Working alongside SEO specialists is an important part of any long term digital strategy.  

What many retailers need to understand is, while looking for credible specialists with proven experiences, you can get started on your own. 

This article focusses on seven SEO initiatives retailers can execute whether you have a relationship with an SEO specialist or not, and in doing so will lay down a solid SEO foundation the business can benefit from.  

The challenge for most is where to start and what to focus on. It will all soon be clear.

1. The consumer always comes first   

All SEO activities must consider the consumer first before accommodating search engines.  

The challenge to delivering front-end SEO activities is to deliver a balance of SEO to accommodate search engine algorithms and preserve consumer journeys.  

This is the first tip because it is the most common mistake made. Many retailers would stand by their reasoning to sacrifice the customer journey but they don’t realise two things:  

  1. By damaging the experience, they lose the consumers they initially attracted, and...
  2. Google is focused on and supports the delivery of great online experiences. This focus is seen through the eyes of its algorithms.  

If retailers followed SEO best practice (in other words Google’s rules) they will, by default, enhance the consumer journey.  

One example of this in action is page load speed. Case studies have proven fast loading websites rank higher in Google's free listings than slow ones. Read my page load speed article addressing Google's support of fast loading sites.  

An example of SEO coming before the customer can be seen on one of the largest retailers in New Zealand, The Warehouse

 

When you land on the Furniture category page you will notice six paragraphs of copy with the word 'furniture' used 11 times.  

If a consumer has any buying intent, they are not going to read six paragraphs of copy at this stage of their journey. It's too early (this is assuming the content is relevant). 

The irony of this example is that there are many SEO fundamentals The Warehouse has not implemented on this key landing page.  

I spend time fully articulating the issues and remedies to this page in a separate article written providing pragmatic examples of what can be done to make an impact.   

2. Do not become absorbed in SEO analysis of your competitors  

Some SEO experts are adamant the first rule/tip should be to analyse your competitors. The question needs to be asked, how is this information going to help you make decisions around your own SEO and business conduct?  

Some will argue this analysis will bring to light the SEO activities your competitors are undertaking, however, who is to say they are gaining better value from these rankings?  

You also may have a different product mix, different resource skill sets, and different budgets. Your brand may also be stronger or weaker than your competitor requiring different activities.    

MOZ confirms Google changes its SEO algorithm on average between 500 to 600 times each year.

As a result, time spent attempting to keep up with your competitor's rankings will be non-value add time with the risk of you becoming lost in the process. 

It’s good to have a superficial high-level view of your competitors and their conduct, but more from an awareness perspective. Your time is better spent working on the other tips.

3. Develop a formula for your product titles

There are two elements to getting product titles right:  

  1. Avoid internalised jargon, use names your consumers understand and are looking for.
  2. Use the proper structure of a product title. 

In keeping with the furniture theme, have a look at this product name from a prominent furniture retailer in New Zealand, Freedom Furniture:

“Signature 3 Seat Sofa in Almeida Parchment” 

Though the colour sounds very fancy, there are 0 searches in Google New Zealand for “Sofa’s in Almeida Parchment” (one can argue keeping "Almeida Parchment" and infuse "beige" terms, but let's stick to the basics here).  

The other issue with this product title is the use of the term “Sofa”. The consumer demand in NZ for the term “Couch” is more than double “Sofa” terms.  

By changing the product title to “Signature 3 Seat Couch in Beige” Freedom Furniture has opened its business to triple the demand and triple the opportunity.

Review your product naming convention and develop a formula to clearly explain the product and leverage brand (if possible).

A typical formula to follow is: 

  • Product title beginning:  brand name
  • Product title middle:  description of product
  • Product title ending (optional):  material type, size and/or colour 

Displaying the brand title in the front of the product title is a minimum requirement.  The saturation of brand titles in your product mix will deliver impact (assuming your product range is deep enough).

