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Ready, Set, Go!
Online Marketing
By Ahmed Saad, Technology Matrix Group - Copyright 2001
Online marketing must be part of an overall marketing plan even if your business is 100% web-based.  Although your customers will conduct their transactions with you online, they have a life beyond the computer screen.  In order for you to successfully capture their attention you will need to reach them in a multitude of places - not just on the internet.  Your online marketing efforts should be part of a comprehensive marketing plan that takes all relevant aspects of your business into consideration.  Failure to do so, is precisely why people have such a hard time with online marketing... it has nothing else to support it.

What Outcome Do You Want?

Before you decide how to pursue your online marketing, you must have a clear understanding of what you are trying to get out of it.  While we all want sales, sales, and more sales, it may take a period of brand building, site visiting, and "being there" before the customer will jump in and buy from you.   Of course, it also depends greatly on your product or service and your business model.  If you put all your efforts into trying to make instant sales you will end up sacrificing your business's long term growth.  There is a limit to the amount of immediate/short term sales you can make.  Despite your best efforts they may not materialize no matter how hard you try.  Many people who pushed too hard ended up out of business as we saw in the 1999/2000 dot com bust.

That being said, there are three responses that a customer may have to your online marketing activities, you can gain brand recognition, click throughs, or tangible action (sale, sign-up, etc.).  You need to accomplish the right mix of all three when getting your message across to the customer.  If you want to focus your attention on click throughs for example, your message needs to be compelling, and should imply a time limitation or urgency of some sort that will make the customer click 'now'.  In most cases where urgency needs to be conveyed, your business brand is disregarded unless it supports the urgency factor.

In essence, you will be sacrificing your brand component on the visual real estate of the banner for a more compelling message that communicates the importance of clicking to the customer.  People will usually find a message less "urgent" if it includes a brand component since this is normal human behavior.   One rarely says something like "get the 'Chubb' fire extinguisher... there is a fire in the kitchen!" The more common thing to say is "get the Da** fire extinguisher!". 

Of course, going solely for clicks can be a disadvantage.   Some people will not click on any banner unless they have an indication as to where they are going.  Others may be interested in the offer/message but not "right away".  They would rather finish what they are doing and visit your site later.   You will miss out on those customers if you choose to stress urgency in your pursuit for click throughs.  Again, you will be trading long term for short term gains.

If you are aiming to create brand awareness in the customer then your ads will need to create an image of your name in the customer's mind.  You can do this using your brand name, logo, tagline, or anything else that "brands" you.  You won't get the same level of short term click throughs, but you will be building name recognition.

If you are going for sales you have to decide on the time horizon that you are comfortable with.  If your goal is NOW, there should be some thought as to what constitutes an offer that cannot be refused or deferred in your customers' minds.  If you don't mind waiting, then you can craft your landing page to encourage people to bookmark it, or to leave information so you can get in touch with them.  The latter tends to be extremely successful, and if planned and executed properly, many people will be willing to give you their contact information. 

Again, you must be able to give the customer compelling reasons to do that.  I learned from a sales job I had in the past never to carry business cards.  I know this sounds odd, but people tend to ask you for your business card and you you give it to them hoping that they will get in touch with you later.   We all know it never happens!  I was taught to not carry cards, apologize for not having any, and to ask people for theirs instead.  Once the ball is in your court, you are the one who decides when to call and what to offer.

So, with various options to choose from, which should you go with?  You will never be able to achieve any one pure form of response.  Depending on your business, you may opt to give more weight to one form or the other, but don't be too excessive.  The trade-off gets steeper the closer you get to absolutes.  For example, in order to deliver a campaign that emphasizes sales, you must to be ready to offer a compelling reason for people to buy from you NOW, such as selling your products at a deep discount.

While it is critical to market your business using all available means, the most important for an online business is still the online marketing component.

There are a multitude of ways to get the word out about your business and you need to cover as many as you can since the web isn't getting smaller and you are trying to stand-out among millions of websites.  You can certainly  spend money to promote your site, but many of the available routes are free.  All it takes is a little ingenuity and perseverance.

Search Engine Positioning

Search engines (SEs) are very important not just because many people turn to them, but because when your site shows up in search results, it is very likely being sought by an interested prospective customer.

There are outfits that will submit your site after "tweaking" it to make it search engine ready.  Prices vary and so do results, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better.  If you have time on your hands it is best that you do it yourself, or create a plan and hire an assistant to do the physical work.  If you lack experience, pick up the basics so that you are able to interview people who want you to pay them for getting your site well positioned on a search engine.  Always remember that if it is too good to be true, then it probably is.  Anyone can guarantee you top placement, the question is with what keywords?

