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« Go Back | Posted in: - on June 2, 2014

So far on our Homestead Blog, we’ve talked a lot about how to build traffic by achieving high rankings in the search engine results pages using a process known as search engine optimization (SEO).  And while these techniques are incredibly valuable in terms of your site’s long term success, there’s no arguing with the fact that SEO traffic can take a long time to materialize.

But what if you don’t want to wait for your site’s rankings to increase naturally to start earning money or generating leads from your website?  What if you want to start seeing results right away?

In fact, there is another way to get visitors to your site – pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements.  Although there is some cost involved with this method, when used carefully, it can be a great way to start testing your website’s conversion process before you begin seeing an influx of SEO traffic.  Here’s how to get started:

Step #1 – Choose a PPC System

First, let’s cover a little background information on PPC ads.  PPC ads are small snippets of text (or images and video files, depending on the service that you use) advertising your website that display in various places, including in the natural search engine results and as ad blocks on websites that publish these ads.  They are free to run in most cases, and you only pay when a reader clicks on your ad and winds up on your site.

As you might expect, this type of system offers a number of advantages for businesses.  Compared to the upfront cost of magazine or television advertisements, you don’t pay for your PPC ads until you’ve found an interested prospect.  In addition, the nature of PPC ads allows you to target visitors more effectively (again, compared to the broad reach of magazine and TV ads), ensuring that your ad spend reaches only the people who will be most interested in your products or services.

So where can you find PPC advertising programs?  The most widely known program is Google Adwords, which allows you to display ads within the Google search results pages, as well as on a huge variety of websites that participate in the Google Adsense publisher program.  Other top-tier programs include Microsoft’s adCenter on Bing and Yahoo’s Search Marketing platform.

Working with one of these top-level PPC providers gives you the most extensive reach and a greater number of opportunities for your ads to appear.  However, because these programs are so widely used, average cost-per-click (CPC) rates may be substantially higher than on second-tier PPC engines, like Ask.com, 7Search and AdBrite.  Be aware, though, that although these services may be cheaper, the traffic they provide isn’t often as high quality as what you’ll get through the Big 3 PPC engines.

For most beginners, the best approach is to start with Google Adwords.  Although it’s slightly more expensive, the interface is easy to understand and the help section Google provides is extensive.  Once you’ve honed your PPC advertising skills here, you can move on and apply these lessons to other sites as needed.

Step #2 – Identify Your Target Keywords

Once you set up your account with Google Adwords, the first thing you’ll do is to create a campaign for each web page you want to send traffic to, which will contain the specific keywords that your ads will display for in the search engine results pages.  Choosing the right keywords for your ad is as much an art as it is a science, but the following guidelines should help you to choose the best phrases when you’re first getting started:

  • Start small – Create a single campaign at a time and add no more than 5-10 highly-related keywords to each campaign.  This will allow you to create ads that are well tailored to your chosen phrases.
  • Think narrow – Advertising for popular keywords like “lose weight” or “make money online” will be prohibitively expensive.  Instead, target less expensive long tail keywords that still have the potential to drive significant traffic back to your site.
  • Focus on “phrase” and “exact” match to start – Read up on keyword match types in the Adwords help section, and stick to “phrase” and “exact” match keywords for your first campaign.  When you’re more experienced, you can add in “broad” match keywords to expand your reach.
  • Track your competitor’s keywords – See which advertisers are running PPC ads in Google for the keywords you’re considering.  If you see your competitors there, chances are good the phrases will work for you as well.

Step #3 – Write Your Ads

Once you’ve chosen your target keywords, the next step is to write the ad that will display in the search engines when your phrase is searched for.  Because you’ve only got a limited number of characters for each ad, it’s important to make them count!  Here’s how to structure your ads effectively:

  • Write a compelling headline – As with other types of internet advertising, you only have a short time to cut through the noise and engage a prospect, so make your headline as compelling as possible.
  • Use your target keyword in your ad text – When you do this, your keyword will appear bolded in the search results, setting your ad apart from others.
  • Consider your landing page – Don’t simply send visitors to your homepage!  The specific landing page to which you direct visitors should be as closely related to your keywords as possible.
  • Split test your ads – Whenever you set up a new PPC campaign, create two ads that can be split test against each other to improve your performance.

Step #4 – Set a Budget

Because the default setting in Google Adwords is to run your ads as often as possible in order to generate data faster, it’s incredibly easy to blow through your entire advertising budget – and much, much more – in a short amount of time.

To protect yourself from overspending, take advantage of features within Google Adwords and other PPC programs that let you set a daily spending budget.  Set your budget as low as $5-10/day until you get a feel for how these ads work and how you can maximize their impact on your business.

Step #5 – Evaluate Your Conversions

Of course, even if you’re only spending a few dollars a day, it’s still important to ensure that you’re seeing a positive ROI for your efforts.  That is, if you’re paying for traffic, you’d better be sure it’s resulting in sales!

Although there are several third-party software programs that offer this functionality, the easiest way to evaluate the conversions of your PPC ads within Google Adwords is to tie your account to your Google Analytics data.  This will help you to see which of your PPC keywords are resulting in conversions for your website, and which keywords should be eliminated from your campaign for non-performance.

Finally, as you begin adding PPC advertisements to your promotional strategy, be aware that there is a learning curve associated with this technique.  It may take some time until you achieve a positive ROI with your campaigns and are able to implement them on a wide enough scale to make a difference in your bottom line.  But by carefully launching campaigns and tracking the performance of every ad you run, you’ll ultimately find that PPC ads can be used to bring fast, steady traffic to your business website.


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« Go Back | Posted in: - on May 19, 2014

When it comes to building an effective business website, there are plenty of different elements that need to come together to form a cohesive whole.  Search engine optimization (SEO) is just one of these components that’s vital to internet marketing – though it’s one of the least understood by most businesses.  Hiring an SEO agency can help close this gap and improve your site’s rankings; however, be aware that not all agencies are created equal.

