Arlen: Geoff Atkinson is the Founder and CEO of Huckabuy, an SEO software company that takes a technology-based approach to search engine optimization with products and services like automated structured data and the SEO Cloud.
Prior to Huckabuy, Geoff Atkinson was Senior VP of Marketing for Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK). There he leveraged SEO to increase growth by $300M. At Overstock, Geoff managed everything from pricing algorithms, to SEO content generation, to buying rain jackets in New York City’s garment district.
In 2007, Geoff was named to Advertising Age’s Top 40 Under 40 and went on to become the Senior Vice President of Marketing, CRM, and Analytics – a role he would flourish in for over three years. Now Geoff lives with his wife in Park City, UT. Geoff loves to ski, bike, play golf, and throw tennis balls for his dog, James.
Geoff: thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Arlen: Yeah. I’m really excited to talk to you because you know, SEO, as everyone knows, is really a hot topic, and I know you’re. You’ve been knee deep in SEO for long time. So I’m, I’m excited to what you can bring to the table with today’s discussion for sure. And, uh, you know, before we get into all of that though, uh, why don’t you enlighten us on a little bit more details on your background, specifically how you did get into what you’re doing today.
Geoff: Yeah, for sure. So I’m originally from the Boston area, uh, went to school in New Hampshire. Ended up taking a job after college at overstock. So I was just on the ground floor at overstock, working on the email marketing team. We grew that channel significantly and worked on personalization and all sorts of things.
Eventually ended up getting in, you know, learning about SEO and sort of figuring out that, boy, this is a big opportunity. We turned that channel from, you know, a channel of zero into about 300 million. And you know, I always thought of myself as sort of a technical marketer. So a marketer that really likes investments in technology, like email marketing, SEO, CRM, conversion rate optimization, things like that, always just seemed to drive the highest ROI.
And so that was really my focus. And after overstock, so yeah, eventually became their SVP of marketing and analytics to a bunch of. A bunch of different stuff. After that, though, I took a little bit of a break and then founded Hubei and Huck by first started as a B to C company, but then it built some really cool SEO software that.
People wanted to start licensing. And so we pivoted about two and a half years ago into the software licensing, our software model where we automate world-class structured data. And then we also have a product called SEO cloud. So yeah, it’s going really well. We’re based here in park city and, uh, growing like a weed.
So. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Arlen: Yeah, not a problem. It’s, um, really interesting, you know, going from college into overstock and then helping to grow, grow them with SEO is really, definitely quite a task. And you know, quite a, an accomplishment for sure that you’ve done. And I’m, yeah. I’m also from this have the same mindset as far as the use of technology to leverage.
And improve your SEO efforts. Because I think these days, especially because of the multitude of platforms that are out there, the multitudes of channels and just so much that’s changing, I don’t think it’s really possible to really effectively have a solid presence in the search engine unless you, you know, you’re using technology properly.
So I definitely am for that same mindset for sure. Now, you know, a lot of the business. A lot of the listeners, excuse me, that are listening, are of course eCommerce, business owners, eCommerce marketers, and anyone that is trying to gleam some information with regards to marketing, they’re listening.
Everybody’s kind of a guest. The number one question I want to start with is for eCommerce business, where actually do they start when it comes to SEO? Because it can be a little daunting, especially if you’re new and you’re a startup or you know, you haven’t done much at all.
Geoff: Yeah, for sure. So. You know, I always say that the very first step is keyword research.
So understanding what people are searching for that relevant to what you sell. So the classic example at overstock is people don’t search as much for sheet sets as they searched for sheets. And so you can kind of learn a lot about your business based on really good keyword research and just discovering what people are actually calling things out there and searching for, rather than.
What you call things internally. Once that’s sort of done, the next step is to how to integrate that into your navigation. So categories and subcategories should always be called do you know what people are actually searching for? So those are always the first two steps in my mind is keyword research, discovering what people actually are searching for, and matching that up with your own product.
And then architecture. So the architecture of the site. The navigation. The header navigation is really the first handshake that. Cool will has with an eCommerce site and it when it’s descriptive, it’ll really help Google understand what the company sells and what they do.
Arlen: I’m glad you mentioned that. And I think that’s something, as far as the navigation is concerned, I think that’s something that not a lot of business owners really realize.
I think, cause you know, I’ve, we do here at Omnicell, we deal with eCommerce business owners all the time. And I’ve, you know, I’ve seen a ton of sites over the years and you would be surprised that the navigation structure to so many sites is just. Lot of times it’s not clear, and I think you kind of hit the nail on the head that Google uses that as really kind of the entry point.
