I’ve found myself analyzing a fair number of retail Web sites in the past 5-6 months, for companies ranging from mid-size to just about the top of the retail ladder. No matter what size the retail operation, though, I keep noticing a similar group of problems. I thought I’d outline six Retail SEO problems, some of which are unique to the industry, and some which are not.
1. An SEO un-friendly CMS system.
Not too long ago, I came across a CMS (content management system) that republishes the entire site, AND with new URLs every time the site owner updates the content. That’s an extreme example of an SEO un-friendly CMS system, but there are many others out there in use. What you need in a CMS is flexibility and freedom — freedom to customize page titles and meta tags, to name categories and sub-categories how you want, to add as much content as you want for category, sub-category, and product pages, etc.
2. Poor crawlability.
Too many shopping sites have session IDs and multiple dynamic variables in their URLs. Both are those are crutches where SEO is concerned. Spiders don’t accept session IDs, and will generally ignore pages/sites that force session IDs. Session IDs should be in a cookie instead of in the URL. And dynamic variables should be kept to a minimum; 1-2 is best, and I’d say three is the max. Anything beyond that and you risk the spider choosing to ignore your pages.
3. Poor keyword research & usage.
“A fashion retailer might give us a title like ‘Lacoste – Blue Pique Polo’ and never use the word ‘shirt,’ so when a user searches for ‘Lacoste shirt’ they don’t come up.”
I’ve seen a lot of that lately. Keyword research will help retailers find the exact phrases shoppers use.
4. Lack of content.
For a variety of reasons, this is a huge problem for many retail sites. Their mistake is to focus on sell, sell, sell, without realizing that inform, inform, inform is often a necessary precursor to getting the sale. Karon Thackston wrote earlier this year on Search Engine Guide about how “68% of shoppers want…better imagery, more product descriptions and details.” Anthony Garcia made a similar point on Grokdotcom: “It seems that most (retailers) want to ignore that fact that their flimsy product descriptions are fueling buying apathy.” Great content sells the product and it’s absolutely necessary for SEO.
5. Putting catalogs on the Web.
This is very related to No. 4…. Many retailers have spent good money on writers and designers to put together a high-quality print catalog, and it’s tempting to take that paid-for material and put it on the Web. But don’t give in to that temptation. Catalog copy is often far too brief to have any chance of acquiring natural search traffic; it’s a different style of writing that relies more on flowery, descriptive language. Searchers don’t usually search that way, so catalog copy hurts your SEO efforts.
6. Product Turnover
One last common issue worth mentioning relates to the speed with which some merchants add and remove products. In some niches, it’s not uncommon for 1/3rd of inventory to be available on the Web site for a month or less. The SEO implications of that should be obvious, especially when it sometimes takes that long just to get deep product content spidered, much less indexed and at the top of the SERPs. In situations like this, where rapid turnover minimizes your chances for product-level SEO traffic, it’s better to focus on the more stable category or sub-category pages above these “quick hit” products.
Those are six common retail SEO problems and some thoughts on how to avoid/solve them. I should mention that all is not gloom and doom. Internet Retailer magazine’s recent search survey revealed some good news where retail SEO is concerned: 81% of retail respondents are working on improving product descriptions, 68% are using keyword research to find phrases that searchers are using, and 58% are even optimizing product images. That’s good news for retailers and shoppers, too.
[tags]seo, retail seo, shopping[/tags]