What it takes to be great.
Could your website survive a beat down from two of the toughest SEOs in the business? Your site may be chosen for a free review if you register for our webinar today.
We see it every day. Your website’s on life support and the only thing that can save it is improving your rankings in the search engines. But you don’t know where to begin.
Two search engine optimization directors at SEO.com will perform in-depth analysis on three websites during a webinar on May 12.
You’ll save hundreds if your website is chosen for the demonstration.
The discussion will analyze:
- Onsite optimization elements
- External links
- Conversion elements
- Ideas for great content for link bait
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So from an SEO perspective, they have a really fascinating link portfolio because, from the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like they have done any active link building. It looks like their entire link portfolio is 100 percent natural, and they have tens of thousands of links. A lot of them are .gov links, a lot of them are .edu links, some from some articles published in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.com, and it looks like they haven’t tried to push a single article, social media effort, or any traditional active link-building methods. This is the kind of website that Google is trying to figure out how to weed out from everything else—from the websites that have links that are 100 percent contrived and created by the brand. Instead, Google is trying to find sites like this that are fan-based and user-based, and people online are naturally linking to them because they are a great brand with great products that people get excited about and talk about online.
I’ll talk quickly about some issues we found on the website, and then we have some great link ideas for these guys that will apply to similar eCommerce websites. First of all, on the “on” site, their URL structure is in pretty sad shape right now. If you watch my browser right now, I’m going to delete this string and just try to go to “performancebike.com.” Now, 301 redirects to this homepage, so from a search engine perspective, they’re doing it right. This is their homepage. Everything is working right, and it’s not really going to affect their ranking. But from a user perspective, no one is going to find this URL when they are creating a link to send people to performancebike.com. Most links are actually going to the URL and then they are forwarded on to this one. Also, in search results, this is the one that they see: bike/top categories with a bunch of seemingly random numbers at the end to a user makes it seem like it’s not necessarily the best page if they were searching “cycling clothing” or something like that because they rank very well across the board for a lot of these keywords.
If you look in some of the top category pages as well (such as this one), you’ll see they have the same URLs across the board. They all have a long number query string. Unfortunately on a lot of eCommerce platforms, you can’t control this. I don’t know what eCommerce platform they’re using to build their site. Maybe it’s possible to change their URL structure. I don’t know if I’d recommend doing that at this point because they have so many links. But if you start a brand new eCommerce site and you have the ability to control your URL structure, you want to try and use keyword phrases in the URL rather than a whole bunch of numbers that don’t make sense to anyone.
Having those keywords in the URL is going to be a ranking factor, but it’s also going to be a usability factor because users can see that URL right from search results and know that it’s relevant to what they’re looking for.
I have a question for you. If they’ve already built all of these links and have a lot of traffic to this page, and you don’t like their URL structure, would you recommend from redirects, or what would you do? Would you just say “too bad for them” because of this particular URL structure? Because you don’t want to lose those valuable links.
No. If at all possible, I would say: instead of 301 redirecting from the root domain to this URL, I would do the opposite: 301 redirect people to the homepage. If they are able to clean up that URL structure, then definitely 100 percent you need to create a 301 redirect from this URL to whatever the newer, improved URL is going to be.
Lori: Okay, great.
Going through their website, we found very few 404s, very few 302 temporary redirects, or things like that. So they are doing a lot of things right, and that is the reason why they are ranking really well. What we did notice is that they have very few first-position rankings and they’re usually within the 2-5 range for a lot of these keywords. And like anyone, there are some keywords that they don’t show up for at all. But they’re doing a lot of things right, and by tying up a few things here, they would really dominate across the web. I’d really like to work with someone like this.
A few other times where we won’t go into really great detail: I wasn’t able to find a site map. That doesn’t mean it’s not there; I just wasn’t able to find it at any of the usual places.
Boyd: He’s talking about an XML sitemap.
Yeah, I was talking about an XML sitemap—to make sure that everything can get indexed. For all I know, they have submitted them through Google Webmaster Tools, and it’s just not at the /sitemap.xml or the xml.gz if it’s a compressed xml file. So, if it’s not there, that might be something to pay attention to.
