How Ryan Stewart Grew Laces Out from 0 to 1.2 Million Organic Pageviews

Written by Sarah on 21st November 2016

Without a doubt the best advice comes from those who are actually practicing what they preach. That’s why I’ve loved reading the content that Ryan Stewart has been putting out over the last year or so over at stewart

Ryan is renowned for his practical, no BS advice, and lately he’s been dishing out some of his best advice yet. He set up ecommerce site, Laces Out, and created some top notch content every step of the way to show you exactly what he’s been doing.

I spoke with Ryan to find out a little bit more about Laces Out and some of the lessons he’d learnt.

Key Takeaways:

  • When Amazon is good for running a business, and when it’s not
  • How to identify what strategies you need to running to get to the top with your competitors
  • How audience research can impact your plan

Hey Ryan, thanks for doing this. Before we get started, for those who don’t know you, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Laces Out?

I’ve been in the marketing space for about 8 years now, and I used to be a consultant, and now run my own agency Webris. I know what it takes to get ahead in client work and its results, right?

Laces Out was a case study that really turned into a viable business. You can actually see the laces behind me, we’ve used our office. So Laces Out is just an ecommerce store that sells shoe laces that started as a case study because ecommerce is really our niche.

[For Webris,] that’s the type of client we want to land, and even when you get results with clients there’s only so much you can share. They don’t really want to be associated so much with an SEO case study. A lot of business owners are really proud, and they wanna seem like they did it themselves!

So Laces Out was something that I can show and just take apart, piece by piece and really show what we can do, and in 6 months we’ve done well over 1 million organic visits. It’s really taking off, and it’s generating revenue. It’s making a lot of sales so it’s turning into a very legitimate ecommerce store now, which is exciting.

When you started off, you were gonna base your store on Amazon and you transitioned into your own store. What was the reasoning behind this?

Amazon’s great, and my thought was so that people could use Amazon FBA. Basically you ship them your product and they handle all of the supply chain, which is really the pain point for any solopreneur. Especially if you’ve got a lot of product and you’re moving a lot of weight, it’s really sweet to have them. They fulfil the order, they take everything, but they also take up to 30% which is a lot and that’s off the topline.

Thats a lot of money when you’re selling a product that’s like 6 or 7 bucks. so that was the first reason.

Then I realised that there are businesses out there that can automate everything for you, like Shipstation. I have a printer and it just prints out a post it, I just stick it on the envelope and I just stick ’em in, so it’s really kind of automated and saves us a lot of time and money.

Most importantly, there was just kind of a lack of marketing that you can do with Amazon. Amazon is a really powerful domain that links to everything but you lose a lot of the brand. You lose a lot of the social aspect, you can’t do content marketing and that’s what I do best. Ultimately it was a marketing decision to just go and do our own ecommerce platform. I just wanted to build something that we own.

So what would be your advice for those that want to start an ecommerce business alone – to use Amazon or not?

I have a team around me to help, you know, a developer and designer. But if you’re doing this 100% on your own, then I think Amazon is the way to go.

If you’re not really familiar with how to market a site, Amazon is probably the best place to start, because the most important thing is to get some money in the door. Honestly it’s the most important thing for any business is to just start generating revenue as quickly as possible. I think with Amazon, even though it cuts into your margin, you should do it for sure.

Throughout your time running Laces Out so far – what’s been the most important channel for you in terms of driving revenue?

SEO. SEO is what I do. 90% of the traffic comes from Google. To me, Facebook Ads are better for when you can build out a funnel, and when you have a higher ticket product. We’re selling a product for $7, $10 for shipping; it’s really hard to get margin out of that when you’re paying 30, 40 cents per click, you know?

So Facebook is a good way to generate a brand. We advertised on our Facebook just to build a brand, just to build a page, because I’m a big brand marketer. Brand is the most important thing, over everything, so just literally spending money with no ROI goals to build brand, build awareness, promote content, stuff like that.

But in terms of sales, SEO is, and for the foreseeable future is, always going to be King. There’s nothing more powerful than someone typing in what they want, and then going to your store, it’s incredibly powerful.

It’s funny because I think a lot of people have ultimately stumbled across me for link building. I’m a big link builder, I believe that everyone should be investing in link building heavily as it’s still the ultimate driver. If you have a good piece of content, you’ve got a well built site, ultimately which piece you’re missing is links.

But for a new site, there are a lot of other things that are more important like site structure. You know when you’re really building a site from the ground up, including URL Strings, and adding breadcrumbs, it’s a pain.

