Online Retailers: Need a $10,354,767 Sales Bump?

In 2004, our family business came off the tracks. Sales growth stopped. Overhead skyrocketed. We took a hard look at how we sold online, and made one simple, but substantial change. The result was an extra $10,354,767 in additional sales above our normal growth. How?

In this column, I’m going to show you. We created compelling content which drove traffic and established our expertise, while building trust which substantially increased our conversion rate.

Howdy! (Yes, I do speak with a southern drawl…) My name is Rob Snell. Thanks to the folks at Search Engine Land for giving me the opportunity to hop up on a soapbox and talk about my favorite subject: search engine optimization for online stores. I grew up in retail, have been selling online since 1997, and spend way too much of my time thinking, writing, and speaking about this stuff!

My writing for Retail Smarts will focus on how to get more high-quality converting organic search engine traffic to your online store by creating compelling content that’s friendly for both search engine spiders and your customers. Every year, these techniques generate millions and millions of visitors to our stores — who in turn, spend millions and millions of dollars.

SEO Is Too Important To Turn It Loose

Today, I’m writing about SEO. I’m writing this column for the online retailer, who either does their own SEO, has staff to help do it, or works directly with an outside SEO consultant.

Retail is hard enough! How in the world does anyone have time to deal with customers and vendors and still do SEO? There’s not enough time in the day, but SEO is way too important to completely turn it over to someone else.

In this article and future ones, I’ll cover how to focus your efforts on things that matter most, how to get the biggest bang for your SEO buck, and what numbers to watch to keep you on track. My e-commerce background is almost exclusively Yahoo! Store-based, but these concepts apply to virtually any e-commerce platform that generates HTML pages for categories and products.

SEO tickles my brain. I have a lot of theories about why things work the way they do, but I’ll keep those thoughts to myself and only show you real-world strategies and tactics that have proven to put a little more money in your pocket.

When folks are looking to buy what you sell, can they find you?

The first really important marketing idea that I learned 13 years ago when we first got online, is this pretty simple idea: When folks are looking to buy what you sell, can they find you?

Nowadays, 80% of my customers are looking on Google so when I say SEO, I still mean SEO for Google. Bing is getting 20% market share now that it powers Yahoo, but I still focus on “The Google”.

An overview of how I do SEO for online stores in 2011:

  1. I collect converting keywords with Yahoo Web Analytics and Google Analytics.
  2. For every converting keyword phrase, I optimize the two most relevant pages on my online store with Title tags, Meta descriptions, and unique keyword-rich content.
  3. I maximize internal links to these pages including navigational links, breadcrumbs, and embedded links in the text on relevant pages.
  4. I optimize my product feeds to include that phrase.
  5. I buy paid search ads for that keyword phrase when it makes economic sense.
  6. I build links like a crazy person!
  7. I also track rankings, traffic, revenue, number of orders, conversion rate, and revenue per visitor.

We’re still a small shop, and I still do most of my own SEO.

It’s 2011, and by now, I have around 30,000 unique converting keyword phrases. Our online store has close to 20,000 pages, and I know lots of folks who have 10 times or even 100 times as many products as we do.

How do you get it all done? Well, besides automating as much as you can by making SEO-friendly product page templates, I’ve come up with a few ways to prioritize your work.

Putting A Dollar Figure On SEO

When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of SEO, lots of retail folks still only look at rankings. How does my online store rank in a given search engine for a specific keyword phrase? It’s hard to put a dollar figure on a specific keyword ranking.

Lots of retailers track a pet phrase or two, or 20 phrases, or maybe even 200, but have no idea how much overall traffic and revenue they get from organic search engine traffic.

As online retailers, we have some major advantages over other industries that don’t have as clear cut a definition of success on the Web. When we get a conversion on our website, we usually wind up with some money in the bank.

Most retailers can easily tie a dollar amount to a keyword phrase and an entry page, even for conversions with multiple sessions. Once you have this revenue data, it’s easy to prioritize your SEO because some keywords and some pages generate more revenue than others.

