E239: 6 Actionable Ecommerce SEO Strategies with Brian Dean of BacklinkoApril 11, 2019 in Ecom-Crew-Podcast
If you ask us to pick one episode from the EcomCrew Podcast that we think every ecommerce store owner should listen to, today’s episode would be a clear winner.
We’re very excited to have Brian Dean on today’s episode. If you’ve been living under a rock, Brian is an SEO expert and the founder of the Backlinko blog. He has been called an “SEO genius” and is one of the people I follow closely, and whose courses have helped propel my ecommerce store to new Google search heights.
In today’s episode Brian and I discuss a topic that many ecommerce store owners find daunting–ecommerce SEO.
- Why it’s no longer possible to rank simply by putting products on a page
- Brian’s experience with black-hat SEO and how he figured out how to give Google what it wants
- Why you should go for longer-tail keywords
- The ideal number of clicks from the homepage to a product page
- Why you need to have unique descriptions for every product
- How to see if your website has “page bloat”
- The importance of content marketing and how to find the perfect writer for your store’s blog
- The advantage online stores have over blogs when building links
This episode is a discussion of a guide Brian wrote about the topic. You can read about it here.
Thanks for listening to this episode! Until the next one, happy selling.
Full Audio Transcript
Intro: This is Mike and hello from Austin, Texas. I am here as a part of the EcomCrew roadshow, got a couple of things to record here in town, along with a mastermind and some other things to do while in Austin, going to be here for a little bit over a week and then heading over to Dallas, Texas to do an EcomCrew roadshow over there. And while I’ve been on this trip, something awesome happened that I’m going to be talking about on the podcast today. And that is today’s guest; Brian Dean recorded a podcast with me. I am so excited to have had him on the show, somebody that I have personally followed and respected for a very long time.
It’s really cool when you do podcasting. Every now and then, you get to do something that’s fun and exciting yourself, you get to have guests on that you wanted to talk to on your own that you think will also bring tons of value to the community. And I don’t think that this stops anywhere near short of that. Give it about five minutes, we’ll just kind of chit chat a little bit and know each other a little bit. It’s our first time ever talking. Normally, as you guys know, I have a policy of only interviewing people on the podcast that I have met in person unless it’s obviously an under the hood or something like that.
But typically, I want to interview a guest that I’ve personally met. But Brian is somebody that I made exception for because I’ve literally been reading and following his content for over five years. He’s one of the few people that really tells it like it is when it comes to SEO. And again, I don’t think this podcast will let you down. There is some amazing content in here, folks. Again, give it a few minutes to kind of let us get warmed up a little bit. We got to know each other. I felt like at the end, I couldn’t wait to eventually meet him in person and just hang out with him name and not even talk about SEO, just hang out what Brian.
He seems like an awesome dude. Which isn’t a surprise because again, I think these things go together when you put out awesome content, when you keep it real, when you don’t BS, I think it’s very similar to our style. The person behind the scenes there probably fits that mold. It’s hard to fake that stuff. So if you have any interest whatsoever in e-commerce SEO, you’re going to want to listen to this episode. Probably play it back a second time, head over to EcomCrew.com/239 to get to the show notes, ask, comment, Brian, hopefully will come in there and answer any other questions you have. And I’ll be happy to also leave my comments there. All right, let me stop talking. Let’s get Brian into the podcasting studio here and start chatting with him about SEO.
Guest intro: The misconception is that you can just put up a site that’s all proxy category pages and rank with that. It’s really not going to happen, especially in the e-commerce space where you compete with Amazon or Walmart and giants like that. You really have to do something super different with your site, and content is a big part of it outside of what you sell.
Mike: Hey Brian, welcome to the EcomCrew Podcast.
Brian: Hey, no problem. Thanks for having me.
Mike: No doubt, man. It’s interesting. You probably get this a lot when you’re out, when people meet you and they’re like, oh my God, Brian, it’s so great to meet you. And you’re like; I have no idea who you are. But for me, that’s kind of like that here because I’ve been following your stuff for years. And I get that a lot when I go out to conferences and stuff and people are like oh, my God, Mike it’s so great to meet you. But I kind of feel like that with you right now.
Brian: Wow, that I would love to say that happens all the time. But it doesn’t happen that much.
Mike: That’s interesting. Maybe because you don’t speak at conferences or you kind of keep a low profile but I definitely get that. But yeah, I’ve been following your stuff for years. I’ve been in SEO for a very long time. We talk about SEO a lot on the podcast. But we haven’t really had that many great guests about SEO. And I think if there’s anyone out there that I look up to the most and I would say is the most respected SEO out there, I would say that’s you, so definitely really excited to have you on the podcast. Yeah, man. I mean, seriously, you know because you’re always talking about the real stuff. It’s never like, how do you go out to like a PBN, and buy a bunch of links or how do you cut corners? It’s always from day one, you’ve always been talking about, give Google what they really want. And don’t try to cheat.
Brian: Right? Well, I mean, this comes after learning the hard way. I used to be all about cheating, all about shortcuts, all about black hat, whatever work tricking Google. And then I realized it’s just not worth the trouble. Like, it’s just so much easier, long term, even short term in a lot of cases to just go legit and create a site that’s worth sharing, worth linking to, and that Google wants to rank.
