Kurt Elster has been growing “unofficially” with Shopify since its infancy. In today’s episode, the host of the popular Unofficial Shopify Podcast talks about how his entrepreneurial spirit took him on an unconventional path to ecommerce success and teaches us how to ace key elements of the ecommerce experience that most stores struggle to get right.
The Unofficial Shopify Podcast has over 1 million downloads and Kurt’s consultancy, Ethercycle, has helped dozens of small and medium sized merchants excel on Shopify.
Jay Myers: Welcome everybody today is going to be a great episode. I have the one and only Kurt Elster here with me, and if you run a store on the Shopify platform, there is a very, very good chance, you know who he is. He runs a great agency, Ethercycle, but what you probably know him for is also the host of The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, which if you’re looking for a great podcast focused on building on Shopify, it’s one of, if not the best.
Jay Myers: Welcome everybody today is going to be a great episode. I have the one and only Kurt Elster here with me, and if you run a store on the Shopify platform, there is a very, very good chance, you know who he is. He runs a great agency, Ethercycle, but what you probably know him for is also the host of The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, which if you’re looking for a great podcast focused on building on Shopify, it’s one of, if not the best.
So, definitely check that out; it’s going to be a great show; we’re going to learn a little bit about Kurt, we’re going to dive into conversion optimization, which is one of Kurt’s areas of passion. And we’re going to talk about Kurt’s pet peeves, which apparently, he has a lot of so, stay tuned for that, and we’re going to touch on holiday sales a little bit at the end because well, who isn’t this time of year? So, Kurt, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Kurt Elster: Thank you for having me and with that intro, I have to make it clear; I’m nowhere near as professional or talented as you claim, really out of control.
Jay Myers: I asked, Kurt before the show, I said, what are some things you want us to talk about? And he mentioned a few different things, but the top of the list was I think pet peeves, and I picture him just like sometimes the way you do your tear downs. I picture you, just going through, oh, oh, they did this, oh, they did that.
Kurt Elster: Look out, no.
Jay Myers: No, not again.
Kurt Elster: Oh, why’d you do this?
Jay Myers: Oh, is Paul in the background there? Hey, Paul.
Kurt Elster: That’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, thank you. I got my sound bites going.
Jay Myers: Oh, there we go, I thought that was Paul yelling at you. Well, you’re working from home now, right?
Kurt Elster: Yeah, I’ve been working from home. I got like an 18-year lease on an office that I pay for and don’t use. That, Paul, goes like once a week, really, it’s just a very expensive PO box at this time.
Jay Myers: Well, hopefully, you’re back soon.
Kurt Elster: I hope so, but who knows?
Jay Myers: So, Kurt, first of all, this is the first time I’ve been on this side of the microphone with you. I think I’ve been on your show a few times, two or three times. I don’t know exactly, but what do you prefer? Do you prefer being a guest or you prefer being a host?
Kurt Elster: Yeah, it depends on my mood, they’re both fun, and they’re both performances. It’s just that one is a little different; being a host, I get to talk less, but you need to be thinking ahead more. Whereas being the guest, it’s more of a performance, but less preparation, more relaxed. You know what? Actually, the worst part about hosting a podcast is writing the show notes and coming up with a compelling episode title, and as a guest; I don’t have to worry about any of that. So, I get all the reward with none of the effort; I’m going to come down, being a guest is better.
Jay Myers: Don’t you have someone that does that for you, now?
Kurt Elster: Not, the show notes, I don’t edit it. The onboarding process is very streamlined, and I got somebody who does the transcripts and for the video version, someone else edits it. But ultimately, I still write the darn show notes.
Jay Myers: Because you wanted a certain way and for it to come across a certain way to the reader.
Kurt Elster: Certainly something like the newsletter of the company, that I want control over, that needs to be in my voice. The show notes, I’m sure I could get somebody else to do it, but it’s also not most of the time. You like to complain about it, but realistically it is a few minutes for me to do it. So, I have yet to outsource it, I tried once and it was just, the guy was extremely talented, but it was going to be too expensive.
Jay Myers: Wait, I want to just go back a second, so you have sound effects that you just play on the spot during podcasts?
Kurt Elster: Yeah, you need sound effects. It’s a lot more fun when you have sound effects.
Jay Myers: All right, do you have a whoopie cushion one handy?
Kurt Elster: When I was talking about how I was not very serious, a few slipped out.
Jay Myers: I thought I heard that in the background, but I didn’t want to say anything.
Kurt Elster: I had it turned down a little bit which I guess when you’re subtly slipping in a fart sound effect, that’s not good. Someone may mistake it for the real thing.
Jay Myers: I wasn’t sure if you were turning around in your chair or something.
Kurt Elster: Wait, is that leather squeaking? What is that? Oh, no.
Jay Myers: Okay, I’m glad; I didn’t want to make it awkward.
Kurt Elster: So, you heard it and weren’t sure what to do with it, that’s even better.
Jay Myers: Of course, I heard it but it was so faint. I wasn’t sure if it was something in the background in your office or Paul across the room, that’s nice. Where was I, see it is hard being a host because now I have to remember where I was.
Kurt Elster: I’ve completely derailed you. Yeah, throw this show off the rails in five minutes. So, first of all, what do you do? Who’s Kurt and why do you do what you do, for anyone listening?
