Get More Traffic to Your Site Through Smart Online Advertising

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{Today’s post comes from Lucy Wright, and it’s all about optimizing online ads.

As you know, marketing can be quite a workload for any bootstrapped small business owner, so the option of simply buying advertising space through Google, Facebook, or popular blogs is tempting. But does it really work for gaining valuable traffic (and sales)?

Truth be told, the success of any advertising campaign really depends on your strategy going in. So before you buy that next ad, make sure to consider Lucy’s advice for improving your click-through rate and making the most of your campaign! –Stephanie}

There’s no doubt that banner ads on websites and blogs might not be the marketing powerhouse that they once were. Ad blocking software, mobile browsers, and other trends have diminished the interest in banner ads for many marketers. But don’t let that completely discourage you! They can still provide outstanding marketing benefits when optimized thoroughly.

These five strategies all offer ways to improve your ad click-through rates and get the most quality web traffic for your advertising dollars.

1. Use Text to Stand Out

Through analyzing the performance of many banners served by their service, Launchbit recently noticed that text-heavy image banners are likely to outperform those simply using images.

This approach also allows for plenty of ways to ensure that your message is received and to brand your advertisements properly. Using clean fonts, simple colors and well-written copy will lead to improved results.

2. Entice Viewers with Free Items

From eBooks and video guides to product samples and coupons, nearly any business can find a promotional item to give away. These items are an ideal way to entice viewers to click your banner ad.

When using this approach, it is important to keep a professional appearance to your banner instead of using flashy gimmicks. A company logo, a quick description and a free download button are often enough. If your design is over the top, viewers might doubt the trustworthiness of the advertisement.

3. Be Specific with Your Targeting

It is likely that you have already designed your advertisement to appeal to your target customer. However, where you place your ad can be more important than the ad itself.

Choosing a site that receives sufficient traffic and is related to a topic that is likely to convert well for your product or service can improve click-through rates significantly. It also helps to choose target sites based on where they allow you to place your advertisement. If your advertisement is visible when the page is initially loaded, you are likely to receive more clicks than if it is not.

4. Update Your Static Designs

Simple static images often lack the attention grabbing potential of more cutting-edge designs.

This does not mean that you need an obnoxious flashing banner or audio. Simple elements, such interactive buttons, a shine effect, or text that slides into the banner area, can grab the attention of the reader and improve your chances of a click-through. (A recent article on Marketing Land shows easy ways to jump on the latest interactivity trends.)

5. Integrate Your Design with the Target Site

The last recommendation for optimizing click-through rates is to optimize your advertisement design based upon the site you wish to have it displayed.

By choosing complementary colors and similar fonts, you can integrate your advertisement into the site. When utilizing text-based ads, try to keep your copy similar in tone and complexity as well. This improves the overall appearance of your advertisement while helping to ensure that your advertisement aligns well with the preference of site regulars and followers.

In Conclusion

Though on-site advertising has lost popularity in recent years, it is still an affordable and potentially powerful form of marketing your site, product, or services. With small tweaks, such as updating your design or changing your marketing approach, you can optimize your advertising efforts for improved click-through rates and greater return on investment. I hope these five tips have offered an easy way to optimize your campaigns!

Lucy Wright works with companies who specialize in office signage. She regularly consults in both business and marketing related fields. In her free time, she does freelance web design and writes about marketing.




The #1 ECommerce Platform for Nontechnical Sellers

Analysis paralysis is a very real sickness, and you and I are both constantly at risk.

We as “doers,” independents, marchers to the beat of our own drums. Entrepreneurs who deal in and with technology– in charge of operations from very big to very small– all have plenty of decisions to make. And any one single decision can completely shut us down if we let it.

Your Brain on Shopping Carts

It’s obvious that an e-commerce business can’t exist without a functional website. But those who have taken the leap from, “Online business is cool! I want to do that!” to “I need a website. What kind should I have?” know how loaded that task is. And how a weekend spent unpacking it can easily turn into a week, a month, or even years!

Granted, I’m the one building very comprehensive comparisons of e-commerce platforms. But if you’re the type to get stuck in a rut, I’d suggest you put that sort of thing aside. Rather, I’d like to encourage you to do the simple, easy thing.

