How SamAsh.com is Failing at SEO

I was curious, and decided to check out the site at SamAsh.com.

What I found is a horrendous mess of terrible SEO mixed with equally horrible user experience… pretty much throughout the site.

Down the SEO Rabbit Hole We Go

So to be fair, I should start by saying that my hunch as to why some of these issues exist is due to their current Ecommerce platform, Websphere Commerce by IBM.

So likely a mix of limited functionality, SKU turnover, and some seemingly bad SEO direction has caused the following issues (from a high level) that I’ll call the 3 biggest opportunity areas:

  1. The majority of organic rankings are stuck on page 2 (of the ~100k organic rankings they currently have on the first 5 pages of Google, only ~17% are on page 1, compared to ~27% on page 2.)
  2. Inconsistent and often times bloated or flat out weak information architecture across the product catalog.
  3. 3rd party integration URL’s being rendered in HTML and then redirected to their destination URL’s.

I’m going to dive into each one of these individually, so buckle up for a fun SEO rollercoaster ride.

1. Less than 20% of Top 50 rankings are on Page 1

Amazingly enough, more times than not a lot of rankings are stuck on page 2 – which is the case with SamAsh.com, with almost 27,000 of their rankings on the first 5 pages of Google living on page 2.

For finding even more tools check out this post on keyword tools.

Check out some of these page 2 rankings:

Now let’s pick a few of these keywords and look at the page that’s currently ranking on page 2.

First up: bass guitars

So I head on over to samash.com/bass-guitars/ but the rollercoaster takes a sharp turn and drops me at samash.com/electric-bass-guitars-2/ instead.

Oh look at this lovely redirect chain:

but hold on a second, Bass Guitars is still showing up in the breadcrumb navigation…

Let’s give it a click.

Well that’s confusing.

So the page ranking for bass guitars is their old /bass-guitars/ page that now redirects to /electric-bass-guitars-2/ but bass guitars in their main navigation links to /bass-guitars-1/ with their sub-cat for electronic bass guitars linking to /electric-bass-guitars-2/.

So it’s a double whammy of sad SEO;

  1. The page Google see’s as the most relevant result is being redirected to a subdirectory for a modified version of the head term, and
  2. There’s a new (essentially empty) page in the product architecture that’s cannibalizing the relevance of the page being redirected to.

Technical SEO issues are at least entertaining.

Check out /bass-guitars-1/ if I scroll down just a bit…

One of the main reasons this makes me pull my hair out is the only links on this page down to the SubCategories are in navigational components; the top (main) nav and the side nav – not in the page content.

Look here;

Having your SubCategory links in the main navigation is great, but you should also be leveraging in content links to flow equity from category pages down to SubCats.

Next up: drums

Another meaty head term that Sam Ash is in a unique position as a major brand to compete for, with drums coming in at an average of 49,000 searches per month on Google.com.

Yet here we are again with a giant hole on a top-level category page:

and then they amplify their relevancy issue by directly cannibalizing the keyword – check this out:

I mean… at least they have their alternate tags set correctly for the mobile site.

These are all just little, simple SEO 101 things. Let’s look at one more keyword stuck on page 2 before we move onto the more important stuff.

Last up: guitar strings

So I realize we just took a giant leap in terms of customer value, with the average packet of guitar strings running about $5.

But, with ~60,000 searches/month in the U.S., this keyword is more about capturing new clients (likely as a loss leader) to have a chance at capitalizing on customer lifetime value, which my guess is closer to $500.

So at first glance the guitar strings page doesn’t look too bad;

After spending some time on this website I realize that there’s no featured products on this SubCategory, but it’s also not a priority since it has no additional contextual content on the page:

So outside of the opportunity to better dial in semantic relevance with more content on this page, let’s check out the links:

My first thoughts are 12 links from 6 domains, not great but not terrible – at least there are some deep links to this page, but when we look closer;

Unfortunately, these are complete shit links that are likely causing more harm than good. Link building is still important, but you have to do it right.

My biggest issue with this page is actually not the page at all, but more so the architecture, which brings me to opportunity #2.

2. Inconsistent and Bloated Information Architecture

There’s a bunch of fun stuff to talk about here, but picking up on the last point let’s first look at guitar strings at the product level;

So rule #1 for product page SEO; when there’s no search volume for product attributes, don’t include them in the architecture.

SamAsh.com for most of their products, they nest them underneath a Category or SubCategory parent directory:

So here are some of the URL’s for a handful of their guitar string product pages:

  • https://www.samash.com/acoustic-guitar-strings/ej11-3d-light-80-20-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings–3-pack–12-53-dej113dxx-p
  • https://www.samash.com/acoustic-guitar-strings/ej13-3d-80-20-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings–custom-light–3-pack–11-52–dej133dxx-p
  • https://www.samash.com/acoustic-guitar-strings/exp16-3d-light-phos-bronze-acoustic-guitar-strings–3-pack–12-53-dexp163dx-p

Notice some of the key modifiers at work here;

  1. Light
  2. Bronze
  3. 80/20
  4. Acoustic
  5. 3D
  6. Phos

Here’s a quick snapshot of monthly search volume for some of these terms:

Stay with me – here are the other SubCategories within the /acoustic-guitar-strings/ SubCategory:

Based on all the components I presented above, if I were doing SEO for SamAsh.com I’d be recommending they create new facet’s under acoustic guitar strings for light, bronze, and 80/20.