Here’s what to look for when it comes to hiring a good SEO agency…

A Website Doesn’t Exist Without SEO

Your business can have the best looking website out there, that’s packed with fantastic content – and still not receive any visitors. If your site isn’t search engine friendly, no one will even know that it’s there. Moreover, there are thousands upon thousands of websites in any given market. Without effective SEO, finding your particular website on the Internet can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Sure – programs like WordPress can make it easy for those with no technical expertise to create professional-looking websites. There are even special plugins you can install that will help with search engine optimization. But unfortunately, these plugins aren’t going to tell a website owner if he’s using the right keywords for his target market or how exactly to promote his website to ensure optimum traffic and conversions.

If this website owner doesn’t have the time or inclination to learn proper SEO best practices, he may be better off hiring an agency to do the work for him.  A good SEO agency can help this business owner to find the right words and phrases to use on his website to separate the buyers from the tire kickers.  The agency can even look at the website’s Google Analytics and other metrics to determine how to properly promote the site in the SERPs and how to adjust individual web pages to increase conversion rates.

In general, search engine optimization isn’t a process that’s done once and then ignored – it needs to be monitored and tweaked over time to make sure that the site is attracting the right visitors, and keeping them. Unfortunately, most businesses – especially small businesses where everyone has two or three jobs already – don’t have time for this type of ongoing project. In these cases, outsourcing SEO to a qualified agency helps save the company time and money by building an efficient, converting website that increases overall revenue.

Invest in SEO

But beyond the time-saving advantages of hiring an SEO agency, it’s important to remember that keeping up with current SEO techniques takes an entirely separate amount of effort!

Search engine optimization techniques aren’t even close to the same as they were when the internet first developed as a place for businesses to attract new customers. In addition, with the launch of its Hummingbird Algorithm update last year, Google revolutionized the way keywords, links and other SEO techniques should be used on the internet.

Even for those SEO specialists working within the industry, it can be difficult to keep up on all of Google’s various changes.  For business owners and other non-professionals, it’s even more difficult to stay on top of what Google’s doing. However, the consequences for not adhering to the search giant’s most recent updates can be severe.  If Google deindexes your company website, you’ll probably wind up spending a great deal of time and money trying to back into Google’s good graces.

Outsourcing your business SEO needs can help avoid this hassle.  As many of Google’s recent changes have to do with keyword optimization, linking strategies and webpage optimization, a good SEO agency can help you navigate these latest sets of requirements. They’ll be able to help you make any necessary improvements to your site, both simultaneously improving your online results and avoiding the hassle of being penalized by Google.

Local SEO Is Just As Important

But just to add to the confusion, small businesses must be familiar with local SEO practices, as well as the online techniques needed to rank well in the traditional SERPs. If a business has local, as well as online customers, it needs to use local SEO techniques – which can incorporate Google strategies, using social sites such as FourSquare and even mobile strategies to help local consumers find both its website and physical location.

If you only conduct business locally, understanding and implementing these techniques becomes even more vital.  Given that nearly 80% percent of consumers conduct internet research before buying a product or service, it’s obvious why local companies must prioritize local SEO techniques that enable them to be found on the web.

But since learning local SEO requires studying an entirely new set of techniques, many small businesses find that they benefit from outsourcing these tasks in order to focus on more important areas of company operations. Hiring an SEO agency to take over local SEO can ensure that your business is found by both local and Internet customers through the appropriate use of linking strategies, keywords and tagging.  They’ll also be more up-to-date on the latest local optimization technologies – including both mobile and interactive applications – that can help make businesses easier to find.

How to Find the Right SEO Agency

If hiring an SEO agency to take over your business’s web and local SEO needs sounds like a wise use of your time and money, be aware that there are plenty of different aspects to consider.  For example, the agency’s expertise, strategies and past successes should be examined to make sure the organization is professional and competent.  It’s also important to understand the agency’s mission statement and how they deal with clients to make sure your final selection is a good fit for your business’s needs.

Here are a few of the specific questions you’ll want to ask when interviewing potential SEO agencies:

“Where are they located?”

An SEO agency doesn’t have to be local to be successful.  Some businesses like being able to have onsite meetings with their outsourcers to make sure everything is on track, although with today’s technology, online meetings can be just as productive as physical meetings.  As long as you’re comfortable working long distance and the agency you’ve chosen is well-qualified, dealing with an SEO organization located elsewhere isn’t a problem.

How well do they communicate?”

While it isn’t reasonable to expect someone at the agency to answer the phone all the time, your agency contact should call back or reply to an email within a single one business day.  They should also have established methods for updating clients and receiving feedback to alter a project as needed.

“Do they stay current on new advancements?”

With the field of SEO changing consistently, an SEO agency needs to demonstrate that they stay abreast of changes in technology and techniques.  To determine whether or not this is occurring, look for whitepapers they’ve written, notes on social media sites about seminars they’ve attended or blog posts their employees have written about new techniques in order to find out how knowledgeable they are about their field.

“Is a long term contract required?”

Because SEO strategies need to be monitored and changed over time, you’ll want to find an SEO agency that you can work with in the long-term.  However, be wary of getting roped into a long-term contact if you aren’t certain your SEO campaign will achieve good results.  When looking for a new agency, start with a three-month contract to find out if they’re a good fit. This way, you won’t be stuck with ineffective consultants you can’t work with.

Because SEO is so important to internet marketing, it’s imperative that you use the newest and best strategies on your business website.  If you aren’t able to commit to learning these techniques yourself and implementing them on your website, hiring an SEO agency to carry out these best practices for you could wind up being a smart business decision in the long run.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on May 5, 2014

An attractive, usable web design will help users spend more time on your site and trust you and your business more. If you want your visitors to associate you with quality, set yourself apart by avoiding these top mistakes in website design.

