Automated E-commerce SEO how to kill your competitors that use them.

We recently had the pleasure of working on a seasonal site, in a hectic business! What a fast pace, and then after their peak season, BOOM all traffic falls off, I am still recovering from the mental anguish and long nights but it was a BLAST, now that I can dust myself off a bit, I’d like to share some things that I learned after an automated SEO tool was installed.

What was interesting is that for this client they had an automated SEO tool installed after we did regular SEO to the main e-commerce site with tens of thousands of pages. So I got to see just how these tools perform head to head.

For those of you who are going up against a competitor with an automated SEO tool here’s how to kick that things’ ass, we did it, and will share with you too:

1 – INVEST in re-developing your site to be SEO friendly, any good SEO company will be able to help here. Some basic things to consider in the re-programming of your e-commerce site from an SEO perspective:

The SEO company working on your e-commerce site needs to understand how to find the fine line between what terms need REAL day to day love and which ones can be done with the right template. This is done by evaluating the competitiveness of individual terms (short and long tail) to understand which can be hit with template-based, scalable SEO best practices. Developing the right site hierarchy is critical here!

Leave space for copy in your templates.

Give yourself control over page titles, meta descriptions, and section headers, so you can overwrite automated copy here if you need to because of competitiveness.

Create search engine friendly URLs (use Mod re-write or ASAPI).

BEWARE: This is the hardest part, I have seen re-developments run in the low 6 figures for highly customized old carts. If you can NOT do this, then call up an automated SEO company to help, but expect that your competitors will eventually make these investments and will likely beat your tail (and I do mean the long tail).

Do not fall for the “do you want to change you programming to keep up with the algorithms” sales pitch. Any good SEO company, with experience in e-commerce SEO, will help you develop a search engine friendly architecture that should stand the test of time.

If you have the resources to re-develop your site, or if it is already SEO friendly according to the few basic requirements above proceed to step 2.

2 – DEVELOP copy for your category pages (not product pages yet that could be a HUGE task). I know this is NOT ideal or fun, or easy, but guess what, if it was easy everyone would be doing it right? Right! If you want to do something fun, go play with the subservient chicken! Get a bang up company to develop your hundreds of category pages of copy, or if your SEO company can develop the copy, even better, either way get the copy through the eyes of your SEO firm.

I would recommend having the content delivered early, 6 months before your peak season would be ideal. For e-commerce sites, product pages should follow a “template” for where the keywords go in titles, descriptions, alt tags, header tags, etc. Remember, you should have flexibility to overwrite what is in these templates just in case you need to apply specific techniques to hot products quickly and easily.

Sample: Changing a few quick tags and internal linking helped a client sell out of the top searched for item (according to hitwise) in their peak season in about 3-4 days after the changes were picked up (and they went to #2 for the term). Can your automated tool do that? Probably not, that is where you create competitive advantages; get in get out, while the tool is just chugging along.

3 – OPTIMIZE your site in the traditional way, social media, link building, tweaking content over time, working on descriptions that get click throughs and sales.

Now you don’t have to believe me, but this is the process, and it is a process maybe called “Scalable SEO” or e-commerce SEO 4.0 (HA!) it works very well for large e-commerce sites with thousands, or tens of thousands of pages. Category and Product pages should be templatized, and that template should be tweaked and optimized several times leading up to your busy season. As soon as the season is over, get started again! Tweak the copy, add pages, remove pages, but if done right you will not need to change the programming, and each SKU you add will fit the template and be well optimized.

As for how we fared against the automated tool…well here’s the details:

1 – In the same niche industry we found that 4 other sites were pitched and BOUGHT the SAME automated tool from the SAME company, that really didn’t give a competitive advantage to our client as every one of their competitors was using the same tool to target the same terms too.

2 – Since the automated tool kind of mashes up your existing content (to avoid content duplication on you less than optimal pages) the pages weren’t as well themed as a site with handwritten copy developed by copywriters (my opinion).

3 – When pointing to successes the vendor picked out the most long tail (or should I saw WRONG tail terms). Now these did drive traffic and sales, NO DOUBT, but they were for so many very long tail terms that I think the client would have ranked well anyway.

4 – For any non-competitive product terms, we killed the automated results typically with top 10 & 20 results vs. theirs, I would think that automated SEO pages beat custom SEO pages in one out of every 15 to 20 terms targeted. The fewer words and the higher the search volume, the less likely they were to have fared well.

5 – For as long as the site stays on the existing platform (which was re-architected for SEO) they should maintain decent rankings without paying a dime to support the existing terms. Changes in platform only require the SEO company to GRILL the new platform provider to ensure smooth transition.

6 – For the short tail, we did well (I’m never 100% pleased), the automated SEO tools for e-commerce sites NEVER hit the head of the tail or really any 2 words phrases now that I think about it, and I think most of the companies that pitch automated SEO to e-commerce sites do a good job of setting that expectation.

So in closing, a quick synopsis:

If you can re-program your e-commerce platform for SEO according to the steps above, you should do your own SEO. If you can’t go with an automated system, our friends up the road (Commerce360) have launched such a tool. With varying opinions, but I like those guys, and wish them luck.

If you can invest in having real good, engaging copy developed for at least your category pages, you can do your SEO.

If you want a long term competitive advantage that won’t be sold to every one of your competitors, consider avoiding the automated route or seeking industry exclusivity for at least a year (good luck).

Lastly, each position on page 1 and 2 indicates value, there’s only one #1, one #2, one #10, etc. However you create a competitive advantage, is up to you, but anything that can be bought and installed by you that gets bought and installed by your competitor the next day may not be something to hang your long term hat on.

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