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When it comes to getting found on the Web, content is king—if your business is royalty. As entrepreneurs, it seems, you are deprived of this birthright.
Desperate to make up the ground, you skim the endless stream of blogs on the “secret” to writing viral content, a declaration often framed in other buzzwords and topped with a suitably click-bait title, whether it’s “How to Drive 100,000 Visitors to Your Site a Day” or “Increase Conversions by 7,458% with One Simple Strategy.”
We’ve all clicked on them. We’ve all been disappointed.
Some of the advice is true. Yes, viral content is helpful for site traffic. Yes, you need to write more (and better) content. Yes, you need to tap into the passions and obsessions of your buyer persona. But it’s about as useful as “develop a great product” or “build customer loyalty.”
So how do startups build traffic and sales in the modern e-commerce landscape? How can entrepreneurs outsmart multi-billion-dollar competitors? Let me show you.
How to Get It Done
First, stop trying to be Amazon (or eBay or Overstock…), at least for now. Because the pathway to becoming an e-commerce giant is not in one giant leap from obscurity to ubiquity.
Google loves brands. Of all the things its algorithm struggles with, it struggles the most with trust and authority, and brands are a great proxy, amalgamating all the offline signals Google can’t assess via on-page content or the links that point to your site. If you’re just starting out, you don’t have a brand, at least in the eyes of Google.
It’s part of the reason that writing great content, crossing your fingers, and waiting for the sales to roll in is a losing strategy. Subpar content on major retail blogs will continue to crush your site because those blogs start with exponentially greater visibility, not to mention that getting four thousand retweets isn’t much when it represents less than half a percent of your followers.
In fact, the only way to beat them is to focus your online and offline efforts, not just your blog, on the things mega retailers don’t have: a local and personal brand. Pair those advantages with a cheap, effective strategy on paid social media, and you will develop traction.
Below I’ve divided each of the three strategies—local, personal, and paid social—into theory and practice. Theory because one-size-fits-all digital marketing solutions are really no-size-fits-any, and practice because I’m not going to waste your time with another in-the-clouds soliloquy.
A Couple of Caveats
For one, you need a technically sound site. If your site isn’t responsive, has a spammy backlink profile, loads of duplicate content, or any other major technical flaw, fix that first. Your site is the foundation of your digital home. This post isn’t about that, so if I’m raising red flags already, bookmark this page and come back to it when you’ve sorted out the other stuff.
Second, make sure you are in fact looking for more visitors, not just more conversions. We sometimes have to talk new clients out of pouring more ad money into a subpar user experience, which is a misplaced investment in more traffic when the real priority is conversion rate optimization (streamlining the checkout process, etc.). The numerical baseline for a bad conversion rate varies tremendously by industry, so it’s hard to pinpoint a figure that should be concerning. But you must think about the untapped revenue potential in clients that you’ve already attracted to your site—where you’re already beating Amazon. There may be a lot more money in making those visitors happy than drumming up a new pile of low-converting leads.
Here’s an exclusive advantage for small brands and entrepreneurs: You are local. You’re not trying to be local or provide the illusion of a mom-and-pop shop; you are one. This is a huge plus over a faceless e-commerce site that offers efficiency and selection without much humanity.
Don’t think humanity is valuable? Just head down to your local farmers’ market next Saturday or enjoy a meal at the bustling new farm-to-table restaurant in your neighborhood (the one that opened up next to that other bustling new farm-to-table restaurant).
The biggest shift in branding over the last ten to twenty years has been the desire for brands to become personal and, by default, local. Whether this has had to do with the explosion of pseudo-intimate connections offered by social media or some deeper psychological longing, I’m not sure. But it’s definitely happening.
1. Keyword Research. In a technical sense, local means seeking out keywords (the phrases searchers punch into Google) to better target your audience in the surrounding geographic area. This may sound strange, especially if you’re looking to become a national brand. But start local—people will be more passionate about goods made in their community. No matter what they come up with, Amazon cannot replicate this.
Append product page titles with a mix of city or regional keywords (Leather Wallets Handmade in Spokane WA | WalletMeister). And consider this often neglected winner: local slang. Just like they’re not going to dedicate product pages to geographic niches, big retail companies aren’t going to target local slang on pages intended to serve the entire nation (or world) either.
This same kind of keyword targeting holds true for blog topics. Focus on local trends and events, or how larger, national trends are or are not affecting the local scene.
The result? Competing in a set of search results that doesn’t include national brands.
2. Local Citations. Wherever your store or workshop is located, get local citations to establish your physical presence. Start with Google+ and Facebook and keep your NAP (name, address, phone number) absolutely consistent across all citations.
This will help you get into “local pack” results—that grouping of a handful of local businesses that appears on search engine results pages for location-based queries. Getting on Google+, even if you do nothing other than create and verify your page, ensures you will be found on Google Maps. It also opens the door to reviews of your business, which can give you a boost whether you’re competing with local or national brands.
3. On-Page Copy. Local also means instant gratification. If you have a physical and digital storefront, you can offer your customers the chance to take home goods today. Amazon has been testing drones for same-day home delivery, but that’s as close as they’ll ever get to customers walking in a store.
Thus, on-page copy can help make the sale whether or not the purchase occurs in cyberspace. For certain industries, like fashion, you can highlight the virtues of feeling fabrics and trying on clothes before purchase.
