Success is mostly about client chemistry

Published on 6 December 2022, updated on 15 December 2022

Radu Mărcușu is the CEO of Upswing, nominated as “Best Global SEO Agency” at the Global Search Awards.

How do you usually approach pitching to eCommerce clients?

Pitching is a key differentiator for us. It’s something that we’ve validated from competitive market analysis as well. 

So, when a new lead comes, the business development team initiates a thorough discovery call to assess if the client is right for our agency. Then, it’s up to the operational teams to assess market dimension, online visibility, etc., directly in SEOmonitor.

For instance, let’s say we have a business with 2.6% Visibility and around 2 million monthly keywords as potential: we evaluate relevant keywords, ranking data, content opportunities, competition, backlinks status, and so on. 

The final step is to create a proposal for an integrated campaign, including technical SEO and content marketing, with specific insights and improvement opportunities.

It’s an in-depth strategy demo. Which means it’s a lot of work. But we know that doing this secures a 50-60% closing rate.

This demo also includes an overall forecast with total opportunity and traffic growth potential in 12 months, which is another powerful advantage.

I’m saying that this is a demo as the final forecast happens after the first month of collaboration, once the full technical and content strategy is complete and the client approves according to their internal resources and budgets.

We’re transparent all the way, including with our pricing: we explain what’s the expected budget, but we also share a pricing list just as a reference. 

One final key element is our new operational red card policy. It’s a form of SLA where we communicate that we have 8 working hours to reply to them as standard and 3 hours for emergencies, monthly reports on time as agreed, etc.

We commit to all the things that are 100% in our control, and if they don’t happen, then the client can give us “the red card” and don’t pay that month’s retainer. 

You’ve mentioned using forecasting for pitching or upselling. How do you approach it?

 I have to highlight that it’s a powerful differentiation and client feedback is really good. Probably because few other agencies are using it, as they’re afraid of this type of forecasting and not being able to control it.

For us, it’s a matter of explaining how traffic growth correlates with more tangible things like revenue and sales. Plus, we show we’re confident in what we do, so build trust from the start. 

It also helps our direct contacts with the internal pitches they have to do in their companies — it’s a practical instrument to get buy-in from their manager or CEO.

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

One top-of-mind challenge is the financial part: everybody made predictions based on 2021 numbers — numbers that were higher than the normal average due to pandemic shopping shifts. So all revenue forecasts had to be recalibrated as 2022 unfolded.

It was also tough on the agency side, as we had to communicate about the changes and align expectations. As we worked with historical data, we realized that we couldn’t reach the same growth rates and had to explain it to clients without creating friction. 

Then, Google algorithm updates followed, with a huge impact on clients. Some changes were useful and quite good for businesses, such as Google Local. Others were mixed — we’ve seen drops of traffic up to 40% YOY on the Romanian market across our portfolio.

For instance, for a big retailer, if we compare data from 2021 with 2022,  they have the same number of impressions and the same visibility, but the traffic dropped by around 40% – this is due to lower CTR that happens because the SERPs contain more feature snippets now that push the organic results downwards. 

We’ve seen businesses lose both traffic and CTR. If we draw a line, we’re talking about up to 60% losses. It’s a challenge to explain that it’s nobody’s fault and not a performance issue, but we have to adapt to the changes. 

There’s also this pressure to invest in Google Ads because organic dropped — but that, in turn, raises the cost per click due to inflation. Then you have a cost issue.

Can you give me an example of a successful SEO campaign for an eCommerce client? Which were the main tactics and challenges? 

For us, success is mostly about client chemistry and collaboration and less about industry or market. Then, there’s the fact that we prefer to work in an integrated way: technical SEO and content together. It’s something that helps a lot, as we have more flexibility, and we can double down on what works: for instance, leverage content when Google algo updates affected traffic. 

Also, speaking about content, we’ve observed that it’s getting harder to rank on specialized and sensitive topics like health or finance. That’s why we’re working with subject matter experts as writers, something that sets us apart. We also developed an internal content optimization tool, Contero, that helps them with basic SEO insights. 

I think, in the end, this year was a blessing and a curse. It got more challenging in terms of ranking, but it helped us grow one of our focus areas: content marketing.  

 We’ve also started creating video content for brands, but with the same organic strategy, to rank both on Google and Youtube.

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

I wouldn’t say there are more major differences from before. But people have started knowing more about where and how to search — or, at least, that’s what I saw.

There are more video searches, and there’s a lot of potential to be leveraged with that format for brands. 

We also noticed a drop in non-essentials. There are more categories we can talk about here: 

  • Smaller average order value on non-essential items
  • Large non-essential acquisitions postponed

Have eCommerce clients’ needs or requests changed over the past months, given the economic shifts? If yes, how?

As I’ve said before, the biggest challenge this year was for marketing managers to explain the drops in the market and how to go about it. That’s why I would say it was more about us being proactive in communicating these shifts to our clients. They needed support in understanding the overall market trends and that it was a general change in demand. And, of course, in adapting to it. 

That also meant new tactics or focusing on specific actions. For instance, if Google now recommends refined searches, we make sure our clients have filters or categories targeting those searches. We also focus on having the right content to answer those searches. Or keep their Google My Business profiles optimized. 

In a nutshell, we were proactive in adapting strategies, budgets, and also specific actions implying Google changes.

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

We set the bar high for a reason, as we aim to work with both the best specialists and the right clients that understand our level of commitment, our infrastructure, and the value we provide.

So far, we haven’t seen any budget cuts or changes on that front. What we’ve observed, though, is slight delays with new leads that were very excited at first. But it picked up after the summer months, so maybe people were expecting to see the autumn trends.

How do you leverage SEOmonitor for eCommerce clients? 

In addition to forecasting and the pitching part we’ve already talked about, we use SEOmonitor to do fast keyword research. We like to optimize this phase and be highly efficient with how we do competition analysis. Clients are happy when we show them comparative data, both in terms of overall visibility, but also at keyword level.

Then, our Customer Success team uses it for monthly reports and to understand each client and its trend.

We also do a continuous research process, identifying new keyword opportunities that leverage business impact, so there’s also that.  


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