July 1, 2011, 4:29 PM

Links to product pages could set sites apart, Covario says

A study shows valuable links mainly go to home or category pages.

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Lead Photo

Arnel Leyva, director of product marketing, Covario

A study of big high-tech companies show the most search-savvy of them cram great content into their web sites and attract links from reputable sites, but few of those valuable links go to the product pages where consumers can buy.

Retailers and consumer goods manufacturers that could convince reputable reviews sites and bloggers to link to product pages could well move up in natural search engine rankings, says Arnel Leyva, director of product marketing at search marketing agency Covario Inc., whose clients include large companies and such retailers as Williams-Sonoma Inc., No. 25 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Cabela’s Inc. (40) and Ann Inc. (95).

Most of the links from the kind of well-regarded sites that boost search results went to the home pages, category pages or blogs of the 35 companies Leyva studied and ranked for their search engine optimization smarts. “If retailers and any consumer-focused company could develop a strategy for linking to product pages it could really differentiate them,” Leyva says.

The study employed Covario’s patented SEO audit method for rating each site’s content, links and technical features in terms of how they help raise a site’s ranking in Google, Bing and other search engines.

Virtually all the studied sites rated well on technical tasks, such as loading quickly and being easy for search engines to crawl. Many had the kind of rich content that search engines liked, notably IBM Corp., which achieved perfect scores in both content and technical proficiency.

But there were significant drop-offs in link scores from the top web sites to the next tier, which corresponded to significant differences in rankings on Google. Companies with link scores over 50 in the 100-point scale typically held the top spot in Google, while the next tier of sites—which had scores of 20 to 30—typically held the fourth position, those scoring 15-19 held on average the twentieth spot and sites scoring under 15 held on average the 35th position in Google natural search results.

Nor was it the number of links that mattered, as sites with scores of 20-30 averaged twice the 1 million inbound links of those scoring over 50 in the study. “It is the quality, and not the quantity, of links that matters most,” Leyva says. He says that underscores the importance of online retailers and manufacturers building stable, ongoing relationships with the authoritative web sites that consumers consult when researching a product.

The top performers in linking in the study were computer maker Dell Inc., No. 4 in the Top 500 Guide, and mobile service provider T-Mobile. “Both came of age in the Internet era, and both are great at linking,” Leyva says.

The top overall scores went to IBM and T-Mobile, which tied for first place, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, No. 19 in the Top 500 Guide.

Here are the top-ranking categories in Covario’s SEO audit study in five consumer-facing categories:

• Computers/Office Equipment: Dell, Apple, Hewlett-Packard

• Electronics/HDTV: Samsung, LG, Panasonic

• Smartphones: Research in Motion, Apple, Samsung

• Printers: Hewlett-Packard, Canon/Epsilon/Eastman Kodak (tied)

• Cell phone plans: T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint

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