Waitrose’s £10m website isn’t just infuriating existing shoppers - it’s also virtually invisible to new ones, according to analysis carried out exclusively for The Grocer.

The retailer’s website is so poorly optimised for internet search engines that even Morrisons, which doesn’t currently operate an e-commerce site, ranks more highly.

“Waitrose.com is so technically hampered it is going to have a problem ranking for anything - it’s terrible,” said Juliette van Rooyen, a consultant from digital consultancy Reform, after analysing SEO measures determining the visibility of Waitrose, Ocado and the big four’s websites to search engines such as Google.

All were found wanting. And they were losing out because they were failing to optimise their webpages for popular search terms, said Simon Hall, retail manager at Google UK, adding that describing content with more relevant terms - such as recipes - would help them win more business online.

“The supermarkets all need to improve - they’re just not getting the exposure they should,” he said. Analysis for the Grocer by Experian Hitwise revealed no supermarket ranked in the top 10 for the five most popular recipe searches [12w/e 1 October 2011]: chocolate cake, cup cakes, Yorkshire pudding, pancakes and sloe gin.

“The supermarket websites receive very little traffic compared with content-based websites - Tesco Real Food is perhaps the best of the bunch,” said James Murray, an analyst at Experian Hitwise.

“The supermarkets seem so fixated on their own agendas that they don’t seem to realise people like Amazon are stealing market share in categories such as recipe books and dried goods,” added van Rooyen. The particular criticism of search engine optimisation for Waitrose.com comes amid continuing anger from Waitrose’s customers following the site’s March relaunch.

“It’s a very expensive disaster,” one customer wrote in a letter to The Grocer, citing Waitrose’s failure to address problems such as the need for users to repeatedly re-enter details before making a purchase. “It’s time Mark Price steps in and sorts out this very expensive mess,” continued the customer. “Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. It isn’t working.”

Robin Phillips, e-commerce director at Waitrose, last week used the retailer’s online forum to tell customers “it’s now quicker and easier to register to use Waitrose.com”. Shoppers could now view branch locations on Google Maps, collect party orders from branches other than those where they had placed orders, and order Christmas items online, he added.

However, further improvements to the site’s ‘remember me’ and search functions had not yet been made, he added, stating that these would be finished in “coming months”.

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Waitrose targeting Tesco rather than Ocado inside M25 (17 September 2011)