Native Places: SEO Case Study

I am conducting this study to showcase the successes achieved for Native Places within a highly competitive industry. The hospitality and leisure industry is one of increasing rivalry and the battle for bookings and reservations is only growing – although this has stalled for the industry as a whole right now as a result of the Coronavirus crisis.

The Leisure and Hospitality Industry

Since Google first launched their hotel meta-search platform directly on the search results pages in 2011, allowing users to find and book places to stay without even visiting the websites, this has become increasingly true.

Large OTA’s (Online Travel Agents) generally have much larger budgets and so they are more able to dominate ad-space, as well as taking the top spots in these meta-hotel searches.

Overall visibility and the number of bookings is a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) here and this is what we will be measuring against.

Having worked together since December 2017, we have worked across several of their owned domains. Native Places offer design-led aparthotels and serviced apartments across the UK and are perfect for business and leisure travellers. Their primary locations are in London, Glasgow, and Manchester. We were tasked with improving their current website so that they would function better for their target audience, perform better in the eyes of search engines, and ultimately lead to more bookings in their accommodations.

Who Are the Competition?

Their main competition in the marketplace is the OTA’s, namely Travelodge, Mercure, Marriott, Premier Inn as well as the likes of Booking.com and Trip Advisor. Then there are some of the more popular local venues such as London Bridge Hotel, Hotel Gotham in Manchester and Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow.

With this in mind, it was important to target the right audiences in our messaging, with a view to targeting those who are specifically looking for a way to make their stays memorable as well as flexible.

The CMS

The existing nativeplaces.com website was launched in May 2018 after migrating from gonative.com and uses WordPress. This is arguably the most popular CMS on the internet; there are currently at least 27,021,750 live websites using WordPress (as of February 2020) of which 314,765 are in the UK.

WordPress was created in 2003 and is known as an open-source platform and is largely stable, but there are some known issues that can crop up from time to time. The most common problem is the 500 Internal Server Error which is usually caused by a corrupt .htaccess file. The ‘White Screen of Death’ is also a known issue and this is usually the result of compatibility issues with a plugin or theme.

The domain was first created on 24th April 2012 meaning that the domain is currently 7 years and 11 months old, at the time of writing. This is good as it means the domain does have some good age and authority behind it.

Historical Results

Visibility

The nativeplaces.com domain has always done well; enjoying around 2,500 monthly visits between August 2018 and October 2019. But it was after this date where things really improved and traffic spiked to 4,300 visits in November 2019 and continued to improve month on month. This can be seen on the image below from SemRush.

native traffic trend

We see similar things in terms of their visibility too, as we see a large spike in November 2019 on the Sistrix visibility index.

This comes after the disavow file was updated (point A in the image below) and after a few more smaller spikes, visibility is a lot more stable now and looking better than ever.

native visibility

These improvements have resulted in massive traffic improvements as we will discuss later.

Google Updates

Google implements updates to their algorithm hundreds of times throughout the year; some of these are minor changes whereas others have much larger effects. When these changes are made, the industry is not always notified, oftentimes the first we know about these changes is when we see ranking fluctuations in our client websites.

There have been specific updates since, but the 5 major updates that continue to have implications on websites to this day are (in chronological order):

  • Panda – beginning in February 2011, this targeted poor quality and thin sites and essentially stopped them from ranking as high if Google didn’t deem them trustworthy-enough. Websites would experience either a drop in traffic and rankings or a boost – depending on how Google viewed them.
  • Penguin – released in April 2012 this placed a lot more emphasis on incoming links. In the past, black-hat tactics were common in link building and this update penalised those and encouraged much more natural links and less keyword stuffing.
  • Hummingbird – came in 2013 and was the first introduction of keyword intent into search. It improved the delivery of results for the specified keyword – it placed emphasis on the users themselves and less on the keywords. It also meant website owners had to think differently about the way they created content.
  • Pigeon – in July 2014 more focus was placed on local search and the integration with Google Maps which is crucial to meeting the needs of users who are looking for products on the go.
  • Fred – although somewhat unconfirmed, as of June 2017 this update targeted sites who emphasised revenue over the quality of their content and other tactics that Google deemed to be spammy.

native place case study visibility

Native were affected by some of these updates, as we can see by the image above, but the main culprits here are updates to the core algorithm.

It’s encouraging to see that none of the major updates hit Native Places in any major way, as it shows that the website has always been in good-standing and would appear to not have had any significant problems with spammy backlinks or any other black-hat tactics.

Problem Areas and Solutions

URL structure –

The existing URL structure was inconsistent and did not allow for future growth. So this was one of the big areas that we worked on with the developers to resolve. We created a much more scalable URL structure for the business that would add additional SEO value in the future too. Once this was implemented we then began work on adding redirects, updating internal links, identifying any external links as well as remembering to annotate our work on Google Analytics and our other tracking tools so we could measure the effect of our efforts.

Crawl Efficiency –

There were a small number of errors here that we wanted to look at, doing so would make it easier for Google to crawl and then index the content on the Native Places website.

