Posted August 13, 2010 9:07 am by with 9 comments

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The latest Internet Retailer 500 directory is here. Each year this is one of every industry player’s prime sources of data about how the Internet ‘big boys’ are performing and, more importantly, what they are doing to be ranked in these Top 500.

One additional metric added this year to the many that are provided regarding the overall performance of these online e-commerce high flyers, is a category rating SEO effectiveness for the sites. It rates this area using a simple excellent, good, fair and poor system and here are the overall results

While two-thirds of these ‘top’ companies (approximately 330) rate as excellent or good that leaves a lot of elite online players with some work to do.

I would suspect that there are a few copies of this directory being pushed up the food chain in companies by either in-house teams or agency partners to say “See, we are doing a great job, Mr. CEO, even though you have no clue what we are actually doing!” while others are scurrying to keep their bad ratings out of their C-level line of sight.

Conductor helped put together this rating system for the annual publication as MediaPost reports

Conductor helped Internet Retailer create and introduce a new metric, SEO Effectiveness, in which the publisher will evaluate the top 500 retailers. Nathan Safran, who leads Conductor’s research team, created the methodology that determines how effective and well positioned retailers are to succeed in SEO.

Rather than examine how well retailers rank, the methodology looks at how many people in the organization are full or part time and have knowledge of SEO. It turns out companies with senior or C-level execs with knowledge of SEO have a higher chance of being successful by having better positions on Google.

Ok, so wait. Then maybe some C-level execs really do have an idea of how SEO works? Not likely. I would suspect that measuring C-level knowledge of SEO is graded on whether they know what the acronym stands for in the first place then gets less detailed from there. Of course, I am playing here but if someone from Conductor would like to elaborate on just how they measured this knowledge we would love to hear it.

So what if someone were to come in and rate your SEO effort? Where would it land? Are these kinds of ratings valuable or just more data that looks nice rather than helping to move the needle?

  • Hi Frank,

    Really like the post, and appreciate your analysis. And you’ve nailed it right on the head – just because an executive knows about SEO doesn’t mean that they really are on board, support it, etc..

    So here is the methodology we used to evaluate commitment – we looked at LinkedIn profiles of the employees of all of these companies – these are the descriptions that the employees have written themselves – and looked for indicators that they contained natural search terms. (SEO, natural search, etc…). We used a computation that weighted overall company size, percentage of employees who had this in their descriptions, and additional bonuses for companies whose senior level executives considered SEO a large enough portion of their job to put it in their descriptions.

    There’s a full writeup here:

    Hope this helps – and again, great post.


    • Seth-

      Thanks for coming by! This is an interesting take on things because everyone seems to have what I call “cocktail party” level knowledge of Internet marketing (which is to say that they can throw a buzz word around easily but if asked to do something then there are crickets).

      C-level buy in is probably as much about they were sold internally as it is their awareness. When you get to the Director level and day to day management is where there is real evidence of expertise.

      As for the 170 or so companies that made this list without doing a good job of SEO, I suspect good agencies will bring this fact to their competition’s attention and try to get them to invest in their own SEO efforts since some larger brands are likely to be surviving on name recognition alone and that is fragile in this new world economy.

      Thanks again for your insight and keep coming back!

    • Mike B.

      Would be great to get a response regarding the below comment and the methodology chosen to conduct this study.


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  • Mike B.

    While I do feel that this new metric is worth noting and reporting on, I have to say this is one of the most flawed systems I have seen.

    The three critical areas that were used to rank or determine if a company has an effective SEO presence is barely short of comical. Actually it’s somewhat embarrassing.

    LinkedIn usage within a company’s organization as a metric is a complete joke. Let’s look at an ecommerce company for example that employs 300 people and 75% are in the operations or warehouse classification of the company. You feel this guideline Conductor is rating on will accurate measure that?

    PPC Visiblilty — Really? Any grunt can spend their way to the top of a ppc campaign. How about taking into account organic success or a back link analysis grade. Shoot drop the url into any modern SEO tool that will grade a site on a variety of different metrics that are light-years more telling than the 3 areas Conductor chose.

    The methodology used to conduct this rating system is a fledgling attempt at best to do something with good intent but horrible execution.

    Why would a company whose core competency is in the link trading business be commissioned to partake in this project?

    I would love to have seen this same study done with actual data that accurately shows the competency of a company’s search efforts!

    It’s very sad that people will review this publication, look at these rating (CEO’s and alike) and actually review it at face value.

    Ironically this study fits perfectly into the SEO world. People pulling the wool over other’s eyes when they do not understand what search marketing even is!


    • Hi Mike –

      You’re exactly right when you say that anyone can do PPC – that’s not an example of if they’re doing well in SEO. I might not have done a great job of explaining it (and encourage you to visit the website linked for a full explanation.) But the nutshell is that one of the real challenges on externally validating a company’s SEO efforts is that you can’t tell intent from the outside. We’ve chosen to use paid spend to determine that intent – their ‘vote with their wallets’ – but then we check the organic visibility for those keywords.

      Without knowing a keyword, grading a URL isn’t a judge of SEO – it’s a baseline index of on page technical factors and ‘generic’ link profile that is probably more about the company’s size and PR efforts than SEO.

      Happy to discuss more – drop me a line at conductor if you’d like more info.


      • Mike B.

        ‘vote with their wallets’ – unfortunately by using this methodology you are:

        a) penalizing industries that do not complete on the paid side, possibly due to extremely thin margins where it doesn’t make sense to play in a paid world.

        b) companies that have an extremely solid organic results and do look to the paid side of search.

        Essential by your measuring stick, in both these examples a company would be unfairly judged and scored due to a completed flawed rating system you concocted.

        Very disappointed that such a reputable publication like the IR 500 would put this ‘shiny’ new metric in their magazine without first doing their homework.

        I would think a company such as yours would have had better minds put together a strategy that would have actually made sense and honored those that are doing SEO properly.

        It should never have been named SEO Effectiveness if you are using a paid search metric for starters!! Call is Search Marketing Effectiveness.


        Very Disappointed!

        • Mike –

          We certainly do look at – and took into account for – companies whose paid spends fell outside the norm. The alternative, of course, is just to look at natural search traffic, which penalizes industry specific players a lot more. (Trust me, we looked at this as well.)

          Either way – we’re always open to suggestions. Turn on the constructive side, and let me hear your methodology. Here are the ground rules:

          1) It can’t be just natural search traffic
          2) It has to account for retailers being in very different markets
          3) You can’t impose your own subjective set of rules on what keywords they -should- be going after.

          Looking forward to hearing your ideas!


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