For this month, I am reviewing BabyGiftIdea.com, at co-owner Pat Laws’ request. Pat and her husband bought the business from the original owner in May 2008. The site has been online for about nine years, so it definitely has some history and credibility in the eyes of Google.
Pat shared that they have a very big problem. Specifically, during the past year and a half, sales have fallen by about 45 percent. The percentage of sales delivered by Google organic search has stayed about the same for the past year. Google search traffic, however, has been in a steady decline since mid 2007. The Laws’ implemented a website revamp with a new home page design and site restructure, yet saw very little in the way of impact. They have, for the most part, stayed true to the original owner’s product lines and pricing — with some product additions. Pat feels they may never regain the level of sales enjoyed by the previous owner. She doesn’t understand why, or how to fix it.
The situation sounds a little dire. Pat sent me a graph of her Google traffic over the 22 months, and it’s not a pretty picture. There are no spikes in there. It’s all downhill. What is going on?
For starters, it looks to me like there’s a lot of keyword stuffing going on. For example, take a look at the title tag on the home page:
Baby Gift: Baby Gift Ideas, Baby Shower Gifts, Gifts for Baby, Baby Shower Favors, Baby Gift Baskets, Baby Gifts Personalized, Baby Shower Gift Ideas, Unique Baby Gifts, Baby Names, Baby Showers
Could the word “baby” possibly be repeated any more? At least it’s not stuffed into the home page’s body copy, too. (There isn’t anybody copy to speak of on the home page, by the way). “Hi, we have baby gifts, lots of baby gifts, more baby gifts than you can imagine, were you looking for baby gifts, did I mention we have baby gifts?” I made this sentence up but I wouldn’t be surprised to find something resembling it somewhere on the site.
Here’s another example, a title tag on http://www.babygiftidea.com/cgi-bin/baby/p/p18/Religious-Christening.html:
Christening: Baptism Gifts, Christening Gifts, Baby Baptism Gifts, Christening Outfits, Christening Dresses, Christening Invitations, Baby Christening Gifts, Christening Gift Ideas, Gifts and Christening
Again, like the aforementioned title, it’s overly long and merely a listing of keywords rather than something useful for a human that’s written in natural English. There is also a significant amount of keyword repetition. Eight mentions of “christening” and five for “gifts,” along with a two repeats of “baby” and “baptism” thrown in there for good measure qualifies as keyword stuffing by anyone’s definition.
Even more egregious is the fact that this same keyword stuffing is replicated in HTML comment tags. This is old school SEO. That tactic hasn’t worked for many years.
Ironically, one of the first phrases in the title tag appears nowhere in the copy of the page. The phrase I speak of is “baptism gifts.” So, keyword stuffing is going on behind the scenes, yet many of the keywords are absent from the body copy.
In addition, the number of links contained on these pages is as over-the-top as the keyword stuffing. On the aforementioned christening/baptism page, the SEO-Browser.com tool counts 546 links, of which 508 are internal.
Speaking of links, let’s take a look at the inbound links. First stop was Yahoo! Site Explorer, which showed a decent number (987 to be exact) of in-links to the entire site (excluding BabyGiftIdea.com’s own self-referential internal links). But I noticed a number of links were from the same sites. So my next stop was SEOmoz’s Linkscape tool. That tool showed 1,130 in-links from a total of 436 domains. Though this is not horrible–but still not great by any stretch–I’d like to see thousands of domains, not hundreds. Looking at the links that comprised this number–excluding no-followed links that don’t count for PageRank but that, frustratingly, Yahoo! Site Explorer includes–I see a lot of “links” pages.
If many of the links you have garnered come from pages with the word “links” in the URL or in the title tag–and/or these links are reciprocal–you know you’re in trouble. Such links are not very valuable to start, but if the majority of your links are those types of low-value links, then your site doesn’t look credible or trustworthy in the eyes of the search engines.
So now I imagine you are getting the idea why BabyGiftIdea.com isn’t performing well in the search engines. Old-school SEO tactics become more and more dangerous (as in a search engine penalty) and ineffective over time as the engines’ algorithms evolve. I’m not surprised now by the steady decline in their success metrics.
Let’s assume that this yucky stuff gets cleaned up and the site garners valuable links earned by merit. Now what can BabyGiftIdea.com do to improve? It’s going to take more than “not spamming” to effectively vie for competitive baby-related keywords.
Let’s go to keywords. I see plenty of potential to target some non-obvious but valuable keywords. For instance, querying the various keyword research tools like Google AdWords Keyword Tool and KeywordDiscovery.com for search terms that include the word “baby,” I found plenty of “baby name” related keywords. Yet the site isn’t targeting them. Nor is it targeting “new baby e-cards,” “new baby checklist,” “new baby wishes,” “baby e-cards,” or “baby shower card.”
One outside-the-box phrase it appears to target is “baby shower ideas” (as you can see there is a big link on the right column of the home page underneath “Get our Newsletter”). I say, “appears to target” because it doesn’t actually target it. The link leads to a page that does not mention the phrase anywhere — not in the title tag, body copy, or non-existent H1 headline. The page has a meta keywords tag but those are worthless.
Browsing through “site:www.babygiftidea.com” search results, I noticed garbage pages in Google’s index like http://www.babygiftidea.com/cgi-bin/welcome.pl?ref=blion+page=index.html and http://www.babygiftidea.com/cgi-bin/baby/forum/display.html?mv_arg=124494. Further, I spotted duplicate copies of the home page, like http://www.babygiftidea.com/?pid=10 and http://www.babygiftidea.com/cgi-bin/baby/ (this is where the logo on the top left leads, curiously) and http://www.babygiftidea.com/?id=nsession&code=SPCAKE&pid=7&cid=3. That has to be cleaned up, too.
The site is indexed in Google, but a “site:babygiftidea.com” search in Google Product Search revealed it is not indexed there. Why not? It’s free. The Laws’ should be submitting a product feed to Google Merchant Center.
Why do all the URLs contain “cgi-bin/baby?” Surely you can get rid of that with a bit of URL rewriting. The site is running on the Apache web server software, so it should be easy to rewrite URLs using the Apache module called mod_rewrite.
Let’s end this on a positive note. I found a number of good things about the site’s SEO, too: Their mouse-overs on the left navigation are CSS-based, they have a 301 redirect from babygiftidea.com to www.babygiftidea.com, there’s intro copy on category level pages, and the domain name and website has a lot of history. Specifically, the babygiftidea.com domain is over 10 years old, and the site (according to archive.org) has been online for over 10 years too. The domain doesn’t expire until 2018, so it’s been pre-paid for the next 9 years, which further distances them from search engine spammers.
SEO Report Card
Home Page Content D
Inbound Links and PageRank C-
Internal Hierarchical Linking Structure C-
HTML Templates and CSS D
Secondary Page Content C-
Keyword Choices B-
Title Tags F
OVERALL GPA C-