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How to Set Your Ecommerce Blog Up for Success in 2019

A blog is the traffic and lead generation engine of an ecommerce website.

Well, at least according to HubSpot. Their data shows that brands that blog get 67% more leads than those that don’t.

Matcha’s customers say so, too. Their blogs are generating lots of website traffic, leads, and revenue.

What surprised me is how much traffic Matcha content has driven for us at a nominal cost. In less than a year, we’ve doubled our site traffic and grown email revenue by 10x.”

Chris Holt, CEO, Campman

But here’s the rub.

If that engine isn’t tuned properly, it won’t help your site rank high on search engines. Or attract the right traffic from social media. Or turn those visitors into customers.

The good news?

Matcha has helped hundreds of ecommerce brands, many of which were just setting up their blogs. And we’ve learned the most common things that can stand in the way of getting results.

From those experiences, we’ve created this checklist so you can set your ecommerce blog up for success from day one (or give it a good tune up if it’s already running).

Check each one off, and your blog will be a high-revving, super efficient, traffic and lead generation machine.

Table of Contents


What’s the best platform for my blog: WordPress, Shopify, or something else?

Do you value flexibility in design? Ease of use?

The blog platform you choose should match your current technical abilities as well as your future growth. Here’s how a few of the most popular blog platforms shake out.

WordPress

WordPress is extremely flexible and one of the most popular blog platforms. It’s why WordPress was Matcha’s first platform integration.

But, it’s not always the right choice for everybody. Here’s a list of things to consider before joining the WP bandwagon.

1. The learning curve is a little steeper than other blogging platforms (but a newbie can still use it)

You don’t have to know how to code in HTML or understand CSS to launch and run a WordPress blog. WordPress Themes take care of most of the design for you, and plugins— packets of software that add functionality to your blog—make modifications pretty easy.

Even so, if you’ve never used WordPress before, it can feel a little intimidating. Start with a simple tutorial to show you the basics.



2. WordPress is super flexible

The flexibility in WordPress comes from the size it’s community. There are millions of people creating new themes and plugins all the time.

And if you want a new look for your site? No problem. You can switch between WordPress themes without losing your site content.

Plus, WordPress is an open source application. Which means it’s easy to find a web designer who can help you customize your WP site if you decide to go that route.

3. A WordPress blog can work with nearly any ecommerce platform like Shopify, Bigcommerce, or WooCommerce

Here you have two options:

Option 1:
You can build your entire ecommerce site on WordPress. There’s a plugin for the most popular platforms like WooCommerce, Shopify and BigCommerce. In fact, WooCommerce was built to work as a native plug-in for WordPress. It is not a stand-alone platform like Shopify or BigCommerce. The biggest selling point is, like WordPress, WooCommerce is free and open source. Also like WordPress, there can be a little more of a learning curve to getting it just right.

Option 2:
Use a WordPress blog with a Shopify or BigCommerce store. You simply link your Shopify store or BigCommerce store with your WordPress blog. However, there may be some SEO implications of doing it.

If you’re new to this, it’s a bit techy. Stick with me and I’ll walk you through it.

When you create a new section of your Shopify or BigCommerce website, like a blog, you’re typically creating a subdirectory. That subdirectory is like a folder in the file cabinet of your website.

The URL looks like this:

yourshopifystore.com/blog

is a subdirectory of:

yourshopifystore.com

Search engines like Google will consider the subdirectory as part of your main website. Your ecommerce store will get all the SEO equity (or ‘“juice”) from publishing high-quality content to that blog.

Now, the tricky bit.

If you have a Shopify or BigCommerce store, you can’t place a WordPress blog in a subdirectory.

Instead, it has to be added as a subdomain. It’s not a folder in your file drawer. It’s more like an adjacent file drawer.

That URL looks like this:

blog.yourshopifystore.com

Google has stated that it can connect domains with subdomains for SEO. However, there is still much debate on whether it’s a good practice for blogs. SEO experts like Moz suggest keeping your blog in a subdirectory instead of a subdomain.

So if improving your Shopify site’s SEO is a primary concern, and you want to avoid learning WordPress, you may want to either stick with the blog on your ecommerce platform or start in WordPress and use an ecommerce plugin.


Get nerdy: What’s in a name?

So, what does all that stuff in your URL mean?

