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The Magic Formula for Retail Website Success

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 300 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Okay, the title is a hoax. You caught me. I’m a liar who likes to tell stories. There is no “magic formula for website success”. There are only best practices. As a search engine marketer (SEO/ SEM..whatever you want to call it), we are really moving towards being project managers (yes, I harp about this all the time). As a project manager, you have to understand how all the tools at your disposal work, and how they could work better. I’m going to tell you exactly what best practices *I* would use as a guide for marketing a retail (or better yet manufacturer) website online.


  • You have a worthwhile product
  • You have exceptional profit margins
  • You have a well trained, enthusiastic staff that is willing to work and learn
  • You have a plan for growth
  • You are willing to change when necessary
  • You have a qualified web development team
  • You have someone who will handle link development and PPC

10 marketing strategies that matter

Months 1 – 3

Month 1 – Planning
Spend the first month planning. Document and consider every angle to your marketplace. Define your unique selling points. Devise ways you can be remarkable by your customers. Brainstorm and write down EVERY idea in your head that is even remotely related to your new online business. Write down keywords. Start organizing your ideas and writing copy for your pages. Delegate responsibilities to your staff. Start dividing up the work.
Compleat guide to SEM I
Compleat guide to SEM II

Month 2 and 3 – Developing
Keep a robots.txt on your site (only if it is BRAND new), so you don’t get experiments indexed by SE’s. You want to develop in the write direction. Make sure you spent adequate time planning and researching. If it takes longer than a month, take the time and do it. You will save yourself a lot of time if you don’t have to go back and do it again later. Large structural database changes are not an easy thing to pull off, and you will really piss off your programmers if you’re constantly asking why it takes so long to do something. (The psychology and motivation of programmers would probably be good topic for another day).

Start piecing things together. Get the database framework, and develop an information architecture. Find what goes where, what might come up later, and leave room to scale with growth. Have a growth plan, have a worst case scenario plan, and have the plan that will most likely occur based on your research. Check out the competition and do some social engineering to find out which of your competitors is doing the best and why.

Get a design rolling for your site. Base it on the personas of your customer base. If you’re selling home and garden products, don’t use wild colors and write like you’re a teenager (unless you’re trying to create a brand new niche). Read a few studies on expected locations of ecommerce elements, eyetracking studies, and conversion .

Prepare your site from the onset for shopping feeds, pay-per-click, and directory submission, natural search optimization, or any other potential marketing methods that you plan to use in the future. For the love of God…please write good titles. Pay specific attention to the important variables
Month 4 – 6 Basic Promotion
Take off the robots.txt and do a press release. Get the site indexed and start asking for links. Submit to the top 10 directories that you are aware of (Yahoo, MSN, DMOZ, BOTW, JoeAnt, GoGuides, Gimpsy, Zeal, Tygo, Jayde, Uncoverthenet or others). Don’t go overboard on directories, and don’t submit to crappy ones.

Go hogwild with PPC and see how much you can burn through in a week. Be SURE to set up conversion tracking and track conversions. Then dial things back, turn of what doesn’t convert at a profitable level, and max out what does. Use this information for your organic SEO. Finalize your budgets and strategy and stick with ‘em! Prioritize and implement what has the highest return on investment first.

Month 6 to 12 – LINKS!
Get a ton of links. Spend your time doing shameless solicitation and creating content to attract links. Do something to stand out. Be viral and ATTRACT LINKS. Offer discounts for links. Give things away for links. Offer prize drawings for links. Be creative and get a whole TON of good, relevant LINKS! Get into the eyes of the public and have people commenting on your site and sending it to others.

Set up an affiliate program. Offer the best commissions and EPC in the industry, and try to get some link pop out of it too.
Month 12 to 24 – Sit back and collect profits
Yeah right. You know the work is never done. Deal with growth or die. There are all kinds of issues that come up with growth. Higher labor costs, shipping, returns, customer service, packaging, and oh so much more. These are good problems to have. Figure out how to deal with them and plan for the long run. If you’re not succeeding at the end of two years…start looking for an exit strategy and a new business plan.

Get some usability and conversion testing done. Make sure you are retaining and satisfying customers.

Learn more about online shopping and tracking systems for improvement.
Save on SEO – improve site conversion

17 ideas for business promotion

Press releases and public relations
Press Release and public relations tools

Affiliate program
CJ, Shareasale, MyAP, AffiliateTracking, Linkconnector or others, Best case scenario, it passes link popularity through top affiliates and you earn on sales and get link pop.

Directory submission
Submit to the top 20 directories and then add one or two good directory links per month.

Froogle or other shopping feeds
A good Froogle listing is like a good ranking. Sometimes on commercial searches they are placed in the top spots. Other feed places to advertise include Nexttag, bizrate,, or shopzilla.

Set up an Yahoo search marketing and Adwords account. There is no excuse NOT to do PPC. At the very least, you will learn quite a bit about your industry using it. Real easy, track conversion, keep what works and ax what doesn’t.

Local Search – geo targeted adwords/yahoo
If you sell a service nationally, combine your service and/or keywords with all city/ state combinations. You will come up with a nice list of niche phrases with low volume, but lower CPC and higher conversion. If you sell your product or service to a specific regional area, it is even more logical to do localized internet marketing using geo-targeting and online local services.
Local search marketing tools

Link development
You need a strategy for ongoing link development. Either through content generation, begging, borrowing, buying or bartering

For link development consulting, training, or service…please drop me a line (this is what I do best).

Link purchase
Buy Text Links – Best inventory in the business.

Do something viral
If I knew what this was, I wouldn’t be typing…I’d be lounging on a tropical island with a coconut drink. Find something that people will talk about. Think star wars kid, numa, numa, JibJab, or the subservient chicken.

Conference marketing
Find your industry tradeshows. Set up a booth and pitch folks, or take a bunch of business cards and go guerilla style.

Weblog or forum
Build a community. WordPress, Civicspace, Moveable Type and others all make creating content or even creating a community much more easy from the technical side. Here’s some thoughts on community building
How to build a successful community

Write Articles
Write an article and get one-way links from places. Establish credibility.Top 10 reasons why an article WON’T get published.

Buy credibility with logos
Better business bureau, Hackersafe, Trust-e, Nextage, Bizrate, Creative Commons, W3C and other industry-specific logos. There are lots of different logos that users see often and inspire trust and credibility. Find the good ones and shell out for the extra conversions and repeat business.

Newsletter summary or sponsorship
If you don’t have the time to write your own (with monthly specials included of course), then try to sponsor someone in your industry who focuses mainly on information creation and advertising as a revenue model.

Customer service
You have to be remarkable. I talked with someone who was a competitor with Zappos and lived near by their dropshipment center. He had the shoes the NEXT DAY…not paying the ridiculous shipping fees. He wasn’t sure if they were messing with him, or they were just that good. It is his competitor, and he told me the story. That is remarkable. That is above and beyond. That is a good business model. If I ever buy shoes online, I know where I’m going first.

You know something well. Get those fingers typin’ and start creating content about what you know. Tutorials and how-to’s are some of the favorite reading material of folks on the web. They’ll attract links and credibility the more genuinely helpful that they are. Get writing. A few more tips for holiday ecommerce.

Now quit reading and get to work! Christmas is coming!

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