It’s unfortunate but the simple truth is that most search agencies in Karachi are not doing the kind of work that could be regarded as “A” grade quality. I spent years working under different banners and learnt how not to do SEO.
I then started SEtalks.com as a freelancer and slowly built a team that’s doing a reasonably good job. I am always looking to learn more, on technical aspects as well as on the management end and that is why I usually interview people who knows the game much better than me!
Today, I am interviewing a person who is intelligent, interesting, amazing and knows his game really well. He is the VP of eCommerce at The Workplace Depot, and is a serial entrepreneur. You can read more about Matt Janaway on his website: mattjanaway.co.uk.
Matt, I totally understand how busy you are, but I believe this interview is very important not only for me but for the audience as well. I am also pretty sure that by the end of this interview they will be rethinking their SEO strategies as a whole.
Let’s get on with the interview:
I suppose it was both intentional and unintentional at the same time. It was my intention to get into eCommerce but I hadn’t realised it could be the success it was. I purchased my first eCommerce store a long time ago (roughly a decade ago) and it wasn’t long before I felt a passion for it. It wasn’t easy to start with as my knowledge was limited but as I developed a taste for search engines and UX, it got a whole lot easier. The first store did pretty well and over time we developed 9 other stores which shared strong success too. It wasn’t always easy and there were some steep learning curves but that’s the best way to learn, right?
Keyword research and site structure is pivotal to eCommerce success. The biggest and most common mistake I see is when eCommerce websites decide their keywords simply by picking the term with the highest search volume. While search volume obviously plays a massive part in keyword research, you also have to think about how competitive a term might be and how difficult it might be to rank for – especially for new or low authority websites. Then you have to think about variations of the keyword to ensure you drive as much traffic to your product pages via long-tail search terms.
To complicate things more, some keywords also represent different stages in a visitors buying cycle. Usually, before purchasing, the average user might use certain search terms to research a solution or product. They might then go on to a more specific keyword to find out opinions and find reviews on the product. Only then might they search for where to buy it. These stages can be broken down to be much more specific but it can get complicated and it varies for each keyword so for this purpose we can stick with these 3 stages of the buying cycle. If you target the wrong keywords and bring in visitors in to your website at the wrong stage of their buying cycle then not only will you suffer from low conversion rates but there’s a good chance your pages might have high bounce rates (which will also impact your rankings).
Tip 1 – CONTENT. I see so many stores who have very little information on product pages. serpIQ researched a multitude of position 1-10 rankings to correlate the word-count of each result with its position. The results were interesting and showed that there was a direct correlation between word-count and ranking position. Now I won’t quite commit to suggesting that a product page needs a 2500 word description but this point does highlight the need for an in-depth page.
Tip 2– Ensure you have keyword rich (but natural sounding) image alt-tags, file names and descriptions. This matters more when your product is of a visual nature (for example, fashion items). I have a client that gets around 10,000 unique visits a month directly from Google image searches – these even convert into sales slightly better than some organic traffic.
Tip 3 – Make sure that your product name (and keyword, if you did your research properly) is included in your headers and content. This is another massive oversight I see regularly. If you are unsure about on page rankings you should try using the Moz on-page grader – I always try to encourage my team to use this until they are comfortable with on-page SEO.
For the sake of not repeating earlier answers I’ll concentrate on user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimisation with this answer. I wrote a post on Search Engine People with some conversion tips for eCommerce stores which proved pretty popular. I’ll pick 3 of these tips that I think have boosted my own and my clients revenue the most.
Tip 1 – Remove registration. You might think you want to capture every last little detail about your customer but this is a massive conversion killer. Make the checkout process easier and simpler to enjoy a better conversion rate and increase your revenue at a good rate. Simplifying the checkout on one store I spent time optimising along increased conversions by 35%.
Tip 2 – Hire test shoppers. It’s amazing how much insight you can get into your website visitor flow by hiring people to complete tasks like placing an order for certain items on your website. Try to make sure that the people you hire match the demographics of your real visitors. If you watch them as they do it, you can see where they struggle. If similar struggles occur more than once then you have something you need to improve. Remember, it only takes 1 in 100 visitors to have the same problem and your conversion rate could drop by 1%. Assuming you have an average conversion rate of 2% then this is a massive increase or decrease in your revenue.
