When it comes to search engine optimization, our work is never done. That’s because Google’s algorithms are constantly changing, as they work to provide the most relevant information easier and faster.
With this mind, here are four important steps retailers can take to evolve their search strategies and achieve greater online visibility:
1. Get niche-specific.
As a retailer, your Google strategy should be tailored to your industry niche. Simply following generalized SEO rules alone is no longer effective. That’s because artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are helping Google to understand the specific ranking factors that will best satisfy search queries for various verticals, topics, and user intentions.
For example, displaying a large number of images on a page will often slow your web site down and can have a negative impact on search performance. Interestingly, the Searchmetrics Niche Ranking Factors study, which leveraged millions of search results, tells us that Google downplays this for some e-Commerce niches like furniture, because it knows these types of searches are best fulfilled by web pages with many images. In fact, we found that the top 10 results for furniture-related searches average 27.9 images per page.
Similarly, video content is considered very effective for boosting search visibility, but it doesn’t help with all e-Commerce niches. In the same niche ranking factors study, we found that highly ranked sites on the niche topic of weight loss had an average of four videos. (These videos often show workout routines.) Yet for furniture and auto searches, there were close to zero videos on the top 10 Google ranked sites.
The data is showing that Google is now focusing on different content elements for different niches. Take wine-related searches. Our analysis shows that for searches on wine, the higher-ranking sites tend to have zero videos, typically have an average of seven paragraphs of text and often use attractive infographics.
The big take-away: analyze what’s most important for the searchers in your niche and make that a key part of your search strategy.
2. Go beyond the baseline e-Commerce assets.
For a successful search strategy, companies can no longer get away with simply having an effective e-Commerce site that showcases just their products along with product descriptions and images. Today, every retailer has those elements.
Now, successfully ranked retail sites leverage the strong backbone of their existing site and are adding a lot more value on top. They’re providing additional engaging content such as advice blogs, product feature comparisons, case studies and even user generated content, so their shoppers can get the answers they need while they’re doing their online research.
Engaging content improves search visibility as well as customer retention. Think of Cars.com and Edmunds.com, which now incorporate a large volume of content focused on research and reviews and provide the kind of information you’d see in a respected car magazine. Today, firms in the auto market are expanding their online information into more areas so they can increase traffic, raise awareness and build brand affinity for their site.
One great example of an e-Commerce site that’s shaking things up is Stockx.com. Stockx.com is a platform for buying and selling sneakers where the prices are decided by individual bidders. Sneaker enthusiasts can go on the site to view the history of price fluctuations for Nike Air Jordans, for example. The site has created a dynamic experience that outmatches the competitors. And it means that when there are Google searches around sneaker prices, StockX often shows up at the top.
Offering more than just the baseline content and assets will enhance and broaden your search visibility.
3. Optimize the user experience for search.
As a retailer you know that engagement and experience determine how visitors will interact with your site. Are they spending more time on your content, do they open many pages during each visit, do they rarely bounce off right away? User engagement signals like these will show if you’re delivering a positive experience — which is good for customers and good for your business. And it can have a positive impact on your search rankings.
When researchers at Searchmetrics analyzed the data on Google’s core algorithm update in March of this year, we found that the sites that gained the biggest improvements in search were recording an average time-on-site of 2:29 minutes. That’s 26% longer than the sites that experienced the biggest falls in their search visibility after the Google update. Similar trends happened with the pages-per-visit and bounce rates, suggesting that now positive user engagement and experiences are being rewarded.
With e-Commerce, improving user engagement is all about making shopping easier and more enjoyable.
There are many areas that can be developed, like having a UI with menus and internal links that are easy to use and help shoppers find the items they want quickly, as well as displaying alternatives and complementary products. Structuring content with bullet points helps visitors more easily understand product information and features.
With mobile, make your online checkout visible without scrolling, so shoppers don’t have to hunt around to make a purchase.
Of course, improving the user experience is important for all your visitors — not just those who arrive through search — so make it a priority.
4. Look outside of Google’s organic links.
Our Searchmetrics Universal Search study of thousands of retail searches tells us that now there are fewer traditional organic results on page one of Google. Instead of 10 organic links, Google now displays an average of 8.9 links in desktop results, with 9.1 on mobile devices. More page-one space is being filled by universal search featured results like Knowledge Graphs, images, mobile app packs, and video carousels — all of which catch the eye and have high click-through rates.
As a retailer, your search strategy should target these elements.
Knowledge Graphs appear above or to the right of traditional results and contain popular facts, images and links about people, organizations and places. They’re included in about a third of retail searches so they present a significant opportunity. Typically, their information comes from Wikipedia, a brand’s web site or Google My Business listing. And links to a company’s social channels and contact details may also be featured. To have a chance of appearing, you must maintain an up-to-date presence on these channels and have high-quality, relevant information. Well-structured content with headings and bullets is picked more often, as are customer reviews and ratings.
One featured search result that’s growing in importance is the video carousel, which allows searchers to click and toggle through relevant videos. Searchmetrics data suggests that video carousels now appear on the first search engine results page for around 60% of retail-related searches. If you want to target them, host your videos on YouTube since 95% of video carousels rely on YouTube content. That being said, while carousels can increase visibility and awareness, they are not the best option for directly driving purchases, since they encourage searchers to visit your YouTube page rather that your e-Commerce site.
Also, consider targeting other featured search opportunities such as image results (by ensuring optimized images on your site are tagged with the correct keywords) and news results (by ensuring you are feeding your interesting company news to important news publications in your sector).
Retail businesses that perform most successfully on Google are currently doing more than ever to expand their search strategies. Make sure you are too — or you’ll get left behind.
Jordan Koene is the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. where he works with enterprise businesses to provide SEO and content strategies that maximize the value of their marketing mix, using best-in-class search technology. Koene has presented at industry events around the world, including SMX, Pubcon, and the Digital Summit series. Prior to joining Searchmetrics, Koene led the eBay SEO team where he developed and executed their SEO marketing programs.