A recap of our first ama (ask me anything) with Josh Highland

On March 3rd, Josh Highland, author of Shopify Empire was kind enough to join us in the #AMA (ask me anything) channel and be our first participant. The turnout was great and many questions were asked.

We plan on doing #AMA sessions a few times a month that feature top Shopify Experts, store owners and more. If you'd like to participate in the chat, join now.

Here is the transcript from the first Talk Shopify #AMA Session.

joshhighland [11:16 AM] Hi everyone. A bit of background on myself. I operate NewLeal Labs, a Shopify consulting company. We have had Shopify Expert status since 2011, and have 4 apps in the Shopify App Store (running on 6000+ shops). The most popular app being "SEO Meta Manager". Recently I released "Shopify Empire" (http://shopifyempire.com), a book about SEO best practices and Shopify. Shopify Empire Shopify Empire - THE DEFINITIVE SEO GUIDE FOR SHOPIFY Shopify SEO advice that will train you to dominate search results, sell more, and change your world. Written by a Shopify SEO Expert.

joshhighland [12:00 PM] I'm excited for this AMA. @tjmapes thanks for organizing it.

tjmapes [12:00 PM] You bet ya @joshhighland consider it go time.

joshhighland [12:01 PM] I've never done and AMA so forgive me if i dont follow the rules :simple_smile:

tjmapes [12:01 PM] Thanks for being here @joshhighland. I'm not sure how this will go the first time, but I'll start it off. For those who don't know already, what got you into developing for Shopify?

joshhighland [12:02 PM] I read the 4 hour work week from tim ferriss in 2008 and decided I needed to create a product to sell so I created a mens hair pomade, and decided to use Shopify as the platform to sell it on - Hold Fast Pomade

joshhighland [12:03 PM] the company failed, but Shopify was awesome, so I suggested a friend of mine use it for his business, and his took off

joshhighland [12:03 PM] I helped with the theme dev and wanted more control of the SEO so I created SEO Meta Manager - my first and best selling app for Shopify

joshhighland [12:04 PM] SEO Meta Manager FAQs were the start of my book

80stees [12:04 PM] Can you tell us what the app does that shopify doesn't do?

joshhighland [12:05 PM] Sure. Back then Shopify didnt have the Search Engine fields you see in the Shopify admin. My app added those fields.

joshhighland [12:06 PM] These days the true value of the app is making sure your theme uses those meta fields in the best way possible

joshhighland [12:06 PM] Some themes do a poor job and our app corrects that

tjmapes [12:06 PM] Did you see a decline in users when Shopify added that?

80stees [12:06 PM] ok, thanks.

joshhighland [12:07 PM] We did see some decline, so we decided to diversify with other apps, but SEO Meta Manager is still going strong and we are working on some more value add features

oisino [12:08 PM] Hey Josh I remember you sold your app one time vs monthly recurring. Retrospectively was this the best move?

joshhighland [12:08 PM] Hi @oisino. Yes, we started at $5 / month, then switched to a one time $50 charge

joshhighland [12:09 PM] the $5/ month was great for a user base, but it was a tech support nightmare

80stees [12:09 PM] Is your book focused mainly on "on site" seo?

80stees [12:09 PM] How basic is the book?

joshhighland [12:09 PM] We would get many shop owners who would install the trial, ask for support, we would do a free theme modification and answer questions - just to have the person not make it past the trial period

joshhighland [12:10 PM] the $50 price point helps us work work with serious Shop owners and focus on people who want to invest in their business. We both win.

blair.beckwith [12:11 PM] @joshhighland: how has being involved closely with a Shopify store influenced how and why you build functionality for the App Store?

tshamz [12:11 PM] What language do you prefer to write your shopify apps in? Follow up, is there shopify sanctioned/generally agreed upon language that people write their apps in? From what I can tell, Ruby is top dawg, python is second banana, and php is a distant third.

joshhighland [12:11 PM] @80stees: The book looks at on site and off site seo. Its very readable - I wanted to make the book as easy to consume as Shopify is to use

tjmapes [12:12 PM] @80stees: the book is a super simple read, very intelligent, yet easy to follow

joshhighland [12:13 PM] Hi @blair.beckwith being closely involved with Shopify helps me to focus on what Shopify users need. Im focused on the Shopify platform, so it helps to gauge what users are looking for, and what apps are filling those gaps.

