New tricks for Old Pueblo

Dec 01, 2007 10:30 PM  By

AMY AFRICA

Whether we like it or not, users like Websites that have structure. That’s why the most successful e-commerce sites all look the same. Users want Websites to be like grocery stores.

When I go into a supermarket anywhere in the country, I know that the milk is going to be near the eggs, I know the flour is going to be near the sugar, and I know that the bananas are going to be near the apples. Sure, some things may be different, but for the most part there’s a logic to grocery stores that users can understand and follow.

Old Pueblo Traders is a prime example of a Website that needs help with the logic.

Don’t get me wrong — the site starts things out on the right foot: It employs three columns and it uses right-hand plugs (non-animated banners) to get people to drill deeper into the site, but its navigation leaves a lot to be desired.

Let’s look at Old Pueblo’s left-hand navigation. The headings, in order, are New Items, Dresses, Jacket Dresses, Jumper, Suits, Pant Sets, Outerwear, Tops, Jackets & Vests, Pants & Playwear, Skirts & Split-Skirts, Coordinates, Fashion Accessories, Swimwear, Intimate, Loungewear, and Footwear.

Where would I find a sweater? The site has a plug for “Comfy, cozy cardigans in every color” on the right-hand side, but where would I find it on the left?

If you said “tops,” you’d be right. But if it’s important enough to have its own feature banner, why isn’t it important enough to showcase on the left? And what’s the difference between Outerwear and Jackets & Vests? Hmmmm… Seems that Outerwear is coats and pant coats, and Jackets & Vests are, well, jackets and vests.

What’s a coordinate? (Besides a magnitude to define the position of a point?) Turns out that coordinates are shells, T-tops, and blouses. Now, wait just a minute, aren’t those things tops? How is Playwear different from Loungewear? I could go on and on about this, but you get the point. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for on this site, you should probably just call for a catalog.

I know, that’s harsh. But look at the text search. It seems like a logical choice, but go to it and type in “dresses.” I dare you.

Typing in dresses yields 92 items, the first of which is a knit turtleneck. The second is a ruffled blouse and the third item is a tulip skirt. Not until the fourth item do we actually see a “dress.”

Maybe that’s just one example? Nope. Pant sets as two words yield 15 results. Pantsets as one word yields two results. Bras yields 841, the first page of which shows anything — and everything — but bras.

Typing in sweaters gets you 33 finds, some of which are pants. Typing in cardigans gets you nine, the first two of which are dresses. Bathing suits yields 30, most of which are two-piece dress suits that you’d wear to the office, not the pool.

Old Pueblo Traders, owned by Arizona Mail Order Co., has a defined user base and it sells apparel, one of the most predictable items you can sell on the Web. There is a magic formula to success with selling women’s clothes, and this site could have it. It has products that people want, deals to entice them to buy, and so on, but there is no logic to the site.

So, what could Old Pueblo Traders do to improve its site besides fixing the navigation and the shopping cart that you need a GPS to maneuver through?

First, the company should fix its entry page. It needs a solid action bar at the top. An action bar serves one purpose and one purpose only — to tell the user what they are supposed to do on the site they are visiting.

Old Pueblo Traders has too much irrelevant stuff at the top — it needs to simplify this and make it easier for the user to understand. It should have a top tier of five to eight tabs of bestselling products or brands, a bar of five or so items that the user should look at — new items, bestselling items, catalog quick order, overstock, and clearance, and a free e-newsletter could all be considered. Then it should have a second line of two drop-down problem-solution items.

The navigation at the top should be repeated at the bottom, except for the problem/solution navigation, as it’s difficult for the users to employ drop-downs on the bottom of the page from a usability perspective.

At the top, bottom, and in the right-hand column, there should be links to a perpetual shopping cart — a cart that stays with you all the time. It includes a shopping cart icon, the number of items in the cart, the order total, and the statement, “100% secure shopping guaranteed,” if you have it (which you should).

The left-hand navigation should be an e-mail sign-up, the text search box, a highlight section and the index of its store. The index should be carefully considered to make it as intuitive as possible. Users have neither the impetus nor the inclination to learn your navigation, so it’s imperative that you make it as clear, concise and comprehensive as you possibly can.

If there’s extra room, the site can use some plugs at the bottom, although I’d recommend using banners that drill deeper into its own site, not other sites on the left. (Right now, it has a left-hand plug for its parent company’s food gifts catalog Figi’s, which would be better served on the right-hand side from a user perspective.)

