Ecommerce is hard enough, but trying to get your SEO dialed in for an Enterprise Ecommerce website can be nearly impossible. For fun, I’ll often check out major retailers websites, so one day when some of my team members were talking about Sam Ash, I went to check out the website, and… the title says it all.
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.
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:
I’m going to dive into each one of these individually, so buckle up for a fun SEO rollercoaster ride.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Notice some of the key modifiers at work here;
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.
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?
Yup.. no SubCategory for Les Paul 🙁
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;
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:
To their respective product URL’s of course….
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.
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.
After dozens of conversations with my clients, teams, and business partners, I wanted to share some of my perspective. This is changing day by day, but I wanted to get some thoughts out in the public eye to hopefully drive discussion.
Everyone loves a good case study, especially in SEO. Unfortunately, most SEO “case studies” are filled with fluff and B.S., this one is different.
This post was originally published as a paid product in 2015. At that time I sold this information as a PDF (selling over 3,500 copies) for $127 each — but now, as the information has gotten a bit outdated (but the process is still solid, I promise) I’m publishing it here, for free.
If you find any value at all in me making my paid products free – please let me know by either dropping a quick comment or giving this post a share. Thank you.