Friday, 23 August 2013

How To Achieve E-Commerce Success

You may think that running an e-commerce business will be a breeze compared to setting up a shop and doing things the old-fashioned way. Be warned though – if you go in with this attitude you are going to run into problems very quickly. E-commerce does offer fantastic opportunities for start-up businesses: it is quite possible to reach a global client base in a relatively short space of time. However, in this fast-moving world you need to stay constantly up-to-date with ecommerce marketing techniques and technologies or you will be left behind your competitors.

Many e-commerce businesses have failed because their owners simply don’t know how to establish – and maintain – a strong online presence. With that in mind, here are some tips all small online business owners should bear in mind when they are starting out:

Business Model: It’s important that you’re very clear from the beginning exactly what kind of company you’re going to be. How will your business make money and what is it that makes it unique? What areas will you need to focus on in particular and where are the risks likely to be?

Know Your Clients: To be able to market yourself effectively to your core customer base, you have to know what their priorities are and what they are likely to respond to. How can you ensure they come to your online shop and not those of your competitors? Keep an eye on upcoming trends and make sure you keep your product range fresh, innovative and relevant.

Watch Your Overheads: If possible, competition between online retailers is even fiercer than between those who sell offline. Buy as low as possible by getting as close to the manufacturer in the supply chain as you can. Don’t rely on one supplier, but instead seek out several so you are not forced to pay more out of necessity. This way you can be sure of reasonable profit margins on the majority of your products, even if you make a loss on some lines.

Be Visible: This is perhaps the single most important rule for an online retailer. You may have great products, you may have a beautifully designed website and your customer service may be second to none. This will all count for nothing, however, if you haven’t invested in SEO. Your customers must be able to find your website so keywords, back links, advertising and blogging are all essential tools in your arsenal. SEO can be tricky to negotiate so many e-commerce businesses find it advisable to hire in an expert to ensure it’s done properly.

Communicate: The majority of e-commerce sites will rely on repeat business for the bulk of their sales. This means, if you are to succeed, your customers should have such a good experience of your website that they want to come back. Make sure all your product descriptions are clear and accurate, that you respond quickly if there is a problem and that you make it easy for them to communicate with you. Include email addresses, contact forms or comment boxes on your site, and use social media sites to encourage communication through these channels as well.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Google Penalised Your Site for Web Spam? Here’s How to Clean Up Your Act

This week, Google’s Matt Cutts has been speaking out about websites which try to fool the search engines into awarding them better rankings by unfair or dubious means. In particular Cutts was referring to “hidden text” and “keyword stuffing” – two activities which could see your site heavily penalised by Google.

Prior to this, Google released seven new videos outlining common spam-related problems and offered advice to webmasters on how to restore the good name of any websites which had been flagged up as potentially spammy.

Here we take a look at six of the most frequently-occurring website SEO problems and provide up-to-the-minute advice as to how to curry back favour with Google.

Key problem areas:

Hidden Text

Can you see the hidden text in this document? White text meets white background?

Thought not. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that Google cannot detect such underhand tactics – only they can – and they do. Frequently. And when they catch the culprits, their site rankings will suffer.

If you have been outsourcing your Search Engine Optimisation requirements to a less than honest SEO company, in all probability you won’t realise what has been happening until you get a wake-up call from Google’s “Spam Squad”, informing you that “hidden text” has been detected on your website.

Keyword Stuffing

How many times can you get away with mentioning your target keywords on your web pages? Almost certainly less than you think. Cutts advises to check all web pages for “readability” and to ensure that the main purpose behind the content you write is to satisfy your readership rather than the search engines.

Unnatural Links

These can be “paid for” links, blog comments that Google deems “spammy”, or links which do not naturally fit with the overall content of your website. A great question to ask yourself is: “Would I make this link if the search engines didn’t exist?”

Bad Backlinks

Are all the websites that link to yours legitimate? It isn’t unheard of for a competitor to arrange for sites they are in direct competition with to be tarnished with links to unsuitable sites. What if you found your travel website linked to a porn site for example?

The first thing is not to panic, because this kind of situation is easily remedied (at least in Google’s eyes). There are three things you need to do:

Disavow the unsuitable links (using Google’s “disavow” tool)

Contact the site in question asking them to remove the “bad” links

Submit a Reconsideration request to Google (with documentary evidence of your actions)

Thin Content

Doorway pages, cookie cutter sites and thin affiliate content – grabbed from merchant sales pages – provide no original content or added value for visitors.

Cutts explains that “thin syndication” – simply copying and pasting content scraped from other websites does not make for unique content. Webmasters need to add original insights that will make their sites “compelling.”

Pure Spam

This is what Cutts calls “churn and burn” content – people who set up websites in order to generate cash fast – before the sites get shut down. Cutts explains that sites penalised for “pure spam” are difficult to recover from, as most “Black Hat” sites, by their very nature, do not contain any legitimate content whatsoever.

A possible exception to this scenario could be if you purchased a website unaware of potential spam content issues; in which instance Google might be willing to look favourably upon your case, providing you can offer well-documented evidence of how the problems occurred, the steps you have taken to rectify them and are able to give an assurance that this will not happen again in the future.

Resolving content issues amicably

Keeping your business website up to date with good, clean, unique content is by no means an easy task for any webmaster. The problem is, that falling foul of Google’s content rules could impact negatively on your brand’s reputation – and your bottom line.

