Your SEO questions answered by Shopify SEO expert Rhian Beutler
Today we're joined by long-time Shopify Partner and SEO app developer Rhian Beutler to discuss your SEO questions.
In this Shopify SEO Crash Course, you'll hear the answer to:
Kurt Elster: Today on The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, we are going to do an SEO Q&A with a guest, in which we ask your FAQs on the topic, and Rhian Beutler from Venntov, makers of the popular SEO app, is gonna cover that SEO Q&A with answers from ABC to XYZ. I’m your host, Kurt Elster, AKA KGE. All right, that’s enough of the abbreviation jokes. That’s all I got. Off the top of my head no less, too.
So, Rhian, I’m going to allow you to introduce yourself. People have heard my ad reads for your apps many times at this point, but tell me, what is it you do? Who do you represent? What’s going on here?
Rhian Beutler: What is happening? My name is Rhian Beutler and I am the COO and co-founder of Venntov. We are a Shopify app development company. We’re Shopify experts. We used to do Shopify consulting, but we do not do that anymore. We just focus on our app products. We’ve got three apps in the app store. We’ve got SEO Manager, Order Lookup, and Clockedin. Yeah.
Kurt Elster: And how long have you been doing that?
Rhian Beutler: Oh, a really long time now. Well, I feel like in tech everything, multiply each year by 10, but six years? Seven?
Kurt Elster: So, like basically from the early days. That’s not a long time, but-
Rhian Beutler: My business partner used to email directly with Tobi back in the olden days for support, so we’ve been around for a hot minute.
Kurt Elster: It’s fun when you Google something and find a really old thread in the Shopify Community Forums, and like Tobi’s personally responding to it.
Rhian Beutler: It’s amazing! I love it! It’s one of the really cool things about our company, is we got in on the ground floor, we saw… We recognized the right business partner, had the foresight to recognize that this was a great opportunity, and when we joined forces, we had a conversation and we were like, “Let’s continue to go all-in on Shopify. We believe in Shopify.” And we’ve never looked back. We’re a Shopify-dependent product. We only work with Shopify, so we really only know about Shopify. And that’s cool, because when it comes to SEO, or anything that we are experts in, we know so much about it because we’re just focused on this one platform.
Kurt Elster: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. As soon as you niche down and dive into something, it’s not that you get bored of it, or you just master it. You discover that anything this complex, that is always evolving, whether you’re learning about it or not, is like an onion. I mean, you will peel back layers forever. Because it’s not like the platform stops developing, or the ecosystem stops developing. You will have just become a deep expert at it.
Rhian Beutler: Exactly.
Kurt Elster: In my Facebook group we had asked like, “Hey, what are your SEO questions?” And there are so many. There were 42.
Rhian Beutler: So many.
Kurt Elster: 42 comments. Quite a few. So, sadly, we’re not gonna be able to cover every question, but we’ve selected some, and I have my own questions, too, that will preempt some of the listener questions. I apologize.
Rhian Beutler: Okay.
Kurt Elster: And so I just want to run through those with you, and I want to open with, this is a real question from the group, but this is such a great softball for you. We’ll open with this one. Do those SEO apps really work? I don’t… When the person asked this, they had no idea who I was going to put the questions to, so as a developer of what I think is like one of the… What is the oldest, and possibly the best-rated SEO app in the Shopify app store. There you go, there’s that plug for you.
Rhian Beutler: There you go. Boom.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. Do those SEO apps really work is the question.
Rhian Beutler: You know, and that’s actually a really good and fair question, because what, the short answer is yes. The long answer is within reason, and you have to mitigate expectation, right? We’ve gotten so many emails in the past where it’s like, “Oh, this is really a DIY tool, right?” SEO Manager is a power tool. We give you the resources to succeed in SEO, to make sure you are technically proficient in hitting all the technical marks that Google wants you to hit, and we’re telling you if you have 404s. We’re telling you all of this stuff.
What we do not do is do the work for you, so if that is your expectation, of just clicking a button and it just being implemented, those SEO apps, do they work in the short term? Sure. But automation for SEO overall, in my opinion, is a bad idea, because Google can tell if you’re automating processes on your store.
Kurt Elster: Oh, no way.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah. 100%. They can tell if your content’s automated because I mean, like alt text for instance, right? If you have the… Let’s say if you’ve got 15 images, 20 images on a product, and you have the exact same alt text and it’s templated, of course Google knows that that’s templated. They know you haven’t written that.
Kurt Elster: So they see. Yeah, because a lot of these, the apps that are automated, it’s like, “Oh, we’ll add alt text to all your images.” Obviously, it can’t use… Well, I guess in theory it could, but it doesn’t use machine learning, and look at the app, and write alt text based off that. It just grabs the product title, and maybe the variant title, and just jams that in there. And it’s like, all right, well that’s better than nothing? I think?
Rhian Beutler: Yeah. It probably is better than nothing, but it doesn’t hit the mark as to what Google’s looking for for alt text. It’s not just looking for there to be text associated with an image. It’s looking for that image to become accessible, and to really explain what that image is, and frankly you just can’t do that through templating. Now, I will say this, because full disclosure, we do have a templating feature that most people do not use. And the reason we launched it is, and not for alt text, it’s just for… I’m sorry, it’s for page titles.
