Ecommerce is tricky – If you venture in without any help, you might fail; however, if you learn from the experiences of others and follow all the best practices, you could touch the sky.
James Gurd is among the rare talent who is always ready to help ecommerce enthusiasts learn more about the intricacies of the business. He hosts #EcomChat, a Twitter chat session every monday, and is the CEO of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce marketing agency that focuses on building long-term relationships.
In this interview, we talked to him about the latest trends in ecommerce, marketing strategies that still work, and white hat tactics for successful ecommerce marketing today.
Read on to know what he has to say about all this and other things in our exclusive one-on-one with James Gurd.
The Humble Beginnings
James has been in the digital marketing industry for more than 15 years. His motto is simple: “Enjoy what you do and provide value to clients.”
He has served in multiple marketing and support roles and started his career as a marketing specialist for IBM in the late 1990s. He then went into product management roles for the next six years. Since the last five years, he has been working as an independent consultant and CEO of Digital Juggler, his ecommerce marketing agency.
James like to help B2B and B2C clients prosper, define digital strategies that work, and deliver tactical programs to improve revenue and conversions.
Interestingly, he never aspired to become a digital marketer. Hear it from him: “I didn’t choose ecommerce! I stumbled into it, liked it, saw that it was going to be a big growth area, so decided to see where it took me”.
James started out in psychology and shifted to marketing when he observed that understanding human behaviour is crucial for effective marketing campaigns.
Diving Deeper in Ecommerce
We asked James about how much ecommerce has changed in the past ten years. To this he replied, “I don’t think anything fundamental has changed, it’s just the tools and techniques that have advanced.”
He goes on to say, “previously you always needed to know about your customer but now there is a wide range of affordable analytics tools to help you know them, ranging from Google Analytics to HotJar, so even a non technical person like myself can get smart data from free/low cost tools.”
How He Stays on Top of His Game
James says that he connects with people who are smarter than him. “I’ve always made sure I listen to subject matter experts who do specific tasks day in day out, and learn from their experiences”.
He also meets people in his network to exchange views and to reach out to people whenever he needs a question answered. For him, the edge comes from learning to adapt and knowing how to apply good practices.
“Having seen the industry mature has helped me, as I can relate back to what came before, but there are plenty of smart young digital natives who aren’t hamstrung by a lack of experience from the past”.
Challenges He Has Faced
James says that the key challenges in running his own business is knowing what to focus on and how to balance business development and administration with clients.
“It’s also a challenge to remain focused and target projects where you have a good fit with the business and deliverables. When you don’t get a salary, you can sometimes panic and take projects just to keep the cash coming in,” he explains.
He regrets that he hasn’t achieved the perfect balance yet but considers himself lucky that he is learning with time to get better at dealing with the peaks and troughs in the business.
He says that he considers revenue as a byproduct of his services and that was one reason he left agency work. “ I got fed up working in an agency that prioritised revenue and profit over delivering a great service. So when it was clear that my outlook would never work in the agency, there was no choice but to leave”.
James hosts #EcomChat, a ecommerce chat session on Twitter. We asked him how the he came up with the idea.
In response, he said that he met Dan Barker – the co-host of EcomChat – through Twitter and then in London. In 2013, he pitched Dan the idea of an ecommerce chat on Twitter so that they can ask ecommerce enthusiasts questions that trouble all ecommerce stakeholders. The duo conducts a full session every Monday.
“I thought it was such an obvious idea – provide a forum for people interested in ecommerce to share knowledge, insights and ideas,” James says about his initiative.
Advice for Beginners
Here’s what James has to offer to ecommerce newbies:
“If you don’t know what’s your biggest passion, go general and soak up the experience in a smaller company by doing different tasks. If you then find an area you’d love to become an expert in, pivot and focus, build your skills from the ground up.”
But for me, to future-proof your job, understand how any discipline fits into the wider digital strategy.
For example, SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s impacted by and impacts everything else, especially paid media. It really helps to find a few key people as mentors, people who know a lot more and can advise you. At the start of your career, don’t work for a manager who knows less than you about the job you’re doing, unless there is someone else in the team who is senior and can help train you.”
Future of Ecommerce: VR, Voice, and Display
James says that the basics of SEO won’t change; companies must make sure their websites are easy to index, with great content that appeals to the right type of customers and can be found easily.
For virtual reality, he says that it doesn’t have any compelling use cases in ecommerce yet. And for voice search, he says, “it is changing everything. It’s changing what devices are used to initiate search, what queries are used, and this is challenging the standard search engines on websites that don’t natively handle NLP.”
In our interview series, we have a rapid questions’ round where we ask the person questions that he has to answer in just one line and under 10 seconds. Read what James has answered.
- What is your future career goal?
To work on amazing projects with smart people and enjoy my life.
- What do you do when your brain just can’t focus on work?
Play with my kids. Having a 2 and 4 year old means I can’t always focus on work, they’re far more important to me.
- Do you follow any influencers?
Too many to mention. In terms of my immediate circle Dan Barker, Manley, Al Wightman, Gerry White, Aleyda Solis, Will Dymott, Dave Chaffey, Chris Lake, Linus Gregoriadis are a few worth stalking on Twitter.
I tend not to follow the industry big names like Larry Kim. They’re smart and successful but I find that the content they share is a bit too ‘look at me’ self-PR rather than designed to be useful.
To see more insights from James, follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. So what did you learn? Feel free to share your insights in the comments below.
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Sajjad is an Ecommerce Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves helping out Ecommerce store owners, merchants and marketers in establishing their businesses and startups. Sajjad enjoys playing table tennis and cricket over the weekend.