using a social media scheduling tool to schedule and automatically publish your posts for when your audience is the most engaged.

4. Steal your competitor’s followers

One of the best ways to find and attract a new following is by seeking out your closest competitors’ Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry simply by following your competitors’ account.

So how do you effectively steal your competitors’ followers?

You can steal your closest competitors’ followers by engaging with them. There are several ways to engage with Instagram users, and the more work you put in, the more followers and repeat engagement you’ll get out of it.

The three types of engagement on Instagram are:

  • Follow a user
  • Like a photo
  • Comment on a photo

I ran an informal test with my business account to see how my competitors’ followers responded to my marketing advances. I targeted the followers of a close, local competitor. Since I know many of his followers would be local, I added my city to my profile to create a greater sense of familiarity between my brand and the people I am targeting.

I began by simply following 100 of my competitors’ followers. Later, I followed another 100 but I also took the time to like one of their photos. Finally, I followed a third group of 100 and liked as well as commented on one photo from each account..

Here were the results:

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + Like: 22% followback
  • Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback

Although the are many variables and the test was far from scientific, the results were clear. The more you put in and engage with people, the more you’ll get out of it.

Note: While it’s against Instagram’s terms of service, some entrepreneurs use automation to follow the same process above.

 

 

5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews

All this optimized posting to your account is great but if you really want to make an impact, you need to take advantage of influencer marketing on Instagram, exposing your brand to a wider audience.

So how do you do that?

First, unlike the tactics above to grow your account this one usually isn’t free. However, if done correctly, it’s good value.

To get started, you’ll need to make a list of large accounts in your niche. For example, if you sell beauty products, you’ll want to find large accounts from beauty bloggers.

You may already be following these accounts, but if not you’ll need to find them. One of the best ways is to use Webstagram (mentioned earlier) and search for some of the closest hashtag keywords you uncovered in the beginning of this post. When you do a search for your keywords, not only will it show you the related keywords, but it also shows you the top Instagram accounts that feature those keywords.

There are a few things to look for in the profiles results:

  • A large following—usually 20k to 200k
  • An email address in the profile

If there is an email address in the profile, it usually means they’re open to sponsored posts or a shoutout in a sponsored Story.

You’ll want to email them and ask them their sponsored post pricing. In general, I have found the average rate to be around $20-$50 per post, depending on the size of their following.

However, if you’re selling a unique and original product, you may also want to consider sending them your product to review and post. The more natural and less advertisement-like the image, the greater the engagement and response usually.

You don’t necessarily need influencers with a massive following, but rather ones with a high engagement rate (likes and comments relative to follower size), which many influencer marketplaces can provide.

instagram sponsored post

6. Use geotags for local discoverability

Besides hashtags, you can also make your Instagram posts and Stories discoverable by tagging your location, either the city you’re in or the venue where the photo or video was taken.

Locations not only have their own feed on Instagram but also their own Story just like hashtags that you can contribute to when you use the location sticker in your own Stories.

geotagging on instagram

Local businesses can get the most value out of location tags by posting regularly to these feeds and also engaging with posts from prospective customers who are physically in the vicinity.

7. Organize your Stories into Highlights

Whenever a potential follower lands on your profile, you have a short span of time to convince them to follow you.

One way to do this is by using the “Highlights” feature on your profile to organize your Instagram Stories in a way that communicates what your account is about.

Since Stories have a 24-hour lifespan, Highlights can be used to give them a second-life and entice others to follow you so they don’t miss out on more Stories in the future.
story highlights on instagram

Use Story Highlights to:

  • Create trailers that tease what your account is about
  • Organize your Stories into themes (like countries you’ve visited to for travel accounts)
  • Explain your products through pictures and videos
  • Promote your products using swipe-up links (you need at least 10K followers and a Instagram Business account to do this with your Stories)

8. Ask

It sounds obvious, but it deserves to be said: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ask your audience to follow you.

The same way YouTubers ask their viewers to follow them at the end of their videos, you can also ask viewers to follow you for more content.

