There are many ways to market your website without spending a fortune. Chris Barling, co-founder of ecommerce software provider Sellerdeck, offers some valuable advice on SEO as well as a few other online marketing tips
Online shopping is currently growing at a rate of more than 16% year-on-year, proving that the internet remains as a great place to do business. With the right idea and a little research, small firms with an ecommerce website can find and exploit a profitable niche at very little cost and compete successfully with bigger businesses.
The following provides some tips for how to take advantage of this opportunity.
- Analyse search behaviour. Spend time researching what phrases searchers use online to find the things that you sell. Use tools like Wordtracker or the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to identify those that are widely used, but that also produce fewer than average search results. These phrases will give the best return. Also try typing things into Google to see what the autofill feature suggests, these are the other key phrases. See AnswerThePublic.com for some content ideas.
- Optimise for Google. Most consumers find a new website by using an online search engine. Google has 88% of the market, so make sure your site ranks well on Google. Beware of the limitations of search, though.
- Optimise high-ranking pages. In Google's search box, type the phrase you want to optimise for, followed by a space, then site:www.yoururl. The first page listed from your site will be the easiest to optimise for that phrase. Using Google Analytics will also help to establish your most popular pages, as well as highlight any problem pages.
- Design meta descriptions intelligently. The meta description for each page should be considered as advertising copy that is shown to the searcher in results and should be designed to get the user to click. Meta keywords are irrelevant, and keywords in meta descriptions aren't used by Google.
- Optimise the important elements. "Keyword density" is no longer an important phrase, so forcing keywords into body text doesn't need to form part of your strategy. However, it is still valuable to have your keywords in various html elements. Include the key phrase in the <Title> tag if it makes sense to do so. This tag should be no more than 160 characters long and contain the primary keyword, secondary keyword and the brand. It's also worth including your keywords within heading tags, but be careful not to over optimise. If Google thinks you've tried to get the same words or phrase in unnaturally, they'll punish you. Write for your user, but with robots in mind.
- Work on your links. The more links you have from good quality, high-ranking and relevant websites, the greater your potential to rank well. If possible, get text links containing relevant keywords in the anchor text. Tread very carefully with reciprocal linking. Links should NEVER be bought, and technically you're purchasing a link if you offer one back in return; Google is not a fan of this and is clever enough to find out. Ideally, all links should be natural, so the important thing is great content that people want to share (eg blog posts answering questions). Contribute to forums and discussion groups, including a text link in your signature. But with forums, don't annoy people or try to force a link. Most forums will use NOFOLLOW tags anyway, but they are still great to be involved in. Link building is a minefield... but an important one to cross.
- Watch what your competitors are doing. If they run a banner ad for a few weeks and then drop it, it probably didn't work - so don't waste your money copying. Anything they persist with is probably working and worth trying out. Also search for them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to see if they have any good ideas that you can copy.
- Use marketplaces wisely. Marketplaces like eBay and Amazon are popular, but margins are low. Don't make them the cornerstone of your business. Use them for offloading overstocked and end-of-line items, and to attract new customers and drive them to your main website.
- Use offers to boost profits. Run '3 for 2' offers, set up related product links and use 'also bought' functionality to increase the value of each sale. Email regular customers with exclusive offers to keep them coming back, maybe offering items related to what they have previously bought. Keep unsubscribes to a minimum by offering useful information and tips.
- Promote yourself on social media. Social media is free to use and more and more people are starting their purchase journeys there. Facebook and Twitter are the biggest, but there are other important one such as Pinterest and Snapchat. It does take time and resource to build up a trusted audience, but this is very valuable once you have done it.
- Make sure your site is fast and responsive. Google marks down sites that are slow or don't show up properly on mobile devices, especially since 'mobilegeddon' in 2015, when they started promoting mobile friendly sites on searches made via mobile.
- Measure, analyse and react. Use a web analytics package such as Google Analytics (which is very powerful and free) to measure results. Keep an eye on real time analytics, especially after posting new content. Do more of what works and stop any activity that doesn't work.
Chris Barling is chairman of SellerDeck, a company he co-founded in 1996. An ecommerce expert, enthusiastic entrepreneur and business angel, Chris has a passion for helping small businesses take advantage of new technology. He has over 30 year' experience in the IT industry.