Why Topshop Will Fail Online

Topshop - 000-Topshop-Header

Let’s talk shop.

Topshop, specifically.

A Topshop physical location front

You may have heard about Topshop’s financial losses. According to The Guardian, dealing with as much as a 10% decrease in physical sales over the course of a single year, the retailer is planning to develop its online presence.

A logical step, of course.

After all, online retail sales market share outgrew general merchandise sales earlier this year for the first time ever. A global brand that doesn’t complement its brick-and-mortar business with an online presence is just unthinkable these days. 

This doesn’t mean that it’s easy to just move your business to the web. The competition out there is fierce, and goliath brands like Amazon often use their advantageous position to suppress anyone who dares challenge them. 

Successful eCommerce platforms are the ones that found a way to be unique one way or another. Some offer unbeatable limited-time offers or delivery bargains. Others lure customers in with niche goods or educational content.

Either way, as with traditional sales, it takes innovation and creativity to succeed. 

In contrast, the technical part of setting up an e-commerce site may seem to some like a one-time investment with no particular effort required.

The good thing about maintaining an online store is that, when set up properly, it will generate profit just like a physical location would, but with considerably lower maintenance costs. 

As with many things, however, the “set up properly” part is the trickiest. 

The Problem with JavaScript

You may have heard that since May 2019, Googlebot is evergreen. What it means is that the software that Google uses to crawl the web was updated, and – on paper – can now deal with the latest web platform advancements (which it was really struggling with before). 

The internet is built with three basic elements: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

While HTML and CSS are more than enough to build a beautiful website, JavaScript has the power to make it dynamic – to respond to your actions. Special effects, slider boxes, dynamic menus – all of this and more is possible thanks to JavaScript. 

But every rose has its thorn. 

JavaScript is a much heavier resource than its two counterparts. It may cause websites to load very slowly, particularly on older mobile devices with a poor connection. Running JavaScript usually involves additional external files, which means more interactions with the server, more data to download. 

Many JavaScript elements work in such a way that they are only loaded after a certain action, like when a user clicks or scrolls, and Googlebot – the crawling and rendering algorithm – doesn’t click, nor does it scroll. Every technical SEO audit we conduct involves checking if Googlebot can discover all vital parts of your website’s content.

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Some browsers don’t even offer full support for the most recent JavaScript libraries, meaning that if a webmaster goes with modern JavaScript-based web design, some users may be unable to see the page’s content as intended. 

As a consequence, Googlebot can’t always deal with JavaScript on scale.

When you consider the size of the web, it’s just ineffective to spend time and resources on overly heavy JavaScript while there are millions of nice and simple HTML files waiting to be indexed. 

Google deals with this by breaking up the process of indexing websites into two separate waves. First, the HTML file gets indexed, and then the JavaScript elements are rendered when Googlebot has enough resources available – and this can actually take more time than you would expect. 

In other words, the fact that Googlebot can technically render your website is just one of many elements that must come together in order for it to be indexed.

A dissonance occurs: modern websites rely on Google to get traffic, so they want their content to appear in search, but they also need to be visually appealing and functional, so they use JavaScript, which makes the indexing process longer. 

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, can you?

Topshop Ate the Cake

The outcome for Topshop.com using JavaScript is that many of their products are less likely to be found in the search results:

A metaphorical representation of Topshop's indexing problems

Topshop happens to be one of the websites we are tracking at Onely as part of our JavaScript indexing research. On their product pages, they have a Why not try section – a product carousel with links to related items.

A "Why not try?" section on a Topshop's product page

The bad news is, it’s generated with JavaScript.

In the hundreds of pages we checked, the Why not try? section is indexed 0%. Googlebot never picked it up, even after a month from when the actual content was published.

This product carousel is an important structural element, as it contains links to related products. Because Google can’t see it, it doesn’t have the full picture of the website, and it lowers Googlebot’s ability to discover new URLs on the domain.

This is bound to lower their visibility, which directly impacts revenue.

Although direct causation can’t be established here, the self-induced JavaScript issues that Topshop is suffering from are bound to reduce the domain’s crawlability from Google’s perspective.

A pie chart showing that 24% of Topshop's product pages aren't indexed

As a result, about 24% of a random sample of their product pages isn’t indexed, regardless of their age!

How to Get the Shop Back on Top

JavaScript is a powerful resource that needs to be implemented with search engines in mind. Particularly for domains in industries that strongly depend on organic traffic, such as retail, making your content invisible to Google is just a waste of potential.

Our workflow at Onely involves educating our clients’ developers and providing them with the knowledge and experience they need to use JavaScript responsibly. With proper optimization, modern web design doesn’t have to be a burden on your search traffic.