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.
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”:
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.
The 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.
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  :
- The title only says “Coca-Cola Store”, which is the link text that would appear in the Google search results if this page came up relevant to a user’s search – not only does this not communicate the page contents to users (likely resulting in lower clickthrough rates on that generic link), but it also results in not coming up as high as they could/should when users are searching for the specific type of content found on the page.
- Just as with the homepage of the store, there’s no META Description. For these product pages, Google will cobble together some of the visible text from the page in order to create a description snippet on the fly. Since there’s also not much other visible text on the page, this results description snippets which don’t look so hot:
- There are H1 tags on the page, but their text is not ideal: <h1>Red Square Recycled Glass Earrings</h1>. It probably would be better to put the Coca-Cola name in the H1 tag with the product name — if they did, this page might come up for long tail search terms like “Coca-Cola Earrings”. As it is, it doesn’t even come up in the results for a very precise query, such as “Coca-Cola Red Square Recycled Glass Earrings “.
- Instead of linking back to “Home” in the breadcrumb, it would be better to link text like “Coke Store” or “Coke Store Home”.
- None of the hyperlinked thumbnail images on the category pages have image ALT text, which is another lost opportunity to convey link weight for keyword terms to the product pages.
- The site is structured with unnecessarily long page URLs:
It’s believed that shorter URLs with far fewer subdirectories in the link will generally appear to be more important to search engines, since resources located closer to the domain name are typically more important in the site hierarchy.
- Keyword text in the URLs is using underscores to separate words: “Red_Square_Recycled_Glass_Earrings”. Search engines do not treat underscores as “white space” characters like spaces, tabs, dashes, colons, etc. So, Google searches for “Glass Earrings” will not appear as relevant to pages with “Glass_Earrings” in the URL as they would for pages with “Glass-Earrings” in the URL.
- Various navigational routes to site pages are resulting in multiple, duplicate URLs. For example, the text links for products on category pages are completely different than the image links to the same product:
- Once again, duplication reduces focus on the individual pages, and dilutes down the potential PageRank of every page on the site.
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:
- The site’s internal search engine isn’t set to automatically stem common variants of search terms, such as inclusing of plurals. For instance, I searched for “clocks”, and it found zero results . But, you can find eight items if you search for just plain old “clock”! Very bad! How many users would realize that their search engine doesn’t handle similar term associations very well? This has to result in fewer sales than they might otherwise get.
- Hitting the “BACK” button in the browser sometimes results in a blank page – the BACK button is really a core piece of usability which should be supported as much as possible — no excuse for this to be happening for the pages where it occurs in the Coke store.
- The lack of ALT text throughout the site causes a barrier to users who have display of images disabled in their browsers, or who are using audio browsers to read pages to them — so, lack of ALT text is not supportive of users who are visually disabled.
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.