The robots.txt—some of you might find this interesting—uses pattern matching in some of the URLs, which is fine. Googlebot will see that, but not all search engines do, so you might want to take that into consideration. And if there are any pages here that you want every search engine to ignore, then you might want to consider explicitly disallowing those pages.
And if you’ve got an XML sitemap, it’s a good idea to add a XML sitemap URL to the robots.txt file, which they don’t have listed here at the bottom.
Yeah, that’s going to help all other search engines where you haven’t been able to validate it in Google Webmaster Tools to find where that sitemap is—especially if it’s not found at the traditional sitemap.xml or sitemap.index. I’ve tried a lot of different variations the search engines would likely look for, but I couldn’t find it. For anyone confused with what I was talking about with pattern matching—that’s the use of this asterisk here, which is basically saying, “anything that has Catalog ID equals that” then disallow that page. So that could mean anything could be here—you could have several directories before that, before the rest of that URL string, and so on.
Boyd: So basically, any URL that contains that phrase won’t be followed by the search engine?
Right. Let me get back into URL structure briefly again. Under store locator, they have a lot of possibilities here. When I click the Colorado link here, I’m getting a store locator. Pay attention to this URL and see how it says “store locator Colorado.” When I do a Google search for that URL, notice that this is the page that Google has indexed. For the store locator Colorado URL, Google sees this other page, and they both contain the same content—all this content is available at both URLs, which is a duplicate content issue. If users are linking to the wrong page or finding the wrong page, we just want to tighten that up. Is going to affect rankings in a big way? Probably not. But as a best practice, we’d want to tighten that up to have this content available at the one URL.
Lori: So how would you tighten it up? What would you do?
You’d tighten it up by creating a 301 redirect, probably from this URL to the more friendly URL ending in “store locator Colorado,” because the user can tell from that URL that they’re looking at stores in Colorado. If a 301 isn’t possible, I’d also take a look at a canonical tag. If you’re diving into these categories, and you’re looking at short finger gloves, and you want to look at pages 1, 2, or 4 in different ways, Google has a standard called “canonical meta-tag” that allows you to show Google the official list of these products; where right now, you can see the same products organized in different ways. From a search engine’s perspective, pages 1 and 2 are the top sellers versus the brand versus the top rated pages that you get. They all appear to have essentially the same content; so, to get around that, there are some canonical standards that, if followed, would go a long way in helping them to rank for the subcategories of their products and things like that.
So, a couple questions have just come in, and they are definitely people who really understand SEO because they’re speaking a language I don’t quite understand. The questions are “Could you do an REL= canonical?” and “Do REL= canonicals path link too?”
Claye: The REL—that’s not going to be the best case scenario. Do you have a take on that, Boyd?
Boyd: I don’t have a take on it. You can do that.
Yeah, you can do it. Best case scenario—just watch the Google Webmaster Tools guidelines on that and try to follow what they say. Using the meta-tag is usually easier to do from a programmer’s perspective and will get the same job done. Use it; just make sure you’re using it right, and it’ll work as an alternative.
Lori: Okay, thanks.
I’ll go briefly through a couple more conversion/usability ideas that we had. The main navigation is organized really well right now. I like how it’s organized into subcategories when you hover over [a category]. I don’t know if, right now, everything’s organized alphabetically or what; but if it were organized by popularity, that would help the user find the product they’re looking for more often than not. If 80 percent of your users are always looking for the same set of products, put those products at the top of the navigation so that it’s really easy to get to them. Stating your value proposition or your competitive advantage on your website, whether that’s, “We offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee”—looks like it’s right here—things like that: put that up in the header to make it really, really obvious to users.
Another element worth taking a look at: right now, the homepage is a little all-over-the-place and there are a million different places to go. If this content were organized and grouped into sets of like items, the user will more easily be able to understand what that content is and how to get where they’re going. Don’t leave your users unsupervised in where you want them to go: show them. These are the most popular places users want to go, so make it easy to find those places right from the homepage. These are our exclusive deals. The exclusive deals section is a good example of how to organize that content. Then you see a lot of … icons on the side and all over the homepage that send us in a million directions. Let’s group it and make it a little more structured.
