In Sunday’s Seattle Times I saw the headline: Costco makes plans for boosting its online sales, by Melissa Allison. Costco is a giant retail chain whose headquarters are right outside Seattle. Even though it is one of the biggest retail stores with over $ 2 billion in annual on-line sales it lags far behind Amazon and Wal-Mart in online sales. In spite of a huge online eCommerece site with over 1.5 million webpages they get a mere 8.1 million visitors a month compared to Wal-Mart’s 50.7 million visitors. With Amazon as the number 1 online retailer, Wal-Mart is number 4 and Costco is number 17. One of Costco’s excuses for their poor online performance was that "we don't advertise and we don't pay for search.” Inbound marketing experts would counter that you don’t need to advertise or pay for search to get search page rankings. According to the article Dallas SEO expert Chris Silver Smith says Costco is making “rookie” inbound marketing mistakes.
As an inbound marketing company I did a website analysis for Costco like the one I do for potential clients when I do a customized website evaluation. I found that Costco was making these 7 common inbound marketing mistakes.
- No Blog: I realize that most large eCommerce sites do not have blogs but I think they should. Smaller eCommerce sites HAVE to have a blog. Why? Blogs increase page rankings, drive traffic to your website, demonstrate industry leadership, and engage potential and ongoing customers in a space always about converting the sell. See my blogs on How to use a Blog for your eCommerce Website and Dos and Don’ts for Blogging on your eCommerce Website. Also check out this great webinar by HubSpot’s Mike Redbord and Mike Ewing: Blogging for eCommerce.
- No Image Alt Tags: Of the 77 images on their homepage only 39 of them had alt tags. Search engines use Alt Tags to “see” what an image is all about, as do blind web-surfers and browsers that cannot download the image. Alt Tags are an excellent place to reinforce your keywords.
- Flash Display: I know that Flash looks cool and you can have rotating images with great graphics. They may even have a great click through rate but they do nothing for SEO. What the search engines see is a .swf file. There is no content that a search engine can catalogue and index. So you can have the greatest display of HDTV’s with the best deals but they will not show up in a web search.
- Nondescript URLs: Quoting Smith from the article, "When you go to Costco's TV page, the URL (or Internet address) is gobbledygook, and people don't search with gobbledygook keywords." The URL is another place to tell search engines what your page is about. You tell me if this says “Electronics – Televisions” to you: http://www.costco.com/Common/Category.aspx?cat=2341&eCat=BC|90607|2341&lang=en-US&whse=BC&topnav=
- Bad Page Descriptions: On many of Costco’s pages the description is either missing or irrelevant. I guess if a consumer was looking for “an international chain of membership warehouses,” their homepage description would help: "Costco Wholesale operates an international chain of membership warehouses, carrying brand name merchandise at substantially lower prices than typical retail."
- Social Media: Most eCommerce sites would love to have half a million Facebook fans like Costco but that number pales in comparison to the more than 15 million fans on Walmart’s Facebook page. One thing Costco is good at is hiding the link to their Facebook page. I’m not sure why web designers love to hide the Facebook link on the bottom of the home page but that is where it is. Of course once you start to search the site you will never, ever, see the Facebook link again.
- Social Engagement: According to the EngagementDB Report: Ranking the Top 100 Global Brands by Charlene Li, there is a positive correlation between social media engagement and profits. Costco is apparently trying to keep both down. An unofficial search has turned up dozens and dozens of twitter accounts with some variation of @Costco. The one account that bills itself as the “The official Twitter for Costco” is @CostcoTweets and is listed as Costco Wholesale. Costco seems to be missing an opportunity to engage with its 2,372 followers with only 4 tweets to date. My only guess is that this is a new effort that is just getting off the ground because on the day I checked their homepage had been tweeted 774 times. So it seems some of Costco’s customers are online talking about them, it’s just that Costco is not involved in the conversation.
The point of Sunday’s Seattle Times article was to say that Costco is endeavoring to turn this around. What do you think about their efforts? What do you think they need to do? Do you have an eCommerce site? What are you doing to drive traffic to your site?