Monthly Archives: December 2009

9 Tasty Tips for Ecommerce SEO

seo-blocksStep right up fellow search marketers, and get your tasty tips for ecommerce right here! I have to admit, my favorite number is “9,” so this list is already my favorite.

The below tips are especially for search engine optimizers (SEOs) actively working in the ecommerce field. Hopefully you can make use of these, and maybe even provide some tips of your own in the comments (or on your blog).

With that out of the way, let’s focus on these 9 Tasty Tips for Ecommerce SEOs, shall we?

1. Implement a recommendation engine

The king of upselling has always been (they don’t need any more links, so I won’t bother), a site that pretty much invented the idea of displaying recommendations during the browse and purchase processes. Recommendation engines can be extremely powerful. If you aren’t using them yet, make sure you put this on your radar for 2010 planning.

There are a few key things to remember for SEO with functionality like this, especially how the feature will be coded on the site. If it’s built on javascript, that could pose problems with search engines. While googlebot can crawl through javascript, it’s not guaranteed and certainly won’t provide the benefit of plain text links; Bing’s bot (still msnbot as far as I’m aware) and Yahoo! Slurp are also important to cater to and don’t follow javascript yet.

You’ll also want to ensure the recommendation engine is making use of definitive product URLs and not creating its own “variety” as the recommendations are generated.

Depending on business requirements, you may want to build this in-house or look to a third-party solution. Either way, this is a large project requiring a lot of resources—but it’s worth it. Why? Just look at this:

A company we work with recently launched a recommendation engine and saw the following performance improvements after launch:

•Pages per visit (PPV): +20.1%
•Time on site: +2.8%
•Bounce rate: -5.9%
•Conversion rate: +4.8%
Pretty extraordinary results from adding recommendations to the site! This client is a large brand with an already healthy sales process, so your mileage may vary.

2. Add related links

With a lot of pages to work with, related linking can be huge for SEO. At the enterprise scale, SEO is really about leveraging large amounts of pages efficiently, and using that scale to advantage. Related linking accomplishes that very well, but can be an intensive feature to implement and manage (there are several third-party resources for this, including TextWise, SLI Systems, and others).

The king of related linking has always been, a site that was using this to advantage years before it caught on (thanks to their extremely sharp SEO at the time, Aaron Shear).

The idea behind related linking is to accomplish at least 3 major goals:

Flatten the site, thereby making it easier for crawlers to access URLs from many different points. Think of this as opening more doors for spiders to traverse a site.

Relate and categorize products and categories together, thereby making it easier for crawlers to understand how URLs can potentially be grouped together. Think of this as putting signs on the doors to other, possibly related, doors for spiders to follow.

Provide human visitors with links to related products and categories, thereby aiding the navigation process.

Using related linking well can offer a huge advantage in areas beyond SEO, because users love them too! Related linking can be used alongside or separately from recommendations, and is highly recommended for ecommerce sites—especially large ones.

3. Correlate entry page to bounce rate

Here’s a great tip for SEOs working in analytics, with a hat tip to Brian Kalma who pointed me in this direction: generate search traffic reports to show you the search term alongside the corresponding entry page. You can then analyze the bounce rate of that term and page combination, and find where relevance needs to be improved.

The idea here is to ask, What organic traffic terms are bringing visitors to the wrong page? Knowing that, you can either optimize the page for relevancy, or figure out if a conversion issue is causing problems.

This is literally a gold mine of opportunity for the hard-working SEO! But it’s not something that you can accomplish over night. After you’ve created the ability for your analytics reports to generate the right data points (easier said than done), you’ll then need to analyze that data and finally begin to chip away at the large number of projects this analysis will create as outcomes.

Long live analytics!

4. Be a speed demon

Dealing with hundreds of millions (or billions) of pageviews a day is nothing out of the ordinary for enterprise sites. Ecommerce sites can get pounded with traffic, and require advanced content delivery network (CDN) solutions such as Akamai and Limelight. While these are important (actually, essential), what’s also important is ensuring your pages are loading lightning fast!

While Google in particular doesn’t use page load time as a factor in its ranking algorithms, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact SEO or isn’t important. Site latency can have ramifications in SEO in at least the following areas:

Crawling efficiency. As a spider crawls the site and performs typical GET/RESPONSE requests, the content needs to be served without excessive delays and without any 5xx server errors. Slow-loading sites can hinder the crawl by serving pages too slowly, which can adversely influence indexing and ultimately even impact rankings.

