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A commentary on the search industry from a site search vendor's perspective.
Updated: 2 hours 36 min ago

A Surge in Query Volume is Coming

November 24, 2015 - 17:09

This morning (when I was supposed to be sleeping, but wasn’t because of jet lag), Flipboard popped up an article about Google’s scale that mentioned Google serves 1.2 trillion searches per year. That’s a lot! In the last year, SLI served over 15 billion searches across our more than 1,000 customer sites, which is about an 80th of what Google reportedly served. Given these numbers, I’m sure that across the web the number of searches within websites is higher than the number of searches on Google, Bing and the other web search engines.

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up, SLI expects to serve more searches in the next seven days than any other week of the year. Thanksgiving is very much an American holiday, but the retail events surrounding it have become an international phenomenon. Retailers around the world take advantage of the opportunity to boost their holiday programs. Last year we saw large query volumes from our Brazilian retailer customers. UK retailers are jumping on the trend with £1.9 billion forecast to be sold in Black Friday sales.

The SLI team has been working to ensure we have plenty of capacity to meet the peak query volumes across the more than 1,000 sites that we power. In measuring search activity during Thanksgiving weekend last year, we found the highest day during this surge in shopping resulted in about 2.7x the normal number of queries. But the real peak is when the sales first open, the emails are sent and people rush to get the best deals. During a recent pre-Black Friday sale we saw the per-minute query volumes hit 200x their normal level.

Especially at this time of year, it’s vital that retailers’ infrastructure is ready to handle these peaks. SLI customers can rest assured: we are ready and waiting.

Retailers: Get Ready to Sell Rain Gear (and More)

November 19, 2015 - 14:20

In drought-drenched California, we are preparing for an extra holiday guest. But instead of washing sheets for the air mattress, we are fixing leaks and clearing gutters. El Niño, a climate event defined by warmer than usual Pacific Ocean temperatures that affects global weather patterns, is expected to bring heavy rains over the next few months to California as well as the entire southern tier of the U.S.

According to NOAA, this year’s El Niño is one of the strongest on record. Parts of California could see 40-50% more rain than average while Florida could get 70% more rain.

While some might wait and see, the wise will no longer ignore long-neglected winter chores.

What does this mean for retailers? Folks have a legitimate weather-induced excuse reason to shop. (You think I’m kidding, but I just bought myself three pairs of boots.) Here are some ways you can capture the attention of shoppers preparing for El Niño:

Treat El Niño like its own retail season. Look at your products with fresh eyes and think about what people might need to buy during an extra rainy season. Yes, people might want boots, hats, gloves, jackets, umbrellas and waterproof socks. But they might also need floor mats, windshield wipers, rain barrels, tarps, sand bags, heavy plastic sheets, generators and sump pumps. Parents will need activities for kids who are cooped up inside for days at a time. And let’s not forget the best in rain-proof beauty products, such as waterproof mascara and anti-frizz hair products.

If you sell anything your shoppers might want to weather the upcoming storms or make cabin fever more manageable, make sure they know what you’ve got. All the best practices of merchandising apply. Highlight special deals on El Niño-related items. Recommend products based on what shoppers are searching for. Curate landing pages to showcase your entire El Niño-related product selection.

Provide how-to guides. The Los Angeles Times offered readers 28 things to do to prepare for El Niño rains this season. The list includes must-do tasks for your home, garden and car. Many are DIY projects. For example, No. 18 on the list: Plant winter vegetables in raised beds or elevated rows. If you specialize in home improvement, garden or auto supplies, share your expert advice and provide shoppers with an El Niño checklist or direct them to already existing how-to guides so they are ready for the rain. They will appreciate that you are looking out for them.

Keep an eye on your popular search terms. The more it rains, the more people are going to realize they need certain things they hadn’t thought of. Make sure you are reviewing your most popular search terms. (If you are an SLI customer, make sure to look at your Poor Results report too.) Keeping in tune with what shoppers want will help you better merchandise the products you have. In addition, user-generated SEO will help your site be found as new, seasonal long-tail search terms gain in popularity.