This illustration from Moz tells it all.

(BTW – www.tinydancinghorse.com is not currently a valid URL. We really wanted it to be.)



Shopify

Shopify’s newbie-friendly user experience has made it easy for over 500,000 brands and retailers to open their own ecommerce stores.

In fact, many Matcha customers are also Shopify users.

Shopify also makes it really easy to add a blog to your store. So if you’re already a Shopify user, you can start reaping the rewards of a blog quickly.

There is a cost for all that simplicity, though. Namely, a lack of flexibility.

As your brand and your blog mature, Shopify can become a limiting factor in design and customization. For example, you can’t create categories in a Shopify blog, which we’ll cover a bit later.

The result is a blog that may look like thousands of others. And if you decide to move to a WordPress blog later, you have to move your content manually; Shopify does not offer a way to migrate content automatically.

BigCommerce and Squarespace

Like Shopify, Squarespace, and BigCommerce also offer an easy to use ecommerce platform. They both also include a built-in blogging option that makes it easy to get started.

And like Shopify, the trade-off for that simplicity is flexibility. But if you’re already using either platform for ecommerce, it makes sense to have your blog there as well.

Drupal

If you’re using Drupal, you’re either pretty tech savvy or have a Drupal developer on call.

While Drupal is not a simple site builder for the beginner, it is fantastic for creating beautiful, unique, functional websites. And a blog is an easy add-on to a Drupal site.

Since the majority of our ecommerce sites use either WordPress or Shopify, we’ll focus on those two platforms for the rest of this guide.

Now that you have your blog platform picked out, let’s make it pretty and user friendly.


Design and usability

A good blog doesn’t just sit in the corner of your ecommerce website. It integrates with the site, connecting with visitors at crucial points in their buying journey.

In these next few sections, we’ll take a look at how to choose the right theme, make it easy to find your blog, and improve blog usability.

Which theme is right for my business?

One of your first decisions after choosing a platform is picking a theme for your blog. Quick refresher, themes are pre-designed, customizable templates for your blog (and/or entire website). They determine the look and usability of each post and the main blog landing page.

There are thousands of options from hundreds of developers for both Shopify and WordPress. They come in both paid and free options. Settling on one theme can be agonizing.

Stay calm and remember: You can switch themes without losing content.

Now that the pressure is off, let’s decide if you should pay for a theme or use a free one.

Free vs. Premium themes

There are loads of free themes for both Shopify and WordPress. Just because they’re free, doesn’t mean they’re low quality.

Good developers create free themes for many reasons: Exposure, testing, and sometimes just for the practice.

The biggest benefit to us of a free theme is that it’s free.

But you will want to think about a few things before choosing one of these budget-friendly options.

1. Some free themes come from less reputable sources. You can easily combat this in WordPress by choosing a theme from the WordPress.org Theme Directory. These themes have been vetted and approved by WordPress, so they’re a safe option.

Similarly, Shopify has a theme directory you can use to get qualified themes. But if you already have a Shopify store, then the theme you chose for your store will just carry over to your blog.

2. Support for free themes can be less robust. Developers of free themes may not offer direct support if you need help. And they don’t typically have warranties. Paid, or premium themes will typically come with better support, be more customizable, and be maintained (updated).

3. You may give up some uniqueness. The best free themes are popular. So your blog will have a similar look and feel to thousands of others. In the early days of your business, that may not be such a big deal. And you can always shift to a premium theme later on.

The negative of premium themes is mostly in the fact that they cost money. But since many of the most popular premium themes are in the $30 to $100 range (although some can be north of $2,000!), they’re not budget busters.

So how the heck do I choose a theme?

Ultimately it comes down to matching a theme with your brand identity. However, there are a few things you can do to up the odds that a theme will work for your blog.

1. Use this theme tester to make sure your theme is up to par.

2. Verify that it’s mobile friendly. Most modern themes are, especially in Shopify. But you can test the mobile friendliness of your blog (and your website) with this Google tool.

3. Use the Feature Filter that’s built into the WordPress Theme Directory. It will help you to find the theme of your dreams. This guide is a great place to start.

