Mark Mathis: This is Mark Mathis from eCommerce Startup Magazine and in this interview, we’re excited to talk with Ezra Firestone of SmartMarketer.com.
Now Ezra is a true ecommerce expert having sold millions of dollars worth of products, real estate and training courses online. His expertise in search engine optimization and online media buying coupled with his knowledge of landing page psychology, ecommerce user behavior and social media marketing is a rare combination that lends itself particularly well to the selling of physical products online.
Ezra is a partner in BOOM! by Cindy Joseph and the company’s head of digital marketing. He’s also the founder and creative director of Smart Marketer, an information hub for do-it-yourself entrepreneurs. Ezra’s ecommerce and online businesses have also given him the freedom of resources needed to help his community through non-profit work as a head of We Are Family Manhattan, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization where he organizes a redistribution of surplus goods and food to those in need.
So just sit back and relax as Ezra shares all his secrets to building a hugely successful niche ecommerce business.
Mark Mathis: Hey Ezra. How are you doing today?
Ezra Firestone: Man, I’m doing so good. Thank you. I really appreciate you having me on.
Mark Mathis: We’re excited to have you on and just for everybody who’s listening right now, I have heard Ezra speak at an internet marketing conference over the last – it has probably been about six months ago and when I heard him talk, it was just like we were kindred souls. He’s really into the world of niche ecommerce in a big way and he’s the go-to guy for many of the largest internet marketers in the entire world. They come to him and get his perspective on what’s going on in ecommerce and I’m really excited to have him on the call today.
Ezra, just to get started, can you give us a little bit of background on yourself, your background, your education, how you got started in ecommerce, that kind of thing?
Ezra Firestone: Sure. Yeah. So I’ve got a very, very awkward background story. I grew up on a hippie commune in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California and also on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii and so I have sort of alternative view points on life because I was raised in this alternative style that wasn’t the normal way that people are raised in the society.
So that’s kind of funneled over into my view points on business and it’s a big part of why I’ve been so successful. I moved to New York straight after high school. I did not go to college. I feel like you get what you want from people who have it.
So if you want to learn how to run an ecommerce business, you find someone who’s doing it and you will learn from them and I looked at college and I thought, you know, there’s nothing there for me. I would like to do something else and I moved to New York and at the time, I was playing poker for a living. So I was playing poker at these underground clubs in New York City and supporting myself in this sort of seedy underground poker operations and that’s a whole funny story all on of its own. But I got together with my now wife and she was like, hey man, this will not fly basically.
So I got a regular job first working at a make-up shop and then working behind the desk at a yoga studio and I worked fulltime. I worked 60 to 80 hours a week and it was just really, really tough. You know, not the work itself. The work was fine and it was fun but it was just that grind and working that many hours a week and not having time to do anything that I wanted to do.
It was really hard on me and so I started looking for other avenues for how to support myself and how to make money and a friend of mine at the time was doing search engine optimization and he was teaching people. This was before the big life coach boom.
Nowadays, the coaching industry business coach and life coach and career coach and relationship coach, that’s sort of like a known term but eight years ago, nine years ago, no, that industry hadn’t yet taken off. He was one of the pioneers of that industry and he was generating leads and making his money by doing search engine optimization and pay per click advertising on Google 10 years ago.
We structured a deal where he was going to teach me SEO and I was going to teach him poker and I sort of got started that way and eventually ended up taking over the marketing for his information product business and sort of cut my teeth in marketing on information marketing and I did all kinds of marketing. I did CPA marketing. I did info products. I did affiliate marketing. I did local consulting before it was big.
I had all these businesses that were related to online marketing and none of them felt completely good to me. None of them really felt like they had full integrity.
For example, info marketing. At the time, it was really tough for me that you create this information and you create these information products and people who buy it don’t necessarily consume it all. They don’t necessarily go through it.
So the question of how to get people to consume the information they’ve purchased from you was one that we were having trouble answering. Since then, we’ve now figured that out, but same thing with CPA marketing. We were generating leaders for online schools but then the kids weren’t going to the schools and just the businesses that I worked didn’t have the kind of integrity that an ecommerce business has which is how I ended up finding ecommerce.
Someone is looking for a product. You show it to them. You don’t actually have to persuade them to buy it. They’re already looking for it. They buy it from you and then you ship it to them and they have something in their hands that they got from you. It’s just like it’s such a good business model and it just felt really good and I could tell my wife’s parents about it and so I was just really happy when I stumbled across ecommerce and I kind of just went full-fledged into it and my put my 10,000 hours in because I had found a business model that really resonated with me.
Mark Mathis: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny why circumstances kind of led you to ecommerce. It’s similar to how I was. I actually worked for Accenture for four years. I was a strategy consultant in Houston and we did very large multihundred million dollar projects for different companies over there and my wife also worked for them. So we would take turns. Her project would be in full on deadline mode and so she would be working 100 hours and sometimes I wouldn’t be working that many.
So when she would come home, she would just basically fall asleep in the bed and I would have her clothes ready and have her something ready to eat during the morning.
