The last few months I’ve been involved with editing and creating websites. A theme is arising on a regular basis: simply creating a spiffy looking website and putting it out there on the web is not enough. Google isn’t automatically going to find you. You have to go out and tell Google and other search engines where you are. It’s called Search Engine Marketing. It’s also called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

What does this mean? It means

  1. You optimize your site so that search engines will find it and it will show up more frequently in search results.
  2. You build up your site’s content and architecture so Google will “like” it and rank it higher in search results.

I’ve written about SEO for years. I assume everyone reads what I write. I also assume everyone else reads what is written about SEO online (and there’s a lot of it). It turns out these are bad assumptions. The next few posts will deal with improving the visibility of your site. (I can consult with you about your site, by the way, for a fee; email me at the contact page.) Here is the high-level overview:

Throwing keywords around in your headings and your text isn’t good enough. Google ranks sites higher in organic (not paid) search results if they are worth visiting. A site that is worth visiting, in its view, is:

  • Deep. It has lots of content.
  • Fresh. It is updated frequently and not static.
  • Connected. It has links to other sites of value. More importantly, other sites that are themselves “worth visiting” (deep, fresh, etc.) link to your site.

That’s all there is to it. Sound easy to achieve? Of course it’s not. It means you have to roll up your sleeves and create more content. You have to list your site with Google and other search engines. You have to do link-building. And you have to update on a regular basis. I’ll discuss each of these activities in subsequent posts.

I’ve just posted a 30-minute video on the Three-Part Profit Plan on YouTube. This is an interview of me that was done in Oct. 2012 prior to a public talk at Waubonsee Community College. You’ll find some background about how I became a writer and a PowerSeller on eBay. Most of the interview is about how to start an online business. I’ll provide links to specific parts of the interview in subsequent posts.

Starting a Second Career Online

September 4th, 2012

A reader of Starting an Online Business for Dummies wrote me over the weekend. She is a former physician who is now an empty nester. Having just sent two young women to college, this had an impact on me. She is thinking about creating a website. She wrote:

“The more I read [your book], the more work seemed involved in doing an online business right. This is a second career for me and I really don’t want to put so much time into it right now. Can you recommmend a good quality consultant that I could hire to do most of the work to realize my business concept?”

In my book, I do profile a business planner, but he’s not really a consultant. It’s not something you can farm out to someone else. You have to be very involved and committed enough to test and revise your business to improve performance. On the other hand, there are businesses to help you. My response:

“Some of the e-commerce hosting services do provide customers with advice on their business. I’ve written about a number of these in ECommerceBytes (go there and search for my name, ecommercebytes.com). Try 3DCart (www.3dcart.com). Look up that article on ECommerceBytes. They are open to answering all sorts of questions from customers and they have lots of experience with online businesses. I don’t know anyone who will tell you if your idea is “good” or not. I am worried about your comment about not wanting to put time into it. I am not sure I would even get started if you aren’t prepared to put time and effort into it. Online businesses don’t run on their own and you need to keep up with them. Think about it, and then look into 3DCart.”

In other words, find a shopping cart/e-commerce hosting service that will answer questions and give you advice. More tomorrow.

A while back, a reader of my book Starting an Online Business for Dummies asked how much money she could expect to make online. I said there’s no good answer, but don’t expect to make a living at it, at least not off the bat. Think about your online business helping with expenses, at least initially.

I’m looking around the web for people who are “coming out” and being upfront about exactly how much they are really making. So here’s another perspective. Traffic Generation Cafe has been online for 18 months. In December, the site reports that it received 15K plus worth of visits, so it is living up to its name. The proprietor, Ana Hoffman, reports that her husband lost his job in December, so now she has to depend on her blog for real. She reports that the blog and related writing (guest blogging) and consulting generated about $3700 that month. But more than half of that came from a one-time source so she feels she really has to start working in earnest.You can read the breakdown here.

This is pretty good success in my book. It’s also a realistic picture of how to make money on the Web. She’s been at it for 18 months and now, when the pressure is on, is able to help her family big time. Good luck to her!

Update: I thought of one more option for making money without a website. How could I forget that I co-wrote a whole book about this?

Amazon.com,Facebook, WordPress, storefronts, and e-commerce marketplaces: These are all potential “home bases” for you online. I used to write that you had to have a website in order to make money online. And websites are still important, don’t get me wrong. But there are a lot more options available these days. Here are some examples:

eBay

This is sort of the obvious place to start an online business. You can create an eBay Store, or you can simply list dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of products on this venerable marketplace without having a formal store. eBay is great as a starting point for anyone wanting to learn how to do business online. But more and more people, turned off by its fees and cumbersome rules for sellers, are turning to other venues to find customers.

