Chocolate is one of those product families that seems to be really taking off for digital in a way not always reflected in other grocery goods. The higher end of the market in particular is really starting to hot up – recent estimates mentioned by Nestlé predicted that the premium chocolate market would be seeing 8% growth in coming years, so this isn’t something that’s going away soon.
With space on conventional retail shelves taken up by more mainstream offerings, a lot of luxury chocolate brands are taking to digital in order to realise their growth ambitions. Not surprisingly, this often results in a high investment in search marketing in order to capture customers at the appropriate time in the buying cycle when quality and variety starts to outweigh price point considerations.
From gifts to self-indulgences, #4PsEye decided to take a look at some key players in the premium and luxury chocolate markets to see how their onsite SEO was holding up. We picked five brands who were lurking around the top of the SERPs for terms associated with luxury chocolate to see how they performed with a sample of 100 related high volume general query terms collected via our trusty SERP sampler, Stat. Our data visualisation expert Jenny then had great fun making these delicious illustrations.
In this particular case the sampled visibility levels were so similar between desktop and smartphone devices that there was no point in treating them differently. Of the brands we looked at, Godiva, Green & Blacks Direct and Artisan du Chocolat were fully responsive; Hotel Chocolat and Thorntons both operate a separate set of mobile URLs.
Of course the usual caveats about this style of visibility sampling – that it is only a UK SERP snapshot, doesn’t take into account universal results and personalised search etc – still apply!
Artisan du Chocolat
Firmly at the bottom of the visibility pile is Artisan du Chocolat. Even a cursory glance around the site means it isn’t hard to see why. Individual product pages aren’t badly executed from a technical point of view (and as an aside, the product photography is outstanding) despite the outdated structured markup.
The heavy lifters for visibility, category landing pages, however, are often missing such basic fundamentals it is a wonder they’re visible at all. H1s, informative and clickworthy meta data and copy are often poor or absent altogether. Images are missing alts.
Product listing pages are loaded down with confusing calls to action that will almost certainly be confusing crawlers too; a single product listing has four links to it, including the image! I’ve never been in favour of restricting link numbers per page against some arbitrary maximum, but four links per product seems a little excessive.
Godiva are probably most famous in chocaholic circles for their chocolate dipped strawberries, so their onsite section for in store exclusives is a good idea from a branded content point of view.
Visibility-wise they’re lacking a great deal, with a solid smattering of generic queries showing up mostly at the tail end of the first ten pages for the SERPs. Again it isn’t very hard to see why. Basics like SEO-friendly URLs are missing, there’s a second H1 on the filtering sidebar, no supporting content on landing pages and no real targeting for qualified terms.
Chocolate can’t be browsed by type – you have to rely on filtering for that. While the individual product pages have some attempts at better markup their URLs are terrible and the structured data is loaded with errors.
Green & Blacks
Doing a little better on some specific query visibility but still with a substantial amount of sampling not present in the top 10 organic SERPs, Green & Blacks has already hobbled itself by having its eCommerce site (Green & Blacks Direct, which we sampled against) on a separate top level domain to its main brand presence. This splits authority and hampers internal linking optimisation opportunities – never a recommended approach.
Gifts is the focus in taxonomy rather than chocolate specifically, which is fair enough for market targeting, but again the landing pages are of limited value in terms of basic optimisation and filtering by milk, dark, baking or other chocolate types does not produce dedicated URLs which is a missed targeting opportunity.
SEO basics are poorly addressed if present at all. There isn’t even a meta title on the shop homepage. Across the rest of the site meta data is inconsistent at best – one of my personal pet hates on a site is inconsistent use of separators like pipes or hyphens; it looks so sloppy – and the meta keywords field, of all things, is often stuffed with terms to the point of being horribly spammy. What a wasted effort.
Competing much more successfully at the higher end of the SERPs is Hotel Chocolat, who seem to be preparing for a venture into the international digital market since they’ve moved most of their site into /uk/ on the .com.
The best move on the Hotel Chocolat site is the more carefully thought-out user and search centricity in their approach to landing pages. As well as aggressively targeting gifts in most of the man nav real estate with tailored pages for occasion and recipient, they’ve included some great “mood” and “themed” gift pages like “Cheer Up” or “Hard Worker” which are a fantastic way to broaden that targeting approach and capture additional search traffic.
They’ve also made use of one of my favourite tactics to boost a landing page – including a headline image alongside the introductory copy so this section of the page isn’t just “the SEO stuff” but a proper part of the whole user experience on the site.
