In this series we interview experts to get insights, resources, and specific strategies to level up eCommerce businesses.
Goals of this post
My goal with this series is to talk to expert consultants to get the best strategies, tips on hiring experts, get ideas, and recommendations on tools and resources.
I chose SEO for the first post because it’s one of the hardest fields to hire for (lot of scammers out there), but it’s one of the best ways to scale your business by getting more organic traffic.
About the Expert
The expert I interviewed here is Aires Loutsaris from the UK.
He’s an SEO consultant with over 15 years of experience.
Why I Chose Aires:
- He’s smart, honest, friendly, and has a lot of experience
- We share the philosophy of being transparent and doing what’s best for the client
- He has case studies and tangible results for the work he’s done
- SEO is a great way to get automated organic traffic… let’s get more organic traffic! ✊
Here are some SEO case studies and more info about Aires.
We had a 1.5 hour Skype conversation. It was fun and man this guy knows his stuff!
I’ve edited the transcript for brevity and better readability. Green boxes are my comments.
We focused on SEO for eCommerce sites, but the principles are good for any industry.
If you’re pressed for time and just want the highlight bullet points, jump to the Summary here.
Getting to know the expert
How long have you been doing SEO?
A few months over 15 years now, which is weird to say as it feels like it was just last week.
How and why did you get into SEO?
I was doing an electronic engineering course but wanted to go into marketing.
My brother just started his own air conditioning business and he wanted to get found on Google and Yahoo (which was quite big at that time).
I learned about SEO and within two months he was number one for all local air conditioning terms. The good old fast days of ranking 😃
It was quite rewarding seeing the results of my work, especially helping my brother succeed. That started my career.
What’s your biggest SEO win?
I would have to say when I was recruited to be in charge of the Open University’s International expansion into 17 different countries.
With a new site after 9 months we were top 3 for all countries for terms like ‘Degrees’ ‘Courses’ ‘MBA’ ‘Online MBA’ ‘Online Courses’ and ‘Online Degrees’.
Also another big win would have to be helping one of my clients increase organic search revenue by £1MM ($1.2 million USD) in less than 6 months and then after 10 months getting them from page 3 to number 1 spot for ‘contact lenses’, which resulted in an increase of several millions of pounds.
What are the key factors in ranking pages better?
Page ranking depends primarily on 3 points:
- Technical Details
If any of those 3 are lacking, you have a higher opportunity for improving SEO.
Technical example: Making sure your content is being indexed properly (he gives an example later where a site was indexing 10 instead of 10,000 job listings)
Content: Blog posts are great, but doing competitor research and seeing what they rank for can uncover big opportunities.
Backlinks: I’ll share some backlink strategies later, but the key here is quality over quantity. Spammy / paid backlinks can hurt your rankings.
He said that if a site is already doing great in these 3 areas it’s hard to see big and fast gains, but 95% of sites he looks at have significant technical issues
Results and ROI
What kind of results can someone expect when investing in SEO?
This is tricky because there are a lot of variables, but on average my clients see an increase in organic search traffic around 70% after 7 months and around 120% after 12 months. They also normally see on average an increase of around 40% in organic search revenue after 7 months and 80% after 12 months.
New sites will be more, while sites getting 20k+ people per month will be closer to the 25% – 50% range.
How long does SEO work typically take to start seeing results in 2019?
A small minority of sites will start seeing results after 1 month (depending on the severity of the technical issues present on the site). On the other end of the spectrum, a small minority will need around 8-9 months to see results (9 months is the longest I’ve seen personally, coincidentally with the Open University project that was a huge success).
The large majority see a substantial increase after 6 months.
Quick results depend on the severity of technical issues.
Are there cases where SEO isn’t worth doing or doesn’t provide a positive ROI? (and how to know)
This is very rare but if you’re already an industry leader, massively beating the competition, technical SEO is dialed in, lots of great content, and an extremely high level of backlinks, then any short term work won’t have much of an effect.
Alternatively, a site that is in a very limited niche in terms of search potential wouldn’t ever see much search engine traffic no matter how much optimisation is done.