Then I would go through periods where I was the one working 100-hour weeks and she would do the same for me. So we kind of took care of one another and then we started wanting to look at having kids and so we moved to Baton Rouge where we live now. We have three children right now. Our oldest son Jack and then we had two twins back in 2008.
When they were born, my dad was just going through a lot of health-related issues and he had just actually gotten to where he couldn’t really run the family business. We have a house plans business and so I quit my job. I was a marketing director for one of the largest data centers in the southeast United States.
I had to quit that job to come back and take over our family business. At that same time, when my twins were born, they got meningitis while they were in the hospital which I had never even heard of. Really the meningitis. I’ve heard of it before but it was touching on whether or not they were going to make it, especially my youngest son.
So we were in the hospital in and out for about six months and a month and a half solid we were in the hospital taking turns going up there to visit. During that time, I realized how fragile my income was in the way that if I couldn’t physically be at my job, running our family business and things like that, it was very possible that that business could go away because you really have to treat your business like one of your children.
You have to be very mindful of it. You have to be there to respond to customer questions. You have to be able to disseminate work to different people, how it needs to be. So I started looking for different ways to kind of broaden my income streams as well.
One of the things that appealed to me to ecommerce is number one it’s fairly easy to define what types of products we would sell. It’s fairly easy to define what your cost is going to be. There is very little to know inventory cost which I love. In the house plans business, we have no inventory. It’s basically when someone orders, we actually have to print it real time and so we don’t have to actually physically buy a product.
But in ecommerce, we could test out different markets by drop shipping and then if it turns to be a winner, then we could actually buy a wholesale lot at better prices and increase our profits.
So anyway, long story short, that’s kind of how I came into ecommerce and I got to a point where I had probably two dozen different niche ecommerce sites and gradually we moved down. But yeah, it’s very interesting that our backgrounds are so similar.
Ezra Firestone: Yeah, I didn’t know that whole story. I appreciate you sharing. That’s heavy duty, man. I’m happy that the twins made it.
Mark Mathis: Oh, yeah. They’re wild as ever so it was definitely a happy ending on that. But yeah, if it wouldn’t have happened in that way, I don’t know if I would have gone this path. But there have been a lot of blessings for our family.
Now as far as niche markets, we talked about that a lot in the magazine. Traditionally and you probably evolved over time just based on your preferences. But are you typically focusing on a wide variety of different niches or do you choose a bigger niche and then you go break out different stores for smaller subgroups?
Ezra Firestone: When I first started, it was anything and everything, big wide variety, any kind of niche that looked good. Let’s rock it and now I’ve kind of come to the view point that it’s much better to have focus. Like I’ve got BOOM! which is my skin care company and now I’m launching another skin care brand in that same sector, same very, very similar line of products.
I think that there’s so much that you can get out of one niche and most people don’t realize it and they go, “Oh, I want to start another store. I want to start another store.” But I think it’s important to maximize what you have in that market before moving on.
So I’m now into going deep. I started with the let’s go wide and now my view point is that it’s smarter to go deep.
Mark Mathis: Yeah, absolutely. When you start having so many stores, you start to realize that leverage is a very good thing. So if you can re-leverage content in a variety of different ways and leverage learning process, so you don’t have to relearn different industries in the way that they operate in the mindset of the customers in that market, that saves you tons of time and it will help you definitely to be more profitable and to get more value out of every hour that you invest in this.
Ezra Firestone: Absolutely.
Mark Mathis: Now on niches, one thing I like to always ask is, “What’s one of the strangest niche markets that you’ve been in?”
Ezra Firestone: Well there have been some strange ones. Yeah, I think this one is actually not super strange. It’s fairly common, which is the Halloween sector. I sold a lot of really strange Halloween products and I love the market. Anyone who’s looking for a market ought to check out Halloween because the thing about Halloween is it’s so big. It’s so huge. You can have fairy costumes, pirate costumes, Batman, Superman, comic books, belly dance, dance costumes in general.
I mean there are just so many niches within that giant niche that you could just have a never ending supply of mini stores and mini sites within that larger niche. I just think it’s the most fantastic market and there are fantastic drop shippers out there in that market as well. I think it’s just a great one.
Mark Mathis: That’s great. Well one of the first ones that I did was ghillie suits and if you’re not familiar with that, it’s typically like sniper’s wear and they’re made to look like foliage and leaves in their full suits that you put on. It covers your head, your chest, your legs and people use them a lot to play paintball.
So they get out there and they blend in to their environment with all this. It’s actually a huge market. People are constantly looking for that. The thing that I found out – and this is one of my first drop ship sites is – if you don’t have a good supplier that can keep up with demand, then nothing else matters. So this particular supplier, never had any of the models that were being ordered. So I get these orders in and then go to fulfill them and they say out of stock. Well, when are they going to be back in stock? Well, we don’t really know.
Ezra Firestone: Oh, that’s so rough.
Mark Mathis: They don’t even know. So we have to return the funds and cancel the order and not only did we not get that order, but we lost the goodwill of that client and so chances of them coming back and reordering with us in the future were due to poor management on the part of the drop shipper.
Ezra Firestone: Yeah, it’s the worst man. You got to check your suppliers beforehand.