1. Poor Navigation

Help your users get around your site – or else they will leave and find the information they were looking for somewhere else. Navigation is expected to be on the top of the page below the header or on the left-hand side – if it is somewhere else, it needs to work harder to be noticed. Make sure each link is large enough that it is easy to click, and has enough white space around it to keep all the pages from blending together.

Now that you can avoid a few common mistakes, your site will come across as being more authoritative and attractive. What are your pet peeves about business websites? Are there any small business sites you see as being examples of what to aspire to?

2. Searching for Search

A huge portion of website users navigate primarily using search. Don’t force these users to take the time to understand your site’s organization. Search fields are often placed within the header, and impatient people might not look farther for it if it’s not there.

Search results also need to be high quality, and presented in a readable way. Take your guidance from Google and Bing, because those formats are what most people anticipate when viewing search result pages.

3. Mixed Messages

Do you have too many things going on with your site? Make sure each page has a specific call to action, instead of barraging your visitor with too many offers or details. This is not a reason to make moving around the site more difficult, but you should make sure different page elements are not vying for attention. Simply make your email, phone number, or sign up button presentable and clear.

4. Complicated Fonts

Trying to decipher a new font could distract a visitor at best, and might even prevent them from reading anything on your site. And if they do not have the font you are using installed on their computer, the text might default to an unintended font that will be even more distracting because it doesn’t match. And if you want to brand your business name successfully, people need to be able to read your header.

5. No Images – or No Text

Landing on a page and being hit by a wall of text does not make a good impression. At the same time, images can’t go far without words. If your visitors want to learn about your business, they need to be able to both read about it and see it for themselves.

An important factor for both images and text is leaving enough white space. Giving the eye room to rest instead of overloading the page with content is critical.

6. 90s Design

It’s not hard to figure out what kinds of designs look outdated. Repetitive or garish backgrounds, pixelated photos, and moving or flashing text are sure signs that your site has been around the block. Cheap HTML tricks or Flash movies can lose both your customers’ interest and their trust in your brand. And, please, no pop-ups or background music!

An old design can also make users distrust the facts on your site. After all, if the design is still the same, people assume the content hasn’t changed, either – and no one wants to call a phone number that’s 10 years old.

7. Too Many Ads

Your whole site is an advertisement for your own business – don’t distract your users’ attention with advertisements for other products and services. Though ads might seem like a way to subsidize your website costs, every click you get paid for is a click away from your site. Plus, ads (especially text ads) are ugly, and can quickly discredit your site.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 21, 2014

Google Plus, and Facebook, and Twitter – oh my!  Social networking certainly has its advantages for website owners, but trying to figure out how to master all of these various sites can be overwhelming.

If you’re a new website owner, you’ve likely read articles talking about how important it is to be active with social media.  And it’s true – social networking is booming, and it’s a great way to both improve your website’s search engine optimization and to connect directly with your target audience.

But unfortunately, the advice to be active with social media is often accompanied by panic on the part of website owners, who are already stressed by the day-to-day activities involved in running a successful website.  Is it really that important that they take time out of their busy days in order to invest in the social networking site of the moment?

The answer is yes, it is important to get involved in this latest web trend.  However, using social media sites effectively doesn’t have to be a burden.  Instead, let’s look at how to balance investment across multiple social networking sites and share a strategy for implementing effective social media usage in just 20 minutes a day.

First of all, keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to maintain an active presence on every single social networking site known to man.  In fact, it’s pretty likely that your target audiences only uses one or two social networking sites for the bulk of their online interactions, meaning that as long as you’re active on these specific sites, it’s probably enough to simply upload and maintain a profile on the other networks.

To find out what these sites are, enter your niche’s top keywords into the search features of each site.  For example, say you run a website about dog training.  Type the words “dog training” into the search bars on every social networking site you’re considering getting involved with.

Do you see an active community when you look at the results of your search?  On Facebook, do you see active groups dedicated to discussing your chosen topics?  Or, on Twitter, are there hashtags or chat groups devoted to your niche?  You might even find that your followers aren’t active on social networking sites at all, in which case it might make more sense to invest time in forums or on chat boards related to your website.

But let’s say that the results of your searches do turn up active communities on the major social networking sites.  What now?  Are you really expected to spend hours a day following conversations and responding to threads?

In a word, no.  You’ve got better things to do, so let’s break your social networking investment down to a simple 20 minutes a day.  If you find that this small investment pays off, you can always become more active with these sites.  But for now, keep your investment small in order to determine whether or not social media investment really works for your business.

In order to maximize your social networking investment, consider the following 20 minute daily schedule:

:00-:03 Minutes

Log in to each of your social networking accounts and read through any messages or notifications you’ve received.  If the action required to respond to these messages will only take a second (for example, “liking” someone’s comment on your Facebook fan page or re-tweeting a link someone shared with you on Twitter), go ahead and do it right away.

If the message requires any kind of follow-up, save it for later, once you’ve had a chance to see what else is being said about your website or your niche on these sites.

:03-:10 Minutes

Take this time to search the social networking sites on which you maintain an active presence for any mentions of you, your brand or any specific keywords that are relevant to your business.  By searching for these mentions, you’ll be able to connect with new people in your niche, while demonstrating your authority as an expert in your field.

There are a few tools you can use to simplify this process:

Google Alerts – Google Alerts are a free tool put out by Google that email you every time a specified phrase is used on blogs, in news articles, in videos or in discussions.  By setting up a Google Alert for your business name or any keywords you’re targeting to be triggered whenever the words are mentioned on blogs or in discussion, you can quickly identify opportunities to connect with members of your niche.

Tweetdeck – Tweetdeck is one of a number of different desktop Twitter programs that enables you to better sort information from your Twitter stream.  The best way to use this program to identify mentions of your business or your target keywords is to create a new “Search” column that will pull out any tweets that meet your set criteria.

