Episode 5: Finbarr Taylor

Finbarr Taylor from Shogun on great landing pages and headless ecommerce

Finbarr Taylor is the co-founder and CEO of Shogun, the top page builder app on Shopify and other platforms. Shogun was also recently on the list of most valuable Y-Combinator startups.

There’s currently 20,000 stores using Shogun to develop and test landing pages and Finbarr shares some of things that work for his customers.

We also talk about some of the new ecommerce technology including headless for bigger sites that need more control or more speed.

Finally, Finbarr shares some of Shogun’s own marketing tactics.

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Andrew Veitch: Welcome to the Joy of Marketing with me Andrew Veitch. Joining us from San Mateo is Finbarr Taylor, the founder and CEO of Shogun. Shogun is the top page builder app on Shopify and other ecommerce platforms. I’m also very impressed that Shogun was on the list of the most valuable Y Combinator companies. So welcome to the podcast.

FT: Thanks so much, Andrew, I really appreciate the opportunity. Great to be chatting with you today.

AV: I do envy you being in California while I’m in, I’m in snow in Scotland at the moment.

FT: I saw pretty nice weather around here today can’t complain.

AV: Cool. So how many sites are you powering now at Shogun?

FT: Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 active. So a little hard to calculate because people can actually install the software, build their whole site and then uninstall. So we’re kind of we have about 20,000 active customers. But all time we’ve had way more people sign up, use it, build their site, and then uninstall. So it’s a lot we’re you know, we’re powering millions of dollars a day in transactions. So that’s something that we track.

AV: Yeah. Cool. And guess I suppose one of the things I thought would be useful because you’ve seen such an enormous number of tests on these landing pages, I thought you might actually be getting an understanding of what’s working and what isn’t, which might be useful for our listeners.

FT: Yeah, sure. I mean, to be honest, so many different things work, I think you just have to try out things, every vertical’s a little bit different. You know, I’ve seen some really good tests recently where it’s a very simple page. And they just have some pretty interesting rules around discounting. So you know, things like buy two get one free, or you have like an accumulating discount that over the number of things you add increases over time. Honestly, I tend to find that one of two things works really well. Either extremely beautiful merchandising and a long form format, where you can kind of scroll really far down the page and see like a ton of content, or alternatively, keeping it incredibly simple. And, you know, maybe having some advanced discounting rules and things like this.

AV: And I would say too, I mean, just from my own experience, obviously doing testing, I would say I’ve generally found it’s the bigger things that make a difference. I mean, changing a color here, changing a font there. But it’s something like I just say something like the price often makes a difference, or photography. But I think I’ve certainly found, although I have read people claiming that changing a color or something has a big impact, actually, that’s not something I’ve ever I’ve ever noticed.

FT: No, I’ve never seen it myself, it tends to be bigger changes, pricing is one of the biggest levers you can pull when it comes to, you know, influencing your conversion rates. I mean, we recently have started to notice a lot of case studies coming out where PageSpeed also can have a big impact on conversion rate. And we’ve seen it ourselves firsthand with, you know, one of our customers who’ve launched our new product. But that’s not really, you know, a A/B tests of content, as you know, improving that the infrastructure behind your store.

AV: Well, I’ve certainly heard that. And by I mean by speed, it’s obvious if it’s taking a few seconds, and then clearly that’s going to put people off. But I mean, when you’re sort of talking about, you know, half a second, 200 milliseconds, I mean, does that does that really make any difference?

FT: I think it’s, you know, if you think about where the traffic is often coming from so much traffic is coming from things like Facebook ads, or Instagram ads, where you’re having people that are scrolling through a feed of content. And it’s real time, it’s an application, you know, like Instagram or Facebook, they’re native mobile apps, and there’s no delay on anything you’re doing there. And if you suddenly clicked on an ad, where the website doesn’t have that snappy feel the same as Facebook or Instagram, you’re kind of in that browsing mode, where you’re impatient, you’re just gonna quit the site. So I don’t think that the difference between 300 milliseconds and 200 milliseconds makes a difference. But there’s a massive difference between a couple of seconds and 500 milliseconds. It’s really about the perception of speed. You know, and I think human eye perception is, you know, it’s doesn’t doesn’t get that far down. You know, it’s on the order of hundreds of milliseconds if I’m not mistaken.