And the reason we launched it is for drop shippers who have thousands and thousands and thousands of products. The best practice is to not use that. It’s to go in and to write all of that yourself. But obviously we had to acknowledge the fact that there’s many people who do drop ship in the Shopify community, who have thousands of products, and we wanted to serve them. But it’s not a best practice for SEO.
Kurt Elster: So, based on your experience talking to merchants, doing support for this app, what do you think is the most common misconception about either SEO apps, or SEO in general for Shopify?
Rhian Beutler: Well, I think that it’s twofold. One is that if you just click some buttons, your SEO’s gonna be good forever, and that’s just not the case. SEO is a long, long game. It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. You have to do the right things consistently to see results, and I understand that can be frustrating, because you’re paying for an app and you want to see these results like tomorrow, and that’s just simply not the case. And if you do see results tomorrow, you might want to ask yourself, “Why am I seeing results so quickly?” Because in SEO if something seems to good to be true, it’s 100% too good to be true.
And then in terms of Shopify and SEO, Shopify has some really great native tooling for SEO, and essentially, because of their control over the theme store and making sure that these themes that we can install through the theme store are optimized, and fast, and accessible, that’s important. And there’s some misconceptions about SEO and Shopify, like for instance, I did see on the Facebook group it’s like, “Well, are our backlinks downranked because of the way that Shopify hosts?” Right? Was that one of the questions? It was like about how Shopify deals with it.
Kurt Elster: I’ve heard endless misconceptions about the things Shopify supposedly does and doesn’t do regarding SEO, like there are too many for me to keep up with.
Rhian Beutler: Yes.
Kurt Elster: But here’s one someone asked. Well, Lucas Walker asks, “What are some common SEO myths specifically around Shopify?” Okay, that was essentially the question I just asked. But to your point he said, “For example, multiple URLs for the same destination, including collections in the full URL string.” I’ve seen that a lot, where people are like that’s… They don’t even ask the question. They just jump straight to this statement of fact, having that slug, collections, or that slug, products, in the URL is bad SEO. How do I fix that?
Is that true? I don’t think that’s true.
Rhian Beutler: How’s this? SEO changes so often. Was that true five years ago? Maybe. Probably. Is that true now? Absolutely not. In December 2019, Google announced something called BERT, which means Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Not that anyone’s gonna remember that.
Kurt Elster: What?
Rhian Beutler: And ultimately it’s neural matching, which means that Google can relate words to concepts, and how searches relate to concepts locally, and Google’s smart enough to know if you’ve got multiple URLs, or if there’s duplicate content that makes sense on your store, that you’re not being spammy, that that’s just how you should be. And additionally, since 2016 there’s been an AI feature called RankBrain, which relates pages to concepts. So, back in the olden days you’d really want to throw those keywords in, and really make sure you’re driving the point, and even people would do keywords that were misspelled in case it was a direct match. I’m sure you remember that, Kurt. It was like people just were trying to hit what Google wants.
Google just knows. It’s like, “Oh, you’re definitely writing about this thing. We understand what you’re doing.” So, if you’re doing your best and you’re not participating in black hat efforts for SEO, you’re going to be fine as long as you follow best practices for SEO.
Kurt Elster: So, give me… I like that advice, and that’s largely the advice that I have gone, where it’s like, “Okay, you can go as deep into as you want as long as it remains ethical, and ultimately you are providing genuinely good content, because every search query is a question and your website is potentially the answer.” And that’s how you should look at this.
Rhian Beutler: 100%.
Kurt Elster: So, I like that 10,000-foot view strategy of SEO. You had mentioned hey, it’s gotta be ethical. You have to avoid black hat. For the sake of understanding, give me an example of a black hat effort. A thing you should specifically not do, is very bad, makes you a bad boy, don’t do this.
Rhian Beutler: Okay. Definitely do not buy backlinks. Do not buy backlinks. Do not buy backlinks. I don’t care if they cost $100 or $5,000. Do not buy them. It is a bad practice. Google will catch you. The thing with backlinks, the reason why it’s so attractive to buy backlinks is because you do get results right away. Until Google finds out that you’re buying the backlinks, which by the way, they find out relatively quickly, and then they blacklist you off of Google. So, that’s something that we see.
And then let’s say you have done this, and you’re listening to this, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?” You need to crawl your site using a tool like Moz, and to see the backlinks Moz has a spam tool, and it’ll tell you if your backlinks are spammy or not. You then have to go into Google and disavow all of those backlinks, and the problem with bad backlinks is they spawn and create baby backlinks that are also bad, and it’s a web of bad. Just don’t do it.
Kurt Elster: Okay, so I actually have experience with this. A few years ago, someone reached out to me. It was an SEO guy that worked in eCommerce, and he’s like, “Hey, I was bored, I was plugging stuff into Moz, and I noticed that your agency website, Ethercycle, has a ton of bad backlinks, and it looks like you were the victim of a negative SEO campaign.” And so, I looked it up, and he sent me the links, and sure enough, there were hundreds to thousands of backlinks that were like cheap, get cheap Cialis online. Buy Viagra, no prescription.
