Online Retail Optimization: Will It Blend?

Getting found in blended search creates new opportunities and challenges for retailers.
Getting found in blended search creates new opportunities and challenges for retailers.

Online retailers face more competition than ever these days and, with the onset of blended or universal search, on-page optimization just won’t cut it anymore to get pages ranking at the top. Although site architecture is still important in your overall SEO strategy, today’s search results are filled with a variety of resources besides web pages.

For instance, take a look at a search for “The Monkees” on Google (hey, I’m a child of the 60s and I dig The Monkees!):

A blended search result for The Monkees

Notice the lack of traditional web pages in the results? You’ve got music results, news results, the ever-present Wikipedia result and a YouTube video with just a single web page above the fold. These are your blended results. News, images, videos, web pages, audio files feeds and blogs can now come up in search results. All of the major search engines are on the blended search bandwagon.

So, what is the first question you need to ask about your online retail site? Easy.

Will it blend?

Blended search is about different ways, actually, opportunities to get traffic to your site, not just about site architecture. As an example, an all Flash site would not be a good idea for a retail site. Spiders still can’t read Flash. However, add a blog and some feeds to that Flash site with images, good textual content, videos and so forth, and you’ll cover a lot of bases that your site would otherwise miss for coming up in blended search results.

Blended search gives you chances to pull traffic in ways other than your product page rankings. Your images, videos, books, news, feeds and audio files can get you traffic and back links from all types of places on the web.

So, where to get started?

1. HTML SEO basics are still important. Create quality content in all forms – textual, graphical and video. See my post S E O 101 for beginning optimization steps.

2. Videos help in search engine results. Multiple videos can actually show up in the top 10 rankings and have a high click rate.

3. Get social. Ratings, reviews and comments from social sites can show up in the top search engine results. Build relationships in sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.

4. Create a MySpace video page. As with #3 above, participate in the social scene.

5. Show them how. “How to…” searches are very popular. Create a video for your specialty or product and put it on your own site as well as on YouTube, Metacafe, Yahoo, etc.

6. Name your images and graphics. Use captions and ALT attributes when possible. Include brand, product, number, etc. See my post S E O 101: Image Optimization for more tips.

7. Always, always, always include a picture with your products. In addition to a higher click rate when an image is present, sometimes products won’t appear in feeds that pop up on various sites if they don’t have an image associated with them. Make your images available for Google Image Search (through Google Webmaster Central).

8. Feed them. Product feeds can be pulled from various sources all over the web. You want your products to be among them. Start out by uploading a feed to Google Base and MSN/Live Product Search. Both are free. Once you’re comfortable with the way product feeds work, try paid feeds like ShopZilla or Yahoo Shopping.

9. Match product titles in feeds with what is being searched for most often. For example, are there more searches for something general like “Ray Ban aviator” or are most queries for something more specific like “Ray Ban 3025″ for your products?

10. Manage your seller ratings. Shopping feed distributors like ShopZilla.com and Dealtime.com include ways for customers to rank their experiences with companies selling through them. You want yours to be as high as possible as these ratings can be a factor in how high your products rank on these sites.

And, probably my top recommendation would be to remember that you are creating all of this for the consumer, not the search engines. Write for the user in an easy to read format that makes sense. Become a reference source for your products so that site visitors will refer to you, link to you and come back to you.

Search results are like a good milkshake. The better the blend, the better the result.

And who doesn’t like a good milkshake?

;-)

SEO 101: Local Search Optimization

Getting found in local search results.
Getting found for local search queries takes more than having a web site with your address on it.

If there is any part of SEO that is currently ripe with opportunity it’s Local Search. A huge portion of search is for information local to the searcher (Palm Springs movies, Houston pizza, etc.), but a ton of local mom & pop businesses simply don’t know that there is such a thing as “local” search. Many folks think that search is, well, search!