User response. A slow-loading page is as dead as a non-existent page. On the web, we want it fast and we want it now, and if we can’t get it now we hit the back button. Google certainly, and Bing probably, look to user satisfaction as a prime concern. A user who searches, clicks a result, then quickly returns to the search engine result page (SERP) and clicks on another result sends a strong signal about a page that is surely recorded. Think of this occurring many thousands of times and you can predict the outcome: the page will be pushed lower in the SERPs, or if it’s a serious error such as a 5xx, removed from the index altogether.

Have your development team look into techniques to speed up the site, and continually audit site load time.

5. Find and kill duplicate product URLs

Here’s some low fruit to pick: ecommerce sites are especially bad at having multiple versions of product pages. Normally we can find these with site: and inurl: search operators. Pay careful attention to the product level URLs, as this is usually the area duplicate content creeps in (through faceting and sorting of URLs, or through tracking or cookie information appended in the query string). It’s also an area that can cause major negative impact on search rankings. Each product page should have one single, authoritative URL.

Duplicate product pages cause the following issues (at least):

Page dilution in the search indices. It’s not uncommon to find sites with dozens or even hundreds of product duplicates; with Google crawling and indexing a finite number of pages (domain dependent, of course), this is critical to resolve.

PageRank split in the link profile. Duplicate pages can attract links on their own, too, and these need to be consolidated to maximize a product URLs external links.

To find duplicate product URLs, do some quick searches in Google like the following: inurl:productID intitle:”my product name”

You’ll have to click on the “repeat the search with the omitted results included” link to see all the duplicates (this adds filter=0 to the query string in the URL).

After you find them, here are your options (in order of preference for SEO, and intensiveness to implement):

Best but highly intensive: Re-structure your URLs so they don’t create duplicate content. This may mean a complete overhaul of the URL format and is not recommended in 99% of cases. However, in very serious situations this is the long-term goal, even if you have to get there via other short-term fixes.

Second best and moderately intensive: 301 redirect duplicate versions to the authoritative version. This is always a good option, however it requires more resources and is sometimes not do-able on ecommerce sites sorting products by season, style or special promotion. Also, redirects cause latency on a site (a point often overlooked by SEOs).

Third best and lightly intensive: Use the link canonical meta tag to relate duplicates with a single, authoritative version. Next, use Google and Yahoo! parameter removal tools in their web consoles to pull out parameters that aren’t needed. This is the least desirable option because it doesn’t really fix the underlying issue, it only places a band-aid on it. Still, it’s better than nothing, and it requires very few resources in comparison to the above methods.

6. Run your own scheduled crawls and audits

If you’re an in-house SEO, set a crawler loose on your pages regularly. Xenu can be a good option, however it doesn’t scale for large sites and won’t stand up at the enterprise level. web Link Validator is better in this department. However, there are unique advantages to either having a custom crawler created or to use the services of an outside agency. The idea here, and the benefit, is to continually monitor the site for changes and new content pushes to ensure nothing creeps in that will stab you in the back (like the creation of 25,000 302 redirects from out of stock items).

Google’s webmaster console is fantastic (I also recommend using Bing and Yahoo!’s tools, which are good but not as comprehensive). Google’s tool acts very much like a crawler you would use on your own, but in my experience only shows “indications” of issues, and therefore acts best as a pointer for further investigation with other tools.

Whatever route you choose, stay on it!

7. Brag about your successes

This may sound odd, but you need to hear it: brag! That’s right, brag. If you don’t tell anyone about your successes, do you just expect them to discover them on their own? You can’t quietly do your work expecting for everyone to notice how amazing you are. You have to stand up and say, “hey! check this out, we made the front page of Digg! We got some new rankings! We’re building links like crazy!” or whatever you can brag about.

You provide reporting and benchmarking, I’m sure, but be sure to share what you’ve done outside of those formal procedures.

Brag to your managers and even the C-levels about link building successes, wins with rankings and social media, traffic increases, and even specific projects that you’ve recently undertaken or completed.

Make your successes known.

8. Leverage landing pages

Landing pages are like little hubs that tie entire categories (and even sections) of a site together. For large ecommerce sites, having custom and high-quality landing pages created enables web teams to:

•Create excellent user experiences
•Control the number and type of links on a page (not to mention their location)
•Control the ‘flow’ of a site from the category to product level
•Aggregate content such as custom-tailored copy, links, reviews, product shots, promotions, and navigation elements into a single page

And you want to know the best part of creating advanced landing pages? They convert extremely well, and can rank like crazy!

