Each year it seems we see a prediction for a new record in online spending for the holiday season and 2007 is no exception, the predicted numbers have been all over the place. With Cyber-Monday officially over we’re able to see these predictions are pretty accurate. If you’re not familiar with what Cyber-Monday is, it’s a term coined in 2005 by an online retail group (official website is www.cybermonday.com) and basically it’s that first work day after the Thanksgiving holiday and is usually a large online sales day for the holiday season (afterall who wants to work after feasting on a 4 day weekend of turkey and stuffing).
According to CNN.com’s report (this year’s cyber-monday) was definitely setting records:
By 2 p.m. ET, more than 300 retailing Web sites tracked by Internet monitoring firm Akamai were drawing 4.6 million visitors per minute – a three-year record for most traffic in a single day to retail Web sites.
Akamai said that its Net Usage Index – which monitors North American visitors to sites such as jcpenney.com, Bestbuy.com and Circuitcity.com – said traffic was up more than 80 percent compared to a normal Monday.
In addition, ComScore Networks estimates that Cyber Monday sales will surpass $700 million, which would make it the heaviest online spending day on record.
So this year is starting to shape up nicely for online retailers of all size. If you’ve been waiting to start your online store or if you’re own online store is off to a slow start here’s a few tips to help you along the way.
My Top 5 Tips For Online Merchants This Holiday Season
1. Everyone wants to be #1 in the search engines!
Everyone wants to be #1 in the search engines but only a few have mastered that black magic of search engine optimization. For those of us that aren’t search engine experts we buy pay per click advertising (PPC). If you haven’t already taken advantage of the free PPC offers we have in the AppliedI marketplace, now is the time to do so. We currently have the following special offers from our search engine partners:
- MSN.COM/ LIVE.COM – $75 FREE ad clicks
- Yahoo.com – $50 FREE ad clicks
- PayPal.com / Yahoo.com – $100 FREE ad clicks from Yahoo, FREE payment processing until April 30th as well as special icon recognition in Yahoo.com with a shopping cart icon next to your ads
- Miva.com – $25 FREE ad clicks
- Enhance Interactive – $25 Free ad clicks
That’s $275 of free pay-per-click advertising available to you as an AppliedI.net hosted e-commerce merchant.
Now when bidding on keywords, take this advice: "DONT BE STUPID!". Everyone when first starting out will bid on very general keywords and typically these don’t convert very well at all. An example is if you’re a jewelry store, don’t bid on "Gold Jewelry" or perhaps you sell women’s perfume you’ll want to bid on "Perfume". You’ll find out quickly that your adwords budget just got gobbled up by a handful of clicks that didn’t convert. Instead be very specific about what you bid on and it’s generally a good idea to put bids on items that already convert well for you. If you sell perfume and your top selling perfume is "Celine Dion Eau De Toilette" then bid on that and link DIRECTLY to it. The other big mistake we see time and time again is that merchants bid on good keywords but link directly to their homepage. You’ll have better luck linking directly to either the product page or another landing page that’s product specific.
Something else that’s interesting is that #1 in the PPC doesn’t always convert the best so don’t be afraid to come in #2 or #3 (you’ll save money and probably do just as good if not better than the #1 guy and did I mention you’ll save some money? 🙂 ).
2. They’re your customers, market to them!
Bidding on keywords can be really expensive and many smaller merchants have slim profit margins that they can’t afford to place large PPC bids, instead market to your existing customers. As an AppliedI merchant you most likely have our e-commerce enabled hosting plan, the VS-1 or higher and as such you can have a free mailing list manager account for up to 10,000 messages a month. Our mailing list manager allows you to email HTML or Text email messages to your customers and track how many times your message was read, how many times your links in your message were clicked and who actually clicked on these links and how many times! This is without question valuable information and it too is available FREE as an AppliedI.net hosted merchant.
