Arlen: Welcome to the eCommerce marketing podcast. Everyone. I am your host, Arlen Robinson. And today we have a very special guest Ian Reynolds who is a Partner and Chief Solutions Architect at Zibtek, a software development firm focused on helping businesses of all sizes in the US solve their core problems with software. They empowr entrepreneurs, growth companies, enterprises and visionary firms to achieve greater profitability and efficiency, valuation and ultimate success by building the right tools through custom software.
Arlen: Welcome to the podcast Ian.
Ian: Hey, it’s great to be here.
Arlen: Thanks a lot for joining me. And today we’re, I’m really excited because we’re talking about something that oftentimes is overlooked or it’s kind of a afterthought, because of course, when you’re thinking about marketing and eCommerce marketing and everything, you got to do your focus really on what you can do to drive people to your site, to drive up sales, all of these marketing types of activities.
But a lot of times. ECommerce businesses don’t really take stock or inventory of, of kind of what’s in their house, so to speak and will their site where their infrastructure, where they’re shopping cart, be able to handle any type of influx of customers that they get or sales and things like that. So those are definitely things that you have to think about.
And that’s really what we’re going to talk about today. These technical components of an eCommerce store that have to deal with site speed security and just all of the nice little things on the back end that make these sites awesome. So I’m super excited to talk to you about that, but before we get into all of that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about, a little bit more about your background and, you know, specifically how you got into what you’re doing today?
Ian: Sure. So my background is pretty varied. I sort of was in startups. Right out of college and helped launch, like something like eight different products to market from like pharmaceutical products to actually affiliate products and, uh, just all over the place. And that, that was fun, but I got kind of tired of living under my desk, so to speak.
So went back to school. Did the MBA route then went into traditional consulting? Surfed really some of the largest companies in the U S for a number of years, both on the it side, helping deploy these very, very large solutions. And then also on the finance side, I did restructuring MNA, advisory acquisitions, and divestitures, et cetera, and really enjoyed that.
But ultimately, Wanted to get back to a place where I was kind of doing my own thing and really had ownership in the business. So I found a business to buy. I actually acquired half of Zyrtec going on, I guess, three years now. And it’s been great. We’ve been growing the business and we’ve been growing very, very steadily and helping our clients really achieve some pretty excellent engineering results.
Arlen: That’s awesome. And I know your, your expertise and you know how with dealing with, you know, you’ve been in industry for quite a while and, and all the things that you did prior to joining or acquiring Zivtech will really kind of help you. Understand technology as a whole and kind of really what it takes to have a solid infrastructure in place, which is super important.
So, you know, that kind of really brings me to my first question for you is, you know, really, what do you think is the most important piece of technology that an eCommerce stores should have in
Ian: place? Right. So a little bit of a, hopefully a question that people haven’t thought about, but it’s actually a backup, right?
It’s being able to get back online very quickly. I think a lot of people don’t think about. The fact that what can go wrong will go wrong. And if let’s say you get that influx of traffic or something happens to your server or the latest data that you have in terms of inventory, et cetera, you need to be able to put that back up very quickly.
Last time online is, you know, you’re probably running ad sets. You probably have affiliates sending you folks to the site. If you’re not up and running, you’re going to be losing money.
Arlen: Yeah. Very important. And actually, I didn’t think you were going to mention that, but when I come to think of it, that is very, I think that is one of the most important things, especially these days, especially in the, you know, kind of turbulent times that we’re in and.
There’s a lot of companies that are suffering due to the COVID-19 virus. And there’s really just a lot going on as far as economy. And so we don’t know what’s going to happen with certain companies, but to piggyback on that, one of the things that kind of comes to mind that I know a lot of our listeners are probably wondering when you speak about backups, because.
These days we’re kind of in a whole new world, as far as e-commerce is concerned where, you know, no longer are the days where you have to have a custom eCommerce solution in sight, in place where, you know, you’ve had everything customized and coded. For your particular needs you, of course, you can still do that.
