Room 301 Podcast S2 02: Decoding Digital Marketing for eCommerce Success

Posted on: April 11, 2024

Podcasts

Pete Bingham

Rings

Welcome to a brand new episode of Room 301, the digital marketing podcast that invites experts from different ends of the digital marketing spectrum to share their perspective on a range of marketing topics.

In this edition, we'll be talking to The Digital Maze's Senior SEO Strategist Helen Halfpenny and our Director of Tech, Liam Nelson all about the challenges eCommerce marketers are likely to face in the upcoming months. Whether its AI, Google frustrations or communication breakdowns, join us as we discover why adopting a comprehensive full stack approach, and appreciating each team's contribution, is crucial for eCommerce success in 2024.

Pop the kettle on... and step into Room 301!

Watch it on YouTube


Resources

Some of the resources, tools and blog posts mentioned in the podcast.


Podcast Transcription

Rob Twells

0:22

Okey dokey, we are back. Room 301 and today we're talking all things marketing for eCommerce. And I've got two very, very lovely colleagues of mine: one from the SEO side of things and one from the web development / technical side of things. So hopefully we can get two differing opinions on this subject. So let me introduce you to our guests. So, first of all, we have Helen. Helen's from our SEO team. If you want to give yourself a very quick intro Helen, a bit of background?

Helen Halfpenny

0:54

Sure. So yeah, I'm Helen Halfpenny, I work on the SEO team at The Digital Maze. I'm an SEO strategist, that means I take some of the bigger accounts and look at the overall bigger picture of what the SEO strategy will look like for them. I do some hands-on SEO work as well. I've got over ten years, I don't know, I don't even know how many years’ experience I've got now. It's about ten years plus experience in the world of SEO, both agency side and in-house. So I'm quite broad in terms of my experience and remit. I do a bit of everything as far as SEO goes, really. So. That's me.

Rob Twells

1:49

Lovely. Thank you. Um, Mr. Nelson? 

Liam Nelson

1:44

I'm the technical guy at The Digital Maze. I look after the design team and the development team, across all of the web projects that we undertake at The Digital Maze and usually spend quite a lot of time working with Helen and Helen's team, as well as the PPC team to make sure that we are hitting all of the right metrics on the web builds that we produce and for our existing clients that we always update.

Rob Twells

2:16

Lovely job. Thank you both. What we're going to do is we're going to run through a series of questions. Not really questions – more just posing some thoughts to you guys. What we'd like to do is get the opinion from a technical guy, and the opinion from somebody who spent a time amongst the weeds in SEO and SEO strategy. And then we'll finish off at the end what we're calling the Room 301 Challenge. And we'll delve into that as we get through. But it's definitely worth sticking around for that one. So the first thought that I'm going to pose to you guys, is, you know, it's been a whirlwind past year in digital marketing. In fact, it's been a whirlwind past five years in digital marketing I would say: Google updates, AI updates, consent and cookie changes, so on and so forth. What do you think poses the biggest challenge from a marketing and a technology perspective in eCommerce in 2024 and beyond? I'm going to start with you, Helen.

Helen Halfpenny

3:11

Okay. So it's been a doubly whirlwind year for me because I've only been back at work three months after maternity leave, so I've had to get up to speed on quite a lot of things in the last 2 or 3 months. So it's been an extra whirly whirlwind for me. So I guess for me, the biggest one, as you know, an SEO is Google algorithm updates and SERP updates. 

So things are just constantly changing, the goalposts moving, sometimes daily, sometimes it feels hourly. And having to keep up with all of that for, you know, a huge variety of different clients, different products, different sectors – I don't know how small businesses are dealing with these sort of things themselves. I don't know how they deal with it. It's just so hard to know where to focus your efforts because something that worked one day or one week won't work again. So you have to constantly stay on top of everything that's changing and the constant shifting around and changes in the formats of the search engine results pages. It's such a huge thing to get your head around both as a marketer and as a small business or any kind of business owner, I imagine. So I think that is a huge, huge challenge. And I spent my entire life trying to please Google. So it's never ending basically, and I think that's the biggest challenge you can just keep going and keep going and it might not even work. You could be doing all the right things and it might not even work – because, you know, Google's decided that another site is doing it better, even though you can't see what they're doing differently. Um, so yeah, for me, that is a that is a huge challenge. I think for eCommerce and well, for marketing as a whole, but for eCommerce SEO you've got the added complexity of all the products and shopping and ads then and everything as well. So it's it. Yeah, it's just vast. It's just absolutely vast. And it's going to get bigger.

