My friends Kurt and Paul had me on the Unofficial Shopify Podcast to talk about Shopify eCommerce SEO. The episode, alas, was accidentally deleted from the podcast feed, but a backup copy is hosted here, and the transcript is included below.
(Transcript) Unofficial Shopify Podcast: eCommerce SEO
Recorded: This is the Unofficial Shopify Podcast with Kurt Elster and Paul Reda, your resource for growing your Shopify business sponsored by Ethercycle.
Kurt: Welcome to the second episode of the Unofficial Shopify Podcast. I am your host, Kurt Elster. With me is my cohost and partner-in-crime, Paul Reda.
Kurt: Joining us today is our guest and friend, Kai Davis. Kai, you’re out in Portland. How’s it going there?
Kai: Hey, folks. It’s a nice and rainy overcast Portland day so it feels like home.
Kurt: Fantastic. Kai, you’re my go-to SEO guy. Why don’t you tell people a little bit about yourself?
Kai: Sure. I am a marketing consultant specializing in search engine optimization and helping my clients get found online through digital outreach promotion and link building. I figure my clients have wonderful content, wonderful websites. My role is to help people find out about those sites. Go out there on my clients’ behalf, tell influencers, authorities, bloggers, and journalists about my client, their resources, their linkable assets, and promote that connection.
Kurt: It sounds like you’ve differentiated yourself. You’re like, “I should wait more than just an SEO guy.”
Kai: Totally. Totally. So many people practicing SEO out there but saying I need an SEO is like going to an architect and saying, I really need a hammer. You want a new house. You want a beautiful entry way. I am focused on the results for my clients which usually are traffic, sales, better image, not necessarily just, “Hey, we’re going to do some SEO on your site.” We’re going to do best practices that help you get found online.
Kurt: Okay. Actually, tell us a little bit about those best practices.
Kai: Sure. It really splits into two different camps. You have on-site SEO and off-site SEO. With the on-site side of things, it’s like saying, “We want to get everything tuned out that we can, make it easy for people to find us.” The analogy I like using is saying, “If you’re going to have people over to your house, you’re going to tie some balloons to your mailbox so they know exactly where you are.”
I think that’s what on-site SEO really is. What can we do to make it so when people come by, they’re able to find your site. It covers the normal stuff, title pegs, headers, headlines, on-page content, what keywords are we targeting? Just making sure everything is as perfect as it can be.
When it comes to off-site stuff, again, that end goal is we want to get traffic to your site. We want to get interesting people finding your site and saying, “Hey, this is what I want.” To do that, the best signal to send to Google is and always has been links. What I do is that outreach on behalf of my clients saying, “Hey, we want to get some links to your site from relevant sites, from influencer sites, from sites that have high quality content, and everybody benefits from that.
Paul: That mention of high quality content is really what is important and sticks out to me because at least, my impression is dealing with the SEO consultants of the world. Is that SEO has almost become like a catch-out term for snake oil salesmen who are just trying to get people to be … I can get you to be number one in Google. I can do black magic that will secretly increase your Google rankings so you give me a ton of money. I feel like those people are taking advantage of a customer who actually needs legitimate help. Is that something that you think is a problem in dealing with your industry that the clients don’t understand that there’s much more to this than just paying some guy to buy a bunch of backlinks off of Fiverr?
Kai: Absolutely. It comes down to an education problem and a reputation management problem on behalf of the SEO folks. I’ve had so many clients and potential clients say to me, “You know what I hate? Two things in the world. Only two things. Lawyers and SEO specialists. I don’t understand what they do. It’s confusing. They try to explain it to me and do a terrible job, and I just throw money to a black box, and I don’t know what’s going to come out of it.” That’s what I want to move away. There’s so many people out there who are eager to sell a $300 or a $500 solution. We’ll get you traffic. We’ll get you a number one position on Google, but again, for that hammer analogy, it’s like they’re selling you a really fancy hammer when you want a better house.
Kurt: Let’s talk about the bad SEO people. What are those guys doing? Let’s dispel it right now.