Rhian Beutler: Yes! It’s always stuff like that.
Kurt Elster: And they all went back to Ethercycle.com, the damn home page of our agency website.
Rhian Beutler: Oh no.
Kurt Elster: And so, that was distressing, but in looking at the Google Analytics, I don’t think it had any actual impact, luckily. So, somebody wasted their time at it, and then the solution was I was able to use one of these tools, I forgot which one, to produce a spreadsheet of all the negative backlinks, and then submit those in one go to the disavow tool, and they went away. And even in the short… I didn’t catch it until 60, 90 days after it had happened, but even in that time, a lot of the sites had already 404ed, and were missing, but yeah, that would be like, “All right, don’t buy backlinks for your own site. Also don’t attempt to buy backlinks for other people’s sites.”
Rhian Beutler: Right!
Kurt Elster: That’s probably a waste of your time.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, it’s a waste of your time and it’s unethical. I used to work in banking, and I would always tell my team, if they’d say, “Rhian, do you think this is ethical?” Right? X is ethical. I would always tell them, “If you have to ask me if something is ethical, that means it isn’t.”
Kurt Elster: Oh, for sure.
Rhian Beutler: You know? If you have to stop and be like, “Uhh, is this morally okay?”
Kurt Elster: If you’re not sure.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, it’s definitely not okay, and that should be applied to SEO, too. If you’re like, “Is this fine or is this black hat?” If you have to even for a second wonder if it’s black hat, don’t do it. Don’t do it.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, it’s not worth the risk. Even if it’s like, “Oh, you got some short-term gain out of it.”
Rhian Beutler: Well, and that’s the problem with black hat SEO. It does give you short-term gain, and so that’s why it’s so appealing to people, but it’s what you’re not anticipating, you’re not thinking three, six, a year down the road. You’re just not thinking about it.
Kurt Elster: To give some social proof, to include why we should listen to you.
Rhian Beutler: Yes.
Kurt Elster: The headline on your website is, “Since 2010, we have helped over 70,000 Shopify merchants scale their businesses.”
Rhian Beutler: Yes, that is true. Actually, it’s more like 100,000 now. We’re working on rebuilding our website or redesigning our website, and that number has gone up since we built that, since we put it on the website two years ago.
Kurt Elster: You know what would be cool, and totally pointless, but solely for a developer to have a shiny toy, is if that number was dynamic.
Rhian Beutler: It would be really cool. Don’t tell our developers. Let’s pretend like we’ve never had this conversation.
Kurt Elster: Let me start messaging them.
Rhian Beutler: Just start messaging them and they’re gonna be like, “Rhian, we want to build this thing.” I’m like, “Please, no.”
Kurt Elster: Like, “Hey, I got this really good idea from someone who said to remain nameless.”
Rhian Beutler: I heard it on the internet.
Kurt Elster: It’s from the internet. So, you mentioned like hey, here’s some of the updates that maybe people weren’t aware of regarding the Google algorithm, and the Google algorithm is like their bread and butter. It is the cornerstone of that company, of that search engine. So, there are many, many very smart PhDs working on that, and all the time, and that’s why it is just utter folly and ridiculousness to think you can outsmart it.
Rhian Beutler: Absolutely. I mean, I, to be a “SEO expert,” I literally read documentation and white papers 10 to 20 hours a week to stay on top of what’s going on right now. And Google only releases so much of what they’re doing to the public, right?
Kurt Elster: Right. It’s proprietary.
Rhian Beutler: It’s proprietary, so we have to, as SEO professionals, backfill. Try to back solve what’s going on, and then make inferences based off of what we see, like we’re running basically science experiments all of the time. And a really good tool for people, though, where Google lays out the changes they’re making, is the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog. It’s a great tool. It’s relatively accessible. Yes, it is a bit high level, but if you’re curious, as the listeners, on the newest, latest and greatest things that Google’s rolling out, they announce their biggest things there.
Kurt Elster: I have found it and I am including it in the show notes. Are there any other resources you go to for continuing education, to stay on top of SEO developments?
Rhian Beutler: Absolutely. So, on Twitter I follow Google Search Liaison, which is just @searchliaison, and I love that, because they push out information fairly consistently, and it’s just a good thing to follow. Again, it can be a little… I do want to be cognizant that most people aren’t SEO nerds who sit and read white papers all day, like that is not something that for most people they would find that enjoyable. So, I do want to be cognizant and also recommend a tool that is way more accessible, and that’s the… What’s it called? Beginner’s Guide to Google Search Console by Moz.
Kurt Elster: I’m Googling it. I will include that in there, as well. Everybody loves Moz.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, I think Moz… Moz also has just like a SEO 101 kind of free eBook, or free, I don’t know, it’s like a series of PDFs, I think. I always recommend, that’s part of our onboarding process when we onboard our support team members, and they’re like, “Teach me base-level SEO.” I’m like, “Before I even talk to you, read this book. Or read through this.” And I always recommend it.
Kurt Elster: Which is the book? What am I looking for?
