E208: Getting Out of a Conversion Rate Slump – Under the Hood with Shervin Mazaheri

Our Under the Hood guest today is struggling with a problem that's very baffling.

Shervin Mazaheri is struggling with conversion rates on his website. We're not just talking about low conversation rates, we're talking about extremely low conversion rates–talk about 0.1% in the last 180 days.

In this episode Shervin and I go over his website and points out which parts need improving that might help increaase his conversion rate.

Below are some takeaways:

  • It's very important for the website to establish trust. One of the easiest ways to do this is to write a good About Us page.
  • A prominent Returns policy helps take the worry off of buyers' minds.
  • Build authority by trying to create the best informative content in your niche.

Shervin and I also discussed hiring tips and how to keep employees happy, especially remote Filipino VAs. Listen to the episode to learn how I've managed to keep my PH team happy and motivated!

Until the next one, happy selling.'

Full Audio Transcript

Intro: This is Mike and welcome to episode number 208 of the EcomCrew Podcast. So glad to have you guys with us today. If you want a chance to win a free membership to EcomCrew Premium, go over to EcomCrew.com/giveaway. Registration for EcomCrew Premium is closed right now but someone is going to win a free membership this month. EcomCrew Premium gets you four full length recorded classes on all kinds of things like Amazon and importing from China, and things of that nature. You also get unlimited email support access to Dave and I along with two webinars we do each month.

One is an open Q&A, the other is a behind the scenes of our brand or we call our secret sauce webinar now, and finally you get access to our private Facebook group. So go over to EcomCrew.com/giveaway to sign up for that and good luck in the contest. Today on the podcast, we have an Under the Hood segment. I love doing these. We had a podcast listener come on and tell us about his business, the struggles he's having. But he wanted to talk about today several different things. He was struggling with his conversion rate on his website, Facebook ads, emails, a whole bunch of other stuff that I think you guys are going to find interesting. I love doing these Under the Hood segments. If you want a chance to be on your very own Under the Hood, go to EcomCrew.com/UndertheHood.

Mike: Hey Shervin, welcome to the EcomCrew Podcast.

Shervin: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Mike: Of course. And for those of you out there who aren't familiar with our Under the Hood segment, this is a Under the Hood with Shervin. He's from in Australia, which is pretty cool. We have another international listener. And what we do is we interview podcast guests, give them an hour of free coaching, and then turn that into a podcast episode. So hopefully, Shervin by the time we get done with this, you'll have a lot of takeaways.

Shervin: Absolutely. And I think I will.

Mike: Perfect. So if you've listened to any of these, you know the first question I always ask is because I'm just curious, how did you get into e-commerce?

Shervin: Sure. So, I was dilly dallying with digital marketing about three or four years ago. And I was mainly doing lead generation and especially through Google or organic ranking and AdWords. And I heard a segment I believe it might be on Pat Flynn's podcast with Ryan Moran about Amazon and e-commerce. And it came in kind of a good timing, because I was already thinking about getting into a new business. So, I sort of jumped on it and started writing down a plan on how to get started. And yeah, every sense it's been just a nice journey.

Mike: So you heard a podcast with him talking about Amazon and that's kind of how you got to know with them?

Shervin: Yeah, I was — exactly so that's — Amazon's sort of blew my mind at the moment because I knew about it but I didn't know about the opportunities that exist on Amazon for Ecom sellers. My initial plan was to do it directly on my own e-commerce website. And that plan sort of deviated after learning more about the sheer amount of traffic Amazon brings to the website. So I decided to launch my brand on both Amazon and the website and to say the least, Amazon has been a big, big chunk of that.

Mike: Got you. Okay. And the first product that you launched on Amazon was it, or is it in the same niche that you're in now? Or was it something completely random and then you got into the niche you are in now, or was it something different to start with?

Shervin: It is the same in the same niche and from the start about four years ago, this is still one of our best selling products.

Mike: Got you, very cool. Okay, so let's go through some numbers. It sounds like you started in 2014. So maybe like year by year, what's your revenue been and what's the growth been like?

Shervin: Sure. So we started in 2015 and quite late I think the first sale we had sort of was end of July or early August. We finished 2015 with around $55,000 and it was it was a great success. It was the first year so a lot to learn, and then 2016 to a massive jump. And we finished the year on about 310,000 and then 2017 started really, really well. We ended the year on 630,000. But everything started going downhill from in about August 2017 and happy to talk about it. And then this year so far 2018, we are paying the price of some of the mistakes we did end of 2017, and so far we are around on 450,000.

Mike: Okay. So you’ll probably end the year right around 500K or something like that.

Shervin: Correct.

Mike: Okay. And yeah, I mean, let's talk about some of the things that caused that down thing because I think that people listening at least we'll get to — obviously, we want to help you, it's the main topic here. But a lot of people and I'm going through the same mistake. So what was some of the things that kind of precipitated that downhill year that you had?

