Archive for October, 2011

Your Holiday Plan – Time to “Turn the Crank”

Ah, the holidays…   time with the family, good cheer, snowflakes on kittens and the crush of eCommerce retailing.

For many eCommerce retailers, this is the sales performance Super Bowl.   This post is to designed to give a few quick marketing tips to help you “get yourself right” for gameday.




If you did CPC last year, look at the corresponding keyterm performance reports for comparable periods of time last year.   It’s always interesting to me that different parts of the product selection seem to have different curves during the holiday season.   Some items peak earlier than others. Some items tend to be more for last minute shopping.   Peak season is the time to pay special attention to these trends. There are a lot of companies that don’t play the CPC game aggressively until the peak season.   You’ll see an influx of competition and price pressure to maintain position. You want to maintain your position on the terms that you are profitable on.  You need to have clarity on which terms those are. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of smaller retailers give away a lot of profit by being overly aggressive on their terms during the holiday because the prices went beyond where good ROI could be had. Conversely, you leave money on the table by not bidding aggressively on your best terms during the buying frenzy.

Consider testing a discount as a way to differentiate from the competition. For example, you might try a 10% off offer in your ad text or landing page. Run it as an A/B test with two different ads with two different tracking urls.

Lastly, double down on the holiday blitz by using Microsoft AdCenter. I’ve been impressed with the volume coming from Bing and Yahoo and you might find different veins of opportunity in the bidding environment in the AdCenter. Again, now is the time to try. There is volume and opportunity.



Turn the crank!   Have you a had a meeting to talk about ramping up your email strategy for the peak season? Whoever is in charge of email should be at the top of their game right now. This is the peak season! If ever there is a time to be aggressive, it is now. How aggressive? Short answer is “VERY”. Do you have data from last year? Use it! Unless you saw some real blowback from over mailing – ADD SOME MAILINGS. You really don’t know where the line is, until you push up against it.

Also, this is the time where you have the best chance to do some testing. Segment your list. Try 3 messages per week vs 2 messages per week and compare results.   You are trying to maximize your ROI for this year and learn for the future. The peak season is a great time to run statistically significant tests.

Testing ideas:
Try an A/B/A test. Break your list into three parts. Depending on your list size this could be 33%, 33%, 33% or 10%, 10%, 80%.  Test an offer on two of the parts and roll the winner to the remainder. This allows you to optimize your offers for more than half of your audience.

Abandoned Cart Emails

Do you have them in place?  There are incremental sales to be had here at no additional cost. Peak season is the time when you have the most abandons. If you don’t have abandoned cart emails in place there is no quicker route to ROI than to implement them now.

Likewise, Product Reviews and Review request emails. The holiday season is the time for you to get a good volume of these to build up the quantity of reviews on your site. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an abundance of fresh content for search engines and site visitors in Q1 2012?


Shopping Engines


Just make a point to revisit your feeds and tweak your listings before Thanksgiving.  Make sure your listed products are up to date and in stock.


Your Webstore


Freshen up your category list. Does it make sense to make a “Gifts” category or “Holiday” category? Consider some seasonal “Hero Images” for your homepage or category pages. If you don’t have any, there still might be time. Circle the wagons and schedule a photo shoot.




Not much to talk about here.   SEO is not something you can change quickly.  Hopefully the peak season is the time when you can reap the benefits from your natural listings (and the work you’ve done to make your site search friendly, fresh and content rich all year).


Design Studio: What Makes a Hero?

One of the most common challenges I face as a designer is the task of simplifying designs.   Most of the time, the companies I work with would like to be able to communicate many different things about their company and their products to customers.   In email newsletters, for example, they might want  to show new products, showcase best sellers, display all of the product categories, highlight some new press, talk about upcoming seasonal items, present a special offer, solicit participation on the site’s blog and also do a survey.   Most of the time my job is to meet all of these needs and to present the information in a visually appealing, easy to understand format.

Sometimes, however, it is also my job to push back.  Part of being a designer is to be proactive and to suggest other approaches to the presentation of the information that might actually bring greater success to the presentation or campaign.  eCommerce is customer-centric and prospective customers often have very limited attention.  I help my customers “get through” by helping them focus their messages.

In this post, I would like to talk  about one technique for getting through.  I will talk about using a single strong image to simplify and bring impact to your presentation.   This technique is called the “Hero Image”.

The basic idea of the “Hero Image” is this:  Show don’t tell.  When you use a Hero Image you let the presentation be a visceral experience that conveys your brand promise.  For a clothier, that could be the confidence and happiness that you feel when you look good.   For a gourmet company, it could be the sensual experience of quality food.    Perhaps the image has a few words that position the company or enhance the essence of the picture, but otherwise you let the image carry the load.