Mark Mathis: First of all, let’s talk a little bit about picking a niche in general. Now I know in a different article that’s in the magazine that I go through some of the things that I look for when picking a good market to go after. Is there a formula that you use to actually assess what’s a good market for you to go into, what holds a lot of promise?
Ezra Firestone: I’m going to hit you with a bunch of stuff right now off the top of my head. Here we go. Average order value. I like average order value. This is not average product price. This is average order value because sometimes people order more than one product, accessories, whatever between $75 and $200. The reason is if your average order value is not at least 75 bucks, you’re not usually making enough profit to be able to run ads. I like to run ads for my store. If your average order value is over than $200, $300, $400, you end up with a lot, lot more customer service that you need to do before they’re willing to buy. For under 300 bucks, 200 bucks, people are willing to pull up their card and just buy online. So I like that average order value.
Gross margin at 20 percent. You can’t really know this before you get into the market but if you’re not making a 20 percent margin on your orders, it’s really tough to be profitable with all the things you got to do in ecommerce. So I really like that. I like fragmented markets and what I mean by that is markets where there’s not the same 10 people ranking and buying ads for every single keyword in your market. There’s a little bit of room for you to come in and play.
Now competition is not a huge deal so this one is not super big. But it is important and I like markets that lend themselves to return customers. Think the gift market, gift baskets. People come and they buy those every holiday. Like they ghillie suit, they’re probably only going to buy one off but they might come back and paintball gear, whatever else, if you have X other stuff that’s relevant to that customer. I like markets that lend themselves to multiple item orders where people are going to order more than just one thing at a time, i.e. bar stools. Nobody buys just one of those things.
The other thing is markets that have products that are difficult to buy locally. Look, if you can go down to Best Buy down the street and buy the same thing, it’s going to be a tough market to compete in, right? But if it’s something like a ghillie suit, where is someone going to get a ghillie suit? They’re not going to get it anywhere locally. So they’re going to have to come online to find that.
I like seasonal businesses. I like businesses that have a high season, i.e. Halloween. I love that we do 50 percent of our business over the course of one month. Just the craziness, the rabidity, the way that people get in those seasons. They’re willing to just buy, buy, buy and you get these really engaged customers who – it’s just a really fun business when you have that big seasonal high.
I like markets that have at least 70 skews. If you don’t have at least 70 products, you tend to not really have enough fishnets out there to be able to rank and get good traffic. So the other thing that I like is products that aren’t super heavy. If your products are weighing over 30, 40 pounds – I try the standard 10 but if they get real heavy, then you run into problems there with shipping that are tough to overcome sometimes. It’s not a huge deal but I try to deal in lighter products.
Then lastly, I like markets that are geared towards women and that’s just because in niche ecommerce, there’s more men who are doing niche ecommerce stores. It’s just the way it is. There are more guys who are doing this therefore there’s more markets that are geared towards men like ghillie suits and there’s less stuff geared towards women, so you usually have a better opportunity in those markets.
Mark Mathis: Have you found a sweet spot as far as number or products that you try to – ideally if you can build out every store with this number of products to start out with, is it 75? It is 200? Is it 1000?
Ezra Firestone: I like 500. I like to have 500 skews if I can. If you get more than that, it gets to be a bit difficult to manage but that’s like a really good round number and you end up with a lot of – you get a lot of traffic direct to your product pages which we will talk about in the conversion element here. But I love that because it gives you so many opportunities for traffic directly to your stores.
So I honestly like the more skews, the better, but it gets a bit tough to manage over 500. Five hundred is still easily manageable and it’s just a really nice amount of products to have on the store.
Mark Mathis: Yeah, just a word of wisdom to everyone listening out there. I’ve had stores that were 3000 to 5000 products and you don’t realize how much management just having that number of products out there takes first of all. One of the most important things is properly search engine optimizing your products, making sure that your images are the same as what your drop shipper gives you and that 10,000 of his drop ship clients are actually using the same thing.
What you will find is if you find one drop shipper and they have a product that you’re looking for, you can just do a search typically for – there’s different ways that you can do searches in Google to find all about the drop shippers that are either using their website solution that they give them which you should never do.
Also you will find them using the same product descriptions, the same product names, the same images and there’s absolutely no differentiation. What you want to do is have a manageable group of products and 75 to 100 is a great starting point.
Ezra Firestone: Such a good starting point.
Mark Mathis: I didn’t grasp what a time commitment it was to load 3000 to 5000 plans and our products. Then to actually search engine optimize it because this isn’t something that we can do. You need to actually go and research that particular product and find out what are the buying keywords for that particular product.
So if you have 3000 different products, not just variations but 3000 different products, that’s a big job and then you have to worry about if you’re offering any sort of free shipping offer. You have to put that into your net profit calculation to figure out, OK, this is what I can get for it. This is what free shipping is going to cost me. This is my other brand. What do I need to practice that? So then you need to back into your actual prices you’re able to offer, keeping in mind that everyone else out there is also trying to under quote you on price.
