We've all seen the ads about Internet millionaires who only work 2 hours a week and bring in millions of dollars a year while they cruise the world on their yacht. What those ads don't tell you about is the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spend on salaries and independent contractors working on their website so they don't have to.
Having an online store is like opening a second store across town or in a neighboring city. It's a lot of work, but if done right it can be profitable. Having an online store has its advantages over opening a second brick-n-mortar. The rent is extremely cheap, and there are virtually no security issues. An armed gunman is not going to break into your online store and clean out your safe! Its open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And although you still have to put in the work, you can do it when you're not busy at your store, late at night, on the weekends or on the balcony of some resort overlooking the ocean. Your work can be done anywhere you have a high-speed Internet connection, anytime of the day or night.
The heart of your online store is your shopping cart. How good your store is, is in direct proportion to how good your shopping cart system is. A good shopping cart will provide you the secure server you need to protect your customer's information (something you do not want to do on your own unless you have an IT professional on your staff). It will track your sales, telling you how the customers arrived at your online store so you can track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. It will allow you to feature products and suggested additional products available, send out auto responders, be fully customizable and much more. A good shopping cart will cost you $50 to $150 a month to use, but it is well worth it.
In the 10 plus years that we have sold online, we have tried many different shopping cart systems, from free carts and low-cost carts, to custom-made carts, to more expensive full-feature carts. In the resource section of www.Internet4Jewelers.com we give our recommendation on the cart we currently use, a video to watch about the shopping cart, a free downloadable eBook on the shopping cart, and a link to a free 30-day trial.
Marketing Your Online Store
Marketing your online store effectively is the key to online sales success. There are five basic methods to market your new online store.
- Natural Search Marketing
- Paid Website Ads
- PPC (Pay Per Click)
- Affiliate Sales
- e-Mail Marketing
Natural Search Marketing
Natural Search Marketing, also known as Organic Search, is where someone types a word or phrase in Google or some other search engine and receives pages of website listings for that topic. You pay no commissions on sales, no fees to be listed, or for click-throughs. Getting a top listing on the search results pages is the most effective, low-cost marketing you can do on the Internet. However, it does take work to get a top listing.
Two years ago Local Search was started. This allowed geographical qualifiers to be included in search terms. This opened the door for retail jewelers to get top listings for jewelry related terms in their geographical area. This is what I mostly teach about and it is still fairly easy for a retail store to obtain these top listings for their city or area.
However, when you remove those geographical qualifiers it is a completely different story. To get a top listing for an online store you are competing with companies who have been working diligently for 10 to 15 years optimizing their websites and developing huge linking campaigns. In addition to keyword optimization and link development, Google and other search engines also look at the age of the website. Websites that are less than 2 years old will not get top search result listings on competitive keywords and phrases.
Because of this, a new online store cannot rely on Natural Search Marketing to bring them any new customers for the first couple of years. They do need to think in these terms and work diligently on keyword optimization and link development. After 2 to 3 years of consistently working at it when your website starts to mature, you will start to see results and you can very well replace some of the companies at the top. Especially if some of them become lax in their efforts or don't keep up with the ever-changing rules of Internet Marketing.
Paid Website Ads
There are a number of companies that you can purchase advertising space from and they will display your ads on various related websites. Or you can contact website owners directly to purchase ad space on their website. This type of ad is generally a banner or video ad.
These types of ads are best for building brand awareness. For example, at Bench Media we sell advertising space on our websites for jewelry suppliers. This helps build brand awareness among bench jewelers for their products and services. However, this type of advertising does not generally produce high click-through rates.
Because of this, it is not the most productive advertising method for a new online store to generate customers. It is most effective for established companies to keep their name in front of their client base, and for new companies to start to develop their brand within their niche.
PPC (Pay Per Click)
Google's AdWords is the primary source for Pay Per Click advertising. With this program you set-up your ads and Google places them on the side of the page in their search results and on other people's websites with jewelry related content. Whenever someone clicks on your ad they're taken to your website and Google charges you a small fee. You don't pay anything for your ad to be displayed, you only pay each time someone actually clicks on your ad and visits your website.
This is the easiest and most effective method to get customers to a new online store. However, you need to monitor your ad campaign closely, because you don't want to pay for traffic to your website that doesn't generate sales. You need to set-up several different AdWords campaigns and track each one on your website to see which ad brings customers that are actually buying jewelry from your store and which are not. Then you can keep the best performing ads. As well as eliminate the ads that are just costing you money from people clicking on your ad and then clicking the back button or clicking off to another website without purchasing.
Without diligent monitoring of your AdWords campaigns, you can waste a lot of money very fast and not generate any sales.
Affiliate Sales is basic Internet commission selling. You set-up an affiliate program and then people can join your program and place links to your store on their websites and e-mail campaigns. When someone clicks on their link to your store and purchases a piece of jewelry from you, you pay a commission on that sale. You do need to take time to develop your affiliate program, but you do not pay out any money unless a sale is made.
A good shopping cart, like the one we recommend, has affiliate sales built in for you to create your own affiliate program. However, unless you have a large list of marketers eager to advertise your program, doing it yourself is generally not recommended.
There are many affiliate program companies out there that will promote your affiliate program. Commission Junction (www.cj.com) and Link Share (www.linkshare.com) are two of the biggest. They have millions of online marketers looking for good affiliate programs to promote. If you are interested in this type of marketing, I would suggest visiting their websites and learning all you can about affiliate marketing. Look at and study the other jewelry companies they represent and see what type of commissions they pay and what promotions they offer. You have to give them a reason to promote your online store over some other store.
Affiliate programs are a great way to develop new customers for your online store, but it does take work. You need to create different banner ads advertising your store and promotions. You need to develop sales copy and advertising materials for your affiliates to send out. You need to produce different promotions every quarter if not every month for your affiliates to promote you. You especially need new promotions for the top selling seasons such as Christmas, Mothers Day, and Valentines Day.
e-mail Marketing is by far the most effective and least costly method of advertising. Putting together a great e-mail campaign takes a little bit of time, costs virtually nothing, and produces better open rates than direct mail and better click through rates than any other form of online marketing. Sending out an e-mail about a special promotion to a well-developed list is like having your own printing press turning out dollar bills.
However, in order for you to do this effectively you must have a great e-mail list! Obliviously you cannot do this when you are just starting out, but when you first set-up your online store you need to include a way to start receiving names and e-mail addresses of potential clients and customers. Once you have a well-developed e-mail list of prospects and clients you will find that this is your most valuable asset, worth far more than anything else you own.
Once you have your online store in place and all the systems operational, running an online store is really just about marketing. You need to be continually developing new promotions to attract buyers. You need to up-date your website, if not weekly at least monthly, to keep the search engines raising your ranking and your customers coming back. You need to continually write new advertising campaigns and test and monitor their effectiveness, refining and improving the best ones, then testing them again. You need to be constantly thinking about new ways to promote and market your online store. If this sounds like fun, then you will probably be successful if you are diligent in carrying them out. However, if these types of activities don't excite you very much then it's doubtful your online store will produce anything but headaches for you.