Being discovered in search is one of the primary ways leading ecommerce brands generate traffic to their websites from new and returning customers alike.
Though direct traffic generates 40 percent of an ecommerce site’s referral traffic, search follows close behind with 34 percent of the total traffic driven, according to Smart Insights.
Even though search plays an important role in bringing customers to an ecommerce site, it’s difficult for even the big brands to dedicate enough time and resources to search.
So, the goal of this study was to showcase where companies should prioritize their time when optimizing for search based on the approaches of leading ecommerce brands.
Beyond addressing the foundational SEO tactics worth pursuing, a range of new opportunities are also explored in the study to give any organization a first-mover advantage against competitors. Here are some key takeaways from the study:
- A majority of these ecommerce leaders are making changes that improve a visitor’s experience and impact their search visibility like upgrading to HTTPS or using SEO tags for navigation.
- Top ecommerce brands rank for over 50,000 keywords, but less than a quarter of their keywords rank on the first page of Google. Benchmark your progress with this data.
- Most ecommerce companies include a range of internal links on their website but struggle with backlinks; have a low number of toxic backlinks and recognize that social sharing drives links.
- Excessive duplication, a lack of creativity, and original text are some of the most common issues brands face with their use of metadata and on-site copy.
- Add schema markup, integrations with Alexa or Google Home, and Accelerated Mobile Pages as many ecommerce leaders neglect to do so, which is an opportunity to differentiate.
- Decrease the mobile and desktop load time of a website to compete effectively with leading ecommerce brands, aim for a page speed of below three seconds.
- Research Methodology
- Content Performance
- Keyword Ranking
- On-page Optimization
- Link Building
- Conversion Optimization
- Mobile, Voice and Local Search
- Final Thoughts: Audit, Analyze, and Act
The data for this research study was generated by reviewing the top 50 ecommerce retailers in the United States. These companies were chosen from listings compiled by the National Retail Federation and Women’s Wear Daily, both based on online sales.
Across these companies, 12 different industries are represented including apparel, beauty, department store, electronics, footwear, home goods, home improvement, jewelry, office supplies, pharmacy, retail, and sporting goods.
The organizations reviewed were Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Amazon, American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Apple, Bath & Body Works, Best Buy, Blue Nile, Cabela’s, Carter’s, Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dillard’s, Express, Finish Line, Foot Locker, GAP, Home Depot, HSN, J.C. Penney, J.Crew, Kate Spade, Kohl’s, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, NIKE, Nordstrom, Office Depot, Overstock, QVC, Ralph Lauren, Sears, Staples, Target, The North Face, Tiffany & Co., Timberland, Ulta, Under Armour, Urban Outfitters, Vans, Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Wayfair, Williams-Sonoma, and Zulily.
These leading brands were analyzed across 19 tests to review both the optimizations driving results as well as the challenges they face reaching their goals with search.
In addition to manually reviewing certain elements across each company, these tests were completed using BuzzSumo, SEMrush, Ahrefs, SpyFu, ScreamingFrog SEO Spider, Pingdom Website Speed Test, and Varvy SEO tool.
For some of the completed tests, not all of the 50 brands were able to be analyzed as some tools were blocked from crawling certain websites.
Test #1: Impact of Blogging on SEO
Blogging certainly has many benefits, but there has always been a debate as to what the ideal publishing frequency an organization should aim for.
Each of the 50 websites were manually reviewed to determine the average number of blog posts they’ve published over the last eight months from January 2017 to August 2017.
SpyFu was used to calculate the total number of organic keywords each organization ranked for and SEMrush to identify the total number of backlinks each site has.
From our analysis, there isn’t a clear correlation between an increase or decrease in links or organic keywords and how frequently a brand publishes a blog.
Links and keywords increased with more blog posts published in some instances and the opposite was true as well for other companies on the list.
From the data collected about these brands, it’s fair to say that the quantity of content published doesn’t have a definitive impact on an organization’s SEO.
Despite the results of this test, creating content is still a valuable way to drive SEO value as it’s a viable means of attracting links, engagement, and loyalty from customers.
While reviewing each brand, especially in the apparel category, it’s clear that operating a blog is an important channel for communicating with customers as:
Among the reviewed brands, the use of their blogs differed from sharing product updates, styling tips, news about their company and events, interviews with influential voices, and more.
