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 was recently asked, how much can you make by selling online. You don’t often find someone who has the b— (I mean, guts) to actually answer this question. It helps if you’re actually making money online, I suppose. I mean, if you’re not raking in income, why talk about it?

Anyway, John Saddington answered this question on his Tentblogger blog (www.tentblogger.com). This site is a gold mine when it comes to creating and marketing a blog. John also sells products online, so his e-commerce strategy is pretty diversified.

In this post, John projected that his income from blogging and online sales of products like WordPress themes would come to $44,000. He is able to support a wife and child just from blogging. Now, this was just a projection. I asked him for an update as to the real figure. I’ll report back on what he says.

When I think about this, I can’t help but wonder, having written 40-odd books, where I would be if I had started blogging in earnest five or ten years ago–when my agent was telling me to do just that. But there’s no point in going there. What are the takeaways I get from Tentblogger’s example?

  1. Diversify. Don’t just do one thing. John sells ads, products, consults, is an affiliate, etc.
  2. Make Connections. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I know. But blogging, and connecting with vendors, sellers, and colleagues, is the way to build a platform. And that platform leads to revenue. In Saddington’s case, it leads to a lot of ad revenue.
  3. Be open. Don’t keep secrets. Let people know about yourself and what you do. Get personal. That’s what keeps people coming back to this guy’s blog. Share, and you’ll get back in the form of comments, visits, RSS subscriptions, and hopefully purchases.
  4. Make an every-day commitment. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s what gives your blog, your website, and your store value. Not only does it help your SEO, but it gives people a reason to keep visiting you.

This fellow also obviously has fun with his site. He has nice cartoons of himself, and funny photos. You should do the same, even if you only sell products in a single online storefront. Talk about yourself; get a little personal; use humor; you’ll grab people and keep them coming back to you in the future. Stay with it for a long period of time. If you are blogging, Saddington suggests waiting at least six months before you even attempt to take out ads. (He had the requisite number of unique visitors, 250 per day, at only three months, however. I’m nearly there and I’ve only really been blogging in earnest for less than one month.) Eventually, you’ll start to generate sales.

In my recent list of ways to sell online without a website, I neglected to mention Payvment. This is a full-fledged e-commerce platform designed especially to work on Facebook.

ECommerceBytes has an article today on Payvment and a new feature called polling. Polls enable sellers to instantly create polls about the kinds of products they’re selling. There’s also a “Want” button that shoppers can add to an item listed for sale. If a friend sees that you want the item, hopefully, that friend will end up buying it for you. It’s another way of integrating social media and selling–and that doesn’t involve setting up a website.

My short news article on The Workshop at Macy’s is online at ECommerceBytes. You can apply for this program until Jan. 22. You need to be a female or minority designer of fashion, accessories, or other household items that can be sold in a retail environment like Macy’s.

We were hoping this would be something that mom-and-pop entrepreneurs could apply for. Winners get to go to New York for a few days of intensive business consulting and training. I was assured by Macy’s itself that it isn’t like that.

Apparently you already have to have a business of some sort, and possibly even a small boutique, to be chosen for the program. I found Nyla Simone, who was selected for the program last year. She designs custom furniture in Tempe, Arizona.

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.

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.

Here’s my idea of the day. You can have it for free (for what it’s worth): BookBox. It’s based on the Redbox movie rental system. I went to a Redbox last night and impressed my daughters: “Where does the movie come out of?”

So, at a time when bookstores are struggling, why not a BookBox? Put it next to the Redbox. Put in some best sellers as well as some literary award winners. Swipe your credit card, and out it comes. I walked past the old Borders on North State. All the awnings are still up but the place is totally empty…so sad.

The name “Book Box” is already being used at a wonderful place in Chicago. It’s actually one of my favorite bookstores: Shake, Rattle, and Read, on North Broadway. Here’s a good image of the store at night. They specialize in pulp fiction.

Shake, Rattle, and Read Book Box

Coffee and E-Commerce

January 2nd, 2012

Over the holidays, I did some obsessive shopping for an espresso machine. Back in the day, I could find used machines on eBay. No more. Where have all the bargains gone? Craigslist, Bonanza, eCrater–couldn’t find anything. But it turns out there is a specialty site for nearly every niche market. In this case I trolled the forums on CoffeeGeek.com and found a good one. Niche sites are the place to buy and sell specialty items, not general marketplaces, in my opinion.

A “platform” is a devoted following of people who know you and want to find out more about you. You build a platform through email, your website, by handing out your business card, social media, blogging–anything that gets you before the eyes of potential readers or customers.

Here’s a recent example. Popular comedian Louis C.K. makes his own comedy video, sells it on his website (only his website) for $5, and makes his $200,000 investment back quickly, then turns a profit. How did he do it? He already had a platform through his television show and his comedy performances. It’s true, not everyone has the “platform” to be able to go completely independent, avoiding publishers or producers or even conventional distribution channels like Amazon or retail stores. But with a modest platform you, too, can have success selling online. Read about it here.