So many times, in most cases, I’m not the lowest priced product but I want to remove products comparison in any way possible. So if someone can search my products skew, I haven’t changed it and maybe it’s the same exact product skew that the drop shipper gave me. So that means their clients are also using that same skew. If I can go out to Google and search for that product ID and find 15 other stores offering exactly the same product and they show the same pictures, they show the same descriptions, I’m competing on price at that point. That’s not where I want to be because I want to be able to build value as to what competitive differentiation I have.
So everybody when you’re starting out, start small. Seventy-five to a hundred is a great place to start especially as you’re learning and then expand later on when you find out what to actually sell. A lot of the times, things that you think will really sell great don’t and for whatever reason, they just don’t.
So if you focus all your time on building a huge product selection around one particular category, that time is really wasted because that’s not what people are buying.
Ezra Firestone: Yeah, it’s so true and what you said about not being the cheapest person in the market. I love that as well. I’m never the cheapest person in the market because what we do is we add more value to the marketplace. We have a better store. We have better customer service. We have better sales material on our pages so we can afford to charge more.
So I think that being the cheapest is really a strategy that’s not necessarily a good one.
Mark Mathis: Never, never, never, because you have customer service requests and as again to even drop shopping. If you are to have returns, that’s a complicated process and that’s something for an entirely different call. So you want to make sure that your customer service can keep up with the number of customers that you have and as you do have things that go along with – just purchasing the product is one thing. You want to provide them with a solution to their problem. So you might provide them with special bonuses, how to use this product to maximum benefit. You might provide them with a special report or videos that show them different areas that maybe lead them to purchase complementary products that will make that particular product more enjoyable.
So always be thinking about different ways that you can differentiate from the masses because if it’s more difficult to do and it takes more time on your part, 99.9 percent of the people aren’t going to take that extra step and that’s what’s going to be the kicker that puts you on top of everybody else.
Ezra Firestone: It’s so true and I think we’ve got that in our show notes here of what we’re going to get to because I think – we’re going to talk a little bit about conversion in a second here, right?
Mark Mathis: Absolutely. Let’s go straight into that. So everybody, there’s a couple of ways to make more money. Number one is to get more traffic and number two is to increase your conversions. It’s a lot easier to increase your conversions by doing some smart things on your site layout, then worry about getting more customers.
So Ezra, tell us about a few of the different items that can help us to increase conversions on our existing stores.
Ezra Firestone: Sure, and I just want to touch on quickly. We’ve got a video attached to this issue of the magazine where I go over specifically your product page conversion booster. It’s the most important page on your store is your product page, the page that is displaying the products that you’re selling and I’ve got a whole video for you guys about how to get the maximum value from that page.
Now, moving in to conversion boosters, the thing that you just said is by far the best one you can possibly do because it’s what differentiates you and what Mark was talking about was value. What value are you bringing to the products? What value are you bringing to the marketplace beyond just listing the products?
Do you have a video talking about this product and showing its features and benefits? Do you have a really rich description that talks all about not just the features of the product? Most people are talking only about the features. Who cares about the features? What people care about are the benefits of the product.
So not the fact that the microphone has a 32-inch steel rim but that they’re going to sound like the best person on the podcast with that microphone or that their grandparents are going to be able to hear them clearly through Skype when using that microphone, so the benefits.
When we talk about what value are you adding to the market, are the education guides, informational guides on the products. So any kind of education or information or your own view points on what’s going on in that market. But anything that you can add to the market beyond just listing the products is huge for conversion. Do you have a frequently asked questions video? Do you have a video on your contact us page introducing yourself? Do you have a shipping information video right there on your product page? Everybody wants to know what your shipping policies are. Well, explain it to them through video. Add some value to your market.
Create a relationship with your customers. I think that adding value to the marketplace is by far the highest leverage conversion lever that you have. Second is congruency. I see this is so big and so many people don’t do this. When someone clicks Add to Cart, it takes them to a page that looks nothing like the website they were just on. It looks nothing like the store that they were just on. You’ve got to have your shopping cart process look congruent to your website.
Otherwise you will just significant decreases in conversion. When people implement this, they often see a doubling in their conversion rates and then the third thing and I think what everyone knows about, it’s super hot right now, is video. Product videos convert. Sixty-four percent of the people who come to your website will watch that product video for an average of two minutes.
Product pages that have videos on them convert at 164 percent higher on average. They work. You have to be doing video.
Mark Mathis: Tell us a little bit more about the product videos. Are these slideshow type videos with maybe a voice overlay or are you doing actual walkthrough videos like they do in Zappos?
Ezra Firestone: Yeah, there’s a bunch of different ways you can do it and my thing is do it however you can. My favorite is an open of the box. Hey, this is what this product looks like. We’re going to open the box for you. Open it up. People will really engage in that.
Here’s what it looks like when you pull it out. Here’s how you turn on. Here’s what it does. Here’s the back of it where you’re actually showing them the features and the benefits of that product.
If you can’t do that, even just a picture of the product with you talking, even if that’s it and it’s just a voiceover and a picture of the product, that works great too.
Other great product videos are the usage, so someone actually using it, showing how it works. So there’s this pool website that shows how these – friend of mine Audrey Kerwood that sold these pool balls that lit up. They were glow in the dark pool balls or light up pool balls and it’s just a video showing how those things work and showing people playing on the table and it gave them such high increase in conversion.
