Candour

Episode 86: 2020 e-commerce SEO with Roman Sadowski

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook talking to e-commerce SEO expert Roman Sadowski about what it takes to rank in 2020.

  • What should your day-to-day look like running the SEO for a large e-commerce site?

  • What are the important e-commerce ranking factors in 2020?

  • How important are Google's coming e-commerce SERP changes?

  • How can in-house SEO teams be the most effective?

  • What is the advice for people new SEOs joining e-commerce brands?

Show notes

A new way to find clothes, shoes and more on Search blogpost https://www.blog.google/products/search/new-way-find-clothes-shoes-and-more-search/

Episode 56 https://withcandour.co.uk/blog/episode-56-coronavirus-e-commerce-insights-with-luke-carthy

Episode 57 https://withcandour.co.uk/blog/episode-57-e-commerce-categorisation-and-faceted-navigation-seo-with-kristina-azarenko

Transcript

MC: Welcome to episode 86 of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on Thursday the 5th of November 2020. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and today, we are going to be joined by Roman Sadowski, who is the head of SEO for Smyth's Toys and he's going to be talking to us about e-commerce SEO and the future of e-commerce online.

Before we kick off, I'd like to tell you this podcast is very kindly sponsored by Sitebulb. So I've spoken about them pretty much every episode now for the last few weeks, as our sponsor, and every episode I talk about a new kind of feature or thing about Sitebulb that I like or I find particularly helpful, because as hopefully you know by now, it is a tool that I and many of the people in the SEO community use in house and in agencies.

The thing I want to talk about on Sitebulb today is actually their crawler. So there's lots of different ways to crawl the web and render web pages and a really cool thing about Sitebulb is that when you're doing a crawl and rendering Javascript through Sitebulb, it uses an evergreen chromium rendering engine. So it's going to be super close to what Google is seeing and this is really, really important when you're trying to work out what's going on on your site and how Google's interpreting it.

So hopefully we all know Google goes through for one of a better way to describe it, there's two phases of crawling and indexing whereby Googlebot visits a web page, grabs the URL and gets the raw html and because of how lots of modern websites work with various Javascript frameworks, this may not be the equivalent to what an end user, browsing the site would see. So it does go through this rendering process at Google with caffeine, their indexer, and at that point using the same evergreen engine it renders the Javascript and tries to understand what it's seeing. So you can of course do raw html crawls as well with Sitebulb, which is how they have that great feature we talked about before which was comparing the Javascript to none Javascript version for things like where links are getting injected or modified on the page. But using this evergreen chromium renderer means that they're able to do things like page speeds reports, mobile friendly reports, code coverage, all of this stuff as Google would see it and as Google is going to judge it they can run through their crawl and give you a report on. So it's really, really, really helpful to be able to see site-wide - okay, what's our page looking at, what's the time to interact, when's the dom ready, how long is the first page load, what's the time to first buy all of these things - really, really helpful. Of course if you've got enough traffic, you'll have the chrome user experience reports with some of those metrics coming through Google search console but this is a really good way to get a snapshot of your site and really get the detail of is there a specific page templates for instance that are causing you issues.

So, Sitebulb, a special deal for Search with Candour listeners. You can go to sitebulb.com/swc and you can get a 60 day extended trial of Sitebulb, instead of the usual 14 days. No credit card required, so it's all free, go and give it a go.

And today as I said, we are joined by Roman Sadowski who is the senior SEO at Smyth's Toys. He's been there, as far as I can see six and a half years, is that right Roman?

RS: That's right, yeah six and a half years.

MC: I'll let you do an introduction to yourself in a moment. I had a quick look, poke around the Swiss toys site with some tools like SemRush, which suggests you're getting in the eight figures per month of organic traffic worldwide, so it looks like a really big site. I’m really interested to talk to you, about your experiences you've had with that. But could you just give us an intro about yourself and maybe how you got into SEO and how you ended up at Smyth's, please?

RS: Sure, no problem. Hi Mark, thank you very much for having me here. I'm thrilled to be here and just want to say this is a great podcast in the SEO community. So I've been following you for over a year now, obviously I haven't listened to all the episodes but this stuff is great you give us, keep up the good work.

MC: Oh, thank you.

