Gets Critiqued


Chefs Catalog has been “outfitting the best kitchens for 30 years.” But does its Website make the cut? Critiquers Amy Africa, president of Web consultancy Eight by Eight, and Brian R. Brown, lead consultant/natural search marketing strategist with SEO agency Netconcepts, gave a thorough review. Africa looked at content and functionality, and Brown tested search capability. Here’s what they had to say.


For starters, should move the e-mail sign-up somewhere at the top of the page so it can be seen in the first view. You can have e-mail sign-ups at the top and the bottom, but you’ll get about eight (yes, eight) times the sign-ups if it’s at the top in the first view.

And the site should make the perpetual cart (a cart that stays with you at all times so you know what and how much you have in your basket) its own area. The PC is now in the action bar; it’d be much better served if it were above or below the action bar in its own section.

The best perpetual carts show a shopping cart icon; the number of items in your cart; the dollar amount in the cart; small links to view cart, print cart, save cart and e-mail cart, and a red “checkout now” button — but only when there is something in the cart. needs to make the sale items look salesy. Changing the pricing from black to red is a start, but it would be more effective if it showed the savings either as a percentage or a dollar amount as well. Using sales icons or bursts is another great tip — especially if shoppers can click on them to get a list of all the sale items on the site.

I would also include more add-to-cart buttons on the product pages. It’s important that a user sees an action directive — such as buy-now, add-to-cart buttons — on every view. That means every time customers scroll they see another big, red button directing them to buy.

Does it look pretty? Not particularly. Does it work? Like gangbusters. Web artists tend to design pages, but users look at views — in other words, every screen they see is a page. ?If you want their orders, you need to ask for them. should put add-to-cart/buy-now buttons on all the pages — not just the product pages.

There are a lot of good things about this site, but it’s just not aggressive enough. For instance, you shouldn’t need to click on something two or three times to be able to buy it: As a user, you should be able to buy what you want whenever you see it.

Have a complicated product? That’s fine — let shoppers click on “buy now” and bring them to the place where they can order it. ?

This site could also stand to jazz up the category pages like “New,” “Sale” and “Gifts.” These have a lot of potential, but they lack excitement. And the “Sale” page should have some call-to-actions for the discounts and/or limited quantities available. Deadlines are good on the Web because they create urgency and cause people to focus. ?

The “Catalog Orders” page looks like something you need to be a rocket scientist to use. These pages should show a picture of a catalog in the right-hand column, and lots of alternative ways to contact you — big phone numbers and live chat buttons, to name a few.

Asking for the promotion code first (as it’s done here) is often the kiss of death. ?If you’re going to do it, consider asking for it at the end of the checkout, not the beginning, and make sure it’s clear and easy to use.

Use big, red “Check out now” buttons; avoid “Remove” buttons if it’s something that customers can just simply erase; and collect their e-mail addresses as early in the process as possible. That way, if they abandon their carts, you can write them.

Try to keep the fields they have to fill in (in this case it’s the item number and quantity boxes) in the middle of the page. From an eyepath perspective, it’s very important that you not change the number of columns on any form/ordering page you have on the site. needs to revamp (read: completely overhaul) the first “Your Shopping Cart” page (typically known as the “View Cart” page). The key to maximizing your shopping cart conversion is to get people into and out of the checkout as fast and efficiently as possible.

That means using lots of big buttons that tell the user what to do next. Granted, the first page of the current checkout is aesthetically pleasing, but the action directives are hidden under the “Enter Catalog Code” section.

What happens if you came in from a PPC ad and not from a catalog? How about if you don’t have your catalog with you or if you’ve ordered from Chefs Catalog before but you don’t have an offline mailer available?

Sure, the merchant makes it easy for you to “Continue Without Code,” but it’s only then that the next option (“Calculate Your Order Total”) comes up. Until then you don’t really see it, which is confusing at best for the average user.

All sites should have the phone number on their checkout page and throughout the site. Don’t want people to call you? Tough bananas. Use your phone number anyway.

