April 21st, 2015.
I reached a success rate of 50% recently. Yes, that’s five links/mentions or positive replies per ten messages sent.
How I did I achieve it and how you can replicate that process: a DIY blueprint.
Reaching out to strangers
You know what outreach is and how it works by now: approaching people on the Web out of the blue (that is without prior relationship building) to get publicity and links is not the best thing to do. You also know that it’s difficult.
You can expect a lot of people to ignore you, others to want money to write about you while some will not even understand what you want from them. Even those who send a positive reply can’t be relied upon. They often won’t link to you despite liking you and your offer.
Did I mention that it’s already hard to get through to strangers?
Thus I was very fond of myself when I finally reached a success rate of 50% in a recent real life attempt to get the word out about a new calendar site. This was, as it’s often the case with my clients, a small business even though it acted internationally.
The owner had calendar sites in several European countries like France, Spain or Italy and wanted to get links for his latest site that was geared towards the German speaking population (that’s at least three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland).
Small business outreach tends to be small as well
Not only the budget was small, also the topic didn’t really make sense for relationship building. Why would someone want to befriend a calendar site or become friends with a calender site owner?
Sure, you could create content on each and every holiday and send reminders or such but that would require a lot of effort. Nope, we needed fast action with clear objectives. Reaching out to relevant sites and blogs to announce a new calendar site at the beginning of the year.
In this low budget fast track case I offered my smallest package available.
The “Outreach S plan” is only about researching and contacting ten highly relevant bloggers and website owners. You may assume that such a small number is pointless from the start given the industry average success rates of such campaigns that range below 5%.
Ouch, that’s roughly one in twenty sites reacting positively. Yet, it’s not the case with my outreach attempts. I had often 3 of 10 people write back. Some needing clarifications while others saying “thank you for the heads up” and linking right away.
Without a value proposition don’t even start
Only your mother loves you because you are you. To convince other people to support your site you need to add some value to the equation. Here comes the so called value proposition. “Here I come, please link me” is not a value proposition.
A value proposition is something that is helpful, useful, entertaining, lucrative or all of those.
You may argue that your business is
and thus everybody out there needs to link to you but that’s not true and you are of course biased. You may be offering the same thing as others do, why would someone want to link to you instead of the others?
Try to get into the shoes of the blogger/webmaster. What do they need you can offer them?
Of course money would be the most evident answer but that won’t work for link building outreach. Text links ads aka “paid links” have to use the crippling “nofollow” attribute according to Google so that they don’t work for SEO purposes. Alternatives are:
- unique insights (studies, surveys, data)
- high profile content (infographics, videos)
- expertise (interviews)
- freebies (tools, resources)
In some cases the site/tool you mention might be enough. This was the case with my client, who offered a free online but also printable calendar and widget. Why did this suffice? It’s because I’ve found bloggers and webmasters who covered exactly such services in the (recent) past and there was timely demand for it.
The most important part of outreach is not the message
The most important aspect of outreach starts before the outreach. Ideally you already know the people you want to send a message to. In case you don’t – just like with my “cold outreach” attempt – it’s crucial to address the right people. They have to be active, relevant and responsible for publishing.
- A blog that has written 5 years ago about your topic but hasn’t published a single post in a year is dead or on hold. They won’t even reply for the same reasons they don’t update their weblog.
- A blog that has mentioned a calendar in one sentence within an article dealing with something else is not relevant.
- An occasional writer who has contributed a post a year ago but hasn’t written for the publication ever since is not responsible for publishing most probably. The individual will in most cases not even be able to update the old post.
In case just one of these things is missing you already lost.
How to find relevant blogs/sites?
I keep it simple. I use Google to find most of the people I write to. What do I search for? Nothing fancy. I start with the obvious search queries to find out how competitive the searches are and whether I can find someone to talk to already here on top of the Google results or a few pages down the line:
[calendar 2015 blog]
[calendar 2015 inurl:blog]
I refine the search by limiting the results to more timely ones: I click on search tools “past week”, “past month” and “past year”:
The top 5 look already pretty relevant as you can see to some extent. Now I only have to look them up and find out whether they really are. Then of course I need to get their contact details.
Talk to individuals not companies or teams
As mentioned above you don’t want to write to company or group blogs where the writer isn’t even able to add something to an existing article let alone publish a new one. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
You want to reach out to individual webmasters or bloggers responsible for their sites or blogs.
In other words you need to contact the person who decides what gets published, creates that content and owns it. Company blogs with email@example.com are the worst. You never get the right person to talk to. Even in case you get to speak to the writer s/he won’t be able to help you.
