Big Commerce SEO

Nov 17th

Over 5 years ago I had a quick chat with the folks from Interspire about their websites, including their shopping cart at the time & offered a few tips to fix some of the obvious issues I saw. This was over a half-decade ago & under a different product name & entirely informal.

Anyhow...as they later ramped up on marketing, they at some point claimed that I somehow "certified" their software, even as the version changed, their product name changed, their mode of sales changed (from primarily pushing a downloadable software product to an SAAS model), many SEO fundamentals changed over the years, and so on.

Becoming Sales Copy

In spite of all the above changes, I have not viewed/used/reviewed the product in any way in years. Yet I am still listed as having optimized it.

Not only am I a feature on the sales letter, but I am a highlighted one AND the link is nofollowed :D

After I mentioned the above to them & asked them to take my name down, I recommended them to another friend who is an SEO, but they did not work with him. I think they sort of brushed off the issue by suggesting that they endorse us & send a lot of customers our way, however one can easily see that our logo isn't on pages like this one bigcommerce.com/products-we-like.php & even if it were, that wouldn't make it correct to say I somehow certified their software.

Test Everything

Does that faux certification impact their sales? I guess so, since the "feature" is highlighted, they are great marketers who do conversion testing, and I get chat messages out of the blue like: "hello aaron. just wanted to ask if you really helped out with developing bigcommerce shopping cart?"

Just today I got "Aaron, Love your work and insights! BigCommerce touts your expertise in creating their SEO features, so I bring this question to you. Using domaintools.com all the IP addresses for any BigCommerce cart show Sydney as the location associated with the IP. Doesn't this create a search results handicap for Big Commerce users who are located outside AUS and market primarily in North America? Matt Cutts says IP location makes a difference - youtube.com/watch?v=keIzr3eWK8I What is the best solution for using BigCommerce for shops based in North America? Are carts like Volusion, which show Simi Valley CA USA IP locations better than Big Commerce's Sydney AUS IP location for North America? Kind regards, -Marc "

Asking a Second Time

I forgot about the issue for a while & then about a half-year ago I asked a second time if they would please take my name off their sales material, based on a customer complaint:

Hi Eddie
this is the second time I have asked you to remove my name from your sales material for promoting the SEO viability of your product. It mis-represents a 5 minute off the record chat into something more than that, and what is worse the product has changed greatly since then. At this point the faux recommendation is harming my reputation.

"Hey Aaron,
I was just recommending the SEOBook community to the owner of -------.com and he mentioned to me that Interspire was still using your name as someone who endorses their product. He was surprised, with the horrible SEO issues inherent in the cart. I told him you probably didn't even realize they were still using your name. Anyway, just thought you might like to know. The cart is ok with loads of customizations (maybe most others are no better), but it sucks out of the box...lots of issues with URLs, duplication, etc., etc.

Hope all is well,
David"

please do not require me to ask a third time to fix this issue
cheers
aaron

They said it would be sorted in a couple days.

Days Turn Into Months

Months later a friend sent me one of their marketing emails...there I was yet again.

Are they 100% certain that I have not worked for either of those companies? Did they bother to ask me before their promotional email went out? Of course not. I am just a blurb of sales text, inserted as needed to increase sales.

I asked in private for them to stop this multiple times. I am not the type of guy to "sick lawyers on them" or whatever, so I am hoping that this blog post will help the issue go away.

Respect is important. If you use someone's name in your marketing then you should stop using it if they ask you to.

Disclaimers

I know their company is growing like a weed & growth can be hard to manage. For all I know their software is relatively good in terms of pricing and feature set when compared against other ecommerce software, however that is only speculation as I haven't done any sort of formal SEO audit.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their stuff as an option for an ecommerce platform, but when their marketing says that I have done any sort of formal in-depth SEO work on it, that is both inaccurate and done without my consent or permission.

Published: November 17, 2011

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Comments

November 18, 2011 - 3:21am

hi Aaron,

I've always wondered how your endorsement of BigCommerce/Interspire shopping cart came about. It always surprised me that you would be happy to risk your personal brand with software that has never been search engine friendly. If it any comfort I can assure you that you are not the only one that has been misrepresented http://developer.practicalecommerce.com/articles/2151-An-Eye-on-BigCommerce

Personally I have absolutely no confidence in this company and deeply question the ethics of a management team who seem prepared to say and do anything to make the sale and then display no interest in supporting their customers.

I have had dealings with Interspire for some time as both a partner and customer and have seen the company continually mislead and treat their customers like dirt.

