Welcome back! I hope everyone had an amazing holiday season. We did - both professionally and personally. Online sales were up this year and traffic continues to improve as more and more buyers are looking for a great bargain. Personally, with some forward planning we were able to take some much-needed time off over both Christmas and New Years holiday weekends to spend time with family. I was so glad to have my Mum out to Scottsdale for a really nice visit! Surprisingly for "The Valley" it was rather coldish and rainy (and she thought she'd get to warm up!), so we put a log in the fireplace, roasted a huge turkey, and made it a very cozy holiday indeed. :)
Now - a few months ago, I asked you to send us your burning questions about what it takes to succeed as an online retailer - and I want to post those questions and answers now. For their thoughtful participation, our 3 submitters get a full set of custom social networking graphics, to be used on their website, correspondences, email ads, or wherever it might come in handy! I hope you enjoy. :)
1. If you had to recommend ONE thing I could do to improve traffic to my website, what would it be? ~sent in by Julie
Great question! There are so many things to consider, but since most of us are short on time, getting the best results for the least effort often becomes an essential.
The first thing I would do for your website is to ensure that each page has custom meta title, meta description, and meta keywords. Without these elements, you'll likely get passed over by the search engines, no matter how good your site design or product line is. Most shopping cart software programs, such as Volusion, ChannelAdvisor, and Infopia, have easy access from within your website's admin panel to update the meta info for each custom page, including your homepage, text support pages (such as about us, policies, etc), and each product category page. You should even be able to add meta tags to each individual item detail page. If you're not sure where this info is accessed, contact your website software provider. If they don't provide access to this info, switch providers! Yes, it's that important.
2. Where can I get the best value for my advertising dollars, when I promote my website? ~ sent in by Richard
Again, often you are pressed for time and money, and need to get results from your ad campaigns as quickly as possible. Purchasing online ad banners or pay-per-click Google ads can become very costly very quickly, while not necessarily garnering immediate profits - all of these techniques require trial-and-error periods where you can tweak locations, ad wording, etc. for maximum benefits.
The one advertising investment you should make right away, though, and which always generates the best value for your dollar spent, is email advertising aimed at your existing customer list. Although not absolutely required, it is a very good idea to invest in a monthly mass mailing system: check out Constant Contact if you want a "do-it-yourself" newsletter, or MobileStorm if you're ready to go professional.
You can have a professional ad template designed with your store logo, header, footer, navigation links into your web store, and important contact info; this ad template can then be customized for ongoing content updates to promote your existing product line, new listings, special sales, etc. Staying in touch with your existing customers will ensure that they remember your name and location, and will strengthen brand loyalty. Remember, too, that people don't just want to be sold to - try to add value to the content you send out by including helpful tips, funny quips, or ways for customers to participate and communicate with you via promotions and giveaways - in other words, make it worth their time to read your emails!
3. Are you and Gregory a couple? ~ sent in by Frannie
Okay, this is not exactly a business question, is it? And yet, we get asked this all the time, and I think it absolutely demonstrates a very important business issue: people want to connect with you. The Internet can be an impersonal place, but people still want to know who they are buying from. In fact, they may be shopping online for the precise purpose of avoiding cold, impersonal "Big Box" companies (Wal-Mart, Target, etc) and intentionally seeking out small, independent businesses on eBay, Etsy, or through word-of-mouth.
It used to be that small businesses would want to look as big as possible, so they could compete head-to-head with the largest online companies. While this is absolutey possible, and in some cases a great idea, there are also many small businesses that can benefit from playing up their uniqueness. How? Let your website design reflect your personal style. Include information about yourself as a person on your "About" page - why do you sell what you do? What are your personal interests? Are you a parent who works from home to spend more time with your children? Do you have many years of experience, or a driving passion, in your chosen field? Let people get to know you a little bit, and they'll feel a better connection to you than what an impersonal web page can create.
For a great example of this, check out CheckMeowt.com - her website has a "boutique" feel to it, utilizing her favorite colors and pictures of her very own cat! Since her product line is artsy and completely custom-made, her webstore reflects this perfectly and is a great match to the interests of her customers, too.
And, if you've read this far, you may have noticed that I haven't actually answered the question posed. ;) For the many of you with a burning desire to know: yes, Gregory and I are a couple. We have worked together for several years now (I do most of our design work, while Gregory specializes in installation, hardware and software issues, and SEO), and we just became engaged on New Year's Day, 2010. We are tentatively planning our wedding for this September, on the 10-year anniversary of our first date, in San Diego.
Once again, thanks so much to everyone who participated in our giveaway contest - and please keep sending in your questions! Happy New Year!