In the example below, Tweetdeck would create a column highlighting any tweet with the words “dog training”, enabling you to identify opportunities to connect more quickly:

Having these tools in place can help you filter through all of the noise on social networking sites so that you can interact with your followers faster and much more effectively.

:10-:15 Minutes

Use the next five minutes to respond to any messages that require longer follow-up and to seek out new people to engage with through these sites.  For example, if a new contact posts a question to your Facebook Wall that will require more extensive follow-up, do the necessary research to compose a response and then do a little follow-up on the person.

Would it be appropriate to friend this person or to connect with him on other networks?  For example, if you see though the visitor’s public profiles that he’s very active on Digg or StumbleUpon, taking the time to introduce yourself and make a connection could result in significant traffic for your business through these channels.

:15-:20 Minutes

Finally, take this time to get updates and posts ready to launch on your social networking profiles.  In an ideal world, we’d have all day to sit around and wait for notifications that people are discussing our brand or our target keywords.  But since we’ve got other things to do, we need to instead find a way to remain active in the social networking conversation, even when we aren’t physically present.

If you’re crunched for time (and, quite frankly, what business owner isn’t?!), make use of tools like BufferApp or SocialOomph to schedule Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets ahead of time.  Although they can’t totally take the place of real-time interaction, scheduling posts ahead of time allows you to share helpful information or links in order to remain visible, without needing an ongoing time investment on social media sites.

So there you have it – a simple, easy-to-follow plan for engaging with the web’s top social networking sites in under 20 minutes each day.  If you find that your efforts are paying off, that’s great – go ahead and expand your involvement if you see fit.  Just be careful.  Social networking can be addictive, so it’s important to set boundaries in order to remain productive in the all-encompassing world of social media.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 7, 2014

If you build it, they will come – right?!  Unfortunately, what works for Field of Dreams doesn’t work nearly as well for our websites, and with good reason.  According to Mashable, nearly 150,000 new URLs are added to the web each day, which means that you’re up against some pretty stiff competition to get your site noticed!

What this means is that, instead of sitting back and waiting for people to come to your site, you’ve got to be proactive about bringing visitors to your page.  In this article, we’ll look at a few of the best ways to generate traffic to your website, as well as the action steps you need to add each of these strategies to your web promotion arsenal.

Strategy #1 – Blog Commenting

Blog commenting is a truly underrated tool when it comes to generating traffic to your website.  Although it’s a little more hands-on work than other traffic generation strategies, it can be incredibly useful in both improving your SEO and sending visitors to your site.

Basically, blog commenting consists of visiting other blogs in your niche and leaving comments on other peoples’ posts.  When you leave a comment, you’re able to leave a link back to your site as well.  This means that if you comment on high quality sites, you’ll get a link back from each of these sites (improving your SEO), as well as traffic back from other readers who see your comment and click through to your site.

There are two keys to getting the most out of blog commenting – choosing good blogs to comment on and leaving good comments.  When looking for blogs to comment on, choose high PageRank authority sites that have active comment sections.  Remember – if you’re the only one commenting on a site’s posts, you won’t be picking up any traffic from people reading your comments!

Once you’ve identified good sites to comment on, be sure to leave good comments.  This means taking the time to read through the post and come up with something insightful to say.  You don’t need to write a novel in response to a post, but asking a related question or sharing your own opinions on the author’s post are good ways to get your comments approved as often as possible.

Strategy #2 – Forum Marketing

In general, the best way to generate traffic to your website is by putting yourself in front of your target audience – and forum marketing is one of the easiest ways possible to do that.  Think about it – where else are you able to interact directly with your target market and convey your authority in such a meaningful way?

As you might expect, the first step in getting started with forum marketing is to find forums in your niche to participate with.  Look for forums that are as active possible – just like with blog commenting, it doesn’t make sense to go to all the effort of setting up a forum profile and posting topics if there’s no one else around to see your work!

Once you’ve identified a good forum (keeping in mind that the forum you choose doesn’t have to be directly related to your niche, as long as your target audience is present), it’s time to set up a profile.  Upload a profile picture and set up a signature with a link back to your site, as long as this is allowed, based on the terms of use in your chosen forum.

Also, keep in mind that forums are especially sensitive to being marketed to, and you risk getting kicked out if you’re too self-promotional.  Instead of using each post to blatantly advertise your website, provide helpful, substantive advice.  Eventually, people will begin to perceive you as an expert and will want to know more about your business naturally.

Strategy #3 – Guest Posting

Guest posting – or, the process of authoring articles for other websites in exchange for a link back to your site – is another great way to drum up traffic for your site.  As long as you choose good sites to submit guest posts too, you’ll benefit from increased exposure and the implicit endorsement of the blogger or site owner who runs your post.

To get started with guest posting, you’ll need to identify the best possible sites to share your content with.  Again, the best sites for this promotional strategy are those that are high PageRank, with good traffic, active readers and high rankings in the search engines.  You might need to do a little research to uncover your sites, although if you’ve been active in your niche for sometime, you probably already have a good feel for who the acknowledged experts are.

Once you have a few potential guest posting sites, contact the authors to see if they’d be interested in running your guest post (some site owners have pages on their sites to share their guest posting terms, so check there first!).  Spend some time on the target site determining what type of posts perform best so that you can share a proposed topic that you feel will resonate with their readers in this initial email.

Then, once you get the go ahead, draft a good piece of content and submit it – with HTML markup intact – to the site owner and get ready for the traffic to start flowing in!

Strategy #4 – Press Releases

Depending on what niche your business operates in, you may find that releasing notifications to the press about new developments or new achievements is a good way to drum up visitors to your site.

To write a good press release, it’s important to first have something noteworthy to publish.  You don’t need to have cured cancer or launched a rocket to put out a press release, but to get picked up by the best news agencies, you’ll want to save this technique for actual milestones in your business’s growth.

When you do have an event occur that’s worthy of a press release, Google “press release format” to find the accepted structure a press release should follow and then submit it to sites like PRWeb, PRLog and PressExposure.

