Arlen: Welcome to the eCommerce marketing podcast, everyone. I am your host. Arlen Robinson, and today we’ve got a very special guest Ryan Cote, is the Director of Digital Services and Partner at Ballantine, a third-generation family-owned direct mail and digital marketing company based out of Fairfield, NJ. With Ballantine since 2003, a family-owned business
started in 1966 by his great-uncle, Ryan now manages the growing digital marketing division.
Ryan: Thanks . Super excited to be here.
Arlen: Yeah, great. I’m super excited to talk to you. That’s quite corporate history that your family business has. You know, going back to 1966 is, you know, it’s accomplishment, especially in the marketing space.
I know your great uncle who founded it. I’m sure you know, when he started the business at that time, the whole marketing landscape scape, I know it was totally different than it is now, so I know you guys are a lot of changes. I can
Ryan: imagine. Yeah, we definitely have, especially over the last 12 five years, have we, as we have built out the digital division, you know, but when my grand uncle started, it was just print, like print and ship type jobs.
Like, Hey, I want, I need a brochure. Okay, here it is shipping here office. So it really has evolved over the last 50 54 years.
Arlen: Yeah. Yeah. Really, it just, the internet has just changed. Everything has changed the whole game as far as marketing is concerned. So that’s kind of where everything is at. But you know, today I wanted to take a little different tape.
On the topic of today, which is SEO, search engine optimization, and content marketing. On past episodes, we’ve kind of dug deep into some of the technical things that you can do to improve your search engine rankings and keyword optimization and such things. But what I want to kind of focus on with you is, you know, a lot of the lessons learned because I know you have a hell of a long history dealing with clients and from the agency, and I think people would really appreciate some of the lessons that.
You’ve learned dealing with clients and even dealing with sites that you’ve managed your own on your own or yourself. So what, before we get into all of that, you want it to tell us a little bit about your background and specifically how you got into what you’re doing today.
Ryan: Sure. Yeah. So I’ve been at Ballantine since 2003 so about 17 years, and I went to school for marketing, did not know I was going to be in the family business.
I actually didn’t even. Didn’t even really think about it until my one brother joined in. I guess the seed was planted. And here I am. And so I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I’ve always been entrepreneurial. In my past, I’ve always had like side businesses and just dabbling in online stuff. When I started at Ballantine, I was the marketing director cause we didn’t have the digital division.
So I was doing SEO for the company, trade shows, a little bit of sales, you know, outreach kind of stuff. And then eventually I. Started the digital division and my other brother came on board and you know, we’ve just been trying to grow it every year, trying to get better and better. You know, we’re essentially like a startup inside a long run business.
So we’re always, every year we’re trying to like look at what we did last year and like how can we improve things? And if I look at how we do things now versus the first year, it’s really like night and day. And that’s, yes, cause you’re always like looking back and just based on experiences to try to. Do things a little bit differently and better.
So that’s how I’ve gotten here and, and funny.
Arlen: Right. Great. Well that’s awesome. Yeah. It’s, um, you know, really good that you’re able to, to get into the family business and, uh, and kinda help take it to the next level and, you know, keep it going. That’s, um, that’s really admirable and impressive that, uh, that you guys are continuing the, uh, the tradition set by your great uncle.
Now you started with the business in 2003, and I know at that time. Search engine optimization was a little bit different and I always kind liked to take a look at kind of the landscape of where things were, where they are now, and where they could possibly go. So how I actually was search engine optimization, that whole concept, how was it back in 2003 when you first started with Balin
Honestly, it was fairly easy. It was really came down to link building and it didn’t matter how junky the links were, you didn’t have to worry about anchor text. Are you really. As many links as you can build as possible. And then if you want to rank for a certain keyword, let’s say it’s digital marketing services or whatever, even just build a whole bunch of links.
Didn’t matter junkie, they were with anchor text, digital marketing services, you know that obviously the penguin update kind of. Put the kibosh on that. Yeah, on page. Honestly, it wasn’t even, at least the way we were doing it, you know, on page was sort of like an after thought. It was a kind of like a nice to do, but not a, not an absolute necessity.
