December 6th, 2010 by Kathy
This past weekend I was buzzing around the net, checking on some SEO work and reading up on the never-ending changes in SEO Land. The normal arguments were going on in chat rooms, blog posts and comments. How much does Google want to see “this”? Is a three page checkout process one page too many? How badly does a lack of mobile ready pages hurt the bottom line?
As I rambled around the inter webz, I noticed there were over 400 MILLION pages competing for the key term I was checking. Seems like just last week there were a bare 100,000. An article caught my eye about mobile users hitting some astronomical figure by 2013. And I tried to buy something at a site that frustrated me with it’s multi page checkout process to the point of hitting the “cancel this transaction” button.
What do all these things have in common? Today, more than ever before, little things mean a lot. Competition is fierce, only 10 sites (or less in some cases) make it to the first page of Google for a keyterm. That’s 10 out of 400 million!
If you do get a customer to your checkout, you’ve won them from brick and mortar stores, online giants like Amazon and thousands of competitors. And they might have come to you from a smart phone – many sites are seeing mobile use in their stats that hit 10% or more of their monthly traffic.
Back in the early days when making money online was like picking up gold nuggets on a beach, details didn’t really matter all that much. The net was new, and customers would put up with poor checkout pages. They even went 3, 4 or more pages deep in a search session! Today, every detail counts.
No matter how well optimized a site, or how user friendly your purchase funnel may be, check these details or your competition will pull ahead of you.
Check the spelling – not only of your copy, but the all important meta title and description. I’ve seen keyterms misspelled in these areas which is great if you’re after a particular misspelling, but most folks aren’t. I even saw a site with the owner’s name spelled incorrectly throughout the pages!
Alt tags on images – do they count? A little. But if you and your competitor have sites of equal value doesn’t it make sense to do everything YOU can to tip the scales in your favor? Including making good use of the tags most site designers ignore?
Keywords in file names. Another little thing that most site designers and developers ignore are the names they assign images and page files. Do these count? A little. But hey – little things mean a lot! And instead of a bland “contact.html” or “logo1.jpg” it’s not hard to use “mykeytag.html” or “keyterm1.jpg”.
Go through your own checkout process. Are you standing in the way of a sale? Are you asking too much info from your customer? Are you using a dreaded captcha on a secure checkout page? That’s overkill and I can guarantee you will lose customers if they can’t read it and enter it right the first time.
Is your checkout process returning the right icon on the browser bar? In other words is it on a secure page with a properly updated SSL certificate? Nothing will stop the hand on the wallet faster than an error message popping up during checkout that says “this site may not be secure”.
Do you give the customer a clear message that their order has been received and is being processed?
Speaking of pages, do you have a custom “page not found” page? Do you politely inform your customer that they have reached a non existent page and give them a link back to your main page or a category page?
Does your site search work? I mean does it REALLY work? Does it come up with alternate spellings of a term or make suggestions? Does it politely or humorously let the customer know that term is not present in your site? Or is it a bare “search term not found” sort of page?
These are all little things, minor details, often overlooked. But with as competitive as the market has become, these little things can be the difference between being found and making a sale, or languishing in the middle of the pack of pages that are your online market.
November 29th, 2010 by Kathy
Welcome to Cyber Monday! If you survived Black Friday, the traditional shopping day that put’s retailers in the black for the first time in the year, you can follow up with Cyber Monday Steals and Deals.
Cyber Monday is when retailers with an online presence do deep discounting in an effort to match the frenzy of Black Friday. The National Retail Federation estimates 88% of online merchants will have deals, free shipping or participate in other ways in Cyber Monday.
ComScore, a digital marketplace research firm, expects online sales for the 2010 holiday season will reach $32.4 billion, marking an 11% increase over the previous year for the combined November-December gift-buying period.
Giant Amazon has fourth quarter sales forecasts ranging from $12 billion to $13.3 billion—an increase of 26% to 40% over Amazon’s fourth quarter sales of $9.5 billion in 2009.
Just how big are online Christmas sales numbers? The past two years, due to the economy are giving somewhat muddy numbers, but by any statistical analysis, holiday sales online are at least doubling every year. With sales projected to be at least 10% of all holiday shopping, within a year or two, experts expect online marketing efforts to account for one out of every four sales.
Furthermore, the average sale is also increasing. Last year saw it climb to $190 from the 2008 figure of $171.
Whether you sell hard goods or services, making 2011 the year you join the Amazon behemoth should be one of your iron clad New Year’s resolutions. No matter how you look at the numbers, Amazon has the lion’s share of the online sales pie. One of every $3 spent online goes to Amazon.
