How Upswing drove ROI for a big retailer in Romania — A Global Search Awards winning story

Published on 12 October 2020, updated on 15 November 2022

It was 2018 and Romania, as a market for online food retailers, was in an incipient phase, proving really difficult to tackle. User intent was unusual, most of the head terms (category/product names) were informational queries, and a big player in the industry had a big ask — deliver ROI as quick as possible with a thorough SEO campaign.

The team at Upswing accepted the challenge. 

After all, this established agency with a 1.2 million EUR turnover, has always counted on their strengths, as Radu Marcusu (CEO @Upswing) says: “We exist to offer other businesses that matter the most efficient marketing strategies and tactics.

“One may presume there is close to 0 organic traffic opportunity if a brand is way ahead, anticipating future needs and supplying for them right now.”, Ioana Vacarasu (Head of Business Development) adds, remembering the retailer’s objective in a seemingly tough market. “But not us. We know for sure that if we can find even a remote interest, there’s a way.” 

And so they did, transforming informational queries into a productive insight:

Establishing expectations 

The SEO objective

Starting with an SEO objective is part of Upswing’s methodology, using SEOmonitor’s forecasting module in order to create an accurate proposal that the client can understand and support. 

In order to do that, the team first goes through an in-depth analysis of market data, the client’s authority in their industry, and its competitors authority to identify the most relevant keywords list. Then, once the right keyword groups are settled, they can set the targets and spot opportunities for traffic, rankings in top positions and conversions.

This client was strong on brand authority, so the targets ventured around top 3 in terms of rankings and an ambitious, but realistic objective of organic visits: “Our main objective was to reach 5 million organic visits during the second year of the campaign. The previous year, the client had 2.7 million organic visits. Because the client was reluctant regarding SEO campaigns, we had to provide ROI quickly. We set to increase the number of transactions from organic search by 50%, from 9,8k to more than 14,7k.”, the agency pointed out.  

To achieve that, they deconstructed the main issue — the local audience was not used to buying groceries online, so all queries for products/categories returned SERPs full of articles. How do you rank on high search volume terms with category pages as a food retailer in this tough landscape? 

The right insights

It’s true that as a food retailer the client had to compete mostly with online magazines, bloggers, and other publishers. Upswing was aware of that. But they had the advantage of a performant content department and realised they needed to focus on content marketing to gain visibility. 

Usually, traffic driven through content doesn’t generate conversions, so their next question was — How can we optimize for conversions?

There was an important insight they uncovered here — the sales funnel was shorter. Which meant that someone searching for “mushrooms recipes” would probably want to buy mushrooms right away. 

“We were aware that we had to create a perfect synergy between content and the client’s products in order to maintain a high conversion rate and impact sales. So we put all of our bets on content.”

 A content-driven strategy

1. Identify the target audience

Creating relevant content for that synergy meant understanding user intent and what the target audience was for the campaign. Together with the client and their data, Upswing’s team started profiling buyer personas. 

They identified 5 important types:

  • Family feeders — Attracted to well-known brands that run sales promotion on a frequent basis.
  • On the go consumers — Busy lifestyle, ready to eat fast foods (?), variety in their purchases, more prone to online shopping.
  • Variety seekers — Little brand loyalty, more responsive to sales promotions and new product offerings, easier to win, but a much harder to retain segment.
  • Healthy & natural — Searching for health attributes, more involved in their purchase decisions, need trust first. 
  • Gourmet focus — Higher-quality food seekers, less price-sensitive, less responsive to promotions, focused on variety and rarity. 

2. Identify content opportunities

With the right audience set, it was time to understand the industry landscape and what competitors were there. This proved a first touchpoint in analyzing the relevant content opportunities.

Then, the team used an Upswing proprietary tool — the Visibility Report, that automatically buckets relevant keywords within industries and displays the organic visibility market share and the topics bringing each competitor traffic.

With this step, they understood the head terms and their search volumes. Bringing Topics in the mix helped with traffic estimates. For each topic, they pulled data from Topics API — a tool that analyzes all the keywords a topic/ URL is ranking for in Google and provides traffic estimates based on its SERP-position CTR.

