Help Your Customers Find You in Cyberspace

October 1st, 2006


Originally published in Catalog Success

9 ways to get your site search-ready for the holidays.

The clock is ticking. Holiday shopping season is just around the corner. More customers will turn to your Web site than ever before. That means it’s time to tune it up for maximum search engine visibility. Here are nine traffic-building tips that’ll make your site sing “Happy Holidays” long after the season is done.

1. Link Building

Links are the currency of search engines. Improving the quantity and quality of your inbound links will pay dividends. Add a handful of links from high-PageRank, relevant sites and you’ll see an impact within weeks. (PageRank is Google’s importance scores, on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 10.) A single link from a PageRank 8 homepage has even significantly boosted rankings within days. Just don’t garner too many links at once, or you may set off red flags at Yahoo! and Google.

You probably won’t get sites to link to you just out of the goodness of their hearts or because you have a cool Web site. So if you have an online advertising budget, consider spending some of it on sponsoring organizations that’ll recognize your generosity by linking to you.

Also, look at existing partners that link to you from high-PageRank pages, and see if you can persuade them to improve the link text they use. If you sell toys and their link text is “click here,” perhaps they’d be willing to revise it to “ABC Co. Toy Store” (substituting ABC Co. with your company name).

2. Blog

If you have a blog and don’t post to it daily, the holiday season is a great time to start. Try posting multiple times per day. Posting frequency has a positive effect on traffic and readership. Even if you can’t blog every day throughout the year, do it during the holidays.

That said, don’t have a flurry of posts, then three or four days of inactivity, then another flurry of posts. With some blog platforms like WordPress, you can post-date a blog post; then, the post will be published automatically at the appointed date and time. So, if you’re busy with other things during this critical time of year, fill the gap in the blog with prewritten, post-dated blog content.

If you don’t already have a blog, start one. Depending on where it’s hosted and how quickly it garners links, expect it to get picked up in the search engines and ranking within weeks.

3. Woo Bloggers

Bloggers are a powerful force on the Internet. They help build brands, start trends and wreak havoc on reputations. Consider initiatives that will generate some positive buzz in the blogosphere.

For example, if you have really cool products, consider sending some free samples to bloggers with no strings attached. You could spin it as an early Christmas gift in appreciation of their blog. If they think your products are cool, they’ll probably link to you.

But don’t make the bloggers feel like they’re being bought off. Sending them some useless tchotchke, such as a baseball cap with your logo, isn’t a way to win favor with bloggers, either.

4. Act on Lockdowns

It’s common for e-commerce sites to have a code freeze during the holiday period to minimize the likelihood of introducing errors during this peak selling season. Even if the lockdown already occurred, or is imminent, you have options. For example, you could launch a microsite or blog. Or you could use proxy technology or URL rewriting to get around the code freeze.

If you don’t have time to implement rewrites, have a third party create a real-time proxy of your site to fix spider-choking structural issues, such as complex dynamic URLs, JavaScript-based links, frames and flash navigation. Some proxy technologies, such as GravityStream, can be used as a search engine optimization test-bed for rapid-fire interactive testing, allowing quick revisions to title tags, body copy, navigation and anchor text, all during an IT lockdown.

5. No-brainer Gifts

By offering pages of gift ideas, you’re not only providing a useful tool for shoppers, but great search engine fodder, as well. An enormous number of people search for phases that include “gifts” or “gift ideas.” Optimize your gift ideas pages and place them as high up in your site hierarchy as possible â?? ideally one click away from the homepage, to maximize the flow of PageRank to these pages.

Gift certificates are a godsend for the procrastinating, last-minute shopper. And it completely takes the guesswork out of choosing the right gift. So make your gift certificates prominent on your site, and cross-sell them like crazy.

6. Feature Your Freebies

Shoppers love free stuff. If you offer free giftwrap or free shipping, feature that prominently on your homepage and in your search listings, either in the title or the snippet.

In Google, you have more control over the title portion of your search listing than the snippet. So consider putting a free offer right in your title tag. Although you should try to keep the title tag to fewer than a dozen words, don’t dilute the keyword focus too much. Make sure your most important keywords are leading in the title tag.

Your search listing in Google or MSN Search may be based on your Open Directory listing rather than the title of your homepage and meta description or sampling of copy from your homepage. If that’s the case, there’s a meta tag â?? the meta noodp tag â?? that allows you to opt out of having your Open Directory listing used in the search listing. This is useful if your Open Directory listing doesn’t have a good call to action and doesn’t cater to holiday shoppers.

7. Make Google Ads Stand Out

If you offer Google Checkout as a payment option on your site, Google will display a small green shopping cart graphic adjacent to your Google AdWords ads. The graphic helps draw the searcher’s attention to your ad over those ads without the graphic. This may give you a little boost in your clickthroughs.

8. Re-work Internal Links

In all likelihood, your visitors shop differently during the holidays than they do at other times of the year (e.g., they buy different kinds of products, have a higher average order value). If so, it makes sense to reorganize your internal linking structure so those categories and products that are more popular during the holidays get a larger share of PageRank score than other, less popular ones.

For example, if your site sells chocolates but all your chocolates are two clicks away from the home-page, change it so they’re available just one click away from the homepage. And if there’s a particular type of chocolates that’s a top seller, consider making that particular product available with just one click. However, Google advises in its Webmaster Guidelines that you keep the number of links on your homepage to fewer than 100.

Don’t replace your existing navigation structure and category hierarchy; add additional links to provide shortcuts that pass PageRank to popular holiday sellers. Many sites do this through a site map page or links in the footer, but these approaches are less than ideal. The site map already is piled high with links, and each link will get only a small share of PageRank passed to it. Footer links are discounted and will probably not be worth as much as links placed higher in the page.

Anchor text (the underlined words in a link) play a critical role in search engine optimization. The search engines take those underlined words and associate them with the page to which you’re linking.

For instance, a text link that says “chocolate” is a good start. One that says “chocolate gifts” is better, because you improve your chances of visibility for chocolate gift-related searches, yet haven’t hampered your ability to get good rankings for chocolate-related searches.

9. Get a Head Start

If you have new pages for your site in the works but not quite finished, add some links in your site map to a placeholder version of the new pages. Do this in advance of the time you’ll need those pages to be visible in the search engines.

It could take weeks for new pages to make it into the search engines, and this can shortcut the process. The sooner the site links to the pages, the sooner the engines will spider and index those pages.