April 13, 2004, 12:00 AM

A search engine nightmare: 12,000 SKUs, but only 17 pages show up at Google

Northern Tool has 12,000 SKUs, but found only 17 of its pages in Google’s index. Natural search optimization making it easier for spiders to crawl its dynamic pages boosts sales by six figures a month.


Northern Tool Equipment & Catalog Co. has some 12,000 SKUs on its web site--so it was with a shock that it discovered only 17 of its site’s pages were indexed by leading search engine Google. A new search engine optimization solution from Performics Inc. and Netconcepts made its online product pages easier for search engines to crawl, producing monthly incremental online sales in the six-figure range, e-commerce manager Nathan Miller tells Internet Retailer.

The new solution, created by web development company and search optimization specialist Netconcepts and now integrated into Performics` search engine marketing technology platform, ConnectCommerce, essentially makes static pages out of Northern Tool’s 12,000 dynamically-generated product pages, making it easier for search engines to find and index. Each of Northern Tool’s product pages is dynamically generated, a common set-up for retailers with online product catalogs of that size, Miller says.

“Since all our product pages are dynamically generated, that means a page doesn’t exist until a user asks for it,” Miller adds--the reason that Google`s spider couldn`t find them and had indexed little more than Northern Tool’s homepage. The Netconcepts solution automatically takes the identifying dynamic element out of the URL for each product page, creating a URL more easily recognized by spiders.

Northern Tool tested early versions of the product from Netconcepts last fall in an iterative process to refine the tool’s development. When the current version went up in January, in short order, Northern Tool found that the number of its product pages indexed by Google had increased exponentially. Moreover, traffic from its newly optimized natural search was now accounting for 15% of all web site traffic and 5% of all online sales. Significantly, 81% of the traffic from its improved natural search was entirely new to the company, representing customers who had never purchased from any Northern Tool channel previously, Miller says.

“It’s a huge bucket that we have not been able to get into before,” says Miller, who adds that Northern Tool did incur some upfront expense which he characterizes as “minimal” in working to implement the Netconcepts product through the various iterations of development. “However, the fact that we have sales in the six figures from this initiative makes that upfront cost a drop in the bucket,” Miller says.

Northern tool also maintains a paid search program of about 3,000 keywords, on which it spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. In the future, it plans to compare results from paid vs. natural search and adjust spending where needed, Miller says.


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