The good news is that Google is prepared to work with website owners who unwittingly break the rules, in order to re-establish trust with the organisation. If this is you, the main thing Google wants to know is that you have done everything within your power to clean up your site, and that you have processes in place that will ensure you do not violate its “quality content” policies in future.

Having well-documented evidence of what has occurred and how you have dealt with the “pollutant content” issues will help you get back into Google’s good books once again, so you can focus on populating your website or blog with quality content.

Dos And Don’ts Of Online Marketing

Marketing yourself online is a must these days if you hope to compete against other companies in your sector. But this is not something you should just throw yourself into blindly, as if it’s done wrong you can do yourself more harm than good. Take time to learn about the most effective methods and which are most likely to suit the kind of company you are. If you want to be really thorough you can even get advice from an online marketing consultant.

To give you an idea of what generally works and the potential pitfalls to avoid, here are some basic dos and don’ts of online marketing:


Keep your website simple and easy to navigate. Don’t be tempted to try and incorporate flashy graphics or unnecessary content as this will distract from your central message. Visitors to a website generally want to be able to find the information they’re looking for quickly and easily without having to wait for graphics etc to load.

Communicate with customers. These days it’s important to encourage a dialogue with clients. Make sure your website has clear contact details – and it’s a good idea to have an area for visitors to leave comments and suggestion as well. And of course, Facebook and Twitter et al are perfect ways to encourage informal interaction so make sure you develop a strong social media presence.

Work on your SEO. This will allow you to rank higher in search engine results and gain you greater online visibility. If you don’t optimise your web content then it doesn’t matter how good your website is, no-one will see it. This can be a tricky area to navigate to it’s worth hiring a consultant, at least initially.


Be pushy. There’s a fine line between marketing your business successfully and ramming it down people’s throats. For example, if you’re using email marketing then be selective about which customers you send each message to. Don’t send every message to everyone on your mailing list: think about whether it will be helpful to them. When it comes to Facebook or Twitter, the idea is to share information and ideas, and communicate with clients in a laid-back way rather than aggressive advertising. If you fall foul of this rule you will quickly see your online reputation plummet.

Be long-winded. Whether you’re writing website copy, compiling marketing emails or creating a Facebook campaign, less is always more. Internet users tend to scan and don’t have time to read paragraph after paragraph of text. Learn how to get your message across quickly, simply and effectively.

Be tempted by ‘black hat’ techniques. This is an absolute no-no. Cloaking, keyword stuffing, duplicating content etc are simply not worth it, even if they seem like the quick route to establishing an online presence. They can result in severe penalties and even being banished from search engines altogether.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Does Email Marketing Still Work?

These days it can sometimes feel as though getting your company noticed is all about social media and viral marketing. Once such a revolutionary concept, it can now seem as though the humble email is already fading into the background when it comes to devising an effective marketing campaign. 

Many of us assume that marketing emails are not even read anymore, but simply dismissed as junk mail and deleted instantly. Consumers have got wise to it, we may think, and so we have to find new ways of reaching them. 

But this is not the case at all: customers will still take notice of email, provided that companies can adapt and learn to use it in new ways. For example, the Direct Marketing Association’s 2012 Email Tracking Study reported that consumers are still signing up to receive marketing related emails. 

According to the organisation, consumer approval of the content of marketing emails is actually on the increase, with 25 per cent saying that they still find more than half the emails they receive relevant and of interest to them. Put simply, it is not the medium itself that is lacking but simply that some companies are still employing it in fairly obsolete ways that no longer suit today’s consumer. 

So what are the kinds of changes companies need to be making to their email marketing activities? For one thing, it is not good enough to simply send out hundreds or thousands of generic emails to random consumers and hope that a high enough percentage respond. Nowadays people are wise to this, so if you want to achieve an acceptable level of success you need to take a targeted approach. Take the time to build up a detailed database of existing clients and break them down into sub-categories. This way you can send them emails that are relevant to their interests and needs. Anything else is a waste of both yours and the recipient’s time. 

You can personalise emails still further when it comes to emailing previous customers by employing a method known as behavioural targeting. People will be much more inclined to read their emails if they feel the seller has really taken on board their needs. You should, therefore, be looking at how they responded to previous emails, what their website browsing patterns are and what kinds of things they have tended to purchase in the past.

Remember also that mobile marketing has been a real game changer. Nowadays people are relying increasingly on smartphones to read their emails or catch up on the news. This is something that many companies are still failing to take on board when it comes to adapting their marketing emails. Layout is absolutely vital for mobile: responsive design is key as it should be easy for users to take action within seconds of opening the email. The wording should also be extremely concise so they can get the gist of what you are trying to sell them in the first couple of sentences. There is very little room on a mobile screen for long-winded, wordy messages. Consumers don’t like ‘clever’ marketing jargon these days. They want to be told things simply and quickly.

Finally, contrary to what some companies seem to think, you shouldn’t make it difficult for recipients to unsubscribe to your emails. If your marketing department is doing its job properly then your messages should be working with the people who genuinely want your products. If uninterested people unsubscribe then you will not be wasting your efforts on them when you could be concentrating on genuine customers.
It’s really worthwhile taking all these points on board, because if you get it right then email is still one of the lowest cost marketing methods available to you