Strategy #5 – Organic SEO

Truly, the best source of traffic for your website is to earn a top ranking in the organic search engine results pages (SERPs) for your target keyword.  According to a study cited by Search Engine Watch, the sites sitting in the top three spots of each Google results page account for 58.4% of clicks from all users that land on that particular SERP.

So how do you get your site ranked in the top spot?  Well, answering that question isn’t easy, as Google and the other search engines don’t release the exact factors that go into their ranking algorithms.  However, it’s widely accepted that the number and quality of the backlinks pointing to your site, the quality of the content on your site and your site’s load times all affect where your site winds up in the SERPs.

As you might have guessed, incorporating any of the first four strategies discussed in this article is a good way to improve not just the amount of traffic flowing into your site, but the backlink profile as well – both of which can have a dramatic effect on your standing in the SERPs.



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« Go Back | Posted in: - on March 22, 2014

Is it possible to make more money from your website without getting any more traffic? Yes: increase your conversion rate!

The conversion rate of a website is the percentage of people who take a specific action on your site. Yes, sales are one type of conversion, but other website conversions to be paying attention to are the number of newsletter sign-ups or accounts created.

So, how do you maximize any of those conversion rates? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Be an authority

Yes, you’ve heard this before, and you’ll probably hear it again, but it’s simple: if you don’t look like you know what you’re doing, no one will want to pay you. If your website has broken links or your checkout screen doesn’t work, customers suddenly have less faith in you shipping the right order at the right time. Make sure everything you do online is the same level of quality as the services you provide.

Answer questions

Internet shoppers can contradictions: impatient and cautious at the same time. Impatient, because they don’t want to wait and find out more about the product during office hours. Cautious, because they want to know as much information as possible about the product before purchasing it.

First, supply the answers to common questions in the FAQ page (even if the information is stated elsewhere – consider linking to it). Also make sure that contact information is prominently available so that customers can call or email direct questions. To go the extra mile, look into services which embed “chat with a salesperson” capabilities directly into your webpage.

Target the right people

When you are advertising, focus on the people who want to make purchases. Make sure you are ranking for the keywords of any items that you sell, not just related products that might generate a lead. Making long-term relationships is good, but being found by a person who is ready to make a purchase is great.

Make your site usable

There are plenty of little tweaks that can make your shopping cart, and your whole site, more customer-friendly. The site needs to be easy to understand and use. Make sure your design doesn’t disguise any buttons or links that your visitors need to follow. Also check that your pages load as quickly as possible, and work in any browser.

Call to action

Make sure your website, and each individual page on the site, asks your users to do something. Make a purchase, sign up for a newsletter, receive coupons, contact us. Not all pages need to have the exact same call to action, but all the pages should be encouraging potential customers to either make a purchase or keep in touch.

Testing, testing

Watch individual users interact with your site, as much as possible. Find people to test your site who are in your target audience, if at all possible. Different techniques and site designs work for different groups of people, and if you take every piece of advice, your site will suffer. Make decisions based on what works, not what should work.

After watching individual users, you can test large groups of visitors by using A/B testing, directing different streams of traffic to different versions of pages. You can find services online which will do this automatically, providing you with concrete results with less work.

Encourage referrals

In any business, treating your customers well is the first step to getting great referrals. The second step is to ask customers directly to tell their friends. You could suggest that they forward the newsletter to anyone they think might be interested, or make it clear that online coupons can be shared. With a little more work, you can set up an affiliate program or offer monetary incentives for referrals. Not only is this a way to increase traffic, it is a way to get more targeted traffic.

Make a special offer

No, this one is no surprise to anyone – but web shoppers are always looking for a deal. Try offering a discount or free shipping. Even better, give users a discount when they create a free account or sign up for your newsletter.

These strategies have worked for a number of ecommerce websites. Which strategies are working for yours?

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on March 9, 2014

Why would you want to increase sales on your website? That’s probably a question you can answer. How can you increase those sales? That’s a harder question. Here are a few recommendations for your own ecommerce store, so you can make some changes and see the results.

Collect leads

Without keeping in touch with your former visitors, your sales and marketing efforts are focused on the people who just happen to land on your website. To keep repeat customers coming back, or engage visitors who are not yet customers, create a mailing list and send out periodic newsletters, coupon codes, and helpful links.

Offer something different

Your business should be selling something that sets itself apart from the competition. Is it the cheapest, smallest, or highest quality? Make sure that difference is emphasized. Even anecdotes about the development or use of a product can make impressions on the viewers. People resonate with stories, and look for ways to join into larger stories already taking place. This could be as significant as donating proceeds to a cause, and as trivial as selling a shirt or toy designed for the creator’s daughter or grandson.

Perfect the presentation

Show off your product. Sometimes this is best done in a sales letter or long pitch, helping the readers to understand a more complex offering.  Experiment with photos and testimonials. Make all of the features and benefits shine so that customers will know that the product will fit their needs, instead of making them wonder.

Experiment with placement

Web pages are often too large or busy for users to focus on the whole page at once. Change the placement of the offer to make sure that the largest numbers of people possible are seeing it. For example, include a newsletter opt-in form both in the sidebar and within the copy of a sales letter. In general, the more chances people have to sign up, the more signups you will get. Just make sure you are placing it somewhere that makes sense, instead of coming off as overly pushy.

Make better offers

There are a number of different promotions to choose from – so start making different types of promotions to see what sticks. You could offer a discount off the top: a dollar amount, which is easier to understand, or a percentage, which scales more easily to larger purchases. Or include extras: free shipping, bonus materials, or a complementary gift. Find out which sales are received better by your audience.

Know your market

Who is shopping from your site? Would they rather find a bargain or get a premium product? Do they want one urgent, quickly-changing deal, or consistently good prices for a multitude of products? There is no wrong answer: these models and many more are making sales all the time. But the same people are not shopping at each of these sites, so you need to decide on your angle and attract the right customers for your site, or learn what your customers want from you.

