Arlen: Welcome to the eCommerce marketing podcast, everyone. I am your host Arlen Robinson, and today we’ve got a very special guest, Justin Smith. Who is the CEO and founder of outer box, a nationally recognized digital marketing agency offering website design, web development, and search engine marketing.
Justin: Hey, thanks. Thanks for having me.
Arlen: Yeah. Not a problem. Yeah. I’m super excited to talk to you, uh, before we were recording, of course, talking about what your whole team’s bread and butter is, and that’s e-commerce, SEO, and it’s a definitely a hot topic amongst our listeners for sure.
And I’m really excited to kind of dive in to that, but you know, before we get going and get into. The meat of the episode, so to speak, or why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and specifically how you got in to what you’re doing today.
Justin: Sure. So I was always artistic as a kid and really grew up with an art background, not necessarily a as into marketing when I was a little, I guess you could say, but as a growing up in the 90s going to school in the early two thousands really got into.
Digital graphic design and then into web design by trying to figure out how you could make those things come to life. How can you share them with other people? How can you design something out and then make it interactive? So it was kind of taking the art that I made and making it a interactive, which was exciting.
I started my a, I started OtterBox, the website development company. When I was 19 so right out of college was in college my first year and decided, uh, I would rather make money than spend money, so left school to start the company then and really got into SEO by realizing I needed a way to market my own website design and development services.
And that the best way to do that would be to rank on Google when people were looking for those services. That was really when e-commerce was becoming something, and so focusing on e-commerce web design, when someone searches e-commerce web design or eCommerce website development was really the type of cures we focused on, and that kind of spiraled into gaining more and more e-commerce clients and them asking for us to do the same SEO and SEM that we were doing for ourselves.
Arlen: Great. Well, yeah, that’s awesome man. And uh, he
Justin: really did get an early start
Arlen: out of the gate at 19 years old. That’s impressive. And at such a young age. Yeah. If you don’t mind asking me, me asking, how did you really kind of dive into it? Were you just, did you just kind of. Develop sites on your own and then eventually form a team.
And what was their whole, your whole process of getting started at such a young age?
Justin: Sure. So at first, you know, the goal was just how can I make a living so I don’t have to get a quote, quote unquote, real job. Right? Right. So how can, how can I work at home and, uh, you know, kind of be able to do the things I like doing.
But as we began to get more and more requests for projects because of our own SEO. We started, I think we ranked number one on Google when you search e-commerce web design a couple of years into the business. So that was probably 2006 2007 and as we began getting more and more calls and requests for projects, I decided we should probably take this a little bit more seriously.
So as that happened, we ended up getting a few freelancers and then we moved into our first office and grew it into a full in house team. And now we have over 50 people in house in two different offices. We don’t outsource anything. But it’s a, yeah, that’s kind kinda how we got going.
Arlen: Okay. That’s awesome.
Yeah. So for our listeners out there, it’s never too early need to get going. And, um, you know, if you have a vision, you can definitely get boots on the ground and just implement it no matter what age you are. So that’s, uh, that is awesome. One of the kind of start off with is really kind of sitting there.
Framework for our conversation today. And that is really, you know, of course it’s going to be revolving around SEO, eCommerce, SEO. But what a lot of people may not realize, and I think today, it’s probably more important than ever, is what onsite SEO is and what is the importance of onsite SEO and virtually, what is it these days.
Justin: Yeah, I mean, onsite SEO has definitely been changing and I think with Google’s algorithm updates, Google is looking very heavily at search intent, so people used to be able to always optimize a category page, always optimize product pages, and typically that would get them into the results if they were optimizing those pages appropriately.
But what we’ve seen even recently with the, you know, the algorithm updates rolling out in the last few weeks is Google’s looking at search intent so heavily that sometimes even in eCommerce space, you may find nothing but articles on the first page of Google. They may not be showing product pages.
They may not be showing category pages. And so Google is really trying to identify when someone searches something, what are they looking for? Are they looking to buy a product or are they looking for a buying guide? So when we get into onsite SEO, I think the first thing to really consider is why would someone be searching that keyword?
