Dec 19, 2008

Empower Your Site - Setting Up Your Own E-Commerce Website Part 6 of 6

in part 5 we looked at three essential components of your website that will determine its success. That was just a taste of the range of elements you can improve to optimise the user's experience on your website, retain visitors, get them to return to your site, and buy from your store again and again.


In the 6th and final installment we look at other elements you need to consider for the successful growth of your website.

Once your storefront is up and running, you are just at the beginning of an exciting ride ahead. You'll need to promote your site online, maintain it and continue to make improvements:

  • Promoting your online store will generate traffic;
  • Maintaining it will increase visitor confidence in your business; and
  • Improving it will help create more interest and ensure your traffic converts to sales.


Promoting Your Website

It will take time before major search engines start displaying your webpages in their free search results, especially if your domain name is new and has no history. There are strategies you can implement to reduce the delay in indexing by search engines:

  • Buy an existing domain name with a previous history and with Google PR. To find domains that are about to expire or that have already expired, visit Deleted Domains. If you have a higher budget you can use Sedo and Afternic, which are both domain name auctions sites and have a very broad choice.

  • Publish press releases (we recommend PR Web). Publish at least one press release per month relating to your website, and repeat the exercise for the first 6-8 months (you can write your own press releases, or have an experienced writer craft one for you from around $120+, while it will cost you $0+ to distribute it via sites like PR Web).

  • Optimise your pages for search engines (without however undermining the usability of your site for the end user, your customer). Using Search Engine Optimised (SEO) copy is helpful. SEO copy utilises specific keywords that are most often used when people are searching for a specific product. You can determine what keywords to incorporate into your copy by using a service such as Wordtracker.

    If you are selling women's clothing, Wordtracker tag, meta description, meta keywords, will help ascertain which keywords or short phrases people use the most when searching for women's clothing on the net. For "women's clothing" a related keyword might be "ladies fashion". You'll then take those results and use the words or related phrases in your webpage's html
    tags (eg

    ,

    etc) and within the anchor text of internal links on your site. Generally, keyword density should be about 6% to 8% of your page's total copy; density is calculated as [number of times your keywords appear on the page * number of words each keyword contains, all divided by the total number of words on the page].

  • Build up relevant backlinks to your site's home page and primary subpages. This works very well in improving search engine rankings, especially on Google. The links you build up from other sites should be on pages/websites that are relevant to the page on your site they are linking to. For example, if your site is about shoes, try to obtain links from sites/webpages related to shoes, and ask them to point the link to your home page. You can determine which sites are related to the keyword "shoes" by simply searching "shoes" in the search engine where you are trying to achieve high rankings.

    Additionally, the text that those sites use to link to your page should contain the keyword(s) you are targeting (in our example, shoes). For example, you could ask a shoes related site to link to you using anchor text "Prada shoes at 30% Off Retail, Next Day Delivery", and to href the link to your prada shoes webpage.

  • Start by targeting specific searches: in our previous example, "shoes" is a very broad term. Instead begin with more target keywords; for example if you specialise in fabric shoes then start by obtaining links from fabric shoes sites pointing to your home page or fabric shoes category.

  • List your domain in the Yahoo Directory ($299.00), in other major directories, and try to have it listed in the Dmoz directory (Free, but will take a long time to get accepted, due to the large backlog they have. If you are buying an existing domain, check whether it is already listed on Dmoz, as it would be a plus).

  • Use Google Sitemaps and regularly submit an updated sitemap of your whole website to Google (more information on Google Webmaster Tools is available at this link). A very good (free) software that crawls your site and generates an xml sitemap for you automatically is G Site Crawler.

In general it will take up to 12 months to get your site indexed on major search engines (purchasing an existing domain with some Google PR can reduce this waiting time considerably). However don't despair, invest your time improving your existing site and the user's experience, also try redirecting traffic you are already receiving (for example, from your eBay About Me page), to your new website. Keep on building up links, keep testing (testing is a very important element to succeed online, and Google Analytics is just what you ened to test your site's traffic. Th ebest part is that it's free of charge, for releasing your traffic data to Google). Once your site is fully indexed you will reap the benefits of all the hard work you have invested in the past.


