A new survey by search marketing company Oneupweb shows that most of the retailers that constitute the top tier of the Internet Retailer Top 500 still don’t optimize their sites effectively for natural search. In fact, in the third year of the survey there was a downward trend, with the number of well-optimized and moderately-optimized sites, at 40% of the Top 100, down slightly from the 42% that constituted this category in the last study, in 2005.
Sites that don’t fully utilize search engine optimization are missing opportunities and risking market share, according to the study report. “This study should serve as a wakeup call for many of the major online retailers,” says Lisa Wehr, Oneupweb CEO. “Simply put, paid search alone is not enough. And in a competitive e-commerce environment, this situation is too costly to ignore.”
The study looked at criteria such as site architecture, meta tags, keywords, content and other factors affecting the site’s ability to be indexed by search engine spiders and to be well-positioned in natural search results. The study defined well-optimized sites as those having substantial indexable content throughout the site, with meta tags that are unique and relevant to page content.
Moderately optimized sites were defined as those that had unique meta tags, a low to moderate amount of copy, and had minor site architecture problems. Nominally-optimized sites were those that optimized titles and meta tags only on the home page and had little indexable content – these sites also had site architecture problems and automated site content management systems that created titles or meta data irrelevant to keywords.
In this year’s study, 20 sites-up from 17 in the 2005 study-were well-optimized. The size and sales volume of the Internet retailer isn’t necessarily a good predictor of how well a site is optimized, as indicated by those on the list. “Site versus competitive position speaks volumes about the effectiveness of their active SEO marketing strategy,” notes the study report.
The 20 well-optimized retailers were the web sites of Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide ; Dell, No. 4; Best Buy, No. 11; Apple, No. 15; Zappos.com, No. 31; Saks, No. 47; Musician’s Friend, No. 48; Blue Nile, No. 49; FTD, No. 50; Crate & Barrel, No. 52; REI, No. 61; Northern Tool & Equipment, No. 76; Bass Pro, No. 78; VistaPrint, No. 79; U.S. Autoparts Network, No. 8; Schwan`s, No. 82; CVS, No. 83; Drs. Foster & Smith, No. 85; Shutterfly, No. 92; and Palm, No. 99.
20 of the Top 100 were moderately optimized – down from 25 in 2005. 34 were nominally optimized, compared to 35% in 2005; and 27 showed no signs of optimization, down from 36 in 2005.
The study also determined how well the sites were positioned on Google and Yahoo on keywords relevant to their business, examining whether the site appeared within first 10 listings (first page) in results provided for those keyword searches. 95% of well-optimized sites appeared within the top 10 results for searches on their keywords on Google, and 90% of them appeared within the first 30 listings. On Yahoo, 95% of the well-optimized sites were positioned within the first three pages of search results, all of them on the first page.
Among moderately-optimized sites, 55% appeared under their designated keywords within the first 10 listings on Google and 65% in the top 30. On Yahoo, 40% of moderately-optimized sites appeared in the first 10 results listings under their keywords and 50% in the top 30. Of the nominally-optimized sites, 53% had their tested keywords appear in the first 10 listings on Google search results and 68% in the top 30. On Yahoo, 62% of this group had their keywords appear in the first 30 listings while 74% appeared in the top 10. Across all groups, the number of tracked keywords appearing in the top 10 or top 30 ranged from one to five.
One factor allowing some sites to rank higher in natural search results than less well-optimized competitors is built-in brand popularity and brand-specific searches, the report notes. For these sites, offline marketing, paid search campaigns and affiliate linking also may be helping to drive results in natural search.
The study report cited new developments over the past two years affecting search and as a result, site optimization. Among them are new media opportunities that help drive natural search. According to the report, well-optimized sites in this year’s study were more than 60% likely to have a regular blog or podcast hosted on their site, in comparison to non-optimized sites. “Content is still king in SEO, but savvy retailers are seeing tangible benefits from new forms of content in different media such as videos, blogs, podcasts, images, press releases and more,” the report notes.