20 Practical Tips to Help Small Businesses Punch Above Their Weight

20 Practical Tips to Help Small Businesses Punch Above Their Weight

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Life can be pretty intimidating for small ecommerce stores. There's a lot of tough competition out there. Sites like Amazon generate crazy money every day and have better brand recognition than you could ever dream of – how exactly can you compete with that?

Well the beauty of the Internet is that you can compete. You just need to know how to stand out from the crowd. 

The first step is to understand your weaknesses. We’ll use Amazon as our example, but this applies to any giant retailer who happens to be dominating a market you would like a share of. So what does Amazon have that you don’t? 

Authority

Basically, this is off-page SEO: links, brand mentions, social mentions... you name it, Amazon has it covered. They have been mentioned by massive sites that don’t even know you exist and they have millions upon millions of links, some are good some are bad. Basically, you’re not going to out rank Amazon just by brute force.

Reach

The other thing about sites like Amazon is that they sell everything. So some people will just go to Amazon.com without even searching for alternatives. As a result, Amazon can sell items without ever having to market them.

Price

If you don’t have a huge amount of buying power, it is going to be hard to compete on price. You probably wouldn’t want to anyway. Massive sites like these can cut their costs and keep margins slim, so if you want to compete solely on price, you probably won’t make a lot of money.

Short-Head Traffic

As a result of all that authority and brand awareness, Amazon has the juice to be able to rank for big, high-volume terms. Their category pages will often rank without them having to do a lot of SEO. For this reason, niche ecommerce sites often focus on long-tail traffic, where there is less traffic, but less competition.

Ok, so what can you do to compete with all of that? Plenty and it's not that difficult. 

Content Marketing

Content marketing is batted around a lot at the moment, and it is certainly a powerful tool. And it doesn’t just apply to bloggers you know. Ecommerce sites can harness content marketing in some really powerful ways. But let’s start with the basics:

1. Blog Well & Blog Often

Basically, every ecommerce site, if nothing else, should have a blog. Blogging isn’t necessarily a way to generate traffic directly (although it certainly can do that) but it is a great way to build authority and credibility.

You shouldn’t just blog with the intention of churning out endless streams of low quality SEO content, you should blog with your readers in mind. This is the first step to adding value and setting yourself apart from Amazon – show your customers that you own your niche and you will gain their trust.

2. Link Out

There is a big myth in the world of SEO (perhaps more of an assumption) that linking to other sites is bad for SEO. The truth is that linking out to relevant sites isn’t going to cause you to lose rankings and it may actually help to improve them.

Don’t be afraid to link to other helpful sites. Remember the tip above – you are blogging for your readers. If it is helpful to do so, give them a link to a good resource. This alone will set you apart from most ecommerce sites and will show your customers that you care about helping them.

3. Make an Infographic

Your blog doesn’t have to be all words – images and visual items are helpful too - they make reading easier and more fun. So while you're blogging include some infographics and break up your content with visuals.

The best strategy depends on what you are selling but as an example you could include images or diagrams of your products being used. Show how they work and what they do. Don’t fill your blog with cheesy PR photos, fill it with inspiring and interesting imagery that your readers will enjoy viewing.

4. Interview Someone

Another great idea is publishing interviews. You probably already know some people in your industry but make the effort to network more and reach out to thought leaders. You don’t necessarily want to start at the top but try reaching out to people you like and ask whether they would mind answering some questions.

Most medium to high level bloggers/personalities will be flattered by the offer and getting your first interview may not be as hard as you expect. The interviewee may even link to your site once you post the interview!

Category Pages

Most ecommerce sites basically have category pages and product pages, both of which follow a fairly tired format, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

5. Create Awesome Category Pages

Why not make your category pages more interactive and fill them with content rather than just thumbnails and ‘more info’ buttons?

Example 1: Say we run a small store selling tools. One category might contain wrenches. Here is Amazon’s category page for such items, pretty dull right?

5. Create Awesome Category Pages

But instead, we could build a bespoke category page and make it fun for a user to browse. Maybe we could make the page look like a workshop setting, different tools would be in their relevant locations and by browsing around you might highlight a certain tool set & get a hover over message saying something like “Impact Wrenches: Ideal for car maintenance and machinery repair.” Shopify store DODOcase does an amazing job at this - everything looks and works great.

