The Importance of Online Reviews

If you’ve ever shopped online, chances are that you’ve seen and considered reviews for merchants you shop with and products that you’ve browsed. Customers prefer real testimonials to marketing fluff, so it’s no surprise that reviews are the fastest growing social marketing tool for online stores. According to a 2012 study, almost 33% of shoppers trust reviews over a particular brand or its marketing. If you’re considering adding reviews to your website or online store, there are a few things you should know.

Online reviews are a becoming a big factor in determining your placement in search and shopping results. Total number of reviews, review quality and length, and trust of your review platform all play a big role. A 2013 study reported that almost 85% of users considered reviews before visiting a new restaurant, hiring a contractor, or making a major purchase, so it’s no wonder that search engines take reviews into account more than in the past.

In general, there are 3 different types of reviews.

Merchant reviews are a measure of trust in your business in general. When someone fills out a merchant review, they’re reviewing your customer service, shipping time, and overall quality of shopping experience. Merchant reviews are powerful incentives to trust your brand.

Product reviews rate the quality of individual products. Product reviews help build trust in the particular brand of a product, and allow customers to read personal stories from other buyers who’ve used that product, as well as share those reviews on social media. In fact, 42% of all Amazon customers have left product reviews, and products with postiive review have sold 200% more than those with no ratings. The best and most trusted review programs only allow reviews from someone who has actually bought that product.

Local Reviews are reviews you collect either in your physical business location or on the go (using a tablet or phone, for instance). You can then syndicate that review to many online lists and social media platforms to get you the most exposure available when someone searches your business.

While you can always install a simple review plugin or use whatever comes built-in with your e-commerce platform of choice, it’s far better to have reviews collected by a Google and/or Microsoft approved third-party review company. Those reviews are guaranteed to be from actual customers, which means they can’t be faked. Depending on who is collecting your reviews, can be used to boost your visibility and attractiveness in Google Adwords, Google Shopping, Yahoo and Bing ad networks.

We’ve found Shopper Approved to be the best review company overall. Their prices are highly competitive and their customer service is top notch. Their review management tools are easy to use, and they’re one of the most trusted names in the business. Shopper Approved collected 70% more review and are historically more visible on search engines than their competitors. Most importantly, their ratings are fed to Google so shoppers will see your review stars when browsing Google shopping.

Want to get started with reviews for your website or online store today? VenturaU can set you up with a 30-day free trial of Shopper Approved. For more information, contact us today.

Why you need to start email marketing today

As a business owner, you want to spend your marketing time in the most efficient way possible. Every second you waste licking stamps costs money, while you could be doing something else far more productive. Email marketing, when done properly, can be like turning on a money faucet.

It’s cheap

The most popular email marketing platforms begin their service tiers at under $20/month. Most charge per the amount of contacts you have in your database, starting at around 500 contacts, with higher amounts of contacts costing more. Many allow you to email your contacts as often as you want, so you can send an email every week without worry.

For comparison, if you were to send just one postcard to 500 contacts, at USPS bulk rate you would pay around 24 cents each (not including the cost of the postcard and printing), for a total of $120. There’s no trackable open or click rate from postcards, nor is there a way for the receiver to unsubscribe.

It’s effective

Depending on your industry, average email open rates hover around 20%, with a click rate of around 2.7%. If you maintain your list well and keep it fresh, you can get better than average results with minimal effort. In fact, according to a recent survey Acsend2, email is the most effective and least difficult digital marketing tactic in the toolxbox (as compared to blogs, seo, social media, content marketing, ppc, and more).

Think about your audience. These are real people who have either already bought something from you or are intrested in what you have to say (otherwise they wouldn’t have signed up for your list). You’re not taking out a billboard in hopes that someone sees your ad; you’re delivering your message directly to those who want it.

It’s easy

The most effective emails are short and sweet. You don’t have to write a novel, because nobody’s going to read it, especially on their phone. According to a 2013 survey on email opens by environment, 41% opened their email on mobile (a number that increased 30% over two years, and is growing). Users want to get the info quickly and move on.

You can plan out your email marketing strategy well in advance, and pre-schedule all your emails to go out on specific days. This way, you have plenty of time to design and approve compelling email graphics, make coupon codes, and plan for a rush of orders.

