Discount online retailers Overstock is no stranger to search struggles. It was one of the larger sites to be hit by a link penalty back in 2011. And in 2015 the company blamed Google for its 18% stock price drop after being hit by a ranking decline following a Google algorithm update. In 2017 and through early 2018 Overstock also saw some significant declines in its Google search rankings.
In Overstock’s first-quarter earnings call in March, the executive team shared a slide from SEMRush data that showed how traffic in the category of home and garden had been struggling. But it also showed a major turnaround in late 2018.
In fact, the past year has seen Overstock’s Google organic rankings climb 97% year-over-year. We spoke with Seth Moore, chief strategy officer of Overstock, and Nate Auwerda, the company’s chief technology officer, and they credited technical changes, user experience improvements and refreshing and consolidating a lot of the 20-year old site’s content for the reversal.
Winning elements: UX and Content
Moore and Auwerda credited mostly the user experience and content improvements the company made over the past year or so. The company had already spent a lot of time around technical crawl issues that enabled the company to build a solid foundation around SEO, giving them quick early gains by implementing technical fixes for those issues.
On the UX side, Overstock focused on speed, site architecture and overall usability. One example was that the company was able to reengineer its personalization machine learning models so that the images tailored to the user were more personalized to the specific visitor. Not only was the experience more personalized but the speed at which this personalization was able to run at was well optimized and thus speed improvements were seen across the site’s pages both on desktop and mobile.
On the content side, the company spent a lot of time refreshing older content throughout the site. That included not just consolidating old, duplicative pages of content but also reworking older content. The company is about 25-years old and some of the content around, for example, mattress technology is outdated. Overstock would rewrite that content from the ground up, which would lead to a more authoritative, accurate and trusted piece of content. And Overstock had a lot of older, legacy and somewhat dated content that they invested a lot of time and effort rewriting.
Getting a boost from the algorithm
If you look at the SEMRush data, which Overstock confirmed to be correct, Overstock saw another huge increase in organic keyword rankings in Google after the June 2019 core update touched down on June 3 Here is a chart from SEMRush that shows the increase, in June and the month is not even over yet:
Seth Moore said the June 2019 core update was “very positive for us.” Even more so he said “there is more room for us to grow” based on looking at their 2016 and 2017 keyword data.
But previous core updates, like the one in March, also helped Overstock a bit according to the chart above, but they did lose 41% of their top 3 keyword placements across the board during that update.
Google also rolled out the diversity update during the time they rolled out the June core update. This update also largely benefited Overstock because the company did not have many duplicative listings in Google search, Overstock told us.
Moore said the company has seen a 51% increase in organic traffic year-to-date and a 97% increase in organic traffic year-over-year. This has led Overstock to reduce their cost on some paid ads, including some search ads, while driving higher converting traffic to its site through organic search.
Auwerda said they have learned to always be thinking about how they can make the website more useful and better for the end user. They no longer think about “chasing the algorithm” and are no longer reactive to Google algorithmic changes. Instead, the company is fully focused on building a user experience that is above and beyond for the Overstock customer, he said. And based on the past year’s results, it seems like that strategy has been working out pretty well.
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