On Becoming A Shopify Expert
For those who may not know, Shopify Experts is Shopify’s own freelance platform where Shopify shop owners can find Shopify-certified experts on an array of different areas of Shopify, from UX design to copywriting to email campaigns. What was your path to becoming a Shopify Expert?
My journey was a little bit unique. I started off as a Shopify shop owner myself six years ago. Right out of college I started a sunglasses company called Brooktide.com, mostly as something to do while I looked for a job. I always liked wearing sunglasses and no one was offering aviator style sunglasses at the $10-20 price point, so I saw a bit of a market need.
That was six years ago and before Shopify ballooned in popularity so, in terms of platforms, there were a few different options out there at the time. I ended up choosing Shopify and became store number 41,000 or so, which is pretty early given there are now over 800,000 Shopify stores.
Honestly, I couldn't have made a better decision than going with Shopify. Every year since I joined Shopify they have added new features to the platform that make Shopify a no-brainer for businesses of any size.
While I was growing Brooktide I also worked for the last five years at Steiner Sports, which is a 30-year old sports memorabilia and marketing company that was just recently bought by Fanatics. My last position there was the Director of E-commerce and Digital marketing.
Steiner Sports also used Shopify, so I had the experience of working both on my own startup on Shopify and at the same time I got to see how Shopify worked on an enterprise scale at Steiner Sports in addition to my work with other clients.
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And now, you are a full-time consultant?
Yes, I sold Brooktide last year and have since left Steiner Sports to focus solely on helping startups and enterprise-level businesses get the most out of Shopify as well as help them with all the digital marketing required to make a shop successful.
What was the process for becoming a Shopify Expert?
Shopify first approached me to join their Partner program. Then, about two and a half years ago, my contacts at Shopify invited me to apply to become a Shopify Expert.
On the Advantages of Using Shopify Experts
What is the difference between me setting up my Shopify store myself and me paying someone like you to set things up for me?
As it pertains to the website, and I am always very upfront about this with prospects and clients, they can do almost all of it themselves. Of course, it is a matter of what someone's tolerance level is for educating themselves about how the platform works and their willingness to apply that knowledge, and many people don't have the time, resources, or interest to do that. Something I may be able to efficiently in a few weeks time could take a few months for someone else just to “dip their toe in the water.”
More generally, e-commerce is very much both an art and a science. The big value add of using an expert like myself is my knowledge of e-commerce and my understanding of how some of the advanced features and aspects of the platform can be used to improve how well a site performs from a sales perspective. My knowledge about how to make changes on the backend and how to make visual and user experience tweaks to better serve a particular audience helps ensure that a store is set up for success from the very beginning.
And then there are more service related things that fall slightly outside the Shopify platform like helping setup Facebook advertising, Instagram advertising, Google advertising, email marketing, and SEO, which are core pieces to a digital marketing strategy.
Shopify has been busy this year with some big announcements, rolling out a bunch of new features for the platform. What announcements did you find most exciting or relevant for the consulting work you do?
I think the new store design experience that will be coming soon is very exciting. When that feature is rolled out, it is going to give users (especially startup shops with lower budgets) more creative freedom in how they build out content on their storefront without the need to write any code.
On Driving Shopify Traffic and Common Mistakes
What are some of the mistakes you see being made by people who do go ahead and set up a Shopify Store themselves?
Often what you see is a situation where someone starts a Shopify store, lists their products and then they wait for traffic to come flocking. Those are the people who come to me and say, “I have had my store open for a few weeks and I haven't made any sales. Why not? I'm doing everything correctly."
That is the gap in knowledge someone like myself can fill. The reality is that there is a lot involved in building out a website that 1.) aesthetically drives a user to the point of purchase and 2.) is well put together from a functional perspective to offer an optimized user experience.
That is where I start asking questions like: How easy is it to navigate through your store? Is your SEO cleaned up the way it needs to be? Do your product descriptions make sense? Do your product titles make sense? How much duplicate content do you have on your website? Does a customer even understand what you sell when they land on the home page?
I’ll give you an example. I had a client that came to me recently that had hundreds of products listed on their website. They had not launched yet and wanted to know if I would suggest doing anything differently. Something that immediately stood out to me was that they had five to six variations of every product based on color scheme and they titled each one exactly the same.
The reality is, that is a very simple fix, but there is high impact there. If they had launched with all the titles being the same, their link structure would have been off, negatively impacting their SEO. It would have also hurt their user experience as well: their potential customers would have been left wondering what it was exactly that they were buying.
If you are sitting down with someone for the first time who feels their site should have more traffic than it does, what are your common suggestions for them? What are the best ways to drive traffic right now and what platforms do you like?
I get a lot of inquiries from people who say, "I have a store and I want to run Facebook and Instagram ads" because that is the buzzwordy thing to do. It is like the next level of the person who creates a store and then waits for traffic to come: people create a store and push out social ads at random and then wait for the traffic to come pouring in.
Social should be a core part of your marketing effort, but it certainly isn’t the be-all-end-all for driving sales. At the end of the day, most businesses are not going to have success if they rely only on Facebook and Instagram advertising to generate sales while ignoring other areas.
What are some of the metrics you use to measure the success of both a new store and then maybe one that has already been up and running?
For a startup that is coming to Shopify for the first time I will setup Google Analytics for them in a way that is ideal for Shopify so that we can start to accrue data immediately, even if that data isn't about sales.
I want them to see from the beginning where users are navigating to on the site, where they are bouncing off from, what pages are they landing on, and what all those metrics mean to their business since many of those metrics can feel a bit abstract for a new shop owner.
