Challenge: Missing out on organic traffic due to competition of affiliate partners

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) is the main railway company in the Netherlands, carrying more than 1 million passengers a day. The NS is also one of the largest companies in the Netherlands. Although NS has no direct competitors in the Dutch market, the landscape online and especially on the Search Engine Result Pages looks different. Because of collaborations with affiliate partners, it is possible for their web pages to rank higher in the organic search results than NS themselves.

This was actually happening for a number of important terms with high search volumes. NS ranked on an average position of 6 with 5 competing affiliate sites above it. By deploying additional SEA campaigns, NS ensured that it could capture some search traffic for these terms. In short: a lot of budget was spent on capturing traffic that should come directly to NS organically. Before the work could take place, the impact of SEO first had to be endorsed: after seeing the search volumes on the search term “cheap train tickets”, NS also understood the potential.

A couple of goals were set for this case :

> Increase organic visibility in search engines and regain authority
> Stop affiliate marketing costs
> SEA media budget savings
> Getting SEO higher on the agenda of NS stakeholders and teams
> Convince the management team of the potential of organic search

Solution: pilot project to improve rankings and increase sponsorship for SEO

In order to increase the importance, knowledge and expertise of SEO within the NS, it was decided to set up a pilot project. The choice was made to focus on increasing the organic visibility on the search term ‘cheap train tickets’, because there was a lot of growth potential here. Subsequently, these steps were taken to set up the pilot project:

Development of a business case to convince the management team of the potential. In close cooperation with the internal online marketing specialist, the current situation was compared by sketching different ‘what if’ scenarios.
Analysis of ranking factors: which are important for the ‘cheap train tickets’ search intention, what the top ranking sites do well and what is missing on the NS landing page.
Knowledge sessions and training sessions by Artefact to the various NS teams to increase SEO knowledge and to enthuse employees
Project group sessions with different stakeholders
Provide more transparency and frequent updates on project status to stakeholders in order to highlight the success of the pilot, stay top of mind and ensure motivation.
Monitoring & reporting of targets with data from Google Search Console, Google Analytics,, Advanced Web Ranking & MajesticSEO
Creation of an (internal) success case serving as blueprint for future SEO project

Results: 75% savings in media cost due to number one organic search position

Overall savings in marketing costs as a result of stopping the affiliate collaboration and switching off SEA (paid advertising in Google to lead traffic to NS was no longer necessary because NS achieved a number 1 organic position)

Knowledge of SEO within NS has increased and the focus on this marketing activity has increased within the various departments.

Blueprint created for future SEO projects: has ensured further expansion of SEO projects within NS

Project results for landing page:

 Increase of the position of the term ‘cheap train tickets’ in the organic search results from 6 to a stable no. 1 position
75% decrease of related media costs (see graph)
CTR from Google increased from 3.9% to 15.7%
Increase in organic traffic of 729% (year on year)
Increase in turnover via organic channel of 630% (year on year)