How Small Sites Can Get Noticed

So, you have a product or two. You want to expand your reach. The globalInternet sits at your fingertips. If you build it, will they come? Not necessarily. That is the big lesson of the bubble years — and a quandary for small e-commerce companies at a time when venture capitalists are not feeling adventurous.

How can small sites build a reputation, drive traffic and foster brand loyalty? This is not an easy task in tight economic times, but if a company is resourceful, several tactics can lead to e-commerce success.

The Right Stuff

The first principle of online selling, especially for small businesses that cannot afford to make many mistakes, is to sell the right items. Trying to sell the wrong product online is like failing to hitch the horse to the wagon — you can do everything else right, and you still will not get anywhere.

Not every product is appropriate for online sales, and those that aremay already have reached saturation level in the e-commerce landscape. Yankee Group analyst Adi Kishore recommends evaluating a new e-commerce venture before launching it. “Take a long, hard look at your business model,” Kishore told the E-Commerce Times. “Is anyone else doing it? Develop specialty products.”

Kishore noted that commodity products lend themselves to online transactionsbut are often overexposed by giant e-tailers. The trick is to advance a unique product niche within a commodity category.

Targeted Efforts

Advertising is another potential pitfall. Mass-market advertising is not only too expensive for most small e-commerce ventures, but it does not even work well for them. “With blanket advertising, you’re wasting half your budget, and you don’t know which half,” IDC research manager Jonathan Gaw told the E-Commerce Times.

Instead, companies should explore more finely targeted, and in some cases experimental, promotions. The good news for new and small companies is that they do not have to learn this lesson the hard way, as many e-commerce pioneers did.

In finding targeted media in which to inject a message, the key is to think across channels. For example, just because a company is trying to transact business online does not mean it should ignore brick-and-mortar promotional opportunities. Even in the online space, it is not all about Web promotion — e-mail and back-channel possibilities also exist. Ideally, a promotional strategy should be blind to channel distinctions, because all channels can contribute to e-commerce exposure in today’s multichannel selling universe.

In short, small companies should develop a portfolio of promotional initiatives that complement each other. “Specialized niche audiences are served by specific targeted media,” the Yankee Group’s Kishore noted, pointing to “e-mail newsletters, certain chat rooms, specific Web sites [and] printed magazines” as possible venues for advertising.


One concept from the bubble years that has become more important in thepost-bubble era is strategic partnering. Amazon is doing it. EBay is doingit. Small businesses can do it, too.

According to Kishore, the preliminary work of building an affiliate relationship involves identifying potential partners that will benefit the business the most. “Partner with sites that have high traffic,” Kishore advised. Bulk traffic is as important as exact match-ups between partners.

Again, cross-channel thinking is crucial. “Don’t ignore the brick-and-mortarenvironment,” Kishore noted. “You can partner with a physical retail outlet.”

Paying the Search Engines

Another method of gaining notice that has soared in popularity recently involves placing ads on online search engines. These sites, most prominently Google, feature targeted advertising next to search results of predetermined keywords. The cost of buying paid search hits is controlled to some extent through an automated auctionprocess that gives the top spot to the highest bidder. The advertiser pays only for click-throughs, elevating the efficiency of this type ofadvertising.

“You get a load of recognition for a reasonable price,” IDC’s Gaw told theE-Commerce Times. “You might not have a big budget, but for a while, atleast, you can outbid Amazon.”

An added (and free) benefit of buying search results is sheer exposure — your name appears fairly prominently even when viewers do not click through. In traditional advertising, such an “impression” would be billed.

Although purchased search results are all the rage, traditional onlinedirectories should not be disregarded, either. Helen Chan, a senior analyst with theYankee Group who specializes in SMB (small and medium business) e-commerce,emphasized the importance of finding directories that match your product category or even geographical location. “Find the appropriate vertical directories, notjust the generic listings,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Making Connections

Chan, who wrote a recent Yankee Group study called “SMBs and E-Commerce: Strategies for Success,” also said small e-commerce ventures should look beyond the dry metrics of dollars and eyeballs. “It’s all about building connections,” she noted.

She rattled off a quick inventory of basic approaches that should be undertaken by any small site. “Provide links in partner sites. Cross-leverage traffic. Integrate with every part of the business process. Get that site in front of existing customers. Include the site in existing marketplaces like eBay or Yahoo! Shopping.”

