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Drive and Convert (Ep. 041): When (And How) To Invest In Search Engine Optimization

Most ecommerce brands jump straight into paid search as an acquisition channel, but in this episode Jon and Ryan discuss the merits of investing in search engine optimization as a long-term growth strategy.

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About This Episode:

For many brands, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a lot like eating right and exercising regularly. You know that you SHOULD be doing it. You know that it has lots of benefits over the long term. But it’s still difficult to find the time to make it happen on a regular basis.

In this episode, Ryan and Jon talk about when brands should start taking SEO seriously, as well as what they should be doing to make the most out of their efforts and what they can expect to get as a return on their investment.

Listen to the full episode if you want to learn:

  1. Why most brands (understandably) start with paid search instead of SEO
  2. When (and why) brands should start giving more attention to SEO
  3. How do stand up a high-performing SEO practice the right way
  4. How to find an external service provider you can trust
  5. Why SEO is a smart investment for your business

If you have questions, ideas, or feedback to share, hit us up on Twitter. We’re @jonmacdonald and @ryangarrow.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ryan Garrow: You’re listening to drive and convert a podcast about helping online brands to build a better e-commerce growth engine with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow.

[00:00:16] Hey there, Ryan. So today lots of companies know that they need to be doing SEO or search engine optimization, but they’re unsure of how and when to start. I know we talk a lot on this podcast and just in general about Google ads, because logical position of course is so dominant there. And it’s one of the first ways that brands look at acquiring traffic, but how do you direct companies into SEO?

[00:00:46] Right? Is there a process that generally works? I really want to know, and today is like when to start doing SEO. So hopefully we can address that question. You can share some insights on. I think I might have some opinions on that. I assumed you would just maybe, you know, this is a conversation that does come up pretty often in my world because of our focus on Google ads.

[00:01:13] We start a lot of relationships then. And as a by-product of that, we actually just always get into the conversation of what are you doing for SEO? You know, are you paying attention to it? Is it something that has been valuable to the business and depending on the size of the business, usually the smaller they are, the less they focused on it generally.

[00:01:30] Largely, they are more likely to, as they have an internal team, that’s just dedicated to SEO. And so most companies that are listening to this are going to call it fall somewhere in that spectrum, if you will. And I think as an overarching theme, every company should be doing SEO. It’s just not a company that shouldn’t be it, have it on the timeline, have it on the plan or, or be involved in it now.

[00:01:54] But I think a lot of companies. I think that just starting to do SEO means your business is going to grow. And that’s often not the case. There’s a lot of strategy, a lot of, uh, foundation that needs to be built to allow SEO, to really work and grow a business. And so initially every brand that’s launching or is going to launch is going to start with paid search.

[00:02:18] In fact, an SEO company. That’s going to take you on and do the work for you. Doesn’t have you establish a foundation on paid search first is probably not worth working with. In fact, the top SEO companies will always tell you if you’re not doing paid search for 90 days, don’t even think about doing SEO.

[00:02:35] Jon MacDonald: But why is that? My hypothesis on that? Which you’re probably going to tell me is, is not true, but I want to know about this, right? Is it because you use that to understand what terms resonate and what terms you should go after in terms of optimizing for search engine.

[00:02:50] Ryan Garrow: Yeah. It’s so number one with, if you’re just doing SEO, you have no idea.

[00:02:56] The queries that are coming in at what exact volume, and then what’s happening then, because you don’t get the search query data, Google ads, at least as of now, you still do get a decent amount of search query data that you can then make decisions off of. And so a lot of it is just saying, if I’m selling.

[00:03:14] Coffee cups. And I think that my site is going to really be targeted to coffee cups for moms. Awesome. But then if we do all of the paid search and we see people searching coffee cups for mom are not converting, then why would I want to be doing SEO on that? Um, it could be that, um, actually I thought I was going to be helping moms, but I’m helping out DATs and it’s coffee cups for dads, like based on the search data we received like, wow, I didn’t see that.

[00:03:43] Now I can now establish that I’m going to go try to get higher rankings for coffee cups for dads. So having that as a baseline, I think is number one, number two, it also establishes. A company is comfortable spending money because SEO is not something that you can just do once and then, oh, great. And I’m done with that.

