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Staples has recently (well, around six months ago) announced plans to increase its focus on online channels. 

Chief executive Ron Sargent said that nearly half the company’s sales were now generated online and that there was a plan to reinvent the company by “taking aggressive action to reduce costs and improve efficiency”.

To this end, it has closed 225 North American stores and launched a new website. Here, with the help of Ruth Attwood, Advanced Search Consultant at 4Ps Marketing, I've been looking at Staple's US and UK sites from an SEO and ecommerce perspective. 

New header /top navigation

This new header is quite a bold look, and goes against the general look at most ecommerce sites. 

Not that there's necessarily a problem in that. It could be that testing has told the Staples ecommerce team that this is the way to go. It'll be interesting to see whether this design is used on other sites. 

Here's the more traditional UK version for comparison. On this, the search box and cart links are more prominent: 

Why two sites? 

The UK and US sites now have completely different designs.

Apart from the header design I mentioned, the newer US version has removed the left hand navigation, with drop-downs replacing the links. 

The US version: 

The UK version: 

It may be that a newer UK site is on the way but, as Ruth explains, there are SEO implications for splitting the domains as Staples does: 

Aside from the brand considerations, having a unified presence at www.staples.com with the country-specific site versions split into subdirectories would also unify the domain authority, making all future SEO work considerably more efficient. That both are in English is immaterial – this is why we have Hreflang markup for regions as well as languages, after all.

Category pages and SEO

Some of these pages are made for the search engines, and the content isn't so bad, though Ruth points out that it's "a little worrying to see an H2 wrapped around a paragraph and an unordered list with the class name “seo short”.

 

Social links

On the US site, Staples promotes its social presence with links to its various accounts throughout the site. This is not repeated on the UK site though. 

Here, users can share via product pages: 

The social content seems pretty good too, such as these office pranks: 

Mobile search 

Mobile SEO is becoming ever more important, but this seems to be a problem for Staples.

While there are sites sitting at m.staples.co.uk and m.staples.com they don’t seem to redirect properly at times. which defeats the object. 

If you search on a mobile you may find a mobile optimised homepage, but some category pages are not mobile-friendly at all. 

One example is this furniture page which is on a m.staples URL but is not so easy to use: 

Ruth: 

A redesign to full responsive for both shops would be the ideal route of course but in the meantime there are some technical configurations that could really help with mobile conversion for the brand, even just ensuring the correct rel=alternate tags are in place for different media sizes would be a good start.

It really is saddening how many big sites have separate mobile URLs and don’t set up properly to make best use of them, and a brand like Staples honestly deserves better.

Checkout process

There's a big difference here. The US and UK checkouts are chalk and cheese. 

The older UK checkout still insists on user registration. This is a potential barrier for customers. 

And, if you do opt for registration, this form is horrible. The number of fields presents quite a barrier to the user, while the presentation is cluttered. 

I'd like to to see the dropout stats for this page. It's hard to imagine a more off-putting form layout. 

The US version has a guest checkout option, which is likely to reduce customer abandonment at this stage: 

Moreover, the checkout forms are well-designed and laid out. This form is asking for more or less the same information as in the UK screenshot, but look at the difference good form design can make. 

As well as clearer presentation, a progress indicator reassures shoppers that there aren't too many steps, while live chat and customer service options provide support for any customers with last minute doubts. 

In summary 

The differences between the two websites are striking, and it's clear that the UK version would benefit enormously from the same design as the US/North American site. 

According to Ruth: 

Judging by its current web presence, it seems like Staples need to have a bit of a shift towards being more digitally aware in order to make the most of the new brand direction. 

Though the US site is clearly better, there are some SEO basics that could be handled better, and mobile SEO should be a focus for the brand. 

Graham Charlton

Published 1 April, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (3)

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Brian Dean

Graham, this simply rocks! I can never read enough site reviews because there are always a few nuggets that I can apply to my business right away.

It's mind boggling how a massive brand like Staples can make obvious mistakes (like forced registration).

over 2 years ago

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Dang Bach

I've problem with your image. I can't see this. Is it problem with my Internet? or your image?

over 2 years ago

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Laura | Ricemedia SEO

It surprises me that such a huge brand has so little awareness for mobile SEO!? It's almost like we're in 2012 again.

over 2 years ago

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