Successful online retailers follow this approach and formula religiously:

  • “Calphalon Simply Calphalon 10” Omelette Pan with Cover” (Zappos)
  • “Polo Ralph Lauren Custom Fit Long Sleeve Polo Shirt, Polo Black” (John Lewis)
  • “L'Oreal Paris Colour Riche Lip Balm, Pink Satin, 0.10 Ounces” (Amazon)

Not only does this provide consumers with a clear idea of what a product is, it greatly increases the opportunity of these products being visible in search engines. 

4. Develop category titles to align to your target market

Think back to when you created the names for your main and sub category titles.

What was the process?  Did you think about what consumers are looking for online? What words they might use when searching? Or was this decided internally amongst key members of your team?  

To truly find out if your category titles align to the demand of your target consumer, conduct an audit on every category title you have.

Implement the following methodology in your audit:

  1. Research search demand by using free tools provided by Google.*  
  2. Research trending data on these terms (using Google Trends).
  3. Review existing data on category popularity.
  4. Research site search data to see what customers are searching for on your website.
  5. Balance the above research with the size of product offering.

*It’s important to understand, with Google’s global dominance comes many strategic advantages. Google provides the tools to assist in understanding what consumers are searching for and is literally the largest consumer panel in the world.  

The combination of consumer demand research, existing consumer behaviour, and your product offering, will deliver alignment to your target consumers.  

In doing so, this will your SEO efforts. This is SEO in its truest sense.

Whilst you do not need to rely on SEO specialists for this tip, they would add value to this process through their assistance in keyword research if this is new for you.

5. Introduce social proof into your site (Customer reviews)

This rule is a good example of what can be done to lift both organic rankings and consumer experience. Here, Graham Charlton looks at how customer reviews can assist in conversions, and build product visibility in search engines. 

The challenge in making this rule work for the business comes in the disciplines required to drive and influence consumers to deliver this content.

Many customers are too busy to take time out of their busy day to review a product.  If the customer is not a fan of the brand, you need to work hard at conditioning this behaviour.  

Three tips to increase the likelihood customers will provide a review: 

  1. Provide incentives. You don’t need to offer a much, keep it simple such as a chance of winning something, for example, "provide a review and be in the monthly draw to win....".  

    For those products that are seasonal in nature and/or have shorter life spans, be more aggressive in your incentives.

  2. Explain to them it will help others. There are many people who are motivated through the desire to help others.
  3. Be strategic in your timing to ask for a review.  For apparel, you can ask days after the purchase, for large electronic purchases it pays to wait longer.  

    Think about what the customer is using your product for and how long it will take for them to know if they are truly happy with the purchase.  

    If you send the review request too soon, it will be ignored, if you send it too late, the excitement of the purchase is gone and the review will be less impactful and heartfelt.  There is no definitive best practice time to send a review request, every product type is different, every brand is different, and customers respond to each brand in different ways.  If you are unsure as to when to send the request, test it.

There are too many benefits not to have customer reviews. Studies have proven when customers write how much they like/love the product they recently purchased, they like/love the product and the brand even more.  

If your ecommerce site is set up properly, search engines will pull customer reviews into the search engine results page improving the odds of click through.  

6. Ensure your ecommerce technology is built to comply to search engines

The ecommerce technology driving your online store must be built and structured in a manner to ensure all the changes mentioned above will make an impact.  

You can do great SEO work and execute all the right things, but if the technology is not set up properly, it will negate your hard work.  

Go to your ecommerce technology vendor and ensure they comply to all SEO best practice standards, some examples: page structure (headers are set up), page load speed, clean URL strings, and site maps as a minimum.

This rule is best executed with the assistance of an SEO specialist. They will know the questions to ask and what to look for. Some of the technology elements can be highly technical in nature.

7. Develop your SEO strategic plan

There are immense benefits to developing an SEO strategy, but many retailers are not ready.  

If you fall within the “Not Ready” category, continue to think pragmatically and focus on the key activities mentioned above. You will not go wrong.  

The above recommendations represent the beginnings of a long term plan. Only once you feel you have a grasp on the above, its time to think SEO strategy. 