tjmapes [12:13 PM] What is one low hanging fruit action that store owners could take right now to improve their SEO?

joshhighland [12:13 PM] @tshamz: im going to catch hell for this --- I use PHP :simple_smile: My next app will be Ruby

tshamz [12:13 PM] NOOOOOOOOOO

joshhighland [12:14 PM] @tshamz: CodeIgniter framework :simple_smile:

natevandervis [12:14 PM] @tshamz all the apps here at Bold use php

joshhighland [12:14 PM] @tjmapes: I suggest that people focus on content. Write good descriptions, titles, and start blogging

joshhighland [12:14 PM] Content generation is important

oisino [12:15 PM] @joshhighland PHP is great for getting things out the door no judgement ?

tjmapes [12:15 PM] I've heard Laravel is getting popular in Shopify development

natevandervis [12:15 PM] @tjmapes: Our team is switching over to Laravel, but it seems like some people still like Codeignitor.

joshhighland [12:15 PM] @tjmapes: Laravel is pretty much the PHP framework these days

tjmapes [12:15 PM] Can you talk about some of your biggest SEO wins for your clients (or yourself)? Have any examples?

joshhighland [12:16 PM] Big SEO wins... let me copy and paste a testimonial I have...

tjmapes [12:16 PM] ?

joshhighland [12:17 PM] I cant find it now, but I'll turn it into a blog post soon. I gat an email from a guy who was able to increase his shaving companies revenue 4x by following my advice

joshhighland [12:18 PM] Its things like that that get me excited

blair.beckwith [12:18 PM] @joshhighland: where is the line between when you should learn about and do your own SEO, vs. when you should bring in an expert?

joshhighland [12:20 PM] @blair.beckwith: good point to make. I think that SEO is a behavior that is learned, and should be worked into content creation and anytime you add anything to your store, products, blog posts, etc. Thats something that every shop owner should be aware of. Professionals help take that work to the next level, or help you get started or repair your issues.

joshhighland [12:20 PM] Some of my clients dont want to be bother with it, so they hire my team to do copywriting and SEO for them

joshhighland [12:22 PM] Professionals are also good at pointing out issues - kind of like a Dr. They correct issues and give you guidelines to move forward and be successful

tomborowski [12:22 PM] Hi Josh. What would you say is a better investment of your time: the consulting or building and selling apps/themes?

tjmapes [12:23 PM] Can you tell us more about your book? Just how’d you go about getting it published? Have you ever written a physical book before?

joshhighland [12:23 PM] @tomborowski: it depends on your skill set. There are a bunch of apps in the app store that don't have many installs.

joshhighland [12:25 PM] @tjmapes: sure, The book covers basic SEO practices and tips. I want to empower shop owners to be successful.

joshhighland [12:25 PM] I havent written in the past but I've always wanted to. It took me 18 months and many stops and starts before getting this out

joshhighland [12:26 PM] I had an awesome editor help me. She really helps shape the content that was there

joshhighland [12:26 PM] I think we trimmed out 25% of the content, make the book what it is today.

tjmapes [12:26 PM] Thats a long journey, but seems to have paid off. How has the launch gone so far?

joshhighland [12:26 PM] I published via CreateSpace.com its a great service

joshhighland [12:27 PM] The book as been out for 10 days I think think its gone very well. I didnt know what to expect. If 10 people bought it I was going to be happy.

gavin [12:27 PM] Hey Josh, I just finished my first read through Shopify Empire - very well written and plenty of useful advice! I've got two questions.

gavin [12:27 PM] In some ways, I wish that your final chapter - "No shortcuts to success" - was right up the front. Lots of store owners I talk to are expecting or hoping to bring in traffic through one-time changes to their sites - buying a new theme with "all that SEO stuff" or simply paying black hats who promise instantaneous results. What do you tell store owners in this situation and how do you help them understand that they have to put in the work themselves if they want success?