Mike: Interesting. I didn’t know about that background for you. And I actually have the exact same background. So let’s compare scores. How many times did you have to get penalized before you really woke up and realized that that wasn’t the best way to go?
Brian: Well, how do you count times? So I have once had 150 of my websites get penalized in one day.
Mike: Yeah I had…
Brian: 150 times?
Mike: No, that’s one time because that’s like one update.
Brian: That was panda.
Mike: Yeah, Panda was a bad day for me. It was a really bad day. That was the day I really woke up.
Brian: Unfortunately, I didn’t wake up till Penguin in 2004. That’s when I woke up. Yeah, so I’d say there are several times, I’d say like five or six times, those are the two big ones.
Mike: Got you. Yeah, I think that I forgot about Penguin, Penguin and Panda, those were definitely 2012 I guess would have been. It’s been so long, but it was a bad — those were bad couple of days and we had — you don’t know my background but we also used to and still do invest in keyword domains. So we had five figure and six figure domain names get the penalty slap and they never recovered. I still can’t get them to recover. I’ve just been working on other things since then.
Brian: That’s insane. Yeah, I had a lot into it. It was kind of everything that I had wiped out in one day. It’s an eye opener. The first time I didn’t learn my lessons for whatever reason. But the second time, I was like, okay, this is like Google is not messing around anymore. They’re going after people. It used to be they would try to filter out black hat stuff as not, they didn’t want to penalize anyone who wasn’t doing anything shady. But that update was a shot across the bow and really was a wakeup call and a blessing in disguise because if it wasn’t for that, I would still probably be trying to do this nonsense instead of building something cool.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, so my day consisted of buying links, going to PBNs, reading about the things that your site, your training course, which we’re going to talk about at some point here is called SEO That Works. And I used to subscribe to SEO that works right now. It was like whatever the gimmick was at the time, rather than like what Google was really looking for long term. But eventually, after Penguin Panda, I was like, let me just think about what Google — like if I was an executive, or if I was Matt Cutts, and I’m sitting in the Google boardroom and trying to figure out what they actually want the end of the day, they want the best content to rank number one, or on the first page. And instead of gaming the system, why don’t I just spent all my time giving them exactly what they want, and not worrying about any of the other stuff anymore?
Brian: Yeah, exactly. Why that took me so long to learn and you it sounds like too, we’ll never know. But yeah, it makes so much sense when you say it like that. But it never even crossed my mind. I literally was just like blog comments and article directories and all that stuff. For some reason that appealed to me like crazy and that whole other side of doing it the legit way, creating something that deserves to rank, it just really never even crossed my mind as crazy as it sounds now.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, I was the same way. And just one last thing on this, I think the reason is, is because if you were to type in SEO, or how to rank or whatever it might be, the things that popped up for that were all the black hat stuff. So it was like, oh, this must be how you do it. And it wasn’t – you’re just seeing other people doing it and it’s working. So the tendency is to just follow what they’re doing, instead of you putting two and two together and doing it a better way. And I think that Penguin and Panda forced us to stop and like really think about it rather than just not following what everybody else is doing.
Mike: All right, so the main thing I really want to talk you about today, it’s actually fine. We’ve been trying to get you on for a long time, I was going to talk to you about something completely different on the podcast, but you just wrote an article called Ecommerce SEO: The Definitive Guide. And I think that it’s properly worded, I mean, it really is the definitive guide. I re-read through it last night to prepare for this call. I had already read it, but I wanted to just have it fresh in my mind. I mean, it’s like a two hour read. I mean, this thing is really, really beefy in terms of everything that’s in it.
There’s a couple of things I want to mention real quick to kind of set the stage here. It’s actually stats from the beginning of the article. And I think they’re really important because people are probably — some people out there, not thinking about how important SEO is. And I think that because I come from an SEO background, this is kind of like how we were thinking about our brands from day one. A lot of other people are coming at it from a different angle. But some stats that are really important here, first one, 44% of people start their online shopping journey with a Google search. And obviously, like a lot of our audience is thinking about what the other 56% are coming from. A big portion of those other 56% are Amazon.
But the reality is that Amazon doesn’t control the entire space and there’s still a lot of searches that happen on Google. So Google is still a really important part of your ecommerce journey, in my opinion. The other two stats here, the next one is 37.5% of all traffic to e-commerce sites comes from search engines, which again, really, really important to get that traffic. And the last one here, which is probably the one that will raise everybody’s eyebrows, is 23.6% of e-commerce orders come directly from organic traffic or they’re tied to organic traffic in some way. So it’s a quarter of your potential business can be coming from organic traffic. And as long as you’re doing it the right way and doing the things that you’ll be talking about here on this podcast that are in this guide — and we’ll put a link to this in the show notes, which I’m sure you’ll love to get a link right?
Mike: Because backlinks is what you’re talking about that. But these things are really important. And when you have that traffic and you’re doing it the right way, it’s very hard for that to be taken away from you. I mean, obviously, we talk about Penguin and Panda. And yeah, you’re at the mercy of Google algorithm updates. But if you’re putting out really great content, which we’re going to talk about in here, very unlikely that you’re going to do anything except rise during updates and not fall.