If you’d rather not think about it, here are three ecommerce blog-ready themes

  • Shopify theme: The Porto theme has some nice customization features. It’s often included on “best of” Shopify theme lists. Here’s a detailed review of the Porto theme and a handful of others
  • Free WordPress (WooCommerce) theme: Store Villa is really easy to use so ideal for getting your blog and site launched. It integrates with a host of extensions as well, so it’s functionality grows right along with you. It’s included in this free-theme round up.
  • Premium WordPress (WooCommerce) theme: The Shoptimizer theme is extremely mobile friendly and built for speed– important for keeping buyers moving through the site to conversion.Read about it and 34 other premium WordPress themes here.

You’ve got your blog theme settled and it’s lookin’ good. Now, let’s get it visible!

Make your blog easy to find

Don’t hide your blog away in a corner of your website where no one can find it. Put it out front where it can greet your customers and set the tone for your brand!

At the bare minimum, you should ensure:


  • It takes no more than two clicks to get to your blog; that’s one click to your site and one to your blog

  • You have a link in the top navigation menu (not just in the footer)

If possible, though, integrate your blog through your site and the buying journey.

Here’s a great example from DuFrane Watches. They’ve tied the stories they tell on their blog into the main page of their website. When it’s all put together, you get a sense of what DuFrane is about.

Once your audience is in your blog, you want to make sure it’s well organized and easy to find the next great read.

Organizing your content: Categories and tags

Organizing your content will make it easy for your readers to find the information they’re looking for and help guide them to more content.

In WordPress, this is done with categories and tags (we’ll talk Shopify blog organization in a bit).

Categories are a hierarchical way to group blog posts by topic.

Tags are a non-hierarchical way to group posts by multiple, micro-details

Confused?

Let’s say you’ve developed the world’s best health drink. Let’s call it Vitasmooth (I’m not the best at naming products.)

You’ve created a blog designed to help people eat healthy all the time. It’s filled with recipes, meal prep tips, and so on.

You can use categories to organize each post by meal:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Snacks

(here’s how to create categories in WordPress).

Easy enough so far?

Now, let’s say some of your tips are specifically for people avoiding gluten. Or maybe athletes on a high protein diet. Or even for busy parents who need fast recipes.

Because categories are hierarchical, you could create subcategories for each of these topics:

  • Breakfast
    • Gluten-free
    • High protein
    • Quick recipes

As you can imagine, that would get very cumbersome, very fast.

Instead, we’re going to use tags because, unlike categories, they aren’t tied to a hierarchical structure.

So you can assign multiple tags to one post. You can also use the same tag on articles in different categories.

Your ‘Quick-and-Easy Chili Recipe’ would be placed in the dinner category.

Then, you’ll tag it ‘gluten-free’, ‘quick recipes’, ‘high protein’. No matter which aspect of this recipe is important to a reader, they can find it quickly.

Here’s how insole brand Superfeet organizes their blog with tags:


How many tags can I use?

In theory, as many as you want. In practice, WordPress likes fewer than 15 tags per post as an anti-spam measure.

How do I organize my posts in Shopify?

Organizing in Shopify is a little different. They don’t have a category function. All your posts live in the same general blog category.

You can, however, add tags to your Shopify blog posts. They work much the same as they do in WordPress.

Okay, your beautiful blog is now easy to find on your site and user friendly. Let’s use it to get some traffic!

How do you set up your blog for SEO?

Ranking high on search engine result pages is a huge part of how your blog will help you attract new customers (the other is attracting visitors from social media).

Let’s squeeze the most SEO juice out of this new blog.

We’re going to do four things:

  • Set up your XML sitemap
  • Set up your Google Analytics and Search Console
  • Create permalinks and ‘slugs’
  • Optimize your content for SEO

Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a list of pages on your site that’s easy for search engines like Google to read.

Sitemaps don’t directly affect your site’s SEO. Instead, they make sure all your pages are indexed by search engines. They also allow search engines to crawl your site more effectively, letting them know which pages are more important and which are updated more often.

So you’ll want to make sure your website has a sitemap and that Google sees it. Here’s how to do that in WordPress and Shopify.

Sitemaps for WordPress

There are plenty of plugins that will help you create an XML sitemap for your WordPress blog. Yoast is a fantastic, comprehensive SEO plugin that includes this capability.

Google will find your sitemap on it’s own, but it’s a good idea to speed that process up. Plus, proactively showing your sitemap to Google will also allow you to check for page errors and see which pages are being indexed.