November 19, 2011 - 1:39pm

I can only mirror Daves opinion of the Interspire management having experienced an appalling lack of interest in anything other than increasing sales, ego and customer size with a complete lack of interest in pretty basic concepts.

To be blunt, your points are being far too kind and given them a benefit of the doubt that they simply do not deserve.

In my opinion you will only get action one of two ways... Hurt their SEO or put aside your obvious desire to avoid "getting legal"... Ironically the former approach may get their attention and compliance considerably quicker, but I recognise the negativity such a move would generate.

Either way, good luck... Despite being the alleged "inspiration" for Interspire, the customer base is used to being ignored root and branch now.

November 28, 2011 - 8:25pm

Interspire is being too "creative" for sure. But here's some background, and my take on what's probably happening based on what I might know and some guesses:

1. Their core competitor, Volusion is a marketing machine without any regard for quality (in my opinion). But they're super-duper-fantastic at marketing.
2. Like everyone is discovering, SaaS may not be the way, but it's definitely the way to make money.
3. Volusion discontinued their licensed model long ago.
4. BigCommerce is just copying their model and trying to stink less. They may or may not be succeeding. Let's see how they scale once they're SaaS for awhile. Interspire is an OK product, but their non-SaaS + white-labeling wasn't cutting it.
5. Real platforms like ours are much better on SEM, but BigCommerce is probably the least bad.
6. Check back in 2 years to see if they both discontinue the license model as well as start to act like Volusion.

In fact, in the comments of http://developer.practicalecommerce.com/articles/2151-An-Eye-on-BigCommerce

"Also after launching BigCommerce late last year, Interspire seems to have abandoned their initial customers who purchased their shopping cart. They released the 5.6 version to BigCommerce in March, but have still to release it to Interspire customers. Not a very trustable company, eh?"

He's catching on early. The releases might likely come less and less frequently until they don't come at all. Anyone getting in the Interspire boat could be on a sinking ship with various features ceasing to work as APIs change, etc. I can tell you from experience that the eBay integration API is nutty complex. It does break. What happens if they abandon Interspire, then?

I actually did a WTH when I saw them use your name and I meant to contact you asking about it. I guess someone else beat me to it.

Admittedly, they did add totally custom URLs in the latest release. If I audited them, I think they'd score "fair" on a relative basis. They do create some enormous spider traps on their price "facet." Not sure how many people notice that, but it actually creates infinite numbers of URLs as your products change. That's pretty bad.

Realistically speaking, though, even though your brand is strong (certainly stronger than mine), they might increase your brand equity so long as they don't do anything horribly embarrassing that people notice. The issue, of course, is whether people notice.

November 28, 2011 - 8:44pm

Why wouldn't they just pay someone like me or you to _actually_ help certify their product with a renewal clause and a term-limit? It's not about money, I'd bet. They're making plenty of that. One of the major reasons SaaS stinks is the uncontrollable growth and QA. It's happened to so many SaaS and IaaS products that I won't even bother listing them. I think you even mentioned that. They're just overwhelmed.

They might be forced to respond now, and they're OK folks in my experience. They're up against Volusion's marketing machine, and you have to read some of Volusion's "interesting" claims to see why they needed some ammo. Volusion, no doubt, would claim God endorses their SEO, if they could. After they switched away from RackSpace, their servers might as well turn to pillars of salt.

That said, I think BigCommerce will be more and more of their focus, and you, the consumer, become the commodity. That's what happens with SaaS. The question is whether they can scale their service and quality. So far? They're scoring much better than Volusion.

November 29, 2011 - 1:18am

Volusion discontinued their licensed model long ago. BigCommerce is just copying their model and trying to stink less. They may or may not be succeeding. Let's see how they scale once they're SaaS for awhile. Interspire is an OK product, but their non-SaaS + white-labeling wasn't cutting it. Check back in 2 years to see if they both discontinue the license model as well as start to act like Volusion.

Interesting to hear this is largely a game of follow the leader, though not surprising.

"Also after launching BigCommerce late last year, Interspire seems to have abandoned their initial customers who purchased their shopping cart. They released the 5.6 version to BigCommerce in March, but have still to release it to Interspire customers. Not a very trustable company, eh?"

He's catching on early. The releases might likely come less and less frequently until they don't come at all. Anyone getting in the Interspire boat could be on a sinking ship with various features ceasing to work as APIs change, etc. I can tell you from experience that the eBay integration API is nutty complex. It does break. What happens if they abandon Interspire, then?