9. Stay creative

I’ve saved the best one for last, because I really like the number 9.

Top ecommerce sites do one thing very well: they cater to their customers. They innovate, they contribute value. Creative thinking is required in SEO, because SEO best practices can only get you so far.

Continually aim to keep new projects on your agenda. It’s not enough just to stay caught up with damage control. Keep an open mind. Stay away from “latest fad” type of SEO tips and other rubbish. Creative ideas can drive a lot of traffic and attention, regardless of SEO benefits. And always remember, as Bob Massa says, “Search engines follow users.”

I guess it all comes back to a truth stated in 1995: content is king. It’s just that wrapping that content in new and interesting ways is the prime differentiator now.

Courtesy of

The Truth About Facebook Fans

Ever since Facebook upgraded its fan pages so that brands, celebrities and organizations became equivalent to human beings in the social network — i.e. content from fan pages is displayed in one’s feed, just like with friends — we’ve received a barrage of requests to fan just about anything you can imagine, including about 20 PR agencies.

One social media analytics company, Sysomos, took a look at nearly 600,000 Facebook fan pages and found only 297 — or 0.05% — have more than one million fans. Other interesting findings:

Michael Jackson is the most popular page on Facebook, with 10 million fans; he is followed by actor Vin Diesel (7 million) and U.S. president Barack Obama (6.9 million).

On average, a Facebook Page has 4,596 fans.

Four percent of pages have more than 10,000 fans, 0.76% of pages have more than 100,000 fans, and 0.05% of pages (or 297 in total) have more than a million fans.

95% of pages have more than 10 fans

65% of pages have more than 100 fans

23% of pages have more than 1,000 fans

4% of pages have more than 10,000 fans

0.76% of pages have more than 100,000 fans

0.047% of pages have more than one million fans (297 in total).

What’s Better? PPC or SEO?

Here’s an interesting discussion I found recently on Web Pro News:

At SES Chicago, there was an interesting session in which a group of search marketing profes+sionals debated the issue of which is better between PPC and SEO. Participants included Dave Naylor, Chirstine Churchill, Michael Gray, and Karen Weber, and Rand Fishkin.

Does PPC have more benefits than SEO? Comment here.

Churchill pointed to a study from Engine Ready on conversion rates by source of traffic (PPC vs organic). The study found:

– Conversion rates: PPC just barely beat SEO
– Average Order Value: Paid won
– Average time on site: Paid won
She gave the following as advantages of PPC:

Christine Churchill

– Gives immediate online presence
– Have a new site? Have ads in an hour
– Start getting ROI sooner
– No ramp up time
– Great for seasonal items or time sensitive promotions
– Great for testing
– Easily test effectiveness of new marketing message or site design change
– Quickly gather feedback
– Regulate traffic volume
– Sales pipeline empty? Use PPC to push traffic
– Overloaded? Pause campaigns or cut back spend
– Have limited sales season? Saturate market while demand is high

“PPC is very agile. It’s also has targeting advantages,” said Churchill.

For targeting, she says PPC provides opportunity for high visibility in multiple channels (search engines, content sites, mobile phones), expands results beyond search results, and gives you control over placement on SERPs and better control over landing page/message.

It’s often easier to sell PPC to management because the concept is similar to traditional advertising, and provides for direct accountability. It’s easy to track measures of success. It’s an effective way to drive qualified traffic to your site, and it allows you to expand your opportunities.

Karen Weber Weber says the top five reasons why “PPC rules,” are: speed, flexibility, it’s unlimited, it’s goal-driven, and it’s controllable. You can quickly manipulate keywords to those that drive conversions, you can quickly change bid prices, and you can quickly get in and out of the market. You can turn your campaign on and off, and change ad copy, keywords, etc. You can target a much wider range of keywords, adhere to a budget, and have an immediate impact on sales.

Fishkin pointed out that PPC gets 10% of clicks, but 90% of spend. He said SEO is more challenging and less controllable, but the spend is there and the fact that people click organic results.

Gray said he believes that PPC could make SEO better, but Google is banning people now, so it makes things more challenging. Naylor said he believes SEO is more “open.” Weber and Fishkin both said they would outsource PPC over SEO.

