SEO of the 50 Biggest E-commerce Websites in the UK
The reason why we have looked into their SEO performance is because some believe that SEO has seen its glory days and is slowly losing its impact.
However, this is not what the data shows us.
Whether you believe SEO is critical to your site’s success or not, there is no denying that SEO holds the key to ranking in search engines. Studies show 43% of website traffic is driven by search rankings and 70%-80% of people actually ignore paid search results.
This article will describe the analysis of the study and start the analysis by investigating the development in the company’s SEO visibility score.
Let’s get started! :)
SEO factors in the analysis
We analysed the 50 biggest e-commerce sites in the UK using the following SEO criteria:
The above factors are often the starting points when you start working with SEO. As the analysis will show, some of the biggest e-commerce sites still struggle with these factors.
The above parameters are evaluated using a yes/no concept where all the websites are evaluated based on our best beliefs. However, there might be places where a site makes use of the correct H-tag structure but on other areas they do not. Therefore, the score is evaluated based on an overall impression.
- The SEO visibility score for the 50 websites on average decreased by 9.17%.
- The highest increase in SEO visibility is for Travel Republic (78.96%).
- The biggest SEO visibility decrease was seen for Itsu (92.75%).
- British Airway, EasyJet and ASOS are the websites with most incoming links due to high quality, shareable content.
- Companies are still lacking on technical SEO, long redirect chains and Hreflang were twoof the points that were especially surprising in the analysis.
- Looking at PageSpeed, the average scores were 75.14% for mobile and 58.16% for desktop. The best performers were Ticketmaster, Expedia and John Lewis.
- On the other hand, Tesco, Screwfix and Qvcuk have problems with PageSpeed. The worst we recorded was Itsu with a PageSpeed score of 43% on both mobile and desktop.
- The On-Page SEO analysis showed that websites still have major problems with URLs, H-tags and word counts below 300 words.
An SEO visibility score is a score of how visible a website is in search engines. The score is calculated using the number of keywords and how a keyword ranks on a website and the amount of traffic these keywords generate.
If you have keyword A in #1 position with 1,000 searches a month compared with a keyword B #1 with 10 searches a month, keyword A will bring in more value to the score.
The score is not perfect, because you can experience a drop in traffic while having an increasing SEO visibility score and vice versa. However, the score has its benefits:
- It shows overall trends in the market and for your website
- You can measure yourself up against competitors
In the analysis we have investigated the website’s SEO visibility for 1 March 2018 and 1 October 2018 and calculated the percentage difference to analyse how the website’s visibility evolves over time.
Overall, the 50 biggest e-commerce website’s SEO visibility scoreshave decreased by 9.17%. This means that the 50 biggest websites are less visible on search engines compared to six months earlier.
In total, 62% of e-commerce websites had a decreasing trend in their SEO visibility during the measurement period.
Top 5 biggest increases
The 5 biggest increases in SEO visibility are attributed to:
- Travelrepublic.co.uk +78.96%
- Riverisland.com +49.05%
- Littlewoods.com +40.81%
- Next.co.uk +32.74%
- Americangolf.co.uk +23.37%
Travel Republic is the e-commerce site with the biggest SEO visibility increase: 78.96%.
But, why did their visibility increase so much?
The data suggests it’s because they started ranking for more keywords. Using data from SEMrush, Travel Republic is ranking for 23.75% more keywords. However, what really counts is that they rank #1-3 for 97.74% more keywords. The higher you rank in search engines, the more traffic you get.
Looking closer at the keywords that they are especially ranking for:
- Branded terms
- Subcategory pages
But what does this mean for their traffic?
We do not have access to their Google Analytics, so we do not know the exact numbers. However, using data from SEMrush, we can estimate that travelrepulic.co.uk’s organic traffic has increased by 32.45%.
What is it that Travel Republic does well? And what can we learn?
By searching on “site:travelrepublic.co.uk/” on Google, we get a fast overview of the most important pages evaluated by Google. Have you tried this on your own website?
The image shows us that Travel Republic is doing a good job on both Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions. This is important since this is the first thing that the visitor sees when doing a search in Google. What’s more, if these are not optimised the user might click on one of your competitors.
One of Travel Republic’s biggest competitors in the SERPs is TripAdvisor, and these two are often fighting for the number one spot. A keyword such as “Cheap Hotels in Lanzarote” works well for both Travel Republic and TripAdvisor rankings.