So it doesn’t really matter honestly what the video is. I love the open the box videos. I love that this is what this product does videos but oftentimes when people have – there’s a website out there. I think it’s called Treepodia. I’m going to take a look right now. Yeah, it’s Treepodia.com and what they do is they create these videos and basically they will take your product image and they will do like a 360-degree photo of it and they will put some music to it and a few little words and they can do that like on 1000 products.
So you can get videos for every one of your products in this sort of automated way and then you can do good videos for the real special products, for the best sellers.
Mark Mathis: That’s awesome. If anyone hasn’t heard of unboxing videos, if you just do a search on Google or YouTube, for example MacBook Pro unboxing. There are thousands of videos of people just unboxing products especially in the technology space where people’s – Apple’s styling on their box is a way that they package everything even within the boxes. They’re elegant especially for new products.
There will be tens of thousands of videos of people actually receiving the box. OK, I’m about to cut the shrink wrap. I’m about to open the cardboard box. The first thing that comes out is this huge [0:28:42] [Indiscernible]. Now we have a CD that comes out next. You would think just in me telling you this, it wouldn’t sound like it would be interesting but there’s a whole subculture of people who that’s extremely interesting to and especially in this day and age, you can’t be a faceless owner of a store. You can’t just be a corporation that owns these stores.
One of your distinct advantages over larger companies is that you can put your face with your store brand. So everything that you can do to have you or someone in your company to actually get in front of the camera or at least hear your voice, that builds that familiarity with you and your store. So that’s a tremendous thing that you can do. Anything that you can do to create that bond and build rapport with your clients and prospects by doing simple videos like this is tremendous because it really doesn’t take you maybe five minutes total and the rougher the better sometimes.
I mean many people get into the situation where they’re thinking, “I have absolutely no video skills and I really don’t think that I can do this,” and they use it as a crutch to why they don’t create these videos. It’s ridiculous in this day and age because the quality of the camera that you have on your iPhone right now or your Android phone, even the built-in microphone, even if you don’t have an extra microphone, people like reality. They don’t like to see something that’s super polished in many cases because it doesn’t look real. It doesn’t look believable.
You want to show them exactly what they’re going to be getting. So you don’t have those customer care nightmares in the backend where they say, “Hey, this is nothing like what I was expecting.” You’re putting it out for them in front of their face. They can see exactly what it looks like when it comes to them in a box.
Ezra Firestone: Absolutely. I think that that’s a good point that you don’t have to worry about it being super professional. It doesn’t matter. People just want to know that you’re real, that you exist, that there’s a person behind that store. I did a video called the Faceless Ecommerce Store is Dying and you can check my blog for that but it’s along the lines of everything that you just said that I’m in 100 percent agreement. I think that that is our advantage as smaller retail merchants that we really can have a face and a personality behind our stores.
Mark Mathis: Absolutely. Now the next area I would like to talk about is traffic and search engine optimization. Now many of the people that will be listening will probably have some background and generalities about search engine optimization and how it works. But they may not appreciate the gravity of how stark the difference is between today how you get traffic and the different mediums that you have to get traffic versus say even three years ago. So three or four years ago what you basically did was you either bought ads through pay per click, Google AdWords or there were other smaller platforms as well or you could do basic search engine optimization where you did link building.
So you got a lot of links from a lot of different sites, ideally a lot of higher authority sites. For example if you want to rank for New Balance 8120 shoes, you get a lot of links pointing to your product page that’s a New Balance 8120 shoes and singular and it could somewhat easily be manipulated and Google has evolved to a point where they discount that type of link building more so than they did in the past and today’s game is to basically communicate with your target market and as many places as you can possibly do that. That includes SEO. That includes social media. That includes videos. That includes reviews. That includes articles. That includes podcasts. Anything that you can think of to actually get your message out there and it doesn’t mean to be a sales message at all. This can be just informational podcast.
In one of my markets, our company sales house plans and what we do is we don’t market on our Facebook page and say, “Go buy our house plans. This is our new house plan. This is why our house plan is the best.” What we do is we built a community around cool things that you can do to the house and it’s all about the dream of building your dream house. Everybody wants to build their dream house and it may not be now. It may be 10 years down the road but what we’re trying to do is find cool ideas of things that you can do in your new house.
For example, one I put up the other day was – it was a huge island in the middle of this kitchen and it had a trapdoor that you open and you could walk down into a safe room underneath the island and so it was a concrete block wall. It was and all that kind of stuff.
I just thought it was a really cool idea that somebody could implement especially if you’re building an area that has a good idea. But the idea is to bring your audience together around a common theme as to what you’re ecommerce site sells. Then build rapport that way and people just easily go towards your commerce store if they’re looking to buy the types of product that you’re selling. If you’re not coming from a very salesy background or view point, that’s so much more palatable than just shoving down their throat. You know, here’s my product. Buy it.
So anyway, can you tell me a little bit more about ecommerce in the day and age, how you go about actually getting traffic and what some of your best time spent as far as social media and that kind of stuff?
Ezra Firestone: Absolutely. I think you touched on a lot of it just now. But most merchants have not yet taken the product listing ads. Google Shopping used to be free. You used to just upload your feed to the Google Merchant Center and you would be included in Google Shopping.
