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The eCommerce Avant-Garde

The eCommerce Avant-Garde

A recent video from Scott Galloway and his team at L2inc sparked some conversation in Huskies this week. For those not familiar with the work of L2inc, they’re a business intelligence firm focusing specifically on the digital performances of brands. L2inc churn out some really insightful reports and are definitely worth checking out, particularly the videos featuring Scott, the company’s brilliantly deadpan founder.

What interested the team here in Huskies was the praise given to US retail giant Home Depot. In the three-minute short, Scott talked in admiration of the homeware chain after their Q1 results were recently published, showing huge growth in online sales of 21.5%. This follows on from an already hugely profitable 2015, where the company brought in $4.7 billion through its eCommerce activities.

This growth has now placed the company firmly in the top 10 biggest eCommerce retailers in the US – behind only Amazon, Walmart, Apple, Staples and Macy’s.SEO1                                               Figures in millions of $

 

We’re maybe all already aware of Home Depot’s vast empire, but our association with the brand may only extend as far as their brick & mortar stores. Many outside the US are probably not aware of their slick eCommerce enterprise. For a company engulfed in an industry traditionally so detached from digital, their performance is mightily impressive.

This led us to ask the question, can any traditionally brick & mortar Irish retailer hold their hands up and say they’ve managed to transition through the eCommerce boom as well as Home Depot, relatively speaking? We decided to benchmark the state of Irish eCommerce in terms of SEO performance, using the homeware and DIY sector as an example.

So, returning to Home Depot, what are they doing so well?

Let’s start with their website; a shiny example of a well executed online store. It attracts an estimated 52.7 million visitors per month from organic search in the USA, which, to give a crude yet somewhat insightful measurement, equates to roughly 17% of the population (52.7/319).

The overall US traffic coming to this website is likely to be far higher, estimated by Similar Web to be close to 118 million, being supported by their strong brand, well executed PPC campaigns and referrals from an affiliate partner program.

But in terms of SEO and driving this organic traffic, these guys are doing it right.

According to our data, Home Depot currently hold first position for approximately 2,284,200 keywords – excluding all versions of the company’s brand name. The 10,000 most valuable of these having an accumulated monthly query volume of 30,500,850 in the US. This means that a huge portion of these keywords relate directly to generic product and “how to” queries – queries we can assume are likely to end with a significant portion of conversions.

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           Sample of Home Depot #1 Rankings in the US Source: Custom Snapchat Filters

 

Home Depot get granular with their product listings, ensuring that the right pages are there to match the various long-tail queries being made by would-be DIY aficionados. Let’s take a look at their “Lawn & Garden” section for example. Category pages for a wide variety of products exist, with even more specific sub-categories ensuring that a page exists for practically anything garden-related you could possibly need, provided there is sufficient demand.

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If we click into “Garden Plants & Flowers”, we can see a clear example of the extent of the categories. We are presented with an impressively structured plant directory – groupings from evergreen trees to flowering shrubs, and from vegetable plants to flowering house plants. They even split these sub-categories into particular breeds.SEO4

Once on the product pages, the information available here is rich and features really useful user-generated content, which is not only helpful to the shopper, but reinforces the topical relevance for each page.

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But it’s not only long-tail product searches that the company are nailing (excuse the pun). They’ve got a vast range of helpful advice and useful tools in their “DIY Projects & Ideas” section. Every aspect of home improvement and DIY is covered, from planting your own organic garden to unclogging a sink. Tools like “Interior Paint Calculators” or “Flooring Calculators” are huge traffic drivers and Home Depot provides them to the user wherever necessary.

The seamless intricacy of their content and their online sales is bridged expertly by providing shopping lists of all the necessities for each project, giving the visitor the ability to get the task underway quickly by dumping them in the shopping cart.

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We could go on all day about the time and expertise that went into this website, but this quote from Home Depot’s Head of SEO, Sean Kainec, probably sums it up best:

“It’s really about finding the customer, and what it is that they’re searching for. We don’t look at just products. Our content strategy really works around “how to repair”, “how to paint”, “how to spruce up your home”, new styles. It just really centres about what our audience are doing to their homes.”

Even Home Depot’s Canadian site is attracting the equivalent of 9% of the country’s population at 3.5 million visits per month, with a far more limited reach of their brick & mortar stores.

And if Home Depot are the force to be reckoned with West of the Atlantic, who’s setting the pace closer to home in the UK, another intensely competitive market?

 

B&Q and Homebase  

 

Both B&Q, cleverly operating under the domain name of DIY.com capturing both generic “DIY” traffic as well as brand traffic, and Homebase have become the dominant resources for all things DIY in the UK.

DIY.com attracts approximately 7.5 million organic visitors per month (12% of the UK population) and Homebase.co.uk welcomes slights less at 6.7 million (10.5% of the UK population).

