Compare search trends to 2019 as the baseline

Published on 6 December 2022, updated on 15 December 2022

Heemesh Vara is Head of SEO at Semetrical. He specializes in Technical SEO, helping drive ROI through tailored website solutions.

How do you usually pitch an eCommerce client? 

It’s fairly similar to how we would pitch any other client. I know many agencies will have dedicated sales teams using a set of templates that they’ll pitch, whereas we take a specialist-led approach. If we’re going to pitch for a client, whether it’s eCommerce or anything else, we have a dedicated team member who would take on the responsibility. 

We begin with the opportunity analysis on the website itself, and then make sure the products of the eCommerce website can be surfaced correctly and that Google is finding their content. So we do an over-linking/under-linking analysis at this stage, which is at a very top level. We can tell if any of their categories or deeper products that have a bit of search volume aren’t being surfaced or linked to very well. 

That tends to do quite well for us because we can explain the thought process behind it. They then know that we’ve taken some time to look at the website and determine whether there are any issues. A lot of our analysis is largely on the tech side of things. 

Usually, in the beginning, we would start with an audit process. From a technical perspective, our technical audit is fairly comprehensive. We have over 200 checks that we use, but specifically for eCommerce, where it gets a bit more in-depth, is that internal linking aspect. 

We have a specific section for it that explains how things connect to each other and what’s not being linked to as much as it should be: are certain pages blocked by robots? Or do we need to unblock things so that Google can crawl the deeper pages? And that’s one part of it. To be able to have the data to inform what needs to be opened up on the website, you need to have the keyword research side as well.

As a keyword research process, we would explore the whole industry. That’s different from other agencies. Where they might take a category-by-category approach and do it month by month, we do it differently. It’s a lot of work at the beginning, but it provides the client and us with a complete picture of their industry. 

For example, we worked with a vintage furniture client with multiple types of products and categories, from sofas, stools, chairs, side tables, etc. So we had to research the entire industry all at once. And this is one of our USPS, in a sense, that we always put in the proposal as well. 

Do you use forecasting for pitching or upselling to eCommerce clients? How do you approach it?

Yes. In the past, before SEOmonitor, as part of the operational analysis, we would identify some of the relevant keywords that we believed that are relevant to the client. We’d also identify where there’s a potential opportunity to create new pages—in a similar way that the tool now does for us. In nine to twelve months, we would estimate that we can get this particular keyword cluster into X position.

It is very robust in the sense that it takes into account seasonality, among other factors, so we can say if there is going to be some linear progression: “you’re not going to see the results straight away. By this time, we can confidently say you’d have an uplift of X amount of traffic, which then would be X amount of conversions”. 

Including this as part of the pitching process always helps because they can see where they currently are. This is where the potential opportunity is! But it does depend on how established the client is at the time.

So, for example, if you had an established client like the furniture client we worked with, they already have a presence. So you already have a sense of what keywords you should be going after, which is quite templated.

We work with other clients that are slightly more challenging because they’re at the launch-to-market stage. This client is in a particular industry, in the sense that Google doesn’t actually provide the search volumes for the keywords. They sell CBD and THC based on drinks and products. It gets a bit more challenging, but I think it makes it a bit more fun that way. You’re forecasting, but it’s difficult because you need the full set of data in terms of the number of keywords you have, as well as the search volumes, as Google usually hides the search volumes. I’d say it’s a bit more accurate for more established eCommerce clients than those just launching. 

What are the main SEO challenges that your eCommerce clients have? 

Coming back to this client that we work with in this unique industry. The main challenge here ties into other channels as well. That is because they are launched to market. As we’re doing the SEO research at the beginning, we would typically offer paid services as well. Suppose they are launching a new product or a category page on their website. In that case, we want to see how it performs from a paid perspective before we put any significant investment into it from an SEO perspective.

In this particular industry, it wasn’t even an option because Google doesn’t let you bid on the terms that you want to for that. In this sense, it was a big challenge for that particular client because they didn’t give any volumes, they didn’t have any competitor data, no CPC data, or anything like that. 

Therefore, we would often have to use click stream data from other third-party data, aggregate it, and then average that data for a search volume. Some of the third-party tools would offer a search volume of 1000 for a keyword, while another would say it’s got a volume of 20. We had to use our own judgment to see, okay, what is the actual search volume here? We would know once this traffic starts to come to the website. 

Another challenge this year was related to the amount of Google updates. There were helpful content updates, the core update, and then also the product review updates.

That was kind of difficult as, firstly, you try to understand what Google is trying to do with these review updates. The product reviews of the products on the website must be personal and written by the people who have bought and tested them.