With a bit of imagination you could make your category pages more enjoyable to use and perhaps more helpful for anyone who is not really sure what tools they need.

6. Offer Free Help

To take our category page a bit further, we could also add some additional help. Not everything on your page has to be focused on selling you know. Why not also link to some relevant blog posts about how to select the right wrench for the job, how to maintain your wrenches or how to undo ceased bolts with minimal damage?

Adding information in place of upsell will build trust, add some vital content to your pages and add value for the customer. You can just use snippets from the posts themselves, but ideally you should use a customised, relevant explanation of each post so that you are also adding unique content to the page.

Products Pages

There is a lot you can do with a product page to make it a little more interesting. This is one of your biggest advantages as a smaller retailer, you can put in the time that Amazon can’t.

For this example let’s pick on this really expensive torque wrench

Products Pages

This is a valuable item so it’s certainly going to be worth some extra effort to sell it. How could we do a better job than Amazon?

7. Use High Quality & Unique Descriptions

The first thing I noticed about Amazon’s product page is that the description at the top of the page consists of three bullet points. But there is so much more that you could say about this tool – what it does, what it’s useful for, why it's a better option than a $20 wrench?

This post by Neil Patel explains how long content tends to rank better than shorter content. The biggest mistake you can make is using generic manufacturer descriptions rather than taking the time to craft thorough and informative descriptions. If the product warrants it, don’t be afraid to write 1,000 words or more about a product.

8. Use Rich Snippets

Another key aspect of product pages is including all of the relevant product data. This is particularly helpful if you want to target long-tail phrases, since people will often search for specific products, and when they do they are very likely to be ready to buy.

Including rich snippets (checkout schema.org for an introduction) allows you to include this data in a structured way that search engines can understand. In particular you can include things like price, model number, main photo, brand, description etc...

The best thing about structured data is that when used correctly your data may be shown in search results (even images can be shown). Needless to say, this can have a big impact on click through rates which boosts your traffic and leads to better rankings.

9. Allow User Generated Content

User generated content is something Amazon does very well. Many of their products have hundreds of reviews – this particular wrench has some great reviews and they're all pretty long. So it’s going to be hard to compete with them just by using user content, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add some UGC to your content mix.

9. Allow User Generated Content

As a smaller retailer one of your biggest assets is your customer base, so why not try sending out an email to new customers asking them to make a review? If you offer an incentive (such as a discount on their next order) you should get a pretty good response rate and lots of new reviews. This strategy can improve your repeat custom rate too, so it’s win-win! Yotpo is a popular Shopify app that allows merchants to easily offer product reviews on their ecommerce store. 

10. Make Product Videos

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you already know that product videos are a big deal. People like videos, they are easier than reading and you can use them to really show how a product looks and feels.

With our wrench example above, you could include a video showing how it adjusts, what settings it has, how to use it and maybe show it actually being used to tighten a bolt. With a bit of imagination, most products can be shown-off in a well shot video.

11. Connect Products To Blog Posts

Remember that your blog isn’t there to sell, it is there to add value. But there is a great way to do both at once. You could write a blog post showing how to complete a DIY task of some sort, maybe include a video too.

In that video you would use the tools that you sell and when mentioning each tool you could link back to the relevant product page. If you tag up your blog posts accordingly, you could also include a section on your product pages labelled “job tutorials using this tool.” This is a great way to add even more content to your product pages and really draw in the reader.

Link Building

Link Building

Any newly created ecommerce website will need links. Links get you traffic and help with your SEO. Fortunately if you implement some of the strategies outlined above you will be creating content that actually deserves to rank.

There is no reason why an ecommerce shop can’t attract links naturally, but they won’t do so unless you work hard at creating link-worthy content. That said, there are also things you can do to get the ball rolling by building links manually.

12. Link To Products

In the wild, product pages don’t get linked to a whole lot, because let’s face it, why would anyone link to a product page? People like to link to resources and interesting things, and Google knows this.

