Search Engine Guide Case Study: Walmart.com and What's Missing From Your Web Site Team?

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Many blue-chip companies allocate incredible budgets to their Web site development projects. It takes a top-notch, interdepartmental team to create a successful e-commerce site. Even with a crack team of Web designers, Web and database programmers, user experience professionals, content developers, quality assurance and project managers, an important component is often missing.


Though most do a great job at emphasizing usability for visitors and technology for performance, many of them miss out on usability and performance for search engines.


Take the site at www.walmart.com. As the online unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, one would expect all bases to be covered, from site architecture and design to site optimization for search engines. But for search engine optimization, Walmart.com has the same fundamental issues as many large company Web sites. Implementing a few suggestions for better search engine indexing and keyword use on a large Web site could add significantly to search visibility and online sales.


The optimization problems that need to be fixed vary with each Web site. In the case of Walmart.com, we can see the devil is in the details:


1. Make Web addresses search engine friendly. This is one of the most common issues that can improve large site search engine performance. Example: http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id=2255556&cat=116329&type=35&dept=5432&path=0%3A5432%3A116329


The best practice is for a Web address to have fewer than three parameters and each parameter with 10 characters or fewer. Example: http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id=2255556


With a site that spans thousands of pages, making Web addresses easier to crawl can make an impact on sales with minimum cost.


2. Use header tags for on-page text headings and integrate important keywords. This conveys to a search engine the most important text of the Web page.


3. Move JavaScript code to external files. This lets the pages load faster and move important text further up in the document.


4. Remove image map links and graphics used for navigation. You should replace these with single images with individual links. Search engine spiders don't follow image map links.


5. Validate the HTML. In our quick review, we found tags out of place and many pages were missing the DOCTYPE tag.


In this example of Walmart.com, it happens that most of the issues cited are technical. It is as important for a Web site to be easy for a search engine indexing program to crawl as it is to contain important keyword phrases and links.


Putting together a huge Web site with thousands of pages and maintaining it with multiple content contributors is no easy task. That's why it's even more important for large Web site projects to include search engine optimization expertise in virtually all aspects of the Web development and marketing program.


Look at sites like Amazon and eBay. You'll find all of the key Web design elements you would expect with an industry-leading Web site along with exceptional execution of a combined strategy including optimization for search engines.


For more articles from The Direct Marketer's Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing, visit www.dmnews.com/search .


A PDF of the guide is available at: http://www.dmnews.com/pdffiles/semguide.pdf


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