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Boots stands head and shoulders above its competitors in the beauty industry in terms of SEO, according to a new report from 4Ps Marketing.

The report, written by SEO director Hannah Miller, focuses on eight keywords that potential customers might search for in this industry, with the aim of investigating how more technically advanced SEO strategies can impact search rankings.

It compares five of the UK’s top beauty brands, including Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy, Avon, The Body Shop and Superdrug.

Here is a look at some of the predefined SEO techniques and how they affected the rankings...

Indexed Pages

Reviewing the number of indexed pages helps to gauge the size of the website and uptake of search engine crawlers.

It shows that Boots has a considerably larger number of URLs indexed in both Google and Bing, which could be due to the product range it currently supplies.

It’s also interesting to note the huge difference in the number of pages indexed by each search engine.

Google Shopping Feed

Google Shopping is an important source of traffic for a number of retailers and on average achieves twice the CTR of comparable text ads in AdWords.

But the system is undergoing a fundamental change at the moment in moving from a free to a paid-for service, so it will only be available to merchants that are Product Listing Ads (PLA) customers.

We’ve previously blogged about how to optimise products for Google Shopping and PLA, but in a nutshell merchants need to submit product information including the price, an image and a product ID.

The report found that four out of the five beauty sites have active Google Shopping feeds, with Boots again standing out as the most products listed.

Additionally, two-thirds of the defined keywords generated a search page that contained a shopping result.

Rich Snippets

Rich snippets is a useful mark up tool that allows sites to include additional information within their search results.

This makes your links more prominent in SERPs and more attractive to users as they can see extra details such as a product image or the price. At Econsultancy we use a similar technique to identify the different authors on the blog.

4P’s report found that Boots uses rich snippets for three different scheme types within its mark up, while The Body Shop uses it for its products.

Mobile website

Smartphone penetration in the UK is now at 58% according to Ofcom, so businesses can no longer avoid building a mobile site.

Google advocates responsive design for mobile sites, but also suggests two other options; a site that dynamically serves all devices on the same set of URLs, but using different HTML; or a separate ‘m.’ mobile site.

The report found that none of the five beauty brands had used responsive design, and only Boots and The Body Shop had built separate mobile optimised sites.

Canonical/pagination tags

For retail websites, canonical and pagination tags can be used to inform search engines when duplication of content occurs and how URLs are related to one another.

They were created in order to combat sites that deliberately duplicated content to manipulate search engines, and allowing site owners to overcome the risk of being penalised for innocent duplication.

Both Superdrug and Lloyds show extensive use of canonical tags, so appear to understand the need for them. Avon is the only site not to have implemented any tags at all. 

The report points out that tags aren’t necessarily the right process for all websites, but they are “an indication that an SEO strategy is active and up-to-date.”

Keyword evaluation

Finally, the report used DuckDuckGo and SEOMoz to analyse keyword performance among the five brands. It used a mix of broad and specific keywords to get a snapshot of the average rankings positions.

It also used a points system, where two points were allocated for the highest search ranking (green) and one point for the second highest search ranking (orange).

Please click on the chart to see an enlarged version

Overall Boots was easily the top performer with 27 points, while Lloyds achieved zero points.

In conclusion...

The question the report asked at the beginning was whether it’s important to integrate new SEO techniques as they are released, and the predictable answer was ‘yes’.

Boots has a far more advanced SEO strategy than its competitors and as a result is more visible in search rankings.

Overall four out of the five brands analysed appear to be adapting their sites to incorporate some of the more advanced techniques and comply with search engine suggestions, however at to very differing degrees.

It's interesting to see that three of the brands have yet to build mobile sites, which means they will be losing out on traffic and sales to their more advanced competitors.

The author also notes that rankings fluctuated considerably during the drafting of the report, and other online and offline retailers (such as ASOS, Benefit and Harrods) consistently featured prominently for the keywords.

David Moth

Published 23 January, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1676 more posts from this author

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Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Really good post. For all the people claiming "SEO is dead", "it's just about good content now" etc, please take note of the above. This is what SEO also involves (as well as great content, social strategy, outreach, UX, keyword strategy etc...) and seeing Boots' position over their competitors is testament to its importance.

over 3 years ago

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Sinead Miller

Interesting article. In addition to the above, I wonder how much bearing social signals are having on Boots' performance - given their brand I'd expect there is more social buzz around them.

over 3 years ago

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Mike

Interesting of you to use the presence of canonical tags as measure. As it happens, I recently analysed Boots as part of a competitor audit for one of my clients. If you check out their back link profile, you'll see they have by far the most links from powerful domains (.edu .ac.uk and .gov). These links mostly come from local council and university sites, as Boots are often listed (and linked to) in the 'town guide' sections as a local pharmacy.