Michael Gray Gray said it’s important to get in the top during the early part of the research phase, especially since Google is personalizing results for everyone now. Churchill noted that Google’s personalization is a better argument for PPC. Like iEntry CEO Rich Ord recently noted, the addition of personalized results could “make people less reliant on organic search results for their traffic and in turn increase their use of Adwords.”

Another point was brought up as we recently discussed – that the search engines are pushing organic listings down with mixed media (blended, universal) results.

Certainly there are many advantages to both PPC and SEO, and they can compliment one another. Actually, a recent study from a couple of NYU Stern professors found that organic search engine results can play a direct role in whether or not a paid listing is clicked.

Which do you think is more important – SEO or PPC? Share your thoughts here.

WebProNews reporter Abby Johnson contributed to this report.

Are Christmas Cards an Engangered Species?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sending out Christmas cards anymore, particularly for business.  What once seemed like a warm “thank you for doing business with me this year” has become a meaningless and wasteful experience.  It’s more automatic more than appreciated.  And I see more and more clients opting out of the process all together. 

If anything, they’re sending simple and creative email greetings.  That’s the real way to reach most customers today.  And while they don’t hang over the fireplace, they certainly take less time to read, send and reply.  And that’s a benefit for both parties in these challenging times.  So I’m not mailing any gilt edged envelopes this year.  How about you?

I’m even beginning to agree with the following article in TIME magazine that the tradition of writing and mailing Christmas cards (as we know it) may be coming to an end.  What do you think?

The Beginning of the End for Christmas Cards?

It’s not only the Grinches out there who are saying no to the holiday card tradition.

“The arguments that paper cards are wasteful, impersonal, and bad for the environment seem to be hitting home during our tough economic times, and you may see the results (or lack thereof) in your mailbox. A Chicago Tribune columnist notes that thus far into the holiday season, her card intake has fallen off steeply, and she wonders if the end for Christmas cards is near.

Why fewer cards? For businesses, deciding not to send cards is an easy way to save on expenses during a down economy:

    • A Chicago hair salon owner says this is the first year she hasn’t sent holiday greetings to the clientele. Two thousand greetings at 44 postage cents a pop? Not in a recession.
    • For some people, going card-free is a way of going green. Paper is litter, clutter.
    • People who grew up with e-mail have another excuse.

Yes, the e-card is mentioned frequently as a free alternative to ye olde Christmas card. Their “selling” points, from a BankRate post:

They’re free, don’t require postage and no one has to wash their hands after opening them. Some even play music, making them a fun, free way to catch up with far-flung friends and family.

I don’t really think this qualifies as “catching up.” But hey, people who send e-cards probably put as much thought into the process as people sending out traditional paper cards—and it’s the thought that counts, of course.

If you’re not into the e-thing and still feel the need for paper, RecessionWire and BetterBudgeting suggest postcards as a less expensive alternative to the full-postage-stamp-requiring envelope, but that’s a tip that’s strictly about saving money, not putting more meaning into your correspondences.

I ran across some interesting advice regarding Christmas cards and gift giving that emerged in the U.K. last holiday season: Dr. Stephen Cottrell, a bishop in the Church of England and the author of Do Nothing: Christmas Is Coming, recommended that you send cards out only to people you love. Yes, love. Not like. Not that you sorta know and feel obligated to send a card to, and what the heck. If you have to take a moment to think if a person belongs on your “love” list, then you have your answer: No card for you.

Also, he said that writing “must see you this year” on a Christmas card is wrong unless you really mean it. The bishop even said that people should (get this!) relax during the holiday season, rather than frantically be out shopping and organizing parties. Mostly, you’re supposed to just hang out and enjoy the holidays, be something of a slug and take the time to be with the people you love.

He’s not completely against gifts, but has a suggestion that’s dramatically scaled back from the status quo:

“Give everyone the same thing. Choose one book that you love and give everyone a copy. Instead of spending a fortune at the shops – let alone the time and hassle – make everyone a jar of marmalade, or pickle some onions.”

Hmmm… I suppose if you’re only giving to folks you truly love, then you’d know if they’re the type who would enjoy pickled onions.

Anyway, there you go. I think I’m convincing myself that Christmas cards are a waste of time and money. Too often, they’re a disingenuous, impersonal substitute for regularly keeping in touch and celebrating with the people you care about.

I’m putting our cards in the mail this week.”

