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Yesterday I spent the whole day at the Shopify Retail tour. They'd invited me, along with a few other folks, to answer questions about Shopify and Ecommerce from existing and potential Shopify customers. From 10am until 4:30pm, I talked to a diverse and interesting lot of folks.

But every single person asked me some variation of one universal question: "how do I SEO?"

I get why they're asking. If your site appears at the top of google searches for a variety of things related to your products, you'll have loads of traffic. And potentially you didn't pay for it, if only you could crack the code on SEO! If only you knew the magic formula of H1 and alt tags to make the google machine happy.

But that's not realistic. It's at best an attempt to game a hugely complex and constantly changing algorithm into giving you traffic you don't deserve.

I say you don't deserve it because you're trying to cheat the system. Instead, let's come up with a real strategy that works.

Step 1: Let's forget about obsessing over html. If you're using a new premium theme from a good developer like Pixel Union or Out of The Sandbox then you've already done 99% of everything you need to support technical SEO efforts. Open graph, schema markup, etc. All there and done. Don't waste more time and money on this because you'll never get a good ROI out of it. Let's face facts: google engineers are smarter than you.

Step 2: on site SEO. Google wants what your customers want: relevant, valuable content. You have to write articles, guides, interviews, and all the other valuable content you enjoy on other sites. My most successful Shopify Plus couldn't care less about SEO. Instead of fussing with alt tags, he hired three writers to produce great blog content for him. It only costs $1200/mo which is way cheap for the ROI he gets. Here's the best part: he never worries about writing the perfect SEO copy, because he's instead creating on-topic and relevant articles. You can do the same thing. Write on your own or hire someone.

I already know your objection: "Kurt I'm a lousy writer and I can't afford a writer." I've got a hack for you that I use. Dictate your articles using the text to speech already built in to your device. Macs are great at this. Then send it to a copy editor. I pay $30/article on average for copy editing.

Step 3: off-site SEO. Links to your site from sites with a similar audience are massively important. (Note: The spammy blog comment links you buy from a snake oil salesman SEO pro for $500/mo are the opposite of this.)

Here's where we need to again forget about SEO; start thinking like a public relations firm. The best SEO strategy I've ever seen is PR outreach. Find blogs, forums, YouTube channels, and Instagram rockstars who are in your niche. Now email them. Email them and offer them free product in exchange for an honest review. This is a numbers game but it's the only way you'll get relevant links with qualified traffic. This tactic is powerful in that you'll be able to trade up the chain. You'll start with small blogs and as word of mouth grows you'll be able to build relationships that move you up to blogs getting millions of daily visitors. This tactic isn't particularly difficult but it is time consuming. You can hire someone to do it for you which will save you time and speed things up because outreach professionals already have a network to leverage. (I personally recommend Kai Davis for this kind of work, he's pulled great results for my clients.)

What's the takeaway here? Instead of trying to learn the finer points of semantic HTML while guessing at google's algorithm, all you need to do is share your passion. Make your love of your niche infectious and the SEO will follow.

Here's a quick tip this week that will work in 99% of stores.

What's the number one reason for abandoned carts? Unexpected shipping costs. People have weird anxiety and feelings about shipping.

So how do you have your shipping rules setup in Shopify? I bet it's something vague like "Standard Shipping" and "Free Shipping," right?

The problem with that is you're only selling one question about shipping: cost. What about expected delivery time? Or carrier?

Here's the quick fix. Rename your shipping rules with the specific carrier and service that you use, and the expected shipping time. For example, "USPS Priority Mail (2-4 Days)" is so much clearer than "Standard Shipping."

Here's a good example from


They way their rules are setup, the customer will only ever see two shipping options: standard or free, and express. That's another good point: avoid choice paralysis by only offering people 1 or 2 shipping options.

Give it a shot! (This even gives you a leg up on Amazon who doesn't tell you what carrier you're going to get.)

