Practical Ecommerce

Ask an Expert: Get More Traffic Without Spending a Fortune

Ask an Expert is an occasional feature where we ask ecommerce experts questions from online merchants. For this installment, we address a question about increasing site traffic from Rob McClintock, owner of Healing Leaves, an online store that sells natural health products.

For the answer, we turn to Michael Stearns, CEO of the Internet marketing and design company HEROweb, and a contributor to Practical eCommerce.

If you have a question you’d like to submit, email Kate Monteith, staff writer, at and we’ll attempt to address it.

Rob McClintock

Rob McClintock

Rob McClintock: “My traffic and sales are about double of what they were a year ago, but they are not great at all. We are a small mom-and-pop shop and can’t afford the charges the big guys want to solve our problems. What can I do to get more traffic without spending a fortune?


Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns: “First of all, my hat goes off to you for doubling your sales in a tough economic year. I think there is much you can do to keep things moving in the right direction. Here are five immediate actions you can take.

  1. Keyword Optimization. “Give each page on your site a title with one or two keyword phrases that are highly relevant to that page and in sync with phrases your customers are searching for. Your site’s home page title is ‘Healing Leaves: All Natural Health Products that Actually Work!’ I would replace that with something like ‘Natural Health Cleansers, Antioxidants, and Enzymes from Healing Leaves.’

    “Also, rather than using the phrase ‘Healing Leaves’ in every page title on your site, I would suggest that you use it only in the home page title. For example, the Detox page has the title ‘Healing Leaves | Detox’. Very few people will search for that phrase. A better title for that page would be ‘Natural Body Cleansers and Detox Products’ because it includes words that people are more likely searching for.”

  2. Meaningful Copy. “You need to add some well-written copy to your site, partly for SEO [search engine optimization] reasons, and partly for building your brand. Start with the category pages. Add a few sentences to each category, describing the products and try to work in some of the keywords you used in your titles.

    “Also, if you are not ready to put something on your blog, you should take the ‘Health Articles’ link off for now. Write a few practice articles to get in the swing of things, and when you have some good content, add the link back.”

  3. Build Your Personal Brand. “You need to work your unique selling proposition into your home page and across your site. On your ‘About Us’ page you have a compelling story to tell and a strong spiritual message; but, other than that one page, your site lacks strong messaging. There are hundreds of people selling the same products as you. You need to be clear about what sets your business apart and make that message ring throughout your site.

    “Put forth your passion and conviction about who you are and the products you are selling (without inflating product claims, of course).”

  4. Google Product Feed. “I did not find your products listed in Google Products, which could provide an important source of traffic. It looks like your store is hosted on the Yahoo platform; they likely have some instructions for setting up a feed. Also, go to the Google Merchant Center for more information.”
  5. Web Marketing Tools. “As you can’t yet afford to pay the big guys (and might never have to), I recommend forging ahead on your own with help from some of the web-based search marketing tools. Services such as SEOmoz, Raven, or Majestic SEO can provide affordable marketing intelligence that you would be hard-pressed to build on your own.”

“All the best for 2010, Rob. I look forward to seeing your site (and sales) progress.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

Bio   •   RSS Feed


Sign up for our email newsletter

  1. Tees Purple Martini Shop LLC January 8, 2010 Reply

    Hello, Can you look at my website and give me some ideas to drive more traffic to it?

  2. Michael Stearns January 9, 2010 Reply

    Hello there,

    I did look briefly at your site:

    I can likely offer you some suggestions. But first, I am going to ask you two questions:

    1. How would you sum up your product line?

    2. What is it that is unique about your site and business that would inspire me, as a site visitor, to want to purchase from you?

    You have a syntax error on all your pages. Your meta keywords tag is formed incorrectly and you have a stream of keywords appearing at the top of each page. Do you know how to fix that problem on your own?

  3. Louis Camassa January 9, 2010 Reply

    Good suggestions! One other item that will help you much is to use a greater call to action in your email sign up. Right now it says "Free E-mail Newsletter " – try holding a contest, or giving away a gift certificate to subscribers.

    You will get a higher subscriber rate, and grow your email newsletter list much faster.

    See the top of for an example. Adding this giveaway has increased sign up by over 400%!

  4. Michael Stearns January 9, 2010 Reply

    That is a good idea. A few other thoughts on the newsletter signup.

