Practical Ecommerce

SEO Changes Force Merchants to Diversify Traffic

The days when your online store received 80 percent of its traffic from organic search on Google are over. Here’s why:

  • More shoppers start their shopping process on Amazon, not Google;
  • Google search is an advertising platform, not a free referral service for your store; Google features ads more prominently than organic results;
  • There’s more competition for organic search terms than ever before; is likely is selling the products you are, and advertising them on Google;
  • Is your online store mobile friendly? If not, you may not even appear in search results on mobile devices. Remember, consumers shop on many different devices.

Time to Diversify

It’s essential, in other words, for ecommerce merchants to invest in channels beyond organic search. The first tendency for many retailers when they see their traffic drop is to spend more on search engine optimization. But it’s time to diversify your traffic sources.

Google is going to encrypt all searches going forward. You will no longer get to find out what keywords are referring traffic to your store unless you advertise with Google AdWords. You no longer get to run a monthly report that shows your keyword rankings. Instead you can go to your Google Webmaster Tools account and find that a keyword was shown X times, and the results appeared anywhere from 1 to 1,000 in ranking. That is unhelpful beyond general trends.

Many merchants were hit by Penguin or Panda updates even while using the best search optimization practices. Their organic traffic declined as did their revenue. Now we have the Hummingbird algorithm update that will likely make it more difficult to target specific keywords as search results become more contextual. Next year, who knows what the name of the update will be, but it will likely change the game once again.

Investing in search engine optimization is going to be very difficult to measure. Regardless of what your SEO expert says, it’s time to expand your sales and marketing channels. You may need to change the way you do business. It will likely require investment.

Still not convinced? Here is simple search for “mens socks,” below. Google’s search results are optimized for advertisers, with slick features to make ads more interesting and effective. Few people will go below the fold to look at organic results. In many cases, those spots are occupied by Amazon, Walmart, and other global retailers.


Google search results for “mens socks.”

Alternative Traffic Strategies

Large retailers have huge staffs of SEO experts — or they outsource to agencies — to ensure that they appear on page one. Smaller retailers, however, can compete for pay-per-click ads and Product Listing Ads. Does it require investment? Absolutely. But you can experiment in very small increments and easily measure your results.

There are other alternative strategies and tactics you can experiment with to expand both your sales and marketing channels beyond search marketing. These include:

  • Marketplaces;
  • Advertising your products on, even if you do not sell there;
  • Comparison shopping engines;
  • Affiliate networks;
  • Display ads or promoted posts on Facebook to reach targeted audiences;
  • Remarketing ads;
  • Pinterest boards;
  • Instagram posts;
  • Twitter, to engage in conversations with customers and prospects.

Other tactics to consider, to expand your visibility and conversion rates, include:

  • Segment your email lists and target with specific promotions;
  • Loyalty programs;
  • Facebook posts, sweepstakes, and contests to gain fans and email subscribers;
  • Mobile-friendly online store and emails;
  • Add reviews and ratings to your store; encourage customers to participate;
  • Use A/B testing to optimize your store;
  • Use price monitoring tools to optimize your prices and margins;
  • Refresh your store’s look at least twice a year;
  • Use seasonal categories to feature promotions and seasonal products.

SEO Still Important

Should you continue to invest in SEO? If you’ve been doing it all along and your revenues are still in decline, consider shifting your investment. Should you continue to use best practices for SEO? Absolutely.

  • Create original content.
  • Try to get backlinks from related sites, especially from bloggers who cover your product area.
  • Use good SEO structure in your store – titles, descriptions.
  • Publish a site map regularly.
  • Monitor and fix problems noted in your Google Webmaster account, such as 404s and duplicate links.
  • Use keywords that are relevant to your products, but don’t overuse any keyword. Write content that is appealing to consumers and will compel them to buy from you.

Realize that SEO has changed. Shift your thinking to deliver content your customers will benefit from, rather than content that Google will reward you for.

Dale Traxler

Dale Traxler

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  1. David Burdon October 10, 2013 Reply

    An excellent summary regarding the competitive conditions now faced by the traditional online-only ecommerce retailers. I have a few as clients.

  2. Barry October 14, 2013 Reply

    I am not the only one who thinks Hummingbird has made serach results LESS relevant to local searches!

    Our business pays people in Ireland money for their used mobile phones. We are an Irish company that is still in the top 5 on Yahoo, Bing etc, (and was on google until last week) and are 100% relevant to ‘sell mobiles online ireland’, but we’ve gone from page 1 to page 10 in some cases.

    Bizarrely though, ahead of us are now cash for gold sites in Australia, irrelevant computer recyclers in Chicago, companies in the UK and blogs that have little or nothing to do with what customers want! They want to sell their phone in Ireland to a comapny that is doing this – they dont want to read about selling their phones on great ‘content’ from a company in the US!

    I am greatly disheartened by the Big G making a decision that affects the livelihood of those involved in our company AND makes the search process LESS relevant for customers! We have always focused on making the customer experience as streamlined as possible, making our blog content, and most importantly providing the best service for our customers as possible. Apparently that counts for nothing though as we are likely ‘collateral damage’.

    In a more cynical moment, i couldnt help but notice those paying for Adwords are appearing higher than us, as we didn’t need to since our organic listings were top 5. And to extrapolate, this to some extent implies that Google is seeking to force companies to have to use Adwords as they are cast into oblivion if they dont.

    And somehow SEO is seen as some kind of god-like breath that cannot be questioned or quantified….we mere mortals have to do what Google has deemed fit!

  3. Christy Kunjumon October 28, 2013 Reply

    Useful information Dale, Recently i have written a blog regarding key performance metrics used in eCommerce sites @

    Hope this will help many to analyze the site performance in a better way.

  4. Jane November 13, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for this article. Did you try Metrics11 to promote your website in Google? It helps you find profitable keywords niches you can use on your site to get free traffic from Google.