Sometimes people might really enjoy what you put out on Instagram, but need a nudge before they actually follow you. Sometimes you just need to remind the users of a platform that they can subscribe to get more in the comments of a post.

You can also do this in your captions or even work it into your content by pitching what your audience will get if they follow you or hinting at content that’s coming up that they won’t want to miss.

9. Hop on trends

When the opportunity presents itself, aligning your content with trending topics or hashtags can improve discoverability and engagement.

For example, you can ride the wave of a trending topic or event, such as a holiday, in a relevant way to boost your engagement and reach. Or you can participate in one of the many hashtag holidays that exist, such as #NationalCoffeeDay (falling on October 1st in 2018). Mark relevant events in your calendar so you can prepare relevant content in advance.

Be sure to join the conversation in a meaningful way and when in doubt, ask yourself if your target audience would actually pay attention to the trend.

10. Run a giveaway

One of the best kinds of comments you can get on any social media post, not just Instagram, is a comment where one user tags a friend. Not only do these comments contribute to your post’s engagement, which in turn makes it favorable to the Instagram algorithm, but each tag brings you a new audience member who arrived through a recommendation and who you could potentially win over as a follower.

One way to encourage this behavior is by posting relatable content that begs for 1:1 sharing (e.g. A gym meme that asks you to tag a friend who skips leg day). But a more reliable way to get your audience to tag their friends is by running a giveaway that encourages your audience to tag a friend and follow your account.

Be sure to check out our post on running a giveaway for more, as well follow Instagram’s promotion guidelines and any legal requirements for running a contest that apply in your country of operation.

For inspiration, here’s an example of a successful product giveaway from the5th that incentivizes people to follow their account and tag a friend for the chance to win two free products for the both of them.

example of an instagram contest

11. Be consistent

Most of your followers won’t follow you for what you posted in the past but for the promise of what you’ll post in the future. Your audience wants to know what they’re going to get if they hit that follow button.

Having a feed with a consistent theme running through, where you publish at a consistent pace, can have just as much of an impact in growing a following as many of the other growth strategies we’ve covered above. Even a simple pattern can entice new followers, as long as it’s communicated at first glance to anyone who lands on your profile.

Consider your bio and your last 9 posts as your first impression on Instagram. Do they effectively communicate some degree of consistency through personality, filters, colors, or layout?

The layout of your grid is an often underestimated way to get creative with the aesthetic of your feed while adding a rhythm to your publishing strategy and consistency that’s worth following.

In fact, many accounts that adopt this approach are often able to spend less effort on creating content by focusing on converting visitors into followers, producing text graphics or other content with a faster turnaround and streamlining the overall production of their Instagram content.

You can use a tool like Later to easily plan out and schedule the look and layout of your feed in advance. Sonnet Insurance is just one example of how far some brands go with the aesthetic of their Instagram layout.

example of an instagram grid layout

12. Closely monitor your following over time

It’s not enough to get more Instagram followers if you’re losing them just as fast. Keep an eye on the rate at which you’re growing as well as how engaged your following is overall.

Social Blade is a great free tool for analyzing the growth of your following (or your competitors), showing you followers added and lost over time and on specific days.

measure your instagram following with social blade

With an Instagram Business account, you also get an Instagram Analytics dashboard which offers valuable insight for free that you won’t get anywhere else. You can see how many people are checking out your profile, how many people your posts have reached, what your most engaging posts are, and where most of your followers are from.

You can use this data to diagnose where you’re falling short and where you could do more.

Look for patterns in the posts that were the most engaging and try to replicate that in your future content.

13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal

There are hundreds of Instagram tools out there that can help you and your Instagram strategy, but I mentioned three key ones to help you build your audience and engage with them over time:

  • Later Schedule and automatically publish your Instagram posts from your computer or mobile device.
  • IconoSquare: Info, analytics and insights into your account and followers.
  • Webstagram: Find the best hashtags for your posts and people for your sponsored posts.

You can find more in our list of top Instagram tools, as well as some apps to help you with creating and editing your content.

Once you’ve built up a large following on Instagram, you might also want to check out these tactics for making money on Instagram.