The first error here was ‘Submitted URL has crawl issue’ which means there is a page that has been submitted for indexing but when trying to do so Google encountered an unspecified crawling error. To get to the bottom of this we used the debugging tool which suggests that the URLs were no longer live but they were still accessible through the sitemaps. So, we removed the offending pages from the sitemap and contacted external sites that were linking to these websites and asked them to update the links, which they did. We also added redirects to appropriate landing pages and we resolved this error.

There were also some ‘server errors (5xx)’ that were being flagged in Google Search Console. This means that the server returned a 500-level error when the page was requested. To resolve this, we followed similar steps to the above and quickly resolved these errors too.

Improved Property Pages –

The nature of the Native Places site means they have landing pages for each of their properties that are available for people to stay in, but we could see from the data that these were not performing as well as they could be, nor were Native making best use of them to drive conversions.

We knew that the images and Javascript were adding to most of the page weight here, but we also found that there were a number of external resources on these property pages that were no longer being used but were continuing to add to page weight. We analysed each of these and opted to remove those that were no longer used.

Following on from this, we looked at how the page was being used and performed and realised that there were opportunities here. We made some initial recommendations to remove certain aspects of content as well as adding more Calls to Action. This is something we continued to work closely with the developers and Native Places themselves on and these recommendations were taken into further consideration when it came time for a website redesign and the results spoke for themselves – more on that later.

We also improved the internal linking with these property pages. This means ensuring that there were appropriate links to and from the neighbourhood directories as well as from within other content on the Native website. This is important as it helps Google to understand the architecture as well as the importance and relevance of these pages within the website.

Content Plan –

Native did have some good content to begin with on the website, but we worked to create a much more tangible content strategy for them. This of course encompassed researching the best terms to use, but we also placed a lot of emphasis on local content. We also made sure to keep Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines in mind at all times when creating this strategy.

This really helped to establish Native Places as an authoritative voice within each of their main locations (London, Glasgow, Manchester). Here are some examples of the content we suggested for them:

  1. https://www.nativeplaces.com/blog/how-to-spend-valentines-weekend-in-manchester/
  2. https://www.nativeplaces.com/blog/anchor-line-reunion-at-native-glasgow/
  3. https://www.nativeplaces.com/blog/the-history-of-monument-london/

Site speed –

There were some issues with the site speed that were present as a result of the previous website design and build. As mentioned, this did involve instances of removing unnecessary elements but we also worked on larger aspects too.

We made a recommendation to Base64 encode some images. This would involve using base64 on some of the smaller images on the website (social media images, favicons etc.) meaning that they wouldn’t need to be downloaded by the web browser which would in turn save load time.

Resizing the images themselves was another good opportunity for Native Places. This is because some images were being delivered larger than the size that they were being displayed at causing the loading of some unnecessary data. We re-sized the images as appropriate and replaced them on the server.

Beyond this, we worked to optimise the rest of the images on the website and were able to do so without affecting the overall image quality, which is something that is very important to Native. We used a number of tools to do this, but one of the best ways to reduce the overall image size is by using these optimisation tools to remove EXIF data from images.

Once these images were optimised, it was simply a case of replacing the originals with these updated versions on the server.

Similarly, the favicon itself was much heavier than it needed to be. There is no reason for website favicons to be larger than 10KB so this was updated and replaced too. This was a really quick and effective change to make, but even the smallest changes all add up to making a big difference.

We worked with developers to minify the HTML on the website by ensuring that the files were compressed and removing things like whitespace in the files themselves. Doing so reduced the time it takes to transmit data which again leads to reduced load time.

PHP Version –

This was much needed as when we audited the site we could see that the website was using an outdated and soon to be unsupported version of PHP. They were using 7.1.8 whereas at the time the latest version was 7.3+. Version 7.1 would no longer receive any support after 1st December 2019. This was soon updated to ensure optimal performance and security for the website. At the time of writing, the latest version is 7.4 which will receive active support until 28th November 2021.

Outcomes

As a result of the comprehensive on-going strategies we have created for Native Places, as well as resolving the issues we’ve mentioned here, Native have seen incredible results.

Not only has Native Manchester became an award-winning hotel, but their traffic and conversions have continued to improve to this day.

Backlinks

Native Places do have their own PR team, and we have also been working on link building for them. Below you can get an idea of some of the high-quality links that we have been able to curate:

As you can see these are all from well-known publications and as a result they carry a higher degree of link equity with them. Backlinks continue to remain a strong indication to search engines of your industry, expertise and trust. 

Keywords

native keyword improvements

If we look at the recent keyword improvements for Native Places, we can see some really good improvements in the ranks for their main URLs through a mix of their main keywords as well as some of their more localised terms.

Native also now have 46 keywords that rank their content on the first page of SERPs, which was certainly not the case when this website was launched and we began working together.

Traffic and Conversions

As a result of our work, Native Places are seeing an 84% increase in traffic compared to the same time last year and the number of bookings (transactions) have increased by 240% during that same period.

This is a massive improvement that would not have been possible without our experience, knowledge, in-depth growth strategies and implementation.

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