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Study: Top E-tailers Neglect SEO

  |  September 29, 2004   |  Comments

Just a dozen of the top 100 online retail brands boasted well-optimized Web sites.

The Fortune 100 are not the only companies ignoring search engine optimization (SEO). According to a new study from Oneupweb, very few of the top online retailers had well-optimized sites, resulting in some missed opportunities to generate revenue.

Faring only slightly better than the Fortune 100, just a dozen of the first 100 companies profiled in Internet Retailer Magazine's Top 300 Guide had well-optimized sites.

Surprisingly, some of the biggest names in e-tailing were absent from the 12 well-optimized sites. Among the well-optimized sites were national brand names Sears, Lowes, Walgreens, Nordstrom, and Sharper Image, along with players like Quixtar, Schwans, Blue Nile, Abe Books, Drs. Foster and Smith, JC Whitney, and Alibris.

"We were also surprised that sites in this study weren't even more active SEO users than the study shows. We expected that these organizations would be more sales oriented and as such, more interested in building online traffic at the very least," said Oneupweb president Lisa Wehr.

Wehr notes that in general, retailers had more well-optimized sites than the Fortune 100 companies. They also had fewer sites that were not optimized at all (36 compared to 44).

SEO Usage by 100 Top Retailers
2004
Well-optimized sites 12
Moderately optimized sites 23
Nominally optimized sites 29
No optimization 36
Source: Oneupweb

The study evaluated site architecture, title tags, meta tags, keywords, and content. Oneupweb also looked at whether the sites fell on Google and Yahoo's first, second, or third search result pages when appropriate keywords were used.

Of the 12 well-optimized sites, 67 percent appeared on Google's first page, and 58 percent appeared on Yahoo's first page. In total, 75 percent were among the search results on Google's first three pages, and 67 percent showed up on Yahoo's first three pages.

Pay-per-click (PPC) programs may be propelling some of the absent e-tailers to prime first page search positions, but the Oneupweb study only focused on organic results.

"If they didn't appear in the natural or editorial listings as well, then we didn't count them as having natural results on the first page. We recommend that companies use both natural optimization and PPC ads," said Wehr.

Wehr outlined the benefits of the dual-pronged approach: "...[The] site has more coverage on the page or a higher frequency of the message; natural results provide credibility (like editorial) and PPC communicates your promotional messages (like advertising) and finally, changing messages in natural results is a long-term action and PPC messages can change rapidly."

Lack of understanding about PPC and organic search are likely behind the lack of deployed optimization methods by Internet retailers. "They aren't aware that natural SEO can be measured in the same way PPC is measured," said Wehr, adding that the retailers may have "decided that purchasing PPC is something they can understand better and ease into slowly using internal resources -- at least initially."

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