For my second Google Whisperer case, I thought I’d look into

I’ll start out each of these by disclosing whether or not I have any relationship or financial interest in the company I review. In the case of, I don’t have any relationship to them. I think around 2018 they reached out to me to recruit me for a Head of SEO position, but I didn’t want to relocate to Boston. I ordered a set of mugs from them once that came drop-shipped from the manufacturer; there wasn’t anything particularly memorable, good or bad, about my experience.

As a recap, I’m looking at SEMRush’s “Winners and Losers” report to see the sites that lost the most traction in SEO, and I’ll be exploring exactly why they’re dropping.

In April 2024, continued to be the biggest loser, losing another 2.9 million keywords and plummeting in SEMRush’s internal ranking from 573 to the 1,038.

Among other sites in the top 1000, was the next biggest loser, losing 694,800 keywords. Since I worked for Shutterstock for years, this one is still a bit raw for me emotionally, so I’ll hold off on any analysis until I get a little more distance and perspective. Suffice it to say that while I was with them had a few good years, but they’ve since largely abandoned a lot of the principles that made them successful. But I’ve still got friends there (and I am a shareholder) so I’m rooting for them to succeed again.

This brings us to Wayfair is an e-commerce company that sells furniture and home goods. In the early years of the Web, they famously owned over 200 different domains like and This was during an era when you domain name was one of the biggest ranking factors on Google. Their sites took off in early SEO.

In 2011 they made the decision to consolidate all of their domains into one called and in 2014 they went public. From 2011 to about mid-2020 they enjoyed a meteoric rise in SEO.

This is what their historical SEO traffic looks like in SEMRush.

What’s strange is that this is what their technical SEO is fantastic. Here are just a few of the keywords they’re ranking in the top 10 of Google on:

How are they achieving this? Let’s break down the kinds of things they’re doing with their category pages:

Ugly but original “SEO Copy” at the bottom of Wayfair’s category pages.
  1. Their information architecture is well-organized and logical. They have a well-ordered hierarchy where every level of the hierarchy is logical and relevant (Furniture > Living Room Furniture > Coffee Tables & End Tables > Coffee Tables).
  2. Their “SEO copy” is ugly, but still original, authoritative and useful. One thing that I simply cannot stand is how e-commerce brands put keyword-stuffed content on the bottom of a page, and as AI-generated copy becomes more ubiquitous you’re going to see more of it. Wayfair’s execution is awful and ugly, but the actual content they use is unique (not just keyword stuffed drivel but actual useful information) and authoritative (sourced from their own expert designers).

    Why do brands dump their “SEO Copy on the bottom of a page like this? Generally speaking, they see this copy as a “necessary evil” to get search engines to recognize their category and search results pages, but view it as an impediment to conversion. Their goal is for search engines to see this content but for users generally to ignore it.

    What nearly all e-commerce brands miss is the potential for content like this to improve conversion, especially brands that are in increasingly commoditized spaces. I haven’t seen an e-commerce brand that does it right, but Wayfair is better than most because they’re putting original, thoughtful, useful content here in most cases. It seems to be helping; pages like “accent chairs” with useful information are still dominating search, while pages like “wallpaper” which don’t have fallen off the cliff.
  3. They do a nice job with faceted search. If I’m on the coffee table page and click on “Rectangular”, I come to a “Rectangle Coffee Table Page”. Surely enough, that longer-tail page shows up in Google.

    The first thing they did right was to make sure their faceted search worked. The “rectangle coffee table” page contains only rectangle coffee tables, no more, no less.

    Another thing they did well was to be thoughtful. They didn’t get greedy and optimize for every combination of facet and filter but exposed the most popular searches to search engines and noindexed the rest. That’s smart. Most brands will either canonicalize to the top-most page (which locks them out of longer-tail searches) or be indiscriminate when exposing faceted search, which leads to infinite space issues.
  4. They implement structured data pretty well. I say “pretty well” because I do see some flaws (for example, the results I saw when running a Rich Snippet test different in Google’s crawl from what I saw on the live site). But even so, they do a better job than most.

When you get to their product pages, you can also see some very solid Technical SEO and UX practices.

