With social media hogging the limelight, search engine optimization (SEO) often takes a backseat. SEO is the ability of a webpage to be indexed by search engines (like Google, Bing and Yahoo). Because SEO is not cosmetic or publically facing as a brand extension, it is not usually a top of mind focus for fashion and luxury industry marketers. However, SEO drives traffic, qualifies leads and can boost sales just as much as (and sometimes more) than forward-facing marketing efforts.
Think about the impact and value of finding what you want. First of all, an intrinsic intent is what motivates a search. As a user, you want something; answers, content or information, and when we search, we search with the hope of receiving results tailored to our inquiries. By typing a series of words into Google’s search bar, we are commanding the information we seek be brought to us, on demand, within a matter of seconds. Those results that appear toward the top of the list are the ones that usually hold the most promise, and with every click we are empowered with more information than when we started. However, as users, we do not typically have the patience to browse past the first, second or third page of search results, making it increasingly important for brands to ensure that they appear ahead of the vast competition.
Today, Fashion’s Collective talks with Wil Reynolds, the Founder of SEER, a highly recommended agency specializing in SEO.
FC: What can you tell our readers about the difference between organic and paid SEO? (Or more commonly referred to as Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing?)
WR: The difference is simple; natural search is much more about making educated (and research based) guesses on what the search engines are seeking to help you rank naturally (organically). Natural search is influenced mostly by how your site is developed, the keywords that you use on your site, and most importantly, the links that you get to your site. All of that culminates in you ranking in the natural results. It’s also “free” to rank there; in other words, you don’t pay Google a dime to rank in the natural search results. In paid search (SEM) or pay per click, you are paying every time your ad gets clicks. For the most part, you are tweaking ad copy, landing pages, keywords, etc. to determine the right mix on a day-to-day basis. The barriers to entry are low in pay per click, anyone can easily buy some keywords and start showing up, and it’s the day-to-day campaign management that makes the difference. The down side to pay per click is that once you stop paying, you lose all visibility.
FC: For fashion brands in particular, it’s important to maintain a high design aesthetic. What are some things to consider in the design process that can impact SEO?
WR: In Fashion and/or large branded spaces, the design can NOT be compromised for better rankings. With that said, flash is going to be your biggest enemy. Flash is very difficult for the search engines to index, so while flash helps your site to have all kinds of neat functions, the content in those neat functions are very often invisible to the search engines. Your next enemy is images. Using some of your targeted keywords in images is not going to help you rank nearly as well as plain old boring web copy. But there is a remedy for that, which leads me to my third issue. Its critical when designing your site to make sure you work with a designer who knows the ten different ways to “skin a cat”: to marry the design with search engine friendly elements to help you to rank well. For instance, many brands have custom fonts that they want to keep to make sure the online and offline looks are cohesive. A strong design firm will know how to keep your fonts and look while also making sure they deliver a site the search engines can easily index.
FC: What are the 3 main things to consider for companies looking for the right SEO partner?
WR: 1 – Make sure that they understand that cramming a bunch of text on your high fashion site is not going to cut it, so make sure they can develop creative solutions.
2 – If you are conducting e-commerce, your SEO firm should be able to speak to SEO strategies that scale and can work well with your platform.
3 – Lastly, and this is a bit more advanced, but your SEO firm should understand seasonality and how that impacts search behavior. Natural search results can take months to get at times. So, if you are trying to hit winter boots as a hot category, they should know that the research for boots typically starts spiking around September, and as a result they should start in April to really make sure your fall line is optimized.
FC: SEM can become very complex and intricate, one part a mathematical algorithm and one part behavioral science. Do you have any tactics on how brands should choose keywords?
WR: Carefully. SEM is like gambling in that you can lose your shirt before you even had a second to blink. Start small, because you are going to make mistakes, and you want to make them on a small budget. As you learn more, you ramp up, versus going in aggressively just to find out in a month or two you’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars. The big things to learn about are negative keywords; get really strong on how to use them.
Here’s an example of why: Let’s say your business is very successful at selling high fashion women’s dress sandals. While you might think targeting the word “sandals” is a good idea, it might not be. You should consider the fact that men search for sandals as well, and you don’t sell men’s sandals, or that some searches might be done for Nike sandals, which is not your target market, either. Targeting the word “sandals” will cause you to show up for the search for men’s sandals and Nike sandals as well.
One option is to negative match the word “men’s” and the word “Nike”, so that now when someone searches for “sandals”, you show up, but if they search for men’s sandals, or a brand of sandals you don’t carry (or don’t make good margins on), you don’t show up. That is negative matching.
FC: What is the relationship between social media and SEO, and how can they work together to increase searchability?
WR: This is the BIG thing these days. Both Bing and Google are bringing in more and more tweets and/or Facebook “likes” and results from your “social circle” into the top results. Let’s say your Twitter followers often tweet your deals and specials. If I follow any of the people who tweet these deals and do a search on Google for women’s sandals, when your listing shows up, I’ll see my friend’s Twitter profile next to your natural search listing saying Wil, your friend Elizabeth tweeted this company or is a fan of this company. This is huge because we all prefer recommendations from friends over random strangers, but when we are doing searches we are not going to call up every one of our friends to ask them what they think, right?
Building up your profile NOW is critical in my opinion, as the search engines will be using social to influence rankings, and worst case scenario you are interacting more with your customers on social, which is NEVER a bad thing.
FC: In the fashion space, we’re seeing a lot of content producers, like bloggers, rank above the brands themselves because their content is more searchable than the brands they talk about. What are some ways brands can get ahead of this?
WR: Our firm is helping a large fashion brand deal with this right now. Let’s first discuss why this happens in the first place. Very often the brand sites are so focused on the aesthetic and minimal copy that they don’t give the search engines enough content to know what their pages are even about. The bloggers and content producers know that if they don’t make their sites search friendly, then they will not make a dime, so from the onset they do everything to make sure they are indexed properly.
Brands need to work with designers who can keep the finer points of the design but still get copy on the site. It is especially painful when brands get outranked for their own branded keywords by aggregators, content producers, and bloggers. This is fixable if there is flexibility in the design.
FC: Any last pointers or takeaways?
WR: I didn’t touch much on link building here, but it’s a final critical piece to the puzzle. Keep in mind JC Penney was paying serious money to acquire links and rank well for keywords in natural search. Do not take shortcuts like they did and just buy links; it will eventually come back to hurt you. Instead, give away product for review; interview bloggers in your space, invite them to trunk sales and maybe blogger-only invite events, all of which gets them talking about you in a legitimate way and building you links without the risk of being banned, like JC Penney was.
Author: Elizabeth Schofield
Copy-Editor: Gina Conforti
Photo Credits: Alex Williamson