Specialty retailer Charming Charlie operates more than 240 retail stores in the United States where it sells fashion accessories like scarves, jewelry and purses. It’s opening those stores at a fast clip—more than 20 in the last four months alone—and is laying the groundwork to launch direct-to-consumer e-commerce at CharmingCharlie.com in August.

The retailer is staffing up its web team—it anticipates going from a three-person web team today to 25 by the end of 2013—but one of the first things Kim LaFleur, Charming Charlie’s vice president of e-commerce, did when she joined the retailer three months ago was fix how Charming Charlie showed up in search engine results.

With most of the company’s focus on stores, LaFleur says there was little internal infrastructure dedicated to managing Charming Charlie’s web presence. Store locator pages were static, hard to update and, because of the way the pages were constructed, search engines weren’t indexing the information on them, she says. Maps on store locator pages, for example, were screen grabs from online map programs, with the store operations team manually adding an X to mark a store location.

Nor was it easy to keep store operating hours up to date. “What was happening is that someone would sometimes update a Word document when something changed and provide it to the internal team,” LaFleur says. “But it was often tough for the small team dedicated to the web to keep up with the newest information.”

That meant that often consumers who queried “Charming Charlie” on Google or Bing didn’t get a helpful result. Over the holiday season, Charming Charlie began working with Rio SEO, a vendor of automated search engine optimization services, to better ensure that when consumers searched for Charming Charlie or the products it sells, they got a relevant search result.

Rio SEO created search-engine-friendly store locator pages that include accurate store addresses and phone numbers, and also feature maps supplied via Google Maps. “Google always likes it when you use their products,” LaFleur says. The URL structure is location-based as well, which can help with search engine optimization. For example, the web address for the store locator page for stores in the Chicago area reads: il.chicago.charmingcharlie.com.

The changes have made a dramatic impact on Charming Charlie’s visibility in search engine results, LaFleur says. When a consumer now searches for “fashion accessories” and the name of a city or area that has a Charming Charlie store, the retailer now shows up on the first page of results nearly all the time, she says. When a consumer uses a location-specific keyword to the search—say “fashion accessories, Chicago”—search engines more often return a result now that includes nearby store information on the first page of results as well. Rio SEO says local store information was 3.7 times more likely to appear on such a search on Google, 1.8 times more likely to appear on Yahoo, and 1.5 times more likely to appear on Bing during the month following the implementation of the SEO-friendly pages than during the month prior. LaFleur says she sends Rio SEO an updated file each week with information about new or coming store additions or closures and changes in operating hours. Rio SEO updates those items automatically.

LaFleur says this is only Charming Charlie’s first step at improving search engine optimization as it gets ready to launch its e-commerce-enabled web site this summer. That site will be built on eBay Inc.’s Magento Enterprise e-commerce platform. LaFleur says she intends, with Rio SEO, to incorporate non-branded terms, like “fashion accessories” into the retailer’s search engine optimization strategy. She also plans on getting Charming Charlie information into core data aggregators like InfoUSA, which she says will help the retailer in organic search results.

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