Ask any small business owner what their greatest challenge is online and the answer will almost always be: Visibility.  Small companies often face this issue, as they do not have the well-established branding of large corporations nor do they possess national or global visibility offline.

Today, social media has become one of the most useful tools for small businesses.  Not only is it now possible to increase online visibility by utilizing popular brands such as Facebook and Twitter, but it can also help to increase sales and revenue, as well.

Building a Social Identity
The world’s largest social networks may have had humble beginnings, but they have grown into some of the most significant brands on the Web.  In fact, many smaller companies have actually used the popularity of those networks to expand into new markets and capitalize on E-Commerce.  In the first quarter of 2012, comScore reports that E-Commerce spending totaled upwards of $44 million.  This figure represents one of the highest single fiscal quarter online sales in history.  In fact, economists estimate that 2012 will be the most profitable year ever in terms of online sales revenue.

Using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and other networks to promote brands, products and services has been a crucial component of that online sales growth.  Many Internet marketing companies offer social media optimization and marketing services, but as social media becomes a more competitive market, it has also become more difficult for brands to get noticed.

The real key to building a strong social identity is quality.  To increase views, likes, shares and even sales, brands must offer users unique and relevant content.  Additionally, companies should deliver rich content whenever possible to help maintain user engagement.  Videos and images are more likely to be shared throughout social media than text and can be effective marketing tools.

From Social Media to Sales
Businesses with an E-Commerce platform should heavily promote it within the social space.  By directing users from network profiles to product pages, those pages gain more authority and the probability of sales increases.

Social media is undoubtedly one of the most valuable assets to small businesses.  Combined with E-Commerce, it can maximize the potential of virtually any company with an online presence.

Consumers are heading online to do their shopping more and more and this has been shown in all the surveys and sales reports that are released by retailers and research firms alike. There is no argument being made for e-commerce to outright replace traditional in-store shopping, however, the future is clearly looking like one where shoppers do a large portion of their shopping online and this may be seen in some sectors or product categories over others.

An additional layer on the e-commerce trends though is the rise of m-commerce, e-commerce that is done on mobile devices. Smartphones are being used for everything from our communication needs, web searching, and picture taking, to music and with increasing frequency, our online shopping. Following the trends in the usage of both smartphones and tablets coupled with online shopping behavior, these two intersect making for a mobile-driven web shopping future. Always looking forward into this experience, research firm have released interesting statistics that shed light on what we can expect in the m-commerce world.

Alternative Payments Making a Difference
First, Forrester shares the results of their recent forecast of alternative payments in online shopping where they reported that payments other than debit or credit (e.g., PayPal, Google Checkout) account for 20% of all e-commerce transactions at present, and predict that number will rise to 23% by 2016. Alternative payments will represent $110 billion in e-commerce four years from now whereas today they account for $64 billion. These alternative methods, of which Paypal is the most popular at the present moment, may very well be the catalyst, specifically PayPal Mobile Express Checkout, that pushes mobile shopping over the edge to full take off.

The issue is that conversion rates are lower for shopping via mobile devices, as outlined in a recent Internet Retailer piece, but with the convenience that comes with such features like the Paypal Mobile Express Checkout that removes the process of form-filling, conversion rates are boosted. Analysts predict that much of online shopping will be done on mobile devices ten years from now and it appears features like this may allow m-commerce to turn the corner.

Mobile Sites and Apps
When SEO agencies, e-commerce consultants, and internet marketing agencies look to assist retailers with their online goals, one of the first things they do is to encourage mobile sites and apps because of the functionality they bring to the customers. Looking at both the US and French markets, there are notable figures that offer insight. In research from CCM Benchmark, a French tech company, almost half (45%) of the French travel companies and retailers included have a mobile site or app compared to 22% having the same during the first quarter of 2011.

CCM also offers that in both the US and French e-commerce markets, retailers who are beginning to branch into the sector are first looking to mobile-optimized sites rather than the apps. The sites can be easier and less expensive to develop than the apps and they also can run on all types of devices, something that a single app cannot do given the different operating systems (Apple’s and Google’s being the most popular).

