Jeff Oxford Talks About E-commerce SEO Process

May 24, 2023 | Interview

Welcome to Marketing Lego Thought Leader Interview. Today we will have a word with Jeff Oxford, Founder & CEO Director at 180 Marketing, about his journey and how he came up with his agency. We will also talk about the valuable insights on the E-commerce SEO process, link building, and more.


Hello, everyone, and welcome to another marketing legos thought leader interview. My name is Harshit and I’m the Director of Business Alliance of two amazing marketing SaaS tools, RankWatch and WebSignals. And today’s guest is a highly experienced e-commerce SEO expert, founder and SEO director of Digital Marketing for 180 Marketing. Jeff Oxford. Jeff, a big welcome to everybody and so happy to host you today.

Thanks for having me. Much appreciated.

Okay. Jeff, let’s talk from the very beginning. I would love to know what you liked as a child and then how you ended up founding your own SEO marketing form and doing so well.

When I was a kid, I liked to figure things out. I was always playing with legos and building things and taking things apart and putting them back together. And then throughout school, I studied finance in university, and I got really into data and spreadsheets. And then I heard you can make money online through Google AdSense. So that was the beginning of my journey was trying to make passive income. I learned about SEO from Rand Fishkin of SEO Moz, now called Moz. And I became obsessed with that. I had to know how to get a site to rank higher. It was like a game for me. I was always a gamer as a kid. I loved playing video games. And it’s like, oh, if I do X, Y, and Z, I can see my rankings go up. And that was really fulfilling for me. Ever since I first heard about SEO and that you could do things to rank higher in Google and it can make you money, I just became hooked.

Got you. What year was this when you were basically building blogs and trying to generate income from Google ads and all together?

I first started in 2010. So 2010 is when I started getting passive income. My roommate at the time was really big into baseball, so we created a baseball blog and we put ads on it. And it was a good learning lesson on how to build a site? How do you do keyword research? Where do you put the keywords on the page? How do you get backlinks? So that was my crash course into SEO. And it’s always way more fun to learn it when you’re doing it for yourself and you have your own website that could actually have income. So that’s what started my interest in SEO. And then at the time, I started applying for SEO companies and agencies, and I worked as a specialist. And then the next company I worked as a manager. So I would spend my nine to five time working, doing professional consulting. And then when I get home, I’d open my laptop back up and then start doing more practising and testing on my own site. So basically 12 to 14 hours a day, I was doing something related to SEO for the first few years.

Got you. And are those websites still active?

No. The baseball blog, me and my roommate, we put in hundreds of hours. It got thousands of visits, I think even tens of thousands of visits. But with adsense, you don’t get that much money from ads. So I think the best month, we made $100, and we had to split it between the both of us. So we only got $50 each. So we’re like, all right, this is not worth the time it takes to do it. So then my next thought is, well, maybe I’ll do some drop shipping. This is back around, I’d say now, 2012. So I thought, I’m going to just do some drop shipping because you get more sales, you get more conversions. So I did drop shipping. I actually got the site to rank pretty well. I eventually sold it off to a manufacturer, so I exited that one. And then my next drop shipping site, I sold 3D printers. So you can basically print anything out of plastic. And with my 3D printing drop shipping site, I launched it, started to get some traction, and started ranking well. But it turns out most of the sales that we had were used with stolen credit cards.
People were stealing credit cards, buying my product. And so I got hit with $25,000 in chargebacks. I lost $25,000 in one month. And after that, I’m like, you know what? I don’t want to learn about the operations of e-commerce sites. I don’t want to learn about fulfilment and distribution and sourcing. I’m just going to focus on what I enjoy. And that was the SEO side of it. So ever since then, I’ve just focused on SEO and just focused on it for e-commerce sites.

That’s brilliant, man. And how did the idea of basically establishing your own marketing firm come in and how did that… What is the source of inspiration there? What gave you that kick?

Great question. So it was two things happening at once. On the one hand, my drop shipping site lost a lot of money from this chargeback issue and I was burnt out on it. On the other hand, I had now been working as the SEO director of an online marketing company for about a year and a half. And I was getting really tired of doing nine to five, working for someone else, whether you do an awesome job or just an okay job, you still get that same salary. And I just finished reading the four hour work week by Tim Ferris. And it’s all about how to take more control of your life and how to work your own hours and build passive income. So I’m like, I could easily, and I had all this experience working for these agencies, I’m like, I could easily make my own agency and do my own consulting. So it was between all these factors together. I saved up some money, so I want to make sure I have at least six months of savings in the bank account. I moved in with my mom to save some money on rent, and I just started my agency and got a few clients and the rest is history.