Tip 3 – Live Chat. Regardless of whether we like it or not, our habits reek of laziness. Sometimes it’s easier to just click a button and type a few questions to an operator. Recent research from CRM evaluation firm Software Advice, shows that over 56% of people have used live chat in their buying process. It would be good practice to operate a live chat system during the busiest times of the day for you – if not all day.
The first thing I’d do is push the need for quality content. In my opinion, building links to a page with no content is like building a house on quicksand. I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a page with no content ranking well but it’s much more difficult – especially in a competitive market.
Back to the question, though. Each product range can be different and each niche has its own collection of related websites which you can use creatively to build links. If you are really struggling to build links to product pages then use techniques like asking websites to review your product. However, please don’t neglect category pages. Most industries have products being superseded and discontinued regularly so you don’t want to waste your time building links to a product that might have to be removed from the website. In these circumstances you can obviously 301 redirect the old product page to the category page (or the closest equivalent product) but you won’t retain the full authority that the page had originally.
This is a tough question. This sounds like a cop-out but I think it depends on the business. In my opinion, I would always encourage businesses to build in-house teams. The downside of this is that you really need someone who can strategise, train, orchestrate and lead – this can cost serious money. Each time I employ a new member of staff I try to strip their experience and knowledge back down to basics and spend time rebuilding them into the mould I want (and need).
I rarely trust agencies. In my opinion, 90% of agencies not only don’t have the best interest of the client at heart and they often don’t understand SEO themselves. They employ students straight out of college/university and push them straight into working with clients. Essentially, this encourages a quantity over quality scenario where they are fighting to complete a quota of links built. I am all for bringing new faces into the industry and actively encourage it, but I worry about the lack of time and effort that goes into shaping their skillset.
More worryingly, I have issues with the general standards of those who actually train the newcomers to the industry. Digital marketing is a strange industry of hearsay and chinese whispers where everyone is encouraged to have an opinion on how to optimise websites – the issue with this is that you could end up with the inexperienced and ill-informed teaching the (even less) inexperienced. I have seen this happen first hand after employing a few members of staff from the same agency who genuinely thought that blog comments links and spammy directories were the way to help a website rank better. The only reason they adopted this mindset is because they had been told that this was the correct type of links to build.
What I would say is that if you do outsource your digital marketing efforts, make a concerted effort to also use an independent consultant who can work directly with the agency.
If you have a sexy product then you can’t afford not to invest in social media. I have worked with some eCommerce stores recently that benefit from 60% of their overall traffic coming from social media platforms – this is massive!
To play devils advocate though, some industries simply are not exciting enough to really benefit from using social media as a platform to drive traffic. I still think there is a need for these businesses to have a presence on the main social media platforms but it is much more difficult to have an impact on your visitor levels.
Copying competitors. I see so many stores try to copy every feature that a competitor might have – all this leads to is a complicated and distracting website. You have to know your own audience and make sure you cater to them first and foremost and forget about copying every change your competitors make.
You can understand why and how this happens. If you imagine a competitive niche where one store simply has a new idea and tries to implement a change on their website. What quickly happens is that one of their competitors assume that they have made the change because it must have a positive impact so they copy. Before long, a third competitor has seen that 2 others have implemented the same thing so assume it must be working for them. Eventually you create a whole market of mess. I have seen some of the craziest, messiest and hardest to understand eCommerce category and product pages which have suffered from this exact scenario.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t keep an eye on your competitors, you absolutely should. But you should not do so at the peril of your visitors. They should always be your number one priority.
Test, test and test some more. When you have finished testing, test even more! You have to figure out what works best for the website you are working on. Try to find other people within the SEO industry who write about their own testing and ask to see their data (if they don’t already provide it).
Finally, you have to be a skeptic. If you read somewhere that A = B, don’t just take their word for it, find out why they came to that conclusion and then see if anyone else has the same conclusion. Again, ask for data to back up the claim. Unfortunately the downside of having an incredible community is that everyone is encouraged to promote their opinion so you will always find varying viewpoints which can make things confusing – this is why you need to be able to be analytical and skeptical.
It’s actually funny. Lots of my family and friends assume I work “with IT”. Unless I take the time to sit down with them to explain what I do and why, they will continue to assume I work “with computers”. The funny thing is, most people who are employed work with computers. I’d love to help everyone understand exactly what I do but I’d be here a very long time.
Many thanks for the time, Matt. I am sure the audience will have learned lots of new things about SEO and eCommerce websites.
Note: If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comment section and I will request Matt to answer. Keep an eye on the comments section for feedback.