You Gotta Start Somewhere

Look, if you’ve already been in business a while and your scale is large, then you probably want to give some good, hard thought to your next choice of shopping cart. But if you’ve never sold anything online despite talking about it forever, you just gotta start already!

Taking action today will spark an amazing sense of accomplishment and serious momentum for your sprouting business.

Why Shopify Is the Best Platform for Nontechnical Sellers

If I’m forced to give you only one option, I’m going for quick and easy. And on that note, I’m suggesting you use Shopify.

Now here’s why I say Shopify and not one of the other paid hosted platforms, like Bigcommerce, Volusion, or Magento Go: I know that plenty of people who do the Shopify trial find that it just plain makes them feel good. The admin space is clean and easy. The free, default themes are good enough to start with. It’s all quite slick.

Granted, all of the big hosted e-commerce platforms are updating like mad lately, and competitors like Bigcommerce (which I like very much) have gotten the “slickness” note. In the near future, the playing field is likely to become even more level in this specific area.

But if you need just one suggestion, I can tell you Shopify is the most consistently praised platform that I know of in terms of ease of use. And that’s what we’re focused on here. Ease. And the present.

Go Time!

So there you go. If you’ve been talking about selling online for weeks, months, or even years (!) and have yet to, I hope you’ll take my advice today and get moving! Know that it’s worth it. Know that you’re going to feel awesome for it. And even if it was possible to choose the wrong shopping cart your first time out of the gate, know that nothing’s getting set in stone here.

Just go for it, and you’ll see.

Photo credit: Tim Simpson / Flickr




Secrets of the Etsy Elite; What Separates the Professionals From the Amateurs?

Marketplace websites are awesome, right?

I’m talking about sites like Etsy, Artfire, Bonanza, Zazzle, Meylah, Society 6, BRIKA… where there’s a huge gathering of buyers and sellers, in one place. It seems like new ones are popping up all the time.

From the sellers’ perspective, sites like Etsy can be a great place to start– and test– a business with minimal commitment. See if your business concept is one that attracts people. Try out different pricing. Gather information about what does or doesn’t sell.

Further, sites like Etsy can be incredible marketing channels. Driving traffic is a major hardship for most new businesses, but Etsy already gets tons of it.

That’s not to say you get the benefit of Etsy’s traffic without any work at all. You need to be selling something that stands out in the crowd, you need to know how to use keywords, and be able to jump on seasonal trends– since catering to the time of year or pop culture trends will help snag e-mail and front page features.

At least all of the conventional advice says that if you manage to do the above you’ll see success through the site.

secrets of the etsy superstars

Anyway, not all too long ago, I did some research of my own on the featured sellers from the Etsy blog’s “Quit Your Day Job” posts. I was just curious to see for myself exactly how well these individuals were doing and if there were any unusual or seldom talked-about patterns leading to their success.

One by one, I started checking them out, asking lots of questions like: How much $$$ is their average sale? How many sales did they make in the last year? How much money does that add up to? (And what kind of profit might be left after basic costs?) What is this seller doing that most others are not?

Sure, this wasn’t anything close to an exact science. But after putting some time into it, I felt confident enough to draw a few conclusions about these Etsy superstars and their respective shops:

  • 1. Though the amount of money was usually significant, many of these Etsy sellers (who are described as having quit their day job) were not making anything close to a living wage from their Etsy sales alone.
  • 2. Every featured seller had some form of social media presence helping to drive sales.
  • 3. Every successful seller profiled owned their own website in addition to their Etsy storefront.

So… in a nutshell, the biggest secret of Etsy’s elite seemed to be that they went beyond the Etsy “walls.” They knew they’d have the best chance at success pursuing multiple avenues for income and exposure, even if Etsy was their main focus.

the non-negotiable, controlled-by-you website

To be specific, I think the most important takeaway from this is that every serious Etsy seller should have their own website.

Turns out, whether it’s made of up of just a few static pages, a blog, or a full-featured e-commerce store of its own, having your own website in addition to your Etsy shop is key to escaping amateur-ville and becoming a real player.

