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Online-only 'department stores' have a big job in terms of SEO, thanks to large product ranges, the size of the sites and the number of brands contained therein.
So how well are they doing? Are they getting the basics right?
With help from 4Ps Marketing SEO Manager Ruth Attwood, I have some insight into the on-site SEO strategies of four major 'department store' websites: ASOS, Boohoo.com, MyWardrobe, and Net A Porter.
As we can see from the example of ASOS, doing the basics well can produce excellent results, and give brands a real advantage over competitors.
Getting the basics right
There's a lot of talk about advanced SEO techniques such as the use of rich snippets, which can give sites the edge, but getting the basics right provides a solid platform on which to build.
The challenges for large ecommerce sites
For sites with large numbers of SKUs, and different teams working in different areas, there is a challenge in implementing good SEO.
This may be ensuring that meta data is written to the required standard, or that best practice is followed when creating landing pages or creating product page copy.
According to Ruth:
The key is to think long term and think strategically. Concentrate on getting the bread and butter of onsite SEO correct and sustainable by training staff, implementing quality procedures and putting business-wide processes in place, and the rest will follow. Don’t just go charging in to, say, optimise all your meta titles, and treat this task as an isolated project which you can mark off as “done” on a big clipboard.
Come up with a process for optimisation, train your staff to do it properly, put quality procedures in place, measure the result of those changes, then rinse and repeat. Websites need to grow and change over time – copy will need to be refreshed, product lines will change and grow, keyword requirements will change. So you don’t need an SEO project, you need a strategy.
Who is spot on with their SEO strategy?
4Ps had a look at the onsite SEO of the four retailers, using these criteria:
- Good H1s.
- Search engine readable copy within a paragraph.
- Good meta titles.
- Good meta descriptions.
- Image Alt tags.
- Link Title tags.
- Friendly URLs.
On landing pages, ASOS, Boohoo and MyWardrobe are joint leaders, with Net A Porter missing some of the basics.
Here, ASOS uses the H1 for 'women's socks and tights', with readable copy underneath for the search engines to crawl.
By contrast, Net A Porter uses the generic H1 'clothes' for all pages in the section. It also has no crawlable copy on landing pages, while links are anchored on the designer name, not the product name.
According to Ruth:
Boohoo.com comes out on top in terms of product page optimisation, this time jointly with Asos alone. Although Asos has neglected internal link titles again it does provide very good internal linking on relevant anchor text within their copy which is very beneficial and often overlooked by many online retailers.
Here's what ASOS gets right:
On product pages both Net A Porter and My Wardrobe are sadly lacking many key factors. Take Net a Porter for example. As on landing pages, it has prioritised designers over product names, with the latter relegated to a H2.
What are the benefits of getting the basics right?
4Ps took a selection of popular fashion-related keywords to see how this attention to detail could benefit SEO. ASOS was the best performer in this study, and the results are apparent:
We can see that ASOS is ranking for more keywords, and is ranking higher.
By getting the foundations of their onsite optimisation right ASOS has been able to progress more swiftly onto advanced techniques. Asos is the only of these four that makes use of rich snippet markup on products pages, for example, to allow them to further dominate organic search results.
The other sites, even close onsite basics runner-up Boohoo, are lagging behind in terms of keyword performance which may well be due to that old chestnut of a lack of strategy which is now hampering performance – they could definitely use a bit of help with ironing out the last onsite basics to allow them to move on to more advanced techniques (at which point Boohoo has the potential to overtake the competition in terms of organic search due to their decision to use a fully responsive website rather than a separate mobile site as Asos has done).
Net a Porter and My Wardrobe, on the other hand, are lagging behind considerably as they are still lacking many of the “bread and butter” elements of good search engine optimisation on their websites.