Kurt Elster: Sure, good question. For, the last 11-years, I have worked for myself. I was working for an e-commerce auto parts dropshipper, and one day I’m tying my shoes to go to work and I just broke down crying and I knew I had betrayed myself. I knew that I needed to be an entrepreneur and work for myself and I put in one week notice that’s how excited I was, not two weeks, one week, just so I could get out in the world and hang out my shingle. And I had tons of unfair advantages in doing this, of course, but I said, I’m going to build my own e-commerce platform.
And I partnered up with a friend and it turns out building an e-commerce platform is a lot harder than one would think. And so, we started doing freelance web design and development work on WordPress. And we had a friend who wanted a Shopify store, he said, oh, I hate my e-commerce store; you have got to help me? So, what do you want out of it? This was like 2011. I just wanted to be easy, and I said, I heard of this thing called Shopify, let’s try it.
Again, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and we ended up designing and developing a custom theme for Shopify, that got noticed by one Dan Eveleigh that gets us into the Shopify partners program; The Shopify Experts Program. We start getting some other leads there, by 2014; I’m hosting a podcast about it and doing Shopify exclusively. And now six years later, we’re in a wonderful position with Shopify and love it to death. It was the hitching, my cart to both podcasting in 2014, that horse and Shopify, I did not realize how brilliant those decisions were as business moves at the time.
I’m like, okay, this is what feels right; Shopify feels right and we’ll try podcasting. Though I suppose if you stick with anything long enough, you will stack the bricks and build a business out of it at some point, try anything for two years, you’ll get somewhere.
Jay Myers: Or maybe Shopify became what it is because you started with them in 2011.
Kurt Elster: I am hardly going to steal Shopify’s valor on that one.
Jay Myers: It’s funny because I had e-commerce stores most of my life, but in 2010, I put one on Shopify and had kind of a similar thing, it was not what it is today, and at the time everyone would say what’s Shopify, what’s Shopify. And that obviously isn’t the case now. But for someone to build on them at that time they had, I think it’s 6,000 merchants. I remember when they changed on their website, supporting 10,000 merchants.
Kurt Elster: And now it’s over a million.
Jay Myers: Oh, yeah, I know. So, it was not the obvious decision back then. So, you definitely had some foresight, and good on you for sticking with it. I remember when you launched your podcast in 2014, I even wondered if an e-commerce podcast, in general, would have a big enough audience.
Kurt Elster: I didn’t know. I was like if a few hundred,
Jay Myers: Not just focused on Shopify, in general e-commerce.
Kurt Elster: Well, I had the same fear. It’s The Unofficial Shopify Podcast that was just a working title. And we didn’t know what we were going to call it, but I knew the power of niching down. So, I said, Oh, I want to give it a chance. I really want to be top of mind for Shopify because I’m committed to it, I’m passionate about it. And I think that our goals are aligned and I want that to come across, and I bet, right. It’s survivorship bias, where for me, it’s very easy to go.
Like now six years later, I’m very successful and it’s easy for me to say, oh yeah, no, that was a great decision I’m so brilliant, I’m glad I had that wonderful intuition. Part of it is luck, I made the right decision and got lucky, but I’m fairly risk-averse, and we did say, hey, let’s not just blindly jump on Shopify. Let’s try all the e-commerce platforms, and I had a landing page that I knew worked for getting leads, and Google traffic was a lot cheaper, six years ago.
And so, I bought traffic against various e-commerce keywords and sent them to various landing pages they were all the same landing page, except the platform, it talked about changed. And so, we did in a very short time period, we did work on Magento. There was a hosted version of Magento at the time as well. Prestashop, Lemon Stand, Big Commerce, we did a whole bunch and none had the ease of use, the documentation, or the ecosystem that Shopify did. And that was where we were comfortable. So, I said, why am I doing anything else?
I own the business, why should I do anything that I don’t love? Obviously, the fact that we’re here tells us, well, those were good decisions. Now, it wasn’t like, I just blindly said, this is the best. No, really, I did, I tried the others and I’m like, it’s not the same.
Jay Myers: So, when did Paul come into the picture? Was this with him or did you meet him later on?
Kurt Elster: It was me and one other guy and we were starting to sell projects and I was really cheap about it, but we needed another pair of hands. And so, I asked my then business partner I said, is there anyone else we can get? We can outsource too because I didn’t have the same experience in building an agency. I’m like, well we need another web developer, and he goes, oh, well I got this guy that used to work under me at a different place. And I wonder if he would help and luckily America was still feeling the after-effects of a recession at the time.
So, he was unemployed doing a little bit of freelancing and he was like, oh yeah, sure. I’d love to help. Do you mind if I come into the office? I’ll work in the office as opposed to remote. I said, sure why not? And we got along and I thought he was very funny, really pretty quickly, I was like, hey, do you want more work? Hey, are you interested in doing a revenue share? Hey, do you want to be a formal business partner here? And then I mentioned to him, I’d love to do a podcast, but I don’t want to deal with the editing. I’d interned one summer in a recording studio in Chicago.
So, I had an appreciation and familiarity with audio equipment and really a podcast for me, it was like an excuse to buy some gear; I love gear, I love gadgets, that’s me.
Jay Myers: That’s half your posts on social media, are your cameras, your drones, computer.
Kurt Elster: I know and I don’t want it to come off as obscene, rampant, consumerism. It’s just, I love gadgets is all it is.
Jay Myers: When you’re using it, I think all the stuff you post you actually use.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, I don’t want it to come across as like showing off or consumerism. I want it to come across as like fun or inspirational of like, hey, here’s a cool thing, and here’s what you could do with it.
Jay Myers: No, It comes across that way for sure.
Kurt Elster: Okay, good. I appreciate that, thank you. I overthink everything and worry about stuff.
