Our SEO specialist Jack Evershed analyses some of the ways the leading outdoor clothing retailer REI.com has achieved success with its search engine performance – and how you can do the same…
REI is an online retailer of outdoor clothing and equipment based in the US and stands out to me as one which has implemented numerous smart SEO techniques across its site.
Here are a few of my favourite techniques they’ve employed – with my advice on how you can implement similar tactics on your own website.
1. Stand out with Schema.org Markup
I’m always surprised at how few ecommerce sites have adopted Product Schema. Marking up product pages with Schema allows detailed information about each of your products – such as price, availability and condition – to be displayed directly within search results, and more recently, image search results.
Whilst it’s not yet considered a direct ranking factor, there is a proven correlation between implementing Schema and achieving higher rankings, not to mention the significantly higher click-through rates from the nicely formatted snippets on Google’s prime real estate pages.
It’s also widely accepted that structured data is only going to become increasingly important in the future of search, with Google’s own webmaster analyst John Mueller himself echoing this sentiment.
As with most things in digital marketing, it’s good to be an early adopter and to be prepared, particularly when it comes to impending algorithm updates, so it’s a no-brainer to get on this as soon as possible if you haven’t already.
Schema can look pretty complex and intimidating to set up at first, but using the JSON-LD format makes it pretty simple to copy and paste a template into the <head></head> of a product page and fill out the fields.
Due to the limitations of content management systems and ecommerce platforms, or large number of products and variations, it may be easier in practice to use a plugin or create an automated solution to pull product data into this format for you, which is what it looks like REI have done on their site.
Other useful Schema to use throughout ecommerce sites include; limited-time product offers, reviews and ratings, and of course your business information, contact details and related social properties.
REI.com’s Google listings include star ratings and product data driven by Schema.org markup in their product pages.
2. Using breadcrumbs to aid navigation
The way the breadcrumbs work fluidly with the navigation here is definitely the result of some careful planning, especially when you consider the extra care that has been taken to mark them up with Schema, again using the JSON-LD format.
Where the main menu contains deeper links that allow users to jump quickly to the specific categories they require, the breadcrumbs show users, both in search engine results and on the page itself, the context of where the page is located in the site structure, contributing to great UX.
A great user experience is of course what Google in particular has always tried to push as the fundamental underpinning of high rankings.
Note how the on-site ‘breadcrumb’ links are pulled through nicely in to the Google search results page
3. Displaying product information
A common feature of ecommerce sites is to display product information within several tabs, usually divided up into basic info, technical specifications and reviews, for example.
Until fairly recently there was a lot of debate and speculation about how search engines treated tabbed content, particularly when it came to use of the functionality in this context. Google was sending mixed messages about what was and wasn’t crawled, and what significance was attributed to content that was not immediately visible to users. When Amazon and other dominant ecommerce sites made the switch to a long list format, most sites seemed to follow suit.
It wasn’t until Google began its transition to the mobile first index that the debate within the SEO community was really put to bed. Content that is hidden yet expandable for UX purposes is now perfectly acceptable in our mobile-device-dominated world.
However what I like about this particular example is the middle ground that they have achieved by displaying fully expanded content on large screens, and collapsed when a mobile user agent or device width is detected. Good for users regardless of device, and therefore good for search engines.
All product details are displayed fully expanded on the page but with ‘tab’ style links allowing for easy reading on mobile
4. Creating local branch pages for SEO
I was quite pleased to find that REI had implemented what I consider to be the ideal structure for their branch pages when it comes to local SEO.
Giving each location its own page within a ‘locations’ subfolder allows you to create unique, locally-relevant content and (again) easily incorporate structured Schema data.
REI have done this in the form of community activity days and event listings. This structure allows each branch to have a linked Google Business Profile with matching business information and contact details, which is the recommended configuration.
5. Implementing consistent URL Structure
REI have implemented a pretty solid URL structure, including the correct use of the canonical tag.
For example, several sale products are available via multiple paths, both in the sale section, and their original category sections.
Obviously this can lead to duplication where the same product content resolves via different URLs, which is far from ideal. The canonical tag negates this duplication by specifying the intended URL, subverting the use of the less SEO-friendly parameter URLs that are required for organising the products and variants.