Brian: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, there’s a chance that you could get out ranked by somebody else, there’s a chance an update could hurt your rankings, but you’re not going to get penalized. Like the chance — it’s not the days of going to zero. If you’re a legit, you’re not going to have the rug swept out from under you like back in the old days we’re talking about. So yeah, great content is the first step. And it’s actually one that I think a lot of e-commerce site owners or you call them store owners, which I like, store owners are kind of reluctant to get into my experience.
I’ve been — back when I did — I run an SEO agency; I had a lot of e-commerce clients. And when I started doing consulting, I worked with a lot of e-commerce sites, and I kind of noticed this thing where a lot of e-commerce store owners are like they read SEO advice about content or blogging or building links and say, okay, that sounds great for a blog but I’m an e-commerce site, how do I get links? And the misconception is that you can just put up a site that’s all products and category pages and rank with that. It’s really not going to happen, especially in the e-commerce space where you compete with Amazon or Walmart and giants like that. You really have to do something super different with your site and content is a big part of it outside of what you sell.
Mike: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean some examples of things that we’ve written that rank really well, are the benefits of coloring. We own a coloring book company that’s geared towards adults, people that are like 60 years old, plus, they love coloring at home. And so we’ve written articles of the benefits of coloring which are like for relaxation, and it just reduces stress. We have like how to blend and [inaudible 00:12:59] colored pencils, what are the best colored pencils. We’re putting content out like that that is the best out there, like you were saying, and isn’t just the typical product pages is the route that we’ve taken and seen some pretty good results.
But getting back to the guide here that you wrote, because I mean, again, I just read through it last night. I mean, everyone needs to stop what they’re doing and go over, again, I’ll put the link in the show notes and read this guide because it really does lay it out step by step. But with a little bit of time that we have here, can we just go through like basically there’s six pillars that you had laid out, and just kind of talk about those and give people some things to munch on while they’re driving down the road or doing their workout or whatever it is what they’re doing right now.
Brian: Yeah, sure. So you want to start with keyword research, then?
Mike: Yeah, let’s do that.
Brian: Okay, so I mean, this is no secret if you run an online store, e-commerce site, keyword research is something that you kind of start with because to build out these products and category pages, you need to know what people are searching for on Google. One mistake I see a lot of people make in e-commerce space with this is they go keywords that are too competitive. The fact is most product pages and category pages aren’t going to have a lot of links pointing directly to them. So for them to rank for a competitive keyword, for your site to rank for competitive keyword, you need to have a lot of links pointing to your entire site.
So if you target super competitive keywords, you’re probably not going to rank unless you’re an Amazon or Walmart or BestBuy or PetSmart, whatever niche you’re in, those kind of e-commerce sites. But the long tails a lot of times are pretty wide open because those bigger sites tend to have product pages that are geared towards competitive keywords. So for example, they’re targeting keywords like whey protein powder, or even things like chocolate protein powder. You could target something like keto chocolate protein powder, something that’s even super long tail or keto chocolate protein powder free shipping. Those kinds of keywords I would recommend going after, especially if you’re somewhat new, if say you’re someone new because you can rank for those a lot easier than the other keywords.
The other benefit is they have a lot better of a buyer intent, because that person kind of knows what they want. If you’re just searching for whey protein or protein powder, you could be looking for like what it is, you could be still in the stages of which brand do I go with, what are the pros and cons. But someone who’s searching for something that specific is usually like credit card in hand. They’re the exact type of person you want on your site. Obviously, it sucks to go after a keyword that gets like 50 searches a month or 100 searches a month. But at the end of the day, if you’re just starting out, that stuff can add up when your ecommerce site grows in terms of having hundreds or even thousands of products down the line.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, I couldn’t agree more. I think that the two big key things there to just throw it in a different way. I mean, if you were trying to climb Mt. Everest, you’re starting at the bottom right, you have to work your way up to the top, you have to train, you have to slowly work on climbing at elevation and eventually you’ll reach the summit. But you can’t reach summit on day one of your SEO and e-commerce journey, start at the bottom, go after keywords that are less competitive. But the other thing you mentioned there, which is super important for e-commerce, those long tail keywords, a lot of times I found that they’re actually just like way, way more valuable because the conversion intent, as you were saying, is so much better.
Like the example of like, free shipping chocolate keto powders, like really, really a great example because that person is like looking to buy right then and there and like they only were going to buy if they can get free shipping, versus someone that just types in keto powder. Yeah, that’s really neat. And it’s great for your ego to rank for that. But people don’t know what the hell they’re really looking for in there, because there’s like 70 different types of keto powder, and they’re probably just kicking the tires and doing some preliminary research and they may not be interested in buying right then and there. So I mean, those are really good things to be thinking about.
Brian: Great. So how about the next pillar is about website architecture, which is a topic that is as dry as sawdust for a lot of people, even sounds boring, like website architecture, what is that? The good news is you don’t — most people don’t have to worry about that, depending on what you use for your ecommerce site. What do you guys recommend Shopify or?
