SEO Report Card: DiscountFlies.com
Welcome back to the second installment of “SEO Report Card.” Each month I assess the search engine optimization effectiveness of an ecommerce site. This month’s brave volunteer is DiscountFlies.com, an online retailer who sells flies for fly fishing and uses the MIVA Merchant platform.
DiscountFlies.com has really missed the boat (yes, the pun was intended) when it comes to search engine traffic. They do not show up in the first 100 results in Google or Yahoo! when searching for the popular search term fly-fishing or for the more targeted term fishing flies. But all is not lost. With some concerted effort, DiscountFlies.com should be able to turn things around.
- The site really lacks good inbound links. This is immediately evident by the PageRank score of 3 on their home page. With such a low PageRank on their most linked page, there isn’t much for them to pass around within their site, such as to their category and product pages. This partially accounts for the fact that nearly all their Miva Merchant pages are stuck in Google’s notorious “Supplemental Index” – roughly equivalent to being in purgatory. Since the site is listed in Open Directory (dmoz.org), we can easily see how they fare in comparison to competitors. A look at the page www.google.com/Top/Shopping/Recreation/Outdoors/Fishing/Fly_Fishing/ reveals that there are many competitors with higher PageRank score. (The page is organized in PageRank order). The best performer in this category is theflyshop.com. A look at their back links (by searching for link:http://www.theflyshop.com) identified many potential link opportunities for DiscountFlies.com, such as: Arizona Outdoorsman (azod.com/Fishing/FlyFishing/Links/Default.htm) MontanaFlyGuide.com (montanaflyguide.com/links.htm), and Granite Bay Flycasters (gbflycasters.org/links/links.htm).
- The site also suffers from an unfocused and illogical internal hierarchical linking structure. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which categories are listed on the home page when compared to the ones that are listed on the “Online Fly Shop” page or the ones that are listed on the left side of the Miva-generated pages. There’s even a bunch of broken category links on the home page, leading to Miva Merchant “Fatal Error” pages. That’s a real missed opportunity. The top selling and most lucrative categories should always be linked to from the home page.
- Keyword-rich copy is sparse on category pages and product pages. Category page content is overly focused on words like quantity and basket, with no emphasis on the main targeted search term. For example, the Bass Flies page only mentions Bass Flies twice – once in the navigation and once as a heading (although not as an H1 tag, unfortunately). Product page content for many products is virtually non-existent.
- The dynamic URLs are probably hampering the search engine spiders to some degree. Ideally the URLs should be rewritten to not contain any question marks, ampersands, or equals signs (see my “SEO: Avoid Complex URLs” article in the last issue for more on this). For example, www.discountflies.com/category/21 would be better than www.discountflies.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=21. There are some static pages as well, but many of those contain underscores (e.g. www.discountflies.com/fly_shop.htm). Underscores are not word separators to the search engines, so fly and shop would not be seen as separate words in the URL. Hyphens should be used instead of underscores in URLs.
- The server responds not just to www.discountflies.com, but also discountflies.com (presumably as a “server alias” in the server configuration). This looks like a duplicate site to the search engines. For example, Google currently has 110 pages indexed at discountflies.com and 338 pages at www.discountflies.com. Discountflies.com should permanently redirect to www.discountflies.com to remedy this issue.
- The navigation across the site is for the most part textual, which is good. But there are 7 category links on the home page that are graphical logos, which is not ideal. Images don’t have anchor text, or the text that you click to follow the link, which provides context to the link. Worse yet, most of these lead to error pages. The “Home” link and logo point to “/index.html” instead of “/”, which is not ideal as it can lead to multiple versions of the home page in the index or in link popularity dilution.
- The HTML code is in a shocking state. No H1 tags are used anywhere. Superfluous HTML abounds, much of it contributed by the use of Microsoft FrontPage. Cleaning up the HTML code will help the site to be more effectively indexed by search spiders.
- The home page title tag (currently “Discount Flies Online Fly Shop – Discount Fishing Flies”) doesn’t lead off with the crucially important search terms of fly fishing or of fishing flies. A much better title would be “Fly Fishing Flies at Discount Prices – DiscountFlies.com”. Even more surprising was the fact that the product page title tags were all missing the words fly and flies from them.
By Stephan Spencer. This article first appeared in Practical eCommerce magazine in February 2006.
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