by David Kirkpatrick
You might be running excellent campaigns across multiple marketing channels, and you could have a robust content strategy in place fueling your campaigns and website, but if you aren’t performing SEO marketing, at the very least you are missing out on the best way to get organic traffic — read: "free" traffic, so to speak — to engage with your site, content and marketplace offering.
Alfa Aesar, a research chemicals company, part of the Johnson Matthey group of companies, realized its almost 10-year-old website was underperforming in organic search and had been built in pieces — an issue common to older websites — rather than through an organized SEO strategy to maximize organic search reach.
Read on to learn the steps Alfa Aesar took to address a series of SEO issues and how that effort led to improvements in both organic traffic and revenue based on organic website visitors.
As a research chemicals company, Alfa Aesar has a continually growing product line of 46,000 chemicals, metals and other materials stocked in warehouses around the globe.
John Shirley, Global Marketing Operations Manager, Alfa Aesar, said, "Our customers are research chemists, other scientists doing researcresulth and materials scientists — all sorts of scientists. Anyone who needs the raw material, whether it’s a chemical or piece of metal or some powders [or] inorganic compounds, we have it in stock and we can get it to you."
He added orders can be fulfilled by the next day in the major industrialized parts of the world.
Just the sheer amount of products and the complexity of those product names in the case of various multi-syllable chemicals posed something of an SEO issue, exacerbated by the team's lack of engagement in search engine optimization.
Shirley explained, "We lost track of search engine optimization and the importance of it, and our site was built with certain functions in mind to serve the globe and offer multiple languages."
He added that changes in management a couple of years ago also changed tracking and management of performance, which at that point, was not happening on the Web. He said, "We just basically lost track of [website performance]."
Part of the solution was finding a third-party vendor to help with SEO, but also to take a more active role in improving organic search with a new set of goals.
This included better SERP (search engine response page) results for Alfa Aesar’s thousands of chemicals, growth in website conversions and sales and essentially seeing an impact on the company’s bottom line that could be tracked back to organic traffic.
Step #1. Find, and fix, duplicate indexed webpages
Technically in Alfa Aesar’s case, the pages weren’t exact duplicates, but the search engine crawlers indexing the website registered the pages as duplicates. The issue was that the same page was rendered in multiple languages to serve the company’s international marketplace.
"That was seen as spam by Google because they saw it as duplicate pages," stated Shirley.
Because of this, Google stopped indexing those pages, which began impacting search rankings.
The solution was to use robots.txt so that only one version of each page was indexed, and the rest were still available for website visitors but no longer indexed by the web crawlers.
Shirley said, "We told Google to really focus on the one master page and not to see it as duplication. This allowed us to continue to handle multiple languages the way that we do."
Step #2. Add website content in the form of new landing pages
Before the revamped version of the site, visitors could not scan Alfa Aesar’s total product listings. Instead those products had to be found through a site search.
To improve this issue, the team added over 600 category landing pages where visitors can go to a specific category and then drill down into sub-categories.
For example, the main category might be chemicals with a subcategory including inorganic chemicals, down further to nanoparticles
and finally to a terminal landing page that lists the products under that final category.
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Each of the category landing pages has a 200 to 300 word synopsis with photos, product listings
and potentially some marketing collateral.
According to Shirley, the next phase of this stage is to add content pieces such as white papers, applications, notes, literature references and rich content on a product specific level.
He explained, "When you get a product detail page, you’ll see a lot more depth and content than you currently do."
Step #3. Improve on-site search
Along with adding new content in the form of category pages, the team also improved the on-site search engine to let visitors conduct enhanced keyword-rich searches.
The older search engine queried four or five fields in the database, and the new engine expanded that reach to eight to 10 fields in the database.
Shirley said, "In addition to that hierarchy of categories that you can drill down into, we also enhanced our existing search engine on our site to be able to do more keyword-rich searches."
Another improvement was an expanded use of synonyms and alternate names for Alfa Aesar’s many products. This stage also included adding the chemical abstract number of each product to be searchable as well.
A final impact of the improved search is that the expanded list of search fields will be the focus for the ongoing content strategy, outlined in the previous step.
Step #4. Improve webpage header tags
This stage in the SEO effort took a while, because Alfa has a complex site with dozens of different page layouts and templates.
In order to address this issue, the team went through a process of:
- Defining the focal theme of each page
- Identifying key phrases that indicated the focal theme>/li>
- Ensuring that SEO efforts on the headers for search visibility also matched the marketing emphasis
A key part of the process was unwinding the old header setup, which included nearly identical templates conveying the same content structure. For example, a template for organic chemicals would relate to a template for inorganic chemicals.
Those templates would have different headers schemes, which meant the fix had to be accomplished manually for each page since there was no way to perform a global "find and replace" of all the H2 headers with H1 headers.
One anecdotal benefit (there was no actual testing done on the theory) from the team was that Google rewards websites with thorough schema tagging to the tune of two or three places per keyword. At Alfa Aesar, the improved webpage schema and fixed header tags achieved a 15% lift in search impressions and 10% lift in clickthrough rate.
Step #6. Take advantage of analytics
Although the team is not actively involved in A/B split testing and optimization, Shirley says there are manual tests where a random keyword is picked and tracked for performance.
Shirley says Google Analytics is the main tracking tool, although there are plans to add additional metrics tools to track organic search KPIs such as:
- Conversion rate
- Number of unique visitors
- Organic search results
The SEO efforts covered in this case study took place over a five-month period and are still ongoing to keep improving organic search results. The first stage of the ongoing SEO improvement includes beefing up the amount and quality of content on product category landing pages.
The tracked metrics from the effort include:
- A 33% increase in organic traffic
- A 25% increase revenue directly tracked to organic search
On getting the entire effort off the ground Shirley said, "Pay attention to your metrics because it was so obvious once we turned the lights back on. [Letting SEO slide] was due to a management change — a gap, a downtime in anybody taking ownership of that."
He added that along with beefing up the content, another ongoing focus is an upgrade of the website’s infrastructure and most likely a move to the cloud for security and maintenance reasons.
- Category landing page — nanoparticles
- Product listings on category landing page
— Alfa Aesar’s SEO vendor
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