Reaching your customers online is more important than ever. Retail stores still attract the largest portion of lucrative holiday sales, but that lead is quickly vanishing. In fact, during 2014, Reuters discovered that brick and mortar stores saw an 8% drop year over year while online sales went up by nearly 14%.
Consumers are turning to their mobile devices to supplement their purchasing habits thanks to companies investing in improving their mobile experience and streamlining the checkout process. While buying online used to be considered a novelty, it’s now so commonplace that companies like Amazon are testing one and two hour delivery in NYC and other markets. This trend is only expected to continue, and eCommerce sites should see their conversion rate increase as long as they’re selling what the user is searching for.
Previously, one of the most effective ways to get your content in front of shoppers was to ensure that it contained as many related keywords as possible. This often led to obtuse, “stuffed” content that existed solely for search engines and offered little of value to the consumers themselves. With recent Panda updates, Google has devalued keyword spam to the point where some SEO experts are now saying that Keyword Optimization is dead.
Despite that being the makings for a catchy headline, it’s not true. There’s still a place for keyword optimization for SEO in 2015, but it’s not the quick fix that it used to be. Search engines are getting better at understanding what their users are looking for, and smart companies should adapt their strategies accordingly.
With “mobile assistants” such as Google Now, Siri and Cortana, customers now have the option of asking questions to their computers using the same language that they’d use talking to another person. Instead of saying “coffee shops near Old City, Philadelphia” these programs promise that you’ll soon be able to say “Siri, where can I get coffee” and get the same results.
While still imperfect, programs like Google Now are getting much better at figuring out the meaning, or intent, of what their customer is asking. This is sometimes referred to as “semantic search,” and the search giant has been refining it’s algorithm around it publicly since the Hummingbird update in 2013.
Every search has an intent behind it. In the coffee example, the client would be searching for nearby a nearby cafe, one that is open and ready to brew their customers a fine cup of java. If they asked Google to find “coffee roasters near Old City” instead, it’s more likely that they’re looking for somewhere to pick up beans to brew later at home.
As Google, Apple and Microsoft become more familiar with the intent behind the questions asked, they’ll put less of an emphasis on specific keywords, and more on the context of which they are used. Let’s look at the coffee inquiry again.
Siri, where can I get coffee?
From that simple question, Apple’s servers can deduce a lot of information that the user wants to know, even if they didn’t ask it directly. The most obvious example of this would be location. You can buy coffee anywhere in the world, but if the user is asking their phone chances are good that they want something nearby. The second piece of information that the user is likely interested in but didn’t ask is that they’re only interested in coffee shops that are currently open.
If you ask your phone this question today, chances are you’ll get mixed results. Computer’s still have a hard time discerning “natural language” but companies are spending a lot of money to become the first ones to develop a program capable of having a conversation with a user. A program that will understand context will allow the company that develops it to provide exactly the answer the user is looking for, making it more likely that they’ll use their service instead of a competitors.
One way that websites can optimize around intent is to make sure that this “assumed” information is easily accessible. Schema will allow webmasters to put this contextual data onto their page in a way that Google and Microsoft will be able to easily read. Despite the fact that only 0.3% of websites utilize schema, Google recently said that more than 33% of search results display them.
Keywords Move Into The Long Tail
The more specific a search inquiry is, the closer a searcher is to actual purchase. General terms, such as “coffee” are used by customers looking for general information, shoppers seeking to pick up something to take home, and that user who just wants to buy a cup to drink in the shop. However, “Coffee shops near Old City” is much more specific, and this term gives you a better understanding of the intent of the searcher.
At Trinity Insight, we’ve written before about the importance of long tail keywords for eCommerce and why it’s more effective to target them than general terms. These specific question allow you to build content around answering targeted objections, increasing the likelihood that those customers will purchase from you.
When you optimize for Semantic search in addition to long tail terms, you’re more likely to create content that is useful and engaging for your customers which will make them more likely to convert.
Use Keywords Intelligently
Where you place a keyword will have a larger impact on SERP than the number of times you use it. For example, featuring the keyword in the title and header of the landing page will provide more value than working it into the content a half dozen times.
This is because search engines will use the title to help give meaning to the rest of the content on the page, and the algorithm is smart enough to identify related terms and synonyms which allows you to use more natural language to describe a product. The Panda update is Google’s attempt to combat generic, keyword stuffed content, so featuring specific terms too frequently could actually devalue the weight those words are given.
Site Structure Matters
In the past year, Google has also started to reward websites that work on improving the shopping experience for the user, particularly on the technical end.
Site speed, or how long it takes your servers to load a page for a visitor, is a factor that several webmasters have noticed directly impacting their rankings this past year. Despite this, most eCommerce sites are slower than many consumers have patience for, leading to a higher bounce rate and lower conversion.
In recent months, Google recently announced that offering users a secure shopping experience through SSL Encryption would also begin to impact site rankings. While this is partially a backlash against government agencies like the NSA accessing consumer data, it is also a security measure aimed at thwarting digital theft and raising consumer trust in online shopping.
Finally, it’s important that you make your website easy to navigate. Don’t bury products on unrelated pages, or duplicate them across several unrelated categories. Google will reward sites that feature an easy to navigate site structure, in part, because this format makes it easier for shoppers to find the exact products they’re looking for on your page.
Keywords Are No Longer King
Is keyword optimization dead? No. In fact, it’s still one of the best ways to ensure that your customers will land on the appropriate product page. But as search engines get better at discerning user intent, it’s important that eCommerce sites keep pace.
Optimizing around keywords is still important, but that optimization won’t matter unless the site it leads customers to is one that’s fast, easy to navigate, and provides them with the semantic data that they’re seeking. As we move into 2015, it’s important to create the best website experience for our users, and not simply one that uses all the “right” words.