RS: So I'm Roman Sadowski. I suppose my story with SEO started back in 2004/ 2005. I cannot say that I started to work in SEO in 2005, it wasn't my full-time job at the time, but it was a rather pursuit of income in my spare time and that led me to SEO. I started to build websites and obviously SEO was a default source of traffic for me at that time, as I didn't have any marketing budget. So obviously to make any money back then I knew that I had to figure out how to find keywords online and how to run websites. There were days where keyword tag was a ranking factor - so I don't know if you remember those days Mark, it was very easy to get traffic, obviously a lot changed ever since SEO, but I suppose I've learned SEO by doing it over the years and it came naturally to me and I suppose it became my hobby.

So over the years I started and stopped a number of online ventures which always evolved some kind of marketing strategy and SEO has always been a core of it. I started to work in Smyth’s Toys in 2014 and I suppose that was my first, true full-time SEO position and so I am responsible for SEO for the company, but I am also involved in web analytics, web tracking reporting, or on-site search optimisation which all ties in nicely with SEO anyway.

I was lucky enough to be a part of our expansion to the UK and then almost two years ago, to Europe. We launched our website in Europe, in March last year, so yeah it's been a very fascinating few years so far, and with site migrations and all sorts of mad projects we worked on. Obviously this year is different again with COVID and lockdowns; it all brings new challenges to SEO, as opposed to all websites. So yeah, life is only getting better and yeah, that's my story in a nutshell.

MC: I think it's interesting so anyone that started seo in you know early 2000s - 2004/2005. The story is really similar in that it was essentially people building and SEOing their own sites that's because there wasn't anything like Brighton SEO for instance, that didn't exist. There was certainly nothing happening at colleges or universities talking about SEO, there weren't even many books on the subjects, was there? There was very few actual printed books and it was mainly people just learning off forums and like you say, because I think it wasn't taken that seriously by big businesses, the difficulty was a lot lower and it was actually a lot of just people at home sometimes getting a lot of traffic because they'd invested some time looking into that.

So yeah, I think that's a fairly common story, if you did start that long ago, being self-made and obviously now moving into a company where you're dealing with millions of visitors per month, that's obviously again very, very different from that beginning. So what does your day-to-day look like? What's an average day or an average week look like for you managing SEO for such a large ecom site?

RS: Well obviously the current situation is a bit unusual because of COVID, we try to be in office as much as possible, but recently, we cannot be in office at all because Ireland went into level five lockdown as of last week. So we all work from home and catch up on chats and hangouts and stuff.

These days my days split between ongoing SEO projects, monitoring and training. As you can imagine our industry's dynamic and seasonal, and things change quite a bit, I suppose compared to other industries which could be much more static, so all these circumstances are challenging for SEO, if you want to stay ahead and prioritise work. So we try to apply the 80/ 20 rule to all we do. We tend to work on projects depending on what is important to the business at the time. So we have a fairly good weekly SEO report, which contains priority keywords for us and concepts that are important to the business. So that data is being driven by all the teams, so on principle it is fresh and highly prioritised in terms of what is important to the business at the time. So this is our base for any ongoing work, in terms of SEO, and apart from that, we would also look into any underperforming categories across the business on a regular basis. We would then break them down and brainstorm ideas for improvement, and we also try to get ahead in Google for those products and concepts that are scheduled to go online in the future.

Lots of, not laws, but few daunting tasks like on a weekly basis. We would go through our SEO reports generated in Google Analytics where we track empty pages, 404s, any faulty pages that need to be fixed. So that allows us to keep the link equity, under the domain and keep the index neat for Google.

What else to share? For example, I designed and ran an SEO training session for all teams involved in the web content. It is important to us that all relevant teams know what SEO is and are SEO aware, as you can imagine all the teams in the company have an impact on rankings. So we like the free flow of expertise between the teams and you know all teams have access to any necessary data for their own decision making.

So by training and having this kind of culture, it allows us to respond quickly to trends in Google and also spot problems very quickly because things do break all the time. I suppose for me, I always try to stay tuned and keep an eye on any new concepts or trends in SEO as you know the whole thing is changing very quickly. I would spend a little bit of time every day reading SEO blogs, and using tweets to ensure that I don't miss anything and obviously I follow your tips on LinkedIn, well done very good. So a lot happening at work at the moment, but last year was different again as all focus was in Germany, launching the websites and fixing all the go live issues and training the teams over there and building seo strategies for them. We spent a good amount of time in Cologne last year and obviously this year, it's different again.

