There’s a chill in the air, some of you even have snow and ice. For most people, it’s been a busy time of year. For those in eCommerce, it hasn’t just been busy, it’s “someone come dig me out of this avalanche” busy! That was the case when I was working in eCommerce before coming to Portent. Each year on Black Friday “it” would begin. I’d be pulled off of that silly SEO thing and flexed into customer service. My company was simply drowning in contacts and other urgent priorities that were more immediately painful.
For an e-commerce (or any) business, that isn’t necessarily a bad problem to have! People knocking down your door to ask questions about your products and (hopefully) place orders. But what does that shift away from consistent and focused SEO during the holiday do to your e-commerce business?
For your site’s performance in SERPs, this lapse can lead to dark days ahead. If your site is lucky you have loyal brand ambassadors, a metric ton of Authority, the must-have present of the year that everyone was searching by name, and you saw minimal slippage on your organic visibility.
For the rest, taking your eye off of SEO to focus on ”more important things” can mean a rankings dip at the most important shopping time of the year.
Again from my experience: each year we would see a slump in rankings during the holiday as SEO took a back seat. Holidays would end, I’d start merrily back up on everything that had fallen through the cracks, and slowly but surely our rankings would climb again.
And before you take pity, consider this: I was one of the lucky ones. Our Director of eComm understood SEO and the idea of Distance from Perfect so I didn’t need to defend anemic organic traffic results in December and Q1. She knew we needed to be diligent on SEO during the holidays as with any other season. But her hands were tied nonetheless, so we did as much as we could to mitigate the damage from neglecting SEO over the holidays.
If any of this sounds like you, I encourage you to learn from my experience.
Top offenders and resulting problems caused by neglecting SEO during the holiday e-commerce season
1. An Item Is Sold Out – Creating a Broken or Useless URL
You are going to sell out of something. I have never worked for a retailer that hasn’t sold out of a color, size, style, or product. There are 3 possible solutions to mitigate or solve this.
A. The item is coming back
This is the only time when you are not only allowed but encouraged to use the much-maligned 302 redirect. This means that the page is really coming back and the redirect should only be in place until the product returns. (Psst don’t forget to turn this redirect off when the item returns to stock…not that I know this from experience… !)
B. The item isn’t coming back and you have something similar to offer
It’s 301 redirect time, baby.
If you’ve selected a new item as the redirect destination, keep a note somewhere! If the new item sells out as well make sure you change the initial redirect! If you’re not using a crawler to find broken links on your site at a regular interval, it’s far more common to lose track of broken links created by a redirect and another out-of-stock item. And for the love of god, please don’t waste what link juice you have by spilling it all over the place with multiple ‘hops’.
C. Your item is sold out and you have nothing similar
Customizing 404 pages can be a great option. Make sure that sucker is chock full of helpful links to find other relevant products, whether you’re coding that manually or doing some kind of dynamic personalization.
If you do still choose to manually 301 redirect to a different product…make sure it’s an appropriate alternative.
2. Sale ends – Creating a Broken or Useless URL
All good things come to an end. But what do you do with your sale pages when that happens? You guessed it, more redirects!! If you’re responsible for driving the most organic traffic and revenue possible, it’s absolutely your responsibility (as well as a few others) to make sure that these pages come down gracefully. And that absolutely means being timely, without waiting until Q1 if the sale ended back in November.
Hopefully, you’re already redirecting these pages to a different sale or highly relevant page with a 301 or custom 404 page. If you aren’t, you need to be… Go. Go now! Don’t lose your link juice.
Broken links are one of the easiest and biggest signals of poor quality that you can eliminate. If you let this languish over 2017 holiday, this should be on the top of your new year’s resolutions.
3. Content – Holiday is NOT the time to slow down
Holiday is a great time for shopping guides and other middle to bottom-of-funnel content. People want to make informed decisions before they purchase. Help them with fresh, timely content and you will absolutely help your own organic visibility.
It could’ve even be a simple guide comprised of your top sellers, highlighting why your customers love these items the most. Get on this early in 2018 and invest the money to make a guide that people would truly appreciate.
4. On-Page Elements – SEO basics for new content
Seasonal items? Did you make sure there were page titles and meta descriptions? This needs to be part of your process for every page you produce. It doesn’t matter if you’re short-handed. It is so much easier to do this at the moment you’re publishing a page than to find it with a crawler and remember the core messaging after the fact.
Bottom line: you should never rely entirely on Google to decide what your title and description should be.
Wonder how search engines will actually render those tags you’re considering? We’ve got you covered with our SERP Preview Tool.
5. On-site Search – The missed opportunity
Never, ever, ever, ever neglect your on-site search. While it might not directly help your organic visibility in search engines, it’s still an easy win and direct revenue driver. Instead, it helps people already on your site find what they are looking for which indirectly helps your rankings. Watch what people are looking for and make sure those searches go somewhere appropriate to the search.
Your eComm platform should give you a report to see these searches. If not, set up tracking for this in your Google Analytics. And don’t just look at the terms with no results. Take the time to evaluate the terms with some results and make sure they’re actually the best match for the search.
Hopefully, these tips help keep your SEO in a good place during this or any busy shopping season. I have a special place in my heart for anyone in retail during the holidays. You know who you are, and I’ll see you at the upcoming post-holiday “OMG we survived another year!!!!” festivities.
First round on me, you deserve it.