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Deliver on it.

August 4, 2014


Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you add functionality to your site, you have to know what the customer expectation will be- and deliver on it. Getting it ALMOST right is the same as getting it wrong.

Here’s an example: one day, I was shopping on one of my favorite flash-sale sites- amazing brands and products at unusually great deals. What’s not to love? But there are so many items, and I have limited time and patience. That’s why I was so glad to see a refine-by-size feature that allows me to sort by just the product that would work for me- good! That’s a best practice, especially for a sale in which quantities are limited.

navigation & refinements

Refine by size feature- a best practice.


The rub? When the refine-by-size feature doesn’t deliver real-time information, it’s worse than having no refinements at all- because you’ve set my expectations for a personalized result, but then let me down on the delivery. Advice? Turn the refinements off until you can get it right. It’s not a value-add if it’s only right sometimes (like a faulty clock: it’s right at LEAST twice a day…).

refine by size & navigation

Refine by size gone bad

I realize there are reasons these things happen- someone made a business decision based on a technical limitation or a tradeoff on site speed vs. accuracy…there are always drivers for things like this. But the bottom line is the customer experience you deliver. If you make a promise (showing a refinement by size)- then you have to deliver on it well or there’s no point. A bad experience actually detracts  from the perception of your brand (they don’t deliver!). Customers will bail on your site a lot faster when frustrated with the functionality.

This is just one tiny example of the many decisions brands make every day that impact customer experience. Make sure you understand the impact when you make the business decision. If it’s not worth doing right- it may not be worth doing at all.

If you need me to sign in, remember where I was.

June 14, 2014


This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always the case.

If you want customers to interact with your site, you have to make it really easy. Really, really easy. If you make me sign-in or register to write a review, save to my wish list, or respond to a poll- I get it- you need to make sure I have a stake in what I’m putting on your site, that I’m not anonymous, and may therefore think a little more carefully about what I say or do. So I’ll do it. But do your part: remember where I was, and take me back. 

A good experience: I click ‘submit a review’. The site asks me to sign-in or register. I do it. After I sign-in, the site takes me to the next logical page in the path I was trying to take to begin with: the ‘submit a review’ form for the item I was looking at.

A bad experience: leaving me on the My Account page after I sign-in. Why am I here?

This isn’t one of those things that will give you an instant bump in conversion- but it IS one of the things that will enable your customer to easily connect with you, potentially stay on the site a little longer, and feel better about it, too.

The quickest way to lose a customer’s interest is to make it a chore to get involved. If I’m trying to interact with you, and you leave me on your “My Account” page after I sign in, am I going to go back and navigate to that product again? Maybe. Or maybe not. I would have to be pretty motivated. I can’t see wanting to submit my review that badly.

People don’t necessarily notice when you have a seamless site experience. But they notice when you don’t.

Do now for Holiday

October 23, 2013


Free Shipping at

Free Shipping is still one of the top reasons customers decide to shop on one site vs. another.  Yet most sites mention it in a minimal way, if all all. Why? It’s not a new message. It’s not sexy. Those who offer it know it’s a customer expectation. Many seem to think offering it is enough, but don’t see it as an important message at the start of the shopping process. That would be wrong.

The latest report from Forrester research shows that low prices and delivery costs are still the top 2 reasons consumers will revisit a site. As it turns out, fast shipping is much less important (#14 on the list of consumer priorities).  While many retailers have downplayed free shipping to explore how to compete with Amazon’s popular Prime service, it has not taken taken the place of simple, free shipping in the consumer’s mind.

While over 92% of retailers online offer free shipping, only 78% actually say so on the homepage, and 22% don’t talk about shipping at all. Those that do promote it, for the most part, are not showing it prominently on the homepage. For more details on the data, see the free summary of Forrester’s report on Internet Retailer:  Free Shipping Trumps Fast Shipping For Web Shoppers.

The do-now: Offer Free Shipping. Devote space to it. Make it prominent, persistent and legible on your homepage.

Some good examples:

Zappos has a prominent homepage message with a rotating message for Free Shipping, Free Returns, and First Class Customer Service. Also promoting a special offer above the nav for fast, free shipping on clothing.