MC: It’s really interesting to me that you focus there on the internal training and building that SEO awareness throughout the company. Coming from agency side, that's something I've seen multiple times, that's been massively overlooked in some larger companies we've worked with - where there's a core SEO team and then lots of people, who as you rightly say, have an impact on SEO - so it might be product specialists, content writers, developers, or people that are making decisions about how the sites new pages structures categories don't know anything about SEO. So then there's always this back and forward of someone does some work and then it almost needs to go through this bottleneck of the few SEO people to “SEO it” - yeah or in some cases just completely kick it back and say, you can't do this, and we've found ourselves actually doing exactly that - what you said where they've not the capability in house which is actually saying look, you need to train these other people up and trying to run these courses over time to build up everyone's knowledge because I think, like you say, especially in larger companies you can save so much time, so much money and increase your effectiveness, if you're not having to essentially redo work that other people are doing and they're building it in to everything they're doing, right?

RS: Absolutely. I mean it's hard, especially for large organisations to create culture like that and break those boundaries between the teams because it is hard as people are focusing on their own things and they don't have time to have expertise in other things. But the whole thing it has to be intercon, it has to be one and as you said, it does save a lot of time going forward because yeah, you don't have to redo those things later on and you can get really good content right from the start when the team that is responsible for uploading that the content on the website knows about keywords, knows about demand, has access to data and stats, they are aware of what people search for and you know it can then match content on the website with keyword demand in Google and stuff like that. So yeah it's crucial to collect all the teams and work towards one goal.

MC: You mentioned as well on your day-to-day there that you're looking at this kind of fresh, you're keeping things fresh and you're looking at, specifically I wanted to pick up on, you said underperforming categories. So categories where you've defined yourself as underperforming. It would be interesting I think for our listeners to know, what do you class as underperforming? Is that somewhere that you've ranked previously before and you're not anymore? Or somewhere you just think you should be ranking because you've got the content? How do you prioritise that? How do you decide what's underperforming and what's not on the radar?

RS: Obviously we have our own KPIs that we track on a weekly basis and this is our base to to see and measure which category is at the top and which one is lagging and you know, if you watch that data and stats every week, you know and you can see straight away that one department could be lagging or you can recognise patterns and trends. So whatever the KPI might be, if we see a category online, or anything, or even whole department that is behind we go into it and break it down in pieces and see what's going on, and often once you do that, you can really find a lot of little nuggets that are very easy to fix. And then obviously you know over time it works very much. So we basically use our kpis, internal kpis to define which category is underperforming and obviously that's based on rankings per priority keywords.

MC: I think that it's safe to say whatever you're doing is working, because again looking at external tools, over the last five or six years it looks to me like your organic traffic - the increase has been massive, we're talking like three or four times. So I'm interested in, when you joined, what were your immediate priorities as you came into the role versus what you're looking at now? Did this exist already? Was there some SEO knowledge in the business? Did you inherit technical debt? Because again what I'd like to get out of this question I guess is there's going to be people moving into new e-commerce roles, and they're listening to you and it sounds like you've got everything - at least it sounds like everything's nicely organised, you've got a flow, and you're really on top of things, and there's going to be people moving into roles and I know, from personal experience, sometimes you move into a role and it looks like everything's going to be great, it's a really well-known company, and you arrive and you weren't told how on fire everything is and there's skeletons falling out of closets and you can feel like, oh i'm in a terrible position, but you know I think that happens to a lot of people. So it would just be interesting to know what were your immediate things you had to do when you came into the role versus the stuff you're doing now?

RS: Sure. Firstly I need to say here that the growth that we achieved in recent years is not only a product of good SEO practices, but it is also thanks to our fantastic marketing team and all brand building strategies and support of all the channels as well like, social or google shopping, emails, and a good digital mix is really helping seo in the long term, so it wasn't only SEO as such.

Good question, it does bring back lots of memories. I suppose when I arrived back in 2014, we were undergoing a site migration from an old platform to a new one. So at the time there was no in-house SEO expertise and the new website was very basic, there was loads of development work to be done at the start, and nobody really knew how to when I arrived. So we had to implement the language tags, as we had two versions of the website. I remember the UK and there was no canonicalisation in place on home pages, faces pagination, meta descriptions, we're pulling in full product descriptions that default and duplications, no product schema. Irish pages were indexed in the UK and you know all sorts of issues like that that had to be addressed.

