What I Learned When I Ran SEO for Walmart

What I Learned When I Ran SEO for Walmart

When it comes to SEO, I learned best practices at some of the largest retailers on earth. In fact, for almost three years (before leaving to start my own company): I was the head of SEO for Walmart.com. Nothing primes you for starting a content management platform quite like working for the planet’s largest retailer. I learned, very quickly, that part of my responsibility was evangelizing directly to Walmart’s board what I needed to do to increase SEO traffic.

Before Walmart, I spent several years at eBay, which was an extraordinary introduction to e-commerce, especially the content side of online retail. I’d always loved data, which made me a natural fit as a marketer and product engineer. There: I learned a lot about multichannel retail, something that became very important when I moved over to Walmart.

Before I walked in the door, Walmart had a very limited focus on SEO. Its e-commerce site was still in its infancy, and they had very little by way of dedicated resources to online marketing. They brought me on because of my time at eBay, and I knew we had to focus on some immediate areas:

Improve site architecture to leverage existing content
Launch dynamic landing pages to tackle torso keywords
Increase consideration funnel engagement
Recode all site reviews and ratings so search engines could crawl them (at the time, they were buried underneath javascript)
Walmart’s Online Success Story

When I walked in the door, dedicated SEO resource allocation was (and this is true of a lot of retailers at the time even the 800-pound gorilla that is the world’s largest retailer) in the double digits.

We saw some quick wins, and that led to management trusting me with more and more resources over time. During my three years as head of SEO:

Walmart SEO traffic grew 50% YoY, tripling while I was there
Walmart.com’s once limited resources blossomed into a robust team and a multi-million dollar budget

Eventually, we launched aggressive, large-scale content initiatives including optimizing hundreds of thousands of product and category pages with blocks of copy compelling to both consumers and search engines.

How Was Walmart Different?

Because they are such a notable retailer, I get this question a lot. Of course, they are a strong brand with a robust and strong supply chain. When I walked in the door, their physical brick and mortar business was still responsible for 95% of their revenue. I had to educate leadership about why large scale content initiatives were going to be vital to their success in the future. The entire industry was already moving in that direction, but in those early days, it was a bit of a hard sell.

Making the Business Case for Good Content

SEO is a purely data-driven job and a very important one for brands and online retailers. The SEO manager touches many parts of the company: the web development team, the marketing team, the product team, and may have to coordinate with one or more agencies. SEO managers face pressure from all sides: competitors, leadership, and your own team. In many ways, you’re seen as the storefront’s gatekeeper, responsible for incoming traffic, conversion and, therefore, revenue.

Managing SEO means constantly measuring what works against what doesn’t. You’re always looking for the shortest distance between two points: in this case, site visits to conversion. What isn’t working is always, 100% of the time, glaringly obvious. In my previous life, I knew that we had a foundational issue: SKU pages were getting loaded by the thousands to Walmart.com with fundamental problems. This is hardly an industry secret. It’s a shared problem for all the big online retailers.

The question wasn’t so much identifying the problem, but how a single team could solve it. Most SEO managers have a big battle to conquer every day: ask for more resources, support, and additional budget to manage the ongoing and consistent problem of bad content.

There’s no easy way to do this, but if you are an agency or internal, this toolkit can help you frame, and win, the “bad content” position for you and your team.

1. Educate Your Organization About Problems And Opportunities

While no one on the customer-facing side of the business would dispute the importance of the SEO role, that doesn’t mean that they understand it entirely. To get the buy in you need, give regular presentations at department meetings to show your colleagues the problem. If you want their support, they all need to know that the problem impacts the entire company, and not just you and your department.

2. Enlist Third Parties To Validate Your Problems And Solutions

Sometimes, the best way to make a case is to let someone else do the talking for you. Bring all the decision makers together in one room and let an informed agency state your case. Allow their solutions, in a sense, do the talking for you.

3. Think Politically

Because you touch so many different roles within the organization, make sure that you get buy-in and support from numerous sectors. In the early days, put a positive spin on as much as you can. Never underestimate the power of education. Develop the entire organization’s knowledge over time. You may need to draw resources from those other teams, especially if resource allocation is an issue. Embrace the cross-sectional nature of your job early on and develop as many positive relationships as possible.

4. Build An Achievable Test Plan

Set aside resources to update a scalable and manageable group of product pages. Use what resources you have internally to perfect them. Follow this protocol regularly and, eventually, those results will make the case for you. Good content is the answer to higher conversions. Taking this problem on incrementally provides an organizational platform from a resource perspective that you can build on over time. Remind yourself of these three steps: start small, present wins, build credibility.

