Bathrooms.com was launched by Ian Monk in 2004, and has just recently relaunched with a fully redesigned website. 

Part of the relaunch included a focus on social and a PR-centric SEO strategy. I’ve been asking Ian about the thinking behind this approach and the results so far… 

Can you tell me a little about Bathrooms.com, traffic, turnover etc?

With over 50,000 customers and venture capital investment in excess of £10m, the company employs more than 50 people across three continents. We have a run rate in excess of £10m and we are growing at between 50-100% per year.  

Our traffic can be in excess of 100,000 visits per month. 

The new site looks impressive, how did you approach the redesign?  

We went through a rebrand/redesign a few years ago and it was a bit of a disaster, so I took a lot of lessons learned from that and applied it to this project.

One of the key challenges for us was to bridge the gap between a rebrand (new logo, TOV, personality, etc) and a redesigned website. Previous experience showed us that if you design the brand outside of the website, it just doesn’t work.  

However, there aren’t that many agencies or people that have great expertise in branding and e-commerce/digital. We ended up deciding to lead with a digital agency with a strong creative team but to bring in a small marketing agency to work on the branding element at the beginning. 

Buying into all the decisions, big and small needed to come right from the top to make sure the resulting brand and website was cohesive and fully integrated into the company’s core strategy.  

This meant that I, as CEO, had to be involved every step of the way and it was a big commitment over the six month project, but it’s been absolutely worth every second of it.

Test and test some more but then just get on with it…  I love my numbers and statistics so we have previously been fanatical about A/B and multivariate testing but this often resulted in inconclusive results (not enough statistical data) or long delays whilst we waited for results.  

With a rebrand, there are so many things changing it’s hard to select one or two of them to test in isolation. This time we focused more on user group testing, with users talking us through their experience, insights and actions.  

The Invision platform helped us rapidly build Hi-Res walkthroughs. We then used this to inform the design and then did A/B testing at the end of the process to make the final refinements.  Now we have the core platform in place we can get back to the more traditional A/B testing approach to refinement.

Throughout the process I was very mindful of focusing on what I think are the two key things the customer wants from an ecommerce company: great products at a great price. We are not about being the cheapest but I believe all online retailers must demonstrate great value.  

The value proposition is often taken too far and ends up creating a discount brand where the customer is left only to focus on price.  

We have achieved the balance by investing heavily in world-class magazine style images and making sure our price offering demonstrates value but doesn’t look like a discount brand – we took inspiration from H&M (hm.com) in doing this.

The bathroom category can have long buying timelines of up to three months, so it was important for me that we created great content and an excellent CRM platform that allows us to engage early on in the buying process and stay in contact with that potential customer until they finalise their buying decision.  

Our Inspiration Blog has proved pivotal in doing this.  We are employing two of the UKs best home décor journalists (previously of channel4/homes and LivingEtc) and arguably the UKs leading stylist (previously of Elle Decor) to create amazing content and imagery that will engage and inspire customers.

 

What percentage of you traffic and sales comes from search?

We have historically relied predominately on paid search but we are now investing heavily in PR, social, CRM (email) and organic search. 

Why did you decide to take a PR-focused approach to SEO?

I have a fundamental issue with spending our hard earned money on buying links when I can be spending this money communicating our message and mission to customers that share our passion for design and want to be inspired to create more in their home.  

Our approach to links is best defined by a simple question we ask ourselves – would we target a link on this website if Google did not exist?  

One would only answer yes to this if it was a relevant website with visitors that are interested in one’s products.  This is less likely to be the case if the website in question sells links and articles to anyone that is willing to part with some money.

There are plenty of home and design websites and blogs out there with our target customer and it was very clear to me that the people that could help us connect with them would be a PR company that has experience in finding, nurturing and developing long term relationships with journalists (aka Bloggers) – whether that be offline or online. 

What are the benefits of this approach as you see them? Are there any drawbacks?

The benefit is that we spend our time and energy communicating our brand values and inspiring customers and benefit from SEO in the process.  Even if I wasn’t so driven by this, my belief is that Google will get smarter and smarter so that it only rewards those links that meet the criteria I outlined above anyway.  

So the medium to long term risks from a change in Google’s algorithm are almost zero. 

Things are always moving so one can never be 100% sure about an SEO strategy. It may take a little longer to get traction this way?  

However, I know that our approach means we are connecting and engaging with customer in a relevant, timely and inspiring way and if for some reason the SEO element of the strategy doesn’t work (and I have no reason to suspect it won’t), this still would be a good investment strategy for us anyway. 

I’ve seen the list of metrics: blogger outreach, social engagement etc, that you wanted to measure Dynamo (the company’s PR/SEO agency) on. What was the thinking behind these? 

It’s always hard to put firm metrics around a PR programme without losing the focus on quality rather than quantity – but we wanted some measurable targets in there to enable Dynamo to focus and demonstrate progress.  

All of the measures meet the following criteria:

  1. Primarily focused on ‘getting our message out there’ in a qualitative way.
  2. Easily measurable (we didn’t want to spend ½ our budget measuring performance).
  3. Unambiguous and non-subjective.

Separately we then, more subjectively, measure and discuss the quality of the work that sits behind the KPI results.

One key metric was the Facebook engagement rates and number of followers. We aren’t interesting in signing up millions of Facebook ‘followers for the sake of it.  

We want those followers that sign up to share our passion for design and want to be inspired to create more in their home. We clearly communicated to Dynamo that we were far more interested in how our followers interact with us than the numbers of followers.  

A company must have some critical mass on Facebook but that could be reached by numerous tricks and gimmicks out there which typically result in a poorly engaged fan base.  We are due to run a competition this month to increase our fan base but this will only be targeted at consumers interested in home and great design.  

Furthermore, this will be validated by an entry question that asks them to nominate a household item that deserves to be give our Affordable Design Award. So it’s going to be harder to hit the KPI but when we do, we will know we have done it in a way that is brand and with customers that are really interested in having a conversation with us. 

How have these progressed so far?

The main activity so far has been around building a communication and campaign plan for the coming quarter.  It’s early days, but we’ve seen social start to gain momentum.  We’ve been more focused so far on putting in the foundations for this quarter’s activity.  

For example, we have spent a day training sales and customer service staff on how to engage and interact on social channels.

How do you view more ‘traditional’ SEO metrics  - search visibility, improved rankings, organic traffic etc?

Share of online voice is important, so clearly we want to benefit from organic traffic and the traditional SEO metrics that help measure these are as valid today as they have ever been.  

We feel we have a joined up approach to achieving both aims in a way which will give us both short and long term success in developing a recognisable and distinct brand and a market leading share of organic search.

Do you see the position of PRs changing? Are they in a better position to build links, conduct blogger outreach etc? What is the value of this compared to on-site optimization? 

I have no doubt that PRs are ideally positioned to help us create great content, start conversations and are best placed to find, nurture and develop long term relationships with journalists and bloggers, whether they be offline or online.  

It is my belief that in doing these things one will create a strong brand with lots of people interested in having conversations about it. These conversations will be recognised by the search engines and will drive the SEO metrics which are more directly linked and attributable to revenue generation.  

Search engines will always need to analyse a website’s content so on-site optimization is absolutely pivotal. One cannot go without the other if one is to achieve success with organic traffic.