Rhian Beutler: It’s not even a real book. I don’t know why I just called it a book. Okay, I always call it Moz SEO 101, which his what I’m Googling. It’s called Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
Kurt Elster: Okay. I will find that. Well, actually they have a whole category here called SEO Basics.
Rhian Beutler: They do, and they have-
Kurt Elster: Oh, look at this.
Rhian Beutler: They’ve got Maslow’s hierarchy of SEO needs, which I love. It’s a great visual tool that shows you top to bottom what you should be doing and how to think about your store, and how to integrate your technical components as well as your content components, to really succeed in terms of organic marketing.
Kurt Elster: Okay. I’ve included those links in the show notes.
Rhian Beutler: Okay, perfect.
Kurt Elster: I want to go back. One of the recent changes that has happened to the algorithm is mobile indexing first.
Rhian Beutler: Yes.
Kurt Elster: What… I can infer vaguely what that means. What specifically does it mean? You’re the expert.
Rhian Beutler: So, that happened on March 5th, and we kind of saw it coming, because Google likes to drop breadcrumbs when they’re gonna do something really big. And mobile first indexing means Google is going to crawl and index the mobile version of your store before they crawl and index the web version of your store. As more and more people transition to shopping on their phones, or on their iPads, which is also considered mobile, it’s becoming… It has become the most important mechanism by which Google can check your accessibility, and your rankability, and your trustworthiness, and all of the things that make SEO what it is.
So, if your store is not really quality on mobile. Let’s say you have an old theme, because this can just be like a theme change, right? Make sure that your mobile experience is quality. And if you don’t know if it is quality, hand your phone, and maybe not right now, but just in general, or ask your parents, or ask your friends, like, “Hey, can you go online and can we Zoom, and I want to see you looking at my store and going through it.” And try not to say, “Hey, no, you’re supposed to click the button there. Hey, no, you’re supposed to do this.” So, it’s kind of a combination of UX and SEO, and everything that makes a store a store is what matters regarding this.
Kurt Elster: The thing that drives me a little batty about Google is its alarmist nature in that I can always tell when a change and update gets pushed, because I will suddenly get forwards from 20 merchants being like, “Should I be worried about this?”
Rhian Beutler: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: And it’s often stuff that’s like just nonsense recommendations that Google suddenly pushed forth through webmaster tools. Just comment on this. This drives me insane.
Kurt Elster: Okay, and you brought up the terrible specter of page speed, and that, that’s something that absolutely tortures Shopify merchants, and probably most webmasters at this point, because unless you have just a nearly plain text website running on your own server, where you can do your own configuration, you’re not gonna get a perfect score. My business partner, Paul Reda, famously… Not famously, but always gives himself a pat on the back. He has a 100 out of 100 score in Google page speed for desktop and mobile. His website has no images. It is just a few paragraphs of text on a white background, and we even… On our server, we run the Google PageSpeed Apache tool. That’s what it takes if you want that perfect score.
So, it’s like I tell people take it with a grain of salt. Especially their recommendations. But okay, tell me more. Now, you talk.
Rhian Beutler: Well, regarding page speed, right? This is the do your best situation, and that’s how I think you should always look at SEO. I mean, this is how I think about eCommerce in general, right? So much of life is just do your absolute best, and hopefully that’s good enough. People don’t get, outside of Paul, people don’t get 100 on their speed test. I’ve never seen it. If you’re in the sixties, you’re probably fine. Seventies, you’re probably okay. Because there’s inherent limitations. Like you said, the second that you put an image, there’s inherent wait there. You can’t just get rid of the wait. Now, can you compress it? Yes. Can you make it smaller? Yes.
As you know, Shopify already handles the compression when it comes to products and collections and things like that. The themes do not handle compression, so it’s probably important to use a tool like Kraken. That’s my favorite tool. To just compress your images a little bit.
Kurt Elster: I like TinyPNG, but I’ll put links to both in here.
Rhian Beutler: I like TinyPNG too. I’m not married to any. I’m married to any that work, but I’ve been doing these consults the past few weeks to help out merchants, and one thing I’m seeing over, and over, and over is, “I’ve got this giant 5K monitor and I’ve got an image that is perfect on a 5K monitor.” It’s just it doesn’t need to pull up like that. Like there can be some loss. It can be a little lossy, because most people, especially if you’re a mobile-first business, which most businesses are, you don’t need that level or that weight of image.
Kurt Elster: Oh, yes. Yeah, you’re right. Most people are gonna view your site quickly from a phone, which has a 5-inch screen. But then you, as the merchant, you spend more time on your website than anyone else, which means you also may have full-screened Chrome on your 30-inch ultrawide monitor.
Rhian Beutler: Exactly.
Kurt Elster: No one but you is doing that.
Rhian Beutler: Right. Right. Exactly! I’m like, “Wow, this image is beautiful. Why is it so beautiful?”
Kurt Elster: A little too good.
Rhian Beutler: It’s a little too good. Yeah.
Kurt Elster: So, there’s that tradeoff where people, they’re like, “I want my website faster.” Then sometimes we’ll say, “Okay, well, tell us which apps, scripts, images, videos, content you want to get rid of to make that happen.” And it’s like, “Well, I don’t want to get rid of any of it.” Okay, well then there’s no way to make it faster. You know, it’s very much like, “Well, I want to lose weight.” Okay, well, it’s calories in, calories out. I mean, a very similar mindset has to take place there.
