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August 27, 2020

Episode 2: How MerchantWords Began

MerchantWords’ founder George Lawrence shares his advice for how to sell on Amazon.

In this Episode

In this episode of our podcast on Amazon selling, Tommy chats with MerchantWords’ founder George Lawrence about why and how he originally started MerchantWords, how MerchantWords get its data and offers advice for how to sell on Amazon.


Tommy Beringer:

What's up, you data-hungry Amazon sellers? This is your host, Tommy Beringer of the Sell Rank Win podcast for MerchantWords. And in this podcast, we give you the answers to your most burning questions, actionable insights that you can take away and implement in your business today. So let's go ahead and dive right into today's episode. What do you say? Let's go.

Hey there, my MerchantWordians. How's everybody today? Tommy Beringer here from MerchantWords, Product Manager, and Amazon Expert, and we have a very, very special treat for you guys today. We have the myth, the man, the legend, George Lawrence, the CEO of MerchantWords on with us today.

He's going to go ahead and go over how MerchantWords came to be, and then we're going to just go ahead and dive in and have a fun little conversation just organically and talk about Amazon and maybe give you guys some pro tips at the end. So without further ado, Mr. George Lawrence, how are you? Thank you so much for joining us.

George Lawrence:

Fantastic. No way, man. Thanks for having me. It's a lot of fun to chat with you, Tommy, my friend, but also it's a special thrill to chat with MerchantWordians out there. Thanks for letting me into your earphones or your car or wherever you're listening to us from.

Tommy Beringer:

Absolutely. And I'm sure they are excited. So let's go ahead and dive right in. Let's go ahead and get the story on how did MerchantWords come to be, George? How did you start it? Maybe some of our listeners have heard this before. Maybe some have not. But I think it'd be good to either hear it again or hear for the first time. So if you could just dig into that, that'd be awesome.

George Lawrence:

Sure. So set the Wayback Machine about 10 years ago, it's 2010, I'm a hard-working guy, a dad with some kids, I'm doing my thing, doing my job, but I needed a little extra money and like a lot of folks I decided to start selling, first on eBay then on Amazon and one thing led to another and I realized if I was going to grow this side hustle of mine to be something a little bigger than what it was, what I really needed to do is figure out how to get a leg up on the competition, had to understand how to sell products better than other sellers do. And what I figured I would do is see if I could figure out what people are shopping for when they search on Amazon.

And since I was a computer programmer, that was my day job, I used some of my computer programming skills and figured out a way to go to Amazon and observe some of the phrases that people were using when they searched.

So I wrote a little script and collected a little bit of data. And lo and behold, I realized that now I saw all kinds of ways that people were searching for products on Amazon and searching for my products, the ones I'm selling. They were describing them in ways that were completely different from how I was thinking about the product.

And so I changed my description a little bit, changed my keywords up a little bit and sure enough, I saw a lift in my sales. I thought, "Wow, this is awesome." So I told some of my Amazon seller buddies about it and let them have a peek.

And they're like, 'Man, this is great. We totally need this." And that was the genesis of MerchantWords. The whole idea was to help myself and to help some friends get inside the mind of their shoppers and understand what people are searching for when shop online. That was the genesis behind MerchantWords.

I'm happy to report that's still what drives me every day: wanting to help sellers figure out exactly what their shoppers are searching for. So in a nutshell, that's what it was. We turned into a company with paying customers in 2013 and from that moment until now, that's exactly what my goal has been. Just helping sellers connect with their customers.

Tommy Beringer:

Yeah. So that takes me back to when I started first selling on Amazon, George. Was about 2014 and I had a client come in and I was producing music and writing music and recording music at the time. And my recording client basically told me, I asked him, "What else do you do?" And he told me, "I sell on Amazon." And I said, "Well, if you give me all of your tips and tricks and all of the resources, I will give you your recording sessions for free."

So my Amazon seller’s journey was born right then and there. And he mentioned to me that I need to use MerchantWords. So I was definitely a paying client before I started to come on and work in MerchantWords, which is pretty cool. And then he also directed me over to Scott Voelker's podcast, The Amazing Seller, which I listened to.

And he also gave me some courses to go through, which is really cool. And if you guys don't know, just have to drop this, that George is probably the only CEO who still helps to code in their own company. So I think that is pretty awesome. Just thought you guys should know that.

