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Case Report and a Cautionary Tale?

This is a repost of an old Case Study published in May 2014, entitled ‘Who Are You? Is your online identity crisis hurting your organic search visibility?” I often speak to small business owners about improving their online visibility, notably in local search results.

Does your website suffer from an identity crisis? In this post, a local antique store asked why their website was not performing well on Google searches.The antique shop website had four separate functions. I found a constantly rotating stock of consignment items that were not adequately described for search bots. Also, none of their informational pages were composed using key phrases or descriptions. Sometimes I am asked to take a look at older websites to determine how to improve sales, increase qualified leads, or position the company as an expert in whatever it is the proprietor does best.

Almost a decade ago, I was called by a prospect who explained his profession, qualified himself as an expert in his field, and asked whether I might be of assistance in stimulating online sales. We spoke for at least an hour. I took careful notes and perused his website during the conversation. I asked who managed the online store, and was told their “programmer” managed the database. The task as I comprehended it was to improve online sales.

Three Hours Later…

Three hours later my phone rang and the prospect’s wife gave me a new diatribe about what she expected from her website. She wanted people to give them consignments to sell in their store. More stuff to sell versus more online sales. I told her the plan I had detailed for her husband: that I would take a look at the content and improve the meta tags and other source code on their web pages. When I said “meta tags” I heard her hold the telephone out and yell across the room to her husband that she didn’t know what I was talking about.

So conversation number three begins and they now want me to be their webmaster. The site they wanted help with was not e-commerce enabled. Random items were rotated through the home page and an internal search engine accessed the inventory database. The online showroom and company story were melded together with trivia and unnecessary information. Now they were talking about overhauling the online store so every item would have its own page… for an inventory of 900 items. I offered to start with keyword and description improvements on important pages, then assess the results.

My Analysis and Recommendations

A month later after finally being given access to the web pages, I uncovered some messy code, some best-practice errors, and silly keyword and description choices. Repairs, tests, more tweaks and tests were made, and after carefully reading the active and defunct pages, this is what I discovered. The plain HTML pages revealed four separate identities and goals for this one company website: as a venue for

1. e-commerce sales for their vintage and collectible wares

2. asking for consignments for sale in the online and/or physical store

3. obtaining appraisals, particularly for estates

4. offering showroom floor or cabinet display space in the physical store

What I Changed

All page titles, keywords and phrases, and descriptions were tailored to the category or the information on each of the main pages. A sitemap was prepared and submitted to major search engines such as Google and Bing. I wrote a detailed report, mailed it to the company with my corrections with an invoice. They never paid me, they would not answer their phone when I called, and within a year they had closed their doors.

If you have an existing website, especially an extensive product catalog, decide how you want to frame your online identity. When your brand has a good reputation and your company longevity makes you known for more than one specialty, be sure to have a separate page for each specialty, and don’t be shy about editing the page source code titles, descriptions and keywords for each identity. Remember that your content is being read by humans, but indexed and given relevancy by search bots. There is no point in citing keywords in the source code that do not appear in the page content.

Your Online Identity Crisis | Nott Marketing Services