Jay Myers: I know.
Kurt Elster: And Paul goes, hey, I used to watch, and do you know the onion? I said, yeah, the newspaper from UW Madison, the parody satirical newspaper; is their first podcast, I used to edit, I said, no kidding. He says yeah it was their first web content producer, so once I had that I no longer had an excuse to not do a podcast, I wanted to buy a mic, I had a topic, I’d guested on a few podcasts where at the end people go, oh, you’re good at this, you should consider hosting one.
And that was very early in podcasting where people had to advocate for it. Then Serial happened, and now everyone has a podcast, including Jay Myers.
Jay Myers: When Jay Myers has one you know everyone has one.
Kurt Elster: Now, we don’t think twice about it but six years ago, I had to explain to people what a podcast was.
Jay Myers: Oh, I know.
Kurt Elster: It was weird.
Jay Myers: Even if you listened to podcast six years ago, I remember 2008 when I discovered podcasts, I had a warehouse and I would listen to them all day and I would tell people, no, you listen to podcasts, nobody even really knew what it was. It was a weird sub-category in iTunes; it was hard to find no one would’ve thought it would become what it is today. So, now it’s another medium, it’s another way to connect with your audience and things, evolve and change, and I think it can be blogs, it can be social, it can be newsletters; it’s another medium that brands can use to communicate with their audience.
Kurt Elster: A hundred percent and it’s so accessible now. A hundred dollars gets you a Blue Yeti microphone that sounds way better than it has any right to and $10 gets you podcast hosting. And that’s it; you’re set now you could go record a podcast.
Jay Myers: So, before I jump into some e-commerce stuff, one last question. What’s the future hold for you next year, the next five years, where are you going with your journey, you and Paul?
Kurt Elster: This is such a good question and it’s one that keeps me up and tortures me. Truly, I have built a fantastic lifestyle business that has exceeded my expectations, but the journey is 80% of the fun. And so, where do you go from there? And truthfully, I don’t know the answer to that; we’ve got Shopify apps, I have done info products in the past, we primarily do Shopify consulting now, the podcast and that generates sponsorship revenue of which we are lucky to call, Bold a sponsor.
Jay Myers: We’re honored to be a sponsor.
Kurt Elster: You were the first recurring one too; Bold has a special place in my heart because of that.
Jay Myers: See, you bet big on Shopify early, we bet big on you early.
Kurt Elster: It’s true, you’re right, which I appreciate. I was so scared to add sponsors and nobody cared and it added legitimacy to the show. But now going forward, truthfully, I don’t know the answer because we’re having so much fun with what we’re doing, everything we do I love there’s nothing I want to get rid of, and there’s nothing I particularly want to add. At its core I love entrepreneurship, I love working with entrepreneurs and hosting a podcast about Shopify; you’re essentially hosting a podcast about entrepreneurship and being an e-commerce business consultant, that’s how I see myself.
Well, you just talk to entrepreneurs all day, that’s my core love. It’s tough to fake like, well gee, how would I do this differently or better?
Jay Myers: I think you just nailed it, man. I think too many people when I asked that question or something similar, they try to have definite goals. And I think like if I could just sum up what you just said, it’s you want to be doing what you love, having fun, and hopefully, you can make revenue at it because you found a way to do that. And you’ve been quite vocal in communities and there is like, you’re not trying to build a billion-dollar, thousand-person company, which nothing’s wrong with that. I know we’re on a quite different trajectory at Bold, we’re almost 400 people and both are fine, but you’ve chosen the path of intentionally staying lean and profitable and enjoying what you do.
Kurt Elster:Only recently, have I embraced the phrase, lifestyle business. I think there’s something, in the past especially, derogatory about it, but I am prone to anxiety, I’m risk-averse. You said, oh, Bold’s 400 people now, congratulations, I couldn’t sleep at night. So, for someone who could do that, my hat is off to you; for me, I know I just don’t have the personality for it, to intentionally keep things small. And we’ve grown a little bit bigger than I originally anticipated but I think my point is, it’s easy to say the grass is greener when you’re comparing yourself to other people’s business, but what you want personally really is what matters. It’s your business, do what you want with it.
Jay Myers: Because ultimately that’s why you start a business, right?
Kurt Elster: When you have a boss, you are beholden to them, don’t be just beholden to other people’s ideas of what your business should be. You could seek out advice but ultimately it comes down to what you want as the business owner.
Jay Myers:I agree, cool. Well, I hope in the next year to five years, if we talk in five years, you’re still having fun, enjoying what you’re doing and making money at it because really that’s the goal in life, that’s a hundred percent.
Jay Myers:Okay, let’s dive into CRO, a bit of some conversion rate optimization. I know this is a big passion of yours; I see all kinds of social about it, your tear downs, your swipe files, which I have saved a few of your swipe files.
Kurt Elster: Oh, sweet.
Jay Myers: I picture you, I don’t know, every time you post one of those swipe files, it’s like checkout or a cart or a product page. And there’s something that stands out to you and you take a screenshot and you post it, and you love how they do this. This makes sense because of, can you get through a shopping experience on another site without taking a screenshot? Or is it like, you’re just constantly analyzing every shop you shop at?
Kurt Elster: It has become just the lens through which I see the world and my wife will even do it now where she’ll be on a site and she’ll be like, oh, here’s something cool check this out. And I’ll be like, screenshot it, send it to me. She’s like, I already did. And that’s nice too because she’ll shop on websites that I would necessarily shop on.
