E223: An SEO Teardown of Icewraps.com with Jeff Oxford

I consider myself an SEO nerd. I’ve optimized my company’s online assets to rank better on search engines, particularly Google. Although I should say that the techniques I’ve used have not always been sophisticated nor white hat.

As I learned more about SEO (and got slapped by Panda and Penguin updates), my approach to search optimization has become much more aligned with Google’s standards. Had I done this at the start, it would have been a lot better for my business overall.

But there’s definitely room for improvement in how we get these things done. Which brings us to today’s episode. My guest is Jeff Oxford, the founder and SEO Director of 180 Marketing.

Jeff did what’s called an ‘SEO teardown’ at this year’s ECF Live. And he’ll be doing the same to one of our brand sites, Icewraps.com.

Here are some takeaways that you can apply to your own website in order to take it to the next level.

  • Solid content and clean navigation are musts.
  • Shopify has one of the most SEO-friendly platforms for ecommerce sites. If you’re on Shopify and have a small product catalog of products, it becomes easier to rank your website.
  • If you’re doing a site migration, make sure to 301 redirect old pages to the new ones or to another appropriate page.
  • Add your ‘most searched for’ keywords as part of the title tags.

Tune in to the 5 Minute Pitch. New episodes published weekly until the final round in May at the Sellers Summit 2019.

Registration to EcomCrew Premium is now closed. But, you can join this month’s giveaway and get the chance to win an annual Premium subscription for free.

Need onsite and personalized advice for your struggling ecommerce business? Sign up for the EcomCrew Roadshow. Re more about it here.

Finally, if you enjoyed listening and think this episode has been useful to you, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. Happy selling!


Full Audio Transcript

Intro: Hey guys, before getting into today's episode, I want to take another minute to tell you about 5 Minute Pitch. If you haven't heard about it already, it's a show that Steve Scott, Greg, and I put together that's kind of like Shark Tank, and kind of like the Pitch, but not like either one of those. And the idea here is to get entrepreneurs to come pitch their business ideas, whether it's physical products or not, and we give them three yes's, they move on the next round. If they don't get three yeses, they're out. And the idea is eventually to narrow things down to one winner who's going to get $50,000 in cash with no strings attached. It's not an investment. It's a gift from the four of us.

And on top of that, we're going to give some of our time, going to donate our time and help out the business that wins as well. And my favorite comments that have come in so far, the first one here is, I'm really enjoying the down earth feel on the show. Shark Tank is really erratic with its editing which can make it hard to tell if you're actually perceiving the pitch in the way it was actually given, or if it's being edited to make it appear different than it actually is. With this show, there seems to be much less of that. And the focus on more niche products is helpful to me personally in changing how we think about my own pursuits.

And that's really kind of the idea here is to be able to help and give back to the community besides making this fun on top of that. My other favorite comment here is, this is a fun business and product pitching idea with more of a down to earth and homely reveal the Shark Tank. I like the judges’ generosity and the laid back atmosphere. This could become a favorite watch for me as it’s brief, insightful, and I thought it was fun, well done. And also this person was congratulating Dawn because that was the particular pitch of that one. So, go over to 5MinutePitch.com/launch to check it out today. That's the number 5MinutePitch.com/launch and now on with the show.

Mike: This is Mike and welcome to episode number 223 of the EcomCrew Podcast. Glad to have you guys along. Before getting into today's topic, I just want to give a shout out to a few people. I'm not going to name any names, just going to say a generality more than anything but it’s an awesome community; it really is e-commerce in general. The people that I've met through this community have been awesome. I did a couple of recent podcasts talking about some things that I'm working on personally, and some struggles and other things that we've had and the outpouring of comments and things that have come in has just been overwhelming in a good way. It makes me want to continue doing this stuff even more knowing that there are people out there that are listening that care, that resonate with the stuff, it's awesome.

So, I want to thank those of you who took the time to reach out, to send me a personal message. It's been awesome and I want to thank you guys. It's definitely not without being noted. And I also realize that this stuff takes time out of your day and you're having to focus on doing it, stop what you're doing, remember when you get back to the office if you listened to the podcast in the car, at the gym, or whatever to do it. So, it's definitely appreciated.

All right, today's topic is going to be SEO. And for those of you who’ve known me for a while, you know that I'm like an SEO nerd that started back in 2004. I used to do all the tricks, including using white text to put stuff on a page, you can basically get away with anything at one point in time. But Google has gotten a lot more sophisticated and so have I actually as a person. I wish that I took the same approach to SEO that I do now back in 2004. I’d be way better off for it.

Really what’s come down to, instead of trying to play games and figure out what works on Google today, I don't worry about any of that stuff anymore. I just try to put out the best possible content and the best possible products and sites and let the rest of it go from there. Like give Google what they really want, instead of trying to trick them into what they want is really what it's come down to the last, I don’t know five years or so since penguin and panda came out and got my hand slapped for the last time with that.

So anyway, today we have Jeff Oxford on the show. He's someone that I met at Ecommerce Fuel Live, someone that reached out before that, got an opportunity to meet the person which is always like a prerequisite of being on the EcomCrew Podcast, and awesome dude, just willing to help, really smart and knowledgeable. I think that you guys are going to enjoy this podcast. We basically do a tear down of IceWraps.com and all the skeletons in the closet there.