Nice one. And what are the good things now the agency offers, apart from the e-commerce SEO solution? Is there anything else that you guys do?

It’s funny you asked that. When I first started 180 Marketing, we would do everything. We would do your SEO, your paid search, we would do social media, Conversion Rate Optimization, you name it, we would do it. And that’s simply because I needed clients to pay the bills and I would take anybody. But as we started getting some clients, I made a conscious decision that I would rather be the best in the world at one thing than just be good enough at all these things. So we decided we’re only going to do SEO, but more specifically, we’re only going to do SEO for e-commerce sites. That’s the only service we do. And it’s scary at first because you’re turning down clients that maybe it’s lead gen or maybe it’s a real estate site or maybe it’s something else. But looking back, it’s one of the best decisions we could have made because now we’re so further along and we’re such strong experts with e-commerce. We know all the nuances of e-commerce. We’ve worked with all the platforms. When we talk with clients, like if you’re an e-commerce client, you want to hire an SEO company, do you hire a generic SEO company over here or do you hire a company over here that all they do is e-commerce?
So it made it really easy to close deals and pick up more e-commerce clients.

I really respect the decision for the fact that SEO service is, to be honest, the most stable recurring revenue engine for agencies as well. It’s long term. You need big commitments. Plus it takes time, builds momentum. But then the ROI that you post is exponential. It’s like both win, win a thing from a client point of view as well as for the agencies as well. The churn rate again, in the SEO industry, it’s pretty decent compared to the other digital marketing niche altogether. Makes sense. You will need developers for SEO implementations, too. Do you have everyone in-house or how exactly do you operate?

Yeah. For implementations, obviously basic implementations like changing title tags, making content out of internal links. That’s all easy to do and stuff we do in-house. If you get if… Let’s say we’re doing a technical audit and we find out the URL structure needs to be changed because it’s just not SEO friendly at all. Those types of changes that are deeper and it’s good deep in the source code, usually we rely on their development team only because the last thing we’d want to do is start messing around with their backend. And there’s also room for things to go wrong. Even a good developer, one wrong line of code and boom, their site’s down. I’d much rather their developer bear that burden than have us worry about accidentally something going wrong.

How much sound sleep do you get at night? Because you have actually sorted out a lot of things which are pain points for especially agency employees altogether. In the middle of the night, clients call up because of X, Y, Z things. My website is down and stuff like that, but you’re not reaching them to that level. You’re really keeping it safe for yourself and the other stakeholders of the agency or different.

That’s exactly it. The few hundred dollars of revenue that we would get from making a change that could cause a lot of things to go wrong is just not worth it. I’d much rather sleep soundly at night and those big things where things go wrong, let the client worry about it. And one thing is we don’t give our clients our phone numbers. So they don’t have… They want to talk to us, they send us an email, we’ll hop on a call. But you have to be the gatekeeper of your own time. Otherwise, there’s going to be clients out there that are going to eat up as much of your time as possible. So we found like, hey, if a client wants to talk, we’re always available through email or respond in 24 hours. If you want to discuss something, we’ll schedule a meeting for it. We’ll hop on a meeting. But there’s clients out there. If they have your phone number, they’re going to be hitting you up every day, sometimes multiple times, and it’s going to be hard to get things done.

Got you. I would love to know your onboarding process for clients. Then let’s talk about your in and out process altogether for them.?

When the client wants to work with us, typically what we do is we’ll hop on the initial discovery call. We’ll pull up their rankings together. We’ll see what they are ranking for? What are they targeting? What’s their domain rating at? Just to get an idea of whether or not we can deliver a positive ROI for them. So that’s the biggest thing. We only want to take on clients where we can give them a return on their investment. So if we look at their keywords and it’s way too high, it’s very high competition, then we’re probably not going to want to… We can work together, but it’s going to require a lot more resources. Or what if we look at their target keywords and there’s no search volume? Well, even if we got them ranked number one, it’s not going to drive traffic and revenue. So we want to make sure that we’re a good fit before we can take on the client, and we do that with an initial discovery call.