Stay dry, friends. And for more merchandising tips, check out the SLI Knowledge Base.

How Catalogs Can Succeed in an Omnichannel World

November 12, 2015 - 17:11

Right after Halloween, the catalogs started arriving as usual for the time of year – Frontgate, Lego, Learning Express, Uncommon Goods, Crate & Barrel, Tinyprints and many, many more.

Each holiday shopping season, I find myself initially surprised at why retailers continue to send catalogs when more people are buying online instead. But then, as my kids start to flip through the catalogs to build their wish lists and I find myself earmarking pages over breakfast, I see why catalogs still work: Even though fewer people today will pick up the phone to make a catalog order, these colorful, glossy merchandising tools catch our attention in our homes, when we’re not intentionally thinking about shopping, and they drive us to the online or retail stores where we’ll make a purchase.

In this multi-channel (and increasingly omnichannel) world, there’s no reason for retailers to give up one form of merchandising that works, even if the actual purchase point for the customer changes. There are, however, many reasons to make sure that your different merchandising channels are working well together.

Here are a few tips for making sure that your catalogs are effective in driving shoppers toward a final purchase:

Know what actions you’re driving customers toward. Is your catalog a purchasing vehicle, an advertisement or both? Do you want people to have the option to place a phone order? If so, then the usual catalog best practices apply (a customer code on the back, a toll-free number on each page, clear color choices, item numbers, etc.). Or are you simply using your catalog to drive people to your online or brick-and-mortar store?

Each year I see more “catalogs” that promote products without providing a way to actually shop from the catalog. Learning Express doesn’t list item numbers or a toll-free number because they don’t offer shopping by phone; their catalog is simply a driver to their stores and web site.

Think about what will make shoppers buy from you versus a competitor. Special offers and promotions can make a big difference in whether your catalog encourages shoppers to go to your site or to a competitor’s site to complete a purchase, especially for products that are available through multiple vendors.

I have three learning-toy catalogs in a pile by my computer, each from a different retailer and each containing products that are available in at least one of the other catalogs. When I go to make my online purchases, I’m going to buy from the store that has advertised an offer I can’t refuse. If the offer is not compelling enough, I’ll just skip all three stores that sent me catalogs and buy the item from my favorite local-based online toy retailer.

Make sure shoppers can quickly find catalog items on your site. Once your catalog has done its job of making a shopper want an item that they carry, you’d better make sure that shopper can easily find the item in your online store. Don’t overlook the importance of having top-quality site search: if you don’t show the most relevant items first, whether the customer searches by item number, item name or a descriptive name, you’re not going to make the sale. Features like Rich Auto Complete™, faceted refinements and smart mobile navigation are now expected.

Remember that shoppers often go to their computers or tablets to finalize a purchase because of the speed and convenience of buying the item online rather than making a phone call. Other shoppers will use your catalog or web site to browse before walking into a store to try something on. But all shoppers need to easily find the products they’re looking for on their computers, phones and tablets. If you don’t make your products easy for them to find anytime and anywhere, then you’re not going to succeed in an omnichannel world.

Navigate Mobile Shoppers Toward Sales

November 5, 2015 - 14:00

More than half of all time spent shopping online is done via smartphones and tablets, propelling mobile commerce to grow three times faster than overall e-commerce. In addition to site search, site navigation is one of the most important aspects of the mobile experience.

Here are some tips to help make sure your site navigation is ready for the mobile-and-tablet holiday rush.


Mobile Navigation

The limited space on smartphones and tablets magnifies the importance of intuitive navigation.