There are many huge reasons for this beyond the now-obvious “All the cool kids are doing it!” And most of them have to do with simply taking your business seriously enough to think about its future:

  • 1. Fact is, many entirely well-intentioned sellers have had their Etsy shops shut down, without warning or explanation. Having your own website is insurance that your best customers will be able to find you again, even in the chance that your Etsy shop goes MIA.
  • 2. Having your own website allows you to build up your SEO (search engine optimization) cred now, so that it will pay off later if/when you decide to move your store away from Etsy or expand into your own e-commerce store. Printing your “your-company-name.com” web address onto all of your marketing materials and generally training potential customers to find you there first is key to this.
  • 3. Journalists and their publications take businesses more seriously when they have their own site. Therefore, you’re open to more opportunities for exposure. Not to mention, with your own website at your command, you can carefully craft a “Media” or “Press” page full of all the juicy deets about you, your product, as well as some gorgeous high-res images, to make your business all the more press-ready.
  • 4. See a shop with a fiercely loyal following, and I’ll show you an e-mail list. Unfortunately, Etsy doesn’t accommodate the sort of opt-in box you need to collect e-mail addresses from customers in a straight-forward, legal way, so you can’t easily continue contact with them in the future and win their repeat business. Having your own website means you can use opt-in forms wherever and whenever you like.
  • 5. Finally, by having your own site, you’re showing contacts you meet in-person and on social media that you are your own brand– not just a minuscule drop in the bucket of Etsy. And from a psychological perspective, that means they’re more likely to remember you and view your goods as high-value.

So, if you’re serious about the future of your Etsy business, I hope you’ll follow the pros’ lead and get yourself hooked up with your own “your-company-name.com” website. Even if it’s just something simple for the time being.

And if you’ve got any further thoughts or advice on the matter, I hope you’ll share! Maybe you’re surprised that all of these featured sellers had a website of their own? Not surprised? Are you considering setting up a website, or have you run into obstacles that have stopped you in your tracks? Your experience is so valuable to others. Leave it for us below!

 

P.S. I recently set out to create a plugin that would quickly turn an Etsy seller’s WordPress.org blog into something they are tremendously proud of.

Welp– that plugin is now LIVE! Which means there’s no longer any excuse for an Etsy seller not to have an amazing site of their own.

To learn more, read user testimonials, and see a live demo, click the graphic below!

Learn about the Etsy Pro plugin for WordPress

Photo credit: Helga Weber / Flickr




A ‘For Dummies’ Guide to Accepting Credit Cards From Your Own Website – Part 4

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This post is a part of a series. If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, you’ll wanna give those a whirl. Then hurry on back, because today’s Part 4 is the big ‘ol grand finale!

If you’ve been following along, here’s your super-fast refresher:

In Part 1, I simply laid out the 6 moving parts you need to make e-commerce happen.

In Part 2, I explained 1 important difference that will save you tons of confusion while you’re looking into e-commerce software and services: hosted vs. self-hosted.

In Part 3, I demystified the intimidating (but more bark than bite) world of internet security and SSL certificates.

the final stretch

We’re now nearing the end of the process. Our customer has added our product to their cart (or clicked on the “buy” button), filled out our security-clad payment form, and pressed “Submit.” What now? Let’s consult that handy graphic again:

what makes e-commerce work?

The answer is #4-5: have the credit card information whisked through a processing service, who’ll then deposit the money into our merchant bank account.

the quick + easy two-in-one solution

The reason I’ve lumped these steps together is because the most popular services are two-in-ones.

PayPal, for instance, is both a payment gateway and a merchant bank account. They can process your customer’s credit card information and hold the money for you in an account until you want to take it out.

Now, if you had a gigantic business already, it would probably be more cost-efficient to use a separate payment gateway (Example: Authorize.net) and merchant bank account (Example: your local bank’s merchant account offering). In exchange for the lower fees, however, you’d likely be obligated to hit a certain quota of sales each month.

paypal vs. stripe

So I do recommended the payment gateway + merchant bank account two-in-one option for small-scale businesses. And though PayPal is an easy reference since most everyone has heard of it, it’s actually not your only option.

I consider your best options to be PayPal or Stripe. Let me try to explain the differences.

One reason why you might go with Stripe over PayPal is because there are less horror stories floating around. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard several about PayPal accounts being unjustly frozen. To make a counter-argument, it could be that the only reason PayPal has stories like this and Stripe doesn’t is because PayPal has had a lot more users, but I admit I would feel remiss not to at least bring this up.

