It’s pretty likely we’ll see Penguin 3.0 here in 2014, says Google’s John Mueller. That’s bad news for people who’ve been manipulating the search rankings. And it’s still kind of scary for you if you’ve been doing white-hat SEO because even a single link with optimized anchor text could get you in the penalty box.
There’s no doubt Penguin will cause some trouble here in the near future, and it’s hard to say whether or not it’ll affect you.
Most of those “built” links, the ones where either you or your SEO team manually created the link on someone else’s site, are no good anymore.
What you need to focus on is “link earning.”
But there’s more to earning links than just creating heroically useful content. In fact, if you just create the content and don’t promote it, you’ll get barely any links at all.
So how do you “earn” links so you have a 100% natural link profile that doesn’t irk Google?
First, Understanding Link Earning and SEOÂ
Too many businesses get caught up on the “technical stuff” that makes up SEO. Keywords, alt tags, anchor text, page load times – those are important.
But, the technical stuff isn’t as important as what SEO’s really all about: providing value.
The most valuable sites on the web get the most visitors, social shares, and business. They provide absolutely the best content you can possibly find…anywhere.
In an ideal internet world, people would stumble upon your website, read your content, think it’s awesome, and then link to it.
And that does happen. But if you don’t promote, it happens at a snail’s pace, which makes it so slow that your business never gets off the ground.
So, you have to accelerate that process somehow.
And here are some ways to do get word about your content out:
1. Find blog posts with lots of shares and write even better posts. People usually write posts that go something like “7 ways to…” You can easily top them by doing “57 ways to…” Then, you go to http://www.opensiteexplorer.org, type in the URL of that blog post, and see who’s linking to it. You contact the linking sites, tell them about your updated post, and ask for a link. You get a 5-10% response or so, but they’re all awesome-quality links.
2. Do an expert roundup. These are awesome link generators. Contact 100-150 people in your niche and ask for their opinion on a question. Tell them you’ll give them a link in return. You’ll get 30-40 responses or so. Many of those experts will link to your expert roundup.
The nice thing about link earning strategies is these links come about in the way Google intends. They’re 100% natural – and you’ll never get penalized because of them.
Google changes its algorithm 300-500 times per year, so having links that’ll never get you in trouble is huge for your long-term SEO health.
Enjoy your good (and safe) search rankings!
It seems like all those big e-commerce stores grew up over night, didn’t they? You know that’s not the truth, but it sure appears like that’s the case.
So maybe the growth didn’t happen immediately, but they certainly did experience some rapid growth spurts.
What have other e-commerce stores done that you haven’t yet?
Try these tips:
1. Build Partnerships
Walmart is trying to accelerate its e-commerce growth through acquisitions. You may have the capital to do that at a smaller scale. But you definitely could build partnerships.
What products and services do you have the infrastructure to offer that could help someone else’s business out? How could they benefit you?
Find a match, and you may be able to accelerate the growth for both of your companies.
2. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
It’s still somewhat of an obscure term, but CRO will catch on more here in 2014. So rather than just sitting there and watching your web pages, start testing them to see what layouts convert the best.
Do pages with more videos convert better than those without? If you write your own copy (versus using the manufacturer’s), does that make a difference? What happens on pages optimized for specific keywords?
How should the call-to-action be implemented?
Test all your pages, and when you find a winning template, use it on your product pages. Make sure you keep testing too because your visitors can become “blind” to the new format after a few months.
3. Think about Adding Instagram as a Social Network to Get Active On
The Instagram of 2014 is much like Pinterest in 2013. It’s still largely undiscovered, but many companies have grown from relative obscurity into established multimillion dollar powerhouses.
Think about getting active on there too if you’re not already.
4. Build Relationships with 3PLs
If you’re really growing rapidly, you may need logistics help. However, finding a good vendor takes a lot of time and effort. If you’re anticipating serious growth, get to know different 3PLs. And if you are growing rapidly, it’s not too late to hire outside help.
5. Sell Goods Available Only Online
If you sell products also available offline, you encounter the problem of increased competition. That kills your margins. And then it’s difficult, if not almost impossible, to provide good service.
6. Use Email Marketing
You won’t see anyone on major tech blogs trumpeting how you should use email marketing. It’s an old, humble tool for growing your business. But even though that’s the case, it’s still one of the most effective digital marketing methods, and possibly the highest-ROI one of all.