Got you. And how much time do you usually spend on the analysis during that stage altogether? Just right after your discovery call and you’re trying to prepare a proposal for your customer. So you need initial analysis, right?

Yeah, exactly. So what I just described, the initial ROI feasibility analysis, it’s just a call where we look at their Ahrefs and rankings together. That’s usually 30 to 45 minutes. And then let’s say we’re looking at their rankings, we look at the service, we’re like, Okay, this is feasible. We can bring you a positive ROI. Then I’ll spend a few hours doing an initial audit of their website. I’ll find all the main opportunities. And from that, I’ll build a customized SEO plan just for their site. So for example, I like to break it up where pretty much everything in SEO can be broken up in a few buckets. You got your typical on page SEO link building and content. And so I will build a plan based on their needs. So for example, a really established website might not need more backlinks, but maybe they need more technical SEO, on page SEO and content. Or if it’s a newer e-commerce site that’s getting started that’s on Shopify, maybe their on page SEO is pretty good and there’s not any technical SEO issues, but maybe they need a lot of link building. So depending on how far along the client is, it will dictate how much link building we do, how much content, how much onsite, and then we build a custom plan based on what the client actually needs.

Got you. I’m sure based on the client’s goal as well, you must be calculating some of the other ROI for them as well. When will they achieve the, what do you call it, breakthrough? Then the positive ROI altogether for the investment that they’re making with the agency? What happens in this scenario, just in case you have committed, say, 12 months and X, Y, Z revenue, how do you do that? Do you commit to the revenue? Do you commit on just rankings? How exactly do you do?

Typically, as far as performance measuring goes, the most important thing for us is organic search revenue. We want to see how much revenue the sites are actually generating and how much are we providing for them. The next level metric would be organic search traffic. And then below that is going to be the actual ranking for keywords. So revenue, traffic, ranking, that’s usually how we set it up.

Got you. So, like, on your onboarding, you must be setting up some benchmarks that you’ll be achieving in six months, just in case. These are the metrics that we’re going to achieve in the next 12 months. What happens just in case those metrics are not met? How do you deal with those situations?

It’s always tough. And if a client paying you for revenue increase is not getting it, they’re usually going to be upset. So how we approach it is first figure out, do some analysis, figure out why we think rankings are not increasing and traffic is not up, and then put together a plan to correct it. Most clients, it’s one thing if rankings are down, but if they believe in your plan, they will stick it out with you. So they first want us… Firstly, they don’t want you to lie to them. If they think their traffic is down, you’re saying it’s up and your rates are up, that doesn’t usually work well. You first want to say, Hey, yes, things are down. We realize it. Here’s our plan for how we’re going to hit it. We’re going to do X, Y, Z and detail it out. And if a client trusts you, has a good relationship, be like, okay, let’s put this plan in place, let’s stick it out. So, that’s usually how we approach times when performance is down.

Got you. Let’s talk about the latest Google’s update, Google product review, and how exactly it is impacting e-commerce sites.

So, it definitely doesn’t impact all e-commerce sites, but let’s say you’re a reseller. Maybe you don’t manufacture your own products, but you’re reselling other products. If that’s the case, then you might have some articles doing product reviews. You might say, hey, what are the best laptops of 2022? Or what’s the best basketball? Whatever you sell. When you’re doing those reviews, you want to make sure it’s legitimate as possible. Instead of just copying and pasting stock photos from the manufacturer, you want to take your own photos. You want to have information about who is the person that actually wrote this review, what’s their expertise, and why are they qualified to do this review. What they’re trying to do to avoid is people just going to the Amazon product page, summarizing the description, summarizing the reviews and trying to make something out of that. They want something unique and insightful that no one else has.

Got you. Any other latest trend around the e-commerce side in SEO, basically?

With e-commerce, we had the page experience Core Web Vitals update within the last two years. That was big where it’s rare Google actually announces a new update, but they did announce, hey, we’re going to start tracking Core Web Vitals, and this is going to be a ranking factor. So that was very difficult for e-commerce sites because if you have a usual content information site on WordPress, you don’t need as much JavaScript and advanced code, and you can usually get a site to load pretty fast without worrying about web vital scores. But for an e-commerce site, you’re going to need all your tracking scripts for your Facebook campaigns, your Google campaigns. You’re going to need your live chat bot. There’s so much more code that goes into an e-commerce site that’s very difficult to pass Google’s Core Web Vitals. So, a lot of people get paranoid about it. They think their Core Web Vitals need to be perfect. Realistically, as long as your pages aren’t slow and are decently loading, it’s fine if you don’t pass Core Web Vitals. And we see so many sites that can rank really, really well, even though they don’t pass Google’s for web vitals.