Fortunately, your product pages are going to be awesome, which will make life a lot easier when trying to build links. But don’t overdo it, build links to your blog posts too, this will give your site more authority, and also make your life easier and give you a more believable link profile.

13. Get Product Reviews

The model is simple, send your products to a thought leader in your industry, they get a free thing in return for a review. If your products are actually up to the job, this can be a great way to build your brand and get traffic.

Just to warn you though – Google does see this practice as link buying. Unless you want to risk penalties, ask reviewers to no-follow your links. Don’t worry, the real value is in the traffic you generate anyway.

14. Write Guest Posts

Guest posting is a very popular way to build links and if you do it right it can be very effective. This is a big topic and one that I have covered in the past on the ThinkTraffic blog, so click here to find out how to manage your guest posting.

The main take-away though is that you should target sites that you think you will get traffic from. More to the point, you want to post on sites which are read by your potential customers. So consider location and niche and get your message infront of the right people.

15. Never Forget Social Media

Social media is one of your biggest assets. Everything so far in this post has been focused on building content that deserves to get links and deserves to rank. Basically, you want to grab the attention of your users and get them engaged.

Social media is all about building a community and if you put in the time you will soon have a group of customers who will champion your brand, will give you repeat custom and will tell their friends about you.

Your Products

There are other ways to compete with Amazon and the big guys. If you use the ideas above, you'll certainly have an ecommerce store that deserves to rank and will attract attention. But things like product selection matter too.

16. Be More Niche

Amazon clearly aren’t niche at all so a good way to compete is to be niche. This is partly achieved through product selection and partly by publishing lots of authoritative content. Keep in mind, with everything you do, that you are the website for buying tools (or whatever you sell) and put yourself across as the experts.

17. Add Unique Products

Why not offer something that Amazon could never compete with? Ok, so you may sell the same products as them, but why not write an ebook (or better still, an actual book). Your book could be about how to use tools more effectively, maintenance tips, how to set-up a workshop etc...

Offer your book for free with each purchase, the cost to you will be negligible, but it will add a huge amount of value for certain customers.

18. Be Up To Date

Another way to enhance that ‘expert’ image is to make sure that your shop is always cutting edge. In our example that might mean having the latest tools available and also reporting the latest news in the world of tools.

Basically, you can react faster than sites like Amazon, you can make decisions in a few minutes without having to have a committee meeting. Use that to your advantage!

19. Value Service Over Price

One complaint people often have with these sorts of ideas is that Amazon will always win because they are cheaper. This is a big myth!

Ok, some customers will always buy on price alone, and if you operate in a particularly price sensitive niche then this could be an issue. But people don’t buy on price alone and it is important to differentiate yourself as such.

Conversion Rate Optimization

20. Test Your Assumptions

The one thing that every ecommerce business owner should be doing relentlessly is testing their assumptions. You never know what will work and what won’t and there is no scientific formula to figure it out.

You should start by split testing different layouts for product pages and tracking key performance indicators to see which layouts work best.

You can also test different positions for things like product descriptions and images. Also, test call to action buttons for position and wording. If you’re not familiar with conversion rate optimization, here is a quick outline of what it entails.

A site the size of Amazon has to undergo major work if they want to change their layout, but you can test and constantly tweak your site to produce better conversion rates.


By: Mark Johnson, owner of ThinkTraffic.co.uk and expert in SEO and optimization.

16 comments

  • Denise
    Denise
    April 16 2013, 11:02AM

    Another solid analysis shopify. You have given me lots to work on.

  • Kev Kaye
    Kev Kaye
    April 16 2013, 12:07PM

    Good post Mark. I think #19 brings up an interesting point. It has been found through research that web site visitors will be more likely to buy from a more trustworthy source, even if that means paying more for the product.

    Best,
    Kev

  • Nadia D.
    Nadia D.
    April 16 2013, 12:08PM

    I have a blog on my e-commerce site and recently I get all kinds of spam, which is not good for links. How can this be prevented?

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    April 16 2013, 12:32PM

    Denise: Thanks!

    Kev: Absolutely. I don’t think many customers are willing to pay A LOT more, but merchants can certainly get away with charging a bit more than sites like Amazon. Personally, I buy things priced a bit higher from small businesses all the time.