Another reason you might choose Stripe over PayPal is because their costs are generally the same but a little less complicated. And a third reason you might choose Stripe is because they’ll transfer the money into any bank account of your choosing at a regular interval, whereas you’ll have to do this manually with PayPal.

However, on the other side, PayPal is extremely well-known, and that means there’s more “Help” data out there on the internet should you ever run into problems with it. Also, along this same line, you might choose PayPal over Stripe because the e-commerce software or service you want to use doesn’t support Stripe as a payment gateway. (Of course you’ll want to check on this ahead of time.)

Those are the main pros and cons. In the end, though, if none of these points carry all that much weight for you, my best advice is just to go with your gut.

hooking up your site’s payment form + payment gateway

Once you’ve made your choice, to link up your hosted e-commerce platform or shopping cart software with your payment gateway (PayPal or Stripe), you’ll want to look for a “payment gateway” setting in your admin area.

It’s likely that you’ll be given choices like PayPal or Stripe by default. If you choose PayPal, all you need to do is type in your account-related e-mail address. If you choose Stripe, you’ll need to copy-and-paste over some keys (or long strings of random characters) to validate your account.

Once you do that, they’ll be linked up and ready to process credit card info coming in through your payment form.

file delivery

Finally, we hit step #6: file delivery. This is that extra step that only applies if what you sell is a digital product like a .pdf, an e-book, an .mp3, or a video course.

Just to clarify, it’s quite possible to sell a digital product without an instant delivery service. For instance, you could just collect all your orders at a certain time of day and e-mail the goods to each buyer then. However, most people have the expectation that a digital product is to be delivered instantly. This instant gratification is why some people favor digital goods like e-books over the physical stuff in the first place. So, you should probably offer instant delivery, and this will require using a service.

Many hosted e-commerce platforms and shopping cart (or “buy” button) providers carry this option for you, but if you do plan to get into digital goods at any point, you really ought to make sure it’s a feature included in the software or service before you choose it. Ones that do will likely say somewhere that they “support digital products.” That means they’ll give you the option of setting each of your products to physical or digital, and should you choose the latter, inputting the file you want to send.

And that’s it!

That concludes pretty much all you need to know about what it takes to accept credit cards from your own website– like a boss.

So, what do you think? Do you still have questions related to payment gateways or merchant bank accounts? File delivery services?

Is there anything you’d like me to talk about that I didn’t cover in this series? Feel free to send all your questions and comments my way!




A ‘For Dummies’ Guide to Accepting Credit Cards From Your Own Website – Part 3

conference
Photo credit.

This post is a part of a series. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, go ahead and catch up.

For the quickie recap:

In Part 1, I laid out all the underlying parts that make e-commerce– that is, the online exchange of money for goods or services– technically happen. Here’s that graphic again.

what makes e-commerce work?

And in Part 2, I explained the difference between hosted software/services and self-hosted software/services.

Now, I think you’re ready for the hard part (and by “hard” I really mean “intimidating”): internet security and SSL certificates.

what’s the deal with internet security?

There’s a reason why, when e-commerce first became a thing, people were afraid to enter their credit card information. In theory, the risk of putting your credit card on the internet was greater than the risk of carrying it around with you, because somehow, some way, a hacker might be able to intercept the data– without you even knowing about it.

The reality is less dramatic. In fact, I just watched a special on the CNBC news network recently about the world’s greatest hackers to date. Want to know something ironic? They got credit numbers all right. But this particular group of young men made their fortune by using the internet to hack into the systems of actual, brick-and-mortar store credit card swiping machines.

So whether coming from a machine in a store or a form online, the way we now know to protect sensitive information whenever it is electronically transferred is to encrypt it. This means distorting the data in a special, coded way. (I’m not a nostalgic Star Wars fan myself since I never did watch the movies as a kid, but if it’s helpful you might think of encryption like “the Force:” a powerful energy field that powers and protects!)