Rob Twells

6:07

What's your take on how SGE (search generative experience) at Google is maybe rolling out, maybe not rolling out. And what impact that might have on eCommerce in particular.

Helen Halfpenny

6:19

Uh, it's hard to say because it's, it's such a, it's it's such a maybe, but it's obviously going to change behaviour in the sense that people might not click through to sites quite as much if they're seeing what they what they need to see in the, in the search engines. They might not even bother clicking through to sites. Um, from an eCommerce perspective, I haven't really. Haven't really looked into it, and I haven't really kind of thought about how that might that from a, from a sort of sales and product perspective, I haven't really sort of had a chance to think how that might affect things, but certainly from a, um, a traffic perspective, it's going to potentially, um, cause headaches for, um, for websites and how they optimise, um, for that type of search as well. Um, it's yeah, I think it's, it's gonna, it's going to change user behaviour and or potentially change user behaviour quite markedly. But it remains to be seen to what extent I guess.

Rob Twells

7:27

Yeah, no. User behaviour is definitely a word that gets used regularly from the conversations I'm having, and I'm sure Liam is probably about to use it as well. So from a technical standpoint, Liam, what challenges do you think, um, are going to be the biggest ones from an eCommerce perspective in, you know, this year?

Liam Nelson

7:49

I think I'm going to start with AI. I always talk about AI and I bet people are sick of hearing me talk about AI. But there were a couple of interesting things that have happened over the past week with it, me and you were on a pitch the other day, and we asked the client how did you find us? Thinking it'd be Google search or a recommendation or something like that. And she said, ChatGPT! She'd gone to ChatGPT, probably use some kind of plugin or extension, and asked it to give her a list of mid-sized agencies that can help her with eCommerce sites. And I was just like, oh, that's different.

Rob Twells

8:24

This is where you get credit, Helen!

Liam Nelson

8:26

Obviously the work we've done on our own site has found its way into that algorithm. But I think that's one of those things where AI was a big thing early last year. That's where the "Big Bang" happened. Lots of promises were made, lots of products existed, and 95% of them were just rubbish. 

But there are obviously lots of useful tools out there and I think over the next 12 to 18 months, the rubbish tools will disappear and we'll start having some really useful things, and I think it will have a knock on effect. So in our world, in agency and tech land, we use AI all the time for the right things and the right tools. But I think your average non-tech non agency person knows about this. I think they might use ChatGPT to help them, you know, write their content or answer a few questions. Um, but I think in 12 to 18 months, that's when the normal user of the world will start actually using AI. And I think that's when we'll see the user behaviour change and more people looking in ChatGPT and Gemini and all of the other tools that come out to help them find things, browse things, get recommendations for holidays, flights, so on and so forth. So I think it's definitely something that we'll start rolling out, I think, in the world of eCommerce.

Shopify are doing a lot of stuff with AI in terms of chatbots and product recommendation engines and things like that. I think that's where you'll end up going to an eCommerce site and start asking questions about what you want, you know, what have we got on this site? This is the kind of thing I'm looking for. that'll probably get rolled out to the open source frameworks. Things like WooCommerce will have even more plugins and extensions for different pieces like that help the user and the user experience. And then on the other side, in the tech land, there'll be lots of tools to help us build sites quicker and better. But the, the difficult thing with all of this is you can have a tool which helps you out on the development side, but it could create really bad markup, with really bad technical foundations. So you have a really good, well, working website but the Google crawler just can't read it, can't find what it wants – it can't figure out what you're doing. So that's why, you know, agencies like us, we need to speak amongst teams and make sure we've got the SEO team checking the development homework. Make sure we've got the PPC team looking over to make sure that the tracking is all set up properly. So it will be a definitely a much more collaborative effort, especially for agencies and in-house teams over the next 12 to 18 months to make sure that one team's not going off on a tangent and doing all this crazy stuff with all these tools and just, you know, behind the scenes, causing absolute carnage. So yeah, that's my summary on AI I think in this space and where we're at right now.

Can I move on to my other point?

I think we spoke about this on the last podcast, but it contradicts everything I said with Google Consent Mode v2. And if nobody knows what this is. Google had kind of said unless you specifically don't track a user from like Google Tag manager perspective or any Google ad tracking perspective, the user has to explicitly consent to those cookies for you to even load those tags on the page!

