The holidays are coming. Scary thought, huh? If you’re an online retailer you should be looking forward to this time of year. For many businesses it represents up to 70%, or even 80% or 90% of their yearly sales. If you’re scared, that might mean you’re not entirely prepared. Well, I’d like to help ensure you are prepared, at least from a search engine optimization perspective.
Whether you’re an online retailer or a small brick & mortar shop down the street, your online presence is vital to your business success both during the holidays, as well as during non-peak times. Follow these tactics and you’ll give yourself a good base (keep in mind, there are other tactics, like link development, that play an even larger role in organic rankings than optimizing your website).
Let’s start with what a user sees first. Before they even hit your site they’ll most likely do a search for a specific keyword or phrase, which will return a set of search results. The user will see a website’s title tag and meta description before they even interact with your site/brand. Another thing to keep in mind is the keyword they search for; this generally depends on where they are at in their buying cycle. If they use a very broad keyword, like say, “digital camera”, they are in a very different place than someone who searches for “nikon d3000 digital slr camera”. You need to try to capture the user at any and all stages of the buying cycle. By optimizing for keywords throughout the buying cycle, it will help ensure the user lands on the most appropriate webpage if they click on your search result.
Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
Here are examples of a title/meta tag for the two keyword phrase examples I provided above. The top example is the very broad “digital camera” search, while the bottom is the more specific, product search.
The strategy above is to optimize your category level pages for the broader keywords, and the more specific product keyword phrases should be used at the product level pages. This follows the natural hierarchy of a site too. A website’s content should start out somewhat general, then get more focused as a user digs deeper into the site.
Holiday Tip: Be sure to update your title and meta tags to highlight special offers/deals. Remember though, you still need to incorporate the targeted keywords into the title and meta tags in order to rank.
URLs are a very good indicator as to what type of content is on a webpage. Utilizing keyword-rich URLs will go along way in helping your site, or a specific page, rank. Updating your URLs isn’t the simplest task, but if you’re willing to put in the hours to make it happen, it can pay off immensely. If you do update your URLs, make sure you utilize the 301 redirect to make sure all of your old, indexed URLs are redirecting to the new URLs. I would also recommend updating your XML sitemap and submitting to Google Webmaster Tools as well.
Here is an example of a good vs. bad URL.
The bottom example’s URL is being pulled from a database, which is why you see “?Item=N82E16830113222”. This URL tells the search engine absolutely nothing about what’s on the page, where as the top example contains multiple keywords within the URL.
Holiday Tip: It’s a little more difficult to get holiday specific with your URLs, unless you create content around things like: gift ideas, holiday bestsellers, etc., which is a great strategy.
Optimize Product Descriptions
Ranking for broad keywords, when a user is in the research phase is important, however, these keywords don’t generally convert. The keywords that really convert are the product-level keywords. The phrases people are searching for after they’ve done their research and itching to pull the trigger and make the purchase. It’s your job as an online retailer to help them do that. You need to make sure your product descriptions are properly optimized.
Notice the headline in this particular example. It’s extremely specific and will most likely rank for a number of variations of keyword phrases. You can see, I’ve highlighted all of the instances of the specific key words in the description. Notice they don’t go overboard using the same phrase over and over. That’s a misnomer of SEO. The engines are smart enough to understand what a page is about as long as you utilize the individual keywords throughout the copy. You only need to use the actual phrase once or twice on the page itself (remember, you’re using them in the title/meta, which users don’t see when on a page).
Holiday Tip: Update your product descriptions to include promotional offers, reviews, strong calls to action. When users hit these pages, they may just be ready to pull the trigger and purchase. Make sure you give them every opportunity to do so.
Optimize Product Images
Google’s universal search has had a huge impact on how images play a role in optimization. It’s now more important than ever to ensure your images are properly optimized, especially for your products. Take a look at how to properly optimize an image.
First you need to make sure your the image file name contains keywords, as this is yet another signal to Google. The top example includes specific product keywords in the file name, whereas the bottom example contains numbers that give the engines zero information.
Another aspect of an image you must pay attention to is the Alt text. Alt text is the phrase or description that pops up as you mouse over an image. Search engines can read this text, and including keywords in the Alt text can help the images rank.
Notice the lack of messaging or keywords in the top example? The bottom example provides a plethora of information about the product, which may help this particular image rank in Google’s Universal Search and drive additional visitors directly to the product page.
Holiday Tip: Make sure to get all of your products into shopping feeds (i.e. Google Merchant, Shopzilla, etc) as the images may appear in the right column, along with the PPC/Sponsored ads.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, optimizing your site really only half the batter. Once your site is optimized, a strong link development campaign is necessary. That, my friends, is a post for another day. If you have any questions or comments regarding the above tips, please do so in the comments. I know it’s early to start thinking about the holidays, but online retailers can’t afford to wait.