[00:04:03] Move on to the next thing. It is. You’re going to commit to investing every single month on SEO for a long period of time. And so you have to have that habit of going like as a startup business, never spending. Committing five grand a month in SEO is probably not the easiest thing to be able to say, yeah, for the next 12 months, I’m doing this.

[00:04:22] Well, if you have to spend 10 grand a month for three months to get all the data, okay, you’re spending money, you see the return. And often this is not always the case, but often paid search is going to jump start the sales volume and allow income and customers to be coming in that then allows you to start affording additional services like SEO.

[00:04:42] So use it for. Keyword research, primarily understand what’s converting well off the site or the rate that makes sense or where there’s enough volume. So we have all these tools that. Volume of searches on Google, but they’re only estimators. It’s not hard, true data. Whereas if we go to Google ads and we’re bidding on a term, we know how many impressions we had.

[00:05:07] If you using text, as we can see to a degree, how much of those searches we were above the fold, what our click through rate was, how many clicks we got, and then we can see generally. What the impression share was, and it’s not a exact number, but if we showed 50% impressions and we had a thousand impressions, generally we could assume there’s 2000 impressions on that term.

[00:05:26] Okay. Let’s see if we can start doing some SEO there because we’re converting at a rate. That makes sense. Can you tell me a little bit about what point do you start investing in. SEO. Right. So I’m hearing you want to be delivering, you want to be paying for traffic first. Do you recommend doing that before you go to like Facebook and other social channels?

[00:05:45] Or is it part of that mix of like, Hey, you just have to be spending to drive traffic and then once you have enough, we should start really focusing on the second. Well often it’s, it’s looking at, and again, we’re all almost always e-comm here. So econ focus. If we’re looking at a search funnel or a process that people come down to purchase from your site, you need to genuinely fill from the bottom up.

[00:06:09] And so the lowest hanging fruit as people that are actually looking for your brand, they’ll convert at the highest. They’re going to be the least expensive traffic to be purchasing, but that’s on Google. There’s some they want to buy from you. They’re searching for you. Yeah. You’re just launching. That’s going to be a very small group of people.

[00:06:25] So the next layer up would generally be the non-brand search. They’re looking for your product or service. And those people have gone to Google and say, or being and said, Hey, I have the desire to have this product that you happen to know. So that often is going to be a better segment to be spending money on then out on Facebook, trying to convince people you think are your market, that they should come buy your product, or that they have interest in that product.

[00:06:53] There’s a lot more sale in. Then there is just capturing existing demand and their conversion rates. Again, generally, they’re going to be a little bit lower as you move up that funnel into prospecting or trying to convince people they should be. And also if you’re newer in the business world and your company hasn’t existed, you probably don’t know who your market is yet.

[00:07:13] So to co-create a Facebook audience trying to prospect. You might be way off and just going off and wasting money. That’s a great point. So it’s better to say leverage Google people, looking for your product. Look at the demographic data that Google can tell you and be like, oh, Great. All these people looking at my product.

[00:07:29] You’re always going to be surprised in business. Like I always go out and at least start knowing that I’m probably going to be wrong and I pivot and adjust as I start seeing the data coming in. And I think that’s the difficulty of a, if you’re a new startup company starting immediately with SEO, unless, you know, some crazy things that other startups don’t know that does happen occasionally, where you’re, Hey, we are attacking this particular company.

[00:07:51] We spun off of it. Or we want to go back that type of thing. Then maybe it can’t be. A little better if you already know some weaknesses of competitors, but, but generally you want to be on that demand capture side of the arena for online marketing. Before, starting to move up the funnel to targeted things.

[00:08:08] And there’s also some things to be said, like a, another example. We use joyful dirt a lot, but I obviously am in the weeds. I see a lot of the data. There were some incentives early on to not do SEO on our brand terms to allow Amazon to capture some of those. Completely against what many people believe or a strategy that you should even consider, but understanding the way Amazon works and how to jumpstart sales on Amazon and sales rank.

[00:08:36] A lot of it comes out of conversion rate and some of your brand terms are converting at a very high rate on Amazon. It’s not a bad thing to have some of those go to Amazon. And get the conversion there to help push sales volume. So I use a little bit of, uh, generally I’ll use unique strategies, but I want to test a lot of things, but that one was a good thing.

[00:08:55] We tested it and let Amazon take some of those. I like how you call them unique strategies kind of way to put it. Yeah, there is no book on the type of things I test with your hands, but maybe there should be maybe someday if it works right now, we’re still, we’re still pushing for growth and getting.

