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Case Study: How Shopify Uses White Hat SEO Tactics To Get Customers

Have you had the chance to look at the backlinks for #1 ranked content pages across diverse industries? Well, it’s easier said than done. It’s a lot of hard work.

However, we chose eCommerce and decided to check thousands of links that point to Shopify (the blog).

Here’s what we found:

What we found amazed us. We weren’t looking at these backlinks per se, but at the patterns, the correlations, and essentially, we wanted to know why Shopify ranks #1 for several eCommerce-related keywords.

Going a step further, we uncovered the importance of content and why your choice of a particular content format matters.

For example, for any given keyword, I might write a “how to” post while you write a “case study” post. Given that your domain authority and mine are exactly the same and let’s assume we get the same amount of social shares, truth is, our rankings will vary.

My hope is that after reading this case study, you’ll properly align your SEO tactics and focus more on whitehat – instead of wearing a black or gray hat.

But before we get into the Shopify’s whitehat SEO tactics, let’s get the basics out of the way.

What is white hat SEO?

It simply refers to any practice that improves your search visibility on a search engine’s organic listings page and makes the users happy. In other words, white hat SEO is aimed at obeying search engines guidelines. It puts the users first.

Be it link building, content creation, on-page optimization, and more, you’ve made a choice to do it legitimately — instead of trying to manipulate search results.

Let’s bring it home: For most people who do SEO, the major concern is to improve their rankings. But that may not be the goal of any website that chooses white hat tactics.

For example, Shopify’s search approach isn’t necessarily to boost search rankings. But rather, they create content to help the users have a proper understanding of ecommerce in general, and running a profitable online store business, to be specific.

Similarly, any practice that’s aimed at inducing search rankings isn’t white hat. It must be another type of hat, and I’m sure Google doesn’t like it.

An overview of Shopify’s SEO tactics

More than 350,000 businesses use Shopify to power their online stores. How do you think Shopify acquires these customers? Is there a secret to their SEO strategy?

Well, it’s not really a secret, except you don’t know it. But we do because we invested 29 hours of our time to study their strategy.

When using SEMRush, the first thing we notice is that Shopify currently ranks for more than 717,000 keywords in the organic search in the US:

But in the Uk, the number of keywords that brings organic traffic is about 70,000.

Why am I showing you these results?

Well, there are two reasons;

  1. First, Shopify has more users in the US than Uk. Obviously, there are more users who share their content and link to them in the US.
  2. Second, you have the opportunity to dominate some of the keywords that Shopify isn’t ranking for in the Uk if you’re an ecommerce entrepreneur. But even if you’re not, you can see patterns that your competitors are using and loopholes to exploit.

Moving on, let’s see the internal structure at Shopify.

Internal page linking

Of course, there are several factors that contribute to a sustainable ranking in Google but internal linking is pivotal.

During our analysis, we noticed that for every post that Shopify publishes on its blog, there’s a minimum of 7 internal links (these are links that points to internal pages; articles that were previously published on the site).

This screenshot is only a section of Shopify’s post. Can you see the seven internal links?

I’m sure you’re used to internal linking. But are you aware of its impact on search performance?

According to Graham Charlton from Search Engine Watch, internal links sends a clear signal to Google that this page is relevant to search users typing in that keyword.

Since an internal link is any link from one page of your domain to another page on the same domain, it becomes clear that if you’re looking to rank an older post that you published, interlinking it with new pages could improve its rankings.

And more importantly, it will help users get access to your older posts and benefit from them.

This is in line with Google’s objective: To build an interconnected web, where users can find exactly what they’re looking for in the search engine.

So from our analysis of Shopify’s white hat SEO technique, which the company may not be deliberate about, we found that internal linking helped a lot.

To make it clearer, one of the keywords that Shopify ranks #1 for in Google is “dropshipping guide.”

That particular page has 16 internal links.

It’s detailed and rich, which brings us to the next phase.

Rich and evergreen content

I don’t have an online store, neither do I promote one. But one thing I observed while analyzing Shopify’s SEO strategy is that they publish only rich and evergreen content.

In fact, when you visit their blog page, you’ll hardly see any post on generic topics. You will either see a case study, an ultimate guide, an interview, or an analysis. Take a look:

This Shopify’s dropshipping guide, for example, contains 11 chapters (i.e., pages). I think it’s the most detailed guide on this topic ever. No wonder the page ranks #1 for that high-volume keyword.

If I tell you that Google is scouring the entire web looking for rich and comprehensive content, would you argue it?

I don’t think so. When you do a search for any random keyword (as long as they’re not question-based), what you’ll see is a comprehensive content.

Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz in his whiteboard friday teachings a few months ago gave an overview of what to include in your content to make it richer and more useful for your audience.

Most importantly, Google will deem your page more relevant and invaluable to searchers who search for that keyword or related keywords.

Comprehensive content is the best way to beat your competitors and 10x your content.

When you create such a content, you’ll intimidate your competitors and cause them to only envision creating such content, but the discipline to pull a seat and do it will not be there. That’s exactly what Shopify does with each content they create.

If you want to dominate organic search results with your content, the first thing that you have to do is change your mindset about link building. Here’s how it works:

  • Create compelling content first
  • Then build/earn links to it

Most website owners do it the wrong way. They first learn all the link building strategies, but they suck at content creation.

It’s not going to work that way. You’re either going to create 10x content than your competitors that are already ranking higher in the organic listings or you’ll not see results.

How to make your content better than your competitors

a). Write irresistible headlines: Brian Clark said that 8 out of 10 people will click on your headline. Obviously, he’s not lying. But before you write your headlines, take a look at the top 10 rankings for your keyword, see what they did and then craft a better headline.

