TL; DR: Launching or improving your online store doesn’t have to be a complicated process with uncertain results. One call to OuterBox unlocks a proven team of web designers and developers, along with SEO and marketing specialists. We spoke with Founder and CEO Justin Smith to learn how his team’s early interest in ecommerce has turned into a national reputation for client success.
Launching a website hasn’t always been so easy. Not too long ago, there were no drag-and-drop website builders or hosted shopping carts, and search engine optimization was in its infancy.
You had to hire an agency to design your brand and maybe another designer to create the look and feel of your site. Then, you would need a developer to put the designs into production.
Don’t forget the marketing and SEO — that would have been another hire or two. Before you knew it, you had probably hired five or more companies, according to OuterBox Founder and CEO Justin Smith.
“Each company would do their piece, eventually the website would get totally messed up, and each company would point fingers at another company in a circle,” he said. “That was always how it went.”
Seeking to help clients cut through the chaos, OuterBox launched in 2004 with a mission to bring everything under one roof. Now, the agency’s team of nearly 100 employees helps national clients increase sales and gain exposure.
In-house designers, developers, and SEO specialists support OuterBox’s comprehensive approach, which integrates user experience, performance, and client success right from the start.
“The reason someone chooses us is because they want someone who can use proven methods and proven strategies,” Justin said. “Having probably the largest client base in the ecommerce space allows us to make better predictions and better understand Google’s algorithms.”
Ecommerce Experts That Stay Ahead of Industry Trends
The young OuterBox team knew SEO was becoming increasingly important to online business success in 2004, but the team also targeted another emerging concept: ecommerce.
“It hadn’t taken off yet, but we saw ecommerce as the future,” Justin said.
Practically none of today’s most popular platforms for online stores existed at the time; Shopify launched in 2006, but open-source options like Magento and WooCommerce didn’t come around until 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Nearly two decades later, both have thrived: OuterBox ranks near the top of search results for many ecommerce web design and SEO keywords, and hosted ecommerce solutions are dominating the online business market.
“We really grew the business by seeing that ecommerce would be the next big thing and buying heavily into that,” Justin said.
Even as recently as five years ago, he saw many online stores choose to rely on custom applications instead of the common platforms we know today.
He credits the shift toward hosted solutions to the willingness of ecommerce programs to open up for more development and enabling users to create custom features. Larger brands can rely on the efficiency of Shopify without sacrificing any business-critical functionality.
“You still have the bigger enterprise brands that need super-custom ERP integrations and those kinds of things, so that’s more of where we play right now,” Justin said. “We’re a big organization, so we’re not handling many of those $5,000 projects.”
As more brands turned to OuterBox for site optimization, Justin said he noticed an increased recognition and need for SEO and pay-per-click advertising assistance.
“Our marketing side has blown up so much over the last three years, and we get requests for the SEO side of things nonstop,” he said.
In-House Teams Implement Custom SEO Solutions
Unlike many of its competitors, OuterBox can usher clients through the full process of designing, developing, and marketing new projects.
“A lot of times, customers will come to us and say their last SEO agency gave them a million suggestions,” Justin said. “But they don’t necessarily have the technical knowledge of how to build landing pages and do frontend development and all that.”
With designers and developers joining the SEO experts in-house, OuterBox can implement more than most other agencies, he said. The team can make those recommendations — and put them into production in the manner most likely to succeed.
“That’s a big value for our clients, perhaps the biggest one,” Justin said.
SEO and PPC drive roughly 75% of the company’s revenue, he estimated — which he said he’s perfectly fine with. Search marketing constitutes reliable and recurring income, while he compares website development to building a house: an agonizingly long process that is rarely fun for anyone involved.
“I always joke that I would never want to build a website again if I didn’t have to, but it’s a means to an end,” Justin said with a laugh. “You can’t do marketing and all these other things if you don’t have a website to do it with.”
OuterBox’s ecommerce-specific experience drives much of that recurring SEO revenue. Justin said his team can point to the successes and accomplishments of other clients when devising a plan for other brands.
“It’s a totally different ballgame when you’re working with a website with thousands of products,” he said, comparing ecommerce SEO with agencies that are more focused on local searches.
OuterBox Boosts Growth and Adapts to Client Needs
Because no two businesses or clients are the same, OuterBox does not have a set-in-stone workflow; each plan is customized to the client’s needs.
“We’re always trying to learn from our clients,” Justin said. “That can be one of the most challenging aspects, getting our team to work 20 different ways because everyone wants things just a little bit different.”
OuterBox aims to seamlessly integrate into a client’s existing procedures, such as when to get approvals or whether to use a staging server or version control system.
Justin estimated the company’s few hundred active clients use about 20 ecommerce platforms, ranging “from the obvious to things you’ve never heard of,” he said.
Differences aside, OuterBox is ready for the challenge and happy to work with whatever system the client wants. Instead of trying to reinvent itself or adding more services, Justin said the company’s goal is simple: get better every day.
“At the end of the day, SEO is all the same as far as how you present it,” Justin said. “The way you actually implement it and get it to work might be different, but that’s why you have us. We’ll figure that out.”
After 18 years in business, Justin said he still wants to increase OuterBox’s market share and employee roster (they’re currently hovering near 100).
“We’re really working on engaging our customers better and creating better relationships,” he said. “At the end of the day, the easiest way to grow is by keeping your current clients.”