Add on to Amazon.com

Some people–booksellers in particular–sell their books by adding them to Amazon.com marketplace listings. Their products show up here:

I wrote an article on ECommerceBytes about several sellers who, to my knowledge, don’t sell through a website, but primarily through Amazon, Alibris, and ABEBooks.
Marketplaces

If you open a storefront on eCrater, Bonanza, or Webstore.com, you don’t need to create your own full-fledged website from scratch. The marketplace gives you a head start

WordPress or Another Blogging Platform

A blog can take the centerpiece of your online presence. A platform as robust as WordPress can host a blog and lots of web pages. essentially, it is a website, but one that you can update by posting on a regular basis. My Buddhist meditation group, Jewel Heart, uses WordPress for all of its website content. In fact, if there is a blog on this site it’s a very minor part of the content.

A Facebook Kiosk

Facebook is good for marketing and networking and just having fun. Some people use it for e-commerce, too. You can sell on Facebook through an online kiosk. I’ve written about her before, but Kharisma Ryantori uses her Facebook page to advertise, and sell, her jewelry designs, as shown  below.

Twitter: Sell Simp.ly

You can do more and more with Twitter. Some dedicated Tweeters advertise and sell products through the site in short and sweet sales listings. Read about it in this article on the site called Sell Simply.

The bottom line: you need a “home base”, but that doesn’t mean you need to create a website from scratch. You can grow into a website, but you don’t have to start there. Start by piggybacking onto someone else’s site, whether it’s eBay, eCrater, Facebook, or Twitter. Get used to creating sales listings and handling a few transactions. Then you can create a website with confidence–and link to your various marketplaces from it, so can you boost your SEO.

Pricing merchandise is one of the key functions for anyone who sells online, whether you have a few items for sale on eBay or Amazon, or whether you operate a full-featured store with a 1000-item catalog.

Assigning the right prices and staying competitive with those prices can be a frustrating and time-consuming proposition. You want to make a profit, so your price has to be higher than what you paid for the item you’re selling (unless, of course, you’re unloading inventory that never sold in the first place). But it needs to be either the lowest available or at least very close to the lowest when compared to your competitors.

The difference is often a matter of a few cents–or even one cent. Take a look at one of my own books, which you can find on Half.com. It’s kind of painful to look at the prices being offered when you consider that the book sold for about $24.99 retail when new. But this is an old edition and out of print.

If you can’t read this, I’ll tell you that the four prices for this brand new book are (sigh) $1.89, $1.00, $0.99, and $0.97. (You wonder why I don’t write books for a living any more?) Let’s suppose that, for some reason, you wanted to buy this particular edition of this book. Would you pay $1.89 when you can pay $1.00? Would you pay $0.99 when you can pay $0.97?

That’s the problem lots of businesses face, but on a much larger scale. I just spoke to the owner of a company in Wisconsin who has hundreds of items in his product catalog and who sells on eBay. He and his employees used to scan through listings manually and adjust prices so they were the lowest. But the manual route is extremely time-consuming.

“Even if you factor only 2 minutes per product with 200 products you’re talking about over 13 hours a day of work if you do it twice a day,” says the businessperson, who asked to remain anonymous. “Never mind the fact if you tried to pay someone to do that all day every day they would be burnt out before the first week is over.”

Once you get past 100 items in your catalog, it pays to pay a little money for a pricing tool. This sort of tool can be configured to search for items similar to yours and make sure you have the prices you want. You can tell the tool you want to be the lowest, second lowest, or third lowest. You can tell the tool to make sure your items are one cent lower in price than those of your competitors. Here are two such tools:

  • In ECommerceBytes recently, editor Ina Steiner wrote about a pricing tool for Amazon.com sellers, Teikametrics.
  • I just interviewed the developer of a pricing product for eBay called PriceSpectre.

I’ll be writing about PriceSpectre in more detail after that article comes out. The point is, no matter how much you sell, once you put your items online, keep checking prices against the competition to make sure you’re positioned correctly–especially if you are in a super competitive field like electronics, digital media, or books. Whether you do it manually or use an automated software program, you’ll end up with more sales. Even if your profit margin is a little lower than it would be otherwise, you’ll be better in the long run because you’ll have more loyal customers and hopefully more repeat business.

Marketing is a constantly evolving thing. Just a few years ago, the Chicago chapter of the nonprofit Buddhist organization I belong to, Jewel Heart, could spread the word with an ad in the Chicago Tribune or the weekly Chicago reader.

Now, things are totally different. Advertising in publications is less and less effective. The Reader and the Tribune are a fraction of the size they once were. Craigslist has been of no use to us. How can we publicize our nonprofit organization? Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way from my own experience, and from a real professional, Stacey Recht of Hubbard Street Dance.