These can both be avoided during a site analysis and proposal stage (he does this for free) where it is advised that SEO isn’t the preferred marketing option.
Given limited resources, how can a store owner decide whether they should invest in SEO or PPC?
SEO is the best long term, but I think every site should try PPC first.
This very statement kind of goes against everything I believe in as I am passionate about organic, but I’m also a big believer in transparency, keeping reputation, and always do what’s best for the client.
Organic search is proven to be the marketing channel with the highest return on investment but it’s a long term strategy, whereas PPC can give you immediate results and generate a lot of data to use during an SEO campaign.
After 1 to 2 months of setting up paid campaigns and optimising keywords and landing pages you could know already if you’re in a very competitive niche where there are sharks in the Industry that have deep pockets outbidding everyone else just because they can or if you’re a niche that has low hanging opportunities that are there to be picked.
Nowadays, odds are that you aren’t going to be in the latter segment but again I think it’s worth trying it out first and finding out.
If you already know you’re in a competitive PPC niche, you may be losing money so SEO makes more sense here.
After you’ve got PPC going for 3-4 months, now is a good time to invest in SEO and build your organic traffic.
I love the honesty of an SEO consultant saying that you should actually start with PPC before doing SEO
Tips, Resources, Knowledge
What are 3 things an ecommerce store owner can do today to improve their SEO?
As long as you have the mentality or goal to put the user first, then everything else falls into place with regards to SEO. Google wants the user to have good experience.
1. Mobile Usability is massive nowadays, Google has a mobile friendly test tool to see if your site is mobile friendly.
I suggest setting up your Google Search Console too so that Google can crawl the whole site and alert you if there are any pages that are mobile friendly.
2. Site Speed. The second thing owners can do is to make sure their site is as fast as possible. Again Google has their own PageSpeed Insights tool and there are a few other tools like Pingdom where one can check how the site performs in terms of Speed, and of course the Shopify Analyzer specifally for Shopify sites.
The main issue I usually see revolves around Imagery and there are quite a few plugins that will crunch images in terms of size whilst keeping the same quality (if you’re on Shopify, here are the tools we like: How to Compress Images on Shopify).
3. Technical Foundation. The third thing owners can do today is ensure that every page on the site has a Title, meta description, and H1 tag (Headline) that is unique and focused towards the topic of each page. Images should all contain alt attributes as well.
My favorite SEO tool is SEM Rush. You can plug in your website and see any technical issues.
You can also use SEO tools like that to:
- see traffic and keyword rankings
- see what competitors are achieving, where they’re getting traffic, their keywords, etc
- create a content plan based on what’s working for other sites
- help with backlink analysis and ideas, social media shares, etc
What are some of your favorite SEO blogs, apps, and resources?
1. Moz and in particular the Whiteboard Friday SEO sessions are the best place to start if you’re a novice. I’m a big fan of Rand Fishkin (Co-Founder of Moz) both in the world of SEO and out of it too.
2. Marie Hayes is one of the few SEO’s I would trust with my own stuff. She has an awesome regular newsletter and is always on the hunt for news and development in SEO.
3. SEM Rush is a fantastic tool to compare your site versus your competitors and see exactly what keywords they are ranking for, how much traffic they are getting and to what exact pages or content. You can also plug in your site and see what exact technical issues exist.
4. Ahrefs is also a powerhouse of a tool for learning more about potential backlink opportunities so one can search for a particular topic and find out what pieces around that topic or niche have done really well and who exactly has linked back to them.
5. Screaming Frog is an advanced crawler tool for technical analysis.
6. BuzzSumo helps you analyze any topic or competitor to see the best performing content.
What’s the #1 SEO mistake you see people making?
Thinking that all backlinks are equal is the biggest mistake I still see to this day.
For example a new client of mine has had an SEO agency help her with her ecommerce store for the past two years now and her site still has only a Domain Rank of 3 out of 100.
You can literally launch a new site and within a couple of weeks have a higher Domain Rank than that. But the SEO agency sent her loads of links that they had built every month that were mainly social bookmarks or cheap directories that had just launched not so long ago.
So of course the quantity was there and it looked like a lot of work had been done when in fact it probably took them less than an hour a month and none of those links were having any effect whatsoever because they were non-authoritative.