Mike: Well, we’re using Shopify, but I wouldn’t recommend it from an SEO standpoint, that’s actually kind of the problem. Shopify I think is the de facto platform these days in terms of who has the biggest install base, but they could use you to consult with them on how to make better architecture.
Brian: Okay, that’s good to hear. So I mean it’s probably not — like Magenta I have found is more complicated to set up but you can kind of get any architecture you want out of it. But yeah, even Shopify, it’s not, like you said, it’s not great for architecture, but compared to how things used to be back in the day for ecommerce, it’s a lot better. And if you have a simple site, like if your ecommerce site has like 100 products, you probably don’t even need to worry about say architecture that much. But the problem is, what a lot of people do is they say, okay, this is boring, I’m going to have like five category pages, 100 products that kind of fit into this category, I guess. And then as the site grows, and they get 100, 200 products, 300 products, 3,000 products, 30,000 products, the architecture becomes super important, it can actually make or break your results in terms of SEO.
So I recommend getting it kind of down first, even though it’s not that fun compared to doing other stuff like contests, and all that sort of thing, social media, Instagram, things like that. But once you have it set up, it’s pretty easy to do. And the only thing you really have to keep in mind is that you don’t want a super deep architecture. So it shouldn’t take people a lot of clicks to go from your homepage to a product. Ideally, they should be able to get there in three or four clicks from the homepage. So they should be able to like they’re on your homepage, they click on a category, and they click on a product. Now there’s some variables, like maybe it’s on a page two like you have so many products that you can’t put them all on one page, you have a page two, that’s fine. But as long as they can get to your products and a product at three clicks, that’s great. Or two clicks, that’s great.
If you want to look at a great example of this PetSmart, their e-commerce site is super flat, it’s not deep, you can get to almost every product. And they have a huge site in about three clicks, sometimes four. That’s a good one to look at. And basically, this is all you really need is like one click, your homepage is there, they click to category, people can click to every category from your homepage through a drop down menu or something, and then they go to the products, then that’s pretty much all you need. From there, you just scale up. Every time you have a new product line, you create new category pages, put the products under there, and you’re pretty much good to go.
Mike: Yeah, perfect. And I remember seeing the PetSmart example in the article, and I was looking through that and I went over to their site. And it actually is impressive, because I mean, they probably have five to 20,000 products. I mean, who the heck knows how many are on there. It’s a lot, but they definitely got the site architecture stuff figured out perfectly. And it’s a great example I agree.
Brian: Great. So the next thing is on page SEO, and this is another thing that trips up a lot of e-commerce store owners because it’s tricky. This is something that’s not — there’s no easy way to put it, you need to have unique content for every product page. And a lot of people are like what, you know what I mean? Like, they have five to 20,000 products, who knows? You’re going to tell me they’re going to write something unique every time. Yes. If you want to be legit, that’s what you have to do. I mean, Amazon, they have millions and they have built in content for pretty much every page, at least their own stuff. If you’re fulfilled by Amazon, you can do whatever you want. But for their own pages, they do make an effort to have unique stuff as much as possible on the page.
It’s really hard when you scale up to do that. But at the end of the day, look at it from Google’s point of view, why would they rank your page that has the same content as the manufacturer page or from another ecommerce site or whatever, they won’t. So you have to write unique stuff for every single category page and every single product page. It’s a huge pain. And that’s one of the reasons I recommend that e-commerce sites start small and then grow over time. It’s called — it’s a myth that if you have like 50,000 products, you’re going to sell more if you have 100. In fact, it’s the opposite. Like if you’re new to this and you have 50,000 products, you have a headache, you 50,000 headaches to deal with.
You have site architecture, you have a canonical SEO problems, you have inventory if you do have inventory, you have tracking, you have no idea where people are coming in, what they’re buying, cart abandonment, you can’t visualize any sort of funnels. So start small. That’s why we recommend starting small, and also helps you write awesome descriptions for all of your products. This is great for SEO, but it’s also good for user experience, because people come to your product page and they read it and they’re like, this is really helpful.
And if you’re a good copywriter, you can even close people sometimes right directly from the product page on their first visit. Sometimes you’ll need to like get them on email list or something. But either way, ultimately, they’re going to make a purchase from that product page. So the more compelling it is the better. The only other on page SEO advice I have is just include your keyword a couple of times on the page, like in the title tag, and in the product description and your reviews, people usually naturally use keywords in the reviews. That’s pretty much all there is in terms of on page SEO for just like getting your basics under you.
Mike: Yeah, and I’ll just tell a quick story that hopefully people can relate to and most people know that one of the businesses that I purchased years ago was Icewraps.com. And one of the reasons I bought it is it was ranking really well for a bunch of SEO stuff previously. And they were using all manufacturers can descriptions and photos. And over time, their rankings just slowly plummeted like basically almost to zero. And my theory was, if I buy this like old site that has a bunch of existing links, and some love from Google, if I go in and simply make these changes, the things that you talk about here, but I mean, I went through and rewrote all the descriptions and took all original photography. And that’s all I changed on the website and the thing started ranking within a couple of months, like all the rankings came back.
