August 29, 2013, 9:42 AM

Is Your SEO Ready for Q4?

Retailers should act now to adjust their SEO tactics in light of new Google policies.

With Q4 just around the corner many online retailers are gearing up for the usual holiday rush. One marketing channel that gets a lot of attention during this time is organic search, and for good reason. Organic search traffic can send massive amounts of targeted traffic and have a significant impact on sales, especially in Q4. Now is the time for online retailers to start preparing for Q4 and use SEO to take advantage of the potential increase in sales.

Taking a Look at Last Year

In Q4 2012 retail e-commerce sales in the United States totaled $56.8 billion, according to comScore Inc. The spending in Q4 2012 equated to 30.5% of all retail e-commerce spending for the entire year. Of course these numbers fluctuate by industry, but it’s safe to say the majority of e-commerce web sites will experience noticeable growth in Q4. Overall e-commerce sales seem to be steadily growing year over year as well. Total sales in 2012 increased 15%, reaching $186.2 billion. Similar growth can be expected in 2013.

What’s New with SEO this Year?

In 2013 Google has continued to make changes to its Penguin and Panda updates. These updates are focused on removing web spam in Google by penalizing web sites with low-quality content and manipulative linking practices. Google has also started relying more on usage metrics to rank web sites. Usage metrics refers to how users interact with a web site. If a searcher clicks on your web site from the search results page and hits the back button right away, there may be some ranking issue with the web site. This is known as “bouncing” and can be strong indicator of the overall user experience for a particular webpage.

Online retailers can improve the user experience of their web site, and subsequently increasing SEO performance, by focusing on usage metrics. Identifying pages with high bounce rates in Google Analytics is a great place to start. The next step is to figure out why users are quick to leave these pages. Is the content relevant? How fast does the page load? Did the user come from a mobile device? These types of questions can help online retailers improve their user experience along with organic search traffic.

What You Can Do Right Now

Now is the perfect time to start ramping up the SEO efforts to maximize search traffic in Q4. Results with Google take time. Any changes made to improve your organic search traffic won’t have a noticeable impact for a few weeks or even months. SEO may seem like some sort of mysterious voodoo or black magic, but there are a few simple things that can be done to noticeably improve traffic from major search engines.

1. Content on Category Pages – Google relies heavily on the content and text on a page to understand what the page is about. By adding well-written unique content to category pages, online retailers can dramatically improve their SEO performance. The more content the better, but it is recommended to have at least 150 words of unique content on priority category pages. Adding fresh content also has an additional benefit to SEO. Google prefers to rank newer content higher within the search results, since it tends to be more relevant. Even if all category pages already contain content, adding a few more sentences can provide a short-term boost in organic search traffic. Also, the fact that Google has the technology to allow users to search by reading level shows that they are taking content very seriously.\

2. Link to Best-Selling/High-Margin Products from Homepage – Google and other major search engines use internal links to crawl web sites and assess the importance of each page. If a page is buried within a web site, chances are search engines won’t consider it a very important page. However, pages linked directly from the homepage are considered to be very important by search engines and tend to rank better. By adding links to best-selling or high-margin products from the home page, online retailers can improve rankings and traffic of their most important products. With significantly more searches in Q4, this one tactic can have a dramatic improvement on traffic and sales for top products.

3. Internal Linking on Product Pages – As mentioned above, internal links can have a strong impact on organic search traffic and rankings. Internal linking starts to get tricky with web sites that have dozens of category pages and/or thousands of product pages. However, online retailers can easily improve the navigational structure of the web site by adding links to related products on each product page. This is something Amazon.com does very well and has helped them rank for a wide range of products.

4. Take Advantage of Rich Snippets – Rich snippets (also known as microformats or microdata) are a type of page markup that can enhance how a web page appears within search results. This is best illustrated with an example from Google’s search results.

The addition of the star ratings and product information tends to attract the attention of searchers resulting in a higher click-through rate. Just like with Google AdWords, higher click-through rates can result in increases in traffic. For online retailers this is best used for product pages. Implementing this one change can result in more clicks than the competition, even if they’re outranking you. Webmasters can learn more about rich snippets and how to implement them with Schema.org.

As e-commerce sales continue to grow year after year there is a large potential for significant increase in sales this holiday season. Based on historical trends, Q4 sales in 2013 will likely account for roughly 30% of e-commerce sales for the year. By taking advantages of these few SEO tactics online retailers can maximize their sales in Q4 and have an even happier holidays.

Jeff Oxford is an Internet marketing consultant who specializes in SEO for e-commerce. He has over five years' experience and has worked on more than 150 SEO campaigns. Jeff also manages his own e-commerce sites, which he uses to test search strategies and tactics.

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