EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 254 - January 10, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 6

Four Ways to Apply Big Brand SEO to Small Merchants, Part 1

By Jennifer Van Iderstyne

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For small merchants who participate in larger marketplaces, it may feel like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is unnecessary. There seems to be this myth that SEO is for competitive industries and big companies only. So let's de-bunk that myth, okay?

Yes, SEO can be expensive and time-consuming. Sure, it can be enough work to easily qualify as a full-time position. But it isn't all about total immersion. There are some basic principles that are just good policies for structuring and organizing any site. SEO has a broad range of applications, some of them can be highly technical and brain-meltingly complex, while many are slap-your-forehead simple common sense. I'm gonna focus on the forehead stuff.

There may be SEO limits based on the structure of the marketplace site, and while you may not have control over dynamic URLs or the ability to create custom title tags, here are some simple SEO concepts that apply to anyone.

ONE: Do Keyword Research
One of the most fundamental elements of any SEO campaign is keyword research. Before an SEO ever writes a word or creates a link, they do hours of keyword research.

There are several ways to research your keywords, but it really starts with answering two very important questions:

  • What is your product?

  • What words are people searching to find your product?

Big brands spend a lot of time and resources researching what people want and then try to feature those words and products as prominently as possible.

Knowing what people are looking for will help you create tags and titles that will be the most effective. There are tons of free tools out there that exist specifically to help you do this. One of the most popular and easiest is the Google AdWords tool. It's generally used for creating Pay Per Click campaigns, but it's also great for gleaning insight into competition levels, and keyword combinations.

A couple of other tools are the Wordstream Keyword research tool, and the Seo Book keyword tool (SEObook requires membership, but it's free to sign up, and they also offer other useful free tools for link analysis and checking rankings).

Keyword research can also be as simple as running a variety of search queries related to your products. What comes up in the top 10 results? How many paid ads are there, what do the ads look like? Are there images, videos, shopping, or local results? This is all valuable information. Conducting research and using the tools available to you can help you gain a better understanding of both your market and people's natural search inclinations as they relate to your products. Using that information, you can create product titles that stand a better chance of appearing in search results.

Utilize your keyword research to be clear and descriptive when titling a product. Those titles will serve as the product page's H1 tag, title tag and the anchor text on the link going to the page, all of which are important elements of SEO. Also, your images can be crucial to SEO as well. Use alt-text whenever possible and make your image filenames descriptive so that you may reap the benefits of image searches. Properly labeling images also adds keyword support to your links and product titles.

Clever product names are super; creativity can certainly help generate interest under the right circumstances, just make sure you don't sacrifice the opportunity to be found by failing to use descriptive labels. For example, if you sell handmade products, are you using the word "handmade" to describe that item when titling it? It may seem that simply by having a shop on Etsy, the handmade part is implied, except, Search Engines don't understand implicit.

If you can afford it, a great way to stay informed about what is working for you and what isn't is by utilizing some sort of data-tracking. Auctiva's Sellathon, for example, offers an analytics and tracking program that you can use specifically with eBay to determine what keywords people are using most often to find you and your listings. Information of that kind can be pivotal for capitalizing on your strengths and addressing your weaknesses.

TWO: Create Great Content
Whether the business is a big brand or a guy wearing a bathrobe in his basement, any decent SEO will recommend content, content, content. More and more websites seeking to fight the good fight in search engine rankings are building extensive learning centers with useful tools, articles and widgets.

For a lot of marketplaces, it may seem like the only important content is whatever you're selling. Sure, your products are the money-makers, they are the primary focus, but in order to make the most of your store, there should be more to your shop than simply pictures. Content provides education, and education increases buyer confidence.

It's important to make full use of your profile; customers may want to know more about you before they buy your products. They may also want to know more about your products than just what they look like in a thumbnail.

  • Is there an inspiring story behind something you're selling?

  • Is there something interesting about the materials used to create it?

  • Do you have ideas about the way something could be used?

  • How about an unbiased review of this product's quality?

Even just featuring some of your favorite positive feedback responses on your store's landing page can help a user feel more warm and fuzzy. Warm and fuzzy breeds trust, and trust is everything online.

Newsletters and feeds are a great way of distributing your content as well; make sure you capitalize on those options. It's possible that a newsletter opt-in or feed option can be overlooked, so use your content to communicate to visitors that they should stay engaged with your store through these channels. This also helps create brand loyalty, which is another major part of any big brand's SEO strategy.

Of course there's also another reason for adding good content, articles, reviews or other interesting information and that is,...

To be continued.

Part two of Jennifer Van Iderstyne's "Four Ways to Apply Big Brand SEO to Small Merchants" can be found here.

About the author:

Jennifer Van Iderstyne is the Internet Marketing Director of Search Slingshot, an online marketing company based out of Albany, New York. Search Slingshot specializes in SEO Consulting & SEO reporting, while helping businesses to develop Internet marketing strategies. Jennifer has been working in SEO since 2006 and has managed highly successful SEO campaigns for small businesses and large corporations in a multitude of industries.

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