This guide from wpbeginner includes a step-by-step guide on creating your XML sitemap and submitting it to Google.

Sitemaps in Shopify

If you have a Shopify site and blog, you’re halfway home. Shopify automatically generates a sitemap for you (point, Shopify!).

This guide will show you how to find your sitemap in Shopify and show it to Google.

You can read a whole bunch more on how your site’s pages are indexed, and how to make sure they are, straight from Google, here.

Google Analytics and Google Search Console

Google is on our team. They want to provide their users a great experience, just like we do.

So Google offers several tools that help webmasters (yep, we’re all webmasters now!) continue to improve the experience.

Two of the most powerful tools in the Google ‘shed’ are Google Analytics and Google Search Console. They’re both free and serve different, but related, purposes.

The easiest way to differentiate the two is like this:

Google Analytics focuses on providing data about the people that visit and interact with your website and blog.

Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is focused on how Google sees your site and how it’s presented on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Since they each offer different metrics and tools, it makes sense to register your site with both Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

A Permalink is the complete URL for each bit of content (posts, pages, etc.) on your website.

They typically include your domain name and a ‘slug’. The slug describes a particular page of your site.

Here’s how that looks for DuFrane Watches:


Permalink for DuFrane Watches landing page: https://dufranewatches.com

Permalink for DuFrane Watches blog: https://dufranewatches.com/blog/

Permalink for a single post in DuFrane Watches blog: https://dufranewatches.com/blog/the-wildest-seashores-in-america/


What do slugs have to do with SEO?

Google reads those slugs, looking for keywords that describe the topic of the content. Those keywords help Google match the right content to a search query.

Not coincidentally, the right slug makes it easier for humans to know what the post is about as well (what’s good for people is usually good for Google).

The goal for us is to make sure our permalink slugs have the right keywords in them.

Both WordPress and Shopify now automatically use your blog post title in the URL slug. This is usually the most SEO friendly version of a URL, especially if you’re already optimizing your posts for SEO (We’ll talk about that next).

If you still want to change the URL slug in WordPress, here’s how.

You can’t change the URL in Shopify, but they should already be really SEO friendly.

One more benefit of slugs

It will be fun to watch all that sweet blog traffic coming to your site. You can do that through Google Analytics and through the comprehensive Matcha analytics dashboard (if you’re a Matcha customer).

That ‘/blog’ slug on your URL will help differentiate it from other pages on your site in Google Analytics and Matcha. You’ll have a better idea of how effective your blog is at generating traffic vs. other pages on your website.

Now Google knows your site exists and you can track the traffic it sends. Let’s help grease the SEO wheels.

Optimize your content for SEO

We want your content to rank on the first page of a Google search. And we have ways of helping that along. But before we get there, please remember:

Google will never buy anything from your ecommerce store.

So anything we do to make your blog posts more SEO friendly shouldn’t hurt readability for your audience.

So we won’t suggest keyword stuffing or other black hat SEO ‘tricks’. Not only are they sketchy hacks, but Google has gotten good at seeing right through them.

Besides, Google wants the same thing you do: a great experience for its users. So if you keep the audience at the forefront of every decision, you will win in SEO.

First, find the right keywords

Start by taking a guess at what they’re asking on Google. For example, if you sell running shoes, you might try “How do I train for my first marathon?”.

Then you’ll plug that into a keyword checker like Keywords Everywhere (a free chrome plugin).

You’re looking for three things:

  • Volume: The number of people searching for that term
  • Cost-per-click: How expensive it will be to get paid traffic from Google Ads
  • Competition Ranking: How difficult it will be to beat out the competition and rank for that keyword

In addition to the results of your keyword at the top, you’ll see a list of other keywords and their results at the side.

Your ideal keyword has decent volume, low CPC, and a low comp #.

In this example, couch to marathon and how to train for a marathon from scratch would be good choices.

Second, use those keywords properly:

  • In the title (called H1 in the blog hierarchy)
  • In at least one heading (H2s)
  • In the subheadings (H3s) when it makes sense
  • In the first and last paragraphs
  • Throughout the post when and if they can be used organically

Pinky swear you’ll never write a sentence like ‘You can go from couch to marathon if you use this couch to marathon training plan that takes you from couch to marathon’

Third, add meta descriptions

Meta descriptions, also called mata tags, are those bits of text you see after the URL in a Google search

They help describe your blog post to people viewing a search results page.

