bol.com is the largest retailer in Netherlands, with millions of products and active customers. We spoke with their SEO team to get an inside look at what it takes to drive their ecommerce growth get their broad, vast range of products on page one.
1. For those people out there who haven’t heard of bol.com, what does bol.com do exactly?
Ever since its launch in 1999, bol.com has been one of the most popular stores in the Netherlands. Thanks to its broad product range, excellent service and shopping convenience, bol.com can count on the trust of more than 5,5 million customers in the Netherlands and Belgium. With a range of approximately 9 million products, all these customers are repeatedly able to find what they are looking for.
bol.com’s popularity and ecommerce growth is apparent thanks to the many prizes it has won, including numerous Home Shopping Awards. In 2014, bol.com was nominated ‘Best Web Shop of the Netherlands’ and ‘Best Web Shop of Belgium 2014-2015’. At bol.com, customers can find the largest range of products in dozens of speciality stores for books and e-books in Dutch and other languages, music, film, electronics, toys, jewellery, watches, baby products, gardening and DIY tools and everything for the home, pets, sport, leisure and personal care. bol.com is a subsidiary of Ahold.
2. Why is it important for bol.com to have an organic presence?
It’s one of the most important channels for us. Why? Because not only is it generating a lot of traffic — it’s also generating a lot of free traffic. You don’t have to spend any of your marketing budget on it and its a huge driver for ecommerce growth.
That’s a good enough reason for many marketers to invest in SEO — it’s cheap!
Last year at C3, an e-commerce retailer spoke about their ecommerce growth, and the challenge of managing the 800,000 products on his site. Well, we have nine million, which means our SEO team of five people regularly consults with our 80-90 product specialists and IT teams. Those specialists are constantly writing about new products on our website.
4. How do you evangelize SEO to your 80 to 90 product specialists?
Every new employee at bol.com must get SEO training, which is tailored to different job roles. For example, the ‘buyers’ get different training than our ‘product specialists.’
They are trained on how to write text. They get into what’s important, what’s not important, and where they can make the difference between a number 3 or number 5 position. Their expertise is critical for our ecommerce growth strategy.
Every 2 to 3 weeks, we meet in four groups, organized by product type: 20-25 product specialists and 1 SEO Specialist to each group. In each meeting, we’ll dive into one subcategory.
For example, the group that is in charge of the “toys” category will dig into a subcategory, “remote-controlled cars.”
With that subcategory, we’ll do a keyword analysis on the highest search volume keywords. Then we have an actionable plan to give to each product specialist like writing content around a specific keyword, changing a title, or adding extra links.
We also have weekly sessions with just the SEO team on Mondays that we call, “Serious Requests.” This is when we take all our data — Conductor Searchlight, Google Webmaster, etc. — and we look for the keywords that are suddenly rising or have high search volumes that we aren’t ranking above the 3rd position for. Then we meet with product specialists to solve these problems.
5. Give us an example of a huge ecommerce growth win, specifically in SEO.
We are constantly looking for scalable solutions. For example, we sell a lot of books – millions of different editions. And surprisingly, most people search online for books by ISBN number. We at bol.com weren’t tapping into that.
We even saw this in our PPC data. PPC had a campaign for ISBN numbers and they got a ton of traffic for it while SEO was getting nothing. We saw the difference and made a business case to the IT organization to get some developers’ help in optimizing for ISBN numbers.
After that, we began ranking on page one for 95% of all books for ISBN searches.
6. You use an in-house database to support your SEO initiatives — can you tell us about that?
We have a large database we use to see crawl data and locked files from Google. In other words, we can see which products are crawled and not crawled.
We also connect that to our analytics to understand where we need to focus our optimization efforts. If this product was seen 100 times by a consumer but only crawled by Google Bots twice, that product needs to be prioritized because there are clearly people searching for it – Google just isn’t paying attention. So then we’ll focus on those pages for any SEO changes.
7. How do you use Searchlight to drive your ecommerce growth?
We have 80 Searchlight users that log in to the platform.
We primarily use Searchlight for the category keywords (so not for the entire nine million products). Our philosophy is that if you’ve got optimized categories then you should also have optimized products; this data should be aligned. In Searchlight, we can track the category keyword so that each user can log in and see results after a few weeks.
Our philosophy is that if you’ve got optimized categories then you should also have optimized products; this data should be aligned.
8. If you were talking to another retailer, what would you say is the number one factor in ranking on page one?
If people are searching for “laptops,” we should have the best page for laptops, which includes everything a customer should know.
9. Do you ever hold live focus groups to find out how customers navigate your site?
Our UX Department does it every month. In the marketing department, we did it about six months ago with a group of 50 clients. We asked, “How are you experiencing our website? How do you search for products? Where do you go first?” It was a really important and insightful process.
10. Do you have an algorithmic “bestseller” ecommerce growth strategy like other large online retailers?
Yes. We have a best-rated strategy, that’s based on reviews. Those products are automatically put into a list and we change all the title tags to “best of” categories.
We also do this for any special offers. We filter for any product offers that have a discount of 20% or more, and a list is generated based on that. So when people search for “best offer laptops,” they’ll reach a list of products.