Keep Trying Until You Find What Works!
Very simply stated, business is doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. If your store isn’t growing at the rate you want, try these tips. You might just find it finally takes off after all your hard work up to this point.
Okay, so it’s no secret that mobile e-commerce grows at an incredible rate. But just what is that rate?
E-marketer estimated $262.3 billion in sales for 2013 (according to Forbes). By 2017, they expect that number to be around $440 billion. That equates to an annual growth rate of 13.8%!
So what should you do to make sure you maximize Â your revenue during that time? A few tips:
1. Your Site Has to Look Good on Mobile, and Similar to Your Parent Site
In many cases, you can just use a responsive site. In others, and especially if you have a larger site, it makes sense to have an entirely separate mobile version. If you go that route, make sure all the sites are similar (if not exactly the same) in design so customers have a consistent brand experience.
2. Optimize Image Sizes
Cellular broadband connections still aren’t nearly as fast as their wired counterparts. You must have a beautiful design and you should have gorgeous product images. But, you also have to keep their file sizes as small as possible. A few tenths of a second do make a difference in the number of online sales you make.
3. You Should Have a Help/FAQ Section
Most websites have this, but many mobile e-commerce sites are guilty of leaving these sections out of their site. If you force them to go to a desktop version of your help/FAQ section, they’ll be less likely to actually browse through it because it won’t be as easy to use on a mobile device.
That’ll definitely cost you some sales.
4. Test Your Design on All Mobile Operating SystemsÂ
This tip seems fairly common-sense, but designs and coding are unpredictable, if nothing else. For example, Android 2.1 doesn’t support the background-size CSS property. And that causes headaches when it comes to sizing images.
You never know what could go wrong, so make sure you test your design out on all major mobile phone operating systems.
5. Set Different Portrait and Landscape Text Sizes
Why does this make any sense to do? Well, when people turn their phones from portrait view to landscape view, what they really want is larger text – not longer lines. You generally want a size around 14 pixels.
6. Use Collapsible Navigation with a Single-Column LayoutÂ
It’s almost imperative to use a single-column layout. People’s fingers are simply too large to navigate more than one column on a single smartphone screen. Collapsing your initial menus makes them all easy to see right away on the home screen.
Enjoy Your Profits!
Mobile commerce is all about user experience. If you follow these tips, you certainly will do all right as e-commerce grows in the future.
How would you like to dramatically increase your sales?
Well, that’s what buyer persona documents help you do!
To understand why they work, consider this metaphor. So you’re throwing darts, trying to hit a target. While you have a vague sense of where the target is, you’re not sure of its exact location. Maybe it’s a little dark, or you don’t have your contacts on.
You’ll certainly score decently, but you’d score much higher if it was light outside or you had your contacts on, right?
Buyer personas are the target. What they are is documents that describe in intense detail who your buyer is. That way, when you market, you can create messaging that resonates with that particular kind of buyer.
If you don’t know who’s buying from you or why, you can still market, but it makes sense your efforts won’t be nearly as effective, right?
How to Create Personas
Large corporations have detailed buyer personas created that have come from years of marketing research. How do you, a much smaller business, create the same?
Here are some tips:
1. Start Broad
First, let’s say you sell athletic supplies like baseballs, gloves, and custom team jerseys. You have a few different buyers:
2. Kids and young adults
3. Private athletic clubs
2. Now, Get Further into the Detail
But what detail should you use? Well, fortunately, a ton of it is right in front you in Facebook. When you go to set up Facebook Ads, the more of those details you can enter, the better.
Here’s a brief list of some of those details – go to Facebook Ads for the rest:
â€˘Â Income level
â€˘Â Relationship status
â€˘Â Buying motivation
â€˘Â Buying concerns
You don’t need to fill in all of those details right away. And some of them may not apply to any of your customer segments at all. But, the more of that information you can get in exquisite detail, the better.
Tools to Use
If you already are active with your web store on the internet, you should have some good data available in:
â€˘Â Facebook Insights
â€˘Â Google Analytics Audience Reports
â€˘Â Phone conversations with your customers
If you’re not already up and running, examine your competition. Look at the particularly big companies because they’ve probably already invested a fair amount of money in their marketing research.
