EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 256 - February 07, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 7

Four Ways to Apply Big Brand SEO to Small Merchants, Part 2

By Jennifer Van Iderstyne

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In this two-part series, Jennifer Van Iderstyne takes a look at Search Engine Optimization and how small sellers can apply the principles of SEO to their listings to generate traffic. In Part 1, Jennifer explained how to Do Keyword Research and how to Create Great Content. In Part 2, she tells us how to Build Links and Research the Competition.

In Part 1, I left off talking about the importance of creating great content for good search engine optimization and for building trust with visitors to your website. Of course there's also another reason for adding good content, articles, reviews or other interesting information, and that is,...

THREE: Build Links
Who links to your store? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?

If you don't know, or if you do know and the answer is nobody, then it's time to change that. For the time being putting this string into Yahoo.com will show you who links to you:

linkdomain:your-store-url.com –site:your-store-url.com

Link building is quite possibly the one area where big brands and small businesses alike spend almost of their SEO efforts. That's because it is one of the biggest rankings factors in any search engine, it's also extremely hard. It's time consuming, frustrating, intimidating and riddled with rejection. But small merchants actually have an advantage here over commercial sites. Shall I go on?

See, most people with personal sites and blogs are averse to linking to commercial sites. Commercial sites are often impersonal, self-promoting and perceived to be "all about the money." Remember the warm and fuzzies? Yeah, it's really hard for most commercial sites to generate those. However, as a small merchant you have the benefit of establishing and nurturing person to person relationships. There are tons of ways to foster those relationships through social media. If an interaction with a customer goes well, try to find ways to connect with them using Facebook or Twitter, find out who has their own personal blogs or websites, use that information to create a little army of site owners you can ask politely for links.

As you send out products to customers, don't be afraid to include a note asking for feedback or kindly stating that if the user enjoyed their purchase or buying experience, that you would be grateful for a link. Be sure to include the URL you'd that you'd want linked to, which would usually your main store page. Include similar notes, in your profile, introduction or newsletter.

Also, be sure to utilize community. I mean this in two ways, first participate in the community areas provided by sites like eBay and Etsy, be active and be helpful. Being useful in those public areas can help you get noticed. Also, find communities of sites outside of the marketplace that relate to your product. These include blogs, personal sites, .edu pages etc. If you sell sports collectibles, find sports collectibles enthusiasts, chat with them and politely inform them that you happen to offer some really cool and hard to find items in your eBay store, ya know, just in case they needed a resource for reference.

FOUR: Research the Competition
All big brands have an almost obsessive fixation on their competition. Always wondering what the competitor is up to in terms of SEO, what they rank for, why they rank for it and how that strategy can be duplicated and applied on their own site. In real life it would be considered stalking; online, it's marketing. It may be less exciting than being independently innovative, but competitive research definitely has its place.

It's always good to know who you are up against and what they are doing. By knowing who is offering the same product you are and the style in which they are doing it, you can learn from their success and excel where they are failing. In fact, competitive research applies to all three of the aforementioned methods of SEO. What keywords are they using? Does your competition have content? What kind? Can you do it better? Do they have links? From whom, and can you get links there too? There are numerous ways you can benefit by studying your competition, and knowing where you stand is crucial to planning where you want to go.

If all else fails, remember, if you can't beat them, join them. Once you get past the initial visceral response to competition and begin to think strategically, there are always opportunities for partnerships with competition. By finding, studying and interacting with competitors, you might be able to arrange a mutually beneficial referral agreement. Perhaps they offer something you don't, and vice versa - partnerships are almost always more profitable than rivalries.

Bonus! Manage Your Online Reputation
Okay, so technically Online Reputation Management is its own sect of internet marketing apart from SEO, but ORM may be more vital to a small merchant than any big brand. With big brands, there can be thousands of haters and the business can still thrive. For a small merchant or eBay Store, a couple of negative reviews could easily kill a substantial chunk of future business. That's why ORM is essential to success.

It's important to deal directly with disgruntled reviewers, not necessarily getting into a public flame war, but privately. Even if the anger is misplaced or coming from a troll, it needs to be dealt with kindly and quickly to rectify the problem and salvage your good name.

Speaking of names, it helps to be consistent with your username and to register that handle with several strong social media profiles, blogs and communities so that if someone decides to research you in depth, they will find primarily what you intend them to find, which is hopefully good stuff.

Knowem.com is a great resource for getting ideas of where to register. However, if you are a bad merchant, if you lie, cheat or deceive, this does not apply to you. You deserve bad press. My advice: Quit being a jerk.

If you are online in any capacity, SEO is your friend and not something to ignore or shy away from. It's simply a method of making yourself and your site more accessible. It is an ongoing process, but one that is well worth your time. It is also, more importantly, a state of mind, a mentality which views the Search Engines as an opportunity. I mean, after all the time and effort you've put into your little corner of the Internet, doesn't it deserve a chance to be found as often as possible? Of course it does.


About the author:

Jennifer Van Iderstyne is the Internet Marketing Director of Search Slingshot, an online marketing company based out of Albany, New York. Search Slingshot specializes in SEO Consulting & SEO reporting, while helping businesses to develop Internet marketing strategies. Jennifer has been working in SEO since 2006 and has managed highly successful SEO campaigns for small businesses and large corporations in a multitude of industries.


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