MC: So there was lots of opportunity there.

RS: Absolutely, yeah so there were a lot of low-hanging fruits to fix. It was a busy time, it took a while to optimise that website so that it was actually SEO friendly. You had to build those basics in terms of technical SEO, so once we had that ground work done, we then built in reporting and trained the staff to ensure we had some SEO quality checks for any new ongoing content, and then we moved to content optimisation. Then a while later, after all this, we decided to upgrade the website again to an even bigger and newer version of hybris, which is the platform we use today. So that was another full-blown site migration and to the totally new platform but luckily, we managed to migrate all SEO value, there were no disasters there.

MC: That was luck, was it?

RS: Google didn't even notice that we switched the website, so it was a great success.

MC: Brilliant.

RS: Advice to any newcomers to a role like that. You need to take ownership of the work and look at the bigger picture, and be brave I suppose and it's hard sometimes to communicate your ideas and be brave enough to go off and shout about this, but it is important that you do and don't be scared. Be brave to go and address all those things that you think are important to the business and will make a dent, so yeah that would be my advice.

Today, I suppose our technical SEO is in good shape, so we can concentrate efforts on content upgrades. Apart from all those things i mentioned earlier, we try to work on maintaining and improving the current content that we have on the website. So I guess we're lucky that we have a lot of tools these days like ahrefs or ContentKing that we can get into the real nitty-gritty of content management, and spot all those little things that affect rankings. You can imagine that with big sites like ours, fixing little things at scale, on a regular basis can bring great results, and I suppose that shows in our stats.

MC: It was interesting, well not interesting, it's right that you prefaced your earlier answer with increasing rankings being a team effort. Like you say, there's lots of things that you know directly and indirectly affect the SEO work you're doing, and the thing I’d like to focus on as well and I just want to reiterate for, I guess people moving into new roles, is this thing you said about being brave to suggest things. So to give a real example, this week I was speaking to someone at quite a large company, and they were asking us to essentially help them with some analytics type analysis on how the site's performing, and it very quickly became apparent that despite it being a large company, there was no kind of goal or event tracking at all set up on the whole site. We were still pushed to can we do this work anyway, and the conversation kind of went along the lines of look, you need to go back to the people who are asking you to do your job and you don't have to necessarily stamp your fee or demand anything, but you can ask them if you're being tasked to increase X, Y or Z, and you're not allowed to measure it, what do they kind of suggest that we do because it's a business-wide problem. We've given them the ability and information to go and deliver that message internally now, and I think that's a really common thing, especially for people that are newer enrolls are maybe pushed into doing things that aren't optimal or aren't the right way.

So I really appreciate what you're saying there about if you need something to get a job done, it can be better long term if you're honest about that and lay it out in a polite way, like you've said there.

RS: Yeah, absolutely hundred percent. Take the ownership and you will actually be surprised that people will take your suggestion to consideration because yeah, it is important for the business after all.

MC: So last week we spoke to Lily Ray, and we spoke to her about patents, she'd done some work with Bill Swarsky about patents and ranking factors, and we had some fun speculating on what Google may or may not be using as ranking factors now, and in the future. We covered a few points that the nuance that people sometimes miss when we talk about ranking factors, things like, there's going to be factors that are specific for instance, for certain search verticals. The easiest one I can think of is in Google's news results and freshnesses is really, really important. It's almost chronological the stuff you see in the news results. So I'm interested in your thoughts, feelings, speculations, I'm not going to ask for evidence or challenge, I just want your feeling on what's important in terms of e-commerce sites for ranking. Is it schema? Is it links? Is it technical? What's really important to get sites ranking nowadays for e-commerce sites?

RS: Yeah good question. Every vertical is different and different rules will apply to rankings as you just said about the news. Not even that, different formats or a type of content would matter more or less across different industries. E-commerce is no different, moreover, it is a unique case altogether. it's hard to apply, for example, long format content like blogs to e-commerce, people’s intent is slightly different, people are there for physical things to buy rather than read. So people are interested more in price, product features, quality of the images, age specification, or product description, delivery options.

They come to buy and they interact more with this kind of content, rather than something long format to read. So we need to think about this and provide them with this kind of content in order to convert them. For us, for example, a gift finder or store locator would be those assets that do collect links and they have a lot of interest for us obviously because they tend to be popular, because they help people to buy things.