So what we know is a lot of users, when that cookie banner appears on a website, they just leave it there and they just carry on browsing. And so if you enable Google Consent Mode v2, you won't be able to see what those users are doing, what pages are visiting. Are they adding products to your basket? Are they checking out? Are they coming back to you? What devices are they using? Agencies, marketers are just going to be blind to all of that data.

So what's going to happen is: when all sites and eCommerce sites have to get on board with this, the first thing a user is going to be greeted with, before they can do anything, is a horrible looking popup which says: "please accept cookies". And then there'll be some tiny writing to say "more options" where you'll get the rejection notice. So effectively, this is just going to make the user experience on a website really bad and I don't think there's anything we can do about it. It's just what Google says.

It's obviously legislation in the EU and America and probably coming to the UK soon, but there is a slight loophole at the minute where if you're in the UK it doesn't technically count because we're not in the EU, but it will definitely be coming. And it's just going to be that really annoying thing when you first go on to a website, you have to click a button before you can see anything and without that you just won't have any visibility on your Google ad performance, your site performance. And yeah, it's just just annoying really.

There you go. That's it. Mini rant over. 

Rob Twells

13:41

Yeah. No, we're hearing that a lot. I can't claim to know a huge amount about it, but I think outside of the realms of digital marketing and agency land like us, it's probably not that widely known that these changes are coming down the line as well.

What I took from both of your answers there was; what to focus on is probably going to be the biggest challenge. You know, there's so many changes, how do we stay ahead of the curve? And as Liam said, when the "mere mortals" of this world get their hands on the AI tools and it becomes more and more widely adopted, they're going to have an expectation that these things are going to be live and direct, on different websites. So it's picking them on what we should do, uh, to stay ahead of the curve. And that's challenging. Which one should we pick to give us the best advantage.

Time is money, especially in our game. And we have to spend our time on the right things. And sometimes it feels like we're putting our finger in the air in terms of – we'll try this one. But it comes at the cost of time. So, yeah, if anything, for me, what I took from that is: focusing on where to devote time and attention in any marketing strategy is going to be the biggest challenge because there's, and you can think of it quite positively, there's so many different things you could do: great...

But actually, if you haven't got an unlimited budget like the Fortune 500 companies have, and you're a small business like Helen mentioned, it's very difficult to pinpoint where the best advantage is going to lie.

Helen Halfpenny

15:07

And even then, you could do everything and then you're doing too much. You're almost doing too much. What's working, what's not working kind of thing. What's driving the changes? So yeah, it's so, so hard.

Rob Twells

15:20

Yeah, I think all you can do, and I think the advantage we've got in that situation is because we've got such a wide variety of clients and from different sectors and different industries, we can take our experience and learnings from one client to another. And I think that gives us quite a clear advantage, which is really quite useful.

If we see something working over here, there is a good chance that we can, you know, save time for another customer and cut some corners for them by implementing a similar sort of strategy. So I suppose that's how we would overcome that sort of challenge.

Thank you for that.

So the next thought I'm going to put out there is, you know, the overlap between SEO and development teams and a full stack agency, which is what we are – what insights from one another's teams have you gathered, I suppose, over the last few years. And I know Helen hasn't even been back here for three months after your maternity leave, but what have you learned and how has that reshaped your approach in a marketing strategy or a technical strategy, from your standpoint?

Helen Halfpenny

16:37

Yeah. Like you said, I'm only just back, but I haven't actually worked on too many full projects with our internal dev team. Just because of the clients that I've worked with but I'm currently working on my first one. So, I think the key thing is obvious: Communication. Communication. Communication. 

And it's knowing how to communicate between the two different teams. So knowing what the developers need to know, because I'm looking at it from an SEO perspective: I know what I want, I know what the client needs, but what does that look like from a development point of view? What does the developer need to know? And how can I make it as clear as possible? What needs to be done so that, it's easy for the developer to implement and the client gets what they need.

So it's just having that constant line of, of communication between the two teams and using things like slack to make sure that everyone's got access to the same information, things like card sorting exercises, site maps, redirect maps... that kind of thing.

So I think that obviously it's very process driven on the development side of things than it potentially is on the SEO side of things. Obviously, we have our different ways of working. So, I think for me it's: how do we align the different ways of working and communication? Communication is absolutely the key to that.