Work these benefits into the on-page copy. This is an advantage you can offer customers that online retailers can’t. Even if they allow returns, they can’t match the convenience.
You can also remind potential customers that the physical location offers a chance to interact with you, which may mean a personal fitting or encounter with the creator.
4. Organic Social Media. On social media, connect with potential customers by showing action shots or other goings-on in local habitats. This could be as banal as grabbing your morning coffee at a local favorite, or it could include images of your participation in community events.
When thinking about building brand loyalty, remember that your community is already a brand, and failing to join in misses out on an existing connection with potential customers.
Your second biggest advantage is the authentic, personal nature of your business. Sure, pick any Fortune 500 company and you can find an image of a customer service representative—perhaps not even a stock-photo version, in more progressive conglomerates—happily imprisoned in some corner of a customer service center in suburban Tampa. These are real people, but it shows the depths to which large businesses know how essential it is to retain even a poor, approximated version of personal connection.
You don’t need to go anywhere near these lengths to achieve a similar sense of connection. So often, small businesses get obsessed with maintaining the façade of a large, well-oiled machine when the true value in your brand is your small stature.
1. About Us Page. The About Us page on a website is unique in the digital marketing landscape—an important page that rarely pulls in traffic from organic search. It won’t help people find your site, but it may help them become passionate about who you are and what you do. (To fully connect the dots: It may help them become passionate about buying your product and telling others to buy it, too.)
Ditch any thoughts of a run-of-the-mill, why-would-anyone-read-this page and go with a tone and design that best reflects your brand. If you don’t like reading it, no one else will either.
2. On-Page Copy. From a content perspective, you need to let people into the thought process behind your products. This can form the critical, persuasive copy on your product pages. Rather than trying to come up with generic, informational descriptions, give people something to hang onto—the moment of lucidity (or insanity) that gave birth to your grand vision.
If you developed a fabric pattern after seeing a rural wedding in Phnom Penh, share the story. If you had a total non-sequitur of a dream that involved an innovative vision for outerwear, describe the experience. If you chose three product colors because they’re the three colors in the flag of your ancestors’ origins, let people know.
3. Customer Service. Customer service is the starting point for a personal touch, and if you’re a company of one, your customers will get an email or phone response from the creator-in-chief, which can add value. Highlight this value on your site; it’s a security blanket for those at the point of purchase.
Furthermore, customers increasingly are looking for responsive businesses, not perfect ones. This is, quite simply, license to screw up as long as you apologize promptly and make it right. In this regard, entrepreneurs enjoy more control and efficiency to achieve immediate customer satisfaction. There’s no bureaucracy to hinder the process.
4. Product. If your brand cultivates the idea of hand-crafted goods, can each item be hand signed or numbered? Can any aspect add a one-of-kind uniqueness to each item? Can you use this uniqueness to create urgency or added value in product page copy?
Even if the one-of-a-kind effort is a mere gesture, this can add a powerful sense of brand identity that mass producers cannot match or even approximate. (Full disclosure: I first, and most often, notice this with craft bourbon.)
Did you ever wonder how Facebook was going to make money? If you joined in its early days, there appeared no immediate outlet. And then, it became clear: We had all just spent years filling out the most detailed customer survey in history. It was time for Facebook to cash in.
While this may have caused a brief Orwellian panic, you shouldn’t be worried. (Okay, maybe a little.) Facebook, like Google, depends on its users loving their product, and it’s desperate to protect the user experience and perception of that experience, even if more goes on behind the scenes than we care to acknowledge.
From a marketing perspective, social media advertising is the Holy Grail. Google offers only keyword-based ad displays, which, apart from being comparatively broad, are increasingly competitive. (And competitive means expensive.) With social media, you can refine your audience ad nauseam, and the success of a campaign has the added dividend of market research—you’ll learn a lot about who’s buying and who isn’t.
As I noted earlier, “organic” social media still exists and has utility. But if you don’t have much of a following or need sales in the near term, paid social is the way to go. In general, paid search engine marketing is equivalent to renting space; organic is owning it. It’s why organic is the great long-term play, but paid efforts can get results if you need them today.
1. Choose a Platform. If you use only one platform, Facebook may be your best option. It has a huge audience, plenty of targeting capabilities, and easy-to-understand metrics. Twitter probably places second, at least if you’re a business-to-consumer outfit. LinkedIn is the clear favorite for business-to-business operations, particularly because you can target people with certain professions, information that may not be as easily segmented in other social media platforms.
2. Landing Pages. Create a dedicated landing page for any paid ad campaign. In most cases, this will be a product page (which circles back to the need for a technically sound site that isn’t bleeding conversions). Regardless, you want a tight fit between your ads and the landing page. Matching user expectations is key to winning conversions. A linked ad for a specific product should take users directly to that product, not a subcategory or, worse yet, your homepage.
Now Get Out There and Be Somebody
It’s amazing how the paradigm shifts, how huge corporations—formerly local and personal brands—now pour millions into marketing campaigns in an effort to rekindle the personal connection with their product that allowed them to grow. If you want evidence that there’s value in local and personal branding, make a note: Big business has bet big.
More importantly, the material expense and mental exertion from big brands comes intrinsically to entrepreneurs. And it’s your pathway to the traffic and sales you need to become the next great e-commerce site every budding brand will work to dethrone. Use it.