August 31/September 7; Volume 30/Number 6
By Jenna Lippin
Search engine optimization, commonly known as SEO, has become increasingly important as consumers look to Google, Bing and other search engines to assist in online shopping research. With the number of consumers conducting Internet research before buying—the percentage is steadily rising to 100%—it is imperative for businesses to improve their search rankings to reach these shoppers.
For those just becoming familiar with Internet search, SEO is the process that helps a website’s visibility, maximizing the number of visitors to the site by ensuring it appears high on the list of results generated by a search engine.
Big boxes like Lumber Liquidators and Lowe’s may seem to have a leg up because of inbound links (links connecting one page to another), a large amount of content and a significant customer base, but thankfully SEO has progressed over time and is no longer dependent on volume. What is paramount today is which site is most relevant to the user.
“Websites that appear on the first page for Google targeted keyword terms receive the majority of the search traffic,” explained John Weller, vice president of marketing for Floor Force, which specializes in website development and online marketing for flooring retailers. “None of the search engines will give you a good ranking just because you have launched a great website. It takes continuous editing and adding of relevant content to your website….”
A listing on the first page of Google is the goal for most businesses, but it is often difficult to maintain this status due to continuing developments in the marketplace and ongoing Internet efforts. “The No. 1 thing is the recognition that [search] changes every week—really every day,” said Jay Flynn, vice president, sales and marketing, Creating Your Space, an online marketing program for flooring retailers. “It’s not just that the search engines are changing algorithms, but your competition is also changing what they do every day, so you have to react to everything that’s going on in your marketplace. SEO is still by far the leading source of consumers going to a website.”
Flooring America offers its members the G1 program, which helps rankings on Google’s first page, therefore generating more local leads. The group provides organic and paid search initiatives that help member microsites managed by Flooring America get positioned on page one of Google search results.
For retailers working without a group or online marketing company, some simple strategies can be implemented in order to gain an edge over the competition. According to Entrepreneur magazine’s article “5 Ways Small Businesses Can Compete With Giants in SEO,” these techniques can easily be integrated into any dealer’s businesses.
1.Specialize in a niche. Focusing on keywords that reflect a store’s areas of expertise help create greater visibility to customers who are specific with their searches (usually reflecting they are ready to buy).
2.Engage in a long-tail keyword strategy. Long-tail keywords are extended phrases Google looks for, such as “the perfect carpet for kids and pets.” Ranking highly for long-tail keywords is easier than ranking high for shorter keywords. While long-tail keywords may bring in less traffic, they end up being more valuable for small, specialized businesses.
3.Leverage locality for optimization. Targeting a local audience is becoming increasingly important, and ultimately helps smaller businesses beat competition (even larger stores). Retailers should focus on gaining local reviews on sites such as Yelp, getting involved in community events and generating hyper-local content based on what is trending in a specific area (“wood-look tile in South Florida”).
4.Personalize social engagement. The more followers a business has on social media, and the more frequent and relevant the posts on these platforms, the higher the Google ranking. Being small and personalized gives an edge of a closer relationship with consumers.
5.Become a recognized, authoritative content publisher. Quality and consistency are keys to this strategy. Each piece of content published—blogs, videos, webinars, etc.—helps maximize a business’ ROI. Dealers that remain consistent with a content schedule become reliable experts.
Mohawk is one manufacturer that puts much time and effort into SEO, both for the company itself and its dealer partners. Overall, Mohawk stresses long-tail keywords and social media strategies, but it has also developed programs and practices for retailers that focus on online content, mobile website optimization and social interaction on a broader basis.
Fresh content on the web is important, and is delivered to consumers via company websites and digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Mohawk “constantly pushes out fresh content for retailers to use,” the company said. Integrated into that content are the keywords that will help in search ranking. “It’s important to not just talk about product; consumers want to know about care tips, trends, [interior design], etc., as well as general flooring content.”
Mobile website optimization has become paramount as Google has started to penalize sites that have not been optimized for mobile devices. Mobile-friendly pages are ranked higher in Google search than those that are not. According to Mohawk, 94% of U.S. smartphone users search for localized information on their phones. Neighborhood flooring stores should do everything they can to become responsive (formatted for desktop and mobile) to stay high in specialized searches.
Social interaction on all channels also helps boost SEO. It is now more important than ever before for retailers to connect, but it is key to create a “web of connections.” A dealer’s site should provide links to its Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., to provide more exposure.
When approaching SEO and improving search engine rankings (particularly on Google), Weller encourages dealers to remember the following:
- Google rewards websites that frequently add quality, thematic content.
- Google frequently changes its algorithms to keep website owners on their toes, providing newer updated results each time a user searches.
- SEO that is done directly on a website (onsite optimization) contributes to approximately 40% of where Google will rank a site. Offsite SEO such as directory listings, thematic back links and social media sharing can now attribute up to 60% of a Google ranking.
- Spending time and money to add SEO to a poorly structured website is not likely to produce better results.