Hotel Chocolat have also gone all-out on targeting breadth outside the main Gifts menu, covering everything from special dietary needs to price and chocolate type. Everything is beautifully optimised at the copy and meta data level, and there’s a solid attempt at structured markup on the Product pages (although as is so often the case for some reason, the price and currency aren’t implemented correctly).
A shame that their supporting blog, charmingly named “The Pod,” is kept on a subdomain at blog.hotelchocolat.com – a missed opportunity for internal linking and content authority capture.
The same is also true of their mobile site, as they’ve neglected the rel alternate markup on the main www. At least they remembered to canonical each mobile URL back to its main www equivalent.
Top of the scale for visibility is Thorntons – while not traditionally considered a luxury brand in the same space as these others it is has been adopting an increasingly premium digital approach with fewer high street stores and an expanded online offering. Hard to argue with in an increasingly digital age.
Thorntons have opted for a solid, no frills navigation approach that aims straight for the heart of the big queries: milk chocolate, gifts for her, chocolate truffles etc. Everything is firmly optimised at content level – again note the nice integration of copy and images on landing pages – and unlike Hotel Chocolat, Thorntons have paid attention to proper markup for their mobile URLs.
Technically at least the site is reasonably sound on the basics, with appropriate rel alternate and canonical links present for the mobile and desktop URL relationships. They’re lacking any structured data on products though, which is a missed opportunity, and again the lovely content and recipes on the blog are relegated to blog.thorntons.co.uk which severely limits interlinking and accumulated authority possibilities.
If anything the Thorntons site is a great testament to how proper landing page targeting and core optimisation can make up for an otherwise less than five-star setup in other regards. They’d probably dominate even more than they do if they embraced structured data and made their blog work harder for them, but as it is their approach to search-led targeting for their categories is clearly very successful.
Landing Page Lessons
So, what can we learn from these online chocolatiers that can be applied across the market for premium yummy treats and beyond?
- Get your basics right – things like one targeted H1 per page, image alts, meta data and decently presented copy on your landing pages are still essentials for organic search, not a “nice to have” bonus
- Structure your site to consolidate authority – don’t separate “brand sites” from eCommerce or blogs from catalogues, as this splits up authority and means content isn’t working as hard for your business as it could be
- Don’t build your navigation and filtering facets catalogue first – understand what your users are looking for (e.g. “milk chocolate bars” rather than just “chocolate bars”) and base your site structure on that to avoid nasty URLs and missed landing page opportunities
- Make your landing page copy a part of the overall experience of the site, rather than just a block of text slapped on for SEO purposes
- Don’t forget structured and social markups as enhancements – but remember they can’t save your visibility if you’ve misfired on the fundamentals
Market Experts Perspective
“Confectioners need to make sure that they aren’t only understanding their offline audience but cater to the online demand. Confectioners need to understand why a user would buy a typically fast moving consumer good online, rather than as an impulse buy instore or as part of a larger shop with an online grocer and adapt their product/ offering.
Within the current confectionery space that unique online offering is usually personalisation, gifting, corporate orders, a wider product range, offers and bundles. Furthermore confectioners should also use the data to influence new product development (NPD).
Should the data suggest that year on year there is an increase in search interest for salted caramel, matcha chocolate or vegan chocolate, for example, confectioners should use the data as a strong consideration when creating new products or brands will run the risk of isolating entire audiences, which doesn’t leave much room for growth.”
– Kia McSween, Head of Food & Leisure
“As well as developing new products to satisfy the taste trends of 21st century chocolate lovers and making personalisation a key focus of the online user journey; online chocolatiers like Hotel Chocolat and Thorntons should be moulding consumer behaviour.
Historically, chocolate has been a last minute gift, it’s been a side thought purchase on exiting the supermarket, it’s been a guilty pleasure and it’s always readily available to satisfy our seasonal whims. But it can be so much more than that. Chocolatiers should be educating their audience and helping them to understand how chocolate can best fit into their fast paced lives, how they can enjoy it more healthily, what new recipes they can make with their particular brand of chocolate…
Drawing a new audience to online chocolate shops and re-educating this audience about the world of online chocolate will help change consumer behaviour and ultimately the way that people buy and interact with chocolate as a part of everyday life.”
– Charlie Kay, Senior Account Manager for Food & Leisure
This is only one of the many reasons 4Ps isn’t just another London SEO agency. To discuss how content, search and technology are evolving together to meet new demands from brands and customers alike, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.