1. Word of Mouth.

This is the number one most successful way of attracting people who will visit us and stick around for our classes. People want to meet someone who has been to your facility/group and they want a personal recommendation. Simply telling members to tell their friends and acquaintances, on Facebook and in the “real world,” is the single best marketing strategy you can pursue.

2. Yelp.

Yelp performs some of the same functions I mentioned above–you get real people recommending a real cause, business, group, or other entity. Create a Yelp page for your group. Then “claim” it by clicking on the small link prompting you to claim it as your business. Fill out the form asking for some basic information, and prompting you to verify your phone number. Then, upload photos and information. Finally, you should tell your members to post reviews. Our page is still a work in progress, but you can check it out here.

3. Facebook

You probably do this already: You have a Facebook page. But flesh it out as much as possible with basic information. And encourage members to post information on a periodic basis.

4. Facebook ads

Facebook’s pay-per-click ads are affordable and highly customizable. By affordable, I mean you set a budget that specifies the maximum amount you are willing to spend in a given month. Even $10 or $20 per month can get a cash-strapped nonprofit a lot of clicks. You can also target your ad to your local geographic area, which is probably where most of your visitors come from.

Tip: Make sure all your ads have a call to action. Include a verb such as “explore” or “join.” It makes your ad more inviting and more likely to get a response.

5. Direct marketing with complementary businesses

You probably have businesses in your local area that are not direct competitors but that provide goods and services roughly complementary to your own. Put together a simple flyer and knock on their door; ask to post your flyer, and offer to publicize their facility at your own.

6. Do a Groupon or other daily deal

If you are looking for members or customers, consider offering your services or products at Groupon or one of the other daily deal sites. The big three are Groupon, LivingSocial, and Google Offers. But there are plenty of other options. This is not a moneymaking prospect. But it can get you return visits and build loyalty for the future. I say it’s not moneymaking because any one of the daily deal sites will want you to offer at 50 percent of the regular price. Then, they’ll take at least 50 percent of the proceeds. So you don’t end up with much money, but since you’re a nonprofit, this can still work out as a plus.

So far, our efforts are paying off. I’ll keep you posted on how our own marketing campaign is going. If you have any more tips on ways to spread the word either online or off, please pass them along.

Banks have been getting a bad rap. They’ve also (happily) been having a lot of their ability to charge excessive fees taken from them.

At least one is looking for new opportunities by getting into e-commerce. Not by opening an eBay Store, but rather, by helping other people open online stores. Chase Bank has launched an Instant Storefront Solution, and I write about it on ECommerceBytes. If you’re looking for a merchant account that enables you to accept credit cards, this is a good way to get it. It’s based on the popular Miva merchant platform. BTW, check out the killer graphic by David Steiner that accompanies this article: “Just Add Inventory”!

Maxine Durkee, owner of the Heavy Weight Collections online store, says Chase Instant Storefront gives her site’s shopping experience a sense of security.

“Our banker was visiting our retail store during our beginning months and he mentioned that they had developed a relationship with Miva Merchant and I should take a look,” she told me. “When I checked them out, I saw that I would have lots of freedom with design and a basic starting point had already been developed if needed. They gave you a choice of a free template upon signing up and didn’t lock me into some long contract if I decided the solution wasn’t what I needed. We already had a design idea so I selected a template that was close to what we wanted to start with and we gave it a try.”

As you might expect, there are fees associated with opening a Chase storefront. The $100 setup fee is sometimes waived during promotions. And there’s a $39.95 fee for hosting. Then there are transaction fees. Sounds like Chase Bank, all right!

You may also have seen commercials for Chase offering a QuickPay product in which one person can transfer money to another person. To my surprise, there’s no fee being charged for this. It also sounds a little like the InspirePay service I wrote about recently, in which artists can get paid for their work by people who want to pay them online. InspirePayj, though, lets you set up a “Pay Me” or similar button on your website, so it’s not quite the same thing.

My article for AuctionBytes on Business Implications of Google+ has just gone online. Now I can mention it on my blog, I can tweet about it, I can post on Facebook, and of course, I could mention Google+. Wow, I need something like HootSuite to help me do all this at once.

Google has a lot of cards in its hand, if it decides to put them altogether, the company’s social networking service Google+ can make substantial inroads in Facebook’s market share. Suppose Google+ enables businesses to set up profile pages. Suppose content posted on Google+ is included in the algorithms and data used to present search results. Suppose Picasa can be turned into a sort of visual sales catalog linked to Google Checkout and Google Product Search. (A PC World article speculates that many of these services could be interlinked in the near future.) Suddenly, all those SMBs knocking themselves out to get into Google’s search results have an inside track. And it’s all free. If Google can seize this opportunity, they can provide serious competition for Facebook, which is a seriously good thing.