Crucial to small-business e-commerce success, according to Chan, is keepingcustomers interested after the first visit. To that end, communication andpersonalization features are imperative. They not only make a site moreengaging, but also open the door to more alluring advertisements. “The more customers expect interactivity at the site, the more they’ll visit it,” Channoted.

Chan’s published report identified this bundle of “behavioral” factors asthe most crucial determinant of e-commerce success for small enterprises.

The Upshot

In a sense, for small businesses, bad news is good news. “There’s not very much capital in the market today,” Kishore said. “The formula of heavy marketing, coupled with the hope of reaching critical mass, is not an option any longer.” With the competitive scramble for venture capital also a distant memory, small e-commerce projects can launch into a relatively level playing field.

Of course, small companies must dig their trenches far from the giantfootprints of big-name online destinations. But with everybody in partnering mode, even the smallest operation stands a chance of affiliating with a larger e-tailer.

The real progress in SMB e-commerce is made by companies with imagination.Great targeting can easily make up for a modest budget, leading the way toe-commerce success.


    • sawdustart – Getting the most for your money is the secret to starting small and getting bigger. In order to do this, you need a way to track the success of your marketing programs.
      I AM continuously surprised by the number of companies that do not know their return revenue on their marketing programs. Not having this information leaves you in the dark.
      Once you have this tracking system in place, then you can make small marketing experiments. Spend more money on the marketing sources that provide you with the best return revenue relative to money spent.
      I’d start by getting good placements in the search engines for keyword terms that are highly targeted to what you do. Getting high placement for "Art" would be great. Though, that is a highly competitive term and would be difficult to get a good placement.
      By adding more words to your keyword phrase (i.e., Rustic Art), you increase your chances of getting visibility for that term. At the same time, the quality of visitors that you attract will be higher since they are looking for what you sell.
      Use http://www.wordtracker.com to find keyword phrases highly related to your business that deliver significant traffic. Optimize your home page on 2 to 3 of these terms. Create separate pages for each of your products as these will act as doorways for more targeted traffic for keyword terms related to these specific products.
      Also, focus on getting listed in a few of the CPC (cost-per-click) engines.
      Always evaluate your website to make changes that will improve your conversion rate. (the number of people who make a purchase out of 100 people who visit your site).
      Continuously repeat and refine the process.

      • Having recently launched an online portal business on community tourism in South Africa, I find it extremely difficult in marketing my services. The reason being that my target clients which include tour operators, eateries & accommodation establishments all don’t have access to internet.
        What advice would you suggest to a person like myself in order to be able to have a good marketing strategy?

        • In answer to your question: As I AM in the same position myself and understand the problem, why not join my site where you can use the bb and also get some useful informationand leave a link or advert.

          • interesting topic. i will start off by saying a good compliment to word tracker is a keyword generator called GOOD KEYWORDS (found at http://www.goodkeywords.com it is 100% free) to use and can target good keywords for your company based on traffic. i have done the hard road in marketing online and have tryed to just about everything!!!! including all the ebooks on offer that say such like get a number 1 listing on google, and top secerts of the big boys all which just do not work and a waste of time. I would gladly pay 50% of my earnings for 1 year to someone if i could get a rank of 1 on google for my site. but thats not going to happen. or if someones up for the challange then that would make a great story..

          • To Brad and others looking to save time mktg for the real challenging creative work to be done..
            1st..don’t fret, mktg and sales is time consuming but once you’ve found the programs you feel are effective, it will be less timely to monitor and update them. Your best bet for ecommerce sites is to go for payperclick programs…the top ones include (and the only ones I use) Google, Overture and Findwhat. There are others but google and yahoo get you 80%!!! of the net. Next polish the site…never think looks don’t matter..they do. We changed our colors and layout, bid high on critical keywords and increased business by the hundreds of thousands while only investing under 5,000!! in site! Another great time-saving approach…anything on "Guerilla Mktg by Levinson and Rubin"..they will remind you to diversify all your sales efforts…then get back to work on the creative!
            Good luck!!
            Go USA!