It’s not about link quantity, it’s about link quality.
I could go on Fiverr and get over a million links built to a site in less than a day, but that wouldn’t do any good because it’s all about link authority or link quality rather than link quantity.
And some links can hurt you, like links from spam sites and sites that are known to be selling links.
What are your thoughts about SEO for google images?
I’ve always loved Google image SEO. First of all, having images rank highly really helps with link building.
So many sites will go to Google Images, search for a particular query, find the first image that pops up then include it on their site with the image’s url as a source, so it’s a really easy way to get backlinks.
And it’s also relatively easy to rank highly as long as you make sure the image filename and img alt text tag is optimised.
Additionally, by making sure those two points are optimised it improves your site’s SEO rankings as these image details will be referenced in a page’s source code and acknowledged by Googlebot after it crawls the site.
Side note for eCommerce stores: try searching your products’ keywords on Google images, this is a common way to shop and a great opportunity to get more traffic (by optimizing your image alt attributes and filenames).
Care to share a couple of your favorite backlink strategies?
I think my #1 favorite is doing something interactive or captures user’s interest.
I am a massive fan of trying to build a piece that is super engaging, interactive and that looks so stunning that after outreaching it via email to websites that have linked back to similar pieces or that are in the same niche, they would feel compelled to link back.
For example this month I am currently producing a piece for a Shopify ecommerce store that sells baby clothes which showcases a map of the world with the most popular baby girl names and baby boy names and their meaning too.
The maps look stunning, and I’ve also made a gif to showcase all these maps in one which I think will get a lot of traction.
Another piece I am working on this month for a charity that is looking to get mainstream features is an interactive by-the-second counter of how much the most famous billionaires make every second vs. how much they donate.
I have also included an infograph that showcases their net worth vs. their total amount donated, which is interesting when you see that Warren Buffet has donated over 50% of his net worth whereas Donald Trump has donated 0.25% of his net worth and Rupert Murdoch has donated less than 0.01% if his $19 Billion net worth.
Another example that I worked on in the past for a gambling client looking to get featured in the UK and Europe’s leading news outlets, includes a piece that showcased who the most selfie clubs in the English football premier league and the selfie players according to Instagram.
A web dev crawled the whole of Instagram and we built a whole league table that got picked up by most of the UK’s leading newspapers. We also got it placed into Europe’s and South America’s leading newspapers since a lot of the football players originated from there.
For clients or individuals that are looking to do the same but don’t have web dev or design resources, long form guides can also do well however not as well as interactive pieces. I worked on this piece where we included the 75 most expensive cars sold at auction and adjusted it for inflation. We managed to drive a significant amount of backlinks at the time, including a link from Yahoo and Motor1.
Another strategy I like is “ego baiting”.
Ego baiting works really well! Ego Baiting is a very simple, fast and easy to execute SEO strategy that will allow any site in any niche to gain links from important, authoritative and relevant sites within the same industry.
The process of ego baiting as the name suggests is to boost the ego of a site owner with the intention of receiving a backlink in the process.
This can be accomplished by simply composing a Top 20 or Top 50 or even Top 100 sites or blogs in X Industry. Simply write a description for each blog that you like within the industry your site is in and rank them in order of brilliance.
Include a mention to each blog, publish the post, and then send an email to each blog owner letting them know of your post so that they can stroke their own ego levels and share a link to the post on their site and social media profiles.
You can take this approach a bit further if you wish by making the post into an awards celebration and physically sending each blog owner a reasonably priced award in the post.
The backlinks will follow and these relevant authoritative links will give you a gradual rise in organic search traffic that will just keep rising and rising in the long term.
How to Hire an SEO
What questions should a website owner be asking when looking to hire for SEO work?
These three questions would probably be the most crucial in my opinion:
- Do you have any Case studies?
- Do you have references?
- What is your strategy on this project?
I think case studies and references are the most important.
You can’t just evaluate an SEO about what he sells to you, you need to see what he’s achieved and how he is to work with.