So on principle, this is good content, more guides, we do a lot of good guides especially in nursery, and department we have guides on travel systems, car seats, baby monitors and mattresses. But all this content helps them buy things. So it makes purchase a little bit easier. Gift finder, obviously it builds to people who don't really know what they're looking for, and so we try to help them push them towards the conversions a bit better as well. So again, those things wouldn't work in other spaces right, and long format wouldn't work for e-commerce. So this is slightly different for us. Other factors that matter for us, I see traffic being a factor and there is a clear correlation between traffic and rankings and we are a seasonal business, as you can imagine, our traffic spikes a lot this time of the year. So we see rankings follow suit. Perhaps this is not the case for all the verticals as well.

I know Google said that there is no correlation between the two, but our stats show a different picture. Perhaps our listeners could provide some insights on this.

MC: So to pull this apart what we're saying is, you're saying maybe at peak times when your searches are going up, you're finding your rankings are improving. Is that basically what you're saying?

RS: That's right, yeah. That's what I've seen over the years. The more traffic we drive to the website, the better rankings.

MC: That's that's really interesting because one thing - so we've just been through Halloween and Halloween's been a really good example for me about how Google is adjusting the search results based on, I think that is the type of intent.

So the thing I notice about Halloween search results is through much of the year, they are informational type results about Halloween, and where it came from and stuff like that. Then in the week, few weeks run up to halloween it becomes heavily dominated by e-commerce type of sites. I think this makes perfect sense from a search engine point of view because Google understands well actually the intent has shifted now and people want to buy things. So do you think that's possibly what's causing that correlation with a site like yours, like an e-commerce type site say coming up to Black Friday to Christmas? Google knows actually around these types of searches, people are more switched on, they want to spend money, they want to buy. So it might be your site as opposed to, i don't know, a publication that's writing about gif guides.

RS: Yeah absolutely. I see those dynamics all the time, not even towards the Christmas time but sometimes you see that on much smaller categories where there is a concept and the products are not there yet, but you have lots of video content on on YouTube and if you search for those concepts you would get video formats listings, and once we bring the products to the market, that whole intent changes and Google adjusts the searches, the server pages and brings up more transactional listings. Then obviously the video content goes down to the page too. So yeah that happens all the time and yeah, it's definitely a factor. Obviously Google has a lot of intelligence and a lot of technology to gauge all this and what people search for, and adjust server pages towards that. So yeah, intent is definitely an interesting and fascinating thing altogether.

MC: The gifts thing as well, I don't know if you saw it, but the tip I did on LinkedIn today was around e-commerce and gifting and I don't know if you'd seen it because it was pretty much nail on the head what you said there about the type of content and intent. So we've been talking to various clients who are in e-commerce and not just sticking the word gifts on their category pages because we're understanding that maybe the person who's buying the gift for the Star Trek fan doesn't actually know that much about star trek. So when they're searching for gifts, they actually want some content that steers them towards well actually, discovery is the new series so they might like this, they might like this. Unless you are just a gifting site, I think that understanding where that difference is is really important as well.

RS: Yeah absolutely and yeah there's a huge opportunity. There's so many searches for gift related keywords across the whole spectrum of the internet really, so yeah it's a very interesting niche out there.

MC: So I'd like to talk to you as well about more into the future of e-commerce because there's all kinds of interesting things happening in the background that we've covered before on the podcast. So the main ones for me are, earlier this year - it might have been about a year ago now - Google made some initial announcements around specifically their fashion search engine result pages, and the changes they were making to how they will show results for fashion searches. So rather than just showing some paid ads at the top and then listing websites, they actually wanted to essentially collate feeds, and again this runs in parallel with what Google's been doing with opening up the merchant centre feeds now, so you can be included organically for free - producing this experience that we've talked about a little bit which is I feel, you know trying to go head-to-head with Amazon. Amazon's got that advantage, at the moment you go to it, you do a search, and all the products are there on one platform, you can choose what you can buy. The disadvantage of doing product searches on Google is it's different websites, different experiences, different logins, different user interfaces, whereas if Google can start to understand these products, categorise them, filter them for you, and if you can buy directly through Google - so we've seen that integration happening with Shopify and Google of being able to purchase directly from the SERP, I'm interested on where do you think that's going to go? Because it's not here yet, is it? This isn't happening quite yet, so where do you think it's gonna go? And is this something that ecom SEO people should be planning long term for? What should they be thinking? What should they be doing technology strategy wise? I know it's a huge question, but take a stab at it for me.