It really came down to the links. I remember using like, uh, a lot of private blog networks, like link, uh, back then it wasn’t. Known as like a real negative, you know, not like it is now. We went through that now, but back in the day just came down to links and nowadays it’s much more complex. It’s gotten much more sophisticated, which I think is a good thing.
You know, it makes our services more in demand. I think it increases the overall quality of the search results because they have weeded out a lot of spam, obviously. Not all of it, but, but a lot of it nowadays, it’s really, it’s just a. If T if you look at SEO from all different angles, you know, links are still important, but you have to quality over quantity.
You the on page is very crucial. We spend a lot of time on that. The technical stuff, which I know you’ve had previous guests on talking about that like schema and load speed and the mobile responsiveness. You know, you don’t want any technical errors in your site. So it’s really just, you have to look at all the different, you know, obviously the content, your site, you have to kind of check up a lot more boxes.
And so it’s a lot more difficult now. But it’s, to me, honestly, it’s sort of, I think it’s more fun versus back in the day, cause it was, like I said, back in Davis is links now you have to do a lot more.
Arlen: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I do remember those days when it was just really links, like you said, back in those days.
You really didn’t hear about on page SEO? Like I said, that’s more of an afterthought. I don’t even remember that term back then. I mean, you tried to do certain things to kind of clean up your, your meta tags and things like that. But I mean, that was really about it. There wasn’t really a whole lot of on page SEO.
And, uh, one of the things that sticks out to me since, uh, at OmniSTAR, we’ve been around since 1999 and so we’ve seen kind of the whole evolution. One of the things that sticks out to me is I remember as a. A digital from a technology firm. We were always being approached by other search engine optimization companies that would, would, uh, have the guarantees of, you know, we’ll get you ranked number one for such and such key word for, you know, X amount of money.
And as most of us that are listening are probably aware of the fact that, that those types of guarantees are not something that, excuse me, that you can really count on these days or something that I’ve. Well as do most SEO companies stand behind these days because the game is just, it’s totally different.
So that’s definitely one thing that sticks out. You really don’t see too much of that. I mean, you’ll see some companies, of course. Um, and there are a lot of these are fly by night companies trying to make those types of claims. But, um, a lot of times it’s not really. Based on, you know, legitimate work that they would actually be doing.
So that’s definitely something that I’ve seen changed now over the years. Of course, from when you started till now, I know you’ve worked with a variety of different companies in a variety of different industries, and I can imagine that you’ve learned a whole lot of lessons with regards to SEO. So if you don’t mind them, why don’t you share with us.
Some of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned, you know, doing SEO and just digital marketing in general for some of your clients?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, this is, um, it’s sort of a general, but it’s very important. I mean, I, I look at SEO as sort of like a creative effort where you have to. Always be learning.
Cause things are always changing. And there’s always different ways to do things in the way you build content. Optimized content, build links. So for us, we’re always trying new things. So testing in SEO is very important. Like for example, like, you know, we do guest posting, you have to build links. Uh, now we’re experimenting with getting links placed in contextual links placed within content of already written blog posts, blog, continents been published for a year, five years, 10 years, whatever the case is.
So it’s like a slight nuance on a guest post. You’re still. It’s still content that’s giving you the link, but it’s a different way of getting it. So we’re always experimenting. Even when tip with content is we blog for most of our clients, you know, fresh content to the psych keyword, optimize, you know, we’re checking off all the boxes.
Meta title tag, meta description. Image tags, all that. Yeah. One thing we’ve found to be especially helpful is that after a blog post has been published for awhile and it’s got some, some visibility in the search results, I’m just getting some traffic, especially if it’s really, really popular. We add more content to that blog posts, maybe update it, but also add more content.
Let’s say it’s 700 words, maybe we bump it up to a thousand some new keywords in there. What have you make the content more helpful and without a doubt, always. It always helps to increase your organic, and that wasn’t something that we came up with. I think it is. It goes back to, I said before about always learning.
I heard that on another podcast and I was like, huh, that makes sense. And so we tried it for us first and then it worked and we tried for clients, it worked. So you always have to be looking for slight tweaks like that. And then like, you know, for a local clients, Google my business is super important. So we’re always, we try to take advantage of every feature.
