So you’ve just started your e-commerce site.
Your first problem: getting people there.
“Build it and they will come” won’t work. You have to “build it and let them know about it.”
Here’s how to get that initial traffic – without paying any money for it:
1. Online Forums Related to What You Sell
Forums are the “hidden gold” of the online marketing world. Everyone thinks they’re old and outdated.
They are old – but hundreds and thousands of people use them. Don’t make posts saying “30% off our product” or “Come buy now – just opened!”
You’ll most likely get banned from forums for spamming.
Instead, answer questions related to what you sell. Be the most in-depth answer to the question that anyone can get – anywhere.
Put a link to your site in your signature.
When it makes sense, write a whole blog post on the issue that answers the question. And post the link to that post in your reply to the question asked. Now people have a reason to come back – and keep coming back.
You can do the same on question and answer sites like Yahoo! Answers and Quora. Reddit’s also another powerhouse forum.
Some of your posts will get indexed and will rank in search. And you’ll get a nice stream of leads coming in.
The rule: the less you try to sell in your posts, and the more you try to help by solving other people’s problems (answering questions), the more you sell.
2. Earn Targeted Twitter Followers
It’s easy to get followers on Twitter. Like super easy. But it’s hard to get followers that might actually have an interest in purchasing from you at some time.
Fortunately for you, most businesses go about marketing wrong: they want to get as many followers as possible.
You, on the other hand, are smart, and focus onÂ building the relationships. You’ll get more sales in the end…and more referral sales too.
For Twitter, use Moz’s Followerwonk tool. It helps you search through profiles for specific keywords.
So if you’re a jeweler, search for “jewelry collector” or “jewelry enthusiasts.” That’s basic info. And you’ll get more keyword ideas as you do your searchers.
Follow those users. Some will follow you back.
Post useful information about jewelry, if that’s your business, (caring for it, keeping it safe, valuing it…etc) about 80% of the time. 20% of the time, add in picture posts of your products. Run the occasional promotion.
Nice, laser-targeted sales there.
3. Rank Yourself High in…Not Google…but Amazon
This is a little more time-consuming and detailed. So here’s a great guide from internet marketing thought leader Moz.
Amazon nicks you with fees, so it cuts your margins a little. But, it is exposure. And if some people search around enough, they will come from Amazon directly to your store.
4. Optimize Your Site for SEO Purposes
Notice I put this one at the end here. That’s because SEO’s super-competitive. And it’s not fast, either. You don’t have time to wait around for months to see how it works for you site.
Do it so that you get people to your site. But don’t make it your priority marketing method unless you have lots of time and money.
5. Whatever You Do, Don’t Focus on Numbers
“I have 10,000 Twitter followers.” The minute you hear someone make that statement, laugh to yourself.
Or, ask,”Who are those followers? Are they interested in your products?”
Numbers don’t mean anything in marketing. The only number that matters is sales.
A Twitter account with 500 targeted followers can be more valuable than one with 50,000 followers. And refrain from the temptation to buy followers (you can do it cheaply).
All they are is numbers. They’ll never buy. And, you’ll have more people who’ll never buy seeing your posts.
Not worth your time.
So Those are Free Ways to Hack Your Traffic!
That’s all you need to do to grow your traffic at the start. Get your e-mail list up right away too so you can make repeat sales to good customers.
And once the cash is flowing, start running PPC ads.
It’s a good no/low-cost way to get off the ground.
No traffic and just starting out? Logistics not your thing?
Few businesses get to successful places doing everything internally.
At some point, they reach out and partner with others.
It could be just what you need to get your business off the ground and running.
It’s tough though. How do you know if the deal’s fair? Will the other guy even follow through? How are you going to measure if the deal’s successful for you?
Reaching out and trusting another party is always a difficultÂ thing.
Here’s some simple tips for building partnerships with otherÂ e-commerce companies:
1. Get Media Exposure
You might have to pay for a placement somewhere in the press. Maybe you have to hire a PR consultant to do a simple job.
When you reach out to other companies, it builds a lot of credibility to have some coverage from the media.
2. Examine Your Own Assets
For someone else to want to partner with you, you must have something that benefits them. For many businesses, especially smaller ones, Â they spend most of their time and money marketing.
So simply giving them exposure to your e-mail list, assuming it’s for a similar customer that they would sell to, could be enough of a benefit for them.
3. Swap Services
You have to be careful with this one. You must have high trust that the other guy will follow through. Often, because there’s no direct benefit (like money) involved, one side ends up not holding to their end of the deal.