Shervin: Sure. So in about after Prime Day 2017, we were starting to — well, I think June, we started placing all the orders for the Q4. And unfortunately, we had a couple of simultaneous problems with suppliers. So it was one container that reached to the shore in US and we realized that all the products in that container had been damaged during transport. And we were actually almost out of stock of that product already. So that was one of our best selling products at the time. At the same time, about August, our second and third best selling product, they had some issues just before shipment when we did the inspection in China.

And we decided not to ship this out and rather negotiate with the supplier and see if we can create a new batch. We eventually did so but with these couple of mistakes about three of our best selling products being out of stock during Q4, we took a massive dip in our numbers. So yeah, it has been up an uphill but we are slowly getting there.

Mike: Got you. Yeah, I wish that you were the only one that's ever gone through this problem. I can tell you that I've gone through the same thing myself. So I haven't had goods — I guess I did have goods even damaged in transit because we had one that got mold in it. So I guess we've been through that too. So I guess I'm curious, have you been recovering from that? I mean, is everything back in stock now and sales are back to where they were or better or are you still struggling to get back to square one? Because sometimes when you run out of product, it's tough to recover on Amazon.

Shervin: Yeah, I mean, at the moment, we are I think one or two weeks away to be able to surpass the breakeven point from the previous year. So I'm very hopeful. I think it's definitely going to get there very soon. And we are growing very quickly. So yes, we have recovered. However, it was a massive hit financially for us especially because we had at that time we ordered very large quantities. And by the time we got those products back into US again, all our sales rank had dropped so much that we didn't sell at that volume anymore. So we were sort of breaking up inventory fees and so on. But in terms of sales, we are recovering and I think we’re only a couple of weeks away. You notice we even reached the point that we once were at.

Mike: Got you. Yeah. I mean, we've been through a similar situation just like we are saying, we're — I mean, it's unfortunate and it's hard. It's like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. But at least you're on the right path, which is great. So okay, and then let's talk about the 500k you're going to do this year. What's the breakdown in terms of sales channels? Like your own website? Is it a Shopify, it looks like a Shopify store. Is that right?

Shervin: Yes, it is Shopify store.

Mike: So what's your revenue split on Shopify versus Amazon?

Shervin: So the Shopify, it's only a fraction of what we do. I would say maybe about 3% of what we do on Amazon. We also do have a wholesale contract, but the problem is with Shopify, because that number is very low.

Mike: Got you. Okay. It makes a lot of sense. And then as far as where you're looking to go from here, like what are your goals over the next year or two with this business.

Shervin: I definitely want to give it and turn it into a seven figure business. I think it has the potential to get there. And after — by the end of the next year depending on how the numbers are looking, I might be looking for an exit in 2020, or if — and so if the condition change, we might keep it for another two or three years. But the goal is definitely an exit and learn from the mistakes, and start something new with a bit more cash than I had when I started this business and still take that to a next level again.

Mike: Got you. It makes a lot of sense. All right, I think I have asked all the questions I have to kind of get me started, get me in a kind of a frame of mind to the size of business you're at, and the Amazon Shopify balance. I’ll probably have more questions as we go through but I want to hand over the baton to you and let you ask questions you have for us and see what we can do to help you out.

Shervin: Okay, awesome. So, one of the biggest problems that I've had since day one on the Shopify website is around the conversion rates on our website. And I know that this is a constantly evolving topic and things changes as people's behaviors changes, and our shopping behaviors changes. But I have been trying out a lot of different ways to improve the conversion rates on the website. Some of the initial ones were changing the theme and trying to find a theme where is much faster, has a better mobile visibility, and so on. And while that helped a little bit, not all to the degree which I expected it to do.

Aside from that, we played around a lot with different type of images on the website, review plug-ins, videos of our products but nothing really seems to take the conversion rate to the levels which I think is an acceptable level for an ecommerce. And I think that's one of the biggest problems. That sort of causes a lot of other issues for us because we aren't able to put a lot of money into Excel advertising such as Facebook, Google, or Pinterest amongst all the channels, just because the conversion rate is so low that financially it doesn't make sense. So, I'm really trying to find some ways to improve the conversion rate of the site. And just to let you know, and the readers, it's an absolute terrible conversion rate. In the last 180 days is point of a 1%, which is not acceptable in the space.

Mike: Did you say point one or point zero one?

Shervin: Point one in the last 180 days.

Mike: 0.1, the 10th of a percent conversion rate?

Shervin: Correct.

Mike: Yeah, okay. Yeah, I mean, I was looking at the site here, I mean, I'm actually surprised that it's that low because the site looks good. I mean, I don't know what the previous version was but overall, the site looks good. The things that I see as a bigger challenge, and how maybe to get the conversion rate up, we talked about it's okay to disclose, this is something that's in the pet space, we’ll kind of leave it at that. But the products here aren't necessarily super unique or so different that you can't buy them elsewhere.