Got you. Which platform would you recommend? Because I know for the web, Shopify or Magento sites, it’s usually difficult to match the really high standard rate of support of Vital. And to core web writers. To be honest, because you understand technical SEO so well in Shopify and then even on Magento as well. There are certain limitations when it comes to solving the technical SEO things. It’s not 100% possible. It’s not that… Just like you might hear, they do not provide that level of flexibility that a WordPress site would do. What’s your favourite platform when it comes to SEO friendly?

For me, I have the top tier of platforms that I like to work with. For example, for me, Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce. Those four platforms are probably the most SEO friendly e-commerce platforms to work with. Some people don’t like Shopify because you can’t customize the URL structure, but I’ve never found that to be much of an issue. And we have most of our clients on Shopify, it can still rank really well with their default URL structure. Magento out of the box isn’t the most SEO friendly, but there’s $200 extensions, SEO addons you can add that make it very SEO friendly. So, with a minor customization that can work. Also big commerce is easy to work with and very SEO friendly. And the same thing as blue commerce built around WordPress is very flexible and you can do a lot with that.

Got you. I used to own a Shopify site and the biggest struggle that I had was around this thing, the tag pages.


So, that was creating duplicate instances for me. I couldn’t do anything for that, I believe. But this was pretty long back, a few years back. I’m not sure whether you can do it now or not.

Yeah. And tag pages are one of the common issues we see with Shopify sites. And for that, we just go into the liquid file. Luckily, Shopify makes it easy to make code edits where you can go in the liquid file, you can add a no index for all tag pages or canonical tag, depending on what you need. A lot of people have a bad thought of Shopify because when it first came out, it was very limited. But they’ve really made it a lot more flexible now. And pretty much anything you can do with the big commerce site or commerce site or even Magento site, you can most likely do with the Shopify site.

Let’s talk about during your discovery call, you must stumble across a lot of common mistakes that the previous agency or if they had an in-house team might be doing. What are those common mistakes that you spot at an early stage when you get the client on board and how to avoid them?

I’d say the most common mistake we see is that bad link building. So, maybe they’re doing directory spam, maybe they’re spamming blog comments, maybe they’re just doing a bunch of article or forum profile links. Those are the ones where it’s really bad. Luckily, we don’t see that too much anymore. Although about five to seven years ago, there was a lot more common to see that. But I think the Penguin penalty and all the other penalties Google did calm that down. I’d say some of the other issues we see is low quality content where it’s just content that’s good enough but might not be dramatically correct, might even have spelling issues where they’re just trying to get something up but not putting much effort into the content. And then another issue I see is, especially with e-commerce sites, duplicate content issues. If you have a category page and you sort, maybe you sort alphabetically or sort by price, every time you do that sorting, oftentimes they’ll generate a new URL. And if each of those URLs is getting indexed and you have 10 different ways to sort it, well, you now have 10 duplicate pages. So, making sure there’s no technical issues on the duplication or category page level.

Got you. And then content must also be one of the issues because a lot of e-commerce have multiple pages and they do not put good word count on their product pages. That’s again… Maybe on category pages anyways, the e-commerce sites are a bit ticy on them. They’re not able to put too much content on the side.

That’s exactly it. We always recommend having some content on category pages, maybe like 100, 200 words of content, but we don’t want to go too much past that. One mistake people make is they say, Oh, higher word count correlates with better rankings. I’m going to put a 1,000 word or 2,000 word article on my category page. And that just doesn’t work as well. Google even said how it can be… I think John Mueller of Google even said that he recommends avoiding putting all this content on category pages because it can be confusing. Google is going to look at it and be like, Wait a minute, is this a category page or is this an informational page? Do I rank this for transactional keywords or do I rank it for informational keywords? So, you have to make sure you’re not just putting content on a category page, just putting content on a category page for the sake of putting content. And just have enough to describe what it is and maybe what someone’s searching for might want to know, like a mini buyer’s guide, but beyond 200 or 300 or 400 words, you probably don’t want to go much past that.

