Tommy Walker never really wanted to be a writer, but when his family was on the verge of homelessness he used the storytelling tricks he learned from years in acting and film to become a content marketing guru. In this episode, he shares those strategies with us — but chances are you’ve gotten advice from him before.
As editor-in-chief at Shopify Plus, CXL, and Quickbooks, he led the creation of top-performing content that helped position those brands as leaders in their respective industries. Plus, he’s contributed to other online publications like Unbounce, Smashing Magazine, Crazyegg, and more. So if you work in ecommerce, you’ve probably read something Tommy helped produce.
He recently founded WalkerBots Content Studios, a marketing consultancy that helps growth-stage B2B startups and enterprises use content to help customers realize that purchasing their products is "the next logical step."
Jay Myers: Tommy Walker thank you for being so gracious with your time and coming on. And are you ready to help everyone listening Own Your Commerce?
Tommy Walker: I am not just ready I am stoked. Thank you so much for having me.
Jay Myers: Tommy Walker thank you for being so gracious with your time and coming on. And are you ready to help everyone listening Own Your Commerce?
Tommy Walker: I am not just ready I am stoked. Thank you so much for having me.
Jay Myers: Oh, well, our pleasure so Tommy, can I tell you a secret?
Tommy Walker: Yeah
Jay Myers: Most companies do not have content marketing goals, no Tommy not one. I have seen it with everyone from growth phase start-ups to Global Enterprise Corporations. In fact, Tommy many companies content marketing is run by people who are doing other jobs like Customer Care, Product Marketing or SEO and no offense, but it shows why are you laughing Tommy do you know where this is coming from.
Tommy Walker: No, I have no idea. Never heard this before.
Jay Myers: Let me finished talking, let me finish. I got two more sentences here from the outside. You are doing the right things. You have got the Blog. You have got the eBook. You have got the email list internally though. There is no plan there is no goals. There are no benchmarks. Blog posts are written maybe on keyword research pieces or maybe might potentially be relevant to the audience in brackets or quotations. The eBooks are something you think people might enjoy. If they subscribe to the newsletter, maybe they will be interested in reading more articles. This was taken from an excerpt from your website, actually. And it, what does this mean from that article?
There were four things that really stood out for me. One, you said the goals of content marketing are really simple and straightforward. It is to get shared throughout a community, to be the center of a discussion, to generate leads from qualified people with that community, and then ultimately to earn sales. And then right after that, you said, notice, I did not say anything about building authority or building trust, which I am guilty of that. I have actually like used those terms I have said well, yeah, we want to be the authority in this space. We want to be the authority in the space. And l am like some of our staff at Boulder listening, like, oh yeah, Jay says that. So why do we feel like that? And then why is it so different? Like your four goals are not a single one of them is to be an authority.
Tommy Walker: Right the thing is, is there subjective goals in everybody? Like I want to be able to say, and it’s an ego-driven thing. I do not mean that in delay, the sense of like, I really want to inflate myself, but it is truly like everybody wants to be the authority. Everybody wants people to know trust and like them, everybody wants to do all of these things. And the thing is, there is no, you know, and I say this in the post shoot, there is no objective metric. There is no Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics. If you want to get super complicated about it, no metric in there that says authority, you can start to look at things like maybe social sensing or a sentiment analysis on social and things like that. But even that, how do you measure your authority versus your strongest competitor? You cannot. So that being said, can you write thought leadership pieces? Can you try to do that? Yes. But only once you start seeing change within a space, right? Some people can change industries. Some people can change very small things. Like you can change a lot, but if you are calling yourself a thought leader, if you are trying to go after the thought leadership, instead of just really pushing your thoughts out there into the world in a way that’s really super interesting, then there is no real thing where you can say, I am the authority on this because there’s always going to be somebody smarter or better or all of those things than you so.
Jay Myers: Yeah. So for an E-commerce Brand, when I think about like what we do that Article resonated with me, because the content that we produce ultimately is to, well, there was a line you had at the end. It said, when a sale is no longer a sale, but the next logical step, that’s where the magic happens. You talk about taking people down this path, you call it like the top of the funnel, the information qualified lead, and then the marketing qualified leads and sales qualified lead. Like I get all that in software. That makes sense for an E-commerce Brand. If someone is either new to content or they are not really doing a lot of content right now, how should they think about it? Like they are not getting someone on the phone to do a demo or to, how should they think about how content plays into their overall strategy as an E-commerce company.
Tommy Walker: Yeah, that’s a great question. The way that I like to approach it from an e-commerce perspective is what part of the person’s brain over your ideal customer’s brain, are you staking out, right? When it comes to content, some brands that really do this well, your brand does an excellent job of this, the hundreds Urban Outfitters, they take this approach, I love Urban Outfitters for a lot of different reasons. Urban Outfitters takes this approach of like; they take a little bit of apartment therapy they do music Mondays. They have residents on Sound-Cloud and what they are doing in a lot of e-commerce companies, I do not see doing this a lot of is, really trying to understand the lifestyle of which their ideal customer is a part of. And then build content around that. When you start looking at, you know in B2B it’s information qualified leads, marketing qualified leads, and the sales qualified leads.
That makes sense within B2B, it does not map ideally, but you do have people subscribing to your newsletter. You do have people who can comment on this stuff. There is sort of indicators that these things do map to a little bit that maybe they are interested, right? You hear this a lot within a lot of this space. Is, are you segmenting out your email list and finding your return visitors or your return buyers, you leveraging these different groups of people to create content that can resonate? Are you asking people what they are interested in? I think that’s the starting point.