What’s really the question or the problem the person has when they search that, and what would be the best type of content to deliver to that person? And what is Google delivering to that person? When you search that query. Right?
Arlen: That’s very important. And I think what a lot of business owners or a site, people that manage websites for eCommerce companies, what they may not realize is that I think every piece of content that you put out there on your site, you’ve got to have Google in mind.
For sure. It’s just one lesson that you, you can’t be really haphazard. You have to have Google in mind. And of course at the same time, you do have to have your end. Customer in mind, you’re in prospective, and what is going to be something that is going to provide them value and then help them find the answers for the things that they’re searching for.
So I think those are the key things. Do you think onsite SEO, I know I’ve, I’ve had this conversation with others, but do you think onsite SEO is one of the most important aspects of SEO? Like, you know. You want to say the most important axis? I’m talking about optimizing specific aspects of your site, content wise and other things.
Do you think that’s the most important aspect of it
Justin: these days? Yeah, I definitely do. Depending on where you’re starting from, if you’re a brand new website, then getting some links into your site is going to be beneficial, but when I wouldn’t, a typical customer comes to us and they have some domain authority.
They’ve been around. It’s not a brand new site. And they want to come to us for an SEO campaign. A lot of SEO companies will dive into an SEO campaign by saying, let’s do link building. That’s where they start, and with us, it’s really how do we make your website the best your website can be?
That’s always our focus. We might not get into link building with someone for six months or a year into a campaign. So it’s really comes down to how do you make your website the best it can be. And that’s what you can ultimately control longterm is how well your websites put together. Google can change their algorithm tomorrow.
Other websites can get hit with penalties. Maybe the links that they’re sending you aren’t as important anymore. And so I think from a longevity perspective and really thinking about an SEO campaign for the longterm, onsite optimization is something that is most important.
Arlen: That makes total sense.
It cause it really is the one aspect that you, you, no matter what, you have full control over does. You know, no matter what the outside elements of the, of the whole internet does, it’s you, you have full control over that. So that’s makes total sense. And I definitely agree to that. Now, you also mentioned of course, the next thing that most people are familiar with or that always comes up when you talk about SEO, which is link-building that like you said, there’s always these companies that.
Straight out of the gate, they’re like, okay, let’s do link button. Let’s do link building. You know, this is before they even sold their first product. They wanted to link, build the thing, and as far as that’s concerned, really, how does a typical eCommerce company start a link building campaign if they’ve never done it before and they want to start doing it?
What are your suggestions?
Justin: Sure. I think the first thing is building good content. So that goes back to what we were just talking about from an onsite SEO perspective is. I think about a couple of ways. First off, if you build great content, people will link to you naturally, so you don’t have to do a quote unquote link-building campaign.
But. At the same time, if you are reaching out to other people and you’re asking bloggers, you’re asking news websites to link to you or reaching out to them and saying, Hey, we would love to be included in an article. How can we help publish content, whatever that is the year website that they’re going to be linking to better have good content on it.
So yeah, I think when people skip that step and an agency just starts doing link building. Not only is that not the best way to handle it, but in Google’s perspective, if all of a sudden you get a hundred links into a a really crappy page, I think it’s also going to be pretty obvious to Google that you’re doing a paid link building campaign.
Opposed to someone, people wanting to link to good content. So if I’m an eCommerce site, I’m going to build really quality content. I’m a build good buying guides. I’m going to write articles that help people become more informed on my product line. And then I’m going to go out to industry sites and ask them if they would be interested in linking to those.
They may say, Hey, sure, we’d be happy to link to it. We may want, you know, an inclusion fee or an editorial fee for our time to do that, which is fine, but I think it all does start with building good content.
Arlen: That is so true. And one of the things that you mentioned definitely. Rings true to me, to my company.
Omni star. When you’re talking about, or you mentioned, when you create that great content, people are going to naturally want to link to you and of course you can do your own link building, but when you have solid content, you’re going to get approached. And you know, since we’ve been around for a long time, we’ve got a pretty solid blog and high domain authority where we’re constantly getting pitched and asking for getting people that.
