Top 5 SEO Questions at Practical Ecommerce Ignite 2015

During my search engine optimization sessions at Practical Ecommerce Ignite 2015, the inaugural year of this amazing event, so many ecommerce marketers came up to ask questions.

Some of these were really tough, like “What are the best keyword research tools for Amazon?,” which I answered in my post last week. Beyond that, here are the top five SEO questions asked of me at Ignite 2015.

‘If I use the same product description on multiple sites is that duplicate content?’

  • Short answer: No, it doesn’t meet the definition of “duplicate content” in SEO.
  • Rationale: Sites all over the web use manufacturers’ descriptions on their product pages. Many of those sites rank very well. It’s a fact of life in the ecommerce world that we don’t always have the luxury of writing custom product descriptions. But while it’s not considered duplicate content, there is a benefit to writing custom copy for products.

Optimization and custom content can make your products appear more relevant than those from sites that use canned descriptions. Maybe you can’t do it for all of your products, but could you do it for the top 10 percent? The top one percent? The top 20 best sellers, the ones with the biggest margin or the ones that you need to sell the most of from a business strategy standpoint? Try not to think of SEO as all or nothing, but rather as a process by which you can work to optimize the areas that matter most to your business first.

Jill Kocher speaking at Ignite 2015 in Dallas.

Jill Kocher speaking at Ignite 2015 in Dallas.

‘Is there really value in deep keyword research? It takes so much time.’

  • Short answer: Actually, keyword research only has value if it goes deep.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to collect and analyze a large volume of keyword data. I spend 8 to 10 hours on this process per site on a quarterly basis. If the site carries many diverse product lines and brands, it may take longer.

The results of truly in-depth keyword research and analysis provide data that can be used as customer research as well as keyword research. It can help make business decisions about the types of products consumers want that you aren’t offering. It can provide insight into how searchers perceive and purchase from competitors, and it can guide the very architecture and content that makes up your site.

When taken in aggregate, the trends that appear over thousands of keywords often look quite a bit different than the trends that appear if you just look at the top keywords you think you want to rank for initially. Deep keyword research enables a strategic approach to SEO that relying on a couple hundred large keywords just can’t match.

‘How long should I wait to measure SEO results?’

  • Short answer: It depends, but somewhere between 3 and 12 weeks from the time an optimization tactic goes live.
  • Rationale: SEO is tricky to measure because it depends in large part on the unknown time that it takes the major search engines to crawl, index, analyze, and reprocess your content to determine changes in rankings. Once the search engines modify their results, if the change is large, there will probably be a testing period where the search engines rank the pages higher or lower for individual search terms to test searchers’ reactions.

Do more people click on the new pages for certain keyword phrases? Do more people bounce out? Is the page ignored? And keep in mind that these tests happen en masse simultaneously for many different search queries, and possibly across multiple pages.

Maybe your change made a page more relevant for a phrase than the page that’s currently ranking — that instance would have to include a kind of A/B testing while the search engine’s algorithms determine which page is more relevant and which page searchers prefer. The larger the change, the more complicated and lengthy this process will be.

So when your SEO professional says 3 to 12 weeks, she’s not being wishy-washy. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we marketers have no visibility in and no control over. You’ll know when the waiting period is over and it’s time to measure the actual performance when you see a plateau in performance for three consecutive weeks.

‘How can I build authority if I can’t build links?’

  • Short answer: Build a site with a compelling user experience, with content that people love and want to share.
  • Rationale: The short answer above is a summary of Google’s pat answer in the Google Webmaster Help guide. Personally, that answer makes me crazy because it’s like answering “How do I fix my car?” with a response of “Be an auto mechanic.”

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — the search engines have built intelligent algorithms to sniff out the kinds of things that used to build links to increase the link authority of a site. Some search marketers went too far, using link building methods that came to be considered spammy, and now they’ll either have no effect on your site’s organic search performance or a negative effect.

For example, under no circumstances should you pay for or accept money for creating links. But seven years ago, buying links was still borderline acceptable. So now what?

Smaller sites have to compete with the big marketing budgets from bigger sites for eyeballs, so that the smaller sites’ SEO can improve. That is a daunting situation. I won’t pretend otherwise. However, it’s also a problem that a single project cannot solve. Weave SEO into your content marketing strategy so that every marketing piece works harder for SEO as well as fulfilling its original intention.

‘Do meta keywords have SEO value?’

  • Short answer: No, meta keywords have no positive SEO value.
  • Rationale: Since 2009, no major U.S. search engine has used meta keywords as a positive ranking signal. It’s worth noting that Bing has said that it still uses meta keyword tag stuffing — the use of many vaguely relevant or completely irrelevant keywords — as a spam signal.

If it doesn’t help ranking and is not visible to customers in any way, there’s no point in using meta keywords unless your internal site search engine still requires them. Otherwise, meta keywords are just an invitation to your competitors to view your source code and easily identify the keywords for which you’re optimizing.

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