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An SEO Fail For Candie’s – A Big Brand Audit

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My fiancé loves shoes.  Like the stereotype, she has a closet full.  I don’t get it.  I own three pair, and one pair are flip-flops.  One afternoon she came into my office and said, “you’re the Google geek, find me these shoes.” She had a pair of Candie’s that broke right in the middle of the sole. I found out she searched for about 45 minutes looking for these shoes, to no avail – I suspect much longer than the average person.

Challenge accepted – I’m supposed to be good at this, but within 30 minutes I couldn’t find anything either.  I used everything from reverse image search to the most descriptive keywords I could image.  I looked in CSE’s, Pinterest, Amazon, and a few major shoe retailers. I went deep into supplemental pages of smaller retail sites (which is a very scary place).

The entire internet could not find a pair of these shoes.  It’s like they never existed.

If you’re a retailer in this day and age, and you’re making your loyal customers work this hard, you’re doing something seriously wrong. Let’s review some of the areas Candie’s could improve, and maybe relate this to your own business.  All along think about the post-sale customer journey as well (which is the category we fit in, where my fiancé started out with brand loyalty, and slowly lost it by the end of the event).

Doing a quick content audit

Candie’s is a brand started in the 1980′s.  Kohl’s has exclusive rights to all their different product lines except shoes.  Thank you Wikipedia.

A quick browse of results in Google’s blog search shows a brand that’s interested in being associated with celebrity.  They pursue (and promote) famous spokeswomen.  So far this doesn’t bring much topical diversity.   Every headline I found features a blurb about Hayden Panettiere or Britney Spears, etc.  Candie’s got a link from USA today (sort of), but the only thing the piece spoke about is how Vanessa Hudgens is the new face of Candie’s.  Too bad the link only went to Kohls.com, and didn’t mention anything related to the value of the products or this could have been a much more valuable link.

Why didn’t the post say more?  If what’s existing on the web is a clue, it might be because there’s no content strategy helping out the cause.  For all I know, USA Today got a press release about the Vanessa Hudgens news, and with a quick Google search, couldn’t find anything else to say either.  Yes – news outlets do work like that.  They use Google too. Poor Candies.com got the shaft.

I checked forums and Twitter chatter (using Candie’s related keywords) – but didn’t find much. With all these endorsements I assumed there’d be more fan chatter.  Do the customers really have nothing to pine about?

So let’s try Facebook.  Candie’s has 669,000 likes.  This looks promising.  Lots of likes, and, well… little comments.  One post asked the question “what do you love most about fall?” There were only 14 comments.  952 likes, but 14 comments.  A low engagement rate even for a blasé, phoned-in question.

There are more celebrities on the Facebook page, and a few links, but most go to Kohl’s shopping pages or other Facebook pages.  This looks like an intentional closed loop which doesn’t seem to be generating any critical mass whatsoever.  I have to think those celebrities weren’t cheap, and underused.

How about Twitter?  They have the obligatory Twitter account.  However, tweets are quite busy being promotional like the Facebook page (not a best practice these days) with some additional use of cutesy Instagram pictures.

During our scavenger hunt, we wanted to see if their social team would handle a request:

tweet

Amy (my fiancé) even jumped in.  Neither of us got a reply.  It doesn’t look like they use Twitter for customer service, which is really pretty disappointing.  The web – and your customers – expect this of you.  It’s 2013.

If I were working with Candie’s, I’d be all over engagement and content creation.  I’d want more out there than just what celebrity we have in our campaigns.  I’d want people to start associating my products with quality, design, or trendsetting.  I’d want to start showing off how well my shoes work with day and night outfits.  I’d want a resource center for my shoppers to see how shoes look with certain styles.  I’d want my shoes to rank for something more than just the product description of an ecommerce site.  Hell, I’d even be pleased to see an outdated infographic at this point.  I’m sure in the c-suite of Candie’s have plenty of adjectives and analogies for their shoes they toss out in the board room, as well as qualities they boast and want to represent.  I certainly couldn’t figure it out from their online output.

To do more than rank for the brand name, Candie’s needs a voice.  Candie’s needs topics and expertise.  There’s certainly not much now to pull in any long-tail search traffic.  There’s brand authority and the likelihood to rank for shoe related queries, but they just don’t have the context.  Checking out a tool like BuzzSumo, it’s pretty clear there are people sharing articles they could have been writing – but haven’t tried.