Asked to link to get links in the content that we have out there. So it really has almost become almost a full time job just to manage that aspect of it. So
Justin: yeah, we’re in the same boat. Okay. Yeah. We have one page, just as a good example of how you can really do this. Um, we have a page if you search e-commerce mobile stats that we wrote, you know, how many people are shopping online now?
What our holiday seasons look like as far as in store retail shopping versus shopping on Amazon. And we did that article. We never built one link into it and there’s over a thousand unique domains that linked to it now. We’d probably get five to 10 links a day into that page without asking for them just because we wrote, we made that page, we made it great.
Yeah, page ranks on Google when people search for that and then they naturally link to us. So that’s a great way to think about it is just how do you build link bait content that people want to link to.
Arlen: That is true. And then I think a lot of this really ties into what you, of course we keep talking about and that’s content.
It really, I think it may not really ever change, but content I think will always be King. I know that term has always been thrown around. Within the SEO world. And at first I was wondering would that change at some point with, you know, the way Google handles things, but the way that I see it now, and from everything that you’re saying, I don’t think that will really ever change.
Content is always King. So you know, for the eCommerce site owner or e-commerce marketer that’s listening . You’re thinking about content creation, how do you really determine the best type of content to create that will really give you the best SEO return?
Justin: Sure. I think a lot of times when we take over an SEO campaign from another agency or just someone that was doing it themselves and they say they’re not getting much return from that.
You look at their blog or you look at their articles section, and there’s a lot of random contents in, it’s not really actionable content. So if you want, obviously the goal of an eCommerce site is to drive sales, right? So really thinking about the keywords in the topics that you’re writing on.
For example, we have a client that sells telescopes online, and we did a great article for them that are, you know, the top telescopes under $1,000. Oh, that drives a lot of content and it also drives a lot of sales because someone’s searching, Hey, what are the best telescopes under $1,000 or under another price range?
They’re in the mindset of buying, opposed to, if you wrote an article of how do I focus my telescope, that might in the end get you a lot of traffic and those are still great. That could be a link building type article, but when you’re thinking about ROI and driving sales, you really have to think what type of articles are people searching for when they’re in the mode to buy.
And in that buying funnel.
Arlen: Yeah, definitely. And the key thing that you mentioned is creating actionable content where when somebody reads that particular content, they’re going to perform a particular action. And like you said, in the telescope company, somebody that finds that article, obviously they’re looking for a telescope under $1,000 cause they’re at the point where they’re, they’re ready to purchase.
So that’s the definitive. Actionable pieces of content, which, which makes total sense. And that’s why these days we see all of these different lists, types of articles, you know, the top 10 mobile phones for 2019 you know, since we’re coming to the year end, now we’re going to start to see a whole lot of that.
You know, the top five. Wireless earbuds of the year, you know, stuff like that. All of that, it’s going to be coming out because people are now getting in the mode of, of buying. We were about to hit Thanksgiving by Friday, then Christmas holidays, and so people have their credit cards prime. Then the brands know this, and so they’re putting all of that content to help people make decisions and form the, make an actionable action.
We under site.
Justin: It’s interesting how many Google results now or. The first page of Google is filled with those, you know, it’s all, it’s all the top 10 list. Obviously that lends itself well towards affiliate marketing and, uh, through our, our mattress company, it’s called a via, it’s an online mattress company.
We do a ton of affiliate marketing, which is exceptional for our brand. So that type of content is great.
Arlen: Yeah, definitely. It’s a, that’s really, you see so much of it these days. Now, you know, for any commerce company that’s listening to all this, that here’s what you’re saying about content building, content creation, onsite, SEO, link building.
It can seem a little bit overwhelming, of course, to be able to put all of this together, and especially if marketing and digital marketing is really not your forte. So. Do you think a eCommerce companies should definitely hire a dedicated person for these SEO activities? Do you think that’s required?
Justin: Yeah, I do. I’ve seen it be successful. Where, where, uh, an eCommerce company hires someone internally. I would say I’m, a lot of our clients have someone internally that they’ve hired and they still hire an agency to work along with that person. Does. It’s even tough. It’s not a one man job. I can tell you that much.
