When we’re starting an e-commerce project at FortyFour, clients often mention the importance of SEO for their business, usually in regards to maintaining traffic after a redesign or a re-platforming. What’s not often discussed, however, is how SEO is a part of the shopping journey — or how content can be optimized for organic search growth and deliver long-term impact.
In retail, the display or kiosk can make a difference in whether a product sells. Even where the product is placed in relation to other brands, or how close the product is to the ground, can drastically impact sales. Consider a busy afternoon in SoHo or 5th Avenue in New York—the window display is meant to draw your attention and ultimately make you shop for the exact item or other items in the store. Let’s just say there are a lot of variables for why something may catch a shopper’s eye.
While e-commerce marketers tend to focus on conversion metrics, standardized functionality, and templated (or repeatable) design, the most natural function of a shopping experience is often the most ignored—window shopping or browsing. Shoppers are not always looking for an exact solution. Sometimes they’re just looking for inspiration.
For those interested in SEO or User Experience design, the following framework may be familiar. In order to help consumers make a choice, the e-commerce experience must be:
Informational: all necessary information about the product exists and is easily findable
Transactional: the buying process is familiar or easy to follow
Navigational: it is easy to browse or find items either by category or name
While useful for designing an effective shopping experience, these tenets do not capture the experience of browsing.
For this, let’s add a fourth tenet:
Inspirational: discovering new ideas, brands, or product varieties
So how does this relate to searchers? Each of these tenets are relevant to someone using a search engine because each is necessary to fully capture the journey of a searcher. The fourth is often ignored as it can take more time and effort to develop effectively. To best understand just how important inspiration or discovery can be for searchers, it helps to first understand how and why searchers “search” in the first place.
A searcher is generally aware of their problem. They do not need to be told they have a problem and that there is a solution to that problem. Plenty of “problem awareness” marketing happens in paid advertising outside of search engines. For SEO, we need to go a layer or two deeper in the customer journey.
Searchers are often looking to resolve two key parts of their journey:
Solution Identification — the searcher is aware of their problem or need and is looking for potential solutions
Solution Comparison — the searcher has identified solutions and is comparing offerings
Inspirational SEO content can be extremely influential in how a searcher decides to identify potential solutions and move forward towards purchase. Inspiration can also be a valuable tool for driving new traffic from keyword searches and exploration beyond the homepage, product detail pages, and product listing pages. Google has continually stressed the importance of focusing on quality content.
A high quality, engaging and even interactive page can accomplish a searcher’s goals and even improve the quality of traffic to influence conversion.
Here are a few examples of brands creating inspirational content that drives SEO traffic:
Ikea is well known as a destination for inexpensive home and office furniture. But they really shine at helping you envision how a certain piece may fit into your home or how it could look as part of a fully designed room. It’s even the second item in their navigation, right next to products.
These pages appear to be blogs, but they’re actually highly engaging image galleries with unique perspectives and opinions from designers representing the brand. It’s just a clever way to show off product, similar to the experience you would have in-store—which by the way, is largely based on browsing your way through the entire store (even though there are no windows to look through).
REI is another unique example of a retailer turned e-commerce store dedicated to inspirational content. REI’s Expert Advice section features information related to outdoor skills and gear, aligning directly with their customer base and featured products.
REI cleverly sections the content into their core categories, which aligns with how searchers are looking for tips and product ideas and offers broad ranging keyword potential. They have also included reviews for many of the articles, which is an interesting way to incorporate schema markup for unique results in search engine pages.
Brick-and-mortar retailers have known for some time how important window and aisle design is for shoppers. It’s high time e-commerce retailers focused on providing value beyond the transaction by helping searchers identify the right solution for their needs and inspire additional interest in products or ideas they may not have considered before. Of course there are benefits to more engaged search traffic once the customers are shopping your online store, but in an increasingly competitive e-commerce landscape, it will only become more difficult to get them there in the first place.
As always with SEO, content is and will forever be king.
T.R. Wilhoit is the senior marketing manager at FortyFour.