[00:09:14] Okay, simple answer to start PPC first, get some quality data because you’re gonna have to search queries there. Then you can start doing some of the additional research because just because the term converts well on paid search doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for SEO. And that’s where doing some research makes sense, because if, if the top three spots on that term are Amazon Walmart target.

[00:09:41] That is going to be a very difficult one to own. From an SEO standpoint, we know high level, the majority of clicks from an organic standpoint on Google go to the top three resilience organically. Um, in fact, the averages I’ve seen most recently are 27 and a half percent to position 1 12, 12, and a half percent to position two and about 5% to position.

[00:10:04] And these are all going to be different, but those are fairly solid, but that’s 45% of the traffic, not to mention all the ads that come before those top three. Oh yeah. I’m being, I think positioned one probably gets maybe, maybe 10% because it’s so far down there and Google is always testing, search results pages.

[00:10:21] So those numbers are never going to be, take it to the bank type thing. You’re going to get 27% of the traffic, but almost 50% of the traffic goes to the top. And then below that you’re really fighting for fractions of percent. So if the volume on that term is so massive, that position four really makes sense.

[00:10:38] And you think based on what you’re seeing there, that you can attack that in a reasonable timeframe, go for it. If you’re starting off and you haven’t done SEO before, though, chances are, you’re going to need to find some terms that aren’t dominated by massive, massive companies like Amazon, Walmart target, home Depot.

[00:10:53] Lowe’s. Those retailers that have established so much domain authority because they’ve been in the Google system for so long and their teams for SEO are so massive. I prefer to pick off some easier battles. And I tell most companies that, well, I don’t, I tell them most every company actually that SEO is really a function of time and money.

[00:11:13] Like you can get ranking on any term you want in position one, but you have to have enough money and enough time, like, can you overtake Amazon for positions? Yes, it is possible, but it might cost you a million dollars and it might take you two years. Right. And if you’re only going to make a hundred thousand in the lifetime on that term, why fight that?

[00:11:35] Like let’s, you have to pick your battles appropriately. As you’re doing the research you want to look at, there’s a lot of tools you can use in that research. I like SEM rush myself, and I use that a lot because I’ve just been in the system long enough. So I understand it, but there’s quite a few out there that are basically the same thing.

[00:11:50] They scrape sites or scrape Google basically, and tell you where you’re ranking and what your expected traffic is on that. How competitive things are, so leverage those tools, but also pick your battles appropriately. Once you’ve seen the data from your paid search, you’re listening to driving convert a podcast focused on e-commerce growth.

[00:12:11] Your hosts are John MacDonald, founder of the good conversion rate optimization agency that works with e-commerce brands to help convert more of their visitors into buyers, Ryan Guerro of logical position, digital marketing agency offering pay-per-click. Search engine optimization and website design services to brands of all sizes.

[00:12:33] If you find this podcast helpful, please help us out by leaving a review on apple podcasts and sharing it with a friend or colleague. Thank you.

[00:12:43] So you have a note here on-site versus. Hmm. Can you dive into that? What do you mean by that? Most people, when they say SEO, they’re talking about offsite SEO work, where you are creating backlinks and raising your ranks on Google through basically telling Google through these backlinks that you are a good site, that people trust you and you have valuable content.

[00:13:03] So it’s getting that high authority backlink boosts you up. And essentially, essentially, basically what those back links basically tell the search engines, Hey, we like this site. We think it has. And the, and the better the neighborhood linking to you is the better Google, Bing, Yahoo. We’re going to see you and say, oh, this is a good site.

[00:13:23] You know, every city has got certain parts of town. You probably don’t want to build a new house in. And so that’s kind of what SEO does. It says, Hey, what we see. Entity as being in a good neighborhood, it’s got a lot of value. Lots of people should go there type thing. So the on-site SEO is what every business is, what I say.

[00:13:43] Every business should be doing SEO right now. No matter what, because the on-site SEO is the stuff every company can do right now. And again, time money conversations. If you’re a small business owner that has more time than money, this is some very easy SEO that you can execute on your end and make work with some few basic principles attached to it.

[00:14:04] If you’ve got more time than money, you can hire a company. You know, we do a lot of this, a logical position. Do a lot of this on-site work. And what this is basically in its simplest form is finding the pages on your site that Google likes. Okay. And that if you put some extra content or online, the titles and the age tags and the descriptions on the page, along with the term that Google seems to be showing it for most often, it’ll rank up there higher within two.