Got you. And how do you make this decision? For a specific targeted page, what should be the ideal word count? How do you come up with that decision?

I’d say for category pages, we would just say around 200 words. For blog posts and content, that’s a little different. We actually don’t really stick to word count with blog posts. Instead, we focus more on the outline and how comprehensive it is. So, for example, you might see a lot of people out there that just no matter what, it’s going to be 1,500 words, 1,500 words, 1,500 words. Well, an article about the history of dogs or maybe history of dogs versus an article about can dogs eat yoghurt is going to have two entirely different word counts. So, it doesn’t really work well when you come with the word count first and write the article. It’s much better to come up with the outline and then give the writers some general guidelines, like be concise, be comprehensive, and let the word count dictate itself. Obviously, there might be budgetary issues where you have to set a limit, but I don’t think there’s any perfect word count for post. I think it really just comes down to the topic and how comprehensive and in-depth it is.

I’ve seen a lot of tools now. What they do is they study the top pages ranking for a specific keyword and then give you a recommendation just by calculating the average of those pages and give you a recommendation. This is something that ideally you should focus on, bare minimum. Do you use something on those lines or you use… Seriously, does use, but when it comes to the end of the page altogether and what do I work on?

I’m guessing you’re referring to Surfer SEO?

There’s a lot, man.

There’s Surfer SEO, Market Views, and Clear Sky. There’s a bunch of them. Internally, we use Surfer SEO. I think it helps in a few ways. One way is if we just go to Google’s patents and their patents on information retrieval, they want to see related keywords in there. So, it can be LSI, semantic, it’s all pretty much the same thing. It’s just a keyword that’s related to make it be like, Okay, this is a more comprehensive article. So, that alone can be helpful. But what’s also helpful is sometimes Surfer will suggest keywords where you’ll be like, Oh, I didn’t even talk about this part of whatever the topic is. And it can give you ideas on maybe new sections of the article to add that you hadn’t previously thought of. So, it’s good for both those ways, I’d say.

Got you. Let’s talk about basically some automations that you prefer using just to scale up the SEO, either the analysis part or the implementation part from your end.

I’d Say, yeah. Obviously, there’s a lot of tools out there that help a lot. Ahrefs is amazing. Screaming Frog is amazing. Realistically, you can get 90% or more of the stuff automated and streamlined with Ahrefs and Screaming Frog. Outside of that, we use Zapier for a few things and just create our own custom Zapps to get different tools to work together. We use Google Data Studio to streamline reporting. Sometimes we make our own tools. So for example, when we write content, we want to be an authority on that content. So we’ll see all the questions people have. So we’ve built tools to scrape Google autocomplete, scrape Google people also ask, and just generate all the questions we need to answer in the content to be an authority for this article. So, it’s a combination of using what’s already out there, but then also building our own tools when there’s nothing out there that we need.>

That’s so cool, man. Keyword research, I would love to know your process. Right now, one of the biggest challenges that I see is clustering and bundling keywords together. That’s a pain point.
Because a lot of human touch. Automation is something which is not that great. Even though there are few tools out there in the market which do a certain job when it comes to automating this particular process. But I would love to know how exactly you go about it? And how much time do you spend on an average book client just to have that long, exhausting list of targeted keywords for them?

So, for the longest time, our process… I’ll go back eight years, I’m going to show you how our keyword research process has evolved over time. Back in the day, our process was, let’s find all the keywords on a site, and let’s find all the keywords we want to target. So we’ll do lots of keyword research, and then we’ll map all those keywords to pages. That’s what you’re talking about, clustering. It’s like, okay, all these variations of laptops, it’s like laptops, laptops for sale, best laptops, all those are going to go to one page. Everything about Dell XPS 15, Dell with Dell XPS, all those are going to go to another page. So it’s very manual. It would take us hours to just take all the keywords and group them up by page to see which queues are targeting pages. So, then instead of doing that, we relied more on Google’s rankings for clustering. So instead of us doing the manual clustering, we say, Hey, let’s just skip that step. Let’s just see what the site is already ranking for because Google is good at clustering already. They’ll say, Okay, on this page, Google is ranking these keywords.
Well, congratulations. Google just did a lot of the clustering for you. So we would use that as a method. But the issue with that, it’s way faster and way scalable, but you miss out on new keyword opportunities. It’s only going to show you what you’re ranking for. It won’t show you what other opportunities to target that maybe your competitors are ranking for. So, our latest approach to keyword research is we will first build a massive list. And I’m talking about thousands of keywords using Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer. We’ll look at the competitors to see each other. We’ll look at the competitors to see what keywords they’re ranking for. We’ll make this massive list. And then you can use tools out there like Keyword Cupid that will automatically take this list and then group them all together using artificial intelligence. What it will do is for every keyword, it looks at the search results, it will compare how similar the search results are and automatically cluster them together. So, it’s the only way you can reasonably cluster 1,000 of the keywords. And yeah, it works out pretty well. So, you get the benefit of having a huge data set, but it’s also not having to be done manually.

