The last 2 years have been interesting for search behavior

Published on 6 December 2022, updated on 15 December 2022

Jen Cornwell is a Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Ignite Visibility, specializing in local SEO, lead generation, and content marketing. 

How do you usually approach pitching to eCommerce clients? 

The agency I come from is very content focused. In general, many of our strategies and methodologies are built on content updates or content additions, which is tough for eCommerce. Sometimes it’s hard for clients to visualize what content looks like on their website because they want to be product focused. 

Often we have a conversation about how we can find ways to make them thought leaders or trusted sources in their vertical or their space. I think that coming into the pitch, it’s making sure that we can talk about all the things we need to do, their websites, but with conversions in mind—making it clear that we’re prioritizing their products and that sale process over everything, but at the same time trying to figure out creative ways to help them rank. 

Do you also use Forecasting for pitching or upselling to eCommerce clients? 

We typically look at the keyword opportunity and then at what it would look like if we could get a defined bucket of keywords from page two to page one. The traffic value potential in SEO forecasting is tough for many obvious reasons, but we like to give them an idea of what that looks like.

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

We have to really talk to them—especially if they haven’t been doing an SEO program—about what content looks like in their eCommerce layout. What do optimizing category pages and product pages mean? It’s about finding a good balance between getting content, whether copy or visuals, and how we integrate that into a good user experience to add value to the page and help with optimization.

Another challenge can sometimes be keyword education. For example, I’ve had an eCommerce client who sold skincare. They have a face wash category page that has five face wash products. They wanted the category page, and all product pages to rank for “face wash.” 

So I had to explain how we have to differentiate everything and the value of non-brand that a category page holds, like the non-branded keywords. And then the product pages, which are more branded. We have to figure out other ways to differentiate each of them from one another and the category page. In this case, there was some education on keyword mapping and expectations for what will rank and what the opportunities are. 

The third thing would be related to digital PR. Link building for clients, and usually for eCommerce, goes really well. They understand how that works, for example, getting placed in listicles or gift guides. Understanding the value of adding a blog to their website is really tough for them sometimes because they have a set idea of what a blog is.

One example is a fashion brand we worked with. They were not fully sold on putting a blog together. They didn’t have one on their website, and they understood the value, but not necessarily what the vision was. So we had to explain to them, for example, that it doesn’t have to be called a blog.

It can be called a lookbook because it’s a fashion site. We’re using words that may be interchangeable, but we can get creative with what that looks like and what that experience is like on the site. 

There’s also Google, emphasizing and shifting toward the user experience. You can see that in the latest updates. The content helpfulness update that came out a couple of months ago and even just the last three years or four years showed that they’re very specific about what they prioritize. 

We recently had a client who had some really heavy content on their category pages. Because before they came to us, they inserted a lot of content on these pages, and they weren’t performing well. We removed probably 80% of it and saw some pretty immediate reactions. We were a lot more specific about what we’re adding. So, I think that just reflects that Google isn’t interested in the fact that you have a lot to say.

They just want to know about the intent of what you have to say, and that is adding value to the experience. So, I think that and keeping conversion optimization in mind is kind of the same thing. The best user experience is one where they want to convert at the end.

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

There was a company that considered SEO in the naming of their products, which was great. They knew they wanted to rank for at the time. They focused on vitamin C serum as a product name and their main product. They had built that into the name because they knew that’s what they wanted to rank for.

The client also was open to talking about new category page opportunities. That’s what’s been successful in any skincare campaigns I’ve done, being able to think about different ways that people are looking for the solution you have. 

A face wash, for example, is very transactional. We have a page that’s optimized for face wash products, but then we also have people looking for skincare solutions, so they don’t know that you have face wash products, but they know they’re looking for antiaging products or they’re looking for acne products.

Creating a category page that also talks about that and holds those products is one of the interesting things about eCommerce in general. We were able to diversify the types of keywords they ranked for, and it opened up a lot of opportunities for content as well.

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

I think the last two years have been very interesting for search behavior. I had a very large kitchen appliance brand that saw huge growth in 2020. When we’re looking at 2021 and comparing year-over-year, we start to see some drops right here and there. We were able to pinpoint the shift in March of 2020—that’s when we started to see this big increase. People were at home and buying more things.

This year and the last year has been tough to figure out what a baseline is. Because we’re so used to making seasonal year-over-year comparisons to get a better idea of what Q4 looks like for the holidays.

The way people are shopping has changed, as they had converted to online and are now back to this hybrid style again. I think it’s all about expectation setting: can we ever get back to those traffic levels or those conversion levels online again? What are some creative ways that we can go about if we think that’s the case? So, yes, I think user behavior has taken a big shift. 

At the time, I also had an electronics client who sold computers. They were both brick-and-mortar and online, so people could go in-store to buy the products. We noticed a shift at the beginning of 2022 as they saw more foot traffic to their stores. Which they were happy about, but they are seeing fewer purchases online now. 

Even when there isn’t a brick-and-mortar component or the product is only available online, the opportunity for somebody to go and buy it in person just pulls them away from coming to the Internet as much as they used to. 

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

For many years, everyone thought video would be the next big thing. In 2022, especially with TikTok becoming so popular, people have started to actually change how they search because they’re so used to getting things in a video format. 

A lot of clients are really interested in how video works for them, which in eCommerce comes with many opportunities. There are testimonials and product explanations, and other ways you can get creative. Video has been a big ask in what video strategy looks like. 

Another thing we hear a lot is “What do projections look like? Am I tracking correctly?” Clients are trying to understand more of their data. As we move into the cookieless web, they are more and more interested in whether what they’re tracking is accurate and how they can track more. 

Or when we start to lose some of the opportunity to track, what can we do instead? That’s been another really big focus for clients, especially with GA 4 rolling out next year too. 

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

We usually do a monthly retainer or a monthly scope. Our SOWs are based on a set of deliverables, but I think having better conversations with clients about what their goals and timelines look like is important. Because clients know that they want to rank organically, but then, of course, they also want to get leads. 

If you’re on page five for a keyword and want leads for that keyword, sure, we can get you there. But it’s not going to be next week versus you turning on some paid social ads that might get you leads more immediately. And your investment changes, of course. I think it’s important to be transparent and realistic with clients about expectations for where we will be able to perform and align with their goals. 


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