And I think that that's probably a lot of the problem kind of comes in there where like on Amazon, that doesn't really matter because let’s just say you're like searching for dog leash or something, that's not something you sell, I was trying to find something here that was in the pet space that isn't what you do. If it's a dog leash, it's kind of a commodity product, you're looking just to get one of these red six foot dog leashes and just get it done and over with and move on. People aren't necessarily going to care about the brand or do much shopping. But if they're searching the internet, and they come here, and they're looking for a dog leash, they're probably, if they're in that browsing pattern already, they're probably going to continue to look elsewhere to find that product. So I think that that might be some stuff that you're having a challenge with.

Shervin: Yeah, and definitely, and we have been discussing that internally, whether we should sort of direct that traffic directly to Amazon when someone comes to our website. And we just don't want to do that due to the fees Amazon charges if we send our own traffic. But I still feel even though being a product which is very common, a point 1% in the last six months is very low. And I mean, looking at the last 30 days, that drops even lower, that is point zero or 6%, which is just not unacceptable.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, that's the lowest conversion rate I've ever heard. And I've seen — the ones that I've seen that were this low are usually websites that look like complete crap. So I'm not really sure exactly what's driving that, because the site — I'm looking at the homepage, it looks good; your category products pages look good. The individual product pages themselves look good. I mean, they have some call to actions and scarcity and things of that nature built into it. I mean, I can tell you just from an overall standpoint, the things that people care about when they're buying online, and this still proves to be true from when I did the study a couple of years ago, number one is trust, so they're coming to a site that they never heard of.

So I would be thinking of things that you could do on the homepage and maybe on the individual pages as well. But certainly on the homepage, that could help build trust. You already have a — I haven't looked at the “our story” tab here, let me look at that real quick, but anything that can be done to help with that. And as I'm looking at our story, I obviously can't read this and talk to you at the same time but it's relatively short. If you were to go look at a similar page on ColorIt.com for instance, it's a little bit more in depth, and it has more pictures and shows the actual humans not just a dog that's involved with this.

Again, this is a really crowded, really tough space and a lot of the stuff is commoditized like me too type products. So it's like how are you going to differentiate yourself, and also prove that you're a trustworthy brand that the stuff that people are buying for their pets is healthy, and that they're actually going to get it, and if they have a problem with it, you're going to be there to help them? So trust is number one. Number two is shipping, and people basically refuse to pay for shipping in ecommerce these days, they want a free shipping tier. And I had written some notes down real quick before we got on this call because I saw what you wanted to talk about. And I had actually written, it doesn't say anywhere what the shipping rates are before you get to the cart. But I did find one spot you have it where you if you go into a category page, it says free shipping on all orders over $49.

But again, if you were to look at ColorIt, look at the top part of the site, it's plastered everywhere, free shipping over $30. If I get into a category, or into an actual product page here, it says, we ship orders in the California and you will receive them between this date and that date. We’ve set these forms of payment but there isn't anything here about what the shipping price is going to be, or that there is a free shipping here. So I would say that that's another thing you can definitely work on and I would think that that would make a big difference.

And the last thing is that people look at for this is returns, what's your return policy? And that's also pretty buried here if even — I guess it's probably the under information down on the footer under warranty. And that's just actually that's warranty registration. So I'm not sure if you even — actually, here's everything for returns under shipping. So it's a little bit buried. And if you look at again, not to use ColorIt as the only example, there's lots of other websites that I figured this out, up in the top header, it's a trust thing, here's a phone number to call, here's our shipping prices. And if you order over a certain amount, here's your free shipping tier. It's just everywhere. And we have a thing about our return policy.

And then the same thing goes for the product pages. When you're looking at the product page, right under the call to action, right under the Add to Cart button or somewhere around there, we have that information there. Again, I think that that's really important. And then we also in the footer of the site, and also as a part of the About Us page, whatever you want to call it for, we've put a little bit more work into that because I think people — you'd be surprised that people do look at that.

And in fact, you can probably even look at your analytics and see how many people are going to that site and that can give you even a more of an indication of why you might want to put more put more effort into it because our About Us page is actually a pretty trafficked site or page on our site. So those are some high level things that I think could help make a difference and maybe help turn the tide for you a little bit.

Shervin: Okay. Yeah, that's awesome. Thank you for the tips. One question about that Mike, when you look at the analytics of your ecommerce websites, which website which is a non product or collection website do you see acts as the top funnel, which then leads to conversion? Would you say that's your About Us page, your shipping and return page? Do you do see what I mean?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I think the shipping and return page is probably number one for my nonprofit page. I mean non product, non blog post type thing, one of these types of pages. I know that that's a big one. I know About Us gets a lot a lot of traffic. I think that you have to look at websites as a complete package. If you want to kind of play with the big boys, you have to have that like a lead fuel. And you definitely have a good looking website. It's definitely way above 50%. But I think the last bit of efforts would actually starts producing better conversion rates.

