January 3, 2013, 3:54 PM

Search smarts

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At Online Stores, which operates 16 specialty sites with a total of 40,000 to 50,000 product pages, the optimization focus starts when the retailer selects site names. The names selected give consumers a pretty good idea of what they're going to find on the web stores. Sites include ConstructionGear.com, which sells clothing suitable for construction workers; EnglishTeaStore.com, which sells foodstuffs from Britain; and SafetyGirl.com, which sells personal safety products like pepper spray and roadside emergency kits.

CEO Kevin Hickey says the web site names are also picked purposefully because search engines positively score a site when a name ties closely to what the site sells. "For our SEO, we work on the structure of how things are set up, and then work to make sure our product pages are reasonably optimized," he says. "Our staff does our research up front so things are set up right the first time."

The efforts are working. SafetyGirl.com takes the top two spots for a search for "roadside kit, women" on Google. It is the first retailer to appear on search results for "personal safety, women," following a handful of news articles. EnglishTeaStore.com takes the top three spots for a search for "English loose-leaf tea." Hickey says Panda and Penguin didn't affect his rankings.

Maximizing efforts

Panda and Penguin hardly affected JensonUSA.com's organic search rankings for its own pages. But it did affect a good number of the web sites and blogs that participate in the bike gear e-retailer's affiliate program, in part because they republished information available elsewhere on the web. Lower search results for those affiliates affected referral traffic to the e-retailer. "Some of the sites in the program that had a lot of aggregated content got spanked," says affiliate program manager Jared Saunders. Looking to help shore up affiliate referral traffic, Saunders in June began testing the free version of a content optimization program from InboundWriter.

For example, Saunders pasted into the program text from a product page already live on JensonUSA.com for a popular mid-priced bike model. InboundWriter scored the text for relevance at less than 10 on a scale of zero to 100, which meant there was lots of room for improvement. InboundWriter analyzes the content for relevance, comparing key terms to what is currently ranking highly on search engines and what is trending broadly on the web, and makes suggestions on how the writer can optimize the content. It also checks that basic SEO cues, like photo tags and titles, are in place and relevant to the text.

For the bike product page, for example, the program revealed to Saunders that a number of articles on the web compared the bike favorably to a much higher-priced bike. By adding a sentence to the product description extolling the value of the bike model compared to the pricier bike, the relevance score increased to the 90s.

Saunders loaded that change to the web site and, while he is still trying to figure out the exact implications of the change, he says JensonUSA sold a lot more of that bike model afterward. Convinced that the content tweaks drive results, Saunders says one of his goals for early 2013 is to get his top-referring affiliates to use the program on their own site content. JensonUSA's merchandising team also plans to use it for selected content on JensonUSA.com.

Pricing for the program, which launched in mid-2011, is based on the number of articles analyzed, says Inbound Writer CEO Skip Bestoff. $100 buys a writer 25 article scans. "Spell check tells you what to refine, and that's what we're trying to do for content optimization," he says.

With Google no doubt planning to release more animal-themed modifications to its site-ranking formula, e-retailers will have to stay abreast of the new tools that can help them keep the SEO beasts at bay.

allison@verticalwebmedia.com

@AEnrightIR

SEO Day Rocks!

Retailers who are proactive with legitimate search engine optimization efforts won't ever find themselves scrambling to deal with algorithm updates, says SEO consultant Stephan Spencer. "The algorithm updates are meant to thwart spammers and manipulators that want to gain an unfair advantage," he says. With that said, Spencer also says retailers need to up their game when it comes to SEO.

"Retailers need to think in terms of rising above all the noise. If you are just good, all you get is pain. You have to be in a whole other realm of outstanding to get all the rewards," he says.

Spencer will be part of Internet Retailer's SEO Day, taking place Feb. 11 in Orlando as part of the Internet Retailer 2013 Web Design & Usability Conference. He, other consultants and retailers will detail how to apply site design techniques and content that garners high visibility in search engine results.

Visit irwd.internetretailer.com for more information about SEO Day.

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