There are two pages every Shopify store I’ve ever set up has: a Contact Page and an About Page. (If I can toot my own horn, we totally nailed our own Contact page. It gets more compliments than any other page on our site.) If you’re like many people, you’ve struggled to write an about page because you don’t know what to put on it. But more importantly, you don’t know what to put on it because you don’t really know the purpose of the page.

I’m going to clear up both of those things for you.

I was talking to my friend Jordan Gal from CartHook about some of his experiences running a wildly successful ecommerce store with his brothers, and he shared with me an anecdote that gave me an ah-ha moment.

Jordan had LiveChat on his site, and it let him track people in real-time. And by doing that, they quickly noticed a pattern: shoppers would find a product and add it to their cart. (At this point they’ve decided they want to buy that product.) Once in the cart, some folks would proceed to checkout, and others would do something strange: they’d visit the about page. This is because they were making a second and often overlooked decision: “Yes, I want to buy this item, but do I want to buy it from this store?”

Think about it, when you’re in a brick & mortar store, you know it’s a legitimate operation. Leases were signed, licenses paid for, etc. The web doesn’t have that same implicit trust factor. No matter how nice the website is, if the visitor hasn’t heard of it before, it inspires about as much implicit trust as a guy selling t-shirts out of a van in the parking lot.

So in lieu of any physical location to visit, some visitors may visit the about page to get a sense of how trustworthy you are. (And why not, your website is, after all, an anonymous stranger asking for their credit card number in the dim parking lot of the internet.) So the first and foremost thing to do on your About page is to introduce yourself. Get out of the shadows, and include your photo, and a little bit about yourself. How did you come to run an ecommerce store? What do you love about it? Things that personalize you. Then go a step further in building trust and include your store’s contact information. A toll-free number especially boosts trust. Being accessible is important.

After you’ve given the visitor a sense of who you are with your about page and how to get ahold of you, they may start to wonder about what a relationship is like with you. This is where you trot out everything you have that minimizes risk for the customer:

  • Guarantees
  • Easy Returns
  • Free Shipping
  • Guaranteed Fast Shipping
  • And even Testimonials

When you offer all of the above, you’re going the extra step that your competitors haven’t. A customer choosing between two sites, may go with the more expensive site if it’s more trustworthy. So get out there and update your About page. It may only take you 15 minutes and it could boost your conversion rate.

Until recently, if you had asked me about the efficacy of Facebook ads, I would have told you with total conviction that they didn't work. I even used to quip that "Facebook ads don't convert because Facebook users are too busy stalking their ex to go shopping." Well the joke was on me because not only can they work, they can radically outperform Google Adwords.

I talked to Kit CRM founder Michael Perry for The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, and he's the one who let me on the secret of how he "cracked the code" on Facebook ads. Here's a recap of what he told me:

Recently Facebook has added some brilliant new features that let anyone leverage Facebook's astounding catalog of demographic with behavioral data on over 1 billion people. The future is here, and we're using it to sell widgets, folks.

This kind of data used to be out of reach of small and even medium businesses. Now anyone can affordably use it to laser target their marketing efforts with Facebook ads. As with all advertising, Facebook ads needs good product/market fit. If you can show the right thing to the right people, you'll make money.

Best practice 1: Stay in the newsfeed
Set your ads to display on Mobile and Desktop Newsfeeds. Ignore righthand sidebar and affinity, they're significantly less effective, and with good reason: they're not in your face like newsfeed ads.

Best practice 2: Carousel Ads
What's better than one newsfeed ad? Five of them. Carousel ads let you showcase multiple images and links in one ad. We've seen carousel link ads drive 30-50% lower cost-per-conversion and 20-30% lower cost-per-click than single-image link ads. Plus they work equally well on both mobile and desktop. As icing on the cake, you can let Facebook optimize the order of the images based on engagement and expected performance.