Jay Myers: So, what do you do when you work with some brands you were with Shopify plus before that you were with conversion XL and now you’re working with some larger brands helping them with their content strategies, correct?
Tommy Walker: Yep, yep absolutely.
Jay Myers: So what’s something you do when you go in and you look at a brand like to audit their content and strategy and tactics and goals, like where do you peel the onion.
Tommy Walker: Sure. So it’s little bit different for everybody. I will talk about Shopify Plus because that’s really where I really cut my teeth in. There was no existing audience before that. So I think that’s probably one of the more relevant pieces. I was the first marketing hire at Shopify Plus that makes me super happy.
Jay Myers: Oh, interesting I knew you were Editor in Chief I did not know. You are the first marketing hire.
Tommy Walker: Yeah, the first I was employee number 14 over there. So as the first marketing hire, I had to really think about and knowing that the blog itself was going to be the most frequent publishing arm and voice of the company. I really had to think about.
Jay Myers: That well, I will just say you set them on a great trajectory because I do not know, they are probably seven or 800 people at plus now. And if you Google like top E-commerce Blogs to follow, it’s always on the top of the list.
Tommy Walker: Yeah l just found out that like the lead generation strategy that I put into place in the very beginning, that’s still being used and I have like a sense of how much money it’s made them. So like that makes me really happy. But to go back to the question with them at the time and you know this, because you were there for it, nobody really knew what Shopify Plus was or who they were or what they did. They were the challenger brand within the market. Nobody thought that Shopify was going to be able to move up market right. Do you remember all this?
Jay Myers: Absolutely.
Tommy Walker: Like all this sort of chatter around that and what I did at the time, and this definitely applies.
Jay Myers: Like Déjà vu bringing back memories. I mean, I could go down a whole rabbit trail. I remember when it was Shopify Enterprise, even like before Plus,
Tommy Walker: Right
Jay Myers: And the question was just like, yes, there is a market for plus yes, there is in hindsight. Now you, of course you cannot even imagine even questioning that but.
Tommy Walker: Shopify Plus is the market. So yeah, no, the thing that I looked at then was what does everybody saying? I looked at the competitive landscape and what is everybody saying? What is everybody doing? And knowing that at the time we could not beat Magento, which is obviously like the leader of that. And then like looking at SAP and another of the other companies that were out there, the question then became like, what are they doing and how, if we cannot beat them on features, how can we beat them on knowledge? And one of the things that I really looked at when I looked at it there and really thinking about the overall sort of guiding philosophy, there is how we beat them on knowledge in these specific areas that are very relevant to the high growth merchant. And how can we do it in a way that’s not corporate speak and a lot of the big established players. And this is in any industry, a lot of big established players. They actually get bogged down by their size when it comes to their blogs and a lot of their content strategy. There are very few large, companies that do this well, where they are able to Bob and weave around their smaller competitors. I have worked inside enterprises. And this is where some of the lines in there that we are talking about come from, there’s very little agility. There’s very little or not very little agility. I should not say it that way. It’s a lot more complicated to get an idea out. You might have to go through nine different people in order to do something in order to say something. And what I like about the high-growth e-commerce market is that you actually are in a much better place when it comes to content strategy, because like everybody’s competing with Amazon, but what’s Amazon’s blog doing.
Jay Myers: I did not even know they had a Blog.
Tommy Walker: Right? Exactly well, that’s my point, right? There are talk about like dollar shave club, right? That’s a good one. What’s Gillette doing on their blog beard brand. I brought them up before, like you’ve got these big established players and they’re not able to really create a frequent voice that can resonate with the target market because at a very small level or at a very micro level, they don’t really know at a certain point. They do, but it’s not as intimate. It’s not as intimate of a relationship as somebody who’s, you know, there’s a difference between like Zappos and all wings and that size is felt, and you’re able to get to know your audience a little bit more when you’re in that sort of growth phase. And the thing that was great about me being at Shopify plus just to go back to that for a second, was that, that content strategy that I was developing, I was developing of alongside the growth of the company and the merchants. So I was able to really communicate with my customer, with the customer care team and learn from them like, Hey, what are some of the challenges that people are coming to you with? I was able to talk to the sales team and say like, Hey, what are the objections that people have and merge all of that stuff into sort of a content strategy that spoke to those challenges and those needs. Now that is really very much in a B2B context, but it’s not like that information is unavailable to somebody who’s actually selling products. You just have to look at it a little bit differently and you have to know that you want that information. You want to know where you fit into people’s lives.
Jay Myers: Is this not a good strategy for an E-commerce Store? And just throwing this out, like to look up every search phrase that someone would, if you sell razors for what people are searching for, like razor burn, razor itch or next or whatever. And could we just have a Patrick could do from a supply on so many, but it should he not optimize his blog around those search phrases and create content around that? That’s generally what I think in e-commerce content.
Tommy Walker: Right? yeah no, sure I mean that’s a pillar, that’s one pillar. And one of the things that I look at is like, yes, you absolutely have to do the run, the business type pieces, you know? And that’s really how I think of them as run the business. I have several of the blogs that I have been a part of now. They all want how customer reviews can help improve your business. I have edited that blog post more than once.
Jay Myers: So that’s like table stakes.
Tommy Walker: That’s yeah, table stakes right. You can do the keyword research. That stuff is like super obvious.