Jay Myers: It’s hard not to right, now, that’s the way your brain works.
Kurt Elster: It does now because it’s like, all right, first you design websites and then you start noticing patterns you like and you’re like, oh, that’s clever, that’s cool. And then what I love about e-commerce websites, their design, and art serving business. So, it has these very clear goals and metrics that you can tie it back to where you can say, well, this design is successful. And really, I love that part about e-commerce design. And so, when purchasing something, everyone knows what that end goal is, is to make a purchase and for it to be as easy as possible.
So, the business owner’s goals are aligned and the customer’s goals are aligned, that is a wonderful, altruistic bit about e-commerce design. But yeah, every time I’m shopping on a site, if anything stands out to me as like, this is really good, I will screenshot it and share it as inspiration for other folks and to try and help get people into that design thinking mindset.
Jay Myers: So, if we take a step back and we don’t think about button colors and to take a step back, how should merchants, or how do you think about conversion optimization on stores?
Kurt Elster: You should build your website for a crazy lazy drunk. Number one; assume your customer is a narcissist. So, one of the biggest fails I see commerce merchants make, is I land on their site and everything’s I, I, I, they suffer from a bad bout of iarrhea. And instead, it should be ‘you’ focused, it should be entirely about the customer. What benefit are they going to get out of buying from you out of shopping from their store? So, I think that’s where the crazy part comes in. Just assume that they are a narcissist, it needs to be about them, and they don’t care about you.
And the crazy lazy drunk, there was a guy Richard Littauer who used to do drunk user testing, he would literally get hammered and then record himself, trying to use your website, trying to shop from it. So, you want the website to be so abundantly easy to use that a wildly drunk person could do it. It was Richard Littauer, I have Googled it.
Jay Myers: Okay, you can add it to the show notes, I think that’s awesome.
Kurt Elster: Theuserisdrunk.com, is the guy’s website.
Jay Myers: Okay, I’ll check it out. And I’ve heard, make sure your 70-year old grandma can use it, a similar concept, maybe seventy-year-old grandma drunk would be the ultimate test.
Kurt Elster: And so, the fundamental problem is you as the merchant, within a day of setting that store up, you have now spent more time on it than anyone else ever will. And so, any issues, oddities, weirdness with it, you develop change blindness, you just don’t see it. And so, you want to get people who are entirely unfamiliar with your website to just try and walk through making a purchase from it, and you would be surprised at the number of weird oddities they run into that you just don’t even think about anymore.
And a lot of it is just based around navigation, that’s the one thing that’s really hard that no one puts enough time into and it’s so easy to screw up and it’s such a huge opportunity. Someone landing on my homepage is not shopping yet, that’s like someone walking past your storefront, if they visit a collection page or product page, now they’re shopping. That is someone who has entered your store, but that’s where you want, everything on that homepage should be about orienting them as quickly as possible, within seconds, getting them to a relevant collection or product.
So, that even if they don’t buy that one, they’re at least interested, and they’ve raised their hand and said, okay, I’m compelled enough to check this out. And then now you can start remarketing to them or maybe they sign up for your newsletter. So, you could increase that total number of touchpoints, or hopefully, they’ll come back and purchase because most people are not going to purchase on the first go, even a store with an extraordinary conversion rate of 5%. That would be extremely high, that still means 95 out of a hundred people did not purchase.
So, you really need to work on getting them in a funnel; increasing those touchpoints, making it really easy to shop, making it very clear what the benefit is, why they should be there. And if you want to talk about yourself, then it better be you as a person, not a brand telling your story about how you came to do this, because you probably have some things in common with the customer.
Jay Myers: I have got so many questions coming from this.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, that was a lot.
Jay Myers: No, it’s good; I’m going to ask the first one. So, on the topic of landing on your homepage, do you have a list, like a checkbox with questions that need to be answered? As you mentioned, they need to orientate to themselves. I often think social proof needs to be there, it needs to feel that they’re an authority on some subject. What are some of those key elements that you think need to be addressed on either the homepage or within the first 20 seconds or 10 seconds by users on the site?
Kurt Elster: The trick here is number one, to answer the question of positioning. And I think this is an incredibly basic thing that pretty much everybody screws up for years, myself included; positioning is the cornerstone of your messaging, it becomes the cornerstone of your website, marketing, content, copy, et cetera. My positioning statement would be Kurt Elster helps Shopify store owners discover hidden profits in their websites. And then if I want to add a differentiator, unlike other e-commerce consultants he’s solely concerned with return on investment.
Okay, there in two sentences, I have described who I help and what I help them do, and how I’m different, and you could drop the second sentence with the differentiation. So, that’s what you got to do and it has to be like brand name helps target market achieve outcome or solve pain or problem, whatever that may be. So, writing that is harder than it sounds and if you can write that out, now can you get that incredibly concise? Get that down to a three to five-word tagline.
Aha, All right, if you get it to a three to five-word tagline, now it can live in the masthead, the header of the website as part of the logo and so every single person who visits that website, we know people read in an F-Pattern top to bottom left to right. So, if your logo is top left, great if it’s center, that’s fine too. At least know that by virtue of seeing your logo in that tagline, everyone knows what you offer and why, and that is the starting point. If you can get that messaging across as quickly, as coherently, as concisely as possible, that’s the make or break cornerstone of the rest of the experience.
Your biggest enemy is not another competitor, it’s the back button. If I land on your site and I’m like, this is a muddled mess that has nothing to do with me, I’m just going to click back and go find a different search result that answers the question.
