Practical Ecommerce

SEO Report Card: The Google Death Sentence

Seasonal online businesses, Gifts By Delivery, have it tough. During most of the year, they live lean while sales slow to a trickle. Then autumn comes and the manna begins to rain down from heaven.

SEO report card for

For Gifts By Delivery, the ramp-up begins in early October. The fourth quarter last year brought in 65 percent of the company’s annual revenue. It makes the most of this time, doing everything it can to maximize sales with advertising and marketing. That’s because Gifts By Delivery knows the inevitable dip and flattening of the revenue line is right around the corner, in the New Year.

Competing for organic search visibility during the holiday shopping season requires a ramp-up in online marketing — namely, link building and link baiting — many months in advance. It should start now, in fact.’s main SEO weakness lies in its links. A lack of link importance really holds the site back. The site’s home page PageRank score is only four and as you click deeper into the site, it quickly degrades even further. In fact, most pages have a PageRank of zero.

Furthermore, a link: search on Google shows only 25 backlinks and that’s including internal links to the company’s own site. It’s true that Google only reports a sampling of the back links; even so, it’s a dismal showing.

More telling is the fact that nearly all of’s pages are in Google’s dreaded “Supplemental Index.” These pages clearly lack the link importance required to earn them a place in Google’s main index. Even though Googlers (that’s what Google employees call themselves) argue to the contrary, having all your site’s listings labeled “Supplemental Results” is like a Google death sentence.

Not surprisingly, I found the site’s Google rankings to be quite poor. For important keywords like “wine gift baskets,” “gift baskets,” “fresh fruit baskets,” “food gift baskets” and “gourmet gift baskets,” did not show up in the first five pages of Google results. It’s obvious that something in the company’s SEO is broken.

Gifts By Delivery embarked upon a link-building program about a year and half ago, but it wasn’t a good program. It probably did more harm than good. When the site’s owners realized the quality wasn’t there, they opted to cancel the program.

Garnering good links takes time and expertise. And then it takes more time before the PageRank benefit from those links really kicks in. Now is the time to enlist the help of a link building expert to identify link targets, request links, make directory submissions, distribute search engine optimized press releases, formulate “link-bait” campaigns and so on.

Throughout all this, it’s necessary to remember that the anchor text of the links is crucially important. It’s no accident that the majority of the sites on the first page in Google for “gift baskets” have the phrase “gift baskets” in the domain name. Sites like,,, and others easily acquire links with the phrase “gift baskets” in the anchor text. After all, it’s part of their names! Somehow, Gifts by Delivery must compensate for this disadvantage.

Overall, the on-page SEO was in pretty decent shape.

URLs of category pages and product pages are search engine optimal — keyword-rich, free of stop characters, set up with a flat directory structure with minimal slashes and with hyphens separating the keywords (rather than underscores, which are bad).

There’s a 301 redirect from to, applied site-wide (not just on the home page), eliminating a duplicate web site in the search engines. Nice!

Title tags on product pages lead with the product name, not the name of the site — which shows an understanding of keyword prominence. Some category page titles (e.g., gourmet.html) are keyword-stuffed.

The meta descriptions and meta keywords are unique to each page, which is good, though at more than 50 words, some of the meta descriptions are too long. I recommend the site reduce the length in each case by half.

The H1 tag on the home page is “Let us reach across the miles for you” — no good keywords there. The category name is marked up with an H1 on category pages, and the product name with an H2 on product pages. That’s good, but for some bizarre reason many product pages carry an H1 tag with nothing but an HTML comment.

Speaking of comments, I see a plethora of HTML comments in the templates that could be removed to streamline the HTML code.

SEO Report Card

Home Page B

Inbound Links D-

Indexation C

Internal Linking Structure B-

HTML Templates B-

Secondary Page Content B

Keyword Choices B+

Title Tags B-



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Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer

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  1. Legacy User April 5, 2007 Reply

    Most of your points are very good, but I don't see what's the problem if the site's PR is only 4. That's a great score if I look at your report card! Your site's PR is only 5 and for a site with so much quality content and so many good inbound links, this is rather low. How would you grade your site? I am really curious.

    — *Mig*

  2. Legacy User April 7, 2007 Reply

    Hi Mig,

    Which of "my" sites are you asking about? The home page of my company's site (, fluctuates between PR7 and PR8 (currently showing a PR7). Remember, PageRank is logarithmic, so that is orders of magnitude greater than a PR4.

    If you are referring to, that isn't my site, that is the magazine's and Netconcepts has not optimized it. Their site has a PR5 on its home page, but that PR, which is reported by Google's toolbar server, is months old and likely is an underreporting of the current true PageRank used by Google's ranking algo. I say that because of other indications of trust/authority for, such as, for example, the #7 ranking in Google for "ecommerce articles" (out of 14 million) and #37 ranking (out of 67 million) for "ecommerce".

    Now, back to The *site* does not have a PR4. Each *page* has its own PR. The home page is a PR4 — which is *much* lower than a PR5 due to the logarithmic nature of PageRank. But there are other signals, that taken into account as a whole, indicate the site lacks trust. Specifically:
    1) The sudden dropoff of PageRank as you go deeper down the site tree. PR0 for many pages.
    2) So many of their pages are in the Supplemental Index.
    3) It doesn't rank in the top 5 pages for their most critical phrases that they are targeting.

    How would I grade Good question. It would fare pretty well is my guess, although I wouldn't know that for sure until I really dug in to the assessment.

    Anyone besides Mig who'd like me to assess the site? If so, I might consider it for a future SEO Report Card.

    — *Stephan Spencer*

  3. Legacy User April 9, 2007 Reply

    The difference between underscores and hyphens, using the phrase: search-engine vs. search_engine

    Hyphens are normally interpreted as a space. search-engine =>
    (Ex: search engine, two words)

    Underscores are often interpreted as a non-space character. search_engine =>
    (Ex: search_engine, one word with a non-space _ character in it.)

    If you use underscores instead of hyphens, there is a chance that a SE would interpret it is a single word and not as two words. Since the word search_engine doesn't mean anything, there would be less key phrase relevance in that aspect of the site.

    It probably makes very little difference, but may matter some.

    — *Jestep*

  4. Legacy User April 9, 2007 Reply

    I was wondering why underscores are worse than hyphens in the category page names.
    What is the difference?

    — *Elaine*

  5. Legacy User April 9, 2007 Reply

    Along the lines with what Jestep was saying, Matt Cutts (works at Google) posted awhile back about the differences between hyphens and underscores from an SE's perspective:

    — *Anon*

  6. Legacy User April 13, 2007 Reply

    If you did your research there aren't many shopping cart websites that can achieve a higher PageRank than that.

    — *Mike A*

  7. Legacy User May 20, 2007 Reply

    Mike A, you are incorrect. has a PR9. Ebay 9, Gap 7 and my site, which competes in the same category as Gifts By Delivery, has a PR6.

    — *Eric L*

  8. Legacy User June 14, 2007 Reply

    Not many shop sites have a gazillion dollars to get a PR9, I'm a little guy. Those PR9's are an exception brought about by lot's of money.

    — *Tim*