To best orient users and guide them through a mobile site (without cluttering the screen), use a simple design. Here are some main best practices:

  • Use drop-down menus with buttons or simple text so you can offer as many drill-down levels as needed while freeing up valuable real estate.
  • Use subpages to expand using familiar icons such as +, – and >. This allows shoppers to easily navigate through categories to exactly the products they are looking for.
  • Give category pages a look and feel similar to search results pages. This gives users a consistent experience across search and navigation.
  • Include a thumbnail image, product title, brief description, price and additional information such as ratings and discounts.

Include Refinements

Just as on your desktop site, refinements make navigation easier for mobile visitors. Since mobile devices have a lot less space for navigation, using a drop-down menu can be a good design choice. Presenting refinements this way saves screen space by hiding them when they are not in use. This helps reduce visual clutter on the mobile site and allows visitors to view more products and content without needing to scroll down.

Offer Infinite Scrolling

You may find that shoppers spend more time on your mobile site if you provide infinite scrolling.

Instead of requiring shoppers to click to the next page, infinite scrolling automatically loads more search results as the user nears the bottom of the page.

Make Links and Buttons Touch-friendly

When designing for touch-enabled devices, keep in mind the size of the human finger and thumb. The touch target for an index finger is 57 pixels and for a thumb it is 72 pixels. Making touch targets smaller than that can lead to user frustration and incorrect clicks. Moreover, don’t require users to pinch and zoom in order to navigate pages as these actions also lead to a negative user experience.

Direct Mobile Users to Mobile Pages

If you have a separate mobile site with a different URL, make sure to automatically send your mobile users to the correct site. You also need to direct search engines to this alternate site in order for your mobile pages to rank well in mobile search results. If you’re using responsive design, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Don’t Assume Desktop Features Will Work on Mobile Devices

A common mistake in mobile development is attempting to port desktop features directly to a mobile device. With a touch-enabled device, the user is not navigating the page with a mouse cursor so functions like hover don’t translate into a positive customer experience. At best, the user will attempt to click the item multiple times to activate the link; at worst, the user will be unable to click through at all and may abandon the site in frustration. Instead, optimize your development for the unique features and uses of each device type. Smartphone users and tablet users may use your site differently so consider both types of users.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.


Top Costumes for Halloween 2015: Ready to Feel The Force?

October 29, 2015 - 16:32

Don’t be surprised if you have Princess Leia, Darth Vader or Yoda knocking at your door this Saturday, looking for treats. Star Wars mania is in full swing and is dominating the 2015 Halloween costume craze, as Hollywood blockbusters are again leading the costume trend this year.

Data from SLI Systems found Star Wars is an unmatched force with nearly 37% greater interest than Minions – the next closest film. In fact, this Halloween season, consumers conducted twice as many costume searches for Star Wars characters than Frozen characters, which were the most-searched costumes in 2014. Anticipation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is clearly attracting new generations, adding to decades of loyal fan numbers.

The top 5 most-searched movie-themed costumes of 2015 were:

  1. Star Wars (combines searches for Leia, Darth Vader and other characters)
  2. Minions (includes searches for Despicable Me)
  3. Frozen (includes searches for Elsa, Olaf and other characters)
  4. Marvel Universe (includes Hulk, Thor, Ironman, Spiderman and other characters)
  5. Maleficent


As noted in a recent Multichannel Merchant article, SLI studied site search activity across e-commerce costume retailer websites based in the U.S., Canada and Australia, analysing a total of more than 10 million consumer searches taking place between Sept 1 and Oct 20, 2015.

The SLI data team compared the most popular site search terms across costume retailer websites using our Learning Search® service and found interest in current events as well. For instance, searches for ‘Trump’ increased significantly, with 33x more searches than the same timeframe in 2014. The data also revealed, the search term “Trump” was 38% more popular than “Ironman”!

