E-Commerce SEO Case Study

Year on Year (Y/Y) Organic Growth in a Setting That Drove 2 Competitors to Bankruptcy

Case study snapshot

Table of Contents


This e-commerce SEO case study was a heck of a fun ride. It demanded full-stack SEO capabilities in a competitive e-commerce and retail landscape. As the primary SEO strategist and tactician, I led the e-Commerce SEO program to larger organic growth for this S&P 500 retailer.

This growth occurred during a time that saw competitors and other retailers close their doors due to incredible technical debt and a lack of digital transformation.

E-commerce SEO Case Study Results

This retailer had a number of brands and e-commerce properties across various countries: totaling almost 200,000 SKUs. This case study reflects the engagement’s focus on the primary brand, but all properties we managed saw positive organic search growth during this time.

My beginning with this client originated with the client leadership requesting a new internal team at the agency. A different office/region had been previously handling this account, with limited results. My successful engagement with this client lasted over 2 years before transitioning to other accounts which needed help. I handed this client off to another internal team and shortly after, our agency resigned this account to a sister agency in the network to resolve competitive conflicts with new business.

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Challenges: Fighting the Rise of Amazon & Big Box While Organic Results are Pushed Below the Fold

2015-2017 were notoriously tough years for retail and e-Commerce SEO. First, these years saw strong organic rankings advances from Amazon, Target and other big box retailers. Second, Google significantly changed the search results (SERP) to rejuvenate tepid ad revenue:

In addition to client-specific competitive pressures, these SERP changes pushed down some organic results “below the fold”. This sometimes meant that even top organic rankings weren’t producing KPI growth.

The sum of these developments led us internally to call this time period the Retail-pocalypse. Below are some of the chief challenges that I faced in the engagement.

Challenge #1: Loss of non-brand category ownership

My introduction to this engagement was a hairy and highly visible problem: the principal site had lost ownership of its non-branded category “head” term. (Equivalent example: “men’s jeans”)

Challenge #2: Stagnated internal buy-in and follow-through

Losing category ownership led senior leadership both within the agency and client-side to doubt the effectiveness and efficiency of SEO as a customer acquisition channel.

Thus, while our prior agency team was making some of the right recommendations, very little was being implemented. This meant we had to prove the value of SEO both internally and externally.

Challenge #3: Ad inventory changes and shopping units pushed organic results below the fold

As previously mentioned, organic results were often no longer consistently in the user’s initial view. This meant that even position 1 organic rankings could see significant decreases in click-through rate and organic traffic. In turn, this resulted in early headwinds for value metrics such as organic cost per visit (CPV).

Challenge #4: Radical changes to the competitive landscape

This engagement also coincided with the rise of Amazon and other big box or department stores. This rendered previous insights about historical brick & mortar competitors less useful and produced a heightened sense of urgency to regain category ownership.

During the engagement, a number of brick & mortar competitors that failed to adapt their digital strategy went bankrupt or were subject to unfavorable acquisitions and takeovers.

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Solutions: Successfully Guiding a Household Name Through the Retail-pocalypse

It’s difficult to capture 2+ years of intensive work into a few paragraphs, but we’ll try for the highlights.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO doesn’t excite many people. However, as you work with larger enterprise sites, technical SEO becomes exponentially more important to success, even the problem set appears to only be content.

Through the course of the engagement, I developed rapport with the client’s in-house development team. We accomplished a ton despite a tenuous start, constant struggle for prioritization, lengthy holiday code freeze periods, and so on.

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Search Intent & Consumer Behavior

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Analytics & Forecasting

In addition to my own reporting needs, I also helped other channels troubleshoot and build custom reports that were “standard” in Google or Adobe Analytics. This saved both ourselves and the client many hours.

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Additional Areas: Site Architecture, Content & Off-Page

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Team Development

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Results: Average monthly increase of 64% Year on Year Organic Page 1 Rankings Growth

E-commerce SEO Case Study Results

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