We covered the importance of keywords and content in our first installment and we covered customer testimonials, offering multiple payment options, diversifying sales channels and conducting pay-per-click campaigns in our last installment. In this, our final installment, we’ll look at affiliate programs, email marketing and establishing a blog.
Start an Affiliate Program
An affiliate program enlists the help of other people to promote your businesses. It’s a simple way to drive more traffic to your site, and it only costs you when someone makes a purchase on your site. Affiliates use a number of ways to drive people to your site, through advertisements, links, referrals, etc. For each referral that results in a sale, you pay the affiliate a small commission. The more affiliates you have, the more opportunities you gain for people to be directed to your site.
This is a lower-cost method of advertising than pay-per-click advertising, because you only pay when a purchase is made. However, you do have to pay a commission high enough to motivate your affiliates to promote your product. Several affiliate management software programs are available to help you track which affiliate sells what, so you easily can keep track of how much you owe them.
An interesting tactic some small-business owners employ is encouraging their affiliates to bid against them on their keywords on the pay-per-click search engines. This may sound strange at first, but it actually helps you get more exposure in the search results: instead of your being up there next to your competitors, you’re up there next to your affiliates, who are also driving people to your Web site!
Become an Affiliate for Someone Else
Now that you’ve grown a base of people on the Internet, linking to your online store, why not link to someone else’s? Before you jump into this one, consider what your customer might be interested in that you don’t offer. For example, if you offer fishing gear, you may want to link to a local fishing guide’s Web site or a site that offers information on seasonality for local fishing spots. Someone in your area may have an affiliate program for a boating store. By pointing your customers to relevant businesses and services, you are offering them more value; and you could make some extra money working as an affiliate for someone else. Consider trading links with other businesses, so they are driving customers back to you, too.
Email Marketing Campaigns
While receiving unsolicited emails may bug some people, many of your customers may actually want to hear from you. An easy way to find out is to ask them. After a customer has made a purchase, you can ask them whether they’d like to opt in to get email updates on sales and other news. The tricky part is writing an email that they will want to read. Providing more value than simply promoting your products or services is one way to do this.
For example, offering readers tips for summer gardening while promoting your gardening supply sale, or letting readers know about upcoming concerts in their area while announcing your two-for-one CD sale, might encourage readers to look forward to your emails. If you know the local fishing guide is having a spring special, why not let your readers know as a courtesy? Someone who may not have thought about purchasing something from your store right away might see the ad and think, “I’d really like to take advantage of this special, but I can’t go without a new pair of waders” (which they can buy in your store).
Create a Blog
Blogs are becoming more and more popular, and are quite simple to create. As an addition to your online store, a blog can be an effective marketing and customer relationship management tool. A blog about topics that are relevant to your customers, for example summer gardening or fly-fishing, provides a forum for your customers to communicate about topics that interest them and provides you with a pulse on your customer sentiment. If you are also passionate about the topic, you will enjoy writing about it and your customers will enjoy reading about it.
Keep in mind, you don’t want to blatantly promote your products at every possible opportunity—this will turn people off. Use the opportunity to talk about something complementary to your business. Your customers will appreciate the value of related information and remember to check your Web site when they need something you sell.
Using the fly-fishing example, a blog about local fishing spots and favorite fish tales may be of interest to your customers. Enthusiasts will come to your blog to share their stories, ask each other questions and maybe even share pictures of their favorite catch. You could hire a local fly-fisherman to answer their questions for a couple of hours. Keeping your customers involved in their areas of interest and, again, providing value will help instill loyalty and trust among your customers. Post a link to your fishing-gear store at the bottom of the page, or note at the top of the page that the blog is sponsored by your online store. Later, when people are looking for new fly-fishing gear, they’ll come to your store first.
With a bit of enthusiasm, some savvy marketing techniques and a customer orientation, you can create a highly popular online store that attracts buyers from regions you never would have reached with a street-front location. By making your store not just a catalog outlet but a true “destination” with its own loyal following, you can elevate your business above your competitors’ sites and build a strong reputation online.