    There is a sign-up link along the top of the site, with some text that is very small and hard to read. The offer is not focused on providing savings but on providing more information. There is also a newsletter "button" with a Call to Action on the right side of the page. But the button is not linked to anything. So the prime real estate is not being used efficiently.

    The Advance Adapters site you reference does a nice job with the contest and presentation.

  5. dhoomdallas January 10, 2010 Reply

    Hello There
    Just starting a e commerce business
    my site is

    can you suggest me how to start and how is my site.


  6. Michael Stearns January 11, 2010 Reply



    Here are three ideas to get you going:

    1. I would review the comments I made about onsite optimization about the website. Hopefully those comments make sense to you. Your on-site optimization is one area that could use improvement.

    2. You have an account login at the top of your home page and a message at the bottom indicating you make handmade jewelry. I recommend flipping those. You are a new site and likely don’t have accounts yet and you have very little clear messaging. I would move to the front center of the home page some messaging that makes it clear who you are and what you do. Also, why are you focused on Dallas in your domain name? I am assuming you live in Dallas, but are you wanting to attract customers from all over the country or world?

    3. It looks like you are requiring people to have an account before purchasing. Unless you are a big player like Amazon, requiring accounts will usually drive away purchasers. I recommend removing as many barriers to your shoppers as possible.

  7. timbobelmo January 12, 2010 Reply

    I have a feeling suggestions for my site would be pretty much the same as listed in the article, but I was hoping you could tell me if anything stood out. My site is: and although I have doubled my sales and traffic from 08 to 09, I have the same goals for 2010 with little to no budget.


  8. Poz One January 12, 2010 Reply

    Our site ( ) is a combination of a monthly ezine (original content) with a store. We have increased business since last year, also. I agree with you on the importance of maintaining a Google Merchant product feed. This alone has increased traffic and sales on our site. Could you please take a look at the site and point out what we need to do to increase traffic? Thank you.

  9. Mireya Pizarro January 12, 2010 Reply

    Great advice. I feel like I finally understand all of this stuff. How does social media help with building traffic.

  10. TheTruthTShirtCompany January 12, 2010 Reply


    Thank you for giving clear, sound advice in increasing site traffic. It has not been easy out there!

    I was told once that the phrase "If you build it they will come" did not necessarily apply to merchant web sites. I have found this to be true

    Your assistance to others is appreciable.

  11. Carla January 12, 2010 Reply

    This is a great post! I have been doing SEO on my site for months but dont seem to be going very far with it. I have done so much with it over the past 14 months its been live. I may try one of the firms you listed since doing it myself hasnt grown my business very much.

  12. Michael Stearns January 12, 2010 Reply


    Thanks for commenting. Here are a few ideas.

    1. I would definitely eliminate "Decorative Window and Film" from the start of every page title.

    2. I would work on your product page titles. For ex. "Clear Jigsaw Puzzle" needs something after. The product pages tend to have no text at all. You don’t need a ton. But some descriptive text will give the engines some meat to bite into.

    3. I don’t know if your ecommerce system allows it, but I would try to get info about shipping costs earlier in the process. I would imagine that your product could be expensive to ship. I want to know up front some idea on shipping costs.

    Also, if you have double sales on no budget, perhaps you can budget some money for comparison shopping engines. (shopzilla, nextag, There are few heavy hitters in ecommerce who don’t have a budget for online advertising. Even if you don’t do it in 2010, you will want to familiarize yourself with some of the paid options and get a clear handle on the ROAS (return on ad spend) you need for the investment to make sense.

  13. Michael Stearns January 12, 2010 Reply

    Poz One asks about tactics for increasing traffic. Mireya Pizarro asks about social media. Not all sites are good candidates for a heavy investment in social media. If all you have to offer are products, it can be a challenge to engage a community of users and form a strong connection. You need to build a message/brand beyond your products.. Poz One’s site happens to be an excellent prospect. His message about the practice of positive thinking and the law of attraction is one that can really draw in and captivate others.

    Poz One: Your site, in its ezine format, has great content. But I don’t see any indication that you have developed a presence on facebook or twitter. Have you? It would be a natural. By carrying over your message to these other venues, you will connect with other users. You don’t want to just be trying to sell your products, but you do want to invite users to your site. It could be a great traffic source.