3. Get affiliated!
You should be looking for merchants, blogs, forums, communities and other sites that either sell related products or market to the same target market as you and then become affiliates with them. Get them to promote your products and in return you’ll promote theirs. Suddenly your customer base grows and best of all when these prospective customers see someone they already trust promoting your products and brands you’ll gain reputation and credibility that will more than likely result in increased sales. Many of our dedicated hosting clients actually make enough through google adsense on their site that it pays for their dedicated hosting each month. It may seem odd to promote your competitors on your site but it does pay when done correctly.
Also, if you’re not aware Appliedi.net has it’s own affiliate program and pays $25 for any new hosting accounts that signup by linking through one of your affiliate links. Now’s a good time to put a link on your site to appliedi.net using our hosting affiliate program.
4. Clean up your own search engine ranking.
Organic search engine traffic is the best traffic, it’s free, targeted and usually converts well. We partnered with web CEO so that our customers can have one of the best search engine optimization and analysis programs available at a discount. What many don’t know is that they also offer a free version that is comparable to most paid SEO tools. Through our marketplace you can save as much as $230 when you purchase a license for web CEO.
In addition to using a tool like webCEO, check your site and make sure you’re linking throughout your site with keywords, have proper title tags on your pages and are making good use of meta keywords and descriptions. using proper alt image tags and most all make sure your content is not spammy using the same words over and over (it makes for a bad read and may get you penalized in the engines).
5. Accept online payments and boost sales.
You already accept Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover, right? What about PayPal and Google Checkout? If you don’t accept these as payment options you should. I recently saw on PayPal that most merchants see a 14% increase when they accept PayPal as a payment choice and I’m sure Google has a similar metric available. Both offer free payment processing as well.
The Bonus Tip: Get Secure!
Consider using fraud screening services. Many payment processors today offer a fraud screening service and many of today’s shopping carts tie into services such as MaxMind.com’s minFraud credit card fraud screening web service. These services all help to provide an extra layer of security. It’s also highly recommended you perform regular PCI security scanning of your website using a service like ScanAlert.com’s HackerSafe service. As an appliedi.net hosted onl
ine merchant you’re eligible for FREE PCI Security scans and special discounts on hackersafe certification. I would highly encourage you to consider making use of this special offer. In addition you should verify that you’re site is doing the following:
- Make sure you’re using strong passwords for all your users (FTP, FrontPage, web admin, control panel, email the works). None of this username janie and password janie, or default usernames and passwords. Make sure you change them all.
- Make sure your application does not have any blatant security holes in it, like SQL injection, you can check this easiest by visiting www.secunia.org and searching their vulnerability database.
- If you have to store credit cards make sure you’re not storing credit cards or user data in an unencrypted format.
- Use SSL! SSL certificates are really affordable now and can be purchased directly from appliedi.net as low as $39.95/year. You should purchase an SSL certificate today for your site if you’re doing online transactions or accepting customer information.
Website security is everyone’s responsibility. As a webhost that specializes in e-commerce hosting, we utilize many different layers of security at the network and machine level but you too have a responsibility to your shoppers and users to make sure their information is secured and protected both online and offline.
Last piece of advice for a profitable holiday season.
Hopefully, you’ll have picked up a few nuggets of information from this blog post that will help with making your 2007 online shopping season a little more of a success and although I already included the bonus tip, I’m going to add one last piece of advice. Consider upgrading your account, it’s never too late to upgrade your account and it can usually be done seamlessly with little to no downtime at all. Today’s web applications require a large amount of memory and an ever increasing amount of database storage and we provide a full portfolio of options and choices for your site be it shared hosting, vps hosting, dedicated or even a managed cluster of webservers. Too often online merchants will skimp on their webhosting going with discounted or low cost hosting solutions to save $10 – $20 a month on their webhosting bill but this decision may be costing them hundreds if not thousands of dollars in lost sales and revenue. Don’t let yourself make that mistake, upgrade now.