ASDA is one of the most successful grocery brands in the UK and has a strong online and in-store retail presence. As of 2021, ASDA is Britain’s third largest grocer with a market share of 13.7%, raking in a massive £693.1m. Sainsbury’s is just slightly ahead with a 1.2% lead in market share. 

The supermarket was previously a part of the market-dominating Walmart group before being sold to Issas Brothers and TDR capital in February 2021. This landmark £6.8bn sale of ASDA also meant it returned to a majority UK ownership for the first time in 20 years.  

ASDA invests its resources in other marketing pursuits, such as social media marketing. We can see that ASDA has a significantly higher follower count on both Facebook and Instagram than Sainsbury’s. According to Statista, in May 2022, ASDA was the second most popular grocery site in the UK based on the share of visits. Brand, PPC, Direct, and social media marketing have proven to be incredibly successful for them.  

While they are quickly rising towards domination over the UK grocery market, ASDA’s website does not live up to its potential in Google Search. ASDA has received 188bn organic visits in the last year, while Sainsburys has had 350bn organic visits. Sainsburys 1.2% lead in the market sounds like a small percentage, but in terms of organic visits, it is led by an astonishing 162bn.  

To achieve those numbers, ASDA would need to see major ranking changes. There are currently 52,000 keywords that ASDA ranks for between positions 1 and 20 that they also get traffic from. If ASDA were to rank 1st for those already connected keywords, it could potentially see an additional 144m visits each month. 

With its reputation as a value-driven brand, they have created a network of subdomains covering various topics and niches.  

A myriad of issues were found while exploring the different subdomains. We decided to primarily focus on its groceries site where we found a substantial issue that could cost ASDA millions. 

What’s the problem?

During our initial crawl of the ASDA website, we found significantly fewer pages than we expected an exciting prospect for an SEO. To be exact, we only found 24 internal URLs while crawling as Googlebot using Sitebulb. 

Knowing that a crawl found fewer pages than expected could lead us down several paths to issues. We know the pages are there, but we would typically expect to see a few thousand links on the homepage of any enterprise website. 

Assessing ASDA’s crawling issue 

When finding such substantial issues around crawling for a popular website, the first place to start is to look at how that website is organised.  

We will need to visit their homepage to show you an example of the issue with ASDA’s website architecture.  

A screenshot of ASDA's home page taken on a desktop device

Upon first inspection, ASDA has a relatively clean and user-friendly homepage. It is broken down into its main navigation, local checker, star products, recommended products, events, and then footer. For a user, it’s great! 

However, for Googlebot, it is not a seamless experience. The page can render correctly, but Googlebot cannot follow the links in the main navigation.  

A screenshot of a crawl done of ASDAs site

This is down to the way ASDA’s website is built. The homepage combines Salesforce for its CMS and Blue Yonder for its OMS. Both systems can come with their own host of issues. The key problem lies with their custom JavaScript navigation bar setup. All the links within the navigation menu are embedded as buttons without the essential <a> tags.  

This means while there is a link for users to follow, there is no link for Googlebot to follow.  

a screenshot of the html and javascript on ASDA's site showing there is no <a> tag

Why is that bad?  

In this example, Google can render the JavaScript for ASDA’s homepage and see much of its content. However, for ASDA’s menu navigation, there are no links in <a> tags that Googlebot can follow.  

The menu navigation signposts you to all ASDA’s core pages, such as category, product, or recipes. Google can follow other links from the home page however, the menu navigation is a core element that Google uses when crawling a website. This issue is not just on the homepage but on every page that uses menu navigation.  

Googlebot has still discovered pages. However, currently using the site search operator Googles index has 119,000 indexed URLS (Mean average over several days of checks). 

This shows that it can still crawl a site using the Sitemap and from other websites linking to it during the discovery process. It is likely that so many pages are indexed because many of the searches are branded, and ASDA receives significant traffic, which tells Google that this is an important site in the sector. However, these are not enough to ensure effective crawling and likely means many pages are not being crawled and indexed. 

Google is very clear about how to make your links crawlable, and there is no leeway. Links must be formatted as <a> tags and contain a resolvable URL. Images, buttons, and text can all be links, but they need to contain an <a> tag to be followed.  

Google may still be able to visit those hidden pages, but it is much harder to find. It may be able to find a route to them through other link paths from the homepage and then follow them to category and product pages, where it can then find more links.  

But then again, some of the calls to action are generated with JavaScript too.  

This means that if Google can find these pages, it will take the crawler significantly longer than a site with links marked with a <a> tag.  

Below is an example of an event category page we found in their sitemap that you will not find in Google (as of 14th September 2021). This page is indexable, has no canonicals pointing elsewhere, and is fully capable of ranking.  

a screenshot of a category page on ASDAs site

Screenshot showing that one of ASDAs pages is no indexed 

Although it is not currently in search, this does not mean this has always been the case. On Ahrefs, we can see that this page has ranked at more than one point in its history. On the 29th of August 2022, it ranked for “Ice Ice Fruit” and was bringing in some traffic. 

ASDA summer page traffic and ranking keyword data 

This reflects that ASDA has recently changed how its navigation links are rendered and have seen pages de-index over time.  

Without direct access to ASDA’s data, there is no way (within reason) for us to check how many of ASDA’s pages have made it into Google’s index and potentially fallen out of their index.  

There is an incredible amount of search potential available for ASDA. It comes down to making sure it can be crawled and indexed. 18k pages currently receive no organic traffic, with a combined search volume of nearly 71m. Ranking for those pages could mean millions of additional visitors each month. 

Without even factoring in the pages that are not indexed, we can see that ASDA has incredible potential to change its standing in the grocery market completely. The pages not being indexed aren’t going to give them the market share but could push them closer to closing the market share. 

How to resolve this 

There are countless ways for things to wrong when you are managing an ecommerce site using JavaScript. JavaScript is used differently from site to site and has countless nuances.  

The most essential thing to remember with internal linking is that links must be tagged correctly. There are strict rules that you must follow on this.  

You must use proper <a href> tags  

  • <a href=””> 
  • <a href=”/category/subcategory/product”> 

For the other issues around JavaScript, there are so many more paths of where this could go and how to resolve them this article would go on forever.  

A common cause of this issue is developers not understanding the impact of how incorrect JavaScript usage can affect search. Copying JavaScript from Stack Overflow, GitHub, and other coding powerhouses, makes life easier in the short term, but fixing the impact of architecture issues can take months, even years, to resolve in search.  

Our best advice is to ensure links are clearly labelled, the site is rendered server side, and to always follow expert advice on using JavaScript. 

ASDA is doing many things right. They have implemented many on-page SEO tactics, internal linking is there, and they understand their competitive edge. But this navigational error is just the tip of an iceberg of SEO issues that could be costing them billions each year.