Zappos has a rotating message for Free Shipping, Free Returns, and First Class Customer Service, while also promoting an offer above the navigation for Free next day shipping on clothing.

Neiman Marcus- free shipping and free returns

Neiman Marcus now offers Free Shipping and Free Returns, always.

Quidsy sites like, and more, offer a prominent free shipping offer above the navigation.

Quidsy sites including and offer a prominent Free 2-day Shipping offer above the navigation.

Macy's has a banner showing Free Shipping every day

Macy’s has a banner showing Free Shipping every day everyday Free Shipping offers a prominent Everyday Free Shipping message

These are just a few of the best I’ve seen lately. There are a surprising number of major retail brands who don’t show a free shipping offer at all.

The do-now is to make shipping FREE- if it’s not already. Make it prominent. Make it global. It’s an easy “to-do” that will make a difference. With a minimum purchase, you can ensure it’s paying for itself with the volume it drives. And you can test to see where the sweet spot is, for both volume and AOV.  Forrester also recommends that retailers promote it throughout the shopping path- not just on the homepage itself. Doing this gives customers reassurance as they browse thumbnail pages, product pages- and most importantly, the shopping cart. The important thing now is to start with the main message.

Do it now, before the holiday races begin.

Trunk Club: guys, you’ll never have to shop again.

October 6, 2013


Trunk Club

Trunk Club is a personalized online shopping service for men.

If you’re a man that hates to shop, struggles with fashion sense, or is extremely limited on time-Trunk Club may be the best thing that ever happened to your wardrobe.

Trunk Club- a personalized shopping service for men

Ready for your next shipment? Just text your Personal Shopper, and you’re done.

Trunk Club is a personalized service that handpicks clothing for you- everything from shirts and jeans, to shoes and belts.  The best thing is how the service is designed: It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s tailored to your preferences. Each client is assigned a personal shopper, who will communicate with you as little or as much as you like. You can call, email, text- or even skype.  You can specify what you do or don’t want (more black shoes! Only pants…need everything…and so on).

The free service starts with a quick style survey, in which you select your style type  (clueless, confident or aficionado), choose from a range of looks and brands that reflect your style, add your measurements- and you’ll be matched with a personal shopper that puts together your first ‘trunk’.  The survey takes less than a few minutes.

Trunk Club for men

Shopping just got easier for men: Trunk Club sends you a selection, you choose what to keep.

When you get your trunk, you have 10 days to decide what you want to keep. You can keep it all, or just a portion, and send the rest back.

There are no automatic shipments. You simply call, email or text, when you’re ready for the next shipment.

CEO Brian Spaly started the service because he felt the experience of shopping for most men was too frustrating, overwhelming and time consuming. Before founding Trunk Club, he also founded a company named Bonobos, to create stylish clothing with a superior fit.  In solving the problems of fit and shopping, he’s made it easy for men everywhere to avoid the dreaded trip to the mall.

Guys- if you like the idea of never having to shop again, give Trunk Club a try.

ios7 graphics: a step forward?

September 30, 2013


apple ios7 upgrade

ios7 home screen

ios7 was a long time in the making- and a big move for Apple.  It’s the first major break from the iconic visual design driven by Steve Jobs and the warm, homey graphics that made the techie device feel familiar:  to-do lists that looked like lined paper, a bookshelf that looked like wood, and most importantly, easy to read text, links and buttons.

In this update, the new flattened design takes flat too far. The text is a pretty pale grey and the links a pretty pale blue, making both hard to read. All links are treated equally, so that “skip this step” and “next” links, for example,  look exactly the same. The new tool icons are flat and colorless, which combined with the pale blue outlines- make them hard to distinguish. They just don’t pop off the page. The one that’s highlighted is great- if they were all treated that way, they’d seem less diminutive and more actionable.

Simple line drawn icons are hard to distinguish at a quick glance.

I like the idea of modernizing the graphics, but this fails in the execution. The graphics are reminiscent of early web design that was less well attuned to customer experience mandates such as legibility, clear calls-to-action and ease of use. The newstand is still a newstand, and I can’t pull my New York Times out of it, so it continues to be two clicks away. The bookshelf design looks like something you might find in a windows app, with books floating on varying shades of blue. The safari icon looks like a compass. And I can’t find the new ‘easier’ to find spotlight search no matter what I do.

