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SEO at scale: how do large companies such as bol.com and Rabobank work?


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Bol.com, FedEx / TNT, Reprise, TUI… These are one by one companies where SEO provides the necessary challenges. From automating metadata for millions of URLs to involving management in your SEO story. How do you tackle these challenges as an SEO professional at a large company?The third edition of the SEO Benelux meetup revolved around SEO professionals who work for and for large companies. 

People who do SEO on a large scale. Bol.com in Utrecht was therefore the ideal location for this topic.

 Which company in the Netherlands does SEO on a larger scale than they do? 60 million visitors per month, 18 million products in the Netherlands and 17 million in Belgium. And many more URLs in total thanks to the various indexable refinements. Enough challenges!

Large-scale SEO at Bol.com

To be able to support all this, Bol.com has two SEO teams: the SEO performance team and the SEO innovation team .

🙂

Every SEO person on the SEO performance team is also part of a smaller marketing team that is responsible for a specific category / store. The SEO people are involved in new marketing initiatives and training courses for product and brand specialists. They go through the category optimizations and of course spar with the content teams. (By the way, they are still looking for SEO specialists . )

The SEO innovation team leads projects across the stores and must translate the wishes and insights of the SEO specialists into the scrum teams. An example of this is the implementation of structured data throughout the website.

This way of working is crucial if you want to achieve good results. The two following cases also prove that.

Automation of metadata with natural language

Bol.com has many different categories that can be expanded and filtered with different facets, says Felix Peters (SEO specialist innovation). Those millions of URLs each have their own meta title and description . Because each category and filter requires a different sentence structure, this can sometimes cause strange meta tags. And that is not so easy to solve with a simple template.

Thanks to the example below you can clearly see why:

The title “Buy 21 Mountain Bike?” Does not sound quite right. “21” is actually the number of gears that the bike has. But in the example below, Bol.com can make it into a “mountain bike with 21 speeds” thanks to the built-in logic.

Simple right? No, it is not that easy to generate a natural title. Determining the correct sentence structure for the title tag and meta description is based on 71 variables. For a website like Bol.com it is not possible to manually implement all titles for each filter option. Thanks to complex logic, they can adjust this for thousands of URLs with a few clicks, giving them natural headers and title tags.

This yielded 58% more traffic for Bol.com and 25% more top-3 positions.

Not every company has the means to automate this. But it does show that, as an SEO specialist, you should set up your headers and meta tags as naturally as possible. Both for users and for search engines.

List to list recommendations

Efficient crawling is extremely important in large web shops. At Bol.com you can find hundreds of crawlable links on one category page. They usually consist of filters, the most popular brands, subcategories and of course the products themselves. Sometimes that isn’t even enough to get Google to important pages as quickly as possible.

Solution: List to list recommendations

Sometimes it happens that while you are looking for a grass trimmer, you end up in the lawn mower category. They have come up with a solution for this at Bol.com.

Based on user data, they display relevant categories at the bottom of the page that are often clicked from within that category. This ensures that Google has more relevant links to crawl.

This increased the crawl rate by 7% for the most important pages.  

Improve the performance and organic visibility of Rabobank

Marloes Zweers is currently working as Product Manager SEO at Reprise (formerly Traffic4u). There she focuses on the standardization and development of SEO services, search integration & content marketing. 

Marloes and her team were hired by Rabobank to provide support during a migration. The goals? Rabobank ‘s performance and organic visibility during the migration not only guarantee, but even improve.

This project was accompanied by some major SEO challenges. They had to deal with different departments, stakeholders, current projects and differences in knowledge level and performance. How do you tackle this properly? Marloes has taken 3 steps for this.

  1. Kick-off : gather the most important stakeholders around the table and jointly determine the project planning.
  2. Formulate the basic insights and analyzes : which SEO problems do you quickly notice? At Rabobank, for example, it became clear that there are multiple URLs rank for the same search terms.
  3. Set up your optimizations per team based on: capacity (budget, staff, etc.), knowledge, planning, performance & KPIs.