And the other thing that can make a difference is where the traffic is coming from, we haven't even gotten into that part, that will probably be the next thing, but if you're getting organic traffic off of a search term like large dog leash or something, the person is going to be way more apt to buy and more in a buying mood than if they search for how to train a dog with a dog leash, and they've already got the leash, you’re just trying to get them to walk on it. Your conversion rate can be incredibly low when your traffic is coming through those things. So before we move on to that part, let's just kind of wrap up the thought here on the other stuff we're talking about to see if you have any other questions about that.

Shervin: Yeah, I've two questions. One is, have you guys tested different threshold for a free shipping? I have, we tried $39 and a $49, I didn't see a difference in that. I'm just wondering if you have seen a difference in that. And the second question would be what tools do you use to split test your Shopify website?

Mike: Okay, so we did split test the shipping rates a long time ago. The best way to set free shipping after all the testing that we've done that I've realized is to take your average order value and set the free shipping threshold just above that. So let's just say your average order value is 23, I would set it at 25. If it was like 27, I'd like to 30 or something to where it forces people or inspires people to spend just a little bit more money, add that extra item in their cart. They're not going to spend just $3 more. They're going to spend $15 more, or whatever your cheapest item is, I think that that's pretty important.

Split testing on Shopify is difficult. It depends on exactly what it is you're talking about. But if it's the shipping thing, we did the best that we could over a certain period of time, measured what our shipping rates were and what our conversion rate was and then you changed the shipping amount and then ran the numbers ourselves and looked at our traffic, our conversion rate during that time frame. And it certainly is not perfect because you run into all these like other factors from an experiment standpoint that you can start questioning yourself about like was this week just naturally a lower converting week because people are on vacation because it's in the middle of the summer or whatever other weird thing it might be.

It's hard to be 100% definitive, but we ran the best experiment that we could and I don't really know. It depends on what other tests you're running but I don't really — like Zipify pages is coming out with an AB test functionality next year in February, but I'm not sure of any other split testing besides that.

Shervin: Okay, great. Thanks.

Mike: I was just looking at our site and our six month visited page is actually the shipping and returns page, so it gives you an idea of just how much traffic that page can get. There's definitely people putting eyeballs on that. So, I think it's important to put some effort into that and make your return policy very clear and as generous as you possibly can as a brand. Every brand, it's a little bit different. You got to be careful what your return policy is. For something like ColorIt, we can make it no questions asked. And we make fun of the fact that it's no questions asked and say that even if you drop it in a puddle of oil, or like zombies wipe their brains on it. It doesn't matter; we’ll take it back within 30 days because we can.

We can afford, the margins are there, and it's the type of product that the person is probably not going to destroy it or do something to it in that 30 days, and we can then resell it or whatever, and we're okay. But something like IceWraps, we have to be a little bit more careful because it is an FDA registered medical device. So we can't sell a return, even if it is brand new as new. So we take a hit on anything we get returned. So we don't have a clear as liberal policy there. So that's just something you got to kind of keep in mind when you're setting that policy.

Shervin: Okay, yeah, perfect. Thank you.

Mike: Yep. Okay. So we were getting ready to talk about something else and I forgot what it was, can you remind me.

Shervin: Well, it's, there's one other thing with the website that I wanted to ask you. It's around content. So since the last six months or six months to a year, I've taken up Ezra Firestone’s advice on how around content to sort of send people or create content that engages your visitors around the topic they're interested in and it may relate to a problem which one of your product solves. And we've started that a few months back, and we're getting a lot of traffic to that.

And I would say it's probably 80% of all the traffic to the website is organic and it's sort of increasing by the day. But we haven't been able to sort of push our products when people read that. They sort of read it, they look around a little bit, and then they leave. What would be your tips around that? Is there something that you guys do, and if you do, what would be your recommendations?

Mike: Yeah, here's something I'm pretty passionate about and I've thought a lot about so I can definitely comment on this. So first things first, as I was kind of mentioning earlier, the terms that you're going after are the first thing you want to be thinking about. If you're writing content — I'm trying to think of some examples of a good example on other things that we've done. If you're writing more generic content, or let's say you run a guitar shop, and you have a piece of content of how to play Hey Jude on the guitar.

Well, that might solve the person's problem of how to play the song when it gets hard. You might rank number one for it, but it's going to produce you almost zero dollars, because they already have a guitar. And they're learning how to play at that moment, they're not looking to buy a guitar, versus your ranking for something like best guitar for beginners and you sell guitars, then now you're talking about something that can be incredibly lucrative for you because you sell guitars.

You're talking about the best guitar for beginners; you educate them about all the different things that you want to be looking at as far as the guitar. Do you want an electric guitar and acoustic guitar? What brand do you want to be looking at, or do you want one that the budget all that. You can get into all kinds of amazing content that could be 5,000 or 7,000 words, by time you get done with that article. And everything in that article is basically a buying guide to drive people to other parts of your site to make to make purchases. So I think that that's really important to be thinking about in terms of the things that you're going after.

So, looking at some of the articles that you've written here recently, without giving too much away about your brand or anything, but we mentioned it's in pets. One of these articles is you lost your pet, like how to how to find them and I don't know if you have something in there to sell. So that’s actually the article, but versus something like how to pick this particular product, let's say it's the best leash for dogs. Again, just to use an example that isn't something you sell.

