How REI Could Drive More Traffic for "Hiking Boots"

Post by 
John Crenshaw
Published 
May 4, 2020

Search "hiking boots" in Google and REI is ranked #1. Here's what they could do to improve even more. Obviously not rankings for this specific keyword, but they would drive more traffic from related keywords if they made these changes.

Transcript

Alright y'all welcome to the first episode of "Let's Google That." We are gonna Google some stuff so yeah, let's just call it "hiking boots."

So here's what we're gonna do a quick overview. We're gonna Google some stuff. We're gonna see what's ranking. We're gonna critique it. We're gonna think about who would be searching this term and then what they're looking for and then under that understanding, we're gonna critique what we find ranking for this term.

So let's say we're searching hiking boots. it's helpful to think about who the actual person is here that is searching these hiking boots. So if you were a company selling hiking boots, the first thing you'd wanna know is: is your customer actually gonna search hiking boots in order to find you. I think that depends on what kind of hiking boots you sell.

There's a couple things we can infer by the keyword hiking boots. So first of all you don't really know what you want. This is kind of a general term, think about it. If I knew exactly what I wanted and I know this because I've googled this term and I bought a lot of hiking boots before.

So there's a lot of different types of hiking boots. If you are just googling hiking boots, chances are you're pretty early in your shopping process and you're not totally sure what you want. Are you looking for something that's fashionable. are you looking for something that's super rugged. Are you looking for a certain type of brand? Are you looking for men's or women's or children's?

Are you looking for... you can get real specific with it and go like are you looking for full shank niking boots? Niking boots. I said niking boots... full shank hiking boots which have a full like plastic or carbon fiber insole. That protects the bottom of the tread from rocks so that they're a little more rugged.

Are you looking for a hiking boot that's almost more like a mountaineering boot like sort of a hybrid hiking mountaineering boot. Ok, so I know this space a little bit because. I have a lot of boots. I've been doing a little bit of mountaineering, so I'm getting into that and so I have an understanding of how this stuff works.

But if you are selling hiking boots, you're probably gonna know all this stuff pretty well. You're probably gonna know a hell of a lot more than I do so the first thing you need to think about is think through all that level of detail, so who is searching hiking boots?

With somebody who's pretty early, it's a pretty generic search term. It's not super specific and so the type of stuff they're gonna wanna find is gonna meet that need. It's gonna be general it's gonna not be specific.

But what it's also gonna do is it's gonna help them take the next step. It often helps me to think about what is the next thing somebody might search after they search hiking boots that would help them sort of narrow down like what's the next question they would have. You know if they search hiking boots and they land on a page full of just a bunch of general hiking boots are they next gonna click on like men's versus women's. Are they gonna click on sizes my guess is they'll go men's versus women's.

My guess is then they'll probably start to narrow in on like a category right like a type of hiking boot like a rugged or fashionable or something like that.

And so the ideal page ranking for this term is gonna meet that that searcher where they're at this general term right. So it's gonna show them a lot of general info but then it's gonna steer them in a direction that's more specific.

Ideally, based on like what is the next thing they're gonna think about like you know the next thing we should show them is men's versus women's or categories of hiking, boots or styles or whatever that is so let's take a look at what we've got ranking.

So we're gonna skip the shopping ads at the top cause those are all just advertisements This right here is an advertisement. We're gonna skip that. So let's click REI's ranking and they do really well.

REI's got an amazing SEO strategy. They do really, really well in SEO. I mean they're probably the top sports equipment, outdoors equipment whatever you wanna call their category. They're the top dog as far as SEO goes. They just crushed the competition.

So in this space, you're gonna see REI ranking a lot. So here we have Cabela's. We have Dick's. I'm gonna skip the local stuff cause that's more geared towards showing local businesses so that gets a little more complicated.. So let's take check out Amazon. Let's check out Zappos. Oh here's Travel & Leisure. That's gonna be a good one. There's Merrell. That's an actual hiking group brand company.

So before we jump into these another thing that you're gonna wanna think if somebody searches the general term hiking boots notice what they did not search. They also did not search in addition to not searching like gender and category and stuff like that, they also didn't search a specific brand.

And so what you find ranking at the top are all companies that sell multiple brands. So there's no one brand ranking at the top. REI sells a bunch of brands, Cabela's, Dick's. Amazon, Zappo's... every single one of these.

