Steve Walker co-founded Journey Further’s organic proposition and leads the technical development of Salient and Journey Further’s other proprietary toolkit.
How do you approach pitching to your eCommerce clients?
We approach pitching in the same way we actually work with our clients, the aim being to answer one question: what can we do to help drive commercial success for the business using organic search?
I believe many SEOs fail by jumping straight to the SEO-focused metrics and data points without attempting to understand how the client’s business operates, who their customers are, how they make money, and what they’re trying to achieve by investing in SEO.
We start our SEO analysis and audits after we have a strong grasp of this. When pitching to a prospective client, we never just show them a list of ‘SEO issues.’ Most clients are aware of 90% of their SEO flaws. They just don’t know how to fix them or which to prioritize.
We aim to give our clients a route to organic revenue growth. We do this by identifying the commercial opportunities at a product/service level, with the strongest conversion rates, the best proposition against competitors, the strongest margin, and obviously the prerequisite of traffic opportunity.
The output of the above process is a blueprint of how we will help the client grow their business using SEO.
Do you also use forecasting for pitching or upselling to your eCommerce clients?
Yes, we do. We always get asked for forecasts. And even if they don’t ask for them, we usually offer them as it is a good way of measuring performance. We can always come back to the forecast and show the client what we originally planned and where we are now.
What are the main challenges you have noticed about your eCommerce clients?
One of the biggest challenges while working with an eCommerce client is knowing which area we should focus on and which areas could drive the most revenue profitably. For example, a big eCommerce client might sell 100k plus products. Then, the challenge comes with figuring out where to start first because there are always finite resources, even for household brands.
Measuring impact within SEO has become increasingly difficult over the past few years. That’s why having a powerful tool like SEOmonitor is important: the ability to integrate a combination of data points into your ranking tool (e.g., GSC, GA, including revenue and conversions) gives you more evidence to prove success to the client.
Then, on the client side, getting buy-in from their stakeholders and getting the budget signed off. Companies need to ensure they’re getting ROI on every marketing channel they’re using, and sometimes it’s a challenge to show the value of SEO and to have a proper business case to get them to invest in it. This means that we have to be clear about what we’re focusing on and what the uplift is going to be, having forecasts, and having a clear strategy on which areas are going to drive the most value as well.
Can you give me an example of a successful campaign you delivered for an eCommerce client? Which were the challenges and how did you approach them?
We work with a UK department store that wanted to significantly grow sessions and revenue in their women’s fashion category. We were tasked with identifying which product groups had the highest chance of driving the strongest ROI, so we combined organic analytics data with PPC search reports to identify revenue potential at a keyword level.
We found that there was an opportunity to increase the amount of indexable product landing pages (PLP’s), as this was heavily restricted within their faceted navigation and CMS.
We prioritized PLPs that had strong product inventories, as opposed to just targeting the keywords that had good levels of search volume. The aim was to create additional PLPs that would drive the most revenue, not just low-converting traffic.
This project involved working with many client stakeholders, from web devs, and content writers to merchandisers. And it is a prime example of how SEO is changing from just execution resources to strategic consultancy.
As a result of the campaign, we saw an average rank for the category increase from 13th to 9th, driving a 283% increase in non-brand revenue (YoY).
What have you noticed in terms of search behavior trends within your 2022 campaigns?
I think the biggest changes are just the changes in the search results themselves, what Google deems to be a good result, which has changed dramatically. They’ll add features to the search page to answer the question. Rather than it being just the standard eight to ten links, we see more of a focus on answering the question or providing a rich result, a video, or additional shopping results. That’s probably one of the bigger changes, maybe not as recently, but gradually over the past couple of years.
In terms of how people are changing how they search, there is an underlying trend of disappointment with the results that Google is providing at the moment. Searchers are getting tired of the countless affiliate articles that dominate the SERPs that people with first-hand experience with the topics don’t write.
People are appending ‘Reddit’ to their search queries because they know it contains a wealth of valuable ‘real user’ content. You can see this is a problem Google has been trying to solve with the multiple algorithm updates over the past few months, specifically the ‘helpful content update.’
Have eCommerce clients’ needs or requests changed over the past months, given the economic shifts?
Measuring ROI has always been important, but it’s no longer ‘a nice to have’. It is essential. This is why your performance monitoring tools like SEOmonitor are critical to your agency.
The amount of in-house teams has also increased dramatically over the past few months. This is a great thing for the SEO industry and a testament to SEO’s importance in digital marketing. But it fundamentally changes how agencies need to operate.
We’re no longer just additional resources doing basic SEO activity, we need to act in a similar way to a business consultancy and provide strategic-level support.
How do you approach the SEO budgets in eCommerce in the context of 2023?
SEO budgets and the focuses within them used to be standardized across most clients. However, with the increase of in-house SEO teams taking some of that work on, it really varies across each business.
We put a lot of time into understanding the priorities of the SEO campaign, what can the in-house team already do, and where we need to fill in the gaps.
Have you noticed any differences between different industries under the eCommerce sector, in terms of search behavior trends?
The online journey to purchase has always been complicated, but this has increased tenfold. Gen Z and Millenials have grown up using the internet, and as a result, don’t necessarily use it in the same way older generations used to. Many more platforms (e.g., TikTok, Instagram, Youtube) play a role in web search, which we as an industry need to adapt to.
Search demand as a whole has noticeably reduced with the relaxation of COVID-19 rules, we saw big increases in demand across home and retail, but that has waned over the past six months.
The areas that we’ve seen growing are travel. The increased confidence in foreign travel post-COVID has returned, and people are keen to enjoy a holiday, although it’s unknown how well this will hold out with the growing global financial issues.
How do you leverage SEOmonitor for eCommerce clients?
One of the features we’ve been using frequently is the cannibalization detection. Having the X-ray feature helps you easily identify page conflicts. So that’s definitely helpful.
As mentioned above, the ability to combine GSC, GA, sessions, and revenue into your ranking tool has made it really easy to show the real-life impact of increasing rankings.
10 main common challenges in the eCommerce SEO world.
Based on the 15 interviews in this series, we identified 10 main common challenges in the eCommerce SEO world. We didn’t stop here and dug deeper into their context and possible solutions.