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SEO: Why 65 Percent of Top 20 E-Commerce Sites Are Missing the Boat

  |  March 1, 2011   |  Comments

Customer reviews on the product page are a key component for improving your organic search results; here are some companies that are doing it well, and some that are not.

Sales originate through traffic. Google is the number one source of traffic, accounting for up to 80 percent of total traffic on e-commerce sites (organic, paid, and shopping). Does Google like your site? And, most importantly, does Google like and deliver traffic to your product page, on which the "add to cart" button is located? We analyzed the top 20 e-commerce sites (Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide 2010) and here's what we found. While most sites do a good job optimizing their pages/URLs, many sites have ignored their user-generated content (UGC), which is unfortunate, because that content is often the most valuable in Google's eyes.

Consider this:

  • 25 to 35 percent of traffic for large e-commerce sites is organic search (SEO).
  • The highest converting SEO traffic is traffic that lands directly on your product page.
  • Google favors fresh UGC (user/customer-generated content) in its search results.
  • The UGC on the product page is customer reviews - ubiquitous on the Web, proven to drive conversion, and consumers' number one social tool in the buying process.
  • Google indexing customer reviews directly on your product page is absolutely required to optimize your product page for SEO.
  • 65 percent of the top e-commerce sites do not have customer reviews indexed on their product pages.

Why does Google not index customer reviews on 65 percent of the top 20 sites' product pages?

The customer reviews are displayed in an iFrame. Google, Bing, and Yahoo do not attribute content in an iFrame to that page. This means that user-generated content in an iFrame will not be attributed and indexed on the product page that it's contained within.

Who's Doing It Well?

Amazon's reviews on its product pages are indexed by Google. Staples, Apple, Sears, SonyStyle, NewEgg, and Grainger also have reviews indexed by Google, rounding out those in the top 20.

Below is what an Amazon and Staples' product page looks like to Google. In gray, under the retailer logo, you'll see the Amazon/Staples product page as consumers see it. Under the Google icon next to each consumer view, you'll see the same page as Google sees it, highlighting indexed UGC in green.

Click to enlarge the above image

What you'll notice about the above examples is that in addition to standard product page keywords such as product name and description, Google is also indexing the extensive consumer-generated keywords produced by reviews.

Who Doesn't Google Index on the Product Page?

On the other side of the fence are those displaying customer reviews in a way that Google cannot recognize on the product page. We found that 65 percent of the top 20 e-commerce sites do not have indexable customer reviews on their product page. Bold/red clients on the list indicate those not being indexed:

IR Rank Retailer Name Indexable UGC?
1 Amazon Services Yes
2 Staples Contract & Commercial, Inc. Yes
3 Dell Inc. No
4 Apple, Inc. Yes
5 Office Depot Inc. No
6 Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC No
7 OfficeMax Inc No
8 Sears Holdings Yes
9 CDW Corp. No
10 Best Buy Co. No
11 QVC Inc. No
12 Newegg.com Yes
13 Sony Style Yes
14 Netflix, Inc. No
15 Costco Wholesale Corp. No
16 J.C. Penney Co. Inc. No
17 HP Home & Home Office Store No
18 Victoria's Secret Direct No
19 W.W. Grainger, Inc. Yes
20 Macys.com (Macy's West) No

In contrast to the Amazon and Staples examples above, the following is what Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Office Depot look like to Google. Again, the gray version under each retailer logo shows how consumers view the product page. Next, on each consumer view, you'll see the same page under a Google icon, showing the page as Google sees it with red outlines highlighting the content gaps where Google is not indexing anything.

Click to enlarge the above image

Click to enlarge the above image

These retailers have opportunities to increase their SEO. Why can't Google index this content? To recap from above, it's because Google, Bing, and Yahoo do not see content in an iFrame, and therefore do not index any of the user-generated content contained within one.

In addition to having proven conversion impact, customer reviews on the product page are a key component for improving your organic search results. Here's what to do to ensure that your product pages are optimized for UGC to drive more organic search traffic.

How to Increase Traffic With Customer Content

  1. Verify that Google is indexing customer reviews on your product page. To easily check for yourself, do the following:
    • Choose a product on your site with customer reviews
    • Find the search result in Google linking to that product page
    • In the bottom right of the search result, click the link that says "Cached" (see below) to see how Google views your product page when it was last indexed. If customer reviews or any other keyword-rich content is missing, move on to step two and take action immediately
  2. Remove any valuable, keyword-rich content from iFrames or JavaScript and place it in a Google-indexable format (HTML).
  3. Make one person accountable, as part of her role, for consumer-generated content quantity and quality - e.g., 30 percent increase in customer reviews, 50 percent increase in reviews being shared on Facebook and Twitter.



Cathy Halligan

Cathy has over 20 years of experience in both multichannel and online retail and a deep understanding of consumer needs and goals. Cathy's proven track record spans a range of industries and companies, from start-up ventures to multibillion dollar operations. Cathy is currently a Board Member at Ulta Beauty (ULTA), the largest beauty retailer that provides one-stop shopping for prestige, mass, and salon products and salon services in the United States. She has served as SVP, marketing & sales at PowerReviews, the world's most widely deployed social commerce platform, where she was responsible for overseeing the company's rapid customer and revenue growth. Prior to PowerReviews, Cathy held executive-level positions at Walmart: chief marketing officer Walmart.com, vice president of market development, global e-commerce, and vice president of product management and multichannel integration. Ms. Halligan has also held executive positions with leading retailers Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree, and Blue Nile, and was an associate partner at Prophet, a leading management consulting firm. She started her career as a marketing coordinator at Lands' End.

For real-time social commerce news and updates, follow Cathy on Twitter at @CathyHalligan.

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