AV: Yeah. And I guess there’s also an issue about credibility and trust. I mean, fundamently, if I’m on a website that’s running very slow. I suppose it’d be the equivalent of going into a normal retail store and it being a bit dirty. We just, we just give you a really bad impression of the company. And you think, well, if you’ve not got their website working properly, is their customer service going to work properly? Is there shipping gonna work properly?

FT: Right. Yeah, I mean, it’s also you know, so many stores than mobile experiences where people have problems. It might work absolutely fine on desktop, but so much of the traffic is now mobile. We have a lot of clients where 70% of their traffic is mobile. And 70% of their sales are desktop, which tells you that they have an opportunity to improve their mobile conversion rates. And the mobile experience of so many sites is just pretty janky. Kind of a broken feeling. Yeah, I think the best way honestly, to improve conversion rates just have a really seamless shopping experience.

AV: Yeah. And in terms of your product, does that go all the way into the checkout as well.

FT: We do everything up to the point of checkout. We actually have two products with Page Builder, you know, we’re helping people to augment their existing storefronts, and with our second product, Shogun Frontend, we’re kind of replacing the storefront. But in both cases, we don’t handle the checkout, it is everything up to the checkout.

AV: Okay, great. Well, I think now, we’re getting to pretty standard layout for checkout. So I think when I started off everyone did checkouts in a slightly different way, I think, we have now hit the point, we’ve kind of worked out what the optimum checkout is, and pretty much everyone is doing the same thing. But just yeah, just going on to that. So, headless ecommerce I’m hearing is this buzzword. And I have to admit even though I’m in the ecommerce industry, myself, I don’t really understand it. So I know you’ve launched this headless product. But first, if you could just explain the concept of headless.

FT: Yeah, essentially, honestly, there’s so many different definitions out there. But I think it’s very straightforward. Headless commerce just means you’re using a different piece of technology for the backend and the frontend. So perhaps you’re using Shopify or Big Commerce for your ecommerce backend engine. And then you’re using something completely different. You know, Big Commerce promotes WordPress as a possible front end option. But you might build a custom application, often people are building progressive web apps, which is a popular way of doing headless commerce. But headless just means different backend and frontend.

AV: Right. So I guess, obviously, as a sort of former developer, I’m immediately thinking, well, that does sound like double the work. Instead of one platform, I’ve now got two platforms to worry about.

FT: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a, it’s definitely not for everybody. And there’s a trade off around what are the advantages that you’re going to gain? And what are you going to give up by, you know, adopting a second piece of technology for the frontend. Typically, the advantages, and the reasons that people are doing it are around performance and greater flexibility on content management. So if you’re struggling with the performance of your storefront, or you’re really struggling with the content management tools that you have, right now, those are both good reasons to think about whether a headless, you know, decoupled frontend is appropriate for you. And it tends to be that the larger a store gets, the more they run into the limitations of the platform or working on the more they start to think oh, I really, you know, to take my business to the next level, I need finer grained control, I need more customization that I’m getting right now.

AV: Sure. And I guess the positive is that although changing the backend is an absolutely enormous and incredibly difficult undertaking, which I think and you know, I mean, I mean, the one time I’ve done it, I think it took me a year. But I would imagine changing the the frontend isn’t quite such a bad thing to do, because you’re not gonna have to worry about changing people’s passwords and all this sort of stuff.

FT: Right, it’s much quicker to change the fontend, I mean, you know, you can get some, some of these sites are getting up and running, you know, very, very quickly, you know, some in some cases a month or less. And I think that the time to implement these kind of headless storefronts is only going to decrease over time. You know, we’re, one of our major goals is to make it possible to get up and running same day, as a company. So there’s a lot of work to be done, I think it’s still fairly, a fairly nascent approach, you know, I kind of emerging approach to ecommerce, we’re seeing, you know, a lot of folks have great results with it. So it’s an interesting space to watch.

AV: And I mean, are you seeing smaller companies going headless? Or is it just really the sort of much bigger, bigger businesses?