When Google is evaluating which page is most relevant for the user, it considers many different factors. Even though TripAdvisor is stronger on many factors such as domain authority (92 authority vs. 71 authority) and has more properties to offer (512 properties vs. 495 properties, they lack on several other SEO factors, especially on-page SEO.
TripAdvisor does not have any unique content on this page. The only content they have is duplicate content that they have on a lot of other pages as well. This content type does not benefit their rankings in terms of SEO.
On the other hand, Travel Republic has done a good job writing unique content with many H2’s and links (the links are not shown in the picture) to their landing page about “hotels in Lanzarote”. This is also why they win the battle for this keyword.
Looking at TripAdvisor’s traffic, SEMrush has estimated a minor decrease (6.53%), which might be due to their reduced focus on SEO compared to their competitor, Travel Republic, that has stolen some of their traffic.
The five sites showing the largest decreases in SEO visibility are:
- Itsu.com -92.75%
- Houseoffraser.co.uk -77.93%
- Boots.com -57.46%
- Tesco.com -51.80%
- Rakuten.co.uk -42.01%
Itsu had the largest drop in traffic during the period from 1 of March 2018 to 1 October 2018. This drop might be due to several factors. The below graph shows the development of Itsu’s SEO visibility during the period.
Big drops such as these tend to be due to Google Updates.
During the period Google went public with the update “Speed update”, which penalises websites with a low PageSpeed.
Itsu has a PageSpeed score of 43% – it takes 16.4 seconds before the site is fully loaded. We normally recommend a PageSpeed score above 80%, which equates to a site load speed of two seconds or under.
Studies show that a website’s PageSpeed is one of the biggest reasons people bounce away. This tends to hurt your revenue, as we will describe in depth as we will describe in one of our next articles.
Taking a closer look into Itsu’s keyword development, they have in different weeks had drastic drops for important keywords. The below image shows these drops between 14 and 21 June.
Taking a closer look at why the first keyword “sushi” might have dropped, we find that Itsu has a poor on-page SEO since they have not optimised:
Internal link structure
Alt-texts on images
Conclusion & recommendations
The SEO visibility part of our study reveals clearly that even the biggest websites in the UK struggle with their SEO.
Especially Itsu, whose SEO visibility score has decreased by 92.75% in six months has experienced a significantly drop in their traffic.
To avoid these huge drops in your SEO visibility score we recommend you investigate your website’s PageSpeed and performance to find errors that might affect your SEO visibility.
If your website has technical errors such as a critically low PageSpeed (where it takes more than 15 seconds to load your website) it can cause a significant drop in your website traffic.
Assume that you have made the world’s most awesome content that everybody wants to read and share, but it takes 15 seconds to load it? Your bounce rate will sky rocket which will hurt your conversions and sales.
Furthermore, a good starting point for many companies to increase their SEO visibility is looking into On-Page SEO, where you optimise your content for the keyword(s) you want to target for your landing page. The analysis also showed that this was one of the areas where Itsu was lacking.
As a part of the analysis we investigated the incoming links of the UK’s 50 biggest websites. To investigate the number of incoming links we used a tool provided by SearchMetrics, although a similar tool can be found on SEMrush or Ahrefs.
Incoming links are still one of the most important factors in SEO. Therefore, every company who is working seriously with their organic traffic should work with a link-building strategy that can grow the number of referring domains that link to them.
It is to no surprise that big international websites such as Apple, Amazon, Ikea, eBay & Ryanair have the highest number of domain links to their website. Therefore, we skipped these to focus on UK e-commerce websites.
Top 5 websites with most incoming links
Here are the five websites with the highest number of incoming links:
- British Airways: 29,194
- EasyJet: 28,731
- Asos: 23,512
- Topshop: 14,704
- Rakuten: 14,044
Since all the above companies have websites targeting multiple countries, they are more attractive to link to than just a website that is present in UK.
Take British Airways as an example. It is writing a lot of content that people like to share and read. British Airways has a lot of incoming links to its “Get ready to fly” and “Inspire” pages.
This is content that is useful for people when flying. It is also information that people are searching for to be sure that they are ready for their flight.
ASOS is also writing quality, shareable content that encourages domains to link to them. The fashion brand posts daily content about new trends, new styles, new collections, which their users love to read and share.
Top 5 websites with the fewest incoming links
These are the five websites with the lowest number of domains that links to them.
- Itsu: 200
- thetrainline.com: 345
- lastminute.com: 415
- American Golf: 435
- HMV: 1213
The websites with the lowest number of referring domains can be considered as more niche websites (sushi, transportation, golf) compared to those websites at the top of the list. Therefore, they were also expected to have a lower number of incoming links.