Rob Twells

18:26

Yeah. And for me it's balancing as well because there are different priorities for different teams, you know, a development or a design team are both on the same team and our business for sure, but they're focused on the visuals and therefore have different focuses. Whereas the SEO team is very much focused on, probably, structure, so how do we make sure that when it does launch, we don't either see a drop or actually we see a benefit from that. And it's balanced in who drives what, in my opinion.

Helen Halfpenny

18:50

This is it. So for example, earlier in the week, I had a document from our client services team who'd been talking to the developers, regarding one of my clients about some changes being made to their website. And the SEO was sort of factored in, but I wanted to bring in a whole load of different other things, and I probably muddied the waters completely by saying, we need to think about this, we need to think about that.

But it's having that ahead of time whilst the discussions are being had, making sure that everyone's feeding in so that everything is taken into consideration because too many times, in my experience, both in-house and agency side, one team or the other team has been brought in far too late. And it's difficult to change things once that happens – but it's also easy for that to happen. So certainly, in previous roles, I've found that either SEO hasn't considered development or development hasn't considered SEO. But I think because of the way we work now it is a lot easier to be better aligned and we do have those lines of communication within the teams. And it definitely works a lot better.

Rob Twells

20:13

A lot of trial and error on anything. Certainly. And again in eCommerce, it's so important that if you're going to rebuild a site or relaunch your site, or even make changes to a site, that both teams have the right level of input, because most eCommerce sites that you know, the revenues are generated by organic and paid, and if one of those channels sees a drop for whatever reason, it can have a massive impact on the business.

So it's really, really crucial that the two teams are driving the right bits of the project. What about your standpoint Liam, in terms of what have you seen from SEO that has reshaped the approach of your team?

Liam Nelson

20:49

I think we've looked at this quite a lot over the past 3 or 4 years, because I think 5 or 6 years ago it was, it was important, but it was less important that SEO teams needed to speak to development teams. I think the landscape of SEO was easier a few years ago. I don't know how many algorithm updates and changes have been made over the last two years – It's insane, and they were a lot less frequent back in the day, and there was a bit less reliance on SEO and development teams to be so close knit and, and sharing knowledge, I think.

If we take a web project – let's just say we're rebuilding a site for one of our SEO clients – the person I feel most sorry for is the project manager in that situation, because they have to coordinate the client's expectations because they want a nice new, shiny, all-singing, all-dancing website. You've got the SEO team that wants to mitigate as much risk as possible for that site launch, which usually involves “let's make as few changes as possible” and then you've got the design team who want to create a lovely creative side for the client brief. In addition, you've got the development team that wants a nice, easy life and just to just write the code that they want to write, and launch the site.

So the project manager is arguably the most important person in that whole process. They have to coordinate, manage 4 or 5 different sets of people's expectations. Um, and just line everything up because there's two things that need to happen:

One, like Helen said, you need to be meeting and speaking upfront. So the SEO team say right, these are non-negotiables. Please don't change this. Please keep the URLs as close to what they are. Please make sure that we copy over all the content and things like that. So regular checkpoints, regular meetings, when we've done the design, send it to the SEO team, before we send it to the client and get their feedback. When the client sends feedback in, that might go against what's going to be good for them from an SEO perspective. So again, let's educate the client on why that's not a good thing to do. And, like Helen said, it's just the communication throughout the project. Because if, you know, if the design gets signed off, when we go through the build and we're about to launch and we say, hey, Helen, sites ready to go, can you just check it over for us? That's usually when lots of things go wrong. So yeah, it's all about just touching base frequently and making sure that we've mitigated as much risk as possible. 

And I think the other thing which could get overlooked is it's not just about launching that site – it's about monitoring how it drops, how it's launched, what changes do we need to make? Kind of a bit of an all hands on deck approach post-launch. Just to make sure that anything that we thought was right but hasn't quite landed. It gets corrected pretty quickly, and we just keep on monitoring that over the next weeks and and early months.

Rob Twells

24:09

Yes, I agree with all of that. And I think as you sort of alluded to there, Liam, you know, 4 or 5 years ago, SEO was well, certainly over the last 4 or 5 years. SEO is part of the UX. How long people are spending on websites, how many pages they're visiting, are they engaged? Are they enjoying the look of the website? Even that is part of the SEO matrix now.

Helen Halfpenny

24:35

It’s all interlinked massively now.

Rob Twells

24:35

It's all interlinked, where going back a few years it was more around the structure side of it, but now it's everything. It's structure, engagement, where the content is, how far up the page, how far down the page. There's so much to consider now. And it you know, it's part and parcel of why we've built the agency that we are. It's full service.

