As an online retailer or reseller in the IT sector, optimising your website for search engines can be super-competitive.
Not only are you competing against fellow resellers but you’re also competing against the giant high-street retailers’ online stores, plus the manufacturer and not to mention affiliate websites. In an already competitive sector the term-level competition in search is fierce. Generic SEO advice about optimising titles and adding alt-tags to images isn’t going to touch the sides in these cases (though you should always have the basics in order - that’s a post for another day).
Here’s a few of our advanced top tips, proven to work for resellers and other non-OEMs in any competitive sector:
1. Get Your USP on Your Website
Search engines have a difficult job to do. Firstly they need to identify or predict user-intent where possible using query-type analysis; history, proclivity, location and other such data-signals. After that they then need to qualify and then rank the most relevant pages for that query in relevancy order.
Defining “most relevant” is of course a very difficult thing to do with generic queries e.g. [make +model] as there’s no clue as to what the searcher wants to do with [make +model]. In such cases we’d naturally expect the OEM to take first place, unless the spammers have gotten there. With good SEO-practise you want to be optimising for terms that are explicitly relevant to your business, so that they not only match what you do but are most importantly, highly likely to convert.
Imagine the task of a search engine algorithm if say for example there are four or five direct competitors that do exactly what you do, with very little page-level differentiation. The algorithm must evaluate according to weightings and scores, significant points of difference to each of these ranking pages from each competitor site. In recent years external link-factors held a lot of weight in ranking algorithms leading to the emergence of link-spam, with spammers and poor-practitioners paying for mediocre links in volume to try to out-rank competitors. In recent times Google in particular has released significant algorithm updates (most recently Penguin) that actually disincentive this practise. Whilst there are still spammy tactics that work, as always I am stupefied as to why anyone would bother spending time and money looking for short-termist exploits when I can spend time and money looking for future-proof ways to make my online offering freakin’ awesome and market it thus (that is what the search engines are trying to define after all. The links and stuff are the symptom of that!)
Don’t chase the algorithm by trying to work out what symptoms the “most relevant” page evinces; just be the most relevant. This is where the marketing aspect of search engine marketing is most critical. Get your people around a table, thrash it out and define what it is that your customers love. Is it the unparalleled service that you offer? Is it the no-frills process meaning rock-bottom prices? Is it the sexy brand positioning? Is it your Branson-esque CEO? Is it your award-winning after-sales? Is it your online video tutorials on every page?
Whatever it is that makes you special? Shout about it on your website!
Now I wouldn’t be so flippant as to suggest that all you have to do is be different and people will create great natural links to your website; you still need a link-marketing strategy to kick this process along in most cases.
2. Learn When and How to Implement rel=Canonical
We’ve already talked about points of difference and how marketing what distinguishes you is the best starting point for link-marketing. However when it comes to IT channel marketing as with many other reseller and equipment retailers there are incumbent problems; particularly when it comes to search engines. If you’re selling ranges of equipment that naturally vary very little e.g. [brandname + router+model+black] [brandname +router+model+white] [brandname +router+model+cream] etc. then your sites’ pages may not have the opportunity to differ that much. In such cases search engines may not discern enough points of difference to warrant indexing all such substantially similar pages on your website. This is where the canonical link element can be used, to indicate “the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content.”
Whilst Google stress this is a suggestion and not a directive, we’ve seen this work within days and with great impact on many e-commerce sites where we have implemented this. Be warned however; using rel=canonical incorrectly can result in disaster and there have been numerous cases of poor implementation resulting in all other pages being de-indexed save the canonical page when people have mistakenly applied this to an entire site to try to “strengthen up” the homepage.
Rel=canonical should not be used lightly!
3. Mark-up Pages with Schema
Schema is a convention as well as set of protocols that allow us to mark-up structured data in a more meaningful way. You and I may be looking at an online product review and understand that a picture of three “lit” stars out of a total of five available stars, is a common rating system meaning the product is a little over halfway - generally okay but not “good”. We know that this is a symbolic convention that we have learned through experience over time. To a search engine crawler this rating convention below doesn’t “mean” anything. Using Schema however, we can mark-up structured data such as this, so that its’ meaning is described and there is a transferrable and comparable protocol for this to be understood wherever it is applied on sites using it. I.e. 3 out of 5 stars on site A, can be compared to 4 out of 5 stars on site B.
Using the official Schema implementation guide you can mark-up aspects of your review data, such as the aggregate rating, the last review itself including reviewer. In addition, we recommend this great Schema code generator and preview tool, which walks you through implementing this protocol as well as generating previews as to how it will appear in search results pages.
Yes! Pages marked-up correctly with Schema will display an additional Rich Snippet in the search results, which can significantly increase your click-through as opposed to non-Schema competitors. Consider how our above example appears in search results.
As to why the significant increase, I’d say that this is for the following reasons which are based on test and observation:
- The rich snippet resulting from the Schema mark-up is a visual point of difference to other organic results
- The data displayed is useful
- The data displayed is often part of click-decision criteria
- Some Schema (e.g. Review) are additional trust-signals
These are just three of my top SEO tips for IT resellers, and whilst these are of a more advanced nature these are the sorts of tactics and considerations required in this super-competitive sector. If you are serious about your organic search strategy, do take some time and effort to identify a good agency that can help you with tactics like these.
Nichola Stott is the MD of theMediaFlow, an online marketing agency that offers technical SEO solutions combined with creative online marketing strategies. www.themediaflow.com
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