eCommerce Café: Paul Shapiro

Paul is considered one of today’s most notable experts in the SEO world, and as Director of Strategy and Innovation at Catalyst, he regularly shares his key findings at events, webinars, and his blog. We were lucky to catch him at SMX Advanced and hear how he is leveraging data to surge ahead in his digital strategy.


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For more, follow Paul at @fighto, or check out his personal blog at

Full Transcript

ANDREAS: Paul, great to have you here. You’re working for Catalyst. Can you explain a little bit more what Catalyst does and what your role at Catalyst is?

PAUL:    Sure. So, Catalyst is a full feature search and social agency. So, we manage SEO, SEM, page social for mostly fortune 500 clients. My role at Catalyst is, my title is the director of strategy and innovation. I have an SEO background, but I’ve sort of moved into this role for a more analytics and technology focus. So, I try to roll out new technology and bring that to our clients, and try to think of new and innovative ways to bring ads to them.

ANDREAS: At Crealytics, we mainly work with retailers. So, our audience is probably also quite retail-oriented. So, could you explain to us a little bit how you approach SEO for ecommerce retailers?

PAUL:    Sure. So, SEO for ecommerce retailers is pretty interesting. I think it’s one of the most interesting SEO you can do in particular, just because you’re dealing with these massive, massive websites. And again, quite complicated. Often times you have these issues with crawling, so how does Google crawl the pages. You do these things where Google spent a lot of time crawling relevant search pages or category pages that are no longer existing, and then they never get to these important product pages. So I think, for SEO, investing in log file analysis is hugely important for ecommerce. Investing in information architecture, make sure you have that damn solid, hugely important. And also, I think ecommerce is one of the few verticals where you can really leverage the A/B testing, and A/B testing is a little bit more complicated when it comes to SEO, but because you have so many pages, you can, sort of, reach the statistical significance, or near statistical significance a little bit faster. So ecommerce is a great candidate for A/B testing.

ANDREAS: Maybe a silly question from a paid search guy – what we do usually is, we can estimate pretty accurately what we have to bid on a certain keyword in order to get to a higher position. In the SEO world, this means there is time and effort related towards optimizing certain keywords. Is it possible to estimate the impact of what you’re doing so that you know what return on effort you get on certain activities?

PAUL:  Sure. I mean, it’s not exactly the same, there’s forecasting models you can apply, there’s an understanding of what is the search volume on a certain keyword, and we know that there’s different click through rates at different ranks. And all factored into forecasting and piling that in with your existing analytics – how much revenue are we already generating at this position, and how much could we benefit from this sort of change?

ANDREAS: And how do you leverage data from paid search, for example, in order to prioritize things? So, what data do you take and how do you actually use it?

PAUL:  Yeah, I love using paid search data, personally. Just using, if you’re doing keyword research, like a search query report, that’s an excellent source of keyword information, in terms of affecting change with paid search data. Using paid search as a sort of a A/B testing platform before you go full-feature SEO based test, to sort of inform what sort of changes you’re making. Also, we went through a client where actually completely re-architected their navigation based on some of the things we were seeing with their paid search data, and it led to a huge SEO win for us.

ANDREAS: So, assume you have access to the paid search accounts, and you see all the data, is this everything you would have thought about, doing your SEO job, or are there any other aspects where you have to be close to the PPC team and closely connected?

PAUL:  Synergy is key. There’s no reason to be working in silos. And sometimes paid search sees things much more quicker than an SEO person might see. And the opposite is true. Sometimes the SEO people will see things where the paid search team doesn’t see.

ANDREAS: What could this be?

PAUL:  SEO people tend to be much closer to the site and how the actual site is being implemented. So an SEO person might see well a certain feature isn’t working on the site just because they’re so close to the actual mechanics of the page, and also that’s affecting your conversions on the landing page and whatnot, and then the SEO usually has a bigger hand in the actual copy of the webpage, and that affects quality scores significantly. Just doing SEO optimizations on the landing page, for instance, we’ve seen huge productions in CPC on the paid search end.

ANDREAS: So, when you close a deal with a new client and you launch paid search and SEO, what does the team usually look like? How does Catalyst service retail clients?

PAUL:  Sure. Teams vary according to the retailer’s needs. Usually on the paid search end, we have someone who leads the business, so an account manager, that type of role. And then we have, on the paid search team, we have the account lead. On the SEO team we have an account lead. And there’s a series of managers and lower-tier staff that work with them. So, sometimes we pile in a data analyst that works across all of those, and everyone tries to communicate with one another. And sometimes we have project managers. I think ecommerce in particular, I think we probably leverage our project manager just because of the size and breadth of it, an ecommerce client.

ANDREAS: What kind of tools and technologies is Catalyst using, and how important is this? So, can you do a similarly good job without any tools and tech, or are you dependent on, do you actually need to leverage technology?

PAUL:  I mean, I’m a tech guy. I rely heavily on tech. We have our own set of in-house tools. Often times those rely on 3rd party tools like you guys, and we integrate those into our own tools. But, yeah, we use a myriad of different things, and often times those tools come in with whatever client we’re using, and we stick to their existing stack, or we’ll recommend something that we think would work for them.

ANDREAS: Thanks a lot for your time and for your answers.

PAUL: Thank you.


Mallory Chen

Marketing Strategist at crealytics. Based in Berlin!