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eCommerce (SEO) Domain Strategy

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eCommerce (SEO) Domain Strategy

What needs to be considered? There’s no shortage of path’s you can take with your domain along the way in creating & growing your online eCommerce business. I want to highlight what each decision encompasses and what might be right for your store -- the right way ultimately being the result that keeps new customers pouring in and buying your products.

The primary focus of this report emphasizes what you could classify as SEO value, but in addition to SEO value, it’s overall general value, experience and delivering on expectations to your visitors, which reinforces and helps with SEO.

There are a handful of topics to cover, and although this isn’t meant to be an all encompassing list it is meant to be a resource that can immediately be applied to different eCommerce businesses dealing with and strategizing on these very points. There are always numerous solutions to a problem, and the following doesn’t assume that other variations are wrong - although they could be - this is the path found through numerous efforts to be the most sound.


Domain Extensions

First things first, the domain extension. For nationally focused eCommerce brands this is a bit more straightforward, choose a domain name that reflects the brand name.

HubSpot also has a great article on this subject, one of their notable stats showing that 52% of all registered domains are .com! To further that investigation I reviewed a series of non-brand shopping based searches to help us determine specifically how this is different or the same for online product retailers; men’s apparel, cycling clothing, and women’s shoes. The test: how many sites have .com vs anything else? To review I scrubbed the 1st 10 pages (100 results) for each search - how many extensions were using something other than .com?


Investigation


Cycling Clothing

1. Wiggle.co.uk - Page 2
2. Wikipedia.org - Page 4
3. Rapha.cc - Page 6
4. Leknicks.cc - Page 6
5. Maap.cc - Page 6
6. Swrve.us - Page 7
7. Mavic.us - Page 7
8. Cutaway.us - Page 8
9. Eleven.cc - Page 8
10. Lapassione.cc - Page 10

Only 10% of the results used a variation other than .com, with a common variation of .us or .cc - 90% of the results were using .com!



Men's Apparel

1. Shopffa.org - Page 7 2.Donrodgersltd.net - Page 8

Only 2% of the results used a variation other than .com, 98% of the results were using .com!



Women's Shoes

1. Americanapparel.net - Page 9

Only 1% of the results used a variation other than .com, 99% of the results were using .com!



“Let’s not run away with the notion that .com is the only way to go, but when possible, go with the most recognizable extension.”

But there’s nothing left to choose from! Let’s discuss a common way to get around using a different domain extension through some examples, using the brand “Tony’s Shoes”. Doing a quick domain search for tonyshoes.com and tonysshoes.com shows they’re both taken, what now?

Try adding some additional descriptors without making the domain too much longer; gettonysshoes.com (available), gettonyshoes.com (available), buytonysshoes.com (available) - and so on.

A final example for variation is to add additional descriptors about the products or company offering. For this example, let’s just use the brand of jeans, Levis. If Levi’s were just getting into the online retail world and realized their levis.com address was gone, look for options like levisjeans.com or levisdenim.com. Try to limit the characters and not go too crazy like levisrealdenimjeansaresuperawesome.com, just use your judgement about how easy and memorable the name would be for someone to recall.

Nothing is one size fits all, and what makes sense for an online watch retailer will be different a retailer selling kids shoes. Keep those factors in mind when you have the chance to start from scratch.


Subdomains

The often under-considered, subdomains. This area has been one I’ve seen cause a number of serious difficulties, an Ecommerce business wants to separate the shop from the content sections through separate subdomains. It’s this exact reasoning that’s caused issues in previous experiences, I’ll illustrate through the case studies, the issues and also worthy correlation of subdomains like shop. variations against www (or root).


Investigation

Let’s first begin with the investigation, when performing searches for the examples used in our domain extensions how many times does the subdomain www (or root) vs all others like shop. or store. etc.


Cycling Clothing

1. shop.primalwear.com - Page 2
2. shop.ibex.com - Page 9
3. store.livestrong.com - Page 10

Only 3% of the results used a variation other than www (or root), with a common variation using shop. - 97% of the results were using www (or root)!