Thank you for the rundown on how MerchantWords came to be, George. That is awesome. And I think another question that we get a lot from our users is, how do we get our data? How does MerchantWords get its data? If you can just go ahead and dig into that for a little bit, that would be awesome.

George Lawrence:

Sure. Well, the thing that's the most important to realize is MerchantWords gets its data 100% from Amazon and only from Amazon. And frankly, what most people maybe don't realize is we get it from Amazon in the same way that you could get it yourself.

In fact, every single day, when you go to Amazon, you type some words into the search bar there at the top, and you get some suggestions and then you see the search result page and then go to the product detail page. You're doing the exact same things that we do as we observe the same things inside of Amazon.

The difference is we do it at scale, and we see enough of Amazon to be able to get a full picture of what's happening. And what that means for people who are trying to understand how their brand compares to another brand or do some competitive analysis is now we can understand not only what's going on with a couple of products, but we can understand what's going on with the entire landscape.

And that's something you could never do yourself manually at your own browser, but it's effectively the same thing. So people ask us, do we get our data anywhere else from Amazon? The answer is no. It's 100% Amazon all the time. Always has been, always will be. But since we can do it faster than your fingers can type, we've got a lot more breadth, a lot more scale of what we can tell you about what you're learning on Amazon than you could do it manually.

Tommy Beringer:

Thank you so much for that, George. I think that is refreshing to hear for a lot of our users, how we do go ahead and get this awesome data and then bring it to them. Yeah. I mean, just going to what you were saying as well, it's always key to go ahead to make sure that you're not over-stuffing your listings or your titles.

You want to give the buyer the best experience that they can have on Amazon because Amazon romances the buyer, not the seller. So you want to make sure you're playing by the rules there and making sure those keywords that are in your listing are extremely relevant, laser relevant in those listings. And Amazon will reward you for that once your listing is fully optimized and doesn't have any terms that are in there that do not make sense. And shrinking-

George Lawrence:

Tommy, I'm sorry to interrupt you, buddy. I don't talk about this very often, but I did want to mention that once the Amazon search quality team reached out to me. They got in touch and I'm like, "Uh-oh. Yikes. Am I in trouble? Are you trying to arrest me? What's going on here?"

And they said, "We became aware of this tool you built called MerchantWords and we just wanted to ask you some questions about it and see what's going on here because we thought maybe you were trying to build a tool that would encourage sellers to do keyword stuffing." When I stopped and explained the philosophy of MerchantWords and basically what, Tommy, what you were just saying, and that is we're not about keyword stuffing at all.

In fact, it's quite the reverse is, we want to have sellers become laser-focused on the relevant terms that people are using when they're shopping online for the products to inform the seller how they can better connect with the buyer by speaking the buyer's language. And when I explained that to the Amazon search quality team, they're like, "Oh, well, that's fantastic. We're 100% okay with that. Carry on." And it was a very pleasant conversation after that.

But at first, as you know and as I think most sellers realize, that's really not sustainable to try to be a keyword-stuffer forcing your way into and tricking the consumers into buying stuff that they didn't really want to buy with a bunch of keyword-stuffing. That's just not going to work.

Tommy Beringer:

Yeah. Insider information right there. That is great. That is great to hear, for sure. Yeah. You don't want to trick your buyers because if you try to trick your buyers, Amazon will suppress your listing or push you down the ranks or even worse.

You don't want to say if you're selling one pack of something and you say something like a four-pack, I don't know why someone would do that, but if you're tricking them, you're going to get, one, get a bad review from the customer, two, you're in danger of getting your listing taken down or suppressed because Amazon does not like that when you're trying to trick their buyers.

George Lawrence:

And you know what, Tommy? The way I think about this is no matter what I do in life, I want to get a good night's sleep. I want to know that I've done a little good in the world, right? And made the world a slightly little better place.

And sure, it's not like I personally developed a cure for cancer or anything, but if I can, in some small way, help customers have a better e-commerce experience by educating sellers on exactly how to describe their products and how to market their products better then that was like I said, that was my goal all along in creating MerchantWords. That's still my goal today.

And in fact, I would encourage everybody, every seller on Amazon to have that be their goal as well. Instead of just only measuring success by the traditional markers, revenue and whatnot, measure your success by the amount of customer satisfaction you believe you're giving your customers in the world because at the end of the day, right, when this whole grand life is over and we go onto whatever there is next, if there is anything next, I'd love to look back and say, "You know what? I helped people a little bit so I feel good about that."

