The history of blogging has seen a few different business models. At first people weren’t too concerned with monetization, since blogging was seen as a hobby. But, as more people gained access and put their time and effort into blogs, so grew the desire to make money from them. Advertising, the age-old publishing model, got the ball rolling but failed to deliver the goods. Some bloggers found success with affiliate marketing, but found it incredibly difficult to balance editorial integrity while trying to hawk products for profit.
As digital ad rates dropped, and only the biggest and the best earned significant money with that model, bloggers turned to different models. As it turns out, the most effective one involves an age-old transaction: exchanging money for goods and services. In this case, the focus is on goods. While some bloggers found it difficult to balance editorial with affiliate marketing, many have dropped that concern with e-commerce. Why? Because they’re making a larger slice of each sale, making the conversion more worthwhile.
Are you a blogger looking to build an e-commerce site, perhaps as an extension of your blog? Here are five elements you absolutely must have in order to succeed.
1. Simple URL structure
When it comes to e-commerce, Google matters. Why? Because when people search they signal intent. E-commerce sites make money when they can rank highly for terms that signal commercial intent. After all, someone searching for products, or information about products, that you sell will be more likely to buy than someone looking, say, for a funny video.
Of course, ranking highly is not easy. In recent years Google has made it more difficult for the average e-commerce site to rank, instead showing their own Google Shopping results, plus ranking big brands highly in almost all commercial search results. That makes SEO even more important. The best place for e-commerce sites to start is with URL structure.
Make sure that the URL is short, clear, and free of meaningless characters. The closer the URL is to the product description, the better. This way Google will have an easier time classifying your site and its content (and products), making it easier to rank for the search terms that make the biggest difference.
2. Quality, robust product descriptions
The Panda update, which devastated many e-commerce sites when it rolled out in 2011, and continues to devastate them today, hits on a number of signals that indicate a low-quality site. One of them is shallow, short, and meaningless content. Many e-commerce site developers have not the time to write robust product descriptions, nor the money to pay someone to write them. Those commerce sites got hit hard, and found it difficult to recover.
Since we know much about Panda now, new e-commerce sites have an advantage. They can write real and descriptive copy for products, knowing that it will help them avoid a Google penalty. In addition, copy has always helped sell products to humans. Once people find your site via a search engine, they still need to be convinced. Quality, robust copy can go a long way in helping make the sale.
If the internet has done nothing else, it has made it infinitely easier to research products before buying. If you run an e-commerce site and don’t take advantage by soliciting user reviews, you’re missing out on a lot of content that people seek out. Before people buy they want to know the experiences of other customers. Leaving out the user reviews can turn off customers and lead them to turn elsewhere.
Reviews don’t end with the users, though. E-commerce site owners should write product reviews of their own. Not only can they be useful for consumers researching products, but they can help search engine rankings. It is much easier, and more natural, to get links to product reviews than it is to get links directly to product pages. If your review ranks for commercial searches, you might convert a few visitors who wouldn’t have found your site otherwise.
4. Basic PPC chops
Even if your site ranks No. 1 for a particular search term, it is typically not the first result listed. While people do tend to click on the top few organic search links, there are attention-grabbing links that sit above them on the results page. These are paid adds, on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis. That is, companies bid on these search terms, and then pay Google a set amount for every time someone clicks on that ad. It’s a great way to drive traffic to an e-commerce site.
Of course, you need basic PPC skills in order to bid on the best keywords and write copy that will entice people to click. Educational sites such as PPC Blog can help get you started. You’ll increase your marketing costs, but PPC is a proven way to drive traffic and conversions to your website.
5. Balanced payment system
This comes last, but it is of the utmost importance. There is a term in the sales world called friction, and it refers to any obstacles between the prospect and the sale. There are many points of friction in any sales process, but the largest one comes when it’s time to open the wallet. Simply put, the more difficult it is for the prospect to pay, the greater the chance he or she will turn the sale aside and look elsewhere. If your store doesn’t accept American Express, you’re going to turn a lot of people away. (Hey, people earn huge rewards from Amex, so you might as well let them pay with it.)
The trick, though, is finding a balanced payment system, one that will speed a customer through a transaction and not take too much of your money. Remember, you pay a percentage of each sale to credit card processors. Picking one that fits best with your typical sales profile will help you save money. Of course, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the customer experience.