It’s not difficult to get eBooks, videos and hard goods into the Amazon Marketplace. Sure they take a cut, and yes there are rules. But the percentage isn’t bad and varies by the type of product and industry you are in.
Amazon has built an incredible level of trust with shoppers, which is a major factor in it’s success. Following those rules means Amazon continues to build that all important trust factor for your benefit as well as Amazon’s.
They have a wide variety of ways to move products. Offering everything from a quasi auction model to individual store fronts, Amazon covers all the bases. They even have low cost book publishing services and mass produced DVD’s. Go with a Kindle ready electronic version of your product, and have a paperback ready to ship as well.
How well does Amazon work for small business? I had a client a couple of years ago who went on Amazon based on my recommendations. In less than six months Amazon sales were half of the online store sales. In a year they were equal to the online store. Last year Amazon sales alone bypassed the brick and mortar sales for a store that had been place over 25 years.
Impressive? I think so. So did the owner who credits Amazon with saving his business. They didn’t even discount their products on Amazon. Main street store, online store, or Amazon – the prices were identical no matter where the shopper found the product. Nor were they the lowest. Other Amazon merchants were often 10-15% lower.
If you are looking for an online channel to garner more leads, more sales and more money with a minimal investment and low ongoing costs, you need to take a look at Amazon. It should be a part of every online marketers toolbox.
November 22nd, 2010 by Kathy
It’s here. It’s been creeping up. It’s been whispering sweet nothings in the ears of millions of shoppers. Yes it’s the time of the year to turn the bottom line from red to black – Black Friday!
Are you ready? Are your customer service lines staffed with friendly, knowledgeable people? Are your warehouses jammed with product? Is your site being found in the search engines for the right keyterms. Is it in the local directories? Is it mobile friendly?
Can users navigate to the products they want, filling their carts and then checking out with confidence that their details are safe? This is the time to turn the bad economy and lackluster sales around.
If you’re like many retailers and ecommerce companies your sales this year are vital to the continuation of your business. Whether you’re in a mall or on Amazon, the next 29 days can decide the future of your business.
With the season upon us, it’s too late to make any major changes now. But if you’re a brick and mortar store just thinking about coming online, maybe this factoid will help you embark on an online venture in January.
Recent studies published in The Real Cost of the Digital Divide state “being online adds up to almost $8,000 a year in savings– and that’s after taking the cost of being connected into account. While online shoppers may save more by being connected, online bargain hunters may still spend more money.
Who can blame online shoppers for handling Black Friday events from the comfort of their favorite living room chair? I know I do everything I can to avoid the crowded mall parking lots, wishing for a personal urban tank of my very own if I have to venture anywhere near them.
With the convenience of easy price comparisons, shipping guarantees, and no hassle checkout, it’s no wonder the internet has become the largest shopping mall ever imagined.
But if you are a retailer and you’re not online, you are missing out on those sales that could put the black into Black Friday. If you’re already online and not being found in the right places, not being sure your site is a part of the mobile explosion, and not using internet marketing techniques effectively, you could be wondering what all the fuss is about.
In the coming weeks you, dear reader, may get tired of hearing me say four words – social marketing and mobile friendly. But I and other internet SEO and marketing experts know that those two phrases are vital to your online success in 2011.
If your site is not mobile friendly you are ignoring the 100 million people who use Smart Phones. Let me give you a real world example that happened over the weekend. I was having lunch with my son’s fiancée and her sister and brother in law. All 20 somethings, they all had their iPhones and Droids handy. The girls were strategizing their Friday shopping, hitting web sites for price comparisons, coupons, and deals. They had a list – broken into two columns. One side was “hit the mall” the other was “hit Amazon”.
They pulled up the mall map and marked the stores each would check, and detailed how and when they would stay in touch via phone to maximize their bargain hunting efforts. Fast forward to next year and the bar code readers that work within smart phones will be linked to the comparison sites. Perhaps even feeding the all important customer reviews into that screen as well as other relevant information like warranty limits or recall notices.
Some of their decisions were even made by browsing the company website. Laughter exploded as they looked at some stone age sites – “Ewww look at this thing. Would you EVER want to buy from a site that looks like that?”. “Oh good grief when will these guys stop doing things in Flash. I can’t see a single product pic. I’ll have to go to the store and hope they still have one.”
Mobile is big – it’s getting bigger every day. It is a part of the shopping experience for many, and will become a mainstay of that experience in the years to come.
