T.J.Maxx SEO Case Study: When SEO Goes Wrong

T.J.Maxx’s SEO efforts serve as an exam­ple of what large retail and ecom­merce brands should­n’t do.

Mark Jackson By Mark Jackson from Vizion Interactive. Join the discussion » 2 comments

It seems like the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son begins ear­li­er every year. Just this year, Ama­zon Prime tried to trig­ger the urge for folks to start shop­ping real­ly ear­ly with Ama­zon Prime Day on July 15. Retail just gets more com­pet­i­tive every year, so the time is now to ensure you have a web pres­ence that will dri­ve strong rev­enue growth. To kick off the 2015 hol­i­day sea­son, we searched for a large retail­er that could be a good case study of what not to do, in order to help oth­er retail­ers iden­ti­fy pit­falls in their search expe­ri­ence opti­miza­tion efforts. We had no idea we would be so for­tu­nate to find an unfor­tu­nate exam­ple of when SEO goes hor­ri­bly wrong.

TJX is one of the top 20 retail­ers in the world, with a report­ed $29 bil­lion per year in U.S. rev­enues, accord­ing to the NRF.

Retailers by revenue

One of their main web­sites is tjmaxx.com.

No, wait, it’s not tjmaxx.com. It’s tjmaxx.tjx.com.

Oh boy.

What fol­lows is a case study on T.J.Maxx’s SEO efforts that illus­trates the dan­ger of hav­ing a poor strat­e­gy. If TJX makes some changes, it could lead to many more mil­lions com­ing through TJX’s (online and offline) doors.

The pur­pose of this case study isn’t to dis­par­age any­one – hope­ful­ly the folks at TJX won’t be upset. The goal is to pro­vide help­ful take­aways on SEO best prac­tices for ecom­merce and retail brands and busi­ness­es.

Here we go.

What’s The Deal With T.J.Maxx’s Domain?

T.J.Maxx’s par­ent site is www.tjx.com. Rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, “no one” is link­ing to this cor­po­rate site. I’d love to know the rea­sons why they felt the need to pig­gy­back on that domain with the sub­do­main approach for T.J. Maxx.

TJX authority and page metrics

Every­one was link­ing to www.tjmaxx.com, yet some­one decid­ed to move this?

TJMaxx authority and page metrics

Per­haps there are per­fect­ly legit­i­mate rea­sons why they “had to” do this for T.J.Maxx. I haven’t spo­ken with any­one at TJX to find out why.

TJX did­n’t take the same approach with their oth­er “main” web­site, Mar­shalls. That site resolves where it should (www.marshallsonline.com). Why?

Marshalls authority and page metrics

History Of Traffic

Is T.J.Maxx bet­ter off now com­pared to where it used to exist? To get a bet­ter sense, let’s check out the his­to­ry of www.tjmaxx.com using SEM­rush.

TJMaxx organic keywords report

In March 2013, T.J.Maxx reached a “peak” pres­ence in Google, with 6,594 keywords/phrases rank­ing in Google’s top 20 posi­tions. Today, while the index con­tin­ues to purge results from www.tjmaxx.com, that domain is rank­ing in the top 20 posi­tions for 46 key­words. Here’s a quick snap­shot of those:

TJMaxx organic keywords

Domain/Website Visibility

While SEM­rush will ref­er­ence the top 20 results, to get a bet­ter sense for the deep­er pres­ence of a web­site (top 200 results), I run a Vis­i­bil­i­ty report using Linkdex:

TJMaxx visibility

Linkdex reports 87,238 key­words rank­ing in Google’s top 200 results. That sounds like a lot, but – based on what I’m see­ing here – how much of this is “brand” pres­ence ver­sus non-brand/­money key­words?

Local Listing Initiatives

T.J.Maxx has sig­nif­i­cant vol­ume of geo-spe­cif­ic brand queries. Dur­ing the course of mov­ing their site from www.tjmaxx.com to tjmaxx.tjx.com, had they updat­ed their URLs in their local list­ing man­age­ment efforts?


