The skinny on slim wallet seller’s site

Apr 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Most people hope for a fat wallet — provided it’s stuffed with cash — but BigSkinny.net is all about streamlining the wallet situation. The company, which specializes in slim, lightweight sport wallets, wanted to make sure its e-commerce strategy was on the money, so it stepped up for a site critique.

Experts Amy Africa, president of Web consultancy Eight by Eight, and Stephan Spencer, vice president, SEO strategies of search consultancy Covario, took on the task, with Africa looking at content and functionality and Spencer testing search capability. Here’s what they had to say.

AMY AFRICA

For a small site on a somewhat difficult platform, BigSkinny.net does a lot of things right. It does a great job with its user-generated content using reviews from Amazon, Yahoo and its own customers.

It integrates video with solid call-to-actions — most companies forget that they need to make a pitch at the end of the video. BigSkinny has a Facebook fan page, it’s starting to use Twitter and has an official blog, and it appears to be diligent at working the SEO copy.

What could the site do to improve? Here are some bang-for-the-buck changes BigSkinny should work on.

For starters, the site should eliminate the borders on the site as well as the color bands (they can be integrated elsewhere if need be). From an eyepath perspective, lines that serve no purpose should be eliminated.

BigSkinny should consider adding the video to the home page instead of just the “watch the movie, see the difference” bullet. The video should not auto-start on entrance, but it should be prominent to encourage user engagement — it can be placed below or to the right of the carousel.

While the implementation of the carousel is good, the purpose of a carousel is to get the user to drill deeper into the site. So the frames need to be provocative and full of action directives, such as “click here now” or “add to cart.”

Carousels rely heavily on creative. BigSkinny’s current carousel has a lot of potential, but it needs to eliminate as much copy as possible; add headlines and teasers; and use large “click here now” or “buy now” buttons.

You have to remember that users see things in pictures, not in text, so slides (aka frames) where there is only text are typically not seen by the user. The site needs to make sure it has exciting or interesting graphics in every view — things that make you want to click immediately.

The category pages have a lot of what looks to be SEO text at the beginning. This is a mistake that a lot of companies make — they care so much about the search engines, they forget about the user.

Getting a bunch of traffic is all well and good, but if you can’t convert it, it doesn’t really mean a thing. Needless to say, there is definitely a balance, and BigSkinny needs to find it.

The merchant should reduce or move most (not all) of this text so that users can see products on the first view. Many of the category pages now have little to see or do on the first view of the page — you need to scroll to get anything of value.

This also applies to the bottom of the entry page. Folks tend to scroll more — even if it’s at different times — on the entry pages of e-commerce Websites, so it’s important, from a user perspective, to make the bottom views strong, — not just a bunch of random text. Yes, you can optimize. No, you don’t want to dump every word in Webster’s there.

The thumbnail photos should be cleaned up. It’s hard to read any of the delineation of the small size text that is on the photos. It’s not all that easy to read that text in the large size, either.

If that can’t happen, BigSkinny may want to consider switching to a three-across format to make the photos and the accompanying text more clear. This sounds trivial, but it’s critical.

Our brains do not do well with text that we can’t see — if said text is buried at the bottom in a disclaimer/legalese section, that’s one thing. If it’s near a photo that users will study before they make their purchase, it’s another thing — and not acceptable.

The left-hand nav of this site is short, sweet and easy to use. The top navigation is weak. BigSkinny should look at its top navigation to see what folks are clicking on and what they are not.

If there are things listed there that are not being used or are resulting in a lot of premature exits, the site should consider eliminating or repurposing them. Also, things like “customer love” are cute, but what do they really mean to an unknowing user?

Same with “guarantee policies.” Does that sound like a 100% satisfaction guarantee? Not really.

As a merchant, you need to work hard to make things aggressive and telegraphic so that the users don’t need to think about what you mean. Users have neither the time nor the inclination to learn anything about your site.

