Jumpstart your SEO efforts with a reverse proxy

Michael Angelo Groeneveld & Just Eat Takeaway.com SEO team Michael Angelo Groeneveld & Just Eat Takeaway.com SEO team
10 - 11 - 2020

During the past years one of our customers, Just Eat Takeaway.com (JET), has experienced exponential growth in all markets and departments, resulting in the expansion of the company with thousands of additional colleagues to cover for the extra workload. This rapid expansion has come with certain resource challenges that ask for out of the box solutions.

One of their biggest challenges in recent years is the allocation of tech resources for second tier work (often marketing related) that does not directly impact their core business, which is making sure customers are able to order food online 24/7.

In order to keep moving forward, they needed to think of creative solutions to achieve their second tier goals, as these projects will eventually help their business grow.

The biggest challenge their SEO team had to face was getting new projects hosted in subfolders instead of subdomains. Due to the limited resources mentioned, projects often had to be hosted on subdomains or external websites instead of subfolders. This would mean losing all the online love in the form of mentions, social shares and SEO backlinks that strengthen their overall website.

Fortunately, we helped them solve their problem by applying a reverse proxy in a creative way.

Subdomain vs. Subfolder

First, let’s talk about why having new projects hosted on subfolders as opposed to subdomains is so important to SEO.

There are two common ways of hosting content, for example in the form of a blog, on your domain. The first is a subdomain (https://blog.example.com) and the second is a subfolder or directory (https://www.example.com/blog).

Google claims they are indifferent towards subdomains or subfolders and says they both have the same ability to rank. However, most SEO teams will disagree. There are many case studies that show that moving from a subdomain to a subfolder increases traffic.

Based on JET's own experiences and the research available, they believe that subdomains have authority that is bound only to the subdomain, and that is not passed (equally) to the other subdomains belonging to that root domain. Having a blog in a subfolder, however, makes it inherit the authority of the subdomain and at the same time makes it pass along newly gained authority by the blog itself back to the subdomain.

For these reasons, JET requires that any content-related project must be hosted in a subfolder. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

It all started with the Foodwiki

A while back JET worked on a project called the Foodwiki - a culinary encyclopedia created by their SEO team to support their SEO strategy. The Foodwiki is a Wordpress installation and would be managed by their team.

Because of the aforementioned reasons, they wanted to host it in a subfolder of the main domain instead of on a less SEO-friendly subdomain or on an external domain. This way they would get mutual benefits - the main domain's authority boosts the Foodwiki and in return, the Foodwiki contributes to the main domain's authority with every SEO backlink it earns.

It turned out that, however great from an SEO standpoint, for JET's IT department such a solution was harder to implement. Setting it up securely would require significant IT resources to build and maintain; resources that are needed more urgently for ensuring proper functioning of the crucial elements of the platform itself.

As the SEO team, they had to find a way to make their vision come true without adding too much pressure on the tech departments. Fortunately, there are ways to free two birds with one key, and a reverse proxy solution facilitated by El Niño helped them move forward.

What is a reverse proxy

A reverse proxy, also known as a reverse proxy server, is a server that sits in front of one or more web servers and directs client requests to the appropriate backend server.

Reverse proxy flow

The most common uses of a reverse proxy are load balancing, caching and security. However, for the Foodwiki it's used in a different way: sending the requests for a specific subfolder to another server.

How this works is that the reverse proxy intercepts the requests for a certain subfolder (/foodwiki) and forwards it to a server at El Niño where the Foodwiki is hosted.

This allows JET to keep the SEO benefits of having the website in a subfolder and, at the same time, relieves their IT department from maintenance.

The benefits

For JET this solution comes with several benefits, the main one being to ensure that they kick-start new projects or campaigns with the domain authority of their powerful main domain. This way, marketing campaign pages will instantly rank higher in any search engine and attract organic visitors with less effort, which relieves their own SEO resources.

In addition to this, even after phasing out a project, a directory stays on the website and maintains all the backlinks, social mentions and other important signals given to it by external sources. As a result, it benefits their main domain, strengthens the overall position of the core brand and results in higher rankings within search engines on competitive keyword positions. And isn’t boosting the authority and brand awareness of the core domain a universal goal of any organization?

Secondly, they’ve reduced the pressure on their own IT department and can now outsource work to agencies. The reverse proxy server setup that El Niño has created for them enables agencies to work on their own, separate server without interfering with JET's tech department stacks.

All stakeholders win in this situation: Marketing teams are able to move forward with their often tech-intensive projects without any dependency on the IT department, and the IT departments, in turn, can focus on maintaining operations for the food order process. It’s a true win-win.

Security

This setup also has some additional security benefits, the most obvious one is that the codebase of the external applications is not hosted on the same hosting environment as the codebase of JET’s core application. Breaches in the external software don't result in hackers being able to access JET’s core applications used by millions of people around the globe.

An additional benefit is that with this reverse proxy, it is possible to rate limit the visitors and crawlers going through the proxy. This decreases chances of the external tools being forced to go offline during, for example, a DDOS attack.

By default, extra request headers are also automatically added by the reverse proxy setup to increase the security of the requests itself. An example of such a header is:

X-Content-Type-Options nosniff

This header prevents mime type based attacks. This header is especially important for (old versions of) Internet Explorer in which it was possible to fake the mime type the user was requesting, making it possible to execute files on the server which shouldn’t be executed. With the nosniff option, if the server detects that the content is text/html, the browser is forced to render the response as text/html.

Examples of a reverse proxy within Just Eat Takeaway.com

Fast forward a couple of months and JET uses the reverse proxy setup for a number of projects. These are a couple of the subdirectories that are hosted by El Niño:

/foodwiki

The Foodwiki is a culinary encyclopedia where users can explore hundreds of dishes from diverse cuisines.

JET decided to use Wordpress as a CMS so all contributors can easily add new cuisines and dishes. Both the Wordpress theme and content are developed externally.

Hosting the Foodwiki on the root domain ensures that they are able to compete with highly authoritative recipe websites by benefiting from the high authority of their own platform.

/deals

The deals subdirectory is supported by a custom CMS made by El Niño. It allows JET's marketing team to upload single landing pages with complete freedom. They use it to create single campaign pages and sometimes even use it for A/B testing.

/drivers

On the Drivers page, people can apply to become a delivery courier at Just Eat Takeaway.com. It's a single page with an application form that is connected to JET's recruitment software.

As we all know, the competition for finding the best employees is fierce. There are endless parties in every country sharing vacancies and trying to get a piece of the pie. By ensuring a hosting environment on their root domain, they are able to counter them in the first positions in the Google search results.

/thetakeaway

The Takeaway, their most recent subdirectory, is their new food magazine where visitors can read up on and get inspired by the latest (sustainable) food trends and best restaurants in their city.

Just as the Foodwiki, the Wordpress theme was developed by an external agency. By hosting it on the root domain, articles will immediately rank high on competitive search terms for which other popular food magazines or guides rank.

Summing it up

The reverse proxy solution provided by El Niño allows JET to successfully accomplish several marketing projects that would otherwise take much more time and resources to come into fruition. They're not only able to quickly bring new ideas to life, but also remain in control of the newly created projects. The reverse proxy solution gives them the freedom to operate within their SEO friendly subfolders without their IT department being involved.

Michael Angelo Groeneveld & Just Eat Takeaway.com SEO team. Michael is the founder of El Niño and is responsible for the internal and external knowledge development related to web technologies. Michael Angelo Groeneveld & Just Eat Takeaway.com SEO team. Michael is the founder of El Niño and is responsible for the internal and external knowledge development related to web technologies.

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