Posts Tagged ‘Online Marketing’

1-2-3 … Launch!

I realize very well that title made it sound much more exciting than it actually is; but I’ve launched my site; www.alteregouk.com. It was a silent launch (in fact, it’s been up for a week now and I haven’t told anyone yet. Just trying to get Zen cart running smoothly, troubleshoot and debug. Also, I’ve been planning my marketing strategy; how do I get Google to find a completely new site more interesting.

Furiously analyzing the data provided to me from Google Analytics and Webmaster tools. Interestingly I am already getting traffic from google; for the strangest keyword combos… apparently I rank highly for “chinese sex dolls” when searching only UK sites. surprising; I would’ve thought established sites would get the top few results pages.

My first real step in website promotion has been submitting my URL to the Zen Cart showcase. This was more effective than expected; from one day to the next I got 150 unique visitors! (Previously I had maybe 1 or 2). If only roughly 40% weren’t US based whereas my site only sells and delivers in the UK… As you can imagine I’ve had quite a few abandoned shopping carts.

People keep asking me when my site will be done. And I really can’t think of a good reply. Because anyone who operates a web based business knows this: a site is never done, it’s never complete. You always have to develop it and grow it, or it will die.

Therefore I’m still working on and on, writing content, meta tags, descriptions and keeping an eye on traffic data to see if the effort was worth it. It should be another few months before I can tell properly if my efforts paid off. And that is the very worst part of the whole process: I’m way too impatient to be able to wait and see!

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E-Commerce & Me (My Zen Cart experience)

I am not new to the world of E-Commerce and IT. For years I have worked as a freelance web designer, building other people’s business websites from scratch. During that time I have also created and run multiple of my own websites, however due to circumstances outside my control, my pet project of a couple of years ago; an e-commerce website, never really took off. Basically I built it, designed it, coded everything myself, added products to it and people ordered before I even expected it! My concept was as follows: Sell Indian ayurvedic/herbal beauty products which I would source from local shops, package them and send them off to my customers.

The main issue was, that living in India at the time, I had a very hard time dealing with the post office. They somehow refused to help explain their charges for overseas shipments. Therefore I was not able to calculate the shipping rates properly. Two other problems I faced contributed to my decision of taking the site offline; 1. Product availability problems; whenever I added a particular product to the site, chances were, when the order for it came in, it was near impossible to source it because of supply issues. 2. The tiny scale on which I was operating meant I could not invest in buying packaging material in bulk, so packaging became a very time consuming and expensive affair. Bottom line: I made losses on orders that came in, took a very long time getting the products together and packaging them and faced issues with some orders getting stuck at customs.

Most online businesses abroad do not face the same issues. Shipping costs are very transparent in most of the world. Product supply is handled by a wholesaler; people would rarely buy from retail shops and sell online because they would be too expensive. Packaging might still be an issue; but even that can be solved; selling through a dropshipper rather than a wholesaler, can be more convenient because you do not need to worry about the hands-on process of getting the products packed and shipped yourself.

So because I felt quite comfortable with the idea of building and managing my own e-commerce website, a few months back I decided to give it another shot. I found a dropshipper, researched some open source shopping cart scripts (honestly; if a team of people has already done all the scripting for you, gone through various versions and upgrades, why would you reinvent the wheel all over again?!) and got started on my latest project; www.alteregouk.com

It’s always a steep learning curve, dealing with a new system. I have had to do this a couple of times already, when asked to develop templates for various content management systems during my time as a freelancer. But Zen Cart I found a little bit different. It is not as user-friendly as some of the other systems I have tried. But it seems to be quite versatile. It has quite a few options right out the box, but certain other supposedly simple tasks can be time consuming and frustrating: the configuration settings are vast and it’s easy to get lost in them. Also, the way the language system works is quite complex; there are numerous files strewn around the directory structure of the site which allow editing of various wordings and phases used on the site. It would’ve helped to have a nice user interface to allow quick&easy access to the words/sentences people most commonly want to change.

With the help of some Third Party additions to the main software; I think my online shop is taking shape quite nicely. I can add products in bulk with the help of the Easy Populate Addon, create Google XML Sitemaps with just a few clicks, display my full size product images in a neat looking hovering box

I could really only ask for one more thing; SEO Friendly URLs, but as I’m on Windows Hosting, that is never going to happen I’m afraid…

So now, after around two months of working on the website, I have over 2200 products, and am scheming my marketing campaign. My To Do list is getting shorter each day. I cannot wait to launch properly.. then play the waiting game to see if anybody actually orders! But don’t think I’ll just be sitting idle waiting for this site to take off; there are a few more ideas up my sleeve. Because in today’s online marketplace; you should definitely NOT put all your eggs in one basket!

