It's true, you can learn a lot about web marketing and merchandising by looking at what the “big boys” do.

Think you need to create a separate mini-site for each individual product you sell? Maybe it would be a good idea, and maybe not. Ya know, selling a wide variety of products from a single large site doesn't seem to have hurt the likes of, eBay, Wal* or — could be it won't be a problem for you, either. And, after all, a single site is usually easier to administer than a whole bunch of sites.

Did you read somewhere search engines “don't like” dynamic URLs? Just check the catalog or product page addresses of most of the big retailers. You'll see long, complicated URLs don't seem to be a big problem for them. Now, you don't want to get carried away, of course, but it could be your store software's dynamic URLs are okay as-is. At least, you'll want to check into it before you jump in and start trying to “fix” a problem that might not really be a problem.

It may be instructive to check out what the best of the big retailers do to cross-sell and up-sell, how they present their products and what features their sites offer. Without their budget and staff, you may not be able to 100% duplicate what they do, but you can often find inspiration for ways to improve your own site.

In fact, even if you have the means to do so, it's probably not a good idea to attempt a 100% point-for-point duplication of what you see your favorite big retailer doing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's not necessarily the best way to run a business.


  • Well, to start with, what you think they're doing may not be what they're really doing. For instance, on one of the forums where I moderate, a member recently wondered whether he should start rewriting his URLs to include keywords. Based on some products similar to his which he'd looked up on Amazon, he thought this is what Amazon was doing. As it turned out, though, after looking at more products, we determined the “keywords” he saw were simply part of the product description for those specific items. Had he simply blindly done what he thought Amazon was doing, he would have implemented URL rewriting unnecessarily, causing himself extra work and possibly temporarily affecting his search engine rankings.

  • Second, you don't necessarily know why they're doing it. Let's go back to the Amazon example. Suppose the member's assumption that Amazon is rewriting their URLs was correct. Why would they do this? The member assumed it was because they got some SEO benefit from it, which is what made the member think perhaps he “should” be doing it, too. Problem is, if they were rewriting, it might have been for any number of reasons: to support tracking in their anaytics application, because of their chosen content management system, or even just because they felt like it. Again, you could end up going through a lot of unnecessary work and get none of the benefits you think it will bring.

  • What they do may not be appropriate for you. There are processes and procedures required for large sites that would be unnecessary, impractical or prohibitively expensive for smaller sites. For example, unless you run an exceptionally busy site, you probably don't need multiple dedicated servers or to worry about load balancing. Big brand names typically don't need to concern themselves over search engine rankings — they're going to get traffic regardless. So they can implement the latest, greatest technologies regardless of how search-friendly (or search-unfriendly) they may be. Smaller businesses seldom have that luxury.

  • Imitating them means you have to play their game by their rules, rather than working with your own unique strengths. Face it, you likely can't compete with Wal*Mart on price. You probably can't stock more books than Amazon. It will take a lot of resources to take on eBay or Google head on. On the other hand, there are likely areas where the big boys can't compete with you. Maybe you stock niche specialty items that don't sell in enough volume to be economical for the big-box stores. Maybe you offer better delivery terms, customization options or service after the sale. Whatever it is — figure it out, and be who you are.

Take a look at what big retailers are doing? For sure! There are some great ideas to be had. Be inspired!

Slavishly imitate everything they do without understanding what you're really doing or why? No way! That's a sure route to unnecessary work and unsatisfactory results.

October 8, 2007

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It's like a ball of string. It starts out small & keeps getting bigger & bigger 'til it grows out of control. Then it could become very

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Search Engine Guide > Diane Aull > Imitation: it may be sincere, but it isn't always smart