We couldn’t proceed with our Fast Five series without the participation of Bart Verschueren, our Chief Operating Officer. Having already come a long way in the SEO industry and with more than 10 years of experience, Bart Verschueren is the co-founder of Verbolia and eRowz, a booming Belgian scale-up firm. With more than 10 million monthly visitors in 16 different countries, eRowz is the largest second-hand product comparison site in the world. During the interview, Bart shared with us some first-hand insights from his successful journey in the SEO sector.
1) What was your first SEO project, and how did it go?
I started my first SEO project back in 2007. Before that, I was an eBay affiliate making money by purchasing eBay misspelled domain names (like e-bay.fr or ebays.fr, etc..) and sending users from my domains to eBay. But when the eBay affiliate team prohibited this brand misspellings technique around 2008, I had to find another way to send traffic to eBay. That’s when I started aggregating classified ads and auction websites. I bought a couple of books and started learning about SEO. After a couple of years, this aggregator service became a company named eRowz and during almost 10 years we’ve worked with a team of marketers, software engineers and natural language developers to improve the application with a main focus on SEO. Today, eRowz attracts 12 million monthly visitors in 16 different countries, and this mostly through SEO.
2) What are the main challenges of SEO in 2021 ?
The challenges depend on the business you are in since every business situation has its own opportunities and limitations. I’m very involved in classified ads and e-Commerce and from what I see with the many companies I work with, Google relies a lot on brand authority in order to evaluate how risky it is for them to rank pages quickly and highly. Since there is a massive amount of spam, Google is looking for signals like brand mentions, brand searches, links, etc… to know if you are trustable assuming that this is hard to fake by spammers. On top of this, Google can’t collect a lot of user behaviour data on long tail searches (because by definition long tail searches only have few searches) so it’s hard for them to experiment and learn on these types of queries. The consequence of this is that it’s very difficult for startups and small businesses to rank next to established brand names. So the main challenge I see is for the small companies out there to build up brand authority signals.
3) What is your favourite SEO software ?
Verbolia of course! I’m very proud about the application we have built since most SEO tools are about research and gathering data. As an SEO manager, these tools will help you to architect your website or to brief your IT team on how to fix SEO technical issues but you can’t get anything done without passing by the IT team and this means prioritization, fighting for resources yada yada… Verbolia allows you to create pages automatically by managing keyword lists. This means an SEO manager can create as many pages as he wants by simply adding keywords. We have allowed many e-Commerce and classified players to finally tap into the huge long tail query space by using Verbolia.
Next to this, I work with Screaming Frog, Netpeak spider, Google Bigquery (great to analyze server logs, visit data and internal page data on a very large amount of data). But most of all I use excel as this remains my favorite way to quickly understand and manipulate data.
4) What is the most common SEO mistake you see people making?
What I often see is that people are obsessed with trying to fix any error or recommendation that they can find in the Google Search Console, hoping that following these recommendations will lead to higher rankings. Some of these are certainly worthwhile to look at and fix but there are also recommendations that are created by Google to make them sell more ads rather than help you to rank higher. Some rich results for example are more about helping Google understand what the page is about to help them sell ads rather than improving your SEO. Slow loading sites are still ranking very well in the search results while Google can display more advertising if websites in general are loading faster. I’m not saying page speed is not important but simply adhering to the guidelines is rarely enough.
5) What is a typical low-hanging fruit optimization to make in SEO for e-commerce?
In SEO, it’s not always clear to know which change you made or link you obtained was the driver for an increase in your traffic. Especially if you make changes to your website regularly, it’s hard to know which modification was responsible for your ranking changes.
One optimization where I did see impact as a result of my change was A/B testing with Page Titles. If your website has more than 100 pages that each have more than 100 SEO visits per day, you have enough visit data to do A/B testing on titles. In that case, you can sort your pages alphabetically and label 1st page as A, 2nd as B, 3rd as A,… Then you can change the page titles of all A pages and wait a couple of days to make sure Google indexed your changes. Since page title changes directly influence click-through-rate, you will see impact immediately by comparing total daily visits of group A compared to B (if there is any impact of course).
In general, the most impactful change I can think of is to get a view of all your pages and to then think of how each of these pages target 1 particular search intent. Then, you should ask yourself the question if you have a page for every search intent you would like to captur and see if there is a gap with the pages you have today. Very often, during this exercise you notice not only that you have a gap but you also see that many pages go after the same intent and you are actually making it difficult for search engines to understand which page should be served for which search intent. Not only Google needs to choose which page they serve, they waste crawling resources, they find duplicate content etc…
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