Jay Myers: I love it. And that 95% that don’t buy the first time, it’ll be memorable if it’s short, concise to the point. And then, it’s often subconscious, but I think customers, have a worldview of themselves, what their values are. And I think for e-commerce brands, I think it’s important to know, are they a premium brand? Are they a bargain brand? Are they the cheapest out there? If you’re a premium brand having messaging we’ll match any price or stuff that conflicts. So, having a clear stance and the other thing you mentioned, what did you call it iarrhea?
Kurt Elster: Iarrhea, yes.
Jay Myers: I love that because I think in the software world, actually, we just had Patrick Coddou from Supply on the show. It hasn’t aired yet, but it’s coming out [Cross-Talking 25:10].
Kurt Elster: Smart guy, very bright.
Jay Myers: Super smart guy, built great razors, I mean, these are $125 razors; I think they’re $75 and then the kits are 125 or something. But one of the things that he’s going through now that he’s actually scaled a really successful brand and a big exercise for him was going through understanding what you call jobs to be done. And in the software world, this is how we talk, at bold, this is common terminology; we’re constantly saying jobs to be done. We’re building software, not because of the buttons or the features or the functions or what’s the job that it does.
And when you go on a website and you see a brand, say the world’s first, let’s take the razor example, the world’s first sharpest, cleanest, razor, that whatever, you’re talking about all the features, that’s what they did for years. And now they’re shifting to, what is the job that this actually does for the customer? It helps them feel, oh, what did he say? It’s a weighted razor, it’s heavy, it just glides along the face, it makes you feel good about yourself when you shave. And that’s the job that it actually does, it gives you a luxury feeling.
Kurt Elster: And that’s the kind of thing you only get by serving customers.
Jay Myers: Right.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, you got to talk to your customers.
Jay Myers: They don’t care what it’s made out of and every little detail and how good you are. It’s how good it makes them.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, what’s the benefit? And in this case, it’s a product that improves your self-image and appearance, but that’s not how razors talk about themselves. So, yeah, he has found that squishy, intrinsic quality to the product and that’s the kind of thing when you’re not used to it, you don’t have a ton of experience with e-commerce, it feels squishy and hand-wavy. And it is absolutely not the case, I could tell you having done countless hours of conversion rate optimization work, the most effective conversion rate tactic we have is copywriting.
And the most effective copywriting efforts we’ve done is literally copying and pasting from surveys. Where it’s survey customers it’ll ask, what’s the benefit that someone would get out of buying this? And they’ll say something like, I feel like a male model after a really close, great shave with supply razors. So, when I see something like that I go, oh shit, they nailed it. So, that’s better than any copywriter could put it, that’s better than the merchant would have stated it. That customer statement, that’s what I want. And if a customer talked about it that way, other customers talk about it that way.
And so, I’m going to copy and paste that and make that the hero image headline on our website. And then, oh my gosh, sales are going to go up. Well, actually I have a real-world example of this; I have a client who sells brick ovens. It’s called chicagobrickoven.com and we did this exact scenario for them. The headline on their hero image on their homepage is quote, the oven and the pizza I cooked became the sensation of my small town end quote.
We did a survey, one of the customers flat was like, I bought your pizza oven, now I’m the mayor, I mean, and that’s fundamentally what he said. It’s like you couldn’t come up with anything like that, trying to copyright it yourself and as a merchant, you’re too close to it. It’s like, well, it’s designed this way and it cooks this way, nobody cares. What’s the outcome? This is a brick oven so good, it’s going to change your social status. We’re never going to come up with that.
So, those surveys and understanding the customer and the jobs to be done and focusing on copywriting is part of CRO, a really tremendous way to grow an e-commerce business. Again, you go back to the positioning and messaging is the cornerstone of your business, because without that you need that driving force to keep everything coherent.
Jay Myers: Copy is often the last thing you do, it’s the last thing you think about. It’s like, oh yeah, I need a product description, oh yeah, I need a.
Kurt Elster: That’s probably the number one mistake.
Jay Myers: Well, that was my next question. I was going to ask, what are some things merchants do horribly wrong, but with good intentions?
Kurt Elster: Well, here’s the diabolical phrase I hear is, no one reads on the internet, and that becomes the excuse for, I’m not going to invest anything in copywriting, and that’s the problem. People don’t read the way we think they do, they don’t read in one chronological fashion, where I start at the top of the homepage, work my way through it. Next page, start at the top, go to, they don’t, they skim and they read sections and they try and find relevant portions and relevant, interesting things, and then they’ll skim that.
And then they’ll read a little bit and then they’ll read a little deeper and eventually they’ll have read like 80% of it if it’s interesting to them. And of course, that’s how they read, that’s how we all read, that’s how we consume any media. And so, that’s where, o, people don’t read, yeah, well, most copy on the internet is garbage, of course, you wouldn’t read it. At the same time, the web is 90% text, so having good copy, which also means it’s laid out well; it’s easy to read that really helps.
And I think one that has really nailed that is Amazon in their product listings, where at the top, it’s like, here are five bullet points and you could tell that there’s kind of a formula to it for the really successful merchants, five bullet points, and we’ll lead with the benefit and then we’ll put a longer explanation after it. And then you scroll down and there’s a longer description after that. And it’s broken up with bolded headings so that makes it easier to scan and skim through. And then we’ve also got loads of social proof in the form of Q & A from purchasers and reviews. And I think that’s the magic.