Find out what their strategy is. If they’re not talking about technical, content / keywords, and backlinks (they should be mentioning all 3, or they’re looking for a shortcut) then alarm bells should ring. That shady agency (referenced earlier) has only done backlinks. They didn’t bother looking at technical or content, so they pretend they’re building all these amazing backlinks.
At what level (monthly revenue) do you think a store owner should invest in SEO?
At the very least high four figures in monthly revenue so from about $8k or more in revenue a month.
Before that level it might be a little too early to actively invest in SEO and expect a big ROI, but you could try a DIY approach with SEM Rush, learn more on the subject, or work on some content and basic technicals.
What range should someone expect to pay for quality SEO work?
Good consultants usually start around $1,000+. Anything below and the provider will be barely scratching the surface in terms of the work needed.
Most quality SEO campaigns range from $1k to $10k, which is a wide range however it’s almost impossible to find quality SEO for under $1k and more damage than good could be done on the site.
At the $10k level the team will have developers, content writers, designers, and outreach people all working on the campaign.
How can an ecommerce store owner calculate the ROI on an SEO project?
My preferred way is going through Google Analytics and seeing transactions that came from organic search.
Google Analytics doesn’t provide all the keywords anymore, however you can look in Google Search Console and filter out brand terms then match that organic search data with the conversion data from Google Analytics. That is probably the most accurate way of calculating true SEO ROI.
Other metrics you can measure are organic search visits in Analytics and performance stats in Google Search Console. You can then calculate your conversion rate with the increase in traffic and estimate from there.
Any red flags or things to avoid when hiring an SEO?
These are some red flags to look out for:
- Doing paid backlinks
- People that aren’t fluent in the 3 main points of SEO (technical, content, backlinks)
- People just getting backlinks from random sites (staying in the same niche is important for backlinks)
- Anyone that says “my strategy is a secret”
- Anyone that says “I know how to beat Google”
- Anyone that says “buying backlinks won’t hurt you”
- I can’t share any case studies because my client’s have requested I don’t share any details
What’s your process when working with a new client?
Normally I would start by composing an SEO analysis where the site in question is compared to its competitors. Then I’ll give an SEO proposal to help this particular client.
I usually propose a strategy like this:
- Month 1: Site technical SEO audit
- Month 2: Competitor keyword research + Missed Content Opportunity plan
- Month 3: Backlink competitor research + Backlink promotion plan
- Month 4: Outreach Piece Creation + Prospecting + Contact Information Discovery
- Month 5: Outreach via email (Link Building)
If the site possesses backlinks that are hurting it then another month is usually added where a backlink audit and link disavow upload is done on Google Search Console.
Key takeaways from the interview:
- The 3 main points of SEO are Technical, Content, and Backlinks
- Average increase in organic search traffic (for Aires’ clients) is around 70% after 7 months and around 120% after 12 months
- Most sites will see solid results after 6 months
- SEO is an excellent long term strategy, but if you’re just starting out, try PPC first
- 3 good places to start with SEO are mobile friendliness, site speed, and make sure you have title tag, meta description, h1 tag, and image alt attributes on all pages
- Taking shortcuts or getting spammy backlinks can actually hurt your site
- Google image SEO is awesome! Get your image’s alt attributes and filenames dialed in for extra Google image traffic and backlinks
- Create interactice, shareable content pieces to get high quality backlinks and potential viral sharing
- Try ego baiting by compiling a list of the best in your niche / target audience to gain relevant backlinks and social media shares
- When hiring an SEO, ask for case studies, references, and what their strategy will be
- If you’re not doing high 4 figures in monthly sales, you may want to try PPC for a few months first to get immediate results and data
- Expect to pay $1,000/mo or higher for quality SEO work. Lower than that and you may be getting inexperienced SEO’s or someone using shady or black hat backlink tactics
- Use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to measure the success of a campaign – organic search traffic and page performance are good markers
If you’d like to work with Aires, contact him with your project details here.
If you prefer a DIY approach instead, check out these SEO tools and tips for Shopify. There are some tactics in there that I’ve personally had success with.
Let me know what you think about the interview in the comments… any questions I missed, or features I should add? If you have any requests for experts or topics, let me know.
May your traffic be huge and your rankings #1 🤘