And if it’s not clear, and if it’s not something that can be easily navigated, then that’s gonna be a detriment to your, your rankings. For sure. So, yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s very important. It’s all often something that’s overlooked. A lot of times companies are focused so much just solely on, on content, you know, individual content pages, their blog articles, stuff like that, and then they’re not looking.
In much detail as far as the, your, the overall users experience. So, um, yeah, that’s definitely very important. Now, one of the things that is a really hot topic these days, which a lot of business owners or marketers may not be too aware of, but it is structured data and dynamic rendering. Why don’t you enlighten us a little bit on actually what that is and really how an eCommerce business can benefit from that.
Geoff: Yeah. So structured data is, um, you know, for years and years, the way that search engines understood websites was by strictly crawling HTML. And if you’ve ever right click and go on view source and looked at HTML, it’s quite complicated then it’s relatively challenging for them to understand. And so years ago, search engines basically invented a language that’s, you know, they, they got together and said, there’s gotta be a better way for a website to be able to communicate.
To a search engine. And so they invented this language called structured data. And it basically takes, you know, the unstructured nests of HTML and allows you to put in a structured format information so you can communicate directly with a search engine. Um, product structured data is actually the most used structured data on the internet.
So. Information about products, product name, price description. They all have set fields, so it’s universal across all websites. If done correctly. The first advantage of structure data is it just helps Google understand your site much more clearly than the more they understand, then the more search exposure you get as a result.
The second piece is that they actually use structured data in their search results. Specifically. No. If you see reviews, star reviews being populated under the products, that’s all powered by structured data. Any kind of search enhancement, whether it’s a question and answer box or it’s a knowledge graph panel on the right hand side or it’s all those enhancements to search results are being powered by structured data.
It’s a very important part of the SEO puzzle. These, those, it’s a big ranking factor really can help e-commerce players in particular. And so that’s the first piece. Dynamic rendering is sort of a totally different topic that I’m, I’m happy to describe and get into, but I’ll stop there. That’s sort of the overview of structured data and why it’s important.
It’s sort of the preferred language that Google likes to speak.
Arlen: And I’ve seen that more and more these days. You know, for anybody listening, you know, anytime you’re doing a search for, let’s say, a specific product these days, let’s say you’re looking for the latest wireless, you’d try to find the best wireless earbuds to use.
If you do a search right now on Google, you’re going to get that structured data at the top where you get to see the, the little picture you get to see the price of that’s bolded, a little brief description. And then of course, all of that is going to be linked to. The website, you know, and now I know, of course with consumer electronics, of course a lot of the major players kind of dominate that space, which is the best buy.
And you know, you’re going to see probably some Amazon listings as well from there also. But, um, that’s really what it is. And you were seeing a lot, a lot more of that being, and I believe all of this is new. When did all of this really kind of. Start really exploding with Google as far as this structure data is concerned.
Geoff: Yes. So they’ve been pushing it probably for about seven years now, but it really, in the last, I don’t know, two years, it’s become really prevalent. I mean, at the last. To sort of Google webmaster conferences. Structured data is the number one topic consistently. And so they’re pushing it hard. And the other thing is that adoption among websites has really picked up.
So the more that websites adopt structured data, the more they’ll use it. And so you see them using it a lot more. And so, yeah, this is a great example of this wireless earbuds. That question in your answer box, for example, is powered by structured data. The Amazon result with the ratings and reviews that’s powered by structured data.
So a lot of the real estate on this page is being powered by structured data. So it’s a prevalent part of the algorithm today, and it’s just growing more and more. So one of the most kind of cool things is, um, voice search is completely powered by structured data. So as voice search becomes more prevalent and people start feeling.
More comfortable buying products via voice search. That interaction is all powered by structured data.
Arlen: Yeah. It’s um, yeah, really amazing. Just all of these changes. I mean, I didn’t really even realize it’s bad. It’s been seven years kind of in the making. It’s just, uh, things happen so quick. It’s really hard to pinpoint when it actually started, but.
As far as the structure data is concerned. Is this something that, let’s say a small eCommerce business can do themselves, can they create and render their own structured data for these types of listings, or where are they going to need a fair amount of guidance?
Geoff: So typically it kind of depends on what platform.
They’re using. So if it’s a Shopify customer, they’re going to get sort of basic structured data, product structure data right out of the box. Other platforms might not offer it really at all, but you can always test it and sort of check. Google has a structured data testing tool that you can grab any important page, you know, a page that happens to be important for SEO.
