Today we have the first in a series of interviews we are conducting over the next several weeks about SEO and e-commerce with some of the most prominent members of the SEO community. Today’s interview is with Cyrus Shepard, he used to be the content and SEO director for Moz and is now a consultant and owner of Fazillion Media. If you have any questions or want clarification on anything, comment below.

Our questions are in bold and his answers follow in regular text.

What percentage of time would you recommend for new e-commerce sites to focus onsite versus off site for their SEO strategy?

80%. It’s a high number, and I mean by that is “get your house in order” first before tackling external marketing. The problem with most new e-commerce sites is low engagement, poor site architecture, and other SEO problems. While these are issues you never stop improving upon, I hate asking visitors to my site when it’s a sub-par experience.

At the same time, you need a minimal amount of traffic for testing. PPC is good for this validation stage (and beyond). Once you get your engagement numbers to a place where you know your site isn’t a total embarrassment, that’s the perfect time to expand outreach.

Do you have any tips for smaller e-commerce sites trying to rank against the bigger players like Amazon and Ebay when they sell the same products?

Yes! Amazon uses a standard template for products so it’s actually quite easy to differentiate yourself, but it can take a lot of effort. The most obvious areas merchants can add unique value to their product pages are:

  • Product videos – This is your secret weapon. Set up an in-house studio and start producing short but high quality review videos that show actual people demonstrating the product, product size, options, etc. This vastly increases user engagement and has the side benefit of increasing sales. Also, your competitors can’t copy it.
  • Text descriptions
  • Photography
  • Reviews

Do you think every e-commerce site needs a blog?

Blogs can be a big waste of time if they feel perfunctory or simply exist as a goal on the junior marketer’s annual review. The truth for 90% of small businesses is that nobody wants to read your blog, and nobody certainly wants to link to it.

But!… if you create something truly great to share, you should do so. E-commerce sites need to realize that the content they create has to compete with the top content out there for attention. If you feel your post deserves to rank #1 in the SERPs, then go for it! If instead, you approach writing blog posts the same way you do writing your Aunt Erma on her birthday, you may want to rethink your strategy.

What is your feeling on using JSON + LD in a SEO strategy? If you are for it, how far do you recommend going?

Personally, I mark up everything I can. If limited on time, I find the smartest strategy is to search for my product on Google, and see what rich snippets my competitors have won for the SERP. Then make sure you have the same type of markup.

Certain JSON-LD markup types are a given, such as product, reviews, business info, etc.

How important do you think site speed is to an e-commerce sites SEO strategy?

Site speed is always in the top 3 things of everything you should work on, no matter what. E-commerce sites can get particularly bogged down with poor shopping cart software, plugins, tracking code and the like. It’s not even primarily a ranking consideration with me. The correlation between conversions (sales) and site speed is so pronounced on every site I’ve ever worked on, it would be malpractice not to continually address it.

Do you have an opinion on using Google AMP for e-commerce sites?

Right now, e-commerce sites don’t get much extra visibility for using AMP, so the primary benefit is speed, which you can accomplish easier in other ways.

That said, Google is pulling more and more AMP pages into it’s maw, so it’s something to keep an eye out for.

What are your suggestions for starting a link building strategy for a new e-commerce site?

First tackle the low-hanging fruit: Legitimate industry directories, trade shows, sponsorships, trade organizations, and local listing distribution. Even if you don’t have local locations, you should at least get your headquarters distributed using something like Moz Local.

After that, it’s all about PR. This will depend on the specific product offering, and it’s significantly more challenging than the low-hanging fruit. It’s also where most e-commerce sites fail.

Do you feel social media has an impact on a sites rankings?

The answer is “yes, but it’s complicated.” The short answer is to drive relevant traffic to your site through all channels, and this can have a positive–albeit nuanced–effect on your organic search traffic. Typically, there’s no need to go crazy on social media investment. Be smart.

Cyrus Shepard

SEO Consultant and owner of Fazillion Media.