Content marketing would only grow their share.  It would make the consumer persona(s) much more valuable.

Old Fashioned SEO

Ok, so Candie’s doesn’t succeed on the content or social front in my opinion.  How about good old traditional SEO?  How are the rankings?  Not good according to SEMrush.  A total of 7 keywords in their database, and all brand terms (save one).

semrush

Take a look at the homepage.

Right off the bat, they hide the shoes section (took me past my 3 second “catch me” time frame), but let’s just look at the basic SEO.

homepage

Now take a look at the homepage naked (CSS off):

Candie's no CSS

This could very well be the least SEO friendly homepage of a major brand I have ever seen.

In fact, the whole website is really just a couple hero graphics after another, ultimately funneling traffic back into Kohl’s.  Is this mandated by the Kohl’s ecommerce agreement? Maybe, but if Wikipedia is right, that doesn’t apply to shoes – the hidden category.  Once I got to http://www.candies.com/spring2012/weHeart.asp, I couldn’t even find my way back to shoes.

I found 16 title tags.  All but three said nothing more than “Candie’s”.  Virtually no spiderable text anywhere.  This site just isn’t trying.  The competitors must be loving that!

What about backlinks?  263 linking root domains, and no real footprints of SEO work here.

I’m starting to wonder if a heads-down presence is intentional.  Since they’re not an ecommerce store (and divert most their retail traffic to http://www.kohls.com/feature/candies.jsp), maybe they’re afraid to rank to well, as it may take away from a shopping page.  That would be “tinfoil hat” behavior in which I’ve never seen the likes before.

What about the Kohl’s site?

The landing page on the Kohl’s site isn’t much better (cached here for  posterity).  Look at the adorable SEO copy under the 70% graphic spots.  At least the anchor text matches the destination pages’ title tags.

But I can’t wrap my head around the hero spot video.  At this stage in the game, does Kohl’s really want to be doing the branding for Candie’s?  Hit play, and prepare to be distracted from your purchase for 60 seconds watching behind the scenes footage of a photo shoot.  Kohl’s makes no other attempt to build the brand or tie this video to products.  I stick by my ecommerce rule of thumb – if the graphics/video take up 75% of your real estate, they better be prepared to drive 75% of your page sales.

With precious time to encourage the interest of a searcher, where the back button is ingrained in every shoppers brain, I would be promoting more shopping funnels.  Not distractions.

What else could they do (aside from the obvious)?

If we were hired to do Candie’s SEO, while assuming probable bureaucracy and politics the brand may have with their ecommerce agreement, I would certainly work to fix the items I cried about above.  That’s a no-brainer.  But that would only get them to the stadium.  If they wanted to compete, they’d have to keep swinging.

They need some big ideas and quick.

  • What better ways can they use the celebrities?  How can we see them in less phoned-in campaigns?  How about bringing the controversial ads back!  The web has only gotten more interactive, get creative (again).
  • How can they better serve those looking for old shoes (like my fiancé)?  What about a simple blog highlighting each shoe with descriptive, representational content.  So when someone is searching “black Candie’s shoes with a buckles,” something from Candies.com might actually show up.  If the products are out of stock or discontinued, the site could recommend alternatives.
  • Nowadays you need to prove to Google that you’re an expert. Does Candie’s have any experts?  Get them front and center.  Let’s meet them, and learn from them.  Get them writing.  Do your research to learn all the questions your potential customers have, and answer the hell out of them.
  • How about something playful – a contest where shoppers share their styles?  Take photos of themselves in Candie’s products, and compete for a prize.  Candie’s could post these photos (with links to the product pages). Think that might earn some links from proud nominees?  It will, while doing an awesome job with deep linking.

Summary

This post assumes the Candie’s brand actually wants to be bigger online than they currently are.  That may be erroneous.  Also take into consideration, this is not an exhaustive audit by any means (I run an SEO company but Candie’s is not a client).  If I’m wrong on this audit, then enjoy the lessons anyway.  The truth is, from only a few hours of scanning, the opportunities for SEO leap out at you.

Amy (my fiancé) never did hear from Candie’s.  She never did find a single instance of the shoe, but her diligent searching led her to discover another brand who had similar shoes. They got the sale.  If this is happening on a large scale, it’s scary to think how many lost sales Candie’s has had in the last decade.