Here are some of the additional findings from SLI’s 2015 Halloween Costume Site Search study:

  • The top three most popular non-movie searches in order were: witch, pirate and zombie
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-related searches remain popular but missed the Top Five movie-themed list, coming in 6thplace
  • Supergirl (and Superwoman) was 3.5x more popular than Trump and nearly 5x more popular than Ironman, the least popular Marvel super hero this season
  • Spiderman was the most popular Marvel super hero
  • Maleficent saw 3x the searches compared with (Princess) Leia

So if you haven’t already bought your Halloween costume for Saturday, there is still time. You can either buck the trend or join the legion of fans who will pay homage to the Star Wars franchise.

May the force be with you!

Aim for Holiday Merchandising Perfection

October 23, 2015 - 15:00

There’s a great deal of science behind online retail, especially this time of year. Holiday shopping projections and results are measured by every retail organization and publication from August through February. Smart retailers analyze these numbers to create merchandising strategies that maximize their conversions.

At SLI Connect last month, Jim Davidson, Head of Research at Bronto Software, shared his latest findings on what retailers believe shoppers want versus what consumers actually expect for the 2015 holiday season. Following are a few interesting points from his presentation, “Creating Holiday Perfection Online,” which he will share in an SLI webinar next week.

Highest Converting Holiday Promotions
Bronto surveyed retailers and shoppers to learn which holiday promotion messages work best for online buyers versus in-store buyers. One of the discoveries was that 38% of shoppers will not buy if free shipping isn’t offered.

Mobile Shoppers: Browsing or Buying?
We know there’s an increasing trend toward using smartphones or tablets to shop online. However, because some retailers are slow to make their sites mobile-friendly, many mobile shoppers still turn to their desktops or go to a store to make the purchase. Bronto found that 22% of shoppers plan to actually make a purchase on their smartphone this holiday.

Even with holiday merchandising in full swing, there are plenty of digital promotions yet to be executed and much fine tuning to be done in the next two months of 2015. Listening to the retail analysts, along with optimizing your site search and mobile search, can help you achieve perfection.

Learn more by registering for the webinar “Creating Holiday Perfection Online” on Tuesday, October 27, at 11:00 a.m. PDT.

Consider the Power of User-generated Content

October 14, 2015 - 18:30

User-generated content in the form of ratings and reviews can deliver powerful SEO benefits to your e-commerce site. Many e-commerce platforms, including Magento, now have built-in ratings and reviews. Other platforms offer extensions in their marketplaces to support user-generated content. Regarding the importance of user-generated content, Search Engine Journal offers the article, Why Should UGC be a Part of Your SEO Strategy?

  1. Unique content for product detail pages: The language used by reviewers is different than the language used in product descriptions. When you include this unique “review language” in product detail pages, you create unique content. Your pages can no longer be considered duplicate to any other page on the internet.


  1. Rankings boost from unique terms used in reviews: Internet search engines understand the language used by reviewers is not the same as the language provided by manufacturers. Search engines use review language to reinforce the topic of the product detail page. As a result, pages might rank better for phrases they already ranked for and they might rank additionally for phrases introduced via reviews.


  1. Social proof: Favorable reviews and ratings act as social proof. Studies show that products are purchased more often when there is proof that other consumers liked those products as well.


Keep in mind that ratings and reviews only help your page rankings if they are part of the pages themselves. For maximum impact they must be visible as part of initial page loads, without use of iframes and without hiding the information behind tabbed or accordion-type controls.

We recommend showing rating and review information only after several reviews have been collected. Otherwise a low review count might negatively impact the perception of desirability for the products on your site.

Ratings & Reviews Partners of SLI include Feefo, Reevoo, Bazaarvoice, Power Reviews and TurnTo.

For more tips on improving your SEO, download our white paper “How to Get the SEO-Driven Revenue You’re Missing.”

The Next Innovation in E-commerce: Enhanced Rich Auto Complete

October 5, 2015 - 14:00

The world of e-commerce is constantly evolving. When site search was first introduced, the functionality was clumsy at best and completely frustrating at worst. Shoppers typed their entire search query before seeing if the site had what they were looking for. This involved a lot of guesswork and often led to no results or irrelevant results – even when the site had the product shoppers wanted.

