A Refreshingly Honest Take on Ecommerce & The Evolution of SEO

By Tinuiti Team

Jo Benson is a former IBM-er, the COO of Vortx, and perhaps best of all, a delightfully honest interviewee.  Her current company, Vortx, is an ecommerce solutions suite offering everything from web design and feeds to a complete ecommerce platform – AspDotNetStorefront.

Today, We point the Q&A spotlight on Jo to gather her thoughts on the ecommerce industry. Enjoy!

What’s Vortx and how are you guys relevant to ecommerce merchants?

Jo: Vortx has been helping people with their technology challenges since 1991. Since 2005 there hasn’t seemed to be a bigger, and a more rewarding challenge than ecommerce. We worked the service end, building carts, customizing carts, designing, hosting, and optimizing carts until 2010, when we acquired AspDotNetStorefront – we consider it to be a market leader in on-premise shopping cart software.

So you own an ecommerce property – that must have been a culture shift, from service to product?

Jo: Pretty much, yes. We had to find homes for almost 500 service clients – we needed to put them in the hands of service providers who would care well for them. At the same time we acquired a great team of product developers (I’m not sure you can ‘acquire’ people, that’s called slavery, I think, but you’ll understand …) and we needed to merge them with our long-standing service-based developers.

Those service developers were now supposed to be building a product but were still answering the phone to any one of our 20,000 users and asking them ‘oh, how would you like it to work … ok, let’s see if we can do that for you.” We spent the first six months learning how to build once for lots of people, instead of building lots for one person! To be fair, it turned out to be a fabulous blend – we ended up with great engineers who could build ‘product’ but really cared about the needs of the end users.

What would you say are 2-3 key areas of focus that will be deciding factors of success in Q4?

Jo: Simplicity in the checkout. Online sellers simply MUST get rid of those awful registration pages that happen between shopping cart and checkout. Do we really need to ask the SHOPPERS if they’re returners or not??? This is 2014 – surely technology can help us to look them up. That’s a real pet peeve for me.

Another? Wallets. None of us wants to store our credit card with since we’ll likely never shop there again. None of us wants to pull out our credit card and key the number in for a one-time purchase (“let me out of here … I’ll just use Amazon where they know who I am and how I pay”.) Bring on PayPal, MasterPass and CBA.

And how could I not mention mobile? RESPONSIVE DESIGN. It’s a beautiful, necessary thing. Every online seller should have one.

You just released a white paper on SEO in 2014. Talk to us a bit about what SEO actually means by today’s standards.

seo-2014-white-paperJo: Yes – thanks, this is just so important. We’ve been stressed out of our minds these last two years since Google – rightly, in our opinion – moved “re[tail]search” away from “research” (gotta be a wordplay in there somewhere.) There is simply no way to make shoppers aware that you exist if you don’t get decent billing at Google/Shopping. Those online sellers who still think “build a store and they will come” simply aren’t listening. We often say “if you invented the world’s best lemonade, would you decide to sell it in the desert, where people really need it?? Ummm no … because people don’t often go into the desert, and those that do bought their lemonade at the mall ahead of time.”

SEO today is in two sections. You still need to reach the people who aren’t yet shopping – you can find those (and help them find you) by building really fantastic content and then revisiting it very, very often to keep adding fresh thoughts. Fresh, unique content that is centered on the things you sell – that’s an SEO winner. But that won’t work to find the people who are shopping RIGHT NOW. The other type of SEO (we call it Shopping Engine Optimization) is about giving Google everything that Google needs to match your exact product with a shopper who wants exactly that. That’s all about structuring your data feed and our product is built to make that a win.

What type of ecommerce business would benefit the most from Vortx?

Jo: Serious businesses, that understand the value of a development partner and who are selling enough online to want to own their e-commerce should really look at AspDotNetStorefront. Companies at an earlier stage can’t do better than our hosted Ennyware product and every single business from little to large needs to plug into DotFeed.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Jo: Am I allowed to say ‘pansy-ass’ in this interview? If so, I could give you the safe, pansy-ass response, which would sound like “we’re extending our feeds from our shopping carts, introducing marketplaces (Amazon and eBay) and managing orders and inventory centrally”. But know what? That’s been done and it’s not enough for online sellers anymore – not even close. They need brazen, bold, progressive help. E-commerce has become bloated – it’s kind of ‘eaten its own twin’. Years ago, e-commerce solutions NEEDED to incorporate order management, and product management, and shipping, and taxes, since we were using dial-up lines and taking offsite backups from our desktops!

Nowadays, find me a retailer who wants to change a product price and have to go and change it on his POS, and on his online store, and at Amazon, and in QuickBooks?? Truth is that businessmen need to have someone rip out all the ‘double up’ management bits from all their software and put it in the cloud. That’s us. We’re disassembling e-commerce – the bit that REALLY matters for e-commerce is this – show the shopper exactly what he/she wants, on a responsive design that flexes to any device, show availability, reveal all costs, show shipping dates and do NOT distract with a bajillion ‘you might also likes’.

Then provide the safest, simplest, sexiest checkout and that’s ecommerce. The rest of it – the admin – should just work in the form of many services in the cloud. Want real-time sales tax? Hook your e-commerce up with Avalara. Want to offer instant financing? Hook up to BillMeLater.

So that’s what we’re doing in the future. Ripping out the duplication, moving it into our cloud, and connecting focused, smart e-commerce to the places where retail search intent is really happening.

There’s not space to really do this justice here, Jon. Invite me back one day, will you please?

Where do we sign up?

Jo: Start at – it’s so cheap, so cool, so compelling.

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