Jay Myers: And you should have contents for whatever your keyword target phrases are.
Tommy Walker: Absolutely. But what the trap becomes, this is where a lot of Blogs in general, not just E-commerce, but all blogs fall into is that being the only thing, the problem with that is if you start there, it leads to fragmentation within the company and all of the other communications channels. Right? If you are going though, like, Hey, what do we think would perform well over email? What do we think would perform well over social, all of these different strategies that are out there into the market? Like one of the challenges I am looking at now is how can I bring the energy out of this side of the house, right? These advertising campaigns, how can I take that energy and infuse it into a blog post? So what it really comes down to Jay is it’s more about how you structure your calendar.
So on Monday, we’re going to write something that is very much optimized for social on Tuesday and Thursday, we will do something that’s SEO driven on Wednesday. We will do something that solves a customer problem on Friday, we will highlight a customer. One of the things that I did at Shopify Plus was exactly that, right? I highlighted a customer every single Friday, Nick Winkler did the interviews at that point. And talking about that Bob and weave strategy. One of the things that I had said at the time, and this is definitely applicable across the board too, is every single company does not matter, always looks at this from a problem solution results. Again, this is B2B, but it’s very similar, right? Fundamentally everybody does that problem. Solution resolved problem agitation solution company X works with company Y and see Z results. And it’s boring as can I say bad words here,
Jay Myers: Say anything here.
Tommy Walker: Boring as fuck. Right? It’s terrible. It’s terrible. And it’s to be expected if it’s expected, your brain is always looking for pattern recognition. And if you’re able to break that pattern, that’s where you start to stand out. When it came to what we were doing there. I had said, we’re not doing that instead. We’re going to dive into, I want to treat these more like rolling stone interviews and what that did for us. You know, I want to know what led to the problem, not the problem itself, but what led to the problem and what we found. We got some really emotional interviews out of that. One of them, it turned out that the guy who ran the state or ran the company, he was at his bachelor party and it was like three o’clock in the morning. So already just like envision the state of being at three o’clock in the morning at a bachelor party. And he got a call from his CTO that said our servers are on fire.
Jay Myers: Like literally on fire.
Tommy Walker: They were literally on fire. The server company just called and the servers are on fire and we do not have a backup plan.
Jay Myers: There’s a title right there.
Tommy Walker: We are pretty close to that. And what we were able to do is tell that story. And then how did that lead? You? Like, obviously the servers are on fire, but if you do not lead up to that state of mind, then the rest of it’s just like, Oh, the servers were on fire. They switched to Shopify Plus now they are doing well. Obviously, we know that we are talking about that here in more of a product-based context, it’s very similar, right? What aren’t they doing? And if you look across the competitive landscape, you can see what they are doing, what are they doing well and what aren’t they doing? And I really do liken it to boxing where it’s, you have got the difference between going toe to toe and then bobbing and weaving. And if you are more of a challenger brand, then doing the bobbing and weaving and hitting them where they cannot make it. So you are much more likely to be able to go toe to toe further on down the road.
Jay Myers: So where does, video and actually, well, selfishly podcasts, where do they all play into it? It’s like I find myself consuming audio as much or more than blogs. Is that something like, how do they work together?
Tommy Walker: Sure. So you really have to think about it holistically. And I hate to say that because it sounds very cliche and I understand that, but what a lot of the thinking in general around this stuff has been very separate and independent. And tell me if this is true for you, like, do you run a blog and do you have a podcast?
Jay Myers: Yes.
Tommy Walker: So they are completely independent of each other mindset wise.
Jay Myers: Yeah. I mean, like they have the same goal. Our goal is to help merchants be more successful. So there’s content on the blog related towards that. And then this podcast is geared at that to provide knowledge by bringing on great guests, but they aren’t linked together. Like we do not, I have thought about that. Let’s take this podcast and expand it out and turn it into a blog and turn that into a bunch of social media. Maybe we create a bunch of video around it, but we are currently not there completely separate same goal, but they’re not working together cohesively, I guess.
Tommy Walker: Right. And that’s ultimately, that’s what it comes down to is really just thinking about how can these things work together a little bit more holistically. So for example, with this podcast, in particular, if I were to look at it as part of a fuller, more integrated strategy, a couple of things I would do first, I would take the conversation that we are having here. And then recontextualize it into traditional blog post with several headers and whatnot. Then I would, and I think you have seen me do this. I am starting to do this a little bit more, but I have just started the business. So it’s time is always the issue. This is a challenge across the board, but I would then take this and I would take a sample clip and do sort of a, what’s called a video. Gram. I don’t remember.
Jay Myers: Yeah, audio gram.
Tommy Walker: Audio gram yeah, there we go. And it basically just does little wave forms on a background. So you could use that for social is some people are like just doing an image and doing this on YouTube. I do not know how much I liked that, but you do have the opportunity. Like if we were to do this face to face and we recorded our live call, that would be an opportunity to do that there. And then you can integrate something like the audio gram, like at least the gift version of the audio gram inside an email and then have the little play button there and make it so people are want to click, right. Something that’s interesting and new and exciting on my blog. And I have just relaunched this thing. So it’s a little bit different. Now l am trying to take a new approach with all of this. My plan is to read all of my articles, right? Read aloud, like we are doing here.