While a search for “TJ Maxx” in Google will show you the cor­rect sub­do­main URL in their organ­ic list­ing, their local list­ings are still referencing/linking to www.tjmaxx.com:

TJMaxx Google search That click will even­tu­al­ly send peo­ple to the cor­rect web­site. How­ev­er, two impor­tant points here:

  • You should use a URL for a spe­cif­ic loca­tion (and actu­al­ly have a page on your web­site for each/every loca­tion)
  • Redi­rects should always be avoid­ed. Bet­ter to just “fix the root” of the prob­lem.

How should this be done?

What T.J.Maxx Can Learn About SEO From Macy’s

Let’s look at one retail­er who under­stands the impor­tance of pro­vid­ing a great search expe­ri­ence: Macy’s.

Macys Google search

Macy’s is send­ing a click direct­ly to a page for that, spe­cif­ic, loca­tion. And that makes sense, right? Peo­ple click­ing into a spe­cif­ic location’s “web­site” should be direct­ed to a page specif­i­cal­ly for that loca­tion, not the home page.

Macys local page Macys brands

Then, toward the foot­er, you’ll find this: Other Macys locations Well done, Macy’s. Very well done.

Here’s what you’ll get from a click from T.J.Maxx’s local list­ings:

TJMaxx home page
It’s their home page: http://tjmaxx.tjx.com/store/index.jsp (and yes – that is the URL for the home page; not the page specif­i­cal­ly for “locations”/stores).

Think About The User Experience

It’s often said that user expe­ri­ence and SEO go hand in hand. Lots of folks talk about this when they’re talk­ing about copy­writ­ing for a web­site (write for a user, not for a search engine).

We also must opti­mize for audi­ences, not for search engines. These loca­tion results are a per­fect exam­ple of why.

When you con­sid­er the user expe­ri­ence here, and think of how you might make it bet­ter for the user, you are – absolute­ly – also mak­ing this bet­ter for SEO and the search engines.

Value Of Traffic Today For tjmaxx.tjx.com

We can see the his­to­ry of rankings/traffic that once exist­ed for www.tjmaxx.com. But where we are today for tjmaxx.tjx.com?

We’ve got a prob­lem: there’s cur­rent­ly no way to get the same data specif­i­cal­ly for a sub­do­main from SEM­rush. This report is for tjx.com (includ­ing all sub­do­mains):

TJX organic keywords report

Just under $700,000 per month worth of organ­ic search traf­fic finds its way to TJX by way of its top 20 Google rank­ings across 11,097 key­words (includ­ing many for its brand, which is obvi­ous­ly expect­ed).

Using the advanced fil­ters avail­able in SEM­rush, it was pos­si­ble to drill down into the vis­i­bil­i­ty for the sub­do­main specif­i­cal­ly (tjmaxx.tjx.com and all asso­ci­at­ed pages under that sub­do­main) and then fil­ter to exclude brand key­words.

Ini­tial­ly, SEM­rush report­ed 2,106 non-brand key­words rank­ing in Google’s top 20. When I export­ed this data, the final tal­ly was 4,325. This num­ber includ­ed many key­words with month­ly search vol­ume aver­ages of ~20 search­es per month.

By com­par­i­son, how’s Macy’s doing?

Macys organic keywords report

More than $15 mil­lion per month worth of organ­ic search traf­fic finds its way to Macy’s by way of its top 20 Google rank­ings across 598,000 key­words. Yes, some of these are brand key­words, but it’s an insignif­i­cant num­ber. Macy’s suc­cess is dri­ven by non-brand­ed rank­ings for key­words like being 8th for “shoes”.

Why Is T.J.Maxx Failing At SEO?

The rea­sons are many.

Let’s start with “why in the heck are they host­ing their retail store­front at tjmaxx.tjx.com? www.tjx.com is their cor­po­rate site. Every oth­er busi­ness that TJX Corp owns has its own, unique, domain.

It wasn’t always this way. They once had every­thing at www.tjmaxx.com.

TJMaxx organic keywords all time

March 2013 was their “peak” key­word pres­ence, accord­ing to SEM­rush. Even then, it was, to be blunt, awful. But, T.J.Maxx did rank 15th for “cloth­ing stores”.