          • sawdustart, as a new partner in a small pottery company I understand exactly. I AM an Internet applications computer programmer by day, and AM now creating an ecommerce site for our pottery company as my second job. I was surprised to discover that online marketing is a very complex issue. For example, one note that I saw nobody else mention is that you can unknowingly add things to your site that get you blacklisted by search engines. This, and a thousand other issues, make online marketing daunting even for an Internet professional. For my pottery company I’m responsible for all ecommerce tasks, so I’m becoming something of an expert with online marketing techniques. And it’s no easy task, as you’re finding out. But I find it very interesting as a computer professional and now a small business person. So, two co-workers and I are starting a consulting business to help folks like you – small business people who need help with online marketing. It’s not off the ground yet (so this is NOT a solicitation), but I’d be glad to start sharing with you for free (see, no soliciting) now what I’ve already learned and as I implement techniques for my pottery company I’ll share them with you. I’m brand new to this board but apparently we can send private messages. If you respond to me, or to this post, we can get together.

          • TheInitiative,
            I run a small business as well, and I’d be interested in hearing what you’ve learned so far. I’m not sure how to do a Private message in here so I’ll drop my email: [email protected]

          • Hi, Initiative. I just saw your message and would be grateful to hear from you regarding what you have learnt in your quest for online marketing.
            I’m not sure how to PM my email is [email protected]

          • I’ve started a new business, and AM very interested in marketing tips. TheInitiative, I’d really appreciate any tips you have regarding search engines etc… I AM also a mild-mannered computer programmer by day, and trying to get my business started every other time. You can reach me through my web site http://www.etransportationsystems.com (choose any of the e-mail addresses listed) My market is VERY specific at this point and VERY spread out, with only a few customers in each city/area. I’ve got one initial product, which is a reservation / scheduling system with integrated e-commerce web site for passenger service companies. Any help would be appreciated.

          • I wonder how to sell a product online can be a competitive price? Since there is a courrier charges and others charges like tax. Maybe selling a non virture products only limited to individual country only. Because easier for transporting or delivery.

          • Hi
            I AM very new in business on the internet and was very interested in your comments on: how small sites can get noticed.
            I AM trying to understand the whole process myself as i also AM starting to promote myself on the internet with my Digital photography site, but AM blind as far as understanding the process to increase possible viewing on my site?
            Your comments were very interesting and it would be very helpful to learn more.

          • My daughter and I are trying to start a retail website we are doing pretty good on the site I think anyway I may be too old for this but want to try could use some ideas about how to get the site noticed I read everything and then get confused anything you could tell me would be very helpful you can check out our site it is lmsproducts.com tell me what you think

          • It is so daunting to get ahead of the pack for name recognition. My site will start mid September. Any information (in layman terms)how I can jump start exposure? Any assistance will be appreciated.


          • by mid september my site will be up-and-running.

            Site will sell holistic and negative ion products. How can I get ahead of the pack on search engine listings? Any assistance will be appreciated. How can we link up to possibly help each other. Please send information in ‘layman terms.’

          • Hello,
            I AM planning to start small perfume business online soon. Can you share your ideas with me in terms of marketing?

          • i have a small business and i’ll tell you what i’ve learned
            i’ve a home decoration site selling interior furnishings, maybe this is industry specific but people are just not buying online.
            i have 1/500 conversion rate for over 350 products, all i had was good feedback regarding the products and the web site but people are very reluctant to buy online. I’ve had over 50000 unique visitors so far with only 100 customers. With this conversion rate there is no point doing business if not for wholesale buyers. I think internet is yet to mature in terms of online sales but it’s a great way to drive business through exposure to "other" buyers out there.

          • Hi,
            I was hoping to be able to send this reply directly to cybernation99, the South African Tour operator as I have a facility that will possibly an ideal answer for him / her. So cybernation99, I hope you get this. You can contact me via http://www.nvsion.co.za.
            Ps. How does one respond directly to a person who places an entry on this service?

