Harry Potter ‘spells’ success for Barnes and Noble search traffic

August 5, 2016 12:34 PM

Harry Potter’s latest adventure is giving Barnes and Noble Inc. some search traffic magic.

In the four weeks leading up to the July 31 release of the latest novel in the popular Harry Potter fiction series, “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” received more desktop search traffic coming from keywords containing the words “Harry Potter,” than web retailing giant Inc., according to data from digital analytics firm SimilarWeb.

While received more overall traffic from search results in the past four weeks—289 million visits—than the 6 million visits got, received 74.1% of the search traffic for keywords containing “Harry Potter,” compared to Amazon’s 25.9%, when comparing the two retailers head to head. On the release date alone, received more than 1.1 million visits to its desktop site, according to SimilarWeb.

In the four weeks leading up to the Harry Potter launch, received 49% of its traffic from search, and 7% of its search traffic came from keyword searches containing “Harry Potter”, according to SimilarWeb. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Book,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “New Harry Potter Book,” are the keywords that drove the most search traffic for the retailer. appeared three times on the first page of Google search results when a U.S. consumer searched “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book,” in the last 28 days: in the “Shop” category on the top of the page, a hit in the organic results and a link on the right rail to show how consumers rated the book on

Barnes & Noble, No. 54 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, can thank its internal web deep linking structure for this feat against (No. 1), says Brian Klais, CEO of mobile marketing and mobile search engine optimization firm Pure Oxygen Labs LLC. Web deep linking is when retailers index pages deep into their website beyond their home page in search results. has 12 million site pages that could show up in Google search results. (Amazon has 300 million.) Each of Barnes & Noble’s 12 million links  uses deep linking HTML code that directly links to the Harry Potter book product page, Klais says.

Here is what the HTML source code looks like in all of the 12 million links:

“These links follow best practices and feature relevant keywords in the link text, amplifying relevance signals,” Klais says.

A retailer can add this code once to their main navigation template so that it gets pulled in every time, he says.

“Cutting edge retailers use this technique to selectively promote hot products,” Klais says. “It's an opportunity for most to consider, but I wouldn't frame it as a silver bullet.” For instance, retailers may incorrectly use Javascript and cascading style sheets (CSS) in the deep links they place in their navigation, which block Google’s search bot from seeing it.

Barnes & Noble also used this linking structure on its home page, which has the greatest link equity—meaning the home page has the most links on the site that refer back to it—making it the most potent deep link of all, Klais says. The retailer prominently features the new Harry Potter novel on the home page, which is then linked to the product page. Amazon is not featuring the book on the home page.

The web deep links, however, are only a piece of the puzzle. Another reason why could have received more Harry Potter search traffic than is because the book retailer is referred to more than Amazon is on Harry Potter fan sites, book review sites and news articles, when talking about “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” says Cameron Garrant, marketing analyst at mobile marketing and software vendor Repsly Inc. Thus, Google ranked Barnes and Noble higher because it built more topical authority within this area, he says.

Social media also played a role in giving Barnes & Noble an edge over Amazon in the Harry Potter duel, Klais says. Barnes & Noble has actively promoted the book on Facebook and Pinterest, and consumers have shared Barnes and Noble’s product page for the book on Facebook 1,500 times and it has almost 3,000 likes, according to SEO data analytics vendor SEOMoz Inc. This is compared to Amazon's Harry Potter Facebook product page with 50 shares and 90 likes, according to SEOMoz data.

Barnes & Noble also ensured that its Facebook posts were coded correctly, while Amazon didn’t, Klais says. 

“Barnes & Noble's product page HTML also support Facebook's Open Graph tags,” Klais says. “These tags ensure that when customers share a product on Facebook, their friends see the official description, imagery and product URL. This increases click-through rate and follow-on sharing. Amazon's page doesn't use Open Graph tags. As a result, attempting to share Amazon's Harry Potter page shows gibberish and a less enticing post. This might explain Amazon's lower sharing metrics.”

Overall, Barnes & Noble wining Harry Potter search traffic share is likely due to Barnes and Noble’s commitment to building a strong digital network focused on the book category, and Amazon being inattentive, says Greg Portell, a partner in the communications media and technology practice of A.T. Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm.

“Across a range of book searches, Barnes & Noble outperforms Amazon,” Portell says. “This would be consistent with Amazon’s focus on broader retail and its captive network of users within Prime. The Harry Potter book isn’t likely a gateway to bring people into the Prime service – therefore, it wouldn’t warrant too much attention to Amazon.”




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