Pets at Home SEO case study

As part of Delineo’s ‘Are you being found online?’ search marketing report, we launch the first in a series of 10 case studies focussing on various industry sectors. The purpose of this research is to establish:

• On-site and off-site factors which influence and affect keyword rankings
• How successful companies implement these factors to enhance relevant, targeted traffic.
• Examples of good practice in the field of search marketing.


Pets at Home is the largest pet supply retail chain in the UK. With approximately 287 physical stores nationwide and an enviable online presence, the company has grown leaps and bounds since its initial appearance in 1991 – at present, Pets at Home have over 5,000 employees.

Pets at Home Online

From our research into, it is clear to see the site takes a rather large proportion of the organic ‘search universe’ in Google for pet product-related searches (though not so much in Bing and Yahoo) – and this isn’t just long tail, wandering phrases (a short sentence of three or more words that contain keywords) but heavy hitting non-branded phrases1 that truly bring in the traffic. Below is a sample of our findings, using our rankings correlation data (Oct. 2011):

The above table looks at non-branded organic searches only, therefore, does not look at the performance of brand searches. This, of course, does not compare at all with how they perform for branded searches, but it is hardly fair because the idea is for us to view how Pets at Home perform organically for non-branded terms, or those terms that would be reasonable for other similar companies to compete for. However Google provided us with data for branded search performance, and this excludes direct traffic3 .

There is little evidence to suggest that Pets at Home engage with any form of online paid advertising, which means all its non-branded searches come mainly through Google organic results. The image below shows a snapshot of Pets at Home competitors bidding on the terms ‘dog food’.

Interestingly, the sponsored ads truly stand out here: star ratings, links to specific products and pages, as well as the coloured background truly show how sophisticated display ads have become over the years. The Pets at Home organic link is somewhat ‘buried’ beneath all of that and does not necessarily catch the eye.

Web Architecture – the Importance of Site Structure

There are many different factors to consider when attempting to identify why a site would rank well for specific terms: the type of content on the website, the quality of external links, social media engagement, site speed, domain age, and many others. However, a full-blown analysis of every site would be far too time-consuming, so instead we have chosen to look at an important ‘SEO aspects’ of each site and look at why this could contribute to good rankings.

For Pets at Home, we look at site architecture and how grouping themed categories together equals sound SEO practice. But firstly, what is site architecture?

Website architecture is the practice of planning a website with consideration for technical, functional and aesthetic criteria. Where search is concerned, this means careful analysis of search behaviour and creating a site structure whose pages are themed, categorised and linked in such a way as to be navigable for both the user and search engine. It is important to note that good site architecture should allow easy access for a search engine crawler. However, we must get one thing straight: the user must be at the forefront of any structural decisions - usability is paramount!

Richard Baxter, CEO of SEO Gadget, wrote an intriguing article discussing site architecture. Within the article, the importance of a flat hierarchy is discussed with no more than three clicks to the deepest level, with deeper pages linking to relevant neighbouring content/pages in order to pass link information effectively.

Pets at Home – architecture

Pets at Home stick to the mantra of ‘no more than three clicks’ to the desired product, but take a look at the site structure and you’ll find it themed beautifully. Here’s an image of the navigation bar, simplifying the customer journey to each individual category.

Each category relates to a specific animal or ‘theme’ of animal (wildlife, reptile etc…) and the drop-down menu reflects a clearly broken down hierarchy of terms, quite obviously based on search behaviour. For instance, taking a look at the ‘Dog’ category in the navigation bar, it is broken down thus:

Dog: dog food, dog beds, dog books, dog bowls, dog collars, dog toys etc…

But the really clever bit, which is great for usability, is the ‘shop by category’ section to the left hand-side of the category landing pages, as can be seen below:

This allows the page to efficiently pass on link authority to other related pages, creating a very tightly themed structure that is dispersed throughout the website. The other benefit to creating a very clear structure is that Google is likely to display site categories clearly in results pages. This is especially important since Google introduced large site links in search results back in August (2011).


Without a doubt, Pets at Home is very successful in its online presence and attracting non–branded phrases. Our stats confirm this. It may be because it is a well-established brand (which Google most likely recognises), and there are inevitably a variety of factors that influence good keyword rank. However, as is often stated, correlation does not always mean causation. But this still does not prevent us from taking a peek at good SEO practice.

Pets at Home site architecture is most likely one influential component that has led to its performance in the overall search rankings. Firstly, clearly designed and easily navigable landing pages, that can be reached in no more than three clicks from the home page. This simplifies the customer journey in a logical format and ultimately assists the company in converting speculative product/price enquiries into sales. Using simple, optimised keyword targeted URLs that help with the semantically themed groups (cats, dogs, fish etc) results in these specific pages being found by the user and appearing in various pet related searches, from cats and dogs to birds and reptiles. Finally, the site adopts a flat architecture that would imply faster indexing and a more efficient transfer of link authority.

All in all, a good solid base for SEO architecture best practice...

If you would like to understand your brand's search marketing performance please contact us on 0161 839 6289 or send us an email.

1 Data is taken from October 2011 searches and doesn’t focus on seasonal trends.
2 Using [exact] match keyword research allows us to view the search behaviour for that ‘exact’ phrase. In reality, phrases often occur with many other terms (for example, ‘designer dog collars’), so Pets at Home would inevitably get more non-branded searches than shown in the chart.
3 Typing in a URL or using a bookmark.
4 This flat site architecture reflects how Pets at Home have approached its structure.