The Truth About SEO & E-tail

    August 16, 2007

Everybody is talking about this study from Oneupweb that says that internet retailers are not optimizing their sites for SEO. At the risk of rehashing, here are my two cents.

I hate to say “I told you so”, but this report demonstrates something I have been saying for the last few days–SEO experts are still placing way too much value on things that are mattering less and less. According to the report, the definition of optimized websites are sites with appropriate titles, keywords, site architecture and other items related to spiderability.

Give me a break…

Should companies have appropriate titles and meta tags? Of course they should–that is a given. But can you expect to see huge leaps in search engines because of those factors if your site has not built authority in the search engines? The answer is no unless you are in an industry without any competition. If you don’t believe me, just try it.

Completely missing from the executive summary but addressed later in the report was the subject of links. Oneupweb points out that lots of inbound links can help overcome a lack optimization in on-site factors. That is good information. In fact, it is the most important bit of information in the report. What matters far more than on-site optimization is how well a site has built its authority, and whether it has an offer that is likely to generate inbound links naturally.

You see, this last item is the dirty secret of how SEO relates to internet retail. Generating inbound links to a commerce site is many times harder than generating links to an informational site. Unless you are selling a unique product that has a lot of appeal, you have will have to work very hard and creatively to find ways to obtain inbound links without paying for them or bartering for them. While either of these things may be OK, depending on your industry, you simply may not be able to afford to pay for enough links to get where you need to be.

If you are selling products that everyone else is selling and you have no competitive advantage such as being in a position to lowball everyone else, you are in big trouble in 2007. Why? Because other sites are not going to give away links to commercial e-tail sites without a very good reason. In my opinion, internet retailers are struggling in SEO mostly because of their inability to build their sites’ authority through natural inbound links. Fixing meta tags is not going to overcome this problem.

As an internet retailer, our SEO strategy is this simple–do the obvious stuff like on-site optimization and then find a way to create a competitive advantage. This strategy will work well in 2007, but more importantly, will still be working in 2010.