So what can this mean for eCommerce retailer?  Look at your messaging on your website and emails.   Is it overly complicated?    Consider trying a new approach that captures your company’s unique selling proposition with a hero image.  Here are some recent examples:

Do you have an image that really says who you are?  Try testing it head to head against your current creative and see how it does.   Let me know if you want a second opinion.  Email me:

Have fun!


An Update:     I don’t think any company has done this better than Apple.  Steve Jobs understood the value of simplicity.  Modern life for many people is frenetic and complicated and people are often overwhelmed by a barrage of marketing messages.  But look at Apple’s messaging.  It was calm.  It was clear.  It was confident.  Recently, it was also poignant.

Did you see the page in tribute to Steve Jobs?  It’s as good an example as I can think of and a fitting hommage to man that knew the power of simplicity.

Many times, “less” can be “more”.



SEO 101 – 3 Kinds of Ranking Factors

This post explains three types of “ranking factors” widely believed to be important to Search Ranking at both Google and Bing.   These are:

1)      On-site factors:  What are the words on your page and how do they relate to the keywords in the search.   The search engines look at the code of your webpage.  Can they find keywords in that code.   Are the keywords found in places that the search engine thinks are important?  Is the url of your page one that implies that the page is “on target” for the search?

2)      Off-site factors:  What sites link to your site and to the pages of your site?   What keywords are in the link text that is clickable in those links?   The most talked about example is Google PageRank.  PageRank is a number that Google shows for a given webpage that shows in very rough and generic way how much “link juice” a page is understood by Google to have.   Generally speaking, if a page has more links from many different reputable sites, it will have more PageRank and will have a better chance of ranking for searches.

3)      “Keyword Agnostic Signals”:  This is a relatively new addition to ranking factors and in some ways it overlaps with Off-site factors.  Keyword Agnostic signals are things like the amount of traffic occurring at the website, the success rate of the website for engaging visitors, social mentions for the website , site speed, the age of the domain, the freshness of the content.

Do you have to score well on all three of these to rank?   It depends how competitive the ranking is for the particular term (keyword phrase) you are asking about.  Some phrases are much more competitive than others.

How can you tell which factors are the most important?   Most professional search professionals learn from trying things and from reading what other people are saying.   Matt Cutt’s blog (  is a very valuable resource since Matt is “on the inside” at Google. has an annual survey of SEO luminaries which is an important reference to the leading thinking in SEO.  Check it out at



SEO 101 – Page Titles, Meta Tags and Search Friendly URLS on CV3

UPDATED 05/13/2014: Welcome to our new series on “SEO Best Practices” in the CV3 environment.   These posts will be tagged as SEO 101, SEO 201, and SEO 301 depending on how advanced they are.  Please let us know what you think.

This post is about how to improve your CV3 site’s “On-site ranking factors” by customizing your page titles, meta descriptions and urls.  These are things you can do on your site to make your pages more search engine friendly.

Title Tags

In my opinion, optimizing your title tags is the single greatest “bang for your buck” in SEO. That does not mean that keywords in your title are sufficient to get you ranking for keyterms, but they are an element that is easy to change and which search engines look at to determine what your page is about.  It is an eCommerce best practice to take the time to come up with keyword rich page titles for the different pages of your website.


  1. Title tags should be no longer than 60 characters in length and not contain commas. You can use pipes, dashes and colons (“|”, “-“, “:”), but not more than once.
  2. Try to write it like a catchy title to an article.
  3. Keywords in the title should only be relevant to what is on the page and include brand name only at the end.
  4. Never use keyword phrase more than once and try to keep it toward the front of the title.


Bad: Red Tomatoes | Buy Red Tomatoes | Red Tomatoes Online | Your Brand

Good: Red Cherry Tomatoes Large Selection | (This page would be about cherry tomatoes)

A great way to tell if Google likes your title is to look at the search results for that page. If your title matches the title in the search results then you are good. If it does match the search results that means that Google does not like your page title and has come up with its own title for that page.

(To see what your page looks like in search results type in to Google search “site: http://Your URL)

Meta Keywords

Meta Keywords have been retired and are no longer used by search engines. (leave them blank).

Meta Description

The meta description field is important. It is sometimes used on the engines’ search results pages as the descriptor of the page that accompanies the clickable link.   It is worthwhile to write a good meta description for your pages to help your search listings get more clicks. That is an important part of SEO often overlooked as people tend to focus on ranking alone.