Brilliant. What is the end of this process? How time consuming is it now for you?

So, the old way of me doing it manually could be 10 to 20 hours. I’d say now it’s probably 3 to 5 hours.

That’s really nice.

Much more scalable.

And let’s talk about your link building process. What are the main key parameters that you look into before finalizing a prospect for link building or link building opportunity for your client? And what are the link building techniques that you usually leverage for your clients?

Sure. Well, we’ll start with the metrics and I’ll tell you the tactics that work really well. So as far as the metrics go, we’re going to look at domain ratings. We want the domain rating to be at least 25 or higher, preferably higher. And then traffic, we’re going to look at the traffic and Ahrefs to see, make sure it has some organic search traffic because what you’ll find, there could be like a DR 70 website that got penalized and now they’re not ringing for anything. And people just be like, Oh my gosh, I just got this DR 70 link, but if it’s not getting any visits per month, it’s probably because it was penalized and it’s not going to help you at all. So it’s good to look at both domain rating and the actual traffic according to Ahrefs.
You see it, plummet. That’s a sign. Maybe it’s not. But it’s also like, as much as I would love to see the trend for every single prospect, if you’re assigned with finding hundreds of prospects and link prospects, you might not have time to run every single one individually and see the graph or the trend, you might just need to see what’s the metric today. So it makes it more scalable for prospecting. We also will check to see if the site has an About Us page? Is there a person behind the site? Do they have any contact information, or is it just a PBN or affiliate site? We’ll actually check their external links to see if they are linking to pharmaceutical sites? Are they linking to crypto sites? Are they linking to debt consolidation or Viagra or all these other shady things? That’s probably one of the best checks to see who they’re linking out to. And if you notice they’re linking out to a bunch of casino scammy sites, you probably don’t want to get a link from them.

That’s really nice. Trust Flow, Citation Flow, all of those aspects as well. Is it something?

We do use Trust Flow sometimes, but Trust Flow has the pre categorized niches. It can be good on a general level, but it’s not always the most helpful. If you have a really specific client and a really specific niche and they don’t have a Trust Flow category for it, it may not be as impactful. Instead, we just use our own intuition and just look at the type of sites that we’re going to be getting links from.

Got you. Let’s talk about the tactics that you use.

Yeah. So, for e-commerce sites, I’d say one of the most effective ones is product reviews. We’ll find relevant blogs and we’ll send them products in exchange for a review. That works great because not only do we get a link for SEO, but we can also get some referral traffic and sometimes even direct sales. I’d say content marketing is another big one where we create a piece of content and then promote it to bloggers. It’s taken years to crack the code on that, but once you figure out what bloggers want to link to, it becomes a little more, I guess, consistent. And then we’ve done things like creating a scholarship and promoting that to universities. We’ll create a one time scholarship offering $500,000 to university students. And we’ll take that one scholarship and promote it to hundreds of universities. This is a great way to get some high authority education website to link back to us. We’ve done guest posting, but guest posting has definitely become abused a lot in the last few years. It’s probably not as effective as it used to be. But as long as the sites are legitimate, they have good SEO metrics, and they passed some of those tests I told you before, like, are they linking out to good sites?
Is it legitimate? As long as it’s not just a guest post farm, that strategy can work pretty well. I’d say that there’s dozens, if not hundreds of link building strategies, but I’d say those are probably the most powerful and consistent ones.

And do you also offer digital PR services to your customers?