Per­haps, like many, T.J.Maxx is intim­i­dat­ed by what they don’t know or under­stand. There’s no shame in igno­rance (I have plen­ty), but if online sales are your busi­ness (and it should be), you need to get a lit­tle edu­ca­tion.

In fact, I could make an argu­ment that the local piece men­tioned above is more about offline sales, or foot traf­fic. Make sure that peo­ple are pre­sent­ed with the local infor­ma­tion that they’re search­ing for (and they are search­ing for this).

SEO can get quite com­plex. But, there are a few basic things that you can wrap your head around that will help you see some quick (as in with­in the next 2–3 months) returns.

SEO, at its core, is about con­tent and links.

  • You need to have quality/unique con­tent on your web­site, and make sure it’s indexable/crawlable.
  • You need folks to link to your web­site, because they want to (not because you paid them).


How many pages are indexed by Google? We can con­duct a “site:” search to find out.


TJMaxx Google site search


Macys Google site search

Macys.com is cer­tain­ly “best­ing” tjmaxx.tjx.com here, and it’s not even close. Cer­tain­ly, “num­ber of pages indexed” isn’t the end-all-be all. You must have quality/unique con­tent, and some­times you’ll have stuff in the index that shouldn’t be there that inflates this num­ber and affects crawl effi­cien­cy.

The oth­er thing that you’ll notice, if you do this query, is that you can’t use the drop down to review the cache for tjmaxx.tjx.com. Why?

Here’s where things get real­ly inter­est­ing, and I present a 5‑minute fix that can change your (search engine rank­ing) lives.

Allow the search engines to index your pages!

Here’s what’s on every page you vis­it on their web­site:

TJMaxx no cache

Along with this, check out their robots.txt:

TJMaxx robots.txt

You can’t have a dis­al­low of /store/resources and then an “allow” state­ment with­in the same fold­er. You are dis­al­low­ing your sitemaps(?).

Just to make sure that what I was think­ing was cor­rect, I val­i­dat­ed this by uti­liz­ing Deep­Crawl to crawl 50,000 URLs and see what was index­able:

Non-indexed pages

Nine­ty-nine per­cent of the pages that Deep­Crawl accessed are “non-index­able”.

Allow the bots to index, cache and archive your con­tent.

Mind you, the page source code exam­ple above is for T.J.Maxx’s “cock­tail dress­es” page that actu­al­ly does rank (it is their best per­form­ing key­word, right now; see below).


TJMaxx best performing keywords

Mean­while, while T.J.Maxx is in there fix­ing this, they should opti­mize the page’s title tag:

TJMaxx cocktail title tag

Might I sug­gest, “Cock­tail Dress­es – T. J.Maxx”? Per­haps we can even look at oth­ers to find “best prac­tices” for things like this? How about the H1:

No H1

No match­es found?

These prob­lems are prob­a­bly “sys­tem­at­ic” (i.e., sitewide, caused by the way the site was built; it can some­times be a byprod­uct of the plat­form it exists on). But, these can be fixed.

Start by chang­ing the name of the page:

TJMaxx cocktail page

Chang­ing the name of this page from “Cock­tail” to “Cock­tail Dress­es” will prob­a­bly change the title tag, and you could most like­ly set this up so that the “name of the page” is also the H1 and the H1 should now read “Cock­tail Dress­es”.

Since we under­stand that a plat­form can be the deter­min­ing fac­tor on what you “can and can­not” do, let’s see what two oth­er ATG Com­merce (the plat­form pow­er­ing tjmaxx.tjx.com) web­sites are doing:

JCPenney cocktail dresses

Title: Cock­tail Dress­es, For­mal & Evening Dress­es — JCPen­ney

H1: evening and cock­tail dress­es http://www1.macys.com/cms/slp/2/Cocktail-Dresses

Macys cocktail dresses

Title: Cock­tail Dress­es at Macy’s — Shop the Lat­est Styles H1: Wom­en’s Appar­el And, here’s the thing: T.J.Maxx’s site can rank. Here are some sam­ples of their No. 1 rank­ings:

TJMaxx 1 rankings

It hon­est­ly won’t take much for T.J.Maxx to sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase its vis­i­bil­i­ty in the search engines.