There are just too many people involved in the decision process. Even worse the internal hierarchy and goals will prevent them from linking out at all. Sadly most business do not help they just sell even in case a helpful gesture would be free like with linking out.
Outreach messages that don’t annoy
OK, now that you have 10 blogs/site that have covered exactly what you offer and found out name and mail address of the responsible owner here comes the easy part, the actual message. Keep it extremely short, as relevant as possible and as personalized as possible.
Many lazy SEO and PR practitioners tend to automate that process and they just clumsily enter a scraped name and URL to the message. I can spot such messages right away. Don’t start your message with “Dear Sirs!” or “Hello,”.
Both subject line and name have to be personalized to the site owner.
Let’s assume there is a fictional blog called Happy Blogging! run by Amanda Jones who has written an article called “Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars”. This is the info you need to have for personalized message:
- Blog name: Happy Blogging!
- Name: Amanda Jones
- Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Headline: Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars
- URL: http://happyblogging.com/blog/happy-new-blogging-year-with-fresh-online-calendars
Then the message would look as following:
Subject line: Calendar Post on Happy Blogging!
While looking for resources on online calendars your article “Happy New Blogging Year with Fresh Online Calendars”:
stood out in a positive manner.
Did you know that there is a new free online calendar out there that is also printable? It’s available at yourcalendar.link
I’d love to see it added to your post. In case you don’t like it, I’d appreciate some feedback so we can improve it.
Your name, company and signature
As already explained in the “actual message” link above you don’t want to ostracize the blogger by using an obnoxious signature. It might be even problematic to reach out with the wrong name of from the wrong company. I’m not kidding.
For example people in the US might be annoyed when someone with an Indian name is approaching them because there have been many attempts at low level outreach from outsourced companies in India in the past. On the other hand using a fake name like some Indians did and call yourself John Miller might backfire as well.
Personally I have a very weird looking and sounding name for most people around the world including Germany. Yet the name looks real and not made up. This is by now an advantage.
That’s why I use my full name when addressing people out of the blue. In case they don’t like my name for some reason (xenophobia?) they are probably not ready for my message either. I also only use my name “Tadeusz Szewczyk” then. I don’t add the company in my “name” yet.
As long as I have been doing outreach as part of larger projects and campaigns I used the mail address of the client company to send out messages. This time I changed my mind and for efficiency reasons I decided to use my own address (onreact.com) to send out messages.
It’s not only about efficiency though. True, some companies needed weeks to set up a mail account for me and then it still did not work properly so that I had to mail back and forth with the tech support guy.
My website is simple and friendly enough while not being overtly marketing oriented.
In short I don’t scare people by sounding and looking like a marketer or even worse search engine optimizer. I simplified my site copy so that everybody can understand it. I changed my wording so that it does not only cater to potential clients but also to average people who just want to know what I’m about. Now my outreach works better.
I can add a neutral signature to my mails without being afraid that the people will check my site out and leave
based on their prejudice. Remember most people hat marketing. Also the companies I write the outreach messages for are often very commercial. That’s why they need outreach in the first place as they do not use inbound techniques to get a healthy number of supporters.
My actual signature looks like this (with the exception of the mail address I had to change so that spam bots can’t crawl the original one):
Tadeusz Szewczyk, onreact.com/en
Help with Blogs, Social Media & Search
+49 (0)30 60 98 62 38
In Germany you have to add a signature when you are sending out business mail. It needs to contain your physical address and phone number. I’d add them even in case your local legislation does not force you to do so. This way you can ensure that people are assuming that you are an actual human being not a bot and work for a real brick and mortar business ideally.
* Creative Commons image by Kalyan Chakravarthy
April 8th, 2015.
There are numerous ways by now that allow the competition to hurt your site in the results of the market-dominating search engine.
It’s really pitiful but I have to tell the world about it, especially as the search giant uses this situation to discredit the whole discipline of SEO as “negative”.
What is SEO? No idea? You’re not alone!
“77% of respondents could not identify what SEO means.”
For those who know that it’s about Search Engine Optimization the majority rather assumes that it’s about SPAM or at least “manipulating” of search engines. It comes as no surprise to these people that SEO is actually negative. It has never had a positive connotation to the majority in the first place.
SEO experts calling SEO negative
Then there are the experts who read this blog and not only know what SEO is, but also practice it themselves without resorting to black magic. Even these specialists tend to repeat hearsay from others who tell them that links are unnatural or that SEO is negative.