There’s a lot of companies that have kind of a specific need and they have to have something totally customized. So you can definitely do that. But I think the majority of smaller businesses that are out there are really going with the, I guess exactly the quote unquote off the shelf types of solutions to Shopify as a big commerce is the Wix is on all of that.
With that in mind, of course, I’m sure these large companies have of course their own kind of backup procedures and things in place, but. There is always a worst case scenario. You know, there’s always things that could happen at their data centers. There’s always things that are just kind of unforeseen.
Would you recommend for a smaller business that, you know, has, let’s say a Shopify site to think about really taking it to the next next level, as far as having another kind of mirrored store, so to speak on another provider, just in case.
Ian: I would, especially as the business grows, right. It’s really sort of, one of the first things that I would try to tackle is to sort of reduce risk, but I guess kind of a secondary item over and above sort of reducing risk.
It’s taking that often times people are sort of using that Excel spreadsheet to sort of manage their inventory table and manage pricing, et cetera, really make sure that is backed up pretty regularly and almost daily. Right. And that that’ll let you get up to speed relatively quickly. If you’re using the Shopify big commerce type solutions, having that file be.
Up to date and having that file on hand and accessible and not in sort of like a, a cloud repository is also the second way to sort of get back up and alive for literally quickly. But another piece of technology I think is actually it relates to image optimization. Alright. So let’s talk about e-commerce particular, right?
If I’ve got, uh, thousands of SKU and site, and I’ve got these thousands and thousands of images, Google is in being, but mostly Google is putting an extreme emphasis on the speed and performance of your website. The biggest drag on performance and speed from an engineering perspective is going to be the file size.
It has to be loaded. So there’s a couple ways you can help facilitate that using a tool like Cloudflare’s sort of premium or another one of these really powerful what’s called a CDN content delivery network to make sure that your assets, your digital assets, which are going to be sort of the heaviest lidded items are available for quick download, no matter where you are in the country or overseas is really materially going to help you boost performance.
For your site and we don’t see enough people doing that. And they’re like, well, I’m super slow. And the speed metrics, what do I do?
Arlen: So it’s more than just optimizing the file sizes of the images you’re saying they really need to take it to the next step next level and consider one of these CDNs, these content delivery networks, where.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you’re going to get the same performance when you go into this person’s site.
Ian: That’s correct. Right. And so even, so Shopify has a CDN actually sort of built in to some degree, big commerce has a CDN built into some degree. However, it’s not necessarily performance optimized when you’re building a much larger eCommerce solution.
For example, that uses Shopify in the backend. There are still component parts of that, which are going to be throttled by. The speed that Shopify is going to allow that to be delivered in. So if I’m going to build a solution, that’s a little bit more customed, but still sits on sort of the rails of Shopify.
I probably want to look at one of those sort of external solutions to see what can I do to accelerate the delivery of my media, to folks, because most people, I think we’ll find that. The amount of traffic they’re getting from mobile is increasing. And the amount of mobile bandwidth you have relative to what people have in their homes is much smaller, right?
So that delivery has to be really, really fast. And with Google’s emphasis on speed, they’re really trying to say, Hey, people are using their mobile devices, make this as quick as possible. We’re going to reward you for it. We’re going to rank you higher because we’re going to be able to see that data come through faster over the network.
Arlen: Yeah. And I have seen that so much more these days, and a lot of marketing experts are, are kind of echoing everything that you’re saying where Google is really focusing so much more on the site, speeds the load time, and then in a mobile presence, because we’re really just kind of in a mobile world these days.
And I think the statistics show, you know, there’s so many more people that. All of their internet activity is really on a mobile device. And especially the younger generation, you know, the millennials and the even kids that are, you know, high school is at this time. And that’s all they do is their internet is just a mobile.