Most of these organizations have their blog hosted on their own websites, which is the ideal arrangement to reap the SEO benefits from regularly sharing content.
Unfortunately, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie, and a few others are only using Tumblr to blog, which certainly has advantages, but doesn’t deliver the full SEO benefits.
Instead, those brands should blog on both Tumblr and their own website like Nordstrom does or integrate their existing Tumblr onto their domain like Walgreens did with tumblr.walgreens.com.
The number of blogs published doesn’t have a clear impact on SEO. Although, most leading ecommerce brands are blogging to earn the activity’s many benefits.
Test #2: YouTube SEO
There is no doubt that YouTube videos rank in Google search, but not all videos rank because many factors are considered as to whether a video is listed in the search results or not.
One factor that increases the likelihood of a video ranking in YouTube or Google is if it’s actually being watched, which is an indicator of quality and relevancy.
Each of the brand’s YouTube channels was manually reviewed to determine the number of videos with 20,000 views or more to be compared against the current number of organic keywords each company ranks for.
There doesn’t appear to be a positive or negative correlation between the number of quality YouTube videos a brand produces and the keywords they rank for.
For example, reviewing this data illustrated that some brands that rank for over 100,000 keywords had zero videos over 20,000 views, while others had 152 videos.
Every brand has a YouTube channel at varying levels of activeness, demonstrating that video is a key part of a marketing strategy for these organizations.
There isn’t an ideal number of videos to produce to achieve success, instead focus on the topics covered and how it’s promoted.
As a reference, the leading ecommerce brands have 120 videos on average with 20,000 views and up, but recognize that each company likely has many more videos on their channels that underperformed.
Review the total number of videos a brand has on their channel as compared to this average to see that success with videos on YouTube requires learning from failed videos and testing different topics and types of videos.
For instance, Neiman Marcus has 87 videos on their channel and only seven have generated over 20,000 views or Lowe’s with 889 videos total and only 564 reaching 20,000 views.
Views aren’t the only metric to indicate the business value of a YouTube video, but they’re a strong indicator of each video’s overall performance.
The views on a brand’s videos don’t directly correlate with the number of keywords it ranks for. Evaluate the YouTube channels of these brands for insights on what works.
Test #3: Ranking with Organic Keywords
One indicator of a brand’s success in search are the number of qualified keywords they rank highly for to reach the right people.
Not all of the keywords a brand ranks for are likely targeted directly by the brand, but a majority are informed by the site’s content and optimization.
The SEO overview report from SpyFu was used to calculate the total number of unique organic keywords that appear for the 50 brands in the top 50 search results.
Surprisingly, 60 percent, or 30 out of the 50 brands, reviewed rank for more than 50,000 organic keywords in search.
Use this data to inform your long-term approach to targeting keywords by starting with a small focused list initially and continuing to focus on keywords worth optimizing for.
Every organization ranks for additional keywords that are connected to what they are specifically focusing on, but use the 50,000 mark as a reference when optimizing.
There is a vast range in the number of keywords that some of these brand ranks for. Best Buy, Wayfair, Lowe’s, and Overstock rank for more than 500,000 keywords, while companies like Ann Taylor, Kate Spade, and North Face rank for under 20,000 keywords.
Although the length of time a brand has been active online influences the number of keywords it ranks for, this data provides insight into which brands focus on SEO.
Most leading ecommerce brands rank for over 50,000 keywords, use this data as a reference when continuing to build your own list.
Test #4: Page One Rankings With Organic Keywords
The number of keywords a brand ranks for on the first page is a better measure of success than the total number of keywords it ranks for overall.
SpyFu’s SEO overview report was run to determine the total number of organic keywords that appear for the 50 leading ecommerce brands in the top 10 search results on the first page.
Of the 50 ecommerce brands analyzed, 64 percent rank for less than 50,000 organic keywords on the first page of a Google search.
First-page rankings for a particular keyword phrase are more difficult to achieve since there is more competition, which is why brands have far fewer keywords there.
On average, over the total number of keywords a leading ecommerce brand ranks for, 23 percent rank on the first page of a Google search.
Remember, there are many factors that impact why an enterprise ranks, such as the authority of the brand, which impacts their pages’ popularity.
