A tough look at Tender Heart

Nov 01, 2009 10:30 PM  By


Tender Heart Treasures specializes in country and Victorian gifts, home decor and garden accents. So how effective is this merchant of quaint, old-timey goods at selling via e-commerce?

Critiquers Amy Africa, president of Web consultancy Eight by Eight, and Brian R. Brown, lead consultant with SEO agency Netconcepts, gave Tender Heart Treasures a thorough review; Africa looked at content and functionality and Brown tested search capability. Read on for their tough assessment of this tender merchant.


There are two critical things that companies frequently underestimate when it comes to their Websites. First, how fast the average user makes a decision as to whether to stay or go, and second — and most important — the library/bookstore factor.

You see, when users go to any Website, their first glance (in other words, what they see on the first screen — without scrolling) determines whether they think your site is a library or a bookstore. Is your site a place to browse, or is it a place to buy?

This is the case for all sites — whether or not you are an e-commerce site — because the users’ data (their personal information, even if it’s as simple as an e-mail address) has a market value. If you want my data/information, then you need to “pay” for it (read: give me something of value for it.) Whatever message users get at the beginning — whether it’s to “buy” or “browse” — is the message they carry with them throughout their visit.

Tender Heart Treasures’ Website does many things right. But for a site whose goal is to sell stuff, it’s not all that aggressive about asking for your order (telling you to buy). The more you ask for the order, the more likely you are to get it — or at least get the process started.

Here are seven tried-and-true tactics the merchant can implement without spending a lot of money.

  • Reduce the header

    The current header is big and boring. It’s important to note that users see things in pictures, not in text. A solid header would include the logo; the phone number and a cheery CSR; and a picture of some of the bestselling country products the merchant carries. The header should be tight but meaningful. The addition of a tagline may help as well.

  • Add a perpetual cart

    A perpetual cart is a cart that stays with the user at all times. This is a “must have” for every site. The cart should include a shopping cart icon; the number of items in the cart; the dollar amount in the cart; links to view cart, print cart, save cart and e-mail cart; and something that addresses security (a security company’s logo, for example). The “shopping basket” Tender Heart Treasures has in the middle column is not impactful or directive enough.

  • Move the text search

    Text search is one of those things that tells users that they should “browse,” not necessarily buy. Search companies recommend that you put the search function in the upper right-hand corner or at the top of the middle column.

    If you have the perfect search function, that might be okay. But if your text search is less than ideal, you should probably put it in the left-hand corner of your site. That way it’s accessible, but not emphasized. Tender Heart Treasures’ search function is weak. Until it’s improved, it should not get a lot of attention.

    Every site search needs a “generic recommendations for no-finds” page. If I go to your site and search for “bananas” and you don’t have bananas, it shouldn’t just say “we have no bananas” with screen-upon-screen of white space.

    You should allow users to search again (helpful tips, if limited, can work) as well as give them five to eight choices of things that they could look at. “Sorry, we didn’t find ‘bananas’ but here are some other things that you might like.”

    Every page on your site should have pictures — pages without pictures are “dead ends.” Tender Heart Treasures has a lot of dead ends on the site, including the “no items were found matching your search criteria” page. All of those dead ends need to be modified.

  • Add an “Ordering from a Catalog?” box

    If you are sending an abundance of traffic from offline, whether it be a catalog, a space ad, etc., you need some sort of quick order form. This box should have a picture of a catalog as well as space to enter in at least the first item number and quantity. The site currently has “Catalog Quick Order,” but this can easily be misinterpreted as the place to order a catalog.

  • Tighten up the carousel

    The carousel is that large animated banner in the middle column. It’s too big. It’s important that on any e-commerce site, you see product that you can buy in the first view. The carousel should be about half the size that it is now. It’s also important that every turn (page) of the carousel sells.

    The purpose of carousels and plugs (non-animated banners that are typically found down the right-hand column of the site) is to entice users to drill deeper into your site — to get them to click to see something of interest. Each turn needs an action directive (click here now, for example) and a provocative headline or teaser.

  • Move the e-mail sign-up box up

    Burying the e-mail box is a big faux pas that many companies make. Good news is that it’s super easy to fix. It’s important that the e-mail capture happens closer to the top than the bottom. It tends to work best in the top of the upper left-hand corner.

    It’s crucial to include a little graphic. (Put the text search box underneath along with a magnifying glass icon.) Once you have the user’s e-mail, you no longer need to show the box. Remember, the more you ask for the e-mail address, the more likely you are to get it — it’s just like orders! So ask for it at least once on every view, or screen, till you get it.

  • Improve the navigation

    This is the most difficult thing to do on almost any site, but it’s often the most lucrative. What you need to remember is that you get what I give you, so if I give you eight choices, you get eight choices.

Tender Heart Treasures’ navigation is way too limited and not at all user-friendly. You can’t assume that users know what they want, or if they do, know how to find it.