RS: Yeah definitely. It's a big shift I think, but it is still in a very early stage and I haven't seen anything significant in terms of UI. But yeah, Google is trying to get back Amazon's advertising business and reverse the trend where users default to Amazon for transactional queries, they start their product search on Amazon and obviously Amazon is cleaning up on the commission's, bringing all those ads at the top. I suppose also Amazon's surge in ad revenue in recent years creates a threat for Google and they need to defend their turf and address this issue before it grows too large for them. Similar as they managed to beat Facebook back, back in the days which worked very well for them and by creating new formats, ad formats and all the features they were they managed to push them back.

So yeah, it is very interesting and it's definitely a pushback against Amazon. To be honest, it could be actually beneficial to all the parties. They're trying to create an ecosystem, a marketplace if you like, with a wide range of products and merchants. So that, in turn, is likely to increase all revenue and create more monetisation opportunities for them and also it will bring more users and perhaps, in the long term, will change the behaviour where people start product searches on Amazon. In the short term, it's a gamble from Google and I bet they didn't factor the pandemic to be around, but that would actually work well for them as many merchants are forced to move online and free advertising is definitely an attractive option.

Overall, I think it's good for consumers, that's for sure, given the shopping is a visual experience and this is exactly what we're getting from Google.In my turn, to be experienced with no loss to any party, in this very similar way when you put two big shops together and both being together attract more business to both parties. So how can you plan for it? I suppose if you have a very good SEO in place and there is not much more you have to do as such. I suppose the same variables will apply if you have good authority and trust, if you're a good brand, you will show up.

So yeah, there's a bit of trust going on there with reviews. The brands should really focus on bringing more reviews to the products. It is a good window for smaller businesses, you know with those businesses that don't really have a feed yet and so this is an opportunity for them to be featured over there.

MC: I certainly see it as an opportunity actually for smaller businesses, so the ones that don't have very good ecom sites where maybe the purchasing can be done through Google and they can just deliver them a feed essentially. Like you say, the consumer might benefit from a wider, more diverse inventory to buy from. But like yourselves, established people who've been doing SEO, if you've got all the technical stuff in place there's maybe not a huge amount to change, and I think it's good to know and discuss that. I've always said we had these stats going around in 2019 saying like, 50% of searches were going to be done by voice by 2020, and you know all these articles being published about what you need to do to be prepared for voice search and it turns out, actually, we didn't really need to do anything because Google's not trying to match exactly what people are searching for with a voice query to the title of a page, it just doesn't work like that and I think we can expect the same with these UI changes for people that have already got these feeds and everything set up.

RS: Yeah absolutely and we don't really know where it is going to go. Iit could be a fad as well as voice was. Maybe it is the beginning of something much more substantial in terms of a war between Amazon and Google, we don't know that yet, I suppose we don't really have many stats, everything is still very early stage. I would like to give it a few months and see, collect some stats and see if people are interested in those listings at all. Don't forget that you know the proper google shopping ads are still going to show up at the top and it's very likely that

MC: Yeah they're not going anywhere.

RS: It's very likely that you would have to actually beat more to be closer to the top so you clean up on sales. It's hard to know how people will interact with those free ads. Let's wait and see.

MC: So the other thing I wanted to pick your brains very quickly about, we've already gone over half an hour here, is about automation. So we've had a few chats with people about various types of automation, I've advised to people that sometimes spending a long time writing meta descriptions isn't the best use of their time, especially when Google's replacing them a lot of the time or if they're not even on the first page - how much priority should be given to manually writing a meta description. A couple of episodes ago, we talked about the Microsoft Image AI, that can be used to generate alt tags for images automatically, and I'm just wondering what, if any, what kind of automation are you using? How big a part does that play in your seo, your technical seo? And again, what do you see being automated over the next few years?

RS: In terms of meta descriptions, it's not a ranking factor anymore but it is still a snippet that people can use to leverage and use it for click-throughs. So what we do is we pass commercial messages through our meta descriptions, if we have any, and special offers going on for example free shipping over a certain amount of order or open account get free shipping, whatever that might be, we try to place it into a meta description. So we don't really use that anymore as a ranking factor as such, but rather as a click-through factor and trying to get our message across and show it to people in Google. I am a big fan of automation and we try to automate as much as possible on the website, especially when you work with a big website like ours it's really not possible to keep up everything manually.