An SEO strategy achieves two primary things for the business: 

1.  Defines content architecture.   

This delivers focus on the use of digital assets and how it will leverage your content creation and content marketing plan.  

The two primary digital assets where content will be applied in the short term (for most) will be the ecommerce site and a blog.

The use and placement of the blog opens many debates and opinions. Is it best to use a subdomain (blog.RetailerURL.co.nz) vs subdirectory (sitting within the www.RetailerURL.co.nz site) vs separate (SeparateURL.co.nz)?

The answer to this question is a strategic one and cannot be answered until more questions are addressed. What does the retailer want this content to do for the business?

  1. Do you need to improve reputation management; are you dealing with negative brand mentions in the search engine results pages (SERPs)?  
  2. Are you attempting to build a thought-leadership position?
  3. Are you trying to build a channel to drive deep linking to specific pages of your website?
  4. Are you trying to build depth of content or develop a tool to target queries?  In other words, do you want to attract and acquire early stage buyers by being visible in search engines for non-branded terms?
  5. Do you want to broaden your organic visibility across many keyword terms?
  6. Do you want to enrich the consumer experience with content?

The improper use of a blog tool will dilute the content marketing plan and diminish the SEO opportunity for the business.  

You need to clearly understand how you want to leverage the content to determine the proper treatment of the blog and develop a content marketing plan.

2. Defines the content creation plan.  

An SEO strategy consists of developing and driving a content creation plan.

Content creation consists of content specifically for your products (images, video, reviews), and content which compliments your products, product ranges and your brand (examples:  buying guides, “how to” guides, fashion tips, and content aligning to your target market).

Content must be written first for the consumer, second for search engines.  Consumers will know immediately if content is made for them or search engines.  

Reading copy with the same wording repeated and displaying paragraphs of content when it adds no value to the consumer damages the experience. 

Strategy also enhances the little things such as something as simple as article titles.  They may not seem important, but when a title makes sense to consumers and entices them to read the content, it lifts its impact for both consumer relevance and SEO.

The key message here is stick to the fundamentals and do the basics very well. If you are able to build the above tips/disciplines into your business you will be ahead of the majority.

One quick tip when it comes to finding credible SEO specialists, find those who do more than just SEO services.

SEO intermingles with usability, user experience, and influences your new customer acquisition strategy. 

Partnering with specialists who solely focus on SEO will lead to examples like The Warehouse and Freedom Furniture, where SEO activities operate in a silo.

Greg Randall

Published 22 January, 2015 by Greg Randall

Greg Randall is a senior digital consultant with Comma Consulting and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Greg on LinkedIn or Twitter

23 more posts from this author

Comments (15)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

Pankaj Kadam, CEO at Optimization Systems

Thanks Greg for such an helpful article.
www.optimizationsystems.in

over 2 years ago

Jordan McClements

Jordan McClements, Owner at PPCNI.com

But it could be the case that there is much less competition for "sofa", and you could in fact get more traffic using that in the title than "couch". Maybe try it each way for 2 similar products and see how it goes?

over 2 years ago

Helen Trendell

Helen Trendell, Managing Director at ThoughtShift

Great article on Greg. We often find that retailers are given lists of technical requirements they aren't able to implement and so this list is a fantastic starting point for online businesses to put these into practice right away and see the benefits of search engine optimisation relatively quickly.

What we find with working with eCommerce marketing teams is that the sheer scale of applying SEO recommendations across thousands or tens of thousands of pages is daunting.