We had men­tioned this a bit at the begin­ning of this jour­ney. But is T.J. Maxx split­ting its link equi­ty? (Why on the tjx.com domain?)

TJX authority and page metrics

Then, we’ll take a look at www.tjmaxx.com:

TJMaxx authority and page metrics

While much of the link equi­ty is passed along to the sub­do­main, by way of 301 redi­rects, it wasn’t nec­es­sary. TJMaxx.com has suf­fi­cient author­i­ty to “stand on its own”. The redi­rect will only cause a loss in the links val­ues. And, frankly, it’s a lit­tle con­fus­ing for a vis­i­tor to see that their shop­ping expe­ri­ence doesn’t reside at “tjmaxx.com”, but rather on a sub­do­main.

TJMaxx TJX authorty page metrics

*2,500 + 717 = 3,285 (pret­ty much the num­ber shown above). Now, let’s see how this com­pares with Macys.com:

Macys authority page metrics

How about JCPenney.com?

JCPenney authority page metrics

Yeah, there’s some work to do here.

Link build­ing is now more about “earn­ing” links than “build­ing” them. Social media plays a sig­nif­i­cant role here (note the social met­rics men­tioned above for T.J.Maxx ver­sus Macy’s and JCPen­ney).

Pub­lish­ing qual­i­ty, engag­ing con­tent on your web­site is one of the best ways to earn links.

One tool you can use to dis­cov­er “engag­ing con­tent” (win­ning con­tent) is Buz­zSumo.

Let’s see what the com­peti­tors are doing:


Macys BuzzSumo

The #1 most shared pro­mo­tion (Black Fri­day Give-Away — http://www.macys.com/m/campaign/splash/black-friday-million-dollar-giveaway/index?cm_mmc=VanityUrl-_-million-_-n-_‑n ) was very suc­cess­ful. Once the pro­mo­tion had run its course, Macy’s redi­rect­ed the page to its home page. Well played, Macy’s.


JCPenney BuzzSumo

Fine, but here’s your Mil­i­tary Dis­count page that every­one is shar­ing:

JCPenney military discount page


TJMaxx BuzzSumo

So, 2,100 Face­book shares for “View all Jew­el­ry”. I guess that’s good? But, remem­ber that the idea here is to cre­ate engag­ing con­tent that peo­ple might want to share (and link to). Again, lots of work to do here.

I tried to find where T.J.Maxx might have “resource­ful” con­tent, and came across this: http://tjmaxx.tjx.com/store/jump/topic/our-company/2400014

TJMaxx our company

So, its News Room resides here (http://media.marshallstjmaxx.com/tjmaxx)?:

Marshalls TJMaxx newsroom

And I didn’t think I could get any more con­fused!


T.J.Maxx pro­vides a great case study on why retail­ers must take SEO more seri­ous­ly. Hope­ful­ly, the find­ings from this audit have pro­vid­ed sig­nif­i­cant val­ue for TJX and any­one who wants to pro­vide a great retail expe­ri­ence for con­sumers.

If T.J.Maxx resolves the items men­tioned in this audit, I’m will­ing to bet that they will real­ize many mil­lion in rev­enue annu­al­ly. I’m not exag­ger­at­ing. There is great poten­tial here.

If you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about the rec­om­men­da­tions here, and more about ecom­merce SEO, please join me and my asso­ciate, Shan­ti Shunn, on Wednes­day, Octo­ber 21 at noon ET for a free Live With Linkdex webi­nar in which we will walk through this audit. In addi­tion, we may even pro­vide spe­cif­ic insights for your ecom­merce web­site. Sub­mit your web­site to [email protected] for con­sid­er­a­tion and we will deter­mine if your web­site fits our for­mat and has chal­lenges that many atten­dees can ben­e­fit from.

Mark Jackson

Written by Mark Jackson

President & CEO, Vizion Interactive

Mark Jackson is President and CEO of Vizion Interactive, a search engine optimization company. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000. His journey began with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL/Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front (learning that working for a "large company" does not guarantee you a position, no matter your job performance), Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.

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