Sort of. A lot of the strategies we do could fall under PR. So scholarship, that could be interpreted as a PR play. Pitching products to bloggers could also be a form of PR. We are experimenting with pitching stories, taking the entrepreneur stories and pitching that to get links from higher PR publications. But it’s very difficult. Now, these people are getting pitched all the time. And it’s an entirely different skill set to how you pitch a journalist at Huffington Post versus how you pitch an interior design blogger.
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Let’s talk about a few golden rules for e-commerce sites to become successful.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing for e-commerce sites… Okay, well, first off, most e-commerce sites that we see, they just don’t have a high enough domain rating. So link building and either building up, making a link building core competency and making it work, or working with a good link building partner, that’s going to be crucial. But let’s say you got link building side down. I’d say nailing search intent. So for whatever keyword you want to rank for, search that keyword into Google and see is Google ranking a product page, a category page, or an article. I see so often that somebody’s trying to push a category page for a keyword when you look at the search results and it’s all articles. If you look at page one and it’s all articles, it doesn’t matter how well optimized your category page is. Google is determined it’s not a good fit for the search intent, you won’t rank well. So, getting search intent correct and going with the grain on Google. And if they’re showing one thing, focusing on that, it can work really well. Targeting low competition keywords is going to be another one, especially if you have a lower domain rating, so really prioritizing.
And I’d say in general, with an e-commerce site, many e-commerce sites have hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of pages. Prioritization is very important. When you have all those pages, you have to determine where the few that can bring the most revenue. And you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of focusing on pages that probably can’t drive much revenue and aren’t worth focusing on. So, really taking time to prioritize and determine which pages are important and then putting your efforts there.

Got you. Anything that you use, because schema markup plays a very critical role, especially on e-commerce sites. Anything that you use to scale that process up for your clients, or do you still do the manual?

For most e-commerce sites, it’s mostly going to be on the product pages where you want to have price, review information, and all the other information about it. And doing it manually is very tedious. So instead, we rely on apps or extensions. Shopify has some good apps or extensions, which Genta does. But a lot of times, you can just make one core edit to the site template in the code, and that will scale it across all the sites. Sorry, all the pages. So I’m with you 100%. You don’t want to do it manually. Either make that one change in the template where it’s algorithmic across all product pages, or if that’s too difficult, look for an app or extension that can do it for you.

Got you. Is an Orphan page a problem for e-commerce? Is that something a usual site for you or is it not?

If you’re going to have hundreds or thousands of product pages, it’s very possible that a few might end up as orphan pages. And if a page is orphan, meaning it doesn’t have any internal links to it, then it’s never going to rank well. Basically, the more internal links to a to a page, you’re basically saying how important is this page to you? If it’s linked from your homepage and it’s in your top nav, you’re making it very visible. But if this page is buried deep in your website or orphan, then it’s basically telling search engines it’s not that important. And as a result, it won’t rank well.

Got you. Any preferred internal linking strategy that you mostly leverage? Because what I’ve seen in e-commerce business, most of the money making pages, definitely don’t have the natural tendency to get a backlink. So a lot of people use… Internal linking is something which is… If you do it right, you can still pass the juice to your main money making pages and get them ranking higher on. What strategy do you have for that?

Yeah. With backlinking, it can be tough. So, for internal linking, there’s a few guidelines that we always follow. So, first off, your homepage is going to be your most powerful page 99% of the time. So, if there’s a product or category that you want to rank higher, add a link to it from your homepage. Next is using a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs or Moz. You can see which pages in your site have the most link juice or page authority or URL rating. Go to those pages and you can add internal links to your most important product pages or category pages. You can even take it a step further. Let’s say you have a piece of content… Earlier I talked about creating a scholarship page and promoting it for backlinks. Let’s say you have a scholarship page that’s gotten dozens of backlinks from universities. What you can do is go to that scholarship page, add internal links to your most important product pages and category pages, but then also remove the top header and footer so that now, instead of all that link juice being spread across dozens of pages, it’s now just going to a handful, maybe 5 or 10.
Each of those links is going to be way more powerful, especially instead of being a top NAV element in the body itself. And that can have a positive impact on rankings as well.

That’s clever, man. Let’s talk about one of the more successful case studies where you’ve done wonders with the SEO wisdom. And what metrics, if you can share a few.