  1. They have lots of reviews that appear genuine, objective and transparent. Only verified buyers can leave reviews and they don’t filter out negative reviews as other retailers. They also don’t seem to have as big a fraudulent review problem as Amazon has. UGC like reviews are a gold mine because they naturally provide content to a page that is relevant, timely, and uses words that real people use.
  2. They have a good amount of product detail. While I’m not crazy about the quality control (for example, they have a lot of sellers who lie about country of origin), the bottom line is that a typical product listing for any given category makes sure to collect data points that are relevant to shoppers. That’s great.

Overall I’d give Wayfair’s technical SEO a C+ to B-, which in the world of e-commerce Web sites is about the best you can do.

So what’s going wrong? The answer can be found in Google Trends.

Remember that Google Trends is not tool that has anything to do with SEO performance. It’s a tool that shows the popularity of keywords of time (or lack thereof).

When you use Google Trends to search for a brand name, it’s a cheap and easy proxy to test your brand awareness and ultimately your brand equity. Put simply, if people are typing your brand into Google, it means they’re thinking about you and talking about you.

You can see from the time Wayfair started 2002 they enjoyed steadily rising unaided brand awareness. This was largely due to their SEO, but also due to them just running their business pretty well as an alternative to sites like Amazon and Overstock/Bed Bath and Beyond. I used Wayfair and I was generally happy with the service, although I didn’t find it to be exceptional.

But notice that something happened in July 2020, and from that point fewer and fewer people typed “Wayfair” into Google.

A PR Nightmare

What happened next was the worst-case scenario for Wayfair.

Around July 2020, stories started to spread on social media about how sellers on Wayfair were listing products for many times more what they were worth. A pillow that cost $10,000. A file cabinet that cost $13,000. And so on.

Remember what I mentioned about quality control when it came to listing country of origin in their product listings?

As much as they invested in SEO, they were lazy when it came to other aspects of their Web site. Among some of the sloppy things they apparently did:

  1. They evidently purchased merchandise in bulk from cheap manufacturers overseas and used an algorithm to name products. Some of these names just happened to be obscure girls’ names.
  2. They allowed suppliers to list products with ridiculously high prices.
  3. They automated large numbers of product listings without vetting them.

In other words, part of the way they kept costs low was apparently by replacing merchandisers and marketers with automation. Which sounds like a good idea on paper, but led directly to disaster.

What resulted next was a textbook case of mass hysteria brought upon by confirmation bias.

Remember that this was only a few months after Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for child trafficking and then died in prison under extremely suspicious circumstances. For whatever reason, the media lost interest in finding out what happened, focusing all their time and energy on destroying their political enemies.

It was during this time that someone, whether well-meaning or nefarious, started surfing and saw the following:

  1. featured ridiculously expensive products at prices that seemed far too high.
  2. These products all happened to have girl’s names, including some names of girls who were reported as missing.

The conclusion? must be a site where human trafficking is happening. People who want to buy a human would go to Wayfair, check out, and receive a kidnapped human.

It sounds ridiculous, because it is ridiculous. But remember that most people don’t understand Hanlon’s Razor. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Everyone just assumed that Wayfair has UX people, merchandisers, and QA just as good as Amazon’s.

It was the perfect storm for disaster. Many in the public were outraged and frustrated that the client’s of Epstein got away. It was a time when everyone was locked down because of COVID-19 and had a lot of time on their hands.

Wayfair made things worse in their PR. Much worse. Here’s the release they sent to media outlets:

“There is, of course, no truth to these claims. The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced. Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we have temporarily removed the products from site to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point.”

“Industrial grade cabinets”??! Wayfair took a horrible situation and made it a thousand times worse. This kind of gobbledygook and circling of the wagons may have worked in PR crisis management 50 years ago, but it only fanned the flames of conspiracy.

Remember also that this was July 2020, when everyone was locked down by COVID and the government, Google, and all of the media outlets that Google, Facebook, and Twitter “approved” of were telling people unequivocally:

  • The COVID-19 virus originated in nature and anyone who said it was a lab leak was a “conspiracy theorist”
  • mRNA vaccines were 100% safe and that anyone who even questioned them was a “conspiracy theorist”.

I’m not going to dive into THIS hornet’s nest right now, but suffice it to say that there was a series of events that caused the public to seriously distrust the veracity of media outlets like the Washington Post and Rolling Stone.

Snopes does a decent job of presenting and debunking the theory, but even they fall short of explaining why Wayfair sells $9,999 shower curtains (it didn’t help at all that Wayfair apparently didn’t respond when they asked them).

How should Wayfair have handled this?