Use the data below to identify which organizations are finding success with their approach to SEO to monitor what optimizations they’re making and the content they’re producing.
|Top Brands by Keywords||Keywords on the First Page||Total Keywords||Percentage of 1st Page Keywords|
Less than a quarter of a leading ecommerce brand’s keywords rank on page one of Google, use this as a benchmark to analyze the impact of your keyword research.
Test #5: Keyword Cannibalization Caused by Duplication
Many brands overoptimize their site for SEO by focusing too many pages on the same exact keywords, which is known as keyword cannibalization.
Regardless of their intentions, this practice leads to diminished search authority for a brand as its own internal pages are competing against one another.
Instead, an organization should choose a variety of related keywords that demonstrate the range of the company’s expertise.
Too often, cannibalization occurs by accident as the same metadata, like title tags, meta descriptions, and headers tags gets duplicated across multiple pages.
The Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool was used to crawl 500 pages of 48 of the top ecommerce brands to identify the prevalence of duplicated metadata.
Upon review, almost all the 48 brands had widespread duplication of their metadata across their website.
Unfortunately, 93 percent of analyzed brands have over 100 instances of duplicated URLs, page titles, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and H1 and H2 header tags.
For example, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and American Eagle Outfitters each had over 2,500 instances of duplication in their metadata across 500 pages.
Both brands should audit their website using a crawling tool to see where duplicates exist and make their metadata more distinct on every page.
Prevent cannibalization of a company’s keywords by running a monthly crawl report to identify what duplicates need to be corrected.
Honorable Mention: Wayfair, an online home goods retailer, had the fewest instances of duplication across their website as compared to the 47 other reviewed brands.
As one of the few retailers on this list to operate solely online, it makes sense that Wayfair is performing regular maintenance on their website for SEO and users alike.
Most ecommerce brands have duplicated metadata on-site, likely affecting their rankings. Regularly audit your site to prevent the same issues from occurring.
Test #6: Narrative Title Tags vs. Keyword-Driven Title Tags
The goal of a title tag is to inform visitors what a particular page is about when they see it listed in SERPs and it is one of the factors the search engines review when ranking a page.
It’s essential to include relevant keywords within a title tag to accurately describe the content of a page, but it shouldn’t be robotic and solely serve search engines.
A highly effective title tag provides the necessary information to the search engines, while being an engaging 60 characters or less of text for people actually reading it.
Narrative title tags include the right keywords but explain the subject of a page to incite action, express a brand’s personality, or inform customers about a product or service.
Here’s an example of a narrative title tag HSN used for their travel accessories page:
Travel Gear & Accessories You Can’t Travel Without | HSN
This title tag includes keywords like travel gear, the brand’s name, and a quirky phrase at the end to showcase the brand’s personality and encourage customers to shop.
As compared to a more keyword-driven title tag that’s often overly simplified and only includes keywords like this one from Vans used to describe their backpack line:
Realm Backpack | Shop at Vans
The ideal scenario is to have a mix of the two types of title tags, but catered more to being narrative as they are better for serving both the search engines and customers.
Screaming Frog was used to crawl 500 pages from each ecommerce brand to determine any patterns in the way title tags were written on their website.
Most of the title tags found on the websites of the top ecommerce brands were heavily keyword focused.
This is the case because it is easier for a company to craft a quick and simple title tag with the right keywords as opposed to taking a creative approach.
It is surprising how few brands are making their title tags more narrative as every touchpoint across a website is an opportunity to connect a brand with its customers.
Only 13 of the 50 ecommerce brands are using narrative elements in their title tags, showcasing an opportunity for an organization to stand out from these industry leaders.
Ulta, Neiman Marcus, Sears, and Blue Nile are some of the few companies adding a narrative element to their title tags, review their use of metadata for inspiration on how to account for readers and Google under a 60-character limit.
Honorable Mention: For crafting narrative title tags, here are examples to learn from. Kate Spade and Victoria’s Secret add colorful adjectives to their title tags to make them more interesting and aligned with their brand, while still catering to search engines.
Totes – Smart, Carry-all Tote Bags for Timeless Style | Kate Spade New York
Very Sexy Platinum For Him Cologne – Victoria’s Secret
Lowe’s and Wayfair include verbs to incite action and describe how their offerings make people feel or how to use a product; consider including a relevant call-to-action.