That can go a long way to helping with the conversion rate because you're writing an article where someone's in a buying mode in mind, and they're doing their research, those terms are definitely research for how to solve that problem right now and they're looking for the best dog leash at that exact moment. And they're probably going to buy either right there and then or very shortly thereafter.

But the key is, I've looked through this article, I just don't think that it's good enough. I mean, again, I haven't had a chance to read the thing word for word, but there's one picture up in the header might even be a stock photo, maybe it's not, it doesn't really matter. But just like one photo, and it's in this format that we used to do, so I used to be in the same trap of we're writing content like just to write it, it's like we've heard that writing content is an important thing, let's go do that. And what you end up doing is you just put words on the page to kind of put them there.

And what this needs is for this particular topic, it's the most recent article on your site that dated October 25th, it needs basically like to buy 10 competitors products, and lay them all out and do testing of what makes let's just say it's back to the dog leash, what makes the best dog leash while, what happens if the fabric gets wet? It could be a test, the strength of the leash, like if you have a dog like my dog; at least I have a German Shepherd that we lost her this year. The dog literally broke a leash once. He's so gone on strong, he saw something that triggered and he got up, he was laying down and we were in the park and the leash is in our hand and he got up to go chase something and he literally snapped the leash in half because he's just such a powerful dog.

So like testing for that type of thing and going to a lab and testing the break strength of a leash. It could be a thing that the hardware does it rust or you have like five or seven categories or something that you're comparing and then putting together a video and actually going through and creating an epic piece of content that legitimately is the best piece of content on that subject on the internet and legitimately answers the questions of people that are coming there and can break it up in more bite size chunks, where they can more easily follow, because most people will not — you might have the answers and all the things in this, but people aren't going to read this article. They'll skim it, they'll read the headlines, and they move on. So, I think those are the things you need to do to take it to the next level to really get the results you're looking for.

Shervin: Okay, yeah, I think I mean you hit the nail on the head there, where we kind of create content to create content, just to have it out there. I'm not very satisfied with the quality of this content myself. It is not me writing them but I do pay people to write these pieces. And you said that this is something that you used to do back in the heyday, did you see an instantaneous sort of shift in conversion rate and engagement when you changed your content strategy focusing more on extremely helpful, or you I’ll say, so the leader of content in that industry?

Mike: Yes, not instant but over three to six months, it was pretty profound because it took that much time for the post to start to rank. But you can search for something like best ColorIt pencils on Google and look for ColorIt’s article on this, and see the type of stuff I'm talking about. It was probably a 5,000 word post that had 30 or 40 images in it or something like that. It's been a while since I've looked at so my numbers might be off a little bit on this stuff. We recently just released one about markers. It was a similar thing. It took weeks for someone to produce that one piece of content.

We divide up a drawing up in equal size chunks and then color the drawing with all eight brands of markers or pencils and then made categories like I was saying, for things that we wanted to test and then wrote up this epic one blog post about it. And it even included competitors in the content. So then next thing we're ranking for some of our competitors keywords. People that were looking for competitors brands and looking for reviews on them would come to our site and then eventually maybe buy our products and if they went and bought the competitor's product, that's fine too because we put the Amazon affiliate link in the article and you go buy it on Amazon, we at least make something from that. So not only do we rank higher, but they convert and make substantially more sales for us through those articles now.

Shervin: Okay. And is this products that you purchase and send to your team in Philippines to test them or do in-house now?

Mike: We sure do. We buy them, we ask the Philippines team to give us a look; we tell them the project that we're going to be working on. And we give them full autonomy pretty much to go pick out the products that they want. So they'll send us an Amazon shopping list and we go buy them. Once everything is here, we send that over to the Philippines and then they typically — it depends on the product but they — like we reviewed trekking poles a few months ago. And they took all eight sets of trekking poles and went out; they went on a camping trip. Five of the people from the office went on a camping trip and tested them out in the wild and developed their own opinions, and produced an amazing article on Tactical.com about trekking poles.

And in addition to the article, there's also a video. So I mean, the video goes on YouTube, which helps YouTube SEO, but it also significantly helps the time on site on the actual review time on site is one of the biggest ranking factors now for Google. They're using, basically social search, they're using signals like that, that you can't really game. So if they see people lingering on a page for a long time, and the dwell time is high, that it probably is a good piece of content. So we have an average time on site for Tactical of like 20 something minutes, it almost seems impossible. But the content is that good where people are coming and spending an hour reading an article of ours, because it's that in-depth, and that's what's kind of it's going to take I think to win moving forward, personally.

Shervin: Okay, so as a starting point moving towards more and thorough content, would you recommend going straight for those very large pieces from five to 7,000 words or would you just recommend polishing those shorter type of content from one to 2,000 words, and then eventually evolve into those bigger pieces?