Yes, most SEO practitioners even spread the word about how negative SEO is and try to prove that you can harm other websites in search results not only by links but also by other means. People oblivious to the topic who only scan such articles will only know one thing after consuming them: SEO is potentially dangerous.
Of course the skilled professionals refer to Google sabotage, formerly known mostly as Google bowling by old school SEO practitioners.
There is no such thing as negative SEO like there is no hot ice or dry water. True, you can sabotage competing sites in Google in manifold ways but false, you can’t negatively optimize for search engines.
Either you optimize and improve or you don’t. You can’t improve negatively. So why are SEO experts using such a paradox (in linguistics it’s called an oxymoron)? Well, most of us also say “unnatural links” as if natural links would grow on trees organically.
“Negative SEO” had its 15 minutes of fame in 2007
True, the term “negative SEO” seems to exist at least since 2007 when Forbes wrote about it in an article called – understandably – The Saboteurs of Search. So unlike the other paradox term that is used to demean SEO and is commonly used by Google – “unnatural links” – this term seems to be an invention of some self-proclaimed SEOs.
I have never heard of them despite a decade of reading about SEO other than in that article. Remember that our industry has no rules on using the term. Everybody can say s/he’s an SEO and nobody can prevent them from doing so.
Barry Schwartz confirmed the existence of the term a day later on Search Engine Land. He was still using quotation marks to distance himself from the term “negative SEO” though.
You won’t believe what happened next! Well, what happened? Almost nothing. Most people forgot about it. Google bowling has been mentioned ever since here and there but nobody really cared. Why? It was marginal at best. Also it was much easier to truly optimize sites and build links instead of trying to hurt your competition on Google.
So how can you sabotage your competition?
I won’t explain in detail (for obvious reasons) how you can harm competing websites on Google but even the article from 2007 on Forbes already lists 7 of them. I didn’t even know some of the terms they used but I know, and can imagine even more tactics to hurt your competitors.
Google bowling or pointing SPAM links at your competition’s website is the most known and obvious one. It boomed ever since Google sends out warnings of “manual action” because of unnatural or artificial links by way of Google Webmaster Tools.
You don’t need a PhD to engage in such practices. Just reply to one of those numerous spam mails trying to sell you dozens, hundreds or thousands of links for a measly sum of a few dollars. It’s certainly cheaper than optimizing your site the legit way.
Outing – Forbes introduces a widely used negative SEO techniques as tattling but by now it’s commonly referred to as outing. You have simply to catch your competition in the act of breaching the Google Webmaster Guidelines and report them in one way or the other.
You can snitch right away at Google or you simply tell the press so that they can raise enough hell so that Google has to act.
It works well, even in case of larger brands sometimes. Simply reporting paid links that lead to your competition might take a while or amount to nothing though. Of course you can combine buying links for Google Bowling and outing the competition then.
Google insulation – I’m not even sure that term has caught on but it’s about search result saturation. For example back in the days when I ranked #1 for the German phrase for search engine optimizer the largest economic weekly in Google.de other SEO practitioners got pissed off and started saturating the results with blog posts aiming to outrank me.
As it was just a niche and not that competitive before it worked after a while, especially as the huge number of leads from that magazine largely prevented me from optimizing my site further. I also used this technique for a good cause once, to outrank spammers collectively with other bloggers.
This is not even clearly sabotage, it depends on the context and intent.
In essence you just optimize third party sites to outrank your competition, which is legitimate. This technique is often used in online reputation management campaigns aimed at subduing bad press about a brand or person.
Copyright Takedown Notices – You can make whole sites disappear wielding the Copyright axe. Major sites like WordPress.com, Tumblr or Blogger (owned by Google) won’t ask many questions but instead simply delete your whole blog because of one or two copyrighted images.
You can even buy rights for an image afterwards and claim it’s yours.
Even in case the site comes back up later, a few days being offline are enough to hit you severely in Google and make you seem unreliable for the foreseeable future which results in downranking a few spots. This might be enough for your competition to outrank you then.
Copied content – Website scraping and republishing or manually creating duplicates by copying content can lead to so called duplicate content issues on Google. The search engine still struggles to credit the original publisher of content as the source in many cases.
Sometimes sites copying your content outrank you in Google as if they were the original and you are the copy.
Google doesn’t like to see the same content more than once in its search results so that copied content may quickly damage your site’s rankings. Even the BBC got a page specific penalty because of content scraped from their site by third parties.
Denial of Service – A so-called DoS (Denial of Service) or DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on your site, that is someone bombarding a site with requests from numerous computers may results in slowing down your site, temporarily or permanently blocking access to your site.