For the past 10 years, I’ve prioritized my converting keywords looking at both quantity metrics (total revenue) and quality metrics (revenue per visitor). Last year, I ran into a situation where we needed another metric to measure the impact of an algo change at Google because the implications were harder to see…

When the Google MAYDAY update rolled out last year, a fellow Yahoo! Store owner emailed me looking for answers.

He wrote, “We looked at our top 5,000 keyword phrases, and our rankings were unaffected by Mayday, but we’ve seen a 15%-20% drop in our traffic. How are we going to figure out what happened and what we need to do about it?”

He knew the drop was in long-tail traffic, but he wasn’t sure if he was losing good traffic or bad traffic because sales were very steady. We fired up Google Analytics, and filtered entry pages from Google organic traffic that actually produced revenue, and compared a period before and after Mayday.

This gave us a quick hit list of what pages to work on first. Turns out, a lot of the traffic he lost to that update was from more informational queries based around manufacturer terms, not transactional queries.

How To Use Analytics To Prioritize Pages

This revelation seems pretty obvious looking back in hindsight, but focusing on improving the pages that were already in Google delivering traffic and revenue instead of looking at overall keyword rankings or individual keyword metrics made a real difference in how I approached SEO.

Instead of worrying about tens of thousands of pages, I was free to concentrate on dozens of pages.

For example, one of our Yahoo! Stores, Gun Dog Supply, has about 20,000 store pages. About 5,000 of those pages are product pages, 5000 are additional photo pages, 5000 are PPC or ad landing pages, and the rest are category, subcategory, or content pages (like buyers’ guides or reviews).

More than half of those pages have no content, content copied from manufacturer pages, or are not really intended to rank organically in “the Google”.

Out of those 20,000, Google has around 4,500 pages in the index (which I found using the query) which means I have 4500 pages which can possibly rank for any given keyword phrase.

Looking at my analytics, the cold reality is that only 2,800 of those pages are actually driving visitors to my site, but even worse, I have 575 pages that are actually driving traffic and revenue. And then, after digging into the numbers further, I find that my top 100 pages are actually driving about 70% of revenue from organic Google traffic.

This is actually very liberating. Instead of worrying about 20K pages, I’ve got a much smaller bucket of pages to work on. And here’s what I do with that…

I use total revenue / revenue per visitor to decide:

  • What interior pages get links from the homepage with what anchor text.
  • What pages get run of site navigation links.
  • Where pages sit in an online store’s hierarchy.
  • What pages I write unique content for.
  • What products get stuck using the manufacturers’ product description.
  • What pages get handwritten titles and Meta descriptions.
  • What pages get links from other interior pages.

When it comes to SEO, we retailers need to pick our battles. Most of our traffic and conversions from organic comes from Google. Most of our converting traffic enters our sites through a very small percentage of our pages. We need to concentrate our SEO efforts on those pages already in the game.

Make your templates SEO-friendly, and write as much unique content as you can, but when it comes right down to it, spend your time on your best and brightest keywords and pages and you’ll make more money!

Homework Exercise: Make A List Of Your TOP 100 $$$ Entry Pages

Set the date range for a period of no less than 90 days. Make sure these pages are completely optimized.

Now evaluate your homepage links using this list:

  • Are all the pages you link to from your homepage in your Top 100 SEO Entry pages?
  • Are the keywords in the anchor text the most valuable SEO keyword for that page?
  • Do your image links have alt text using best keywords?
  • Are you redundantly linking to the same URL with multiple links?
  • What SEO TOP 100 pages are missing?
  • What low-value SEO pages are you wasting link juice on?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Retail | Search & Retail


About The Author: owns Gun Dog Supply, an online retailer of dog training collars and teaches retailers about conversion optimization and SEO for e-commerce at You can follow him on Twitter @RobSnell.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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