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Retailers' SEO Efforts Found Lacking

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Online retailers are still not taking full advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) opportunities with their Web sites, according to a new study by search and interactive marketing agency Oneupweb.

In the study, "Once Again... There's Still Money on the Table: Internet Retailer Study 2007," Oneupweb looks at the SEO efforts of the top 100 retailers as rated by Internet Retailer magazine.

At the top level, Oneupweb found:

  • 20 percent of retailers' sites were well-optimized
  • 20 percent of retailers' sites were moderately optimized
  • 34 percent of retailers' sites were nominally optimized
  • 26 percent of retailers' sites were not optimized at all

Overall findings were similar to those Oneupweb found in studies in 2004 and 2005, though some of the players improved, while others stayed the same, according to Tim Kauffold, director of business development at Oneupweb.

"There really hasn't been a lot of change in the overall commitment to SEO by the Top 100 in the last couple of years," Kauffold said. "A lot of big brands are relying on the strength of their name. They're not necessarily suffering now, but the market is extremely volatile, and it's not certain how much longer they can hang on just doing that."

Sites were considered well optimized if they had unique and relevant meta tags, optimized alt tags, and a large amount of indexable content. Moderately optimized sites had unique meta tags, low to moderate content, and minor site architecture problems. Sites were rated as nominally optimized if they had only homepage titles and meta tags optimized, little indexable content, keywords on homepage copied throughout the site, site architecture or content management system problems. Non-Optimized sites had no evidence of SEO at all. Link data was looked at using Yahoo Site Explorer, but not included in the optimization criteria.

As part of the study, Oneupweb examined linking patterns between retailers' Web sites, blogs, and other media. They found that even a vast network of links and large brand names cannot fully overcome poor on-site SEO.

While on-site SEO is certainly not the only factor involved in search engine rankings, Oneupweb found that 90 percent of the well-optimized sites were positioned on the first page of Google results for at least two keywords. In comparison, this study found that only 22 percent of non-optimized sites appeared in the first Google search results page for two or more keywords.

There may be many reasons top retailers are not focusing on SEO, Kauffold said. Some may feel they are getting enough SEO benefit from inbound links, so they don't need to worry about on-site SEO. Others are comfortable sticking with their traditional marketing mix, and don't see the need to change something that seems to be working as it is.

The ones with the best search results are usually the ones with the most commitment to the online channel in general. For instance, Amazon.com, REI, and Zappos.com are reliant on online sales for success, and they are also among the top scorers in the study.

But even those retailers doing well in search results could stand to benefit from better optimized sites, according to Lisa Wehr, Oneupweb's CEO.

"This study should encourage online retailers who are not in the top 100. There are a variety of strategic opportunities that can and should be implemented in order to compete successfully and consistently," Wehr said. "Conversely, large, successful retailers can take heart as well; they can further solidify their positions and secure even greater market share by attending to their websites more carefully. Either way, there's more work to be done for all online marketers."

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