Practical Ecommerce

SEO Report Card:

Welcome back to another installment of “SEO Report Card.” Each month I assess the search engine optimization effectiveness of an ecommerce site. This month’s brave volunteer is, an online retailer who sells flies for fly fishing and uses the MIVA Merchant platform. has really missed the boat (yes, the pun was intended) when it comes to search engine traffic. They do not show up in the first 100 results in Google or Yahoo! when searching for the popular search term fly-fishing or for the more targeted term fishing flies. But all is not lost. With some concerted effort, should be able to turn things around.

SEO report card for

Inbound Links and PageRank

The site really lacks good inbound links. This is immediately evident by the PageRank score of three on their home page. With such a low PageRank on their most linked page, there isn’t much for them to pass around within their site, such as to their category and product pages. This partially accounts for the fact that nearly all their Miva Merchant pages are stuck in Google’s notorious “Supplemental Index” – roughly equivalent to being in purgatory. Since the site is listed in Open Directory (, we can easily see how they fare in comparison to competitors. A look at the page reveals that there are many competitors with higher PageRank score. (The page is organized in PageRank order). The best performer in this category is A look at their back links (by searching for identified many potential link opportunities for, such as: Arizona Outdoorsman ( (, and Granite Bay Flycasters (

Internal Linking Structure

The site also suffers from an unfocused and illogical internal hierarchical linking structure. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which categories are listed on the home page when compared to the ones that are listed on the “Online Fly Shop” page or the ones that are listed on the left side of the Miva-generated pages. There’s even a bunch of broken category links on the home page, leading to Miva Merchant “Fatal Error” pages. That’s a real missed opportunity. The top selling and most lucrative categories should always be linked to from the home page.

Keyword Choice

Keyword-rich copy is sparse on category pages and product pages. Category page content is overly focused on words like quantity and basket, with no emphasis on the main targeted search term. For example, the Bass Flies page only mentions Bass Flies twice – once in the navigation and once as a heading (although not as an H1 tag, unfortunately). Product page content for many products is virtually non-existent.


The dynamic URLs are probably hampering the search engine spiders to some degree. Ideally the URLs should be rewritten to not contain any question marks, ampersands, or equals signs (see my “SEO: Avoid Complex URLs” article in the last issue for more on this). For example, would be better than There are some static pages as well, but many of those contain underscores (e.g. Underscores are not word separators to the search engines, so fly and shop would not be seen as separate words in the URL. Hyphens should be used instead of underscores in URLs.


The server responds not just to, but also (presumably as a “server alias” in the server configuration). This looks like a duplicate site to the search engines. For example, Google currently has 110 pages indexed at and 338 pages at should permanently redirect to to remedy this issue.

Secondary Page Content

The navigation across the site is for the most part textual, which is good. But there are seven category links on the home page that are graphical logos, which is not ideal. Images don’t have anchor text, or the text that you click to follow the link, which provides context to the link. Worse yet, most of these lead to error pages. The “Home” link and logo point to “/index.html” instead of “/”, which is not ideal as it can lead to multiple versions of the home page in the index or in link popularity dilution.

HTML Template

The HTML code is in a shocking state. No H1 tags are used anywhere. Superfluous HTML abounds, much of it contributed by the use of Microsoft FrontPage. Cleaning up the HTML code will help the site to be more effectively indexed by search spiders.

Title Tags

The home page title tag (currently “Discount Flies Online Fly Shop – Discount Fishing Flies”) doesn’t lead off with the crucially important search terms of fly fishing or of fishing flies. A much better title would be “Fly Fishing Flies at Discount Prices –”. Even more surprising was the fact that the product page title tags were all missing the words fly and flies from them.

SEO Report Card

Home Page B-
Inbound Links D-
Indexation B-
Internal Linking Structure D
HTML Templates D
Secondary Page Content C
Keyword Choices B
Title Tags C


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Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer

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  1. Legacy User September 20, 2007 Reply

    Someone buy this poor fellow a drink! That was rough, but hopefully helpful in getting better ranking.

    I see two of the recommendations here quite often in the Report Cards, but don't know how to fix them as they are just breezed over:

    First: The often mentioned 301 redirect of to Where would I do something like that? I get the concept, just not how/where in my store software that function may exist.

    Second: Changing the logo link from to / Do you actually mean changing the link code to read '/' ? I've tried that in DW and it didn't seem to work.

    The Report Card is generally an interesting read, but if you glaze over the meat of how to fix this stuff, it's kinda just "So who got their a_s handed to them this week?"


    — *Brendan G.*

  2. Legacy User September 20, 2007 Reply

    Brendan has a good point: sometimes the 'Report Card' here just takes a site to task without offering how to actually fix problems. I too have one or two 301 redirect errors but don't know how to fix 'em.

    Also, the issue about underscores in URL's. In a recent Site Review, we were told (by a different reviewer?) that Google now does accept the underscore character just as a hyphen. Underscores are no longer punished.

    But I usually find nuggets of help in these reviews. I, too, am stuck at a lowly PR of 3… Yep, I gotta get some more inbound links… fun.

    — *Donald*

  3. Legacy User September 21, 2007 Reply

    I too am reading these with great interest. But I do feel like I've walked into a foreign restaurant and I'm really hungry but I can only see the photos on the menu and can't read the menu. :P
    My site is getting first page displays in Google Search, Only if I type in the manufacturer's name along with the Product name. Not with the product name though and thats what really counts. My PageRank shows nothing! My store opened 1 month ago and only had 2 sales, Ouch!
    Great articles though!

    — *Larry*

  4. Legacy User September 20, 2007 Reply

    To redirect your domain from to you will need to use a 301 redirect in an .htaccess file (assuming you're on an Apache server). A quick Google search for "301 redirect" will turn up lots of tutorials for you.

    The key with linking to the homepage is not necessarily that you must link to '/', but that you don't want to link to as this is seen by search engines as a separate page from If you're currently linking to, that should be fine.

    — *Leanne*

  5. Legacy User October 24, 2007 Reply

    Stephan, keep up the good work. I've learned a ton from you, and if people would just take these articles in the spirit in which they are written… to help with SEO, they would see them as wonderful resources not to just help but their own web sites

    — *OW*