Just by listing it in the top, right-hand and bottom columns, you will typically see an increase in conversion. About 25% of people use Websites to gather their orders and a phone number to place them. You’ll save 5% or so of them if you don’t have a number, but the other fifth of your customers may just abandon the process entirely.

If you don’t want to use your phone number throughout the site, at least use it in the cart. Most of the things that go wrong at checkout are your fault — not the customer’s — and the only way to save the order is to allow them to place the order over the phone, by fax, e-mail or secured chat.

BRIAN R. BROWN is cooking up some good SEO on its Website. But even good recipes can be made great with a little extra effort, and by keeping some of the basic fundamentals in mind. Seeing how competitive online cookware is, good SEO goes only so far, anyway.

Chefs need to look at our friend Googlebot as a food critic — if the site wants rave reviews in the form of page-one rankings, it needs to make sure Googlebot leaves full and happy, and knowing what he just ate.

Fortunately, the site is already fairly strong on URL architecture. This is critical for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the hardest things to change later. Messing up the 301 redirects, using 302 redirects instead, or a myriad of other technical slip-ups can undo a lot of work in a short time.

Second, if the URL architecture is bad, no amount of effort anywhere else will matter, because the search engine spiders won’t even be able to traverse the site.

What did Chefs get right with its URLs?

  • The merchant has canonicalized to “www” (either www or non-www is fine as long as one 301 redirects to the other).

  • All lowercase letters are used in the URLs. Okay, almost got this right. While IIS servers don’t care about case, it’s a good practice to follow case styling, and a best practice to always use lowercase.

  • Chefs used hyphens as word separators instead of underscores (_).

  • There is good use of keyword URLs without getting too extreme (aim for 2 to 4 keywords separated by hyphens).

  • The product URLs appear to be unique. Whether you find the product through the “New” or “Shop” dropdown, you get to the same product page.

But where’d they miss?

  • There are unnecessary directories — key areas of the site that probably could have been made only one-level deep are a couple of directories deep.

  • The recipe section, which is a rich content area, uses parameter-based URLs for the middle layer, leading to the actual recipes. Fortunately, the recipes are good keyword URLs.

  • The filtering and sorting URLs are ugly with their “qstateid” parameters.

Very closely related to the quality of URLs is the notion of which URLs to include or, more precisely, exclude. Low search-value pages should be blocked from search engine spiders. They generally offer no real value and use up some of the crawl equity of a site.

Candidates for blocking include privacy pages, login pages, order-tracking pages or other pages that simply present a login or form for users to submit. The links to these URLs can be blocked using the rel=“nofollow” attribute; or, on-page meta or robots.txt instructions can be issued to turn the spiders away.

Other URLs that are often good to block are the filtering and sorting URLs, such as those mentioned above. This becomes a little trickier. Sometimes these are JavaScript powered and are complex enough that the spiders don’t access them.

Other times, though, like we have here, they are parameter-based URLs. Site owners often mistake these as valuable pages and are reluctant to block them. The problem is that these URLs are often so similar, content-wise, that they appear as duplicate content to the search engines.

The vast majority of them won’t deliver search traffic, as the search engines will select one as their canonical choice; however, they will all use up crawl equity and lead to URL bloat.

The content team at Chefs needs to tackle its title tag duplication. Title tags across paginated pages are extremely hard, if not impossible, for most sites to fix. But nearly every other instance should be a breeze.

One example where unique title tags could have a huge impact is the “Recipes”. The section is an important part of the site, or should be. While the recipes are free, they provide rich content that appeals to both spiders and humans alike. does a nice job of using the “Recipe” section as way to introduce and recommend products. But the entire section uses the site’s default title tag and meta description. Perhaps at least an h1 would help out, but there aren’t any on these pages, and the recipe name isn’t text, but an image.

Overall, Chefs still has some of the usual challenges to work through: Its logo links to home.aspx instead of the root domain; some templates have heading tags, others don’t, and on the subcategory templates, they have two h1s — and its meta descriptions could be spiced up a little.

But I’d say is well on the way to a great recipe for SEO. The site is content rich and highly accessible to the search engines.

A little clean up here, polish there and brushing up on some of the fundamentals and Chefs may find itself sparkling at the top of the SERPs.

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