And I think it's an important episode not just in about SEO but what can happen when you have too many things going on in your business as a lot of us do as entrepreneurs. Things fall through the cracks and it's frustrating to see that stuff as someone that's a perfectionist and knows better, and it's always worse when you have someone else show you that you're not doing things the way that you know you shouldn't be doing them. So, a couple different lessons intertwined in one episode. All right, I’m going to hop right on into it right after this introduction.

Mike: Hey Jeff, welcome to the EcomCrew Podcast.

Jeff: Hey, Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike: Of course. So, let's just tell people a bit about how this came to be real quick. You had emailed in asking to be on the podcast I think at some point and we were chatting back and forth. And I thought getting an SEO guest on here would be awesome because we haven't really talked about SEO aside from Bryant and I babbling about SEO over the years because it's something that I think is really important in the types of stuff that we do. But we have the stupid policy that we have to meet the person before we had them on the podcast because it just makes things way easier to filter through all the noise that comes in our inbox. But we got to do that relatively quickly after that.

We met at Ecommerce Fuel Live, which was awesome and I heard great things about your talk. I was actually in one of the other talks. The unfortunate thing about those breakout sessions is that you can only be on one at a time. I'm looking forward to watching the video. But I think that for me at least, thinking about skating to where the puck is going and not where it is, SEO I guess comes naturally because it's been something I've been doing since 2004.

But again, with that concept of skating where the puck is going, I think that obviously Amazon is going to continue to get bigger, drop shippers are just these run of the mill kind of e-commerce sites are going to slowly continue to degrade and go by the wayside and companies that get SEO, that can rank in organic search and provide good value to customers, that are in that buying process or whatever are going to be here for a long time to come.

And it's shown like on the things that we've worked on for like ColorIt, I mean, we're not getting like just a huge amount of traffic from organic search, and it's taken a couple of years to do that. But I think it's important nonetheless. And I think that everyone listening, if you have a brand and I think that 80% plus of e-commerce stores kind of fit in this. If you have a brand where it's interesting to talk about, you can write good content, etc., you should be doing that and investing in your future just like you invest for retirement. So any rate, long winded intro about why I think SEO is important and how we got to meet, and all that good stuff and I can't wait to do this podcast with you today.

Jeff: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I mean, you really hit the nail with the hammer where SEO has been getting more and more competitive. If you go back even five or 10 years, you could build some links, put the keywords in the page and it really wasn't that hard to rank well. Well, in the past two years, you see more and more big brands sort of seeing what the opportunity is and before Amazon and I guess more so like Target and Walmart, some of these big brands weren't really focusing on SEO just they're kind of brick and mortar presence. But now that they're really seeing the opportunity, they're focusing on; they’re kind of pushing down a lot of the smaller players, like all the drop shippers you mentioned. So they're kind of getting attack from all angles.

Mike: Yeah, definitely no doubt about it. And the thing is, I think the niche that you can still win at like, those big brands are still approaching it from like that big brand had right there. It's very like corporates like they're doing it for a reason of trying to rank for SEO, they notice the importance of doing it, but they don't really ever have the expert on staff that a micro e-commerce site is going to have. I mean, if Michael was for instance, was to start doing stuff for coloring, it's not going to be at the same level that we can do it out because I mean, we're only focused on that one thing and I think we can produce better content than those guys can. I think that that's where brands that are probably in our type of ecosystem are going to continue to win.

Jeff: That's exactly it. Now, there's a few things going for these like niche sites like ColorIt or IceWraps where they're so focused on one product. And you're going to get some plus points there with Google where you have a site that's just touching on one type of product, one type of niche, it's really hyper focused, if you're really relevant for those keywords, you're going to get some bonus for that.

And also just from a scalability perspective, Amazon, Target, Walmart, they don't have the resources to really dive into every single category or sub category product. Most of the times, they're just looking for which keywords have the highest search volume and they know they can get those because they have so much authority, and they often overlook kind of the smaller keywords that can still drive lots of traffic, lots of sales but just aren't as big of a priority for them.

Mike: Yeah, exactly. So, I don’t know, we were talking about how to approach this podcast episode because one of the things that you did at ECF Live was a live SEO like audit and tear down, which I think is awesome. I love people that are willing to do stuff like this because first of all, it just shows your expertise. You don't put your neck on the line if you don't know this stuff, and I actually wanted to do that for Facebook ads this conference, but we actually had voted in the forum to do something else because I love the challenge of just being up there and doing that.

And so you offered to do the same thing for one of our websites to do this on the podcast but the trick became how do we keep this interesting in an audio version. So, a great job we had, we did a little bit of a pre interview here and went through a bunch of different stuff. As typical I'm going to throw myself under the bus and show you all the things that we're doing wrong in our business that we shouldn't be doing wrong. But I had to pick between IceWraps and ColorIt and some of the other things that we're doing. ColorIt's just been like on a tear like I was saying from an SEO standpoint. I'd like to think that we're doing most of the things right there because it's at least going in the right direction.

Sure, if you went and did a review of ColorIt, you would find stuff there too. But I thought IceWraps would be a more fun project here for this because it's this legacy site that I bought from someone else and it was it was tanking from an SEO perspective, because the guy didn't know what he was doing from an SEO perspective. We bought it, started putting some SEO policies and just vision towards the site, put it from Yahoo stores onto BigCommerce and started working on an SEO plan. And the graph was basically straight up. It was like going up the mountain.