  14. Michael Stearns January 12, 2010 Reply


    You have done a good job with your on-site SEO. I would definitely recommend checking out those resources. Linkbuilding is really key. I did not mention it in this post. But that is the next mission-critical step as far as organic search exposure.

    I have to be honest, you are in a competitive niche. I don’t know how comfortable you are with putting yourself out there, but you do want to think about what you can do to make your site stick out above the others. If you can inject some of your personality and wisdom into the site, it would help customers connect with you.

    Your business lends itself to repeat sales. So the up-front work on getting customers can pay off in the long run.

    Best of luck!

  15. Michael Stearns January 12, 2010 Reply

    TheTruthTShirtCompany: Thanks for jumping into the conversation. Do you feel the Link Market exchange that you have on your pages – and the association you have with them- has been a positive? Google is a lot more discerning about the "quality" of links than they used to be.

  16. Carla January 12, 2010 Reply


    Thank you so much for you advice. I did so much work on the on-side SEO, its great to know what my next steps should be. I had a couple ideas to put a little of "me" in to my site and its good to know I’m on the right track! I do need to work on Link building too.

    Thank you again!


  17. kmadhav January 12, 2010 Reply

    Points covered to increase the traffic for website in this post are very good and informative. I am also doing the seo for my site but good tips mentioned here.

  18. Mari January 13, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for good suggestions.

    My shop has been online for 1 year and i´m trying to learn all possible about SEO as i´m still a beginner. I would appreciate a lot your opinion about (written in english and italian).

    Thank you!

  19. Sue January 13, 2010 Reply

    I’ll throw my hat into the ring: I have just gotten serious about seo for the last 9 months, have seen a growth in hits but far lower than what pleases me. I am undergoing an image change (colors, content offered, etc.) and have not launched link to new wordpress blog at yet I use Zen cart for shopping cart.

    Question: Other than the new fresh colors, blog and new forum and adding good content to each of those new areas, what should my next step be?

  20. Poz One January 13, 2010 Reply

    Michael many thanks for taking the time to look at our site. We are on Twitter…but not Facebook. That will be changing ASAP. Thank you for putting that out there for us. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees!!

  21. Michael Stearns January 14, 2010 Reply


    You are off to an excellent start with

    I am a firm believer in having some category text (it doesn’t have to be much) for SEO reasons as well as to reinforce your selling proposition.

    If you have done a good job of SEO, then not everyone is going to enter your site from your home page. If you have some key specials or incentives or selling propositions, they should be apparent throughout your site.

    I see you have Google Analytics. Do you know at this point how much of your traffic is entering through your home page as opposed to other pages on the site?

    Keep up the good work!

  22. Michael Stearns January 14, 2010 Reply

    Sue at Crafters Cafe,

    Not to split hairs, but there is a difference between hits and visitors. I bring this up, because you need to have a clear focus on your key numbers and how they fit together. For starters, I suggest looking at:

    1. Your monthly profit goal
    2. Monthly revenue
    3. Number of visitors
    4. Conversion rate (percentage of visitors who end up purchasing)
    5. Average order size

    When it is all said and done, items 2-5 need to work together to support Item #1. There are different ways you can get there.

    So as a next step – if you are not already tracking – you want to have a clear handle on these numbers. I am not saying the number of hits (visitors) isn’t important, but you want to look at the whole picture in a scientific way.

    A few recommendations on your site: When I hit your home page, I immediately see messages about the potential for experiencing issues and this being Phase 1 of your site. That does not reinforce a positive feeling for me as a brand new shopper.

    Kudos for launching your site. I will tell my daughter about it. She is quite into crafting!

  23. Mari January 14, 2010 Reply

    Thank you Michael!

    Many visitors enter to our site from the homepage or through the brand pages.

    I´m trying to write the missing category texts and find better keywords as we still miss some good keywords that would bring more quality traffic to the site. Thank you for the advice, Mari

  24. Sue January 16, 2010 Reply

    Thank you Michael, point taken on the home page phase 1 issue. I have been around since 2004 – and your first impression was that I was newly formed.
    Home page adjusted –
    I do have G/A and no matter how much seo I do I can’t seem to get visits up. I have a page rank of 2 and can’t seem to figure out why.