  1. Limit your meta description to 140-155 characters.
  2. Try to use your keyword phrase in the description twice.
  3. Make sure that the description is relevant to what is on the page focusing on the product or service.
  4. Describe benefits of your product or service (marketing copy) this will increase click through rates.

Search Friendly URLs

Search friendly urls are urls that have words the search engine can read and understand. These urls can have keywords that tell the search engine that your page is about the keyword topic and therefore can help you rank for a keyword search in a way that a typical “dynamic url” can’t.

Always use dashes as opposed to underscores between words. Search engines view dashes as a space, but if an underscore is used Search Engines view it as part of one word. Always use lowercase and never use spaces, commas, quotations, apostrophes, parenthesis or dollar signs.


This url is not friendly:

This url is friendly:

Bonus Tips:

Product Descriptions

This field is also important. You can use the same method you would for your meta descriptions. Include the search term for the product in the description.  (You can use the Meta Description for your product description.)

Product Names

When coming up with a product title, try to keep it short but descriptive.

For example, if you sell brown high heel shoes:

You would not want to have the title as “brown shoes” or “high heel shoes” you want it to be “Brown High Heel Shoes”. Better yet, include the brand if it’s one shoppers would be searching for like “Gucci Brown High Heel Shoes”

Keep in mind if this page is exclusively focused on “Brown High Heel Shoes” this should also be a part of your page title, Meta description and Product description.


How to Edit Title Tags and Meta Tags in CommerceV3

In the left navigation go to “Marketing” then click on “Meta Tags”.

Click on Default and you will see the edit Meta Tags interface:

You can fill in the Title Tag, Keyword and  Description fields here.

Considerations for Title Tag
-Put your keywords first and any general info second, e.g. “Civil War Biographies – Rare Historical Books for Collectors”,  “French Revolution Books – Rare Historical Books for Collectors”, etc
-Limit the title to 65 characters. Google will crop your title to the nearest full word.
-All titles should be typed in Title Case (or Proper Case)

Consideration for Meta Tags
Description-  Depending on the page, you can either write 3-4 sentences about what the page is about (remember to use good keywords), or you can write out structured data, i.e. just the facts.   I think this latter technique is especially good for product pages (see below).

Keywords- Pick 10-25 keywords or keyphrases and separate them with commas.

Category Pages and Product Pages:

CV3 does a great job of providing good page titles at the category and product level. By default, the page titles on category pages are simply the category name. In many cases this is a pretty good title. However, category names can be optimized for SEO by adding more keywords either before or after the category name. To do this, navigate to the Edit Category page in your CV3 admin (under Inventory in the left navigation) and then add your preferred page title in the “Meta Title” field in the Information section of the page.

The meta description and meta keywords fields are where you can edit your category page’s meta tags. The general rules for these fields are the same as described in the section above. However, remember to reinforce the category’s keyword themes in the meta fields.

For product pages, CV3 again does a fine job with titles. By default the page title for a product page will be [Category Name] –[Product Title].  That might be very good. However, sometimes you might want to do something different. For example, a bookstore might have the title of the book as the product title. It might be smart to make the page title include the Author’s name as well since people often search by author. To change Titles and Metas for products in CV3 navigate to the Edit Product page and edit the fields under Product Display -> Product Display.

Page Templates

CommerceV3 allows you to specify a unique title, description, and set of keywords for each “top level” template.    This allows you  each static template to be given unique meta information to further increase SEO. Top level templates are those like “viewcart.tpl”. Other templates, like  _top.tpl, which are included within other templates will not have the custom meta information applied to the page.

To edit, navigate to your template list (Design -> Template Library), find and click the template, expand the Edit Meta Information section and Customize.


Note: CV3 also provides ways to write title and meta tags automatically according to a formula. This is beyond the scope of this blog post. If you are interested in this topic, let us know and we will write a subsequent post specifically on this.

How to Make Search Friendly URLs in CommerceV3

CommerceV3 makes it easy to make search friendly urls for your categories and products. To make a search friendly category url, navigate to the Edit Category page and, expand the Options section and type the name you want to use for pages in this category.

And it will show up like this:


For products, navigate to the Product, Expand Product Display -> Product Display and type the words you want to use in the url for the product.

And it will show up like this:

Note: You should not use spaces in the category or product url fields.   Separate the words with dashes instead.

With a little effort on these three areas – titles, metas, and custom URLs, you will have a solid foundation for optimizing your CommerceV3 website for search.  Look for upcoming posts on more SEO techniques in the coming weeks, including using Google Webmaster Tools, the different types of Ranking Factors that determine your search position and ways to build inbound links.  As always, please let us know if this post has been helpful to you.