Carousel ad animated gif from Facebook

Best practice 3: Live and die by Custom Audiences
Custom Audiences are a system which lets you target past customers and prospects. You can build these lists by providing Facebook with a list of emails, and installing a tracking pixel on your website. This is retargeting. Once you've seeded Facebook with a sample of your customers, you can create a Lookalike audience. This part is practically magic. Knowing what your current audience looks like, Facebook can trawl its goldmine of behavioral data to automatically show your ads to new potential customers who are similar to your existing customers.

It may sound like the future of enterprise level advertising tech, but it's available now, affordable, and can be setup in a day.

I love stats.

I play RPGs so I can kill things with stats. I read sabermetrics blogs so I can talk about baseball with stats. Election nights are like Christmas for me.

Ever since we turned our business over to 100% Shopify work I have been in heaven - and one of the reasons for that is the hard data that comes with working in ecommerce. I'm not worried about "impressions" or "engagement" or some intangible feeling that a brochure website is supposed to convey. Everything in ecommerce can be laid out in numbers, the most important of which being profit. All I have to do is make more cold hard cash for my clients and they're happy. Believe me, it's a lot less frustrating than wrangling with some wannabe art director about how exactly you can make something "pop".

One of our clients has given us more and more access to the inner workings of his business, and allowed us to create strategy and make changes as we see fit. It was exciting for us to be able to run wild in someone's store and make improvements with no questions asked. It was exciting for him because, well, he likes money. I'll confess that I set a private goal for where I wanted his revenues to be: I wanted to see an average of $1000 a day for 2015. No specific reason, it's just a nice round number and would be 3x of what he did for 2014.

Well, we're doing it. Right now he's at $90,000 over the last 90 days (I started writing this a few days ago, so now it's actually $100k over 100). And the daily rate is growing - we'll have more than enough overage to make up for the days that just missed the target at the beginning of the year.

How did we make this happen? All of our changes and ideas are driven by data. We examine the client's business to figure out how to make their customers more likely to buy, and we implement proven methods that increase revenue across all types of online stores. Let me tell you all about it.

Disclaimer: This blueprint will only work if you actually have a product that people want to buy. So if your bright idea is a crystal-encrusted cat brush that costs $200, please follow our alternate plan of just giving up now.

The Ethercycle $90k In 90 Days Blueprint

1. Theme setup
Forget about building a custom theme, the ROI just isn't there. There are some amazing premium themes in the Shopify theme store. Retina and Parallax have become our go-to installs because, frankly, they're fantastic and we're not going to be able to custom design anything better without weeks of work and a lot more of your money. Having a great theme gives you a great baseline to start with.

2. Theme Optimization
Starting with a great theme from a quality developer helps immensely, but it doesn't mean you can't improve on the theme. The first step to optimizing your conversion rate is simple: We walk through a store and try to buy something. We write down every single thing that creates any friction at all to buying the product. Every pain point, point of confusion, barrier to entry, objection, and eyebrow-raising or frustrating thing. Solving just those problems can be enough to double a site's conversion rate.

3. Professional Photos
You know the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words - well it's also worth a boost in your conversions. Here's the thing: a customer browsing your site loses all but one of their senses. In a store they could touch your product. They could even smell it. But on your website they can't do anything. Providing the customer with professional photos does two things: it helps them get comfortable with the product and shows them that you're serious. Few things say "amateur hour" like bad low-quality photos.

4. Customer Followup Emails
I have a friend named Drew. Drew grew (and sold) his ecommerce business on the back of customer followup emails. These are automated emails that create a high-touch customer service experience for new customers, and try to win back old customers who haven't purchased in awhile. All automatically.

5. Retargeting Ads
When someone visits your site, you don't know what stage of the buying cycle they're in. They may visit your site and then get distracted. They may visit five times before making a purchase. Retargeting ads help you keep your store top of mind with the customer (even if you don't have their email address.) A customer visits your store, gets cookied, and your ads follow them around the web like a lost dog. Retargeting can be setup to run across platforms too. Your brand becomes omnipresent, so that even our reptilian brains can say, "Hey, wasn't I just shopping for that..."