And if you’re struggling, if you’re like, okay, I believe you, I just don’t know how to apply this to myself. You’re not alone copywriting is hard. I read a whole bunch of copywriting books, none really clicked with me, and then I read the brain audit by Sean D’Souza, man, that book is good. That’s the one where I went okay, now, I understand it, now, and this makes sense.
Jay Myers: Never read it.
Kurt Elster: It’s a quick read; I read it in like 40 minutes at a Starbucks.
Jay Myers: That’ll take me about two hours then, okay.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, I’m not a particularly quick reader myself. If you get one thing away from this podcast, I want you to have homework, buy the brain audit and use that as a formula to write the product description for just your number one selling product and watch what happens. You will change the way you view copywriting.
Jay Myers: I love it. I think, as you were talking, thinking about the last few sites that I’ve shared in my little, we have a football chat with a bunch of friends that we play fantasy football with, and I don’t know, we share cool links with each other. And I haven’t shared a site, that has good photography, I feel like that’s a normal thing now, but you have as an e-commerce store and opportunity to stand out as a merchant with good copy because very few stores are doing it. Tons of stores have beautiful photography and then one line of copy or no copy at all.
And it actually blows me away. Some of the luxury fashion brands will have a beautiful, my wife sent me this, this was a little while ago at Christmas, she wanted some new shoes and it was, she’s going to listen to this. But anyway, it’s a site that has very expensive, really nice shoes, but there’s one line the title and maybe that’s their thing, I don’t know. But I think you can stand out, and actually, the last couple of sites that I’ve shared, look at your Facebook group, Pit Viper started going crazy groups shared it but what’s good about it, their copy.
Kurt Elster: Yes, they have this eight-bit theme, but the copy is so in your face, and what’s interesting about this when I was talking about Pit Vipers and they’re just the most absurd, extreme. It’s like how you remember 90s sunglasses rather than how they actually were. They’re very extreme; one of my friends at another Shopify agency got the RFP, a request for proposal from Pit Vipers before they built their site. And in it, it said, we need a website that slaps the Oakley’s off your face. And if that’s in your RFP, that level of just absurdist, extreme copy gave it so much personality that it works.
And it separates the wheat from the chaff, you’re going to land on that site and look at it and you immediately know this is for me, or this is absolutely not for me. It makes it very polarizing, which I’m using the word polarizing in reference to a sunglasses website.
Jay Myers: Did you do that on purpose because that’s genius?
Kurt Elster: I did it unintentionally in my Facebook group, and someone was like, I see what you did there. And now I do it on purpose.
Jay Myers: Okay. So, that is a great takeaway. I want to jump into some of your pet peeves because you sound like a crotchety old man that has a lot of pet peeves when it comes to e-commerce.
Kurt Elster: I do have some pet peeves.
Jay Myers: There you go, let’s do maybe your top three, what boils your blood when you’re shopping?
Kurt Elster: 100%, absolutely, the number one that drives me crazy. And it’s such an easy fix is, when I see a home link in the main menu, it’s just for me, that’s the thing that screams amateur hour.
Jay Myers: Interesting, I see it all the time too. So, what should they do, the logo obviously?
Kurt Elster: So, we don’t need a home link because the logo always links back to home and there’s really nothing that important in home that, that should be the first link.
Jay Myers: You should be able to get everywhere on the site from wherever you are, right?
Kurt Elster: Ideally, yeah. And I could click the logo and get back home. So, I don’t need that home logo. I want my main menu and you’ll see this on every major retailer’s website, the main menu is exclusively devoted to shopping. Every link in your main menu should go to a product page or a collection page. If it goes anywhere else, you did it wrong, just straight up, you did it wrong. Put that stuff in a secondary, the non-shopping stuff can go on a secondary menu, a top menu or the footer menu, or both.
Jay Myers: So, that’s your contact, about us, resources, affiliate program, blog.
Kurt Elster: My log journal, yeah all that stuff goes, could live in the footer.
Jay Myers: That should get no real estate in your main menu?
Kurt Elster: Yes, and ideally secondary or top menu should be only things that support a purchase decision. So because your story does in fact play a role in a purchase decision and your FAQ and your return policy that can live. Sometimes you’ll see sites have a few links in the header, but separate from the main menu. When I say top menu, that’s what I mean. And then everything else can go in the footer and everybody knows wholesale application, initiate a return, whatever it is, that stuff, they know that they could find that in the footer.
So, that’s how I want my main menu organized and if you’ve got a ton of stuff, it gets hard, I get it. Every link that you have write it down on an index card and then put those on the floor, and you can use that to rearrange your main menu very quickly. It’s just too hard to do it in your head.
Jay Myers: And then what are your decision criteria, you hold each card and you say this aid’s a purchasing decision and this doesn’t?
Kurt Elster: Well, first I want to group products and collections do that first. That’s my main menu. All right, doesn’t do that, that’s in a different pile. That pile, I’m going to take and go, does this support a purchase decision or not? And that’s going to determine what goes in the top menu versus in the footer and then within the main menu. Okay, depending on how much you have, now, you’re going to start trying to figure out what those categories should be. The thing I don’t want to see this is my second pet peeve.
All shopping is in the main menu and it’s just a single drop-down this says ‘shop’. Just four little letters and then everything is just nested inside of that. The problem with that is at a glance I cannot see what you sell and I’m reliant on a drop-down menu, which often has a questionable user experience. Like as an interface, they’re not ideal. Whereas if I break all that stuff out, I could see it at a glance, it makes life much easier. And people have trouble sorting through lists that get too big, you get choice paralysis.
