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Website Optimisation · Cultiver

Small Business

Websites. They’re an essential part of every small business, but one that can overwhelm even the most internet-savvy entrepreneur. But, given that 90 per cent of people will conduct online research prior to making a purchase, having a quality website that efficiently answers the needs of your target audience is paramount to the success of any business.

For this month’s small business column, Fiona Killackey speaks with Nicolle Sullivan, founder of luxury linen and homeware brand Cultiver, about the importance of SEO, utilising analytics daily, and her tactics to ensure a fantastic experience for Cultiver’s growing global audience.

27th October, 2017

For this month’s Small Business Column, we case study Sydney-based homewares label Cultiver. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.

Cultiver talks the importance of SEO and utilising analytics daily. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.

Swatches from the successful local linen brand. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.

Nicolle Sullivan, founder of Cultiver. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.

‘I’ve never looked to sites from the same category as us for ideas,’ tells Nicolle. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.

The Cultiver team monitor analytics daily. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.

Fiona Killackey
Friday 27th October 2017

‘The biggest changes we’ve made are photography and navigation, smoothing out the customer journey and trying to answer all of their possible questions’ – Nicolle Sullivan.

Nicolle Sullivan, founder of luxury homeware and linen brand Cultiver credits late-night online shopping with kick-starting her passion for website optimisation. ‘In my previous career, I worked long hours so the convenience of online shopping 24/7 really appealed, and I wholeheartedly embraced it early on. I spent lots of nights exploring online stores around the world,’ she recalls. It was while exploring these stores that the idea for Cultiver was born. Nicolle, who had launched a blog a few months prior to the brand, readily admits her knowledge of online retail at the time was minimal. ‘Through the blog I had a bit of practice in creating a website, but even after that I’d say on a scale of one-to-10, on my knowledge of online retail I’d generously give myself a two.’

The first step was to create a placeholder site with an image and an email sign-up field. Next, came the visuals for launching. ‘The photography for the site was the biggest project before launch. I did a shoot at home and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, I worked with a very patient photographer,’ laughs Nicolle. During this pre-launch period, she also reached out to friends of friends to ‘ask for advice on everything from how to import goods through to how to write a press release’ but admits she had to figure out most of it herself.

Utilising Shopify as her ecommerce platform, Nicolle was able to tap into their support network, which helped her find a developer that could refine the site. ‘It was an iterative process, and a lot of my inspiration came from observing what worked or what I liked on other sites’ she says. Stepping outside of her industry at this time was key. ‘I’ve never looked to sites from the same category as us for ideas. I typically would look at fashion sites, as they were more developed and ahead in terms of functionality,’ she explains.

Despite spending time on content, 12 months after launching, Cultiver was receiving minimal organic traffic. ‘I remember asking a friend who had an online business how to change this and was introduced to SEO and how important content on the site is to support that’.

Flash forward four years and Cultiver is now a successful online business with customers across the globe, helped in large part by quality products and constant tweaking of site content, social media engagement and investment in analytical understanding and data insights. ‘We’re on our fourth total site redesign,’ says Nicolle, ‘the changes we’ve made are based on analytics, research and feedback (direct and indirect) and customer behaviours. The biggest changes we’ve made are photography and navigation – smoothing out the customer journey and trying to answer all of their possible questions’. An example of this is the addition of an ‘inspiration’ section which allows customers to shop numerous items from one page of styled images. ‘We were getting a lot of questions about the product in the images when they were just shown as a gallery’.

Nicolle utilises tools like Google Analytics and Hotjar to measure organic search performance, customer engagement with the site and ensure the brand has a good backlink profile. Conducting an audit on what’s working and not working happens daily at Cultiver, with Nicolle and her staff checking the site is intuitive and easy for customers to navigate. ‘When checking details on a product or creating an order (for a trade client) we go through the front-end rather than the back end to simulate a customer experience; searching for items, moving through collections and checking out’.

This attention to detail has been important in Cultiver growing their brand worldwide, including into the US. ‘Our biggest obstacles have been in growing our international distribution and addressing regional differences in sizing of our main category, bedding. This takes away from some of the synergies of multiple markets as it double SKUs, production, website information etc. And SEO is also local, so that needs to be built over time in each new market.’