6. PPC Ads & Optimization
The hardest part of running a Shopify store is getting traffic, and the easiest way of getting traffic is with pay per click advertising. And by PPC we really mean Google AdWords - empires have been built on it. Setting up an AdWords campaign once isn't enough though. The level of fiddly knobs and buttons inside AdWords is astounding. For example, did you know you can have AdWords identify people by income and bid more for high income earners since they're more likely to buy? Or break down bid adjustments by state or time of day? Yea, it gets wild.

7. Customer Development
Lately I’m starting to realize that a lot of store owners struggle with positioning. This is because they work in a vacuum and never ask their customers why they buy. They make assumptions about why and so long as they make sales, they assume that validates their ideas. But if your marketing message isn’t on point, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table. You need to have deep conversations with your customers. Knowing why your customers are buying as well as the language they use to describe the benefits of your products is the most critical insight to grow your business. Fortunately, achieving that is really as easy sending a survey to your past buyers and mining the answers for insights.

8. Insight-Driven Changes & Repositioning
Using customer's own language from the survey results, re-write new positioning, collections, tag lines, and product descriptions. I'd go so far as re-shooting those slider images I know you have on your homepage to emulate the use case and core audience from your survey. Again, until you ask your customers, you're just guessing. A Customer Development Roadmap lets you find out why they're really buying.

9. Email Marketing
Here's the thing about email marketing: it isn't sexy. No one talks about it because it's been around for decades now, but it's consistently the first or second best driver of revenue for our stores. Any email marketing is better than none and if you send emails to your customers regularly, you're staying top of mind, and opening communication with them. The most common question I get is, "But what do I send? How often?" Well, until you get spam complaints, you're not sending nearly enough. We use 2x/week as our best practice.

This may sound like a lot of work, but all of this is the difference between $5k/mo and a $50k/mo store.

I've never done this before, but I wanted to give you a few updates on our side.

Here's what new with me: I've...

  1. launched an info product,
  2. started a coaching program for my freelance colleagues,
  3. and booked my first speaking gig,
  4. Plus I'm getting married this year.

I'm happier than I've ever been. But enough about me. At Ethercycle, things are equally exciting. About a year ago we switched our focus to exclusively Shopify, and the results were fantastic. We’ve recently completed a number of large projects, received some big love for it, and due to the overwhelming value we’ve been able to deliver for our Shopify clients, we’re raising our hourly rates for the first time in three years based on the value we deliver.

Effective June 1st, our new hourly rate is $200. Due to our experience solving revenue growth problems for Shopify businesses, I’m certain we'll still provide an overwhelming amount of value for our clients.

However, if this, unfortunately, doesn't fit your budget, I’m more than happy to refer you to a number of other businesses that would be excited to work with you— and that I personally vouch for.

Either way, I want to help everyone grow, so I've put together a ridiculously actionable (and totally free) guide with 25 conversion rate optimization ideas you must know about to effectively optimize your Shopify store. You can get it delivered straight to you right now. Shave off hours of guesswork and start growing your revenue!

My number one most powerful tool for optimizing a Shopify store isn't Google Analytics, it's customer surveys. And not just any customer survey, we need to ask three very important questions:

  1. How would you feel if you could no longer use us?
  2. What is the primary benefit that you have received from us?
  3. What type of person do you think would benefit most from us?

For our client surveys, we use from It's incredibly easy and includes a default set of questions that gives us exactly as much insight as we need. Sign up, it's free, and email that link to your existing customer base. Make it a friendly email that's from a person to maximize response rate. Depending on how warm your list, I'd expect a 5% response rate, with most people responding in the first 24 hours. After that, you can start reviewing their answers and looking for absolute nuggets of conversion gold.

Knowing the why your customers are buying as well as the language they use to describe the benefit of the product is phenomenal insight. If a clear benefit emerges that you're not talking about, rotate your positioning around that benefit and watch as both sales and satisfaction increase. Tune your messaging around the language your customers are using.