At Rabobank, the problem was that they had many orphan pages (pages that were not linked internally, but did generate clicks) and there was room for improving content relevance. They have cleaned up the orphan pages with Reprise. By merging URLs that rank for the same keyword, they have improved the performance of specific pages. This resulted in 10,000 more visitors per month and an increase of more than 20% in the non-branded organic market share within the non-branded search terms that were monitored during this project.

To successfully complete such a project, it is important that you remember these lessons:

  • Knowledge and insight are crucial.
  • Determine priorities in the action points. What has to be done before the migration? Which optimizations can you postpone until the post-migration phase?
  • Ensure a clear process and planning.

Improve the organic and paid performance of Lumidora / Rietveld light

Lumidora / Rietveld light wants to improve the organic and paid performance of the websites. For this a migration took place of the Dutch and German website. A substantial adjustment of the structure and filtering options was required. This should improve the content relevance of landing pages and the UX. Egg? I do not think so.

There are 6 different local environments (among others: NL, DE, FR), 6 different target groups with different search behavior, more than 20 million unique URLs per local domain, resulting in a lot of duplicate and thin content in the search results … To meet just a few challenges to mention.

Here too Marloes uses a strict method:

  • Kick-off
  • Basis: insights and analyzes . Including insights in the field of search performance.
  • Define optimizations per country
    • (Filter) Menu structure
    • Popular combinations
    • Whitelist URLs
    • Canonicals & robots.txt
  • Pre-migration testing
  • Post migration check
  • Then set up a structural search process for 2019
    • Content calendar Germany and the Netherlands
    • Copywriting
    • Technical optimization
    • Control PPC / organic search

For the Dutch webshop this resulted in 82% fewer indexed pages, but 12% more sessions compared to last year. The German webshop did not do badly either: -87% indexed pages, but 19% more sessions. Again proof that more pages is not always the same as more sessions.

The lessons:

  • It is possible to perform multiple migrations at the same time.
  • Focus on (content) relevance.
  • Bringing learnings from every ccTLD

They are also looking for new colleagues at Reprise. Contact Marloes to ask about the SEO traineeship or a position as an experienced SEO consultant

Panel: SEO at scale

At every SEO Benelux meetup there is a panel discussion where 4 SEO people are put on fire by questions from the community. Led by Steven van Vessum ( Content King ), we challenged Martijn Hoving (Freelance SEO specialist), Marloes Zweers (Reprise Digital), Floris Gouw (Fight club) and Jeroen Vos (FedEx / TNT). Hereby a summary of their most striking answers.

How do you deal with titles and meta descriptions for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pages?

Of course, not every company has the option of working with natural language or other built-in logic. That is why it is important to set priorities. First estimate the impact and effort of your adjustments. Only then can you, for example, determine which categories you first address in terms of meta data.

Is link building still necessary on that scale?

Even at the highest level the competition remains rock hard, so yes: keep doing link building. Not in the sense of requesting links at start pages, but via excellent PR campaigns. Does your company often appear in the newspaper? Then make it clear to PR that you always want a link in the messages.

How do you scale up your content production to support all your categories and facets?

Here too the same story comes back as with the meta data: determine which categories and filters combinations have the highest priority. Do you see a search term with a high search volume, does it take little effort and is it interesting in terms of yield? Then tackle this first. Then you can watch the smaller fish.

If necessary, set up a content calendar. This way the copywriters know what to expect. Also take a look at what the competitors are doing. Good competition research can generate many new content ideas.

Here you will find all presentations and the live stream .

SEO Benelux

SEO Benelux is the largest (2,200+ members) Facebook group for SEO people in the BeNeLux, founded by Mathias Noyez ( SEO specialist at WiSEO ). In this group, Belgian and Dutch SEO staff can discuss technical SEO issues, algorithm updates, content, link building or just about everything that has to do with white hat SEO .

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