If you have a higher budget, a quicker way to appear on the major search engines is to use pay-per-click (PPC) programs like Google Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing. With PPC you:

  1. Select keywords that your buyers are most likely to search for to find your products
  2. Decide on a bid price for each keyword. In general terms, when a user searches the keyword you are bidding on, the higher your keyword bid price, the higher up your ad will appear in the ad section of the search engine.
  3. Create the ad text that will be displayed when a user searches your keyword, and specify the destination URL where the user should be redirected to on your site

Each time a user searches a keyword you are bidding on, and they click on your ad, your bid price for that keyword is deducted from your account. Some programs, for example Google Adwords, also account for the click-through rate of your ad; the click-through rate is the number of times your ad is clicked versus the number of times it is displayed; the higher your ad's click through rate, the less you will pay for each click while maintaining the same or higher ad rank. This topic requires its own e-course, therefore do not be discouraged if it is not 100% clear yet. With PPC you only pay for the traffic that is referred to your website; it is then up to you and your website design and navigation flow to convert that traffic into sales.

Please be aware that pay per click advertising is a very competitive environment. If you choose to promote your website this way, start with a small daily budget and with low bid prices. Don't just aim for position 1 as you will simply receive (unless your keywords are tightly targeted) a lot of irrelevant clicks/traffic. Start from the bottom and work your way up by gradually increasing your bid prices.

PPC programs like Google Adwords offer tracking scripts you can integrate on your website to monitor how well your advertising spend is converting into sales. It is imperative you monitor the results of your advertising spend, don't just advertise for the sake of it, each pence and cent you spend should have a return to your business. Tracking scripts allow you to monitor exactly this, and to determine which keywords and ad texts are performing best. Additionally Google offers a free analytics tool called ... Google Analytics. Analytics will monitor all the traffic on your website, as well as the footsteps followed by your visitors to register, complete a purchase, or complete any action you wish to track (including downloads). Never stop tracking your traffic and testing new ideas, that is ultimately how you will spot problems on your website, improve user experience and increase your sales considerably. Price is NOT the only winning factor on the web.


Another popular way to advertise online is to pay per thousand impressions (for example, banner ads work this way), also known as cost per thousand impressions advertising (CPM, M from the latin for thousands).


Finally, don't forget to promote your website on all your literature, on your business cards, on your car. You should include a letterhead with every order you ship (you could even include your latest offers brochure, which works very well in attracting repeat orders. Ever ordered from Amazon? Amazon does exactly that, they even partner with other retailers by including their leaflets with your order. OK they are likely to charge them to do so, but what stops you from setting up a join venture agreement with 5 other related sites, each including the other 4 sites brochures with each order. Can you see the potential?). You should also consider print advertising (with competition from the Internet, nowadays you can obtain advertising on magazines and related periodicals for as little as 20% of their official price; don't be afraid to bargain with them, and always ask towards the end of their printing deadline, which is when they are most likely to have available spaces they want to fill quickly, and therefore at a discount).


Maintaining

You want your site to be as professional as possible 24/7. That means making sure all links are in proper working order, your site loads quickly and all displays are crisp and clear. Doing this instills confidence in buyers, making them more likely to make a purchase.

  1. Visit your online store numerous times a day, making sure it is functioning properly. Place test orders, check your traffic logs or analytics software (for example Google Analytics) to verify which paths your visitors are following, where most visitors are exiting your site, which paths are leading to sales, etc. This topic deserves a separate course, however we cannot stress enough its importance.

  2. Use chat software (a good option is LivePerson) to offer live support to your customers. Live chat will help you add a further level of contact with your buyers, identify problems and bottlenecks within your website much quicker, understand what your visitors are looking for or would like to see on your website, and considerably increase your sales.

  3. Use Google Webmaster Tools reports to identify broken links on your website.


Improving

You never want to be out of date on the Internet. This medium is always changing and developing, and once you begin to look out of date, you are going to lose customer confidence and sales.

Always think of your site as the ultimate mode of communication between you and your customers. That means the more you try to utilise its power as a direct, effortless and immediate mode of contacting and communicating with the public, the more likely you'll be to generate sales.

Use your site to generate interest, offer useful articles, and provide customer feedback forms. Use your customer database to e-mail newsletters, promote special sales and offer customer rewards. When you improve your site, let your patrons know. The more they see you as a positive force and a concerned businessperson the more likely they'll be to visit your site again, creating the potential for another sale.


In developing your e-commerce site, you'll have the opportunity to harness the power of the most innovative sales tool ever created. Keep it up-to-date, make it attractive and interesting and ensure that potential customers can easily purchase your products. If you can do that, you'll be well on your way to generating sales and making a solid profit.


We hope you have enjoyed reading this ecourse as much as we have producing it. While we have covered many topics in a concise manner, rest assured this 6 part ecourse contains all the basics you require to avoid 60% of the mistakes made by startup websites. The other 40% involves researching in depth the topics we have covered, testing your site and improving it regularly, intuition and dedication. The fact that you have completed this ecourse is an indication you are seriously motivated about your concept, and are ready to begin a very rewarding path to a successful online business, higher profits, but most importantly a more rewarding human experince with your not-so-virtual customers.

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