Mike: Yeah, I think it's best to take the existing article that you have, and make it better. What will end up happening is like the articles that you have there now that kind of fit the criteria I was talking about before will actually end up hurting your site more than helping, because Google is looking at the body of work. And I mean, you kind of already done some damage here, or like if you've got these articles, and your time on site is relatively low, your bounce rate is high, etc. when you post new content, Google is going to just be like this isn't a great site, we shouldn't have it ranked. So you're going to have some time to kind of get out of the sandbox, but once you do, if you can convert your articles into better articles, when you post new articles, you’ll see them like just kind of float right to the top. That's definitely been our experience lately. A lot of the stuff we post is ranking within weeks now instead of months.

Shervin: Okay, perfect. All right, let's move on because the next topic is sort of a little bit related to what we just discussed. And it goes around the hiring process, and especially around content writers. And I know that you are the king of this, and you also discuss this quite a lot on the blog. So I want to have a little bit different sort of spin on it.

Mike: Sure.

Shervin: I have previously hired people in the Philippines and with hits and misses. And I always take that personally because I believe it's my fault for not knowing better and just being able to sort of improve on the hiring process especially. It's been a biggest downfall for myself. But we had a girl which we hired about two years ago, and she stayed with us for one whole year. And it started just amazing and everything was really good, and I felt that the productivity was sort of going down over time. And I just kept telling myself this is really it's my responsibility, it's not her fault. And I wanted to see how you deal a little bit with sort of the employee motivation and how you sort of increase productivity over time to make those people feel valued and being more loyal employees. And at the same time, just making them have a great day, every day when they come to work.

Mike: Yeah, so you're not the only one that struggles with this type of thing. I mean, it's definitely kind of the entrepreneurs’ dilemma especially when they're half a world away. So, just like anybody else, I mean, the guys in the Philippines love their recognition when they do something good. So we try to make sure that we're doing that. The thing that's really helped, I've talked about this sometimes in the podcast before as well is having them together. So having Mia there who is our manager be able to oversee exactly what you're talking about. One or her goals, because this will show you how important this stuff is tossed like one of her goals is employee satisfaction.

And we do in our place satisfaction survey every quarter. And if it doesn't rank high enough she doesn't meet her goal and doesn't get paid. So, we're making sure that we're doing things like a monthly team outing, we have an award that we're giving out now once a month, recognizing people who are doing awesome stuff, we do a weekly team lunch. And unfortunately, I can't be there. But I've been out there a couple of times. And they kind of understand how important it is to me and Mia does a great job of making sure that that is kind of paid forward.

This month, I think we did something – I forget exactly what she did but she went out and she always discusses this with me first, but she went out and bought some books for a couple of our employees and took them to the bookstore and just let them buy a book that they wanted, just small things that make them feel like they've been recognized. And these guys did — actually they are all ladies, so these gals did an amazing job and we wanted to make sure that they were recognized for it. So if you have just one employee over in the Philippines, that's like your only person, the onus is going to be on you a lot more than it would be in my case, I'm lucky I have Mia to do a lot of that for me.

And it's hard for me to spend the time doing that, even though I'm thinking about these guys all the time and I really appreciate everything they do all the time. It's hard to be able to communicate that and sit down necessarily, and write an email, I might be thinking about it while I'm in the car. Usually I'll think about it when I'm not thinking about something else. It's like my default position is to be — so it's like hard to do when you have so much on your plate like I do. But you're going to have to force yourself, right? It's like it's got to be when they write an article that's really good, you let them know it's really good, or send them something that — it doesn't have to be anything big. I mean, firstly, they love food so you can send snacks or something, or give them a gift card or something, or whatever.

A lot of times, small stuff goes a long way. And the other thing that we've done is planned every quarter. So every quarter, we're planning things out and sitting down and meeting once a month, and making sure they're on track for all that stuff. So they have pretty definitive goals and it's not just a bunch of flying by the seat of your pants stuff.

Shervin: Okay. That's very interesting. I think once you have a team, of course, those things are a little bit easier than when you have a small team, although it should be possible, it’s just I feel that the motivation always drops after a while. And one thing in particular that I have realized, and this might totally be my fault and it probably is, is that and the work and tasks that they are working on. So with my last, the person that we had over there, we get together once a week, every Monday, same time and sort of discuss the previous week and how the task that we’re working on and how we’re coming along.

But I sometimes feel that the people and the employees, and that's – sorry, the employees in Philippines, they don't get very creative at tasks. So if you don't have something for them to work on, the productivity sort of comes down. And that might be totally cultural where they don't want to do anything wrong so they don't start new tasks. How do you deal with those situations? And do you have SOPs and in that case like how they’re going to look like, and so on?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I think that this is definitely more kind of like the status quo in Philippines for sure, some of the stuff you're talking about. But we've been really lucky that we don't seem to have to deal with this. I mean, there's definitely been some people that have come through the door that we have a problem with this, but we encourage our employees to give suggestions and be proactive and make sure they're using their time wisely. And we just had a perfect example someone just from the Philippine’s teams – I’m actually pulling up this email because it just came through when we were on the phone here. It was a reply that I had solved from earlier.