gavin [12:28 PM] The second is much more practical and straightforward :simple_smile:. What specific services do you offer at New Leaf to clients who want to drive more traffic to their sites, and what sort of price ranges are those services offered at?

joshhighland [12:28 PM] Hi @gavin

joshhighland [12:29 PM] Thanks for the read. Yes, the expectations for SEO are something we always deal with. People what instant results. For difficult clients I have found that a phone call helps calm things down

joshhighland [12:29 PM] Something about talking to a person vs reading an email

joshhighland [12:30 PM] Once things are explained they tend to get it. The bottom line if everyone whats to be successful, so giving them hope and simple wins works well

joshhighland [12:31 PM] We are currently working on a new pricing an services list.

joshhighland [12:31 PM] One of the great things we offer is copywriting services

joshhighland [12:32 PM] Content is very important, so we can help correct content issues or help generate content for a client

josh [12:32 PM] Hi @joshhighland ! I have a question about your apps - what's an average idea -> finished product (or at least MVP) timeline like for you guys, and how many people are generally involved? And is there anything you'd like to change about that?

joshhighland [12:32 PM] we'll also go out and identify guest post and backlink opportunities

joshhighland [12:33 PM] @josh: We've gotten a lot better at building apps. The first one took up a while to sort out how to work with the Shopify authentication and API

joshhighland [12:34 PM] The last app we put out took about 3 weeeks - Social Share Manager

gavin [12:34 PM] Thanks @joshhighland ! Please do let me know when you have a pricing/services list - I have lots of clients interested in SEO/inbound marketing stuff which is just not my area of interest.

joshhighland [12:34 PM] Currently I do most of the dev work, and I have some people on my side help with testing. I have some shop owners that help me with ideas and testing also

joshhighland [12:35 PM] @gavin: will do. Glad to help them

joshhighland [12:35 PM] I think if I had one thing to change in the app dev process would be the idea validation time

joshhighland [12:36 PM] It takes a while to make sure and app is something store owners will find value in

joshhighland [12:36 PM] --- sorry for all the typos

joshhighland [12:37 PM] The apps are also in constant evolution

joshhighland [12:37 PM] A good app is never finished

josh [12:38 PM] makes sense. (I can imagine your hands are getting tired of typing haha). Definitely agree about evolution, as trends and tech change, so must applications

joshhighland [12:39 PM] @josh: Shopify store owners are great for ideas also. Our apps are on 6000+ stores. So many ideas come from the store owners

tjmapes [12:39 PM] How do you prioritize all the new ideas/features?

oisino [12:39 PM] how come you choose to invest time in a book over another app?

joshhighland [12:39 PM] Order Lookup App is a great example of that. So many ideas from the users

josh [12:40 PM] How often do you get shop owners sending ideas in?

80stees [12:40 PM] knowing that shopify is constantly evolving and it doesn't share it's roadmap, how does that impact your willingness to develop an app?

tjmapes [12:41 PM] @80stees: great question

joshhighland [12:41 PM] @tjmapes: I look at the biggest impact to the user base. So many of the ideas are for a users specific use case. If the idea is something that offers benefit to the entire user base it usually makes it into the backlog

felixshopifymasters [12:41 PM] @joshhighland: do you plan on expanding to other ecommerce platforms or do you think shopify is the way to go for many years to come?

tjmapes [12:41 PM] Do changes ever effect users in a negative way, which results in complaints?

joshhighland [12:41 PM] @oisino: I chose to do the book because it was something I hadn't done before. The book was WAY harder for me to do than any of the apps ive written

joshhighland [12:41 PM] @josh: several a week

josh [12:43 PM] wow, didn't think that would be such a constant flow of ideas, haha

joshhighland [12:43 PM] @80stees: Great question. Shopify is always evolving, but their team is awesome at supporting developers. Its fun to work on the platform and help people. I dont see myself slowing down at anytime. Sure it would suck if Shopify ate up or banned one of my apps, but thats the risk of any platform development. Apple did it to one of my iOS apps :simple_smile:

joshhighland [12:44 PM] @felixshopifymasters: I think that having a hyper focus on Shopify helps me. I plan on staying here.

josh [12:45 PM] @joshhighland: do any of your apps support multiple languages, or do you have any plans to?