That’s why we have 50 people here. There’s 10 people working on each account. I think one thing that people may not realize is always when hiring internally is that there’s so many different skill sets. Whether that’s, they have to be good at copywriting, they have to be a good designer. They have to know coding.
They have to, there’s a lot of different things and it’s tough to find one person with all those skill sets. The thing that is really beneficial about having one person internally is to manage and organize everything. I would say an internal skill set that’s really beneficial is being a good copywriter so you can support an agency and provide them good copy, especially if you have a product that may be unique and it’s tough for an agency to understand it and just dive in and start writing about it.
So yeah, it’s definitely beneficial to have someone internally that’s focused on it. I think a lot of people. May think SEO doesn’t work for them, but that’s because they’ve never put the appropriate amount of effort into making it successful.
Arlen: That is so true. And I think even if you were to try to do it.
Really kind of on your own, you know? Of course there’s some basic things that you can do, your own content creation. You can do your own outreach, can try to do your own link building, but if you’re really trying to grow your brand and increase the revenues exponentially, I think you’re going to hit a point where you’ve got to do it.
You’ve got to hire somebody because you know, there’s only so many hours in a day. And then, like I said earlier, I mean, we see it on our end by just trying to manage our income, incoming requests for. People that want to get links on content that we’ve written. You know, it takes a lot just to manage that.
So as your brand is growing, I think seeing a dedicated person will definitely be be something that I think all brands will have to, we’ll eventually realize that that will. Yeah.
Justin: Yeah. As a business owner, you need to focus on your business and at some point you’re going to run out of time. I mean, even even here at OtterBox, I love SEO.
I’m passionate about SEO. I run our own SEO campaign for a long time, but I’ve had to give a lot of tasks out to other people within our organization and have them help me with the campaign. So it’s something that, uh, if you’re running a business, you just can’t do it all yourself. It’s a lot of work.
Arlen: Yeah, for sure. Now I know, of course Google is at the heart of really all of this at the heart of really SEO, in my opinion, and truly probably will be, and I think always will be the only search engine that really matters to a certain extent. Now, do you foresee any major shifts in SEO in the horizon?
Looking at, you know, the patterns. Of changes that Google has made, or do you think we’re kind of on a set? I guess we’re at a set area where content is really always going to be important. Link building is going to be poor to an extent. What do you really see in the future? I know it’s hard to, of course anticipate, but what do you predict?
Justin: I think it’s tougher at the change too much and everybody in the SEO world always likes to make it seem like it’s changing drastically. I think people that get hit with algorithm updates get hit because they were kind of doing shady stuff, or they were just keyword stuffing and they weren’t really building good content in the first place.
So when you see these big movements, I think the people that are seeing those are the ones that weren’t really focusing on building the good content in the first place. I always kind of relate it back to you’re in school as a kid and you’d go to a librarian and you ask for a book on a topic. You know, when you look in a book, the librarian is going to say which one is, you know, which author has the most relevance to this topic?
Which book has the most content? They’re going to give you a good solid book and not a little pamphlet. And the Google and online content is just like a book at a library. It is content and it’s quality content, and I always kind of see it being that way. I think the way people search is going to change.
The keywords that people search in might change. People will search with their voice more. So we have to start considering how, making sure that we include questions on our pages that we’re building more often. So people search those questions. Your results are coming up. So I think, yes, content is King, but I think there may have to be some tweaks to what you include in your content based around the way people search and the changes in the way people search.
Arlen: really makes sense. And I love that analogy as far as Google being really a library and you know, it’s like you approaching a librarian asking for a particular piece of content and that whole model really isn’t going to change much at all because the bottom line is they want to always provide the end user the best content.
That they can, and that kind of credo will never really change, so really, yeah, makes a lot of sense. Another thing I wanted to ask you about, maybe pick your brain a little, a little bit more about, you mentioned voice search, and I know that’s kind of been a hot topic these days with all of these.
