After building high-performance computing systems for the NSA, Dale Bertrand made the leap two decades ago into the early world of online marketing, working as an online marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies and venture-backed startups.
Today, Dale is regarded as a veteran in the tech industry. His clients include global brands such as Citizen Watch, Makerbot, Raymond Weil and Bulova.
Dale specializes in helping his clients take advantage of search engine marketing, content marketing, and web analytics. He’s also a sought-after marketing expert and speaker at industry conferences and corporate training events.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- [1:08] From NSA to Marketing and SEO
- [2:23] Why Dale chose SEO for Marketing
- [3:11] Paid Ads vs SEO
- [3:43] Google vs Facebook, platform maturity and expenses
- [4:12] SEO: Challenging but worth it
- [4:59] Differences between e-commerce and a normal website
- [5:21] Duplicate content and how to avoid it
- [5:53] Competition for keywords
- [6:20] Link building
- [7:41] Basic SEO tactics for small businesses
- [8:04] Product descriptions
- [8:33] Going beyond descriptive keywords
- [9:27] Category and collection pages
- [9:50] Useful collection page optimized for SEO (here’s an example)
- [11:11] Best practices, keyword lengths
- [12:27] The fine dance of optimization
- [12:44] Sponsor: https://www.simplr.ai/honest
- [13:30] Giftable products and keywords
- [15:01] Preparing SEO for the holiday season
- [16:20] Keyword ranking explanation
- [17:11] Content without articles
- [18:57] The Homerun SEO Strategy: Leading a movement
- [21:11] Outdoor Voices SEO play
- [22:13] SEO + Passion = Electric Eye Content
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If there's something in your space that you personally care about, that you can get involved in, that would help you to build relationships in your space, that's really the raw ingredients for SEO.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce where we are dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners.
I'm your host, Chase Clymer
And I'm your host, Annette Grant.
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And let's get on with the show.
And let's get on with the show.
Hey, everybody, welcome back to yet another episode of Honest Ecommerce. We're still doing it.
I am your host Chase Clymer, coming to you from Columbus, Ohio. And today our guest Dale is calling in from Massachusetts. Correct?
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yes.
Well, I guess I had the right background. So, I studied (software) engineering in college. After school, I was doing software development. I've always been interested in AI like you said.
I studied AI in grad school and then ended up at a computer startup where we built a supercomputer for the NSA.
And when I was done with that, I was recruited to an MIT startup here in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I was recruited as a technical person that would help them figure out digital marketing and I was off to the races from there.
That's awesome. That's awesome. So was that in Ecommerce or was that just kind of getting into marketing?
That was really getting into marketing. It was actually a software company. This was more than 10 years ago back in 2008.
Awesome. I was dropping out of college in 2008.
(laughs) That's great.
Awesome. Yeah. But now we're here. So, once you got doing this technical stuff for the software company, where did your passion for SEO come out of? Because there are a million ways to market a software company.
Yeah, I just love the idea of free traffic. So I guess what I'm not saying is the reason why I was hired as a marketer, coming with the technical background that I have, is that I've been running online businesses since I graduated from college which was back in 1999.
So it's actually 19 at the beginning of that year. (laughs)
But since then, I've been running businesses online. And I fell in love with SEO, because I love free traffic that converts and causes checks to be sent to your mailbox every month.
So I was doing affiliate marketing back in the day. And that's how I fell in love with free traffic and SEO.
But here's the thing: those budgets, when you're spending that money on the ad budget and that budget was spent, that traffic is gone.
But if you were to invest that time and energy in that budget into SEO and trust in the process, --as they say-- that traffic will be there for way longer. The standing power of SEO is way better than paid traffic.
Yeah. And I think what I would add to that is if you're looking at platforms like advertising on Google or advertising on Facebook, Google's pretty much a mature platform right now. The CPCs are pretty high or paying a lot per click.
And Facebook is almost there, in terms of being a totally mature platform. Meaning that advertisers have figured it out and everybody is paying top dollar for clicks.
So advertising on those platforms is just going to get more and more expensive. And then when it comes to SEO... When you do SEO, you have different problems.
You have the fact that Google is constantly changing, constantly evolving. And you're, you're basically always trying to hit a moving target when it comes to changes Google's making. And then also keeping up with competitors.