And then we made a decision to switch from BigCommerce to Shopify, because we were growing as a company and we were at a point where we had like 10 people on our team and we wanted to just have consistency with platforms, so just like; we didn't have to have people learning multiple platforms. Plus at the same time, BigCommerce changed their pricing structure and like really irritated me. So that was really the final straw but we were going to probably make the change anyway. And then we had this huge decline. It's one of the things that drives me crazy if I look at our business overall. IceWraps has just been like a sled going down the mountain at this point.

So, I thought it'd be cool to do a review of that and talk through some of these things. So, hopefully this won't bore our audience. Again, I think that this stuff is super important. The things we're going to be talking about here are mistakes that I think a lot of people are making and including ourselves. What happened for us as we've been going through this, I was just kind of rolling my eyes. I know we should be taking care of that, we shouldn't have missed this, but we have too many things going on in our business. And it's a case of if you chase two rabbits both will get away and these types of things slip through the cracks, which as a perfectionist drive me nuts. But we're going to talk about them nonetheless. I think they're important. And Jeff, I don't know, tell me what you think the best the best way to handle this and we'll go from there.

Jeff: Yeah, let's just jump right into it. So, some of the things that I’ll be going over if you have a website that's decreasing in rankings, decreasing in traffic, these are the things that can kind of help reverse the trend and get in the right direction. Or if you're new and you're starting out, these are the fundamentals that you can put in place that can really take your rankings in traffic to the next level, grow your organic search revenue. So, looking at rankings here I mean, Mike did an awesome job building out a site that has good content, has a clean navigational structure, had all the fundamental things you need for a site to rank on SEO.

And then moving from BigCommerce to Shopify back in middle of 2017 is when he started to see things drop a little bit and there’s a few potential culprits here. Now, of course anytime you move from one site to another, whether it's BigCommerce to Shopify, Magenta to Shopify, whatever it might be, there's always some type of risk. You’re really shaking up the site a bit, and you never know how search engines are going to respond to it. It’s a new site getting more SEO friendly or less SEO friendly. During the same time, you also have more competition from sites like Amazon, CVS, Dick's Sporting Goods to really kind of pushing the pedal a little more in SEO and trying to increase organic presence. That's not helping the case either.

And now there's a few different things going on. So, like Mike said, I did kind of an initial audit of the websites to see okay, what are some of the main issues we're seeing? What are the main opportunities we can take advantage of SEO? And there wasn't a whole lot of technical issues. And I don't know how many of you listening are on Shopify or Magenta platform. But Shopify out of the box is a very SEO friendly platform. Of all the platforms I've seen and worked with, it really does a good job of cleaning out some of those technical issues that you might find with Yahoo Stores or BigCommerce or Magenta.

So, having a small catalog and being on Shopify, it’s really going to reduce your need to kind of dive in the technical world of SEO. There might be a few things here and there, but really not that big of an issue. So, looking at IceWraps.com, one of the things I noticed is there was some of these legacy category pages that at one point — and correct me if I'm wrong Mike, sounds like at one point they had products in them but maybe they weren't as important anymore. So, those categories are kind of shut down, those products removed, is that safe to say?

Mike: Yeah, and this was just one of the things I saw, so I was just like had this cringe worthy moment. So, this and I happened to move from BigCommerce to Shopify, this was something that happened a year after that where we decided to start consolidating what we were doing on IceWraps. We made a business decision just as a company overall that we were only going to start selling our own products period company wide. We didn't want to be like a reseller for anyone else. We made two exceptions. There's two companies that we have exclusivity for on Amazon.com. So, we went from selling 12 brands products on IceWraps to three. In the process, we cut out a bunch of categories.

And what happened here was no one bothered to think about, oh, we need to 301 redirect those and not have 404 dead pages there. And it happened, it's sucks, but these are the types of things that slip through the cracks and are frustrating the business.

Jeff: Yeah. So I think that kind of the takeaway here is if you're doing a site migration or you're scaling down your catalog, make sure you're always putting up 301 redirects for old pages. So, what that's going to do, it's not only going to send users to the new pages, it's also going to pass any SEO value, or what we call link juice to the pages that you actually have. So, if you do have all these old pages that are kind of hanging out that don't really have any products on them, and they get indexed by Google, which happened to be the case here. If Google sees, hey, here's all these users going to these pages that have no products, they're hitting the back button and looking for another website, Google might start to think your website is not the best fit for these keywords. And that can actually harm your rankings over time.

Mike: Yeah for sure. And for people, this 301 redirect, this is a technical term. In English what it basically is telling Google, this is a permanent move, you’ve permanently moved this page or removed this page and it now exists over here. And Shopify, BigCommerce, all these different platforms have a built in interface to set up 301 redirects on Shopify. It's under like online store navigation and then redirects. And basically you just put in the old URL that no longer exists, and then you put in the new URL where you can find the page now. And if it's a page that you've completely removed, you can send it to the most appropriate place, whether that's the homepage or some other category page or like item.

Jeff: Yep, exactly right. So, to kind of continue with the topic of redirects and this is very important from an SEO standpoint. This is basically telling Google, hey, we don't care about this old URL anymore, just focus on this new URL, and also send users to this new URL. And it's especially critical anytime we're doing a site migration. So, another thing we found is there was a lot of URLs on the old BigCommerce site that had external backlinks. So, you have pages that are essentially now returning a 404 not found header status to search engine to users and have all these links going to them but those links aren't helping anything at all, they're going to dead ends.