Both are employing a similar strategy as Home Depot – impressively granular product categories and sub-categories, robust quantities of helpful content, and a seamless relationship between the two. It could even be argued that B&Q’s website is much more appealing and just as well developed as Home Depot’s, with their faceted navigation and useful content.

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We can see in the above two screenshots the laser-focused “Garden Sheds” categories on the B&Q website.

 

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And above, notice the seamless relationship between content and purchases provided by Homebase.

Both B&Q and Home Depot realise the value in mirroring their respective websites with their customers’ needs and wants. Homebase are not far behind either.

So back to our original question, are Irish retailers adapting to the growing importance of eCommerce as well as their international counterparts?

While there may be a few exceptions, the answer is predominantly no. The general execution of SEO from Irish eCommerce retailers pales in comparison to their multinational competitors.

What does the future hold for native businesses when companies like Home Depot want to dip their toes into the Irish market?

Well, the Irish market is already awash with large multinationals like these cleaning up in the organic rankings. Astoundingly, some of those hoovering up organic traffic have not even begun to deliberately focus on this market yet, as we discuss below.

Homebase and B&Q do operate stores in Ireland, but they are yet to truly launch an eCommerce operation here (although this may change due to the recent takeover of Homebase by Australian DIY giant Bunnings).

The “Ireland” sections of their UK sites exist merely to provide information about opening hours, store finders or ordering brochures. They exist as minuscule particles of a vast UK-focused behemoth. The Irish customer cannot make purchases through the sites.

Yet astoundingly, their UK targeted sites are unintentionally competing with Ireland’s dominant DIY store – Woodies DIY in the Irish search engines. Despite not even having an eCommerce presence here, both companies are taking traffic away from a company that should own this space. We can below a comparison of the estimated organic Irish traffic to these three sites:

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Of course, Woodies are still attracting more visitors. But what would happen if B&Q or Homebase were to actually implement their UK strategies across the Irish Sea? The eCommerce operations of Woodies DIY would surely suffer serious repercussions.

 

Woodies DIY

 

Let’s look specifically at Woodies. They earn an average monthly organic traffic of 137,000, equating to 3% of the Irish population. Although this metric we’re using is quite subjective, home improvement and DIY is an industry that is shopped in by almost all of the country. Therefore comparisons with the higher visits:population ratios of its international counterparts may, in fact, give some insight into the potential missed opportunities for online growth.

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Another interesting insight is that Woodies’ online operations rest significantly on the performance of their brand, with 93% of all organic traffic to the site stemming from searches relating to the firm’s brand name. This means that approximately only 7% of their total traffic is coming from searches for actual products.

It’s all well and good attracting large volumes of organic visitors to your site, but if the majority were intending to find your company anyway, then you’re not tapping the large quantities of potential customers who were looking for the actual product, service or even the piece of advice. We can somewhat conclude that much of the performance of the site is down to strong above-the-line branding, rather than an effective digital strategy. Not to mention a lack of domestic competition.

Now it’s not that Woodies are completely off the mark. They do have their wide inventory split into specific categories. But these categories are neither granular enough, acutely optimised, nor do they provide enough content to really stand out in the eyes of Google. In other words, it’s lacking thoroughness.

They too have also tried to crack the “how- to” nut with the creation of various guides and videos, but it’s failing to attract visitors for a number of reasons.

The SEO strategies reaping so much success for B&Q and Homebase in the UK, and also Home Depot in the US, mean that their dominance is spilling over into Irish searches – despite not even trying! Below are some examples of where better optimised international websites are invading the spaces that we’d expect Woodies DIY to be dominating:

 

They’re taking over Lighting

Bedside Lamps: 390 searches p/m

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Lamp Shades: 880 searches p/m

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They’re taking over Wallpaper

Bedroom Wallpaper: 210 searches p/m

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Bathroom Wallpaper: 170 searches p/m

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They’re taking over Gardening

Garden Ornaments: 480 searches p/m

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Garden Storage: 260 searches p/m

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They’re taking over Storage

Shelves: 720 searches p/m

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Bathroom Cabinets: 720 searches p/m

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While the search volumes for the above products may seem low, this is tiny sample of an extremely large inventory. Accumulatively, the lost traffic, and ultimately revenue, is certainly significant. Woodies do not even place in the top 100 results for “Garden Sheds” in Ireland, wholly contrasting with B&Q’s domination of the many variations of this product in the UK.

In many retail verticals, we see utter online domination by slicker, better-organised foreign companies – whether it’s Harvey Norman in electronics, Sports Direct in sportswear or IKEA in furniture. The list goes on.

What is a worry for Irish eCommerce is that there is little innovation occurring. Many attempts at an eCommerce strategy appear to be merely exercises to “keep-up”with the competition, rather than compete.

Our indigenous retailers’ eCommerce potential is not being realised, because maybe digital media has not yet been placed at the heart of marketing & sales strategies in Ireland.

We must ask ourselves, why is it that the Irish market is awash with international brands capturing the traffic that Irish retailers are so easily forfeiting?