Now in August of 2012, they changed all that because they had gotten enough traction on that channel that they could afford to start running ads there and so now you have to pay.
But Google’s product listing ads are still 30 percent cheaper and still convert about 100 percent higher than text ads. So if you’re not doing product listing ads, they’re just a fantastic opportunity to get such targeted, relevant, highly converted ecommerce traffic. We do product listing ads services for people because most people aren’t taking advantage of that within their AdWords account.
So we found that most ecommerce store owners like want help with that. Now the thing that I like to think about when – because still look, social media traffic, fantastic. Doing a video blog and blasting is out there on social media and getting it out in front of your customers that way and building a relationship and building engagement.
What that does for us is it creates repeat sales. It creates community. It creates repeat business. It’s the third part of the puzzle. You need to be visible so you need people to know you exist. Then you need to convert them into buyers. That’s conversion. The first one was traffic and then you need people to engage with you, build a relationship and come back and do business with you again.
That’s what you use social media for. We still use search traffic. That is still our number one source of traffic for ecommerce stores. Now what you have to understand about a search engine result page is that the game has changed. Google has implemented universal search and that’s because they understand that different users prefer to consume media in different formats.
Some people like to watch videos. Some people like to listen to audio. Some people like to look at images. So you have all these opportunities to rank because now what Google is doing is they’re including these different media formats within the search engine result page. So for any given search query, you’re going to have a video. You’re going to have an audio. You’re going to have an image. You’re going to have a news result. You’re going to have a channel result like Amazon.
So for every single keyword, you can now rank a video. You can rank your website. You can rank your Amazon listing. You can rank an image. You can have a text ad. You can have a product listing ad. You can like have eight rankings on the first page of Google for any given query if you understand these channels within that search engine result page.
I think the easiest one to do is videos because videos rank super easy. So if you have an ecommerce term that’s killing it for you, that’s doing really well that you’re ranking for, you can go ahead and throw up a video about that term and optimize it and you will rank that video really, really easily.
I think product listing ads are just the most fantastic and wonderful source of traffic for ecommerce stores that exist right now. Also love channels. I love uploading my products to Amazon and ranking those Amazon listings.
I love uploading my products to Price Grabber and The Find and all these other shopping channels. So there’s just so many opportunities for traffic and I think the best one, the ones that people aren’t taking advantage of are product listing ads and video rankings.
Mark Mathis: Absolutely. On a couple of that, on the videos, if you’ve not done video marketing in the past, there are some things that you can do with videos, especially YouTube videos that are by the way, the easiest way to rank quickly than anything.
So the way it works, many people might not know that what you’re seeing when you do a search on Google.com is not a real time search result. It’s actually going through its existing database and right now, it’s taking between six and ten weeks to actually go up there and index the internet and make all the updates in its database.
Then when the updates are made, it has to basically go across all the localized versions of the database that’s across the world. So an update that you do in your website, typically some updates might take six to ten weeks to actually show. Other ones show up quickly. They’ve added in some these types of updates are adding more frequently.
But videos, Google has robots on the site of YouTube and they’re basically saying, “OK. Is there some new content? If there is, grab it. Let’s put it in and index immediately,” because they want to be the go-to place for the number one local listing. So if you’re searching for San Diego plumber, they realize that some of these other sites like Yelp and even Facebook to a degree were taking away some of their business for their local business.
So they implemented Google Places which is now called Google Plus Local, I think. But there are no fees to actually have that listing. There’s no pay per click listing fees and it’s just a great way to get immediate exposure. The YouTube videos are another great way. If you do some simple optimization, you do some keyword research and find out exactly what keywords to include. You include the link back to your website. You include the right videos and then you do some backlinks pointing to that video. Then you can rank that very, very highly. So that’s a great way.
Now the Google product listings, well probably three years ago, I was using that primarily to get traffic to a lot of my source and it was working great. You could do some simple optimizations and put these products out there and there were no click fees. So you had a [0:40:00] [Indiscernible] and then I haven’t actually been involved with that as much over the last three years. So I’m really interested in talking to Ezra a little bit more about that particular item because …
Ezra Firestone: Oh, man. You can do such cool stuff. They let you do these things called AdWords labels which so you can take your product data feed and you can label all of your highest margin products. So you can run ads specifically to those. You can group them so you’re running ads only to your different sections and you could just do really cool targeting within the product listings.
People haven’t taken to it. They don’t really understand how it works and it’s all done through data feeds and the Google Merchant Center and it’s just a fantastic way to generate some traffic. So I would love to talk more about it.
Mark Mathis: Yes, especially if you have larger stores. A data feed is basically a machine readable version of your product and so it has all your product data as a link directly to your image and things like that. So as you make updates in your store, that feed is automatically published wherever it is subscribing to. So it’s automatically updated on Google. It’s automatically updated on the site and wherever else.
That’s a great way to get that exposure because as Ezra said, with the universal search, it’s not all about getting your website to rank now. In fact that’s becoming lesser and lesser of a main focus. It’s all about getting as many different websites showing your products as possible.