Itsu is the website with the lowest number of referring domains to their website. Compared to ASOS they only post something on their blog twice a month, whereas ASOS does this every day.
Therefore, Itsu has a big potential here to start writing more shareable relevant content that people want to link to.
As a part of the analysis we have investigated 10 SEO technical parameters that can influence your website’s performance such as HTTPS, mobile friendliness and 404 errors.
Surprisingly is not all websites are mobile friendly, in spite of the fact that over 50% of all traffic and conversions today come from a mobile device. Therefore, if your website is not mobile friendly yet, you should consider making your website mobile friendly since you might miss out on a lot of potential traffic.
96% of websites use HTTPS. Surprised?
We strongly recommend that all e-commerce websites use HTTPS. Mind you, we often see some websites that are still not using the new secure version of the protocol – even in 2018. Use of HTTPS has a direct effect on rankings and it also signals trustworthiness. Studies have shown that customers tend to buy more on a site where the chances of getting hacked are lower.
Most surprisingly was that 80% of the websites had a long redirect chain when redirecting their frontpage from non-www. to www. and from HTTP to HTTPS.
The longer the redirect chain, the bigger is the link equity loss, which affects your rankings in Google Search Result Pages.
Furthermore, when considering that almost all the 50 biggest e-commerce websites are international sites that have sites in more countries, it was quite a surprise to discover that only 62% of them have implemented Hreflang.
Hreflang show search engines that there is a relationship between web pages in alternate languages. Implementing this tag can really boost your rankings.
More SEO technical results
What follows is a summary of the technical SEO findings on the sites we surveyed.
- HTTPS implemented – 96%
- Redirect correctly – 20%
- Mobile Friendly – 100%
- Robots.txt implemented – 100%
- Sitemap.xml implemented – 60%
- Schema implemented – 44%
- No 404 errors – 54%
- Custom 404 error page – 76%
- Canonical implemented correctly – 84%
- Breadcrumbs – 76%
- Hreflang – 62%
We were not particularly surprised that 56% of had not implemented Schema. Even though Schema were launched in 2011 many websites do not take advantage of it. Schema is a way to make search engines understand your content and provide the best possible search results at all times.
Adding Schema improves the way your page appears in search engine results pages. It does this by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed below the page title such as: reviews, location, time, etc.
Conclusion & quick wins
To create incoming links, you need to write content that people are looking to read and that can actually fulfil a need or answer potential questions they might have. Just like British Airways and their “Get ready...” lists and “Inspire” blogs where people get an understanding of what to expect when travelling to a certain area of the world. Incoming links are two of the most important ranking factors and it can make or break your rankings.
In relation to technical SEO we strongly recommend that websites investigate their redirect chain since only 20% of the 50 biggest e-commerce websites in UK redirected correctly.
A quick way to win the all-important click in SERPs would be to implement Schema. Not many companies today have implemented Schema. It can increase click-through-rate and it makes it easier for search engines to understand your content.
Lastly, if you are an international website with more sites in more languages, we strongly recommend you implement Hreflang since it shows Google that your websites are connected. This tends to boost your website authority and can help avoid duplicate content.
Performance (Google Pagespeed Insights)
To measure website performance, we are looking into website page speed, for which Google’s own Pagespeed Insights is the leading tool to use. (For a deeper analysis, you could also consider GTmetrix.)
Because there are so many different ways of measuring how fast a page loads, Google’s PageSpeed tool focusses on two specific events:
- Above-the-fold time to load
- Full page load
The average score for the websites according to PageSpeed was distributed like this:
- Desktop: 58.16%
(Note that whilst page speed experts know what constitutes a high page speed score and what does not, the precise calculation of the score is kept intentionally opaque by Google)
Top 5 fastest websites (sorted by highest score on mobile)
Below are the five pages that ranked highest on mobile page speed:
- Ticketmaster: 97/100 (mobile) + 95/100 (desktop)
- Expedia: 96/100 (mobile) + 90/100 (desktop)
- John Lewis: 95/100 (mobile) + 18/100 (desktop)
- Thomson: 93/100 (mobile) + 86/100 (desktop)
- First Choice: 93/100 (mobile) + 85/100 (desktop)
What is surprising to see is John Lewis with a score on 95 on mobile but only 18 on desktop, which incidentally is the lowest score for desktop of all 50 websites.