The longer your site loads slowly or is down for good the more risky and unreliable you look to Google. By now Google can react quickly and show alternative sites even based on temporary high loading times. After all Google does not want make people to wait.
Hacking – Website hacking – in the sense of wrecking your site with malicious intent – as in infecting sites with malware may lead to getting blocked by Google. Sometimes Google will downright warn users from entering your site saying “this site may be hacked” right in the search results. When you’re site is down or infected for a longer time it might disappear from the radar altogether. Just like DoS attacks the hacking effectively damages your algorithmic reputation.
Spamming – Google does not value sites that seem to be abandoned because they have a lot of SPAM comments or forum entries for example. So you can harm a site by literally spamming them using comment spam bots.
You can simply invite SPAM comment by solely covering a topic that is often associated with SPAM. So in case you mention gambling, generic pharmaceuticals or NSFW topics you can bet that spammers will find you automatically and insert their comments.
The Fire this Time
That’s it for now. There are more techniques to sabotage sites in Google. I won’t mention all of them. I already feel bad about telling you so many. Most of them have been in the original Forbes article from 2007 so I didn’t start the fire.
There needs to be a public awareness of the current state of affairs on Google.
It’s not fun and Google can fix it with ease. Instead of labelling SEO as negative you rather need to call out Google for it. Why do they penalize websites for third party actions those sites have often no control of? Why penalize the victim for sabotage?
* Creative Commons image by Les Chatfield
Email marketing is still incredibly important for businesses. According to statistics, 95% of online consumers have an email address. This means that email marketing can be a cheap and effective effective method for reaching a large percentage of our consumers. It’s not just the wide reach of email marketing that makes it a worthwhile marketing method, but it’s also the potential return that it offers.
The conversion rates for email marketing are three times higher than they are for social media marketing. Statistics also show that for every $1 that a business spends on an email campaign, they get an average return of $44.25. In order to nurture leads, build your brand and increase your conversion rates, you need to be implementing an email marketing campaign. To make your email marketing campaign successful, avoid these ten email marketing fails.
Avoiding Responsiveness Optimisation
With emails being viewed from multiple devices, responsiveness optimisation is essential. Statistics show that 48% of emails are opened on a mobile device. If your consumers view an email from your company on their smartphone, and they have to scroll across the page, or scale the page to be able to read it, they are likely to just skip over it. The example below shows a lack of responsiveness optimisation by the sender.
The Email Address makes your Emails Look Like Spam
If your email address looks unprofessional, then your emails will probably be marked as spam. If you take your business seriously, get a professional sounding email address and ensure that the recipients stand the best chance of recognising your brand.
There’s No Clear Call to Action
Your emails talk about your products or services and maybe all of the generous promotional offers your site is offering. What’s missing is a clear call to action. A CTA is important. It tells your reader what you want them to do. Without it you will get minimal return on your investment, and you definitely won’t increase your conversion rate.
This email from The Whisky Exchange looks highly professional, but it includes no call to action. If there’s no call to action, the company’s customers won’t know what action to take next, and their email was essentially a waste of time.
Too Many CTAs
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many emails use too many CTAs. Putting a “shop now” link several times throughout your email is a bad idea. You don’t want your emails to be too cluttered or too unfocused. Emails containing dozens of CTAs end up looking like junk mail too. If the reader is presented with too many links, they will likely skip over the email. For example, this Macy’s email, which advertises the store’s Super Saturday promotion, contains far too many links. There’s the $10 off deal the 20% of deal and literally a dozen links to the store’s products. This simply leaves the reader confused and wondering where to click.
Too Many Graphics
A busy looking email that’s full of images, banners and flashing graphics is very distracting. These graphics will take away from the copy and the call to action, and you won’t get your customers to take the action you desire. Don’t use too many images, and make sure the ones that you do use don’t take away from what your email is trying to achieve.
No Valuable Content
If you keep sending out emails that simply promote your products, services or offers and deals that your site is currently running, then people will simply stop reading your emails, or they will unsubscribe. Your emails need to offer value to customers. So if you sell fitness supplements for example, don’t just promote your products. Instead, send out how-to fitness emails. Creating email content that is valuable, informative, and solves an issue or meets a need for your customers is essential. Good content also give you more opportunity to use a clickbait subject line.
Good copy engages and connects with your customers on a personal level. It looks professional and it’s written in a way that prompts the customers to take action. There are 247 billion emails sent per day, much of which is spam. If you want your customers to take your emails seriously, then you need to take the time to make your copy effective. Copy that’s poorly written or littered with spelling errors looks highly unprofessional, and simply screams spam.