So, we would also recommend prioritising the most valuable product and category pages first. Our blog to the fastest way to increase eCommerce SEO includes how to use Google Analytics data to extract the highest converting products pages from SEO/PPC and see where the quickest wins are to gain new customers and revenue from SEO:
http://thoughtshift.co.uk/the-fastest-way-to-increase-ecommerce-seo-sales/

over 2 years ago

Ed Lamb

Ed Lamb, Client Services Director at Propellernet

Some really good advice in here. The blog point is interesting - typically having a blog seems to excuse site owners from creating a site that allows value add content to be placed within the "main" site and valuable content gets left outside all core customer journeys. So if the consumer really comes first, I'd start by considering why there is a need for a blog, whether it's the best solution for adding content to the site, and how that content will get to be seen by site users if a blog is used.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Sarah Ward, Marketing Manager at OneHydra

As Helen said, we find the most common reasons for SEO not delivering revenue are almost always in implementation. A study we commissioned last year showed that 80% of SEO changes either never make it, and/or take longer than 12 months to trickle through http://www.onehydra.com/the-state-of-seo-within-retail-ecommerce/.

Traditional SEO methods just aren’t built for the fast moving retail environment - recommendations are chopped to prioritise the “quick wins” and drip-feed a handful of low impact changes into the business over a period of months, and the needle fails to move.

SEO software allows marketers to automate many of the search marketing processes, enabling them to scale SEO and get SEO changes deployed instantly, getting a return on your SEO investment in weeks, instead of months or years.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@ Jordon,

Your comments RE the use of the term "sofa" is valid. This article was meant to tackle the low hanging fruit. If Freedom Furniture (the retailer used in this example") was my client I would actually set up a separate landing page for all "Sofa". I would structure the page and content to be relevant for all "sofa" traffic. There is alot of "sofa" demand, but "couch" was double, so there is merit in trying to be visible in search engine for both.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@ Helen,

I agree implementing changes can be daunting for larger retailers. I am in the middle of that right now with a major client and is why I wrote this article. The majority of my articles come from my experiences with clients.

I am in the middle of driving a massive digital strategy for a huge department store with 270,000 sku's. They have been completely frustrated by SEO vendors giving them obscure recommendations they could not understand and justify.

By aligning their product naming and their category naming to demand and explaining these changes will lift SEO and the customer experience they immediately signed off. I have also been able to infuse SEO disciplines into their BAU (business as usual) processes, ensuring their SEO foundation is stable and robust. That is key for the "big boys".

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@ Ed

I agree with your comments about intermingling content throughout the consumer journey. The experience I have had with both enterprise and simpler eCommerce technologies is, they never have strong versatile content management systems which can be used for this initiative.

eCommerce technologies stick to their knitting so to speak. They are focussed on database, API's, shopping cart, functionality suite, content block management and placement, but rarely deliver a strong CMS/Blog tool.

Retailers want a "blog like" tool to sit within the eCommerce structure due to its versatility, social sharing capabilities, and its ability to be indexed by search engines.

eCommerce technologies cannot deliver this requirement. It's also important to take in consideration eCommerce dev teams, they don't think in terms of consumer journeys, they think API, databases, and shopping carts. It's not in their DNA.

Best to find a Blog tool that integrates.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@Sarah,

I agree with you, old school SEO is not going to cut it in todays environment.

One point I must emphasise.... if you are seeing examples of retailers focusing on quick wins and damaging the integrity of long term gain, they will never excel in improving their organic prominence in search engines.

As you know, SEO is all about "slow and steady wins the race" which is why I make a point of talking about the power of having an SEO strategy.

I make mention of the power of consumer experience focus and its impacts on SEO, but did not mention examples. One of the most relevant examples is improving the performance of a retailers mobile site. Mobile friendly sites will grow in influence in Google's algorithm: http://searchengineland.com/google-special-ranking-mobile-friendly-sites-208957

SEO specialists now need to be usability and experience specialists. If I owned an SEO agency I would rebrand. All the work I do for my clients centre on the customer, as a result my clients gain a significant lift in organic traffic by default and yet I never consider myself to be an SEO expert (haha).

