Expert Interview: Stephan Phillips, SEO Manager at Hugo Boss

International SEO

Covid-19 had a massive impact over the past years on e-commerce as digital shopping became the most popular alternative to crowded stores and in-person shopping. In addition, mobile devices are influencing the way consumers shop - over the past year, 70% of website traffic was generated from mobile phones.

With all those fluctuating external conditions, marketing managers are faced with the challenge of ranking higher in Google searchers and creating an agile digital infrastructure to satisfy the changing habits and behaviours of the desired customers.

Looking at the ‘The Luxury Opportunity’ study conducted by Deloitte in 2015, 58% of millennial luxury consumers purchase their products through online channels and it’s clear that the majority of luxury consumers are rapidly shifting their engagement and buying habits to digital channels.

To explore the current eCommerce context further and the changing nature of fashion SEO, we spoke to Stephan Phillips, SEO Manager at HUGO BOSS.

  • How do you feel eCommerce SEO is changing, if at all? What about eCommerce marketing in general?

SEO in general is continuously changing, so e-commerce SEO isn’t exempt from that. One relatively recent example would be the free product listings on Google Shopping. Other than that, an increasing focus on users’ mobile experience and on user intent has probably been one of the main themes in the last few years.

  • What have you found most challenging about working in fashion and apparel SEO? How about most exciting?

Competition is fierce, and seasonality along with changing trends poses a challenge. But it’s always exciting to see changes in search volume and in user behaviour, whether they are caused by planned marketing campaigns or unforeseen events such as COVID.

  • How important is brand in fashion SEO? To what extent does having a notable brand/strong site help you pursue non-brand terms?

I believe having a strong brand is generally helpful in SEO, not only in the fashion area. A strong brand helps demonstrate expertise and can help to increase CTR.

  • For companies with many product options, how do you prioritise SEO and wider marketing initiatives?

In my opinion, the number of product options itself should have no effect on prioritisation. Estimating effort against impact, based on available search volume, potential revenue, and competition, is relevant for websites of all sizes. But companies with many product options can focus on options that can be scaled up more easily. Additionally, SEOs should generally join the discussion of whether the available product options and their presentation match what users are searching for.

  • Do larger companies have an easier time when it comes to taking advantage of SEO opportunities, or are there areas where challenger brands have the upper hand?

I think this depends on the area or niche you’re in. Apart from that, it’s the usual enterprise vs. start-up discussion. Larger, well-known companies generally have more resources and a stronger backlink profile, but are rather slow in execution. New challenger brands can benefit from faster execution, maybe also from easier testing, but they may need to target less competitive topics.

  • Do you welcome or worry about new Google updates? Why?

I accept them. It would certainly be easier to troubleshoot with more information on what was specifically worked on in an update. The Medic update is an example of how tricky such troubleshooting can be. If it is likely that Google decides to start a new vertical and your business model depends on Google Search, then maybe you should start worrying.

  • With Google raising plans to dynamically rewrite title tags and the like, do you feel SEO and content experts should push back?

Google tampering with titles isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. The rewritten examples I’ve seen so far make sense to me. Pushback is legitimate if the rewritten titles are really poorly done, but Google currently rewrites only around 13% of cases. And in those cases, the information is pulled from the website’s content which should already be optimised.

  • What are the best tools for marketers to measure the performance of SEO initiatives?

That depends on what KPIs and other metrics are tracked. The best tool is the one you’re comfortable using, where you know what it can do and cannot do, and from which you derive courses of action.

  • Is there such a thing as intrinsically 'linkable' content? Are some brands better positioned than others to organically earn links?

One of the fundamental principles of the Internet is linking to other sites. So yes, I believe that intrinsically linkable content exists. Popular brands probably have an easier time creating buzz or grabbing attention, but there’s a market for everything, even if it’s on a smaller scale.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to a young person looking for a career in SEO, what would it be?

The usual advice is to make your own website or project. Hands-on training is generally a good idea compared to just learning about SEO in theory. My advice would be: if you can, find an experienced mentor who you can fire all your questions at.

Summing up…

As identified by Stephan, the best SEO practitioners are constantly adapting to changing customer habits.

Many customers research products online from their mobile phones and SEO experts must put extra effort to improve users’ mobile experience and develop an actionable understanding of what customer intentions are.

Carefully tracking the changes in search volume and user behaviour is playing a large part in a competitive eCommerce SEO strategy. Furthermore, having a solid tracking system in place allows SEO managers to overcome unforeseen challenges.

Just like in other industries Google updates play a large role in luxury eCommerce SEO marketing and as Stephan mentioned, rather than fight the inevitable, it can be easier to accept them and work in accordance with Google’s best practices as part of a sustainable – but ambitious SEO strategy.