FT: I think it really, you know, it comes down to for every business is kind of a cost benefit analysis. And, and really, we start to see, it makes sense for companies when they’re doing three, four, five million GMV and up. You know, so, if you’re doing 5 million GMV, and you have a slow storefront, there’s lots of things you can be doing to optimize your storefront, you know, you can change the content, you can change the pricing, you can try all different kinds of things. If your storefront is slow, one thing you can do is increase the performance of the storefront. And, you know, even if, at 5 million GMV you see a 10% increase in conversion, that’s suddenly 500,000 extra a year. And we’re seeing a lot of folks doing this are seeing a much larger increase in conversion, you know, 20-25%

AV: Yeah, I can see that. That obviously makes sense because, I mean, I mean, clearly, a small percentage change is really going to make much difference. One should have higher, higher revenue and You know, I went through that Diet Chef. And I think, you know, when when we started out, I think month one, you know, we would it was 300 pounds revenue. So obviously a few percent of that makes no difference, but then once you’re up to, say 2 million in a month suddenly, it’s quite a big number.

FT: Yeah, the bigger you get, the more impactful it is to just move your conversion rate by 1%.

AV: Yeah. And so just I mean to catch, go back to something you said earlier, you mentioned PWA, progressive web application, now again, that is a term I’ve heard use quite a few times, I’m not very clear exactly what it is.

FT: A lot of people conflate headless. With PWA, there are different things. You know, headless means different back end and front end. PWA is just one technological approach you can take to building a decoupled front end. And a progressive web app is a standard that has been perfected and proposed by Google. And it’s kind of like a set of checkboxes that you have to tick. In order to have a fast website. There’s a lot of different ways to build a progressive web app. But essentially, what it does is it turns your website into a web application. And the upshot is, it feels like a native mobile app, but it’s in the browser. So it makes your website much, much faster. And you achieve that by just a fundamentally different technological approach. And building progressive web apps is pretty complex. And that’s kind of part of the problem that we’re setting out to solve with. We’re showing front end, but I don’t know how much technical detail you’d like me to go into, I can kind of go into exactly. what it means.

AV: I think let’s actually not dive too far into that. Because I think there’s a danger that we could both geek out overly on this as this is, this is a marketing podcast. But I think just just the very briefly, so the idea is that the whole app is downloaded first, and then it takes the changes is that broadly.

FT: Yeah. So traditional website, when you click between pages, your web browser is doing a complete refresh and a complete request to the backend and kind of unloading the whole contents and reloading it. It’s a very slow and cumbersome process. With a progressive web app, the way it works is, you have the first load of the website, which is kind of a normal load for you know, for that first page. But when you click between pages, it’s done a lot of prefetching and a lot of pre loading, and only swaps out the part of the pages that have changed. So you have this kind of instantaneous click between pages. And you can see that, you know, with a lot of people that have launched progressive web apps, first load feels kind of normal. But second, you know, the secondary and tertiary clicks. They’re instantaneous. And that’s where you’re getting the lift and conversion.

AV: Right. Got it. And did you know I actually do understand that because that is how Machine Lab works that it is a some sort of JavaScript that’s downloaded that then is an app from that moment onwards. So yeah, I guess Facebook has the same, isn’t it? So it’s taking that technology and applying it?

FT: Yeah. So I mean, there’s, there’s a slight further distinction between a progressive web app and a single page app, a lot of JavaScript applications are not SEO friendly. But a progressive web app is SEO friendly. And the reason it’s called a progressive web app is you’re downloading pure HTML upfront, and then it progressively is enhanced into a web application. So it’s still totally SEO friendly and fully crawlable by Google, then it becomes a web after the fact, which is what makes it super fast.

AV: Great. And actually, just just on that subject of SEO, I mean, that’s obviously, of some importance. And again, I often kind of wonder exactly how much importance on the consumer side, it really is. A again, when I started out, and you did a search on Google, it was mainly organic results coming back, but knowing some of the terms when I search on my phone, I’m purely seeing based on facts. So I guess, on some terms of the SEO was maybe less important than it was. But I take if you’re doing the front end, you’re gonna have to be taking over some of that, and I guess, generate, generate sitemaps and things like that within.