So, ideally, I want five or less in a menu, occasionally you could push it to seven, but I wouldn’t do more than that. If you get to eight, all right, just break it into two menus with four things, if you can. You have to wear your librarian hat, figure out taxonomy, and it really gets a lot. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, so I understand why people struggle with menus.
Jay Myer: Every little item is your baby and you feel like you need everything on that menu. And you’re just confusing the customer journey.
Kurt Elster:Yeah, no, you nailed it a hundred percent.
Jay Myers: So, that’s two, right? So, your home menu.
Kurt Elster: Home and don’t have everything live under shop, that drives me crazy. And the third one, I’m going to go with, you land on the home page and it’s just an image carousel that says, welcome to our website. Again, you need to make it about the customer and their journey and benefit that they’re going to get out of you. And when you really understand it and you can nail down what that one thing is; now you can have a single hero image instead of the carousel or even better a hero video.
That’s going to make it a lot easier because with a carousel you’re just bloating your load time because 90% of people are never going to see anything other than the first slide.
Jay Myers: As you’re talking about this, I’m thinking about, I don’t manage stores, we build software, but I have a couple of family members that have Shopify stores.
Kurt Elster: Intrinsically you have enough experience here to be able to speak on this as an authority, I promise.
Jay Myers: I’m rethinking their home pages literally as we speak and my brother sells archery targets, and I think the copy on the homepage is something like the world’s toughest, strongest, only lifetime warranty, archery target or something to that extent.
Kurt Elster: Well, okay, I like that. There’s another pro-tip, you want to make bold claims. At a dinner party, you want to be modest, in your marketing copy, modest and subtle does not help anybody. So, being able to make bold claims like the world’s toughest. I mean, that’s quite a claim I like that that’s good. And another unique selling position because I’m sure plenty of people sell archery targets but being able to say, yeah, we’ve got this outrageous warranty.
I like bold claims, I worked with a company that sells bulletproof vests, they sell body armor and I was digging through their website before I started the project, and I noticed that part of their warranty was if you get shot wearing their vest, if you straight up, you get shot in the product, they’ll replace it for free. And I was like, you know what? It’s such a uniquely American thing, selling a bulletproofed vest to consumers, normalizing the use of body armor, which we get it, it’s weird, and I’m used to talking about it now.
But that was such a bold claim, I put it in the header of their website, straight up, it’s in the message bar. Here’s our promise, if you get shot wearing this thing, we’ll replace it. It’s such a bold claim because people are staring at this stuff all day long, what you do on your phone? Just scroll through Facebook all day, you need the thumb stopper as what Facebook ads people call it, you need a thumb stopper. So, those bold claims could really help with that.
Jay Myers: So, what I was thinking was he has the ability to do that, he probably needs to tweak the wording a little bit, but he has a lifetime warranty on an archery target, which an archery target will wear out. Absolutely there’s no way it’s going to last forever. What he’s saying is he will replace it when it wears out. So, he’s playing the law of averages that only maybe 10 or 20% of people actually wear it out and file the claim for warranty, and he’s done this for 15-years and it’s worked. But I thought about some type of copy on the homepage to the extent of like the only target that you’ll look good shooting even if you miss it.
Kurt Elster: So, you don’t want to get too clever, clever is fun, but clever can also be your enemy. If you get too clever, it’ll make sense to you and your diehard fans, and everyone else is like, what are they talking about? So, often and I’ll say clarity trumps clever.
Jay Myer: Okay, good, I like it. Okay. I see you’re not a crotchety old man, there’s wisdom behind your thoughts.
Kurt Elster: Oh, absolutely. Naw, I’m just making stuff up I like to get mad about, home links.
Jay Myers: Are there any other pet peeves that make your eye twitch before we move on?
Kurt Elster: I’m sure there are many but those are the top ones.
Jay Myers: When you’re lying in bed shopping on your phone and your wife is half asleep and you go, ah?
Kurt Elster: Well, in that case, autoplaying video with sound. I was on a conference call today and I opened up a website and fortunately, it was related to what we were doing but it just starts playing rock music in the background. And it was some stock soundtrack to whatever video they had going. Who does that? What kind of a monster are you?
Jay Myers: Although, I could see the folks at Pit Viper playing something with a hilarious track that would just make everyone around you in the office laugh.
Kurt Elster: You have media player controls on the site, styled up like a Walkman because the sites all like 80s, 90s themed and it’s styled up like a Walkman and they could choose to play it. And that would be fun; there are ways to do it.
Jay Myers: Okay, no more pet peeves, I don’t want to, I’m going to get an aneurysm just thinking about all this. Time flies we’ve gone over the time a little bit but that’s okay, we don’t have a time limit, I think if people aren’t getting value they can just stop listening. So, this is really good, I want to ask holiday seasons are coming up Black Friday, Cyber Monday, whatever you want to call it. It’s the holiday season of shopping, any Kurt predictions for this year?
Well, I think a month ago this was a prediction, now; it starts to feel like the commonly held belief. Things are going to start early this year, at the time of this recording Amazon has not yet announced Prime Day. Prime Day normally happens in the summer, they have pushed it back, pushed it back. So, we think it’s going to happen [Cross-Talking 13:19].
Jay Myers: I hear mid-October but they haven’t nailed it down.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, it’s going to happen in October, it’s everybody’s best bet, and as part of that I think those Black Friday sales are going to start earlier this year and they’re all moving online. Major retailers in the US are not going to be open for Black Friday, several of the really big ones have stated that and I think we’re spooked about shipping and logistics both for merchants to receive their inventory and for them to get those gifts from the merchant to the customer.
