Ask an SEO – Ben Fox, Appliances Online

Ben Fox - Appliances Online
Ben Fox – Appliances Online

‘Content is king’, everyone is saying it, but how many retailers are actually doing something about it?

Bolton-based DRL Ltd, operators of a number of brands including the flagship Appliances Online, are putting their money where their mouth is. They have invested heavily in content, to the extent that they even have a dedicated appliance reviews site, with detailed copy and videos of many of the products they stock.

It’s an approach that has seen them win plenty of admirers, become market leaders and a potential bidder for failed electrical chain Comet.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the firm’s SEO manager Ben Fox recently. I asked him about SEO, content and how he deals with the usual difficulties of ‘getting stuff done’ in a multi-fascia, multi-stakeholder environment.

Q) Hi Ben, can you start by telling me about your background, how did you become the SEO manager at DRL?

A) I actually started out as a copywriter but a couple of months after joining DRL I was seconded to cover paternity leave for the SEO copywriter. One of the first things I did was offer SEO advice to our affiliates in exchange for links. I picked up a lot of SEO knowledge pretty quickly and from there it snowballed to the point that I was managing the team.

(Nice to see an SEO manager with copywriting experience!)

It’s worth mentioning that this is actually a pretty typical scenario for DRL – we have a lot of senior managers and even directors who came in on the ground floor.

Q) You are building an impressive team at DRL, can you give me some insight into what it looks like currently?

A) Yeah – you can see by looking at our careers site that we’re recruiting for loads of roles, especially in marketing.

In the SEO team we’re actually a little understaffed after 2 of our guys went off to start an agency together. Right now we’ve got a copywriter, a blog editor and one person working on outreach (outreach=linkbuilding=cake).

Right now my primary objective for recruitment is to bring in an SEO executive, but finding someone is tough because as a company we aim unreasonably high on everything that we do.

I’ll illustrate this with a shameless plug for our service – you are actually three times more likely to win money on the National Lottery than you are for us to miss a delivery. And that’s including the fact that we do next day delivery when you order before 10pm (which was also an unreasonable target before we disrupted our space).

So yeah, it’s an impressive team but only because of the optimism and determination of the people in it.

Appliances Online Category Page - Washing Machines
A typlcal content-rich category page

Q) Do you work with any agencies?

A) Yes and no. As a company we have a culture of doing things ourselves – whether its video, SEO, PPC, IT, logistics or accounting.

However, I will always accept a pitch. If an agency can do something that we can’t do and it’s going to add value to the business then of course we’ll take them on.

The problem is that the majority of pitches we hear, especially for SEO, are offering low skill services that we can do in house for a fraction of the cost. So if your linkbuilding product relies on directory submission, article directories or SEO press releases (all of which are very easy to do and of questionable value) then it’s not worth approaching us.

Q) Are there any specific areas of SEO that you outsource?

A) Currently we use Copify and a couple of choice freelance writers when we don’t have the bandwidth to write all of our copy in house. We find the best way to do this is to have our in-house copywriter put together an incredibly detailed brief and then edit the copy delivered by the freelancer.

Q) My experience of managing content production and deployment within the SEO team in a retail organisation was that stakeholder politics tends to get in the way of ‘getting stuff done’. Is that an issue at DRL and if so, how do you combat it?

A) Culture. We’ve got a culture that allows you to make mistakes and once you’re allowed to admit to mistakes you can start testing things without anyone’s ego getting bruised.

Add to that what I mentioned earlier about not being afraid of unreasonable targets and you can get a surprising amount of work done. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is rewarding.

Q) One of the things that has impressed me about DRL is the company’s ability to make what is a pretty mundane subject (appliances) interesting and engaging, how do you do it?

A) I don’t think we’ve ever set out to make washing machines interesting – instead we’ve just tried to give our users what they want. I think the only people who can really judge the site are people who are buying from us.

Q) DRL operates a number of different brands selling the same products. Do you have any duplicate content issues to deal with and if so, how do you deal with them?

A) Lots and lots of copywriters!

Q) Could you share any insight into any outreach activity that you are involved in? Does the company actively engage with bloggers and if so, how do you go about this?

A) Right now the only way to engage with British bloggers is to add something of value to the conversation. We have hired Kimberly Hughes from Getting It Swoonworthy to run a lifestyle blog for us.

Appliances Online @ Home Blog
Appliances Online @ Home Blog

Q) Have you been affected by the Google Panda and Penguin updates? 

A) Nope.

Q) What SEO tools do you use/recommend?

A) Far too many to list. My current favourite is Neils Bosma’s SEO Tools.

Q) Rand Fishkin recently predicted the decline of anchor text as a ranking factor, do you agree with him?

A) If you’re building links the right way you don’t get to choose what anchor text points at you. Plus, I’ve seen some data that would suggest Google’s ability to understand semantics (semantics in the linguistic sense not in the schema.org sense) is well beyond anchor text and direct links to a page.

Q ) What are your thoughts on Google’s new ‘disavow’ tool?

A) Potentially useful but I’ve not used it. If we end up acquiring Comet’s domain, one of the first things I’d do would be to disavow some of the crap links they’ve built.

Q) And finally, who is your favourite ‘SEO rockstar’ and why?

A) Tedster. I’ve constructed a fantasy life for him in my head where he sits on his porch dealing out wisdom for passing travellers. He also has a beard.

Interested in being featured?

We’re always on the lookout for SEOs with a story to tell. If you’d like to be featured, get in touch!

Martin

Works at Copify

4 thoughts on “Ask an SEO – Ben Fox, Appliances Online

  1. Excellent interview! It is strange how the phrase ‘content is king’ keeps returning, the first time I heard it, with relation to digital marketing, was in 1998, so in a way, some things haven’t changed.

    What has changed is that search engines have become far more sophisticated in determining the quality of content, especially with the rise of social media. Where once an SEO specialist might be a guy who could ‘throw up’ 5000 landing pages from a database, now they are creative content producers like Ben. This has been coupled with a change in our thinking from traffic to conversions – largely due to advances in analytics – we have learnt that one piece of great content can produce profit not just traffic.

    So, there may be massive changes to come but some things will definitely stay the same because they are at the very heart of the Internet.

    Thanks for the great content Copify.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    I totally agree that great content is the driving force behind the internet but I also think that the definition of great content has to evolve (again).

    For example for an e-tailer “great content” means delivering great service and great UX – not necessarily just driving links through info-graphics and videos etc. I think this sort of shift is algorithmically possible for Google (just look at what they did to Decor My Eyes) but ultimately it’s going to be the hard data that they get from schemes like Google Trusted Stores which will help them make the best decisions.

    Obviously there are another raft of issues if Google does use this type of data in its organic algorithm (more hoops for small businesses to jump through for example) but when you’re buying online you’re ultimately looking for substance as well as a great website.

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