You guys, I think this is going to be really tricky when it comes to conversion optimization for e-tailers or retailers, because they have so many products and they want to be able to promote these products. But if you have too many calls to action on the homepage or any page, it’s been shown that users will do nothing. They have so many choices that they will actually bounce from the page. Can you guys speak to that?
Absolutely. It’s always really tricky when you have million places that you want users to go. I would suggest conducting an internal audit to figure out what products are the best sellers—what products give us the highest margins, which have the lowest cart abandonment rate, things like that—and feature those kinds of products first and lead people to those products that are your best performers. Then have some other areas on the page to send them to your trophy products or special products that you want to include as well, but really focus it on what gives you best performance.
Lori: Is that something you do with AV tests?
Yeah, definitely. You have the ability to do it with an AV test. It’s always good to start high-level doing an AV test with two completely different landing pages, see which one performs better. Then from there, you can do a multivariate test if you have software like vertster.com (that’s very useful), or even the Google Web Optimizer tool, that does some form of multivariate testing. One other recommendation: there’s a site called crazyegg.com.
That’s interesting because we just received a chat about that. Shon says, “I think the addition of crazyegg.com would also be a good idea.
You’re right. Crazyegg is a heat mapping and heat tracking software. Basically, if you view and install it on this page (the homepage) you’ll be able to log in to crazyegg and see where your users are clicking on the page. That will give you an idea of what is drawing their attention; what parts of your screen are they being drawn to and clicking on. This is an example of what it looks like.
Google Analytics has a kind of similar feature where they are trying to bring in this functionality. It will show you the percentage of clicks on the page and there’ll be several links. But this is a great option of well. And for sure, conversion optimization will go a long way in capitalizing—you know, of the current users that come to the site right now, Performance Bicycle stands to gain a lot more revenue from that current customer base just through some conversion optimization that would take people from home page to landing page in a more streamlined, user-friendly process.
I noticed that they used the keyword meta-tag pretty extensively, which is kind of a waste of time these days. Your time would probably be better spent elsewhere focused on URLs and canonicals. So link ideas: this is going to be the real juice that people are going to like. Right now, they have some great links—a lot of great .edu links from professors. People that cycle are passionate about it. I have a lot of friends that cycle and compete, and it’s a really big part of their life and they care about it; they’ll talk about it online. There are a lot of ways that Performance Bicycle could capitalize on those raving fans. Right now, they have professors who, on their profile pages at universities, are linking out to this page because they are huge cyclers. They’ve got .gov links linking to them because they’ve been part of green initiatives, so that’s a lesson to be learned: when you take steps to go green, make sure that government initiatives and environmentalists know about it, because you can get links that way.
- Having intuitive URLs for each page really helps users to know where they are at—use keywords on each page instead of long number query strings.
- Use redirects strategically to help people find the pages they want.
- Organize site navigation with top-selling products on top so that users can find them easily.
- Don’t put too many calls to action on your homepage—too many options will cause users to freeze and leave the site without responding to any of those action calls.
- Tools like “crazyegg.com” can help you analyze your site with multivariate analysis to determine what products most interest visitors, which helps you organize your site better.
- Check anchor text rankings periodically and see how well each page on your site ranks for relevant keyword phrases.
- Make certain to provide things on your page that are really easy for mommy-bloggers to share, such as infographics or links.
- Blogs relevant to your target audience are especially good sources of links to your site.
- Get yourself mentioned in online periodicals connected with your industry and make sure they link to your site.
- User-created links to your site are the best kind—links created by your company’s fan base.
- Don’t use too many anchortexts in your press releases—keep them sounding natural.
- Facebook can be a fantastic source of links for your business, which will help get your site ranked higher and bring in more business.
- To get customers talking on Facebook, encourage them to post articles about how they use your products—perhaps host a contest.
- Encourage customers to leave reviews on your Google profile and make it easy for them.