Look at the type of products they sell, their price ranges, the messaging they use in their copy, and the comments they get on their Facebook pages.
There’s No Easy Answers Out There…
When it comes to business, it’s up to you to find solutions to your market’s problems. These steps help you identify buyer personas, and once you understand those, you can laser-target your marketing and supercharge your ROI.
E-mail marketing has one of the greatest ROIs of any online marketing tactic. And online marketing is much more effective than any form of traditional marketing.
If you have a new e-commerce company, growing your newsletter subscriber list is a great way to build your business.
Let’s take a look at some mistakes other companies have made so you don’t make them yourself:
1. Keep it Simple
Most companies have several messages they like to communicate that they believe sell best. When you first start out in those earlier years, focus on a single message.
Because everyone else has so many different things to say, your consistent message will stand out.
2. Don’t Buy a List to Start
Another name for digital marketing is “permission-based marketing.” This means you provide good quality content, products, and services first – and earn your customer’s attention as a result.
So if you just buy a list, and you never got permission to e-mail the people on that list, you’re going to get a very low response rate.
Earn their interest instead and grow your list organically.
3. No Personalization
Part of earning your customer’s attention involves being personable. It sounds funny attempting to do this on the web, which seems very impersonal.
But it has its own techniques. One very easy way to personalize your email newsletter is to include the customer’s name in it 1-2 times.
Do any more than that and you’ll be like the guy who thinks he’s your best friend – even though you just met.
4. Sending Your Newsletter as a PDF Attachment
Believe it or not, some small businesses still do this. Do what your customer expects – send your newsletter in the body of an e-mail just like everyone else.
5. Not Looking at the Numbers
So you’re a small business owner with a limited amount of time. You won’t be able to check your numbers often. But do give them a peek every once in a while (monthly at least).
Look at your open rates, bounce rates, and your click-throughs. Make small decisions that might help you improve those numbers, like improving the offer, sending at different times of day, and so on.
6. Never Setting a Goal
Before you even write an e-mail, make sure you have a goal behind it first. Do you want to keep customers engaged, get them to buy now, or just to inform?
Have a reason and purpose behind your e-mail marketing program.
Enjoy Your New Business Growth!Â
So those are 6 e-mail marketing mistakes e-commerce SMBs just like yours make. Are you guilty of any? And if so, are you prepared to take action to change what you’re doing?
Is a value proposition really all that big of a difference maker for your business? It can be – if you do it right.
What a value proposition encompasses can literally cause your business to explode overnight. A good value proposition is communicated right away on your home page.
There aren’t very many good ones among either corporations or small businesses.
But here’s an example of one that’s done very well:
Now, I will warn you there are some curse words on their front page. So if that bothers you, don’t go there.
But what it does really well from a value standpoint is address a huge problem: most presentations are boring to watch. They follow the immediate value proposition up with some pretty awesome copywriting too.
So, if you’re wondering how to create a high-quality homepage that converts, it’s a great example of that too.
How do You Find Your Value Proposition?
Wow, that’s actually an incredibly involved process. Let’s take a look at some tips:
1. Know the Standard Offering in Your Market
Are you a donut eater? If I could, I would eat donuts all day long. How’s a cream-filled, frosted vanilla long-john sound?
Sounds great, right?
But you can eat one anywhere, so there’s no reason to visit one business versus any others.
Now, I’ve discussed this business before as one that’s differentiated, but I’m going to again because it really does an awesome job of it.
VooDoo Donuts makes donut-eating quite awesome. Look at all the tasty donuts on their home page – there’s even one that looks like a ghost or ghoul!
You get the same old thing in a brand new and interesting way. People have a reason to go to VooDoo Donuts because they can’t get the same thing anywhere else.
And guess what? Locals report the place has lines until 2 AM!
2. Identify Your Market’s Problem, Or Create One
Now in the donut market, there wasn’t anything “wrong” with donuts. People weren’t complaining about their quality or how to find the flavors they really liked.
In your market, you’ll hear the same old thing again and again. That’s the key to finding your value proposition!
Don’t worry if you can’t identify one right away. It can take months or years before one becomes clear.
3. Know Your Own Company’s Strengths
Once you identify one, make sure you can actually execute on it. Maybe your value proposition is delivering your products faster than anyone else.
It could be making products that last longer than all the others.
Whatever you do, you have to be able to deliver on it.