They don’t officially help your SEO. But they absolutely help the click-through-rate from Google.

This article from Moz is an excellent resource for writing optimal meta descriptions.

A couple key takeaways:

  • Shoot for 5 to 300 characters
  • Write a natural, relevant paragraph that includes your keywords (but remember: stuffing is for Thanksgiving, not for keywords)

Additional SEO tools

Picking a handful of tools can help you track and optimize your SEO results.

We’ve already mentioned:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Console
  • Yoast SEO (beside creating sitemaps, Yoast will help you optimize each piece of content)
  • Keywords Everywhere

Here are a few more to add to your toolbox:

  • HubSpot website grader: Rates your blog (and your entire site!), for SEO, mobile, and other factors
  • Varvy: Also a website grader, but more in-depth and the report is built on Google’s SEO rules
  • Google Keyword Planner: like Keywords Everywhere, but much more robust

Getting traffic from search engines is fantastic, but it’s hard to deposit traffic in the bank. With the right features, your blog will help turn all those new visitors to qualified leads.

How to generate leads from your blog

Your blog is going to bring traffic from search engines, social media, and from emails (which we’ll talk about next). It’s possible that those visitors will convert to sales on that first touch.

But it’s unlikely.

So our goal is to continue the conversation in a way that maintains a helpful, non-pushy vibe but still moves them further along the buyer’s journey.

Email is the most effective way to do this with $44 returned from every dollar spent on email marketing.

And a lead capture form, or lead form, is how we ask visitors for their email address.

Popups

Popups are quickly becoming the most effective way to generate leads from your blog. They are your call to action. Your ‘ask’.

Popups are an excellent source of response. You can reduce bounce rates by 40% and achieve 6%+ conversion rates with the right popup.

But they can also be a source of resentment.

‘With great power comes great responsibility’

In fact, the wrong type of popup can actually hurt your SEO.

So what does a good popup look like?

Here are five things to consider when designing your popup:


Be kind in design: Don’t cover the entire page with your pop up and make it easy to close (e.g. don’t hide a tiny X in the corner). And for the love of Mike, don’t add flashing gifs and hidden music.

Offer value: Your audience landed on your blog because you offered something of value. Do the same in your popup. That offer can be a discount on products, but it can also be a piece of high-value content.

Be clear: Your readers shouldn’t need to guess what’s going to happen next. Use text like “Subscribe” or “Download”, never “Submit”.

If possible, be personalized: Popups that match your audience segment can improve your blog’s stickiness. If you sell coolers to fishermen and tailgaters, create a fishing themed popup that appears when someone is reading fishing content on your site.

Consider the timing: You can also choose when the popup appears. For instance, you can wait until a reader has scrolled to a certain point in the page. WisePops suggests you aim for 50% to 60% of the page.

Or you can wait until the reader shows exit intent.

Both methods have been proven to increase conversion rates and reduce bounce rates (the percent of people who leave your site before clicking on a second page).

Ready to start generating leads from your blog?

Wisepops, OptinMonster, and Sumo are all easy to use conversion tools with plenty of features and expertise to help you do it.


Get nerdy: the ills of iframes

An iframe, or inline frame, is basically a section of your webpage that you’ve cut out and replaced with an external webpage.

Some popups use this method to keep you on one site but allow you to interact with another (like a calendar)

But beware!

Iframes are associated with a host of potential problems including:

  • Security risks
  • Usability issues
  • SEO problems

Our recommendation, avoid using iframes in your marketing popups


A note about email

We’re talking about blogs here, but your blog content doesn’t have to be a one-trick pony. That same helpful article that brought a new visitor to your website can help keep a current fan excited to be a part of your tribe.

In fact, we’ve seen brands 10x their email revenue by including their blog content in newsletters.

That’s why we offer a Mailchimp integration so our customers can track the success of those emails.

Conclusion

For a small brand looking to create shelf space in a crowded market, a high-functioning blog is essential.

You can greatly decrease the time-to-value for your new blog by setting it up properly from the get go. Or, if you already have a blog, you can tune it up for maximum efficiency.

Once you’ve gone through this checklist, your blog will be a traffic, lead, and revenue generating machine.

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