5. Define Your KPIs Early

Purchase history, click paths, and search data help you focus on the incremental changes that will lead to the fastest upticks in revenue and traffic. Those successes build and increase everyone’s confidence in your direction, helping you evangelize bigger changes. As a team: define what success means early and keep consistent reports that tell you where and how you’re succeeding.

6. Be Prepared To Iterate And Deviate

Just as communication is important, so is experimentation. Remember: data doesn’t lie. Tactics need to change, and things that may have worked for certain verticals and products may not work when with a different vertical. Be willing to try new things. Start with several different sample sets and measure them against each other. As soon as you see positive results, push harder.

7. Document and Distribute Positive Results

Don’t be humble about your wins. Communication is absolutely a part of the job. Every time your team hits an important milestone: brag. Everyone in every organization loves good news. SEO is complex and dynamic: it’s very hard to hit a moving target. When you do: blast an email. Include the names of people both within your team as well as other members of the company who share a role in this particular success. No one will know you’re responsible for positive momentum unless you claim responsibility for it.

8. Scale For Larger Results

Success is your greatest teacher. Where you see success: scale it, and scale it quickly. The advantage of the digital landscape is that you can, with the right publishing tool, make large-scale changes with a few clicks. Lay the foundation so that when the time is right, you can be precise, reactive, and aggressive.

My Last Word

Move quickly. It takes time to build big solutions for massive problems, but smart sellers should be trying and experimenting with new and different tactics, measuring success, and constantly innovating. Good luck!

Alok Jain is the co-founder and CEO of eZdia.com, a leader in the e-commerce content creation and analysis field. He previously served as the head of SEO for Walmart.com, and prior to that, he worked as an SEO business analyst for eBay.

Amazon and the Importance of Content

Amazon and the Importance of Content

Recently we were invited to present at Amazon’s Global SEO Summit in Seattle. We’ve been working with the world’s largest online store for more than 4 years now and it’s always  an honor to participate with this intimate group of collaborative leaders to discuss the dynamic world of e-commerce.

Because it was a private event, Amazon discussed several proprietary technologies and plans which, naturally, no one from the conference is at liberty to discuss publicly. However, I can say  that we were there to present our many global projects for the group, plus discuss how eZdia might help Amazon continue to improve the user experience for its shoppers, which is the rule that makes Amazon tick. No matter what we’re doing: our primary focus is always our customers’ needs.

Amazon is an awesome partnership for us because we help improve their customer experience a little bit every day.  Be it improving the look and feel of their dynamic search results, creating relevant category pages, building helpful buying guides, improving data inputs and outputs, or any other project, it’s genuinely about helping sellers and shoppers benefit from their relationship with Amazon.

For me, one of the solutions that I’m the most proud of presenting isn’t the advancements in our automation technologies, but the energetic, talented and driven community of resources that helps make our clients’ content so exceptional. Quality content can’t exist in a vacuum, and we hire creative people who take a huge amount of pride in writing and editing every single product or search landing page.

eZdia Team at Amazo Global SEO Summit

eZdia Team at Amazon Global SEO Summit in Seattle

We have workers on 6 continents who speak dozens of languages, and enjoy the access and flexibility our platform provides across every part of the 24-hour continuum. We work with everyone from full to part-time parents, caregivers, stay-at-home moms and dads, or professionals who need a little extra work to make ends meet.  These are the people who have been working for our clients through CrewMachine since we founded the company and our success is almost wholly due to their drive, professionalism, passion, and effort. They are the heros in our story.

We started eZdia and developed CrewMachine with a two-fold mission: one to foster an online labor environment where creative resources could enjoy a quality work experience focused on global e-commerce; and second, to provide democratized income opportunities to thousands of workers who could not otherwise participate in the evolution of the global economy. Personally, my greatest fulfillment comes when I have the chance to talk about the positive impact eZdia has on the people that log into our platform every day.

Crewmachine Platform

Like Amazon, we continue to strive to support our greater vision toward creating the ultimate user, and we do this by adding busy visual designers, researchers, writers, project managers, editors, reviewers, and more to our global family every day. It may be redundant to say, but: we’re honored to be a part of this journey, along with the thousands of people that support us and make eZdia’s mission possible

Let’s work together to enjoy even more success throughout the rest of the year.

Interesting Insights and Lessons from IRCE 2017 Chicago

Interesting Insights and Lessons from IRCE 2017 Chicago

This year, we had an exciting and educational experience attending IRCE. We didn’t exhibit, which gave me plenty of time to walk the floor, attend sessions, and listen to the concerns and challenges facing the internet retailer community today. I returned with some fascinating takeaways, which I plan on discussing in more details in future posts.