This copy from Facebook is ineffective for a number of reasons. It’s not compelling, engaging or particularly interesting either. Also, the first line is missing a question mark.
The biggest email marketing fail is not personalising your emails. Starting your email with “Hi”, “Dear Subscriber”, or the dreaded “Dear Sir/Madam” is sure fire way to get your emails marked as junk. Your copy must use the terms “you”, “me” and “us” when addressing the customer too. This email from Polldaddy is a personalisation fail. It doesn’t even use the usual “Dear Sir/Madam”. Instead it begins with “Hi Unknown”. When the reader sees that, they will immediately cross of the email, and mark future correspondence as spam.
Email marketing campaigns often use truly abysmal subject lines. 69% of people report an email as spam as a result of the subject line. Subject lines that are overly sales-orientated or impersonal are usually marked as spam. Dull subject lines that don’t entice the customer or even intrigue the customer will also cause your emails to be ignored.
This email boasts the subject line “Marketing List”, which is a truly a marketing fail.
Misaligned text and poorly placed graphics can make a well-written email look very unprofessional. An email with a poor layout will reflect badly on your business. If your call to action gets lost between poorly aligned text and images, your emails definitely won’t increase your conversion rates.
Overall, email marketing can be a highly profitable marketing method. In fact, statistics show that customers who receive marketing offers via email spend 138% more than consumers who don’t. They are also the most effective way to increase repeat purchases and to develop brand loyalty. So when you create your email marketing campaign, make sure you avoid these marketing fails.
Due to the increased use of technology, particularly mobile devices, such as smartphones, eCommerce is expanding and evolving at an exponential rate. eCommerce sites are having to adapt and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of technology. From the emergence of responsiveness optimised web design to the increased use of video content, eCommerce has changed a great deal in the past decade. These changes are set to continue in 2015. Next, year here’s what trends we expect to dominate eCommerce in the coming year.
Mobile Payments will be in Demand
People are using their phones for everything from sending text messages, to making purchases online, and often, they don’t want to use a card, because they worry about security, and because it’s inconvenient to enter card details. Mobile payment systems make paying from your phone a simple process, and no card details are necessary.
Payments made using mobile phone payment systems are increasing. By 2017, it is predicated that mobile payments will account for 3% of the international eCommerce market. This means that websites that allow consumers to pay using a mobile payment system, like Zong, will have an edge over their competition. In 2015, mobile payment systems will likely become much more prevalent among eCommerce websites. Mobile payments systems will likely become more refined and easier to use in the coming year too.
Quality Content will be even more Important
According to statistics, content marketing methods are 62% less expensive than traditional marketing methods are. While content marketing is much less expensive, in gets three times as many leads as traditional marketing does. In 2015, creating high quality content will be even more important for eCommerce websites. Nowadays, consumers are exposed to more advertising than ever. From television adverts to pay per click adverts on Google, consumers see advertising everywhere. This means that consumers tend to tune out advertisements and other things that they don’t perceive to be useful, valuable or relevant to them. This is why content marketing is one of the most effective methods for engaging customers, establishing trust and building a loyal brand following.
Content marketing methods, like social media, articles, blog posts, newsletters, and videos are more effective than television advertisements, and other traditional marketing methods, according to marketing trends. In 2015, if eCommerce websites want to compete in the market, they need to produce valuable, relevant, and informative content that customers will find useful.
Mobile Optimisation will be Essential
According to statistics, 15% of physical goods purchases were made from a mobile device and 32% of all online purchases are made from a mobile device. Optimizing your website, advertisements, and emails for mobile devices will become even more important by 2015. Next year, eCommerce sites will need to make their stores mobile responsive. Stores need to be convenient and accessible for mobile users. If an eCommerce store isn’t mobile responsive, it will lose out on a large percent of the market, and it will struggle to compete with competitors.
Social Media Marketing will become more Diverse
Social Media Marketing will become even more important in 2015. As mentioned earlier, outbound marketing methods, like television adverts, are losing their effectiveness, whereas content marketing is maintaining its effectiveness. Social media is an important part of the content marketing process. Next year, however, it won’t just be Facebook or Twitter that the eCommerce sites will be utilizing. More well-rounded social media platforms, and image-based sites, like Pinterest, will also be utilised more predominantly. Ultimately, in 2015, eCommerce sites will have to diversify their social media marketing efforts to suit their audiences.