Be different

Make sure that your customers experience their shopping experience, not just their purchase. Make sure your ecommerce site is branded well so that consumers will want to come back again or refer their friends. If the site isn’t memorable, it won’t make an impact.


Don’t concentrate on selling all of your products at once. Some online retailers even recommend only featuring one product on the homepage. And this doesn’t mean to keep it the same: change the contents of the homepage regularly to keep visitors from getting bored.

Show benefits, not features

Yes, including accurate specs and features are important for accurate representation of your products. Incorporating benefits, especially in the headline and copy, makes your sales page even more powerful. Mention what problem your customers will be solving by using your products or services.

Keep testing

Your audience is always going to be different from anyone else’s. Don’t just do research and follow instructions: try testing different formats on your own customers. Doing split-testing is the best way to do this: by showing new designs to one portion of your traffic while showing another design to the other half, you can get results without wondering if the tests are uneven. There are a number of software solutions that help you orchestrate your own split testing.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on February 23, 2014

If the words “sales copy” make you think of popular Mad Men character Don Draper and other advertising stereotypes, stop right there!  The truth is that every website “sells” something, whether you’re vending physical products, trying to capture leads for an offline business or even just trying to convince people to follow your line of thinking.  And since we all “sell” online, we all need to be concerned about making the sales copy found on our websites as effective as possible.

There’s no doubt that the specific words we use on our websites have a dramatic impact on how effective our online sales processes will be.  So if you have the sneaking suspicion that your site’s copy may not be as effective as it could be, check out the following process for improving your website’s sales process through the use of “words that sell.”

Step #1 – Identify areas of sales copy on your website

If you run a long-form sales letter style website that sells a single product on a single page of text, identifying the specific instances of sales copy on your website should be easy – it’s your entire page!

However, if your site structure has multiple pages, determining which areas of your website are functioning as sales copy may be more difficult.  For example, on an informative website, the heading text you use to convince people to stick around and read more of your content could technically be considered “sales copy” – even though the only thing you’re asking people to do is pay attention.

In general, think of any area of your site where you’re asking people to take a specific action as “sales copy.”  Again, this could be the text you use to convince people to make a purchase, or it could be the language used in your headings, your opt-in boxes or your subscription request forms to encourage readers to follow through on some defined activity.

Step #2 – Analyze the impact of your current sales language

Now that you’ve identified these specific areas of sales copy on your website, it’s time to start analyzing how effective they are in terms of achieving your website’s goals.  There are a couple of different ways we can do this…

  • The “gut check” – Isolate the sections of sales copy you identified on your website in Step #1 and look at them with a fresh set of eyes.  Do you feel compelled to take action based on this standalone sales copy?  If not, it’s safe to assume that your readers won’t be motivated as well.
  • Statistical copywriting software – If you have a little extra money to invest in your sales copy writing process, tools like Glyphius or ScribeJuice provide an automated way to compare the effectiveness of your sales text against algorithms based on past successful advertisements.  Although these tools aren’t cheap, they can be an easy way to quickly analyze and uncover opportunities for strengthening the weak spots in your sales copy.

Step #3 – Revise your sales copy using proven copywriting principles

Chances are you’ve uncovered at least a few areas for potential improvement within your website’s sales copy.  With these weak spots in mind, brainstorm a few potential variations according to proven copywriting principles.

Keep the following guidelines in mind as you create these unique versions:

  • Good sales copy uses “power” words. Certain words – for example, “achieve,” “discover” and “secrets” – have the power to capture attention and encourage action.  For more examples of these motivational power words, check out this list of “50 Power Words to Juice Up Your Sales Copy.”
  • Good sales copy encourages urgency. While you don’t need to resort to artificial scarcity tactics (i.e. – “This offer good for a limited time only!”), it’s best to encourage your reader to take action right away.  Things that aren’t urgent priorities are rarely accomplished!
  • Good sales copy focuses on benefits, not features.  Don’t just tell someone that the TV you’re selling has a 32” screen or 1080i resolution.  Make them viscerally feel how much better their favorite TV shows and movies will appear on their new TV, as well as how jealous their friends will be after viewing content on such advanced technology.
  • Good sales copy is easily understood. Leave out the big words and jargon.  Since most people only scan webpages for content that interests them, your sales copy must convey both the action to be taken and the benefits of doing so quickly and clearly.
  • Good sales copy focuses on a single priority.  Although your website might have multiple sales goals, each instance of sales copy on your site should focus on a single desired action.  Mixing your priorities can cause confusion in your readers, preventing them from completing any of your established goals.

Step #4 – Test different variations to improve your sales results

At this point, you should have a few different variations for each instance where sales copy appears on your website.  And now – as you might expect – it’s time to test them using A/B split testing!

 Split testing refers to the process of serving up two or more different versions of a page randomly to website visitors in order to determine conclusively which variation results in the most conversions.  For example, if your goal is to make more sales on your long form sales letter style website, you might create two different versions of your webpage to test, with each variation featuring a slightly different headline in order to find out which introductory line is more effective at keeping visitors on your site long enough to make a sale.

Once you’ve created your different web page variations, you’ll need to upload them into a split testing program that will serve up each version randomly and return the results of your split test.  Google’s Website Optimizer is a great free program that provides this functionality, although there are plenty of other third-party software programs that offer these features and more.

The one crucial piece of advice to keep in mind when it comes to split testing is that you’ll need to run your split tests long enough to determine that your results are statistically significant.  If you only gather data on a few conversions, it will be difficult to tell if the results you achieved can be attributed to a handful of people, or if they can be applied to the population as a whole.  For this reason, it’s a good idea to run your split tests until you’ve received at least 100 conversions.  With active testing, you’ll find the best copy for your site.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on February 10, 2014

Attracting attention online is important, whether you run a blog, an ecommerce site or an offline business website. With all of the other sites out there screaming for visitors, being heard above the din can be difficult.  Deploying linkbait content is a great strategy that will not only bring these visitors to your website, but will have others doing most of the work for you – for free!