But basically, our social media manager is just Facebook has top fan pages, a feature for badges, and we should turn on this feature. And then also, like, they have this new video feature; we can turn on this new video template and add in these videos, what do you think about doing this? Those are the types of things that our employees over there are doing. I mean, they're not just following an SOP; they're creating the SOP a lot of times, right. And, like, literally, I mean we have them actually write their SOPs. So that way, when we get bigger or someone cycles through, we have an SOP that makes it easy for the next person to be able to do that.

So I think it's just a matter of looking for the right employees that you can find through the interview process that in the best of your judgment are going to be those types of people that will kind of follow that lead. And it's hard to know a lot of times until they're there. A lot of times people can interview really well and then disappoint afterwards. But I would say that if it's a lack of motivation issue over time, then if they were doing a great job for the first six months, and after that they tail off, that's probably something that you can do personally to make that better.

Shervin: Okay, great. And I also know that your team sits in a dedicated office space. And what's your take on that? I mean, what did you do with your first employee and your employee from Philippines? Did you have the very first person to sit in an office because that's something that I have been thinking to try out, I mean, a desk in Philippines that goes for maybe 150 to $200 a month, which is a fairly small amount. And I've realized sometimes with the people that I've previously hired, they either — sometimes they overwork because there are in the home and they have nothing better to do so they just sit and work and work and work, or the complete opposite where just because they work from home they constantly get distracted. So, is it possible to have one person to send to an office, and what’s sort of your take on that?

Mike: Yeah, so the way that we did it, and I don't know that there's any perfect way, it definitely worked out for the best. But the way that we did it is the first person we hired, she worked from home and she worked from home for about a year before I asked her if she was interested in the promotion. And that was me, we hired her, she did an amazing job for a year so we wanted to see some other things that you were talking about, like making sure that she stayed motivated for a year and did a good job over the length of time and really gained our trust that she was just an awesome employee, which she is and has been since day one.

So we had some opportunity for quite a while to let that transpire. We actually did it with two people just to be honest, and kind of tell the whole story. So, one of them turned out to be like that superstar. The other one was actually really good but she ended up, she was living in Mexico and non Filipino, her husband was an ambassador. So any rate so the one person that was doing an amazing job for a year, I actually called her up and said, look Mia, I'm going to be coming out to the Philippines in like eight weeks, and I'm really interested in having you open an office for us if you're willing to do it, certainly I can't force you, we hired you to work at home.

But if you're willing to work out of an office, I’d love for you to be the one to be in charge of it and start helping us A, find the office and B, help us hire the people that are going to be there, because you've done such a great job over the last year. And we gave her arrays that was fair to take care of this new set of responsibilities. And sure enough, I flew out to the Philippines with my wife and she had like eight places for us to go look at and we went and looked at all the different office spaces together. I had asked her to draw a circle around her house, I was like, look, I don't want you having to commute more than 30 to 40 minutes at the most every day.

We had to extend it just a little bit because she lived out in the boonies and not in the middle of the city. So it was a little bit longer than I would have liked her to have to commute. And so, since you're the first one, you get to pick where the office is as long as it's in a spot where lots of people can get to and it was. And so we picked our favorite office, it was a co-working facility. As it turned out, we had looked at renting a fixed space and all kinds of other options as well. But the co-working space that we found was gorgeous. I mean it was nicer and is nicer than our office here in the United States.

The place is amazing. It's a beautiful office space and that's what we went with. And it's 100 and change a month, I think 125 a month for the seat. It doesn't come with a computer, we had to buy the computer, but it comes with internet, power, and everything else. And yeah, she also had reviews lined up for us. So when we got there, we interviewed half a dozen to a dozen people in person and hired two of them. So basically, when we opened the office, there were three people. Mia was at the time like basically a general VA and then we hired a content writer and we hired a graphic designer and that was how we started the office there basically.

Shervin: Okay great, and I don't want to spend too much time on this because I know it's ticking but when you hire copywriters, do you go specifically for content writers like a general content writer and train them in the niche that you're in, or do you try to look for someone that has knowledge in a niche that you're in and then train them on writing good content?

Mike: Yeah, we're looking for general content writers.

Shervin: Okay.

Mike: It's really difficult to find somebody, first of all, content writers are not a dime a dozen in the Philippines to begin with. So it's hard to find any content writers. So if you can find a good one, they're probably not going to be writing about your subject. There isn't as big of a poll as there is in the United States. So that's just kind of the way that we've approached and the things that we have for topics are not typical. It's hot and cold therapy or sports type stuff, injury stuff is not a typical topic, coloring is not typical topic. Tactical stuff is not really a typical topic in the Philippines. So the things that they've been writing about are things that they had to learn about. And we gave them the latitude to be able to do that. It took a few months for each content writer, but they certainly have answered the challenge.

Shervin: Okay, awesome. All right, do we have time for another question?

Mike: Yeah, sure. Let's do it.