Jay Myers: l notice that you had the audio player up at the top and actually collected the audio player and read and your soothing voice, read the blog post to me as I went through, probably I actually slacked a couple of people on our content team. And I said, Hey, this is a cool idea. It would not take too long to do. And if I happened to be reading that, and then I do not know, jumping in the car or went for a walk, I could click the play button and continue like if it was a long blog post, I think that’s great. And then there’s also the accessibility. Like if someone is blind, you have just made it accessible for them so.
Tommy Walker: Yeah and that’s my end game. My end game is and one of the things I think about, especially in the B2B context is what Slack groups am I being shared in. I care very deeply about what Slack groups I am being shared in because that’s where decisions are made from my buying cycle, where I doing this for a more product-based business than it would be, what social channels do I want to be on? Whose Instagram accounts do I want to hit? What YouTube is? Do I want talking about me where I do not have to send out product or they are actually willing to buy my stuff?
Jay Myers: You mean like companies, like you write something and you are thinking like I did today, actually I feel like we need an say what the name of this your blog is because we are referencing so tommy.is my.name is we are talking about right now. And you want to see this, but well, I can tell you like, there was a quote in there that said, and it was a research study that said according to the lead response management study, the odds of getting in contact with a sales qualified lead decreased 10 times after the first hour.
Tommy Walker: Yep!
Jay Myers: And I actually clipped that and I slacked it in our sales channel. I said, Hey, Tommy’s coming on the podcast today. It’s going to be great. But also I was just reading this. This is cool. And then all our sales guys are like, yeah, time kills all sales and I was like, yeah, time heals, wounds but kill sales. My man, there we could have like a poster on the wall.
Tommy Walker: There you go.
Jay Myers: I think you nailed it with that article and having a few key things that in my brain, as I was reading, it made me want to share.
Tommy Walker: Yeah, that was the goal of the post as I was writing it, I was doing what I was talking about, which was, I want this post to be shared.
Jay Myers: Yeah and you shared it.
Tommy Walker: So, and that’s sort of talking about that post in particular, in general, you want to get things shared in order to have that organic reach and ultimately drive down your PPC costs. And this is where the content starts to really come into play. You want to generate discussion so you can get more earned media and drive down those PPC costs. You want to generate more leads so you can get more email addresses. So you can have more return visitors and you want to make those sales so you can make more sales off of those same people. So when I think about content as a whole, by really look at it from like a behavioral science perspective of like, what is the entire experience of the brand? Like, because this is if I’m going to be spending my time and there’s a reason people call it paying attention. It is a currency nowadays. Especially if that’s going to be the case, how do I create this holistic experience that my advertisements, my blog posts, my emails, my social accounts, all of these different things are coherent and all reinforce each other in some way, shape or form. I do not know if any of that made sense but.
Jay Myers: No, it makes perfect sense. I think that actually Kurt Elster was on the show recently as well is up. So it has not aired yet, but it will be before yours. One of the things I asked him was like, what’s one of the things you wish merchants would do more of or something to that extent. And it was around creating good content and good copy because it seems like every website has great pictures now and they all looked good, but there’s this horrible thing that people have said for a while and that’s that? Well, no one reads on the internet.
Tommy Walker: Right?
Jay Myers: Everyone just reads headlines or just reads. But I think brands have this great opportunity to separate themselves by actually creating good copy. And I just tell him this occurred too. I said, I have actually shared websites that have such good copy, that it’s funny and witty, and I have actually taken screenshots and shared it and like man, look at this. This is so great so there’s a big opportunity right now because a lot of brands and like we are talking luxury, big brands, they have great pictures and it’s like a one line sentence of copy on their product and they are missing a big opportunity.
Tommy Walker: So yeah can I share some information that I found a little bit more recently?
Jay Myers: No, not if it’s valuable to our listeners we do not want them to know.
Tommy Walker: Oh, okay all right cool. So to frame this up and to go to the question of like, what are a lot of brands doing wrong when it comes to content and blogs? A lot of brands that I have seen in this is I have seen small brands of guilty of that. I have seen every brand guilty of this, or most brands guilty of this is their publication is specifically about themselves. It’s product releases, it’s news it’s Hey, look at this thing that we just did. And to be honest, like nobody cares really. I mean, that is fulfilling in the internal sense of the word. And maybe you are going to get some PR off of that if you are promoting it to PR. But if not, if you are doing this and you are wondering why nobody’s visiting your blog, it’s because I hate to say it, but nobody cares. And there’s research to back this up. So I just found this a little bit more recently. I look at this stuff on a pretty regular basis, Maryville University, they found in this study that they did and I am going to give you the links to this to 54% of readers. Do not trust brands, but 81% do trust blogs and 92%. And everybody already knows this trust brand recommendations from their friends. So looking at it from that perspective, and if you want to see this study, it’s Bitly so it’s B-I-T-L-Y and then every word after this that I am going to say, there’s a hyphen in between not out of a job yet.
Jay Myers: I will put it in the show notes.
Tommy Walker: Yeah, the reason this is important, especially when you start thinking about 92% of people, trust brand recommendations is that a share, a social share can be considered a brand recommendation. If you think about that and I am sure anybody listening to this can really think about different brands that they found because somebody else shared content. And I talk about at the end of that blog post, that we have referenced now, when a sale is no longer a sale, that’s when it becomes magic. Everybody listening, everybody who’s ever bought something online has bought something without even thinking about it. And then afterwards going like, why did I even buy it that you get so caught up in it? That the whole experience, wherever it was, it just made sense it was a part of like you had to.