In 2008, SLI Systems launched Auto Complete. As soon as users started typing their search query, a search box dropdown instantly displayed search suggestions. In 2011, we were the first site search provider to add images and product suggestions to this experience, which gave birth to SLI Rich Auto CompleteTM and allowed shoppers to find relevant products faster. Each improvement to our Auto Complete experience has increased conversions and customer engagement.

The E-commerce Evolution Continues

Today, we are excited to announce industry-leading enhancements to Rich Auto CompleteTM. Our new Rich Auto Complete experience has been designed from the ground up to speed the path to purchase and engage shoppers on any size device.

After considering a number of usability factors, best practices and client requests, we redesigned the entire experience to increase e-commerce sales, enhance product discovery and reduce the risk of returning “no results.”

Great for Shoppers

Our latest version of Rich Auto Complete provides better guidance to shoppers as soon as they engage with the search box. We added the ability to show search suggestions based on category, brand or department, which lets shoppers jump to the right section of results. For example, a search for jeans at a large department store might show options for jeans in Women, jeans in Men and jeans in Kids.

Our new dynamic content feature allows users to preview products of interest right within the Auto Complete box. We do this by updating products displayed when users hover over search suggestions, which gives them more choices and increases engagement.

In addition, the new Rich Auto Complete helps you capture more sales from your small-screen shoppers. We’ve created dedicated mobile and tablet designs that automatically display options correctly regardless of device size and orientation. As a result, shoppers can type less and buy more.

Powerful for Retailers

Rich Auto Complete uses patented SLI Learning Search® technology to continuously re-rank product suggestions based on user activity. This allows you to showcase the most relevant products to your shoppers, and you can tune the results to control the order in which products appear.

SLI Systems has always customized the look and feel of our solutions to match your e-commerce site. Our new Rich Auto Complete now includes a variety of design options so that you can choose an experience that fits your brand and delights your shoppers.

Our SaaS platform allows your site to evolve alongside our e-commerce solutions. Existing Rich Auto Complete customers will enjoy these new features at no additional cost. New customers can look forward to combining the power of Learning Search® with industry-leading Rich Auto Complete to create a premium search experience

Learn more about accelerating your e-commerce by reading our Rich Auto Complete product brief.

Navigation: The Art of Good Usability

October 1, 2015 - 18:38

Well-designed site navigation leads shoppers straight to the items they want, much like a well-designed satellite navigation system directs drivers to their destinations.

Great site navigation helps visitors avoid wrong turns and dead ends, but poorly designed navigation has the opposite effect: Shoppers lose their way and their patience, causing them to abandon the path to purchase before the journey even begins.

As an e-commerce retailer, you don’t want your visitors to fall into even a second of frustration, or they could be lost. A staggering 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience (Econsultancy).

One challenge of creating intuitive site navigation is accounting for different shoppers’ preferences. Some visitors are familiar with your site and others are new. Some will start at your home page, while others enter your site through a product page or landing page. Certain users always start at the search box, while others strictly navigate or use a mix of search and navigation. No matter the path, all visitors want you to bring them to the exact products or information they are looking for as quickly as possible.

The design of great site navigation is both an art and a science. After more than 14 years of helping the world’s leading e-commerce retailers turn shoppers into buyers, experts at SLI Systems have gathered an array of best practices to speed the path to purchase for shoppers in every industry, which we share in our “Big Book” series.

Our newest release of “The Big Book of Navigation Tips” includes more than 50 site navigation tips to help you lead your shoppers straight to their desired destinations.

Topics include best practices for:

  • Overall site design
  • Integration with ratings and reviews
  • Refinement display
  • SEO
  • Merchandising
  • Smartphones and tablets

Download your copy today and stay tuned to this blog for more articles about site navigation in e-commerce.