Word of Mouth (with a Megaphone)

Word of mouth advertising has always been a great way for companies to attract new customers without spending tons of money on traditional advertisements.  And essentially social media sites are like word of mouth advertising, but with a megaphone.  The ability of good or interesting content to go viral is more likely on the internet, and the interconnected nature of the web means that it can spread farther and faster than it ever could offline.

One of the greatest difficulties with offline word of mouth advertising is that a business needs to find market leaders to spread the word about the business, those who aren’t well connected aren’t able to share the company’s message as widely.  Unfortunately, authorities in a field, well-connected people in a community and celebrities aren’t always easy to approach or convince.

Linkbait content addresses this challenge.  While contacting bloggers or those with large social media followings in a specific market can help spread the word about a business, linkbait attracts people on its own and encourages them to pass it on to others, leading to a phenomenon known as “viral marketing.”

The Good Virus

Viral marketing uses different forms of linkbait to start the spread of a message to an exponential number of contacts.  Offline, a person is limited to the people he or she knows.  Online, these same people can tell those they know, who then go on to tell others they know – and the list goes on.  This is why cute kitten videos get a million hits apiece.

The trick with linkbait and viral marketing is to avoid making it look like linkbait.  Most people can see through impure marketing motives, and web surfers may reject the content that a company wants to spread.  When creating linkbait, the intention needs to be focused on creating valuable, marketable content – the rest will take care of itself.

For this reason, a solid linkbait campaign should result in a large number of links back to a website.  This improves search engine rankings, as Google rewards sites with plenty of organic links.  It should also increase the number of targeted visitors to a site – which can, in turn, increase sales and revenue.

Various Forms of Linkbait

If you want to harness the power of linkbait content for your website, know that there are several different types of linkbait that can be used to encourage links and attract visitors.  Some are positive, and are used with the intent of informing, entertaining or flattering web surfers.  Others take the “bait” part of linkbait literally and tend to use controversy, opposition or even insults to drive traffic.  While both forms have their uses, you’ll need to determine what type of results and visitor experience you want to create when using linkbait techniques.

In general, the six most common types of linkbait are:

Attack – “Attack” linkbait pieces can be aimed at a specific target or large group, and are used to incite readers into clicking on the link. As you might expect, if not used carefully, this form of linkbait can backfire on the user.

Humor – Making people laugh is often a positive strategy when it comes to spreading links, which is why joke emails are usually passed along more frequently than political or religious messages. When used properly, this type of hook may reel in the largest catch of visitors online.

Contrary – “Contrary” linkbait is a milder form of the “incite readers” hook.  It uses controversy to drive traffic, but it does it by revealing the other side of a popular opinion or theory.  If backed with information and respect, playing devil’s advocate can also show the business as an industry leader in its field.

Incentive – Baiting a hook with offers such as free items, awards or software is a great way to bring in new visitors.  Few people can pass up on something that’s free – just make sure that the terms of your offer are clear and that there’s no catch to the giveaway.

News – Offering RSS news feeds or the latest information on a specific topic is a fantastic way to drive traffic.  There’s so much information available on the web that it isn’t easy for people to find it all.  For this reason, being a “go to” source for current events should increase your initial traffic and repeat visitors.

Resource – One way to increase the number of new customers visiting your website is to demonstrate your authority as a “thought leader” in your industry.  Creating informative content that resolves important problems for your target market is a great way to create viral links and drive search engine rankings.

17 Types of Linkbait

Now that we’ve established how valuable linkbait content can be and the different types of linkbait you can use to drive visitors to your website, here’s a list of a few specific linkbait styles you can use to improve your site’s online presence:

Video – 90% of web surfers will stop on a website that has a video.  Video links also account for a majority of social media traffic, which is why creating videos is a one of the most common linkbait methods.

Infographics – Like videos, infographcis are informative and visually appealing.  And, with the growing popularity of Pinterest, infographics are rising as one of the most popular forms of linkbait.

Lists – If it works for David Letterman, it can work for your business. “Top 10” style lists have always ranked well on the Internet, as they allow people to absorb a large amount of information in a short period.

Curative Posts – This type of content recaps the important news in a specific industry.  Most people don’t have the time to do this on their own, so they appreciate sites that recount the important information for them either once a week or once a month.

Guides – Both free and paid guides are a great way to attract traffic and links. If the content is written well, it can be included in posts, articles and resource sites for a long time.

Surveys – Whether it’s business-related, political or personal, people love to take surveys.  Use surveys to find out what a target market is interested in and increase traffic to your site.

Interviews – If you’re able to conduct interviews with authorities within your industry, these files can be used as viral-worthy content that’s sure to drive traffic.

Free Software – Shareware represents one of the most downloaded types of content on the web.  Free tools and software that helps solve major problems or make life easier will often spread virally with little effort on your part.

Giveaways – Any form of freebie – whether an e-book, report, shareware or guide – that’s made available on your website is sure to attract attention from interested visitors.

Awards – If you offer awards on your site, contestants and winners will often visit your other pages as well. They’ll also share the links with their friends, family and social media contacts, leading to more traffic and more links for your site.

Contests – Offering contents is another surefire way to create natural links.  As an example, asking people to choose a name for a new product or a new flavor for an existing product line are two popular forms of contest linkbait.

Widgets – As with shareware, helpful widgets tend to spread quickly throughout the web.

News – Keep people informed and prove yourself as an industry leader by posting breaking news in a specific field.  If you’re the first to report on a major subject in your industry, you can expect to receive a major influx of backlinks and traffic!

Industry Discussions – Similar to reporting on breaking news, being the first site to explain new breakthroughs and market news on a consistent basis is a great way to build quality linkbait.