Tommy Beringer:

Definitely. Even speaking about measuring, I wanted to speak about one of our new products -- Digital Shelf -- and I don't want to make this a commercial for MerchantWords by any means. I just want to dig into it because as an Amazon seller myself, I think this is one of the coolest tools that we have available out there and it's helped me a lot in my Amazon business and we're here to help our sellers and help our users, right? So I wanted to see if you can dig into, what is a digital shelf? I love your analogies and how could our Digital Shelf report help our users?

George Lawrence:

Yeah, sure. And you know what, Tommy? I don't want to be a commercial either, but the thing of it is if you're not a MerchantWords customer, that's great, no harm there. We're giving one of these things away for free to everyone who isn’t a customer. And if you are a customer, you probably already have a whole big bunch of them to use yourself. So either way, we want everybody, every seller, whether you're a customer or not, to come check this out because we really think it's helpful.

And the concept is really simple. And that is in the world that we used to have, where we shopped in physical stores, everybody, every seller, every brand knew where their products were on the shelf because they probably had to pay for it to be there. Or you could just walk into the store and see, "Yup. There's my product right there on the shelf."

But in today's world, we have digital shelves as sellers and brands. And we realized that it's out of our control, we can't really control it anymore, but we do have to keep an eye on it because I want to know what other products are being set next to me on my digital shelf. And in fact, there's thousands of digital “shelves” now, because every search term produces a search result page and that's the digital shelf now. And who are your product now is a collection of all the thousands and thousands of digital shelves out there.

So when you talk about monitoring your digital shelf or having insights on your digital shelf, it is understanding this whole big ecosystem, this whole big swirling cacophony of the different places where your product appears and what search terms and what combination of competitors are next to you and things.

And what we endeavor to do with our report is to help you have a peek and get some insights into what's happening on your digital shelf. And the great thing there is, if you're an up-and-coming brand, or maybe a smaller seller, you can learn from the big boys.

You can learn from the giants out there, and you can say, "Oh, you know what? My bigger competitors are doing these following things because I can see that their products are on those kinds of shelves targeting those kinds of keywords, and my product is not yet. Let me learn from what they've already done.

They've done the hard work of figuring this out, and I want to learn from their hard work and participate in those areas where I'm missing out, also." So I think of it as a big Venn diagram. As you're looking at what's going on with your product on your digital shelves, that's good for you to know, and you need to know that.

But in addition to that, compare where other of your competitors are also doing what they're doing on their digital shelf and like a Venn diagram, there'll be a lot of overlap, but there'll be a lot of the not overlap. And man, that's where the opportunity really lies because you want to see where your competitors have figured out a niche or figured out some opportunity that maybe you haven't discovered yet, and then go participate there as well.

So in a nutshell (and it's not a nutshell, I've been rambling for five minutes about it) but in a nutshell, basically what we want you to do is we want you to have the insights on what's going on with your products and we want you to use that to understand, basically, what's happening to your product because that's super important to know. But the kicker is we want you to understand what's happening across the entire competitive landscape, because chances are-

Tommy Beringer:


George Lawrence:

... there's opportunities you haven't discovered yet. And that's what we're here to do is help you discover them so you can jump in there and participate also.

Tommy Beringer:

Absolutely. And what I love about the Digital Shelf is it's good for bigger brands and it's also good for itty-bitty sellers like myself.

One way that I love to use it and will definitely help you guys, is dig into the missing keywords report within the Digital Shelf report and what these missing keywords are, it's a list of keywords that your top competitors are showing up for but that you are not, on page one. So this is gold to you guys.

So if you have some competitors that are showing up on page one for a ton of keywords, then you want to make sure that you're taking those keywords and adding them into PPC campaigns, of course testing them, and the ones that are winning, up those bids, do some bid management and then eventually add those into your listings.

So the missing keyword report is gold. There's a few ways you can use it. Just go and check that out. So again, just wanted to go over the Digital Shelf with you guys. Not here to be a commercial. We're here to help you guys. So go ahead, check that out. You can always get it. Go there and get one for free.

So let's go ahead and wrap up with some pro tips, George. What do you say?

George Lawrence:

Well, my big tip I have for everyone is more of a philosophical adjustment. I mean, Tommy, you've got a lot of great tactical tips. You were just saying, use this keyword report to understand where your opportunities lie, that your competition's figured out and you haven't. That's fantastic. I love these tactical tips.