          • It sounds like everyone is interested in SPECIFICS, so I will share some practical knowledge with interested readers.
            When most people think about getting their website noticed, they think about ranking well in the search engines. The importance of ranking well cannot be understated — since people who enter keywords into Google, find a site, and then visit that site are essentially pre-qualified customers. That is, they have already stated an interest in what your website offers.
            But how do you get to the top of the list? The short answer is good text on your webpages and good links to your site. And by "good" I mean text pages that the search engines (the most important being Google) will decide are most relevant for a given set of search criteria. This of course begs the question "how do I make my pages relevant?".
            When a visitor enters a few keywords into Google’s search box and clicks the "Search" button, Google ploughs through its database to find pages that have the most RELEVANT match to the keywords. While the exact method of determining the relevancy score is a closely guarded secret at Google (as it is at all search engines), it is well known to be heavily based on two key factors. 1. Key word density, and 2. Link Popularity.
            Key word density follows that a document is considered a good relevancy match if the keywords entered into Google are used frequently and match closely the words on a webpage. Also, the location of keywords matters to some degree. Keywords found in HTML tags for headlines and page titles tend to add more weight to the ranking than keywords found in paragraph tags or in footnotes.
            Link Popularity says that if many "high quality" sites link to your site, then your site must contain valuable information. In Google’s view, "high quality" links are links from other popular sites with good content.
            So, to make use of this info… the simplest way is to decide on 5-10 keywords that people are likely to type in to Google when searching for topics relevant to your site. Then write good copy, and use your keywords generously, but not in a way that looks like you have "stuffed" your text with keywords. Make sure keywords end up in page titles, section titles, and throughout the text — again, in a way that supports the overall flow of your information.
            Next, find several sites that are complementary to yours, that also have good content. Preferably ones that are already ranked well on Google for specific search terms. Propose to these sites that they link to yours. You might approach customers, suppliers, or other sites of relevance to your own. It is recommended you stay away from "Link Farms" — pages that just provide piles of links to other sites, but offer no real content.. Google is well aware of these sites and the rumour is that in some cases it will diminish your site’s ranking in the eyes of Google.
            I hope these few pointers will help improve your rankings and help get your site noticed.

          • Thanks for your usefull information. We need to learn a lot about keywords ect. If anyone are able to give us more detailed advice about simple web-desighn and how to get at the top of search engins PLEASE do so.
            I AM new to the Internet and even to typing on a computer but have a WONDERFULL DEGREE BIBLE SCHOOL COURSE to offer. How do I get better sales? Please help. No Cash-flow at this stage.

          • Hi There
            I checked out your website, and would like to offer some advice.
            Firstly optimizating a website is a complex subject, but with minor changes significant improvement can be made at no cost.
            The success of an optimized webpage depends on three factors:
            1) The HTML code structure for your webpages
            2) The No. of incoming links to your website
            3) The competitiveness of the keyphrase you are optimizing for. If its too competitive, then you have little chance, or if it is not competitive, then you may end up with a webpage optimized for a keyphrase that no one really searches for. There needs to be a balance somewhere in the middle.
            I had a look at the link popularity website <a href="http://www.linkpopularity.com">http://www.linkpopularity.com</a&gt; and found not too many links here.
            I also had a look at the HTML code and found improvements could be made here. For an example of a search engine optimized website have a look at my website at <a href="http://www.robodesignsolutions.com">http://www.robodesignsolutions.com</a&gt;, if you click on "View", then "Source" then you can see the HTML code optimized, with the keyphrases appearing as you go down the document.
            Hope this is helpful and best wishes with your venture.

  • Sorry, please allow anyone to contribute their 2 cents to guide us in the right direction to get our name out there and let the proof be in the pudding. 16 years in Vietnam, even an old American like me can find the gold if I can get the secrets. Thanks to all for your idea’s. An old American trying to provide a service to all the old fashion way, with our friends, but I could use a bit of help in marketing tips. Thanks

  • Hey Brad,
    I’m a potter who has just decided to have a go at full time. I’m finding the biggest challenge to be the marketing which from what I read, should be no surprise to you. I have my own website, but I don’t know how to get search engines to display it. Also, what’s the best way to charge for work? Credit card, check, PayPal? Any advice would be great. Thanks!
    Jason Russell

  • Dear Brad Hill,
    I spend all my time when I read this marketing stuff and getting new software stuff being exasperated because I AM not as able as that. My qualities lay elsewhere. I always have wondered why marketers and management advisers talk the talk with no comprehension about time management. For artists a working day never gets fulfilled and that is without marketing and so on. Does it not appear so that someone like me needs a connected interested party who can succeed in getting me and therefore them income? That is team effort. I AM a specialist with special concerns and problems including disabilities. Only got two hands.>>allen

  • As a smallest participant my budget has been stretched so I wonder how I AM to get anywhere as the website I got is meant for income not out spending endlessly?

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