Grow an Instagram following that grows your business

In this post we talked about the most effective ways to use Instagram to build a targeted following, but it’s not always a numbers game. As with any social network, the most successful strategy overall is to be authentic and social.

If you focus on engagement, not just followers, Instagram can be a great home for your products and brand that can lead to a healthy stream of revenue for your ecommerce business.

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Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

You’re writing, and writing, and writing. You’re polishing your category pages. You’re toiling over countless product descriptions. You write for humans, while always keeping one eye toward search engines.

But let’s admit it: Sometimes you wonder, is your copy working hard enough? Are you persuading web visitors to buy?

Let’s look at six ecommerce copywriting mistakes that might be costing you business and explore how you can fix them.

Mistake #1: Too much product focus

This mistake is easily made. Even experienced copywriters make it.

As a salesperson and business owner you’re excited to share how special your products are (of course!). You want to talk about unique features and splendid specifications.

But you know what? Your buyers aren’t interested in all these features and specs. Buyers want to know what’s in it for them. Each time you list a feature such as a thread count of 400, pair it with a benefit such as for a luxurious feel that provides a better sleep.

A product feature is a fact about your product, while a benefit explains what’s in it for the buyer. A benefit explains how your product increases pleasure or takes away pain. And that’s exactly what your customers are most interested in.

Your oven, for instance, might have a fast preheat system (feature) which makes you more relaxed about getting dinner ready in time (this benefit is an increase in pleasure—feeling more relaxed) and it makes cooking less stressful (this benefit is taking away the pain of stress).

Before you start creating your product pages, outline a comprehensive list of features and benefits. Consider benefits that increase pleasure and benefits that take away problems, pain, and hassle. Planning what you need to write helps you write more persuasive copy, and it helps you to write faster.

Mistake #2: Meaningless drivel is soiling your pages

Formerly top-shelf words like “world-class”, “market-leading”, and “innovative” are used so frequently they’ve lost much of their impact. Now they’re just filler—taking up space without adding meaning.

Put on your devil’s advocate hat, and ask yourself for each sentence and each word: what does this mean? If you can’t come up with a specific answer immediately, then cut or rephrase until your text is concrete and meaningful.

❌ Meaningless drivel: “Innovative office chairs from a world-leading manufacturer.”

✅ Try instead: “Office chairs with lumbar support used in over 150,000 offices in the US.”

Meaningless drivel distracts and wears your reader down. In contrast, facts and figures increase your credibility. Where possible, include numbers and write them as digits (7) rather than words (seven) because numerals stop wandering eyes.

Mistake #3: You’ve taken an adjective overdose

Adjectives help us to explain what our products look like (appearance), what they do (features), and how they make our buyers feel (benefits). In moderation adjectives are useful, but an overdose gives your reader a headache because it makes your content hard to read. An example:

This relaxed, romantic collection of beautiful cookware has a unique look, up-to-date yet completely classic with a result that’s perfect for your kitchen.

The problem with so many adjectives is that it slows your reader down and confuses them. What about simply saying:

This romantic cookware collection suits most kitchen styles.

When using adjectives, follow these essential best practices:

  • Use only one adjective before a noun. Rather than relaxed, romantic collection, go for romantic collection.
  • Don’t use adjectives to state the obvious. Don’t simply describe what a product looks like if you’re showing it on a picture.
  • Choose sensory or emotional words. They make your reader feel something. Words like nice, good, or effective are rather bland. Opt for delightful, dazzling, or tantalizing instead.

Too many adjectives make your copy slurred and incomprehensible, but in moderation adjectives make your copy compelling and magnetic.

Mistake #4: Over-reliance on factual information

When potential buyers read stories, they forget they’re being sold something. Their barriers to your sales messages go down and your content becomes more engaging and persuasive.

People don’t think in abstract terms and facts. Our brains are wired to think in stories. Stories make your content meaningful as they help your readers visualize using your product.

“Facts give stories substance. Stories give facts meaning.” —Lee Lefever

A story can be ultra-short. Imagine you’re selling an office chair with lumbar support. You can tell a simple story about a customer who tries different chairs and continues to suffer from back pain. Meet Sarah. Sarah finds it hard to concentrate on her work. She paces around during meetings. She’s grumpy.