Flat-Design will Dominate
Flat-design for websites will dominate in 2015. It’s already becoming increasingly prevalent, with large corporations like Google and Microsoft implementing it. A flat web design is clean, features neat lines and crisp edges, and utilizes flat, two dimensional graphics. Unlike other web design trends, which feature, shadows, gradients, garish graphics and other bold design elements, flat-design is minimalist, and uses a less is more approach. A famous example of a flat design user interface is the Microsoft Windows 8 interface. Flat-design is becoming popular because it looks clean and neat to the user, it’s easy to read and navigate and this type of design is easy to make responsive.
Retargeting Ads will become more Prevalent
Retargeting ads are incredibly effective, and will likely become more prevalent in 2015. According to statistics, retargeting can increase your ad response by up to 400% and three out of five consumers say that they notice adverts for products they have already viewed. Using browser cookies, an eCommerce site can track the sites, products and pages that their customers visit. After these customers have left the site, and are viewing other websites, the items they viewed will be advertised.
Fashion retailer New Look is a prime example of a large company that utilises retargeting ads. For example, if you view a pair of shoes on New Look, when you leave the site to look at a news website, for example, you will see adverts for the shoes and anything else you may have viewed the New Look site. Statistics have shown that just 2% of first visits to a site result in a sale. Ad retargeting can significantly increase your conversion rate.
November 7th, 2014.
You have built a website and sell product from it. You have entered the wonderful world of e-commerce. The question is, how well is your site performing? How are your e-commerce conversion rates?
There are a number of relatively straightforward ways to improve the conversion rates of your e-Commerce site. Here are forty ideas that you can use to ensure that potential customers find visiting your site a pleasant experience; a place where they find it worth their while spending their hard-earned money.
1. Define your engagement strategy
It is vitally important that you determine exactly how you intend to engage with your potential customers. You want to ensure that these customers perceive that you are giving them value
2. Use social media as a sales channel
There is a considerable amount of marketing done using social media – Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest etc. Firms use these channels because they work
3. Have a clear, navigable product page
Make it as easy as possible for people to find their way around your site and make a purchase. People are not going to be bothered if it is hard to work their way around your site
4. Make product features prominent
Customers really want to know about your product. Therefore product features should have the highest prominence on your page.
5. Don’t forget about mobile
In mid-2014 mobile internet usage exceeded computer internet usage. It is absolutely vital that your web presence is usable by people on mobile sites. It is a very good idea that your site is fully responsive, and (unless you have a separate mobile-specific site) your site scales down appropriately for mobile usage
6. Think carefully about your online copy – use key words and SEO
Always write with SEO (search engine optimisation) in mind, to ensure that the potential customers have a good chance of finding you in a Google or Bing search.
7. Make certain that your content is original
Your products may be the same as those on many other websites, but you need to ensure that your product descriptions are not a direct copy of those elsewhere. You need to reword each description to ensure that it is different to your competitors’ descriptions. The search engines look for, and penalise duplicate content.
8. Use photos
The internet is a visual medium. Web surfers spend much of their time looking at pictures and graphics. Potential customers want to know what a product looks like, showing the product in use if relevant.
9. Use lots of variety in your product photos
As customers cannot physically feel your product, they expect to be able to have a good view of it. This depends to some extent on your product, but in many cases potential clients are far more likely to buy your product if there are photos of it from different angles, giving an all-round view. A number of the better sites even have 360 degree viewers.
10. Provide tools to zoom in on your product photos
Another way to utilise photos of your products is to give potential customers the ability to zoom in and look at the fine details of your product.
11. Use videos if relevant
Many people browsing your site will be converted when they see a video of your product in action, particularly if it makes it clear that your product is useful and easy to operate.
12. Use a well-designed drop-down menu
If you have well-designed drop-down menus as navigation on your site it makes it easy for potential customers to find their way around your site. Avoid having these menus go more than 2 levels, though, because it can get confusing after that, and you lose the responsiveness for mobile browsers
13. Have a good site search function on your website
Site search makes it easier for customers to find what they want. Surveys show that up to 30% of people visiting a site use the site search function.
14. Offer complementary products on your product pages
Customers thinking of buying a particular product may choose to buy these complementary products, e.g. batteries beside electrical products, or on book sites show other books written by a particular author.
15. Make certain that you appear trustworthy.
There are too many fly-by-night firms on the internet. Customers want some evidence why they should trust you. Include a genuine telephone number. Include genuine reviews. Offer guarantees. If you use a certification brand, like McAfee Secured, make sure their logo is displayed in a prominent position.
16. Display a free phone number
Customers expect to be able to talk to you. Reputable firms use free phone numbers, so it is essential to your firm’s reputation that you do too.
