Natural Search Blog


Build It Wrong & They Won’t Come: Coca-Cola’s Store

I just wrote an article comparing Coke’s and Pepsi’s homepage redirection, concluding that Pepsi actually does a better job, though both of them did ultimately nonoptimal setup for the purposes of search optimization. Clunky homepage redirection isn’t the only search marketing sin that Coca-Cola has done — their online product shopping catalog is very badly designed for SEO as well, and I’ll outline a number of reasons why.

Coca-Cola Store

In this article and in the redirection article, I’m criticising Coca-Cola’s technical design quite a bit, but I’m not trying to embarrass them — like any good American boy, I love Coca-Cola (particularly Coke Classic and Cherry Coke). In fact, this could ultimately benefit them, if they take my free assessment and use it as a guide for improving their site. I’m doing this because Coca-Cola is the top most-recognized brand worldwide, and the sorts of errors they’re making in their natural search channel are all too common in ecommerce sites. I chose Coca-Cola’s e-store because they make such a great example of the sorts of things that online marketers need to focus upon. If such a juggernaut of a company, with huge advertising and marketing budgets makes these sorts of mistakes, you could be making them, too.

Let’s first take a look at the Coca-Cola store’s main page. Their store’s listing in the search engines is pretty good, coming up in first slot for searches like “coca-cola store”:

Coca-Cola Store in Google SERPs
(click to enlarge)

It’s a bit weird to me, however, that they apparently purchased Sponsored Links in Google above the listings, and in the sidebar as well. Now, I know that a number of marketers like to say that appearing in both the sponsored links and in the natural search results improves overall click-through, but for one’s own brand-name searches, it simply seems wasteful to me. Why pay for traffic that you’d likely already be receiving for free? You should be coming up tops for your brand-name searches already, and you shouldn’t have to pay for them.

Now, the description snippet that comes up below their link in the listings: “The Coca-Cola company’s store offers a variety of products, collectibles and gifts including apparel, memorabilia, and Coke Polar Bears merchandise.”, could actually be just a tad better. Users are unlikely to be searching for terms like “variety of products”, “company’s”, “gifts”, and “apparel”.

The use of “collectibles”, “memorabilia”, and “Coke Polar Bears” terms are probably pretty good, but I would drop some of the nonoptimal/less-optimal terms in favor of some of the top items that Coke fans would be searching for. Instead of “apparel”, most consumers would be searching for “clothing”. (Don’t believe me? See the relative popularity of searches for those two terms using Google Trends .) One of the top most-popular items is Coke glasses or mugs – it would be great if the description mentioned that. Also cool if the description mentioned “signs”, and “bottles”.

If they wanted to change their description snippet, they would need to add a META Description tag into the code of their homepage. Their snippet in Google is currently being pulled from their DMOZ listing , because they have no META Description tag.

Design Your Own BottleThe homepage is a bit thin on text content, which is really central to search optimization. Other than the “Coca-Cola” name in the footer copyright statement, the only beneficial text on the page is in the three changing featured product boxes on the left side and one or two of the navigation menus in the header. Yet, most of the terms in the pulldown menus are not what users would search upon: “Serving”, “Gifts”, “Personal Care”, “Juniors”, “Women”, “Men”, etc. The featured products in the sidebar have little hyperlinked images with them, but those images do not have ALT text set up with them, so there’s lost opportunity for providing more keyword weight on the page and for the pages being linked to.

Fortunately, the header menus are built through DHTML, so the links within them are actually crawlable by search engines. Many sites have dynamic menus built purely in Javascript, Flash or Java, creating a barrier for search engine spidering, since they cannot easily navigate through those formats. It’s also good that Coke provides an alternate link for users and search engines with the “See All Product Categories” link.

One big problem with Coke’s store is that they apparently sessionize users by placing a Session ID on URLs for some sets of users, and they haven’t set their application up to drop those IDs out of Googlebot’s spidering of the site. If you do a search for pages on the Coke store which have “jsessionid” in their URLs, you’ll see that over 4,000 pages have been spidered by Google which contain the IDs . Since every user is assigned a different Session ID, this is resulting in pages getting indexed under multiple variant URLs. This causes duplication in a major way – diluting down the PageRank of the site, which can cause lower overall rankings. Stuff like this needs to be managed better to reduce duplication and give each page as much ranking potential as possible.

All of Coke’s product pages are also thin on text content, and are not passing unique keywords through all the different key page parameters that they should be. For instance, on this earrings page :

Coca-Cola Jewelry Listing
(click to enlarge)

Some of their items are targeting speakers of foreign languages, but they don’t display any of the targeted language text on the page. For instance, they should at least include the Coca-Cola name in Cyrillic for this Russian hat.

I also see some additional items impacting usability, beyond the search engine optimization issues:

Back to the main subject — natural search optimization for the Coca-Cola online store — if Coke fixed all the issues I identified, I’d estimate that they’d probably be able to increase the traffic and sales to this site by somewhere between 25% to 50%, and they could probably save on some of the Pay-Per-Click ad clicks in the search engines as well! Imagine all the many ways that users might be searching for these products, and since Coke isn’t singing to the search engine for those terms, many other sites will come up as more relavent for the searches. For instance, a search for “coca-cola jewelry” has nothing from the official Coca-Cola site coming up on the first page of natural search results in Google. Likewise searches for “coca-cola glasses” and “coca-cola clocks“.

All of these sorts of problems are dirt-common in the online retail space. Coke has so much brandname goodwill built up that they’ll still get really good traffic through their website. However, they’re paying a lot to affiliates and to advertising fees for a multitude of keywords for which they could be getting free traffic. Learn from Coke’s example in this article and clean up these sorts of items – you’ll drive up your revenue and perhaps reduce your costs in the process.

We know that most top companies have trouble maintaining the focus, knowhow, and prioritization necessary to optimize their online catalogs. We have a solution for these barriers which can get sites optimized with virtually no internal effort and pain, and I’ll be outlining this solution in a follow-up article here tomorrow.

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