For example, on Amazon we have different B to Bs and different products that we market and we drive with you online marketing every single month and drive backlinks and even do video marketing to drive people back to Amazon for that particular product. The reason being is that I have absolutely no chance ever in a million years of beating Amazon at the terms that they want because they spend tens of millions of dollars a year with Google to get that placement and they just rank higher by default than I could ever – if I had a million dollars a month to spend on marketing, I could never rank for a particular product as high as Amazon does just out of the box.
So take advantage of all those different places that allow you to have your products on there because at the end of the day, you really don’t care where people find your product or where they buy as long as the margin is there and that you need to be profitable. You’re gaining a customer and if you have a business that lends itself to repeat visitors, then you just gained a customer and you can drive them back to your own stuff with more profitable sales down the road.
Ezra Firestone: Amen to that.
Mark Mathis: Yeah. Now quickly, let’s go into shopping carts. Now I know you and I both have used a lot of different carts over the years and each one has a lot of advantages and each one has a lot of disadvantages and you really don’t know until you get into it and you start trying to do some funky stuff to actually up the conversion rate and doing some things in the backend. So if you had to pick one or two that you would recommend someone just getting started whether they would be brand new to ecommerce or already have a business and want to go online, what are a couple of carts that you recommend and why?
Ezra Firestone: This is the big question. Everyone asks this question and the truth of the matter is they all have their ups and downs. Every cart has positives and negatives and there are so many options out there right now. When we got started, you really only had a couple of options. You have like Yahoo! and Magento and like a couple of these other ones that are old school now.
But now you’ve got so many options and I think that the one that I recommend above and beyond all the others is Bigcommerce. There’s a couple of reasons but the main reasons is pretty plain and simple which is they have by and large the best customer service.
Now I love Yahoo! I’ve done big business with Yahoo! but their customer service is not as good. They just don’t have it together the way that Bigcommerce has it together. You call Bigcommerce; you can get a hold of those people. They will walk you through whatever the issue that you’re having is. It’s just so important when you’re dealing with a cart, that you would be able to get in touch with those people and talk to them.
Also Bigcommerce is HTML-based. So it’s really easy to make changes or mess with the HTML or have custom coders put stuff together for your store which is Yahoo! or some of these other ones.
Yahoo! particularly is built on RTML which is their proprietary language which makes it really hard to make edits. Bigcommerce also has plug-ins for just about anything you can imagine. They have this third party app network where you can plug in shopping cart abandonment which is actually built right into that platform. Now you don’t need a plug-in for that but plug-ins for exit pops, plug-ins for Analytics. Just plug-ins for anything that you could probably think of for your store, they already have it. Live chat, all this cool stuff is already built in, one click plug-ins.
So they’re just on it and they’re adding 10,000 new trials and 2000 people actually continuing. So they get about 2000 new Bigcommerce stores a month right now and that level of incentive, that number of people joining their program, they’re just growing so fast and I’m not seeing them experience the growing pains that you would normally see.
I’ve been down in their offices. I’ve checked out what they’re doing. I’ve seen their customer support team in action. I just really, really like Bigcommerce and where they’re moving and what they’re doing. I believe they’re the Zappos of ecommerce platforms.
Mark Mathis: Absolutely. A couple of other items about Bigcommerce is that all the new trends that are coming on today is your website needs to work right on an iPad or a tablet. It needs to look right on mobile phones. It needs to integrate with social media. You can actually sell your products no Facebook out of the box with Bigcommerce which other platforms offer similar functionality but nothing that’s as seamless as what they’re offering currently.
As you’re building out your new site, you don’t want it based off old technology. For example, videos. They all need to be HTML file compatible because Apple has said in all their glory that hey, we’re not going to support Flash. That means all FLV video files. Bigcommerce takes a lot of the complexity out of the equation and they just basically give you what you need.
Maybe you don’t know that you can’t have Flash on your site and so they just basically handle that for you. Maybe you don’t think about the idea of maybe 25 percent to 40 percent of your clients might be actually looking at your site on an iPad. That’s kind of a big deal because some of the platforms look really horrible on mobile devices and in the future, that’s going to be the game changer because people want to be able to use your site wherever they’re comfortable.
My wife doesn’t use a live copy anymore. All she uses is her iPad and she does all of her ecommerce on that. I can tell you she comes in there nightly. There’s not a night that goes by that she doesn’t come in there and ask me if she’s doing something wrong on this particular site because it doesn’t look right. It won’t let her type in her email information to actually order the products or whatever it might be. There’s just something funky about the site. It’s nothing about the iPad.
So keep all of those things in mind is that you want a vendor for your shopping cart that gets it and is constantly looking at ways to improve it and to get your cart where it needs to be in the future, not just about today. But they need to have a plan for where it’s going in the future. That way, you don’t have to be the one that’s constantly saying, hey, Mr. Programmer that I will work with, I need to be able to add X, Y and Z. OK? How much is it going to cost me? How long is it going to take?
Then when you actually developed, it’s something else or it may be outdated already. So I used to build a lot of my own carts and sites. Nowadays with some of that carts that are out there and what’s available out of the box, you just can’t beat them. So it’s interesting that you said that because even Yahoo! a few years ago was a big player and I’ve used Yahoo! quite a bit. People still swear by Yahoo!