Businesses need to understand the implications of m-commerce and make the appropriate decisions for their business given the nature of their products and customers. Regardless of these characteristics, however, businesses must embrace both online shopping and its trend towards mobile.

Borrowing a business idea or model, tweaking it, and applying it to a different context is a well-practiced strategy and one that has new life now in the age of tech companies and internet businesses. Sound business models are certainly not the only element that is needed for success in business, but it is indeed essential and usually one of the first things that need to be in place. They are frameworks that translate the idea for product or service creation into a feasible, revenue-generating enterprise. Some are better than others and the best ones are those that are the tightest in terms of input, overhead, and ROI, in very simple terms. Often, borrowing a proven and successful business plan but adapting it to a new context or market is the route that is taken. Spartoo, the French e-commerce site, has done that with Zappos and they are worth taking a close look at as their case offers lessons for other businesses borrowing to help out their cause, especially when trying their hand in new markets.

Spartoo is a site that has had success across the board from their “borrowed” business model, their own tweaks, online marketing efforts, and international expansion. Spartoo.com launched in 2006 and now stands as # 119 in Internet Retailer’s Top 400 Europe selling over 1.5 million pairs of shoes in 20 different EU countries.

Spartoo followed the customer-service lead of Zappos prioritizing service and providing free delivery and return, minimizing the inherent worries associated with the online purchasing of items you cannot try on. The deviation, however, came when the company decided to tweak the business model and instead focus on lower, competitive pricing, whereas Zappos offers great service so they did not have to go so low on price. The point is the model was borrowed and changed into a different all-round offering for a new market. With a successful plan in place, marketers then pick it up from there ensuring promotional efforts online and otherwise provide the visibility needed. SEO, high search engine rankings and social media engagement is key here.

(Gloca)Localization a Priority
Selection, service, price, and free returns anchor Spartoo’s business and success (€100 million in 2011 revenue), but a large part can also be credited to their international efforts. Spartoo has 12 local-language sites and has catered their content to each which has brought them great returns. According to Internet Retailer piece by Tamara Thiesse, the company’s international growth is roughly 200% over the last several years – that is considerable. Further, the company is raising money to the tune of €100 million for its plans to cater their marketing efforts to each specific country they operate in. As quoted by Tamara Thiesse, Boris Saragaglia, head of Spartoo, states:

We recruit new brands and develop the business with the people from each of the countries in which we operate. This helps us get the right staff and, most importantly, to have a strong understanding of the country in terms of products we offer delivery choices and retail culture.”

This is pretty heavy evidence of the importance of catering both operations and marketing efforts to the local culture of your target audience – and underlying theme of my international posts.

With continued increases in the sales of goods and services through online platforms both here in the US and abroad, there exists several standard musts for companies in order to succeed. These are not necessarily groundbreaking or even new recommendations, but new research out regarding the industry in international markets suggest e-commerce companies are not engaging in these important practices. They are slow to fully embrace the realities of what is needed in order to succeed in the online retail industry. As a result, call them principles, practices, or strategies, but they absolutely need to be implemented to the specifications and needs of each business. Simply put, e-commerce companies must engage in these activities:

  • SEO efforts to not only increase SERP rankings but accomplish both task that address user and search engine bot goals (fast page load speed).
  • Pair SEO with paid search in order to increase overall exposure.
  • Create and optimize a mobile commerce site to capitalize on mobile shopping traffic.
  • Conduct social media campaigns focused on two-way communication and purposeful engagement.

M-Commerce
These four elements are indeed essential, but as indicted above, not implemented across the board – not even close. In the UK, mobile commerce (m-commerce), online shopping done using a mobile device, is increasing. Online sales from mobile devices increased 254% last month (March) year-over-year, according to Interactive Media in Retail Group. This is great for the industry, but under close analysis, it is not as good as it could be. Consumer interest is there, but e-retailer behavior just hasn’t caught up and fully put their proverbial best foot forward.

