The truth about SEO and E-tail




Everybody is talking about this study from Oneupweb that says that internet retailers are not optimizing their sites for SEO. At the risk of rehashing, here are my two cents.

I hate to say “I told you so”, but this report demonstrates something I have been saying for the last few days–SEO experts are still placing way too much value on things that are mattering less and less. According to the report, the definition of optimized websites are sites with appropriate titles, keywords, site architecture and other items related to spiderability.

Give me a break…

Should companies have appropriate titles and meta tags? Of course they should–that is a given. But can you expect to see huge leaps in search engines because of those factors if your site has not built authority in the search engines? The answer is no unless you are in an industry without any competition. If you don’t believe me, just try it.

Completely missing from the executive summary but addressed later in the report was the subject of links. Oneupweb points out that lots of inbound links can help overcome a lack optimization in on-site factors. That is good information. In fact, it is the most important bit of information in the report. What matters far more than on-site optimization is how well a site has built its authority, and whether it has an offer that is likely to generate inbound links naturally.

You see, this last item is the dirty secret of how SEO relates to internet retail. Generating inbound links to a commerce site is many times harder than generating links to an informational site. Unless you are selling a unique product that has a lot of appeal, you have will have to work very hard and creatively to find ways to obtain inbound links without paying for them or bartering for them. While either of these things may be OK, depending on your industry, you simply may not be able to afford to pay for enough links to get where you need to be.

If you are selling products that everyone else is selling and you have no competitive advantage such as being in a position to lowball everyone else, you are in big trouble in 2007. Why? Because other sites are not going to give away links to commercial e-tail sites without a very good reason. In my opinion, internet retailers are struggling in SEO mostly because of their inability to build their sites’ authority through natural inbound links. Fixing meta tags is not going to overcome this problem.

As an internet retailer, our SEO strategy is this simple–do the obvious stuff like on-site optimization and then find a way to create a competitive advantage. This strategy will work well in 2007, but more importantly, will still be working in 2010.

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    Great points greg. Certain markets are so inundated, lacking a differentiating factor makes it next to impossible to obtain natural links in the world of e-commerce sites. But even so, having that differentiating factor sometimes still won’t be enough. Especially if EVERYONE is buying links. Finding the happy medium, link baiting with slick tools and outstanding content, coupled with link buying is probably the best tactic. Spread those eggs.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    I’d say that most SEO’s wouldn’t consider link building for e-commerce to be a “dirty secret.” I’d imagine most know that it’s extremely difficult to artificially build “quality” links to commercial sites.

  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    I think the difficulty in acquiring links for product pages is a good reason to create more informational content. Most of the smaller etailers I see seem to want to avoid content creation at all costs.

    I think etail is going to come closer to the affiliate model where you build a content rich site to draw traffic in and then drive that traffic to product pages.

  • http://www.thatgirlfrommarketing.com Natasha Robinson

    You write: “But can you expect to see huge leaps in search engines because of those factors [appropriate titles, keywords, site architecture and other items related to spiderability] if your site has not built authority in the search engines?”

    But if your site HAS authority i.e. the sites in their study: “the first 100 companies listed in Internet Retailer Magazine’s Top 500 Guide 2007 Edition” then these will make a HUGE impact.

    Maybe you missed that they WERE focusing on authority sites….

  • http://www.corporatesearchoptimization.com Nhu-Chi

    I’ve seen this topic come up in a lot seo blogs lately, and it’s frustrating because everyone has offered pretty much the same suggestion…build authority! and the only effective way to go about this is to build links. But even that is tricky! How much is enough, and how much is too much? I’d really like to see a post on that!

  • http://www.ecommerceoptimization.com eCopt

    Good post Greg. I agree with many of your points. Simple on-page optimization is just a building block or foundation for many eCommerce sites, it shouldn’t be the entire strategy, only a part of the process. Most of the small to medium (under $1 million per year) give up after the foundation is laid and never take the next step, links, building brand recognition, domain authority, age and word of mouth buzz.

    Even some of the top 100-500 retailers often times make the mistake of ‘giving up’ or moving on once those building blocks are in place, so it doesn’t only apply to smaller eTailers.

    @ Brian – You make a good point. All the things you mentioned would be considered part of the process, beyond the building blocks.

    @ Andy – You are right. It’s not a secret, it’s just difficult to do in most cases. eTailers are getting better at it though and i expect it to become easier once more merchants catch up with technology that can be used for these purposes.

    @ Steven – Affiliate model, maybe. I see more eTailers making use of corporate blogs than ever before. Creating FAQ’s, buying guides, how-to’s and other helpful content can help initially, but it can’t be the whole strategy either, only part of the process. It appears to me that many do not avoid it, they just don’t have time, proper knowledge or get intimidated before they begin.