3. Prioritize topics and create a content seasonality heatmap

Every SEO campaign has a timing built in by default. The team knew they had to map seasonality on a large scale. So they prioritized more than 30k topics using accurate topic traffic estimates and created a heatmap to time content on a large scale. 

Next, they mapped the most relevant topics in terms of traffic opportunity versus sale funnel stage.

Plus, when the pandemic hit and the “traditional” 12-months averages for search volumes were obsolete, Upswing took on a new challenge — investing in another proprietary tool to help with that issue called COVID-19 Trends. 

This tool scraped data for all the keywords within the industry from Google Trends. 

We created a simple formula (last month search volume x Trend multiplier) to forecast next month’s search volume. We used this to guide our content strategy. From the tool we quickly identified user behaviour patterns and trending topics such as: dry yeast, hair dye and certain ingredients for Romanian traditional recipes. People weren’t eating out anymore.

4. For each buyer persona, a different content attribution

The content mapping transformed into a chance to put the “jobs to be done” framework in action. 

In short, this approach first described by Clayton Christensen states, in his own words: “We all have many jobs to be done in our lives. Some are little (pass the time while waiting in line); some are big (find a more fulfilling career). Some surface unpredictably (dress for an out-of-town business meeting after the airline lost my suitcase); some regularly (pack a healthful lunch for my daughter to take to school). When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative.“

Upswing decided to fully understand each persona (from the 5 identified) and their sales funnel touch points so as to provide monthly content in accordance: 

True to their data-driven approach, they overlapped the topic opportunities, the seasonality heat map & the sales funnels content attribution per each buyer persona for a winning content strategy:

5. Evaluate content health — an ongoing process

As the agency strives to be at the forefront of innovation and smart digital marketing approaches, they didn’t stop here. With their own methodology, they evaluated the health of the content — defined as the average traffic estimates for position 1-3 in SERPs for a head term compared with the traffic an article gained in the last month. 

That’s how they constantly monitored the content performance, in order to see if it reached its traffic potential and objectives or there was room for improvement: “We used Ahrefs URL organic traffic feature and SEOmonitor’s SEO Research. The health score indicated if we managed to reach the traffic goal or we had to improve the article. Because we created topic-based content, we exceeded the estimations.” 

6. Optimize conversion rates with the client’s support

To make the most of this complex content strategy, changes in the client’s website needed to take place as well.

Apart from fixing technical issues such as duplicate content, indexing issues, URLs format, poor internal linking, some special implementations appeared in order to keep the conversion rate high.

One important tweak that increased conversions was listing products in articles and/or recipes on the client’s website with a clear CTA to add those products in the cart.

It may seem like a small change, yet it enhanced content performance and geared the users towards buying the specific products that the client was targeting.

When content drives ROI — the winning results

After +12 months of hard work and a well-executed content strategy, the results speak for themselves. They reached 5.99 million organic visits, while keeping a high conversion rate even if they grew the traffic 2.2x through content.

The client became the most visible online food retailer in the local market, and the data showed a steady achievement:

  • Transactions:  +58%
  • Sessions:  +161%
  • 1st page rankings:  +46%

Because of their insightful strategy and thoroughness in execution, Upswing was a headliner in 2020’s SEO-industry awards, taking home Best low budget campaign (SEO) at EU Search Awards, Best SEO campaign at Global Agency Awards, and Best use of content marketing Best use of data at Global Search Awards.  

Summary (lessons learned)

  • Upswing’s bet on content marketing had paid off due to their key insights — creating content designed for informational searches, with a deep understanding of a short sales funnel for targeted buyer types. 
  • It was an “atypical” campaign leveraging a content strategy instead of the “traditional” eCommerce approach which proved right for the market and the client’s focus. This helped with making people aware of the client’s online shop, as well.
  • Shifting the strategy during the pandemic and using that edge of digital acceleration / fast moving trends for the content strategy was the right move in 2020.