    Nadia: Get a good spam guard. We use Defensio at Shopify, so all of our stores have good protection automatically setup. All major blogging platforms should have some decent options for you.

  • Antonio Vaughn
    Antonio Vaughn
    April 16 2013, 12:48PM

    Excellent Post!!!! I already try to use unique product descriptions and links to my blog on the product pages, but never payed a lot of attention to all the other stuff in the post. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!

  • Thomas Borowski
    Thomas Borowski
    April 16 2013, 02:54PM

    I’m not sure about #13. Is there actual evidence that Google sees a link in a product review as a paid link?

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    April 16 2013, 04:35PM

    Thomas: I couldn’t find any evidence and I spoke with our SEO manager and he said you’re right. If someone writes a review and they link to you, Google won’t see it as link building. Pure organic. Thanks for raising this concern.

  • Lars Groth-Rasmussen
    Lars Groth-Rasmussen
    April 17 2013, 02:01AM

    Great article! I have a question some of you might be able to answer. When you create video content is it allowed to add your own commercial in front like “This movie is presented by mybrush.dk – always a fresh toothbrush” and put on youtube etc? If this is the case then you don’t have to create only product videos but you could also make clips about activities that your company sponsors etc. which might appeal to a created audience.

  • Mark @ ThinkTraffic
    Mark @ ThinkTraffic
    April 17 2013, 05:52AM

    Hi Thomas.

    I probably should have been more clear with that point, you’re right Google haven’t (to my knowledge) specifically said that they consider this link buying, but implicitly I think they could see it as such.

    If a blogger reviews your product without being asked, then that’s perfectly organic and you have nothing to fear.

    But:
    If you send a blogger a product in return for their review, you are clearly compensating them (with a free product), so that could be seen as paying for a link. (Google have stated that links within compensated content are considered paid links)

    The reality is that you are probably unlikely to get caught anyway, but this is certainly a grey area.

    Remember:
    I am only talking about instances where you have requested a review in return for giving the blogger a free product.

    This is a matter of opinion of course, but personally I would generally ask bloggers to use nofollow in this situation.

  • Derek
    Derek
    April 17 2013, 11:24PM

    Tip #21: Do Not Give Up!

  • e commerce business solutions
    e commerce business solutions
    April 24 2013, 01:11AM

    Great post. For small business this practical tips would be very helpful. Thanks for sharing this blog.

  • Karthik@ GrowCart
    Karthik@ GrowCart
    May 04 2013, 04:47PM

    Amazon also has an advantage in the great technology they use to surface and up sell relevant products once a customer lands on their site. This increases revenue per cart.

    Our GrowCart shopify app does this for small merchants. We have hundreds of merchants using us and seeing big increases in sales per cart. I felt our product is relevant to people interested in this post, thanks for checking us out! http://apps.shopify.com/growcart

  • TAKIYAH
    TAKIYAH
    May 06 2013, 06:15AM

    Very Excellent Blog.Thanks for the post. This is very useful information.http://www.getcliqup.com

  • Paola @ PAO Collection
    Paola @ PAO Collection
    May 20 2013, 09:41AM

    Excellent post! Very useful advice, thank you!

  • Pankaj Aggarwal
    Pankaj Aggarwal
    October 02 2014, 05:14AM

    Mark it’s been a great and meaningful inputs, as I am still on a planning mode for one ecommerce site, although I have not yet finalised on the products as it is a big question, but still I would ask and put an open question, that for which product shall be taken into consideration, as I m not into any manufacturing. It is a question that I’m asking myself for long, but no answer is coming. Kindly give some suggestions. Be open!!!!!!

  • Daniel Alexander
    Daniel Alexander
    August 04 2016, 07:26AM

    I like this post

    The Content marketing part gave me something to think about.. I must be more creative and do infographics!
    A few days ago i saw this blog-post: https://sleeknote.com/how-to-compete-with-amazon/

    I’m pretty sure that the combination of doing good (and creative) content combined with the stuff in the blog-post can do a solid impact on my business.

    /Daniel

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