Akshay Matkar is the Head of Digital Marketing at Candere.com, one of the leading online jewelry retailers in India & also part of the $1.5B Kalyan Jewelers group.
Candere is built on Magento Commerce, primarily because of the flexibility it offers in connecting the back end processes. Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce or other platforms, Magento was selected because it supports the complex supply chain or the back end of Candere, that cannot be supported by other platforms. Magento does not offer any advantages from an SEO function, hence Candere completely relies on the expertise of their SEO team and 3rd party tools, to drive organic traffic to their online store.
Akshay & team rely on the Google Search console as the Holy Grail of understanding the results of their SEO efforts. An interesting note is that the team is not only interested in the organic traffic to their store, but also the market share of the search keywords where candere.com is visible. Market share was an interesting metric because it is a trailing metric. This means that the higher the market share of keywords for which you are visible today, the higher the increase in organic traffic into your site tomorrow. This is Brand visibility & they want to be seen for anything relevant to their market. Visitors may not click on the page url in search results, but have registered the brand name, which also improves brand recall. In less than 3 years, Candere.com has increased the market share visibility from less than 5% to over 15%, that’s a whopping 300% increase in brand visibility, with the efforts of this team, led by Akshay. In the battle for eCommerce, Google continues to be the biggest winner. Online jewelers have to pay between $0.5 to $2 per click to bring a unique visitor to their store. With that in mind, Akshay & his team have been a significant impact to the bottom line of Candere, by scaling organic traffic. While this did not happen immediately, their efforts for the past 2 years, have exceeded in returns if you were to look at how much they would need to spend on Google to bring in this traffic via Ad Words.
While Candere has made significant expansion in their organic traffic, Akshay is modest to agree that he looks up to his competition as they are still the leaders in organic traffic for the vertical. He especially compliments them on their URL structure, interlinking of pages & site performance that have all contributed towards better SEO ranking of the domain and the pages.
Akshay and team follow multiple strategies to improve organic traffic. A few keys areas are mentioned below
Fresh Content: The team continues to monitor the performance of all the listing pages and when they detect a downward trend, the team adds/edits content blocks on the pages to ensure the content is relevant to the relevancy of search queries.
Product Assortment: One of the challenges on platforms like Magento, is that the product sorting is static or sorted using a simple field like new, most sold, most viewed etc., Due to the nature of how visitors engage at on online store, the simple logic does not work across most pages. The lack of intelligent product sorting changes also leads crawlers to believe that there has been no change on the page. Akshay & team are in the midst of integrating technology that can help them automate this process at scale to contribute to page refresh & SEO ranking
Internal Linking: Akshay goes on record to say that if there are 100 parameters for SEO, internal linking is in the top 3. He feels this builds a hierarchy of the online store, to help a search engine better understand the structure of listing pages within an online store. For example, if an online store has over 1000 pages but each page is not linked to each other, this reduces the SEO juice that flows from the domain to the individual pages. While the IP behind how SEO scores are calculated will never be revealed, what Akshay says makes perfect sense. From an SEO standpoint, you can not treat each page with the same importance. Pages linked from the top navigation or another listing page should technically have more SEO juice that an individual page located only on the site map. Hence a page that is linked more across the online store, will attract more traffic, that contributes to the SEO score and that can attract organic traffic with better SERP rankings. Akshay added a word of caution that merchants need to balance the need for SEO vs. the expectations of the online visitor. He means while internal linking is more an SEO activity, it might confuse the visitor at your online store who could either be in the awareness, consideration or buying stage, by randomly clicking and being distracted in their journey.
Page Format: Merchants invest in SEO efforts across the home page, landing page, product listing pages and sometimes even product pages. From the breadth of experiments conducted by Akshay, he confirms that the product listing pages & the home page are what they invest their time for SEO optimization. Landing pages are not a great idea for SEO optimization but mainly used for other campaigns. Akshay did not spend time talking about product pages for SEO, but I am certain they follow the basics to check the boxes. Product pages are not a great source of organic traffic that converts.