In fact, since I'm off on this tangent, let me just say a lot of our customers use the keywords for not just selling on Amazon. They use it for content purposes, driving the different topics they're going to talk about on blogs, landing pages for traditional SEO, those kinds of things, man. So there's no end to what you can use these opportunity keywords for when you discover your opportunity keywords.

But my big tip that I'd like to close with is more of a philosophical tip that is a mindset adjustment.

And that is, a lot of times as sellers, we think of our job as taking a product and doing whatever's possible to ram it into the customer's shopping cart. And we think, "Well, if I can just figure out the right keywords, I'm just going to stuff it down in there." We're pushing, pushing, pushing all the time.

I'd like to ask you to take a different approach. And that is: think for a moment about simply presenting the product in the best possible light and matching the mindset of what's in your customer.

So if you understand why is somebody shopping for your products, how exactly the search terms they use when they shop for your product, and you describe your products in those ways, Amazon will notice the connection between you the seller describing your product using the same ideas and concepts as the seller searching for it, and eventually make those connections.

And when you make that connection, now a bunch of things happen. Number one, the Amazon algorithm rewards you because these things are lining up, but also you get higher customer satisfaction because you're not keyword stuffing. You're not trying to trick anybody. You're presenting a product exactly what they're looking for on the search result page for exactly how they're searching, and it's like a match made in heaven. Win-win-win. Customer gets what they want. Seller gets what they want. Everybody goes home happy.

So my big tip here is give yourself a philosophical adjustment. You're not forcing people to buy your products. You're forcing yourself to understand why people buy your products so that you can better describe the product in a way that resonates with the way the customer's already thinking.

Tommy Beringer:

And something that George was alluding to is, know your customer persona. Know your customer avatar. This is going to help you with your conversions, because if you can show your customer persona using that product in a picture, you're going to get more conversions there.

So if you know what your demographic is, what do they look like? Where do they hang out at? You're going to go ahead and you will see that in return, as far as sales and as far as ranking. So know your customer persona going in.

And also you can go to Facebook groups for your products and see what they're talking about in the Facebook groups. Maybe they have a certain language that they talk about their products with that you didn't know, and you can go ahead and incorporate that into your products listing. So that's a quick tip.

George Lawrence:


Tommy Beringer:

Go ahead. Go ahead.

George Lawrence:

Yeah, Tommy, you're exactly right. And another, yeah, I love using analogies, but another analogy is sometimes when I go into the grocery store and I'm shopping for something, I think it's going to be in a certain section.

Once I had to go in and buy a pie crust. It was a premade pie crust, ready to go. And it turns out it was over in the frozen bread section where you can buy other frozen bread products that you bake at home. That makes sense. But when I looked at the headers across the top, my first thought, what was in the mind of the shopper, was my first thought was, "It should be in the baking section."

So I went down the baking aisle looking for bread crusts, and all they had was flour and sugar and all the normal stuff. And I'm like, "Well, there's no bread crust here. But it's a baking thing because we're making a pie. It has to be here." So the store didn't really understand what was in my mind.

Now, I'm not saying that I'd never gotten my bread crust because I eventually found it. But man, it took so long. I had to go through so much work and wouldn't it have been great if they delighted me by understanding exactly how I was thinking about the product and then marketing it in a way that made it easy for me.

So that's all I'm saying is philosophically, remove the roadblocks. Make it easy for your customers. Because the reason they went to Amazon is they want to buy something from you. Make it easy on them. Let your product match the way they're already thinking.

Tommy Beringer:

And if you guys did not know, George is the unofficial king of analogies. I think he has the world record for best analogies, by far.

George Lawrence:

That's how my brain works, I suppose.

Tommy Beringer:

The Amazon SEO Aristotle. I think, right? Aristotle was... Right? I don't know. Anyways. Yeah.

So my pro tip in closing is just, for Amazon sellers that are starting or maybe have started and quit, don't quit. I have had many failures. You don't lose. You either win or you learn. That's my philosophy. So continue on. This could be life-changing, being an Amazon seller.

And another question that I get is, how much does it cost to start an Amazon business? I've heard $500. I've heard $100. That is way too little, in my opinion. To start an Amazon business, I would say around $5,000. Maybe some of you are like, "Whoa. $5,000." But if you look at that compared to maybe starting a brick and mortar business, which could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to start up, $5,000 is not a lot of money to start a business.

You don't have any overhead. You're not renting out a location. You're not paying employees. And if you are paying an employee, it's not many. You can do this on your own or hire VA's in India or the Philippines or something like that to cut down our costs. But anyways, I don't want to go too much on a tangent.