Then one day Sarah buys your chair and after just 1 month her back pain is finally gone. Her colleagues notice she’s more cheerful at work. Her boss remarks she’s more productive. And when she gets home, she’s not as tired and cranky as she used to be. Even her dog notices it.

A simple story can help potential buyers visualize the benefits of your products—especially if they’re complicated; but stories also add personality. You can tell stories about the development, testing, or sourcing of your products to make your products more fascinating or to increase the perception of quality.

Follow these tips to apply the seductive power of mini-stories:

  • Learn from investigative journalists. Dig deeper to uncover fascinating details. Talk to your suppliers and customer service representatives. More importantly, talk to your customers. The more you learn the more stories you have to tell.
  • Keep your stories concise and concrete. Focus your story on just one simple idea.
  • Avoid the obvious. Tell unexpected stories to engage, entertain, and sell.

We’ve all been educated to focus on data, figures, and facts. Facts increase the credibility of your product description, but facts on their own don’t make your content persuasive. Facts are cold. Facts don’t have soul or personality.

The most persuasive product descriptions include both story and fact. Stories engage your reader, while facts help justify their purchase.

Mistake #5: A complete lack of personality

Many big-box ecommerce sites sound like what they are: big corporations without a soul. They don’t connect, they don’t engage, they hardly sell the value of the products they offer. They simply provide bread, butter, beer, and toothpaste.

But nobody likes chatting with a faceless corporation. Nobody likes ringing a soulless call center. So why create text that sounds like a dull corporation?

To connect with your readers, you need a dash of personality on your ecommerce site. Think about your tone of voice—if your website was a real salesperson talking to a customer, how would you like her to sound? What stories would she tell? What jokes would she crack? Which words would she choose?

“Copy is a direct conversation with the customer.”
—Shirley Polykoff

Before you define your tone of voice, consider who you are writing for. Try to visualize one buyer and consider how you’d talk to her in real life. Don’t sound like a big corporation. Be human. Because that’s how you engage potential buyers.

Mistake #6: You edit in less than 5 minutes

Professional copywriters can’t write in one go. They plan. They write. They edit. Unless you’re superhuman you need to carefully edit your content.

Imagine you’re talking with your favorite customer. Now, read your copy aloud. Is your favorite customer laughing at your bombastic phrases? Does she start to glance at her phone because you’re boring her?

Re-write and polish your text until you’re able to persuade your favorite customer to buy your product:

  • What objections does your favorite customer have to buying your product? Have you addressed each objection?
  • Price can often be an issue, so be sure to justify your price by explaining how much value your customer will get.
  • Check your engagement level. Is your content focused on your customer? Count the number of times you’ve used “I”, “me”, “we”, and “us” versus “you.”
  • Ensure you’ve included a benefit for each feature.
  • Cut unnecessary words. Reduce the number of adjectives. Kill adverbs like “just,” “really,” and “actually” because they don’t add meaning.
  • Read your text backwards as this makes it easier to spot spelling and grammar errors. Even better: ask a colleague or professional to proofread your text for you.

Whether or not you’re a good writer doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re a good editor and that you understand the differences between crappy, good, and great copy. Once you know what makes copy good, you can get to work to improve yours over time.

The truth about ecommerce copywriting

Many big ecommerce sites treat their web visitors like numbers. You have a huge opportunity to be different. To be human. To have personality. To engage and delight potential buyers.

Your starting point should always be your ideal customer. Sell the benefits he enjoys. Always remember who you’re writing for. And don’t speak at him. Instead, try having a conversation. Give advice. Be helpful and engaging. Customers will reward you for it.

Build Your Store’s Site Structure for Humans and Search Engines

Build Your Store's Site Structure for Humans and Search Engines

Strategically organizing and structuring your website into categories, subcategories, and product pages will benefit both your visitors and the search engines.