BigSkinny does a great job with its offer development, however. If you put something in your cart, the site calculates how far away you are from its free first-class shipping offer.

What is lackluster about its offers is the presentation. The site puts the offer in text — in orange — without a graphic — in the top navigation.

Offers are good because they create urgency and they cause people to focus. BigSkinny should make a much bigger deal out of the offer — its value and its deadline — and then tie it into graphics.

The checkout is, by far, the weakest area of this site. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the site is using a Yahoo Store cart.

It’s important to determine how many users are adopting to cart (meaning how many people are putting something in their baskets), and of that number, how many are actually checking out.

If there are a lot of people adopting to cart, but not a lot of folks checking out, BigSkinny should consider gutting the cart completely. If there are not a lot of people adopting to cart, the merchant can work on remedying that issue first.

From a checkout perspective, the three-step process is okay — not the best, but workable. The issue is the use of PayPal as the only payment method (even though it’s PayPal via credit card, it’s still PayPal only), and all of the questions asked on the checkout page.

In a perfect world, you should ask only the questions that are relevant to getting an order. Relevancy is determined in the user’s mind.

Things like “would you like us to send you an e-mail asking you to rate the products you are purchasing?” and “would you like us to send you an e-mail asking you to rate this merchant?” are not necessary to an order completion and, are therefore, irrelevant.

The site needs to make a better effort to collect e-mail addresses. An aggressive trigger e-mail program could make a significant impact on BigSkinny’s business. This would include the “thank you” for signing up e-mail, e-mails based on past purchases, abandoned cart e-mails, and so on.

Finally, the merchant needs to clean up the dead-ends. These are views without pictures or graphics, and BigSkinny has a lot of them.

This would be okay (though not optimal) if the company was a service site. But BigSkinny is an e-commerce site, and it’s important to cater to the visual cortex when you are trying to sell. It’s also critical that pages such as “How Do I Decide?” are cleaned up. When you click on “How Do I Decide?” you are presented with a thumbnail of an article called “The skinny on our wallet.” That’s an unnecessary click for the user.

Next Page: Stephan Spencer

STEPHAN SPENCER

One of the first things I do when evaluating a site for SEO is to look at its rankings in Google. Everything is relative.

If you are going after noncompetitive keywords, Google is more forgiving of your SEO slip-ups and oversights.

If your competition in Google is fierce, however, there is no room for error, and your Website must have a great deal of link authority (PageRank). Before checking rankings, ensure that you are seeing nonpersonalized search results. Even if you are not logged in, Google personalizes results based on your search history.

To see nonpersonalized results, just add &pws=0 to the end of the Google search results URL (pws stands for “personalized Web search”).

So the URL for a search on “wallets” would be (http://www.google.com/search?q=wallets&pws=0. I didn’t find BigSkinny.net in the first few pages of Google results for “wallet,” “wallets,” “men’s wallets” or “women’s wallets.” It was ranked #2 for “thin wallets,” but that is not searched on all that often.

According to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool (https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal), the search volume for “thin wallets” is one twenty-fifth of that for “women’s wallets” (with 450,000 searches per month on average, globally). Surprisingly, “women’s wallets” beats out “men’s wallets.”

Another surprise was that “wallet” singular was almost twice as popular as the plural (7,480,000 for the former versus 4,090,000 for the latter). In short, there’s a lot of room for growth in terms of Google traffic for Big Skinny.

Why isn’t BigSkinny.net performing well in the organic search results? It’s a combination of things. Look at the three pillars of SEO — content, architecture, and links. If any of the three are weak, your SEO performance will be sub-par. BigSkinny.net is weak in all three areas.

In terms of content, BigSkinny has more body copy than brand-centric e-commerce sites, which tend to have little to no text on the pages until you get deep into the site. Body copy helps the search engine determine the page’s keyword focus.

The home page carries the most weight in terms of SEO, so it’s a crucial page for content. Although there is plenty of text on the home page (more than 800 words), it’s over the top with repetition of the words “wallet” and “wallets.”