I think you have to have the two different skill sets involved in an SEO strategy for it to work successfully, and I really fully believe that. And I think if you haven't got that, you're going to find challenges and you're going to be butting heads with other developers from external agencies and so on and so forth. So, yeah, I totally agree with everything you said.

Just keeping on these sort of theme of eCommerce and development; there's obviously lots of different platforms out there, and I think all those different platforms pose advantages and disadvantages for both SEOs, but also developers as well... and the customer. 

So does the platform even make a difference? Does it make a difference from an SEO perspective?

Helen Halfpenny

25:42

I mean, it can do. Certain different platforms offer different functionalities, different limitations and they work in different ways. So for example, take Shopify: you can't edit the robots.txt files. So it makes it difficult to easily direct which page and which parts of the site that you want Google to crawl. So from an SEO perspective, you might see pages appearing in the index that you don't want to if you've got a Shopify site, potentially.

But obviously SEO is a huge part of it all. So you know, by and large the platforms make it relatively easy to to update the basics of the site. WordPress is obviously a very user friendly platform. And from an SEO perspective and a business perspective as well, my experience personally is primarily with WordPress websites as I've not really dealt with many Shopify or Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento) sites. I'm trying to think of any that I've had to deal with in the past as primarily my experience is WordPress and WooCommerce, which is obviously a good platform from an SEO perspective and a user perspective. But yes, it certainly can make a difference, I think in terms of what functionalities are available to you when you're using that platform?

Rob Twells

27:34

Are there any platforms that keep you up at night? If I was to go: Helen, here's a new client for you – eCommerce client, great business. And they're on platform X…

Helen Halfpenny

27:45

Well, that's the trick. I don't know, because like I say, I've primarily dealt with WordPress clients. I think it's probably changed a lot. But a few years ago I had a Drupal client, and that was... "interesting" to update. But, I mean, we're going back several years now, and I'm sure it's it's a lot it's a lot different

Rob Twells

28:08

Nah, Liam is shaking his head, I think he agrees.

Helen Halfpenny

28:12

Um, but yeah, that one was whenever I had to make updates for that particular site, I was like, oh God, what do I do? Where do I even go?

Rob Twells

28:21

What’s your thoughts on eCommerce platform selection Liam?

Liam Nelson

28:28

It's usually my job, isn't it? Normally I'm the one with the pressure on – we've got this client, these are the requirements, or we've got this potential client, these are the requirements. What platform are we going to build their site on? And in the eCommerce world, you've got to have a very good reason not to go with WooCommerce or Shopify in my opinion. Some people may disagree but they're the two platforms that have the highest market share. Obviously it used to be a bit of a battle with WooCommerce and Magento back in the day. Magento was seen as the more "grown up" framework whereas WooCommerce was seen as the cheaper option. But now Magento has gone down a lot in the market share which has been snapped up by Shopify, which has grown massively over the past 2 or 3 years.

So really, in terms of eCommerce frameworks, now it's Shopify or WooCommerce and there's quite a lot of factors that I think need to be considered, um, even outside of SEO, in terms of what platform you go on. Um, both are great platforms for different reasons. Shopify is quite a closed system. Um, meaning that a lot of the core code is cut off from developers and can only be accessed in certain ways. Um, which has its benefits, but it also has its disadvantages. Uh, whereas WooCommerce is the complete opposite, you can from a development perspective, you can do whatever you want with that. So in between, kind of like more basic terms, if you need a lot of customisations and you've got quite a lot of integrations, you probably can still do them in Shopify. But it's going to be a lot more expensive for you. Whereas in WooCommerce, typically those sites with different customisations that are required will be cheaper. And in terms of quality and performance, there is not much difference between the two.

If we throw SEO considerations into the mix, it's always best, I think, to look at what platform you're on at the minute. So if you're already on WooCommerce but you're perhaps a bit sick and tired of how it's been tinkered with over the past eight years and you can't update things anymore, which is something we get all the time... unless there's a really good reason I would always say stick it. Because if you're going from WooCommerce to Shopify, you are going to have to completely restructure all of your URLs, which I know is not always an advisable thing from an SEO standpoint, and that's probably one of the biggest downsides to Shopify right now. You are limited on how you can structure your categories or collections and you can't really tinker too much with the URL structure.