Maybe it’s a tablet. Maybe it’s a. IPad, but that’s the majority of their interactivity. So with that in mind, yeah. You gotta have a solid mobile site and it’s, you know, like you said, it’s gotta be quick loading. Now. I know when you’re of course creating a store. Of course, we want to make sure that you’re using high quality images.
Of course. And that’s kind of one of the main things you want to make sure everything is clear. If you have a consumer based product, you know, you want to make sure everything is high quality, is it. Easy enough. As, as I mentioned, you can, of course optimize these images. Is it easy enough to use one of these services that are online because there’s a ton of them online where you can.
So optimize your image. You just upload the file. It’ll spit it through some type of algorithm and reduce the file size and then give you a smaller file, which is really the same image. So it’s just a smaller file. What’s your take on those types of sites and those kind of freeware solutions that are online, where you can just do that.
Ian: Is that effective? It’s effective, but one of the things that you could do, that’s sort of taking it to the next level, which I always encourage people to take it away. So you can have multiple versions of the image. Right. And so based on my browser with, based on the screen resolution, based on bandwidth load, different versions of the file, right?
So you can tell the browser to say, based on these criteria, load this version of the file to optimize the experience for the end user. Let’s use a little bit of custom programming, but that’s where we come in and effectively you really just, you want it to go back to the speed? You want it to load quickly, but you know, if I, I have just kind of random, I don’t have an iPhone or anything like that.
I think the DPI of my screen is about like seven 20. It’d be like a old seven 20 thing. But the screen, you know, it’s not like I’m holding it right up to my eye. It’s right. So a tin NDP image is going to look. Pretty good. Even in seven 20 P when I’m holding it a little bit ways from my face on a really small screen.
So telling the browser, Hey, optimize for the bandwidth, the person has optimized for the screen and they have, you’re going to actually be able to deliver a much more seamless experience, a much more high quality experience by optimizing for the device level, which is of course going to take a little bit more work, but ultimately just going to be 10 X.
Arlen: Yeah, that’s some great advice and I never kind of heard it that way. I didn’t know that, you know, you could always do customization on the software level of HTML and your site to do certain things for certain devices, but as far as kind of spitting back certain images per the devices yet, really, really useful.
I can see that because the bottom line is you want an optimal experience for everyone, no matter what the device is. So you don’t want. Like I was saying, you could go in, you could optimize all the images, but there’s always going to be a case where, you know, you have somebody on a higher resolution device where, you know, it can handle, they, you have a higher band, would, they would be able to handle those higher resolution images and you don’t want to return them a lower resolution images.
That’s going to really change their overall experience, the custom coding and spinning back the appropriate file sizes. Yeah. That’s some great advice. Now we’re kind of in the, the era where security is really always a huge concern when it comes to e-commerce because these days credit card fraud is huge.
We always hear about these big things where there’s been breach with credit card companies or with different websites and things like that. So aside from kind of the obvious things of having, you know, of course, a digital certificate in place, SSL, what are some other practical ways. To secure an eCommerce site.
Ian: Yeah. Great question. So, yeah, just like you said, the SSL is super critical. The probably the biggest thing is when you have the opportunity to rely on a big brand name company, like Stripe or a big commerce, these other guys have their own sort of payment processor. PayPal would have you to store the credit card data, and you’re not storing any component of the credit card data on your server.
We always recommend that, right. These guys have spent. Millions and millions and millions of dollars on security, infrastructure, firewalls, et cetera. And it’d be much better to use their sort of token password system to pass that value through your site onto that third party provider when you can, same is true with authorized.net and the advantage you have using one of those providers is that again, like someone else’s basically paid.
For the security. Now the flip side of that is obviously they’re bigger targets. They have a bigger target on their back. So, so you need to be mindful of that. But generally that approach is much more sound than trying to store it on yourself. The problem most people encounter when we sort of run into security items is just that they’re storing certain information locally that they really shouldn’t be.