Shervin: Okay, awesome. So one thing that I have some knowledge in is in terms of ranking products and a bit of AdWords, and I wanted to hear your take on how you guys with one of your brands if you have pursued a strategy on trying to rank Amazon products on Google. And for some of our products, there's a massive search volume for it. But when I analyze these products, it's hard to tell what makes Google rank one product over another. And I think if we could rank our products at least in top three, we could boost our sales with at least 30% overnight. So, is that something that you guys have done, and if so, what are your strategies around it?

Mike: Yeah, so we have done it, we've been doing some more testing, we haven't talked about publicly, but since you asked the question, I'll tell you some of the things we're doing there. But first of all, you can't get a penalty; you can't get a penguin or Panda type penalty for getting too many links to Amazon, because they have so many links. And it's not your websites, like even if you did jack something up, the risk reward quotient is pretty low, it isn't going to hurt your own website, so you don't have to really worry about it. So I mean, you can get some pretty questionable links. You can basically just flat out buy links and send them to your Amazon page. And it doesn't take a whole lot of links to start ranking.

So we've been playing around with how to get links as reputable as early as we can, without being ridiculous and then send them to our page and then seeing how long it takes to start to rank for stuff like that. You can use something like SEO, SEM, Moz, or Ahrefs to look at the back link profile for your competitors’ pages on Amazon, see where they're getting links from, go back to those sites, and ask if they'd be interested in getting some of your product for free and adding it to their articles, been one of the things we've been looking at.

But also just looking at like if you find a competitor that ranks number one on Google for your pet leash or dog leash let's say, just because we've been using that as an example. So you type in red dog leash into Google, and the number one result. And you look at the Ahrefs or SEMrush profile of that page, just that one page, and it has like two incoming links. All you got to basically do is get four links or five links, and you'll probably rank above them. It's not exactly black and white as that, but it's pretty close to that.

Shervin: Yeah, and I think you're right in terms of the links, definitely. And I've been analyzing a lot of different competitors. And just some stuff just doesn't make sense when it comes to Amazon and Amazon products and ranking on Google because some of them they don't have any links, and they're all just ranking number one. And some other listings, they do have multiple links, and they are on page eight or nine for the exact same keyword. So, I wanted to see if there are sort of some high level strategy in terms of playing around with the title to have, I don't know the keywords maybe more towards the front of the keywords to be able to get those keywords into the URL, or is there anything in terms of that nature, which you guys have tried and had success with?

Mike: Yeah, so I mean, Amazon SEO and Google SEO is the same here. You want the keywords be in the front of the title anyway. So, you're going to have that done no matter what, because that's how you want to rank on Amazon. We have played with this URL structure concept. So basically, what we've done now is when we're making a new product, we make it basically the title of the product very short. So it might be ColorIt red dog leash, I'm just trying — my pet company, red dog leash as the title of the product when we first set it up, and then the URL will be my pet product dash, red dash dog dash leash and you get the exact keywords that you want in the URL.

And then weeks down the line more ready to further develop the listing and get ready to sell it once it's starting to come in, we’ll make the changes, but usually the URL will stay the same. I haven't really figured out the exact way to get existing URLs to change. So that's something we haven't really proven all the way through yet. But for new products, we've had pretty good success now getting a preferable URL when we make the product by doing that.

Shervin: Okay, awesome. I think that's all the questions that I had.

Mike: Awesome, man, great. Well, I appreciate you coming and doing this today. And please follow up with us in the next few months as you kind of do some of these tactics and let us know how things are going.

Shervin: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much.

Mike: No worries. Have a great day.

Shervin: Take care.

Mike: And that's a wrap folks. I hope you guys enjoyed the 208th edition of the EcomCrew Podcast. You can go to EcomCrew.com/208 to get to the show notes and comments for this episode. And again, if you want to be on your very own Under the Hood, go to EcomCrew.com/UndertheHood. All right guys, it's going to do it for this week. Again, I appreciate you guys supporting the EcomCrew Podcast. You guys get me all tongue tied, has such good support for us. I really appreciate it. We're rounding out 2018 here.

It’s exciting to think about what is to come in 2019, not only for EcomCrew but all of our e-commerce stuff. Hope you guys had a great 2018, and I wish you guys all the best for 2019. Just a couple episodes left for this year. And Until the next episode everybody, happy selling, and we'll talk to you soon.

Michael Jackness

Michael started his first business when he was 18 and is a serial entrepreneur. He got his start in the online world way back in 2004 as an affiliate marketer. From there he grew as an SEO expert and has transitioned into ecommerce, running several sites that bring in a total of 7-figures of revenue each year.


  1. New to commence and am loving your Podcast. Thanks much for all the great work.

    That said, am curious what the Website in question was on this Pod. I don’t believe that I heard it and am having a hard time finding online. It would be a great exercise to compare Shervin’s current website with your recommendations. Thanks much, Jeff. Dallas, TX USA.

    1. Hi Jeff- not sure he wants us to share publicly but Shervin can chime in if he does.

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