Kai: Usually when somebody goes out and says, “Hey, I want to get to number one on Google. I am going to pay somebody $300, $400, $500 a month,” they’re going out there and they’re doing, the SEO company is doing on that client’s behalf directory submissions, building a spam backlinks through blog commenting or buying up existing sites that have links pointing to them, building out the content, and then putting links in that content to the client’s site.
As with anything, there’s some ways you could use these black hat tactics effectively and some ways you could do it very ineffectively, and most of the time, if your client he says, “Hey, I just want to spend $300 or $400 a month on Google and get to number one,” you’re going to be working with an SEO company who is really good at cashing your tanks, building some spam backlinks, get you a little bump in your traffic or rankings of the first couple of months.
Then, you’ll see your traffic just plummet when Google catches on and says, “All that’s pointing to your site is 5000 low quality irrelevant links, why should we be ranking you high? What’s relevant about your content that you deserve these links and what’s relevant about these links that you deserve this rankings?”
Paul: Yes. Really, if you cheap out on it, in the long run, you’re only hurting yourself because Google is going to catch on to your shady game and they’re going to punish you for it.
Kai: What’s that comment? I never knew how expensive it would be to work with a professional until I work with an amateur. If you cut corners, if you work with somebody who says, “It’s going to be cheap, we’ll get you what you want,” if it seems too good to be true, we’re going to get you 1000 hits a day in 24 hours, it’s probably too good to be true.
Kurt: The way to avoid those snake oils, the bad SEO marketers is number one, look at price and look at unrealistic promises or results?
Kai: Absolutely. I’d add to that. Talk to them about what clients they’ve worked with before and what results they see, and talk to them about the system they use. A few months ago, I had a call from an entrepreneur who is starting up an SEO company, and I said, “Hey, just walk me through. How do you get these links toy our clients? What system are you using?” It’s a really innovative patentable process that our VP of technology has developed that assures people’s first place rankings.” “Yeah, but what do you do?” “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that.”
Whatever any client ask me, “Hey, Kai. How are you going to get us links?” I will break out for them in detail what I do. Let’s identify the influences in your industry. Let’s identify those bloggers. Let’s figure out who is linking to your competitors and what their most valuable links are. Let’s copy your competitors’ most valuable links through link building and direct outreach, and let’s find those people who are having conversations about your brand or your industry online, and insert ourselves into that conversation through outreach, picking up the phone or hopping into email and saying, “Hey, we’d love to have you link to us. You have this great resource about X, Y, Z. We have X, Y, Z. Would you be willing to include a link to help your audience?” That’s what I do. That’s what good SEOs do.
Paul: What you’re saying is you do actual hard legwork to deliver real actual results. That is craziness. How could you charge people to do actual work instead of just cunning them out of their money like most of these guys?
Kai: I know, right? I built my practice from the beginning to say, “I want to work with a very small number of clients but deliver the best results possible for them. That’s a different attack than a lot of SEO companies or a lot of consultants. They say, “Hey, we want to work with 50 or 100 different clients.” To do that, you might end up having to staff up or cut corners. I say, “I want to run an independent practice. I want to work with six exceptional clients at a time, and deliver to them the best results possible.”
Paul: Yeah, these other guys are selling mass-produced nerve tonic. You’re a natural doctor.
Kai: Exactly. Exactly.
Kurt: Let me back up. We do a lot of web developments. Naturally, for us, we just follow Google’s best practices, or usability best practices, accessibility best practices when developing. Does that mean we’re following good on-site SEO?
Kai: For 95% of the cases, it means that you are. Time and time again, Google has reinforced a viewpoint that the way to do good SEO is to do what’s in the user’s or the visitor’s best interest. If you’re following Google’s guidelines, if you’re making sure your website is designed to be accessible, designed to be usable, designed to load quickly and efficiently, you’re crossing 95% of the Ts and dotting the Is.
Kurt: What’s probably the biggest mistake you see for on-site SEO?
Kai: For on-site SEO, for people who are using an off-the-shelf theme like let’s say they have a Shopify site and just picks something off the shelf, they aren’t looking at the theme to make sure that everything is dialed in. I had a client recently and I did a website x-ray for them, just digging through their sites, seeing what they needed to change to make their site better able to generate traffic. Whoever had built their theme had included three instances of the title tag on every page. That’s a weird thing to have.