Top 5 slowest websites (sorted by lowest score on mobile)
Now, let’s take a look at the five pages with the lowest page speed scores (again, ranked by mobile scores) according to Google:
- Itsu: 43 (mobile) + 43 (desktop)
- Tesco: 44 (mobile) + 42 (desktop)
- Screwfix: 50 (mobile) + 70 (desktop)
- Qvc uk: 60 (mobile) + 26 (desktop)
- Asda: 60 (mobile) + 59 (desktop)
We recommend a page speed score of at least 80 for both mobile and desktop. If your score above 80 there is a big chance that your load time is lower than two seconds.
Today customers expect a website to load within two seconds. If a page does not load within two seconds it will several effects on your bounce rate. Studies have shown that the longer time the website takes to load the higher is the probability of the visitor bouncing away. Below is a visual representation of what this can mean to your bounce rate:
Furthermore, studies show that the conversion rate starts decreasing when the load time is higher than 1.65 seconds. One study showed that the conversion rate was almost 3% at a loading time of 1.65 seconds and below 1% when faced with a 10-second load time.
As the much-quoted Amazon study showed, one second of load lag time would cost them $1.6 billion in sales per year. D
o you know how fast (or slow) your website is loading? It might have a bigger effect on your sales than you first might think of.
Over the course of our study, we also evaluated 9 parameters related to the on-page SEO of the same group of websites.
None of the 50 websites had perfect on-page SEO and we found a lot of opportunities for optimisation for the websites.
The biggest challenges we found lay in:
- H-tags (headings and sub-headings)
- Word count (we recommend at least 300 words)
Having a good URL structure is both good for humans and search engines. Having short and precise URLs increases user experience and has a direct effect on rankings.
One of the websites that does not have a good URL structure is Debenhams
The URL does not tell me where I am, which is important for the user navigation and user experience.
This is also important in SERPs. Apple has a best practice URL structure that is short and precise. So, even if the Meta Title and Meta Description was hidden the customer will know what the results are about.
How a website uses H-tags is very important as they help a search engine understand what is key content and what is subordinate content. They must be structured correctly so that when a robot crawls a website for information on it, asking it questions about what it should (and should not) display, they need to be talking the same language.
The structure of a website is not the only important factor to consider: keywords within H-tags are also vitally important to ensure that Google’s algorithm understand what the topic is about and knows what to rank the page for. An example of a website that has a bad H-tag structure is Itsu.
Itsu’s landing page about “sushi” does not contain any H1 which means that the page basically is missing a heading to tell both users and search engines what this page is about.
However, they have several H2’s, although these H2’s do not contain the keywords they want to rank for on this page.
These are the following H2’s that Itsu has on their landing page for sushi.
This makes it harder for a search engine to understand what this page actually is about.
Only 38% of the website makes use of the right H-tag structure.
Another variable that Itsu is lacking on their page for “sushi” is content. In fact, 66% of all the websites in the analysis has less than 300 words on their landing pages.
Even though the analysis showed that 66% of the websites made use of proper multimedia such as good videos and images, it was only a few of these that had implemented videos to increase engagement on their website.
Content can take your website far, however nice pictures and videos can reduce bounce rate and increase time spent on page, which is two additional important factors for SEO.
One of the websites that understands how to combine multimedia and product is Apple.com.
Other results from the analysis show that 78% of the websites is using alternative text and has a good internal link structure.
There is no doubt that the UK websites have a good understanding of SEO. There is still a lot to optimise to, and the journey towards a high-performing page can be difficult and time-consuming. All the variables have an effect for how your website peforms in search engines. There are still some easy wins for which we have made recommendations below.
8 easy wins:
- Write amazing content that people want to read and share to increase incoming links.
- If you have a site with more languages, make sure to implement Hreflang.
- Install an HTTPS certificate.
- Make sure that you do not have long redirect chains. Redirect only once.
- Implement Schema to get rich snippets in your SERPs.
- Focus on page speed. Your website loses conversions and money for every second it loads slower.
- Make sure that your on-page SEO is perfect – every time.
- Think UX & Conversion rate optimisation nto the SEO work.
The bonus tip is: Automation.
Automate as much as possible in the world of e-commerce. We have often heard: “We have more than 100,000 products and we cannot optimise every single of them” . What you can do optimise content, titles and descriptions and a lot more that will help and move your rankings to the top.
If you are looking for SEO services for your company and would like to speak to one of our expert SEO consultants about how we can help you, please be in contact.