However, if you trust the other party profusely, there could be a fair trade somewhere. Maybe you know conversion rate optimization, design, or analytics supremely well and you could trade that for marketing.
This one will probably only work with micro-businesses though.
4. Choose Carefully
Have lunch, or at least a conversation or two with other website owners. Meet in person, if possible. Or get a video chat going. You learn so much about another person by seeing them.
Call a couple references. Ask for a written agreement laying out what each party is responsible for. Go to trade shows and do the same.
Read the customer reviews on their website and social media profiles. Google their name for other search sources.
You really can’t be too careful when choosing a business to partner with.
5. Choose for the Long-Term
It’s tough to find good, reliable partners. So pick someone you think you can work with for years. You don’t want to change partners every year, or even every couple years. It takes a lot of time…that you could use to grow your business in other ways.
So choose someone that you can help, and that can help you, for years to come.
Most SMB owners that take care of their own PPC campaigns don’t go far beyond the “broad match” option.
Don’t get down on yourself – you only have so much time.
But remember, Google makes a lot of money off those ads. So they don’t do a ton to help you reduce your costs.
That means it’s up to you to choose the most appropriate type, and to monitor your costs carefully.
Learn more about the most common match types:
1. Broad Match
So let’s start with the crux of most PPC campaigns.
Pro: About 20% of Google searches are completely new, never done before. Broad match gives you the best exposure to them.
Con: Because it can match the keywords you want in any way, including for synonyms of those terms, you can appear for many completely irrelevant searches, driving your costs up and out of control.
2. Modified Broad Match
How it works: Add a (+)Â in front of one or more keywords. You then only appear for searches that explicitly include the keywords that have that (+) sign in front of them.
Pro: Much more precise targeting and more efficient ad costs.
Con: You might miss out on some new opportunities. But then again, maybe you don’t care about that at this point.
3. Phrase Match
How it works: You want to appear for certain key phrases that specifically match a set order you determine. You can also come up for words and phrases that appear before or after yourÂ specifically set phrase.
Pro: More precision targeting and marketing than modified broad match, which leads to more efficient marketing costs.
Con: Again, you may push out some relevant keyword searches that could earn you sales.
4. Exact Match
How it works: Just like it sounds. Your ads appear for searches that exactly match what you set.
Pro: You’ll get good conversion rates…if you’ve chosen the most relevant keywords.
Con: You’ll close out all other opportunities. So you better pick the right keywords that will convert.
You Have to Try All 4 Approaches to See What Works Best
…That is unless you get obvious keyword types like “buy diamond rings online” because you know what people are looking for when they type that in.
Sometimes, though, you’ll be surprised. Others, you won’t have any real clue until you test and try.
But, PPC is one of the few sources of accurate and reliable data in online marketing. So once you figure out what works, you’ll be in great shape.
The Fed has caught on to businesses that try to classify what really are “employees” as “contractors.” The reasons the Department of Labor is so focused on this are:
â€˘ It costs the US government tax revenue
â€˘ Workers don’t get employee benefits like minimum wage protection, overtime, unemployment, and worker’s compensation
â€˘ Some businesses do this purposefullyÂ to cut their own costs and avoid spending time and money on complying with labor laws
You can also do this unintentionally, which costs you lots of money in taxes and fines. So it’s important to make sure you have it straight.
And you can experience bigtime penalties like:
â€˘ Having to pay all the past withholding taxes due
â€˘ Penalties costing 1.5% of the employee’s wages and 40% of their FICA taxes
â€˘ .5% for not paying taxes for each month the taxes were not paid, up to 25% of the total tax liability
You can attempt to read the Department of Labor’s report here. Or you can read our simple Plain-English comments below:
1. Who Determines If You Have Employees or Contractors?
You can classify your workers however you want. But, you don’t make the final decision on that.
States, the IRS, and the Department of Labor all have power in that decision.
The test that they use to determine if you have an “employee” or “contractor” is how much control you exert over their time. They may ask questions like:
â€˘ Did you tell the individualÂ when to do the work?
â€˘ Did you tell the individualÂ how to do the work?
â€˘ Did you tell the individualÂ where to do the work?
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the interpretation most often determines that employees are present.
2. Â Today, DOL Has Shifted to a 6-Factor “Economic Realities Test”
And basically, the factors they choose to analyze look like this:
1. Can you, the employer, provide your products or services without the help of the individual(s)? If no, they’re likely an employee.