$5,000 is probably the beginning and do not spend that full $5,000 just on inventory. That is a mistake that I know a lot of sellers make. They spend $5,000 on inventory. They don't have any budget for their advertising campaigns, their PPC or packaging or anything like that. That is really important that some sellers in the beginning overlook.

So I just want you guys to take away that between $4,000 and $5,000 is a good chunk of money to go ahead and start your business with.

And remember to start lean. I know it's easier to start lean within a SaaS company compared to a physical company, but the way to start lean in a physical company is go to your manufacturer and order 100 units, maybe 200 units. Don't order thousands of units because if those thousands of units don't sell, you're screwed. So order those 100, they sell out in a week, a couple of weeks, then you know you got a winner. Go back to your manufacturer, order more and continue to scale up from there. That's my pro tip. And-

George Lawrence:

Hey, Tommy.

Tommy Beringer:

... I think we can go ahead and end this beautiful podcast.

George Lawrence:

Tommy, quick question before-

Tommy Beringer:

Go ahead. Go ahead, George.

George Lawrence:

... you're done with your tip. And that is, let's say there's some folks out there that are thinking, "You know what? I really want to become an Amazon seller. I've got an urge to get into this, but I just don't have five grand in liquid cash laying around." What would you recommend they do? Wait until they can get 5,000 or is there something they can do to jump in and participate in the ecosystem now?

Tommy Beringer:

Not at all. You can go out there, depending on your credit, you can go ahead and get 0% APR card. There's also Kabbage, which I think lends money. It depends on, hopefully you have some good credits, so you can get a bigger credit line, but I don't think you need that of great credit to get a $5,000 credit line.

And there's a lot of, especially right now, we are in the times of the COVID-19 happening, hopefully everyone is well, and some credit card companies are giving some good, low APRs for beginners for 18 months, maybe even two years. So if you start with one of those 0% APR card that you don't have to pay off in two years, I mean, that's amazing. Go ahead and do that ASAP.

George Lawrence:

And am I still an Amazon seller if I only sell one of something? Do I have to order 100 from overseas?

Tommy Beringer:

No, not at all. I mean, you can even get your feet wet if you just want to go through the motions and do the arbitrage model. And when I say arbitrage model, in a nutshell what that means is basically just going to get a product either that's laying around in your garage or going to Target or Walmart or something and just go ahead and list that product so you can see how to go ahead and create a listing and do all that fun stuff. So you can just start by going in your garage today and making it happen.

George Lawrence:

Yeah. Yeah. The thing I like to say is if you can sell one thing on Amazon, then you'll get a better sense of what it feels like to sell 100 or 1000 or a million things on Amazon. But until you sell your first thing, it might seem a little bit like a black box.

And so if you really want to have a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, to use a Wizard of Oz analogy if you want to really see behind the curtain of what it's like to be an Amazon seller, sell one thing.

But Tommy, I appreciate your advice. Keep it realistic. In order to run like one of the, quote-unquote, legitimate Amazon sustaining business, you're eventually going to face a situation where you're going to need some operating capital. So that's good to set their expectations accordingly.

Tommy Beringer:

Wizard of analogy is right there. George Lawrence. Well, you know what, George, I think we could end this podcast. I don't think we want to make it too painfully long for our listeners. So we could go ahead and wrap this up, but I just want to say thank you so much for coming on and I want to be respectful of your time and it's an honor to have you on our Episode Two podcast. I'm sure we'll have you on more, but just having you on at the beginning is a treat. Thank you so much for your time.

George Lawrence:

It's my pleasure. And the thanks really go to all of the MerchantWordians out there who let us into their earphones or their cars or wherever you happen to be. Thanks for taking a moment of your time to listen to us. I hope you learned something and it was really, again, it was my pleasure. I'm always here to help and I'm glad I had a chance to. Thanks again.

Tommy Beringer:

You heard it from the CEO of MerchantWords. Thank you so much, George, for coming on and until next time, MerchantWordians, stay awesome and be awesome. Thanks guys.

All right. Thank you guys so much for listening. And if you got any value out of this podcast at all, please let us know at the place that you listened to it at, whether it be iTunes, Stitcher, whatever it is. Give us some love. Give us an awesome review and let us know maybe some things you want us to talk about on the next podcast. Until next time guys, stay awesome and be awesome.