Bruce Townsend, marketing manager for ecommerce specialist Actinic (www.actinic.co.uk), offers advice on marketing your web site at low cost.

Online shopping is currently showing 35% year-on-year growth, so the internet is a great place for businesses to beat the economic downturn. With a little research, and by focussing your effort in the right places, you can find and exploit a profitable niche at very little cost, right under the noses of the blue chip corporations.

1. Learn how to optimise for Google

Search engines are the number one source of new web site visitors, and Google has 88% of the market*. Make it a priority to rank well on Google.

2. Research search behaviour in your niche

Find out what phrases searchers use to find the things you are selling. Use Wordtracker to identify those that are widely used, but produce fewer than average search results. Those phrases — with a high ‘KEI index’ — will give the best return.

3. Optimise pages that rank well

In Google’s search box, type the phrase you want to optimise for, followed by a space, then site:www.yoururl. The first page listed from your site will be the easiest to optimise for that phrase.

4. Don’t waste time on meta keywords

No, really. You can fill them in later if you want to, but concentrate first on things that matter. Incorporate keywords in the meta description tag, only because it’s the description of the page that search engines will show their users. Neither tag will make much difference to your rankings.

5. Optimise page elements that count

Work each key phrase naturally into the text of the page you are optimising — at least 3-4 times. Most importantly, include it in the Title tag. This tag should be no more than 8-9 words long — so it’s hard to optimise one page for more than 3-4 phrases. Use each phrase at least once in a heading or subheading, in H1, H2 or H3 tags.

6. Develop a link-building strategy

The more links you have from good quality, well-ranking and relevant sites, the higher you will rank. If possible, get text links containing relevant keywords. Contribute to forums and discussion groups, including a text link in your signature. Canvas reciprocal links from complementary websites.

7. Learn from your competitors

Watch what your competitors are doing. If they run a banner ad for a few weeks and then drop it, it probably didn’t work — so don’t waste your money copying. Anything they persist with is probably working, and worth trying out. Find out where they get their links from by typing ‘link:www.theirurl’ into Yahoo!

8. Use marketplaces intelligently

Marketplaces like eBay and Amazon are popular, but margins are low. Don’t make them the cornerstone of your business. Use them for offloading overstocked and end of line items, and to attract new customers and drive them to your main site.

9. Merchandise for profit

Use ‘3 for 2’ type offers, related product links and ‘also bought’ functionality to increase the value of each sale. Email regular customers with exclusive offers to keep them coming back. Include useful information and tips, to keep unsubscribes to a minimum.

10. Measure and adapt

Use a web analytics package such as Google Analytics (which is very powerful, and free) to measure results. Scale up what works, dump what doesn’t.

* Source: Hitwise

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