Yeah. Actually, I’ve been doing this a long time, but I’ve always been too busy to publish a case study. I finally got around to publishing a case study last month. So, after 10 years of doing this, it took me 10 years to publish a case study. But it was on, and the whole write up is on the 180 website, if you’re curious. But basically,, when the domain got acquired, and there was pretty much nothing on the website, it wasn’t being used. It was like DR 2. So we’re starting from scratch. And with them, they’re selling disposable gloves and nitrile gloves and latex gloves. And so we did… First, we did a lot of keyword research to see which pages we need to have and find all the long tail variations. So maybe you have latex gloves. And then we found people are searching by colour. So blue latex gloves, purple latex gloves, black latex gloves. We saw those people searching by industry. So food industry, tattoo for chefs, for tattoo artists, for whatever. So, we found all the ways people were searching for it and built out the sitemap that we need to have in place to rank well.
Then they were on Shopify, so we did a technical audit to see if there’s any technical issues and cleaned up. There were a few issues with broken links and canonicalization, so we got all that cleaned up. Then we created optimized content for all their top category pages. We did a bunch of blogging to increase their topical authority. So, we did research to see what questions people have about these products. And then we wrote dozens of articles to answer those questions. And then we also did heavy, heavy link building. We’re doing 20 to 40 links per month. And this is using the same strategies I mentioned. Product reviews, scholarship, guest posting, you name it. And it was a lot of work that went into it. But their traffic went from zero to 50,000 per month in just, I think, a little over 12 months.

And what was the deal after 12 months?

What’s the what after 12 months?

The domain authority.

Oh, we can check it right now. I believe it’s in the 30s.

Okay, that’s nice.

Yeah, I think it’s the 30s.

And do you consider both?

40, sorry. Right now, it’s 41.

It’s brilliant. And what’s the Domain rating?

Domain rating is 41 right now. And they ranked for about 50,000. Ahrefs showed 50 something thousand estimated organic visits. And as of now, they have about 700 referring domains.

And Jeff, in your eyes, do you think social signals have an impact, a direct impact on your SEO rankings and moving you up, making you rank for really good competitive keywords? Does that help and have you experienced it so far?

I don’t think it has a direct impact, but I think it has an indirect impact. So, if you get a lot of links from Facebook and Twitter and a page is getting shared a bunch, I don’t think that sharing the links is going to have a direct impact on your rankings. But typically, if a piece of content is really good and it’s getting shared a lot, oftentimes it’s going to have more reach and it’s going to end up in front of bloggers, and then bloggers will link to it. There’s an extremely high correlation between social shares and backlinks. So, I don’t think it’s so much the shares that are increasing rankings. I think content that’s shared will attract backlinks, and it’s the backlinks that are actually increasing rankings.

Got you. And since you’ve been in the agency business for quite a long time now, any bad experience that you’ve had, even though you’re trying to keep yourself with all your policies nice. Safe, but is there any bad experience in the lesson that you’ve learned?

Oh, yeah. If you do something long enough, you’re always going to make mistakes. There’s times we send out press releases with the wrong link and it got distributed to hundreds of outlets. There’s times trying to remove duplicate URLs from Google search console removal tool and we accidentally move the whole website. Stuff like that happens. And it’s fun to laugh about now. At the time, it’s not. But it’s just one of those things, accepting that you’re going to make mistakes and just put in the processes and procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m proud to say we haven’t made any mistakes like that in five years or so. But early on, if someone’s starting, of course, things are going to happen and you’re going to learn from it. And that’s what makes you an expert.

That’s true. I think we’re coming to an end here, Jeff, and I would like to have a quick rapid fire with you. Are you ready for that?

I’m ready for the rapid fire.

What’s something new happening professionally in your life right now?

Something new professionally? It’s funny because most of my time is going through just 180. So professionally, there really isn’t anything new. Just growing the company and experiencing what it’s like to manage a company at a slightly larger size in the previous few years.

Got you. And at what age do you want to retire?

I’d love to retire by age 40, but even if I retire, I’ll probably still want to work on something.

What’s something you could eat for a week straight?

Thai food.

What’s your inspiration and why?

My inspiration? I’m a big Tony Robbins fan. I think his story and his teaching has been very helpful for me and helped my mindset and outlook. So, Tony Robbins.

And coming to my last question, what is your last Google search?

Oh, gosh. I was probably looking up a ranking for keywords. I can’t remember. Oh, wait. No, I think I was looking at the whole Johnny Depp, Amber Heard Court case. That’s been interesting for me.

Yeah, it’s going viral, man.
Perfect. Thank you so much for all the time, all the wisdom. I really appreciate it.

Yeah, I appreciate you having me on. This was fun.

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