I’ll get right to the point. You can’t bolt a couple of pages onto the edge of your ecommece site like a sidecar to a motorcycle and call it search engine optimization. Or, rather, you can launch your SEO sidecar but it won’t achieve the organic search performance you desire without applying additional SEO strategies.
The Sidecar Effect
I hear this often: “I know I need more content, good content, on my site. So I hired a writer, did the keyword research, designed these new pages and linked to them from my sitemap, but I’m still not ranking. Why?”
I call this the SEO sidecar: a section of content (the sidecar) that is topically relevant to the primary ecommerce site (the motorcycle) connected by a thin link rather than integrated into the core functionality of the machine (the ecommerce site).
The SEO sidecar, like many outdated SEO strategies, had some success several years ago. But Google’s Farmer-Panda update earlier this year killed these tactics. That’s the glory of focusing on the core principles of SEO — crawlability, relevance, high quality and unique content, and quality links for the content that needs to rank — rather than shortcuts.
Search engine optimization in its most basic form is about optimizing one page of content at one URL for one keyword phrase. There are lots of ways to scale SEO so that the process is more automated and streamlined, but at the end of the day the pages you actually want to rank — your motorcycle, not the sidecar — need to be the pages you optimize with valuable, relevant content.
Two Missing Elements
Now, let’s assume the SEO sidecar content itself is valuable to users and well written. Let’s assume that it’s not what marketers would refer to scornfully as “SEO content” with lots of obvious keyword repetition that adds no real user value. You could, of course, do a lot of external link building to your SEO sidecar, thereby increasing its link popularity and chance of ranking. But because it’s not integral to the site, the SEO sidecar typically lacks the following two critical SEO elements.
Internal Links. The SEO sidecar exists because marketers would rather not muck up their sleek ecommerce sites with SEO elements like optimized title tags, headings and a bit of descriptive content and cross links. I argue that, when designed well, SEO, branding and usability can and should coexist peacefully. But the SEO sidecar typically takes the easy way out and skimps on branding, design and user value in favor of emphasizing the SEO elements. The result is poor internal linking to the SEO sidecar content, because no one in the company really wants users to actually see the SEO sidecar.
Unfortunately, poor internal linking means that the SEO sidecar not only has to work hard for external links, it typically has to subsist on just one link from its own ecommerce site. Search engines take this lack of internal linking to the SEO sidecar as a big vote of no confidence in the content. If the site itself isn’t confident in the SEO sidecar, then why on earth should the search engines trust it enough to rank it well? And because it has no link popularity to begin with, it has none to share back into the primary ecommerce site. That is, unless you spend the time and resources to pump external links into the sidecar, when they’d be better spent building links to the primary optimized ecommerce content.
Conversion elements. So let’s say you’ve built the links and you’re getting traffic to the SEO sidecar content. But it doesn’t convert because the conversion elements reside in the motorcycle rather than the sidecar. If you’re going to spend time building quality links to your content, why not just build them to the primary converting ecommerce content you meant to boost when you created the sidecar in the first place?
To make the SEO sidecar viable as an SEO strategy requires creating excellent content that users will want to consume, building links to it and developing conversion elements to drive sales or subscriptions. All of this is hard work, and the core of a strong SEO plan. Unfortunately, it’s aimed at propping up the SEO sidecar, which isn’t effective today as an SEO strategy. If similar resources and strategies were applied instead to optimizing the primary ecommerce site, you’d see better results in sorter time. Forget the sidecar, optimize the motorcycle and ride off into the sunset. Or alternately, build an awesome sidecar and integrate it fully with the motorcycle so that the entire site is strengthened.