Travel and Leisure is not a hiking brand. You don't get to read an actual hiking boot brand until down here and then here's another one. Danner is another hiking boot brand The Hiking Guide... do I need hiking boots? There's literally out of front page. There's only two hiking boot brands and that's very, very important.

You see that in travel a lot too. If you search like flights from. CVG to PDX, you're not gonna see any airlines ranking for that term near the top. You might see like Southwest or. Delta at the bottom, but you're not gonna see them at the top because generally speaking if somebody wanted Delta they would have said Delta flights from CVG to PDX.

Right same thing applies here so let's look at REI's page. So what does REI's page give us... ideally like we said It's gonna give us general info and then help us narrow our search a little bit and our general results.

And look that's exactly what we do. Look at what happens here. This is exactly what I said earlier. The next step is men's, women's or kids. Right and then the next step after that, they're saying brand and then features and then width and then size and then best use. I would even say that best use.

To be clear, REI probably has some data on this. my guess would be that they do so they probably know what people are looking for and I don't have that data in front of me so I'm gonna assume they're probably right, especially because REI is pretty good at this stuff.

So what I was gonna say is best use, I would put that above, I would put that near the top because in my mind, the first thing you're gonna do is pick your gender or kids and then the second thing you're gonna do is pick the use case so hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, snow shoeing, casual trail running, etc. That would be my guess of the direction that you're gonna go, but we're pretty close here.

So what REI is showing us are a bunch of boots from a bunch of different brands with nothing specified. It's just all hiking footwear okay and they're gonna let us drill down and that's pretty good. That's pretty good. That helps us... that meets the intent of that search pretty well as we discussed.

There's one piece of intent on that search that this this page does not meet. And that is informational intent, so there's nothing in here helping me helping guide me in my decision of what kind of boot I need. So, for example, if I go down here and I look at best use, I may not know what the difference is like what's a canyoneering hiking boot.. What's the difference between that and a casual hiking boot or a snow shoeing hiking boot... are those really that different?

In order to figure that out. I have to click this and look at them. I'm like alright. Those are a little... those look different. I don't know how they're different. You know within hiking, I'm sure there's a bunch of subsets of types of hiking boots. There's no information here that's guiding me in my decision.. There's just shopping so we could say REI's meeting shopping intent for this term pretty well, but they're not... they're helping me drill down deeper, but they're not guiding me necessarily right.

So let's jump over to Cabela's. Cabela's. my guess is gonna be kinda the same thing just not quite as well done and yeah, you can see the same thing. These are all just general hiking boots. It looks like. OK so Cabela's has men's hiking boots that's interesting.

So the page we landed on is men's. That's actually pretty interesting that that's ranking for the general term hiking boots. It could be there could be a few things going on here. It's possible that Google is customizing the search results because it knows I'm a man and it's like you probably want the Cabela's man's page.

I doubt that's happening in fact, we could probably open an incognito window here in search... go to. Google again and search hiking boots and I bet that same page is gonna rank. See it's men's still. So Google's I mean.... Incognito's so Google doesn't know I'm a man right now, but it's still showing me the man's page.

Now there could be a few reasons for that. Maybe they don't have a lot of women's hiking boots. Maybe most of the people searching hiking boots are men that could be and so most of the intent is for men but I would say this page is not actually a great match for this search term and I would probably try to get like if we could go back. I would probably try to get their...

Oh it's also possible that Cabela's does not have a page that has both men's and women's hiking boots on it as you can see here. So like I. I have to select men's or women's first it looks like.. Let's see if I just search hiking boots. Search results... Does this give me all? So this might be giving me all. So what's likely happening here is it doesn't look like there is.... Let me check this... men's, women's, kids, specialty.

Yeah. So the way Cabela's site is set up, there's not really a dedicated page for all hiking boots.. Men's, women's, and kids. There's not really, as far as I can tell, not really a dedicated page for that, you have to drill down into men's or women's or kids first. And because of that they don't really have a dedicated page for that. so that page can't really rank. What some companies do is they turn their search result pages like this one.

So I mean clearly this would actually be a better experience for users. They would need to put gender up here as a filter item but if they did that, this would be a better experience for users because the term hiking boots is general. I haven't specified a gender or whether it's kids or not yet.

So what some companies do, you see Zillow do this a lot, you see a lot of companies do this where they'll basically turn their search result pages into actual landing pages. So you know if you look at your search data on your website, however your website is managed, if you can look and see what people are searching, if you see hiking boots popping up a whole lot, you can manually in a lot of cases just go be like, "Alright. We need a hiking boots page," and just turn the search results page into basically a landing page.

What you would probably do is change this URL so it was just like something like... Let's see if they've got a good URL for this other one. Yeah. so see men's hiking boots, shoes you would just go to that search results page and I mean how you do this is gonna vary based on the CMS, but you know you just create a URL that was just like this or something hiking boots shoes, and that URL would just show that search results page. Right because you have a page showing these products so showing the more general... meeting the intent of the more general search term. It's just that it's buried in the search result page which isn't really ideal.

And a lot of times... and see the meta title up here onsite search Cabela's. It doesn't say hiking boots. The only place we have hiking boots is right here. We don't have a gender selection over here, so the page needs to be a little bit better in order to meet the intent of this more general term, but if they did that they would probably... I don't... I mean they're already number two.

So I mean I don't know they're not probably gonna beat REI to be honest with you that would be my guess. So it may not be worth it, but if they wanted to try to improve it if they wanted to try to drive more traffic, that's what I would do.

So let's look at Dick's. Dick's is gonna do... Yeah. so Dick's is fairly similar. Dick's is showing me general hiking boots and shoes. We can see gender over here. We can see brand. We can see shoe size, features, warmth level, height etc. I don't see category here or like use like REI had..

I think that's a pretty important filter group to have because it depends on what you're gonna use these boots for. I mean that's probably, outside of gender, that's the number one thing that you're gonna need to figure out for hiking boots.

It's also possible that Dicks doesn't sell as wide a variety. I mean REI is really like a dedicated outdoors company. They're gonna have all kinds of variety of hiking boots. Dick's might be more kind of a more consumer focused company, so they might not have that same level of variety so they might not actually have... it might not make sense for them to have a category of use or best use or whatever.

But again, if I were gonna improve this page, I would do the same thing I said with REI is I would add some information to help guide my decision right so like. What would that be?

I don't know they don't have some of the stuff sort of is self explanatory like size. Features... maybe yeah. So like if I check waterproof and I land here, maybe a little blurb at the top that helps me understand what is waterproof? How is it done? What are the drawbacks? What are the pluses? What are the minuses? Because there are some pretty big ones. If you know anything about hiking boots, there's some pretty big trade-offs if you're going with waterproof.

So that would be good info so again they're meeting shopping intent. They're not meeting any informational intent here let's jump over to Amazon and my guess is Amazon's gonna be kinda the same, but probably done not quite as well as REI or Dick's.

Yeah so. Amazon's browsing experience tends to suck. Just generally speaking if you're just browsing categories on Amazon, it's usually a pretty terrible experience. So Amazon really excels in search and that's what you see here you see we don't have any filter options. We can't filter by gender. We can't filter by...

Oh, so here's some sub-categories. So we've got backpacking, hiking, hiking shoes, and mountaineering boots. So that's cool and then there's men so we could go back and pick women I guess, but then my guess... yeah see then you got a drill back down.

So it's a really terrible browsing experience on Amazon and in all likelihood this just isn't a very good experience in general. Amazon is probably ranking for this term exclusively based on their brand awareness.

Everybody knows who Amazon is they can rank and do a hell of a lot of stuff wrong and still rank pretty well and they're doing a lot wrong on this page. This page is just not... it's a disastrous experience. I'd be blown away if they sell them any hiking boots from this. Maybe they do. I don't know.

Zappos... let's look at Zappos. Alright so is probably gonna be the same thing again... shopping intent. Probably no informational intent. Nobody's really hitting that informational intent. I mean that's a big gap here.

So if I were any of these companies, I would try to provide some information that helps people make a decision on these various categories. Waterproof, non waterproof, what's the difference between mountaineering, casual, high-top/low-tops, just all these things... there's so many considerations and so many different types of boots that even myself when I was shopping for hiking boots, I know a lot about these things and I still was like paralyzed with decision fatigue and so a little bit of guidance would really, really help and and really make any of these sites stand out.

So my guess is. Zappos is gonna be similar. So we've got gender, product type... and Zappos is a little more consumer oriented than REI is, so yeah, they don't have like best use or anything. I would potentially add that, but you gotta keep in mind if you're a consumer oriented company, it only makes sense to have so many facets in your navigation.

So it may not make sense for Zappos to go in and manually tag every single one of these products and say, "this best use is mountaineering, the best use for this is a casual boot, this is best for cold weather, this is waterproof," you know what I mean, so somebody would have to manually go in and tag all those boots that way. That may not be worth it for Zappos or Dick's or even Amazon.

If you're really more of a consumer-oriented company, people looking for that level of detail or probably gonna go to REI anyway. But again they could probably... they're hitting informational or shopping intent here they could probably add some information to help guide my decision.

Travel and Leisure Okay, so this is the first informational page that we're gonna see so there's no shopping stuff here. I mean you can shop so they link to all these pages probably through affiliate links. Yup so if we click these links, then probably the site or whoever wrote this article and if we buy something through these links whoever created this site, I wrote this article is gonna get paid a commission if we buy something in all likelihood.

So essentially this is like a reviews page like a product reviews page like here's the best hiking boots and this is actually going the opposite direction of all these other sites. So these other sites are hitting shopping intent. They're giving us products that we can buy. This is hitting informational intent exclusively. There's no shopping intent or very minimal shopping intent, so they're allowing us to go to these sites and buy so they're kind of hitting shopping intent, but it's more informational and when you see this, this is a good example.

So I said earlier that these guys could improve by adding some information to help guide my decision. This is a great example that I'm on the right track in that line of thinking because these guys are ranking now, they're not at the top of search, but they're still ranking on the first page for hiking boots.

So if a purely informational page is ranking for hiking boots, It's a pretty clear sign that Google thinks there's some informational intent there so people need a little bit of information a little bit of guidance in their decision, and so Google is trying to meet that intent by adding this information into the search results.

And so if I were these guys, I would try to meet the shopping intent a little better maybe provide some more options of hiking boots or whatever it is links to all the retailers to buy hiking boots or something like try to make it easier for people to shop from this page and then if I were these guys, I would try to provide more information.

And either one of those strategies would help improve performance for for both of these guys, probably.

And then we jump over... here's an actual brand of hiking boots. So this is the first one we see that is dedicated to a brand. This isn't gonna be a great experience for the general term hiking boots.

My guess is Merrell is probably one of the more popular brands of hiking boots. I think they are. I've seen them on a lot of feet. That's for sure. So that's probably why they're ranking. It's also possible that there isn't much else doing a great job at this search term, but kinda the same thing applies here.

This is all shopping intent. It's only one brand. They do have activities so that's good. They do have... so we're getting men's right here and my guess is probably like Dick's, this site is not structured in a way where there's a general hiking boots page, and that's probably why the men's hiking boots page is ranking.

And we can kind of infer that from the breadcrumb nav here we see home, men so you have to select gender first before you get an activity. And my guess is that... let's see.... Yeah, so see there's no like nav item that can just take me to general hiking boots for all genders and even kids.

So I could go... hiking boots in their search and that's gonna give me results. So here now I can select the gender and this would actually be the better page so again the exact same thing applies here for Dicks. If these guys wanted to improve their rankings a little bit and they're always gonna struggle a little bit because it's only one brand and the intent here is not to find a single brand.

Otherwise we would have searched Merrell hiking boots. The fact that we searched the general hiking boots means we're looking for general general hiking boots. But what I would do is I would turn this into a landing page and you know, make it a permanent URL turn the meta title... my guess is the meta title is not great. Yeah. it's alright. I would do, "Hiking boots," there.

Their nav is great. I mean it it jumps into gender right away. Do we have use, activities down here. I probably would move activity up a little bit higher because it's probably one of the primary sub nav have items we wanna hit and yeah, so I basically do the same thing I recommended for Dick's turn this search page into an actual page and that's probably why, like I said, you see the men's page rank in the men's hiking boots page ranking for the general term hiking boots because Merrell just doesn't have a page for general hiking boots. Yeah not bad.

So let's sum up what we talked about for the guys showing shopping results: I would add some informational intent, some guidance, maybe a guide to choosing hiking boots that's detailed. That would be amazing.

But like even just little blurbs at the top of the pages would help. For the guys showing information like this, I would add a little more ability to shop maybe link to all the top hiking boot manufacturer websites. Maybe link to REI and Cabela's and Dick's and Amazon maybe link to their top-level hiking boots paid.

I would give some information those key decision points so like the types of hiking boots like the use, you know what's the difference between mountaineering boots and regular hiking boots and casual hiking boots and waterproof hiking boots. I would add a little bit of that. My guess is they don't touch that they're really just talking about individual boots.

So that's how I'd improve those. Cool, so there you go guys first episode of Let's Google That. We'll probably do some more of these.

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