Rhian Beutler: Right.
Kurt Elster: Like you will have to sacrifice something to a point. But at the same time, it’s also questionable what the impact is. Will a faster website perform better? A faster website won’t hurt. Will a slow website hurt you? A slow website won’t help you I think is like… That’s the safe and pragmatic way to look at that. And I have a few, I have one client store in particular I can think of that really has a pretty dismal load time, terrible scores. It’s still a multiple million-dollar business, right?
Rhian Beutler: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Now, would it be more if the site was faster? Potentially, but there’s just… There are inherent technical limitations to what we’re doing here. Oh, and all right, so I take issue with a lot of the recommendations that Google PageSpeed makes. Like for example, here’s one: If the image you use is sized larger than its container, so let’s say the image, it’s a 600-pixel wide image, and it’s displayed in a 300-pixel wide box on the website. Google will ding you for this, but the reason you might want to do that, there are two reasons. One, on a Retina device, it will make it look really sharp, and we know that product photos, especially high-quality photos, being able to zoom on photos, that actually has a market impact on conversion rate, right?
The first thing about a third of people do when they land on a product page is go straight for those product photos. And so, we want to be able to zoom the image in, and so that… It’s a perfectly legitimate reason that you might have the image larger than it needs to be in its container. Google will ding you for this, so it’s like, “All right, did you want that page to be one tenth of a second faster, or did you want your conversion rate to go up by 10%?” So, again, there are tradeoffs here.
Rhian Beutler: Well, and ironically, your conversion actually impacts your search position.
Kurt Elster: How does it know?
Rhian Beutler: And your ranking. Because Google crawls through, it will follow the path and watch how people navigate, and if they actually checkout.
Kurt Elster: Oh, because of Google Analytics.
Rhian Beutler: I always like to operate under the fact that Google knows everything.
Kurt Elster: You’re right. It does. Yeah, because Google Analytics, especially if you have enhanced eCommerce enabled, it knows everything about that transaction.
Rhian Beutler: 100%.
Kurt Elster: We just both got really excited.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, and that’s… Well, this is the thing. I think people like to think of SEO in this box, right? They’re like, “If I do these 10 things, I’m going to be successful in SEO.” I like to equate SEO to being a multi-dimensional Rubik’s Cube. So, you have to solve so many things at once, and while that may seem overwhelming, it’s important to remember that the things on your store, like for instance this site speed issue with this image, right? If it costs you 0.1 seconds, but then it converts five times better, that’s the best thing. It’s net positive. And Google can tell that your store has trust, has authority, converts, is something people care about, and that matters so much.
Is it quantifiable? No. But so much of SEO is not quantifiable.
Kurt Elster: Yes. Okay. We have managed to… I’ve asked like two questions out of the many people asked, but this is very good. All right, let me… So, one thing I’m wondering about is let’s say, given the pandemic, I’m sorry, given the bad thing that we should not name because it’s upsetting, given the bad thing, what happens if I have to, for whatever reason, maybe it’s a cashflow issue, maybe it’s a supply issue, I have to pause my business. How do I handle that with Google?
Rhian Beutler: You know, this is a really great question, and on the day, I’m in California, and on the day that our governor was like, “Shut it all down,” my phone blew up from my former clients, because they’re like, “We don’t know what to do. Do we just shut our store down?” And these people do millions and millions of dollars a year. Right? And I’m like, “Hold on. Everyone take a breath.” And Google has actually now released information on what to do, and I’m glad I gave my former client the same advice that Google has now given, because it’s nice to see that we’re in alignment.
But basically, you want to limit your site functionality, right? So, put a banner up, or even a popup, and Google is generally anti-popup, and now in this new documentation they have, they’re like, “Put up a popup, say that you know what’s going on. You want to tell people that you’re not gonna be able to ship for a month or two.” And maybe that means they don’t want to check out with you right now, or maybe it means they do. Because this specific former client, at first he was just gonna totally disable cart functionality, which is one of the things Google recommends, but I said, “Wait a second. See if people are okay, as long as you clearly tell them what’s going on, you’re totally up front with the fact that this isn’t gonna ship for at least a month if not more,” and he’s still doing about 10 grand a day.
Kurt Elster: Pretty good place to be.
Rhian Beutler: And straight up, it’s we set up for him, and I haven’t been in a Shopify back end for a minute, right? This isn’t what I do any more, but I worked all night that night to make sure people were up to snuff, and we made sure that the email that got sent out, the order confirmation email, said exactly what’s gonna happen. And to acknowledge the situation, and to let people know. We told them in a banner, during checkout, at cart. The whole… We were in their face. And people are still checking out, and they’re not mad.
Kurt Elster: Because you set those expectations.
Rhian Beutler: Because you set the expectation. Google also recommends to update your structured data. I don’t know how important that is for Shopify merchants, per se. And also, you can force a recrawl if you want. So, if you do happen to be in a place where you have to disable cart functionality, which I don’t recommend as long as you clearly and concisely communicate what’s going on, and I feel like everybody right now kind of gets it, right? You are not serving them information that is out of this world. It makes sense.
