Twelve years ago, Yoast was founded by my brother, Joost de Valk after a career as an independent SEO expert working with large brands like eBay, Facebook, Disney, and The Guardian. Everything he learned while fixing the sites of those companies flowed into a plugin for WordPress called WordPress SEO, which would later become Yoast SEO.
In 2022, the company consists of over 140 people worldwide, and its software is used on over 12 million websites. Yoast SEO is still the flagship product and has become the most popular SEO tool globally, garnering over 25,000 five star reviews on wordpress.org. SEO experts build Yoast SEO, but we design it to be accessible and useful for anyone looking to get a fair chance in the search results.
In this post I’ll share our approach to building an app for Shopify, how we successfully launched the app, how we’ll continue to invest, and what we’ve learned.
But why build an app for Shopify?
Our mission is SEO for everyone. We want everyone to have a fair chance to show up prominently in search. Shopify is one of the world’s most popular ecommerce platforms, and it’s growing insanely fast. Extending our services to Shopify will help us get closer to our mission.
By publishing our app on the Shopify App Store, we’re diversifying our offering. As you know, we’ve been attached to the WordPress CMS forever, and that makes us vulnerable. By growing our consumer base on another platform that's seeing very healthy growth, we can become less reliant on the sole income of our WordPress plugin. Combine that with the never-ending ecommerce boom, and we have the opportunity to share our product with millions of new merchants.
If we succeed, the possible financial gains can be huge, which will also flow back into improving Yoast SEO across all platforms. This helps us continue our mission - to help businesses get their best outcome in search.
Besides the financial benefits, Shopify itself speaks to our open-source loving hearts. While it's proprietary software, the Shopify philosophy is something we can very much get behind. We all want to make the web a better place for independent merchants and give them the chance to stand up to big money!
How the Yoast team built the app
This being a new platform for us — and the first time developing for a SaaS — we researched extensively how to best build an SEO app for Shopify. One of the most essential sources was the Shopify developer documentation. Here, we found answers to almost all our questions.
Shopify.dev contains all documentation regarding the different APIs and integration points Shopify offers. We’ve been using this as a primary lookup source for information about:
- The Liquid syntax and the available objects Shopify offers, for us to output the right meta tags and Schema.org information.
- The Admin API, which we use to retrieve and enhance existing content.
- The Partner API, which we use to manage customers' access to our SEO academy.
- The App Bridge library, which allows us to integrate our app inside the Shopify admin and rely on their authentication mechanisms.
In addition, the Shopify developer documentation also provided a lot of information about how to work with Shopify’s existing SEO implementations, like its title and meta description implementation, as well as canonical URLs, sitemaps, and the robots.txt file.
Also, the developer documentation provides information about tools that we use, like the Theme Inspector, to analyze the performance impact of our app. We use this when we’re editing our SEO modifications to the Storefront to determine how much impact our modifications have.
We worked with the Shopify partner community for help. For technical questions, we reached out to ZAGO — a very experienced Shopify agency from Sweden. We used their expertise to confirm our findings on building the best possible app.
We set out to build Yoast SEO for Shopify using all of our combined insights. For us, this is an entirely new app, built on a mostly new tech stack. A SaaS product is new for Yoast, and so is the necessary technology for building on Shopify. But the SEO improvements aren’t new.
We have used the existing logic from our WordPress products and have applied them to our Shopify app. We “only” had to build in a way that fits with the Shopify environment, which included working with Liquid templates, the API to store data, and designing a UI inside the Shopify admin to show customers all our options.
We set up an extensive series of tests to properly test the app. Before the Yoast SEO for Shopify API development was finished, we implemented automated API testing, which provided early test feedback and helped to improve the end result.
Creating an app launch strategy that supports early adopters
We launched Yoast SEO for Shopify on January 18, 2022. A couple of days later, on January 20, 2022, we held a big online conference to celebrate the launch of the app. Since then, we’ve been marketing the app with newsletters, ad campaigns, content marketing, and SEO.
The 2022 Online YoastCon was focused on ecommerce SEO and Shopify SEO in particular. The conference featured many great SEO experts and even included Jackson Lo and Kevin Indig from the Shopify SEO team. With over 4,500 viewers, this was a great success and an incredible way to spotlight our app.
The timing of the launch might be weird, because why January? We had initially planned to launch Yoast SEO for Shopify in late autumn 2021, but that turned out not to be feasible.
For one, the app could do with a little more maturing before then. Two, launching in October would be close to the shopping season — every merchant out there has better things to think of than experimenting with a new SEO app. So, January it was!
We did everything we could to get the launch noticed to support the app's early adoption. We prepared clear content for our listing on the Shopify App Store, including a custom video that explains how the app works for Shopify merchants. We also prepared clear descriptions about the app and focused on the value it brings and how to use it.
We had the launch event, PR, content marketing, email marketing, and more. On our site, we built a new section for the Shopify SEO app, including landing pages for all the essential features of the apps.
Our content team wrote many articles about the app and Shopify SEO, like the Shopify SEO Ultimate Guide — a 9000 word, in-depth article on the topic. The aim of all these tactics was to help our customers and surface our Shopify SEO knowledge in the Google search results. Our work hasn't ended there however, and we continue to build out our Shopify and ecommerce SEO content.
What’s unique to our offering is the Yoast SEO academy. This is a full-fledged online learning environment that we offer free to our paying customers. There are several free courses, but to most, you get access via a subscription to our SEO apps.
Besides courses about SEO, we also have specific courses on ecommerce SEO. Additionally, for the Yoast SEO for Shopify release, we launched a course specific to that app.
Building a foundation for success after launching an app
The number of installs kept on climbing in the days after the launch. We kept a close eye on what was happening, how people were using the app, and if users were running into issues.
One of the cool things about working with a SaaS company and self-hosting your application is that you can roll out fixes and improvements instantly. We are quick to respond and get updates out regularly.
Still, we need to keep up this pace to give our customers the best SEO experience on Shopify. We are a new app, and we have to work hard to succeed. Even with a name like Yoast SEO!
Customer support is the key to app success
As we're new in the Shopify world, we have to earn the trust and respect of merchants. We have loads of experience and authority in the WordPress space, but we have to start with Shopify. We're building our customer base, and one of the most important ways of doing that is by creating customer happiness.
We offer 24/7 support through email, and we offer chat/co-browsing support during the day for all our customers. We monitor the Shopify reviews and all kinds of social media channels to respond as quickly as possible.
We have a well-trained, dedicated in-house support team to look after our customers in support. Our goal is to offer excellent customer service, as our customers’ questions are our input for improvement and future features.
To do this, we manage the emails, chat, and social posts coming in through various CX tools; this makes it possible to direct the questions and remarks to the Support Engineer with the right skill. In addition, we have a built-in support beacon in our app; this is a direct route to contact our Support Engineers.
For customers, we also have a Support Help library with guides where we have the answers to frequently asked questions. Also, we have many more ways of showing our customers how to get the most out of the Yoast SEO for Shopify app, how-to guides, videos, and more. We even have an in-depth, interactive video course that our customers get for free!
Depending on the subject, our support team can handle most questions directly, but we can escalate through our tiered support operation. If bugs, feature requests, or UX improvements come up, we’ll share these with our developers to solve or put on the roadmap. Of course, we'll close the loop with the customer with the action taken in our development processes.
Our goal is always to be customer-centric; we do everything for our customers. This means we will be authentic, honest, and transparent in answering our customers.