So like you can post on Google my business right now. So we post on Google my business, we fully optimize it, we run it through Yext, all that stuff. Just. Really trying to maximize all the channels, you know, not relying on one specific channel. You know, we look at SEO as having many, many parts from Google my business to Yext, to on-page, to links to technical load speed, all that stuff.
It’s really important if you want to maximize your rankings.
Arlen: Yeah, definitely. For sure. It’s something that I’m consistently hearing across. When I talked to different experts such as yourself, it’s that multichannel omni-channels approach where you’ve got to come with all these channels. Whereas before it wasn’t really like that.
It was really, you know, like you said, it was just link building. That was it. But I think now primarily because of all of these other marketing channels and outlets, social media networks, you’ve got to do a whole lot and there’s a lot of different things that you have to consider when you want to optimize your site.
And you want to launch a a digital marketing campaign. So yeah, things are a little bit different. You do have to kind of keep abreast of all of these things all at once really. So that’s definitely something that’s for sure. One thing I wanted to ask you also is a, as far as. You’re being an agency. I could imagine that because of all of the things that you guys have done, I know a lot of it is, is trial and error and a lot of things happen kind of on the backend with your marketing teams.
Well, you’re kind of trying different things and then seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t work. Have you guys. As an agency. Have you guys ever done any types of publishing of any types of case studies of kind of best practices and things like that?
Ryan: Yeah, we try and publish case studies all the time.
You know, I think our most recent one was we work with a custom iron door manufacturer. It’s been like gang busters for him. I think it’s because we took on the site was sort of like, hadn’t had much SEO done to it at all. And it’s sort of like a popular product in demand right now. So it’s sort of like the two converge quite nicely.
And so for them, we took honesty. Cite that wasn’t HTTPS secure certificate, which is important. Now. The load speed was, eh, so we improved. We improved the load speed. You know, he didn’t have much content on the site, so like we were, we’re blogging for him, but we used that blogging budget in the beginning to really build that.
All his pages. He had a big long service page. We broke that up into all different individual pages, real content for that, optimize all the metadata. Yeah. He had no links pointing to the sites. We start building links, had no presence on Google my business. So it wasn’t really the perfect case for us because he had like nothing done.
And you know, we just stuck to the tried and true. And, and his cute rankings have been going up every month since month two. Man, he’s getting a lot more leads.
Arlen: That’s awesome. And one of the things I wanted to encourage, the reason I asked you is that. Because STO, it is specific because there can be certain companies, like you mentioned, this particular company where you did, you know, certain tactics and strategies.
Although a lot of things are generally you can do across the board, no matter what industry or niche. There are certain things that may not work for certain industries. And so it is always good to take a look at case studies, like what you, what you guys have published as far as a specific business. And that’s, that’s kind of the beauty of the way we are right now with the way the doors are kind of wide open to, you know, a lot of agencies and a lot of what marketers are doing, they’re kind of pulling back the, um.
You know, the black curtain and just kind of letting everybody know what’s going on. And I think that’s very, very important for businesses to take advantage of all of these case studies and, and things that they can follow and, and try to implement with their own businesses. So that’s a very good, good to know what you guys were able to publish that and, and, uh, and show those lessons that are learned.
Ryan: You bring up a good point there on every site is a little bit different. You know, with SEO, especially because it is such a creative art. It’s like cooking for me. It’s like cooking. You can, you want to create this dish and there’s many ways you can create a dish, different ways to use the ingredients, while not every site’s a little bit different.
Some sites just needling, building cause their contents, rock solid and all the on-page. Some sites are huge, but have like very little on page. You kinda just chip away at the on-page. So you’re right about like every. It’s a little bit different, especially e-commerce versus Yani commerce sites. Those are different beasts too.
Arlen: Yeah, definitely. It’s really no kind of one size fits all when it comes to SEO. You know, there’s, there’s certain things, yeah, you can’t do across the board, but there’s other things where it can be specific to your, your nature and your business. Now, I’m always a kind of an advocate of, of always kind of looking at.
Mistakes that are made because I think that’s where the greatest learning lessons happen. And so what are some of the biggest mistakes that you see commerce businesses make with regards to SEO? Time and time again. And what can we learn from them?
Ryan: Really specific to e-commerce, cause I, you could say like battling, building over optimized anchor text.
