It’s a competitive market in the e-commerce world where not only are businesses battling against other local companies but they are forced to rival firms across the world. Richard Hill is no stranger to good competition and has made a career out of knowing how to get your business noticed at the top of an internet search.
In 2009 Richard founded SEO Traffic Lab, a search engine optimisation (SEO) specialist company, wanting a change of pace from selling brand new and refurbished computers.
“I always knew I was going to work for myself, I had been brought up in that sort of environment. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, like a lot of people when they leave uni,” Richard said.
Having grown up on a working farm, the one thing that he did know was he didn’t want to continue the family trade.
“I was at Hemswell Cliff and back then it used to have a very large market and a plethora of shops in the different RAF buildings. I was going around them and met someone who had a small computer shop, selling components.
“I started buying from him and selling them. After about eight or nine months, he wanted to get out of the business so I bought it from him, which was basically a small one man computer shop, trading only on a Sunday.”
Getting the taste for being his own boss, Richard grew and expanded The Exchange Computer Store from a one man band to one that opened seven days a week with three staff, selling new and second-hand PCs. It reached the point where Richard needed to take on a second location and more staff.
“That’s when we started selling to the trade and that’s when things really started to take off. We had a very successful shop and pretty successful trade side but then the tie-in to what we do now is when we started to sell online.”
In 2002/3, Richard developed his first website and although it was in a very basic form, he found that a lot of people liked the idea of ordering products online.
“It was the equivalent to having an excel sheet on a website which was updated a lot and just drove a lot of people to it, like when people went to Google and searched for computer shops. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to do various things with that.
“Things started to really snowball. We got very busy, very quickly. After five more years, we were doing just under £12 million a year and we had 38 staff, 20,000 sq ft and we were carrying well over £1.2 million of stock.”
After 12 years of trading, Richard had seen the light with how e-commerce had the potential to seriously boost business performance and sales. He started passing on the knowledge that he accrued to others.
“We transitioned into this, where a lot of the relationships that we had were with manufacturers, distributors of computer components and they could see that we were turning over a lot of products. I was always getting asked, ‘How are you selling so much?’
“I said that we have these different routes to market but the e-commerce side is where the majority of the product is going.
“They wanted to get more of an understanding of what we were doing and I was asked if I would consult with some of these companies. That’s when SEO Traffic Lab was born and created.”
Birth in a recession
A year after the world entered into a recession, Richard founded SEO Traffic Lab with three staff and was determined that nothing would hold him back. In the previous 15 years, the technological world had been changing at a rate of knots and the only way to survive in it was to keep up with the times, staying one step ahead.
“I always bought and sold products. That has always been my thing, but I always had this real passion and this sort of geekery. I really liked the fact that we could take a product and rank it and we could sell it online. We would come into the office in the morning to 200, 300, 400 orders. I really love doing that.”
For the first couple of years, the businesses ran side by side with Richard doing consultancy work for half a day here and there. Motonovo Finance, a major player in the car finance industry which turns over £120 million a month, became one of his first clients and is still a client today.
Eventually, SEO Traffic Lab stole Richard’s heart and so he sold his computer business to focus on the future of e-commerce, helping customers to boost their online presence and ratings through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC).
“Search listings get about 80% of the traffic. So when someone goes onto Google and searches for a product, about 82% of those clicks goes to the search results and the other 18/20% go to the paid for listings at the top. Our services are geared to work with companies to get them to be seen a lot more than their competitors.
“One of the things they say is ‘The best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google’,” Richard laughed.
In his quest to learn and expand, Richard and his team have become Google Partners, which means that all of them have taken a variety of training courses to make sure that they are able to provide the best services when it comes to their clients being at the top of the list on a web search.
“Earlier this year, we were recognised by Google as one of the top 30 agencies in the UK and were asked to go on a business coaching course, so I have been to Google five times this year on a very intensive course. They say there are 30,000 digital agencies in the UK, 5,000 Google Partners and we were selected as one of the top 30, so that’s something that we’re really proud of.
“That’s down to the way we manage our ads, the way we manage our campaigns, they look at the stats in our accounts and can see what we’re doing and, ultimately, our growth. Like us, they’re interested in growth and the development of the business.”
For the last five years, SEO Traffic Lab has been continually expanding business and staff numbers. Now the company has 12 staff and just under £500,000 turnover, whilst helping other businesses seriously boost theirs.
And it’s not just SEO services. It also provides online training and hosts business networking seminars #LabLive with Google at their offices in Gainsborough.
“I’ve always had, since I started this business, a real passion for learning and investing time into my learning, the team’s learning, buying into a lot of courses and training. There is a massive multi-billion pound market for online training where people can go at their own pace. So we created Etoomi, which is basically geared for e-commerce store owners, where they can learn about SEO, PPC, social media, content marketing and how to run a store.”
Richard himself has sold over $60 million worth of products through his own e-commerce stores in the last 15 years. He has even written a book to provide the basics of what business owners need to know to kickstart the e-commerce side of their business.
The one thing that Richard will never do is stand still. With the technological age progressing faster than any other, if a business doesn’t progress with it, it could well be lost in the crowd.
“When we started, it was relatively easy to sell a lot of products very quickly and I guess the key word is ‘easy’. It was easy to rank a store, easy to get a website on page one of Google. Now, things are getting a lot harder so you have to get a lot smarter with your spend and where you focus your time.
“A lot of our successful projects are multi-stranded, where we will focus for a period on SEO, which will still continue but then we will feather in the paid traffic, the email marketing, some development work to work on conversions.”
For his own company, he has set himself challenging targets and once he meets those, they will get moved to new heights.
“We do have some very strong financial targets over the next three years that I want to hit. They seem very big right now, our target is to hit £2 million turnover. It’s is a long way off but I can imagine when I hit it, the challenge will be, ‘Right, let’s double it’.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 95 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.