FT: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, with any any modern website, there’s a bunch of things to consider, you know, you have, obviously, SEO friendliness, you have accessibility, you have performance, you know, and kind of conforming to best practices. And so we’re kind of taking a kind of, you know, and looking at all these things, but certainly, Google has even said that, you know, they’re they’re starting to weight performance much more heavily in their search rankings. Because they’re seeing, you know, they’re big, big proponents for years of, you know, speed equals conversion. And they’re kind of seeing that, you know, their ads convert much better when a website is faster, and it’s kind of in their interest for ads to convert better because then people will, you know, keep paying for the ads

AV: And I know that you are obviously a B2B business, but you’ve grown incredibly quickly. So I’m just wondering if there’s actually any thoughts you have on your marketing that might be useful for our B2C audience?

FT: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, we’ve done marketing in a bunch of different ways. Some of our acquisition is through the Shopify app store, or the big commerce App Store, which is kind of a platform play. You know, similarly, in e commerce, you can go to platforms, like marketplaces like Amazon, and Walmart, and so on. More recently, we’ve been spending heavily into investing in content marketing. And our the traffic to our website grew absolutely massively last year is kind of an effort that you don’t see immediate results from, you have to work on it over a prolonged period of time, make content that, you know, meets the demand of certain Google users, where they’re searching for something they’re not quite finding, you can find a lot of opportunities, using tools like SEO, Moz, and some others, where you can basically find how your website ranks for tons of different keywords, and track it over time, and find new opportunities for keywords, where they might be of interest to your customers, but you don’t currently rank for them. And then you kind of start reading content, and you start making, you know, larger long form articles related to specific keywords, and you end up actually ranking really well on Google for all those things. So we’ve had great success with that. It’s driving quite a lot of traffic to our website now. And it’s really growing incredibly quickly. Other things that we’ve been doing, we do webinars, you know, for our partners, those are pretty well attended. And we do some paid acquisition as well, through Google. And more recently, we’ve been trying out LinkedIn to all those, it’s been quite expensive so far. But it’s, you know, a lot of different approaches, we actually just hired a Chief Marketing Officer, very excited to have have that person join the team and kind of help us take it to the next level.

AV: Yeah ,well, that’s, that’s great. I do think a lot of that stuff is very applicable. And if we look at our second episode, we had Mark in the dog food business, and he was using SEO on problems with with with dogs’ health. Plus doing, you know, a lot of videos. So I think I think that there’s definitely a lot of crossover between content and, and e ommerce. And also think content gives a lot of trust.

FT: It definitely does. And in our case, you know, we, if you look, our website, look at our blogging, see types of content, it’s not always content about how to use a landing page builder. Often it might be content around just how to solve a specific problem that people are searching for how to solve, and it’s an adjacent problem to the kind of problems that we’re helping people solve.

AV: And the other thing that does strike me as being very relevant, is the enormous numbers of reviews for Shogun that are online. And certainly reviews is one thing that whether it’s software, or whether it’s ecommerce reviews are absolutely vital.

FT: Yeah, they’re huge. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of kind of cultivating, you know, genuine reviews over the years from our customers, and just finding the appropriate way to ask finding the appropriate moment to ask for a review is really the key to getting great reviews.

AV: It’s absolutely true. Because I think if you, certainly if you ask too early, I mean, that’s a problem, because you haven’t yet formed an opinion. But equally, you don’t want to leave it too late when they’ve pretty much moved on.

FT: Yeah, you kind of want to catch them right when they’re receiving value from your product. Which, you know, maybe difficult to do. But if you’re shipping somebody a product, and you know that it’s something they’re going to get use of within a certain number of days of opening the product, then you just need to try and find the optimal number of days or hours to wait before asking them for you.

AV: Yeah. Well, it was great. So thank you very much. I think we’ve all learned a lot, I’ve certainly learned a lot, I think I now understand headless and PWA which is, which is actually quite good as I am in ecommerce industry. Also, I’d just like to take a moment to thank you for the generous help you’ve given me actually at Machine Labs over the past year, it’s been really appreciated that you sort of made the time to give me some advice. And for the listeners, if you’d like to increase your ecommerce sales, please do try the Shogun app for page building or the Machine Labs app for email and database marketing, both in the Shopify App Store and Shogun on many other ecommerce platforms too. So that’s it for now. See you next week for another Joy of Marketing.

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