They also have a very high portion of links containing brand terms, which makes you think that co-citation could also be an influential factor in their dominant rankings.

over 3 years ago

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Christopher Dugdale, SEO Manager at Tesco

Do you think the number of pages indexed and the use of canonical link elements might be related? Tighter duplicate content control = fewer pages indexed.

I have never understood people who use number of pages indexed as a measure of success; it seems like a school-boy error from 2004 - especially when going on to discuss duplicate content control.

The brands used are hardly equals either. Body Shop and Avon only sell their own products, so will always have a smaller inventory - thus fewer indexed pages.

Also, CLEs and mobile sites are classed as "advanced SEO tactics"? Really?

This seems way below econsultancy's usual standard.

over 3 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

@Christopher Good point. "Advanced" is a bit strong.

I don't think pages indexed is presented as a measure of success here, though.

I was just pleased to see some of the lesser-mentioned (outside of pure SEO sites) SEO techniques getting some coverage for once, and with an actual application of them rather than in theory.

over 3 years ago

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Hannah Miller

@Paul Thanks for your comment. Integrated strategies are certainly the most successful, and a good content strategy should feed into all of the above. I think the key takeaway here is that some companies have yet to do the basics and some are pioneering.

over 3 years ago

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Hannah Miller

@Christopher Thanks for your comment too. I find that using the number of pages indexed is a good way of comparing the size of the website so we can gauge the difference when comparing as more of a benchmark. In certain circumstances, the larger the website, the more products/content and therefore potentially more opportunities to increase keyword visibility.

You're right on the brands being measured, I had the same thoughts when compiling the report, but when you see the keywords we were using, they are all keywords that each of the brands may have marketing objectives for. I find the "competition" discussion really interesting because an offline competitor isn’t always an online competitor.

over 3 years ago

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Stephanie Villegas-Ross, Digital Strategist at 4Ps Marketing

I think the number of URLs indexed is interesting from a duplicate content and crawler error/rate point of view, in particular how the Bing and Google respond to these differently.

In my experience large discrepancies between the two can 99 times out of 100 be brought back to the above. Bing pretty much confirmed this last year when they said that they have a 1% allowance for dirt in a Sitemap.
Duane Forrester (Senior Product Manager, Bing Webmaster Tools) on this - "I'm going to start distrusting your sitemap and I'm just not going to bother with it anymore."

So when you consider their stance on messy sitemaps it’s pretty obvious how they’re going to feel about a large site like Boots and their duplicate content issues and the usual out of stock product 404s, even so 1 million fewer URLs is a lot.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

I hope those SEO tools are right.

I just did an (unstatistical) test - and didn't get the same.

I tried 'hair accessories' and Superdrug was the highets ranking f the vendors here: and came in 2nd page on Google.

Boots was way down: on page 5...

One single snapshot in time is not meanngful statistically I know: but to remove ay impact of my browsing history: I tried a different browser, with all cookies deleted: exactly the same result.

over 3 years ago

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Collin Davis

Hi David,

In all fairness having read this article, I dont think Boots is using an advanced SEO tactics that is helping it grow.

I have been through Boots website and there are still a lot of technicalities that it could sort both in terms of SEO and user experience.

The other aspect about Boots is that it has a chain of physical retail stores and this massive offline presence favors it hugely even online.

Also it is a very popular brand globally and pages indexed, shopping feeds arent the way to measure the true success of SEO efforts.

This does seem like a very below par article based more assumptions than actual facts.

over 3 years ago

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Los Angeles SEO Services

Thanks for great post, Paul North you are absolutely right,I am agree with you. People who talk SEO is dead, they don't know good strategy.

over 3 years ago

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Chris

They're lucky they're not selling Boots (as in shoes) as Google would nuke that EMD ;-)

Seriously though, I'd like to know why they used DuckDuckGo for this report. How bizarre.

over 3 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

I have the same question as Chris - interested to know why you used DuckDuckGo.

Thanks!

dan

over 3 years ago

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Christina Williams

Actually this post has said everything. Now a day people think that SEO is death due to the failure of handling Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. My point of view is SEO will not die because people are really innovative. So they can find a solution all the time.

over 3 years ago

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Steven

This "report" is not displaying advanced SEO tactics in my opinion.
You also should not be including Avon and The Body shop which operates in a slightly different vertical and will there for have less products - less content, less visibility and less authority.
This is bringing down the reputation of this site.

over 3 years ago

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jerrell

And these me thinking big companys only rely on tv commercials and there reputation meaning people will backlink to them, i guess i was wrong :D

Still hope then for seo...

over 3 years ago

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