So, I think people are weary and spooked about logistics and so it just makes sense that people are going to want to make their purchases earlier, if they can and having sales gives them the excuse. Plus, people with the pandemic are bored, there’s a lot of bored shopping and the seasonality of the holidays is a great excuse for that. And so, if we’ve got Prime Day starting like right at the mid to the end of October and we’ve got these fears around shipping and logistics, I just think everybody’s going to be like, end of October, all right we’ve got that first week in November.
I’ve heard there’s an election or something in the US, that’s going to be weird. And then I think the end of October, we’re going to be doing sales, and then immediately after the election, I think we’re going to see people running their Black Friday sales early. And one of the ways you could do it is, just run your sales purely via email the first week in November to your VIP customers. And if it works okay, great, if it doesn’t work, tweak it, but then the second week, all right, now let’s run this to just everyone who made a purchase in the last 12 months minus the people who made a purchase in the last week and do it again, the following week to a wider range, take a break, then run your actual Black Friday sale.
I think there would be a big advantage in trying to run your sale multiple times by segmenting your audiences and by doing it across different channels.
Jay Myers: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting. I can’t see people shopping in-store, it’s not the days of lining up in front of Best Buy and herds crashing into the Walmarts and Targets, that’s done or for this year anyway, and it’s got to be like 90% online. It’s just not going to happen in the stores. So, what that might do to the logistics and the infrastructure around e-commerce has the potential to cripple. So, I think, yeah, getting out ahead is going to be really important.
Is there anything you’re telling your merchants as far as messaging goes, any sensitivity, or any changes in messaging? Or are you saying no, go as normal, everyone else is still referring to it as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any sensitivities there?
Kurt Elster: No, I’d probably call it Black Friday early. I like the idea of an early bird sale or sneak preview. And that’s where having it segmented to just your email list and past purchasers, and you explain to them, hey, you’re getting this email because you purchased from us and we appreciate it and this is how we’re going to say, thank you.
Jay Myers: I agree a hundred percent with you, I think you nailed it. Give the best possible deal you can, people are genuinely hurting and struggling, and maybe be less gimmicky, just like it’s not weird, confusing, hard to find sales, or just be honest and give the best possible deal you can start early. And I think that’ll go a long way in the messaging, but because I think there is a little bit of sensitivity, but I think once the sales start hitting, it’s going to be, they’ll feel online anyway. I think it’ll feel very much like other years.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. I appreciate your nod to sensitivity, at the same time. I think there also is an advantage in approaching it the way you would normally because I’d imagine people are looking for a sense of normalcy and can appreciate that.
Jay Myers: Okay, we’ve got a couple of community questions that came in.
Kurt Elster: All right, hit me.
Jay Myers: Nick Lynn asked if there’s something you could do differently in your business. What would it be?
Kurt Elster: That’s a good question. If I had to do it over, I wish I hadn’t missed the boat on themes. We don’t sell a theme; we’d considered it and I really think it’s a very difficult thing to get into now. And I had a first-mover advantage in some of the other things I did; I wish I’d sold a theme. Why not?
Jay Myers: Yeah, sure. Ray Nope asked if you made your own store that you sold, what apps would you absolutely use aside from Klaviyo, which is a sponsor, I guess or that’s maybe one they always recommend, I don’t know.
Kurt Elster: Well, that’s my preferred email service provider. So, I’m using Klaviyo, but that’s a gimme.
Jay Myer: Okay, right. Maybe that’s why they said aside from Klaviyo. So, yeah, what apps are you using? Why are you so funny and engaging?
Kurt Elster: That’s quite the softball, thank you. Why am I so funny and engaging? This is literally a skill I used to be just a terrified introvert who couldn’t do, just the idea of doing a podcast made me literally sweat. It’s a skill, if this is a thing you want to do, and you’re like, I wish I could do that. You can, it just takes practice, I did it for six years. As far as what apps we would use at our own store. Number one, I want to be able to increase my touchpoints and I want to be able to increase my average order value. I think with apps, those are the two things I want to do.
Obviously, I’m going to use Klaviyo and that could sync to Facebook so I can get my remarketing ads there. I need some kind of pop-up solution. I might use Klaviyo’s built-in one, but if I want to get fancy, I’m going to use Privy. And then for upsell, I love that Bold product upsell can do true upsells where it removes one product and adds another. And so, what I do is I try to bundle my products and if you buy an individual item, that’s in a bundle, it will try and do a true upsell and say, hey, for just, and this is another feature I think is unique to Bold Upsell logo for just X dollars more.
Did you want to upgrade? So, let’s say the individual product is 10 and the bundle is 15. It’ll go for just $5 more. Ah, and that works really well to increase the average order value.
Jay Myers: And fun fact, we look at the data true upsells versus cross-sells convert about 20 times better than a cross-sell to, because you’re already buying something and it’s just upgrading. It’s not a decision to buy another product. So, I think we’re going to have to have you on for another episode at some point, this has been really fun. I have a lot more questions; the community has a lot more questions. You’re not just fun to talk to, you are packed full of knowledge. So, I’ll definitely get you back on here at some point. Really quick, just where do people find you?
Kurt Elster: Google me. Yes, sir, if you Google Kurt Elster head to kurtelster.com sign up for my newsletter there. That comes from my actual email address. So, if you reply to those emails if you have a thoughtful question. I will send you a thoughtful reply.
Jay Myers: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kurt.
Kurt Elster: Thanks for having me, Jay. I appreciate it.