[00:14:31] And so, um, if you do a general search for a product, doesn’t even really matter what it is, but if it’s not specific to like the model number of the product, but if you’re looking for earbuds right now, okay. The top searches generally on Google are going to be pages that have multiple earbuds. This is a horrible generalization, but you’ll see like, oh, it goes to a Walmart page.

[00:14:53] Has all of your buds that goes to an Amazon page as a bunch of listings for your butts or a page that sells 50 units or skews of. Those are category pages, or if you’re on Shopify they’re collections, where you have all of the products that fit into the category for that search term, Google often does not want to land the search earbuds on a page with only one ear, but not unless you’re apple.

[00:15:15] And then you only have three versions of maybe an exception. That’s just Apple’s business model. But generally the search engines like options, and they know that people, when they land on a page with options, they generally convert. You know, a category page of your buds often, and you can correct me on this one, but often we see that it converts better than a single product page with one pair of ear buds on it.

[00:15:35] And some suggest. Yeah. And the thinking behind that is, is that Google’s whole goal is to get people to stay on the site they click on because Google then believes that you found something that was more relevant to you. And instead of bouncing to that site, then coming back to Google, to do your search or click on another result, Google tracks, how many times you will go back to Google after click on a result.

[00:16:00] And that has an influence on where your site is ranking in Google. Um, in those search engine result pages in part, because they assume that if somebody comes back within a few seconds, that the result was not relevant to what the person searched. Right. And Google’s whole business model is they want to be the best search engine.

[00:16:19] So they’re tracking very clearly. How many times people bounce back to Google from the result I clicked on. So sending them to a category page is going to reduce the number of people who bounce back, where if they see one set of earbuds, they might say, that’s not the one I’m interested in, then have to go back to Google.

[00:16:38] But if they’re on a category page likely they’re going to click through a few models before they would bounce back to Google. So. I wonder if that’s a false kind of tracking method for Google at times. Um, because it doesn’t necessarily mean that the consumer found the right pair on that, that result page.

[00:16:55] It just means that they’re going to click around a few pages before they would end up back on Google. Most likely. Yeah. I want also conspiracy theorists would say, oh, well, Google makes less money if they don’t come back to Google and search. So why would they want that surface stuff? Yeah, I don’t think Google’s worried about individual click dollars.

[00:17:12] I think they are generally focused at a higher level, at least my interactions. So all that to say, if you have no rankings anywhere, starting to establish that quality landing page allows you to scale. Offsite SEO better. And that on-site SEO will actually raise the rank of that page within two weeks, once, uh, the Google search console, indexes that page again, it will move up higher than it was before.

[00:17:39] Now it might move from page 15 to page 10. So it still gets exactly zero traffic, but that’s a massive increase in ranking just by putting that content. And it’s very often overlooked. Uh, I find it, especially on Shopify sites because not every Shopify theme is very easy to add. A little paragraph of content around that collection and what’s on that page.

[00:18:03] So if you are on Shopify, make sure you’re digging into your theme a little bit. Um, it’s possible on everything. We haven’t met a Shopify theme that we couldn’t put this content on. So it’s very valuable to do it has a side benefit as well. Not only will you increase on the ranking. So if you’re on page one and he moved up from seven to five, that’s a pretty significant jump in traffic.

[00:18:23] It also will improve your quality score from a paid search person. So if you’re bidding on the term earbuds and laying them on your, your collection or category page of earbuds, without that content on there, you’re probably paying a little bit of a premium because you have a lower quality. Just kind of a general across the board assumption and what we’ve seen in the data, put the content on there instantly it’ll move up higher within Google it within two weeks, and then you’ll probably be paying lower cost per click on Google ads.

[00:18:51] And there’s, you know, not only are you paying less, but if you are positioned with. On organic. And you also have a text ad and you also have a shopping ad on the first page of Google right there. So everybody can see you’re on there three times. They trust you more because they see you in multiple spots on Google and the combined click through rate of all three of those ad types will be higher than each one individually without the.

[00:19:15] And so you catch a lot of synergies. It’s really cool to start seeing how those ads all work together. And that’s one reason I tell companies, like, even if you’re in position one, you are going to, you’re not going to stop spending money on. Cool. Yeah. That’s interesting. It’s like so many things in digital marketing, it’s that compounding effect.