Jay Myers: We also do that every time we buy something, think back, what was your buying journey? Like the last thing you bought online, why did you end up at that site? It’s an interesting thing to reflect on sometimes right?
Tommy Walker: Yeah and one of the things I really looked at and generated ideas from when I was doing Shopify Plus in particular, was taking an observation of myself as I was going through different buying experiences to generate ideas for blog posts. Where did if I am observing myself, where did some hesitation come into play? This was good content for the blog itself, but this is also really good. If you are able to do it, generate ideas for the content that you should be producing. Especially if you are trying to create an experiential brand where you are really trying to fit into somebody’s lifestyle. So, you know, a lot of clothing retailers, a lot of electronics retailers I used to buy from ThinkGeek all the time when they were still existing. And the reason for that was is they fit so well into my personality and the things that I care about that it just made logical sense. Oh, you put out a talking dead Bullhead yeah I want that. Sure silly things like that so.
Jay Myers: What’s your thoughts on spreading content through various channels? Like, do you think it should be all on your domain or are you a fan of pushing it through as many other publications and you just being recognized as the author or something there, like there’s different thoughts on that.
Tommy Walker: So are you talking like guest blogging versus owned content or syndication versus owned content?
Jay Myers: Well, let’s take our company also we have a blog and this would apply to an E-commerce Store and if they are writing content on, let’s say they sell shoes and they want to write a blog post on the ultimate guide to deciding on the right shoe size or something like that. Would they have it just on their site or do you think that should live on as many sites as they can? Maybe it makes it too like Forbes or these other publishers that pick up content, but you know, that’s not on your site. There might not be a direct link back to your site. Do you want to drive people only to your site or do you want to have it just spread the knowledge everywhere?
Tommy Walker: Sure it really depends on the piece the best way I can say it. Like the ultimate guide to the shoe size is that one that you have to ask the question of, like, is that a topic? And I know you just kind of came up with that, but is that a topic that other sites would want to pick up and if you can find someone sure, absolutely. That particular instance, I would say probably keep that in house, but if you were somebody who sold dapper men’s shoes, for example, then maybe you want to get on GQ or Esquire or sites like that. Obviously, maybe not at that tier, but maybe the next tier down of like men’s fashion blogs. And you might just give that away and those cases, I would say it’s probably okay to just give that away. Especially if you have got a content engine in house where the dapper men’s guide to shoes, how to pick the right shoe, if you want to, or picking the right shoe for the right occasion, that might actually be the sister post to that. So you have how to choose a, the guide to dapper men’s shoes. And then the one on your site that you would want to try to do some link building to through that post would be how to choose the right shoe for the right occasion. So really thinking about these sort of in tandem with each other, because ultimately you are creating an experience. And that experience, that first touch of that experience is going to happen where people are, and then you’re drawing them in and trying to help them take that next logical step, at least mentally. And in some cases kind of subliminally.
Jay Myers: I guess, to go back to your four goals of content marketing is get shared, be at the center of a discussion. So if it’s being at the center of a discussion, if it’s does not maybe it does not matter necessarily where it lives, if it’s how to properly match shoes to your outfit, because you know do you match it to your belts? Do you match it to your watch or whatever, if it hits that goal, that’s okay. It does not have to maybe live on your blog, but it has to check that goal. And if it’s does Apple sky to perfectly matching your shoe, okay, we can talk about content for a while here, but I have a couple other things on my list. I want to get to, I know you are a little bit, have some knowledge of SEO and some of that. So I do not know. I wanted to ask some people equate content with SEO, and then some people say, well, no, you should never write for content for SEO you should. Otherwise it sounds like you are a robot and blah, blah, blah, I guess first of all with as far as e-commerce and merchants, what are some important things that merchants should think about when considering SEO for their store?
Tommy Walker: Sure it really depends on if we are talking about something like product pages or guide pages or blog pages, it’s really important to really think about that. And that’s kind of the first thing that I would really consider, right? My thing and if you were starting out or you are pretty early stages, then I would say the, my pet lion who runs conversion XL, you got to give him a shout out. His phrase was always optimized closest to the money. So you got to do your transactional pages. First in a lot of those cases, you really should be thinking about SEO, the ultimate guide to men’s shoes. Maybe that is something that you own, and that is something you kind of optimize. But the biggest mistake, I think a lot of people will do when it comes to SEO in general is only do that in like overly keyword stuff. And it does read robotic and it’s a very difficult thing to pull off where you are trying to do both. It is possible of course but I always try to write with SEO in mind, secondary now kind of fit stuff in. I might run it through a tool like Clear Scope to see if I can get more natural language going in there, but with something like a blog post, it’s kind of what I was saying earlier where it all depends on the calendar. Am I going to write some pieces? Do I have to write some run the business pieces that are SEO driven? Yeah, I do but I am going to look at the other pieces as well. So a really good, and this is another link to drop here. Another really great kind of perspective on SEO is Brian Dean over at Backlinko put out an article. I am trying to see where I put it. It’s Bitly, B-I-T-L-Y forward slash bold podcast SEO.
Jay Myers: Yeah perfect surprised that was not taken.
Tommy Walker: Me too I did say originally like bold SEO, but that was gone. So I said bold podcasts, SEO, and it was good.
Jay Myers: There we go.
Tommy Walker: He has a really good guide over there on sort of finding that balance, but also the things to really be looking at. But yeah, from my perspective, it’s always about a calendaring thing, which, what am I going to calendar in? How is this all going to play together from the broader perspective?