When your visitors can find what they need quickly and easily, they’re more likely to buy. When search engines can find what they need quickly and easily, they’re more likely to rank your site high and reward you with traffic.

The question becomes: how do you balance both?

In this article, I will teach you why information architecture and site structure matter in ecommerce, how to do basic keyword research to determine the best structure for your store, the basics of URLs and internal linking for SEO, and how to deal with filtering and faceting to control the potential for duplicate content.

This advice comes from my ten years of SEO experience, the last six spent helping large websites with complicated structures drive more traffic.

Table of Contents

  • Why site structure matters
  • Keyword research for site structure
  • Keyword research tools
  • Organizing keywords into rank tracking buckets
  • Basics of internal linking
  • Avoiding the SEO pitfall of duplicate content
  • Next steps

Why site structure matters

Your website’s organization and information architecture are important not just for search engine optimization (SEO), but more importantly for conversions and cart size. If you can help your visitors find what they need more easily, then you have a better chance of converting them into customers.

Search engines want to rank the best results for a given query. If you search [dog food], would you prefer to land on a single page that only lists dog food or a page listing dog, cat, bird, and mouse food?

My guess is the former, which is why you see sites like Chewy.com, Petco.com, PetSmart, and Petflow all ranking with pages that only list dog food:

Dog food SERP

Ranking is much more complicated than this of course, as you have to take links, site authority, and much more into account to get a full picture of what it takes to rank.

Because the search engines want to serve up the best result for a given query, they prioritize pages that target that specific term. Realistically, you cannot expect the page that ranks for [pet food] to also rank for [dog food] or a page that ranks well for [dog food] to rank as well for [Purina dog food] since the word “Purina” shows that the results on the page only cover one brand.

User intent aside, website architecture plays a critical role in determining how well you’ll rank because search engines partially base their rankings off of how well you link and organize your important pages. You don’t need to go as far as calculating internal pagerank (though you can, if you want) to know that you should link to your pages that target high volume and high competition terms from as close to your homepage and other highly linked-to pages as possible.

A clean website architecture looks like this (more information here):

Site structure example

Starting from your homepage, visitors should be able to navigate down to categories, then subcategories, and then products. Every product should be in one category (for example [pet type] food) and can then be in multiple subcategories (e.g. [brand] dog food, [brand] cat food, etc.)

Using this simple example, each category page receives 25% of the equity passed from the homepage. Then each subcategory receives a percentage of that category’s authority, and so on down.

Site structure map

The more competitive a search query you are targeting, the more internal (and external) links that page needs.

Products are purposefully organized below categories and subcategories because they receive less traffic than the head terms targeted by your categories. Individual products are also much easier to rank for because they have less competition in the search results, thus they do not need to be as close to your homepage. They simply do not need as many internal links to rank.

Keyword research for site structure

Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. If you want to drive traffic to your website from search, then you need to understand which terms people are searching for, how hard those terms are to rank for, how many potential visitors you could receive from those terms based on your page’s ranking, and the potential revenue those terms could bring in (based on conversion rates and average cart value).

Of course, you don’t have all of this information from the start, especially if you have not built or optimized an ecommerce website before. But you can optimize towards traffic and, from there, conversions based on the products you have on your site.

Keyword research takes time, but building your site correctly from the start reduces your time to rank and saves you the trouble of redoing URLs, fixing internal links, and implementing redirects. In short, doing the work upfront will pay you back in the long-term.

When you start keyword research, you have data sources available to you. You have:

  • Google Search Console, which you should already have installed on your site.
  • Competitor data in a tool like SEMrush or Moz.
  • Autosuggestions from Google using a tool like Soovle.
  • Any existing AdWords data you have from ads you are running.

What you’re looking for are buckets of keywords, which you can use to segment your products.

You can take a head keyword that you identify, such as [dog food], and plug that into a tool like SEMrush. They then show you related keywords, like so:

Finding related keywords

By looking through the suggested terms based off the seed keyword of [dog food], I can tell that if I were creating a pet food store, then I should create categories based on:

  • Animal type
  • Brand
  • Price (e.g. cheap, sales, discount)
  • Type of dog (e.g. puppy, old dog)
  • Color (e.g. Purina dog food yellow bag)

This information lets you create the strategy for labeling your products and it bases your top level pages off of search volume. For [dog food], I’d organize everything by brand first, then treat price and type of dog as equal levels.

