In my previous post about e-commerce, I provided a very general outline of e-commerce, and touched on the essential problem of standing out from the crowd. Generally speaking, the web is maturing, and business on the web is becoming more like traditional business: if you're in an established market, lots of other folks are competing for your clicks. If you're creating a market, it's time to create some buzz.
First, the basics ...
Unless you're an established site with lot of regular visitors, the vast majority of people will arrive from somewhere else on the web -- a search engine, someone's blog, a news article, advertisement, or other web site.
Search engines are a good place to start, and something to consider when planning your site. There are two types of search engines: general search engines, and targetted search engines. General search engines (like Google) can provide a solid base of traffic, but things get really exciting with the targeted search engines (like ShopZilla). More on that in a bit.
Appealing to general search engines is relatively straight forward, if you have a good web designer and a knack for being social:
- Do find other sites to link to your home page and products. The biggest influence on how high your site shows up on search engines is the quantity and quality of sites linking to yours. Know (or employ) any bloggers? Have them put in a good word. On good terms with your manufacturers? If you're buying enough product, or know the right people, get a link. Are there any web bulleton boards about activities related to your products? Offer to sponsor them. Don't create other web sites just to link to your site -- search engines have a tendency to permanently delist sites that use such questionable tactics to improve their rankings. Setting aside a few hours per week to build relationships and get links can pay for itself quite quickly.
- Do use clean, semantic markup. Put product names in <h1> tags at the top of the page and in the <title>. Avoid using tables in your layout. Don't do keyword stuffing -- keyword headers are ignored by modern search engines, and adding a list of all of your products to every page polutes the content and will most likely be counted against you (and besides, it's ugly and a turnoff for potential customers). Any good web designer can help you through this process.
- Do use search engine specific site maps. Google, Yahoo, and others can be seeded with files that describe all of your pages, and ensure your site gets crawled entirely. Again, if your e-commerce platform doesn't support site maps, you'll have to find a developer to help you out.
Lets say I'm looking for a jacket. I already know what kind of jacket I want, and now I'm just looking for a reputable dealer with a good price. Now, I can go to Google or Yahoo and search, but most of the time those searches don't tell me either the price or reputation. So, I head over to Froogle, or ShopZilla -- search engines specifically designed to help consumers find the best deal on the products they want.
Taking advantage of targeted search engines requires some technical expertise, but the pay off is worth it: one of my client's sales grew 1600% in a single quarter after we plugged his site into Froogle and ShopZilla. Unfortunately, if your e-commerce platform doesn't already support the targetted search engines specifically, you'll have to find a developer to plumb the depths of your database.
Comparison search engines are growing and multiplying quickly. Chances are there are a handful that are well suited to your particular business. Here's a quick list of some of the prominant sites:
- Froogle, a service of Google
- ShopZilla, who recently acquired BizRate
- Yahoo! Shopping
- Shopper.com, a C|Net site