Jay Myers: So when you write something, I just going back just a second to what you said earlier, do you have SEO in mind or do you just write, and then now that you have gotten this quality piece of content, now look at it and then say, okay, how can I improve this to help search engines? Find it better? What’s the process?
Tommy Walker: That’s a great question. Again, it always depends on the post. One of the things that I have written a lot about what I call the code right? Which is about finding the heart and soul of a publication that is never ever going to get search traffic. I know it, I do not care that’s my thing. It’s like a branded thing. I, that’s what I care about with things that I know we are going to have to do some SEO driven stuff on. Then we are doing a competitive analysis of like, what are the top 10 articles that are ranking for this? The how many times are they using the key phrase? How do I make this interesting? What do they have for, are they using solid images? Do they have video? Like all the different multimedia formats then obviously like the keyword perspective, what are they using for headers? And then how can I just beat them? How can I make my piece objectively better than all of this?
Jay Myers: And ultimately the best thing you can do for SEO is make your content so good that people want to link to it. Right? That’s the number one Google factor when it comes to ranking something is page rank, which links to it is one of the biggest factors I think right?
Tommy Walker: Yeah I mean, absolutely and one of the things I really try to think about in that particular case too, is I really view it as that share content. This is something that I have to, like, I am sharing it with the search engine. That’s a bit of a stretch, but I am sharing it with the intent of a being shown on a pretty regular basis.
Jay Myers: That’s a good way to think about it because if it’s share worthy, then it’s also linked to worthy.
Tommy Walker: Exactly but one of the other things, and this is often overlooked, and this was something that I had a person at white books who did this really well was internal backlinks. So a lot of blogging is moving forward, just always moving forward. But with a piece like that, where I am intentionally going about with the outline and knowing all that is, I am also doing a site search where I am seeing, where are the other anchor text opportunities that already exist on the blog that I have kind of talked about this plenty of other times before, maybe even without realizing it.
Jay Myers: Yep every product page that is a dress shoe. It should have a link to the guide to picking the right dress shoes.
Tommy Walker: Yeah, exactly and it’s just site colon my website and then dress shoe. And you find those opportunities and you start to do those internal backlinks. And that’s already going to put you ahead of the game on the SEO side, because like I said, a lot of this stuff is just forward moving. It’s always what’s next, what’s next. And this is starting to become a trend. I think a lot more, especially in the content marketing circles and the SEO circles is taking a step back and refreshing that stuff. Andy Crestodina has a really great piece on this that I don’t have a Bitly link for because it’s only coming to mind now.
Jay Myers: I can add it after. So would you say that let’s just stick with the shoe example. If you then create another piece of content around picking shoes or taking care of your dress shoes, or how do you store your dress shoes, blah, blah, blah. Like there’s like different articles now, would you have that term dress shoes everywhere on your site? Would you spread the links out to all three of them or every time a new piece of content is created for dress shoes, update them? So they are all focused at one.
Tommy Walker: Yeah This is a great question.
Jay Myers: Because I know Google, like does it confuse Google? If you are saying: Hey we are about dress shoes, but here’s a whole bunch of pages or no: Hey Google, this page is about it. Yeah, I actually do not know the answer.
Tommy Walker: That’s a fantastic question. And what you’re talking about right now is the hub and spoke model. So if you have like three or four pages and you’re using dress shoe to link to all three or four of those pages, that’s going to get super confusing for a robot. But if you have a bunch of pages linking to that dress shoe page, and then on that page, you’re linking out to dress shoe care, dress, shoe pairing, or matching, like the examples you just gave, then that’s going to create, if you think about it like a path or people say link juice. So really just think about it as water. You’re creating a river that goes to that primary page. That river splits off into multiple little streams, if you will. And then what you do on the other side of that is are there pages that are a little bit more specific to like shoe care, wherever those subtopics are about you link to those pages.
And now you have got this sort of back and forth stream. That really reinforces all of that because well, Google is looking for now are related subjects, right? You see this all the time, where it’s you get the answer boxes out there, but you also get like, they want to know that if this is talking about the best men’s dress shoes, then they want to know kind of that you understand all of the other things that surround that because they can see everything there. Google, my son asked me sometimes Google stuff where Google really cannot answer like: Hey, where’s my watch. Like I cannot tell you that, but you are telling the robot, Hey, this is the page. And then these are all the related subjects around that page. And if you look at it from there, great tools out there, one of them is called Screaming Frog. If you are using Screaming Frog, you can actually create a visualization of what that looks like. So if you are using this sort of model that I am talking about here, then it can end up looking like a bit of a dandy lion, if you will. So you have pages that link to that one page. And then that page links out to a bunch of other pages that are all semantically related and it will look like a bit of a dandelion.
Jay Myers: I can picture it in my head. It’s like, I think I have seen these of like the entire net and it’s, you know, certain pages like Facebook and Google and large ones. Like there’s all this hubs around it and these little ones in the distance, like your website is really like that too. That’s how Google sees it. It’s a web of pages within your site and that’s a great way to think about it.
Tommy Walker: And in a lot of cases, what ends up happening, especially because there’s like everybody’s moving forward all the time and not taking a step back. What ends up happening is if you’re not doing this and you’re not focusing on this side of things, it ends up, these links all end up going out to infinity and eventually they just go nowhere. And that doesn’t look good. That doesn’t look good from a user experience, but it also does not look good from the search engine experience.