Your website’s information architecture will then be based off of what terms people search for most often. The top level will be your highest volume keyword, then subcategories that become more specific and have smaller keyword volume. Finally, you have your products, which likely have less search volume than a brand or a type.

Here’s a potential dog food category -> subcategory -> products taxonomy. Your site architecture would look like this:

Specific site structure example

And your URLs would be organized like:

It’s important that you already have [Pedigree dog food] covered with /dog-food/pedigree, so you do not also want /pedigree/dog-food underneath the Pedigree brand subfolder. However, having Pedigree (or any brand) with its own page will let you optimize for terms like “Pedigree pet food” and it is also a great way to get all of your products under that brand indexed close to the homepage.

Keyword research tools

The right tool depends on your needs and how often you will use it. There are a few tools that I use and recommend for keyword research.

  1. Moz’s Keyword Explorer. This is probably the best tool for you. A Moz Pro subscription costs $99 a month and gives you access to all of their tools, including: campaigns, keyword tracking, competitor tracking, and more.
  2. SEMrush. Starts at $99 a month. It’s ideal for larger sites.
  3. Soovle for autosuggestions to find longer tail keywords under your head terms.
  4. Answer The Public to identify informational queries your audience is already searching.

A free tool you can install is the Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere, which puts search volume by the terms you search in Google as well as the keywords appearing in your Google Search Console Search Analytics report.

Search volume in Google Search Console

Organizing keywords into rank tracking buckets

Now that you have the keywords you want to rank for and have built the pages to target them, you need to track your keywords so that you can see how they are trending over time.

I recommend that you track sets of keywords more closely than you track individual keywords. If you track a set of 50 keywords, you can see more holistically how well you are doing for search than if you just track 1 or 2, as those 1 or 2 may rank well when the other 48 categories you care about are neglected. Simply tracking a few major keywords will focus you on those keywords instead of your whole site. When you focus on sets of keywords across your site, you can drive exponentially more traffic.

Using SEMrush, you can tag each of your keywords so that you can see how your different buckets of keywords are ranking over time. You may identify that your brands are ranking well, but your products are not. From this knowledge, you can adjust your strategy to improve your product rankings.

Here is an example of a set of keywords in one of my SEMrush campaigns, which shows the estimated percentage of clicks I will receive for those keywords:

Rankings overview in SEMrush

This is, in my opinion, a much better way to track SEO success than individual keyword rankings. I do track individual keywords that can drive outsized conversions, but if you are looking to gauge overall SEO performance, then you should really care about share of voice across your keyword sets (like dog food).

Basics of internal linking

Organizing your information architecture in a way that meets your users’ needs and takes search engine crawlers from the most important to least important pages accomplishes a few tasks:

  1. Category and subcategory pages become strong because they are linked from other highly-linked pages (like your homepage), which allows you to rank for more competitive search terms.
  2. All of your pages are brought higher in the architecture to get them indexed and ranked.
  3. Website visitors and customers can more quickly navigate to their goal without having to rely on site search or a crowded top navigation.

There are a few ways to make sure that your most important pages are linked to from as many relevant pages as possible.

First, your most competitive keywords should be one level off your homepage. In our pet food example, this will be your dog food, cat food, and brand pages. Second, use your top navigation to link to your most important pages using relevant anchor text. One strategy a lot of ecommerce websites use is a jumbo top navigation:

Jumbo navigation example

And third, you should use breadcrumb navigation links to link from product pages back up to, at minimum, their top level category (and Shopify allows you to do this). If it makes sense, then link as well to the product’s main subcategory. Here’s how Petco does it:

Breadcrumb navigation example

I would actually extend this and also link to “Dry Dog Food” in this breadcrumb, then list the product name (or a shortened name) as the end of the breadcrumb trail. Doing this would help Petco rank better for [dry dog food], and done at scale, this could really help them rank better in their longer tail of keywords because more internal links from more strong pages correlates strongly to better rankings.