For example. Drop it in there and see how optimized it is from a structured data perspective, then you can, you know, work on it in house. Obviously could buys an automated outsourced solution that makes sure these sites have world-class structured data, but a lot of them will, you know, for the smaller players, I’d recommend, you know, especially if they’re on Shopify or something like that.
Just making sure that the sort of the basic structure data that they get out of the box is optimized and being used correctly. But yeah, they’re probably getting some of it already without even knowing it. But, um, there’s always room for improvement.
Arlen: Yeah. And I figured that it was such that these players, such as a Shopify and a lot of these other e-commerce, some environments, they have to have some type of interface where.
You know, they’re going to assist their, you know, their clients’ sites to be, to render that structured data because you know, they’re kind of the controlling end of what’s going to be displayed on the search engine. So that, that makes a lot of sense. Now, I know the next kind of latest and greatest thing with regards to SEO is dynamic rendering.
What exactly is dynamic rendering and how does it work with respect to eCommerce businesses?
Geoff: So dynamic rendering, in my opinion, is actually probably the biggest change Google has made regarding organic search in the last 10 years. It’s a pretty straightforward concept. The concept is that pages load dynamically or differently based on what calls them.
So the classic example is if I call a URL on my mobile device, I’ll get one experience. If I call the same page on my desktop, I’ll get a slightly different experience. And Google has supported that for years there. It’s a best practice. You know, they’re fans of that. Their big change was they said, well, now you can actually give a version just for us, which is a big change for them.
The reason for it was the front end is getting so complicated. ID and sites are becoming so hard for them to crawl. There’s a lot of dynamic, also dynamic content, so a lot of content stuff being generated through Java script. That makes it difficult for them to crawl and understand. And so they basically have, they also, when, when there is that sort of dynamic content, they can’t just crawl it.
They have to put it into what they call their rendering queue, which is the same thing as rendering a page on your browser. It’s just loading the full page and then crawling it. And that takes a lot of processing time for them to do, and it’s slow and it’s a difficult process. So essentially they’re like, well, just give us a better version, simplified version that we can crawl.
And so that opened the door for us to build SEO cloud, and it’s now allowed websites to essentially build a simpler SEO friendly version of the site for Google to crawl. Now everything has to match all the data and content needs to be exactly the same. But you can remove a lot of things like chat boxes and personalization that Google doesn’t really care about and simplify the site so that.
They can crawl it very, very quickly. And we were the first to provide an SEO version of this called SEO cloud that basically converts each and every page and new web flat HTML version of that page, add structured data, and then hosted in a caching layer, making it basically instantly crawlable for Google, sort of queuing up what we call sort of Google’s perfect world, what they really are looking for.
So yeah, that’s dynamic rendering really big change. And something that’s only been around for about a year, but it’s often not even really talked about yet within the SEO community. But it’s starting to starting to grow in importance. And I think, um, you know, especially our customers that are leveraging SEO cloud, just are seeing an enormous amount of growth based on the fact that the sites much more optimized than it was previously.
Arlen: That really makes sense. And I can see that in that, how it can be. Used now more than ever, especially with all of these different builders that you have out there, you know, there’s some of the big players in the site builder space. There’s like Wix. You have Weebly, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with arena, our listeners are familiar with him, but if you look at the code to a lot of these sites that are developed through these builders, it’s like if you know anything about HTML, you look at the rendered code from these sites or just do a view source.
It’s almost like a fun, it’s a foreign language really. It’s not like your father’s or your grandfather’s version of HTML. Yeah, things are a little bit, they’re friends. So I can definitely see how, you know, if you just kind of think about Google having to go through all of that and index it, then you’re like, you know, it makes sense.
Why, how, um, they never rendering would be something that would be very important nowadays. And especially with all of these different tools and plugins that people are adding onto the site. You know, I guess the bottom line is you want to. You want to make Google’s job as easy as possible, and you know
Geoff: exactly the rendering is
Arlen: the way to do it.
Geoff: Yet in Google’s eyes, they wish the internet would get simpler and simpler, but in fact, it’s just getting more and more complex. I’m sure you’ve talked to, you know, lots of marketers that have, you know, everybody wants to add something, whether it’s personalization or chat boxes or all sorts of sort of tools and tracking pixels.
All of that really hurts Google’s ability to crawl and understand. And so you’re exactly right. As these platforms have grown, the complexity of the internet and sort of what we call code bloat has gotten out of control. And so that’s really what they’re talking about here with that immigrant and is like, just give us that sort of old school simpler HTML version.
And that’s what about is trying to address.