So here, any time you’re doing a site migration, you want to make sure anytime you have old URLs that don't exist anymore, that you add those redirects to the current URLs on existing site.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, of all the things that we looked before this, this is the thing that triggers me the most because as an SEO guy by trade pretty much, I know the hardest thing to do is to get inbound links especially white hat inbound links. We have stopped pointing to IceWraps. That is giving us — it's actually hurting, it's hurting the site that's linking to us. So, they're eventually going to figure that out and stop linking to us and or it's coming into — it's giving us no value on IceWraps, which is just — this will be something that we fix immediately.

Jeff: Yeah, and looking at it I mean, I found this about 25 pages and each of these had maybe two or more links to it. So that right there is 50 links that you can turn on right away with just add some redirects. And if you think about how much time would it take you to go out and build 50 links, that could be weeks or months. So yeah, it's a great opportunity just to see, are there any pages on your site that have links but are returning a 404 not found message and just easily add those redirects?

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. That'll be Monday’s projects for sure.

Jeff: Great, so I talked about the technical side of things. We touched on some of the redirect issues but overall, there wasn't that many technical issues, and that's one of the perks of being on Shopify is out of the box it is pretty SEO friendly. There's some things that could be improved but for the most part it's a solid platform to work with, I’d give the thumbs up stamp of approval.

Mike: We were talking about my biggest scrape with it right before the call, which is the URL structure, which I wish they would use that, but besides that, I agree, it's pretty decent.

Jeff: Sure, sure. So, let's talk about just kind of your typical SEO optimization conversation. So, one of the things you hear most in SEO is title tags, meta description, URLs in the content, making sure you have the keywords in there. So let's just go through those one at a time starting with the title tags. So, what I noticed is if I look at your pages, and I look at a title tag and pick a page at random here, like let's do shoulder. So you have IceWraps for shoulders, and the title tag just says shoulder – IceWraps. Every title tag looks like it has IceWraps at the end which is just your branded name. No, nothing wrong with that.

But before, it just has shoulder. And doing a little bit of keyword research, it looks like when people are searching for ice packs for shoulder, they’re searching things like shoulder ice packs, ice packs for shoulder, sometimes ice pack is one word, sometimes it's two, sometimes it's singular, sometimes it's plural. But since it's not in the title tag, it's really going to be hard for these pages to rank well without ice packs in the title tag. So, one of those, the shoulder page or the next page, or ice pack for backs page, you really want to make sure you’re appending ice pack in the title tags. Instead of just reading just shoulder IceWraps, it'd be something like shoulder ice packs – dash IceWraps.

Mike: Yeah. I mean, I actually just pulled this up live because I almost can't believe it because these are like some of the most important pages on the site and I have no idea like how this got in this situation. I really don't, it's really weird because like I remember going through and optimizing these pages at one point and somehow it seems like someone else on our staff, or I don't know exactly what happened and when it happened, but I agree, especially as category page is really important. I mean, it's just like embarrassing just see that it's a shoulder. That's like all that's in there for the title tag.

Jeff: Yeah, and like you said, it could be one of many things. When you have a bunch of people working on your site, it might be one of those too many cooks in the kitchen issues, or oftentimes what I see is there might be some add-ons that people add to make the site more SEO friendly and they don't realize that might overwrite certain fields. So, always be careful with like add-ons you're using or who's interacting with the websites, because you never know what can get changed?

Mike: Yeah, I'll have to definitely do some investigative reporting internally to know exactly what happened because I remember specifically looking at these pages at one point. What I think might have happened, it might have been like when we switched themes again. We did a theme shift on Shopify, and it's possible that happened then but that doesn't really explain it either because these tags are set on the category page level. So, without like trying to figure this out while we're live talk on the podcast, it's definitely a great find, it’s something that everyone should be looking at for sure.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. So again, kind of a takeaway here, make sure you’re using the keywords people are searching for, enter title tags for category pages. So, this example I said is using shoulder, we want it shoulder ice packs because that's what they're looking for. So, moving along with some meta descriptions. So what I noticed is meta descriptions are probably one most neglected things in the world of SEO. And the reason is people found out that when you have the keyword in there, a lot or not at all it doesn't matter. It's not a direct ranking factor.

But what a lot of people fail to realize is meta descriptions essentially, I don't know how many of you are running AdWords or Google ads or Bing ads, but ad copy is so critical at getting a higher click through rate. Well, the same thing is true with meta descriptions in SEO. Having a really well written meta description can drastically increase your click through rate resulting in more people clicking on your website. So, if you have a linking of position three, but you have a better written meta description, oftentimes you can steal traffic and clicks from the websites ranking in position one or position two.

And the best way to do that is with three steps. There's kind of three ingredients I have for what I consider a strong meta description. That would be first things first, make sure you have the keyword in your meta description. The next thing is include any unique selling points, things like free shipping, great customer service, hundred percent price match guarantee, huge selection, whatever it is, that makes you stand out, make sure you put in the meta description. It's going to increase the likelihood someone is going to click on your ad or your organic listing.

And then the last is just end with a call to action. It could be something like click now to browse, shop today, click now to learn more, click now for product details. Now there's been a lot of correlation studies that find that having a well written call to action can increase click through rates. So, currently on the website, it looks like a lot of the meta descriptions are just pulling from the page description. So it's a category page. It's just pulling from the category content. It's the product page; it’s just pulling from the product content.