Queen Mattresses You’ll Love | Wayfair
Build a Deck-Top Pond – Lowe’s
These brands are also purposely including natural and relatable language that’s similar to the way their customers talk, which helps their metadata resonate with readers.
Expert Reflections: Neal Schaffer, CEO of PDCA Social
“Brands need storytelling to captivate an audience whose digital attention is always being fought for. On the other hand, brands similarly need content to be found by search engines and to engage in social media.
I would expect savvy brands to be optimizing their content for maximum exposure in search using keywords that a consumer might naturally use.
At the same time, optimizing for the maximum shareability of their content in social media using a combination of hashtags, keywords, and perhaps more narrative title tags to garner interest and emotion.
The lure to a company’s content, whether it be through title tags and meta descriptions for search engines or customizing the way the content looks when it is shared on each social network, should be optimized for each channel to ensure maximum exposure.”
Most ecommerce brands fail to move beyond keyword-driven title tags. Instead, include a balance of storytelling and keywords in your title tags and other metadata.
Test #7: Common Challenges With Metadata
Writing a single title tag or meta description may seem insignificant, but the combined impact of optimizing all the pages across a website can make a noticeable difference.
The websites of 48 leading ecommerce companies were crawled using Screaming Frog to determine how many pages from a sampling of 500 were optimized properly for SEO.
Every ecommerce brand analyzed had a majority of their metadata optimized correctly.
According to the crawl report, each ecommerce company had at least 80 percent of their site optimized with an accurate title tag, meta description, and H1 and H2 headers.
Despite most pages being optimized correctly, there were still over 45,000 issues with metadata detected.
Brands most often had issues with their meta descriptions being too long or too short, missing an H2 tag, or their title tags being too brief, which is a missed opportunity to share useful information about the content included on a page.
Pay attention to these important details as some of these optimizations impact how the search engines rank a website, influence a person’s decision to visit a page or both.
Keep pace with the leading ecommerce brands by ensuring your website is fully optimized with the proper metadata.
Test #8: On-Page Elements on Top Performing Product Pages
Too often ecommerce sites showcase their products with only a product name, a duplicated description of the item from the manufacturer, and an image.
Whether a product or a category page, including original copy is useful for providing information to shoppers and giving the search engines insights about the page.
To determine any consistent on-page elements found on product pages, the top five most trafficked pages on each site, as reported by Ahrefs, were manually reviewed.
Upon review, 54 percent of the top 50 ecommerce companies had original copy included on their most visited product and category pages.
Most of the 27 brands that had copy on their top pages had over 100 words included either at the bottom of a category page or as part of an in-depth product description.
These are additional elements that consistently appeared on the top performing product pages that likely impacts their performance in search:
- Internal links in the description of a page, as seen below from Dick’s Sporting Goods category page on footwear.
- Links to related products at the bottom of a product page, as seen here from Macy’s.
- Inclusion of product video, as seen below from QVC.
Expert Reflections: Rebekah Radice, Founder and CMO of RadiantLA
“That data is a strong case for the creation of original content. Unfortunately, this is one of the many challenges companies face. To combat a bandwidth issue, start with a simple search.
Go to your Google Analytics dashboard and choose, “Behavior -> Site Content -> All Pages.” What you’re looking for is top performing (trafficked) pages. Choose your top five pages based on relevance to your audience, unique pageviews, and bounce rate (the higher the more important to update).
Now make minor tweaks by looking to the page content and asking if the introduction (first paragraph) explains the true nature of the page? Is the struggle you’re solving for the reader clear? Are your keywords added naturally?
Your goal is to update the content only as much is necessary to match the actual intent of your audience. The better you can make that connection, the better those top performing pages will convert.”
Honorable Mention: Gap includes useful copy on some of their category pages to serve both the search engines and its customers, as seen here at the bottom of their baby clothes page.
The company includes over 300 words of copy on certain category pages that naturally integrate relevant keywords about the focus of the page.
For their customers, the copy is organized into different sections providing details about the collection, its unique features, and tips on how to style the products effectively.
Gap should continue this approach and add relevant copy across more of their most important category pages.
Aim to both provide utility to readers with the copy included on product pages and enough keyword-rich text to provide the right context to the search engines.
Integrate original copy across every page of a website to drive more traffic and improve the on-site experience for visitors.