Domain Name Goldrush

Domain name speculation has been big business for about as long as domain names came onto the free market. Any new type (TLD) has sparked a steep increase in purchases from people who simply registered whatever came to their mind; words and names that may or may not be wanted. If you get lucky, you could be rich overnight!

I have to shamefully admit that I have tried this once… A few years back when .info domains were on a special promotion; any person could freely register 20 of them and only had to pay after 1 year. So I got various 3 character letter/number combinations, and some combinations of keywords aimed at travel, gambling, air tickets etc. and put them on Sedo Parking. Good thing it was free, because I didn’t sell even one of them.

Most recently, the introduction of the “.eu” domain has sparked another gold rush, considerably bigger than the minor ones for country specific domains. Obviously, because .eu does not cover only one country but a large area with in certain cases strong association with the “European Identity”. I can imagine that companies largely selling in Europe, but not specific to one country would love a .eu domain. For exactly this reason, I contacted someone who holds the “.eu” domain of my employer’s name. It was obviously a domain registered for speculation purposes only; You open it and it displays some links and a search, which are not in any way related to the domain name itself. Also, a whois search quickly revealed that the company owning this name was located in the Bahamas!

I have just received a reply to my enquiry regarding what price they’re looking for… 888 Euro! It’s absolutely insane. And this for a name which has no real meaning, is not spelled properly even according to normal perception, and it’s not even a “.com”. Perhaps this company has invested so much in this speculative endeavour and nobody really wants their domains, that in order to cut their losses they need to charge exorbitant amounts for one single domain name…

I for one am of the opinion that this whole affair just makes domain costs spiral out of control unnecessarily. The names are expensive simply because somebody has bought all of them for no valid reason. Same way there are restrictions on registering trademarked names and phrases, there should be rules to prevent this insanity from continuing! There should be trading standards on names, based on how desirable they are, how many letters, which TLD. Not every e-cowboy should be allowed to just occupy large numbers of domain names, and sell them on to others at unjustified premiums; it borders on extortion!

R.I.P. Traditional Marketing

Although I am not a marketing expert, I am lucky to enjoy the daily company of one. One who is looking for a job in this field. Having experience in India, which is a largely conservative market when it comes to Marketing and Advertising, being introduced to Marketing UK-Style has come as quite a shock. I, however am much more at home because what is considered Marketing here, I used to try and sell to small time business owners in India; online presence.

We have looked through hundreds of vacancies, reading job profiles and descriptions and one word particularly shows through; “online”.

Marketing Executives/Managers/Assistants/etc all seem to do just one thing: Online marketing; newsletters, company websites, SEO, PPC/PPV (Pay Per Click/ Pay Per View) advertising. There simply is no mention of anything else; except in the rarest of cases where you may find something about presentations and copywriting for flyers (secondary to the company newsletter of course!)

Marketing in the traditional sense seems to have died. Right now my husband works in a huge company, in Sales. And they seem to put little or no effort at all into Marketing. They simply survive on their brand name and make sure their website/newsletter is up-to-date. This is a luxury and definitely makes you lazy! And it’s not just the big time corporates following this path either! If you spend some time browsing around Forums dedicated to small business owners, all they can think of nowadays is getting their website up and advertising it online, or getting on the first page of Google search results. How crazy is it that people get so caught up in the whole online aspect of things, that more experienced businesspeople have to come up to them and say “you know, you could get flyers printed as well, they can be quite effective, if not more than an online ad campaign!” As if it’s a revolutionary idea!

Sure, globalisation made the world quite a small place. But this total contrast in how we try to advertise ourselves in the Western world and anywhere else is shocking to me. Sure, in India online presence as well as access is much more limited than in the West where people do their shopping online even. So there it becomes difficult to convince a Bricks&Mortar business owner who is not PC literate, to even consider getting the most basic website for his business. But do we tend to forget that perhaps our parents’ or grandparents’ generation might not necessarily know how to switch on a PC either, let alone see an online banner advert for your business?

Do we want to lose the business of people who are suspicious of online ads, simply because there have been reports of online scams? A flyer, brochure or business card, reaching your potential customer may just make your business name stand out a little extra. Or they may give it to someone who needs your products/services.

Or do we want to use online marketing the way it should be used; as a valuable part of your Marketing strategy, which should not be ignored, but also not seen as the only option.