The mechanism we use to encrypt websites is to install an SSL certificate. You can Google “SSL certificate” for all the information you could want, but really, you don’t need to understand what it is. All you must know is that you need an SSL certificate to encrypt your payment pages. Well, and that failure to do so is considered illegal.

getting out of it

Sounding like something you’d rather not be involved with? The good news is you can get out of taking security measures by using services like the ones I described in Part 2: a completely hosted website (Examples: Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion) or a hosted payment page (Examples: E-Junkie, PayPal, Wirecard, 2Checkout.)

Should you go this route, the credit card information entered on your site is going to be encrypted. You’re just not the one who’s going to be responsible for it. Shopify or E-Junkie or 2Checkout will have set it up on your behalf.

The consequence of this is that you’ll likely be paying more. If you are tech-averse to some kind of extreme, and you factor in the cost of the time it takes to set up your own SSL certificate, then your situation could be an exception. But, in general, it’s going to cost more in monthly fees or sales percentages when things like this are handled for you.

reasons why you might have to leave it to someone else

There are also cases in which setting up your own SSL certificate is just not an option, even if you wanted to.

For instance, let’s say you have a self-hosted WordPress website, and you use Bluehost as your web hosting provider. I know from personal experience that it’s only possible to use an SSL certificate on your account’s primary domain name. So if you host 5 websites from your Bluehost account, and then you decide you want to set up an SSL certificate on the 3rd one, you will be disappointed.

Now, if you’ve never had a self-hosted website, and this doesn’t make much sense to you, don’t get hung up. I only point this out to encourage you to read up on this sort of thing in the Help section of your current host or any web host you consider using in the future so you’re well-prepared. All of them have their own rules, although you’ll find them to be similar.

(In case you’re wondering, my solution with Bluehost was to open a special Reseller’s account so I could continue to host all my websites from the same place, with separate SSL certificates.)

how to set up an ssl certificate yourself

Finally, the setting up of the SSL certificate. This is what you must do if your website is going to be 100% self-hosted. But good news: This is practically no work at all! That is, as long as you buy the SSL certificate from your own web host. Almost all of them offer automatic SSL certificate installation, so you just find where in your cpanel you can buy one, purchase it, and let the tech people do the rest.

If you were to buy an SSL certificate from another website, let’s say NameCheap.com, and you wanted to install it on your Bluehost website, then configuration would be complicated. Not impossible, of course, but there’s just some steps to go through. (If you’re really curious, you can view those here.)

But as long as you bought your SSL certificate from your web host, the only thing you have to worry about is sending your customers to https://www.yourdomainname.com/checkout for checkout rather than the regular http://www.yourdomainname.com/checkout, since that version won’t be protected.

(Note one possible hiccup: If your payment pages contain images or other resources like stylesheets and scripts with absolute URLs, you’ll need to make sure those web addresses are changed to “https” as well on the payment pages. If you don’t, your customers might get a warning in their browser that the page contains both secure and insecure elements. The solution is to use relative web addresses like “../images/yourimage.jpg” because your server will automatically load those items securely. If you need more examples of absolute URLs vs. relative URLs in order to make this change, a quick Google search’ll do ya.)

Phew.

So now that we’ve gotten through all the scary stuff, I’d love to know what you think! Do you feel better now about handling security on your own website? Still prefer to have it handled by someone else? Any comments or questions welcome; leave them for us below!




A ‘For Dummies’ Guide to Accepting Credit Cards From Your Own Website – Part 2

Photo credit.

This post is part of a series. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, go read it now. I can wait. ;)

If you read Part 1 but just need a refresher, last time I outlined for you all the underlying parts that make e-commerce– that is, the online exchange of money for goods or services– technically happen. This will be important but first…

hosted vs. self-hosted + why it matters!

I want to talk about something that’s really confusing to people when they first start to look into opening a store or accepting credit cards online. That is, the concept of “hosted” stuff vs. “self-hosted” stuff. Once you get this difference, everything will start making much more sense right away.

The concept of “hosting” itself is this. Website files– all the web code that gives your sites its layout and functionality, plus images, videos, etc.– can’t just float in space. It may seem to most of us like they do, because we don’t have our own server hardware set up in our homes. But every website in existence is actually being stored somewhere, on a physical server (which usually just looks like a black box with blinky lights).

self-hosted

In order to “self-host” your own website (or parts of it– foreshadowing!), you essentially rent server space from a company that has tons of server machines stacked on top of eachother in a bunch of well-air-conditioned data centers. (Examples: Bluehost, Hostgator.)