17. Make chat available as a means of communication
It is all very well to offer a Freephone number and a Help or FAQ section on your site, but the easiest way to get interaction with a potential customer (well a reasonably computer-literate one at least), is to have a chat facility. It’s as close as you can get to there being a salesman in person to answer the customer’s questions
18. Consider offering video-chat on your site
This is even better than normal chat – your customer can see and interact with a real person, who could even demonstrate some features of the product
19. Make certain that your prices are clear and obvious
You don’t want disgruntled customers leaving, either because they can’t find the prices amongst all the guff on your page, or because they get to check-out only to find hidden costs added on. Prices need to be totally clear to your customers at a glance
20. Price competitively to your opposition
On-line customers have far more ability to do price comparison than brick and mortar customers. They can, and will, do price comparisons. You do need to be price competitive.
21. Look at offering Price Match
Being prepared to match your competitors’ prices will build up trust in you by potential customers. You may not earn as much from a particular sale, but hopefully you will make up for it with future sales. This is probably one to test over a period of time, because it will not be suitable for everyone.
22. Give limited time discounts
A classic marketing trick. Make your customers think they have to rush their decision and make a choice now, before they lose a discount.
23. Make payment easy for customers
The more payment options you have available the more potential customers will shop at your site.
24. Make a point out of offering free shipping
This is, of course, only viable if your margins can cover the free shipping. If so, then it will often be the deciding factor when a potential customer is trying to decide between you and a competitor –albeit the customer is still paying in a more indirect way
25. Offer quick delivery times
Customers like speedy delivery of products ASAP, and will often be willing to pay a premium for urgent delivery.
26. Show your daily cut-off delivery time on your site
Indeed it is very useful if you show a timer, indicating how long your customers have left to be able to get goods dispatched for delivery today. This probably depends on where you sell stock to – if most of your sales are overseas, it probably makes little difference whether the stock is dispatched today or tomorrow
27. Show your returns policy
It removes potential customers’ doubts if they can clearly see the ease with which they can return goods. If you offer Free Exchange, or a Money Back Guarantee, display it prominently.
28. Have low stock indicators on your site
It helps your customers if they know whether you have a particular stock item on hand (and if you don’t, how long will it take you to get replacement stock?
29. Use product reviews by customers
Customers like to see how others have found using the products they are considering buying. Include product reviews to assist potential buyers.
30. Show your seller ratings if you are operating in a community marketplace
If you are just one seller amongst many, for example a store in the Amazon Marketplace, displaying your seller rating (and other information about yourself) will build up trust.
31. Have clear Call to Action buttons
Make certain your call to action buttons are clear and obvious. Make certain that you test these out before they go live.
32. Use coloured buttons to direct customers through your check-out process
If you want to direct potential customers to take a certain path, highlight the button you want them to push a clear and obvious colour. Conversely, make any buttons that reverse you back through the check-out process, grey.
33. Make certain there are no programming errors visible to your customers
Nothing looks more amateurish to website browsers that when an error message comes up when they try and order from your site. Only the most determined will continue forwards – anyone else will leave your site almost instantly.
34. Use test shoppers before your shop goes live.
You do not want real customers to find flaws in your system. It is far better if you hire a few people to act as test shoppers first, and take good notice of any flaws they find navigating and using your website.
35. Use relevant tools to optimise your site
There are some tools specifically aimed at optimizing your conversions, e.g. Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, Qualaroo, The Cart Closer etc. Try them out and keep using the ones that suit you best
36. Ensure your check-out fits on a single page
Multi-page check-outs send potential customers away, and a number pull out of the transaction part-way through the process. Make certain that the plugin or whatever checkout method you are using enables the check-out process to occur on a single page
37. Avoid compulsory registration at the checkout
Customers are often turned away because of the rigmarole of going through a compulsory registration process. It is far better to have an optional registration process once the order is processed
38. Only ask for essential information from customers
Potential customers get put off by having to fill in too much information. The simple rule is that if an item of information is not absolutely necessary, do not ask for it. Have a clean, stream-lined check-out page
39. Use automatic address recognition at your check-out
There are various apps / plug-ins that simplify the process for a customer entering their address. A customer is more likely to go through the purchase process if they do not have to make too much effort to get through the check-out
40. Use one-click process to speed up the check-out
Add an Amazon or PayPal button to your checkout to speed up processing of orders for your customers.
I suggest that you take a close look at your website and see how it rates in relation to these guidelines. If need be, make some changes. They will almost certainly be worth your while and the outcome should be increased sales.