But I think specific to eCommerce and I, we see this as a pretty common issue is, you know, really, really thin content and duplicate content, thin content, meeting different product pages with virtually no content at all, like maybe specs or what have you. But no real content. Like we’re talking like 50 words per page and there’s just really not a lot for Google.
And the other search engines to grab onto when you’ve got nothing on there. And so, and just create this whole, with the, with the Panda updates creates an issue. When you have those, you have hundreds of products, thousands of products, and virtually no content. It’s challenging because as a eCommerce, you know, it’s a large project to develop content for all that are all those products, but it’s really crucial.
And another thing is duplicate content. You know, for e-commerce specifically, it’s having, um. You know, if you have like a shoe and it’s like the same shoe but different colors and you’ve got a page for each color, it’s really, what are you going to say differently? And so you basically just have, have different pages of these different colored shoes that all basically say the same thing.
It’s all good content. And if it’s all thin content, it’s sort of like a double whammy. And so I would say those are the two biggest things.
Arlen: Yeah, that is so true. And I see that time and time again because we’re here at Omni start, we’re dealing with eCommerce businesses all day. And I see it, I go across these sites and I’m, I’m looking at it and it’s like you said, very thin content.
The product page descriptions are so similar and you know, a lot of times I don’t fault the business owners and, or the people responsible for putting the sites out there because. It is challenging, you know, of course it’s always challenging to, to wear a lot of hats and run the business, fulfill orders, and do all of that.
But I think what, uh, the kind of the thing that you hit was that people don’t really realize the importance of that even with eCommerce sites, even though of course they’re transactional and you’re, you know, you’re just trying to get people to come to this site and purchase. You’ve got to treat that transactional site just the same as any other.
Content type site or informational site because ultimately people are, they’re searching Google because they’re asking a particular question and they didn’t want that answer. And even if that question is gonna of course lead them to an actual purchase, they’re not going to be able to get their question answered.
If you have thin content and. You know, they’re going from page to page and then they see it’s, you know, you’re saying the same thing and it is tough. I know if you do have hundreds and hundreds of products to have unique content and come up with all of this, but it’s definitely an exercise worth doing whether you outsource that to a content writer.
A lot of business owners are saying, you know, I don’t know what to write. How do I come up with all this? These days? There’s, there’s really no excuse that a lot of things. Ways you can get assistance with that, where you can get virtual assistants to come up with your content and then, you know, you can just do some tweaking on your own.
But it is very important and it’s an exercise well worth it and I think it would make a tremendous difference for any business that goes through it.
Arlen: you being in the family business. How has your family business been able to actually, since you started, of course, your great uncle started in 1966 how have you guys been able to transition from traditional forms of advertising to digital marketing and SEO?
Because I know a lot of agencies or people with agencies that are listening are kind of going through the same struggles. What have you guys been able to do to, to make it a smooth transition?
Ryan: I mean, the way we did it, so, and it wasn’t just all me. I may have started it, but had a lot of help along the way.
So the way we did it, it’s a really slow and steady. Honestly, it’s not too sexy of an answer, but slow and steady. And we started out with just SEO because that’s what I. No best is we just started doing SEO and then I started, I was still by myself, you know, and you know, started bringing on social media a little bit.
I had subcontractors, I was handling the SEO myself. I had subcontractors for the SEO, and then it was, the business was slowly. Growing, not too exciting, but slowly growing. And then my youngest brother joined and then it was kinda like we had, I had two people in the department, me and him, and like two heads are better.
One. And we started brainstorming on how we can do things differently. And we got our first big client that enabled us to hire our first team member. And then it just kind of from there, just introducing new services. Now we offer, you know, all your social media content, SEO, PPC, all that stuff. And we have a team, the whole team for it.
But it’s been a slow and steady. Like we had one team member that we hired two and three. As we got the business, we just added more team members. We added new services as there was, as the demand grew for it, it helped, obviously we had the direct mail side to help, you know, with the funding, you know, in the beginning.
So that was advantage that we had. And then I would say, I think I mentioned this before, but. The biggest thing for us is really looking at how we’re doing things like how we’re onboarding clients, how we’re executing on the work, all that stuff that goes into it and improving it every year helps with client retention, helps with getting even how we get new clients, just trying to make the system stronger and stronger.