Sharing on social media primarily drives awareness and engagement but doesn’t have a direct impact on how a site ranks in search.
However, the greater visibility social media provides may indirectly bring content to the attention of content creators, editors, site owners, and others who have the ability to feature this content and potentially drive links to the original resource.
To determine if this correlation exists, 48 of the top ecommerce sites were reviewed using the most shared report from BuzzSumo.
This report listed the number of links and social shares each page on these websites had earned, which were then organized by the top 40 most shared pages on social media.
The number of links the top 20 pages had was compared to the total links the next 20 pages had to determine if more social shares coincided with a greater number of links.
After reviewing this data, it became clear that most of the pages analyzed had more links when they had a higher number of shares on social media.
For instance, Apple has 12,034 links on their top 20 most shared pages as compared to 7,195 links on the next 20 most shared pages — a difference of 4,839 links.
Brands of all sizes should act on this data by developing product pages and content on their website that have elements ideal for sharing on social media.
Too often, businesses create content, but neglect to come up with a proper distribution plan.
Consider the many ways of gaining traction on social media like working with influencers, adding visual media, and including original information.
There is a clear connection between the number of social shares and the backlinks a page earns. Create content that’s social media friendly to indirectly drive links.
Test #10: Use of Internal Linking
Although an organization can indirectly impact the external links driven to their site, they do have direct control of their own internal links.
An internal link is a link that points to another page on the same site helping the search engines understand how the site is organized and visitors easily navigate its pages.
Linking to relevant phrases naturally throughout a website can help search engines better grasp the flow of PageRank and authority.
The SEMrush site audit statistics report was calculated to determine the percentage of internal links included on 500 pages for 49 of the leading ecommerce brands.
A majority of the top ecommerce brands analyzed have a reasonable amount of internal links across their sites.
Thirty-nine out of the top 49 brands had 50+ internal links included on their pages, 38 companies had at least one and 35 companies had between two and five links.
It is surprising to see that most brands embraced a technical SEO detail like internal linking, which indicates how important this element is to serve customers and Google.
Although the average number of internal links per site varied significantly, most of these links pointed to related products, corresponding category pages, or relevant content.
Follow in the footsteps of these leading brands and add internal links throughout your website to create a simple navigation structure.
Don’t overdo it by including too many links on each page for the sake of including them, instead focus on adding links that provide value or assist with organization.
Honorable Mention: Office Depot is an example of a brand with the optimal balance of internal links across their website.
About half of their pages have 50+ internal links and the other half only have one internal link per page, while the rest of their site has two to 50 links across each page.
This is a balanced approach as some pages shouldn’t include too many links to ensure a visitor takes action, while others should include lots of links to provide options.
When reviewing the links included on your website, ensure there are a diverse mix of quality internal links to match the different types of pages.
For example, a blog post might include eight to 14 links to related content and products, while a product page only has four internal links included to recommended products.
Brands should include a variety of quality internal links across their websites to help create a simple navigation structure for both visitors and search engines.
Test #11: The Impact of Toxic Links
Toxic links are spam links that are harmful to the credibility of a website in search. It is important for any ecommerce site to monitor the quality of their backlink profile to ensure they are able to flag toxic links for removal.
The SEMrush backlink audit identified the number of toxic links each of the top 50 ecommerce websites had and then was compared to the site’s number of organic keywords and estimated average monthly organic traffic as calculated by SpyFu.
This test proved that there isn’t a clear negative or positive correlation between the number of toxic links to organic keywords and monthly traffic.
Some brands had a higher number of keywords and traffic even with a high percentage of toxic links, while others had the opposite arrangement.
The test did reveal a potential impact of toxic links like how six of the top 10 sites with the highest percentage of toxic links ranked for less than 50,000 keywords.
It’s unclear if the presence of toxic links was the only cause for these lower number of organic keywords, but it’s important to recognize that it may have been a factor.
The brands with the highest amount of toxic links are Dick’s Sporting Goods with 48,000 toxic links and North Face with nearly 26 percent of all their links identified as toxic.
|Top Brands by Toxic Links||Number of Toxic Links||Total Number of Links||% of Toxic Links|
|The North Face||10407||40773||25.52%|
|Dick’s Sporting Goods||48000||505206||9.50%|
|Abercrombie & Fitch Co.||4022||81369||4.94%|
These organizations should audit their website to crawl all their existing links and begin manually identifying which are toxic and should be immediately disavowed.