2. Can the individual experience both a profit and loss? If yes, they look more like a contractor.
3. Do both the individual and company have similar financial investment? For example, if their profit and loss is approximately the same, the more the individual looks like a contractor.
4. Does the work required need special skills, and can those skills be used independently of the individual’s directions from the employer? If yes, the individual appears to be a contractor.
5. How long has the relationship been in place? The longer it is, the more the individual looks like an employee.
6. How much control does the company have? This is more from a financial perspective. For example,Â does the contractor have the ability to turn down jobsÂ andÂ set their own rates for accepted jobs?
If you’ve just discovered you’re doing this at your business, it’s best to take action right away. Talk to your lawyer or an accountant immediately.
It doesn’t get the attention of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. But if you have a female market, it’s a social media outlet you can’t afford to pass up.
This infographic from Shopify claims the average order value from Pinterest customers is $50 – greater than what you get with any other social media network.
Lately, however, the male user base is experiencing growth. Pinterest gets used more by the mobile crowd. And the user base is expanding substantially into foreign countries.
So there may be more opportunities for you to tap into other markets both now and in the future.
1. Pinning May Be the Only Type of Social Media Post that Lasts Long-Term
You can post rich pins, which contain extra information on the pin itself. So that’s where your product information goes.
Down the road…the typical pin gets repinned 11 times. And half of the clicks and views it gets happen more than 3 months after you originally pin.
Now that’s long-term value you’re not going to see on any other social media network. Plus, you don’t have to pay for it.
All you need is some good old-fashioned sweat equity.
2. Your Boards Have to Evoke Emotion
So regardless of what kind of product you sell, don’t simply show pictures of the product on a table or white or gray background.
That’s better than nothing at all if that’s what you can produce.
But, at the end of the day, people buy because of an emotional attachment to your product. And they get attached by understanding your product has the solution to their problem.
So if you sell coffee, for example, show people engaged in lively conversation over cups of coffee. Or show someone wrapped up in a blanket at home on a cold winter day enjoying a warm cup of coffee.
Now that’s going to help your product sell.
3. Create a “How-To” Pin
Another way to connect with potential customers is to give “how-tos” featuring your product. That could be how to do something with Â your product so your customers get more out of it (good).
It could be how to maintain your product so they don’t have to pay for repairs (better). Or you could show how your product solves a certain problem they have (best).
4. Make Sure You Have a “Pin-It” Button On Your Site
Okay, so save the easiest for last here. But it’s often overlooked…and especially so for new store owners.
Make sure people have the ability to share your product to Pinterest if they want.
The easier and more obvious you make things, the more likely people are to take the action.
If Your Market’s on Pinterest, Don’t Ignore It in Your Marketing Plan
Pinterest is a $7 billion company…and it just got an additional $225 million in funding last year. It’s on the rise internationally.
So it makes sense to account for it in your marketing plan.
“You never really know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. That way,Â Â you’re a mile away…and you have their shoes.”
Okay, so ignore the second sentence there. But, it is important to learn from others who have been there before.
Most businesses have nothing new, original, or innovative to offer. Most are copies or clones of the other who do things just a little better.
So it makes more sense to learn from those who are further down the path in their e-commerce journey.
Check out some of the most helpful things other business owners have to say, and see what you can learn from them:
1. Use Tools to Automate Processes So You Have Time to Grow Your Business
You’d be surprised what you can find out there. If you have a problem or time-suck at your business, odds are there’s an app or SaaS software that solves it.
Google your problem relentlessly until you find the solution. Go to Angel.co to find a startup that performs the service you need.
And if you can’t find the right app or SaaS software, you can hire the process out affordably. Just use Upwork.
2. Treat Your Customers Like…Human Beings You Care About
It’s easy to focus too much on the numbers, and think,”Oh well. This oneÂ doesn’t matter. We’ll get the next one.”
Throw that thinking out the window because your competitors most likely think that. Instead, work on making each and every customer a super-happy one.
Be fearless in picking up the phone. Make your marketing so personal customers feel like you’re standing right in front of them, talking to them in person.
It makes a difference in your long-term sales.
3. Make Money a By-Product of Running an Excellent Business, Not the End Product
You should love what you do each day, or most days. That means you’re in something you really care about. That gives you energy when things get tough. And it keeps you fun and enthusiastic to be around – a contagious attitude for your customers and employees.
Money’s important, no doubt. You can’t ignore it. But if you focus on personal customer service, great product quality, and exceeding customer expectations, money will come in whether you want it to or not.
