Sharing AO.com’s secret to SEO Success…… So you can ”Rinse and Repeat!”

The Pricesearcher team recently exhibited at the inaugural Ecommerce Show North – held in Manchester’s event city. Firstly a huge well done to the Prolific North team and expo director Martyn Collins who did a great job in delivering the event.

As part of the show’s content, I hosted a Q&A with Michael Scowcroft, the group head of SEO at AO.com – one of the great success stories of Northern ecommerce and an early joiner on Pricesearcher.

This blog is a brief summary of our discussion and sheds some light on how a great online business conducts its Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). We tackle 4 specific areas:

  1. The recent journey of AO.com including its change in domain
  2. Content Strategy
  3. Architecture including internationalisation
  4. Links and Authority

Part 1 – The Recent Journey of AO.com including its change in domain

The switchover of domains from Appliancesonline.com to AO.com took place in mid-2013 and it resulted in a substantial drop in visibility as shown in the chart below.

AO traffic

A number of factors contributed to the difficult transition period: The previous strategy which had been working well included a focus on guest posts, sponsored posts and online content centred on Large Kitchen Appliances – their core best-selling products.

However, when tackling the domain shift AO was hampered by the history of the newly acquired domain AO.com which came with a poor link profile from the previous owners, an unrelated company called Alpha and Omega, who operated in a completely different sector.

As is often the case, the adverse situation prompted a turn-around that has subsequently led to AO.com far surpassing its previous standing with a very secure foundation for future success. Michael explained the significant progress made but in brief, it involved:

  1. A complete clean-up of link profiles and this continues with a full link audit every quarter for the major sites
  2. Change of content focus to:
    • Hero content – Big bang campaigns
    • Hub – Help and User guides
    • Hygiene – Lifestyle content and advice section
  3. The early approach after the drop in visibility focused on links and building the awareness back up
  4. Now having reached a strong baseline its moved into a PR and content-led strategy – Links are key, but if they build awareness with a no follow link then that is still a positive result
  5. Move towards longer tail targeting – feeds into the Content in part 2

AO.com are now back in the position where they have built visibility on the core search terms and now are focused on out of market information-driven terms. The question is ”How do AO add value?” and appear for lower competition terms that will make people consider AO.com later down the funnel

Part 2 – The Content Strategy

”White hat” is the name of the game for AO and its about making the right long-term decisions for the business and trusting that this will pay dividends over time.

  1. Large kitchen appliances are what AO.com is best known for and so it makes sense to keep prioritising your main revenue-generating product keywords
  2. Copywriting specialists – AO.com employ a large number of copywriters who take the existing manufacturer text and look to improve upon that to generate unique and compelling content written by genuine experts in their particular product feed. Indeed such is the quality and value-add of the AO team combined with user-generated content and video assets produced all help make all the product pages unique and compelling.
  3. AO is now diversifying its product offering and is now selling products in the following categories, all through separate sites.
    • Computing
    • Console Gaming
    • Phones
    • Smart home
  4. The main aim in terms of content is to be useful to the consumer and with so much confusion around setup and what you can do with your products. AO.com are building a huge hub of useful guides and content that focuses on the core kitchen appliances all the way through to electricals.
  5. They use search, seasonality and customer insights to plan content months in advance

How do AO.com optimize new product launches on site?

  1. Create unique content
  2. Work with customers and reviewers using samples to build natural and honest reviews on the product page.
  3. For new categories like computing and phones, they work closely with their PR team and manufacturers to make sure content is useful and accurate
  4. Drive internal links to these product pages through the content hub and AO life. Using guides and lifestyle tips that are relevant to these new SKU’s

What about Video content?

  1. AO.com have a video studio that produces product guides and overviews
  2. In the AO manchester offices, they’ve launched their own 3D design team. The team spend all their time producing 3D videos and designs for their sites and youtube channel.

Part 3 – Architecture and Internationalisation

Moving into the architecture strategy that AO employ

  1. Mobile Index First. AO are mobile responsive already and work closely with their dev teams testing every page type to make sure they are ready for the impending change to mobile first. They design their content and navigation on mobile first – The UX and UAT team test on every modern device, while the SEO team check crawlability and accessibility
  2. Internationalisation. AO run international arms to their business in Germany and the Netherlands and have adopted a fully localised approach using the country Top Level Domain’s (TLD’s) .de and .nl. The reason for using TLD’s over sub-domains or sub-folders was based on the same approach as the AO UK business. They have a web team based in the local market (Ger and NL) that is supported on areas, but the SEO focus is to have local content and experience delivered by the local teams.
  3. Href Lang implementation? This is a process still being worked on across their sites. They create new content every day and as part of the web release they check and match up any corresponding pages in other territories.
  4. Localised links. As earlier, their strategy is to build local PR and links with content generated by our German and Netherland teams.

Part 4 – Links and Authority

Link acquisition strategy  – Top level approach

  1. PR and content-driven – They aim to build content and relationships that generate links as naturally as possible
  2. Link Management – Disavow files for poor quality links. They perform a forensic link analysis for each of their sites once a quarter – meaning there is a disavow update each month across the sites.

Personalisation & Social media  – Is part of a different strategy but at a basic level entails:

  1. AO are very strong in terms of onsite personalisation and customer segmentation so they can change their targeting methods and communication based on what area these users fall into and their likely intent
  2. How do you leverage social for traffic acquisition? How do you measure it? AO have 1.8 Million Facebook followers so there is an organic content strategy and a behaviour based retargeted strategy. Based on what they have viewed and activity on the site.

Thanks for reading this blog.

Best wishes

Ben

To find out more about Pricesearcher please visit here or upload your feed directly into our search engine to receive free, organic traffic

About Ben Morgan

Head of Commercial for Pricesearcher

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