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Interview: Laura Bony of Oncrawl North America

Laura Bony knows the importance of using effective SEO to get your brand in front of your ideal customers. Without proper SEO, your brand will never reach the number of people you’ve hoped, because today’s marketing strategies rely heavily on the digital economy. If you don’t have an online presence, then you’re just treading water.

That’s why Laura Bony and Oncrawl exist. They help out clients create and implement a successful online marketing campaign using SEO. With SEO, businesses can also make smarter and more effective marketing decisions because Google itself can tell you where exactly your website is succeeding, or where it is failing. This information will help you decide which areas of your website you should focus on, and which you should leave alone.

At Oncrawl, Laura Bony has seen the effects of SEO in building thriving brands online. For example, over 1000 clients have relied on Oncrawl to pass their daily SEO audits. These companies are major companies, too, including Forbes and Major League Baseball.

As the Head of Sales for Oncrawl North America, Laura Bony joins an expert team of 50 professionals who work together in providing highly effective SEO solutions for several companies worldwide. The company also enjoys backing by leading investors, and they work with Fortune 500 companies and small to medium businesses.

Check out more interviews with industry experts here.

 

Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Laura Bony: At OnCrawl, we always say that we’re the ‘good guys’ in the SEO sphere. I believe that very strongly. We’re not the size of Shopify or even some of our main competitors, but we have the same kind of client portfolio as these much bigger and louder companies.

On our market, people recognize us as a friendly company and that’s usually why they want to work with us or for us. Thanks to this core value, we’ve been able to hire some topnotch profiles to make OnCrawl the best SEO software on the global market, with half as many collaborators as some of our competitors.

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Laura Bony: I’ve been there, unfortunately. During my recovery, I chose yoga and meditation as tools for getting better and stronger. My recovery process took about 2 years and here are some immediate tips that, to me, would prevent anyone from falling into burnout or getting over it if it’s too late:

  • Breathing: It sounds very yogi but breathing is not only vital, but it also controls our nervous system. No matter the exercise that works for you (you’ll find plenty of different methods on YouTube), breathing is always helping cooling down and stepping back, no matter the situation.
  • Do not give too much weight to your thoughts and emotions. They are only thoughts and emotions. They don’t have the power to predict what will happen to you tomorrow.
  • Leave work at work, as much as possible. It’s not always an option, of course, but if you’re working late every single night and weekend, maybe taking a time management course would be a good idea.
  • Say “no” when you have too much on your plate, or ask for more reasonable deadlines. I know it’s hard for many people but when you’re doing a good job and if you know what your priorities are, your boss is able to take “no” as an answer sometimes.
  • If you’re not happy where you are, for too long, and there’s nothing you could do about it maybe it’s just time to just look for another job.

Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Laura Bony: There are many that come to mind. Some of them are clients, prospects even, team mates… But the one person I’m thinking about the most is an ex-coworker. Our relationship had some difficult beginnings because we had opposite personalities, a totally different background, different jobs and objectives. It was very difficult for us to collaborate, but when we had to deal with customers together, everything went very well and we actually made a highly successful duo. After a few months she moved to a different team and we barely communicated for some time. We later decided to talk, to tell each other what had gone wrong and why. No one likes to get negative feedback so it wasn’t an easy process. However, we decided to do something with it and questioned ourselves respectively.

Honestly, I’ve never progressed so much in my career, I later received compliments from that person, and then from my manager for the progress I’ve made.

The lesson here is that maybe positive feedback is easier to get but if we decide to do something with negative feedback, rather than ruminating, one can be surprised.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Laura Bony: When the lockdown started, the most common action taken by ecommerce stores were discounts and free shipping (the “STAYINGHOME” discount code worked pretty much everywhere at that point). More specifically, here are some creative ideas we could have noticed:

  • Giving back to local communities and charity: I saw many websites, especially small ones, that decided to give back a decent amount of their profit to charity, local communities and health workers. For example, on peace-collective.com, for each mask bought, one complimentary mask was sent to health workers in Canada. You could even contact the customer service of the site to report a shortage of masks in a particular hospital or grocery store in your area.
  • Diversifying offer: Whether because of supply difficulties, to meet demand, or to try new sales avenues, many websites have diversified their offer, especially with more hygiene products, medical supplies, DIY products, sport equipment… Some major brands have also joined forces to avoid dependency on sites (such as Amazon), like Shopify and Walmart.
  • Exploring niches: We’ve seen the emergence of niches in recent years, and I think that it accelerated with the pandemic because it’s a good way to differentiate from the competition. The sleep industry was one of the first one to understand that (I’m thinking about Saatva, Casper…) but I have seen more astonishing products, such as livelarq.com who offers self-cleaning water bottles (convenient during a pandemic).
  • New delivery models: Logistics and delivery delays were a nightmare of ecommerce stores during lockdown. Post Canada probably took down a lot of small businesses because of their lack of preparation. But, talking about small businesses, some have come together to manage their sales process from A to Z, from a brand new online store right through to delivery. I’m thinking about initiatives like panierquebecois.ca which brings producers together to deliver at home while farmers’ markets are closed; I can also cite miamafrica.com which delivers African restaurants’ dishes to help them survive the pandemic.

Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Laura Bony: I think that China’s D2C companies have two competitive advantages over the rest of the world:

  • They’re performing very well on their home market as well as on the global market. When you take Walmart for example, they partnered with Shopify to compete directly with Amazon, on the North American market specifically. In my opinion, Western ecommerce companies focus on their home market and their immediate competitors, without looking enough at the threat that comes from afar.
  • They’re innovating very quickly. And I think the only way for Western ecommerce businesses to catch up is to look for innovation from where it comes from: opening R&D subsidiaries in China, hiring highly qualified people from Asian and African markets.

That being said, success factors for Western businesses can actually come from China itself, or wherever the technology and expertise is available. For instance, Eastern Europe is known for being ahead regarding online security, which is a big challenge for online stores. I’m especially thinking about Estonia, where schools teach online best practices (and where Internet access is an inalienable social right).

Africa will soon be ahead regarding online payment and has already developed some of the most disruptive technologies in this area (Jumia Pay, Paystack…).

On the other hand, and especially for SMEs, I think that playing on the #buylocal trend is a good way to avoid global competition. Paradoxically to the explosion of online shopping, some customers and sellers have started movements to encourage people buying local products. Some brands have understood this a long time ago but it seems that the 2020 crisis has accelerated the trend. I’m thinking about Simons in Canada, with “Fabrique 1840”. According to Peter Simons (CEO) himself: “We started building Fabrique 1840 five years ago, and the trend has really taken shape during the crisis.” (source)

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Laura Bony: There are some common challenges to new business owners: profitability, product selection, logistics… But because we’re talking about ecommerce, which is by definition operated online, I’m tempted to talk about the mistakes I’ve seen specifically online:

  • (Responsive) design: Trying to save money on an online store’s design is not a good idea. According to a study from Northumbria University cited by Search Engine Journal, design is more important than a website’s content to gain customers’ trust. On the other hand, there are still too many ecommerce stores that don’t have a responsive design (i.e mobile- and tablet-friendly). However, traffic from mobile devices and mobile shopping is constantly increasing. According to OuterBox’s latest study on that topic, “during last year’s (2019) busy holiday shopping season, a third of all online purchases came from smartphone users.”

  • Content: Some online retailers list their products without worrying about their product descriptions. This can not only lead to bad user experience (20% of purchase failures are potentially a result of missing or unclear product information, a study said) but also have a negative impact on the product’s ability to be found in search engines, since search engines reward unique and rich content. I think good product descriptions should come from both customer personas and the product value.
  • Navigation: Bad navigation leads to a bad customer journey. Complex website structure, too many steps (or clicks) in the buying journey or sold out products everywhere on the website are all obstacles to the sale. Ecommerce businesses should map their customer journey and think about internal linking strategies from the start in order to avoid redesigning their websites afterwards.
  • (Online and multi-channel) customer service: Modern customer services must be provided through many different channels, such as chat boxes or social media. In this Salesforce blog post, you can see for example that “52% of customer service teams use online chat or live support, compared to 81% of customers who use online chat or live support for communicating with a company.”

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Laura Bony: It’ll depend on the industry of course, but in this pandemic context, I’ve noticed that what retailers have generally underestimated are delivery costs and delay.

According to Baymard Institute, shipping cost is the main reason why shoppers abandon their cart. And according to Shippo 2019’s ecommerce study, 21% of US retailers offer free shipping: free shipping doesn’t mean that you’ll make more sales but you’ll reduce the cart abandonment rate, improve the user experience and increase user retention.

At the same time, shipping time can lead to a very bad user experience, bad reviews and customer loss.

Shipping delays are usual during busy holiday periods and this peak generally lasts for a few weeks but, because of COVID, extended delivery delays lasted for several months. At one point Ikea Canada had announced 8 weeks of delivery delays and the company was flooded with complaints.

Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

Laura Bony: To give an idea of how important reviews are in the ecommerce industry, customer reviews can increase conversions by 270% and 92% of consumers will hesitate to buy a product if there are no reviews left by other customers (Source). It is therefore essential that you have reviews on your products. Among these reviews, you may find yourself confronted with negative opinions. Here is some advice to deal with them:

  • Anticipate: If you didn’t have a good PR management strategy yet, now is the time to put one in place. It’s so easy to leave bad reviews online that each and every online business should be prepared for it. And once the strategy is established, share it with all customer-facing teams.
  • Always reply: Don’t leave a negative review unanswered or it might get worse. Respond to the comment in a courteous manner, show the customer that you understand the dissatisfaction and discuss a resolution.
  • Go offline: If you can, try to direct the debate to a less public channel. Contact the person by email or over the phone to find out what went wrong with their experience. It is best to deal with the problem behind the scene.
  • Follow-up and kindly ask to remove the negative review: Do not hesitate to follow up with the client to make sure that this time he is satisfied with his experience and that he has no other negative feedback to share. If your relationship is back on track, feel free to gently ask him to remove or update his review.
  • Monitor: Monitoring reviews is essential in order to deal with them quickly and to remedy potential negative notices effectively. You can simply use Google Alerts to monitor your online reputation or other tools such as Hootsuite or Review Trackers.

Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Laura Bony: Thank you for asking, because I’ve always dreamed of having my own online business. I’ve started a few websites, mainly in second hand clothing. Now I’m thinking of using both my digital and yoga background to bring more well-being to the corporate world. We previously discussed burn out and based on my own experience, it’s a sadly very common but preventable disease.

Remote work has also negatively impacted physical and mental workers’ health. That’s why I’m truly convinced that there’s something to do here, we have to bring solutions to people who are working from home.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Laura Bony: You can follow me on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

 

 

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