Had Wayfair addressed this themselves instead of issuing vague statements to the media and hoping it all went away, MAYBE they could have averted the crisis that was to come.

What they should have done was be 100% transparent that the strangeness on their Web site were due to their own sloppiness in building their Web site. Perhaps they could have used this opportunity to police their site—not for human trafficking but for sloppy UX.

It wouldn’t have hurt to have acknowledged how terrible the scourge of human trafficking is, used this opportunity to educate the public on how human trafficking really works (people do NOT buy other humans on e-commerce sites run by publicly listed corporations), and used this opportunity to partner with influencers and organizations in the industry like Polaris to bring more attention to the subject. In fact, Wayfair could have turned this awful situation into a positive not just for them but for the world.

Instead, their feckless response that tried to explain away a $13,000 file cabinet as “industrial grade cabinets that were appropriately priced” fell apart when other users noticed $10,000 shower curtains and pillows.

That’s all great. But what does this have to do with SEO?

This is just the second installment of “The Google Whisperer”, but you’ll probably notice a trend already. Most companies that are struggling with SEO don’t have an SEO problem. SEO is just the canary in the coal mine exposing a much deeper problem.

In the case of Wayfair, it’s a combination of things but ultimately it comes down to one thing. Wayfair never built a meaningful connection with its customers.

In most retail operations, marketing and merchandising are the most important way to build that connection. Automating these functions led to things like the site displaying $10,000 shower curtains and misleading search pages.

Wayfair has always positioned itself as a marketplace of marketplaces but never built its brand. You hear people saying “I have an IKEA shelf” or “my sofa is from West Elm” or even “I got that lamp from Target” but you rarely hear “I got a Wayfair sofa”.

Wayfair’s practice of buying merchandise from cheap manufacturers in China and auto-generating fake brands was part of the problem. While it may have been a clever tactic at one point, the reality is that China-based sites like Temu or AliExpress are increasingly going straight to American consumers and cutting out American middlemen.

And don’t discount the impact that the conspiracy theory had. Look at searches for “wayfair coupon” (a branded term that is a strong indicator of purchase intent) and watch how after July 2020 it steadily decreases.

By not addressing the crisis head-on, Wayfair allowed it to fester. Even to this day, you’ll see loons on X swearing that Wayfair is a hub of child trafficking.

But the much more damaging consequence of not tackling this controversy head on is that because Wayfair never really built a “brand”, a controversy like this (which would roll off the back of a brand like Amazon) becomes a de-facto part of the brand. The vast majority of people who don’t believe the allegations are still left with a really bad taste in their mouth because of the terrible nature of the allegations. “Wayfair” = “Something Bad”.

It didn’t help that Wayfair’s response was so weak, and it made matters worse that Wayfair seemed to just continue their practice of not caring a lot about building brand loyalty. If you read conversations on X and Reddit, it’s mostly complaints about slow delivery, refusal to adjust prices (their “dynamic” pricing evidently can cause a product price to fluctuate), sloppy return policies, inability to keep delivery commitments, and poor customer service. Those things take a toll over time.

That leads to an erosion in brand trust, which you can see in the steady decline of branded searches. That has a ripple effect in SEO: when Google sees branded searches declining (“wayfair shower curtain”), eventually Google cannot continue to reward unbranded traffic (“shower curtain”).

How can Wayfair right the ship?

It won’t be easy. Wayfair is on a death spiral. They may get lots of customers into the top of the funnel with seemingly cheap prices and good SEO, but if they’re unable to keep those customers (and worse, if they piss off those customers), they’re not going to keep their SEO.

Again, it’s not the conspiracy theories that hurt them, it’s the sloppy business practices that didn’t put customer first which allowed it to happen.

For example, here’s a Reddit thread that “exposes” Wayfair for sourcing from the same manufacturers that Walmart and Home Depot source from, but charging far more money. Of course customers are sometimes happy to pay a premium for a product, but only if they’re getting value in return. I don’t get the sense that Wayfair’s customers feel that.

In the week I wrote this post they were having something called “Way Day” which I assume was their attempt to mimic Amazon Prime Day. What I found terribly sad is that none of their “deals” were being discussed on deal sites.

What Wayfair really has to do is to start being authentic and transparent. It’s one of those rare cases where their technical SEO execution is great, but the way they manage their brand is killing their ability to keep the SEO rankings they earned.

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