Jay Myers: Yeah and I think it will make it easier to update your site when like, if you know that for all these seven core topics, these are the definitive blog posts on that. And now when you need to add another link out, you do not have to scrape your whole site it’s on there. And that’s why the really good blogs out there. You see you will read a few paragraphs and then there’s a few links to a couple other blogs, like for more information on this, this and this go here. And then you keep reading and then for this which makes a lot of sense. Okay, you are a good writer.
Tommy Walker: (Thank you.
Jay Myers: Do not let it get to your head. You are a good writer and I think what do you attribute that to? Because when you read your content that you write, it’s enjoyable and it’s somehow makes me want to share it and I like, if you had I do not know, like it’s also not just that. It’s also, it’s easy to consume. You break things apart well you use bullet points and numbers and I could list a bunch of things, but like what do you attribute being a good writer to.
Tommy Walker: God, this could go back. I could go way back on this.
Jay Myers: The DNA, yes the way you were born.
Tommy Walker: Well, so I never really, when I started my career, I never really wanted to be a writer. It was something that I knew I was good at, but it was not something I ever wanted to like trade words for dollars. And the reason for this is kind of simple in some ways I grew up as a career actor for the first, from like age 10 to 20, I acted that was my chosen career path. I graduated from a film Conservatory specifically for acting as the New York conservatory for dramatic arts, right. Or New York conservatory for film and television. They rebranded since I, but for that amount of time, I was focused very heavily on character study and development and improv and story structure and how a story is told and when I really started my career in online marketing my view of it, and I said this in the very beginning, if you go back to like super old blog posts, you’ll still see this where I do not view this screen, that people are listening to us on, or you are reading anything on any different than TV screens or movie screens of the past. (34:85): The differences is that it’s just a little bit more interactive. So when it comes to that skill, it is one that I have honed heavily really since I was a teenager, but I focus a lot on storytelling. I have got a lot of the basics down, but if you want to read a good book on it, a story by Robert McKee is the absolute tome on this. But the other thing that I really try to look at is I said this a little bit earlier is behavioral psychology. I care very deeply about what people think and not just what they think, but how I can package that information. It’s going to sound like a deviation, but it’s really not near. I all came out with a book called hooked and it’s really about rapid software development or the software development cycle and how different companies can use software to build habits. Have you read this?
Jay Myers: No, I haven’t.
Tommy Walker: Oh, you should this is definitely in your wheelhouse. But what I do when I view content, and when I write is also look at that sort of hooked model in order to really try to make the thing as compelling as possible. So it’s a number of things like that. It’s super wonky when it comes to like how, but if you want to get really super tactical about it, I just wrote a lot when I was, I was in a really bad situation a few years back. And really when I started to get known within my career, what a lot of people do not know is that my family was on the verge of homelessness. I had been consulting for about four years and I had a bad client and had to fire that client with no financial business, actually having to fire that client. (35:00): And we were not asking for help. We were not accepting help from anybody at that point. And I tried to get like a normal job and could not get it because I had been working for myself for about four years.
So I pivoted to blogging for dollars. And what looked like this body of work, where I am trying to build authority and, you know, get people to know trust in like me and all this was actually like: Hey, this article is worth 200 bucks. If I write three of these, then I can pay this bill. Like it was very much a hustle. So that building of the body of work was the thing that made it. So I needed to turn in my first draft that first draft needed to be air tight because I could not spend a lot of time in revision. And I worked when I was at conversion XL when I was writing for them. I cannot thank him enough for my own editorial standards because his standards were so incredibly ridiculously high. It was impossible to be flawed in any piece. I needed to turn those pieces out as fast as possible. And one thing led to another and I started writing for a lot of other sites as a result of that. But yes that’s exactly how I got recruited into Shopify and then leverage that to get into QuickBooks. So yes it’s just practice, and focus on storytelling.
Jay Myers: Well, that’s good advice if someone’s looking to improve their writing skills, it’s not writing, it’s being a better storyteller in general, so okay. Time for the lightning round, let’s do it. I have got a series of questions here. I do not know if you have read over them answers for all of them. Oh my God. You are like the most well studied guest I have ever had okay. Well I think I might have snuck one in though. Let me see. I did sneak one in, so I have one. You do not have an answer.
Tommy Walker: Oh, that’s awesome l am sure I do.
Jay Myers: The first question. What’s the biggest mistake you see merchants make.
Tommy Walker: Focus too much on PPC.
Jay Myers: Interesting. I guess I would agree with that. There’s a time and place when you are starting a store maybe, and you need to test like landing pages and it’s maybe the only way to get traffic. But I think in general, that is you are bang on. What’s a pet peeve you have when you are shopping online,
Tommy Walker: Not enough questions are answered. I am not having any of my objections met. I do not necessarily see any risk reversal. The products do not have the exact description that I need or show me how it’s going to fit into my life.
Jay Myers: I think that is a super simple thing for emergence to solve. Every product could have a Q and a like for FAQ’s Amazon does it on every product page where the seller can answer questions and just, there’s probably a reason they do that because buyers want it. That’s a great, what’s your favorite thing about your job?
Tommy Walker: Redder development oh, like helping writers get better.
Jay Myers: Oh like, so when you are working with merchants, they are creating content and working with them to become better.
Tommy Walker: Yeah I absolutely love it. Reading between the lines, helping pull out those story elements and identifying the things that are not being addressed and really just helping shape better writers. That’s my absolute favorite thing.
Jay Myers: What’s your favorite online store or last place you bought something Zappos. So you are a shoe head.