But you can still have a site on Shopify and it still can rank really well and a lot of that is down to how the technical setup of Shopify is created. A big, big benefit of Shopify is you'll have to do a really bad build on Shopify to have it perform poorly from a speed and performance point of view. They generally do perform really well from that standpoint. Whereas WooCommerce, if you build it in the wrong way with lots of plugins and lots of code bloat, it can perform pretty poorly. So that's always something to keep an eye on.

So my short answer, Rob, and it's a common phrase in the world of SEO: It depends. It really does depend on what your requirements are.

Rob Twells

32:04

Yes, I agree, and I think what I've taken there is that moving from one platform to another requires more consideration than just wanting to do it because this new platform looks shiny. I think there has to be a real justification behind that, because the changes that you make, can expose you potentially to some big issues down the line if not done correctly. You know, I'm very confident that we know what we're doing but where we can, we'd definitely advise the customer to stay where they are unless there’s a massive justification.

Liam Nelson

32:34

Yeah. And I think a lot of the time we get clients come to us and they'll say, “I want an eCommerce site on Shopify because they've heard about Shopify and it's a nice new shiny thing”. I can think about 3 or 4 over the past six months. And then when we asked a question why, they don't know, they just heard it's good. And then when you ask what their requirements are, Shopify is just not going to work for them.

I think the reason Shopify has grown is because it was a great entry level start up platform. And obviously throughout the Covid period, everyone was thinking, how can I start selling things online? And it's captured all of those users and it's improved its platform as the years have gone on. But yeah, you do really need to think about what framework you want to move to. Whether you've not got a website and you want to start up, or if you've got an existing website and you want to change it for whatever reason. But that is where we can help... 

Rob Twells

33:36

Little plug there. 

On plugs, I should say there are lots of resources on our website all around eCommerce frameworks, platforms, recommendations, reasons why, justifications, why you should choose one platform over another, and also just rewinding, probably 15 minutes ago we talked about consent mode, and I know this episode is not focused on that, but it is a significant thing in the world of digital marketing in a minute. And there's actually a really good article on our website written by our Head of PPC Irena all about Consent Mode V2 that was released on the 18th of March. That's one of the later blogs on our sites. I really recommend reading that if you're interested in delving into that in more detail.

So, moving away from platforms, but keeping on the topic of eCommerce; trust is a huge factor in any, any online venture, but particularly in eCommerce. And it's one of the things that Google really looks for now, to add a lot of weight to a website and therefore visibility to a website. So how do you build trust with customers in eCommerce from an SEO perspective?

Helen Halfpenny

34:42

I think it comes down to a lot of things really, but it primarily is the user experience on the site. And obviously, as we said previously, UX and SEO are more closely linked than they ever were before. So things like making sure that your pages are loading fairly quickly. People don't want to have to wait around. It provides a poor user experience for them. People browse on mobiles, so sites need to work on mobiles as well. Not having font sizes that are too small, or buttons that can't be clicked. Making sure that all functionality that's available on desktop sites is available on mobiles as well. And I think the look and feel is a huge, huge thing on your website. So if you've got poor product photos you need to have lovely photos of your products. Nice clear product descriptions that tell the customer what they need to know. And try, if possible, to write them yourself rather than relying on manufacturer descriptions.

You also need to make it easy for the customer to buy. So they click on your page, they can get to the category, they can get to the product, they can add it to the basket and that and that journey is nice and smooth. There's no bumps along the way. There's no loops where they get stuck. Having clear calls to action to drive people through that journey. And then obviously from a trust perspective: security is a huge thing – making sure your site is secure and that you're not exposing any sort of customer data, making sure that if possiblecustomers can create accounts, but also if they don't want to that you're offering a checkout as a guest option as well.

There's a whole whole lot of things. I think everything comes down to the user experience now and the experience that you're providing on your site, because if that experience is poor, they're not going to trust you. They're going to go somewhere else. They're going to buy from somewhere else. And yeah, it's such a, it's such a huge thing now, user experience…

Rob Twells

37:39

It feels like the bar's really been raised. So much stuff that you have to get spot-on from a user experience point of view which therefore has an impact on SEO from a structural point of view, from a design point of view, from a build point of view, from a customer account point of view to a check out point of view to a basket point of view. I could go on and on and on.

How have we sort of managed to stay ahead on that Liam?