So What is Your Value Proposition?
It could take lots of refining before you finally hit it on the head. Talk with your employees and customers. Get feedback from people you trust.
Keep working towards it, and when you finally discover it, your business will take off!
Should you be a sole proprietor, S-Corp, C-Corp, LLC, or something else altogether? While you get to be your own boss and do things your own way when you run your own business, the drawback is that if you’re self-employed, you pay very high taxes.
In fact, my accountant says the self-employed pay higher taxes than employees 95-99% of the time!
At least you have a lot more control over determining Â your income…
Anyway, this whole idea sparks the debate of what type of legal entity is best for your business. We could write a whole serious of blog posts on that, but let’s look at it from a purely financial perspective today.
Here are some pros & cons of each:
1) Sole proprietor
This is how the IRS treats you by default. The benefit of this is that it’s really, really easy to manage come tax time each year. The drawback is that if you are involved in a legal suit, your entire income and all your assets can be pursued in court.
A LLC is easy to manage – legally and financially. You pay the same taxes that you do as a sole proprietorship, unless you designate yourself to be treated taxwise as a S-Corp.
The really good news – if you are involved in a legal suit, only income and assets of the LLC can be pursued in court. Nothing personal you have can be attacked. Now if you’re a one-person LLC, that will still be all your income. But, your personal assets won’t be in jeopardy.
If you’re never planning on going public, this may be the entity for you. You can have up to 100 shareholders. S-Corps take a little more work to operate (speaking in a legal sense), but they protect your personal assets, and they do not pay any taxes themselves at the federal level (all profits pass through to employees and shareholders, who are taxed). You can also characterize part of the income you and your employees receive as “dividends” which reduces your self-employment taxes (but be careful when you do this).
This is almost always for companies going public. The corporation itself pays taxes, and so do all employees and shareholders. But, this is done in exchange for the right to having an unlimited number of shareholders – and explosive growth.
What Should You Do?Â
Did you know you can be a legal LLC, but get tax treatment as a S-Corp? It’s really the best of both worlds: you have great freedom to run your business how you see fit, and favorable tax treatment.
The key with S-Corps is making sure you elect a reasonable portion of your salary to be “dividends.” And for guidance on that, you have to analyze common salaries in your business and get an educated opinion from your accountant.
Good luck as you run your business out there!
Do you have employees…or contractors? Either way, you have to treat them right to get the best productivity out of them.
But if you’ve never been a supervisor or manager before, how do you do that?
Here are some tips:
1. Think of everything past bosses did that made you angry…and do the opposite!
If you didn’t like how your past bosses treated you, why would anyone else like that kind of treatment? Did they give you unfair deadlines, take the credit for your hard work, or give you the worst hours?
Even though your employees or contractors may not see negative things to you in person, they will take that negativity out on you in other ways. For example, you may notice an unexpected decline in service quality or performance.
So, share the credit, give your employees control over their hours, and work with them on deadlines when circumstances unexpectedly change. Your business notices it in its bottom line at the end of the month.
2. Get their feedback.Â
People who are involved in decisions that affect them buy into them more strongly. Remember when you were a kid and you got told what to do, with no other option?
Didn’t that make you want to do the assigned task less? But then, on occasion, you got to participate in deciding what you should do next on vacation. And it was awesome when your parents followed through!
Besides more buy-in, you also can’t possibly be aware of how everything’s going on your own. You also don’t know how other people are affected by your decisions.
Feedback – especially honest feedback – dramatically transforms your business when you implement the appropriate changes.
3. Be fun to be around.Â
Work is important, and you should take what you do seriously. But that doesn’t mean you have to use a serious, intense, and competitive attitude when you’re actually doing it.
In fact, many studies have shown that fun workplaces are more productive. Google, for example, lets employees scale a rock wall, bowl, and play volleyball at its headquarters. And last year, they just made $57.86 billion in revenue – a company record.
You may not be able to let your employees do that, but it demonstrates the point.
Staying Motivated Wins the Race
When it comes right down to it, your business is going to win the competition because you make your employees happy. In turn, they make your customers happy.
Few companies know how to make this happen in reality, so if you can find a way to do this, Â you have a huge competitive advantage at your disposal.
It’s scary when business slows down…especially when you’re in the early days. Are things going to get better in the near future? How long will you have to hold on? How do you plan your personal finances to make it through the lean times?