Men's Apparel

1. shop.nordstrom.com - Page 1
2. bananarepublic.gap.com - Page 2
3. shop.mlb.com - Page 4
4. store.bethsoft.com - Page 6
5. shop.bucks.com - Page 7
6. shop.denverbroncos.com - Page 7
7. shop.goheels.com - Page 7
8. insomniac.fanfire.com - Page 8
9. store.runkeeper.com - Page 8
10. shop.georgiadogs.com - Page 9
11. shop.nhl.com - Page 9
12. shop.huskers.com - Page 9
13. shop.uclastore.com - Page 9
14. shop.rolltide.com - Page 10
15. shop.usctrojans.com - Page 10
16. shop.goducks.com - Page 10

16% of the results used a variation other than www (or root), with a common variation using shop. - 84% of the results were using www (or root)! This was less of a landslide than other examples but still a very telling result as to the preference. They’ll be more to how this information is leveraged, as there’s always a good deal of mere correlation in the data but case study examples focus more on experienced issues than potential theories.



Women's Shoes

1. us.asos.com - Page 1
2. shop.nordstrom.com - Page 1
3. store.nike.com - Page 4
4. us.puma.com - Page 5

Only 4% of the results used a variation other than www (or root), with a common variation using shop. - 96% of the results were using www (or root)!

There’s nothing that says you can’t make it work with a store. or shop. variation subdomain, clearly some big-name brands are doing fine with it, though it’s still the exception. There are plenty of examples where a separated subdomain store front is performing fine, but similar to the domain extensions, if you can make it work with /store/ or /shop/, you’d be using a more common approach and lending value better across all pages of your site.


Country & Language Considerations

One thing that’s surely apparent to this point, there are a lot of different ways to setup domain strategy. Country & language is fairly to-the-point however, use a folder structure to identify the country and language, such as this example shows www.buytonysshoes.com/us_en/shop/ - using the first characters to apply the country code and the following 2 characters to define language of the resource (using an underscore or dash to separate).

What about country specific TLDs? In my research over the years on a number of large global retailers, 1 consistent TLD across the brand strengthens the website for every country, rather than leaving less performing countries in the dust.

Without giving specific names I’ll show 2 different clients with fake names dumped in and showing the 2 cases with who performed better than the other:

asia.bigsurfbrand.com
www.bigsurfbrand.co.bz
www.bigsurfbrand.com
www.bigsurfbrand.eu
shop.bigsurfbrand.com

vs

www.bigcyclingbrand.com/us_en/
www.bigcyclingbrand.com/ca_en/
www.bigcyclingbrand.com/fr_fr/
www.bigcyclingbrand.com/mx_es/

The “bigsurfbrand.com” example has in the recent past implemented the update to the below shown examples, away from country specific tld’s. If for no reason other than user experience, it’s worth it - but when considering the SEO impact of each country helping and supporting the other through it’s own localized efforts, it’s a no brainer on this one.


Global Definitions

Sticking with our focus of domain strategy, what other considerations need to be made and how are those reflected in the overall strategy?


Programmatic Rules

What’s a programmatic rule? Just as it sounds, if this happens, then do this. These types of rules are made to account for things like duplicate content, managing 1 single resource, among many others. Many programmatic rules are preprogrammed as defaults in systems like WordPress, but not all platforms do this, so you’ll want to ensure your rules are enforced, the below are the primary rules to set.


Closing Slash

The closing slash rule is stating whether your pages will end with / or not, such as: www.tonysshoes.com/shop or www.tonysshoes.com/shop/

There’s no right or wrong way to go with this option, but it’s important you choose. Our preference is always to close the URL, signifying the end of the string. However there’s no problem choosing to leave off the closing slash, but the call needs to be made in either case.


Subdomain

Once the subdomain preferences have been made, you’ll want to account for requests to pages that don’t match like: www.tonysshoes.com and tonysshoes.com -- all too often you can do both of these searches to a retailers homepage just to find that they both load. Search engines would consider this duplicate content, and even though they’re very good at determining which one to use (in most cases), you still have visitors - and potentially links - getting to different locations of the same page and diminishing the ability for it to rank.


Http vs Https

The last domain programmatic area to cover is whether you’re using http or https. Today we recommend online retailers to use https across the entire site. If you have an existing shop and want to make a switch to your URLs be sure to have a plan in place to account for redirects where URLs are changing.


In Closing

This outline serves as a baseline and guide for how to manage your domain strategy for success, and although you can take a different route than any one item outlined above, every variation introduces one more thing you must overcome as it’s not the most preferred route.


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