If you think about it, the title tag is like the story name in the newspaper and if you pick up a copy of the New York Times and the front page story has three separate titles for it, you’re going to say, “This is confusing. What I am reading?” Same thing for Google. They’re going to look at that page and say, “There’s three separate titles here. What is this page really about?”
If you are using something off the shelf, making sure that it’s dialed in, talking to an SEO consultant or talking to the web developer and saying, “Hey, walk me through how you optimize this thing for SEO.” It’s really easy to slap optimize for search engines label on anything but, what did they actually do to achieve that?
Kurt: Okay, yeah. Just asking people. Seem straightforward. It sounds like a lot of the stuff you do, SEOs like the direct byproduct of it, especially with off-site optimization. Give me a couple of tips, methods, tactics to do off-site SEO.
Kai: In the end, you’re really just looking to get a number of domains linking to you and domains websites that are relevant to your industry that have related content that are talking about the same thing. The biggest, easiest when I see for a lot of clients who are starting a new online store and say, “Hey, I want to do off-site SEO. What do I do?” It’s just to make a list of everyone you know who has a website or blog.
Maybe it’s ten or 15 friends. Maybe it’s more than that. Just writing them individual outreach emails saying, “Hey, I am launching a new thing. I would love it if you could include a link in a post just talking about it.” If he had a post about the handbags I am selling, please link to me. Those links will add up. It will start getting traffic to you. It will help move you towards getting your first sale but just finding those people who have relevant sites to you and saying, “Could you include a link to me?”
Not anything super keyword-heavy. You don’t want, for this handbag side, have it be like, “Buy handbags online.” Just be like, “Hey, my friend, Dave, has a handbag site. You should go check it out. He sells wonderful quality products. Getting that link is the most value possible.”
Kurt: When you put it like that suddenly, now it seems so easy and obvious. The thing that stuns me is most people won’t take that advice and won’t do it because they’d have to go ask someone for something. People are so resistant to doing that.
Kai: I had that exact same scenario come up. I had a mentoring call for a friend that he said, “Kai, what can I do in the next 30 minutes to get a link to my site?” I said, “You got to email people.” He’s like, “I don’t want to talk to people. I just want to get a link to my site.”
Kurt: I got to talk to somebody.
Paul: I just want to have it for free. Couldn’t it just happen?
Kai: Yeah. That’s hope marketing where you sit around and hope that happens.
Kurt: I think it’s perpetuated by this slimier side of SEO that says, “Hey, there’s a magic wand that I have that you don’t, and if you pay me, I’ll waive that magic wand.” “Where can I buy a magic wand?” There’s no magic wand.
Paul: My SEO will cure all of your illness with your business.
Kurt: I think you’re saying the benefit, the results of good SEO, good marketing is dollars. It’s money in the client’s pocket. I see a lot of people where they’ll guarantee rankings and that to sounds like the worst thing you could possibly do.
Kai: It’s terrible on both sides. It’s terrible for the person guaranteeing the rankings because as you find out when you play online, Google search results change dramatically depending on if you’re locked in to Google or not, depending on what city. I had a call from a friend not even two hours ago where I Googled a key phrase that she was trying to rank for an online dating coach, and she Googled it, and we compared the top five results. Three of the five were different. She’s in Seattle. I am in Portland, Oregon. We have a couple of 100 miles between us.
It’s impossible to guarantee a search ranking because it could change from instance-to-instance. Plus, for the client, you’re saying, “Hey, they’re going to guarantee me that I’ll be number one for this term.” Is that a term that even generates traffic? I can get you ranking number one for web development studio with podcast in Chicago, run by a friend of Kai Davis. If nobody is searching for it, does it even matter that you rank number one?
Kurt: Yeah. How important is it to have those rankings?
Kai: I look at rankings as a nice-to-have thing but month-to-month where I am putting together a report for a client, I am focused on how much organic traffic are we receiving overall? It’s hard because 20% of Google search every day are unique. Nobody searched for it before which could mean that 20% of people who are coming to your website every day are searching for a new phrase.
