A case study into the value of quality SEO

Digital360 on 16 August 2017

Whether it's finding a business or researching a product, the internet is a primary resource for Australian consumers. According to Google research, 58 per cent of consumers in Australia become aware of new products from online sources, while 55 per cent research online before making a purchase. In the modern life of the consumer, online tools such as search engines play a central role.

On the flip side, businesses have long recognised the marketing potential of search engines and online channels. And nowhere is search more important than in an ecommerce business. “As a channel, search plays a crucial part of our marketing and sales process,” says Dony Ngamino, the owner and operator of Blossom Costumes, an online costume store shipping thousands of products around Australia.

“Over 80 per cent of our ecommerce traffic comes from either organic or PPC search sources. Our customers know what they need, they just need to find a seller who has the range and convenience at the right price. And the first place they look is in Google,” explains Dony.

While Blossom Costumes is seeing success in the current digital strategy, Dony and the team learnt the value of quality digital marketing services through trial and error. The lure of cheap search engine optimisation (SEO) providers, while appealing at face value, are often a waste of money. Sometimes, they even do more harm than good.

Blossom Costumes' starts search marketing

Many of the new businesses we see here at Digital360 have previously attempted an SEO strategy with little success. After being disappointed by agencies before, many businesses swear off search marketing altogether. This means that the SME is missing a genuine marketing opportunity for their business and being left behind in the digital landscape.

As for Blossom Costumes, the business has grown revenue by 115 per cent in the last financial year, thanks to a 152 per cent surge in organic traffic. While they’re experiencing success today, their earlier experience with a low cost provider almost jeopardised their ecommerce business model.

Blossom Costumes website comparison

Left: Blossom Costumes in 2013. Right: Blossom Costumes today

“When we started, we didn't have a presence in search marketing and a lot of our business relied on selling through other platforms, such as eBay. Building our own independent platform would be significant in growing our business. So our early attempts had the right idea,” explains Dony.

Dony and Blossom Costumes turned to a search marketing provider to deliver an SEO strategy that would make their products rank in search engine results, particularly around peak season items such as Halloween, St Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest.

“We partnered with a provider and started with PPC search marketing through Google AdWords. We also started with a quite ‘generic’ SEO package, something that was relatively low cost,” explains Dony.

The troubles with a low cost provider

Low cost providers often bundle search marketing services into tiered packages. While this can be appealing at first, after a period of months, many businesses are left wondering how to measure the value of the services. Vague promises like ‘optimise three keywords per month’ or ‘publish one blog post per week’ have no measure of quality or reference to an overall strategy. After all, a modern SEO strategy should focus on targeting a breadth of keywords and phrases, rather than a select few.

cheap seo monthly packages

Cheap SEO agencies often bundle generic services

For these operators, it’s also easy to hide behind the technicalities of SEO and explain away problems or justify their expense. Web development, information architecture, page speeds, copywriting, design, UX, testing and optimisation all play a part in an SEO program. It’s almost impossible for a busy business owner to understand the all the ins-and-outs of these fields. quality SEO company will provide a comprehensive SEO report to help business owners and managers understand the impact of their investment. 

This gives rise to an asymmetric relationship between supplier and customer. Owners and managers often have no choice but to trust their SEO company and hope they will see a return on their spend in three, six or twelve months. But as many SMEs discover, low cost providers over-promise and under-deliver. Their business models rely on outpacing client ‘churn’  that is, acquiring at least as many clients they lose ​ and outsource much of their creative and development services to cheap overseas operators.

For Blossom Costumes, despite some early successes, it wasn’t long before issues started to appear with their search marketing program. On paper, they had made great progress. A new ecommerce website had been developed and both their SEO and PCC strategy were in place. But suddenly, website traffic dropped off dramatically – and so did sales.

Google penalty

The effects of a Google penalty on website traffic.

“In 2013 and 2014, we identified there were some issues regarding our SEO strategy,” explains Dony. “We ended up seeking out another provider to see what was wrong, and were referred to Digital360.”

Uncovering poor practices

Google penalises sites for using SEO tactics that break their best practice guidelines – often referred as ‘black hat’ SEO tactics. Where there are widespread problems, Google takes a heavy handed approach in the form of ranking penalties for offending websites.

For instance, Google introduced a ‘Penguin’ update in 2012. The change took aim at spam backlinks that attempted to game the search algorithm. After rolling out the update, the single change affected about 3 per cent of search queries. Many businesses were wiped off the face of Google search and traffic flowing into their site came to a halt.

When Blossom Costumes approached Digital360, our SEO team soon discovered a number of issues with the website. Unfortunately for Blossom Costumes, the previous SEO provider had used some of these 'black hat' tactics as part of their SEO practices. As a result, the Blossom Costumes website had been given a Google penalty. It was devastating to the growing business that relied on inbound traffic.

“We analysed thousands of pages and noticed several trends. For instance there was duplicate content all over the site,” explains Dion Lovrecich, the Marketing Manager at Digital360. “Combined with hundreds of low quality backlinks we were able to confirm manual and algorithmic penalties via Search Console.”

Content and backlinks are two of the top three Google ranking factors. Most a website’s content should be unique and original, while links to the site should be genuine. Duplicate content and poor quality links are two of the most common SEO pitfalls and the most likely sources of a problem when it comes to receiving a penalty.

Dealing with a Google penalty

There are a number of things a business can do if they’ve been hit by a penalty. They can scrape the website to find duplicate content and then work on replacing it with high-quality original copy, video and imagery. It’s also important to assess the site’s backlink profile and send disavow requests for any low quality or spam links. Manual outreach to offending sites may also be necessary.

But these changes are not immediate. In some cases, their effect can be long term or permanent. Even high profile businesses, from BMW to The Washington Post, have suffered a Google penalty and disappeared from results for days, weeks and months.

In Blossom Costumes' case, they had a choice. The first was to continue a new SEO strategy on the current domain name in the hope that long term impacts of the penalty could be overcome. The second option was to start afresh with a brand new domain.

“Ultimately we decided to go with a clean slate,” remembers Dony.

“It meant we were starting from square one in an SEO sense. But with a clean domain we could rebuild and leave the consequences of a Google penalty behind us. If we hadn’t made that choice, we might not be seeing the successes we have today.”

What are the lessons for other business owners? Finding the right SEO and search marketing provider reduces risk and pays off in the long term. A tailored approach to strategy, that’s integrated with your entire business model, is the way modern SEO works.

Recovering after Google penalty

Blossom Costumes recovers after a Google penalty

Staying ahead of the SEO game

SEO as a marketing strategy is a zero sum game. A business and its competitors are ranked in a list, all vying for potential customers. In other words, there is a ‘holding cost’ to just maintaining a current position, while to get ahead requires a smart strategy and a commitment to investing in business assets.

As for Blossom Costumes, their current strategy has not just paid off – it's gone from strength-to-strength. Now Dony and the team are gearing up for another record peak season in October. After securing a number of highly valuable keywords in search results, the business continues to make investments in SEO.

“It pays to find the right provider," says Dony "Not only will that make you money in the long term, it will save you time and energy if you can trust the team behind your digital marketing.”

Looking for more information about search engine optimisation? Speak with a digital specialist about your business needs.