On the contextual front, SEO is more than just keyword-level stuff (where Hummingbird reminded some of us with a baseball bat).  While brands may have a certain upper-hand, they still need to do search marketing. Candie’s is an example of a brand that’s getting buried for anything but their own brand terms. With great power comes great responsibility – aid your customers post-sale, and they’ll reward you.  There must be other customers (in addition to my fiancé) who love Candie’s shoes.  I struggle to believe all the followers they have are there for Carly Rae Jepsen pictures.  In terms of topics, there’s not much to read, so they don’t have much to release virally.  If I were a brand advocate, I’d be pretty hungry for something more from the website.  I’d be flatly disappointed.

The truth is, Candie’s is not alone.  I’ve done a lot of big brand work, and while they usually have a big backlink portfolio due to being top of mind for a lot of bloggers, there are many instances where the content output is very low.  Attempts were never made to be more than a couple marketing campaigns or a logo.  While Candie’s certainly works with ad agencies, a company or specialist who knows search would be an amazing addition to their arsenal.

By the way, Amy also recently found the box.  For any women wondering what shoes these are, or if they were actually real (as I began to question), here you go.  Dazz black, baby. I’m probably going to get in trouble for showing her shoe size.

Dazz Black Candie's Shoes



    Comments

    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. YM Ousley
      October 24, 2013

      I’ve worked with fashion related digital marketing for about 7 years now (SEO for more than 10) and this is typical of fashion brands from mainstream ones like Candie’s, to high end luxury brands – too many to list in a comment. They’ve come around to social a bit more than search, but even that took a while to sink in. Aggregators and blogs end up cleaning up on traffic and sales because a lot of marketing budgets are still going towards magazines (really!) and celebrity promotions because the highest levels still don’t consider the internet important. With that mindset, very few actually bother trying to figure out how to make the most of all of the tools (SEO, content marketing and strategy, email, even paid search or social) available.

      Reply


      • Bill Sebald
        October 24, 2013

        That was my niche for a few years too working in big agency. We should share war stories sometime. I had to leave it.

        Reply


        • YM Ousley
          October 25, 2013

          Feel free to email me at the address provided in the comment. I’m still working on some things of my own, but by the time you reach the 4th or 5th person who spends millions on magazine advertising and/or celebrity placement and says “so, we’ll try out some internet things, but have no budget” it makes you want to throw something.

          Reply


    2. ronell smith
      October 24, 2013

      Bill,

      I’ve had this post open all day, re-reading it as time allowed. Lots of great takeaways. We should work together on a big content product. I like the way to think/execute.

      RS

      Reply


    3. James Norquay
      October 24, 2013

      Agree with the comment above, I use to work in the Fashion niche doing SEO for a few high end Australian brands. We see the same thing over here. They are VERY keen to spend BIG money on Magazines, Photographers and any other random thing. Yet when it comes down to SEO they have limited budget.

      The thing is many Fashion brands also love NO TEXT on the home page they want it all images or all in flash or what ever else. You really need to bargain hard to even get a few lines of text and some internal structure.

      Another problem with many old school fashion sites is they get stuck on these really custom, REALLY CRAPPY CMS’s which they do not want to move from. The type of CMS which only 4 brands use and it was built in 1999.

      Oh well all part of the fun and games of dealing in Fashion.

      Reply


      • YM Ousley
        October 25, 2013

        My personal favorites are the brands who still agree to/insist on those Flash monstrosities that crash your computer even if you do decide that you’re willing to sit through 5 minutes (not including load time) of pointlessness before you can even get to their brand “experience.” I’ll be very happy once the shift to more mobile browsing happens and those sites are left to wither or get it together and think about the user experience more than extra smoke and mirrors.

        Reply


    4. Ruth Lever Kidson
      October 28, 2013

      Gorgeous shoes – I can see why your fiancee was upset! It is bizarre the way some companies avoid interacting with customers and, indeed, seem to go out of their way to make the shopping experience difficult.

      I enjoyed your article . . . and many thanks for sharing the http://hmpg.net/ link – that really made me laugh!

      Reply


    5. Nicholas Chimonas
      November 3, 2013

      Very entertaining write up Bill. I really enjoyed the thought process and work flow you used in auditing the site. I’ve seen a few high end fashion clients walk through our doors, and technical SEO seems to be a common blunder in that industry. The most recent one we have taken on had a primary demographic of 96% females, yet their title tags and meta tags read something along the lines of “High end fashion for the style conscious male”. The CEO wasn’t very happy with his in house guy when I let him know.

      Reply