If it’s hard to rank for every phrase under the sun, is there a lot of value in being number one for a specific key phrase? There is because you know it is generating traffic for you but I’d encourage anybody listening to this who says, “What metrics should I be looking at for best SEO to know it is working?” Look at your organic traffic on your site. Just the traffic from search engines and Google Analytics and see month-to-month, is it staying consistent? Is it rising? If it’s going up, you know your SEO is working. If it’s going down, you know, “‘Hey, maybe there’s some holes we need to plug.”
Kurt: Yeah, that’s really great that you’re focused on ROI like that but we’ve also made that the core of our business here is searching for the actual thing that the client needs, not the way to get there. We want to increase the end result as much as possible and it’s just how you’re saying where you want to look if the traffic is increasing and not if the ranking is increasing.
Paul: In the end, it’s really the traffic that’s more important. Who really gives a shit where the ranking is as long as the traffic is good?
Kai: Bingo. Bingo. If you’re getting enough traffic by ranking fourth, and fifth, and sixth for a big basket of terms that your business is profitable and sustainable, you win. Now, it’s just about incrementally improving it over time.
Kurt: People really shouldn’t obsess over phrases and rankings.
Kai: I really don’t think they should. I think, again, it’s good to look at and good to say, “Hey, strategically, we want to rank highly for web development in Chicago or SEO Portland, Oregon,” but if you’re focused entirely on that one term, you’ve one-it is, you’re missing all the other opportunity out there because you’re too focused on just one thing. It said …
Paul: I’m sorry. Yeah, it’s like a business that’s focused entirely on revenue and cares nothing for profit. All the revenue in the world is great but if you’re not actually making any money, who cares?
Kai: Right. Right. Absolutely. It’s the same thing with traffic. Traffic is only an indicator in and of itself. I can get you a ton of traffic but if that traffic doesn’t convert, if you have a conversion rate of, say, 0.1%, it’s just not going to work out for you. It really needs to be a holistic effort. We’re getting you traffic but shouldn’t you be focusing on increasing your conversion rate? Shouldn’t you be trying to raise your price from a $10 average value per customer to a $20, $30, or $300 price?
A lot of the time I work with a client and when I come in to their business, I’ll say, “Let’s just take these three baseline indicators.” How much traffic are you getting from search engines? What’s your conversion rate? What’s your average lifetime value for a customer? If one of those looks really out of whack, I’ll say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe SEO isn’t the right thing for you to invest in right now. You’ll get a bigger return on investment by tuning up your checkout process and taking your conversion rate from 0.1% to 1% or 2% or 3%. That will pay off so much more than doubling your traffic.”
Paul: All right. Let me get technical with you. In developing Shopify feedings, we always include, and correct me if I am using the right term, not metatags. Those tags you define inside a product page where you can tell Google like, “This is the title. This specific span is the title. This span is the price. This is the image.” Are you familiar?
Paul: I’ve been doing that but I don’t think, does Google do anything with that? Is there really any advantage to doing that?
Kai: There is and if I am thinking of the same thing, within a product, you’d say, “Hey, Google. This is the product title. This is, say, the product rating or review, or number of stars.” Those are valuable since they’ll show up for sites that Google indexes and trusts in the search results next to that product name. Remember back, we had Google Author Photos through Authorship a year ago and they discontinued it a couple of months ago. Things like that, I call them value adds in the search results do increase the click through rate.
It’s an easy way for a customer who searches, say, handbags. They see two different handbag sites in the search results. One is just the product title, a normal Google search result. The other shows the price, shows the number of reviews, show the quantity available. Those make it easier for the customer to say, “This site is better put together, more trustworthy, has the product in stock. I’ll click this.” Elements like that can increase your click through rate in the search results.
Paul: Trust is very important in having all of that metadata in there quickly at the customer’s fingertips. It psychologically increases the likelihood that they will trust that that site that that site is not some sort of fly-by-night.
Kai: It looks professional.
Paul: Yeah, it’s professional and people want to more likely to give their money to someone who is professional.
