Look for solutions beyond your immediate discipline

Published on 6 December 2022, updated on 15 December 2022

Luke Carthy is an eCommerce consultant, eCommerce store founder, and international speaker. Luke parks himself at the center of CRO, growth, and SEO disciplines.

How do you approach pitching for your eCommerce clients? 

Pitching is an interesting one as an independent consultant. The way I go about it is to look at a client’s website and the business case studies and see what kind of low-hanging fruit I can find. That gives me ideas and concepts to talk through, and I know how I’d like to take things forward.

Also, from the start, I like to make it clear that I’m here to work and not to follow bureaucracy or be part of politics. That helps with being proactive and making an impact. 

So, I keep the proposals short and sweet. Everybody just wants to get started, not read massive documents. It’s just talking through my experience and ways of working, pricing information, and just being sure to listen and ask as many questions as possible.

I think one of the biggest mistakes that many vendors and consultant agencies make is that there’s a lot of talking, a lot of trying to justify what they can do and how they’re better and how they’re different. I believe the pitch process is probably 80% just listening and then the remaining time answering those questions and picking back up on the points that you’ve heard. 

That’s why my proposals are either PowerPoint presentations or literally an email, depending on the client relationship. I tend not to stick to a rigid template but adapt to how the client and relationship are looking. 

Plus, I get much of the work through referrals and networking, so there aren’t as many official pitches. I still go through the proposal process, but it’s more fluid and less rigid than an agency approach. 

What are the main challenges that your eCommerce clients are facing?

Mindset shift in getting buy-in, right? Because there’ll be times in the world of eCommerce where SEO isn’t the answer.

A lot of clients that I’ve worked with over the years and who I work with now reach me about SEO. But when you look at their site, their tech stack, and their customers, you may actually realize that SEO really isn’t the first priority. It could be something to do with conversion optimization, usability, inventory pricing, and site speed, which you could argue is SEO to a point, but lots of other factors could move the needle more and generate more profit than going for organic search off the bat.

That’s probably one of the more challenging ones, particularly if you’re in a larger organization where there are lots of moving parts, lots of people to convince, etc. That can be one of the trickiest ones to get right.

A second one is trying to understand what the client wants to spend. Naturally, there’s a lot of taboo and anxiety around the question of spend. The reality is that asking for a budget helps to understand the reality of what they want to achieve, and can cut out a lot of time wasting if they’ve got a massive budget and you can’t fulfill that.

This is a situation I’ve been in before, where someone’s got maybe five, even six figures a month to spend.

As much as I’d love to be responsible for that alone, I can’t justify that kind of resource to play around with. But equally, it works the other way. Someone could say that they’ve got 1500 or £2000 a month, but their goals and ambitions are sky high. It’s important to understand what we prioritize and what we don’t. 

There’s also the case when a potential client will say they haven’t got a budget, you go away, you create a proposal, you look at some estimates, and put together a package to which they then say, well that’s really expensive and then you work backwards. 

A lot of the time, a budget can really help us help the clients and get the best from their money rather than seeing it as trying to get them to spend every penny that they have. 

The third biggest challenge is probably similar to the first, which is people. Technology, in the grand scheme of things, is quite easy. There are so many options out there, and the cost is constantly falling, and it’s a lot more accessible. 

The challenge comes with people, processes, resources, getting the right people at the right time, especially when you’ve got external agencies that you might be taken over from. The biggest thing for me is to understand what the culture is like and what the people are like and also how open they are to change.

You can have a great name in your portfolio or a great client to work for — if the team is toxic or inflexible, it can be a real nightmare.

Equally, I’ve worked with some incredible startups who I’ve never heard of before, that are just hungry for growth and are happy to jump in and rally around any changes that happen, which is a lot more attractive to me. 

Can you give me one example of a recent challenge you had to tackle in that sense?

Starting with a new client in a situation where they need to get a new site — I think many people may relate to this one. There are many dead ends, inefficiencies, etc. Trying to create a quick fix and an alternative route around the problem will be more expensive than just doing it right in the first instance.

No client wants to hear after signing a retainer agreement that they need to consider another spend, which is to have an entirely new website.

There are many reasons why: there are nerves, particularly if it’s an online-exclusive retailer and their website is their entire business that may have just moved site a couple of years ago. It’s always stressful, probably over budget, it takes longer than what you anticipate, and so on. 

And yes, you spent maybe two or three months collecting data, building a case, having meetings, getting prices, proposals, timelines, getting all of that stuff done to then have to go back to the drawing board and start again because someone isn’t going to sign off. 

But equally, you can work at it. There’s been a client that I’ve worked with for just over a year, and that entire time has been about rebuilding their entire tech stack from the front end all the way back to warehouse infrastructure. An incredible challenge.

Trying to get it in the budget, trying to get people you can trust, etc., and the fact that the website still has to trade, of course, while you’re building the new one, that is probably one of the most complicated parts of the job.

Lastly on that, I think that touches on so many different parts of digital, right? There’s paid search, there’s SEO, there’s user experience, commercial optimization, and there’s all your paid social. There’s just so many stakeholders in that it’s treacherous. But if you get it right, it can often pay dividends relatively quickly. You can see the differences. Things are faster, customers are happier.  

What have you noticed in terms of search behaviour trends within your 2022 campaigns?

That’s a really good question. 

Let’s start with a macro one. What I’m seeing across my consumer-based clients is that, interestingly, with the cost of living crisis, particularly in Europe, customers are actually spending more money. 