4. Spend Lots of Time on Google Analytics
The great thing about the web and online business in general isn’t that you can instantly spread your message. It’s that you can get much more personal interaction and honest feedback from you customers.
This information took millions of dollars to collect back in the 1980s. So spend time on Google Analytics looking at your stats, and understanding what they mean. Test adjustments to your business. Your market will tell you what they like…if only you listen to them.
Successful e-commerce owners put these tips to use every day. Use them in your own business…and watch it thrive.
In business…it’s about getting every little edge that you can get over your competitor’s, isn’t it?
Don’t they always say,”The great ones pay attention to fine detail.”
Well, here’s something that I guarantee 99% of your competitors are not doing. In fact, most don’t even know about it.
It’s called “schema.” And it’s been in play for several years.
In a nutshell, schema helps search engines understand what your search result means, not just what it says.
And you’ll want to take advantage of it because it makes your search result more attractive than your competitor’s search results for specific searches. So you can get some more clicks that maybe you couldn’t in years past.
Here’s how you can make the best use of it so you snatch traffic away from your competitors:
1. Use Microdata
There’s actually several forms of metadata. Google’s only concerned about Microdata. So that’s all you need to deal with.
And since there’s a deal among all search engines to support microdata, you’ll make all the major ones happy when you use it.
Google supports rich snippets for reviews, people, products, businesses and organizations, recipes, events, and music. Since you most likely sell products, you’re good to go there.
2. If You Have WordPress, There’s Plugins to The Rescue!
If you have Genesis 2.0 or later, there’s great news: it automatically takes care of your schema microdata markup for you.
But if you don’t, there’s plenty of plugins to help you out. WP Social SEO Booster may be the only plugin that supports the “Article” markup. “Article” markup helps your blog posts be more visible to Google. It also supports Open Graph markup for Facebook.
The WP Rich Snippets plugin is a good one to use if you don’t mind paying $49. You can add all sorts of Â functionality to your website, like star ratings, prices, hours open, votes, and others.
3. If You Don’t Have WordPress, I Don’t Have Good News for You…
Unfortunately, without a simple plugin, schema is tough to implement. And it takes much more time and space than we have here. A good guide to use is this one from KISSmetrics.
Just know that once you have schema microdata implemented on your pages, you’ll get more clicks and sales.
Should you go out of your way to implement it at all costs right now? No.
Should you add it in step-by-step slowly over time to improve sales? Absolutely.
In the early days of your business, almost everything’s gotta be you.
You’re the accountant, web designer, marketer, salesman, director of operations, and customer service department.
But, at some point, you have to let those things go. Otherwise, Â you spend all your time working and not actually enjoying your life.
And it’s generally better to outsource because you save 30-50% more time than you do by hiring employees. Think about all the training and ongoing management you have to do with employees.
With freelancers, you just say the words, and it’s over. So they have to work hard and to your satisfaction.
So here’s things you should strongly consider outsourcing so you can work on instead of in your business:
1. E-mail Customer Service/Live Chat
Your company has a personality. It’s hard for your customers to tell what your personality is through written words only.
So hand these tasks over to someone else. Leave the phone customer service to yourself, or to a trusted employee.
The strategic tasks related to finance should stay under your control. But the minutia – entering and tracking all the transactions in QuickBooks, should go to others. The same for all the paperwork and administrative work related to processing payroll.
That can be done by a firm. You need to get information from them and decide what to do with it.
Do you have proven success marketing? Have you created your own strategy and executed it online, leading to consistent growth?
If you haven’t, or you’re not even sure what marketing is, it’s not a bad idea to pay, and pay well, for marketing help.
Basically, marketing is communicating with your customers, showing them why you’re the best choice for their money.
If you’re saying “we’re the best” or “we’re the market leader,” in your marketing materials, you need serious marketing help.
Good marketing gets your business off the ground fast…much faster than it would without professional marketing help. It basically involves figuring out what to say, and how to say it in a way that connects with your customers.
It eats up a lot of time to pack and ship product. And it doesn’t require a specialized skillset to do. Outsource that part to someone else.
For you, though, you should focus on creating the most efficient processes. And you should work with shippers to negotiate the best deals on shipping. That’s where your time’s most valuable.
5. Receiving Stock
This is another time-eater that’s just not worth it for you to deal with. Should you really be reading the packing list and counting everything to make sure your order’s correct?
You can pay just about anyone to count. Spend your time on building relationships with suppliers instead!
Did You Notice the Common Theme with All of These?
