Last year’s holiday sales season wasn’t so joyful for online retailers. But early reports indicate that things are looking up a bit this year. Initial Coremetrics data from Black Friday reveals that consumers spent 25 percent more this year, with orders totaling $170.19 on average — an increase of about $44 over last year’s average Black Friday order online.
While the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season turned out to be a relatively good day and a welcomed relief for many online retailers, the data doesn’t necessarily indicate that the recession is entirely over. It simply shows that online shoppers are buying more gifts online this year than last year. We’ll have to wait for brick-and-mortar sales reports to get the complete view of the kickoff of the holiday sales season, as well as data from Cyber Monday.
Coremetrics also reported an 18 percent increase in the average number of items purchased per order this year on Black Friday. Last year, it was 4.56 items per order, but this year it increased to 5.40 items. The upturn of $3.80 per average order isn’t exactly substantial, but online retailers will take any sales improvements to the bank. After all, they worked for it, and more importantly, they planned for it.
Launch and Relaunch Planning
If you have a Web site development or redevelopment project in your strategic plans for 2010, don’t ignore SEO (define) until after the site is launched or relaunched. Just as it takes a great deal of planning and coordination to produce successful holiday sales campaigns, it takes forethought and research to produce a search optimal Web site. Before you start working on any SEO project, you’ll need to know three things:
- What internal resources do you have?
- What external resources will you need?
- How will you measure your success?
Internal resources frequently make technology choices that can ultimately determine the success or failure of a site launch or redesign relaunch. These decisions are often made without considering SEO. Before you select your next content management system (CMS), make major navigational changes to your site’s architecture, or add advanced site search functionality, you should remember that content is still king for search engine referrals.
Before you start evaluating technology platforms, you need to understand your target audience and what your messaging entails. That’s the only way you can determine if your message is search engine relevant. And to do that, you’ll need to get your marketing, advertising, and public relations team on the same page.
Of course, in smaller online organizations, the site design or redesign team could be comprised of you and you alone. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to break the project down into small, manageable tasks. For SEO considerations, the best way to go about this is to think in terms of building page templates that facilitate content optimization.
It’s important that you try to bake keyword targeted themes into all available SEO attributes on a template-by-template basis. Keyword themes should center on relevant phrases that can drive search referred traffic and be rooted in substantive keyword research.
All SEO attributes should have bulk upload capabilities built into the CMS administrative functionality, but each SEO attribute should be readily editable for customization and tweaking. Content optimal templates should include, but aren’t limited to the following SEO attributes:
- Title tags: The title tag of every page should begin with a uniquely optimal keyword phrase and end with a consistent branding construct. The words at the beginning of the title tag have more prominence and weight than the words at the end. The target length for title tags should be 65 characters (with spaces). The major engines recognize and index title tags beyond 120 characters, but only 65 characters are visible in the search results. Title tags should be programmatically generated, but must be editable.
- Heading tags: Second to the title tag, the
is the most prominent location to accentuate your keywords. There should be only one
heading tag built into each template, and like the title tag, it should begin with the optimal keyword phrase. Additional
tags should be built into all page templates to help complement the targeted theme of each page. Unlike
tags, there can be more than one
tags per page. Heading tag content should be programmatically generated, but, again, must be editable.
- Body copy: Category and subcategory page templates should readily allow for the inclusion of editable introductory copy and anchor text links within the copy. Body copy should consist of at least three sentences with a minimum of 150 words.
- Meta descriptions: The meta description won’t improve rankings in the search engines. They can, however, increase the likelihood of users clicking on indexed results. Meta descriptions should be unique to each page and should contain no more than 265 characters. Typically, however, only the first 150 characters (including spaces) are displayed in the search engine results pages, so the meta description should include the relevant keyword phrases and end with a call to action.
- Meta keywords: Google and Bing pay no attention to meta keywords. Yahoo only reviews meta keywords for semantically latent misspellings. Your CMS should be capable of programmatically inserting three or four keywords per page, ensuring that the words are pulled from the page. If it’s not, don’t bother producing keywords at all. Build the functionality into the site, in case search engines adjust their use of meta keywords, but don’t make meta keywords a critical part of your keyword strategy.
- Alternative attributes: Keyword-rich alt attributes for all graphics and product images should be baked into each page template and the image file directory structure. Images should also be designed to allow for annotation.
- Reviews and user-generated content (UGC): Product reviews can be provided by a third party service and can be made optimal to contribute to user-generated content refreshes. Problems abound at start-up when thousands of blank review pages are created. Once you’ve determined which review service your site will use, you can bake in a process for producing optimal results from reviews later. User-generated content can also be generated in a search optimal manner from forums, blog posts, articles, etc.
- Videos: If videos are provided, follow conventional title tag and meta data standards as already outlined. Embed one video per page and organize video content around complementary structural hierarchies. You can syndicate the video content via MRSS feeds and leverage XML Sitemaps for video later.
- Social media: You’ll want to have the ability to add “Share on Facebook” or “Tweet This” buttons at some stage of the game. Right now, it’s important that any add-on features work with a variety of social media venues and can be readily added to your site design.
Coremetrics had some interesting data on how users behaved on retail Web sites on Black Friday. The average bounce rate rose by nearly 40 percent, and browsing sessions decreased by 5 percent, suggesting that consumers were focused less on “window shopping” and more on specific items and deals. If shoppers couldn’t find them on a specific Web site, they simply left and kept searching.
Next year, you can plan on keeping your bounce rates low if you make your content relevant for search during the design process.
Join us for SES Chicago on December 7-11, 2009. Now in its 11th year, the only major Search Marketing Conference and Expo in the Midwest will be packed with 70+ sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, video optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an exhibit floor, networking events and more.
There is of course a lot of discussion about content and what does and doesn't work online. Is long-form the key? Does short-form content have a role to play? Are there other factors at play?
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