And they’ve left open. Let’s say they’ve got a little bit more of a custom solution. They’ve left open ports that otherwise shouldn’t be open in their firewall. And so think of it, like if you’re going to be robbed on the internet, the way that someone is going to do it is they’re going to. Not go manually type in every single IP address.
I mean, there’s billions of IP addresses. They are going to write a script that is, it’s like kissing a neighborhood. They’re going to write a script. That’s going to go door to door, knock on the door, jiggle the handle. If it’s locked, if the windows are locked, they walk around the house. Everything’s closed down.
They’re going to go to the next house. And they’re just going to do that many, many millions of times over very, very quickly. But the problem is that. When you’re going in and you’re doing these changes. And if you’re not sort of regularly checking to make sure that an accident hasn’t happened or somebody hasn’t left open a window, you will find that effectively somebody is going to find their way in and it’s going to happen so quickly and in such an automated way that you’re really just not going to be secure.
So the biggest security thing that people should be doing, especially as they scale. Is doing what’s called penetration testing, going to a third party, asking them, Hey, try to break in, tell me what I’m doing wrong. If you were going to get in, what would you do differently? And almost every time we’ve done a penetration test for somebody we’ve found a way in, or have been able to take something down.
And typically it’s a simple thing that got overlooked.
Arlen: Yeah, that’s usually always the case. It’s usually something small something you’re not really thinking about where you just need an outside company that specializes in looking at the finer details and pointing out where the holes are. So that, that makes a lot of sense.
I’m going to kind of jump in actually with one kind of devil advocates type question where you had, of course had mentioned that it makes more sense to put all of the. Processing the security thing with these big guys, the stripes, the authorized Ned’s don’t store, anything locally, let them deal with it because they’re, you know, they’ve got millions and millions of dollars and infrastructure in place to make sure things are secure, but a devil advocate’s question would be, yeah, I can do that.
It makes sense. I don’t have, you know, the security infrastructure in my place, you know, my computers just to store any of that. But for, let’s say a worst, worst case scenario. And their server data center, it blows up all of their backups are destroyed. Everything is destroyed. You know, I’m just being, you know, worst, worst case scenario.
That’s all of your data. That’s all your customer’s data. That’s all of your customer’s credit cards. And essentially at that point, You have nothing. And in for, let’s say a business that’s maybe a, on a subscription model where they’re charging people on an ongoing basis. That could be pretty bad because at that point you’re just would be relying on your customers to still have faith in you as a company.
And then for them to kind of reactivate Riyadh their card. What do you say for those people that are thinking, you know, I still want to hold on to. Some of that data because of the possibility of a worst, worst case.
Ian: That’s a great question. So there are, let’s say you store your information with PayPal.
There are other third parties where I can store that information securely, but I’m still not storing it myself. And they’re unrelated to PayPal. So in that case, it may make total and rational sense. And going back to sort of that backup piece, to have some of that data when they put it that, that sort of personal identifiable information and the credit card information, haven’t be stored in two locations, have it go to the provider and then also have it go to one of these superstar secure providers where in worst case Pipelle no longer exists because California is underwater or whatever you.
Can recall that data from some other location and then move forward with another provider. And so we’ve seen that be the case in terms of people structuring their backups, or they also do that if they want to switch providers. Right. We had one guy who switched from PayPal, the world pay, or from a we’re paid to Braintree.
Right. So in those cases, you don’t want to have to have that whole set of customers switch. And they needed some way to store that data and then have it be reinput to this other system seamlessly without customers knowing all they did was send them an email, just like, Hey FYI, this changed. It’s like I’ve changed.
Literally. Anything just is hopefully going to be able to provide you better service.
Arlen: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, rather than going through an unsecure route to store it, just getting a backup of another provider because you know, it’s definitely lessens you chance of a worst, worst case. Like you said, if something let’s say California is under water, all of the data centers that Stripe has or are gone, the chances that.
All of PayPal servers or authorized net servers are going to be gone at the same time or are pretty slim, you know, unless we have something pretty catastrophic, that’s a chance that that’s not going to happen all at once. That totally makes a lot of sense now for looking at an eCommerce site and all of the different aspects that make these things run.