For existing shops that I work with, I pay a lot of attention to the homepage layout, what content they are showing, and also the navigation of the site. Anyone starting their own self-audit of their site should be constantly asking themselves: how easy am I making it for users to browse through the items on my site in as few clicks as possible?
Anyone starting their own self-audit of their site should be constantly asking themselves: how easy am I making it for users to browse through the items on my site in as few clicks as possible?
As an example, you would be surprised how many folks put too much unnecessary information in the header of their website. They litter their header with contact and about pages and other information that doesn’t have a direct impact on sales.
For a client that has had a site for a while, we’ll look to see which links are not being clicked, or have a low % of people clicking on them relative to the traffic of their site, and put those links in the footer. It is safe to assume online shoppers have an understanding of where to find certain information. If I want to contact a company and I go to their website, I don't even look at the header. I scroll straight down to the footer for the contact button.
That is just one example, but it is all about optimizing the site and user experience by limiting the clicks and pages required to get to the products you are selling.
On The Role of Social Media in Driving Sales
Is there a particular type of business that benefits more from a presence on social than others?
Generally, I would say social is most effective for companies that have really dynamic and rich content with high resolution product imagery and videos that they use to create a story within a Facebook or Instagram advertising funnel.
If you are dropshipping products with low resolution images and pricing that is out of whack and product titles that are crazy, social advertising alone is going to prove difficult in helping you turn a profit.
What about social media influencers? Are they still worth the investment even given the difficulty in measuring the ROI?
That is a tough question. I would urge on the side of caution. The landscape for social influencers is so different than it was six years ago when I started my sunglasses business. I actually drove a majority of my sales for that business through Instagram influencers and a few YouTube product reviewers. I gave free sunglasses to a few different folks who, back then, had a few hundred thousand followers and they would create content for me and drive sales. It was really the wild west back then and incredibly effective.
Now? Those same people have anywhere from 4-9 million followers. They want tens-of-thousands of dollars before even having a conversation. And even for influencers with smaller followings, because of changes to the Instagram algorithm, driving sales through influencers isn’t as easy as having a model take a picture with your product with a discount code. Authenticity plays much more of a role now, so it really requires that you develop a partnership with an influencer and plan out exactly what type of content is going to be relevant for their following. Because now, if people don’t engage with the content, no one is going to see it.
If a brand is interested in working with influencers, I would suggest really taking the time to figure out who fits with your brand, who has a healthy following (lots of engagement, a platform that is growing, etc.) and taking the time to develop a real relationship with them.
Authenticity plays much more of a role now, so it really requires that you develop a partnership with an influencer and plan out exactly what type of content is going to be relevant for their following.
On Omni-Channel Marketing and the Importance of Email
In your eyes, what does a successful marketing strategy look like in e-commerce right now? What do you see having the most impact?
I try not to use too many buzzwords, but companies big or small need to focus on an “omni-channel strategy.” It is critical to focus on different areas of marketing so that you have those different touchpoints with people over the course of time. The reality is that if you have 100 purchases made on your website, in all likelihood those 100 purchases were made in 100 different ways.
If you are sending people to your site via Facebook and Instagram ads and they aren't buying, they may not buy right away, especially if that is their first touchpoint with you.
But my next question is always: do you have an email strategy in place? Are you serving them a piece of content on your site or an incentive to sign up for your email list so that you can re-market to them later on? Most of the time the answer is no, or, they say that they have a pop-up, but they aren't targeting any specific action with that pop-up. They are just serving the same pop-up to everyone.
Those contacts then go into a general email list, but without an automated email that gets sent out when someone signs up. They also don’t provide a reason for those who do sign up to open future emails. The result is an email list that either doesn’t grow or isn’t healthy.
People either forget or don’t realize that it isn't always about getting people to buy something right away: it is often about integrating them into another area of your marketing.
I have a feeling that with so many other flashy platforms out there, people forget how powerful email still is.
Email is huge. Open rates and engagement rates change over time and they aren't what they were 10 years ago, but email should be a core piece to any e-commerce business strategy regardless of what you sell, what price point you sell at, or what platform you are on.
Something like an abandoned cart series is a great example. Even if you send no other email, just putting a well-thought-out abandoned cart series in place that is focused on gaining back sales will more than justify the cost of whatever email tool you use.
Of course, for something like an abandoned cart series to work, it needs to be setup correctly.
It is great that Shopify made the abandoned cart function available to all plan levels, but, when folks come to me and say "oh yeah I have an abandoned cart email setup already," my first question is always: who is actually getting those abandoned cart emails? Besides the list you see in the Shopify admin of who recovered their cart, you don't know who is opening or clicking on emails and you don't have the ability to send a follow-up message to users who don't open them.
People don’t realize: even just a secondary email in an abandoned cart series sent to users who didn’t open your first email can more than pay for the cost of an email marketing tool.
On Ben's "Tactical Approach" to Marketing
You describe your marketing approach as “tactical.” How would you define a tactical marketing so that others can apply a similar approach?
It is really about structure, discipline, understanding what your goals are, and how each part of your website and marketing strategy is helping you drive towards those goals.
The underlying question to keep asking yourself is: what do I want people to do with this piece of content or promotion or with this sale? People may have a clear goal of "I want to grow my marketing list," but their efforts aren’t aligned towards it. Instead, they might have a sale on their site but also be running an unrelated giveaway on Facebook and be pushing Instagram ads working towards something else.
The job of the merchant is to make the decision about what behavior that they want to drive and then develop a structured strategy across all channels that align with that.
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