Ezra Firestone: Man, and I still swear by Yahoo! honestly. I love Yahoo!’s platform. I love the ease. One thing that Yahoo! has, you can upload products by spreadsheet easier than any other platform. Yahoo! has got a bunch of great benefits to it. But I think with some of the things Bigcommerce is doing like making the sites mobile-ready and all that stuff you just talked about, I think they’ve actually eclipsed them. It’s unfortunate but it is.
Mark Mathis: Yeah, it is. We’re platform agnostic, wherever we can go that gives us the best benefit and the easiest to use for backend and most search engine friendly and that kind of thing. Both Ezra and I – I will speak for him. I would think that we’re all platform agnostic. We go where the best technology is and we try to use that going forward and that’s what we talk about in the magazine as well is trying to keep everyone abreast of what the latest and greatest is because it can mean huge differences in the amount of profits that you make on a monthly business for one store. But if you have a network of stores, then you can apply that to your entire network, then it amplifies your margins.
Ezra Firestone: Absolutely.
Mark Mathis: Now the last question and we will end on this one is, “What are some of your favorite tools and online services that you use?”
Ezra Firestone: I love ConversionsonDemand.com. They’ve got some fantastic conversion elements that you can implement in any ecommerce cart and they really help you with conversions. They got some really cool stuff they’re doing, ConversionsonDemand.com, a service by a company called Exclusive Concepts.
I love SpeakPipe.com for the blog. It allows people to leave voice comments, which is such good social proof. You could use them in so many ways. I love SpeakPipe.com. Fantastic tool and I love Olark.com or LiveChat.com for live chat. If you’re not doing live chat on your ecommerce store, you have to start right now.
So, those are my three little tools I have for you guys. I think they’re fantastic resources and you should definitely use them.
Mark Mathis: Absolutely. You actually turned me onto Olark. I’ve implemented them on my sites and if you’ve not done live chat because you think it’s a lot more customer service bandwidth than you’re ready for, just try it out. They have a free trial and the cool thing about it is you can see real time where people are from. You can see here’s Akron, Ohio; and New York City; San Francisco, California and you can see the flow of pages that they’re going through on your site. So when they actually prompt you to chat, you can speak with education. You can see actually where they progress. It can be more helpful in what you recommend that they look at next.
It allows you to be a lot smarter in talking with these people because if you don’t have something like live chat but you’re tracking and that’s integrated into your cart, then people will ask you very generic questions and those questions to them make perfect sense because they’ve been through a different pattern on your website that you might not know about.
But if you can see the flow that they’ve been through, they’ve been back 15 times over the last few days, and maybe they’re really concentrating on this one category and maybe they keep doing a sort by price and that can show the cheapest things at the front.
All those things are pieces of information that you can use to generalize basically what they’re looking for and you can provide them with a more personalized recommendation than you could ever do just by getting a generic question back through your contact us form.
So that was a great eye-opening thing for me. I knew I should have been doing it. I just hadn’t implemented live chat. It’s definitely going to be a part of every store that I launch going forward.
Ezra Firestone: That’s awesome. I’m very happy to hear it.
Mark Mathis: Well, Ezra, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us a little bit more about if someone wants to find out more about you, your products, some of the services you offer? Everybody, if you’re looking for an ecommerce store and you want to have someone who actually does this day in and day out and knows exactly what they’re talking about, alleviate a ton of learning curve for you. Ezra does this. His company does this. They will actually build out your store. They will help you with your search engine optimization. They will help you answer questions that you might not be thinking about. So he’s an awesome resource.
Ezra, how can someone find out more information about you and contact you?
Ezra Firestone: You can go to my marketing blog which is SmartMarketer.com. You can also email me, Ezra@SmartMarketer.com. We do all kinds of stuff. We build out stores. We do design and development for current stores on carts like Magento and ShopSite and Volusion and X-Cart and Zen Cart and 3DCart.
We build stores on Bigcommerce and all those platforms I just mentioned. We do AdWords management. I have an ecommerce mastermind where I work directly with ecommerce business owners to grow their business.
Basically I would love to engage with you. I would love to know what you’re up to. I would love to see if there’s a way that I can help and no question is too small or too big. Shoot me an email. Let me know and I’m available and I’m here. This is what I enjoy doing, so please take me up on it.
Mark Mathis: Awesome, Ezra. Well, we appreciate you and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.
Ezra Firestone: Well thank you. I appreciate you having me on and thank you everyone for taking the time to listen. That’s very generous of you to spend your time with us.
Mark Mathis: Absolutely. Contact Ezra directly if you need any shop built or have any questions. He’s an awesome resource and otherwise, you can just contact us at info@TheECommerceStartup.com. So for myself and Ezra, we appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen to this interview and we will talk to you soon.
Ezra Firestone: Awesome.
Mark Mathis: If you liked this interview, be sure to check out even more success stories and ecommerce tips and tricks in the latest issue of the eCommerce Startup Magazine. Subscribe today and get immediate access to all issues on your iPad at www.TheECommerceStartup.com/Magazine.
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