And you must realize that terms like “home accents” are esoteric and not at all useful to the shopper. If you want a T-shirt, you want a T-shirt, not necessarily apparel or clothing.

Tender Heart Treasures would do well to expand its left-hand navigation — solid navigation would be a highlights section of about five items — bestsellers, exclusives, new items, seasonal items, etc., and then an extended alphabetical index of the store. You don’t want to have 200 items in the left-hand category, but four isn’t enough either.

As for the top navigation, a three-tier approach would be beneficial for the site — five to eight product category tabs, a solid action bar, and then P/S (problem/solution) navigation. The bottom navigation should be a repeat of the top, without the P/S.


When it comes to search engine optimization, Tender Heart Treasures is more about buried treasure. The site could definitely use a little SEO remodel. Here are a few key areas the merchant might focus on.


Oh boy. Right idea, but a bit of a mess here. If we go to Tenderheart.com, we do end up on www.tenderheart.com. But that alone does not a canonical URL make. Canonicalization isn’t just about the destination, but the journey, too.

In fact, how we get there is in many ways more important. This might slip past you though.

To understand how this is being handled, I’d recommend using the HTTP viewer over at RexSwain.com and visiting Tenderheart.com (and www.tenderheart.com) with JavaScript turned off. Between those two methods, you’ll see that a blank page loads up with a 200 OK header status. The underlying code is actually a JavaScript URL rewrite of sorts: window.location=”http://www.tenderheart.com/ibeCZzpHome.jsp?site=THT”.

That isn’t ideal. What we want is a server level redirect to www.tenderheart.com that also sends a 301 header status code so we can capture and consolidate all of the authority.

Notice that the ideal also eliminates the file name and that “site=THT” parameter, which exists because the THT Designs’ version of the site exists with the “site=RTHT” parameter. Yes, we essentially have two site variations here, further diluting the signals we are trying to send. The THT Designs version appears to be more for retailers, so we’ll probably want to block this entire version from the search engines.


Title tags continue to be the strongest signal at the page level that we can control. Avoiding and eliminating duplicate title tags, such as “Tender Heart Treasures welcomes you to the Heart of Country with original designs that make you feel right at home” on nearly every page will go a long way.

Every title tag should be unique and focused on the targeted keyword phrase for the page. Beyond making sure the URLs are crawlable, if you do only one thing to your site, from the home page down to each individual product page, this is it.


Another area that plagues sites is URL bloat and duplication. The search engines have gotten much better at handling duplication, and the engines aren’t penalizing sites for duplication — assuming true duplication and not intentional spamming. But excessive bloat and duplication dilutes a site’s signals and crawl equity.

Only a certain number of URLs are going to be crawled at a time. Having the same content crawled via multiple URLs wastes crawl equity and may decrease the time before new content is found or search engines pick up new optimizations. While most of the URLs reviewed on Tender Heart were crawled by Google within the past 45 days or so, at least one cache date went back to early July.

Tender Heart needs to keep the session IDs out of the URLs. Another form of canonicalization, products should live at one URL, even if they might appear in multiple categories. Tender Heart is using URL parameters to set the breadcrumbs and navigation signals. Compare the following:



Unfortunately, without that section parameter, we end up on the THT Designs version of the page:

http://www.tenderheart.com/ibeCCtpItmDspRte jsp?item=76786

Navigational signals and the breadcrumbs are excellent site features (way to go!) for both users and bots, but it would be better not to use the URL as the way to pass that signal to the content management system.


Challenges with pagination most often occur on category, subcategory and product grid pages, which often have little copy distinguishing them from other paginated versions.

Since Tender Heart has a small number of products within each subcategory, it might default to the “view all” version and use meta robots or robots.txt to block the bots from all other versions. It might also add the new canonical link element to each of those paginated pages, pointing back to the appropriate “view all” page.


Most of the meta tags being used are of little to no value. The most important, meta description, is unfortunately stock copy duplicated on most or all pages. Like the title tag, the description will show up in the search listing, so make this a targeted, relevant call to action.

Unless we are using meta robots to keep bots from indexing a page or following links, we don’t need “index, follow” instruction, because that’s just what they do.

As for the meta keywords, aside from ranking for the “Tender Heart” brand references and position 27 in Yahoo for one other phrase, the site isn’t ranking within the top-200 spots within Google, Yahoo or Bing for any other meta keywords terms.


Aside from the Sitemap page, where everything is an H1 heading, heading tags aren’t used. Not as important a signal as the title tag, it’s still a good practice to have one H1 heading on each page that reinforces the target search phrase.

Body copy is especially good to have on the category, subcategory and product pages to give them more value to search engines. Tender Heart is doing above average here for having body copy in place on many of these pages, but enriching them more for search would be wise. Moreover, the pages still can and should be human friendly, too.