Seeking Search Engine Optimization

If the marketers that make up the Catalog Age 100 are any indication, search engine optimization (SEO) hasn’t been a top priority. That’s the conclusion of Netconcepts, an interactive agency specializing in e-commerce and search engine marketing.

In a report titled “The State of Search Engine Cataloging,” Netconcepts analyzed the Websites of 99 of the marketers on the Catalog Age 100 to determine the search engine friendliness of the industry. (One company on the list of the country’s largest catalogers still doesn’t have a Website.)

Netconcepts founder/president Stephen Spencer and vice president of e-business services Brian Klais assessed the Websites against 40 top criteria that influence search engithe ne friendliness. These factors include Google’s importance scoring (termed PageRank), a dynamic URL structure, appropriate usage of title, meta-, H1, and alt tags, directory depth, hyperlink text, keyword density, frames, and drop-down menus. (For details about these criteria, see “The Search Is On…” in June 2002 issue.)

According to Spencer and Klais, “the vast majority of sites analyzed had sizable chunks of their site inaccessible to search engine spiders, mostly due to search-engine-unfriendly dynamic URLs and navigation based on Java, JavaScript, or Flash.”

Although copy rich with relevant and popular search keywords is critical to ranking well in search engines, 74% of the sites surveyed had home pages made up predominantly of graphics. What’s more, a mere 6% of sites used H1 tags, which Spencer and Klais say are also key to obtaining high search engine rankings.

Among other findings, 24% of the sites used frames, which can be difficult, if not impossible, for search engines to spider. Fourteen percent used pop-up boxes, which search engines don’t index. And 6% practiced keyword stuffing — repeating keywords excessively or adding a meta-tag that is hundreds of words long. Some search engines “punish” sites that use keyword stuffing or even ban them altogether.

Netconcepts also assessed how many product pages from each cataloger’s Website were indexed by Google, Alta Vista, Inktomi (which powers MSN Search), and FAST (which powers Lycos). According to August 2002 Nielsen/NetRatings research, by powering AOL Search and Yahoo’s secondary search, Google reaches some 75% of all searchers; MSN Search reaches about 30%, Alta Vista 5%, and Lycos about 3%. (Totals exceed 100%, as some people use more than one engine.)

Statistically, the average Catalog Age 100 Website has roughly 1,200 pages indexed across the major engines, with Google indexing four times as many pages per site than any other engine. But while some heavyweights such as Dell Computer Corp. have more than 50,000 pages indexed in Google, nearly 75% of catalogers have fewer than 1,000 pages indexed.

For More on Search Engine Marketing

For more from the Netconcepts report, as well as advice on how to improve your search engine marketing and a collection of articles on search engine optimization, visit, a Website produced by Catalog Age and sister magazine Direct.

Netconcepts’ report, entitled, “The State of Search Engine Cataloging,” will be available for purchase online beginning February, 2003. For more information, contact Ladonna Buschmann at 952-851-4644 or email</>

Search Engine Practices

Among the Catalog Age 100


% of CA 100 who got it right

Use of H1 tags


Navigation not Java/Javascript/Flash based


Keyword-rich page copy


Filenames contain keywords


Content-rich home page (not a splash page)


URLs with no stop characters (?, &) or cgi-bin


Site map with text links


Keyword-rich title tags


Custom 404 error page


Keyword-rich image alt tags


Not using same title tag across whole catalog


Home page with text links to secondary pages


Keyword-rich hyperlink text


No drop-down menus for navigation


No “click here” links


Site not spread across multiple domains


No frames


Google PageRank of at least 5


No pop-ups


No superfluous title tag text (e.g. “Welcome to”)


Listed in Yahoo!


No keyword stuffing


Home page doesn’t contain an auto-redirect


Source: Netconcepts