As a benchmark for how many bad links are common to have on a site, recognize that 74 percent of the leading ecommerce brands have link profiles that are less than 2 percent toxic.
The other 26 percent of leading ecommerce brands had link profiles that were over 2 percent toxic, highlighting how prevalent the problem can become if not addressed properly.
Every website has toxic links, but they mostly make up a small percentage of a site’s total links. Run an analysis quarterly to identify which links need to be removed.
Test #12: The Average Site Speed
According to Google, the average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds.
A visitor’s tolerance for a slow loading website on any device is low and Google takes a site’s load time into consideration when ranking its pages.
Both Pingdom and Google’s Mobile Speed Test were used to determine the load time for 48 leading ecommerce brands on desktop and mobile.
According to the analysis of the ecommerce leaders, their average mobile load time is 9.52 seconds and the average desktop load time is 2.94 seconds, faster than the industry average.
|Top Brands by Desktop Load Times||Fastest Load Times|
|American Eagle Outfitters||891 milliseconds|
|Blue Nile||1.22 seconds|
|Dick’s Sporting Goods||1.25 seconds|
Most organizations from this analysis optimized their sites effectively, but others still must fix a range of issues to reduce load time to a reasonable length.
|Top Brands by Mobile Load Times||Fastest Load Times|
The leading ecommerce brands lose an average of 26 percent of their visitors due to slow mobile page speeds, which can result in a significant loss of revenue.
Neglecting to decrease mobile load times will continue to diminish the number of conversions a site drives in the long term as more transaction occur on devices.
Use Pingdom or Google’s Mobile Speed Test to determine your site’s load time and to identify areas in need of improvement like page size, the number of redirects, and more.
Honorable Mention: Nike had the best overall load time out of the 50 brands reviewed with a load time on desktop of 1.27 seconds and six seconds on mobile.
Faster is better. Decrease the load time across devices below three seconds for the best customer experience and to slightly impact the search rankings.
Large enterprise ecommerce sites use faceted navigation to make it easy for visitors to sort through options on a page like filtering a sweaters page by size, brand, or color.
Faceted navigation makes it easier for customers to find the products they’re looking for, which often means they’re more likely to convert.
Businesses fail to properly tag the navigation structure on their site leading to the search engines ranking multiple versions of the same pages.
There are a few ways to alert the search engines as to how to crawl and index existing pages correctly like adding a noindex tag, adding canonical tags to identify which version of a series of pages deserves credit, disavowing sections of the site with the robots.txt, or by nofollowing all internal links that shouldn’t be crawled.
Screaming Frog was used to crawl 500 pages of each site to determine which ecommerce brands are optimizing their faceted navigation with the right SEO tags.
Most of the ecommerce brands analyzed did have these SEO tags on some of the pages on their websites.
|SEO Tags||Brand Usage of Tags|
|Canonicalized Tags||95% of Brands Use This Tag|
|Canonical Tags||100% of Brands Use This Tag|
|Nofollow Tags||29% of Brands Use This Tag|
|Noindex Tags||55% of Brands Use This Tag|
|Robots.txt||52% of Brands Use This Tag|
The use of these tags on certain pages may not have been for correcting issues with navigation, but without direct access to the site, we cannot be sure.
Most of the leading ecommerce brands embrace the use of these SEO tags to ensure that the navigation for customers isn’t negatively impacting their search rankings.
When correcting issues with navigation on a website, add the appropriate SEO tags to alert Google to which pages to consider and which to ignore.
Test #14: Usage of HTTPS for Site Security
Google recently announced that it will begin showing “not secure” warnings in Chrome for any websites that allow a user to enter data on an HTTP page.
Eventually, Google plans to show this warning for all HTTP pages on a site.
Providing security for visitors should be a key priority for an ecommerce site as customers need to trust that their private information will be kept safe.
These warnings from Chrome and any hesitation a visitor might have shopping on a website can greatly decrease a site’s conversion rate.
Each of the 50 leading ecommerce websites were manually reviewed to see if they were secured with HTTPS or not.
Most top ecommerce brands are using HTTPS to secure their entire website against misuse and to integrate more effectively with Chrome and tech that requires it.