Liam Nelson

38:04

I think a lot of this comes down to the design of the site. So I think our design team will take a lot of credit here. It's about making sure that they understand the client requirements, but they also really understand the user of the website. So it's really important because a lot of the time client can say, we want x, y, z on this site and we have to be say, ok but why? Because your users don't want x, y, z – you know, just because you want it.

So a lot of the conversations I've been having with James, our Head of Web Design, is that while there's lots of things you can put on a website for trust, they can just get in the way sometimes. So sometimes you need to just go back to basics: keep it simple. If the user wants to go to a website looking for a t-shirt, let let it be easy for them to find the t-shirt and buy the t-shirt. You know the obvious things need to be in place. Like how much is the shipping going to cost me? What do other people think about this? What's the fit like on the t-shirt? All those kind of things that we need to get across to the user. But, let's just not bombard them with loads of different things that they don't necessarily need.

So, yeah, I think a lot of the time, from a design perspective, it's about having those things in place and having them designed in the right way and delivered at the right point of the journey. Which is something that our design team does really well. And when we're launching a website from an SEO standpoint, once it's launched, we need to monitor this stuff to check whether it's all actually working.

We have got a couple of AI tools that can mark our homework from a design point of view. But users will always do what users want. I remember when we were researching all the consent V2 stuff and we found out how few people actually click "allow cookies". So many users just leave that little annoying thing chilling at the bottom of the site. So yeah, once we have launched, it is really important to monitor how the conversion is, how users are brought in the site, what changes need to be made, and so on.

Rob Twells

40:21

Cool, cool. We're coming up to the 40 minute mark. I'm going to ask one more question. Then we'll move on to the Room 301 Challenge. So we've spoken about it a few times, spoke about UX and how, you know, how that's impacting SEO. And certainly over the last 3 or 4 years, it's become even more and more prevalent. Are there any conflicts with that? Is there anything that an SEO might recommend that would conflict with a UX expert? Liam’s nodding his head, go on…

Liam Nelson

40:51

Again, I'm going to caveat this by saying this happened more a few years ago. Obviously it's the balance of; if you're an SEO, you want to put as much content on the page as possible, because that's what Google used to like (and Google still does like). But users won't really read all that stuff these days, so you might be putting that content at the top of a product category page, but then you’re moving everything down. So like moving those t-shirts down the page on that product category.

So it is about having conversations with the SEO team and the client and working out what perfect looks like; perhaps we have two paragraphs at the top of this product category page, and we can have some more towards the bottom - based on other sites that we've done, this is going to work best. But just so you know... it might not. And in three months time we might be adding more content to the top and we'll revisit it.

So I think that's the obvious one that springs to my mind but I suppose the other one is from a technical seo standpoint, what with core web vitals and lighthouse and stuff – the algorithm updates, Google has definitely moved the goalposts on those. The criteria, what we need to meet, what we need to do every single week. And it just gets harder and harder and harder and harder. So I know not all of the time we can get the perfect 100 out of 100 across the board. But again, it's about speaking to the SEO team and saying: this is what we've done, this is what we can do. If we push it a bit further, it's probably going to take us four weeks and might not be worth the ROI, but we can still give it a go.

Rob Twells

42:31

 Anything you want to add to that Helen? 

Helen Halfpenny

42:32

No, I would agree with that. Whole heartedly, to be honest. I completely understand the whole huge amounts of content thing. And that's been a frustration of mine in the past because, you know, who is reading it and, you know, you spend hours perfecting the absolutely perfect optimised copy. And actually when you get it on the site, it doesn't look great. It leads to a page that doesn't look great because of the way the page template is built or, you know, you're trying to, to fit it into a page template that it doesn't really fit with. Um, so yes, I think it can create a poor user experience, but, you know, it's what Google has wanted in the past. We see we're seeing it sort of not quite as much these days. You don't need to have a huge word count to rank. It obviously depends on what the purpose of the page is, what the intent is behind the search queries and suchlike. But um, yeah, it I think we're seeing I'm certainly seeing a lot more sort of eCommerce sites with, with fairly limited text content on the page just and they are more focused actually on the, the visuals of the product and providing a better kind of visual user experience rather than the paragraphs of text. And they're still ranking reasonably well. So yeah. 

Rob Twells

44:07

Yeah, to be fair, it's not for today and we could probably talk about it all day, but I've heard rumblings of Google looking towards a model of almost adding weight to websites with more bite-sized information, because, you know, there's obviously a trend of people's attention spans getting smaller and smaller. The Tik-Tok generation, the 15 second video generation, and actually, you know, Google are looking at, or potentially looking at, how do we make sure we're adding weight to those websites that do just get to the point, are focused and therefore probably does improve the user experience, but again, not for today. Just a rumour...