Announcing Next-generation Learning Navigation

September 24, 2015 - 14:10

In the drive to turn your visitors into buyers, navigation is a critical part of the shopping journey. More than 70% of site visitors navigate their way to the products they have in mind. But if your navigation is clumsy or confusing, those shoppers are more likely to bounce than buy.

Site Navigation as a Tool for Merchandisers, Content Marketers and SEO Pros

Originally we launched SLI Learning Navigation® in 2006 to provide a consistent experience across a site that also uses SLI Learning Search®. Learning Navigation® has always leveraged our patented learning technology to continually re-rank products based on user activity. Over the years, our navigation solution evolved based on customer feedback.

Today we are excited to introduce the next generation of SLI Learning Navigation – completely rebuilt for improved SEO and better merchandising. The newest version of Learning Navigation is designed to give you more control over your SEO while creating a better user experience based on industry best practices.

Our revamped navigation solution dynamically generates clean, search engine-friendly URLs, making it easier for shoppers to find your products during an organic search. Our new interface allows you to quickly edit URLs, titles, headings, meta tags and page descriptions, giving merchandisers and content marketers more direct control over factors that affect their SEO.

Learning Navigation also helps you avoid SEO issues with duplicate content by controlling which pages search engines index. The navigation pages provide refinement and filtering options for the whole product catalog.

Bring Your E-commerce to the Next Level

Adapting to the evolving e-commerce experience and expectations of our customers is at the core of SLI – to continuously enhance our offering, accelerate your sales and provide these improvements seamlessly via our SaaS platform. We are excited to help you bring your e-commerce to the next level with this newest version of Learning Navigation.

For new customers, we recommend signing up for Learning Search together with Learning Navigation to gain the maximum benefits of SLI learning technology. For existing SLI Learning Navigation customers, our SaaS platform allows us to easily upgrade your Navigation for no cost at your discretion.

To learn more about Learning Navigation, click here.

Why In-Person Connections Can’t Be Beat

September 21, 2015 - 14:45

No matter how advanced conferencing technology becomes, there’s no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face. Shaking hands, sharing conversation over a nice meal, sitting together to brainstorm new strategies for online retail success – none of these experiences is replicated through meetings using Skype, WebEx or GoToMeeting.

The Wall Street Journal article “The New Face of Face-to-Face meetings” cites an Oxford Economics study showing that every dollar invested in business travel results in $12.50 in added revenue and $3.80 in new profits. Face-to-face meetings are necessary, and even profitable, for reasons both obvious and research-based:

  • A handshake tells a lot about a person, and you can’t shake hands with a monitor
  • Facial expressions and other body language can communicate more than the words we use
  • Non-verbal cues help us predict a person’s trustworthiness (Science Daily)
  • In-person meetings are usually more casual and more likely to be considered “off the record,” so it’s possible to get more done in less time
  • Sharing a common experience is a building block of a long-term relationship
  • In-person meetings are simply more memorable than digital conversations

Connecting with Customers

Knowing the importance of connecting in-person, we hold SLI Connect events each year in North America, Asia Pacific and the UK. It’s a unique opportunity to mingle with our customers, other retailers and industry leaders to discuss current e-commerce topics, explore future possibilities and learn from each other’s experiences.

Our SLI Connect event is Thursday, September 24, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and there’s still a couple days to register. Our agenda, speaker list, venue details and sign up form are available at

If you’re already scheduled to attend, you can follow real-time updates on Twitter using the hashtag #sliconnect. We can’t wait to share some non-verbal cues and build some common experiences (i.e. shake hands and have some fun together).


Infographic: 6 Mobile Merchandising Tips for the Holidays

September 16, 2015 - 23:43







































This latest infographic by SLI Systems was also published in Multichannel Merchant on September 10.

For a Successful B2B Site, Take Advice from B2C

August 31, 2015 - 17:44

The business-to-business industry is rarely considered glamorous. But don’t let its reputation fool you. Think of the almost-invisible wallflower who shows up to prom transformed and looking like a knockout. That’s B2B, and based on the numbers, it should stand for Big and Beautiful.

