Website Critique: Putting in Drive

February 1st, 2007

by Stephan Spencer and David Fry

This month Multichannel Merchant introduces Website Critique. Just as our Catalog Critique section evaluates the finer points of print catalog creative, the Website Critique will ask two online marketing experts to assess an Internet catalog. Our first subject, the Website of Delaware, OH-based auto parts merchant Jegs, was reviewed by David Fry and Stephan Spencer. Fry, the founder/CEO of Ann Arbor, MI-based e-marketing consultancy Fry, focused on the content and functionality, while Spencer, founder/president of Madison, WI-based SEO-specialist agency Netconcepts, tested’s search capabilities. Gentlemen, start your critiquing engines!

David Fry

In reviewing the site, I used recognized guiding principles for Website development, as established by Forrester Research: value â?? evaluating essential content and functionality; navigation â?? task flow efficiency; presentation â?? assessing if the page design delivers ease of use; and trust â?? determining if the privacy and security policies, location cues, and performance engender trust in the user.

For value and trust, does well. The home page boldly claims, â??What You Want, When You Want It!â?? and presents an adjacent â??moreâ?? link that takes users to a page with all the information they’d need to feel confident they came to the right place and can accomplish what they want. Detailed information on freight and shipping policies, in-stock and backorder information, available rebates, warranties, even methods by which to order custom axles and drive shafts, delivers on the merchant’s superior customer care promise. customers can feel secure shopping this site. The promises of millions of in-stock items, free one- or two-day delivery, the choice of same-day shipping on orders placed by 9 p.m., are all explained in more detail on the customer care pages. also uses a time-tested technique for helping customers through a transaction by providing location cues, or â??bread crumbs,â?? at every step of the process. It’s simple but effective, and online shoppers have come to expect this kind of support.

Another strength: Shoppers don’t have to register with the site to make a purchase. It’s an option rather than a requirement, leaving customers in control of their interaction with the site. And the site’s checkout process delivers all the essential ingredients to streamline a purchase.

The site delivers essential functionality well via top navigation tabs for new products, specials, order tracking, and customer care. These tabs, along with catalog quick order and search options for keyword or part number, make for efficient task flows.

The prominent space devoted to the e-mail newsletter sign-up and the free catalog could be better used for product merchandising, however â?? that’s prime real estate. Top sellers are listed at the very bottom of the page in the fine print, and I found them only by looking for the site map. These would deliver more revenue if placed more prominently.

The left navigation options could be improved for ease of use. There are 38 product categories on the home page, which forces many of them down to the bottom of the page, below the fold. Clicking on â??Engines and Components,â?? for example, returns 21 subcategories, and users are still another click or two away from a product image and description. A keyword search for â??oil filterâ?? returned 918 results, in 16 categories, across 45 vendors, but the search mechanism didn’t allow us to quickly select a product that combined the attributes we wanted. Users can narrow and refine their search, but the process could be quicker and more efficient.

Millions of products and thousands of product categories present retailers with an enormous challenge for online presentation. I would guess that the site is designed to closely match, if not mirror, the contents of the Jegs print catalog. But in this case, Jegs is underutilizing the unique features of its Web channel to make shopping easier for its customers. could also stand to improve its product presentation. In the auto supplies category, beautiful product photography isn’t essential. But while the site does have enlarged images for many of the products, the presentation could be improved in three ways. For one, the thumbnail images are small and inconsistently sized; establishing the same size and shape for the box surrounding the image would give the product pages a cleaner look and make them easier to view and read.

And while providing the option to view enlarged product photos and detailed product information is standard on retail sites today, typically these two enhancements are featured in the same pop-up window; when Jegs offers them, it’s as two separate pop-ups. Featuring both in the same window provides the user with everything he needs in one location and eliminates potential confusion and extra clicks. Whatever format you choose, do it consistently on all product pages.

Finally, manufacturer logos are placed within some of the product pages. This is likely a paid placement of some kind, but there are other ways to feature manufacturers or advertisers that don’t result in page clutter and diminished readability.

We have a client with challenges similar This marine supply firm sells millions of products through a 1,400-page catalog, a store, and a Website. As part of an overall site redesign Fisheries Supply implemented dynamic search and guided navigation tools from one of our partners that specializes in search management and information access. Dynamic search is best for browsing an enormous catalog because it automatically creates millions of unique ways to reach all the products. For a retailer like it would allow different customers to find the same product by following the search path that makes the most sense to them.

Overall, is a site with a lot to offer, literally. The site does a good job delivering on its promise to auto enthusiasts but would benefit from improved search functionality and enhanced product images.