And I will say yeah, it is better than nothing. You're getting some relevant words in there, some sentences, but you really only have 156 characters to tell the searcher why they should click on your listing versus your competitors. So use every character and make sure you really kind of sell your products, curve the keyword, include unique selling points and end with a call to action.  

Mike: Yeah. I think that's great advice.

Jeff: Another thing is important is header tags. So, I noticed in your collection pages, there aren't any header tags; sometimes they're called h1 tags, header tags. It's all the same thing. It's usually the title of the page that you see when you go to a page. And if I'm looking at your shoulder page, yeah, shoulder page right now, the category page, I see the banner that says shoulder relief, but there's no header tag on it. So, header tags are a minor ranking factor, but in the world of SEO, you want to use every little bit of help you can get to improve your ranking.

So kind of a quick fix here is just to have a header tag on all your pages. And then you want to have those keywords in the header tag. So, a good header tag for the shoulder page or just be something simple like shoulder ice packs.

Mike: Yeah, I think this is something else that happened with the theme shift. I was actually surprised to see this as well because I know that in ColorIt we're obviously doing this stuff. I don't know, I have to go back and look. Like I said, we switched themes, since we've been on Shopify, we switched to a different theme and we were having problems with our developer that we used at the time, somehow they're just on an h1 tags on this page, which is a huge mess. I actually think it's a pretty important ranking factor. At least I feel like it is, I mean, I think it'll definitely make a difference when we add this back on here.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, once you factor in meta descriptions, title tags, header tags, content, it all works together and can really help your rankings.

Mike: Yeah. I mean, like this stuff here is like just all like fundamental stuff that people focus a lot on getting writing the content or getting links or all these other things that take way more effort when you're not even focusing on your own house, or like the fundamentals of your site. And this is definitely like one of those situations where this stuff all needs to be fixed first before you're taking any other initiatives.

Jeff: Yeah, like anything, it all comes back to the fundamentals. So, moving along URLs, so URLs is kind of tricky. The best practice I would recommend having the keywords in the URL. So, if we take the shoulder page, you want it to read something like IceWraps.com/collections/shouldericepacks, whereas right now it's IceWraps.comcollectionsshoulder. So it doesn't have that keyword ice pack in there. So the reason I say URL is a little tricky because anytime you change your URLs, there's some risk that your rankings could suffer. Your new URL, Google is going to treat it like a new page. Even if you have a redirect, you do everything properly, you just never know how Google is going to correspond to that new URL, and that’s even if it's more SEO friendly and has a keyword in there.

So, what I advise people, if a page has decent rankings already, don't bother changing the URL, even if it could be more SEO friendly. But those pages that really are struggling with rankings don't have much to lose. Those are the cases when it might make sense to put the keyword in the URL slug and see what happens.

Mike: Yep. And you can do that on Shopify. So by default, whatever you have as your title will be what it uses for the URL, but you can go down to the bottom under the search engine listing preview and change the URL and handle at the bottom, so you can add those things there. And I believe with Shopify, it automatically adds the 301 redirects for you when you make that change.

Jeff: I think so. Yeah, that does sound right to me.

Mike: I believe it's the only platform that does that or at least between BigCommerce and WooCommerce and Shopify.

Jeff: Right, okay, so we talked about title tags, header tags, URLs. One of most important on page factors is the content itself and how you use keywords with the content. I always recommend for any category page, you want to have at least 150 to 200 words of content. If you're worried about the user experience in the content blog pushing down your products, you can always just show a few lines and put the rest behind like a read more link that can expand the content. So, it's kind of a nice hybrid between what's best for SEO, what's best for users.

So, one thing I noticed Mike is you have a lot of content on the category pages. This is great, Google is going to come, it's going to see those, it's going to index it, it can get a better understanding of what the page is about and make sure it's more relevant for the target keywords. And I will say, I'll give you kind of plus points here, looking at the content on the shoulder page, you have the word ice packs in there, but we want to go a step further. We want to have the keyword phrase shoulder ice packs in the content. So, maybe mentioning shoulder ice packs at least once, maybe ice packs or shoulders at least once, different related keywords and keyword variations, that can really help your keyword targeting here increase your rankings.

Mike: Yeah, and so this is the category landing page what you're talking about the shoulder?

Jeff: Yes. And you can apply the same thing for all your category pages. So, if you go to the neck category page, have neck ice packs, ice packs for neck. And one thing I noticed, some people search icepacks one word, some people search ice packs, two words, some people do singular, some people do plural. So, if you have a keyword research tool like Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, you can kind of do a little research to see what exactly people are searching to find your products and whatever one's the most popular use that the most. So for you Mike, it looks like it's most of the time it's ice pack with a space and that's what you want to incorporate within the content.

All right, so we've kind of talked about optimizing pages. There's some opportunities there which I'm sure just make those few changes already, you're likely going to see an increase in rankings in your traffic. I want to talk a little bit about kind of content creation opportunities because one of the biggest missed opportunities is either a lot of e-commerce sites will have a blog, they're creating content, they’ve know these brainstorming ideas and they're kind of doing what they think is best, but there's really no data behind it.