Now a self-taught online retail expert, Nicolle is looking to expand the brand offline. While Cultiver is stocked in brick-and-mortar stores across the globe, this year marks the first offline venture for the brand itself. ‘It’s a new chapter for us that feels right with what our customers want,’ says Nicolle, ‘and hopefully it brings new customers into our online world. I love converting offline shoppers to online!’

Shop Cultiver online or find your nearest stockist here.

‘Learn more about SEO upfront – when you get it right it still takes a long time to bear fruit so you want to be building this in the background from as early as possible – especially if you want a global presence,’ says Nicolle. Photo – Jacqui Turk for The Design Files.


1. Don’t Make Me Think

I’m a fan of Steve Krug’s UX bible, Don’t Make Me Think, which suggests most people want to be guided when they come onto a website. Look at your website from the viewpoint of a customer journey. Where are people going? Do you have internal links showing them how to easily get back to a page, or to the next stage, on product or category pages? In-person focus groups and tools like Clicktale, Hotjar, Crazyegg and Optimizely are great for getting feedback about how easy (or not) your site is to use. For example, you might invite some of your VIP online customers to an event where you ask them to find a particular product on your website and you can view the steps they take to do so (i.e., do they use the search bar or do they use a main menu to find the category first?). By understanding how people are using your site, you can make tweaks and changes that make finding your items and purchasing them an easier process.

2. Analyse & Improve

To quote Arthur C Neilson, ‘the price of light is less than the cost of darkness’. Every website owner should be reviewing their analytics on a daily basis to see what’s working and what’s not and improving the site accordingly. Setting up simple dashboards in Google Analytics or within your shopping platform allows you to view, at a glance, any changes to site activity and pinpoint levers that help or hinder conversion and sales. If you need a head start, check out these seven Google Analytics dashboards for small business owners or check out Google’s Digital Garage to sign up for one of the many free Google courses to help you understand and utilise analytics.

3. Invest in Visuals

We’re visual creatures, which is why social media as a medium is so cut-through. Visuals can make or break a brand’s website. If you can, invest in quality photography for your product, team photos and overall aesthetic. If you’re a little strapped for this, consider working with final year photography students at your local university or buying your own camera and taking a few lessons. Brands like Orange Monkie can help you save time and aid consistency with product shots, and sites like Unsplash and Pexels provide royalty-free images you can use for commercial purposes (always check the fine print!).

4. Study up on SEO

As Nicolle says, SEO is one of the most important areas to invest in when looking to optimise your website. No longer is it enough to just have a great site, you have to be driving traffic towards it, commit to maintaining its quality (i.e., links, URLs and descriptions) and, most importantly, creating content on it that speaks to your target audience’s needs. A staggering 90% of traffic on the web starts with a search query. To find out what your audience is searching for, check out tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, Uber SuggestAnswer the Public, Keyword Tool and SEMrush. You can then utilise these words – naturally! – within your site. Check your URLs make sense (i.e. ‘’ vs. ‘’) and, where possible, go for shorter, not longer, URLs. Make sure you’re spending time on off-page SEO (everything you do off your website) as well as on-page SEO (everything you do on your website). This may mean checking backlinks (via Moz Research Tools and committing to outreach when creating content (i.e. asking others to share your content and link back to your site).

5. Learn to DIY

While it’s great to invest in agencies and consultants to help your business grow (I’m raising both hands here!) it’s always worth learning these things for yourself as well. This may look like a night class, a time investment in Google’s Digital Garage, a one-off workshop or simply asking your consultant to teach you the basics over a few months. While this can’t replace the skill and expertise of a specialist (particularly in web development and coding) it gives you confidence to be able to make some changes yourself and then save your spend for the areas that require a seasoned professional.

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, providing information and education for starting and growing a creative small business.

 Need help with your marketing? There’s one spot left in Fiona’s Marketing for Small Business workshop TOMORROW, Saturday 28th October with Natasha Morgan of Oak & Monkey Puzzle . For info visit Oak & Monkey Puzzle.

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