Interview with Andrew Bleakely - Ecommerce isn’t “build it and customers will come”

Cart2Cart continues the series of fascinating interviews with top e-Commerce experts. This time, we had a privilege to speak with Andrew Bleakely - the worldwide known software developer, SEO specialist and overall e-Commerce guru. So, without further ado, let’s get right into the curious things Andrew has shared with us:

1. Andrew, you are quite a versatile person. At this point, you’re internationally known as an expert who specializes in many aspects of e-Commerce at once. But how has your career started? What would you say is your favorite e-Commerce activity? Is it development, SEO or, maybe, writing platform’s reviews on your website?

A:I started as programmer writing desktop software and server scripts but as the 2000’s wore on it became apparent that the web was where you needed to be to stay relevant. I spent the beginning of my career moving applications from servers to the web for companies so ecommerce was always a constant. Being so early in the game I saw a lot of really bad ways to build shopping carts. Once you work out the “best” way to build a cart it becomes a matter of making them as profitable as possible so the extension into SEO and sales optimization and customer experience was a natural journey for someone as competitive as I am.

I prefer the SEO, especially in ecommerce where you can measure the results as money in client’s pockets. SEO is a challenge. There is lots of data from an ever growing array of platforms, media and sources to analyze and it is very exciting logging in to see click through rates in ad improve, conversions rise and rankings move up.

2.The website andrewbleakley.com is flooded with useful shopping cart comparisons and reviews. But, in addition to being helpful these articles expose your clever, fascinating style of writing. That said, have you ever thought about releasing a book on the subject of e-Commerce?

A: I started one on Shopify SEO that needed to be put onto the back burner so I could spend more time with my kids while they are still young and at home. There will definitely be a Bigcommerce SEO book in the next 9 months; the Shopify SEO book will be finished shortly after. Keep an eye on andrewbleakley.com for more.

The books will be SEO based with simple, practical steps for real shop owners to follow that will get more customers on site and more sales out of them. It will focus on the things normal humans can do without a developer that will make a difference where it counts. It’s been fun putting it all together but I am at the stage now where I am culling all the SEO knowledge and experience into “Can a normal person do this themselves” and “Will it make them more money” because really ecommerce is a business and if it isn’t increasing your profit you should be wasting your time on it.

Interview with Andrew Bleakely - Ecommerce isn’t “build it and customers will come”

3.Given your experience of working with a lot of starting online retailers, what is the most important piece of advice you would give to an aspiring online merchant? What are the common mistakes new web shop owners usually make and how to avoid them?

A: Just Start. Honestly. Shopify/Bigcommerce + free theme + Paypal/Stripe means you can have an online store running in less than 30 minutes for less than $50 – it won’t be Amazon but if you don’t start you can’t grow and if you spend all your time comparing, drafting, thinking and requesting quotes you will loose interest and drive and you will need a truck load of both to get profitable.

Don’t give up yet. I really should write a post on this one called 25 things to do before you delete your online store. Keep an eye out on my site because that really needs to be written. I see it daily all over the planet. People put up a store, load some products and log into the backend every 5 minutes looking for sales – after a month or two they delete it and walk away. Too many people forget that you need to go out and find your customers – they won’t just walk past it like brick and mortar, you need to be active online in the communities where your customers are and you need to tell everybody. Ecommerce isn’t “build it and they will come” it is “build it, AND TELL THEM, and they will come” – spend a few dollars on Google and Facebook ads, join forums, pages, post stories, pictures, comment on other sites. Be THE person to go to in your niche, make sure everyone knows your name.

4.In the last Cart2Cart interview, you’ve mentioned that Shopify and BigCommerce are your favorite shopping platforms. Has anything changed since then? Do you have different shopping cart preferences now?

A: It’s always on a case-by-case basis but generally most clients can fit into one of the two – especially with the “app store” models they both have now to extend or add features.One exciting new development is Prestashop Cloud – which is a free, hosted version of Prestashop.

There really are no bad shopping carts, they all have tens of thousands of active customers for a reason, it’s all about fit and which platform will do the things you want it to in a way you are comfortable with – if your software is working with you and you get it you are more likely to do everything that needs to be done to make it work.

5.You’ve been circling in the world of e-Commerce for a long time, it seems that you know every possible detail about each platform on the market. Which shopping cart, would you say, is the most suitable for a small online shop and which is best for large ones?

A: In very broad strokes I’d suggest Shopify for small, Bigcommerce for larger – but that is a huge generalization that will probably back fire. You would be better advised to use a tool like bigcommerceorshopify.com to decide as both work well in so many senarios.

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6.Have you ever dealt with data transfers from one platform to another? If so, what are your views on the concept, is it better to use an automated migration service to complete this task, or another method?

A: I deal with it all the time and it always turns into more work than you quote. You always miss something (images, meta data, sales pricing, special per product shipping information) and you have to go back and start all over. Several carts now offer the service themselves as “white glove” or “platinum” features but it isn’t as cost effective as getting a migration service to do it and usually not as quick.

If you use a service or have the provider migrate for you make sure you find out in advanced what can and can’t be migrated because often times it just isn’t possible to import orders and customer histories.

As with anything if you want it done right get the right people on board – for time and money a migration service is usually the best option for everyone.

7.As we all know, e-Commerce is growing with astonishing speed. Do you have any predictions on its development for this year? Can you share some of your personal plans for 2015?

A: I think CS-Cart have fired the first shots in the 2015 by making huge speed improvements to their software instead of bolting on a series of new features. I think 2015 will be the year SaaS cart vendors start taking SEO, site speed and navigation seriously.

We will probably see less new features built into cart software and more changes on the backend to serve up pages more quickly, products and product queries more accurately and efficiently Maybe even better ways for search engines and users to discover the products in a shop.

As larger businesses turn to SaaS the limitations in onsite search and site optimisation are becoming more obvious. I have been having great discussions with Jaimie Sirovich from seoegghead.com on what is wrong with site searches and customer product discovery in shopping carts over the last 12 months.

Personally – I don’t know really. I have 5 kids and a wife doing a law degree. We don’t plan as much as we hang on by the seat of our pants. My personal goals all revolve around spending time with the kids and travelling with my wife. We have a few trips we are looking at but we are also lucky enough to live right on the beach in a gorgeous part of Australia (Lennox Head/Byron Bay) so even if we get stuck at home we have no complaints.

We are sincerely thankful to Andrew for sharing his time and thoughts with us. Stay tuned to our blog as much more of expert’s insights and utterly useful e-Commerce articles are yet to come.