The critical issue: The text and link treatments are too pale. Too subtle. These are key elements of the design- and they need to be made legible.

The good stuff:

ios 7 control panel

Swiping up opens the control panel- for easy access to itunes, sleep, airplane, bluetooth, and other modes.

On the upside, ios7 seems stable and has some great new features. The new control panel is fantastic- it puts key functionality one swipe away, instead of multiple clicks- you can now access sleep, do not disturb, airplane mode- and even a flashlight with a quick swipe. Love that.

The camera is noticably better- with easy controls, and more accessible controls for a panoramic shot, square or video.

And the new App scrolling feature is cool- with two clicks, you get mini screens you can scroll through to see what apps are open and click directly in. Very nice.

There’s lots to like about the new OS release. Though I’m not a fan of how far they took the flattened design, I believe it’s easily fixable. The critical need is to fix the oversimplified text and link treatments.  I hope that Apple will recognize the need to do this quickly  in upcoming releases. The rest is just a matter of taste.

You’re being followed.

August 12, 2013


Your shopping mall just got a little smarter. Now there’s technology that allows stores to track customers movements through a store- where they stop, where they try on, when they buy- or what they look at before they walk out. It’s the same, in concept, to what retailers look at online: the customer path from the time  a customer arrives, until the time they leave- what they add to cart, what they look at and for how long, and where they are when they decide to leave.  Now stores can mine the same kind of measurable data: conversion (of those who come in, what percentage buys) and abandonment, and a glimpse into what’s generating interest as they walk through the store.

What could be controversial is that this tracking happens via your cellphone signal. If your wireless is on, the store software can ping your phone to keep track of where you are and what you’re doing. Is it an invasion of privacy? While it seems a little unnerving to be followed around like this, it’s really no different than what virtually every website does when you browse a site. And to be fair, we all know that there are abundant video cameras in stores and malls, so it’s not as if we couldn’t be watched before. As with website cookies, if you don’t like the tracking, you can turn it off- in this case, by turning off your phone’s wifi setting.

This technology gives stores the opportunity to better learn from what customers are doing- which, in concept- gives them the opportunity to improve the presentation to better serve customers. If they see that no one stops at the first sets of tables, or that certain racks get missed altogether, it might give them better ideas about how to re-configure the displays.  By simply making what people want easier to find, they could sell more. So that could be a win-win.

The problem, as with web analytics, is that the data alone doesn’t give you the whole picture: now you know WHAT people are doing, but you don’t know WHY they’re doing it, or how they’re feeling while they’re doing it. This is still an important problem to solve- the things that make it hard to shop, like too tightly packed racks, or hard-to-find size labels, or a limited size range- these are things that affect my abandonment rate- but tracking my wifi will not reveal that.  There’s no substitution for asking your customers what they think- not just the ones that buy- but the ones who don’t buy, too.

Next, we need to develop more sophistication in how we get that data. Surveys are okay for online shopping- but they are often long and tedious. Net-promoter surveys are great, because they ask just two questions: Would you recommend us to a friend? Why or why not?

What I want to see happen is the equivalent to the tapping a word on my kindle to see what it means: I want to see a way to provide feedback in context, in the moment- as it’s happening. That’s going to  be the most meaningful information to get. Now that I think of it, when I notice a typo in a Kindle book, I wish there were a simple way to highlight it and send an alert, in the moment, in context. Amazon, take note.

Customer service: the great. the good. the abysmal.

June 11, 2013


Great service is transformative. I sometimes find myself inordinately grateful and awed by an experience that exceeds my expectations. It just doesn’t happen that often. How often are you WOWed  by amazing  service? And how often are you infuriated with a lack of reasonably good service? Probably not terribly often, for either one. It seems the norm is somewhere between- most reputable companies will do what’s essentially right- fix something that went wrong, refund your money for a defective product, or replace it. That is simply what we expect. And we’re satisfied with that.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 10.18.39 PM

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

The fact is, extraordinary service requires an equally extraordinary effort. The company has to believe in it- from the top down. Evangelize it. And fund it. Zappos lives the ideal of amazing service. Even their online chats have an extra friendly touch that reminds you you’re talking to a real person, who’s not afraid to deviate from the script.  They live service as an ideal. In fact, “Powered by Service” is part of their logo. If you look at the top area of the site- there are 5 friendly messages going on at the same time- ranging from “Free Next day delivery”, to “24/7 customer service by phone or chat”, to “Free Shipping & Returns 365 days a year”…it goes on and on. And they don’t just promise it- they actually deliver on it, exceptionally well. It’s not easy to deliver great service with a level of consistency. Zappos exemplifies the ideal.