Once you sign up with one of these companies, you get login information into a control panel. From there, you can start adding your website files. You won’t be given anything to start with– just a blank page. But, if a blog is important to you, most of these services make installing website software like WordPress really easy. And you can always hire a web designer to do the initial work to get your basic website off the ground.

As far as e-commerce software and services go, when you see the term “shopping cart software” advertised (Examples: Open Cart, LemonStand, Jigoshop for WordPress, WooCommerce for WordPress) it’s usually meant for self-hosted websites. The term “open source” also indicates stuff that’s for self-hosted sites– so-called because you can actually see and mess with the web code (the “source”) if you want to, as opposed to hosted stuff in which the inner-workings are not ever accessible by you.

hosted

When you use a hosted service (Examples: Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion), the protocol is very different. The interaction between you and them works more like the interaction between you and your Facebook account, in that there was a design laid out from the get-go, you can input certain things and maybe customize a little, but you’re not required to deal with web code.

Most hosted services will allow you to have your own “www.domainname.com” (or at least the ones that I consider reputable). However, since your website will be completely hosted by whichever service you choose, you’re making a commitment. You can’t mix and match different software or services the way that you could with a self-hosted site, you’re limited to whatever design and other functionality is possible under them, and tied to whatever monthly fee (and possibly even a % of sales) they charge you. Typically you’ll be paying a bit more than you would self-hosting (unless you’re 1000% tech-averse, in which case the labor time you spend on a self-hosted site may come out higher).

An example of what an extreme hosted e-commerce service looks like can be found in Etsy, Artfire, Ebay, Zazzle, Society 6, and other sites like them. They’re not typically referred to as “hosted e-commerce platforms” so much as “marketplace websites,” though, since there’s lots of sellers in one big marketplace, whose storefronts all look and function just the same. Marketplace websites like these allow sellers so little control that I don’t consider them one’s “own” website, and I’m not going to include them in this series. (Not to say I don’t think they’re great for something, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

hybrid option 1: self-hosted website / hosted store only

Now this is where we get into that “so many avenues” territory I’ve been talking about. See, it’s completely possible to self-host some of your website and use hosted e-commerce services as well.

This first way is the simplest to understand. You start with a self-hosted website or blog, then you sign up for one of the hosted services ( Shopify, Bigcommerce, etc.) as well. You load up your hosted online store with products, customize it as much as you can, and then plant a link called “Shop” or “Store” in your self-hosted website or blog’s navigation bar.

This isn’t the sleekest option, of course, unless you’re good enough with HTML and CSS to give the two essentially separate websites a seamless design. But at minimum you really should figure out how to put a link back to your self-hosted website in your hosted website’s navigation bar. Also, it’s good practice to use a subdomain such as “www.store.mydomainname.com” rather than a completely different domain name.

hybrid option 2: self-hosted website + store / hosted payment form only

Using a hosted checkout service is different than the above method because it’s only the payment form that’s on somebody else’s site. The actual shopping is done on your own site, and the visitor isn’t sent anywhere else until she/he clicks the “buy” or “checkout” button. (Examples: E-Junkie, PayPal, Wirecard, 2Checkout.)

This method is sometimes (but not always) cheaper than the above, and sleeker, although it’s still bumpy in comparison to keeping everything on one site.

You will need to set up shopping cart software or “buy” buttons, but the major advantage is that you don’t need to know anything about internet security or SSL certificates, as that’s the exact part the company will be taking over for you.

As far as hosted payment pages go, there is a distinction that needs to be made between obvious hosted checkout services and inconspicuous ones. For instance, most of us have clicked to buy something online and then been redirected to PayPal’s website. That’s a pretty obvious transfer of sites, whereas some other services will let you match the layout of the payment page with your site or at least keep their logo off on it. Whether this sort of camouflage is important or not depends on who your customer is, what they’re used to, and your store’s branding.

Anyway. That’s all for now.

I hope this talk about hosted vs. self-hosted stuff has cleared up some of the confusion you’ve had looking at e-commerce software and services in the past! Now I’m curious: Have you tried either type, and if so, what was your experience like? Do you suggest one over the other? Leave it for us in the comments!