I know that Amazon is huge. I know this from my beloved stats. I know the net is made up of real people doing real things online. But to watch two real people bypass every website except Amazon while planning their shopping trip, was enlightening. If you aren’t on Amazon, get there – today. There is still time if you burn some midnight oil to become a part of this behemoth.
And seeing these young ladies checking Facebook pages for customer reviews and company interaction was also enlightening. A major retail chain which will remain nameless was a turnoff to these shoppers because of how they mismanaged a customer post. Presence matters, but engagement matters more.
My wish for you, Mr. or Ms. Retailer, is that you have a stellar Christmas selling season so we can continue our conversation on engaging netizens and turning them into customers far into next year.
November 17th, 2010 by Kathy
There is one area of internet marketing that is often overlooked. Site Design. While good navigation and a pleasing, easy to read page is conducive to converting lookers to buyers, recent changes at Google have made site design an even more important element of search engine optimization.
Google has always cared about the proper use of HTML and CSS code, page load times and other “backend” design elements, but with a recent test by Google, site design is about to become even more important to search results.
In the past couple of weeks Google has been experimenting with “page preview”. Enter a search term and click the magnifying glass next to a result to turn this feature on. Now scroll over the results and you’ll see something like the image below.
The keyword you entered will be highlighted on the page preview.
What effect will this new feature have on your online marketing efforts? Let’s look at two examples of a page preview.
Notice the broken Flash video image? The rest of this page isn’t bad, and it still could attract visitors. BUT the keyterms I entered to find this page are not highlighted within this preview. It won’t take long for visitors to start bypassing pages and sites that don’t have their key term prominently displayed and highlighted in the Google Page Preview.
Let’s look at another preview page.
I went to this page to find out why it was displaying so much white space. Java popups, old style html code and lack of CSS contributed to hide content from the page preview. This site – according to a quick look at it’s source code – is using site design style from the 1990′s. Do you think this page preview will result in visitors? Ummm probably not.
Most sites I review from an SEO perspective need some help. Titles, descriptions, code rewrites and other elements frequently need to be updated and redone. Most sites I see online are not “mobile friendly”. Many are confusing to visitors with poor navigation and overall site layout. But now the stakes have been raised. Now poor site design will be evident to everyone before they ever click your link in Google search results.
Make a New Years resolution to check your site and update as needed.
- Check it in Google’s Site Preview
- Use the index card or business card test – how much of your site can be seen in a 3″ x 5″ or smaller area? That’s what a mobile device sees.
- Dump Flash. Even if Apple were supporting it, it’s old, it’s tired, it’s a security risk and there are better, quicker, well supported alternatives to a Flash video.
- Think “cross browser” and “cross platform” compatible. Be SURE your site can be seen on IE, FireFox, Safari and Chrome. Be SURE it’s Smart Phone and iPad ready.
And be SURE it looks inviting to the Page Preview browser! (HINT – Bing is also going the Page Preview route.) Spending the time to get a good ranking in Google and then losing the visitor to bad site design will mean your Christmas stocking will be full of coal next year.
November 15th, 2010 by Kathy
A long time ago in what seems like a distant galaxy, far before the world of the internet, I had a most amazing sales manager. We were selling the first PC’s – Apple was only a scant 14 months out of the garage. And yet what this guy taught me was probably the best training for successful internet marketing I ever got.
Ralph was an inveterate people watcher and we used to stand outside the store on the busiest street corner in Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland really did have foot traffic once upon a time and was the home to an astonishing number of Fortune 500 companies.
As people hurried by on their way to their cubicles and glass enclosed office suites, Ralph kept up a running commentary on what job they held, what their likes and dislikes were, even what they enjoyed doing in their off time. Being fond of fact not fiction, I challenged Ralph to prove that he was right with what I considered to be guesses.
We started a “customer survey” with just five questions – what is your job title, do you use computers in your office, how long have your held your current position, with what you know about computers do you like them, hate them or are you afraid of them, and what do you do most in your off time.
We gave away an Apple logo’d sticky note pad and pen to everyone taking the survey. Ralph was incredibly accurate. The answers he gave for an individual before they took our survey had at least 3 of the 5 questions pegged correctly.
After about a week of running our little impromptu sampling I asked Ralph two questions. How was he able to size people up so quickly and how were those answers applicable to sales?
Ralph’s reply was that to successfully sell anything to anyone you had to know as much about them as possible in as short a time as practical. He would ask seemingly friendly “warm up” questions to determine their level of computer experience, how they felt about computers in general, what “tribe” they belonged to, and anything else he could to determine exactly how he would respond to the customer and close the sale.
