The Search for Fashion: A Holistic Look at SEO

As members of the apparel industry, I'm sure readers are bombarded with 'experts' on both sides of the search engine optimization (SEO) debate: alarmists, proclaiming 'SEO is Dead!' who suggest slashing whole chunks of your marketing budget, and stuck-in-the-mud professionals who are still caught in the 'SEO = keywords' mindset.

Like all debates, neither extreme viewpoint tells the whole story.

Today's SEO should put the customer first and ensure a positive experience when users discover your website. At Acceleration Partners, we call this approach an SEOUX™ strategy – a seamless integration of SEO and user experience (UX). The two are, in many ways, one and the same – which is becoming increasingly true as search engines become better at reading websites as humans do.

Traditional SEO is solely focused on driving keyword traffic, often dumping people onto keyword-crammed pages misaligned with user intent – leading to high bounce rates and low conversion. This ultimately doesn't benefit the site and sends negative signals back to search engines. Focusing on UX leads to improved usability, navigation and design of your website – good for users and for search engines.

Here are four best practices to help you develop an effective SEOUX™ strategy.

SEOUX™ strategy is about more than keywords. That said, keywords are still important and there are a lot of SEOUX™-friendly things that a marketer can do by developing keyword-rich content. This starts with performing market research to understand your customers and what they are looking for. Then, align content (and keywords) to that customer's wants and needs.

Layla Grayce, Tea Collection and Crate & Barrel are all great examples of retailers that do a good job of balancing the look and feel of their sites with robust content. Their sites are filled with valuable, user-facing content written in a consumer-friendly tone and sprinkled with core keywords that are relevant for search.

When developing content:
  • Write high-quality content using descriptive user-focused language
  • Avoid duplicate content
  • Include relevant keywords and synonyms where appropriate
  • Use language that users know and search
That last point is an important one. In the apparel industry, manufacturers often take a creative approach to naming garments. But, unless your branded product names are well-known enough staples that customers are searching for them by name, these creative product names are typically detrimental for search. If you have a blouse, which you call the "Ashley Blouse," it's not going to generate search traffic unless people search for the "Ashley Blouse." But, they may search for "blue silk floral blouse." When developing product language, consider incorporating words that aren't branded in a way that hinders organic search.

In apparel, and fashion in particular, we often still find websites that are solely focused on making content look "pretty" and often, artsy. For example, take a fashion homepage with an artistic splash image, but no visible navigation or cues to what is being sold on the site. It looks beautiful, and may have cost $3,000 to produce, but it won't help users navigate the site. And, often, the image doesn't render correctly on a mobile device. If you are looking to sell online, or communicate real information to retailers or consumers, this page may be attractive, but it's not very intuitive or functional.

When building your e-commerce site:
  • Develop a site that will render correctly across devices
  • Limit the use of Flash or other disruptive on-page elements
  • Ensure that the site is architected for users to accomplish their goals without having to work hard to do it
When looking through website analytics, there are countless available metrics to consider. If your e-commerce site's goal is to drive more organic search revenue, you should look first at keyword movement.

Keyword movement is a multi-step process. If your site originally ranks 80th in Google search results for a keyword, and moves up 30 positions, that's a great early indicator, but won't drive traffic (your site is still on page five of Google results). Successful keyword movement will first improve rankings, beginning to generate traffic once it has reached page one of Google, and driving significant traffic and revenue as it moves into Google positions one through five. So, high level, you want to track: keyword rankings, organic search traffic and organic search revenue.

This process takes months, not days, so don't lose heart if you've made SEOUX™ changes and don't see a quick revenue lift. At the end of the day, trust your analytics — if your keywords aren't moving, pivot your strategy and try something new.

Site structure
With SEOUX™, keywords are a part of the equation, but they aren't everything. As a digital marketer, potential clients often ask if we can "SEO my site." This request makes me cringe because it comes with the implication that you can take a website and slap some keywords on it and you're done — you've "SEOed" your site. It's a lot more than that. Any SEO strategy needs to start with your site structure — making sure the skeleton of your site sets you up for success.

You need to make sure your site is foundationally sound, and set up so that all the content is organized and presented in a way that makes sense for search engines and users alike.

To strengthen your site's foundation:
  • Reduce the number of clicks required to land on key pages
  • Utilize a clean, intuitive internal link structure
  • Focus on 'findability' and the ease of delivering information where the user expects it
In the apparel marketplace, there is a gap of understanding and, often, a fear of SEO. I often run into retailers who hesitate to work on SEO, worried that SEO strategy changes will be rendered useless and their site will plummet in rankings with the next Google algorithm update. If you adapt an SEOUX™ strategy though — looking through a user's lens, emphasizing presenting information clearly and making conversion easy — future search engine updates won't hurt you, because you're not "SEOing" for Google, you're optimizing your site for the user.

Sarah Johnson is vice president of digital strategy for performance marketing firm, Acceleration Partners, which has managed digital marketing programs for companies such as Warby Parker, Reebok and Target.