Given the complexities and mysteries of search engine optimization, Traian Neacsu knows that sometimes SEO practitioners just need a hug.
Not very practical, we’re afraid. So how about a book? Yes, a book to untangle and demystify SEO, at least somewhat. Not as warm as a hug, but far more scalable.
And so, “E-commerce SEO: An Advanced Guide to On-page Search Engine Optimization for E-commerce.”
“Writing a book like this, it took two years, because I had to raise a kid and run a digital marketing agency and write a book as well,” says Neacsu, who lives in Vancouver.
The work was a labor of love. Well, a practical labor of love. See, at the time he started writing, Neacsu was running the digital agency he mentioned. He had plenty of clients who were both interested and frustrated by SEO, a key means of attracting new customers and readers to products and content on the web. It is something everybody talks about, but not everybody understands.
A whole industry has grown up, consisting of agencies and experts, who come in from the outside, and executives and managers who work on SEO from the inside. The goal is to devise digital strategies to attract customers and encourage practices that create good experiences for those users who do come.
It is a cadre of specialists, commonly referred to simply as SEOs, that can be poorly understood. Yes, they are responsible for web traffic, but whether traffic rises or falls is not entirely within their control. SEO practitioners can be an easy target for supervisors looking to cast blame for poor performing pages and sites.
And so clients of Neacsu’s agency would call with questions about SEO. What will build traffic? What are best practices? What’s to be avoided? The information was out there, mostly on the web, in a hundred different places.
Bringing the broad knowledge of SEO together
“I said, “OK, I need a single place of reference to help my clients and send a quicker response to them,” he said.
And so he settled on “E-commerce SEO,” with sections covering crawl optimization, keyword research, internal linking, information architecture and other SEO basics.
There is a saying, “Write what you know,” but in some ways Neacsu focused on what he didn’t know — at least not at first. See, early in his career, Neacsu built his own website, a job site of sorts. He was pleased with the site, but it didn’t appear that anyone else was.
“If you build it they will come,” he jokes. “Yeah, that never happens.”
So he started digging into SEO. He was self-taught, relying on forums and others who were learning as they went, too.
“I learned from others a long time ago,” he says. “There were a lot of great people who responded and spent their own time to respond to my questions. That’s how I learned. This is my way of giving back to the community.”
Well, not exactly giving back. The book is available online for $69 or $49 for a PDF. Neacsu says he’s kept the price high in part because he’s having second thoughts about whether a book is the best medium through which to deliver SEO knowledge.
He says he’s now working on some ideas that will allow the information he’s assembled to be more dynamic, to change with the times, to remain current.
Which underscores one of the things that makes executing successful SEO so difficult.
“The landscape changes so fast,” he says. “It’s very difficult for managers, for SEOs, for anyone, to keep track of that and the pace of it.”
Think about it: The way consumers search, the devices they search on, the quality of the results they expect, it’s constantly changing. Search engines strive to change with them — or even ahead of them — to ensure that consumers are served well on the web.
SEOs need to keep up with all of that. Neacsu says that job is particularly tough in the world of e-commerce. This he now knows first hand. Neacsu is the SEO specialist for BuildDirect, a home improvement product marketplace. (Full disclosure: BuildDirect is a BloomReach customer.)
“The thing is that the more products you sell online, the more complicated the website is going to be and the more complicated the information architecture,” he says. “Then you go into the technical problems with the website. The more products you add and the more pages you have, the more chance of getting it wrong.”
Some basic tips to get SEO right
Neacsu’s book is 319 pages of ideas and techniques for getting it right. But at a higher level, he has some basic bits of advice.
It all starts, Neacsu says, with focusing on the user experience. When you’re thinking about content, for instance, think about content that is helpful and interesting. Don’t make things hard on your users.
Take mobile for example. The massive shift to mobile, after all, has changed pretty much everything about digital commerce. Neacsu says he’s seen some mobile sites that greet visitors with a pop-up asking for an email address to proceed. Really?
Even worse, some mobile sites open with a pop-up ad blocking the entire screen. That is a terrible experience and not one that search engines are going to view favorably. And so doing away with such frustrations are a no-brainer.
That said, Neacsu has one other key bit of advice: No matter how focused you are on the customer experience, keep your SEO experts involved in the conversation from start to finish.
For instance, Neacsu says, let’s say to improve your customer experience, you decide to dramatically reduce the load time of a key page.
“Whatever you do on the page should follow that goal,” he says. “But then don’t make any changes without consulting the SEO guy.”
Yes, cutting that huge copy block would help speed things up. But what SEO purpose does that content serve? What affect will eliminating it have? You should at least know the answers.
“Sometimes I think there is a disconnect,” Neacsu says. “The user experience team doesn’t really know that whatever they do has an effect on SEO.”
The key is to remember that everybody is on the same team and, ultimately, has the same goals.
“In the end, I think that is what good SEO is trying to push,” Neacsu says. “A good website is a user-friendly web site.”
Maybe that’s the saying that SEOs are looking for. Forget, “If you build it, they will come.” Think instead: “If you build a user-friendly website they will come. And they will come back.”
It’s a comforting thought. Almost as comforting as a nice warm hug.
Photo of “E-commerce SEO” by Mike Cassidy.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.