A recent poll on this site indicated that one of the biggest problems for Associate-O-Matic users is getting traffic to their sites. And of course, what’s the point of slaving away, getting your store just right, when nobody bothers to come see it? How’s a guy supposed to make a few bucks with no customers? I’ve touched on this subject before, but it certainly bears more discussion.
So how can you get traffic? Here are five easy basic steps to take, in no particular order:
1. Post articles – While the idea of writing articles seems to be not as popular on the Net as it once was, it’s still a cheap and easy way to get your site link in circulation. You need to write a short, informative piece about whatever your store’s theme is. If you sell baby shoes, come up with an article about the importance of proper footwear for infants and toddlers. If you sell DVDs, write about the history of the medium, and what advantages or disadvantages there are in the next generation of Blu-Ray discs. Try to avoid information that can be quickly dated, like reviews of popular games or movies. A year from now, who’ll care? You can Google lists of free article sites where you can post your article. Make sure to mention your site in the ‘Author info’ box (and not in the article itself; those are often not accepted or stripped out). And don’t steal someone else’s work. You’ll be found out; it’s lazy and it’s theft.
2. Join forums – Prospective customers will feel a lot more comfortable about buying from you if they feel you know what you’re doing. So setting yourself up as an authority figure with groups that are interested in what you’re selling will go a long way towards generating goodwill towards your site. Find forums that are based around your product line, join, and become an active member. Get involved in discussions. Help people. If you’re allowed, put the link to your site in your signature. If not, mention it in your profile, or put in a link to a site about you, which contains links to other sites you have or are interested in. Don’t be pushy about it, or you’ll most likely be banned. Ask the site owner about swapping links. Some will have dedicated areas for advertising if you post a link to their site on yours.
3. Submit – Both Google and Yahoo! have dedicated areas that allow you to submit your sites for indexing. Google’s is Webmaster tools, and Yahoo’s is Site Explorer. You sign up, add your sites, verify you are the owner of them (usually by adding a META tag or uploading a small file), include a sitemap, and you’re all set. Of course, doing this does not guarantee your site will be indexed, but it’s certainly better than sitting on your hands, waiting for them to find you instead. One nice feature is that if you have an error with your sitemap or robots.txt file (and you should have a robots.txt file, BTW), the bots will see it and let you know. Certainly better than waiting six months to be indexed, only to discover that you’ve accidentally blocked your home page. Whoops!
4. SEO – Sometimes your killer site can be its own worst enemy in terms of killing traffic. I see a lot of sites that are poorly configured for keywords, with a scattergun approach that shows wishful thinking more than anything else. If you think a great domain name is something like “www.buyipods.org”, why? Will someone go to a search engine and type “buy ipods”? Maybe, but probably not. You can sign up to Google’s AdWords feature (for free), and use their keyword research tools to see what works and what doesn’t. What are the most commonly used search terms for whatever you’re selling? Are they included on your site? Why not? AOM allows you to add custom boxes on category pages that allow you to use these search terms. Writing your own content is a big SEO benefit, especially if you pepper it with the very words customers are using to find items to buy. Poor SEO technique is like building a store then losing the key to the front door.
5. Research – Before you even start a store, will it be a success? That’s always impossible to say, but you can probably determine if you’ve even got a chance before you start. Sites and programs such as Good Keywords can help research what’s being looked up in search engines. Then you can use basic techniques to determine the market. For example, find the number of searches for a keyword. Then see how many sites come up in a search engine for that keyword. Square the number of searches and divide by the number of sites. The lower the number, the less likely a site built off that keyword will succeed. The higher the number, the better a chance you’ll have (but also depending on a lot of other factors, such as SEO, etc. – all you can do is maximize your chances, not make it foolproof). If you avoid wasting time and money on a site that’s good a poor keyword ratio, you’re already ahead of the game. If ipod is a better keyword than mp3 player, which one should you use?
Doing all these items and more is obviously a lot of work. Of course it is, but if you think you can set up a store in a weekend (and AOM makes this ridiculously easy), then wait while the world beats a path to you, you’re in for a long wait. Just like renting a storefront downtown, filling it with products, hiring staff and setting up window displays, it’s a lot of work. And it takes time. You can’t make a store, online or not, successful overnight. You have to write, you have to post, you have to research, you have to do a lot. And you have to wait. You might not see any results for a month. Maybe more. It might take a year or longer to position yourself to where you can expect steady sales. And even then, sales can drop off as well as pick up.
While there are no promises, no guarantees that you will be able to make a go of it, smart thinking before you start a site, and perseverance after you build one will give you a fighting chance. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: AOM makes building an online store the easy part. Once the site is ready to go, the real work begins. Be prepared and be realistic. Have fun.