A recent eConsultancy post discussed the visual and brand impact of the new Marks and Spencer website in considerable depth, with particular attention to the visual impact, customer journey changes and content curation.

Our own fashion and beauty eCommerce SEO experts at 4Ps are going to have a look at the shopping experience and content curation from an SEO perspective in more detail later on, but for now I wanted to talk about the technical side of search visibility – have Marks & Spencer ticked all the boxes for organic potential or is the beauty of the redesign only skin deep?

Firing up the code view on the homepage doesn’t get things off to a good start – a self-referencing canonical pointing the page to itself (if I had a pound for every time I’ve seen the canonical tag misused this way I’d have retired to the Maldives by now), an uninspiring set of meta data and a mass of inline javascript.

The matter of three H1s on the homepage is arguably not that horrific (I’ve never been a strong advocate of the “thou must only have one and only one H1 per page” school of content hierarchy) but they aren’t desperately well thought through and terms like “The New Look” aren’t going to be helping much of anything at this point.

Of course one could argue that a brand the size of M&S doesn’t need to fret over organic traffic capture for their homepage that much anyway but would it have been so hard to get alts and titles on the images and wrap the text content under Latest News in a proper <p> rather than just a <div>?

New Marks and Spencer Homepage

I’ll leave to my more fashion-conscious colleagues in our FaB team to look at the approach to brands and style picks (that’s the 4Ps Fashion and Beauty retail team, by the way – although they are all pretty fab anyway), but I will have a look at a typical category page. This is where the big SEO money should be to pull in the new customers – so how does M&S do?

I hopped over to the dresses page for a spot check. There’s the self-referencing canonical again but wait – in a rare moment of SEO joy it is actually used correctly in this case, for the purposes of pagination using rel=next, rel=prev and a canonical to the “page one” version of the URL. All the inline JS is still there alas, but the meta data is at least less painful.

There’s properly paragraphed content on the page – shame the interlinking is done on a list below, but you can’t have everything – and the H1 is simply and effectively optimised. “Dresses.” Does what it says on the tin really. They’ve even got image alts on the product listings, and the URL is nice and clean until you use the filters – I would have been genuinely impressed if they’d found a way to produce unique URLs rather than an all-out parameter party for the filtered terms to help cover different terms, but they are in fairness building out their medium-tail coverage with additional pages underneath the main category like “work dresses” and “printed dresses” which is a good start.

New Marks & Spencer Website Dresses Page

What about the product pages? A lot of eCommerce stores leave their product pages to act as orphaned children, forgetting the need to optimise for that low volume but high conversion long-tail search, but have M&S done the same?

A quick look at a brilliantly coloured botanical floral t-shirt reveals some unusual choices from an SEO perspective. Product H1 is solid – the name of the product, perfect. URLs are impressively clean-looking. There’s even schema.org product markup – fantastic for semantic search. Content descriptions, however, are split up behind a “more details” option which pops additional information up on the right hand side. The content is still all within the page but separated by quite a few lines in the source – it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this has.

New Marks & Spencer Website Product Page

There’s plenty more that could potentially be said about the new site – and for the record do let me state that if M&S would care to get in touch I’d be delighted to elaborate on this tip-of-the-iceberg review! – but one last thing I will do is formally note my disappointment at a brand the size of M&S refusing to embrace responsive web design on their new site in order to unify touch points across all devices. That’s right M&S – I’m not angry, just disappointed.

So is the new M&S site a fragile rose with no robust SEO behind it? By no means – there are some solid steps here such as the embrace of semantic markup, proper pagination and a commitment to good optimisation at the category level plus some (mostly) clean URL work. Well then, is it a revolutionary leap forward for the site in terms of search?

Well…not really. Not embracing responsive/adaptive design for device unification is a shame, but a bigger one is relatively basic things like missing image alts on the homepage, poor choice of internal linking strategy and reliance on parameter-laden URLs for medium tail landing pages.

Lessons for other brands? Get your search consultants (whoever they may be) involved in all stages of a redesign and redevelopment as early – and as frequently – as possible. It stops the obvious things from slipping through the gaps and keeps you on top of new opportunities, especially for the long gestation period for new sites which is far from uncommon for big names in retail, and across other sectors too.

There’s definitely a solid effort here from M&S; the commitment to improved user experience in terms of functionality is admirable and the new site will doubtless do well enough, but it really could have been so much more…

4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how SEO and content are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and analytics, 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.