The “grunt work,” the simple stuff, should be hired out. You can pay Americans $7.25 per hour to do some of this work (You might want to pay more to get better quality work and trustworthy workers), and some of it can even be sent overseas for cheaper (if you’re comfortable).
You should do the higher-level stuff that grows your business.
You’re staring at a blank WordPress screen for the tenth hour today.
And still no good ideas pop into your mind!
You’re exhausted. Your fingers hurt. Your mind’s numb.
But somehow, you’re supposed to find something interesting to write about.
It’s easier than you think!
So relax, I got you covered.
Try these simple ways to find content ideas:
1. Enter Your Keywords into Buzzsumo
Buzzsumo helps you identify the most popular topics on the web for any keyword. All you have to do is enter in the keyword, and then a list of the posts with the most social shares on the keyword comes up.
You get to see the top 10 most popular topics for free. And they give you a handful of free searches too.
There’s a free trial of the pro version also. So you get to decide whether or not you like the tool before you pay.
2. Mercilessly Steal from Your Competitors
Okay, so don’t do this literally. I don’t want you to get a letter from someone’s lawyer that demands money!
But, you get the idea. Visit your competitor’s blogs. Subscribe to their newsletters. Download their free content. Follow their social profiles.
You’ll get familiar with what works and doesn’t work in your space.
It’s certainly okay to copy your competitors ideas to write about.
But make sure you take an original angle.
You’ll avoid plagiarism. And you don’t want your visitors to find out that you stole from another source, either.
3. Your Customers Themselves
The awesome thing about the internet is that you get first-hand market research companies used to shuck outÂ big bucks for decades ago.
Even though the web is impersonal in the sense that you don’t interact with people in person as much, it’s highly personal in that you can interact with your market and understand exactly what goes on in their heads.
On your social media profiles, watch for what people ask or complain about repeatedly. Ask them questions on the phone when you do your customer service.
If one customer has an idea, it’s likely that 1000 others do too. It’s common that only one person gives you honest feedback of your business from their perspective.
4. Keep a Notepad Filled with Ideas
You can write this down on paper, or store it somewhere with your business’s most important information.
Good ideas usually don’t come to you when you set aside dedicated time trying to think about them.
They happen at random times all throughout the day.
Sometimes, they pop in Â your head out of nowhere.
Others, a specific sentence triggers them.
Write those ideas down as soon as you recognize them.
That Will Give You More than You Can Ever Write About…
Unless you plan on hiring your own content team, that’s going to give you more ideas that you can handle.
You read that title right.
Rankings are not a good way to measure marketing success.
Not by a long shot.
Every website owner’s obsessed with them.
But you shouldn’t be.
1. Google Can Take Them Away Completely…At Any Time
It’s not Google’s goal to annihilate SMBs from their search rankings. But remember, they are one of the biggest companies in the entire world.
So they have to keep finding new ways to turn a profit. Now, out of all their revenue streams, the money they make from PPC advertising is by far their biggest revenue stream.
Simple logic tells you it’s in their best interest to get you paying for PPC.
Recently, with local search rankings, they changed the 7-pack to a 3-pack. Now the official reasoning for this has nothing to do with increasing revenues.
But if you examine the results, they make PPC ads more obvious, and reduced the number of organic search results. Any sane person will recognize they’re going to keep doing things like this that push more businesses toward paid search.
2. There’s So Many Other Aspects of Marketing
SEO rankings are a part of your marketing success. But there’s so many other things that affect the success of your marketing too:
1. How you differentiate from the competition
2. The position of your product in your market’s mind
3. Conversion optimization
4. Quality of your copy and content
5. How hard you promote your copy and content
6. Other places you promote, like social media
7. The quality of your product photos
8. The functionality of your website
9. Timeliness and relevance of your marketing newsletter
So putting huge weight on Â your SEO rankings isn’t wise to do when you have all these other aspects that affect the results of your marketing.
3. Google Personalizes Results More Every Year
They do it based on search history, people in your network, and your location. So those rankings you see may not be what everyone else sees.
Google moves the target of SEO rankings so much…does it really make sense to invest your time and money in that?
What SEO Rankings Do
At the end of the day, your search rankings get you more exposure. And of course, it’s logical that the more exposure you get, the more sales you make.
But since exposure is just a part of your marketing, it’s not sensible to view your search rankings as your primary metric of success.
At the end of the day, conversion rate, how efficiently you make your sales, matters more.
Yes, SEO is important. And you should optimize your site according to Google’s SEO guidelines.
But, at the end of the day, you should view good rankings as a nice bonus, not the focus of your online marketing strategy.