One thing that you've done really well on IceWraps.com is you created a lot of blog posts targeting keywords that people are searching for. So you have a whole page about carpal tunnel which is what ice packs is a great solution for that. You have pages about how to treat tennis elbow, how to fix tennis elbow. It looks like you went through, you found what are people searching for related to my products, and you used that data to create content, is that a safe assumption?

Mike: Yeah, and I have to give credit to our team over in the Philippines. I mean they're the ones that are writing these articles, off course Cristiana and I are on them, and they do an incredible job. So, not only — they also help with the keyword research as well and they are finding this stuff to write about and they're really well written articles that perform well. So yeah, I mean it's not just me but we have a great team as well.

Jeff: Yeah, so I guess kind of the takeaway here is if you have a blog and you're creating content, really you want to leverage that content as best as possible. Nine times out of 10 when I look at e-commerce sites, the blog has very little traffic, it might not have many shares or comments, it's kind of just this this ghost town corner of the website.

Mike: Or the way they market themselves right, we released a new product or whatever it is.

Jeff: We released this new product or here's a sale we have. And if you have a blog, this is a huge opportunity for you to educate your customers, provide useful information, kind of become an authority in the space. So, what I recommend is do some keyword research, see what are people looking for and if you're not sure where to start, there's great tools like SEMrush.com, Ahrefs.com, Moz.com, they all have really powerful keyword tools where you can just put in some keywords related to your products, your categories and you'll see all these related things that people are searching for.

And you can prioritize and say okay, for you and for IceWraps.com, it looked like things like carpal tunnel and tennis elbow were getting searched a lot. So you guys created some content. And it seems to be performing really well. I mean, it's some of your top performing pages on your website. So you've done a great job with this, kind of there's always more things to target.

So just in my little analysis, I noticed some sort of what I call a content gap, maybe some more content created would be like ice packs for headaches, ice packs for fevers, ice packs for swelling. I know it's getting a little bit off the sports side of things so there might be some branding things to discuss there. But there does seem to be a lot of searches for things like ice packs for headaches, ice packs for fevers, ice packs, or swelling.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, we actually aren't just exclusive to sports. I think this is great content for us to do and we already actually have the products that would fix all these different conditions. So it's good stuff yeah.

Jeff: And I've been talking about keyword research, and keyword research is so important not just for SEO, but also there's a lot of insights you can gather for business as a whole. So, I was kind of looking through like seeing what kind of ice pack products are people looking for? And there's a few products, a few types of products I found that you guys weren't currently carrying. So I saw ice pack this [ph] was getting searched for 100 times a month, ice pack socks was getting searched 200 times a month, ice pack headbands was getting 500 plus times a month.

So, some of these you might want to weigh out. But if you're looking for product development, like what kind of products can I manufacture, what should I carry, using keyword research is a great place to start and kind of come across gems of products that would be a good fit for your current product line that people are actually searching for that can probably sell fairly quickly.

Mike: Yeah, can you allow me to go off on a tangent for a second?

Jeff: Okay, go for it.

Mike: One thing I see people make the mistake on more than anything else through EcomCrew are people that try to invent a market. And it's so difficult to sell stuff that people aren't looking for. And what you're talking about is just the most awesome nugget of advice where you're doing keyword research, seeing people type in this stuff, they're looking for an ice pack fastener, ice pack mask and these are valid product ideas to go out and develop because people are looking for them.

This is a pretty funny story, this guy developed this ice cup for men to wear in their pants for I don't know who, it was like for people who played hockey or something or whatever his idea was, like this will help keep your junk cool while you're playing sports, but no one is searching for that. I mean it might be the best idea ever. It seems silly to me but it might be the best idea ever but no one is looking for it. And if you're getting in e-commerce, it's difficult enough to succeed in e-commerce. But if you are trying to develop stuff that doesn't have search volume, you're probably barking up the wrong tree.

Jeff: Sure it's possible but like you said it's way more work. So again, keyword research, it's great not just for finding content opportunities, you'll be surprised, you can often find some great product opportunity of things you can develop. So, the last thing I want to touch on is link building. So, the site, it has a fairly strong link profile, it looks like you have acquired some links over time. And there's a few spammy links I found. So, it looks like at some point, this could have been years ago, probably well before you guys acquired it. There was a bunch of like dot blogspot comment. There's a bunch of links from like dot blogspot sub domains where someone just kind of created all these different blogspot blogs and were linking back.

It wasn't too excessive so it wasn't that critical. But kind of going back to one of the reasons why your rankings might have dipped this past year too, these sort of spammy links could have been helping at one point. But as Google gets more advanced and kind of can identify link spam, oftentimes they will devaluate. So, a lot of times when you see rankings decrease, it's not necessarily that you're doing anything wrong, it's just some of these crappy links that used to help you aren't helping you anymore.

And there was also instances where there are some directory links spam, back in the day, one of the fastest ways to get backlinks to your website. And for those who don't know, the more links and the higher quality links go to your site, the better you're going to rank. It's almost like a vote of trust, where if a site is linked to you, they’re vouching for you, and you got a whole bunch of sites to link to you, that can really impact your ranking. So even now, in 2019, the number of links going to your website and the authority of those links is still the number one ranking factor.

And I saw there was some low quality directory links that were built to the site years ago. And again, there could have been a time where these links really helped rankings but as Google got more smart and could identify these and sniff them out, chances are, that link [inaudible 00:37:58], it's not pass anymore. That might have contributed to the downward trend that we saw.