Why don’t more companies build a brand on a platform of great service, like Zappos? Most focus on keeping service costs low- maximizing the efficiencies of cost per call, sales $ per call, and so on. Focusing on great service makes it harder to measure success- or at least, makes it much fuzzier. It will cost more to have customer service agents who are inspired and charged with making the customers happy- who are not rushed to get off the phone. It will take more time, potentially cost more in appeasements or expedited shipping. But does it really? Perhaps Zappos has unlocked the deeper metrics of lifetime value for customers who love the experience- who will come back, again and again- who will look to Zappos first, simply because it is such a great experience. Check out Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness” on Amazon, to see how he did it.

Nordstrom is another legendary company with a reputation for amazing customer service. For them, it’s simple- provide customers with the best possible service- and they do so with simple excellence. They are not as over the top as Zappos about being extraordinary. But they are. They do it quietly, and well. You’ll get treated with respect and helpfulness. You’ll get a business card from your sales person. Sometimes even a thank you note in the mail. And you’ll never have any difficulty returning anything- that’s what they’re famous for. The tire legend lives on- whether it’s true or not, doesn’t really matter (for a recap and analysis of the many versions of this legend, see Snopes. I always assumed it was true- now, maybe, not so much. But it doesn’t matter. They live the ideal of service. It’s enough.

I’ve also been impressed with the Amazon Kindle division. I have a family of readers- and we’ve had at least 3 kindles that stopped working within the first year. Even one that went bad within a month. Each time, I’ve been able to resolve the situation with a quick phone call or online chat, getting a new replacement device delivered overnight, with 30 days to return the defective one. The warranty replacements are brand new- not refurbished. These two things make a big impact: overnight replacement, brand new device. When I’ve had to replace in-warranty phones, for example, I always get a refurbished device- which makes me feel a bit cheated.

On the one hand, the consistency of the product quality hasn’t been so great for all our Kindles. But on the other hand, they support the product so consistently and fairly that I’ve never been motivated to switch to a different brand. I’ve never had to escalate an issue with a manger. Never been frustrated by one of these calls. Even the support for out of warranty devices has been pretty impressive. And several of the devices- 2nd generation kindles, have lasted 4 years and are still working. I always feel good about Kindle after one of these transactions, defective products notwithstanding.

It raises an interesting point: we forgive a company its failures if they solve the problem easily and well. When they don’t?  Research shows that an unhappy customer tells up to 3 times more people than a happy one. I’m betting that this is understated.  When you’re frustrated out of your mind with a bad experience, chances are, you’ll want to talk about it. You may even post it on Facebook- immediately sharing it with a hundred or more of online friends. Or post it on the company’s website, for all its tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of fans to see. A rabidly unhappy customer is more of a problem now for companies than ever before.

So there’s the great. And the good. And now we’ll give a short moment to the Abysmal.

Abysmal is…a company that will spend 40 minutes on the phone arguing with you about why they can’t help you solve a 2 minute problem.

Abysmal is…a company that employs an outsourced customer service company with people that are neither empowered nor knowledgeable enough to say anything beyond the exact lines on a script, over and over again, with no training for how to deal with an upset customer.

Abysmal is…a customer service agent who is trained to be so scared to escalate to a manager that they insist that there is no manager to speak to.

Abysmal is…waiting on hold for so long that you have to give up.

The companies that allow “abysmal” service, well, those are the ones that either just aren’t paying attention- or are making a fatal mistake. The company that spends 40 minutes telling me why they can’t solve my 2 minute problem is not going to get my business, next time. The company that uses outsourced customer service agents that can’t help and don’t acknowledge that they are not solving the problem, is not likely to get my business again.