I think that’s helped a lot too, to get us to where we are now and we have plenty, plenty of ways to go, but it’s been growth every year.
Arlen: That’s awesome. Yeah. One of the things that you said, since it’s been kind of. Slow and steady growth, which I think one thing that kind of, I want to stress on that’s important, especially from an agency’s point of view, is yeah, even things have changed tremendously with regards to technology, with the internet SEO in general, if they’ve really changed in such a short amount of time.
From an agency’s point of view, you guys also, I know I have to be very careful because you probably have some accounts, some older accounts with other, you know, established businesses that I’m sure have been around for a long time, that are used to doing things a certain way. You know, they’re used to certain forms of advertising, and from an agency’s point of view, you can only change so.
Quickly without, you know, you don’t want to alienate your, you kind of, your older, old school clients that are used to doing things a certain way because you know, you don’t want them to feel left out. But I, I think one thing that is probably very important that I’m sure you guys are, are doing is making sure that.
Those clients that are guests from the kind of the older school doing more of the traditional forms of advertising that are slowly coming aboard with, with SEO and digital marketing. I’m sure you’re kind of implementing some team, some things to kind of ease them into it rather than to say, Oh, you know.
We’re no longer doing this, you know, this, these types of advertising services and we don’t like are doing, we don’t do any print, anything like that. You know, you gotta either I’m a boarder or jumped ship. And so I think it is important that I’m the, like you said, you’ve kind of eased into it and grown slowly.
And that’s what I think a lot of people don’t realize is that, you know, there are certain businesses that are still slowly trying to get there. You know, you’re going to have to get there, but, um, you gotta you gotta take baby steps before you can. You can actually start running with this stuff.
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely.
When you’re, when you’re growing slow and steady, it might not feel like you’re making progress. But if you look back at the, it’s like that book, the compound, the fact that it talks about how your might not seem like you’re, you’re achieving growth when you’re in the thick of it. But if you look back like 30 60 days, like your small efforts are compounding over time, and that’s where it creates results that create results.
Us, you know, we have to remind ourselves. The digital space that we operate in, the direct mail side of our business, we have very large clients on the digital side. It’s smaller clients, and so it’s not like we’re getting these huge brands where we have to hire 10 people and we get the client. It’s a slow and steady.
I think also because of the clients that we take on board, it’s they’re not huge clients.
Arlen: Gotcha. Yeah, so that’s, that’s very important. Now, you know, Ryan, I know before I had you on the podcast and I got the write up on you, one of the things that kind of stuck out that I was interested in is you also have a.
Kind of a heavy focus on your own personal development. And what I wanted to ask you is that from personal development standpoint, what types of things have you gone through that really would say. Helps you perform your day to day job just at a higher level.
Ryan: Yeah. This has been a real interest for me for a while now as, as the team has grown.
And for awhile it was just me literally. And uh, now that I have a whole team, it’s almost a necessity for me because I’ve haven’t had to like lead and manage before. And so it does not come natural for me if I’m doing an okay job, but it doesn’t come natural for me. And so I was like, Oh man, I, I do something here.
And. Yeah. We went through a period in 2017 where we were losing a lot of clients and we shift the focus on the types of clients we service best. And I think during that period, that was really rough. Personal development really grew stronger for me. And so I just believe that you need to work on yourself.
Cause if you come, you have to be your best when you’re here to. Serve your clients the best and the team the best. And, um, I look at it as like, if you go to the gym and you’re, you’re working out, you’re ripping your muscles, and they’re, yeah. As a result, they get stronger. I think that’s the same with your mindset.
You know, you go through challenges. It gets stronger, your work in your personal development, it gets stronger. I think mind and body needs to be strong and yeah, most people just focus on their body. So for me, what does that look like? I have a morning routine, you know, meditation, journaling, all that exercise really important.
I never listened to the news. Um, and even when I’m in the car, I never listened to the radio and not there’s anything wrong with that. I think there’s a place for relaxation, but. I just like to feed myself, like new information, new knowledge, positive information, all that stuff. Audio, books, podcasts, and so that’s kind of, there’s anything else that’s pretty much summarizes what I do.