SEO Content: If you have the right interlinking, page format, URL structure & product sorting, you would still NOT get a single organic visitor without the right meta content on the page. Adding content is time-consuming because if you add too much content and “Stuff” keywords, you might get initial visibility but as your bounce rates increase, your page ranking will decrease. Hence it is important to create unique listing pages with unique content. When Akshay originally mentioned about increasing their market share 3X, it has to also do with the time invested in creating unique pages to attract 3X more traffic across thousands of new search queries that address the exact segment served by Candere. While some merchants may not consider the products as content on the page, Akshay feels that there needs to be minimum content or 16 products on a page, before they invest time to optimize it for SEO. If you are not familiar with “thin content” here is a beginners guide to thin content
HTTP status codes: 301, 302, 202 etc., These signals are used by Search engines to ensure the crawler is efficient. It would be impossible for any search engine to crawl the internet without checks & balances in place. HTTP status codes is a very important part of making sure the crawlers are efficient in the requirement to gather data from the internet. The team at Candere fanatically ensures HTTP status codes are in place. They have internally built tools to manage 301 redirects because for an SEO team, URL changes are constant and they required an efficient way to manage them.
Google analytics: The team at Candere looks at GA as a source of data for Google, before considering it as a reporting tool. This belief pushed the team to invest time in the early part of 2017, making changes to ensure the data was captured correctly in their GA. This also led to the 3X increase in market share and a correlated increase in traffic. If you have incorrectly configured your GA, tracking partial or inaccurate metrics, Google would get that as input data in and consider those data points in their SEO scores for your domain & individual pages.
Tools for SEO:
Search engine optimization os part science, part math. While you can try & improve the ranking of existing pages, what about the pages that you are not ranked but your competitor is? Candere uses tools like SEO Profiler & Ahrefs to benchmark competitors and close the gaps. Ahrefs is used mainly for link analysis, which Akshay passionately shared earlier in the section of SEO requirements. SEO Profiler is used to continuously analyze the market, competition & Candere, to find errors, opportunities & gaps, in their existing SEO strategy.
He cautions to say that these tools are not silver bullets in SEO. Merchants should start with the basic package form such tools to check the basic SEO requirements in place first – URL structures, Page formats, HTTP Status codes, GA implementation & Content strategy. Once this is in place and the store is seeing a growth in traffic & engagement (low bounce, higher CTRs), only then should they invest in complete packages from these tools to put fuel into their SEO rocketship.
We close the conversation talking about AMP sites. While Akshay has observed a push from Google to migrate towards AMP sites, he has recognized that none of the major online retailers use AMP. While AMP makes your mobile store significantly faster in load times, it is done at the expense of removing all external plugins like chat, search, recommendations, popups et., that help drive user experience. While AMP may be helpful to online stores that are custom built and have everything else built in-house, it will hamper conversion rate of the merchant using platforms like Magento, Shopify etc., that rely on 3rd party tools to improve their online shopping experience. While Akshay does not reveal specifics, he says they are investing to improve the mobile shopping experience of their visitors as that is where over 80% are today
Using the above-mentioned tools, the team has created a master keyword list and have marked the search keywords wrt search volume, competition. The simple 2 X 2 matrix, helped them identify the low hanging fruit which they went after and acquired. As the market has matured, where most high volume, high competition keywords are addressed, they are moving across the matrix to address medium volume (short tail) & low volume (long tail) keywords. His experience long tail allows him to confidently say that the conversion rate for long tail keywords is 2X more than short tail keywords.
We closed the conversation, with Akshay sharing SEO conspiracy theories that involved some known entities. Ironically, I have felt the same & also heard the same from a few other merchants. More on that another day, when we both are no longer in our current roles, but for now. Its thank you.
About Tagalys: Tagalys helps SMB Mid Market online retailers using Magento & Shopify with high conversion category/product listing pages & Site Search.
About Candere: Candere by Kalyan Jewellers, is an initiative to make fine jewellery more affordable and accessible to you than it ever was. Candere’s philosophy is to offer customers extraordinary value on the largest inventory of fine jewellery and certified diamonds with the comfort, convenience and security of online shopping. It’s a world-class shopping experience from the convenience of your own home.