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Optimize sites for search success

With more consumers beginning their online shopping sprees on search engines, it’s in retailers’ best interests to make Web sites search-friendly. Four experts offer their top tips.

Misty Locke
President/co-founder, Range Online Media

To optimize your Web site for search, you need to rank for the most competitive terms. The best way to do this is to have a page that can be dedicated to ranking for a given keyword or tightly connected group of keywords. For example, if you sell shoes and you want to rank well for high heels, you should have a page that presents your high heeled shoe offer­ings. Make this page a part of your e-commerce structure so it will glean the benefits of internal links and strong context, rather than a loose landing page that happens to talk about high heels.

To set yourself up for success with a search-friendly structure, take a look at what you sell. Ask yourself some questions: What are the different ways you can divide up your products? What styles do you offer, and what kinds of options within those styles are possible? How are similar sites handling organiza­tion, and how can you do it better?

Get a handle on how customers find you. Spend some time researching keywords surrounding your business. By seeing how shoppers search for your products, you’ll find out the specific varieties that are important to offer and which keywords to call out.

Use everything you’ve learned to break up your products into catego­ries and subcategories. Aim to break your products into chunks so that every­thing can eventually fit into a bucket that won’t require multiple pages to show all the category’s products. This isn’t always possible, but it’s a good goal to keep in mind.

Content is king, but only if it’s the right content. A good store structure matches the right content with the right context. Combined with other good search engine optimization practices, this gives you a strong foundation to top competitors in search rankings and attract new customers.

Analyze how shoppers search for your products by researching keywords

Matthew Greitzer
Director of SEM, Avenue A/Razorfish

Let’s assume you’ve got all the basics covered: your Web site is search engine-optimized with rich title and description tags; your paid search keywords are well organized with tailored ad copy and relevant landing pages; and you’ve got compelling merchandise, customer service and pricing to help you compete in a sophisticated online retail environ­ment. How can you take your e-commerce offering to the next level?

There are a few tactics you can use to get more out of your online business.

For starters, you should never assume your site sales will mirror seasonal store sales. One of the main reasons people shop online is to buy off-season products. Use Google or Live Search tools to assess market demand as expressed by query volume, and pro­mote products accordingly.

Put your merchandising group in touch with your search marketers and allow search to contribute to broader marketing efforts. See if expectations for hot and not-so-hot products match the data being collected through your search campaign.

If you have bricks-and-mortar stores, develop and implement a compre­hensive local search strategy. Update your store listings, including addresses, phone numbers, and business hours with the major Internet directory data­bases, including Google Base. These list­ings are increasingly distributed across other channels, such as mobile search and free 411 services; therefore, keeping the information accurate is now even more important.

Make sure to use promotional or sale pricing in shopping engine feeds. Promotional prices will help you rise to the top of shopping engine listings when consumers sort items by price.

You should measure value, not sales. Make sure to factor margin and new vs. returning customers into your ROI model. Also, factor in value for e-mail registrations and store location requests. The more you understand the return on your search investment, the more effective your optimization.

Using sale prices can move your products up on shopping engine listings

Shaun Ryan
CEO, SLI Systems

It’s no exaggeration that search has the power to make or break an e-commerce site. As such, online retail­ers can see a significant payoff simply by harnessing the power and knowledge found in the keyword data from search activity on their own sites. By doing this, retailers can automate their keyword research for search marketing and cre­ate optimized pages for high-converting, long-tail search terms. With the holiday rush coming up, now is the perfect time to get started.

It’s never a good idea to just fol­low your instincts to determine which search terms to map to your products. Your customers give you this valuable information every day when they click on your site search results. To be effec­tive, you need an automated way to mine the clickthrough data. With this intelligence, you can greatly improve the relevance of search results, not only on search engines, but on your own site search. For instance, if most people click on the 10th result when they search your site for “swimwear,” then maybe that product should be at the top.

To increase the likelihood that your products will reach the top of search engine results, and that the results will be relevant, you need to use keyword data to create specific landing pages related to the search. Keep in mind customers may not be familiar with the brand names of your company’s products. Landing pages should be opti­mized for generic search terms that best describe the products.

Many of our customers also use site search pages as landing pages for their paid search campaigns. It’s an easy way to create a landing page that is targeted to the keywords being used on Google. Conversion rates will go up when you put extra effort into the design and layout for landing pages, and ensure that results are relevant to the site visitor.

Create an automated system to analyze clickthrough data on your site.

Brett Charney
Director of strategic services, Merkle

To increase traffic and efficiency from organic search, retailers need to take a long, hard look at their Web sites. The biggest mistake retailers make is not recognizing that every page is an opportunity. They put a great deal of energy into making their site’s home page sparkle and don’t give the other pages much attention. Each one should be optimized for organic search success, and can be utilized for paid search land­ing pages as well. A page-by-page review will turn up problems with URL nam­ing, navigation, and other weaknesses.

Home pages should be simple in design and encompass all areas of the retailer’s business, but product or cat­egory pages should be optimized for a specific purpose.

Retailers can use their Web analytics software to learn which products people are looking for on their sites either by looking at what visitors are typing into their internal search, or by looking at the clickstream of visitors. Companies can then use these data to make deci­sions on product promotion and place­ment. Analyze what specific products or categories your visitors are search­ing for and reduce the number of clicks it takes to reach the appropriate page. Remember, this can change over time. Make sure to look at these data at least once a month. For the best-selling prod­ucts, retailers should pretend they’re consumers. Conduct your own search to determine what kind of experience a customer has navigating your site.

Every page on the site should be tested, preferably by an objective out­sider. A test can point out why certain pages are attracting a lot of visitors who don’t buy anything. Surprisingly, many retailers have not taken this step. Testing your site will put you ahead of about 80% of marketers out there.

Retailers should explore their own sites to see what their customers experience

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