Great (or even good) service takes a dedicated and purposeful effort. It goes back to what I’ve always told my staff about building a great website: shop it yourselves, and shop it often, from beginning to end. Forget your password and try to get a new one. Get a delivery and return or exchange it. Live the experience the customers get. That’s the only way you can truly understand what the customer is experiencing. In the words of Mark Hurst, the founder and president of “Creative Good”, an organization dedicated to the art of Customer Experience, and a great proponent of great customer experience, “It’s hard to get people to consider their actions from the perspective of another person. That is the basis of all customer experience work.”

Enough said.

Simplicity is key.

May 21, 2013


But it’s not easy.

Scenario: You set out to make a list of the top 3 strategic initiatives and end up with 20. You just can’t help adding the rejects to the bottom of the list…or the little things. Just in case they make it. It makes everyone feel better to have them captured, so you keep them. But in fact, there’s nothing so demoralizing for the team as the list that never gets done. We need to stop thinking of it that way.

The top initiatives are just that. It doesn’t have to include the little things. The little things are the things we do everyday to support the big things.

Does your company excel at identifying the top few things? One company I worked for called it the “critical few initiatives”. It made it very clear, at all levels of the organization, how to make the right decision about what to focus on, everyday.

It’s not so different from having a clear brand position: once you have it, everyone can use it as a guiding light for behavior, decisions and how they articulate the voice of the brand and apply it to what they specifically do every day.

But why is it so hard to do? How do you do it well?

It’s hard because it requires sacrifice. You can’t do it all at once, with the resources you have. You have to know what’s really important. Startups do this everyday- they have a few good people laser-focused on a clear goal. So they get it done. I’ve been with big companies and little companies, and I can tell you that it’s not size that defines a clear business strategy- it’s courage. That’s right- it’s the courage to take a stand on what’s going to drive your business forward, rather than a mega  diner-sized menu that will have something for everyone, and nothing spectacular for anyone.

J.Crew does this extraordinarily well.

Mickey Drexler, in one of his recent features in Fast Company, says: “Simplicity is very difficult to achieve.” But he has done it- over the past 10 years, with Jenna Lyons as the extraordinary creative lead- they have completely reinvented one of America’s favorite brands. They have a vision, and it has paid off, big time- with Michelle Obama and Jessie Jackson (this Jessie, not the reverend), among many others, as devoted fans to the brand. Why? They don’t do just what’s expected. They keep it fresh and creative. And they don’t try to have something for everyone. Each collection has a point of view. It has become the single most coveted American fashion brand at an affordable price point. You don’t achieve that by being indecisive about your priorities.                                                                                      You can find links to Fast Company’s recent features on Mickey and Jenna, here.

Learning Agile Methodologies helped shape my thinking about how to keep it simple. It’s a flexible, yet highly structured way to prioritize and execute on an on-going basis. It requires decisive action and attention on a daily basis to remain focused. And you can still keep your wish list (your backlog), on the fringes to pull from when each new sprint planning meeting comes up. This isn’t a long term strategic planning tool- but it’s a great way to organize the work to support your key strategies. What it does for strategic planning is give you a better sense of how much time things take- how to structure the research around your plans and whether they’re achievable in the desired time period. It’s a great way to support your strategy company wide, and keep everyone focused.

But it all starts with keeping it simple. You have to start by defining the high level goals. And then constructing a plan of the things you need to have in place to get there. And then editing, editing, editing down the list to the things that REALLY matter. And then staying focused, every day, on those things.

It’s not easy, to plan to do less. But what I’ve found in the past year is that planning to do less actually empowers you to do more- both because you don’t have to rethink your priorities every single day, and because  you make a bigger impact with a few great things than with a zillion insignificant ones.

Aspiration or discrimination?

May 17, 2013


All this bad press about Mike Jeffries and his reprehensible statements has created a firestorm in social media.  Has he gone too far this time? Well, yeah. He always does. But…

Is Abercrombie bad because of what he said,  or because of what they do?