Arlen: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s some good stuff. Now, when I first asked you about what eCommerce business should initially look at when they look into doing some SEO, you mentioned keyword research, and that should be the kind of the first thing is analyzing these keywords and coming up with a good user experience.
Now, starting from there, what do you think as far as. Ranking for keywords, SEO in general for an eCommerce business. Where do you guys draw the line? You know, of course when budgets are slim, a lot of this stuff he got to do internally or you have to end task, you have to task somebody on your team to do these things.
But I think there may come a point where when you’ve reached a certain growth level that you can no longer do these types of things in house. What is your take on. Where you kind of draw the line between doing in house SEO versus getting assistance either with an agency or outsourcing it.
Geoff: I actually think, um, SEO should be done sort of forever in house.
I’m a big fan of, I think the fastest growing companies that we work with have taken SEO in house. The reason for that is that just in house understands the business better than the agency can. It’s pretty hard for an agency to. To move the needle significantly in terms of SEO for companies that are, you know, whatever stage they are in their life cycle.
The piece that I do think is important at some point to outsource is the the technical piece. Cause that can get very difficult. The, you know, ability to take advantage of dynamic rendering. The technical part of the communication between a website and Google is quite complex and very rarely does. A company have the expertise in house to optimize that technical conversation between their site and Google.
And so we aim to sort of solve that gap. And I think that’s something that does lend itself to be outsourced. But from my overstock background, I think it’s really important. If it is a key component of your business and it’s something that drives a significant amount of revenue, then you have to be good at it.
And you know you want those skills in house and you want that expertise in house because. It can create a competitive advantage. So yeah, I’m probably not your typical SEO person. I’m not a really big fan of agencies. I like to see companies work on SEO in house. I think, um, you know, then we kind of help solve a technical gap.
But our fastest growing customers typically are leveraging hyper buys technology and then handling. The rest of their SEO efforts in house.
Arlen: Yeah. That really makes sense. And um, you’re not the first person that’s told me that and that I’ve talked to about that. I think the main thing that I guess companies, a lot of young companies don’t realize is that SEO is a, it’s a long game.
It’s something that. You’ve got to do consistently and daily, you’re, there’s always changes. You’re going to have to make content wise, structure wise, keyword research wise. It’s just, you know, it’s forever. You know? Of course there are agencies out there that can assist you with that, that you could pay on an ongoing basis, but you really do have to weigh the, you know, the rewards, the overall ROI too.
What it is you’re going to be getting, because this is something that it can never stop. You can never just say, okay, I’m going to want to do SEO for, for four months of the year. Then we’re good to go. It just doesn’t work like that.
Geoff: You never just high five and say, you know, we’re done. Nice job. That was great.
You know, we can finish the ongoing project. And um, you know, you just have to sort of embrace that, that it’s something that, you know, you keep going. And usually what I see is when investments are made in SEO, you know, take six, 12 months. Before the return starts happening, but once the return starts happening, you see that the ROI on this channel is just so far higher than any sort of paid channel that you see them investing more and more and more.
It’s like overstock, for example. If you get to 300 million in revenue, it’s hard to be spending. As much as you know, and you can spend as much as you possibly can on SEO, and still the ROI is going to be pretty much any other channels. So it is a long game, but it’s a worthwhile one.
Arlen: Yeah, definitely. And you, you know, you mentioned the paper click advertising, and of course a lot of people and a lot of businesses they’re doing both.
They’re doing organic, they’re doing paper click. But like you said, the. I think what the gains that you’re going to get from the organic definitely outweigh what you can give for the pay per click. I think, um, what I see a lot of businesses doing is with the pay per click advertising, it’s a great way to test messaging.
So if you’re looking to kind of pivot, try different things as far as the messaging that you’re putting out there and your ads pay per click advertising is great for that because you can quickly put stuff out there and make changes on the fly. See the responsiveness of it and analyze that really in a short amount of time, so it’s perfect for that, but nothing really does as far as your overall return, nothing beats the ROI that you’re going to get on optimizing your organic search.
For sure. Now there’s a, you know, we talked about dynamic rendering as well as structured data, and those are hot topics today, but what are some other advanced SEO tactics that you have seen that some of the major eCommerce companies that are utilizing right now that you know, any business can replicate.
Geoff: As a major growth factor in SEO is going international. So having international domains and international versions of sites. If you have the supply chain and operations to be able to ship internationally, it can be a amazing growth opportunity because typically other countries aren’t going to be as competitive SEO wise as the United States.
