Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in Chemical and Pharmaceutical e-Commerce

One of the most common questions I receive these days is about SEO for chemical and pharma e-Commerce websites. Clients are asking if it is worth investing in this service by hiring a specialist SEO company to complete their e-Business Project.

Well, there is no obvious answer to this question but we will try to give as much information as possible for you (or even for a consultant from the SEO company) to make an informed decision.

Chemical and Pharma companies should first of all understand one important point: many techniques developed in the e-Commerce, including the SEO, are coming from the retail background. In the retail we are talking sheer volumes, when orders are usually of a relatively small value and therefore they have to get as many visitors to their websites as possible. Even irrelevant visitors, while searching for other products or services, might eventually become customers and made a purchase from the website. The situation in chemical and pharmaceutical import-export is completely different – an irrelevant hit will never turn into an order. In this case the criteria of effectives should not be a number of visitors but something else. In my experience the best way of determining the initial strength of the e-Commerce strategy is checking a percentage of visitors that put your website into their favourites (bookmarking percentage).  For example, the Dual Star Marketing system that I’ve developed actually raises this ratio to 30-35% or even higher, which shows that not only the relevant visitors are accessing your website but also the information contained there is in fact what they have been looking for.

Another issue is that the chemical search phrases are often non-standard and use terminology and product names which are not familiar to the mainstream SEO companies. To determine the main search criteria you, as a specialist in chemicals or pharma, should think: “How would I search for this product myself?” Then try to come out with a set of phrases used by the professionals so the SEO consultant could work with it.

As a simple example let’s consider that you are planning to sell Calcium Chloride. By creating a sample promotional structure for this compound I would show you the most common pitfalls in the SEO for chemical trading systems. This might help you to understand the differences between techniques that are currently used and the techniques that should be used in the industry.

So if you give the phrase to a non-specialist web promoter, then what you would end up with? Most probably with some sort of optimization for “Calcium” and “Chloride”. Now let’s check if this is what you need. The keyword “Calcium” itself brings lots of pages on dietary supplements, so it is irrelevant to your business. The keyword “Chloride” also creates a bunch of results from all types of industries. Therefore the single word optimization does not work for you. Combination of words “Calcium Chloride” would bring more than a million results (for this check we have used Google) from all aspects of chemistry: from basic information for students on WikiPedia and periodic tables to medical and industrial websites. So it shows that this keyphrase is quite popular and you might be interested in getting your website on the first page of this search results. (By the way, one of my websites designed for a calcium chloride supplier does exactly this.) But keep in mind two things:

  1. The keyphrase is too “general” so brings quite high percentage of irrelevant hits.
  2. You are competing not only against suppliers but also against scientific, educational, etc. websites so it requires more effort.

It is possible to go high in ranks for the general keyphrase, I did it with many chemicals, including Calcium Chloride. I am not going to disclose all the “tricks of trade” here, as I use them in my everyday work, but you are always welcome to discuss your requirements. Just remember the golden rule of all web promotions: you are making websites for people not for search engines, so more relevant it is to their searches and more useful information it contains then your position would be better both with your visitors and with the search engines.

So what the general SEO company with mostly retail experience would do? Optimize for “Calcium” and “Chloride” – both pretty much useless for you, optimize for “Calcium Chloride” – good, but still not enough. This is where you need someone with chemical and pharma e-Marketing background to bring correct visitors to your e-Venture. How is it done? The simplest way is to use extra keywords (I call them filtering keywords) to get the message through. There is number of such keywords and many of them I have determined while working as a consultant for the industry and analyzing many years worth of website logs. I would show here some, others would keep as my trade secret, but at list you would get an idea of how the system works.

Based on the above what a professional chemical e-Commerce consultant would suggest? A simple example of such “filtering keyword” would be, lets say,  “anhydrous” (only if the product you are selling has this feature). Try to put this keyword together with the main keyphrase into the search bar. Like by magic almost all irrelevant results disappear and only companies that actually do sell or use the compound are now showing up. And keep in mind that your potential clients mostly do specify this type of extra information when searching for a supplier. These is where you should understand that the e-Venture you are creating is aimed at the professionals and in the majority of cases they do not “shop around” but already have in mind their particular requirement while trying the Internet search. Those requirements combined together could give your consultant a set of “filtering keywords” and a chance to optimize your website in the right way.

Just to finalize this simple project I would add few more simple “filtering keywords” like 95%, flakes, pellets, CaCl2, etc.

Our sample Project shows just one and very basic way of using industry-specific keyphrases, but even this simple addition should help you to build your own strong e-Commerce presence on the chemical Market. There are number of other methods complimenting and enhancing the strategy but they fall outside the scope of this article.

The Project also shows that the differences between general (retail) and chemical or pharmaceutical e-Marketing strategies are quite tangible. Deploying standard and industry-independent methods, that are used by many SEO consultancies, gives very little outcome for chemical and pharmaceutical e-Commerce even if the number of hits increases tenfold. Therefore you should either do your homework and try to come out with all “professional” keywords to give to the promoter (this is not an easy task, as you might miss some important ones simply because your not familiar of how the chemical search is done) or, alternatively, find a consultant with experience in the industry. But because the chemical e-Commerce is only getting out of the infancy, this might also be a serious task.

And before we finish this article I would also like to add one important point. Working in chemical and pharmaceutical e-Marketing for years I have noticed interesting phenomena that I call “geographical distribution of Search Engine users”.  In few words, for different industries in different regions people prefer different search engines. I have even compiled a list of such preferences after analyzing chemical websites logs. Based on this information the optimization should be fine-tuned for the regions and countries. But this is far beyond the reach of general SEO companies and only consultants with years of experience in the industry could advice you on how to develop region-specific strategies.

March 2008

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