I’d also totally revamp the middle column of the entry page, not to make it prettier but to make it more aggressive. Right now, it doesn’t look like there’s anything to buy. There is a link to pants, but that’s it. For apparel, it’s especially effective to have pictures of people wearing the clothes that you’re selling as well as embedded commands (“add to cart” or “buy now” buttons) to order them.

In a perfect world, Old Pueblo Traders would have more products featured on the entry page, especially in the middle column position. It should also consider making its right-hand plugs a bit more aggressive and entertaining. People look at the right-hand column before they are about to leave, so the best performing plugs are often the ones that look like advertisements.

Creative is the key when it comes to plugs, and you should test a lot of it to see what works best for your users. Things that work are usually bestseller lists, recently viewed items (if applicable), category features, one-question polls, e-mail sign-ups, free offers, and anything with a deadline. (Deadlines create urgency and cause people to focus. They are especially effective in the top of the upper-right-hand column.)

After that, the product pages need the most work. Old Pueblo Traders has some great photography, but its individual product pages need improvement. Long-term, it should really work on developing Web-friendly copy for its products, as it appears that most of the copy is taken directly from its catalog. But rewriting all the copy will take a lot of work, so in the meantime, the site should work on the quick fixes.

To immediately improve the product pages, the merchant should make sure that it has “add to cart” buttons on every view. For a lot of its products, it has a big picture, a little bit of copy, a price in red and nothing else. The user has to scroll down to get the buying options. These days that’s simply not acceptable when it comes to Web shopping.

Old Pueblo Traders should also work on its system for adding to cart. When you add to cart on its current site and you haven’t correctly put in all the variables, you are brought to an empty cart, which is terribly confusing at best.

The company also needs to do a better job of presenting alternate views. Many of its products have them (more than one visual, that is), but they are presented in a very bizarre fashion — usually several teensy-tiny pictures all stacked on top of one another.

Additionally, the site should look at how to present deals. This is, by far, the thing that Old Pueblo Traders is best at: offering discounts and combination prices throughout its site. The special offers are presented in red and are sometimes quite long; the site should make deals look less like disclaimers and more like something you simply must look at. Old Pueblo Traders should put a deadline on deals — even if it needs to keep extending it — and it should develop a special category page of all its Web specials.

STEPHAN SPENCER


In my brief tour of Oldpueblotraders.com, I found plenty of opportunities for major traffic gains through search engine optimization. The first one became immediately obvious as I was loading the home page. Directing my Web browser to load http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/, I was immediately redirected to http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/pagebuilder/.

Unfortunately, the type of redirect used was a temporary one (302) instead of a permanent one (301). I discovered this through the use of a server header checker (http://www.webrankinfo.com/english/tools/server-header.php) A 301 redirect passes PageRank and link popularity to the destination URL, whereas a 302 redirect does not. Luckily, this is an easy thing to fix.

From an SEO standpoint, the home page is a very important page. Typically, it’s given the most weight by the search engines, so it’s crucial to make sure to put one’s best foot forward when it comes to the home page. This site’s home page doesn’t come across to the engines as particularly strong for keywords outside of the brand name. The home page’s title tag is simply “Old Pueblo Traders,” and as such is devoid of important non-brand keywords such as “women’s,” “clothing,” and “shoes.”

By going to “view source” in my Web browser while viewing the home page, I discovered something rather alarming: a meta keywords tag 317 words long. That is about 300 words too many. This can be misconstrued by the search engines as keyword stuffing, and can result in a penalty or unwanted additional scrutiny.

Other issues with the HTML include the lack of H1 heading tags, table tags being used for layout, and HTML comments adding unnecessary “code bloat” to the page.

Excluding links on the page, the only text on the home page is “(c) 2007, Arizona Mail Order Company, Inc. since 1946.” That’s not much for the search engines to ascertain a keyword theme. The reason I didn’t consider the text within links in making this observation is that link text is used by the engines more to ascertain what the linked pages are about than what the home page is about.

A Google search for “old pueblo traders” reveals that Google has adorned Old Pueblo Traders’ home page listing with “sitelinks.” Sitelinks are shortcuts to sections of a site and are most likely to be shown for brand name queries. Sites have to achieve a certain status with Google to earn sitelinks. It’s good to see that Old Pueblo has achieved such a status.

If Old Pueblo Traders is not happy with a particular sitelink, the company can request that it be removed using a tool within Google Webmaster Central (www.google.com/webmasters). Overall, though, the sitelinks Google selected were good: Footwear, Dresses, Intimate, Tops, Online Outlet, Contact Us, Jacket Dresses, Sun Dresses.