So. Even just branching out to, you know, Canada and Mexico creating either sub domains or different domains or just different versions of each page. You can capture pretty large markets and less competitive. A SEO competition, then what it’s like in the United States. So that’s one I’d say, you know, one thing that’s allowed sounds not that advanced, but keyword research, really smart keyword research can make a huge difference in it, and it can get quite advanced.
That is where you start to find, I’ll give you a good example. So if you think about different sub categories and then different attributes of products. So say you’re in, you know, sheets for example, and then you’ve got. All these different attributes like thread count in color and size. If you can build a navigation that captures all those potential variables and creates sub categories of the variables of your products, that’s really a great way to to broaden your SEO reach.
So don’t just think of it as a number of products, but really the bread and butter of an eCommerce companies SEO strategy is going to be. Lie within their categories, sub categories and their sort of attribute type pages. And so when you start looking at those, those types of terms, they get much more specific.
But once they become more specific terms, you get much higher conversion rates. You have customers knowing exactly what they’re looking for. They’re searching for a very specific thing. And if you have the right page to capture that traffic, you’re going to get pretty large revenue channel. I always use the example of um, black and tables.
We did through keyword research, we saw there is a ton of people searching for black end tables and we didn’t have any, so we just told our partners, paint some of your own tables, black, we’ll create this new category. And boom, just like that. It’s like a $5 million category just by finding keyword opportunities that, that were low competition, but high volume.
And so that’s a, that’s sort of an advanced. Way to think about it is what does everything from the homepage down to the product page, all those categories and subcategories, are they optimized for sort of that mid to tail type keyword traffic? And if you get that dialed, you know the sky’s the limit in terms of growth.
Arlen: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that’s great. There’s some awesome tactics that I know so many of the major players are doing these days. Um, as far as the international aspect of it, and then taking advantage of all of these different attributes and really going after, like you said, these other subcategories, and then approaching and targeting the long tail keywords, that’s, um, that’s always where you’re going to get more targeted traffic, people that are looking for specific things.
And then if you’ve got. The content on your site to match that and answer their questions, then yeah, that’s definitely the way to go. Well, you know, Jeff, I could go on and on about SEO for for hours because there’s so much to cover, but know we’ve kind of reached that time in the podcast. We’ve got to wrap it up, but yeah, we appreciate you being on, and I know the information that you shared is going to go a long way.
But what I always like to close things out is to shift gears a little bit here and, um, you know, learn a little bit more about you outside of what you do day to day. If there’s like one fun fact that you can share with us in our audience about yourself, uh, what would that be?
Geoff: Growing up and in college I was a cross country ski racer of all things. I spent some time on the U S ski team and then I, I was a Dijuan cross country ski racer. Those days are behind me and now I am much more, I love to play golf than anything else. So you’ll find me on the golf course quite a bit, but.
Yeah, there’s a fun factory. I spent a little time on. The U S ski team is a cross country ski racer.
Arlen: Wow. That’s awesome man. Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed that for sure. I know you’re in Colorado and of course they’re in the, I’m just giving me a year in Utah and uh, that’s kind of a ski country, but, um, yeah, cross country skiing.
That’s actually one thing that I’ve never tried. I’ve done downhill skiing and I’ve done the snowboarding across Metro. I’ve never done that. But, uh, I may have to add that to my list. My bucket list, I guess you can say, try cross country skiing and I may have to hit you up with to get some tips on that as well.
But, uh, well, yeah, thanks for sharing that, Jeff. I appreciate that. And, uh, you know, lastly, if any of our listeners want to pick your brain anymore about SEO or you know, just any e-commerce marketing and journal, what is the best way for them to contact you?
Geoff: I do this thing when I come on to podcast. I always guarantee listeners that if they reach out to, if they go to dot com and they fill out a contact us form and put in the name of the podcast that they heard being on the podcasts, I’ll take the call personally, so I’ll make sure that I’m personally taking the call and it doesn’t have to be to learn more about our software, can just speak to.
Talk SEO or learn more about what’s going on in the space. So that’s the best way is just coming to our site and fill out a contact us form. We always love to hear when we get a podcast listener reach out instead of the, yeah, that’s probably the best way to do it.
Arlen: Okay, great. Well that’s awesome. Yeah, and I hope our listeners take advantage of that cause that would, that’s great.
You know there’s mentioned the podcast and the contact form and hook goodbye.com and um, yeah, you’ll take that call yourself. Great. Well thanks again Jeff. For joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast.
Geoff: Thank you, Arlen. Pleasure to be here. I’ve had a blast. Thank you.
Founder and CEO of Huckabuy