Mike: So, I mean, these are definitely links that happened before my time because first of all, I used to get links like this. So, I'm not saying I'm above this stuff. I used to do this. I've learned my lesson because when Google slaps you, it doesn't feel good. And I learned that lesson through penguin and panda years ago. So, that was the last time I I've done stuff like that, definitely not on IceWraps. The question I had real quick, it's a little bit technical. But in your experience do you think that's worth like disavowing these links, or do you just kind of leave them be and it is what it is?

Jeff: Yeah, that's a great question. And there's a few things you can do you. Yan disavow links. And for those who don't know, Google provides a tool in Search Console called Google disavow. And all you do is you upload a text file with a list of links or domains that you don't want to count towards your websites. Let's say one day; you get notices in Google Search Console. You have all these spammy links, well you could – you scratch your head, I didn’t build these, I don't want these to count for me against me, so I'm just going to go ahead and disavow them all. You're basically telling Google, hey Google, don't count these items, I didn’t build them, I can't vouch for them. And now that's kind of one tool Google gives us.

Another option is reaching out to all these different sites and asking them to remove the links. I've done these types of outreach campaigns. If you're lucky to get a 5% link removal rate and it takes so much time. So it's almost not even worth really doing. The one caveat there is if you're confident that you've been hit with a link penalty, those are the situations you want to do anything you can so it might be worth it. But disavow, it's such an easy tool to use, you're literally just uploading a list of domains, your links, it's telling Google not to count them.

The one caveat, I'll say there is there’s very few concrete case studies that indicate the disavow tool is an effective way to [inaudible 00:39:53]. There's very few resources that say disavowing is an effective way to clean this up, that Google is actually going to respond to it and not hurt you. So, it's so easy to do. It's worth at least doing. But don't think that just doing that alone is going to move your rankings in the opposite direction. Mike: Yeah. I mean, we had stuff that caught up in the penguin panda thing definitely from just getting a bunch of spammy links like that and I agree with that, did a bunch of disavows, never could get the sites to recover. So, I personally don't think that it works at all. I'm actually paranoid that if you start doing disavow that you're almost telling Google like you admit that you've done something wrong and you're trying to fix it, and it scares me to even try it anymore.

Jeff: You want to hear some SEO speculation?

Mike: Sure. Let's do it.

Jeff: So here's my thoughts on this. Google has been doing more — if you look at the rank brain algorithm they released, they’re doing a lot more machine learning and having massive amounts of data to see, okay, what page attributes correlate high with a better user experience. And my theory here, they had these big updates then they released the Google disavow tool shortly after, where webmasters can say, hey, here's all these toxic links that are linked into me. So they now have all this data on links that are spammy, that are web spam. And with all their processing power, I wouldn't be surprised if they basically had all the webmasters they’re vetting for them.

Mike: Nice right.

Jeff: They use their machine learning to try to see, okay, what's a spammy link and what's a good link?

Mike: That's awesome. It's like group source to…

Jeff: Crowdsource.

Mike: Crowdsource [crosstalk 00:41:34], crowdsource fibbing on all these different websites. That's awesome. That makes sense.

Jeff: And they made us do all the work Mike.

Mike: Yeah, you mentioned one thing that I wasn’t actually going to talk about but since you brought up that rank brain or whatever the new algorithm is, I think that this is super important as well just to spend a minute talking about this, which basically, Google is getting better at figuring out ways to help rank sites through patterns that you can't manipulate, right? So it's hard to manipulate someone coming to your site, reading the first paragraph, and then heading back because it sucked, right? If you have copy content like that, it’s just a good signal for Google. You can put all the links you want and have your on page SEO as good as you want, if your content sucks, it's not going to fix the problem.

And so, we've been working on the opposite, which is just the content we do put out is like this over the top piece of content that really helps the problem. And the way that I've been able to articulate this to my team, which I think might be helpful here real quick is if someone makes a search, no matter where you rank, whether it's one or seven on a page, whatever it is, let's just say the search is how to tie your shoes. They type in how to tie your shoes, they go to the first result, it doesn't give them the answer, they hit back. You're the third result, they go to the second one, they hit back, they go to the third result.

When they hit the article that we've written, we don't want them to hit back, we want to answer the question that they're typing in. And that's the easiest way I think to articulate as much as close to 100% of the time that we can actually answer the question, whatever it was that they typed in that we’re the answer. And that has helped us percolate to the top of search results, because we're giving these great signals of well, people aren't hitting back now, and then clicking on the next results.

So, that must be the one that was the answer that the piece of content that was the most valuable, so we want to rank that higher, and the people are spending more time on our site and scrolling all the way to the bottom and the dwell time and lag time on our site is just way higher because they're actually consuming the content. These are things that you just can't fake, unless you have like a bot going through the site and doing all this stuff, which I'm sure people will figure out at some point to try that, then Google will figure out the next way to stop it.

Jeff: The next role of black hat.

Mike: Exactly, exactly. Right, it's about writing — actually like writing the best piece of content on the thing that's being searched and actually answering the question.

Jeff: Yeah, you touched on something so important because so many people when they think of SEO, they're just thinking about title tags, meta descriptions, content, links, and all that don't get me wrong, that's very important. But they forget about user experience, click through rates. If you think about what's Google's main goal, they want to provide the most relevant search results when someone clicks on a listing, and they found what they needed. They don't have to go anywhere else. The better they do that, the more market share they are going to have, the more users they're going to have, the more brand loyalty they're going to have.