So it just goes to show you exactly what you’re saying. That’s a real world example of where I implemented that and had amazing results. So yeah, I mean, as you said, it’s a pain in the butt. But you need to go write good, unique descriptions for every single thing that you sell. And it’s better to do 10 things right than 100 things half ass because that just doesn’t cut it any longer.
Brian: Yeah, that’s a great example, because it shows a clear before and after.
Mike: Yeah absolutely. So let’s move into chapter four, which is the technical SEO for e-commerce.
Brian: Yeah, so this one is tough, because technical SEO is one of those things that most, out of the box, CMS systems like Shopify and Magenta, they kind of handle them like it’s not, especially if your ecommerce site is somewhat small, most ecommerce sites that I’ve looked at in the past don’t have too many technical SEO issues that are holding them back like oh, it’s usually not that. That’s not the reason they’re having trouble ranking. It’s usually links and duplicate content, not having unique descriptions and things like that of their products. The only exception to that is sometimes a product page will like multiply like a gremlin.
So you’ll have one version of the page and then when someone chooses a different size shirt, or a different colored t-shirt, that’ll create a second page and a third page, and then one page suddenly is 50. And they all get indexed. Same thing can happen with search results, like people start searching for things, Google for some reason index the search page, and you just get page bloat, like you just have a massive e-commerce site that is even bigger than it should be. And that can actually — that is a huge reason that your rank is in trouble if that happens. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, like I said, it doesn’t happen that often but it’s worth paying attention to. So one thing I recommend that people do is put their site into Google and put site:yoursite.com, so that’s site colon, your site.com, and then look at the number of pages that come up. Those are not exactly but basically the number of pages that Google has indexed from that site. And if it’s a lot more than you think, then that’s a problem. And what you can do is you can look at what types of pages are being indexed that shouldn’t be and a lot of times, like I said, it’s search results pages, the one page is multiplying into sizes and colors, and all different things like that, you have different options that are turning into different pages.
And then fixing that, it depends a lot on what the problem is. But it’s just something I recommend that people do every now and again, even if you don’t run an e-commerce site, like just do site colon your site.com, and you’d be surprised how many pages get indexed that just shouldn’t. And the title of your site is in general, the better rank. Like if you have the one site has 500 pages, one site has 50, all things being equal to say, well, with 50 we’ll likely rank for more stuff and get more traffic than the one that has the more. And that’s just because your authority that comes from links, which will cover a bit later gets diluted among all those pages.
So if you have a huge site and now many links, there isn’t much authority to go around. But if you ever super small site that has a lot of authority, it gets concentrated on those pages. So one of the reasons to prevent having too many pages is obviously you want to have products, but trimming those pages down to the absolute bare essentials.
Mike: Yeah, makes perfect sense, great stuff. All right, my favorite chapter in your guide here, which is chapter five, the content marketing part of it. And in this chapter, you have a sentence I think is really profound, you’re more articulate than I am. It takes me like a minute to explain this, which you wrote in one sentence, which is it’s time to create a piece of content that’s born on the absolute best on the planet. And I love the way that you wrote that. We basically, the way that I’ve articulated to the people that write for us is that if someone makes a search on Google, and they come read your piece of content, they better not hit the back button to go find the answer somewhere else. You need to answer the question, that’s the most important thing.
So let’s talk about this particular thing. I mean, a great example for me really, is this article that you wrote on e-commerce SEO, I mean, what is this thing? It’s thousands of words. I mean, it took me several hours to go through it, it’s 7,000 words. I mean, it’s born on the best piece of content on this subject. And if you aren’t willing to put in the miles to write this type of content, to write the best piece of content on the internet, the guy or gal that has written the best piece of content is going to out rank you every time.
So the bar is whatever is already out there, you need to rise above that. And for me, it’s not just like a little bit. The bar isn’t just like okay well, I just need to be like 1% better than them. We want to leapfrog over them and just crush them with that piece of content. And that’s kind of the strategy that we’ve taken. But I mean I can’t wait for you to talk about this chapter. I’ve already probably said too much. But let’s get into the content marketing stuff.
Brian: Well, first of all, I like the tough love, because a lot of people are afraid to do that with their — when it comes to content. So it’s important that you say that, because I’ve seen a lot of people tiptoe around it. And it’s a lot easier to say you need to put out good content, you need to put out good content on a regular basis. But like you said, good is not good enough. Great is not great enough. It’s got to be amazing relative to what’s out there. And it’s what you said I 1,000% agree with that it needs to be great. And yeah, partially, part of it is that what is great content, what’s amazing? It’s somewhat subjective, right, like one piece of content I like you might not like, but when you see something that’s truly helpful, truly useful, truly comprehensive, you kind of know it when you see it, and you’re like, wow, this is legit, like the best on this topic.
So I want to point out two things about content for e-commerce sites, first for ecommerce sites. Number one is who is writing your stuff. This is something I’ve been banging the drum on lately because I see a lot of people with content, they hire a freelance writer who has no idea about this topic and the content is crap. It might be long, it might look nice, but no one who’s an expert in that field is going to link to it. And it’s not going to solve the person’s problem because they’ve never gone through it.