Stephan Spencer

Starting with the home page of, I see a problem before the page even starts to paint on my screen: a redirect. Uh-oh. From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, the home page would ideally reside at Unfortunately the home page resides at

Using a Server Header Checker tool (, I see that the redirect is a temporary redirect, also known as a 302-style redirect. This type of redirect is known to not transfer Google PageRank (importance) to the destination page, unlike its counterpart â?? the permanent, or 301-style, redirect. That means that when Websites link to, the power of those â??votesâ?? may not transfer over to the home page at Jegs should use URL rewriting to cause the home page to load at without the need for a redirect. Failing that, it could change the type of redirect from a 302 to a 301.

The home page URL of is not very search-engine friendly. Search engines prefer URLs that don’t contain any â??stop charactersâ?? â?? ampersands, equal signs, and question marks. This is because dynamic Websites can serve search engines with the same pages under numerous URLs. Even if a dynamic URL gets indexed by Google, it may not rank as well as it could. Our tests have shown that, all else being equal, rewritten URLs inherit more PageRank score than the equivalent page with a URL containing stop characters.

Speaking of PageRank score, my Google Toolbar (available for download from tells me that the home page has a PageRank of zero (out of 10). That means the page holds no importance in the eyes of Google. But this score of zero is misleading; the true PageRank score of is actually a 3. In order to ascertain this, I used the PageRank Lookup tool ( and entered (rather than Nonetheless, this still is not good news, because a 3 out of 10 is extremely low.

Jegs needs to improve its PageRank dramatically for it to dominate the search results for such competitive terms as â??car partsâ?? or â??auto parts.â?? Indeed, is nowhere in the first 10 pages in Google for â??car parts,â?? â??auto parts,â?? â??truck parts,â?? â??import car parts,â?? â??discount car parts,â?? or â??street racing.â?? Nor is it in the first 10 pages for less competitive search terms such as â??msd ignition,â?? â??edelbrock,â?? â??dualie wheel,â?? or â??autometerâ?? â?? search terms taken from its home page’s meta keywords tag.

Boosting its PageRank will require concerted link-building efforts. More quality, relevant links will result in better rankings and more traffic. (That could be the subject of a whole other article.) But even just plugging the PageRank leaks that are happening due to server misconfigurations and incorrect linking will have a noticeable impact. In addition to changing the 302 redirect on the home page, this includes changing the URL of links to the home page within the Website to point to

Currently the logo in the top left and the â??homeâ?? link at the bottom left both point to â?? a totally different URL from the aforementioned home page URL of Hmm. That introduces a third alternative home page URL to Google, which leads to duplicate pages getting indexed and, subsequently, PageRank dilution.

Another source of PageRank leakage is the lack of 301 redirects from internal pages within to its counterpart on For example, any links to will not count toward its PageRank score, because that URL leads to a 404 error page rather than a permanent (301) redirect to

The left-hand navigation on the home page uses text links that contain important keywords â?? this is excellent! It’s quite an extensive navigation too, numbering a staggering 57 items. Even so, many important categories had to be grouped together, weakening the ability of those combined categories to rank. For example, if Jegs wants to rank well for â??car batteriesâ?? it should have the â??Batteriesâ?? category available right from the home page, rather than two clicks away as it is currently (within the â??Switches, Batteries, and Alternatorsâ?? section).

I’d also suggest changing the title tag (displayed in the blue bar at the top of the browser above the Forward and Back buttons; it is given the most weight out of all the text contained on the page) from â??Batteries â?? JEGSâ?? to â??Car Batteries â?? JEGS,â?? to further increase the chances of ranking for â??car batteries.â?? Overall the title tags are pretty uninspired, both from an SEO standpoint and from a conversion standpoint (i.e. influencing the searcher’s click decision from the search results). For example, the â??Coolingâ?? category page has a title tag of â??Cooling â?? JEGS,â?? â??Toolsâ?? has â??Tools â?? JEGS,â?? etc.

I was pleased to see a â??Shop by Brandâ?? section of the site, since many searchers include brand names in their queries. The brands contained within the â??Shop by Brandâ?? page are listed as text links, and they point to rewritten URLs rather than to the stop-character-laden WebSphere links as they were previously â?? again excellent. But there are way too many links on the page. According to Google’s guidelines, you should have fewer than 100 links per page.

What’s more, the brand links on the â??Shop by Brandâ?? page lead to search result pages that are not properly optimized. These pages all have the same title tag. Instead each should be unique and include the brand name. Also the brand name should be listed in an H1 (heading) tag, because search engines weigh these headings more heavily than the rest of the page copy. Currently there is no H1 tag on these brand pages.

There is a lot of opportunity within â?? too much to cover here. But I’d start by scrapping the current method of URL rewriting and rejig it, then move on to other site architecture and server configuration issues, then on to link building, and then content optimization.