I’d also have them pull a lot move to a root architecture for products and pull a lot of these keywords out of the meta attributes at the product level to allow for stronger focused targeting and reduce all the keyword cannibalization that’s currently happening.

Onto even more information architecture problems

I imagine ranking for guitar terms is pretty important to SamAsh.com.

Yet, they’re using a mix of site search queries and landing pages to build these important pages… look at this page for Fender Telecaster:

Not a bad looking page, but look at the URL:

Or how about this page for Gibson Les Paul Guitars:

Same deal, not a bad looking page, but look at the URL.

Note the use of a new directory /lp/ versus using their previous site search approach, i.e. /s/term/.

How about the version of that page that lives at this URL: https://www.samash.com/lp/gibson%20les%20paul?krypto=bQc5yk74E%2FwZJfUOVr%2Bn5Lr%2FFM%2FqR8Qde33MKhMjZEObmKU3ceiGCewT6PHvgwoys4qTSZ6V2L4VF%2B04PbE2%2B4k5JhKleOoPB3xcUnH3tH0%3D

So ignore for a second that instead of this being at /gibson+les+paul it’s at /gibson%20les%20paul, you’re probably thinking

But Nick, that’s not a big deal as I’m sure they’re blocking the *?krypto= query parameter?

But you’d be wrong:

Instead wouldn’t it make more sense to have the Gibson Les Paul page live underneath the Gibson Guitars Category?

More so, look at the SubCat list

Yup.. no SubCategory for Les Paul 🙁

This last piece of IA feedback is purely an SEO frustration

So an apparent brand merchandising campaign that SamAsh is running is focused on Guitars of Distinction, so they’ve created a category for these guitars, multiple SubCategories, and what perhaps hurts the most, a crap ton of internal links with the exact match anchor text; guitars of distinction…

I’m all for merchandising when it comes to Ecommerce, in many instances it helps to provide a moat against Amazon.

But your merchandising campaigns shouldn’t bleed their efforts into components that effect SEO, for instance;

Instead I might use the various meta attributes afforded to me to target keywords like:

Just a thought.

Onto my final frustration with SamAsh.com’s SEO;

3. 3rd Party Integration URL’s

Personalization it really important in modern Ecommerce. So much so that I’d go as far to say if you’re not using any form of automated/intelligent on-site personalization you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

However, many of the personalization platforms available now can be integrated in ways that are essentially undetectable 9as they should be), one in particular I know of that integrates pretty much invisibly is RichRelevance, which is apparently not the case for iGoDigital.

Look here at these prime link locations on the homepage:

Guess where they links to?

To their respective product URL’s of course….

Nope.

Instead they link to these generated tracking URL’s and then redirect back to the product page URL.

That’s a lot of diluted link equity from the most powerful page on the website, not to mention, these personalization boxes of links appear all over the website; categories, subcategories, product pages, and so on.

Internal links are a really strong way to sculpt the keyword relevance of pages on your site, and if you’re using a 3rd party integration that requires the links to run through a redirect every time, you’re leaving a lot of link equity on the table.

In Closing

This post was a bit ranty, but I had a surprising amount of time digging through the site like this.

To be fair, this is not a traditional approach to either enterprise or technical SEO, where I’d start with a few site crawls and dial in from there.

This was entirely for my own fun and enjoyment and to give a glimpse into how I manually teardown Ecommerce websites.

If you’re game, I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

5 Lessons Learned After a Decade of Entrepreneurship

My first business was a lemonade stand, except instead of lemonade I sold my Mom’s mint iced tea; I saw it as a competitive advantage (even though it was my Mom’s idea).

Then in college I ran a franchise for College Pro Painters, painting 42 houses in the Lower Merion area during the summer of 2002.

During my sophomore year at College, while I was interning at Morgan Stanley, I started doing some independent contract work under the moniker Nick Eubanks Solutions.

Then in 2008, I launched my first, actual Company called atomni, with 2 Partners.

So even though I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 8 – this post is going to reflect on my past 10 years since creating my first legal business.

There are countless articles about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, covering all the lessons from shining moments to dumpster fires – my goal with this post is to be different, and try to add something new to the conversation.

I want to run through some of the lessons I’ve learned that you maybe haven’t read about (I know I didn’t).

It’s not going to be pretty, but in reality being an entrepreneur is pretty ugly, and more people need to talk about that.