So, but what Google does say, as well, is do not disable… This is directly from Google. Do not disable your website. Do not.
Kurt Elster: So, don’t just like put the storefront password up in Shopify.
Rhian Beutler: Correct.
Kurt Elster: Because that’s a really easy way to just lock everybody out of the store temporarily.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah. They said explicitly do not, and I’ll send you the link to that blog so you can include it.
Kurt Elster: Oh, good.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah. It’s a great blog and I think it’s good for everybody to read right now.
Kurt Elster: Some other quick questions for you.
Rhian Beutler: Okay.
Kurt Elster: Here’s a quick one: How long should my alt tags be? Is there such a thing as an alt tag being too long?
Rhian Beutler: Your alt tags, there’s no such thing as an alt tag being too long that we know of. What I would say is you want it to be under 180 characters, and you want to write it as if it’s for someone who cannot see what that picture is of. So, you don’t stuff it with a bunch of keywords. Explain what the picture is. And when you’re organically explaining what the picture is, you’re going to have keywords in there. So, that’s my thoughts on alt text. I’m really passionate about alt text because it’s something hardly anybody does and is super important. It’s an accessibility issue. It’s also a search issue. More and more people are shopping through Google image search.
Kurt Elster: Google image search. Right. And you need the alt tags.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, right. You need the alt tags, and you need to write good ones. You can’t just do this template. You need to actually explain to me what it is. I want to know what you’re selling and what I’m looking at.
Kurt Elster: The best advice I got on alt tags was from Ilana Davis, who did an episode with us about accessibility, and she said, “Imagine you’re talking to someone on the phone and you are looking at a product.” Let’s say you were shopping for a black purse, and you’ve got this black purse sitting in front of you, and you have to describe it to someone over the phone so that they can decide if they want to buy one too. She’s like, “Just describe it like you’re describing it to someone over the phone.” That’s how to handle those product photo alt tags.
Rhian Beutler: I love that advice.
Kurt Elster: That was like immediate mindset shift, where I’m like, “Suddenly alt tags make sense.”
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, I think that’s a perfect way to look at it, and again, when you are describing this black handbag over the phone, you’re organically putting in keywords, because you’re explaining the product that you’re selling.
Kurt Elster: Right, like keywords are important. Keyword stuffing is bad, but-
Rhian Beutler: Keyword stuffing is bad, yes.
Kurt Elster: Natural, legit explanation will have keywords in it.
Rhian Beutler: Yes, and again, because of neural matching, and because of RankBrain, it’s gonna associate all of that information together and be able to associate it with your image, and then of course with your store.
Kurt Elster: I just blanked. Did we answer the such a thing as them being too long?
Rhian Beutler: Yes, we did, but the answer is there’s no official documentation on it, but I think 180 characters is probably like your max.
Kurt Elster: Well, imagine if someone’s like… If someone’s using a screen reader, and you’ve stuffed a thousand words in there, that’s a terrible experience.
Rhian Beutler: Right. It’s a terrible experience, and you have to assume everyone is using a screen reader.
Kurt Elster: I like the… That’s quite the exercise in frustration, if you ever try to use a screen reader. I mean, it’s like you are learning to use a computer entirely all over again. People should do that. They should try and navigate their own website with a screen reader. I think a lot of people would be horrified.
Rhian Beutler: They would be horrified.
Kurt Elster: At how tough it is.
Rhian Beutler: Yes.
Kurt Elster: Like you want some empathy, I like that one. All right, but I don’t want to… This episode’s not necessarily about accessibility, but accessibility, content marketing, SEO, there’s a lot of overlap there.
Rhian Beutler: There is a lot of overlap. SEO is hand in hand with just about everything. It’s hand in hand with UX. It’s hand in hand with accessibility. It’s hand in hand with paid ads. Right? It all matters.
Kurt Elster: Oh, 100%. Let’s see. And that actually, that covered another question someone had asked, was best practice for alt tags and do I really write for accessibility or do I stuff keywords? Does it even matter? I think we’ve thoroughly explored that one.
Rhian Beutler: Yes, yes, yes.
Kurt Elster: On the topic of keywords, another question is how do you research keywords to target based on your niche? I use a traffic estimator, but I’m wondering if you recommend another approach.
Rhian Beutler: So, I use a few different methodologies for this. One is remember, and you said this earlier in the episode, Kurt. You talked about answering the question that’s gonna get asked to Google, right? So, do some conversational queries to Google that you think that your product is going to meet the needs of or answer the question of, and see what Google spits back out at you. And then read through that and see what keywords are there. Then research your competitors. And it’s important to research. I have like… I kind of tier competitors, like there’s direct competitors, and there’s like aspirational competitors. I used to consult for a streetwear brand, and I was like, “Who’s your competitor?” And they’re like, “Nike.” And I’m like, “Eh, not really.” You know what I mean? Yeah, that’s an aspirational competitor, and it’s not a bad idea if you’re in apparel or streetwear to look at Nike, because they kill it and they’ve got a ton of people working on it, and deep pockets.
