The great thing about being in the outdoors as a hobby is that it tends to get you moving. Whether you’re into camping, climbing or just wandering around the countryside, there’s a pretty good chance a great deal of sitting down won’t be present in your immediate future.
The same is true these days in a digital consumer sense, with more and more people turning to mobile devices to research and, increasingly, to actually make purchases. At 4Ps we focus on the user at all stages of their journey by using good old-fashioned marketing personas – like the busy London commuter who stares longingly at rolling moors on their phone while waiting for the train, or the mountaineering parent looking to find new summits to climb while cooking dinner for the family.
Even those actually on their trek, climb or ramble are getting in on the game as mobile technology advances – going out into the woods no longer means leaving your phone at home, and a break for lunch at a scenic spot can now involve a quick spot of shopping as often as some snaps for Instagram. Whatever your feelings might be about technology encroaching onto the great outdoors, the fact remains that brands in this space need to understand this behaviour in their markets and keep mobile firmly encroached in their strategies.
To get an idea of how the outdoors sports and leisure vertical was approaching this, we picked three well-known names to see how they performed with a sample of 100 related high volume general query terms collected via our trusty SERP sampler, Stat. The curveball this time is that we did this for mobile results only to see how these brands were tackling visibility for their out-and-about audiences, and broke the resulting visibility levels down by sampled query position to see who was performing at what level.
First things first – what technology are these three brands using to reach mobile audiences? As it happens they’re all using m. subdomains with separate mobile URLs, so a level playing field there, and none of these three are making use of rel alternate media tagging to specify their mobile URLs to search engines. Far from ideal in terms of best practice, but all of them are competitive in this space so clearly Google isn’t having too many difficulties in terms of understanding and parsing content.
All three homepages pass the mobile-friendly test too, so no big distinctions so far – but in terms of the sampling results Go Outdoors is clearly streets ahead of both Blacks and Cotswold, ranking in the top 10 for a whopping 56% of all sampled query terms. What is it that is causing such impressive visibility coverage?
Is it an offsite thing? Surprisingly, no. A review in Ahrefs on the three sites reveals they’re pretty closely tied in terms of domain authority and the other usual suspects. Intrigued by now, I ventured deeper into each site to look at the organic visibility heavyweights – the category landing pages – and on a whim decided to browse for a pair of new hiking boots. As technically the mobile setup on each site wasn’t different – and remember that Google has said it generally will use content on desktop to rank on mobile too, barring dodgy redirects, totally dissimilar information or other nonsense – I had a look at the main desktop sites to see what was being judged.
Suddenly the reason why Go Outdoors is pulling ahead so far became clearer (disclaimer – yes, I was looking at this on Black Friday)!
If you’re looking for a hiking boot, which page is more useful to you? Blacks, the lowest performer of the three, offers no supporting content at all – no guides, no links, not even a little introductory text, it’s straight into the product listing. Boots. Get on with it. We’re not even going to adjust our H1 to tell you these are specifically women’s walking boots.
Cotswold is friendlier, offering at the very least a tailoring heading and a nice graphical intro before diving into the product listings. Again it is quite sales focused in terms of the copy but does offer some nice cross-links to some buying guides so if you’re not sure about your boots you can get some information first – which is a lot more than Blacks does.
Compare both, however to Go Outdoors, and while graphically the site may not look as modern or bells-and-whistles the content here blows both competitors out of the water. Tailored heading? Check. Immediate advice in the copy regarding the type of boots you might need? Yep, no need to click outside the page here – wow. Still not sure? No problem, here’s a set of videos to walk you through buying your boots.
Unlike other sector review pieces I’ve done this isn’t going to turn into a big technical dissection of the three sites. It doesn’t need to – everything we could possibly need to know about the approaches of these brands is summarised by the above. All three want to sell you a pair of boots. All three are eCommerce sites with the usual array of filtering and searching options. Two of the three are will give you some advice while you’re looking at their boots.
But only one of them – the one that dominates this SERP sample in terms of Google visibility – is happy to share this juicy content with you on the same page as all those products and exciting buy buttons. Go Outdoors doesn’t just feel like a shop – it feels like a hub for the hobby. What users love, Google does, so high organic visibility has followed.
Are there other factors at play? Of course – this is just a tip of the iceberg view after all. Go Outdoors don’t even have the same rich hub content on all their categories, and this yummy content is much harder to find on their mobile site, but they’re still going above and beyond their competitors by trying to offer more to visitors than just another place to purchase.
To me this shows the power of two things.
The first is that wow, Google really does put massive weight on desktop content for ranking purposes even if the richer elements are absent from mobile equivalent pages. There’s a debate here about how valuable that is to bottom line UX (is data driving Go Outdoors’ decision not to include their rich content on mobile – do engagement and behaviour figures in their analytics show that people just want to browse and buy on a phone rather than spend more time researching) but it definitely highlights the power of that rich value-add.
The second is, well, that rich value-add. Good content to drive search performance doesn’t just mean putting in extra sales copy or pretty pictures. It doesn’t necessarily even mean having the most polished or technologically whizzy delivery – the videos on Go Outdoors’ boots page are essentially a chap sitting on a rock talking about boots. What it means is offering something useful and valuable to the visitors who come to your page. What do they need to know – not just to make a purchase from you, but to see you as an authority and to trust your brand as someone who can meet their needs.
None of this is new or revolutionary of course. The idea of good content being there primarily for users has been in existence pretty much since someone came up with the concept of marketing, never mind online or search, and sat at the forefront of SEO since the first Panda update lurched out of the digital bamboo. It is just a rare treat to see the benefits of it displayed so clearly, even across device usage channels.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence.