Lessons from Wayfair.com

Have you heard of Wayfair.com? I hadn’t either, but they plan to fix that.

It’s surprising that most of us haven’t heard of them, actually, because they’re about to leap into the top 50 ecommerce retailers in the world. They have five million products and $380,000,000 a year in revenue. This is an impressive feat for an online-only ecommerce retailer.

Tim Kilroy of Wayfair explained the secret of their success in an Internet Retailer webinar this morning. “We have incredible depth of content,” he explained, “and we push it out at a breathtaking pace.”

Wayfair started out as a conglomeration of sites, each of which sold a whole lot of some particular thing. They grabbed domain names for specific products and built little ecommerce sites for each, so they’d have a site called something like BabyStrollers.com selling every single baby stroller they could find. People searching for a particular item were very likely to end up on one of their highly specialized websites, and once there, they’d have an impressive selection of items to choose from — so conversions were high.

The number of sites increased, business grew, and then changes both in search and in their internal landscape made a change inevitable. “Google diminished the importance of having a keyword in the URL, which was a core part of our SEO strategy,” says Kilroy. They consolidated all their mini-sites into one enormous website.

With nearly 300 websites to consolidate, they had a lot of duplicate content. They’re adding 100,000 SKUs a month, so making sure they have quality content for each item is “really, really hard.” With Google’s Panda and , as Tim Kilroy puts it, “Son of Panda, Revenge of the Panda, Son of the Revenge of the Panda…” their search strategy was “under stress.” They have an incredibly deep selection of products, but having every page turn up for search is a major challenge.

They have a dedicated in-house SEO team producing “magazine-quality content on a daily basis” along with social media specialists and people focusing on the quality of the technology. Usability and customer experience are very important, and content is central.  “In the long run,” says Kilroy, “we know it’s the right thing to do, but in the short range, it caused some pain.”

Wayfair turned to an automated solution, a PPC product called Bloomreach, to help with search and internal linking. Bloomreach creates “thematic pages,” producing a kitchen rugs page, for example, when someone searches for “kitchen rugs.”

“We didn’t have time to think about kitchen rugs,” points out Kilroy. However good you are at sorting out your products, and however good your on-site search engine, it’s likely that people will be searching for things in ways that are different from the way you’ve planned. Bloomreach notices those unpredictable searches and responds to them with content.

Bloomreach is very interesting from a tech viewpoint, and I also found their discussion fascinating as a linguist. Go check them out if you are interested in search from either of those standpoints — or of course if you have an enormous ecommerce site.

What if you don’t have millions of products? Bloomsearch may not be for you, but there are certainly ways that you can apply these lessons to your own website:

  • Go with good-quality content. Wayfair has a charming blog post on white china that links to various kinds of white china — much more effective than basic descriptions.
  • Create pages for different kinds of long-tail searches. For example, you might have a page for products made of recycled materials, or a page of items used for cookouts.
  • Watch your web analytics and use services like Google Insights for Search to identify things people are searching for. Then create pages responding to those searches.

After the webinar, someone asked Kilroy why his company couldn’t just create internal links and thematic pages on their own. “Scale,” he answered succinctly. He certainly could have reminded the listener that his company has an in-house team that churns out great content in enormous quantities, but adding 100,000 products a month means he’d need a  much larger team just to keep up. Determine a realistic amount of resources to dedicate to producing great content for your website, and then do it on whatever scale works for you.







4 responses to “Lessons from Wayfair.com”

  1. Ken Avatar

    Thanks for sharing the secrets behind this company. They were orginally the CSN stores, and they merged into this huge company that will be a direct competition to Amazon. I always wanted to understand more about this successful company.

    This is great article for those looking for real no nonsense approach to SEO. I truly believe a good content, and little research on what consumers are searching goes a long way in SEO. So take your time, and make your website WOW.

  2. Tim Kilroy Avatar

    Rebecca – you made me sound so smart and polished! Thanks!

    1. Rebecca Haden Avatar

      I really enjoyed hearing your wise words!

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