Ecommerce Spot

Ten Ways to Grow Your Online Store Sales

Ten Ways to Grow Your Online Store Sales

By Julian Green, ProStores Director

These days, setting up an online storefront is easier, less expensive and more valuable than ever as more and more people get comfortable shopping online. Setting up an online storefront is a great way to start a business or grow sales by extending the reach of your current business. Whether you are opening your shop online for the first time or have already started down the path, you can boost your online sales through ten techniques that are helping today's online businesses succeed. Any or all of these strategies can be incorporated to help drive more people to your site and make it more attractive to potential customers.

Keywords
Search terms are crucial. Even your most frequent and loyal customers are likely to find your site by search. Having relevant keywords in your page titles, product titles and links can make all the difference when trying to drive customers to your site. For those with established sites, don't forget that keeping your keywords current and relevant is an ongoing project. Check your Web logs regularly to see what visitors search for on your site, and name pages and products appropriately.

A common mistake is using the same page title for every page on the site, for example, "Jane's Camera Shop". People typically do not search for your company's name when they look for a product they'd like to purchase. Give each page title a distinct name, like "Jane's Camera Shop – Macro Lenses," and do the same for every product.

Also, make sure the text embedded in a link (the anchor text) matches user search terms. For example, a link that says, "view lilac scented candle," is more descriptive of your product than, "click here for larger image"; and because it contains a descriptive keyword, it will more likely show up in search results.

Content
Adding as much relevant content as you can to your site improves your customer's experience and the positioning of your site on the search engines. They critical word here is relevant. Content that isn't related to your products can work against you, as it confuses the potential customers and gives search bots the impression that you're trying to trick them.

One way to add relevant content to your site is to add descriptive paragraphs about each of your products next to your photos. Use as much detail as you feel is necessary, and be sure to use the terms people are most likely to enter when searching.

Another way to improve your content might be to write a company backgrounder to let people know who you are, where you are located and how you got started with your online business. People often look for a personal touch online. Telling your customers about you and your business will make them more comfortable buying from someone they don't know.

Ease of use is another key element to a great Web store. Be sure that people can find everything they are looking for on your site. Make it easy to find your customer service number (or e-mail address), your return policy and an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page. These are great ways to make buyers more comfortable doing business with you, while adding relevant content to your site.

Lastly, if you offer some sort of promotion, such as 20 percent off two or more products or free shipping when you spend $50, make sure it is mentioned on every page. The more people are reminded of this, the more likely they will be to make use of it.

Customer Testimonials
Customer testimonials are another way to add content to your site while building trust and overcoming skepticism with potential buyers, as long as they are done right. A good buyer testimonial will make a buyer feel more comfortable with you and substantiate some of the claims made on your site.

How do you get them? Ask people! A satisfied customer will usually be happy to provide you with a testimonial. All you need is a sentence or two – something brief that outlines what it is that has made them a satisfied customer. Did you provide great customer service? Did they love your product? You can set up an auto-responder to ask your customers whether they enjoyed their experience with your business and whether they'd like to be included as a customer reference on your Web site.

You can even look at your customer's orders as a chance to market yourself as well. Every time you send a customer their package, try throwing in a few cheap promotional products. You would be amazed at how well a few personalized pens, brandished with your logo, works to market your brand.

Including their first name, hometown and sometimes age can add credibility to your testimonials. Once you have them, you can add them to a customer testimonial section on your Web site, or add one to the bottom of every page. This way people are reminded wherever they go how great it is to do business with you.

Just remember – your testimonials must be real. People will be able to detect a fake, no matter how good a fake it may be.

Offer Multiple Payment Options
This may seem obvious to some, but offering multiple payment options ensures you will be able to do business with just about anybody. Many people are still afraid to give their credit card numbers online. PayPal is an option many people are comfortable with, because it allows people to use their credit cards or their debit accounts without giving you, the business owner, their personal information.

Another method is offering people an e-bill. This could be a simple e-mail you set up to send someone after they check out, with an order confirmation and a shipping address where they can send you a check or money order. Let them know that you'll ship their order as soon as you receive payment, and list an expiration date to ensure you aren't waiting for months on unfulfilled orders.

Diversify Your Sales Channels
The best way to get in front of as many potential customers as possible is to sell through multiple channels. Having your own store is one way to attract customers, but people regularly look for products in many other marketplaces, as well. One such example is eBay.com, which is one of many online communities. Some online storefront technology, like ProStores, allow you to manage sales in your own store as well as on other platforms, such as Shopping.com, BizRate and Yahoo! Shopping. You can view and rearrange products in your store, on eBay and on other online shopping sites to maximize your exposure and revenues by targeting different buyers in different places. You may find that your t-shirts sell well on eBay, while buyers coming to your Web site are more interested in boots and cowboy hats. You can adjust your inventory according to what sells faster in each place.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising
This is one of the fastest and most effective ways to get in front of your target audience, but it does require some investment. Most of the major search engines offer pay-per-click advertising, which involves bidding on keywords in order to have a link to your Web site show up at the top of the paid search list when a user types in that keyword. You only pay for the users that click through to your site, so it is a great way to reach potential buyers that already are looking for products you have for sale. Each keyword is priced differently, based on how many businesses are bidding for that keyword.