When we first launched this CBD products website, a lot of the reviews had five-star ratings and short texts, like “this product is great.” This is not the most insightful, and Google could probably tell that. So what we essentially had to convince the client was to have more of a push, from a CRM perspective, to make sure that the users give more detailed reviews.

That has worked really well. Now on every single product page, almost all the reviews have an image alongside. That was a challenge, but it helped us pivot the review strategy in the right way. 

The third challenge is related to how strict or rigid the internal developers are in terms of making changes. For this furniture client, for example, they wanted to explore new opportunities and open up the navigation completely. So by the end of the audit stage, we told them exactly what categories they needed to open up and rework the navigation. But the developers had to stick with the current way of filtering the website. 

There wasn’t really a possibility of adjusting it in the way that we wanted. That’s when we had to change our strategy to ensure that the right things were linked on the page and not messing around with their faster navigation.

This was quite challenging because we had to work outside the JavaScript functionality that they had and make sure that we had all the links included in the page.

Another challenge to highlight was before the core updates of this year. We have a client selling health drinks, like kombucha. Now they are competing more with health websites than with normal kombucha competitors.

That has meant that there’s been a bit of a shift in the strategy that we do now with them because the pages have to be more informational. We encouraged them to work with more health experts in the past year to benefit their website. Having an expert name connected to the content that relates to the products they sell helped the client rank in a better position than they previously did. 

What have you noticed in terms of search behavior trends with your 2022 campaigns? 

We usually compare search trends to 2019 as the baseline. Forecasting, for example, has been quite difficult over the past couple of years. There is still a bit of a lockdown effect from 2020 up until maybe the third quarter of 2022, with significant increases in search volumes just because people were at home searching for many things.

Now, I think since September (2022), we’ve seen it going back to parity. By looking at trend data, September and October are basically now back to the 2019 levels. 

The challenge that we have now is to get that message across to the clients because they’re always comparing year-on-year, and they saw last year’s volume is massive compared to what they have now. We always like to take them back to 2019—this is what the actual search volume looks like. We can’t expect the levels of traffic that we had last year.

One interesting thing is related to the demand, which has increased a lot. Many clients would have plenty of stock to meet that demand and have found that many items are going out of stock. This isn’t great from an SEO perspective, as the user lands on product pages that are out of stock.

As a result, their engagement metrics start to reduce over time, which in turn could reduce their SEO rankings. We need to ensure we’re keeping track of what the engagement metrics look like, which just helps keep the business well-prepared in terms of restocking.

How do you approach your budget in eCommerce in the context of 2023 budgets? 

We tend to usually work on our normal day rate, and we assign X amount of days depending on what their budgets are like. We typically have quarterly meetings with all of our clients. In those quarterly meetings, especially as we get into the third or fourth quarter, we would essentially propose how the work would continue if they were to continue with the current spending. But also what opportunities are available if they were to increase that spend, in terms of how we split our days for them. That tends to work if you’re doing a good job, which we usually do. 

That’s a good way of securing that additional budget, if not maintaining the current level, because it’s a nice time to review everything you’ve done, looking ahead to the future, what opportunities align with their budget and then basically confirm what next year’s budgets will be. 

It can wildly differ between the clients that we have. The more established ones tend to keep their budgets the same just to keep their costs down. For the ones who are more launched to market, there’s that room for expansion because usually, at the beginning, it’s more of a proof of concept on our side.

So we tend to go for a lower budget to ensure that we secure the client and then also do a good job. Once we’re in a good place with them, then we can expand. We can then look to assign some more resources, which means more ongoing competitor analysis and research into other verticals and other categories. They might want to open up about what competitors are doing in the space, and that just helps us achieve that bit better. 

How do you leverage SEOmonitor for eCommerce clients? 

At the pitching stage, SEOmonitor offers a great way to include some initial forecasts in any pitch. It’s just a good way of quickly identifying comparison metrics against competitors in the industry. You will only sometimes know who the competitors are, but SEOmonitor does a good job of identifying them from an SEO perspective. That’s often quite surprising to clients as well because they have their own set of competitors in mind, but SEOmonitor makes it easier because we can show them who is ranking for the keywords they want to go after. 

We also like that we can connect Google Analytics & G.S.C to the campaigns, especially for eCommerce, where products might be out of stock. So we can quickly identify if that’s an issue by looking at SEOmonitor and generally the health of the website in terms of if the core product keywords are going down or up, which directly affects their conversion data and their traffic. 

The smart grouping also helps us with all the tags you can create based on the filters that are important to you. The team has also started to use them more to create specific filters based on product categories and position groups. Then they can bucket them all into one and get an alert when the positions have changed. 

The holistic view of what’s going on across clients in terms of Visibility is also really good. The explanation behind the Visibility metric also helps because sometimes you see massive growth or a massive drop and understand what keywords or clusters of keywords have contributed towards that. 


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