80stees [12:45 PM] along similar lines, how does the potential for copycats factor into your decision making?

joshhighland [12:45 PM] @tjmapes: Thats a hard part of making SAAS products - you have to think of the future. I haven't had to depreciate any features yet, so no real complaints. Most complaints are "why didnt my idea make it in"

tjmapes [12:46 PM] makes complete sense

joshhighland [12:46 PM] @josh: order lookup app support 16 languages now and can support anything you throw at is as long as the text gets translated ahead of time

josh [12:46 PM] nice!

joshhighland [12:47 PM] @80stees: the app store is full of "meta apps" i think Shopify stopped approving them

80stees [12:47 PM] cool, good to know.

tjmapes [12:47 PM] Do you go looking for reviews for your apps, or do they just happen naturally?

joshhighland [12:47 PM] @80stees: every one of my apps has competition in the app store. I focus on what Im doing and making the customers happy. Competition is good.

joshhighland [12:48 PM] @tjmapes: Shopify changed the rules on app reviews last year. It was getting wild. Some apps were crippled until you left a positive review

josh [12:48 PM] @joshhighland: what advice would you have for yourself back when you launched your first public app?

joshhighland [12:48 PM] now thats strictly banned. You cant offer any compensation for reviews

tjmapes [12:49 PM] I'm probably the only one that didn't know that being lots of folks here are developers, but its good to know :simple_smile:

joshhighland [12:49 PM] @josh: I'd tell myself to relax, enjoy it, and lean more into Shopify

tjmapes [12:50 PM] Do you have any goals (personal or business) for 2015?

joshhighland [12:50 PM] @josh: i guess id just say "embrace Shopify more"

josh [12:50 PM] :simple_smile:

joshhighland [12:50 PM] @tjmapes: http://joshhighland.com/blog/2015/01/05/my-goals-for-2015/ Josh Highland My Goals For 2015 Keeping with tradition, here is the list of goals I have for 2015: Be more mindful (meditate / don't stress out) Improve my work life balance (spend m (68KB)

joshhighland [12:51 PM] :simple_smile:

tjmapes [12:51 PM] nice

felixshopifymasters [12:51 PM] Launch my book, Shopify Empire

felixshopifymasters [12:51 PM] :simple_smile:

joshhighland [12:51 PM] I can cross "Launch my book, Shopify Empire" and "Become more involved in the Shopify community" off the list

joshhighland [12:52 PM] I find that writing goals and making them public holds me accountable

josh [12:52 PM] hahahaha

joshhighland [12:53 PM] Who else is an app developer here?

oisino [12:53 PM] ?

oisino [12:53 PM] wrong icon ✋

joshhighland [12:54 PM] @oisino: ❤️

joshhighland [12:54 PM] I also get app insperation from @oisino

joshhighland [12:55 PM] is everyone reading my blog now?

tjmapes [12:56 PM] Pasted image at 2015-03-03, 12:55 PM

It's almost been an hour, feel free to continue to chat. I just wanted to thank Josh for being our first guest in #ama.

If you or someone you know would like to be a guest, please email tj@talkshopify.com. And also, I'm open to feedback about how this went, and how to make it better in the future.

joshhighland [12:57 PM] This has been a blast. Thanks for hosting it and having me

oisino [12:57 PM] Great job bud! See you soon

tjmapes [12:57 PM] And go get a copy of Josh's book at www.shopifyempire.com

80stees [12:57 PM] Thanks @joshhighland . I bought your book. Thanks @tjmapes this was a good idea.

joshhighland [12:57 PM] Im @joshhighland on most social networks and JoshHighland@newleaflabs.com

joshhighland [12:57 PM] use "talkshopify" at check out for 10% off Shopify Empire

tjmapes [12:58 PM] I really appreciate you joining us and thanks also to all those who asked questions.

josh [12:58 PM] :simple_smile: ? thanks for all the knowledge and experience you've imparted on us ?

joshhighland [12:58 PM] I look forward for AMAs from others. This has been great.

oisino [12:59 PM] ?