    @ Natasha – Good catch on the top 100. you are right, many of them do have authority already or have begun to address it, but not all of them. The top 100 face the same issue, only they are further along in the process. They need to know what’s the next step?

    @ Nhu-Chi – Yes, it is highly debated as of late. There are many ways to build authority. There can never be too much, only not enough. As competition grows, so does the need to have more authority, over time. If you find yourself asking if you have enough, keep working. When you think you have enough, keep working. Like Greg said, “it will work well in 2007, but more importantly, will still be working in 2010.”

  • http://www.dvda.fr D.VDA

    Well, there are just 10 organic results in Google’s first page.

    1) To become an authority you must be there and may work hard for years to stay here till 2010. That’s ok. Linking politic.

    2)On the other way, ride the Long Tail.
    Generate the more pages and content you can on semantic fields with the goal to be still visible in 3 years when hundreds of billion pages will be indexed.

    And to do so you just have to do 4 little things : , and optimization (=fill them with smart words) + repeat 3 or 4 times your keywords in the plain text.

    How”s got a 3rd ?

  • http://www.dvda.fr D.VDA

    (Oops, comment filter works well : the 3 little things where title, h1 and meta description tags)

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    @nhu-chi

    That is in large part because google has kept the underlying mechanism that drives it rankings the same in large part for the last 5 years.

    Authority.

    Everyone blogs about the same thing b/c google hasn’t really changed their ways in large part.

    There algo is flawed in that it relies sooooo heavily on backlinks.

    Sooner or later this will change. Then people will post about something different.

  • http://bushidoblog.com.ar Bushido

    I believe that in site SEO is kind of like going to a job interview. You could go dressed with a shirt and a pair of jeans and get the job, but it wouldn’t be the same as going all dressed up (depending on the job one’s applying to, of course).

    One could not worry about URL structure, site architecture, anchors, etc. and still do sort of good if he had decent content. But it just wouldn’t be the same as walking the extra mile and optimizing the above mentioned.

    I am a firm believer of SEO being a very important part of an industry. Yes, it does bring a lot of traffic. Apparently it’s a trendy thing to write that “SEO is dead”. It isn’t, it’s just evolving, that’s all.

    Sorry if I sounded a bit harsh. Keep up the good posting! :)

  • http://retailemail.blogspot.com Chad White

    I track the email marketing campaigns of more than 100 major online retailers via my blog, RetailEmail.Blogspot, and I’m increasingly seeing retailers turn into content providers. More than 10% of the retailers I track have blogs now and many of the ones that don’t are building up article archives that give you product advice. So I think that the larger retailers totally get that they need to build out their content offerings to boost their SEO. For smaller retailers, this will definitely be a challenge because of resource limitations.

  • http://onlinesaleschannels.wordpress.com Jeff “Big Slick”

    SEO is moribund. It’s all links, all the time. Link buying, and baiting is really all that matters;everything is else is mere window dressing.

  • http://bali-travels.blogspot.com/ Balinese

    I agree SEO is more about links :)

  • http://www.cure-for.info Sandra

    SEO is links, links, and more links. It’s all about how many backlinks can google see of your site. Links are very important for ranking well.

  • http://www.seoline.de suchmschinenoptimierung

    seo is content and links – but i think in view month or years it will be more difficult to get a ranking on the first site in google and co.

  • http://www.brainpulse.com/search_engine_promotion_india/search_engine_promotion_india.php BrainPulse SEO Company

    I can understand that Internet retail website and marketing through SEO can be a difficult task, but nevertheless what a man got to do a man got to do. Link building is an essential part of the seo process, and getting links for e-commerce websites can be difficult, I guess that’s where dollars come from.

  • http://www.bizzuka.com Brian

    With all of this said, how is it that eBay listings acheive such high rankings in a short time frame with what appear to be so few links/backlinks?

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  • http://www.ihelpyou.com/ Doug Heil

    Interesting take on things with e-commerce sites. I’m going to disagree with things for the most part only because I’ve seen “non” authority sites do real well when getting a total redesign that also fixes navigation and architecture, etc, etc.

    Do you think this term is non-competitive?

    children’s gifts

    Is a top five rank on that term OK? How about boatloads of terms that surround that term?

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  • http://www.buttoncompany.com ansteckbuttons

    good article. Bottom line seems that everybody has to find an at least temporary competitive advantage.

  • http://www.suchmaschinenoptimierungstipps.de Suchmaschinenoptimierung

    Very Good Article…

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    very interesting blog, thanks for the Info

  • http://www.seo-sem-india.com Seo India: Seo Firm India

    Day by day it’s going difficult to have a good optimized pages, as Google making their system in such way that they would stand at their best.