Quick, who's the largest online retailer of shoes? Nike? Footlocker? Payless? Timberland? Not even close. The winner is Zappos.com, an eight-year-old company that, until recently, had little or no brand recognition. In 2006, Zappos.com sold more than the online sales of all the well-known brands listed above, combined.
Recently, Oneupweb looked at the top 100 online retailers, including some of the world's most recognizable brands, to see how well they optimized their websites. What we found surprised even us.
Many of the world's leading brands ignore SEO and maintain poorly optimized websites. In fact, 60 percent of the leading online retailers had little or no optimization on their websites. As the success of Zappos.com and other savvy internet marketers illustrates, extraordinary customer service combined with sound SEO can help a company overcome the obvious competitive advantage of branding alone.
Nike just didn't
Nike and brand marketing are synonymous. So, we were surprised to discover little or no sign of optimization on the company website. Someone searching for "athletic shoes" will not find Nike.com in the first three pages of Google results. In fact, the site barely shows up on page one of Google for the branded search term "Nike Athletic Shoes."
Nike has an online visibility strategy. The company supplements its well-known branding efforts with paid online advertising for important keywords. Research indicates PPC campaigns are much more effective when combined with natural search. They aren't in Nike's case, leading us to speculate about how much more effective Nike's online and offline marketing efforts could be if they were integrated into a well-executed SEO program.
Size doesn't matter online
The beautiful thing about online retail is the way the medium levels the playing field. Huge warehouses and 500 worldwide locations mean nothing. Visitors don't have to drive to a brick-and-mortar location; they are driven online to the retailer's website. Retailers need only attract enough interested visitors to their sites and provide an excellent shopping experience after their guests arrive.
Searchers look for brands they know. However, Oneupweb's recent research showed repeated examples of a well-optimized, savvy marketer successfully competing with a better known brand. Well-optimized websites position the challenger higher on non-branded keyword searches. The higher the position on search engines, the more traffic, conversions and sales.
Online, web-only jeweler Blue Nile outsells its much larger and more-well known competitor, Tiffany & Company. The Tiffany brand has been around 170 years; Blue Nile, eight years. Both sites are optimized, although the clear edge goes to Blue Nile when it comes to the degree of optimization and overall online customer service experience.
Well-optimized for a changing landscape
Our study did not include the use of new media as a criterion for the degree of optimization on a website. Nevertheless, we found that top online retailers who have well-optimized websites are 60 percent more likely to have corporate blogs or podcasts. This reflects a growing sensitivity to Google's new Universal Search model specifically, and the growing popularity and viral power of blogs and podcasts overall.
Amazon.com, the leading online retailer for all three studies Oneupweb has conducted since 2003, uses blogs and podcasts in addition to many other sound SEO and SEM practices. Furthermore, the company constantly solicits user feedback and reviews to generate loyalty, links and social support for its products and services. The results speak for themselves.
Consider the opportunities
Our study should be good news to most online retailers. For those who do optimize well, it means an existing competitive edge that will allow them to compete successfully with some larger, more established brands.
And for those large brands that do not optimize well, there is a great opportunity for growth in the best or worst of years. Either way, there is much work to be done; work that can result in greater traffic and revenue.
Lisa Wehr is president and founder of Oneupweb, an integrated online marketing firm. .