Should You Copy A Top Site’s SEO?

Big sites like Amazon.com can teach us a lot about SEO…or can they? Contributor Tom Schmitz gives us the lowdown.

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Should your SEO emulate the same optimization found on top websites?

To answer this question, look at Amazon.com.

Amazon.com is in the business of SEO. It may employ more SEO professionals than any other company; if not, it is right up at the top. Amazon incorporates SEO into everything, both manually and programmatically.

As one of the most trafficked sites — a website with hundreds of millions of indexed URIs — it enjoys the luxury of being able to test more things than most other websites, and at a deeply nuanced level.

If that is true, then copying Amazon.com’s SEO is a no brainer, right?

Not so fast!

Consider the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. According to the model, there are five levels of aptitude.

  1. Novice
  2. Advanced Beginner
  3. Competent
  4. Proficient
  5. Expert

If Amazon.com is an SEO expert, then according to the Dreyfus model, it “transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims.” Amazon has a deep situational awareness and understanding of:

  • How search engines behave
  • Amazon.com’s content
  • Amazon.com’s authority
  • How search engines respond to Amazon.com’s on-site optimization
In other words, Amazon.com knows when to break rules like the ones in beginner and advanced SEO guides. Want proof? Let’s look at Amazon.com’s homepage.

Title Element

Amazon.com: Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more

This title is 83 characters long. In the search engine results pages (SERPs), Google cuts it off, and Bing merely displays Amazon.com – Official Site.

amazon.com Google search engine listing amazon.com Bing search engine listing

While 83 characters is not terribly long, it is clear Amazon.com is not worried about exceeding what the search engines will display. It knows most searchers arriving on their site are doing so via navigational queries.

When people see the homepage, they know what Amazon.com is and they know this is their destination. Even if the homepage is not the specific page visitors want, Amazon.com has world class site search. Anyone who has spent time on the site is likely to be as comfortable using Amazon.com’s site search as they are using Google or Bing.

Meta Description

Online shopping from the earth’s biggest selection of books, magazines, music, DVDs, videos, electronics, computers, software, apparel & accessories, shoes, jewelry, tools & hardware, housewares, furniture, sporting goods, beauty & personal care, broadband & dsl, gourmet food & just about anything else.

Why would anyone write a 304-character meta description? Usually the only place meta descriptions appear are in the SERP listings. But this is Amazon.com. With millions of affiliates, authors and vendors, it knows the meta description will be copied onto many websites.

image005 Given that fact, it makes sense to include a complete marketing message that will act like a billboard wherever it travels.

H1

There is no H1 element on the homepage.

When you SEO optimize a homepage, do you include a keyword targeted H1 headline? If so, why would Amazon.com not?

Amazon.com’s homepage enjoys massive link authority,

  • Moz ranks Amazon.com #12 on its list of the web’s most important sites
  • It has a Page Authority of 97 and Domain Authority of 99
  • There are 3.6m followed links from 118k root domains to the page

The content on Amazon.com’s homepage changes constantly and it becomes instantly relevant for whatever appears on it.

Perhaps its testers found the presence of an H1 tag

  • Narrows the page’s relevancy
  • Prevents the page from appearing in more search results than the page does without an H1
  • Lowers organic search traffic

Only Amazon.com knows for sure, but you can bet its SEO team tested something as basic as an H1 headline.

Other H# Tags

I will be the first to agree H# tags have limited SEO value, though I like to build pages with thoughtfully optimized H2 and H3 elements.

amazon.com h2 tags The headlines on this homepage look written for humans with little regard for search engines.

Rich Snippets

Amazon.com displays a lot of star ratings. And, of course, it has a shopping cart. image009

As an SEO, this is where you consider placing machine readable markup (e.g., schema.org) in the HTML. I checked the home page, the review page and the product page for The Duchess HD DVD. I only found markup on the canonical URI product page.

image011

This makes sense if you do not want competing rich snippets throughout a website, except I checked a Nikon camera shown on the homepage, and it had no rich snippets in its product page. There seems to be a lack of consistency.

Footer Links

I recommend deep consideration of the footer. This usually means getting rid of gratuitous links. Look at Amazon.com’s footer. image013

Every link serves a purpose. Also, when you visit the Amazon.com-owned websites, they do not link back to all these sites, creating a cross-link network.

Still, there are 68 links in the footer. Is Amazon.com trying to send SEO authority to all these sites, or is it demonstrating what a great company it is? Acknowledging that most businesses do not own 12 foreign sites and 35 subsidiaries, most sites should not have 68 footer links.

On-Page Links

According to the web developer toolbar, there are 368 links on the homepage. Though Google dropped its 100-link limit long ago, would you place 368 links on your homepage?

On-Page CSS

There is a huge chunk of CSS in the HTML as well as inline CSS. Most optimizers would move this to an external file.

Final Thoughts

Since going further will descend into nitpicking and minutia, I will stop here, but I hope you see the point: just because a website performs well in search does not make it a good model for another website’s SEO. It can lead to poor decisions that negatively affect rankings and visibility.

I do not want to completely discourage you from looking to Amazon.com or other sites for ideas and inspiration. Just make sure that when you do, you have a strong foundation of knowledge and can critically assess what you find.

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