Indeed, his comments are awful. While I could argue that Abercrombie’s aspirational brand vision goes too far (something that’s been hotly debated for years- ever since they launched the magalog with naked teens on the cover), it’s not a new marketing tactic to use shock-value to get media attention. Abercrombie has always pushed the limits, and in fact, revels in going over. But they’re not really doing anything new, now. They’ve always marketed the brand for cool, skinny people. They’ve always had teeny-weeny little sizes that could fit your toddler. So why is everyone so hopping mad about it, now?

Because he crossed the line. He didn’t just cross it, he leapt over it.  He said what no one would say. And defies the ideals of inclusion, acceptance and diversity. In the 2006 Salon feature that’s been so widely publicized this past few weeks, the interviewer asks him how important “sex and sexual attraction are in what he calls the ‘emotional experience’ he creates” and Jeffries says:

 “It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

(“The man behind Abercrombie & Fitch“, Benoit Denizet-Lewis for Salon, 2006)

Is this exclusionary strategy so different from other high profile fashion brands? Or is he just brutally honest? Let’s focus on the sizing issue. Abercrombie’s sizing is notoriously small. It doesn’t carry extra large sizes for women at all. Even the men’s sizes are downsized: a men’s size XL sweatshirt fits like a women’s size 12.

If you look at the sizing for many upscale fashion retail brands, it’s not really that different. Abercrombie defines a Large as equivalent to a size 10. Many fashion brands define a large as a size 10-12. Some go even smaller, defining it as an 8-10.  And others (the less trendy) define it as a 12-14 or even a 14-16. There’s no standardization for sizing, and we all know it, as frustrating as it is. It always differs by brand. Some are just cut slim- others more generous. We all know the brands we can wear, and the ones we can’t.  So Abercrombie is hardly unique when it comes to size range.

Considering the brand issue, Abercrombie is not unique in having a passionate and specific vision of its aspirational lifestyle and target customer. Countless fashion brands have an aspirational look that celebrates, young, thin, beautiful women, with a target customer that exemplifies the aspirational lifestyle. That’s not news. The key difference? Most brands don’t celebrate the exclusion. What’s hateful about the Jeffrie’s incident is that he didn’t focus on what’s good about his brand- he focused on what’s bad about the people that don’t fit into his brand image.  And that’s bad business.

Jeffries has since posted an apology on facebook that reads:

“I want to address some of my comments that have been circulating from a 2006 interview. While I believe this 7 year old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense. A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. We hire good people who share these values. We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics.”

jeffrie's apology

This isn’t the first time Jeffries has hurt the brand he worked so hard to build. He’s been dragged through the mud on many other occasions for discrimation against…well, just about every group except his target audience. So far, Abercrombie has always weathered the storm. But I wonder, will the cool kids really want to keep buying into this? Time will tell.

What’s your SERP?

May 3, 2013


Are people finding your website? If your top keywords are not showing up within the first few positions on Google, the likelihood is that people will go elsewhere. Position matters.

What’s your SERP? It’s your Search engine rank position. You should make sure your most important search terms are on the first page- the goal is to be #1. Certainly within the first 3- which will get the most consumer attention (not everyone agrees with that. I once interviewed an SEO agency who said they refused to work for a client who said their goal was #3. They didn’t want to work for someone who was satisfied with being second or third best).

If you haven’t optimized for SEO on your site and don’t know where to start, here are a few basics:

1. Identify your top non-branded keywords.

Why? Your branded keywords should naturally rank well, because your own brand is going to be more prevalent on your site than anyone else’s that’s talking about you. You should check that, but it’s typically the case. And you’ll improve this in any case, by following the tips below, which include your brand name in key text placements.

Your non-branded keywords are the ones to optimize for. If you sell boots, for instance, you would want to rank well for ‘boot’ searches. But as you can imagine, it will be hard to beat the huge retailers out there who sell more boots than you. As I write this, the top natural results (the ones that show up under the paid and ‘sponsored’ results) are Zappos, UGG(R) and Steve Madden.