Despite most organizations working to keep their sites secure, major brands like Carter’s, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Ulta, Neiman Marcus, and others don’t have HTTPS across their entire website, leaving customers at risk and reducing their conversion rates in the process.
Expert Reflections: Aaron Agius, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Louder.Online
“I wish I could say I’m surprised that sites (even industry leaders) aren’t moving to HTTPS, given the benefits of doing so. It isn’t just the upcoming addition of the ‘Not Secure’ notification in Chrome.
Google has made it clear for some time that they’re counting HTTPS as a ranking signal and indexing secure pages over unsecured ones.
But making the move isn’t as simple as installing a security certificate and calling it a day. Going to HTTPS requires changing internal links, adding the proper canonical links to your <head> section, making sure your CDN is HTTPS compatible and much more.
Every step introduces potential complications; large sites are especially at risk, given their sheer number of moving parts. Errors in the process can lead to major crawling issues, duplicate content, and UX problems, which is why it’s a good idea to work with an SEO professional who’s familiar with HTTPS migrations — no matter what size your company is.”
Upgrade to HTTPS to encrypt sensitive data sent across a website and properly integrate with Chrome and other technology to protect visitors and maintain their trust.
Test #15: Common SEO Issues
Understanding the consistent challenges ecommerce leaders face with SEO can help prioritize what issues your organization should look out for.
The Varvy SEO tool was used to review 44 of the most prevalent ecommerce retailers to identify the presence of a sitemap, valid HTML, image alt text, and other SEO issues.
Reviewing each of the 44 sites illustrated that leading ecommerce firms are dealing with an average of five major SEO-related issues.
The most prominent issues these companies had across their websites were:
- Missing the If-Modified-Since HTTP header.
- No “skip main content link” detected.
- Missing a sitemap for users.
- The default language of the pages not ideally declared.
- Lack of findable links across certain pages.
The brands that were the most SEO friendly with only two issues detected were:
- Sears — Missing alt text for images and image links.
- Apple — No “skip to main content link” detected and missing the If-Modified-Since HTTP header.
- Zulily — Missing a sitemap for users and missing the If-Modified-Since HTTP header.
- Blue Nile — No “skip to main content link” detected and missing the If-Modified-Since HTTP header.
Improving a website is an ongoing process that even top ecommerce brands need to continually work at. Identify the SEO issues facing your website and start optimizing.
Mobile, Voice and Local Search
Test #16: Integrating With Voice Assistants
By 2020, there will be 200 billion monthly voice search queries, according to Mary Meeker’s Trends Report, highlighting why brands should integrate with popular voice services now.
Google Home and Alexa are the two leading voice assistants that are competing aggressively to dominate the growing voice search industry.
Brands can create customized experiences by developing an Alexa Skill or a Google Action to seamlessly integrate their own apps and offerings with these services.
Beyond ranking organically for voice search, an integration at this level can help a brand better connect with consumers using these platforms.
Both the marketplace for Alexa Skills and Google Actions was manually reviewed to determine which ecommerce brands have built integrations on these platforms.
After reviewing the 50 leading ecommerce brands, a vast majority of these organizations don’t have any integrations with Alexa or Google Home.
The lack of major ecommerce brands developing integrations with these services presents an opportunity for your enterprise to start experimenting with these platforms.
Known as the first-mover advantage, by getting active and achieving success on a particular platform, in this case Alexa and/or Google Home, allows an organization to have a competitive edge before a network becomes oversaturated.
Honorable Mention: Lowe’s and Best Buy were the only brands with integrations on both Alexa and Google Home, focused on their connected devices, like smart thermostats.
Get ahead of the curve and develop a useful integration with one of the leading voice assistant services to reach customers as this technology continues to grow in popularity.
Test #17: Common Mobile SEO Issues
At least 50 percent of Google’s global search queries are now from mobile devices, which should act as a reminder as to why it’s essential to optimize for mobile search.
Varvy’s Mobile SEO tool was used to review 43 of these top retailers to identify the common optimizations made and the frequent issues these organizations faced.
The most common mobile SEO challenges experienced by these brands were:
- Browser caching issues.
- Render blocking CSS and/or JS.
- Images not being optimized.
- Tap targets not large enough.