Kai: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all about trust signals in the end. During the checkout process, are you communicating trust to your customer, on the project page in the search results? Good SEO is about outreach and about they can share your site is both accessible and is trustworthy that somebody look at this and say, “This is the type of site I want to get my credit card to.”
Kurt: Tell us about, what are some trust signals? Tell us about that.
Kai: The main trust signals I advocate my clients to include really fall outside of SEO as a whole but a best practice for a website, get your phone number on there. Get your phone number in the header. Have an 800 number. Include testimonials on product pages and in the checkout process. Remove extra fields in the checkout process. It dovetails a little outside of strict SEO as a whole but if there’s elements I could advise the client to include to make their website look like actual other real humans that use it and love the experience, let’s get those o0n there just so more humans that come along will say, “Hey, a guy named Bob once brought a product and really liked it. I am willing to give my money to you now.”
Kurt: That’s a good tip. For a Shopify store, what’s your number one SEO tip?
Kai: For a Shopify store, my number one SDEO tip really is contact. When you think about it, when we’re getting these links to your site, what are people linking to? You have the product pages on your site. You have a marketing page like the homepage or an about page, and then you have what I call linkable assets which is really content creation. What can you develop that people say, “Hey, that’s really exciting and I want to link to it.”
We could do on-site SEO until the cows come home but unless we’re getting other relevant sites in your industry to link to you, we won’t really see any benefit from it. The biggest tip is saying, “What’s our content creation process? Who are we marketing to? Who is your audience? What are the problems your audience experiences relating your industry and how can we help solve them for that audience member with educational informational content, and then the link building. The SEO becomes, “Hey, let’s go tell people about this really great content we have,” and get links to it.
Kurt: People, an e-commerce story should be writing articles creating blog entries?
Kai: I really think so. I think it’s sort of mixed because I work with a number of SEO consultants whose number one tip is like “You need to be blogging more,” but what are you talking about? Who are you saying it to and what problems are you solving? I am sure we’ve all read across stories and websites that half at the bottom works like, “Hey, great. We released a new product,” and nobody really cares, but I think e-commerce stories should be talking to their audience or researching their audience, seeing what questions their audience has about their industry and that product line and then, writing content that explains what to do.
Kurt: I think that’s interesting because you can turn that like you could start with increasing customer engagement. We want to know what to blog about so you could set it up. In your email, your order confirmation email to your customers who bought. Those are really your ideal audience, people who are already buying. Include a link to a survey and reward them with a coupon on their next order, and survey them and ask them, what’s interesting about this? Why did you buy this? What problems are you facing? Then, the replies to those survey results are going to be people essentially writing you your blog articles.
Kai: Bingo. Bingo, or even just every customer feedback email you get which is like, “Oh man, I couldn’t use this thing because X, Y, Z.” Hey, great. Here’s a blog post that explains how to solve X, Y, Z problem and everybody in the industry, everybody who is buying a handbag, or website, what have you can now link to that and say, “Great. This is the definitive guide to solving problem X, Y, Z.” That’s going to get links. That’s going to traffic. That’s going to build trust.
Paul: Kai. It sounds like there’s a blood pressure machine going on in the background or something. I don’t know what it is over there by you.
Kai: They’re tearing up the carpet in my hallway.
Kurt: Yeah. This has been incredibly helpful, Kai. Where could people find you?
Kai: My website right now is KaiDavis.com, K-A-I-D-A-V-I-S dot come, and I’ve got a newsletter on there where I send out SEO and marketing tips. If you want to sign up, please do and I promise it will be worth it.
Kurt: Wonderful. I know I’ve signed up for your newsletter. I’ve gotten value out of it, but yeah, people should go to your website and sign up for that newsletter.
Kai: Excellent. It’s been a pleasure being on and I hope that your audience enjoys us. If they run in to any questions or have any SEO ideas that they want to throw at me, my email address is on my website. Please open invitation. Send me an email, folks. Send me a question and I promise I’ll get back to you.
Kurt: Wonderful. Very generous. Thank you, Kai.
Paul: Thank you very much, Kai.