As a team, we always have to keep our ear to the ground when it comes to how brands perform on Amazon. I thought these metrics in particular were key to understanding how important brand performance on the retail juggernaut is both now and into the future:

IRCE Takeaways

That second bubble, that recent research from Bloom revealed that over half of all product searches start on Amazon is important and revealing. When it comes to e-commerce, more and more data is showing that customers are bypassing search engines (namely Google) and going straight to Amazon to start their shopping journey..

As a fun aside, if you’re curious about which product category outperforms all others in the Amazon subscription market, the answer is diapers:

IRCE Conference 2017

Lastly, for people who follow shopping trends closely, this metric will hardly surprise you. More and more people are shopping on mobile. According to this slide (with 2016 data from ComScore), 80 percent of all Amazon shoppers buy directly from mobile, with 43 percent of them buying exclusively with mobile:

Internet Retailer Conference

This is a big uptick from only a few years ago. It means that you have to optimize everywhere: mobile and desktop, marketplaces and SEM. It’s a complex world out there and, as my team and I were reminded, it’s not getting any simpler any time soon for even the largest retailers on the web.

As a cloud-based platform, we already know the importance of cross-platform optimization. We also know exactly how to help brands perform on Amazon to increase conversions and market share.

Looking forward to continuing this conversation in our next posts. In the meantime, feel free to email me or contact us directly any time.

Here’s to an exciting 2017.

Alok Jain
Co-Founder and CEO
eZdia

How to Use Instagram for E-commerce to Boost Sales

How to Use Instagram for E-commerce to Boost Sales

Instagram’s worldwide audience of 500 million people is growing. The company added 100 million users between 2015 and 2016 alone. It boasts more users than Twitter and is second only to Facebook in its overall reach. In 2015, a study from Pew Research reported that 35 percent of those users visit several times per day. The social media platform is becoming just as much of a media juggernaut as its parent company, Facebook, and there’s good reason why. The image-based posts are easy to scan, fun to follow and attractive to consumers from a wide array of age groups and cultures. If you’re selling to consumers, you need an Instagram footprint. Here are some tips to improve your Instagram marketing strategy and increase engagements on the platform.

More Instagram Demographics

In that same study by Pew, they revealed that 55 percent of all 18-29-year-olds use Instagram. Over a quarter of people who make over $70,000 per year have an account as well. An impressive 32 percent of adults online who live in urban areas also use the platform. One conclusion of this data: female millennials who earn $50,000 to $75,000 and live in urban areas check in with the photo sharing app more than any audience.

Do Your Homework

Instagram Marketing StrategyBefore you create your first post on Instagram, check out what your competitors are doing. Follow the accounts of consumers who represent your ideal customers. See what they like, follow and share. Creating an Instagram marketing strategy isn’t as simple as throwing up a few images with hashtags. Spend some time researching the marketplace and be prepared to invest resources to build a sustainable, meaningful and targeted campaign.

How to Sell Products on Instagram

There are some tried and true tactics that you can use to leverage the platform to your advantage.

Create a Contest

People love giveaways, discounts, and sweepstakes, especially if they are meaningful. Offer a small item every day to the 10th person who shares a post and follows your business on both Facebook and Instagram, for example. Come up with creative ways to encourage likes and follows with incentivized rewards. Run a photo contest and promote the winner with a sponsored post.

Use Hashtags

Hashtags are common on all social media platforms, and they assist your audience in finding you. They are especially popular with Instagram. The more targeted your hashtags, the more you will boost your followers. You can use up to 30, but sticking closer to 11 augments engages Instagram’s algorithm the most effectively.

Use Professional-Quality Images

Even though social media apps are free to use, it doesn’t mean they don’t require investment. If you don’t have a good eye for imagery, use an outside party who does. You may need to invest in a professional photographer or enlist the help of a consultant who is an Instagram expert. Use filters and photo editing apps that help you create vivid, exciting images.

Swap Reel for Real

Instagram users love to see real people. Even if you sell lifestyle products, like fashion and accessories, images of professional models probably won’t resonate as much with the Instagram crowd as actual people photographed while wearing or using your stuff.

Post Short Videos

When you’re scrolling through Instagram, you’ll see a lot of videos. The platform allows anyone to post a video up to 60 seconds long, giving you leeway to post a fun, creative and colorful post. Remember that they need to tell a visual story, so use graphics and images that tell the story instead of relying on audio.