But if you get it right, you can get free traffic for a very long time. And that's the dream that we're all chasing with SEO.
Awesome. So let's bring it back to what our audience is interested in. SEO and Ecommerce. So, I guess first and foremost, I always like to state the obvious: that Ecommerce is a different monster than like a service business or a software business like you previously worked at.
So, what are some of the big reasons that make Ecommerce different from just another normal website?
Yeah, a lot of it really depends on what type of site you're running.
So, if you're a wholesaler selling a bunch of different products and brands on your site, then most likely you're getting product descriptions from the manufacturers of the products.
And the thing that you have to be careful about is that that's going to be duplicate content if there are other people online selling the same exact product.
If you're running a brand, and you do have control over the brand then --some of the brands that we work with-- they have one set of product descriptions that they use on their website, and then another set of product descriptions that they send out to all the online retailers that are selling their products, and that's really just to avoid this duplicate content issue. So that's one way.
And a lot of times, there are people or businesses that have been on the web for a long time, maybe a decade or more and doing SEO that entire time. Building up authority. And that can be really tough.
And I guess the last thing I would say is link-building. So, it really helps SEO if you're building up backlinks from external sites that are linking to you. Anytime another website links to your website, Google sees that as an endorsement.
So, you want as many of those as you can to get authority and rankings. But getting other websites to link to an Ecommerce site can really be tough. Just as an example, we have a client that sells socks. And they're novelty socks.
A lot of them are interesting. But it's really hard to do some of the old school SEO tactics where you're sending a lot of emails and you're getting links from... Like I would send emails to universities and bloggers and things like that. It's really hard to get them to link to an Ecommerce site.
Oh, yeah. I mean, just on our end. From an agency, it's hard to get people to link to an agency website. (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, absolutely. I have the same problem with my agency. So I get it.
Absolutely. And I can agree that linking to an Ecommerce site is... You got to think about it abstractly like why is this business going to link to a product page?
Or you have to create the content that's external, but also in-line with your brand and your goals that people would want to link to?
Yeah yeah. It's definitely tough.
Awesome. So let's say that I'm Joe and I'm selling knick knacks online. What are the things that I should be doing when I'm growing my small business to make sure that I'm just not doing SEO wrong? Not the advanced, top-level tactics.
What should I just keep in mind when I'm building out my site and getting into this space?
Yeah. Well, it starts with optimizing individual pages. So starting with the product pages on your site, you want to make sure, obviously, that you have compelling product descriptions that convert well, but we also want them to be keyword-rich. So that they rank for keywords that our customers are typing into Google.
And a lot of times people will brainstorm or research, descriptive keywords. And that's a good thing. But they don't take it to the next level. And what we try to do is to really look at pain points that our customers are having, use cases for the products, and include those words on the page.
And then also think about the problem that the product solves and make sure that those keywords are there. And the example that I give is, we had a client that was selling an ergonomic chair and they optimized the page for the keyword ergonomic chair. And absolutely that makes sense.
But when we were looking at that particular product page and other product pages are for the ergonomic chair page, we started thinking about "Well, what problems does it solve?" It's really for people who have back pain or neck pain.
"And then where could it be used?" Well, it can be used in a home office or it can be used as an office desk chair, something like that.
So when we're thinking along those lines, it really opens up a lot more keywords that we could try to include on the page.
So that's really starting with product pages. And then with category and collection pages, what I'm looking at is really making sure that they're useful. So a lot of times for collection pages, especially on Shopify --which I know you guys are into-- they're really just a list of products.
And having products with good imagery, good photography, is useful from a conversion perspective. But Google is still a text-based search engine.
So a lot of times, you see this tactic that I endorse. When it's done well, putting more money content on your collection pages, like maybe one or two sentences at the top, and then a bunch more at the bottom below the products... And there are ways to do this.
And maybe if you do show notes for the podcast, I can include some examples. For people (who are) listening, feel free to reach out to me. I'll send you some examples.
There are ways to put more content than just products on collection pages, that you're adding keyword-rich text that Google will index and send you traffic. But it's actually useful.
It doesn't look like you just added a bunch of text to the bottom of your category page just to stuff it with keywords or something like that.
And when that's done right, it's beautiful. You're making your category pages more useful so that they're more... They convert at a higher rate.
