RBTE 2016: How House of Fraser tackles SEO

SEO is becoming harder for retailers, as Google's recent changes to search have led to organic results appearing further down the web page and less visible to shoppers.

House of Fraser's head of SEO, Jamie Peach, described some of the search challenges faced by e-tailers at the RBTE 2016 conference.

He said paid search is cannibalising organic search, making it harder for the retailer to gain traction and traffic.

Previously, Google would present three paid-for advertisements at the top of a search results page, now the tech-giant has increased this to four ads. "The traditional sites are getting less visibility," said Peach, explaining how this extra advertisement space is pushing organic search results further down the page, making it even harder to be seen on smaller screens.

"As a pureplayer, traditional eCommerce sites are being pushed further below the fold," he explained, noting how a search for bridesmaid dresses, results in four paid-for advertisements, product listing adverts and a banner with image results. "Organic listings don't get a look in."

House of Fraser's SEO tips

"But the silver lining is long-term organic search, because it is not seeing the same level of cannibalisation," said Peach.

Peach said customers making longer search queries may be less in volume, but present an opportunity for online retailers as these searches convert better.

"Someone searching 'Yumi black skater women's dress' or 'luxury women's full-length bathrobe' features less cannibalisation because the ad real estate is smaller."

Peach said House of Fraser needs to ensure it has the correct content in place to capture the long-term queries people are searching for. "We have thousands of products, millions of consumers expressing their intent in billions of ways, across multiple devices – it's a big challenge."

When creating product pages, House of Fraser's SEO team needs to make sure it describes the item carefully. Peach showed a red dress to RBTE delegates and explained how there are many permutations of the product as different people may call the dress 'red', 'scarlet' or even 'crimson'.

"But it's a huge opportunity, because people are searching for this stuff – not even in high volumes – and when you culminate it together, it adds up to an opportunity worth considering."

But Peach said the retailer had not always got it right, showing a product page of a 'ceiling cluster' light which did not mention the word 'light'. He said retailers need scalable ways of addressing its product pages.

Firstly, he said retailers should break down their SEO strategy by page type (eg. womanswear) and introduce sub category pages (dresses) and seasonal pages (maxidresses) to capture the long-tail specific search terms.

Peach also said retailers need to invest in product data governance. "If you don't make sure products entered into the system mirror what customers are searching for, we will always fail," he said.

eCommerce retailers should also consider 'content knitting', which ensures product description pages are linked with editorial inspiration and blog content. "It sends Google a message we're an authority around a topic, for instance we can tie all products around mens' jeans with knowledge and expertise around styling and editorial content, which when presented in the right optimised way to Google, has a better chance to rank highly."

Peach said there are a number of automated solutions available to help scale the long-tail opportunity, including advanced natural language processing.

"Be a little careful when you explore potential partners, because there's also a lot of not-so-good stuff out there," he said. "We're looking for technologies to publish categories at scale. Vendors need to be able to understand the products on our website and demand and map that together with the site taxonomy and architecture, which means we can very quickly and scalably plug the gaps."

But while dynamic product pages can be automated, Peach said they always need a manual check before they go live. "We have checks and measures in place to avoid duplication and we impose penalties on our partners if this type of duplication does occur."

Peach also noted how editorial content can't be automated and "absolutely needs human touch".