With so many competitors online, you want your merchandise to stand out. In fact, you need it to for your business to succeed. But how do you get those picky search engine spiders to eat up your online store, Web site or eBay listings? And is putting effort into SEO techniques even worthwhile?
In a word: yes. Search engine optimization marketing is the most cost-effective way of marketing, next to e-mailing lists, says Paul Taylor, the CEO of Webmarketing123. E-mails can be highly effective because online merchants can tailor messages to their customers, but merchants are limited in the size of their mailing lists. That's not the case with SEO techniques.
But don't worry if you're not tech savvy. SEO jargon may mystify the novice, but optimizing your online store is not as complicated as some would lead you to believe, notes Terri Chris, owner of Angel Baby Boutique.
"Despite all the techno jargon that many in the field will throw at you… SEO is really simple if you understand some basic concepts and follow some easy steps," Chris says.
Preparing a strategy
SEO is about getting your content to appear among the first results on Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engines when potential customers type in words that describe a product you sell.
Spiders essentially read the content of your site to see if it matches the criteria a user inputs. So your contentmore specifically, the keywords you fill it withis the crucial factor here. That means you need to do your research.
Think about the people who are likely to buy your products and the specific terms they would use to describe your items. Stay away from broad, high-traffic terms that could produce irrelevant results and lead shoppers to skip your store.
It's a good idea to do a Google search for products like yours to see what keywords your competitors are using, says Auctiva CEO Jeff Schlicht.
"Size up your competition and see how they're doing things. It's likely they've invested the time to find out what works," Schlicht says. "I wouldn't be concerned with being No. 1; that will get you the most traffic, but it doesn't mean the most sales or profit. To begin with, being in the top six is probably good enough for you to learn the craft."
Services such as SpyFu allow you to see how much your competitors are spending on keyword ads, and for which keywords. SpyFu offers three-day, monthly and annual subscriptions for $8.95, $39.95 and $295, respectively. The program also offers a free trial, although this watered-down version only shows 5 percent to 10 percent of what subscribers see.
You may also want to poll the keywords used on your own site to see what people are typing in and which words are being used the most.
Keep the traffic coming
Once you've narrowed down your list of keywords, there are several tools you can use to ensure potential customers see your store when they're shopping. Let's take a look at a few.
Pay Per Click campaigns: With these, business owners bid on keywords to get better placement in search results. Businesses pay a specific amount every time search engines send them a visitor. In other words, they pay for every click to their site.
For this to generate consistently good results, merchants usually have to spend about $1,000 for set up and the same amount every month.
"The beauty of PPC advertising is the speed at which you can reach your target market and the high quality of sales leads that can be generated," reports Gord Collins from Bay Street Search Optimization, an SEO consulting company. "The downside is the price and the need for excellent conversion to sales."
Google AdWords: Google's AdWords is a type of pay per click service. It allows merchants to create ads and choose keywords or phrases related to their business so that when people Google an item using those keywords, the ad will appear next to the search results. Potential customers can then click on those ads to buy an item or learn more about a merchant's business. Google helps people create one ad for free. Additional ads will cost you, though.
Again, this gives store owners the potential of reaching millions. PPC campaigns don't require users to change any content on their Web sites, and they can be set up in a few minutes. But it's important to keep monitoring your site's ranking, as competitors may outbid you later on and lower your position.
When using Google AdWords, Schlicht suggests starting small and being as specific with your keywords as possible.
"I'd choose search terms of at least three words," he notes. "Of course, sometimes the volume for those terms is so light that Google will either make you bid more than it's worth, or won't let you bid at all and will force you to used two-word searches where the bidding is more competitive."
He recommends sellers start with low bids and work to increase their click rates by improving their wording.
Using Google Base is another good option. Google describes the service as a place where users can submit any type of online or offline content to the searchable database.
The service is free and currently available in English and German interfaces. Sellers can describe any item with words or phrases that help shoppers find your goods more easily. You don't even have to have a Web site to use the service. Google will host the content for free on a unique Web address. Auctiva Commerce offers a free online tutorial for adding a Google Base feed for your store.
Finally, don't forget the power of words. Blogging or writing articles about a topic you know a lot about will get your name out on the Weband increase your ranking online. Just be sure to write about topics you know well.
Again, keywords are going to be important, so be sure to do your research. If you need help, try keyword expansion tools to get some ideas and enjoy the boost in traffic.