So how do they do that? Well, they want to factor in things like you said, like bounce rate, are people going to this page and staying, or they’re hitting the back button and going back to click on another listing or dwell time? And here's some more SEO speculation for you. I've met some people who are afraid to put analytics on their sites because they don't want to give Google all that data. But here's the thing, Google has Chrome, Google has Android, and I've read the privacy policies of both, and they can use that data however they want.

So if you were to ask me, I would not be surprised at all if Google with all the data they have on your website, they can see how engaging it is, how long people are staying on your site, how many pages they go into. I wouldn't be surprised that they factor that into the algorithm especially with the rank brain update we saw a few years ago.

Mike: Yeah, I mean I would actually put it the other way that I would be just shocked if they aren't. I think it's pretty much definitive that they were using that data for that.

Jeff: Yeah, and for that reason that's why it is so important to focus on the user experience. I mean you'd be amazed just by doing some AB split tests what impact that can have, not just in the conversion rate but on your SEO as well.

Mike: Yeah, 100%. I think the thing that I see still like even in 2019 people, they hear about SEO like I guess they’re writing some content. So, they're doing it because they feel they have to or like they want to check off that box and either writing like a 300 to 500 word article, they're hiring someone else to do it, it's like nonsensical. You read it, it's like I just wasted three minutes of my time and I leave frustrated. That's the average content that's being put out there.

And that's never going to work anymore. There was a time again, these are things that I did, I would hire people to just write a three to 500 word article. I didn't really even care much about what was on the page rather than the eight keywords that I would tell them that had to be included. And it was like that easy to rank but those days are long gone.

Jeff: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it's 2019. Everyone is creating content now, everyone has a blog. It's so easy to create a Shopify site or a WordPress site. 10 years ago yeah, you could get away with having content that's good enough but just barely, nowadays if you're going to stand out from the crowd, you have to have thousands of words — not always thousands but maybe at least 1,000 words of content that's really comprehensive, maybe add some visual elements, so photos, illustrations, break it up with different headers, because if you're not doing that, your content is going to basically fall on deaf ears.

Mike: Yeah, 100%. All right my friend, we have come to the end of the rainbow here. I already feel bad that I've kept you over time, but before we go, I did want to take an opportunity let you talk real quick. You have an awesome tool that I think people should check out. So, you want just talk about that real quick?

Jeff: Yeah. So link building is hands down the most difficult part about SEO. And it's also, it can be very time consuming, it can be very expensive, shortcuts can get you penalized. So, what I created over the past few years is a do it yourself link building platform. It's called LinkHunter and you can find it at Linkhunter.com. And it has different modules to help you build links. So, let's say you want to do some guest post links. So you would click on the guest post module, enter a few keywords related to your product, your categories, it's going to find a whole bunch of different relevant websites.

It will show you the SEO stats of each one, like the domain authority, how many keywords they’re ranking for, it will automatically pull in the email address of each relevant blog. It has pre written email templates. And the best part is it syncs right up the email so you don't have to keep going back and forth to your email client and this prospecting tool, it's all in one place. So you can just click on a site that looks like a good fit, press the send message button, it's going to send it off and send that email pitch.

And then also, since it's connected your email account, if you don't get a response from that blog, or within three days, five days, whatever you specify, it'll automatically send a follow up and kind of manage all those conversations in one place. So, if you've never done link building, or you have done and link building has been really tricky, it's one of the best ways I've seen to get started. It's not built for SEO consultants or SEO agencies, it's built for entrepreneurs and marketers who don't really know much about link building but want to get into it.

Mike: Very cool. Yeah, I mean, link building takes a ton of time and I could see this being a great resource to get organized and automate some of the tasks it sounds like which is awesome.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike: Cool. And what's the best place to find you, if people want to ask questions or talk to you about learning out about SEO, where's the best place to find you?

Jeff: Yeah, so if you want to get ahold of me, I also run an SEO agency that we only work with e-commerce sites, that's kind of what we focus on. It's my passion, it's 180marketing.com. Shoot me a message if you have any questions, we'd love to hear from you guys.

Mike: Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show today, and let's get you back on in the future.

Jeff: Yeah absolutely, good times Mike.

Mike: Thanks Jeff.

Jeff: All right. Take care.

Mike: All right, that's a wrap folks. I hope you guys enjoyed this interview with Jeff Oxford of Link Hunter and 180 Marketing. I really enjoyed this interview myself. It's one of these ones where I could have talked to him for a couple of hours or maybe even five if I had the time, and we could have had like a longer agenda and not trying to rush through this stuff. I definitely want to get Jeff back on. We can talk about something more specific and really drill down into a topic if we're more narrowly focused. But this should give you an idea hopefully of a bunch of things to be thinking about with your e-commerce businesses, your blogs, your content, whatever you're doing that has an SEO focus.

I think that SEO is alive and well and probably one of the most important components to the longevity of e-commerce companies long term. I think you have something that can't be taken away from you, lots of really great content, a following etc. That doesn't really matter how big Amazon gets, they can't take that away from you as an example. So, something that's important, I hope you guys again enjoyed the episode. If you have any questions, comments, you want to read the show notes, you can go to EcomCrew.com/223 to get to those. And until the next episode everyone, 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.

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