Tommy Walker: Yes. So no, I had reimbursement money that I had to spend before I left my last company so.
Jay Myers: So what about Zappos?
Tommy Walker: The selection is fairly easy. The way it’s laid out is really, I do not know how this became a shoe thing and episode. No this selection’s really easy to see the way you can see the products. I just love the layout of it all. It really works for me coming from the film background. It actually follows the eye path that people take really well. So here’s a little tip people’s eyes move from right to left to down and constantly make squares. So the way that they design their site, it’s very much in line with the golden triangle.
Jay Myers: You said right to left.
Tommy Walker: It’s a left and then down and then down to right. And then back up, I got you. So it’s just your natural.
Jay Myers: Around the edges basically there’s so many things apples does right. I was just curious I, you could ask five different people and their warranty, their customer service they I mean, you want to talk, objection busters. They still have a 365-day return policy.
Tommy Walker: I sure hope so because I have a…
Jay Myers: What’s the number one thing you think stores could be doing to grow sales, but they aren’t.
Tommy Walker: Focused on repeat customers.
Jay Myers: That’s gold.
Tommy Walker: There’s a lot of focus on new acquisitions, but the research actually shows that somebody who has bought from you is three times more likely to buy38 you again. And then that only moves up exponentially. If they buy from you again, then it moves exponentially up. The chances of buying. So focusing on the repeat customer is super important. And the one thing, and I heard this recently and I absolutely loved it. The unboxing experience is the only thing that has a 100% open rate.
Jay Myers: Yeah, that’s true I was going to say, I have a package I have not opened yet, so, Oh see, but you will. I will eventually.
Tommy Walker: Yes focus on that unboxing experience from beginning to end. Robbie Parker does this really well I have to do this too. I have to return their stuff as well, but focus on your unboxing experience because that’s going to be one of the things that really solidifies whether or not you give a damn about the entire customer experience.
Jay Myers: Oh and it is so the ones that get it right, man, you just want to take a picture and post it on Instagram and I have actually started unboxing something and then close it back up. I want to film this and you want to share it because it’s so good.
Tommy Walker: It’s share content.
Jay Myers: You nailed it with the repeat customer too because it’s they are more likely to buy and I have read some studies they are five to 25 times less expensive to market to as well too. So if you are doing any type of paid advertising, they will convert a lot higher on there too so that’s a great one.
Tommy Walker: And they area great source of traffic for your blog.
Jay Myers: Yeah okay this is the one I do not think I had in your list with regards to content. What is a North Star Metric that you should care about? That is not there that would be okay I could not remember if I put that in there or not.
Tommy Walker: So yes l focused on repeat visitors, so a lot of people focus on the new acquisition. I like to focus on repeat visitors because I am never going to get any consideration if people are not visiting again.
Jay Myers: So the content you write, the metric that you care about is how often if it increases, repeat visitors. Am I understanding that correctly?
Tommy Walker: Yes.
Jay Myers: Okay most of our listeners are business owners or entrepreneurs of some sort. Well you have been in all kinds of places and businesses and different roles. Any advice you would give or quotes or wisdom to someone running their business?
Tommy Walker: My favorite quotes of all time is they copied all they could follow, but they could not copy my mind and I left them sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.
Jay Myers: Who’s that by:
Tommy Walker: Rudyard Kipling.
Jay Myers: Oh, interesting yeah that’s a good one. Okay last one Tommy, if you could give one piece of advice from a store going from zero to a thousand sales and then, or just advice, you could give a store going from 1000 to a hundred thousand sales, what would it be?
Tommy Walker: Focus on the whole experience from the first click to the retargeting all the way up to the unbox and follow-up and really focus on each one of these things as an entire experience, break them down, obviously. But what’s the story that you are telling throughout the entire experience of who you are, how you fit into their lives, all of this, because like, there are certain things in my house that I like keep buying from the same company. And I don’t even remember how I got to them in the first place. And that’s excellent for that brand.
Jay Myers: You just said something that really resonated with me. You said, what’s the story you are telling. And I, might’ve not even listened to the couple sentences. You said after that because right after you said that my mind went to, you should ask that question about everything you do as a store when they place an order online, what order confirmation email are they getting? Is it just a plain text one? Is it fancy? Does it have, is it a letter from the founder? Is it a video saying thank you? What’s the story you are telling with that order confirmation email when they open your box, what’s it packaged? And what kind of tape is it is? How is it? What’s the story you are telling with that? When they call your customer support, they get told they have to submit some tickets some certain way and get like, what’s the story you are telling. And you should ask that question and know what story you want to tell and man, that just ties everything we have talked about together. What’s the story you are telling because that’s content and your whole, what you are is just content through and through. Wow, Tom, you summed it up there and you did not even like plan it.
Tommy Walker: Oh, that’s something I heard recently and I love this was that all we are online are words and pictures. That’s it. It’s just words and pictures.
Jay Myers: It’s true.
Tommy Walker: So, what words and what pictures are you using To tell that story?
Jay Myers: So good, Tommy, thank you so much for being on. I really appreciate your time. I know it’s valuable. I know we mentioned your blog earlier. Is that where you’d want someone to go if they want to learn more about you or where would you direct to someone if they want to learn more about Tommy?
Tommy Walker: Yes, sure you can visit my blog. That’s cool you can do, Tommy is my name.com and then it will redirect you to Tommy dot.
Jay Myers: Thank you so much, Tommy. Thanks so much, man.