The easiest way to start is with Yahoo and LookSmart. Believe it or not, in lots of ways it is a blessing that they are offering paid submissions now.  Before, you had to compete with all the other sites that were submitted to editors who were inundated with useless pages.  Now, you can guarantee that someone will look at your site in a timely manner.  While you are not guaranteed a listing, I do not know of any submitted site paying the fee and getting rejected. 

Since it is a possibility that a site could be rejected you will need to clean your site up before inviting guests over, just as you do before you have guests for dinner.  Make sure all your links work, test your pages in many browsers, make sure they format properly on the screen, etc.  You are likely to be rejected if your page looks bad in Netscape and the reviewer uses it as his browser.   Make sure your JavaScripts are compatible with various browsers and versions and your html code is clean, especially tables.  Make sure the site is inviting and that it offers something that stands out from the rest of the sites listed.

This is a good idea not only because you are trying to impress the reviewer with the hopes that he will write something that will draw attention to your site, but also because you want to impress the end user/prospective customer.   Editors are in the habit of "editing" the text you send so make sure that you submit critical information that is not be likely to get distorted if reworded.

Also, make sure that your metatags are communicating the same message.  Some reviewers will look at them to see who you are targeting, and to get ideas on how to word their descriptions.  Make sure you are choosing the right category.  Many times there are multiple categories that can describe your business so choose wisely.  The best way to select the "right one" is to run a search for your three main competitors and see where they are listed.  In most cases you want to swim against the current but this is one of the exceptions.  Be where everyone else is.  Open Directory is another big directory which is free and will usually add your site in a timely manner especially if you target a smaller subsection of the directory.

Now you need to move on to the search engines that don't have paid submissions. There are various strategies to get on search engines, a good start is at Search Engine Watch where you can get the latest tips and news regarding search engines.  Note that there is a common myth that Miva Merchant pages or pages following a "?" are not indexed.  This is true with some engines, but cannot be made as a general blanket statement.  Alta Vista, Hot Bot, Google, and Direct Hit will index Miva Merchant pages if the page is directly submitted or linked to from a static page. 

This means that if you submit http://YourSite.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=
CTGY&Store_Code=YourStore&Category_Code=YourCategory
it will be indexed, and if you have a link to it from your home page, when the spider visits your home page it will pick it up as well.  Now this does not mean that your page will show up on the first page since that is a function of numerous other factors, it just means that if you make the effort to submit it, it will be indexed.  We have achieved the first and second placements in certain relevant keywords with Merchant pages similar to the one shown above.  In fact, we have taken the URL of one of these indexed pages and changed the variables to generic values in the example above.

You will need to have relevant text, page titles, and meta tags (description and keywords), to support your search engine positioning.  In Merchant pages, the "Store Name" is critical since it shows as the title for all the pages.  That's why you should use a meaningful store name when editing your store, even if you have a domain name that is not all that great.  You can put meta tags in a multitude of places from admin. including the global header which will then "cover" all the pages, or product headers to specifically tweak a given product page.  Another boost would be to create static pages for the dynamically generated Merchant pages either manually or by using an add-on module like the one at Emporium Plus or another one at MVCool.

Another way to get a higher ranking in SEs is to have other sites linking to your site.  To achieve this you can buy your way in, exchange or trade links, or have compelling content that will motivate others to link to you.  Usually the latter does not work with commerce sites since they are shopping oriented and not content oriented.  A good inducement in this case is having an affiliate program that will motivate site owners to link to you.  We never advocate link trading for commerce sites except in very special circumstances where there is a working partnership with the site you will link out to.  Otherwise it is foolish to steer traffic to another site or to offer distractions to a prospective buyer.

Just remember that while SEs are not 100% efficient, they are a reflection of the real world.  If you find it hard to get positioned well in a given keyword, despite doing everything right, it is likely because you are in a mature market crowded by many players.  You may want to reconsider your business model, or have a particular feature that will make you stand-out in the SE and more importantly in the world wide business competition.  Consider SEs a reality check!

Cross Traffic Building

One of the ways we got traffic was to create a content site that shows banners and relevant recommendations to our commerce site. I t was easy to build traffic to the content site since it is free and has targeted content.  This in turn delivered traffic to our shopping site.  This may be too much work if done purely for the purpose of steering traffic, but if you have reasons to create the content site to begin with planning the synergy between your commerce site and your content site can be very useful.

 

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