So like if you’re are — if you sell keto products in your e-commerce site, and you hire a freelance writer to write about keto breakfast ideas, and the person has never followed the keto diet, how could that article possibly be good? How could it be better than what’s out there. And as much as it sounds like common sense, I would say 90% of content out there isn’t written by people who have actually done the thing they’re writing about.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, simply putting words on a page like this doesn’t cut it, they need to be valuable and actually solve the issue.
Brian: They need to actually have done it.
Mike: Exactly yeah.
Brian: They don’t have to say I did x, but they needed to live through it. Like to give an example, I’m partnering with the site right now that’s in the career space. And one of the criteria we have for people that are writing this stuff, is that they have to be in that career. Like it’s crazy, it’s about education and getting into different careers, they had to have gone through the program. This sounds like — people listening to this are like, duh obviously, that’s who you’d hire. But that’s not what most people do because it’s hard to find people that are in these jobs or saying to people, you have to have followed the keto diet to write this. It takes your pool of potential writers down by like 99%.
And then if you say you have to also be a good writer and know SEO and blah, blah and be a copywriter, it takes it down even further and it gets a lot more expensive. But in my opinion, is the only way to make your content stand out. So before I would even worry about like guides or how long it is or what else or images or visuals and things like that, I would take a step back and be like, who’s writing the thing? Is it someone who actually has done it or not? And that’s basically how — if you could find someone that has done, you’re already ahead of your competition, and then it’s just a matter of creating something awesome together. And it’s a lot easier if that person comes from experience rather than regurgitating what they’ve read elsewhere.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, there’s a big — I’ve actually done the keto diet. So I mean, I can speak to experience on this. But there’s a big difference between, like you said just regurgitating certain things versus having lived through particular cravings, or the keto crash or the fog or whatever the heck they call that thing. I also had like some like kidney pain and stuff from doing it a little bit, which is common and living through all of that is a lot different than just reading about it. There’s just nothing that can replace that.
Brian: Exactly yeah, exactly. That’s well said, you’re very articulate. There’s nothing that can replace that. You can go to Upwork and you can hire someone with the best reviews ever, but if they’ve never had bloating, or what is the keto crutches and other things that [inaudible 00:33:06], if they’ve never experienced these things, then your content is not going to be as good. And like I said, it doesn’t have to be their firsthand experience in the sense of like, I experienced this. It is more like an understanding that you could only get from going through it. You know what I mean? It’s like having a freelance writer write about how to throw football or hiring Tom Brady, the writer might be better in terms of writing, but Tom Brady’s post is going to be 10 million times better than theirs, even if the writing isn’t very good.
Mike: Only he knows how much area you need to let out in football.
Brian: Well, I’m a big [inaudible 00:33:41].
Mike: This podcast is like a [overlapping 00:33:47]
Brian: The podcast is over; I’m taking off my lapel microphone and walking away.
Mike: We got five out the six topics done. So at least we had a pretty good rest of it.
Mike: Awesome, so any other things to add real quick on the content side?
Brian: Yeah, the only other thing I’d say about content side is that it’s one of those things that has more than one benefit to doing it. So a lot of people see content as a thing where you get your rank for stuff your customers search for, they find you, they may sign up for your newsletter, you can then sell them stuff. And they buy stuff, which is obviously the main benefit of content and that’s great. The other benefit is that if you create stuff that’s worth linking to, people link to it, and then it’ll help your product and category pages rank better.
So it gets — it kind of does double duty. Like if you have one piece of content just kills, you’ll find yourself with like all these other fringe benefits. Yeah, you’ll rank for stuff, and customers will find you through it and all that which is great. But it’ll help those product and category pages rank better, because when people link to you, that authority will flow to your product pages. And you can even use internal links in your content directly to product pages to make sure that authority goes directly to them.
So in terms of like once you have your product pages, and once you have your category pages, in my opinion, the next step, if you’re serious about SEO isn’t to add more products or even go on social media, depending on your niche. If SEO is your priority, I would start putting out awesome stuff and studying your space as if you’re like building a blog from scratch, and products is how you happen to monetize it, and going with that mentality.
Mike: Yeah, and one other ancillary benefit and this part takes time, but over years or many, many months, eventually you can become like the authority in the space. You can become the guy. That’s kind of like what I always talked about, like if you’re selling coloring books, if you want to be the guy that people talk about when it comes to that, and in e-commerce, we want to be that guy when people are talking about Ecom. So it’s taken 250 podcasts and hundreds of blog posts and going to speak at lots of events and over time, by putting up that type of content, you become part of the conversation and eventually you’re “the guy” when it comes to that authority, and then getting links and all the other stuff we’re going to talk about next here becomes progressively easier.
And at the beginning, it feels like you’re writing to yourself, and you have no audience. But eventually you kind of get through that trip wire and you can become the authority in your space. And it requires writing content, like you’ve written here. Again, I encourage people to go to this post, e-commerce SEO post. But to me you’re the guy when it comes to SEO. I mean, everyone looks up to you and talks about you first. And now it becomes progressively easier to get links and to get shares and to get attention because you put all the miles in ahead of time.