Connect and Communicate

Social media is all about direct contact with your audience. Engage, respond, repost and answer questions as publicly as you can. Millennials are more drawn to brands with a direct, honest message, so use simple, truthful language.

Monitor Your Activity

As with any marketing strategy, metrics matter more than anything else. Deploy an app like Iconosquare to track successes. The app provides a real-time monthly analysis, enabling you to tweak campaigns as needed to grow engagements, follows, and shares.

A strong social media presence is essential for consumer-based businesses today. A well-executed Instagram marketing strategy furthers your brand message and builds trust with new customers when you use it correctly.

Need help? CrewMachine has built proven marketing strategies that increase sales and traffic to your site. Please contact us and learn how you can take advantage of our network of writers, marketers and social media experts that can teach you how to best use Instagram for your e-commerce site.

3 Essential Elements of Successful Reputation Management for eCommerce Brands

3 Essential Elements of Successful Reputation Management for eCommerce Brands

For an ecommerce brand, competition isn’t just other stores or services in your field. It’s the billions of other web pages online. The need to stand out from all that information in a meaningful way continues to grow. In such a fierce environment, reputation management — strategically shaping how customers and the world at large views your brand — requires a combination of business acumen and authenticity so customers relate on a personal level. Here are three ways to anchor your brand’s web presence in maintaining a strong public perception.

Take Your eCommerce Brand to Where Your Consumers Are

For ecommerce, social media can be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on how you curate your content and engage your consumers.

First, do your research. Find out where your target personas spend their time so you know which platforms deserve your greatest focus. Then, get savvy. Don’t just have a Snapchat account, for example — add relevant, non-salesy content that inserts your brand into the bigger conversation. Otherwise, your company comes off as disingenuous, which is a death knell in social media circles. Instead, be willing to commit to transparency with your audience and monitor their reactions.

One key to establishing authenticity in social media is your ability to engage naysayers and detractors. You don’t have control over the posters on social media, so instead you must allow the messages to develop and participate openly in the process. Sound scary? Sure. But it’s one of the best tactics for your brand. Trust is crucial, and customers are more cynical than ever about traditional marketing messages. Instead, look to an industry behemoth like Microsoft, which encourages staff members to blog openly about their opinions regarding the company’s products. When Windows 8 released a few years back, not all the employees were fans, and their blogs said so. That sort of truthfulness opens the door for your company to hear your clients’ biggest complaints. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, so find out what people are saying.

Understand Your Brand’s Impact Beyond Products and Services

Another offshoot of social media is the overall knowledge sharing among customers and their friends about all aspects of a company. Buyers no longer care solely about the quality and price of your product. Your company’s social impact, employment policies, global presence and awareness, environmental concern, and even financial integrity all weigh into their choice to invest their time and money. Take, for example, the $20 billion hit Volkswagen has taken on market capitalization since its emissions scandal. That cost reflects much more than paying for fixes to its diesel cars. Consumers and investors alike no longer trust the brand to deliver on its environmentally conscious promises.

Even your leadership’s personal choices influence whether customers are on board. Chick-fil-A still battles reputation management issues years after leaders apologized for maligning certain sectors of society. The hunting habits of the owner of Jimmy John’s became such a focus on Facebook and Twitter that an organized boycott is ongoing. Source: Flickr user MSLGroup Global

Know the Power of the Review in Reputation Management

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember a commercial that defined the concept of viral marketing long before YouTube existed. The model apparently tells two friends about the product, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on.

 

What was true in twos and fours in the ’80s is exponentially more powerful now thanks to review websites. A single star rating improvement on Yelp equates to 5 to 10 percent more sales for a company. If you’re managing a small ecommerce brand, reviews are doubly important because high rankings on review sites offer word-of-mouth marketing opportunities with little effort on your part.

Of course, you do have to make some effort. Complainers naturally take to review sites more than complimenters, so encourage positive, authentic reviews from happy customers, too. You also have to exercise discipline as you interact on such sites. When someone runs down the company you’re working so hard to build up, the urge to argue publicly and refute the claims is strong. Don’t do it. All you’d be doing is planting skepticism in the minds of future readers who think your company doth protest too much. Thank them for their feedback, and offer ways to resolve specific issues.

Product reviews within your site are valuable, too. Provide easy mechanisms for rating features and leaving comments so buyers have simple comparison tools.

With these three tactics, your ecommerce brand is on its way to reputation management success. Keep monitoring and participating in conversations regularly and, above all else, listen to your customers. They know better than anyone in your office what your brand’s reputation really is.

Page 1 of 512345