In my browser (Google Chrome), I used the “Find” function to show all occurrences of “wallet,” and the page lit up like a Christmas tree — there was yellow highlighting everywhere! This looks like keyword-stuffing, and search engines consider keyword-stuffing to be spam.

There are other places in the HTML where content can exist — like the meta tags. BigSkinny’s meta keywords tag was so long (94 words — three times longer than I consider acceptable) and repetitive — wallet[s] was repeated 40 times — that it looked like keyword-stuffing. Between the body copy and the meta keywords, with all this repetition I wouldn’t be surprised if the site was being penalized.

Ironically, meta keywords don’t even help your rankings; search engines haven’t supported them for years. So they can only hurt, they can’t help.

The meta keywords isn’t the only meta tag: There’s also the meta description, which won’t help your rankings but can influence what is displayed in the snippet of your search listing. BigSkinny’s home page meta description, at 93 words, is at least twice as long as it should be.

Category pages had a good-size chunk of intro copy on them to help set the keyword theme. Title tags were a little too sparse, but there were still keywords present — e.g., the Leather Hybrid Wallets page had a title tag of “Thin Leather Wallet.”

If you’re going to be that succinct with the most heavily weighted element on the page (i.e., the title tag), make those words count by reinforcing them at least once in the body copy. The phrase “thin leather wallet” appeared nowhere in the body of the page.

In terms of architecture, the internal linking structure includes the navigation and the hierarchy of how the site is organized. BigSkinny’s is pretty flat, which is good for SEO as it means that product content is not many clicks away from the home page.

But there wasn’t much to organize, either — Google shows a grand total of only 94 pages of www.bigskinny.net indexed (http://www.google.com/search?num=100&q=site:www.bigskinny.net).

Where and how you link to a page internally conveys both the context of what that page is about and how important you consider that page to be. With 100+ links per page, it’s toward the high end of what I’d like to see. With that many links, each link gets a small slice of the total PageRank passed to it.

The navigation is all text based, which is crucial, since the engines associate the link text with the page that is being linked to. On the home page, not only are there text links in the navigation, there are text links weaved in to the paragraphs of copy, too.

This is a good signal to send the search engines, but it could have been much more effective if those links were keyword-rich (instead of “designed” or “product video” or “weigh”). Not quite as bad as “click here” or “more info,” but close.

The URL structure is superb — with short, static, keyword-rich URLs. Not a tracking parameter or ampersand to be found. The keywords in the URLs are separated by hyphens, not underscores, which is good, since Google doesn’t interpret underscores as word separators.

Now on to the third pillar: links. You need sites to link to you to prove to the search engines that your site is worthy of ranking. A strong link profile conveys that your site is important, authoritative and trustworthy.

There are 1,064 inbound links according to Yahoo Site Explorer (http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/search?p=http://www.bigskinny.net&bwm=i&bwmo=d&bwmf=s). There were a few authoritative links mixed in there, like from PETA.org and 37signals.com. Having over 1,000 links may sound impressive, but it isn’t: I’d prefer 5,000 to 10,000.

The numbers from Yahoo Site Explorer are exaggerated, as they include nofollowed links and links leading to 404 error pages, neither of which count as “votes.” Links from Shoemoney.com and Adaptivepath.com are examples of links that sound impressive but turn out to be within blog comments and thus nofollowed. The 37signals.com link (on http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/wallet_roundup.php to http://www.bigskinny.net/closeup.jpg) doesn’t count either, because it leads to a 404 error. Instead, it should have been a permanent 301 redirect, as that would have passed the PageRank on.

As already mentioned, the “anchor text” of a link is associated with the linked page, so the text used in inbound links can have a profound impact — if they are worthwhile keywords. A quick check with a couple of anchor-text analysis tools found most links to be variations on the company name/URL.

So there is another potential opportunity: Chase after those linking to you and convince them to change their anchor text.