So Average Order Value is up, but the number of transactions is probably similar or falling. What I mean by that is they’re spending more per transaction. Rather than someone going to a clothing retailer, maybe once a month or once every couple of weeks, depending on what their previous shopping habits were, they will shop less frequently. And when they shop, they’ll spend more money. I think that happens for a couple of reasons. One is to mitigate the delivery fees and secondly, to try and get to thresholds to claim rewards, whatever those might be. 

Another thing I’m seeing on a larger scale is content on its own having less and less impact because there’s so much of it and so much good content at the same time. What works particularly well for clients is to use content as a way to leverage leads and then use those leads and nurture them to first time and then repeat customers. 

To give an example, I have a client in the world of gardening and aquatic life. They have loads of resources, great incredible case studies and downloadable guides. Rather than making those a blog post, they’ll give you a teaser and a summary of what that piece includes.

You then download the document in exchange for an email address and a handful of questions to give them an idea of what you’re looking for, what your spend is, etc. They use that data to nurture those leads through to lifetime. That is how I’m finding content strategy can be a lot more effective than just using content to grow organic traffic. 

A trend specific to search that I find particularly interesting is more and more erosion of organic space. We see paid getting bigger, we see Google prioritizing more and more SERP features, so organic is becoming a lot more competitive. I generally just think that we have to work harder. It’s unfortunate, but I think that’s just the way things are going. 

Customers are spending less often, but more. Acquiring that customer is now more important than ever because you’re not necessarily going to have as many repeat purchases. Retailers now need to go after the lifetime value over chasing the next potential transaction. 

Have you noticed any differences between different industries under the eCommerce sector, in terms of search behaviors trends?

A quick observation is that in the B2B space, the investment seems to be higher than ever. I still feel that we’re at the positive end of the lockdown period. People’s appetites for digital are stronger post-COVID. Usually, whenever there was fear of recession, digital used to be one of the first channels to be reduced.

Now, because of confidence in digital, I’m actually finding that it’s the opposite, where people rather make redundancies and invest in agencies than reducing digital spend.

On top of that, we see that B2B is two to five years behind the consumer industry. What I mean is that whatever we see in the eCommerce space, particularly, trickles into B2B in a couple of years. I’ve got a number of B2B clients who are now, for the first time, thinking about properly investing in an analytics platform because of the pressures of GA4, want to invest in email because of the increased pressure of cost per attribution, and so on.

I think, if anything, digital spend is probably higher than it has been for some time. It might be well into the end of 2022 before we start to see people pull back spend. 

Have your customers’ needs or requests changed over the past year? 

Yes, without a doubt, it’s more holistic. I think less of my time is spent doing SEO than ever before. I’ll probably say arguably maybe 60% to 70% of my time. A couple of years ago would have been predominantly SEO. 

My role now as an eCommerce consultant has broadened quite massively from just focusing on a single channel. I know for agencies or other freelancers it’s similar. Rather than going to someone just for paid search or paid social, we’re talking about landing page optimization, creating copy, thinking about other ways in which we can acquire customers without having to be victim to the increased cost per click and so on. Being more multifaceted is what clients are expecting at the moment, for sure. 

How do you approach budgets in light of the economic shifts?

Budgets have to align with objectives. Someone can throw a lot of money at you, and you can go away and spend it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go and get that objective, right?

It’s a case of, first of all, understanding the objective and what the end goal is. When I say the end goal, I don’t mean when clients come to us and they say they want SEO. SEO isn’t the end goal. SEO is the way that the client thinks that they’ll get to the end goal, which of course, is increased traffic and increased sales.

I think it’s about looking outside of your immediate discipline. I think it taps into my point about being more multifaceted. 

You can’t just think £5000 a month is purely dedicated for SEO. I think it’s just moving away from that — you can think of SEO, CRO, site speed, analytics. Equally, I just think that clients really only care about return on investment. They don’t particularly care about how it’s spent as long as they can see a return. It doesn’t matter whether you’re spending 95% of the budget on SEO or 5% of the budget on SEO, providing that you can prove that there’s growth, you can identify where the problems are, then you can deliver increased sales. 

I think it’s more down to professionals to determine where that money goes rather than doing exactly as the client says, right? It’s just a big shift.

One last thing you would like to share that we haven’t asked:

I have a go-to case study that I’d like to share, and for a good reason. I think it’s the epitome of everything that I’ve spoken about — SEO isn’t necessarily the sole and most important way to drive growth for every single client. 

So there was one particular case where I decided to remove a good chunk of organic traffic. Although it was great to have good traffic numbers, we knew that they weren’t converting. I made a conscious decision to remove a significant amount of pages, poor content, and things that just weren’t relevant. 

The idea was to rebuild and focus on the right audience, the right content, and the right strategy. My point here is that we reduced the site in size, we eroded a lot of organic traffic, but actually, conversion didn’t only stabilize but actually increased.

I believe that happened as a result of focusing on user experience rather than just raw numbers. We revised a strategy of retention. We reduced the amount of money we spent on paid and remarketing.

At the end of the day, we had a drop in traffic, an increase in revenue, and an even stronger increase in conversion rate as a result of that. 

I wouldn’t call it a blank slate, but it was a nervous pivot, right? Because not one of my clients wants to hear that I am potentially looking at getting rid of a sizable amount of organic traffic. But when you see that it performs and it’s saving costs, that is a great thing to have. In the end, it just talks from a point of thinking outside of purely SEO when it comes to eCommerce and focusing on what’s going to drive revenue or sales. 


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