So growing from the ground up with a brand new site where you have full control; setting up the right way, knowing how to use category pages, knowing how to build and design a product page that really satisfies the searcher intent and so when somebody comes to the page it converts them.

It’s also about adding quick checkout features, like Paypal, making it really, really mobile friendly because it’s a mobile first industry, and then with really good content, focusing on building a social presence.

Also from what I’ve learnt from the launch of Rankbrain, it’s about really understanding what is working for your competitors, and what your audience wants.

I don’t pretend to be a Rankbrain or AI expert but what I do know is that they’re looking at the top sites in your industry, and ultimately you should probably be doing what they’re doing because the algorithm is pushing them up. So understand the value, not that social media ranks you, but like dude if your competitors have 2 million followers on Instagram, you should probably be there because it’s just what works in that space, focusing on social.

Then the link building that we’ve done has been very light, it’s been some product review outreach, some blogger outreach and then, a little bit of guest posting, and then we did an infographic PR campaign.

That got picked up by a lot of media sites which was cool and apart from that, it’s been very content led, automating the flow of content; that’s what’s been working for us.

Here at neatly, we’re all about making sure that businesses are tracking the right metrics for their business? What’s some of the metrics that you’ve used to measure Laces Out’s success?

For me this isn’t about revenue, normally I’d say revenue. For my agency it’s revenue growth month on month, that’s it, that’s all I care about. I also care about client retention, so for me it’s client retention, and revenue growth. I don’t care about traffic for Webris, because I know that in the digital space, the people that are using Google, it’s more for information, it’s not necessarily to hire an agency.

For Laces Out, because of using it as a case study for my brand, it’s organic growth. What I care about for that is organic growth month over month. I’m looking heavily at the pages that are performing well, so the pieces of content and we’re looking at the conversion of that content because ultimately that content is driving sales for us.

So we’re looking at month over month growth of organic traffic and organic conversions, and then taking that data and saying okay what was that content about, let’s scale that out and create more of it. So this is 100% about organic traffic.

How has working in-house compared to working with agency clients?

It is different because with Laces Out it’s pretty much been just me and virtual assistants that’s been managing it, and then my developers and designers.

I mean for Webris, we have a framework, we just know exactly what to do to increase organic traffic for any industry. For Webris, it’s all about my team, I don’t really do anything in terms of the work from a day to day point of view, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do stuff like this.

My role at Webris is keeping my clients happy, answering the phones, making sure that my team has everything they need in terms of training and making sure they’re happy, that they like working here, and have the knowledge to deliver. And then you know making sure that we’re growing!

So I can focus on brand and I can focus on sales, but when it comes to the actual delivery of the work, I can’t keep spending my time on that anymore.

It’s absolutely the complete opposite with Laces Out; I have to do most of the delivery, because I don’t have a budget set aside for it, you know what I mean? It’s completely different and it’s humbling to go back and do the work, and you know it keeps me sharp. I learn a lot and hopefully I can take that and apply it to what we do for clients.

So finally just to end, what’s the biggest thing that you’ve learnt throughout running and growing Laces Out?

Audiences and the differences between them.

It’s so funny you know I think our industry, in the digital space we’re so focused, and a lot of the big tools they blog, but ultimately the content they create is created for other digital marketers, and I think that we get lost in that. You know what I’m saying? Like I have to quiet my Slack and I don’t even go on Slack because what it’s become is like one big promotion channel for marketers, upvote me here, upvote me there.

I don’t even think they realise that you know, no one’s reading it. The digital industry, you get lost in it and you get kind of caught up in your own cycle and content has become such a buzzword that’s exploded at this point and people don’t even read it!

So I look at my data and that’s why I really stopped blogging because it was a waste of my time. So I’m looking at videos, creating some free tools, stuff like that.

Then looking at the people that I’m selling to on Laces Out, it’s a very low purchasing power. I’d love to be a premium brand for laces, but I can’t because it would be alienating my audience, right?

So for me it’s really understanding at a very real level, and I apply this to clients too now, that the first thing we do is audience research. Because we’re so segmented online, in terms of how we spend our time and the type of content we want to see, the formatting, video, links, attention span, you know we’re just so inundated with stuff, that what I’ve really taken is that audience research is key. That’s been by far the biggest learning experience from this.

A huge thanks for Ryan for taking the time out to chat about Laces Out. If you have any questions for Ryan, be sure to ask them below, or find him on Twitter!