Mobile conversion rates have doubled, going from .7% in to 1.4% year-over year. The great potential lies in this rate, though; although it is growing it is still much lower than the 4.3% rate achieved by PCs in the UK. The reason? Only 107 of those e-retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Europe have a mobile site. Thus, the majority of interactions with e-retailers in these markets are interacting with a standard site being viewed on smaller mobile device screens demanding pinching, zooming back in, and swiping in order to view the site and purchase products. The facts are when companies join with an SEO company or other marketing business and create a mobile site for their mobile traffic, conversions significantly increase.

International SEO & Page Load Speed
International SEO (ISEO) allows companies to cater to specific markets and the different cultures experienced and languages spoken there. As such, language was the first element that luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana addressed when they began noticing the number of visitors in the US, China, and Japan abandoning the website at a higher rate than previously experienced. The issue was page speed and in a foreign market is considered international SEO. In certain markets the page speed was painfully slow averaging more than 8.5 seconds and it was largely inaccessible at other times. Now, with the changes, the average load speed is less than 1.5 seconds, and this improvement has significantly cut that previously heightened abandonment rate. The result? Increased conversions, and an online experience that matches the image of the brand, thus protecting its reputation- and earning more revenue.

Reach out to me directly at rbuddenhagen@webimax.com or @ryanwbudd if you need e-commerce recommendations or have specific questions regarding how your business can maximize its e-commerce platform.

Whether your business is based within a brick-or-mortar institution, or it is a solely online venture, one thing is certain: e-commerce is one of the most important aspects of your business to focus on. Why? Well, there is a great deal of data and statistics to support the fact that online shopping – and purchasing – is experiencing a huge increase that is not likely to be slowing down. More importantly, it will never reverse. If you want your business to compete in this new digital age of commerce, it is about time that you extended its products and services to the online world.

For this reason, an essential component of your SEO marketing plan should be the optimization of the design of your online properties, focusing especially on that of your company’s main website. However, if you and the developers on your team have been experiencing some trouble on figuring out the best design, take some tips from a recent article from Mashable. This article provides four great ways to improve the visual appeal of an e-commerce site. Read below to find out what they are.

1. Show off your products with great photography. Your products are the stars of your business’s show, so why wouldn’t you want to display them in the best light possible on your website? Have some great, professional portraits taken of them to feature on your site.

2. Prioritize when it comes to layout and design. In other words, think about what the most important parts of your pages should be, then go downwards from there.

3. Don’t go overboard with dynamic code. Although it may seem tempting to use what will make your page look its best, you must keep in mind the capabilities of the browsers that most of your audience will be using.

4. Optimize your site for mobile devices. E-commerce is very quickly going down the m-commerce route. Stay ahead of the curve by optimizing your site for mobile from the get-go.

Just putting a good deal of thought and creativity into creating a great-looking e-commerce site can go a long way. Don’t hesitate to start improving the visual appeal of your site.

Kenneth C. Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax is pleased to announce that the company has entered in to a strategic partnership with AspDotNetStorefront, a leading e-commerce shopping cart platform.

Officially launched in 1997, AspDotNetStoreFront is utilized by more than 10,000 users.  The strength of the platform is that it is filled with many components that clients need, including plug-ins, built-in search engine optimization, promotion and marketing tools, and the flexibility and stability of the .NET platform.

“AspDotNetStorefront gives their clients many competitive advantages, not least of which is the fact that the e-commerce shopping cart platform is search engine optimization friendly, an area in which WebiMax is the market leader,” states Wisnefski.  “Natural search plays a critical role in the e-commerce space and this partnership helps both parties join forces on their strengths to deliver a highly valued product that can help increase revenue for retailers using the platform itself,” concludes Wisnefski.

“Our partnership with WebiMax joins two industry leaders and helps us enhance our products by adding additional SEO technologies to our state-of-the-art e-commerce platform,” states Dana Greaves, CEO and President of Vortx, Inc. and AspDotNetStorefront.  “Our innovating products have helped major retailers and Fortune 100 companies successfully execute e-commerce initiatives and we continue to be positioned as our industry leader,” concludes Greaves.