With more B2B buyers expecting to find what they need online, a growing number of B2B companies are embracing e-commerce. According to a survey by TradeGecko Pte. Ltd., 41% of wholesalers said e-commerce would be their top sales channel in 2015, up from 31% in 2014. In addition, 24% said they will sell online for the first time in 2015 (TradeGecko).

B2B Shoppers Have Higher Expectations

Shoppers have come to expect a customer-centric online experience, and B2B sites would be wise to step up their game. The addition of Amazon Business to the e-commerce scene only increases the pressure to act more like B2C. Why should shopping for work be any less efficient (and fun) than shopping for yourself? B2B buyers want a seamless online experience – even though the B2B path to purchase is usually more cumbersome.

The B2B buying process often requires in-depth research, approval from multiple stakeholders and possibly price negotiation. This combination of complexity and great expectations means your site has more chances to hit (or miss) the mark.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

Showcase Your Expertise

Nothing against your sales team, but your corporate web site is the first choice among executives for learning about business products and services, according to the 2015

Sullivan survey “Executive Buying Behavior.” Make sure potential buyers can easily find the information they desire, whether it’s demo videos, case studies, consumer guides or blogs. A superior site search experience will deliver product results and non-product content, so your visitors find everything they are looking for and more.

Go Anywhere, Be Everywhere

Work-life balance often means blurring the lines between both – and getting tasks done when you can. Research is no longer constrained to the dual-screen desktop at the office. Your customers might be traveling for business or couch surfing from the comfort of their home. Either way, go with them via their smartphone or tablet. As a bonus, the more mobile friendly you are, the higher you will rank in Google’s search page results.

Be Supportive

Set a gold standard for customer service. While today’s B2B shoppers want to independently scope out what you’ve got, they also want to know you’re there when they need you. Make it easy to place orders, track orders, make payments, get answers to frequently asked questions, find technical documentation and talk to a real person.

For more tips on creating an exceptional online shopping experience that will win loyal customers, take a look at this B2B Industry Brief from SLI Systems.

Increase Positive SEO Signals and Reduce Negative Signals

August 20, 2015 - 18:30

My last blog outlined the main SEO tools that businesses need. Tools like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, when set up correctly, help you monitor both the positive and negative factors that affect your site’s SEO.

Positive signals to watch and improve include:

Mobile friendliness – The degree to which your site is mobile friendly will affect your SEO. In April 2015, mobile friendliness became a significant ranking factor for Google in determining a page’s position on the SERPs for Google visitors on mobile devices. Use Webmaster Tools (WMTs) such as Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools to monitor and improve your site’s mobile friendliness. As a separate tool, Google offers a quick test that reviews your URL and reports whether the page has a mobile-friendly design.

Keyword rankings – When your site contains relevant, quality content related to search phrases frequently used by visitors of Internet search engines, then these are positive signals for your SEO. Use WMTs to see which keywords and pages rank highest; use this information to determine which content on your site is most influential. Avoid the temptation to pack more of those high-ranking keywords into every page of your site – this could backfire and send out negative signals. Instead, use the keyword data to guide your content development and focus.

Links from other sites to yours – The links you naturally earn from sites with high domain authority (like when you’re mentioned in an e-commerce industry article) equate to positive signals that increase your rankings. However, resist the urge to outright ask publications or associations to add a link to your site – Google has mysterious ways to discern whether a link is simply requested or actually earned. Instead, create standout blogs and provide valuable industry news through social media and PR efforts. When you deliver information that others want to share, you truly earn links that boost your overall SEO efforts.

Structured Data – Structured data improves the bots’ understanding of the entities (products, organizations, blog posts, video objects, etc.) referenced on your site. You can improve the visibility of your pages by marking up the main entities and ensuring organizational markup is present on all pages. Check that structured data used on your side is understood correctly using the tools provided by Bing and Google. Keep in mind that incorrectly implementing structured data might do more harm than good.