And also, you're getting more engagement with your site because people are going to your category pages when they land there, and staying on your site, clicking around. They're not immediately bouncing back to Google. And Google's looking for that level of engagement.
Absolutely. So I can accomplish this with 2 sentences, right?
Two sentences at the top. And I'd love for there to be more at the bottom, but it needs to actually be useful.
Yeah. Alright. So, for a product page description, what do you say (the) best practice is as far as length it goes? Because that's a tactical thing some of our listeners could figure out and be like, "Alright. Well, I don't hit that number."
Yeah. For the on-page description, it's really about conversion. You want to make sure that... Because you're bouncing two competing priorities here.
One is that you want to have enough keywords on the page that the page ranks for the long-tail keywords that people are typing in when they're ready to buy.
But also, you want the description to be compelling, concise, sweet and to the point, lead you to a "Buy" button, get you all excited, so you're ready to click the buy button, which really has more to do with conversion rate and conversion rate optimization.
So I will decline to give an exact number.
If I had it my way, I would want it to be much longer than they usually are, just so that it can include more useful content about the product and more keywords. But that doesn't really make sense from a conversion rate perspective.
We're trying to get people excited about the purchase, confirm that it meets their needs, and then lead them to the buy button.
Yeah. It's such a fine dance between getting Google to like your website and getting a conversion rate optimization guy to like your website and then from there, making it look good.
Yeah, yeah. And yeah, and having it look good is all about conversion.
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I'm going to pivot here a little bit. You mentioned in the notes here that a giftable product. How should I be thinking about that when I'm doing keyword research? And that's a very specific type of product. A giftable product?
Yeah, I think people overlook that. We had a client selling candles and he was going out after candle keywords.
People are typing "scented candles" into Google and every permutation that you can think of, and that makes sense. I'm not saying not to do that, but I really wanted him to go farther.
Like I said before, looking at keywords around use-cases of where am I using the candle? Is it for yoga? Is it for meditation? Is it for light? Is it for the scent?
And then that gives us more keywords but then getting to your point around giftable products, people usually forget about gift keywords.
So there are keywords out there like "gift ideas for men" or "gifts for wife's birthday" or things like that.
These are keywords where people are specifically looking for a gift. There's a lot of opportunities to write a blog post or build a collection around those keywords and get some of that traffic.
And obviously, during the holiday season, this makes a lot of sense, because they're just so many people who are searching for these gift keywords as opposed to searching for the keywords that would be more relevant to the specific products that you sell.
Absolutely. And you mentioned something there that I want to touch on, which is the holiday season. So we're in the middle of August now and this is going to probably come out in the middle of September.
If I'm looking to make some plays, some SEO moves on my website, when should I have had them done? Well, I mean,
I would be thinking about SEO now (laughs) for the holiday season. And the reason why, the way to think about it is obviously, takes some time to do planning, figure out what your holiday campaigns are going to be, what content you want to create for SEO, and then who you're going to partner with for gift guides, blog posts, influencer outreach, all that good stuff...
All that planning is going to take some time. But you want the result of that planning to be that you have enough time to create content so that the content is up on your website 45 days before Black Friday.
And that's really why we're saying... With the clients that we're working with now, we're building out our strategy and content calendars for the holidays. We're doing that now in August.
Absolutely. I think that's a good note. 45 days before, which I know some of you are going to be scratching your heads because this is going to come out almost 45 days before, I think. But (laughs) get to work.
(laughs) Yeah. But where that comes from is when you, when you publish a piece of content on your website, it's going to get indexed by Google and start to rank for keywords that are relevant to that piece of content.
And the studies that have come out have shown that it's going to rank for more and more keywords overtime over the course of several weeks.
But if you wait a full 45 days, it'll rank for all or the vast majority of the keywords that it's going to rank for after 45 days.
And if you don't give it that amount of time, it'll still get indexed in Google. And it'll still rank for keywords, but just not as many.
So we want to make sure that we have that 45 day lead time for Google to rank it for all the keywords it's going to rank for before people start searching during the holiday season.
Absolutely. So here I am. I run my Ecommerce business and I'm working full time. I don't have time to write articles, how do I make content without writing an article?
So that's tough, but we're all in that situation (laughs) at the end of the day.
So writing articles, gift guides for the holidays, whatever it is, that's really a foundational strategy for SEO. Just writing a lot of content.