A lot of web APIs and whole online business models are designed to die through forced obsolescence and/or due to their poor economic models.

I think this is a core issue with the structure of the web (of attention):

  • The web is too saturated with competition, so if you are new you have to make pricing concessions (& do other give away promotions) to earn attention, build cashflow & make up for other friction points.
  • As you gain attention the value of your time goes up & you appreciate the maintenance cost of having another client on your platform (technical questions, billing questions, customization requests, etc.)
  • Thus at some point if you are under-priced you either increase your prices or an unlimited number of customer interactions starts to deteriorate the quality of your customer support until your product is worth roughly what it is priced at (or less) and by this point in time you start running into issues with branding, cashflow & growth all at the same time.
  • At some point it makes sense to move upstream. It is very hard to do with one-off sales for 2 reasons: higher starting friction AND if your existing branding as a low cost provider is in place then it is very hard to rebrand into the enterprise market. And if you move to the enterprise market you then add at on of marketing & sales costs with no guarantee that there is an available market for your product. The better approach is to do SAAS so that your maintenance cost per customer is less, you lock in recurring cashflow, and you can do free promotional trials that remove friction.

I actually did a WTH when I saw them use your name and I meant to contact you asking about it. I guess someone else beat me to it. Admittedly, they did add totally custom URLs in the latest release. If I audited them, I think they'd score "fair" on a relative basis. They do create some enormous spider traps on their price "facet." Not sure how many people notice that, but it actually creates infinite numbers of URLs as your products change. That's pretty bad.

That faceted navigation issue is a perfect example of why one needs to constantly monitor changes & audit a piece of CMS / shopping cart software. Even if a person did a 100 point inspection years ago that new feature throws all that old work in the garbage.

Realistically speaking, though, even though your brand is strong (certainly stronger than mine), they might increase your brand equity so long as they don't do anything horribly embarrassing that people notice. The issue, of course, is whether people notice.

If you look at how it was sold it was more "we are already endorsed by the leading SEO expert and that is baked into the software" so that isn't really something that drives incremental sales, rather it is something that would drive free "support" requests & sales questions (as it has for years).

Why wouldn't they just pay someone like me or you to _actually_ help certify their product with a renewal clause and a term-limit? It's not about money, I'd bet. They're making plenty of that. One of the major reasons SaaS stinks is the uncontrollable growth and QA. It's happened to so many SaaS and IaaS products that I won't even bother listing them. I think you even mentioned that. They're just overwhelmed.

I think this comes down to arrogance. To be an entrepreneur one needs to be confident in themselves. And why should they even consider paying for the review if their main purpose of it is as marketing text & they feel that benefit can come without paying any incremental fees?

They might be forced to respond now, and they're OK folks in my experience. They're up against Volusion's marketing machine, and you have to read some of Volusion's "interesting" claims to see why they needed some ammo. Volusion, no doubt, would claim God endorses their SEO, if they could. After they switched away from RackSpace, their servers might as well turn to pillars of salt.

That said, I think BigCommerce will be more and more of their focus, and you, the consumer, become the commodity. That's what happens with SaaS. The question is whether they can scale their service and quality. So far? They're scoring much better than Volusion.

Volusion is quite aggressive no doubt. If you search for some BigCommerce keywords on Google I see a double listing for Volusion in AdWords.

December 7, 2011 - 8:21pm

I have played around with a BigCommerce site. I think it's a good option with plenty of bells and whistles and simple setup for mom and pop ecommerce, but was a little bit puzzled by your endorsement of its SEO capabilities. To be honest, I had kind of concluded you were a sell-out, but this clears everything up. I think this probably impacts your brand more than you realize. I also think BigCommerce owes you a big check.

December 8, 2011 - 1:40am

...you never know when a person's opinion of you changes if they never tell you. And by the time you find out the damage is already done.

They claim to have 20,000+ customers & for every customer they have I am sure at least 10 or 20 other people saw that message...and for any who had SEO issues with it then I lost credibility...and I was a feature in their marketing emails even AFTER they promised to stop using my name. :(

December 9, 2011 - 5:26am

I signed up several clients partially based on your alleged endorsement and some basic SEO analysis. I don't like the fact that I've been deceived.

I will stick with the platform as it does have good features and my clients are enjoying it. Though, I may not refer any more to them until they get honest.

January 16, 2012 - 4:08am

I signed with BIGcommerce primarily for the simple fact that it was "endorsed" by Aaron.