Negative signals to watch and minimize include:

Crawl errors – A common crawl error that triggers a warning from WMT is a soft 404. If search engine bots pick up on pages that no longer exist and a no-results page is shown but not accompanied with a 404 http return code, this is a negative quality signal against the domain. To be clear, showing no-results pages is not a bad practice in itself – there are even possibilities to engage with visitors on them. However, they always need to be accompanied with a 404. On spotting soft 404s, you should immediately engage with your web designers to ensure the no-results page behaves as expected. Once the fix is in place, you might choose to “fetch” or “fetch and render” the no longer existing page to ensure it is returning the desired 404 response.

Large number of URLs on site – WMTs will send you warnings if you use too many URLs on your site, which could negatively affect your SEO. To correct this problem, you need to take a hard look at the pages that are already found. The WMT warning message will contain some example URLs; go through the list and confirm whether you want all of these URLs to be indexed. In addition, check for canonicalization issues. Ensure you have blocked access to your site search so that the bots cannot crawl your search. Even if someone links to a result page of your local site search, you don’t want Internet search engine bots crawling the page and adding it to their indexes.

Also think about indexation depth within your site navigation so you can avoid too many pages getting indexed. Generate an impressions/clicks report from the top pages to understand how much attention your deeper pages generate. Limit access to deep pages and consider not allowing all navigation refinements to be indexed.

HTML signals for missing, duplicate, too long or too short meta descriptions or title tags – Meta data still matters, and it’s easy to add any missing meta descriptions or title tags. WMT offers HTML improvement suggestions to show you any meta data that needs correcting. Simply add a description or title that is relevant to the topic and content of the page, within the provided character limits, and then you’ve resolved your problem.

If these tips were helpful, feel free to download our SEO Guidebook, “How to Get the SEO-Driven Revenue You’re Missing.”

The New Rules for Back to School

August 10, 2015 - 16:43

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” —You’ve Got Mail

The time-honored tradition of buying new clothes, shoes, backpacks, pencils and notebooks in anticipation of the school year is a serious retail event – second only to the winter holiday season.

The National Retail Federation predicts the average back-to-school family will spend $630 while the average back-to-college family will spend $899 for an industry total of $68 billion this year.

But the tradition is changing. Shoppers are shifting how and when they will buy back-to-school supplies, according to recent surveys by the National Retail Federation and Deloitte.

Regarding the when, there is a trend toward procrastination. Deloitte’s 2015 Back-to-School Survey reveals 31% of consumers won’t complete their shopping until after school starts this year. Many are reusing supplies and restocking as needed.

How parents and students are shopping is also changing. Brick-and-mortar stores are still the main place of purchase. But for the first time in the Deloitte survey, online shopping was the second most common response when participants were asked, “In what types of retail environments do you plan to do your back-to-school shopping?”

In 2012, only 20% of respondents said online sites were among their top five back-to-school shopping destinations. This year, that number was 44%.

The top back-to-school spending categories are clothes, electronics, shoes and school supplies such as notebooks and backpacks, according to the National Retail Federation. Deloitte’s survey broke spending down even further to find that electronics are more likely to be bought online than other back-to-school purchases.

As online shopping gains popularity among the back-to-school crowd, the use of smartphones and tablets is also increasing. More than 40% of back-to-college shoppers are using mobile devices to research and price compare, and more than 30% plan to make purchases via their smartphones or tablets, according to the National Retail Federation.

Free shipping is a big selling point, but so is the option to buy online and pick up at the store, which will be used by almost half of back-to-school shoppers, according to the National Retail Federation.

Mobile shoppers are also using smartphones to find store locations and locate in-store products. Meaning retailers that want an A from parents and students should focus on providing a strong omnichannel experience, including mobile-friendly sites with geolocation services and accurate in-store inventory.