SEO Interview with the CPO of Shopify

Recently we had the chance to sit down with Harley Finkelstein, CFO at Shopify.

We talked about what the company does, where it comes from and especially about how flexible the site is when it comes to implementing SEO.


Helen: Hello, it's Helen Overland from Search Engine people. I'm here today with Harley Finkelstein who's CPO of Shopify. Hi, how are we doing?

Harley: Very well. Thank you for having me.

Helen: Good, great. So I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about Shopify, about the platform and what it is that you offer to merchants.

Harley: Sure. So about nine years ago, we tried to build a snowboard shop online to sell snow boards. To sell snow boards. At the time, building an online store was either really expensive, or really basic. You either had to spend about $100,000 to build a custom online store using enterprise platform, or you had to sell your wares on eBay, which wasn't very scalable. And so being frustrated with the products on the market, the platforms on the market, we built our own software to sell these snowboards to satisfy our own itch. And about a year later realized that selling snowboards were a good idea, but selling software was a great idea. And ever since we've been focused on helping small business build really incredible online stores. We want to make it really easy, so if you know how to use email, you should be able to build a store on Shopify in about 15 minutes.

Harley: A lot of people build beautiful stores even if they're not designers and make it scalable so that there is no graduation off of the platform. And today we have about 55,000 active stores on Shopify that will sell about 1.5 billion dollars in products this year, and we're a proud Canadian company.

Helen: Great. That's fantastic. So if you were a merchant and you wanted to, let's say, sell an eBook or something like that, and you didn't sell a physical product, would you still be able to use Shopify?

Harley: Absolutely. So we have a lot of merchants that do sell digital product, like eBooks or music, or even flyers in some cases. And that Shopify works really well for that as well as physical products.

Helen: Great.

Harley: Certainly, the fulfillment side of selling a digital good is much easier than a hard product.

Helen: Absolutely. Less shipping fees?

Harley: Less shipping fees, that's right?

Helen: So is Shopify an SEO friendly platform? Can you get a Shopify store ranking in search engines?

Harley: Absolutely. One of the things that we tried to do because we didn't set out to build a software company, we actually set out to build software to sell our own snowboards and our own products, from the very beginning, things like SEO optimization was core. And so anyone that signs up for Shopify, despite any experience or lack thereof of SEO on the search engine side, Shopify is really optimized right out of the box.

Helen: Right. So is it easy to do?

Harley: Totally.

Helen: Can you change your title tabs, that sort of stuff?

Harley: Absolutely. We also do a lot of educational literature that educates small businesses. For many of our merchants, this is the first time they've ever had a company or a business, so they may be a bit overwhelmed. So what we try to do is we create these eCommerce University where we actually can educate them. And if they know nothing and they never had experience with SEO, it works really well out of the box.

Helen: Great. Fantastic. So if somebody had an existing website, let's say, they are a lawyer, dentist, or something like that, and they wanted to sell an eBook and provide that. Is there a way that they could still use Shopify but keep their existing website?

Harley: Absolutely. So we do have stores that have started with a very basic CMS content management system, like WordPress or Wix or any of those. And they do want to have some eCommerce functionality, but they don't necessarily want to give up the SEO juice they have on their current site, which may have been around for quite a few years. And so what often they do is they create a tab in their WordPress site and make a shop tab and that will take them to their Shopify store. With that being said, Shopify is $29 per month, so it's actually fairly inexpensive for a hosted platform. So we do have people that actually do transition their entire blog or content management system over to Shopify and use that as the hub as well.

Helen: Right. So could you use Shopify into a sub-domain of the main website?

Harley: Absolutely. In fact, we even have Shopify widgets that allow you to plug in a very simple light box, a little shopping cart into pre-existing sites like WordPress or Wix, for example, as well. The idea is that we know that no small business looks the same, and no entrepreneur looks the same. People have different needs and different requirements. So the idea is to give them features that can suit their particular needs, no matter what they want to do.

Helen: Fantastic. So what's next for Shopify? What are you working on?

Harley: So as I mentioned, we are a software company now, but we're trying to democratize retail. We think that retail is changing very quickly. The advent of the shopping mall came out of the 1860s, and basically from the 1860s until the 90s, 1990s, things were pretty boring in the retail space. We had strip malls and shopping malls and markets. We think things are changing right now, and one of the things we're seeing right now is disinter-mediation. We're seeing people that are coming up with really cool ideas for a new bracelet. Where previously they would have to go to a retail buyer and get someone to agree to retail it in their stores, giving away some margin. Now they go direct to the consumer which is really democratizing. So we want to be at the front of the pack and help lead that charge for this kind of retail revolution. We feel that the future belongs to small businesses and not the Walmarts of the world. It's pretty exciting.

Helen: Well, that's exciting. Well, thank you very much for your time today.

Harley: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Helen: You're very welcome.

Posted in SEO

About the Author: Helen M. Overland

Vice President at Search Engine People, helping clients with Conversion Optimization, Analytics, and On-Page SEO. Online Marketer since June 2000, Internet geek since 1994. Follow me on twitter at @semlady to see what I'm reading now.

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