Web Site Success Doesn’t Mean Web Site Optimization

“Internet Retailer” publishes an annual ranking of the top 400 retailer sites based on sales, traffic, number of SKUs and other factors. But that list doesn’t take search engine optimization into consideration. For the second year in a row, Oneupweb looked at the top 100 from an optimization standpoint. Results are compiled in “There’s Still Money on the Table: Internet Retailer Study 2005.”

The study breaks up the top 100 list into four categories: well optimized, moderately optimized, nominally optimized, and not optimized. The only class to see improvement over last year was the not-optimized category, while each other group increased a few percentage points. While the researchers expected the well-optimized group to double between the 2004 and current studies, instead the number increased from 12 sites to 17. The company believes SEO is seeing only slow, steady growth.

Two sites new to the top 100 register in the well-optimized class are 1-800-CONTACTS and SmartBargains.com. Both demonstrate an optimization strategy, while Nordstrom.com didn’t meet the criteria to stay in the top tier. JC Whitney, a subsidiary of Automotive Specialty Accessories and Parts, now appears on the list under its parent company.

Click on graphic to view chart

In 2004, the study saw no optimization in place for the PalmOne Web site, though it climbed to well-optimized status this year by implementing an effective SEO campaign. On search engine results pages, the site now ranks in fifth place on Yahoo and third on Google under the search term “handhelds.”

Moderately-optimized sites miss a few points of good optimization. Sites in this class have unique title, meta description, and meta keywords tags, but only a low-to-moderate amount of content and keyword saturation, or they lack sufficiently sophisticated SEO techniques.

Thirty-five retail sites fall into the nominally-optimized category this year. These sites typically create lists of highly competitive or generic keywords for homepage meta tags, but fail to give internal pages the same treatment. In some cases, the same keywords and meta tags are universally used throughout the site.

Surprisingly, Apple.com is one of 23 sites in the not-optimized category. Despite a lack of optimization, the site scores well in search results, which the report attributes to its large amount of indexable content in the support section, product descriptions, and a few additional factors.

The sites classified as not optimized are advised to pick up a few SEO strategies.

“Large retailers should start broad; smaller niche retailers should start with the targeted keyword phrases,” Oneupweb CEO Lisa Wehr told ClickZ Stats. “As for lift, when you’re in the basement, there’s only one way to go.”

Top Well-Optimized Corporate Sites of Top E-Tailers, 2005
Web Site Internet Retailer Top 400 Rank
Sears 6
Quixtar 14
TigerDirect 32
Buy.com 33
Zappos 45
Blue Nile 48
Schwan’s 54
Abebooks 58
Sharper Image 63
Walgreens 64
Lowes 67
Crutchfield 70
1-800-Contacts 72
PalmOne 77
SmartBargains 78
Drs. Foster & Smith 80
Alibris 90
Source: Oneupweb, 2005

In addition to pure SEO and organic links, the study looked at paid search. Fifty-three percent of the well-optimized sites run active campaigns, and 68 percent of moderately optimized sites regularly run campaigns. Wehr maintains while paid search offers benefits, it’s no substitute for optimization.

“It’s not necessarily the best use of marketing dollars,” said Wehr. “These sites should be well-optimized for general terms and broad category for vertical terms in order to ensure real estate in the future. Search results are getting much more competitive as the Google and Yahoo index size war heats up, so a natural optimization initiative will continue to rise in cost dramatically.”

The study evaluates the SEO and SEM levels of the top 100 Web sites in “Internet Retailer’s” Top 400 Guide. The current report compares the 2004 report with 2005 data. It looked at meta tags, site architecture, keywords, content, and other tactics that could affect each site’s ability to position well on search engines. The study also looked at paid search.

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