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Jerry Leach, Consultant at Binaryone

A useful article on what is in my experience a difficult sector (retail / ecommerce). Content is often sadly lacking and when it is available is duplicated across multiple sites. I have found from experience that when engaging a new client in this sector it is essential to get access to the backend programmer(s) and build a strong relationship with them. If you are trying to manipulate 1000's of products then doing this manually is daunting to say the least. Much of this work can with careful planning be automated through the use of good database routines to build the types of structures you refer to in your article. You can then apply manual overrides and edit individual items where necessary.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@Jerry,

100% agree! I intentionally steered away from tackling this topic of what needs to be done technically with the eCommerce technology vendor. This topic alone is enormous.

In my experiences of working alongside technology vendors (both Enterprise and mid sized platforms), they require management and prompting to configure their software to enhance SEO. They will not do it on their own. Many retailers assume this is an automatic part of any new build.

over 2 years ago

Ed Lamb

Ed Lamb, Client Services Director at Propellernet

@ Greg

Agree with your comment back to mine. Perhaps I'm overly optimistic but I find it very hard to believe that retailers will have to continue with what effectively becomes a two site strategy - one transactional, and one for value add content. Is it too much to ask that the eCommerce vendors expand their DNA to include customer journeys rather than only APIs, databases and shopping carts? I know a few clients who are incredibly frustrated that despite spending huge sums, they're left with an impotent digital marketing tool.

I also liked your later comment "If I owned an SEO agency I would rebrand. All the work I do for my clients centre on the customer, as a result my clients gain a significant lift in organic traffic by default."

Believe me, we've thought about it. We have take the same approach for many years - essentially brand comms with all the technical basics in place to ensure SEO value. Our thinking is that we need to demonstrate the non-SEO benefits of our work even more clearly (and get buy-in all around client organisations) before we can consider a rebrand. At the moment we get employed by the search budget pot holder, so rebranding holds with it lots of risk as well as opportunity.

Just as I think eCommerce vendors will need to consider the user and delivering the ability to show targeted quality content within the top user journeys, so I think SEO agencies will at some point need to rebrand. The question really is when!

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@Ed

I am really feeling your pain and understand how you need to work with departments who have the search budget. One undeniable trend gaining momentum is the accountability retailers are pushing on to vendors for results.

Vendors pigeonholed as an "SEO Supplier" will never have a long term relationship with a retailer due to the difficulty in promising results and the reliance on so many other moving parts required to work in unison.

I have colleagues who own SEO agencies, they now call themselves "Customer Journey Specialists".

The funny thing about that for me is, I have always been a "customer journey/experience" practitioner, but now colleauges consider me to be an SEO specialist:)

over 2 years ago

Ed Lamb

Ed Lamb, Client Services Director at Propellernet

We agree on approach Greg - the best search agencies have been customer (rather than algorithm) focused for many years now.

Where I can't agree with you is on this: "Vendors pigeonholed as an "SEO Supplier" will never have a long term relationship with a retailer due to the difficulty in promising results and the reliance on so many other moving parts required to work in unison."

While I agree it's hard to forecast and there are many moving parts, we have many long-term clients who retain us because we're delivering amazing ROI. Yes, there are other things that impact SEO results positively outside of our control, but equally there are normally outstanding tech SEO updates that are not implemented and/or limitations put on who we can engage with in the media. So on balance the big ROIs are a fair reflection of our impact and that's why we have a lot of very long standing client relationships based on the commercial impact we've had on their business. I'd be disappointed if the clients we've helped saw us as a "supplier" rather than a "partner" incidentally (and from the feedback they give they don't).

Whatever box the agency is put in or how they describe themselves, if the approach is based around the customer and delivered well (which often includes changing perceptions of what SEO is across the client organisation as a necessity), it will lead to great SEO results.

over 2 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

@Ed,

It's great to hear the impacts you and Propellernet are delivering to your clients. I speak confidently on the topic of SEO supplier's being pigeonholed because I have seen it in dozens of agencies across the US, Australia and NZ (NZ being the worst due to the immaturity of the market).

You said it best with your comment about changing client perception of what SEO is across an organisation. I see agencies delivering silly promises/guarantees making the pigeonholing a self fulfilling prophecy.

over 2 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.