And people shouldn’t compare your 100th step with their first step. I mean, you had to put a lot of work into getting to those points. And it was just constant pressure putting out epic levels of content. I think that because I’ve been following you for a while, over time, it’s become even more and more epic. You kind of realize good isn’t good enough and great isn’t good enough. You just said like it has to be even like stratospherically good. And I’ve seen your content progressively get even better and better, the bar gets higher and higher. So I think those are some of the other benefits that come out of doing this as well.
Brian: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I like the way — the whole approach you have is smart because a lot of people when they think of content, they think of it as like, a one off thing, or you do it a couple times. But I think the way you put it is you got to be like the guy in that space or the brand if you want to be multiple people involved. And that’s the thing man, content just has so many benefits. That’s one I didn’t even think of is all the opportunities that start coming to you. I think someone back in the day, I remember where I heard this, but it’s like creating gravity.
When you have a site, when you put out awesome stuff, you’re going to start getting emails of people that want to partner with your ecommerce sites, who want to promote your products, who want to do like you’ll have influencers reach out to you and be like, hey, I’d love to feature your product on my YouTube channel or my Instagram account. And that kind of stuff only happens if you put out awesome stuff. But when you do, you’re going to find all these opportunities kind of coming in your inbox every day. But yeah, it’s a grind. Like when you’re just starting, it’s you are writing to yourself, basically, it takes years, there’s no shortcut. If you’re lucky, it can take like a few months to get some traction.
But once you get momentum and you start building on it, it’s more fun than anything because people are talking about your brand, people are starting to link to your site, they’re sharing your stuff. It’s actually an awesome way to build a brand.
Mike: Yeah, I agree. And it’s like you’re actually building a brand and like a sustainable business rather than something that’s like temporarily working because you found…
Brian: Like teasing the gods.
Mike: Exactly, exactly. All right so we don’t have a lot of time left. And again, we want to just be respectful your time. So let’s get into the last section here, which is link building, still the most important thing at the end of the day in SEO is getting links but getting them the white hat way. So let’s talk about how you can get links, especially when it comes to e-commerce.
Brian: Right. So yeah, I mean, every link building strategy out there also applies to e-commerce. So a lot of people reach out to me, they’re like, oh, this works for a blog or a service business, but has it worked for you ecommerce, because they think of their site as this collection of products and category pages, which it largely is, but it can’t just be that or it won’t succeed. So everything you read about link building basically also applies to e-commerce sites, you can use all that stuff. But there’s a couple that only work with e-commerce sites, it’s like an advantage to be an e-commerce site. And I want to touch on those.
The first is something I call the moving man method. And this is basically you find products that have gone out of business or stopped production in your niche. And then if you have something similar on your site that you sell or offer, you reach out to people that linked to the old product that doesn’t exist and you say, well, I have something similar, you might want to replace the link with a link to my site. And the difference between just asking for a link and this is that they already have a link to something, it’s not working. So by pitching them this offer, by adding your link, it actually makes their site better. So the conversion rate is pretty high. And if you read the guide, I have a like a detailed case study on how a Backlinko reader did this.
Mike: Yeah, the example was awesome, really, really good stuff.
Brian: Yeah, I mean the example itself is a little old. But since then, I’ve heard a lot of other people reach out to me in the e-commerce space and have used it. The second is basically to offer free stuff to events and get links that way. So, one big word of warning is that it’s against Google’s guidelines to trade stuff for links. So if you were an e-commerce site that has like sell CBD oil or something, you can’t send it to a blogger and be like, I’ll give you this if you link to me. It’s against Google’s guidelines. The chances of you getting caught are pretty slim. But I still wouldn’t recommend it because like we talked about in the very beginning, it’s not a good feeling when you log into Google Analytics, and it’s like pi, pi, pi.
And that can definitely happen if you do that. But another way you can do it is to send products to bloggers and they will hopefully review it. You can ask them to review as long as you don’t specifically ask for a link and you don’t go at scale and send it to like thousands of people or whatever, you’re good. If you strategically send it to people that are in your space and write about what you sell, you’ll likely get a few links from it without having to ask. You can also what the case study in the guide is more about doing this but for events. So what you can do is you go on Facebook, and look for or join Facebook groups and Facebook pages and see what events are coming up in your space and offer to send them stuff for free.
And sometimes you can ask them if they didn’t use something to send it back. So let’s say you sell like gluten free brownies, and you see that someone’s putting out an event like a gluten free group or a celiac group, you could say, hey guys, I’d love to send you my box of free brownies for your event. They’re not going to say no, it’s free stuff. People are happy to take it. And if they have an events page, they’ll link to you. And even outside of SEO, that group, they’ll thank you. And the Facebook group; it’s a good way to get your product in front of people, in front of influencers who run groups and run blogs and things like that.
So a big part of it is if you have an e-commerce site, you can send this stuff out for free. Most other people can’t do that. Like if you’re a blogger, what are you going to send people? A blog post, right, it’s free already. So this is a huge advantage for ecommerce sites that only they have. Actually I wish I had an e-commerce sometimes because this strategy is just so effective for getting links to your site.
