I spend a lot of time advising retailers about their search-engine optimization (SEO) strategies. Many of them think that SEO is no longer effective, is expensive, and not worth the effort. Nothing is further from the truth. Nearly 90% of consumers use search engines for purchase decisions; can you really afford to ignore all that traffic?
Let’s start with the basics: what is SEO exactly? Simply put, it’s the practice of modifying your website and content so that they’ll attract organic traffic from search engines, with the goal of getting your product pages to show up high in the free listings.
How do you improve your visibility? Here are five strategies every retailer should deploy.
Customize Vendor-Supplied Product Naming and Descriptions
Most retailers that stock products from many brands opt to use the manufacturer-supplied product names and descriptions on their pages. If you have thousands of products, those pre-written assets seem like the ultimate in convenience.
The problem with using names and descriptions verbatim is that search engines interpret it as low-quality and duplicate content, which doesn’t rank well. Your site won’t be distinguished from the myriad other retailers offering identical products, and you won’t receive search-engine traffic to your site.
My recommendation: Create product names and descriptions that are unique, but still useful to your customers. One way to do that is to customize them with your branding and messaging. If you have thousands of SKUs, take the time to prioritize the products that convert well on your site.
Clearly some products lend themselves to more creative naming (dresses, shirts) while others don’t (screws/nails). In the latter case, focus on customizing the product descriptions.
Get Smarter about Out-of-Stock Products and Changing Inventory
Dealing with out-of-stock products or changing inventory (e.g. new models or editions) can be tricky. Don’t replace a product page with an error page! Why? When a search engine attempts to send consumers to a page but nothing shows up, it’ll stop sending traffic for that product.
My recommendation: Preserve the traffic while your products are out of stock. There are two ways to do this. The first is to create out-of-stock pages that include all of the necessary elements so that your site isn’t removed from search-engine results. Use the out-of-stock page to invite users to return again, or better still, to convert them using an email capture.
For changing products, re-direct consumers to the updated product page. Search engines are quite good at understanding re-directs, and will continue to send traffic to your site as always.
Give Seasonal (and Pre-Released) Products Special Treatment
Seasonal and pre-released products provide you with an opportunity to get ahead of your competition. You don’t need to wait for a product to be released in order to capture traffic – and consumer attention.
My recommendation: Create a “Coming soon page” for yet-to-be-released products, which includes all of the essential elements (product image, unique name and description). And similar to the out-of-stock strategy, use the coming-soon page to invite users to return again, or convert them using an email capture. Better still, jumpstart your competition by inviting consumers to pre-order.
Eliminate Duplicate Content
Duplicate content plagues most retailers. Products often have multiple color or size variations; faceted navigation leads to infinite page variations. Since search engines attempt to pick the content on your site that best matches the terms consumers search for, duplicate content leads to problems. Essentially, search engines get confused if you have too many pages representing the same content.
My recommendation: Create a single page for a particular product, and allow consumers to see the variations within it. It’s perfectly fine (even desirable) for a single page to have multiple product images. Use drop-down menus that allow the consumer to select the variation
Provide Alternate Ways for Consumers and Search Engines to Discover New Products
Large sites with lots of inventory face special challenges. Search engines have a hard time crawling your site and spidering all of the products offered. And since many of these larger sites tend to limit product access to the left-hand navigation bar, many search engines won’t spider all of your content.
My recommendation: Provide alternate ways for consumers and search engines to discover new products. For instance, build advanced recommendation products to provide additional paths to your most important content.
Many of these strategies are easy to implement, since most ecommerce platforms offer them out of the box, or via plug-ins. And there are agencies that specialize in services like customizing product names and descriptions. Ultimately, these strategies will go a long way towards attracting search-engine traffic, enabling you to find new consumers and grow your revenue.
Michael Nguyen is Director Search Engine Optimization with Connexity.