Devices. We have the Amazon echo device. We have a Google’s device. Of course, we have Siri and all of these devices that where you can actually do verbal searches and your experience with your company that with the companies that you guys do work for, is that a consideration when you’re doing any type of SEO for them?
Is that something that you kind of consider or is it, are we still. Too much in the early phase.
Justin: I think we’re still too much in the early phase for it. I think people may use that when they’re searching on Amazon more and when they’re using an app. So I think if you’re trying to optimize on Amazon and you’re a big Amazon seller, that can be important to start thinking that way.
But I think people also almost search on Amazon voice search the same way that they search with keywords. They just speak to the keywords. So the search query might not be that different. When people are looking for restaurants or doing those kinds of local activities, I think that’s where people are going to Siri and they’re saying, you know, what’s the best pizza place near me?
And so I think if you’re in one of those types of businesses, it’s something you have to look at a lot more, and then you have to look at with an eCommerce business at this point.
Arlen: Okay. Gotcha. That makes total sense. I was curious because I often get. Cold calls on my cell phone with these robo calls of these companies saying, Oh, don’t miss out on the voice search.
And you won’t be found by customers that are doing very searches. Um, you know, it’s kinda open company. But like, like you said, I think those companies that are doing that type of outreach, they’re trying to target local businesses where it does kind of make sense where, you know, if you’re a pizza shop or.
Burger joint or whatever, and you want to come up when people are out and about. Yeah, I can definitely see that. See that making sense for sure. Well, great. It’s been awesome talking to you, Justin. I’ve definitely learned a lot, and I know our listeners have as well, because like we’ve said, SEO is really something that you have to have a followup piece in your arsenal of marketing, marketing, uh, weapons in order to be successful, specifically in eCommerce.
So yeah, you’re short a lot and I know it’s going to go a long way. And so appreciate you being on, but I would like to shift gears here and get our audience to know you a little bit better outside of what you do day to day. Why don’t you let us know a little bit about yourself as far as if there’s a particular fun fact that you’d like to share that people may be surprised to know about you.
Justin: Sure. So, uh, aside from, you know, having started the company, I guess, 16 years ago now, it makes me feel old since I started the company at 19. That’s the downside of getting started early right. My goal when I was in high school was he played professional baseball and I ended up having knee surgery when I was 17 and basically couldn’t run after that.
So getting into, like I said, I was really into the graphic design side, but you know, when I got into SEO, I feel like that really, um. That’s where my competitive is kind of where your competitive spirit can come out in marketing. The reason I really love SEO is there’s clear winners and losers.
You’re either number one, and you can say that you’re the best or you’re not. So I’ve kind of funneled my, uh, athletic drive into to marketing. Since I couldn’t play pro baseball
Arlen: actually. Gotcha. That makes total sense. You’re there is either a clear winner clear, you are loser. I mean, you’re either number one or you’re somewhere in between, but you know really those though, the number ones are the ones that really are successful with regards to SEO and with regards to like rankings on Google.
So yet that makes sense. Is it exciting? I’m kind of like a sport basically.
Justin: Yeah, exactly.
Arlen: You’re doing things to try to improve and get better and to improve your score. So, yeah, that’s awesome, Justin. Well, thanks again for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast, but before we let you go, why don’t you let our listeners know the best way for them to contact you if they’d like to pick your brain anymore about about SEO or and or anything in that area.
Justin: Sure. So our website is outer, O U T E R box box design.com. My email address is just Justin outer box.com. And, uh, yeah, that’s a great way to contact us at any time. Our phone numbers on the website as well. And, uh, yeah, I have any questions, need any help, feel free to reach out to us at any point.
Arlen: Right. Great. We appreciate that Justin. And uh, it was great having you today on the eCommerce marketing podcast.
Justin: You got it. Thank you very much. Thank you for listening to the eCommerce marketing podcast. Do you need to get more feedback and reviews from your customers and improve your customer retention?
Justin: have made it easy to do all of this with our customer feedback software. Just visit OSI feedback.com and sign up for a free trial today. That’s OSI feedback.com if you’ve enjoyed this episode of the eCommerce marketing podcast.
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Founder/CEO of OuterBox