But look at your direct competitors and see how they’re writing, and see what keywords you’re seeing over and over, and this is the most non-technical approach. I literally use a white board and I write them down. The ones that I see patterns of. And the other thing that’s good for keywords is I use Google AdWords, and the Keyword Planner tool. If you want to spend some money, Moz has a really great tool. And you know, for those of you who are looking at Moz and you’re like this tool, I think the low end is like 90 bucks a month or around there. Do it for a month, get your information out of it, and then unsubscribe. But I really like Moz. I have nothing bad to say about that product. I have only good things to say about them, and they’ve got some great keyword researching tools.
Kurt Elster: On the topic of tools, are there any other SEO tools you use or recommend?
Rhian Beutler: Well, besides my own, like everyone use SEO Manager. But besides my own, I really, really love Moz, and it fits a totally different niche than what our app does. I also love Google Analytics as an SEO tool, because once you integrate Google Analytics with Google Search Console, then you get to see how people are finding your site. You get to see if you’re moving up in rankings. That’s a really powerful tool. And if you’re not familiar with Google Analytics, Google does free courses on Analytics, so I’d recommend taking those courses, because I do want to acknowledge that it can be a challenging tool to use, and I’m all about education, and free education, and Google does supply that, as well.
Kurt Elster: I like how focused you are on continuing education. That’s great. And important.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, I love to learn.
Kurt Elster: We should all aspire to be lifelong learners. Someone asked a great hypothetical. They said, “Let’s say my target keyword is purple drank.” That’s literally what they wrote is purple drank.
Rhian Beutler: Love it.
Kurt Elster: They said, “How should I design my product page around that keyword? Should it be the URL? Where and how often should it show up in my product description? Do my replies to product reviews have any impact for SEO?” All right, so that second one kind of snuck in there, the one about product reviews.
Rhian Beutler: Well, but it’s important. It’s still important.
Kurt Elster: So, I think the question here is if you know what your keyword is, and you’ve got your product page, how do you go about integrating that keyword into it, and like really, I’m optimizing for a keyword. What does that really mean?
Rhian Beutler: So, yeah, you want it in your URL, and you definitely want it in your page title, right? And you want it in your product description. But you do not have to sit there and put it in over, and over, and over, and over, because again, with neural matching, words relate to concepts, right? So, you don’t have to hammer it into Google. Google’s like, “Yeah, we get it. We already got it. We got it the first time you did it. You don’t need to keep doing it.”
Google’s more focused on you having built content that is cogent, and organic, and that makes sense, and that sounds like a human being wrote it, and that-
Kurt Elster: Natural language.
Rhian Beutler: And that converts.
Kurt Elster: So, one of the things they do, all right, my understanding of what you’re saying about the machine learning that Google implemented in the last several years is that it goes beyond the keyword. It understands the context of the page, of the site.
Rhian Beutler: Yes.
Kurt Elster: It gets, like it assigns a topic to these things, so keyword stuffing is not enough to game it, because it gets context. It also understands what is and isn’t natural language, so if a site is like really grammatically damaged, that is not… That is going to be detrimental to its ranking.
Rhian Beutler: Absolutely.
Kurt Elster: And keyword stuffing ends up creating this very unnatural sounding text.
Rhian Beutler: Oh, it’s like Frankenstein of words. One thing I would recommend doing is always running your content through Hemingway app before you put it online.
Kurt Elster: What the heck is Hemingway?
Rhian Beutler: And making sure… Oh, Hemingway app is awesome. It tells you what grade level you’re writing on and writing at, and if you’re having any grotesque grammatical errors. It’s wonderful, and I would recommend writing at the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade level. Which sometimes can be… I find that challenging, but with this app, you just really… You start to kind of pare down your words, and you’re like, “You know what? I don’t need that connector word there, or I do need the connector word here. Oh, I’m writing in the passive voice on accident.” And it’s a really powerful tool. It’s 100% free.
Kurt Elster: Cool. I’m linking to that, as well. It sounds similar to Grammarly.
Rhian Beutler: It’s similar to Grammarly, but I like it more. It also-
Kurt Elster: I’m looking at it. It looks really good, and like I pay for Grammarly. This seems pretty great.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: And the advantage to like, you say all right, shoot for a fifth-grade level. The average newspaper in America is at a sixth-grade level, and that is to make it more inclusive. It also makes it much easier to skim and read.
Rhian Beutler: Right.
Kurt Elster: So, it’s not like, don’t think of it as like, “Her advice is dumb it down.” No, it’s make it more accessible to people in a hurry.
Rhian Beutler: Absolutely. People do not read at the depth, especially on their phones, that you would as in a book. Because you’re just trying to get the content into your brain as quickly as you can.
Kurt Elster: I like that.
Rhian Beutler: And then Kurt, I wanted to just answer your question real quick regarding the review, and yes, it is important that you reply to your reviews. It’s important that you get reviews. It’s important you have structured data on your store. Here’s why: Google gives preference to stores that create and have new and fresh content. So, if you’re the type of store, which many stores are, where you only have like three to five flagship items, or heck, one flagship item, you need those reviews and probably a blog to create consistent content, and to show that you’re still relevant. If that makes sense.