The snippet displayed in the home page’s Google listing — “Comfortable, carefree fashions and shoes in everyone’s size, color” — could be made more compelling with value propositions like “affordable” and “highest quality.” This is easy to modify in the home page’s meta description tag. Such changes should help to increase clickthrough from the search results pages.

The left-hand navigation is text-based, rather than graphical. That was good to see because, as mentioned above, those underlined words are important clues to the search engines as to the pages’ keyword themes.

The URLs across most of the site’s pages are dynamic. Dynamic URLs have question marks in them and, optionally, equal signs and ampersands. The more parameters (i.e. the more equal signs), the less palatable the URLs to the search spiders. Most pages have two parameters.

It would be ideal to remove all dynamic elements to the URLS — all equals signs, ampersands and question marks. That would entail URL rewriting via a server plug-in like mod_rewrite or ISAPI_Rewrite, or proxy-based optimization. And relevant keywords should be injected into the URLs.

For example, the Dresses category page would be more search-engine optimal as http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/dresses.html versus the current http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/pagebuilder/Search?category=DRESSGRP&pagesize=12. Some search results pages have been indexed; these contain numerous parameters.

Most of the product pages indexed by Google have a “category” parameter in the URL, as can be seen in the following search results: http://www.google.com/search?q=inurl%3Aitem+site%3Aoldpueblotraders.com&num=100. But some of the indexed product page URLs are missing this “category” parameter. Omitting the category parameter does not seem to change the content of the page. So I would recommend simplifying the product page URLs consistently across the site by omitting the superfluous category parameter and using only the item parameter.

Title tags for the majority of pages start with “Old Pueblo Traders” instead of important keywords. Words at the front of the title tag are given more weight by the engines than are words at the end. So it would be best to move “Old Pueblo Traders” to the end of the title tag or remove it altogether. Removing it would make the title tag more focused on the remaining words.

I would suggest adding “rel=nofollow” to the HREF tags in the links to pages such as “your privacy rights” and “check out,” because they do very little for the site’s SEO. It is better to funnel more PageRank to category pages, and none to pages that aren’t desirable from a rankings perspective.

The logo and the Home button both link to http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/pagebuilder/HOME instead of linking to http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/. This is a problem because it presents to the spiders a duplicate copy of the home page.

Yahoo, for instance, has three copies of the home page indexed: one at http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/ (because that’s where most people link), one at http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/pagebuilder/ (because of the mistaken use of a 302 redirect instead of a 301), and http://www.oldpueblotraders.com/pagebuilder/HOME (because of the logo and Home links).

Speaking of indexation, Google shows 2,240 pages of www.oldpueblotraders.com, and Yahoo shows 4,886. Old Pueblo Traders also has two other subdomains: one for the online outlet store and one for its Intimate Appeal brand. Outlet.oldpueblotraders.com has 695 pages in Google and 1,865 pages in Yahoo. Ia.oldpueblotraders.com has 446 pages in Google and 154 pages in Yahoo.

Without knowing how many SKUs Old Pueblo Traders has, I can’t tell how much of the catalog this represents, but compared with other online retailers, these numbers seem rather low. The more pages indexed, the more Long Tail search traffic that can be captured.

Yahoo Site Explorer (http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com) shows 742 inlinks to www.oldpueblotraders.com, excluding internal links. Many of those inlinks are from sister sites such as Lane Bryant and Coward Shoes. There are 46 inlinks to outlet.oldpueblotraders.com (excluding internal links), and six to ia.oldpueblotraders.com. One of the six is www.intimateappeal.com, owned by Old Pueblo Traders and using a 301 redirect then finally a 302 redirect.

The PageRank score of the home page, according to Google’s toolbar server, is 4. PageRank on category pages is either 2 or 3, for the most part. Most product pages have a PageRank of 0, and only a handful have a PageRank of 2, according to the PageRank Search tool at www.seochat.com/seo-tools/pagerank-search/. PageRank is logarithmic in scale, so a 4 out of 10 is actually quite low. A 2 out of 10 is extremely low.

Improvements to the site’s internal linking structure will pass a greater share of PageRank to the pages that really matter — such as category pages and pages of top-selling products. Even so, some serious link building and social media optimization is in order, which will drive much more PageRank to the site. The greater the PageRank, the more important the page is and the better the ranking.

In all, it looks like Old Pueblo Traders can get some easy SEO wins on the board without too much effort.