After setting up shop, 1 month and 300 products later, I then realized that this POJ was lacking some critical SEO features like:

1- H1 tags ( was using H2 instead)

2- Ability to change URL or keep illegal characters out of it ( finally fixed like 5 years and 1000 votes later)

3- Ability to set a canonical URL (they just automatically set it for every product. HELLO duplicate content penalty!)

I was always wondering how Aaron could have missed this stuff. Now I know. ..

This is all pretty shady, and is in line with a lot of things I have been seeing from them. Well, I am glad to say that I will no longer be using them. Have moved on to self hosted solutions which I strongly suggest people do if they want any kind of control or flexibility with their shopping cart, instead of waiting years for things to be fixed that should have been standard from day one.

Just my 2 cents.

Peace

-Cisco

January 23, 2012 - 5:37am

I've just searched the Big Commerce website and can't find any reference to you any more. They now say:

BigCommerce has also been independently audited by various SEO experts, whose feedback was used to further improve BigCommerce and therefore your chances of ranking highly in the search engines.

January 23, 2012 - 5:39am

OK, your still referenced in the video!

January 27, 2012 - 3:55pm

What is the best or recommended shopping cart or carts to use? I have been searching and honestly I am very confused as to which program to go with. Thanks

January 27, 2012 - 7:04pm

...it really depends on if you have in house tech support, the volume you sell, any unique features needed in your vertical, etc.

There are a lot of OK solutions...but so many of them are quite rigid SAAS-based services that are easy to use but hard to modify. And then if you host everything yourself you then have to worry about security & updates...there are tons of trade offs to consider.

February 12, 2012 - 11:45pm

On Andrew Bleakley's Shopping Cart Reviews reviewing BigCommerce at andrewbleakley.com/bigcommerce-review/ he says...............
"SEO experts optimized the eCommerce software. In fact, Aaron Wall (an SEO guru) reviewed BigCommerce and all his feedbacks are now incorporated in this very powerful shopping cart. Just imagine how you can easily outrank all your competitors online!"
So you still recommend them and helped build it? :-)

February 13, 2012 - 12:59am

...I stated reality, however across the web some marketers state a false version of reality in order to make sales and/or get affiliate commissions.

February 21, 2012 - 6:54pm

Thanks for the head's up Aaoron, I'll take Andrew Bleakley's reviews with a grain of salt.

October 29, 2012 - 11:03am

Very shonky... I can't believe they didn't take immediate action after personally objected to the issue.

2 years ago I challenged Interspire on this exact same issue. After submitting the support ticket below, it took three separate responses from various employees before I received a half-baked, dismissive answer.

ME:
We're upgrading our cart to the latest version and have been looking at some of the "New" features. We'd like some clarification about some of these new features please. If there is any where we can read this info on the Interspire site please provide links.

1. Recognized as #1 SEO-optimized solution - Recognized by who?
2. Optimized by #1 SEO Expert Aaron Wall - What exactly has Aaron done?

INTERSPIRE:
Hi,
Thank you for your patience.
1) Not sure on this.
2) Aaron Wall is a pretty well known SEO expert. YOu can read his short bio at the following address:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Wall

(Seriously! This is suposed to be a satisfactory response???)

ME:
Thanks,
1. Recognized as #1 SEO-optimized solution - this is a VERY bold claim. Not that I doubt you, but I think it's important to know that it is founded on some facts. Could you please ask your marketing team?
2. Optimized by #1 SEO Expert Aaron Wall - Yeah I'm familiar with Aaron. To rephrase my question, how exactly has he optimized ICS?

INTERSPIRE:
Hi,
I'll transfer you to our customer service department so they can discuss the questions you have concerning the work Aaron Wall has performed and the marketing claims we've published concerning SEO.

INTERSPIRE:
Hi,

Thank you for your patience.
Please refer to our response below from our marketing department.
#1 - Recognized by our customers - hundreds who have switched from competitors with weak SEO optimization.
#2 - Aaron Wall is the world's number one SEO expert. He's widely known everywhere as being the best. His website SEOBook.com has more information.

(So number 1 is total bollocks and ARRGGG! they still haven't answered the friggin question!!)

ME:
Thanks. we know who Aaron is, we have the SEO Book :) Interspire claims that ISC has been "Optimized by #1 SEO Expert Aaron Wall". We would like to know what optimising Aaron has actually contributed to the platform. Was he personally contracted to work on ISC?

INTERSPIRE:
Aaron helped us with SEO on our cart. I do not have details on that arrangement or specific input.

(OF COURSE THEY DON'T!!)

Anyway, just thought it would be funny to share this. Glad to see it looks thy they have finally removed the references to you.

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