Mike: Yeah, no, I think it’s amazing. And I mean, eventually, it’s all just a numbers game. If you send your stuff to 10 people, those are pretty high likelihood that one of them is going to link to you. And for me, it’s actually I look back to the days I used to pay for links, it’s ends up being way cheaper, that you’re getting your product out there and getting more goodwill and people to work with you. And over time they’ll come to you. And I mean, like you were saying earlier, so I love the strategy, I think it’s really smart. And depending on the type of product you have, it could be more or less easy to do that. I mean if you have — we used to be on Treadmill.com.
So if you have treadmills, it becomes difficult to ship people big, heavy pieces of multi thousand dollar pieces of equipment. But if you’re selling keto powder, or coloring books or tactical gear and all the other things that we sell, it’s pretty easy to do that. And the perceived value to the people you’re selling this stuff to is way higher than your actual cost. So it’s good win for everybody.
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, if you send someone a box of keto, or like bone broth or something, it probably cost you like 40 bucks at the end of the day with shipping and all that, but the goodwill you get from it is thousands. If you send it to — especially that’s the thing I like about the case study and the guide is a reader Mike sent it to groups that were having events. And it’s just so much more powerful to send it to an event because it just touches a lot more — your product touches like possibly hundreds of people in one go. And all you had to do is send basically like one product or maybe a couple, depending on what it is. Treadmills is I don’t have an answer for that one. For most people, they’re not shipping like exercise equipment or things like that. So it definitely applies. But yeah, that’s a tough one.
Mike: My answer is to that was to sell Treadmill.com. I realized it was difficult from that perspective. Yeah. Cool, man. Well, I’m serious; I can’t thank you enough for coming and doing this today. I think that this has been ultra-valuable. I do want to drop you some love real quick. I was mentioning I’ve followed your content for multiple years now. It’s the one de facto thing that I read all the time, Backlinko.com. Brian doesn’t put out stuff like every day, when he does put stuff out, though, it’s epic. And I’m on his mailing list just to make sure that anytime a post goes out, I basically stop what I’m doing, and add it to my reading list.
It’s always really, really good content. And it’s a lesson in the level of stuff you need to put out in order to rank and compete pretty much in anything with SEO these days. And he also has a course called SEO That Works. It’s SEOThatWorks.com. I think it’s one of like two courses I’ve ever purchased in my life. I’m not really a big course purchaser. I’m more of a figure it out and learn on my own kind of guy. But the reason I purchased it is because I was having a hard time training my team to do SEO. And I was like you know what? His content is so good, I bet you that the course is really good. I bought it, went through it, and I was like, oh my God, this lays out everything that needs to be done in like the perfect like you say step by step process.
And it actually was put in much simpler terms than I ever tried to explain because I always would try to get into like all this technical mumbo jumbo about how SEO works under the hood. But people don’t need to know all that. It’s more just like, here’s what you got to do. Here’s the order to do it. Here’s a bunch of really great ideas of how to structure content and put things together and the things that they really needed to know were right there. And it was one of the best values for our business last year when we purchased it. So I want to thank you for that.
Actually, since we purchased that course, our SEO traffic has almost doubled and it’s only been a few months. And that includes the time that took for the few staff members that had to go through, they took some time to go through the course because it’s not short. Then they had to start implementing things. And already, our traffic has more than doubled. So it’s more than paid for the course. And I want to thank you for that as well.
Brian: Wow, that’s awesome to hear man. That made my day. That is…
Mike: A testimonial, I’ll come do a testimonial for you as well seriously.
Brian: I would really appreciate that. That is — first of all, thank you for trusting me and giving it a shot. And dude, the results speak for themselves. That’s great.
Mike: Yeah. So thank you so much. And hopefully we can get you back on the podcast again when you have another epic ecommerce post in the future.
Brian: I like that. Thanks.
Mike: All right guys, that’s going to wrap up episode 239. Again, Brian, man, I want to thank you so much for coming and doing this. I know you’re a super busy guy. When I talked to you, you were traveling as well, which I understand and know firsthand how difficult it is to get on the podcast and do that. And you also mentioned that you don’t really do podcasts any longer. But the reason that you did it is because we are actually a subscriber to your SEO That Works course and been following Backlinko for the longest time.
So Backlinko, B-A-C-K-L-I-N-K-O.com. Go over there, join his newsletter, read every single thing that he puts out, I highly recommend it. It will not be a waste of your time. And then check out SEOthatworks.com. Even if it means that you don’t have the budget to join EcomCrew Premium, I would definitely recommend SEOthatworks.com. It is a really great course. We got our entire staff to go through that. And since then, as I mentioned on the podcast, our traffic has almost doubled on all of our sites. It’s been incredible. It really is great advice. So go check out that stuff today.
Brian again thank you my man for coming and doing this and hopefully we can meet in person sometime or do another podcast in the future. All right guys, that’s going to do it for this episode. Not much else to say except that I’m excited to have done this. Got a big smile ear to ear on my face, and until the next episode, happy selling and we’ll talk to you soon.
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.