Like most, I had never owned a retail store before opening my gift boutique in 2002. After a couple years in business, I came to the realization that online marketing was critical to sustainable growth. During the past 3 years, I have learned many lessons during my journey into the online world. Hopefully, this insight will help you achieve your online goals quicker than I did!
- Develop a Strategy. With any new business it is critical to develop a strategy. Ask yourself....What do I want to accomplish? How much time and money am I willing to commit to achieve my objectives?
- Architect a framework. Hire a professional to help design and build a framework that allows you to accomplish your online goals. If done correctly, an upfront investment can save thousands of dollars down the road. A well designed content management system will allow you to change the information on your website yourself, rather than paying a developer. Content management systems are very easy to use - as easy as Microsoft Word!
- Build Content. This one is important. Every day that you are on the web you are starting to be seen by the search engines - start the clock ticking now! I have a Type A personality and always strive for perfection. I quickly realized that the key to success was to "just write." In the beginning, I found it very difficult to market my thoughts to others. One of the best things I ever did was create a fictitious character, "Gina - The Gift Giving Goddess," to help me communicate my thoughts in 3rd person.
- Keep your website up to date. This really doesn't need much explaining. You keep your inventory up to date right? Make sure to do the same with your online marketing strategies (website, blogs, social networking, videos, etc.).
- Delegate...Delegate...Delegate. A couple years ago I reviewed my goals and thought "It is just not possible for one person to accomplish all these tasks"! At another business owner's suggestion, I put an ad in the local college newspaper for an intern and have never been happier! She helps write newsletters, updates the blog, writes copy for products on the website - and so much more! Important to note was that the person we hired was not a computer science major - we needed someone who enjoyed retail, could write interesting things quickly, and loved the concept of gift giving! A working knowledge of e-commerce and a knack for retail management were both important requirements in my resource selection. With social networking becoming so popular - I love having someone from the younger generation to collaborate with! Another suggestion would be to find a marketing person in your area that focuses on small business!
- Search Engine Optimization. If you write for a human reader the search engine "spiders" will love your website! Make sure to use your key words but explain to Average Sally Joe what it is that you do. This will help you rank high on search engines and attract the buyer to your site, at the same time. The copy on the website is very important and Jon Wuebben's book, Content Rich, is a great source for more information on this. We have not hired an SEO company, but rank high in searches for our products and key words because of the content on our site. The "tricks" for Google and Yahoo change almost daily to prevent abuse, so don't try and trick the system.
- Build - Analyze - Build. Numbers are just as important in websites as they are in retail sales! The great thing about the web is that you can see how many people are coming to your site, where they live, how they found you, what they did during their visit, and so much more. If you have a website and don't have Google Analytics - drop everything you are doing and sign up for an account - RIGHT NOW. If you are about to start up your campaign make sure it is one of the first things you do. It is free! How do you use this info? If everyone exits from the directions page maybe they are just trying to find you, but what if people are exiting from your shopping cart without buying. Is it not user-friendly? Are your prices too high? Analytics will help you tailor your site to be more effective!
- Target website to your Local Customers. Whether you have an e-commerce site or an informational site, your #1 goal should be to tailor your online message to drive traffic to the store. It was about 6 months before we ever got our first online order, but within a 45 day period we saw store sales increase by 15%! Great results - right? What we learned from our own Google Analytics was that people in our community were searching for gifts,gift shops, monogrammed gifts, etc. They were surfing the website and coming in to purchase.
- Spend Marketing Money Wisely. It is important to analyze your entire marketing budget and allocate appropriately. Think about it. Do you still have the magazine that your ad was printed in for Christmas 2008? Do you think your customers do? How many details could you actually fit in the ad? How much did you pay for that ad? If you had cut the amount spent on print ads in half and used the money to build a website - that money would still be working for you today and could be providing customers with video, reviews, and complementary products as they search your product offerings. You would have all those "ads" and everyone in the world could see them at any time!
- Constantly Reevaluate your Strategy - This is extremely important as technology and customers constantly evolve. It is very important to frequently evaluate your strategy to ensure that it is aligned with customer needs.Never be complacent with success.
That's "Gina" in the corner
I hope these trials and tribulations help give you the confidence to build or improve your own website. At Swagger, we are currently working on our 4th major redesign of our online presence which we evaluate annually. This year, we are planning to focus on video marketing and some other new and exciting "stuff"! Always remember, online marketing and sales are a work in progress. Hopefully, every new person you connect to online is well worth the sweat equity.
We welcome you to check us out online at www.SwaggerGifts.com and on our blog - "Let's Talk Shop." If you're not quite ready for blogging there's always good "old-fashioned" email. I'm Mandy@SwaggerGifts.com and I wish you all the best in your pursuit for online success.