For example, here are some of the headlines in Google for the search term “influencer marketing tips”:

At a glance, you can see that the headlines are compelling. But that doesn’t mean you can’t improve yours. You could make yours much more beneficial and inviting.

Here are some examples:

  • 25 Powerful Influencer Marketing Tips You Can Implement Now
  • 7 Best Influencer Marketing Tips That I Used To Grow My Startup
  • Influencer Marketing Tips: How to Connect with Influencer Quickly

These are headlines that I created without much research. If I had more time, I’d make something more compelling. But you get the point?

b). Improve your meta description: Search users read your meta description. Data from KISSmetrics proves it. In short, you should think less about SEO and more about click-throughs. Ask questions in your descriptions, and tell users to click and find out more.

c). Go in-depth: If your competitors merely touched the surface of a very important topic/subject, you’ve got an opportunity to do better. You should go in-depth; explain every detail. Touch every aspect of the topic.

For example, if you want to create a post on Google AdWords ads, don’t be surprised if you found that most of the pages that are ranking very high in Google at the moment are not in-depth.

In-depth content is relative. But as a rule of thumb, you need to break down your topic step-by-step.

If searchers are looking to start a consulting business, for example, your article should help them in every way possible. I used this strategy in my recent SEO case study – I found that most of the case studies aren’t detailed and the focus is on one company.

But I changed all of that. I conducted my research, asked questions, and compiled 21 companies and their SEO strategies.

If you’re detailed in your content, then you can’t expect a 1000-word post at the end of the day. It should be between 2,000 – 10,000 words. No fluffs. But real value.

Such type of content is a natural search engine magnet – give it 60 – 90 days and you’ll be amazed at its organic positioning. And guess what? You don’t even have to build hundreds of links to it.

When we analyzed 3,236 Shopify’s posts, we found that 73% of them contains more than 2,000 words.

And of course, an in-depth content isn’t complete without visuals. You need to use your own data (you can always get these visual charts and screenshots from the SEO tools and platforms) that you’re using.

To get even better results from your content, create a relevant infographic and embed into the post.

This would help website visitors trust you more — because you’ve given them the choice to either read the lengthy article or learn from your infographic.

As you can tell, creating comprehensive content is difficult, but that’s what Shopify does every other week and the results are obvious for all to see.

Editorial links powerhouse

Shopify has a great strategy for earning editorial links. Interestingly, we’ve covered how they create comprehensive content on virtually every eCommerce-related topic. This has earned them natural links to rank higher in Google.

Here’s how WordStream defines an editorial link:

“An editorial link is a link that results from a site having good content and marketing techniques. An editorial link is not paid for or directly requested, as is the case with acquired links. Editorial links are part of a strong link profile.”

I’m not aware that Shopify has a team of guest bloggers who pitch other authority blogs to get them published. I’m also not aware of the links the company has purchased to boost their rankings.

It was all editorial. Shopify has great content and as a result of that, people link to them. This has made their link profile stronger than ever. Their dropshipping guide in particular has earned more than 1220 backlinks from 189 referring domains.

Note: Majority of the websites that link to Shopify’s guide are eCommerce-related, while others are media websites, such as Mashable, Lifehacker.com, and more.

Trending keywords selection strategy

Before we concluded our Shopify analysis, we also examined their keyword strategy and found that the company follows a different approach.

Yes, they capitalize on trending keywords (topics).

Why is this important?

Well, you’ve got to know that Google Keywords Planner is outdated. Or to put it mildly, Google uses past data to gauge popularity.

But you and I know that web users are dynamic and needs change over time. So, instead of using Keywords Planner or any third-party research tool to find keyword, you’re better of creating content around trending keywords.

As an example, when Shopify created their dropshipping guide, how to start online store, and several other popular guides that generate a large percentage of its traffic, they used trends.

As of 2012/2013, the keyword “dropshipping guide” wasn’t popular at all. But that notwithstanding, Shopify plunged in, researched on it and created one of the best guides ever. Look at the trend.

Prior to 2015/2016, most dropshipping-related and online store business keywords were fluctuating. Why? Because it was difficult to run a profitable online store in the past. People would get excited about it and later give up. But it’s a lot easier now.

In 2017 and beyond, the right way to do keyword research is by getting into the conversation. Hang out with your target audience, listen to them, and find patterns in their questions and opinions.

If you’ve not been using Quora to find relevant questions you need to start today.

Some topics might not be as popular today as they would in 1 – 10 years time, don’t ignore them. But create rich content and become the authority on that topic — when it eventually grows.

Because by the time the competition begins, your web page would have become stronger. More so, competitors will either link to you or they’ll have no real substance to add to their own content.

But don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to ignore Keywords Planner or any keyword research tool for that matter, but use the insights to research real-time questions from Quora, and follow the trends.

Conclusion

Whitehat SEO tactics might not work for everyone because it takes time.

But if you decide to invest time and resources in creating comprehensive content while capitalizing on topical trends, you’ll not only drive targeted traffic and social shares but earning editorial links to your web pages will be easier.

Yes, Shopify is an authority website and its domain authority is a major determining factor to its search visibility, but the whole essence of this case study is to guide you — and show you opportunities that you can leverage for your own business.

This article was contributed by Michael Chibuzor, who is an SEO consultant for SaaS companies. If you’re looking to improve your search visibility, drive targeted traffic, and grow your revenue, you can reach him directly at http://Saasbrand.com

About the Author Zac Johnson

My name is Zac Johnson and I have been an online entrepreneur for the past 18 years and blogger since 2007. This is my personal blog and I welcome you to the site. In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that I am benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website.

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