For example, we work closely with Everest Bands on a retainer basis to optimize their site. Recently, we surveyed their customers and discovered that we were had completely missed the reason they were buying. We had been selling the idea of customizing a watch with a premium band. It turns out that Everest's customers have been buying the straps because they perceive as a sporty alternative to the standard steel bracelet. Knowing that, we conducted a photo shoot to portray the product in active lifestyle settings, rewrote the product descriptions to talk about active lifestyles, and boom, the conversion rate improved yet again. Had we not asked their customers, we never would have known to change the brand's positioning.

Until you ask, you're just guessing. For the cost of only your time, survey your customers and find out why they're really buying. Ideally I would either send surveys at regular intervals, or include it as part of a marketing automation program (like Klaviyo) and email customers 60 days after purchase to touch base and survey them. Review the results quarterly and re-position your business accordingly. You'll be amazed by the actionable insight your customers are dying to tell. You just have to ask.

Offering discounts, flash sales, and using pop-up windows are all proven ecommerce strategies, but what happens when you combine them?

You make more money, of course! We are talking about ecommerce after all, and making money should be the fundamental purpose of your business.

I’m sure there are a few apps to do this (or you could roll your own) but I like Picreel for its ease of use and excellent templates.

Watch the video below for a demo plus one quick SEO hack.

An image is worth a thousand words, but it's also worth a boost conversions. There is nothing worse than stretched, improperly sized, or inconsistent images. It's a dead give away to visitors that your site isn't professional and therefore not trustworthy.

When you visit a quality ecommerce site, their images and thumbnails always seem to line up in a nice grid, right? The trick is maintain a consistent aspect ratio. That's the ratio of the width to the height of an image or screen. So maybe you're not up on your geometry, so I'll make it simple for you: you just need to make all of your product images square.

Maintain the correct aspect ratio in Photoshop is surprisingly easy, just hold down the shift key down while cropping or making a selection to maintain an aspect ratio. The crop tool can also be set to to a square for example. Remember to keep your photo centered.

Here's a step by step:

  1. Select the Crop tool
  2. In the options bar, set the aspect ratio to square or 1:1
  3. Drag over the part of the image you want to keep to create a marquee.
  4. To complete the crop, press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac OS), click the Commit button in the options bar, or double-click inside the cropping marquee.

After that, save your image at its maximum resolution and upload to Shopify. A properly setup theme will resize your image for you, so it's worthwhile to upload a large image and let Shopify figure out the rest.

There are two chief ways to increase revenue for your store:

  1. Get more traffic
  2. Turn more visitors into buyers

Both are equally valid methods, and should be used together if possible. The latter, called conversion rate optimization, is what we’re going to talk about here.

The first step to conversion rate optimization is simple: I walk through a store and try to buy something. I write down every single thing that creates any friction at all for me buying the product. Ever pain point, point of confusion, barrier to entry, objection, and eyebrow-raising or frustrating thing. Solving just those problems can be enough to double a site's conversion rates.

Think about it like this: when someone visits your site, you need to convince them of two things. First that they want your product (and no amount of conversion rate optimization can help that) and then you need to convince them that they should trust you with their most sensitive of information: their credit card details.

One of the most common issues that stops people from buying is unexpected costs. Most shoppers would rather pay more for a product but get “Free” tax and shipping than be faced with an additional added expense at checkout. This leads to another point of confusion: what kind of shipping is the free shipping? Most retailers just write “free shipping.” That could mean it’s being shipped by donkey for all I know. It’s better to specify a carrier like, “Free UPS Ground Shipping.”

Remember: Your site needs to looks professional, polished, and trustworthy because as a store owner, you’re not entitled to anyone’s money. Every part of your store must persuade them to buy. Once your website's sole goal is to inspire confidence, you'll start converting more of your traffic.