What are some other technology tools or resources that you feel eCommerce sites should definitely have in place to run more efficiently?
Ian: Yeah, I think it’s pretty wise for a lot of these companies. Look, I mean, e-commerce is very competitive, right? So if you’re not. Really trying to get an edge you’re going to be behind.
I mean, it’s just the nature of the beast. And one of the tools that we recommend is setting up some type of automated crawler. That’s going to check your site regularly for errors. So you’re not sort of. Mistakenly putting out errors that Google is seeing, and they’re saying, Oh man, the quality of the site is not good.
And you have all these broken pages. So set up some automated crawlers. They’re going to have some automated alerts that are going to tell you if pages are broken, links are broken, JPEGs are broken, images are broken and kick that back to you once or twice a week. That’s what we’d recommend. The second piece is do the same type of performance monitoring across sort of, let’s say you’re using an affiliate channel.
Let’s say you’re using just kind of. Cart monitoring software to tell you how often people are abandoning or things like that, because you could have a performance problem on sort of the hardware side or a bad piece of code that is a Canary in the coal community, in the coal mine to tell you, Oh, I need to jump in and fix something.
E-commerce customers really expect things to be seamless and almost have that Amazon experience rightly or wrongly. And if you’re not. Able to provide that, or you’re unaware of one little component in the sort of the checkout flow or the process of learning about what you’re selling and then, uh, or your business.
And then moving down to that ultimate checkout, just one bad step in there has proven for our customers to be. Really, really detrimental to the total experience and ultimately their, the health of their business. So we would really recommend setting up some sort of automated crawling, automated alerts and automated parsing of performance and having this.
Thanks B sort of mentioned to you on a regular basis.
Arlen: That makes a lot of sense. I know from an SEO standpoint, when you’re looking at maybe doing some type of SEO audit, they always suggest, you know, you’re crawling your site’s going through getting a report. That’s going to work. Do all of your heirs, that’s something that you usually do on maybe a quarterly basis or what have you.
And then you kind of work through the areas, but we are talking about is really taking it to the next level and really looking for certain things, areas produced that will be kind of key errors. That could be a detriment, not only to your search engine rankings, but to just the overall usability of the site.
So, yeah, I really liked that. I think that can really. Get businesses to be able to stay on top of things before they get out of hand or before they start losing too many customers because of a, of a, kind of a hidden air. Now, you know, as we prepare to wrap things up in, I’m always looking for what we can gleam from some of the big guys, you know, the top eCommerce brands.
So what are the C. What are some top eCommerce brands that you are familiar with that really have a solid and secure technical infrastructure and some of what are some of the things that you’ve learned from some of these big guys that any e-commerce business can do.
Ian: Right. So I’ll answer that question in two parts.
First, I’ll talk about two particular examples about the sort of big name players, the brand names, and then we’ll talk about, so actually some of the smaller players are doing that. The big guys. Can’t do so first we sort of periodic user of eBay and of course, periodic user of Amazon. One of the things that these guys have going for them is that they have dynamic server scaling in terms of their utilization on the server.
And they’re basically making it so that if they get that influx of traffic, Additional server nodes are scaling up. They’re parsing net traffic out with effectively a load balancer. And they’re making sure that the experience for every user is exactly the same, no matter where I am, no matter how many users there are, if I’m at a sort of a peak period of the day, the performance of the website, it’s not going to be any different from sort of a, if it was a non-peak period and actually that’s for anybody, who’s doing something custom, that’s actually pretty easily doable with technologies like Kubernetes, where I can sort of.
Automatically scale up and scale down server resources. And that’s an open source technology. That’s something that’s been put out there and worked on by the community and anybody can use when they’re really sort of building out their much more robust e-commerce capacity. And we’d really recommend that companies are sort of on the cusp of.