He also turned himself into that customer. He was a huge man – 6′ 4 and well over 200 pounds. But he could become a timid accountant in a heartbeat. His entire demeanor would change from the self confident sales leader into a hesitant, quiet, cubicle dwelling number cruncher. The prospect became comfortable with this mirror image of himself and would express his inner fears and sales objections, allowing Ralph to gently put them aside and close the sale.
If the self made tool and die millionaire wandered in, Ralph’s voice would boom through the store as he shook hands firmly with that kindred spirit. It was a lesson in the art and craft of salesmanship that I will always treasure.
When I began my online marketing career, Ralph’s lessons came to mind. I found that my most successful websites and clients were the ones that spoke the language of the unseen customer. The copy struck the right chords, resonating with the right “tribe” and matching the benefits to their objections, and closing the sale.
Online marketing and salesmanship is more challenging than in person sales. The prospect is unseen, no visual cues are evident. But if you have truly taken the time to research your niche and it’s denizens, you know who they are, where they hang out, what is important to them and what product features they are interested in. You speak their language and walk their walk. By doing this, you identify yourself as a member of their “tribe” and build trust.
Yes, you understand their need. Yes, you are able to stop the pain and solve their problem because you understand THEM. You need the right keyterms to attract them to your site – the words they use, not necessarily the ones with the highest search volume.
If your market is fragmented – use landing pages to appeal to each segment. Use the language of that market segment to attract and engage. The voice in your copy needs to speak only to that segment, and not try to be all things to all people.
To paraphrase Caddyshack “be one with the customer, become the customer” and you will set sales records just like Ralph did.
November 12th, 2010 by Kathy
I love marketing. It’s a constantly changing landscape powered by masses of real people, buying real products that change how they do business and run their lives. When it comes to the net, predicting what will be “big” and what won’t is not usually very easy. I mean be honest here – did you actually think that little blue bird or Farmville would be the stuff fortunes are made of?
But other technology use can be a strong indication of things you should or should not do to capture the hearts and eyeballs of your visitors. I was in a large shopping mall the other day and began grumbling to myself about the Christmas promotions that were already in full swing. But then I started watching the people. Barnes and Noble had a throng of shoppers around their eReader while the rest of the store counters had few, if any, shoppers.
In the concourse, groups of people were gathered around the various cell phone kiosks. No trip to the mall is complete for me without a visit to the shrine of the fruit – The Apple Store. Here, the iPad displays had knots of people 5 deep waiting for their turn to play with that sleek addition to the Apple line.
Many other stores boasted staff members but no shoppers. I have a feeling smart phones, iPad devices and Kindle type readers are going to be under quite a few Christmas trees this year.
To date, 85 million iPhone and iPod touch devices have been sold to which you can add a predicted 7 million for iPads in its first year alone, according to iSuppli and Apple Insider. Simple math means that there are close to 100 million people using these devices. That number is sure to climb in the coming months.
But is your website ready for these visitors who may be giving up their laptop to browse the web via handhelds?
A recent study by Nielsen showed that by 2014, nearly 60 percent of the 142.1 million U.S. mobile population will access the Internet using mobile browsers. So, how does your site look to the 85.5 million mobile users who will see it from their mobile device?
Have you checked it across multiple platforms? Does it load quickly enough for a mobile user to see your content quickly? Does it pass the “business card” test? Hold a normal business card up to the screen – how much of your content will fit into that area?
Do you have a mobile friendly version of your site? Is it configured correctly so it “sniffs” out mobile visitors and serves that version of your site to them?
Apple iPad and iPhone users don’t see Flash. For about a year I’ve been preaching that Flash is on the way out. Videos and web site elements should not be done in venerable Flash. It has security flaws almost as bad as Microsoft, it isn’t seen by over 100 million users and there are better alternatives like HTML 5.0 and CSS 3.
Was your website written in HTML 5.0? Are your videos available in mobile surfing size?
Are your pages heavily laden with hundreds of lines of text? Mobile surfers browse – and they aren’t going to stick around for long if that page scrolls on forever in small, hard to read lines of text. Get to the point of the page and send them to another page if you have more info. Break your pages up into easily digested chunks of info – this is better for your SEO efforts and better for your mobile visitor.
Keep your copy short. It is true – nobody reads anymore, at least not a web site. Tests have shown that only 30% of the words on your page are actually read. Make sure that 30% are the most important words for your product or service.
CHECK YOUR ANALYTICS. Please check your stats. See where your visitors are coming from, what operating system they are using, what screen resolution they are surfing in. Mobile device use on your site stats will jump out at you, believe me.
Smart phones and tablet devices aren’t going to go away. But if your site isn’t ready for their use, your business just might.