According to Varvy, the tap targets across these sites weren’t large enough as the mobile screen is small and needs big buttons for people to easily navigate by tapping.
Most of the analyzed brands made the following optimizations for an optimal mobile experience:
- Including legible text for mobile users.
- Configured viewport for viewing content on different sized screens.
- All interstitials blocking activity were removed.
- Minimal redirects were detected.
- No plug-ins to keep load times fast.
Pay attention to load time and the usability of a mobile site to help customers navigate the shopping experience and search engines accurately crawl it.
Test #18: Use of Structured Data Types
Schema is code that can be added to any website to better inform the search engines about how to serve the site’s content in the search results.
Whether a site’s pages showcase recipes, reviews, or music, adding schema will help the search engines understand the relevancy of a page as related to a search query.
Consumers benefit, too, as the results for a page that’s been marked up with structured data will more accurately reflect the type of information the site offers.
For example, this recipe for True Texas Chili on Epicurious has been marked up as a recipe to appear in search with an image, ratings, reviews, and calorie count.
The SEMrush Site Audit tool was used to crawl 500 pages from each of the 49 most successful ecommerce sites to determine how prominent the use of schema markup is, as well as open graph, Twitter cards, and microformats.
A majority of the analyzed companies, 31 out of 49, use schema on at least 1 percent of their pages.
Here’s the breakdown of the frequency of schema markup used across the pages on these websites.
It’s clear that adding schema is widely adopted by top ecommerce sites, but most could certainly improve in terms of adding it to a larger percentage of their pages.
The reason schema isn’t more widely adopted across a larger portion of pages on many sites is because the process of adding markup can be time consuming.
To best approach adding schema to your site, start small by first adding markup to the most important pages based on the sales, conversions, or traffic.
In terms of the other types of markup used, Open Graph from Facebook is the most widely used, since the social network is a prevalent marketing medium.
Start by adding schema and other relevant types of markup language to the most important pages to best present your site’s content.
Test #19: Adoption of Accelerated Mobile Pages
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) allow brands to load their pages quickly on mobile devices directly from Google search results.
Available for any website to use for free, AMP pages load instantly, provide smooth scrolling, keep a page’s existing styling and branding, and offer the ability to monetize ads.
According to Google, these pages load roughly four times faster and use one-tenth the data of pages and objects not built in AMP.
A major benefit is that Google gives AMP pages priority in mobile search because it offers a better experience for users. AMP isn’t a ranking signal but more of a preferred format by Google.
The first three pages of mobile search results were reviewed manually and a 500-page crawl of each site was completed to detect the use of AMP by the top 49 ecommerce companies.
Only three of the 49 reviewed companies, Overstock, JCrew, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, were using AMP on their website.
This lack of AMP adoption for the moment is an opportunity for your organization to turn on AMP across relevant pages and stand out in search for the right reasons.
Honorable Mention: While manually reviewing the mobile search results of these brands, it was surprising to see how often AMP pages would appear for these companies via Retale.
A mobile deals and discounts app, Retale is the online version of a printed flyer showcasing current offers and coupons from a range of retailers.
It appears that Retale also creates local listing pages for many of these brands with AMP to ensure their retail location’s address, phone number, store hours, and weekly offers are featured prominently in Google search.
It’s unclear if Retale charges retailers for creating AMP pages for their local stores, but since this feature is free, it’d be easy for these brands to implement them on their own site.
These brands would likely earn more of the benefits of AMP by adding it on their website as compared to having their local listings managed by a third party.
Implement AMP on your company’s site to provide a seamless, fast experience for customers searching on mobile and to prioritize your pages and content in search.
Final Thoughts: Audit, Analyze, and Act
Combine these insights from the top 50 ecommerce brands with an ongoing audit of your site’s progress to achieve success with search.
Analyze where your organization stands on a quarterly basis and refer back to this data to evaluate how these ecommerce companies are approaching the same challenges.
When evaluating this data, don’t duplicate what the leading brands are doing exactly, but instead, apply the lessons learned to your company’s unique circumstances.
After analyzing these findings, it’s time to take action and begin making the necessary optimizations to correct any errors and start experimenting to test new opportunities.
Being more informed about the progress of industry leaders, changing technology, and evolving consumer needs will enable an enterprise to succeed with SEO.