So, now is the time to take advantage of this lack of understanding about local search and get your business in there! It takes more than just a web site targeted to a local audience. Rather, you need to know about about how local search works.

For instance, searchers are basically lazy and tend to search for a city name rather than narrowing down to a neighborhood or zip code, so instead of “pizza 92262″ they’ll start their search with the city as in “palm springs pizza” as the query.

Also, take a look at what you get in a local search result:

Google local search example
Notice that Google now provides ten results (with web site URLs and phone numbers) and a map with locations of the listings. You’ll also see the number of reviews that each business has received. Other search engines will give similar results, though, as of this writing, with a varying number of results mapped and listed. Also notice that the organic results show up below the local results – another reason to be in there if you can.

So, let’s jump into some tips to help you with your local search optimization.

1. Include your physical address. Make sure it is on every page on your web site. if you think slapping a postal address into the HTML address meta tag will help you get found in local search, think again.

2. Be central. Unfortunately, the search engines tend to focus on the city center, meaning that the first results that come up for a search like Boston bars will be those in center city. If you’re lucky enough to be centrally located, you’ve got a leg up on the competition. If not, you could try getting a mailing address that is centrally located, but the search engines will definitely frown on that. All it takes is one disgruntled person going to that location and finding a mailbox to report you. And, businesses without street addresses can’t get listed in Google local listings.

3. Optimize your web site. Regular SEO can have an influence. Be sure to use the name of your city in your content (our Palm Springs office, not just our office). Use your city name in your image ALT attributes and anchor text. See my S E O 101 series for general optimization tips. Make sure your classic SEO is location specific.

4. Optimize your local listing. In Google, go to Local Business Center. For Yahoo!, go to Yahoo! Local. For MSN (or Live or whatever they call themselves today), go to Windows Live Local Listing Center. Fill out the forms with all relevant information. Provide links, web pages, photos and coupons if available.

5. Get reviews. Reviews can have an effect on how you rank in the results. Lots of good reviews can only help you. Enlist friends, customers, relatives, business partners or whoever you can to write good reviews to get you started, but don’t spam. You’ll get caught.

6. Get listed in trusted sources. The search engines pull some reviews and listings from what they consider trusted sources like Superpages, Yellow Pages, Info USA, Localeze and Yelp. Some are free, some are for a fee, but listings in these can help. In Yahoo, del.icio.us rankings might also have some influence.

7. Make sure your data and category are accurate in #4 & #6 above.

8. A keyword-rich domain name can’t hurt.

9. Do local videos. These tend to have great click-through rates and can come up in Google blended results.

10. Cross link with maps on a trusted site like Mapquest.

11. Create a local listing for all locations. If you have more than one, don’t just create a local listing for the main one. Get them all in there!

As always, this barely scratches the surface of local SEO and is intended to get you started in the right direction. I go into more detail in my SEO workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.

This article will be updated periodically.

See my related S E O 101 posts .

Yahoo! Open Search Platform

For the first time in front of a public group, Yahoo! presented its new Open Search Platform at a special presentation at SMX West 2008 in Santa Clara. Basically a way for users and site owners to customize search results, the Open Search Platform will allow use of plugins for personalization.

For instance, a site owner can create a plugin with information relevant to the site including images, phone numbers, links and other data such as reviews. A user can load the plugin from a gallery so that when the site comes up in a search result, the link will not just be a link to the site, but sort of a blended result with an image and additional links similar to what Google now serves up as One Box results.

Sort of personalized universal search results.

Yahoo! Open Search Platform will focus on “completing tasks” rather than dishing out results. Users can share results with others, add or remove enhancements or even report sites as abusers of trust.

According to Yahoo!, it’s “All about users choice.”

Site owners can add buttons, galleries and marketing info to create a richer experience for visitors. The new service, which is free, will be open to all sites by way of an API or feed upload.

More information, including example images can be found at http://tools.search.yahoo.com/open . Also see the Yahoo blog for updates.