Arlen: Okay, great. Well, that’s good stuff, man. And I’m a huge advocate of, of developing yourself because no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s SEO like yourself, digital advertising. Or you driving a school bus, you know, it almost doesn’t matter. You’ve got to do things to better yourself in order to get you to do your job better.
And I have your, your day to day experience, just more enjoyable because you know, if you’re not growing and if you’re not able to. Be able to shift with the challenges that have come across with the job, then you know, you’re, you’re not going to be happy. You won’t be successful, and you’re only gonna go so far.
So yeah, those are some great tips. Um, these days, there’s just so much content out there as far as personal development. Like you said, podcasts, you don’t have to listen to the news or the radio. I mean, there’s, there’s so many alternative things that you can tap in to really better yourself. And that’s really a, we’re at a great period where.
All of this info is just out there. It’s just a matter of, you know, consuming it and then also taking it to action. Because you know, you do have to come to a point where you’ve, you’ve only, you’ve consumed so much. You do got to put things to work and get the feet on the ground and get going with stuff.
So that’s one thing that I would also recommend.
Ryan: I would say I have one more thing to that. I would also say it’s really important if anyone listening, just kind of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think challenges like putting yourself in situations that make, I wouldn’t say, I’m not saying put yourself in situations that are dangerous.
I’m saying just putting yourself in situations that they know. Maybe it’s like going to a networking group that you’re kind of like usually, eh, shying away from. I always even taking cold showers for awhile because when you go through a challenge, when you get through it and they’re like, okay, well. I got through it.
So it’s not that bad. I didn’t use to develop a callus for it. And as you try to advance in your career or your life, if you’re pushing the needle, you’re naturally going to get into more uncomfortable situations. It’s just the way it is. And so I think if you can get uncomfortable with, if you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, it goes a long way.
Arlen: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Just being, being able to kind of get yourself, be proactively, get into these situations where you’re going to, you get to be uncomfortable rather than, you know, when you’re being thrust into these things out of the blue, then a lot of times you don’t know how to react and you’re not prepared.
So yeah, that’s some great of the great advice. Well, uh, you know, all our listeners always like to, um, I always know me by now and know that I was like to close things out with one. Kind of switching gears here as far as a closing fun fact. And so I wanted you to tell us a little bit about maybe one fun fact that our audience members would be surprised, uh, maybe to know about you.
Ryan: Yeah, this one I actually struggled with, and I don’t know, it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I’ve got a few things. I think like back in the day, I say dabble in PSI businesses. So, you know, I actually used to sell piano lamps and picnic baskets, which is very, very random. I did not play piano, and I do not go on picnics, but you know, it was a way for me just to dabble in online.
I’m also a dance stacks. My, my daughter’s dance a, it keeps me very busy. So I think those are the, uh. Come to mind.
Arlen: Okay. That’s awesome. Piano lamps and taking Masseys. Okay. That’s definitely unique, unique niche. Um, but, uh, yeah, it’s a product. People gotta buy it and, uh, yeah. You know, you can sell it for sure.
So I’m sure you learned a lot with doing that as well. And, uh, yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah. Thanks for sharing, Sharon. I, we appreciate it, Ryan, and, uh, you know, thank you for being on the eCommerce marketing podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you about, you know, the lessons learned is from the agency’s point of view.
Through regards to SDO and things that you learned with your, your family business and dealing with your clients over the years. But before I let you go, if any of our listeners would like to get in touch with you and pick your brain anymore about SEO or any other lessons that you’ve learned, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Ryan: Yeah. I think the easiest way Arlyn is I set up a special page for your audience and on there it’s got my LinkedIn profile. We’d love to think with anyone. LinkedIn. There’s also an offer for free video analysis where I personally go through your website, looking at your SEO, giving you point there is what have you, and I’ll look at other things too, just like the overall usability of the site, like a 10 minute video.
So they go to ballantine.com/ecommerce.
Arlen: Okay, that’s great. I appreciate you offering that up to an our listeners and we’ll definitely have the link in the show notes as well as within the, uh, the page on our site, eCommerce marketing podcast.com.
Ryan, will you thanks again for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast.
Ryan: Thanks Alan, and thanks everyone for listening. I appreciate it.