Traffic can’t always tell the full picture

Published on 6 December 2022, updated on 15 December 2022

James Max Euinton is Account Director at The SEO Works, specializing in the technical side of SEO.

How do you usually approach pitching to eCommerce customers? 

It’s a similar process that we do with most of our clients. First, we do a big keyword research project, looking both at the client and the industry. In addition to gathering a large list of keywords, we also try to categorize and narrow them down to give them some further context and make them easier to select.

Next, we also look at the platform they are using to understand the technical limitations and, based on our experience with that platform, propose a plan to address these. We also include a few case studies in the pitching proposal to showcase what we’ve done in the past for similar cases.

We try to get the actual SEO team involved in our pitching process for some scenarios where we may need additional or more specific insights. Getting both teams, sales, and SEO, to work together on the pitch helps us deliver higher quality pitches and better align for the final outcome. 

Do you use forecasting for pitching or upselling to eCommerce clients? How do you approach it?

It can be difficult to provide forecasting for pitching, as we can’t always predict what’s going to happen to a site’s traffic, given the variables involved. We’re also not selling results, but the ability to deliver our quality of work. We demonstrate these by outlining our process, strategies, and previous successes.

We prefer to look at potential scenarios for growth that may or may not happen depending on the variables rather than give direct forecasts.

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

There are several factors, including industry-wide aspects of how the client’s business is actually performing. 

One common challenge is recording the data correctly, especially now with the transition to Google Analytics 4. Because if you’re not recording it well, you can’t see how you’re actually performing. When you are dealing with a big eCommerce site, with a lot of pages and duplicate pages as well, can be problematic in terms of SEO.

The bigger the site gets, the more complex it gets too. We need to consider this when working with a large site, as the growth in size can create additional issues to which we need to be responsive. Fundamentally, what we’re always trying to be aware of when we’re looking at an eCommerce site is that Google’s got the right page version.

I’ve noticed that a lot of eCommerce clients can often have issues relating to Core Web Vitals, since Google announced them, with many having low scores. I think it’s important to put these scores in context. Since eCommerce stores are much more demanding resource-wise, having a lot more aspects such as checkouts, security, a large amount of images/videos, and additional aspects such as loyalty cards/finance options. It’s important to understand these when assessing the site and the scores. The best way to measure these is to cross reference the scores with actual page speed in something like dev tools, as well as check the scores against your competitors to get a handle on how the site compares and whether it’s lagging behind or competing fairly well.

There’s the economic and business context, as people are looking to cut costs. Often marketing costs are the first. As a result, it’s difficult to compare results. Do we compare it to 2020? Do we compare it to 2019? This is why it’s important to correlate with ranking data or more nuanced eCommerce figures. 

Because traffic, while a really important metric in terms of SEO, can’t always tell the full picture. While we have a degree of influence over ranking positions, the search volume of keywords is much more vulnerable to changing market conditions.

It’s going to be a challenging time for everyone. In every recession, there are winners and losers. It’s important to realize that there also may be opportunities for sites that may grow during this time. Again, we can’t really change what happens in the macro. We can just control how we kind of respond to it.

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

We had a local outdoor retailer we’d been working with for many years. It was challenging, as it’s a very competitive market, where they compete with bigger, national players that have millions in resources and are a bit more of a local company. 

Over the years, it was mainly about getting the fundamentals in line consistently and regularly. For example, make sure the categories are optimized correctly, that products follow a certain format, and that you’re not cross-targeting too. Ensuring that every page has a purpose and a direct keyword target and basically scaling that across the site.
Maintaining this core process over the years, whilst sprinkling in aspects such as auxiliary content and looking for attention opportunities where they may occur, was how we were able to maintain their success and growth.

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

It’s difficult to say on specific trends, as it differs between industries and the wider economic environment. Over the years, as Google improves its handling of language, it’s been more important to focus on the more specific, longer tail phrases. Sometimes this may mean catering to specific questions and keywords that fall outside standard products and category pages. It’s important that we tailor additional content to these to target the customer at different points in the journey or funnel. 

Have eCommerce clients’ needs or requests changed over the past months?

They’ll probably be considering what areas they can cut, and we’ll be part of that conversation. They will need to understand better the value of all their external contracts, which is just part of the business at the end of the day.

It’s all about demonstrating our value effectively. Of course, conducting quality work is one part of it, but it’s crucial that clients are also aware of why we are conducting the tasks that we are doing and what impact they have on their sites.

We have a regular reporting structure, and we like to keep in regular contact with our clients so they know what’s going on. When working on our documentation, processes, and strategies, we like to focus on what’s the most actionable, the most impactful thing we can do. The critical priority goes for issues preventing the site from being indexed. High priority are things that, once implemented, would improve rankings immediately. Medium priority goes for the things we need to look into, and low is for more user experience or CTR-based aspects, like meta descriptions.

We try to relate to clients all the time and work in a way that’s going to prioritize moving the needle.

How do you approach your budgets in the context of 2023? 

It depends on the client, their needs, industry factors, and what team size is needed for the client. If it’s an eCommerce website, that is obviously going to need quite a bit more resources than a smaller brochure-based one which may not need as much input in certain areas, such as technical SEO.

For the eCommerce site, we can offer a mixture of services depending on their needs, from Digital PR to technical issues that need to be solved. We usually offer them a few options. We like to work towards long-term strategies as it allows us to compound those improvements.

How do you leverage SEOmonitor for your eCommerce clients?

One really useful thing is the categorization of the keywords. So when you’ve got different products, categories, product groups, and subcategories, with SEOmonitor, you get the ability to group those keywords in a certain group and quickly see how they’re doing.

When I’m jumping on a call with a client, and they want to know how their new product section is doing, I can quickly just log into SEOmonitor and go to that category and see what’s happening with that. It allows me to get the search volumes quickly and give an overall picture of what’s going on there.

I think the ranking component is good and reliable, and I’ve tried most of the available tools. I like the date selection, which sounds weird, but with other tools I’ve used before, the date selection is not quite as good. It’s something simple, but I like how the platform does that. When I need to jump on a call at short notice, I can quickly compare the last three months and take some insights from that.

I tend to export CSV a lot which is really useful as I can use that as a quality base data set for a data studio report or some data to feed into a Google sheet or even a Python script.

That’s what I want from an SEO tool of this nature. I want good ranking data and the ability to manipulate that and correlate that with other stuff. We don’t just use one tool. We also use Google Search Console, Analytics, Screaming Frog, and a host of others in order to gain a whole picture of how a site is performing.


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.