Online Retail SEO: Holiday Shopping Seasonality

SEO (define) for retailing sites and comparison shopping engines must peak during one time of the year: the holiday season. Q4 makes or breaks the success of online retail. Yet many companies don’t realize how important the holidays are for SEO.

Over the years, I’ve focused client education on convincing skeptics that the holidays are the most important time of the year. Companies who understand this are much easier to help. Many standard retail shops have high sales expectations through the end of the year. This growth can vary extensively depending on the industry.

Some brick-and-mortar shops will receive less traffic due to a lack of interest in the products they carry. However, some categories can skyrocket. This prediction can only be counted on based on year-over-year data that mostly hasn’t changed. It’s relatively easy to predict what will happen during these times of change if you know what’s hot and what’s not.

According to a study released by Nielsen NetRatings today, the most popular and purchased items online globally are books (41 percent purchased in the past three months), clothing/accessories/shoes (36 percent), videos/DVDs/games (24 percent), airline tickets (24 percent), and electronic equipment (23 percent).

There are significant variations by country, making global SEO even more challenging during the holiday season.

In Germany, 55 percent of Internet users said they bought books, 42 percent had bought clothes/accessories/shoes, and 25 percent had purchased music/videos/DVDs in the past three months. In the UK, fewer people bought books online compared to Germany: 45 percent bought books online, but a higher percentage purchased videos/DVDs/games (44 percent). Other popular UK categories were clothing/accessories/shoes (38 percent), music (37 percent), and airline tickets/reservations online (25 percent).

Among U.S. Internet users in the past month, 41 percent bought clothing/shoes/accessories, 38 percent bought books, and one in three Internet shoppers bought videos/DVDs/games.

SEO Helps Small Retailers Compete

In the e-commerce world, a new site needs SEO as it moves through many levels of change throughout its life cycle. The difficulty of SEO depends on the market they’re in and the competitiveness of their category.

For example, if you sell computer parts and accessories, there are several large scale distributors who drop ship everything they sell directly to your customers with your name and logo on the shipping label. This drop ship model is an easy way for a small shop to start selling with the big boys.

Global SEO Means Tough Choices

There are several catches to joining this club of sellers:

  1. Can you sell everything big vendors sell? No. Many manufacturers don’t allow non-certified or non-authorized vendors.
  2. If you take all of their SKUs/PLUs — normally known as the item number — will you rank in the search engines? No. You can’t take a list of products that appear on hundreds or thousands of sites and rank for them without some level of differentiation.

If there’s something unique and interesting about the products on your site, differentiation can be easier. Link building, though, is key.

Many times these products need a substantial number of links from other sites to rank well. Link building can be done with a price model, review model, and/or a social media model that compels a buyer to purchase.

Price, Trust, and Brand in SEO

Price on its own isn’t a simple answer to a complicated question. Often a buyer will check prices or do research on a price comparison engine. Shopping comparison engines provide a fairly comprehensive list of retailers. Visitors can sort by price, trust, and other factors. Trust is provided solely by customer review surveys taken by buyers on after a transaction has occurred.

Brand can make a huge difference in SEO as it does in paid search and brick-and-mortar retail. Brand terms can often rank high easily and prove the value of trust and brand recognition with high CTRs (define).

Even selling the exact same product with a new store who may not have the trust of the common buyer. This effect can increase during seasonality in the holiday season. A little less so in the online world, but still the ability to provide trust can be hard to gain.

Many companies sell on this level of trust, by promoting SSL certificates, hacker-free certification, and/or simply letting customers talk to a seller.

How you sell isn’t as important as why people buy online. For a SEO to be successful, retailers must take into account a variety of factors that revolve around searsonality. Don’t downplay the importance of the competitiveness for keywords in your category; alternative ways of selling products in new categories; and above all, what products are the most popular to sell online globally.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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