October 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

Attack of the Spiders

If e-retailers want to maximize search efforts, they better know where spiders like to feast.

As every e-retailer knows, selecting the right keywords is the foundation for a successful search engine marketing strategy, whether paid search or natural. However, even the most carefully chosen words are of little value if they’re buried deep within an e-retailer’s site-where the spiders cannot capture them. This is why more online merchants are investing extra time in SEM efforts to cook up plenty of spider food and serve it just right.

While spiders horrify many people, on the Internet they replace dogs as an e-retailer’s best friend. Online spiders are applications used by search engines to crawl the web and send the engines web pages relevant to a search. But spiders, sometimes called webcrawlers, are very hungry and work very fast. So if they do not quickly identify highly relevant keywords on a web site, they move on to other sites.

To ensure the myriad spiders at work on the Internet-every search engine uses a variety-find keywords highly relevant to its products, online jeweler Ice.com last year launched three blogs that contain numerous links to its e-commerce site. When more web users link to a site it gains a higher profile among search engines. Also on each blog the e-retailer carefully inserts plenty of keyword references in blog entries as well as in the navigation bar.

The big increase in keyword references on the home pages of the blogs combined with an increase in traffic from the blogs to the e-commerce site led to natural search traffic increases between 15% and 30%. And shoppers brought in through natural search purchased $50,000 worth of items during the 2005 holiday shopping season, a 35% increase over the same period in 2004, says executive vice president of marketing Pinny Gniwisch.

Blogs on ice
Ice.com decided to set up the blogs because of the steep increase in search engine marketing prices. “More people have been buying keywords, so you have to become more creative and more relevant,” Gniwisch says.

The internet retailer’s three blogs-SparkleLiketheStars.com, JustAskLeslie.com and Blog.Ice.com-provide information on jewelry fashion trends among celebrities, jewelry care and press coverage of Ice.com, respectively. Someone searching for the latest news on Anna Nicole Smith or Sarah Jessica Parker, for example, might see links to SparkleLiketheStars.com, which features images and text-and Ice.com keywords-about the jewelry the celebrities wear. Ice.com produced the blogs in house but has hired a consultant to develop the material on an ongoing basis.

Visitors to the blog also can click on links for “diamond rings” or “sapphire jewelry”-more keywords on Ice.com-for more information about what celebrities are wearing. They then can click on links to the Ice.com site to see similar jewelry. As more traffic goes to these links, it raises the level of Ice.com in search indexes, placing the site higher in natural searches for jewelry items.

“When we built the blogs, we did so based on the fact that we were going to create links going back and forth from our blogs to the web site,” Gniwisch says. “After they went live, we saw an unbelievable change in our page ranking on Google. We went from a seven to a six in natural search, and our natural search started to collect more traffic.”

The Ice.com strategy plays off a well-known characteristic of the blogosphere-that individual bloggers very often link to other blogs, explains Scot Wingo, president of ChannelAdvisor Corp., a content management company. “You may write an article about the latest and greatest product that you’re going to carry, and that may get another blogger to get ten other bloggers linking to it,” he says. “That’s going to increase your link popularity.”

And that makes it more likely that a search engine spider will find a retailer’s site. The way search engine spider algorithms work is based on popularity of inbound links along with keyword references, Wingo says. “They basically say, ‘Wow! If you have a lot of things pointing to you, you must be relevant because you must be an authority on this topic.’”

Despite the improved results from its natural search program, Ice.com continues to use paid search, Gniwisch says. “We find the conversion rate is a lot higher when you have paid search and natural search at the same time,” he adds.

Keyword tools
While Ice.com found blogs to be an effective tool for showcasing keywords, ToolKing.com took a different approach. It expanded its listing of products and categories to raise its number of indexed pages on Google from 26,000 to 81,800, says Don Cohen, managing partner.

The retailer of power tools and related items is using a product-listing tool designed in-house to enable search engine spiders to crawl more deeply into its site. Using the tool, Tool King turned three-level categories into five-level categories. “We went through the products for about eight months and manually re-categorized everything,” he says. “That allowed us to not just categorize products but to review what we had and then create new categories, as well as do cross-selling for products.”

In addition, Tool King rewrote product descriptions, creating five levels of descriptions for each product and adding more details at each level. “The spiders were actually crawling only the title, but when we entered a keyword into the description on the page, they began crawling deeper into that page,” he says.

By flushing out the category tree, Tool King gave the search spiders more content to index and thus generated more hits, Wingo says. “If you have a category tree that goes three deep and instead of tools says ‘tools, ‘power’ and ‘compression drill,’ someone’s going to find that compression drill tool when they type in ‘compression drill tool’ at a search engine,” he says.

Tool King took another step to make it easier for search engine spiders to crawl its site. It removed excessive characters, such as ampersands and percentage marks, from the content because spiders won’t crawl pages with special characters, Cohen says.

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