There’s no perfect answer to what to do when things are slow, but there are some things you can do:
1. Market Your Business (or Find New Ways to do So)
You should be marketing your company when things are going well, and when they’re not going like you hoped. But, now that things are slow, you have some more time to test out new marketing strategies and refine existing ones.
2. Send a Free Gift to Customers
Speaking of marketing – nothing works better than a surprise. Randomly select some of your customers and send them something for free. They’ll be ecstatic – and word will spread far and wide about your company.
My mom recently got a Keurig ($125 value) for free. She did not sign up for anything to get it. Now she’s not a coffee drinker, but she gave it to my wife, who is.
Guess what her opinion of the company is? And guess what I’ll tell other people about Keurig if they ever need a coffee maker?
3. Spend Time with Family & Friends
When business is busy…make your money. But when it slows down, that’s a good time to refresh and recharge for the next busy spurt. Since Â your so busy in the digital world, take some time out from it and get your brain on the right track again by interacting with others in the real world.
4. Analyze Your Processes
The busy time will come again in the future, so now’s a great time to analyze how you’ve been doing things and see if they can’t be done better or faster. Unless you’re a gigantic corporation, most likely there’s some room for improvement.
5. Go on Vacation
One of the most difficult things to do when you own a SMB is to take a break of any kind. It’s tempting to think you need to work hard when business is Â there, and then work hard again when it is not there to get it coming back again.
But, the reality is that it always comes back if you do good work or provide great quality products consistently over the long run. Now’s the time to refresh and recharge so you’re ready to do top-notch work again during the next rush.
There’s Always Plenty to Do!
What you have to do is prioritize what’s most important to you. A combination of marketing, prepping for the next flood of business, and re-energizing usually works best.
But the specifics are up to you. What’re you doing right now during your slow time, or how do you plan to handle slow times in the future?
Let me know in the comments below:
Is your e-commerce site doomed to failure or primed for success right from the start? It’s hard to say without having taken any action.
No e-commerce site perfectly matches your customer’s needs immediately. But, if you work towards these principles over the long run, your site will succeed:
1. Engaging Product Descriptions
Okay, so writing the descriptions about your products isn’t necessarily the most glamorous part of your website or maintaining it. But you can bet it is effective.
If you’re using manufacturer product descriptions, you’re shooting your website’s success in the foot. You should talk about the benefits your products offer.
To discover each product’s benefits, keep asking the question, “So what?”
2. Clear Call-to-Action Buttons
Like product descriptions, call-to-action buttons aren’t necessarily glamorous. But their color, and what they say, makes a huge impact on your conversions.
There is no one magical color that skyrockets your conversions. Rather, the key is a color that stands out from your website’s primary colors. For example, an orange button stands out well on a blue website (rather than a light blue button).
3. Visible Policies
Make this its own web page. Your policies should be clear and easy for anyone to understand. If your customers have to interrogate you like they are talking to an insurance representative, you’re being unclear.
It’s worth it to hire a professional writer to take care of writing these if writing isn’t your strength.
4. Finely Defined Niche
In entrepreneurship, you often hear people preach endlessly about taking action first, and thinking things through later. Now, when running your own e-commerce business, this generally holds true.
However, one situation where you don’t want to do that is in defining your niche. If you don’t think it through at first and choose a low-margin niche, your business is in trouble right from the start.
If you choose a low-competition niche, it’s so much easier to turn a profit and run a healthy business.
5. Constant Innovation
Now, you probably won’t be able to keep up with the likes of Amazon and Zappos. But, if you serve a tightly-defined niche, you probably realize your customers have new problems that crop up all the time.
Designing creative solutions to their problems is up to you – and it’s a great way to keep more customers.
6. An Awesome TeamÂ
Now if that “team” is just you for now, that’s fine. In addition to a great niche and product, customers want great service. Make sure everything gets to them fast. And if something doesn’t go their way, fix it for them.
On certain occasions, go way over the top and do crazy customer service things like refunding your customer twice their money. You may not directly get business right away, but you’ll get a strong reputation and more business in the long run.
Wrapping It Up…
Success isn’t actually that mysterious. Most businesses think they are unique and put their customers first when in fact they do neither.
Do both, keep these traits in mind as you grow your e-commerce store, and you’ll do awesome!