Avoiding the SEO pitfall of duplicate content

If your website has consistent URLs with hyphens, www or non-www, and it’s secured with an SSL certificate, you’ve already built yourself a good base upon which to control duplicate content. For a primer on why duplicate content is harmful, check out this resource from Moz.

The most common issue I see with duplicate content on ecommerce sites is confusing your filters and facets, and not controlling them either via canonical tags or Search Console.

First, let’s define the two terms.

When I talk about a facet, I mean a narrowing of a category into a subcategory that still has search volume. If [dog food] is a category, then [dry dog food] is a facet. Here’s how Petco does it for their categories, and we know that because they link with an <a href> link to a new URL:

Category example

When I talk about a filter, I mean a narrowing that is useful for users, but where there is no search volume. If you look at Petco’s [dog food] page, they also have a lot of filters on the side that do not link to a new URL:

Filter example

There are many different ways to control indexation by using filters, including:

  1. Using a hash (for example, /dog-food#under10k) in the URL as content behind a hash in a URL is not seen by search engines.
  2. Using a parameter in combination with a canonical back to the URL you want indexed (for example, /dog-food?price=under10k with a canonical back to /dog-food). This way, you do not have to redo your filtering technology, but you also essentially tell the search engines that “this ?price=under10k is a subset of /dog-food that should not be indexed because no one is searching for it”. The rel-canonical tag can be a good way to control duplicate content.
  3. Controlling the parameter in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools by marking it as “Yes Changes Content”, “Narrows” to say that the content gets more specific, and “No URLs” so that Google does not crawl them.

Controlling the parameter

Less effective ways to control duplicate content created by filters, depending on the implementation, are to do it:

  • Through robots.txt Disallow. This will work, but will likely cause bigger issues than it solves. Robots.txt is a sledgehammer, not a precision tool.
  • Through meta robots noindex. This will keep the URLs from appearing in the search index, but will not keep the search engines from crawling them.

To quickly explain the two above, every website has a robots.txt file, which essentially is a set of directives that the search engines have agreed to follow.  The robots.txt is a way to tell search engines not to access certain parts of your site, especially areas like staging subdomains or logged in pages that may contain personal information.

The meta robots tag is a simple meta tag, formatted like <meta name=”robots” content=””>, where the content area can either be blank (and defaults to index, meaning the search engines should store the URL in their index) or noindex, which tells the search engines that you do not want that URL to be in their index.

A difference between a robots.txt block and a meta noindex directive is that search engines will still crawl pages with the meta noindex. The noindex solves the issue of removing a page you do not want in the index from the index, but search engines can still crawl it instead of other pages on your site that you do want to rank.

As you can tell, duplicate content takes specific strategies to control so that filters do not negatively affect your rankings, traffic, and revenue!

Next steps

You’ve hopefully gained a much deeper understanding of website information architecture and why it matters so much to SEO! You also now understand how to get started with keyword research and identifying the keywords that matter to your business. Plus, how to structure your URLs, categories, and facets and filters to avoid duplicate content and drive more traffic than before.

  1. Use a crawl tool like Moz or Screaming Frog to first get a full view of your existing website. If you do not have an existing website, you can skip this step.
  2. Do keyword research to discover the main categories and subcategories that your products fit underneath. There is no “correct” or “optimal” number of categories or subcategories; you need the amount that accurately describes your products. Don’t go crazy with subcategories that only contain one product as these may be seen as low quality by search engines and will not rank, but do not be afraid to go to the longer tail (e.g. keyword terms like “Pedigree wet dog food pouches”) to rank.
  3. Use the keyword volume data given to you and determine which terms should be facets (e.g. categories or subcategories) and which should be filters (e.g. shoe size or dog food price). Shopify handles filters well out of the box, with canonicals back to the category/subcategory page.

Through a combination of top navigation links, sidebar links to subcategories on category pages, and breadcrumbs from products back up to their subcategories and categories, you can have all of your important pages indexed and given the chance to rank.