Some things to keep in mind when launching a pay-per-click advertising campaign are 1) targeting your keywords to the most relevant search terms and 2) making sure you can afford the keywords you've selected. To the first point, using more general keywords may generate more traffic, but they won't necessarily bring in visitors that are looking to buy your products. Using more specific keywords will narrow your traffic to potential buyers more likely to purchase. To the second point, it's easy to get carried away bidding on certain keywords, but you want to make sure those paid clicks are bringing in enough sales to cover the expense.

A simple way to figure this out is to calculate the value of each visitor to your site. You can do this by carrying out the following calculation:

  • Divide the number of unique visitors to your site (per week or month) by the number of sales during that same time to get your visitor conversion rate
  • Then divide your net profits by your total number of sales to get your net profit per sale,
  • Finally, divide your net profit per sale by the visitor conversion rate to get the value of each individual user.

Once you know the value of an individual visitor, you'll know how much you can pay per click, or pay per visitor, to earn a profit.

A less competitive (and less costly) option may be to purchase local pay-per-click ads--ads that will only show up when searchers in your local area enter your keywords. Some major search engines offer this type of service. Be sure to do your research to see which engines offer your keywords at the best prices.

Start an Affiliate Program
An affiliate program enlists the help of other people to promote your businesses. It's a simple way to drive more traffic to your site, and it only costs you when someone makes a purchase on your site. Affiliates use a number of ways to drive people to your site, through advertisements, links, referrals, etc. For each referral that results in a sale, you pay the affiliate a small commission. The more affiliates you have, the more opportunities you gain for people to be directed to your site.

This is a lower-cost method of advertising than pay-per-click advertising, because you only pay when a purchase is made. However, you do have to pay a commission high enough to motivate your affiliates to promote your product. Several affiliate management software programs are available to help you track which affiliate sells what, so you easily can keep track of how much you owe them.

An interesting tactic some small-business owners employ is encouraging their affiliates to bid against them on their keywords on the pay-per-click search engines. This may sound strange at first, but it actually helps you get more exposure in the search results: instead of your being up there next to your competitors, you're up there next to your affiliates, who are also driving people to your Web site!

Become an Affiliate for Someone Else
Now that you've grown a base of people on the Internet, linking to your online store, why not link to someone else's? Before you jump into this one, consider what your customer might be interested in that you don't offer. For example, if you offer fishing gear, you may want to link to a local fishing guide's Web site or a site that offers information on seasonality for local fishing spots. Someone in your area may have an affiliate program for a boating store. By pointing your customers to relevant businesses and services, you are offering them more value; and you could make some extra money working as an affiliate for someone else. Consider trading links with other businesses, so they are driving customers back to you, too.

E-mail Marketing Campaigns
While receiving unsolicited e-mails may bug some people, many of your customers may actually want to hear from you. An easy way to find out is to ask them. After a customer has made a purchase, you can ask them whether they'd like to opt in to get e-mail updates on sales and other news. The tricky part is writing an e-mail that they will want to read. Providing more value than simply promoting your products or services is one way to do this.

For example, offering readers tips for summer gardening while promoting your gardening supply sale, or letting readers know about upcoming concerts in their area while announcing your two-for-one CD sale, might encourage readers to look forward to your e-mails. If you know the local fishing guide is having a spring special, why not let your readers know as a courtesy? Someone who may not have thought about purchasing something from your store right away might see the ad and think, "I'd really like to take advantage of this special, but I can't go without a new pair of waders" (which they can buy in your store).

Create a Blog
Blogs are becoming more and more popular, and are quite simple to create. As an addition to your online store, a blog can be an effective marketing and customer relationship management tool. A blog about topics that are relevant to your customers, for example summer gardening or fly-fishing, provides a forum for your customers to communicate about topics that interest them and provides you with a pulse on your customer sentiment. If you are also passionate about the topic, you will enjoy writing about it and your customers will enjoy reading about it.

Keep in mind, you don't want to blatantly promote your products at every possible opportunity – this will turn people off. Use the opportunity to talk about something complementary to your business. Your customers will appreciate the value of related information and remember to check your Web site when they need something you sell.

Using the fly-fishing example, a blog about local fishing spots and favorite fish tales may be of interest to your customers. Enthusiasts will come to your blog to share their stories, ask each other questions and maybe even share pictures of their favorite catch. You could hire a local fly-fisherman to answer their questions for a couple of hours. Keeping your customers involved in their areas of interest and, again, providing value will help instill loyalty and trust among your customers. Post a link to your fishing-gear store at the bottom of the page, or note at the top of the page that the blog is sponsored by your online store. Later, when people are looking for new fly-fishing gear, they'll come to your store first.

With a bit of enthusiasm, some savvy marketing techniques and a customer orientation, you can create a highly popular online store that attracts buyers from regions you never would have reached with a street-front location. By making your store not just a catalog outlet but a true "destination" with its own loyal following, you can elevate your business above your competitor's sites and build a strong reputation online.

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