In terms of images, I've seen that that's really interesting and I think that is going to open up yet another source, yet another service for ecommerce and the website to show up in Google and feature in Google. It's hard to know where is it going to go, again, there's very little stats on that and how this technology is going to be used, but it's definitely very interesting and I suppose this is Google trying to find the ways to connect all the dots, across the whole internet, which becomes very sophisticated and you can feature, you can be found, in many different spots across the internet. So recognising the image and connecting images to different services, I suppose it is definitely a work towards connecting all the thoughts and and figuring out who is what on the internet and what kind of authority they hold.

MC: I do wonder for things like automatically tagging the alt tag on an image, how long it would be until this is almost a standard feature of things like Shopify, where they just have, or even Woocommerce, where there's a plugin that connects to a cloud service that can just offer that. So you can upload your thousand photos, and it will give it its best attempt at just automatically tagging them for you and you can manually review them. Because these are the things that everyone should do, they get left out, it's bad especially for accessibility reasons but it does get missed, or I've seen when alt tags are done, even humans don't always do a very good job; maybe they haven't got the right guidelines. It's a long task, which to be very frank a lot of time has very little impact on the bottom line. So, rightly or wrongly, it gets deprioritised. So it'd be interesting to see how these things develop like you say.

RS: Yeah exactly. I suppose it will depend on how important it is for your business, for your website, to have this in place. I'm guessing images and the traffic from images and conversions from image traffic would be more or less important to different websites.

MC: I think it's a good solution as well because obviously there's laws about accessibility as well and I think alt tags for me, the SEO is secondary, primarily is it's for an accessibility thing. So it'll be good if we've got solutions that can ensure this greater accessibility to content anyway, and like many things the SEO is the cherry on top.

So finally if we finish off Roman, I know I'm taking a lot of your time here. What one thing or what two things, do you think ecommerce businesses should be focusing on now as we come up to this peak season of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas?

RS: Yeah, a hard question in 2020. I would like to say a few words about small business because we always tend to talk about a big brand across the internet, and we never talk and we always forget about small businesses that were very hurt this year because of the lockdowns and those guys, very small shops, with no visibility online and no tech, no expertise, no resources and all of the sudden they were faced with shops being closed and no other avenue to generate business. So for them I would like to say that they need to get online as quickly as quickly as possible, they need to leverage technology like Shopify - we have technology at tip of our fingers and Shopify is up there - it takes very little effort, very little expertise to get yourself set up online and list your stock and try to bring in some revenue. Leverage social media, let people know that you are online. Just because you had to close the shop, that doesn't mean that you lost your customers, the customers are out there, reach out to them, and let them know that you are online, and you still have stock to sell. Yeah and this is more important than ever in 2020, now is the time.

As we spoke about Google services, the shopping is now free so take advantage of that. I know there’s a bit more technical work involved to get your feed up and running, but perhaps you can look into this and you know take advantage of that, it's free, it's out there and this is why, to help people like you.

For bigger brands, it will be very challenging to stay in stock. So my advice would be try to stay in stock and try to deliver the promise. Obviously there's a lot of bits and pieces across the way, being in stock is one of them, but try to deliver a good service and live up to the promise and yeah, good luck.

MC: Good advice. In addition to that, if you have a look at the show notes for this episode which will be at search.withcandour.co.uk, I will put links into episode 56 and episode 57. So in episode 56, we spoke to e-commerce expert Luke Carthy who covered some specific things small businesses can do to optimise their e-commerce site, and episode 57 was with e-commerce SEO Kristina Azarenko, who talked about getting started on platforms like Woocommerce and Shopify.

As Roman has said, there's lots of options now to get set up really quickly, there are plugins you can use to generate feeds and stuff that should be able to get you going.

Roman thank you, really appreciate that, it's been super interesting, we've gone on for 45 minutes.

RS: Wow, thank you Mark for having me, it was a pleasure.

MC: Absolutely. Thank you so much and thank you everybody for listening. We will be back in one week's time, which will be Monday the 16th of November, so if you do enjoy the podcast, please do subscribe, share an episode with a friend, or if you are an SEO why not link to us. Have a brilliant week and I hope you'll tune in next week as well.

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