Previews – People generally want to know as much as they can about new products, services, books, movies and more before they buy.  Writing informative previews about hot items in your industry can be a great way to promote your viral marketing campaigns with little effort

Year in Review – “Year in Review” style articles are always a great way to drive traffic.  Recapping the major events that occurred in the past year, as well as how they affected your specific industry, is a great way to create viral-worthy content.

Incite a Response – This type of linkbait creates controversy by attacking a person or company, or playing devil’s advocate on a popular topic.  This can backfire, though, so use this type of linkbait carefully.

Have you had good results with launching linkbait campaigns in the past?  If so, share your tips and tricks in the comments section below!

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on January 27, 2014

These days, the internet marketing world is a buzz with the power of “branding”.  Really, this isn’t surprising – in a digital world that’s so full of clutter you can barely click on a link for fear of a scam, it’s natural for people to seek out websites that make them feel safe.  And chances are if you’ve gone to all the effort to establish yourself as a known, reputable brand online, you likely aren’t going to waste the authority you’ve built up taking your readers for a ride.

However, offering social proof to website visitors isn’t the only reason branding is more important now than ever before.  There’s also speculation that the search engines – in their continuous effort to weed out thin sites from quality pages – are beginning to mine data related to branding metrics, meaning that websites with strong brands could be rewarded with higher search engine rankings.

According to Kaiser the Sage, a leading internet marketing website:

“With search engines mining brand related, it is almost certain that the next shift in search engine optimization is going to be mostly about branding, seeing as a strong brand presence indicates authoritativeness. Moreover, popular brands are most likely to be rewarded by search engines with higher rankings (for very competitive keywords) on their search results, knowing that they have earned their trust basing from users’ perspectives.”

So what is a “brand” and how can you use your website to build one?  Let’s explore how this powerful business building practice can be integrated into existing websites in order to attract the benefits described above…

Essentially, your digital brand encompasses what people feel and envision when they think about your company.  Think, for a second, what your mental associations are for discount chain Walmart, compared with what you picture when thinking about high-end retailer Williams-Sonoma.  Although both chains are the same in that their primary goal is to sell products, the way that they do that – and, consequently, the brand associations they’ve built around their companies – are quite different.

As a business owner, you have the ability to control and influence these feelings through specific elements of your website’s development.

Element #1 – Voice

The “voice” of your website relates to the textual content you place on your pages – specifically, the way you structure this text to evoke different feelings.

To understand how voice is deployed effectively, consider the difference in tone that would be used on a website publishing scientific findings compared to social networking sites targeting kids and teenagers.  In general, the kids’ site will be much more likely to use simple words, short sentences and quick, punchy phrases to convey a sense of fun and excitement.

The scientific journal, on the other hand, is likely to feature highly complex sentences, packed with jargon that’s unique to the specific field the journal targets.   Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with either of these examples – what’s important is how the voice used on each site appeals to its target readers.

When thinking about the ideal voice for your website, consider the following factors:

  • What is the average reading level of my readers? Unless you’re in a highly technical field, aim for content with an average reading level of grades 6-8 (as determined by a readability test website).
  • Do the words I’m using convey the emotional state I want my readers to achieve? Whether you want your readers to be excited, happy, sad or nervous, make sure this feeling comes across in the words you choose and the way you structure your sentences.
  • Should I use jargon words on my website? Be careful of using too much jargon or you’ll risk turning off readers who don’t understand your meaning.  However, on some technical websites, jargon is a must in order to make more advanced readers feel welcome.

Element #2 – Differentiation

Brand differentiation refers to making your company’s unique selling point (USP) visible across all aspects of your website.  Really, it isn’t enough to *be* different – you’ve got to make your website visitors aware of these differences and constantly reinforce them throughout various aspects of your website.

Obviously, the first step in this process is to identify your company’s USP (if you don’t already have one).  Once this is set, consider integrating your point of differentiation into any of the following areas of your website:

  • Your site’s header graphic or tagline
  • The “About me” page on your website
  • As a standalone, featured item on your homepage
  • Integrated into an advertisement on your sidebar
  • In any pop up banners you make use of

Element #3 – Design Elements

Finally, be aware that the different design elements you use can also play a significant role in how well the message of your brand is carried out across your website.  There’s no doubt that the “look and feel” of a website helps to control the way we think about the site’s brand, which is why it’s important to take the following factors account when integrating your branding message into your website design elements:

  • Color selection – We’ve talked here before about how important color theory is to conveying a desired feeling to your website visitors, but now’s the time to check your color selections to ensure they’re in line with the brand you want to build.  Think about our earlier example of the kids’ site versus the scientific journal.  Clearly, to convey the right brand message, the former would do best to incorporate bright, fun colors, while the latter type of site would benefit from more staid burgundy and forest green tones that create a feeling of maturity and learning.
  • Fonts – Many of the same associations we hold with colors apply to fonts and type faces as well.  Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, are perceived as being more formal and old fashioned, while sans-serif fonts – including Arial and Verdana – convey a more modern feeling. If you’ve gone to all the effort of identifying the right voice for your content and the best colors for your website layout, don’t diminish your branding efforts by choosing a font that doesn’t match up with your visitors’ expectations.
  • Site structure – Although the way your site is laid out may be dictated in large part by the website builder you use, alterations here can also impact the way your website (and, consequently, your brand) is perceived.  The amount of white space included, the number of images used and even how structured your layout is can all influence the success of your branding activities.

Obviously, if your company has any offline marketing materials, including business cards or pre-printed stationery, you’ll want to be sure the design elements you use on these pieces match the ones you use on your website in order to create a consistent visual experience for your customers.

On the other hand, if you aren’t tied to an offline brand, don’t be afraid to get creative here.  Put some effort into determining exactly what kind of message you want to convey, then take the time to ensure that the voice you use and the design elements you choose help to clearly explain the point of differentiation that makes your business unique.

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