Changes that are made by governing bodies and organisers to complex structures are almost unavoidably likely to have an impact on uninvolved bystanders; such is the nature of any system.
Modern economists make frequent use of the law to explain how decisions at a governmental level have significant unintended consequences further down the food chain.
Examples of the law in practice include wind farms that actually harm the environment by killing birds. Laws used to promote green vehicles which with the help of an enterprising salesman resulted in free golf carts for businessmen, and the Australian law making cycle helmets mandatory that actually resulted in an increase in the risk of death and serious injury to cyclists.
So what does all of this have to do with Google?
In the search engine world, there’s little doubt about who makes the rules; and with its recent Penguin update, Google has left some innocent websites suffering in its campaign for good SEO practices.
Some Early Examples
Now of course there is some history here. There are many early examples of unintended consequences that have arisen from decisions and courses of action that Google have taken,
- Using Pagerank to dictate that links had value resulted in the link economy, blog networks, comment and forum spam and a proliferation of low quality web directorie
- Google AdSense for publishers led to an explosion in content scraping, copyright theft and MFA (Made For Adsense) sites.
- The introduction of rel=nofollow led to Pagerank sculpting and siloing.
So Where Does The Penguin Update Fit In?
The Google Penguin update was introduced in April 2012 as a means of identifying and demoting websites that had previously benefitted from aggressive SEO techniques.
According to Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s WebSpam team), the update targeted ‘all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site.’
To put it bluntly, it was designed to demote websites that appeared to be benefitting from undeserved backlinks.
The principles behind Penguin meant that it was welcomed by most web users. It would ensure that websites that engaged in link-spamming and other underhanded black-hat techniques would drop down the rankings. Google speculated that the first update would only have an impact on 3.1% of English search queries and 3% on searches made in the German, Chinese, and Arabic languages.
The Penguin Update was largely successful, resulting in the demotion of a hundreds of thousands of websites that had been ranking unfairly. Unfortunately it also affected some sites that hadn’t knowingly engaged in shady link-building practices.
For example, the specialist WordPress site WPMU.org was crushed by the update, dropping from 8,580 daily visits to a paltry 1,527 after it was introduced.
Despite the site’s owner, John Farmer claiming that there had been no keyword stuffing, link schemes or had any problems regarding quality. Matt Cutts came forward with the claim that the site had been penalised due to a few bad links pointing to it.
Largely it was felt that due to the nature of the site (a WordPress resource); there were bound to be links to the site indicating authorship and design of blogs often of a lower quality – links that were keyword heavy and in footers, blogrolls and often sitewide.
Even so, the damage had been done and it was left for WPMU to rebuild their rankings.
One major unintended consequence of the Google Panda Update was the ‘bad-by-association’ approach to some sites. If one site was penalised, sites associated with that site were shown to be affected negatively. In an online discussion Michael Martinez of SEO Theory said, ‘what they are seeing is a Cascade Effect where the websites that link to them suddenly lose value. So the real problem lies 1 or 2 tiers back. These are not false positives, although they are collateral damage.’ However we define this problem, it is clear that some websites have experienced a drop in traffic and money-earning potential through no fault of their own.
The Target Changes…
Some leading SEO experts have revealed that some more aggressive (and less-ethical) SEOs have posed as their rivals and petitioned sites with fake requests for the removal of perfectly good links. Such tactics have been adopted as a means of reducing competitor’s website rankings. Thankfully as yet this problem doesn’t seem to be widespread.
When fake emails aren’t enough, there have also been some reports of unscrupulous webmasters building spammy links to rival websites hoping to see them penalised as a result.
Even examples of blackmail threats made to websites with the threat of black-hat SEO and possible penalties.
Members of the specialist SEO Forum Traffic Planet revealed how devastating this tactic could be by test-targeting two websites with ScrapeBox blasts. This involved the creation of thousands of anchor-text based backlinks and resulted in a substantial ranking drop for the sites targeted.
The Traffic Planet case study was just one way of outlining the effects of a wide reaching problem. Danny Sullivan, the Editor in Chief of Search Engine Land pointed out that, ‘As for not accepting there’s no negative SEO, I’ve repeatedly said that it is possible … perhaps it [is] more viable now because it’s cheaper now. That’s exactly the opposite or refusing to accept that links could be cheaply and trivially pointed at any site. What remains unclear is how serious a threat it is to the vast majority of sites out there.’
The cautionary message here appears to be: as much as Google’s addressing of black-hat SEO may make for a quality content-driven user-experience, it’s by no means flawless. When in doubt, leave it out and play it safe.