What we've been able to do to kind of short circuit that is to build out collection pages instead, or in some cases, look for user-generated content.
Where we're building like a community around our brand or a community around our site and relying on the community to submit questions that we can answer or people in the community can answer, that sort of thing.
But getting back to the collection page strategy, if you've got a keyword that you want to rank for, --something like "gifts for toddlers"-- it doesn't have to be an article. It can really be a new collection page that you create on your site that's really just a collection or a subset of your products.
That's a fantastic idea.
Yeah. Well, I like it because if you're doing it right, you're still writing some content --at least one or two sentences on the collection page-- so that there are some texts. Remember, Google is a text-based search engine.
So you really want to have some text there. But curating a subset of products that are relevant to a keyword --like "gifts for toddlers"-- is a lot easier than writing an article.
That is a lot easier. So as we get to the end here of our awesome conversation. Let's talk about... You got an awesome case study per se. What was your most successful (strategies) done to just really get a huge increase in SEO traffic?
Yeah. Well, this is something that I talked about. Not everybody can do it, but this is really like the "Homerun SEO Strategy" And you're probably familiar with a number of brands out there that have a cause behind them.
Buy a shoe and we'll give a shoe or buy some sunglasses, and we'll give away 2 sunglasses to people or 2 prescription glasses to people who need them. So that's great.
That’s working for a lot of brands but you take that one step further as an Ecommerce site and do what I would call "Lead a Movement."
So lead[ing] a movement in your space, that can really be powerful from an SEO perspective. And just as an example, there was a site that we were working with that sells baby products.
And what ended up happening was that they were working with a lot of makers who were making handmade baby products and there was a law that would have come out --that was threatening to become law-- that would have forced all of these handmade baby product makers to do $100,000 worth of testing before they can sell these products.
So what we did was we helped this Ecommerce site lead the movement against this law, because this law would have put some legitimate sellers out of business. And what that allowed us to do was to interview people in the space, interview advocates, interview people who would have been negatively affected if this law came out.
And we were getting links, --which are important for SEO-- from law firms that were working on this and also the Handmade Toy Alliance, which is another organization with a bunch of authority that was linking to us because we were leading the movement against this law.
And that's the type of SEO strategy that's going to get you content, links, and engagement that is usually hard for you to get as an Ecommerce site.
But the reason why you're getting it is because you're engaging in an ecosystem with a topic that they're all really, really passionate about. And you're leading the movement in that space.
That's awesome. And that kind of made me think of the play that Outdoor Voices just made. Are you familiar with what they released about a month ago?
No, no. What are they doing?
So Outdoor Voices is a big direct-to-consumer brand. I honestly don't know their specialization before this. And now I know it because of their play. They launched an entire media brand, called The Recreationalist essentially as an SEO play.
It's a whole different website that sends traffic back to Outdoor Voices, but it's all sorts of content related to outdoor living and that the lifestyle of just getting out there and doing stuff.
Oh wow. Okay, okay.
I'd definitely say (that) anybody out there who has... Maybe you're running a brand or an Ecommerce site that's selling a bunch of different brands, if there's something in your space that you personally care about, that you can get involved in, that would help you to build relationships in your space, that's really the raw gradients for SEO.
Yeah. It comes down to just producing content. And if I'm just going to take a step aside here, this podcast is a content play for Electric Eye.
All the videos we make, all the articles we write, it's an SEO play. But I really enjoy talking to people like Dale here and meeting people in our space here. And I'm super passionate about helping people. So it's a win-win.
Awesome. Well, thanks for having me on.
Oh yeah. You were a fantastic guest. And I'll let the audience know. Me and Dale talk for 20 minutes before this about all sorts of stuff. So I'm sure I'll have Dale back here in the future.
Before we go, let's talk about where can people find you? If they want to know more about what you can do and about SEO.
Yeah. If anybody has SEO questions for me, I'm happy to talk shop about technical SEO strategy. We do a lot of International SEO nowadays for some global brands. So it's another thing that I love to talk about. But our website is Fireandspark.com, all spelled out. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Awesome. Thank you so much.
We can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing the truth. links and more will be available in the show notes. If you found any actionable advice in this podcast that you'd like to apply to your business, please reach out at electriceye.io/connect.