How to identify your top keywords? Start making your list based on a few things: Your top products and categories (i.e. Boots, fuzzy boots, warm boots, shearling boots). If you use an analytics program for your website, you can easily see what terms customers are coming to your site with. There are also some great tools that help you identify the ‘most searched’ terms that relate to yours. Promediacorp has a free tool that’s easy to use- you can see it here.

keyword suggester

Just plug in your term, and you can see what consumers are searching for. You should choose to optimize the ones that are most relevant to your business. It’s not just about going for the one with the highest number of searches- you need to choose words that are relevant to your brand and website, that you have content to support. Your ranking is based on many factors (and Google is always tweaking its algorithms to try to ensure relevancy based on the content on your site). One interesting way to learn is to then search the top terms yourself to see who comes up. In the example I gave above, it was Zappos, UGG and Steve Madden. This way you know who you’re up against.

2. Add title tags and meta descriptions

The title tag is the text at the top of your browser window that identifies the page of the site you’re on: Title tag

It’s important to have keywords that are uniquely relevant to each page you’re on. This text will show up in your google results (unless google finds something it likes better on the page), so make sure it’s something that makes sense to your customers. And be sure to keep it to fewer than 70 characters- anything longer than that will get cut-off by Google. If you’re on a page that sells fuzzy shearing boots by the Boot Store, your title tag might look like this: FUZZY SHEARLING BOOTS  | THE BOOT STORE

You can find more information about title tags, here:

There are lots of easy word-counters online- you can Google it. This is one I use: you just plug your text in, and it tells you what the character count is:

The meta-description is in the code of the page (the customer doesn’t see it on your site). But any front end developer will know how to add it. The description should use  relevant keywords for the page, but these are not so much to help your ranking as they are the descriptions that Google is most likely to pick up and show under your search result. It should describe the page and give the customer a reason to want to select your listing- if you have a standard offer, or value proposition. The optimal length is approximately 155 characters or fewer. In our boot store example, the meta-description might say:

Find the best selection of fuzzy Shearling Boots in sizes for men, women and 
children. Order today for Free Overnight Shipping at The Boot Store.

You can learn more about meta-descriptions, here:

3. Add a site map and XML site map

Your site map tells customers what you offer if they look for a link to it in the bottom navigation of your site- it’s a best practice to have one. Google crawls your site map, and so it’s beneficial for SEO as well. An XML site map is one that the customers don’t see- it’s a behind the scenes site map in the code that tells Google everything that’s on the site. This is an important thing to have in helping improve your search rank.  You’ll need a developer’s help to build one, but Google has some easy tools for this.

4. Add content

One of the many factors that go into your Google ranking is relevancy. Have a lot of pages to support your products, brand and messaging. Create value-add content that talks about how things are made, how to get the right fit, and more. But make sure it makes sense. If Google searches the page you titled “FUZZY SHEARLING BOOTS” and doesn’t find any text talking about fuzzy shearling boots- it’s not going to give you much credit for the page. Your images should have alt tags to support your keywords. You should have text on the page to support your keywords. Don’t overdo it- Google will penalize you for trying to trick the system by planting lots and lots of repetitive keywords on the page. Do use text instead of graphics for your messaging. Do add a text block at the bottom of the page that describes the page and talks about your value propositions, the selection, the quality, the options- and add a few links to important pages that relate to it. All of this should be believable and customer friendly. If it seems forced, it won’t be good for your brand, your customers, or Google.

5. Don’t use flash.

Sorry. But Google can’t read it. All of your flash pages in a section will read as a single page to Google- you don’t get any credit for them. Use HTML5 instead.

6. Read up on it…

This is just the beginning. Here are some great resources to fill you in on how Search engines work, how to optimize for SEO, and what you should do to create a search friendly site.

My favorite site for learning the basics: See the Beginner’s guide to SEO on SEO.moz- it’s a great resource.

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6. Make a habit of it

SEO is an on-going effort. You won’t ever be done. Your ranking will vary day to day, week to week, as your pages and other sites change and become optimized or out of date. Make a checklist  your team can follow for every new page added to the site. Remember to update your site map periodically to keep it relevant. And make sure you’re changing your content regularly. I’ve pages lose a #1 ranking over the course of a few months, presumably because the content was static. Use a tracking tool to keep an eye on your top search terms. SEO.moz has a good one, at a reasonable rate. I’m sure there are other good ones out there. The important thing is to keep an eye on it, and to continue to optimize.

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