How do I get that performance edge? That’s sort of a technology that they look up now on the flip side, that sort of dynamic scaling and having sort of equal performances, really what the big guys are doing that I think a lot of guys are not really paying attention to, or don’t really realize they can go get themselves.
Now on the flip side, if I look at sort of Shopify and BigCommerce and these even Magento and some of these other guys they’re making and democratizing the eCommerce experience for sellers. In a way that Amazon and these really large platforms can’t I, as a seller, would have an incentive to actually have my own store, as opposed to necessarily being on Amazon, despite the amount of traffic, because the cost of selling those platforms are very, very high.
And Google has a prerogative to actually make it easier for me as a Shopify, big commerce. What have you be more discoverable than Amazon? Because Amazon, while it’s going to spend money on ads. Each and every single one of those businesses that has his own store is also going to spend on ads and it’s going to be much more specialized and ultimately serve a better result than what these big large players can do.
So as a small provider, I would look at how you can be even more sort of specialized with your offering. And in terms of the experience you’re providing for your customer from a technology standpoint, what can you streamline that Amazon eBay? And these other overstocks of the world can’t do from a presentation perspective.
And so that’s what I would sort of look at from a technology perspective. And I think part of that is in terms of web frameworks, there’s a lot of web frameworks that allow now for modularization of the page. So things like react. Angular, et cetera, allow me to only load certain elements of the page and actually present things faster.
These big companies can’t implement those things fast enough. And I think that’s where a lot of small players are going to have some advantages.
Arlen: That makes a lot of sense. And I appreciate that breakdown. I see that so many more times these days when I’m looking at different sites, like you said, the dynamic content where you’re not going to a certain, a separate page, but other content is being displayed.
And all of that is really just helping the usability of the site. And then eventually all of that does trickle down to you having more of a solid presence, helping, which does help your. Overall Google rankings and it’s just kind of a win, win. So yeah, that’s the, you definitely provided a wealth of information.
There’s a lot of things to think about a lot of things, like you mentioned that we can learn from the big guys and that can even be implemented with some smaller businesses. And so yeah, appreciate you definitely coming on in and, uh, I’ve, I’ve learned a lot for sure. But what I like to always do is my last question.
I’m going to kind of switch gears here. And as we wrap things up, one final question for you, that’s a little off topic, but just wanted to get your opinion, your feedback. And if you could choose any entrepreneur living or dead that you could sit down with and have dinner with, who would it be and why?
Ian: So interesting answer on this.
I’ve recently been reading a bit of John Maynard Keynes, one of the sort of famous Kinsey and economist. And he was actually a person who ultimately did a lot of investing on behalf of a number of endowments and some of these things in addition to sort of being this really sort of renowned economist and an educator, and he.
Really changed his opinion after he learned much more about how the world really works and has really sort of broadly shaped commerce as we know it in the United States. And so commerce in the interaction with sort of federal budgets, et cetera. But interestingly had a really astounding investing record.
So I think that’d be somebody who very much love to sit down and have a conversation with. Okay,
Arlen: great. Well, yeah, that’s definitely a unique person as something that somebody, I definitely don’t know a whole lot about, but I will definitely look up and see what I can learn. So I appreciate you sharing that today, Ian, and we definitely appreciate you coming on the eCommerce marketing podcast, but before we let you go, if any of our listeners would like to pick your brain anymore about all of these backend and.
Infrastructure types of technology that can help their sites run better. What would be the best way for them to get in contact
Ian: with you? Yeah, best way to get him to contact us is visit www.zivtechzibtek.com. Go to the contact form and just say, Hey, I heard you in on a podcast and you know, I’d love to reach out.
Arlen: That’s awesome. That’s straightforward. And I hope all of our listeners will take advantage of that. Pick your guys’ brain and maybe help them take things to the next level. Oh, right. Well, Ian, thank you again for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast.
Ian: Thanks for having me.
Partner and Chief Solutions Architect at Zibtek