You know how Eskimos supposedly have the highest number words that mean “snow” than any other language. OK, maybe that’s an urban legend, but as an SEO, how would you optimize a site for such redundancy? If you’re working on an eCommerce site, you probably feel like you have that problem all the time.
“I have 30 collection pages here that would be a good landing page for shirts!!! What do I pick? Where do I start?”
Do you decide to try to get all the pages to rank for shirts, and hope that one comes up well in the rankings? Do you pray to the duplicate content filters gods and just wait and see what ranks? Do you beg the catalog managers to change the collections (which is probably an uphill battle that could have a dangerous effect on usability and sales). Or do you get more proactive in your SEO efforts?
Having 30 pages that speak to the same thing gives you a lot of opportunity, after you trim the fat. How are the duplicate pages created? Are they based of parametric filters? Sorting? Internal search queries? Which pages get the lion’s share of the traffic? What have the best conversion rate or least amount of bounce? Which are really the important pages in your pack? Determine the fat and the lean; make this step one.
Once you figure this out, you should work to close these paths. Granted, on a dynamic platform you may not have the ability to add per-page meta robots, nofollows, or a tightly tuned canonical tag. What about Webmaster Tools, and their cool parameter-blocking feature? It might be an option.
Let’s be honest – in enterprise SEO, it’s really not likely that you’ll be able to tighten the site to your exact specifications, no matter how big (and hard working) your team is. In enterprise SEO, it’s about locating the biggest holes and plugging them first. It might be more of the 80/20 rule, or a matter of specific initiatives to tie with other channels. Just don’t expect to eat the whole pie.
So back to our opportunity. Once you’ve cut the fat and done your best to get it off your plate (which may require you to monitor Google to see if their internal duplicate content consolidation is working), you get to have fun. Let’s say you’ve been able to identify five pages that would be good candidates for optimizing with the term “shirt.” Let’s go a step further and pretend they’re the same types of shirts – tee shirts. Do your keyword research. Grab up the best terms. Compare your current placement for each term, against your competitors. Look at PPC data (helps you understand demand and opportunity). Look at each page’s back link portfolio (or hit up Linkscape) to get a sense of what page is likely already juiced up.
Pretty soon you’ll find that for your five pages, you have a handful of similar terms that need a home: tee shirts, printed tee shirts, cotton tee shirts, etc. That’s right, folks. You’re probably going to be playing with the long-tail… the SEO devil’s playground. Expect to keep notes while you plug some content in, and fuel with backlinks. Wait a few weeks (or months depending on how strong your site is), and measure. Was there MOM/YOY growth (a lot of eCommerce is seasonal)?
The goal here isn’t just to avoid cannibalizing terms, but not to cannibalize themes as well. You really want to theme these five pages out. For duplicate page A, start theming it about printed tees. The cool style, what people like about them, the variety in full body prints, etc. For duplicate page B, start theming out the cotton blends and how they’re durable. Get creative, and start dabbing your uniqueness all over each canvas, using different colors.
Once your done, sit back and watch. Start measuring. Keep a log. You put in a lot of work that hopefully benefits depending on how well your decisions were made at step one. Maybe you find it didn’t pay off as well as you’d like, but I assure you, after doing eCommerce SEO for 10 years, it takes practice getting your methods down. And because ROI is your challenge, you might find it’s also you’re best friend since it’ll keep you happily employed.