Kurt Elster: No, it does. So, like the recency of update creates relevancy. Indicates relevancy.
Rhian Beutler: Yes. Yes.
Kurt Elster: Okay, so you said yeah, there’s 200 ranking factors or more. Okay, there’s another one right there.
Rhian Beutler: Yes, and it’s a big one too, because Google has called it out on the Webmaster Blog.
Kurt Elster: All right, so we’re going a little long, but I have two more I want to get in here.
Rhian Beutler: Okay.
Kurt Elster: One, as long as we’re on the topic of product pages, I want to talk about titles. And this is an interesting one. They said, “I’m looking for best practice for creating titles, especially with a focus on products that have multiple variants, like part number and color, or maybe have multiple fitments or applications.” So, they’ve got a very specific example in mind here. They’re selling car parts, and brake pads, so they’re trying to figure out, like do I list… Is it better to have one listing for brake pads that says, “StopTech Performance Brake Pads.” And then in there, you pick like from one of ten cars. Or do I break it out into multiple products, like StopTech Brake Pads, fits your Mitsubishi Evo?
Rhian Beutler: So, oh-
Kurt Elster: This one’s so specific.
Rhian Beutler: That’s a tough one. It’s so specific, and the real answer is it depends on the traffic to your store. If you have a lot of Mitsubishi traffic specifically, yeah, you’re gonna want that to be its own product. In a perfect world, what I like to see is you want to have, let’s say you’ve got this flagship item, or this one item with 10 variants. You want to direct all that traffic to one page, right? Because that shows this huge consolidation of traffic and all of this pull. But it really depends on what’s gonna convert.
What matters most when it comes to titles is do you want or does your end user or buyer want to click on the blue link.
Kurt Elster: So, think in terms of click-through rate.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah, like think of it in terms of click-through rate. Your title and your meta description, think of that like your title is like a headline, and your meta description is just getting people to click on your headline. It’s like the byline. That’s the entire purpose of the title and meta description.
Kurt Elster: Okay. Yeah. That is a good way to think about it. So, like yeah, I want my keyword in there. Yeah, I want it to be relevant. But ultimately, someone does a search, they’re probably going to see the product title I gave it. And here, if you really want to throw another monkey wrench in the works, Google will occasionally rewrite your product title for you, or page title for you. They’ll put in…
Rhian Beutler: Yes, they will.
Kurt Elster: But to write it for-
Rhian Beutler: If it’s not good enough.
Kurt Elster: Write it for click-through rate, where it’s like, “Okay, will this get someone to click through to the site?” Yeah. I mean that’s… I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it, as long as the title is relevant to how people are using it and to the audience.
Rhian Beutler: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Final question.
Rhian Beutler: Okay.
Kurt Elster: How much time should I spend creating content versus building backlinks?
Rhian Beutler: I don’t think… Okay. Controversial opinion. You should spend almost 98-2. You should be spending the bulk of your time creating content, and then building relationships so that when you do get a backlink, it’s from a really authentic source. So, if you’re selling apparel, for instance, or actually, let’s say you’re selling jewelry. Building relationships with companies that sell apparel, and then doing some comarketing efforts, so that you can get organic backlinks, yeah, that’s important, but you still have to build the content to begin with.
And content, content, content is so important because Google’s gonna change all sorts of things, right? They have the power to change whatever they want. What I have never seen them change in all of these years is how much they care about content. In fact, they care about content more and more, because it’s one thing you just cannot automate. You can’t fake content. You just can’t fake it.
Kurt Elster: No, and any attempt to fake it is gonna be gruesome.
Rhian Beutler: Oh, awful. Yeah. Just yes. Exactly.
Kurt Elster: Well, and even, you are the sole person who controls what gets published on your website, and what gets published on your social media. So, content is something you can control, and you can get better at figuring out what gets engagement, what gets click throughs, what shows up in organic search, and you can work through it and start narrowing it down. It is 100%, it is difficult, it is time consuming, but it won’t be the insanely frustrating exercise that is trying to run a backlink campaign and just work on getting backlinks to your website.
The only way you’re gonna get those backlinks is if you have something truly valuable for someone to link back to.
Rhian Beutler: That people want to link to. Right! Right.
Kurt Elster: So yeah, you gotta start with the content, and that has to be your priority. You’re right.
Rhian Beutler: Right. Absolutely.
Kurt Elster: This has been extraordinary. This has been quite the crash course in Shopify SEO. Where can people go to learn more about you?
Rhian Beutler: You know, I have a Twitter. It’s @rhiankatie, R-H-I-A-N-K-A-T-I-E. I’m building a personal website, but I have not done it yet, so everyone hold tight. I’ve got a lot more time on my hands right now. And of course, my company’s website is venntov.com, V-E-N-N-T-O-V dot com.
Kurt Elster: Excellent. All of this is in the show notes. You have given me so many links. There’s quite a lot of stuff in these show notes. It’s very good. I love having tools and resources and guides, so we got that in here. Fabulous. Miss Rhian, I greatly appreciate this. This was a great episode. Thank you.
Rhian Beutler: Of course. My pleasure. I hope everyone stays healthy and well, and I’ll chat with you soon.