Liam Nelson

44:43

We'll have to have new hidden pages for the AI to understand what the websites about that no human will ever read.

Rob Twells

44:53

So look, I appreciate both of your insights on some of the things I've thrown out there today. We're going to finish up with what we're calling the Room 301 Challenge. So for anybody that doesn't know, the “301” in our podcast name comes from something called a 301 redirect, which is effectively a permanent redirect of one URL to another. It's how SEOs tell the search engines that a page has moved, and the search engine should look somewhere else instead. So with that in mind, the room 301 challenge is effectively asking you guys, the experts on the podcast, what would you “redirect permanently”. In other words, get rid of. I think I know what Liam would say…

Liam Nelson

45:36

Yeh… I'm trying to think of something else, but yeah, I’ll go with the obvious, so perhaps not just consent mode v2, but cookie popups in general.

Do I need to read the caveat here? These views are my own and not that of The Digital Maze.

I think generally speaking, I get it, I get why the protection over people's privacy is important. But for me, I would much rather if I'm looking for a pair of trainers and I don't commit to a purchase, I would much rather there is data out there that people can use to send me trainers that I might like, as opposed to just sending me some random stuff because we don't have the data behind it. I want targeted personalised ads because, you know, it's going to help me buy what I want or find what I want, or find something that I didn't know I wanted.

And all of the stuff at the minute and the way it's going is you're going to have a really annoying pop up that it's going to be difficult for you to not use cookies. And then if you don't use cookies, the retailer on the end of that site are not going to get the data they need to understand user behaviour and make their site the best that they can make it, and improve the online experience for them because they're just going to be guessing.

So the whole thing and how it's been implemented is very silly in my point of view. And it's just not going to get the outcome that is desired because it's just going to make everybody's life harder.

End of rant... before I go any further.

Rob Twells

47:15

That makes sense. I think a lot of people would agree with you there, particularly those in the PPC area who directly need to show output to customers and whatnot and any marketer has got a budget who wants to know where that money is being spent and how it's being spent.

So what are you getting rid of Helen?

Helen Halfpenny

47:34

GA4 (Google Analytics 4). I hate it.

Rob Twells

47:36

GA4! Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Helen Halfpenny

47:39

I miss Universal Analytics. Oh my God!

Rob Twells

47:41

Me too. Me too.

Helen Halfpenny

47:43

I just cannot get my head around GA4. It was so easy in Universal Analytics to find the reports that I wanted to use and to filter them how I wanted and just generally get the information I wanted out of it. And it felt like there was a lot more there as well.

With GA4, I have to click about 15 times to get a report that I could get through two clicks and Universal Analytics, and I still don't feel like the information is completely there that I used to be able to access. I have to I have to faff around for ages trying to get it to do what I want. I suppose this is where Looker Studio comes in and you can tailor the reports through there. So obviously that's what we use it for, for client reporting and things. So that takes some of the sting out of it.

But seriously, I just want to go back. I just want to go back!

Liam Nelson

48:49

You know why Helen? It's because of data, you know. Because we don't have the data that we used to have.

Helen Halfpenny

49:03

I know, I know, it is. It's just annoying.

Rob Twells

49:09

Yeah I used to be quite proficient, I would say, at Universal Analytics and yeah I took one look at GA4 and I can't... I just can't. The Looker Studio reports that the team created are really bite size and help with my attention span, that's for sure. 

Cool. Well, look, I appreciate both of your time. Thank you very much.

And that is the end of the episode. Hopefully there's been some good insights from both an SEO perspective and somebody who leads a technical team on all things eCommerce. 

We’re The Digital Maze. You can find more information about us at thedigitalmaze.com, we try and release an podcast episode every month and we do webinars as well. So if you'd like to jump on and hear from us live and direct, the next webinar is coming up in a few weeks with our Head of Design, James, talking about all things UX, which is quite topical given what we've spoken about today on some of the questions.

Thank you for listening. We'll see you again soon!

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Pete Bingham

Head of Design & Content

My name’s Pete and I’ve been a designer for over 20 years, creating for web, print and more. I’ve written plenty of blog posts on the importance of good design, UX and creative content over the years. My other passions include walking in the Peaks, illustration and reading.

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