Would search engine optimisation have helped Focus DIY stave off administration?

Written by Lee Colbran - 06 May 2011

It is always a sad time for any business when it is forced to go into administration. For the staff at Focus DIY the news that the chain may have to close with the loss of 4,000 jobs is really tough. My sympathies are with them during these challenging times.

The question I asked myself was whether a stronger online presence via search engine optimisation (or any exceptional online marketing strategy) would have prevented a store such as Focus DIY from going into administration?

We all know things are tough for High Street stores at this time (OK, Focus DIY is more of an out of town store, but you know what I mean). The reality is this - if you have a strong online presence, you are going to increase your brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. which in turn offers a bricks and mortar business the ability to turn site visitors into footfall traffic, which after all is the the life blood of any retailer.

For me a DIY store is an Aladdin's cave of products, I know what I am like, you can quickly end-up adding ancillary items to your shopping trolley/basket when you are there in person. This is where the importance of SEO cannot be understated.

This is the element that I believe Focus DIY have missed out on. From having a poor online presence (based on the terms that I checked), you need to ask the question whether it has filtered down to the bricks and mortar outlets. There is the old saying 'out of sight, out of mind'. In a world where many of us perform research online, not having your brand placed in the top 10 results for a critical key terms pertinent to your business is unquestionably 'out of mind'.

As with any sector there is strong competition. For example I typically visit the websites of both B&Q and Wickes for my DIY products simply because they both have outlets in close proximity to where I live. There is a Focus DIY brand 4 miles away, so it is not as though I have to embark upon a visit to Timbuktu! I am though a huge advocate of buying online; 95% of all my purchases are made online. Those purchases are typically made following a period of research and countless searches in Google. If at this time I have not been exposed to your offering there is virtually zero opportunity of me engaging with your business no matter how compelling the offering is, this is where I see bricks and mortar stores getting it so wrong. For me personally there are three attributes that I look at when making an online purchase, these are:

  • Reputation of store (the one-click purchase option on Amazon is deadly, but I have 100% trust with Amazon)
  • Delivery - how quickly will I get my purchase? (I want my goods yesterday, if not before)
  • Price - whilst not mission critical I will not buy from an online store that is stupid with price

In a strange quirk, a business that used to be in the same stable (Wickes) has really upped their online game. Not only do Wickes offer free delivery, if you are order before 4pm it will be delivered next day! You cannot get any better than that. So we know at least one competitor was satisfying customer expectation with a fantastic offer.

Search result check

In order to ascertain how visible Focus DIY was I checked the site to see what key terms could be potential targets, what key terms should they be ranking for? My select list of key terms is as follows:

Flooring, Decorating Materials, Tools, Hardware, Timber, Furniture, Garden Buildings, Sheds, BBQs, Wallpaper, Tiles, Building Materials, Hand tools & Garden furniture

Whilst appraising Focus DIY I also took the opportunity of assessing the results of other natural competitors, including: B&Q, Wickes and Homebase.

To assess the reach of Focus further I added two words , those being 'cheap' and 'buy'. The use of these additional words brings the total terms checked to 42. The result for Focus DIY and their visibility for pertinent key terms was/is pretty grim as the following chart shows.

Search result thoughts

  • Focus DIY had only 2 terms of the 42 terms checked within the top 30 of Google
  • Of the DIY sites checked Homebase has the greatest reach online
  • Both Wickes and B&Q fair better than Focus DIY; although¬† neither site had prolific visibility
  • The assumption from the key terms I checked was all four major DIY retailers should be getting a great deal more from natural search

The one standout aspect from this brief benchmark is Focus DIY stores is lagging behind major competitors in terms of natural visibility online.

It's not about traffic, it's about visibility

We all know the science of predicting traffic volumes is flawed. That said I have produced an estimate of the possible exposure that Focus would gain if it had the 42 key terms placed in the top 10 of Google. That's right, I am not even looking for a series of #1 positions. As a campaign I simply want to ensure that if someone has entered the term 'flooring' or 'sheds' that my DIY site appears in the top 10 to enforce brand awareness.

Firstly I estimate the 42 key terms would generate something in the region of 225,000 searches each month. Given that Focus DIY did not feature on the first page of Google for any of the terms I checked you can guarantee there are literally thousands of people that were/are not being exposed to the brand on a daily basis - this is a huge miss!

Now amplify the 42 key terms to the many thousands that a site such as Focus DIY should be looking to attract traffic upon. If the situation is the same with regards how the site is placed positionally (which one would suspect it is) then you can clearly see why a traditional bricks and mortar business needs to embrace search engine optimisation and why search engine marketing in mission critical to the ongoing success of the business.

What could Focus DIY have done differently?

There are quick-win elements that I specifically would of looked at:

  • How optimised was the Google Shopping feed? There is great business to be gained from optimising a product feed for Google Shopping; ignore doing it at your peril!
  • Gather as much User Generated Content as possible. There apperaed to be no reviews associated with Google Shopping feed and very few reviews on the site itself;
  • Quick onsite wins; we have already seen that Focus DIY were missing on a number of key terms. Adding depth to Page Titles and Meta Descriptions via dynamic system would have assisted the site in being visible for a wider set of key terms;
  • Focus are running two sites, why? This tactic is not for me. I am not a great fan of sub-domains. I don't recall Amazon splitting content over sub-domains
  • Fantastic offers - natural traffic from sites such as HotUKDeals can be accrued from brand advocates telling others about great money-saving deals
  • Google Places - were/are all the stores optimised? Were all Focus stores appearing for a wide range of terms

There are many other on site techniques that would potentially bring reward to the site; at the time of creating this blog I had not assessed the finer detail of site content, structure and layout.

Online can help the offline world

The very quick assessment I made of potential key terms that should of been supplying traffic to Focus DIY does suggest their online presence has not performing effectively as it should of been.

I must reiterate this is not a comprehensive assessment of the Focus DIY site, nor is it a 'beat-up' session. It does though underline why the business may have been struggling. We know that a great many people commence their journey into buying a product online. In this electronic age a business needs much exposure in the major search engines to ensure brand awareness is being reinforced.

It would be great to see Focus DIY rescued. If this happens and the jobs are saved then lets hope the new guardians of the brand take online seriously.

Decorating Materials
Garden Buildings
Building Materials
Hand tools
Garden furniture