Written by: Kevin Gibbons
Last week I asked on Twitter to see what common SEO mistakes were still being made by retail websites. This received a great response, so I thought I’d share the top replies with our readers.
I’ve picked some UK high street retail examples to help display the issues raised, but please note that we have no connection with any of these websites – so this is an outside perspective. There may be logical reasons for the examples which we are unaware of, but these have been used in order to highlight where SEO mistakes are commonly made.
Non-descriptive URL structure
Ideally you want to keep your URLs concise and keyword descriptive. So automatically generated, ID-based URLs aren’t going to help your SEO, unless you’re aiming to rank for g474502s2 – in which case Next.co.uk have dominated market share!
Long and messy URLs generated by CMS
Some content management systems really make a mess of URLs. From an SEO perspective you want to have full control over re-writing category-level URLs such as this one on Argos:
Linking to multiple homepage URLs
This is a common mistake – which is getting better across many sites, but if you click the logo or homepage link on some sites, you’ll find that rather than getting sent back to the root domain, you’re taken to a duplicate copy of the page on a new URL. See this example on House of Fraser:
Poor title tags/meta descriptions
I’ve worked with a CMS before that didn’t allow you to edit title tags at all – that was a bit of a problem! Hopefully your site won’t be quite that bad, but too often people just think about SEO for generating rankings – what about click through rates and conversions though?
Crafting an enticing title tag and meta description should be as important as writing a high CTR, converting AdWords ad – notice the difference between these two listings for Marks and Spencer – surely MS would prefer you click on the natural free listing given the choice!
No user-generated content/reviews
For conversion rates alone, having reviews and user-generated content is an excellent way to boost your site’s performance. See this case study on how onlineshoes.com increased sales by 119% due to user reviews. But it’s also a great way of adding extra content to your products – giving the search engines that extra 200-300 words of unique and what should be well-optimised copy (because it’s about the product) could well be enough to make a significant increase in search rankings.
It could certainly be worth testing at the very least for a lot of brands, for example Ted Baker:
Forgetting about branded product search
One of the first things I check with our e-commerce and retail clients is branded search results. It’s often just taken for granted that you will be ranking for your branded keywords, so it’s assumed that non-branded search and first-time visitors is the main target. However, this isn’t always the case and it definitely shouldn’t just be assumed – these are almost certainly going to be your top converting keywords, so a small amount of effort here can easily pay off to ensure that you’re generating the majority of traffic – which let’s face it you deserve, it’s your product after all!
It’s amazing how many brands don’t rank for their own products though – check out these results for Sony W510 12MP which are dominated by Argos and Amazon:
Lack of static on-page content
Many websites struggle when it comes to having good, optimised content deeper in the site. For example, product pages which have very little descriptive text written about them could be much better optimised for search. See this example from Monsoon, which showcases the product reasonably well, but does little towards telling users and the search engines about it:
Pulling search results in as category pages
As above, sometimes category pages are very weak on content and often these are just search results which are being pulled into a page. Yes it may do a job for the user – but surely a bit more text here would help to give the search engines a bit more to go on. It doesn’t even have to be too detailed – a quick description underneath “Mens Hats, Gloves Scarves” on the Debenhams site here would be a big improvement to optimise for the phrase “Mens Hats”, which they currently bid on using PPC, yet fail to rank in the top 50 positions in Google organically for:
Webpages content too image-based
From the websites I’ve reviewed today, I’ve actually been quite impressed that most of these have now moved away from having content which is too image or flash-based. This is a clear SEO issue to avoid, as you want your site’s content to be as well optimised as possible – which means it should be text-rich. Topman is an example of a site which hasn’t quite got there yet – the only text currently on their homepage is navigational:
Duplicate content – same product, multiple categories
I’ve seen several retail sites in the past where they have caused duplicate content issues by having category-level subfolders within the product URL. Here’s one example from Blacks, where they have a product which is listed under two different categories, so they’ve ended up with two URLs for what is exactly the same product:
Because they sit under both categories, the URLs are duplicated – so ideally it’s normally best to avoid using category-level subfolders in product pages – see Amazon for an example of this. Also, canonical tags are there to help get around this issue if it exists – but ideally you’ll want to have each product page in a single location. Hope that makes sense, but Dan’s written a much more detailed post on product URLs causing duplicate content issues – so you should read that one if it doesn’t!
So those are the top SEO mistakes we’ve found retail websites are still making – a big thanks to Malcolm Slade, Rishi Lakhani, Paul Rogers, Stuart Turner, Ashley Hayward, Daniel Bianchini, Ian Galpin and Edwin Hayward who contributed via Twitter. And if you have any questions or comments on what you’ve found to be the biggest challenges, it would be great to hear about this in the comments.