Posted by Brad Tuttle Monday, December 14, 2009 at 9:41 am

Read more:

The Elevator Pitch for Elevator News

elevator newsFor a truly captive audience, it’s hard to beat your office elevator. For years, it was home to little more than forced smiles, awkward body language and eyes uplifted to focus on the sequentially lighted floor numbers as if they were the most captivating programming in the world.

Those days have vanished forever in about 9,000 upscale office building elevators in the downtown business districts of 24 big cities in the U.S. and Canada, thanks to the well-named Captivate Network, which is a division (via acquisition) of Gannett.

“We are really part of a broader industry,” Mike DiFranza, President and General Manager of Captivate told me today. “The ‘out-of-home’ digital media, which includes content networks broadcasting in the backseats of taxis and on subway cars in New York City, inside Wal-Mart stores with Wal-Mart TV, and over all of those screens inside gyms, bars and restaurants.”

(The industry has its own trade association, the Out-of-Home Video Advertising Bureau, or OVAB. More about that in a minute.)

First, back to Captivate. “With consumers spending more and more time away from home, advertisers need opportunities to target their messages to people on the go,” says DiFranza. “We are really a sibling of the mobile advertising space.”

The company reaches 3 million white-collar consumers (HHI $112,000) on weekdays, primarily during the average six minutes of their workday spent in one of those 9,000 elevators. Its programming is a mix of business, sports, entertainment, local and world news that leverages content partnerships with 100 media companies, from Forbes, Wired, CNN, Harvard Business, and the AP, to Crain’s,, and Thomson Reuters joined the network earlier this month.

“The way we engage consumers is to design our content screens with their needs in mind,” DiFranza emphasizes. “The content is all text-based and appears on the left side of the screen. The ads are in video or flash and provide motion on the right side of the screen.

“That’s because people read left to right. And it works. Our studies indicate that consumer recall results (for the ads) are in excess of 48 percent.”

The buildings whose elevators house these smart elevators pay a monthly service fee, as in the cable TV business, but that revenue stream accounts only for about 10-15 percent of the company’s revenue.

It’s the advertising revenue that carries the business. Which brings us back to OVAB, the trade group. OVAB has an initiative to develop a set of standards that will govern the metrics generated by its member companies, so a viewer in a taxi cab, say, or one in an elevator is counted according to the same methodology. The group expects to implement these new standards by the end of this year, enabling commercial ratings by Nielsen and Arbitron going forward.

That is, of course, one critical step toward allowing advertisers to calculate the ROI from this kind of mobile model. A second initiative is creating what DiFranza calls a “back channel where advertisers can translate an ad exposure in an elevator into an action taken by a consumer” — like clicking through to its website, for example.

Captivate is now in the process of building out its own website, since a person’s “next stop” from the elevator is her desk, and the company figures it can provide continuing coverage of news breaks (or advertiser offers) that may have caught a user’s attention on the ride upstairs.

Recent tests by Captivate have generated evidence that this strategy will work as long as the value proposition is clear. A $1,000 holiday shopping spree sweepstakes generated 50,000 entrants via the website in a month; and a ski promotion for Mammoth Mountain in L.A. attracted 18 percent of those who viewed it to take advantage of a mid-week lift ticket discount offer.

I recently experienced Captivate’s programming in an office building elevator myself, and I was struck by its quality. Unlike many of the digital news operations that rely solely on algorithms, Captivate employs a team of human editors who mold the specific programming mixes and adapt them to each local market, down to the building level.

This ensures quality that a mere RSS feed cannot.

Captivate is an example of a successful media company that established a clear mission for itself, as opposed to throwing up everything at the wall to see what sticks. “In hindsight the main thing we did right,” says DiFranza, “was to concentrate on a niche audience and stay true to that.”

Best of all — no more awkward moments in that office elevator.  Courtesy of BNET.

Critical Mass for Business-Year in Review

Having interviewed 100 local businesses and executives here in Orange County, the business coaches at Critical Mass for Business look back at what they’ve learned in 2009 and some of the “transferable insights” they’ve uncovered in their search for “how businesses can make better, more informed decisions”.  This Tuesday from 4-5pm PST, only on

8 Golden Rules for Ads in the Digital Age

The importance of sound creative executions and integrated strategies cannot be overemphasized in today’s online ad market. Follow these steps to get on the right track.

Courtesy of Alan Gerson and Imediaconnection.