Customers! I Need Customers!

Over the past couple of weeks Mark has been writing about e-commerce, who should have it and what is involved.  E-commerce can be a great tool for your website and business, but having a simple, convenient shopping cart on your website doesn’t do you much good if nobody ever sees it.  I could decide to sell my car for two dollars (it’s worth at least $5), but it wouldn’t sell if nobody knew it was for sale.  So how do you get visitors?  Marketing.

There are many ways to market a website, which could take pages and pages to go through.  I’m going to focus on Search Engine Marketing (SEM).  I do this primarily because this is my area of expertise. I’ve been doing search engine optimization and registration services for the past 2 years now with OurChurch.Com. SEM is basically using the search engines to market your website.  The primary forms of search engine marketing are search engine registration, search engine optimization, link building, and pay-per-click search engine advertising.

Search Engine Marketing has several advantages.  The three biggest advantages are:

  1. On average, over 50% of a website’s traffic comes from the search engines.
  2. Search engine marketing a very low cost to visitor ratio.
  3. SEM can have a dramatic effect on your website’s popularity and sales, increasing your website traffic by as much as 9 times. (http://www.searchengineguide.com/laycock/003356.html)

When you are considering how to market your website in the search engines you will need to start with a little research:

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you trying to sell or let people know about?
  • Where are your potential customers going to find the products or what search terms are they using to try to find a source for their purchases?

Once you have this information, you are ready to develop a plan.  The plan should result in putting a link to your website in the places your potential customers are, getting your website to rank well in the search engines for relevant keywords.

Search Engine Registration:
This is the most basic part of SEM and should be one of the first things you do.  There are many search engines out there and you may think that you need to try to get into all of them.  The truth is that the top 4 search engines; Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask account for over 80% of the searches done.  Once you add in the next 15 or so most popular search engines, you’ve accounted for over 97% of all searches.  So, even though there are thousands of search engines and directories out there, you don’t really need to register your website with all them.  If you focus on the top 20 search engines and directories, you will have covered a vast majority of the search market.  Learn about OurChurch.Com’s Search Engine Registration service.

Aside from the major search engines, you will want to consider some of lesser search engines, known as niche search engines or niche directories.  Niche search engines are not anywhere near as popular as the major search engines, but they have a more focused group of users.  Finding search engines and directories that relate specifically to your field or a specific group that you want to target, can be very effective.  It’s like the difference between a Christian bookstore advertising on TV during the Super Bowl and advertising during the 700 Club.  Sure the 700 Club doesn’t have the same size viewing audience as the Super Bowl, but their viewing audience is comprised almost entirely of the target group a Christian book store would want to reach with their advertising.  The other advantage with niche search engines and directories is that they are usually much less competitive.  The niche search engines and directories may be related to your website by topic or by the demographic of the visitors.  To continue with the Christian book store example, a Christian book store wouldn’t just want to look for search engines and directories relating to books or CDs, but also for search engines for Christians in general.  Learn about OurChurch.Com’s Christian Search Engine Registration service.

Search Engine Optimization:
Registering with the search engines can get your website listed in the search engines, but it will not necessarily make you much more visible to your potential customers.  If you are showing up on the 20th page or search results for keywords (search terms and phrases) relevant to your website, then no one will find you.  Most people don’t search beyond the third page of results and many don’t go beyond the first page.  So it is essential that your website rank well for those important keywords.  That’s where search engine optimization comes in.  Optimizing the pages of your website simply means including certain content in certain places on those pages to let the search engines know what the page is about.  The goal of the search engines is to return the most relevant websites for the keyword searched for.  One key way the search engines determine what a web page is about is by looking at the content of the page.  (Another it the source website’s for your inbound links, which I’ll discuss later)  It’s important to note that right now, search engines are not able to read graphics or flash.  So, if you have a web page that only has graphics, you have a web page that the search engines would consider to have virtually no content.  That’s bad.  You need to have real, text content.

The first step to optimizing your website is researching to find out what keywords people are actually searching for.  Oddly enough, my experience is that the keywords people think would be popular are not.  Research is critical to make sure you aren’t optimizing your website for a bunch of keywords no one is actually searching for.

In addition to the popularity of the keywords, you also need to research the strength of the competition for the keywords and how strong your website is.  The strength of a website is determined by many things, such as traffic, inbound links, and age.  Think of the search engines as being in the same position as you are when someone asks you to recommend a restaurant.  Most people are more likely to recommend a restaurant that has a lot of customers.  Similarly, you are more likely to recommend a restaurant that you have heard a lot of other people recommend, especially if they are reliable sources.  Most people are also reluctant to recommend a new restaurant unless they have heard a lot of good things about it.  It’s similar with search engines.  They give more value to a website that has been around for a while, gets a lot of traffic, and/or has a lot of inbound links.  An inbound link is like a recommendation from another website.  So, even though a keyword may be very popular, you may need to consider a different keyword for your optimization, if the popular keyword also has a lot of strong competition and your website isn’t very strong yet.  It is better to rank well for a less popular keyword, than rank poorly for a very popular keyword.  If your website isn’t strong enough to compete for the keywords you want, then you need to increase your website’s strength so you will be able to compete.  Getting more traffic to your website with a less popular keyword is a start.  Of course, there’s no way to get extra age for your website, you just have to wait, but you can get more inbound links, which I’ll discuss later.

Finally, you need to choose keywords that are relevant to your website and are likely to be used by the type of visitors you want.  Sure the keyword “websites” is very popular, getting millions of searches a month.  However, if your website is selling DVD rewinders, ranking well for “websites” won’t do you much good.   You are much better off ranking well for “DVD rewinders” since the people who search for “DVD rewinders” are much more likely to buy your product than they people searching for “websites.”  Also, being relevant isn’t enough; consider who would be searching for the keywords.  Let’s say you have a Christian bookstore website that not only sells books, CDs, etc., but also has free Bible studies and a free Bible search tool.  If you choose to focus your optimization on “free Bible studies” or “Bible search tool”, you are going to attract visitors looking for those things.  Since these visitors aren’t specifically looking for books or CDs, they are less likely buy anything.  You may increase your traffic, which can be good, but you may not increase your sales very much.  So, if you want to increase sales, you need to focus your optimization on keywords paying customers would search for.

Once you have done the keyword research, you can start optimizing your website.  It would take too long to go into all the details of how to do that, (and the info would be out-dated by the time I posted this article) so I’ll just give you a few tips:

  • Optimize your web pages for only 2-5 keywords per page.  More than that and you will loose the effectiveness of the optimization.
  • Optimize just about every page of your website.  Ok, you probably don’t need to optimize your “Terms of Service” page or your order form, but every page that offers content or describes a service or a product can be optimized.  This will allow you to optimize for more keywords and make your website more visible in the search engines.  Don’t forget to optimize each products page.  If a person wants a Jars of Clay CD, they are probably not going to search for “Christian bookstore”; rather they’ll search for “Jars of Clay CD”.  So optimize the Jars of Clay product page so they can find you.
  • Search engine optimization can be a tricky process and there are a lot of bad practices out there that can get you banned from the search engines rather than help.  I recommend using a SEO company to optimize your website, but if you are going to do it yourself, be sure to do your homework and don’t try to “trick” the search engines.

Learn about OurChurch.Com’s SEO service.

I could go on forever, but this seems like a good place to pause.  I’ll write more about Search Engine Marketing for your e-commerce website next week, specifically looking at link building and pay-per-click search engine advertising (I know, you won’t be able to sleep for the next week).  Happy Thanksgiving!

Let us know what you think.  Have you optimized your website?  What effects did you see?  Post your responses below:

Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .

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