So here we go…

1. This is way harder than anything else you’ve ever done

You see the pictures of fancy cars and nice houses, and I’ll admit I’m guilty of following a few vanity accounts on instagram too – but what people don’t show you is the high credit card bills, the near empty bank accounts, and the nights spent wondering wtf you’re going to do the next day.

While the idea of a job seems safe, and for the most part it is; there’s nothing safe about starting a company. Sure you can’t get fired in the traditional sense of the word, but you can still get fired; whether by your clients, your partners, or the board – you don’t have the control you think you do.

There really should be some sort of course or material to prepare you for the mental toll this is going to take on every aspect of your life; your relationships, money, health – everything.

To crystalize this, think back to a time where you were really frustrated with your boss. Remember feeling a lack of control and likely thinking about how you would do things differently if you were in charge?

Now imagine being in that same head-space, except there’s no one to blame but yourself. The feeling of inadequacy and impostor syndrome sets in quickly, and believe you me, it’s terrifying.

2. You’re not going to hang out with the same people

That may sound obvious, but I’m talking about friends you’ve had since college, high school, and possibly even childhood.

Building a business and pouring all of your time and attention into something, changes you.

I’m not saying it’s bad, but you will begin to feel isolated from your peers because, well, they won’t really be your peers anymore – and you’ll seek out people that are.

Especially as you begin to grow, and your business crosses key milestones like your first hundred grand, your first employee, your first million dollars, and so on – you will naturally seek out people that are in the same place in life that you are, if for nothing else than to commiserate.

It’s not even necessarily intentional, it just sort of happens, because being an entrepreneur is a mindset.

And.. it’s contagious, well, infectious – it will infect all aspects of your life. You’ll likely start reading blog posts about things you never cared about before; finance, hiring, cashflow statements, and so on. Which will quickly evolves into reading business books, listening to podcasts, going to events…

It consumes your life and so you end up only spending time with people in the same phase of their entrepreneurial journey as you.

3. You’re never going to have time

This comes back to mindset, but things you put off will simply never get done.

The only way to combat this is to accept it, and reframe how you think about it – and the trick for doing that is to understand it’s about priorities.

The shift needs to go from “I don’t have time” to “it’s not a priority right now.”

This was big for me, and it really stemmed from things in my personal life like drinks with friends, concerts, and even family events.

It’s unfortunate to admit, but it’s the truth.

You will hit a point where you either burn out, or you’ll learn to meticulously manage your calendar – and trust me when I say it’s a surprisingly acute skill.

One tip I can offer is setting specific blocks of time that you’re available for meetings, and either 1) opening up your calendar to be shared and editable by your team (whether PM’s, AM’s, or Managers), or 2) hiring a dedicated assistant, whether a VA or an in-house EA.

Which leads me to my next point;

4. You’re not that important

I know it’s harsh, but this is an important byproduct to be aware of.

In the beginning, you are the company, every bit of it. But as the company grows and you begin to hire, you will become less and less important up until a point…

Then it will happen, and it may come slowly enough that you don’t notice, but one day your business will run without you (at least it should).

Congratulations, you can now take a vacation.

The nuance here is that if you haven’t removed yourself as the critical linchpin required to run your business, you don’t have a company; you have a job.

Being an owner is a relatively thankless job, unless you’re able to retire in your business – this means that you can participate on the highest value items but the day to day operations and fulfillment is run by your people.

Finding the best talent and then building compensation packages to attract and retain that talent will become your new day to day.

When things are at their best you’ll likely be spending 70-80% of your day trying to hire for key roles or making executive decisions.

For a while your decisions will be critical in setting the Company’s path; how fast you grow, how profitable you are, and the strategic moves to ensure your future.

Start thinking about replacing yourself years before you plan to do so – this is something I’m still learning. Hat tip to Richard Baxter for some very solid advice here;

You really need someone to take over who is 100% behind the business, and from the business.

I have a solid 20 years of work left ahead of me – I just love what I do too much to stop doing it, but knowing that when the time comes I need to prepare well in advance to ensure the stability of the company, is invaluable.

5. Delegating is an art form

I’m sure you’ve heard delegating is important, you may have even heard it’s hard, but it’s more than that…

It’s an art form akin to painting or yoga; it takes time and practice – and a lot of it.

What’s more is you have to learn how to delegate, because it’s not as simple as just telling people what to do.

You need to develop the ability to design processes that enable delegation, and then mapping people to those processes.

You also need to be willing to accept that there will be a decline in quality (whether real or just perceived by you) and that’s OK, it’s part of the learning that must happen.

Let your team make mistakes, and do things differently than you would, otherwise you’ll never be able to scale.

More times than not eventually the student surpasses the teacher – so you’ll ultimately end up with better work than you were capable of in the first place.

In Closing

It’s not all doom and gloom, it’s just some gut checks that I’ve personally had to deal with and I thought were worth sharing.

Plus, it helps me to write about them to further accept and reflect on them.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?