Having a great Web site is not enough. You also have to bring
people to it.
But promoting an online store is different from promoting an ordinary
Web site. You're not just looking for hits. You're looking for
sales. While it's always a good thing to bring more people to
your site, what you really need is buyers. How do you bring them to you?
As always, the solution is to put yourself in the customer's place.
If you were someone looking to buy online, where would you be?
A year ago, there was no definite answer. Maybe a search engine.
Maybe a site related to the kind of stuff you sell. But recently
Internet hubs like Yahoo! and MSN have been setting up areas
just for shopping. They vary a lot in quality. Some are, so far, just
pages of links. But in the long term (and even the fairly short term)
this is where shoppers will go to look for products online.
If you're a Yahoo! Store user, you get an big head start in promoting
your site. The biggest source of buyers, by far, is
And Yahoo! Stores are automatically included there.
After Yahoo! Shopping, the biggest source of traffic is probably still
general-purpose Web searches. If you are using Yahoo! Store, our software submits
your site automatically to all the major search engines (except for Yahoo, which you should do by
hand). Otherwise, make sure to do this yourself.
You don't need to pay a service to submit your site to hundreds of
search engines and indices, because there are only 8 that matter:
Yahoo!, AltaVista, Excite, MSN, WebCrawler, Infoseek, HotBot,
and Lycos. All other search engines and indices might
account for 1% of your hits, combined.
Don't expect your site to show up in search engines immediately.
It will show up in AltaVista in a couple days, but most other search
engines are slow to add new listings. Some only seem to rebuild
their databases every couple months.
Another common question people ask us is: How do I get my
site to appear first in the search engines?
There is no easy trick that will work in all cases, because (a)
all the search engines are different, and (b), if there were a
trick, everyone would use it, and it would be just as hard to come
As a general rule, someone searching for "chocolate" is more likely
to get a page in your site if the word chocolate appears often on
that page, especially if it appears in the title. But it will not
work simply to have your page begin with the word "chocolate"
repeated 100 times. Most search engines filter out sites that try
that. The best approach is to use key words frequently in your
site, but not in a way that appears unnatural.
For example, Vitanet
is a site selling dietary supplements. The section selling DHEA contains
a lot of information about DHEA. The purpose is not only to sell
the product, but to draw hits from search engines.
The more text in
your site, the bigger a target you present to search engines.
One thing not to do, if you want traffic from search
engines, is use software that generates your pages dynamically.
Search engines don't index dynamically generated pages.
As Internet World points out, a dynamically generated site
is "all but invisible to search engines."
Most online stores can also profit by getting links from related sites.
The best way to get other sites to link to you is to give
them a percentage of the sales
generated by that link.
Industry leaders like Amazon.Com
have used this technique
with great results. (Yahoo! Store has built-in
tools to help you create and manage revenue-sharing links.)
Which sites should you get links from?
Put yourself in your customer's position. If you are selling Star
Trek merchandise, go to Yahoo! and search for "star trek". The
sites you get sent to are the same ones your customers will get
sent to, so those are where you want to start asking for links.
Another way to get traffic is to buy banner
ads that lead to your site. For example, you can buy banner ads
on search engines that are tied to particular keywords. When you
search for "books" in many search engines, you will see a banner
ad for Amazon.Com.
Be careful when you buy banner ads. Banner ads are expensive, and
even if they bring lots of visitors to your site, there is no
guarantee that these visitors will place orders.
Our data suggests that
few online purchases are impulse purchases. Most buyers show by
the keywords they use that they meant to buy before they even
reached the site where they placed the order.
So if you buy a banner ad that just brings thousands of random
people to your site, few of them will place orders. I know of one
online store that bought a banner ad on Playboy's Web site. I
can't disclose the name, but let's say they were selling modems.
Most of their buyers were men, and they knew that
thousands of men visited Playboy's site, so where better to put an
ad? And in fact, they did get thousands of visits from this banner.
But not one order. Why? Because those people were not thinking
about buying modems. The mere fact that they were at the Playboy
Web site showed that.
In retrospect the advertiser might have done better to put
an ad on a site giving advice about which modems to buy. An ad
like that might bring far fewer visitors than a Playboy ad, but
they would all be people who actually meant to buy modems.
If all you know about your site is how many hits you get, then of
course you tend to think that hits are what you should maximize.
But hits are not what you need in an online store. Sales are what
you need. So you should find the sources of hits that turn
into the most sales, and focus on them.
How do you do that? Tracking tools. Good tracking tools can tell
you where all your visitors come from, and how much visitors from
each source spend.
tracking tools can even tell you which
search keywords your visitors used in search engines, and how much
money people searching for each phrase spent.
(Yahoo! Store's tracking tools are currently the best in the business. They've earned rave reviews from press and analysts.)
For example, if you are selling Star Wars products, you will get
a lot of hits from search engines. You may find that you get ten
times as many hits from people searching for "darth vader" as for
"darth vader figurine". But I would bet that the people searching
for "darth vader figurine" spend more money at your site. So what
keyword do you buy from search engines? If you want sales, buy
"figurine", not "darth vader".
Finally, if you have a catalog business or retail stores, don't
forget to promote your site to your existing customers. If you
have a catalog, include your URL in it. Your Web site is the
perfect place to sell limited quantities of closeout items that
would not be worth including in your print catalog. I know one
company that includes messages throughout their print catalog
telling customers that closeouts are available on their Web site
at special prices. They say there is a noticeable jump in orders
each time their catalog goes out.
Text copyright © 1999 Paul Graham. Feel free to reproduce any of this text on your own Web site, so long as you reproduce it verbatim, and include this message. For any other use, please contact the author. Yahoo! and Yahoo! Store are trademarks of Yahoo! Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.