[00:19:32] Right? So you start building upon it and then that flywheel, or almost like the compounding effect just continues to fuel it and move it forward again and push it forward. What kind of goals should somebody be thinking about here? Right. If we’re going to put a bow on this episode a little bit, I want to know what’s reasonable to be thinking about here.

[00:19:52] If I’m just hopping into SEO, what should my goals be? I’m an SEO from a, a long-term perspective to be patient, and that’s a big struggle. Entrepreneurs, uh, even business owners, myself where you you’re, you’re starting up, you need revenue. You really need to see the needle start moving. SEO is not going to be that quick hit from, as you’re building, you know, content and backlinks.

[00:20:18] It’s a real long-term focus. You know, the onsite stuff is one thing, but you can optimize your cat, collections and categories, and you’re done for awhile until the market shifts. You have to re update some of the content. So. Really pushing out that time horizon and, and your goal is not necessarily on SEO.

[00:20:36] It’s not going to be revenue focused. Generally speaking, you’re looking at rankings because you know that over time as those rankings continue to move up, as you move from position three on page two to position 10 on page one, probably not a lot of traffic and not a lot of revenue. But you’re seeing the movement and it’s not exciting.

[00:20:57] It’s not going to put money in the bank account yet, but it’s, you’re seeing it happen. And so that’s where, uh, it’s much different than your focus on paid search, which is why it’s almost always good to have different teams overseeing. Because if you have the same person, even internally trying to oversee those and see the goals, it just gets frustrating as if you’re looking on Patriots all day every day saying, Hey, I spent 10,000 yesterday and I got 50,000 in revenue.

[00:21:21] Well, you could have spent, you know, 10,000 last month on SEO and. Zero increase in revenue this month. And that’s just a, it’s a frustrating thing. Now. It definitely makes sense to me why you would recommend doing this after paid, because it is an investment that takes time to pay off. It really is where pay-per-click, you could immediately start seeing traffic from that spend where SEO is going to take some time to see the traffic.

[00:21:47] Um, so that definitely makes sense. Now, I’ve, I’ve a quick question for you, um, that just. If a brand is doing pay-per-click and they start doing SEO, are they going to see a higher ad quality score and thus a better performing pay-per-click because generally those terms that they might be using in the ads are going to be more prevalent on the pages that they’ve optimized for SEO as well.

[00:22:13] That’s that correlation. Onsite content, if you do that onsite SEO. Yes. Generally those collection pages or category pages that you’ve put that new content on will result in a higher ad rank. If you’re spending money before going to those keep spending money, you generally you’ll see your cost per click go down horrible, broad statement that you can’t hold me to all the time, but generally we see those.

[00:22:39] Okay. So there is that correlation there even more so that’s good to hear. Well, Ryan, thank you for schooling me on when to start SEO. I get this question a lot from new brands on smaller brands. And now I know when it makes sense to send them over to you for that. So. I appreciate your time on this.

[00:22:57] Anything else you’d like to? No, I think as long as you’re always continuing to push forward and move forward and take some risks, test some SEO things, because I think there’s a lot of opportunity in SEO for innovation to where yes. Always be writing blogs and infographics and things out there. Don’t be afraid to try new types of lengths or try new types of SEO.

[00:23:18] Like YouTube can be linking outside the websites. There’s a lot of things like even Amazon pages can be SEO. Like we’re doing some really cool tests on there, like off Amazon SEO to send traffic to Amazon. So I really am excited about the SEO space over the next two years. Cause I think there’s going to be some pretty big shifts in how companies are looking at traffic from organic results in what they’re leveraging that.

[00:23:44] The number one complaint I’m hearing from direct to consumer and e-commerce brands right now is that Facebook is not effective for them. And it’s a short-term thing. Facebook will figure it out. But the reality is that they’re looking at other methods right now and SEO might be a good one. To kind of help insulate in any of these changes over time.

[00:24:04] So. All right. Thank you, Ryan. Have a wonderful afternoon. Yeah. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to Drive and Convert with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow. To keep up to date with new episodes, you could subscribe at www.driveandconvert.com.

About the Author

James Sowers

James Sowers is the former Director of The Good Ventures. He has more than a decade of experience helping software and ecommerce companies accelerate their growth and improve their customer experience.