Furniture brands have a variety of challenges when selling online, and the world of search engine optimisation (SEO) can seem suspiciously complicated – but it needn’t be, writes Martin Calvert, marketing director at digital agency ICS-digital …
For independent brands with comparatively small marketing teams, in particular, it can be challenging to know where to begin (or begin again, if you’ve been burned in the past). Even if you’re under way with an SEO strategy, how do you know you’re doing the right thing? And how can you be sure you’re prioritising enough on ‘the right thing’ to make a difference to sales?
More than this, for those with channel partners and retailer relationships, becoming ‘too successful’ in selling direct online can lead to competition with your own stockists – an uncomfortable position.
In this article, I’ll try to highlight some of the ways furniture retailers can: understand the fundamentals of SEO, and what it takes to earn rankings that increase sales; create the right content, and benchmark SEO performance against competitors; and remove the risk of wasteful allocation of limited marketing resources.
The first thing to say is that while there can be a lot of jargon (and no shortage of misinformation and outdated advice), SEO in 2023 is in many ways more straightforward than it has ever been.
The fundamentals of SEO
Google and other search engines have become much better at identifying quality content that helps customers – and that’s the focus of most of the Google algorithm updates that you might see hitting the news.
What this means is if your site is fast, logical to navigate, has compelling content that answers the questions of potential customers and makes it comparatively easy for them to buy from you, you’re probably already ‘doing’ SEO in some capacity.
But why prioritise SEO? Establishing a robust online presence helps both small and large furniture sellers and manufacturers to build trust and shape buying decisions. As such, SEO can play a pivotal role in enhancing visibility and driving organic traffic without overspending on ever-more-expensive ads.
Ads are becoming more and more pricy, and paid acquisition can become an addiction – and of course, if you stop paying, you stop getting the traffic. With SEO, the idea is you’re building long-term, sustainable, direct traffic to your site that of course has to be maintained by the right strategy, but doesn’t mean you’re paying for each and every click.
However, for those new to SEO or with limited resources, the goal must be to focus on the fundamentals: content that’s timely, relevant and (where possible) showing evidence of Google’s favourite term, E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trust; content that helps customers make an informed decision to buy; a site that is objectively easy to use, fast, secure and with a seamless mobile experience; and a site that is linked to by other topically relevant sites on the internet due to its value.
For the remainder of this article, I’m going to focus on those first two points, and how to get started with a competitive content strategy based on keyword research and comparative analysis.
Creating content and benchmarking against competitors
Lots of companies make the mistake of taking an ‘inside-out’ view of marketing and SEO, rather than ‘outside-in’. What this means is they’re talking about products and services in a way that reflects their views – not the views, queries or needs of their customers, or multiple types of customer (even very identifiable/exclusive brands have multiple audiences they can sell to, and SEO helps to capture their interest – but you must be responsive to how different users search, and anticipate the content that will bring them closer to becoming a customer).
For those who love their products and are proud of their quality and innovations, this can be a difficult shift – you might even be frustrated and think ‘why do customers care about X and not Y?’.
Whether it’s everyday searches based on practical matters like cost, delivery time, returns, reviews and product types, or more specific queries, perhaps related to allergens, sustainability, materials and so on, there’s a lot of areas you could focus on. In SEO, it’s important to put ego to one side and respond to what customers are searching for – not what you would like them to be searching for.
So, how do you uncover these search terms, and prioritise accordingly? The good news is that it is easier than ever to uncover keywords, the volume of monthly searches and even estimations of their cost if you were to bid on them through PPC advertising. Tools like Ahrefs, Semrush and many others are reputable, straightforward and not outrageously expensive.
While they are often used by SEO agencies and consultants, there’s absolutely no barrier to internal teams getting to grips with them, and the learning curve is comparatively low, so don’t be discouraged or think these tools are just for the ‘experts’. Each will allow you to identify keywords that you may not already rank for, and compare and contrast the keyword rankings of competitors. This could allow you to uncover clusters of keywords that competitors are prioritising due to their commercial value, and if competitors can rank for these high-value terms, it could be a good indication that your brand can too.
In this case it’s not just a case of ‘follow the leader’, but using the keyword and competitor information available to make decisions about where you can and should compete – therefore adding more confidence to the SEO strategy, and allocating potentially slim resources effectively, with an eye on ROI (undertaking keyword analysis should guide the type of content you create, but don’t be tempted to ‘keyword stuff’ and derail ‘good’ content with a scattershot approach).
Illustrating experience, expertise, authority and trust (E-E-A-T) in your product, category and blog content is the best approach. The most effective furniture brands go further to be guided by the trends and gaps they spot in keyword and competitor research. In doing so, it is possible to remove guesswork and develop a more confident content strategy to drive furniture sales online.