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Jun 09, 2003
How To

How Aubuchon Hardware Doubled Online Sales by Improving Search Engine Optimization: 5 Specific Tips

SUMMARY: Fascinating fact: Aubuchon Hardware revamped their site entirely in September 2002 specifically to encourage search engines to notice it. However, it took until well into November for the new site to have any affect. While optimization is definitely worth investing in, you have to wait 60-120 days for real results.
Aubuchon Hardware has been in business since 1908, has 140 hardware stores located throughout New England and upstate New York, and launched its first Website that included a store locator and history of the company, in December, 1999.

The site also had a link to Do it Best Corp., a hardware product distributor. When customers visited doitbest.com from the Aubuchon Hardware site, Aubuchon got a commission for any purchases made.

Because the initial focus was to function as a Corporate placeholder as much as anything else, Aubuchon's site did not have much content. Without content, there was no natural way for search engines to list it.

Instead the company relied on Overture and Google AdWords for pay per click advertising on certain products. These sent customers to doitbest.com product pages. The link had an affiliate code built in so that Aubuchon Hardware would receive its commission.

For all this work, the company was receiving credit for about 70 orders a day.

Aubuchon Hardware wanted more exposure and decided to rebuild its site to contain product pages, which would then forward buyers to Do it Best. "This was a great opportunity," Aubuchon says. "We wanted to make it as friendly to search engines as possible."

The revamped search engine-friendly site launched Sept 2002. It still depended on Do it Best for product info, distribution, and its sales engine, but its 70,000 product pages were now content on Aubuchon Hardware's site.

Results?

Aubuchon Hardware did not see much change in traffic and sales until November. That is when search engines, especially Google, took notice. When that happened, sales doubled overnight to 140 or so a day.

-> Here are 5 tips Aubuchon picked up when revamping the site:

#1. Build departments out on sub domains

Aubuchon Hardware's site is segmented by hardware departments, but all the department pages are built to be friendly with search engines. "Make sure URLs are static looking with no crazy session IDs or question marks," Aubuchon says. "If a URL does have a lot of queries like question marks, search engines fall flat on their faces when they try to crawl the site."

There is less opportunity of having departments on separate sub domains included in directories. Aubuchon Hardware would have to pick one department to list, but Aubuchon thinks it is more important to have good URL structure.

Here is another URL tip that will help with search engines: Always use keywords for department names instead of department ID numbers.

#2. Maximize internal links

Google gives importance to pages with links; whether the links come from external sites or internal site page links.

If Aubuchon Hardware had 30,000 links to one product page, such as the Garden Weasel, a favorite of late night commercials, "Google would say, 'The garden weasel is important to this company, look how many times they link to it,' and give it a better result," Aubuchon says.

Aubuchon takes advantage of its page count by putting a hot product list on every page. Those products, with something like 70,000 links, always rank higher than when not on the list, Aubuchon says.

#3. Integrate learning centers

Do not isolate how-to and learning centers in a separate area on the site. "If you have a garden hose article make sure it links to your garden hose products and that the products all link back to the how-to page," Aubuchon says. He takes this seriously. An article on installing ceiling fans links to 22 products, including ladders.

#4. Take a look at internal search functions

When people walk into a hardware store they expect to find a sales person, describe their problem, have it analyzed, and the products they need pointed out. "We're competing with retail stores, but if a customer tries to describe a problem the internal search engine falls on its face," Aubuchon says. "Ours is pretty bad."

Aubuchon's currently in the process of making one simple change to help: "We have a plain no-results-found message. We're going to change that to at least give some general suggestions on how to improve a search and our 800# where people can call."

#5. Promote your seasonal products

Aubuchon Hardware uses paid inclusion and PPC ads to promote its most successful seasonal products. It changes the products four times a year. Last winter it had a deluge of snow shovel orders when the South was slammed by snowstorms. "No retail stores sold them down there. People had to go online to find them."
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