Making the choice to start using email marketing is an easy one. Deciding where to get started and how to plan for your first email is something to think through. If you need help, be sure to contact VenturaU for professional assistance with your email marketing campaign.

Using Social Media to Your Advantage

Understanding and taking advantage of the benefit of social media is crucial to any e-commerce marketing strategy.  Knowing where to start with social media can be intimidating, but it’s really not so bad once you understand the basics.

Let’s take a look at the top 4:

Facebook. Using Facebook is probably one of the most effective ways to advertise online today. Not only can you specifically target custom audiences that will benefit your business, you can target their friends as well. This means the net you can cast to boost your sales can be as large as you want it to be – think of it as word of mouth via the web. Currently, Facebook has over 1.15 billion users. Think about how many potential customers that could mean for your business, and the power to reach all of them is literally at your fingertips! Advertising on Facebook is easy, relatively cheap, and fast. Your ads become live the second they are approved, and in most cases this means the same day you submit them. Targeted advertising has never been so simple.

 
Twitter. Having a presence on Twitter is less important than being on Facebook, but it’s still crucial. It’s an easy way to share articles, promotions, links, etc. that directly relate to your business. You’re not limited to followers or people liking your page. You are able to get your promotions out to the entire Twitter community simply by posting a few words and a few hashtags. Most of the users on Twitter that follow companies or brands do it to get access to exclusive content; this gives you the upperhand in being able to give out “exclusive discounts” for your Twitter followers, it encourages loyalty to your brand. Plus, Twitter offers analytics that allow you to analyze your Tweets and understand exactly what it is your followers are looking for.

 
Instagram. Instagram is obviously image based – which is great news for you! Images are the quickest way to get your message across almost instantaneously. Post colorful graphics promoting a sale, photos of products, coupon codes… as long as it’s eye-catching, the users on Instagram will respond, tag their friends, and spread word of your business far & wide. Advertising on Instagram is simple – you can use the Ads Manager on Facebook and control both your Facebook & Instagram ads in one place. This simplifies the task of coordinating your promotions and enables you to advertise on two platforms in one convenient place. In addition to convenience, it’s been proven advertisers on Instagram are seeing results thanks to Instagram’s Advertising Solutions which include but are not limited to Clicks to Website, Website Conversions, Page Post Engagement, and more. Oh, and #DontForgetTheHashtags.

 

Pinterest. Let’s not forget about this one. Pinterest is frequented by such a diverse user base it’s a great place to get your message out to more than one type of audience. Since Pinterest is category based, this gives you the opportunity to organize the different products/services you offer into specific boards so they are easier for your customers to find. What’s great about Pinterest is that every pin you post has a link that leads back to the source of the image, which means users are only one or two clicks away from being on your site. The average lifespan of a pin is 3 months, which is 1,000 times longer than Facebook or Twitter, so Pinterest makes it much easier for users to find you and your products. It’s great for boosting inbound clicks, keeping your content fresh, and since keywords are crucial it’s excellent for SEO.

 
Still feel intimidated? That’s where we come in. VenturaU specializes in marketing & social media presence. We can help you get yours started or help you improve your existing one – either way, we want to help! Contact us today to see what we can do for you.

How Can I Make My Store a Google Trusted Store

Having the trust of consumers is very important for online retailers.  There are a number of different ways to build trust for your store.  Becoming a Google Trusted Store and displaying the Trusted Stores badge on your site goes a long way towards building trust with your potential customers.

Being accepted in the Google Trusted Store program and displaying the badge on your site lets consumers know that their orders are protected by Google for up to $1000, and they know Google will help in resolving any issues they have with your store.

Google doesn’t just let any online retailer display the Trusted Store badge; There are several requirements you will need to meet to earn that badge:

  1. Currently, the program is only available to US merchants
  2. The site’s content and customer support must be in English
  3. Merchants must process 600 orders on a 90-day rolling basis
  4. 90% of orders must be delivered on-time
  5. The Merchant must maintain a minimum 4 star rating on Google Trusted Stores customer survey and seller ratings over a 90-day rolling basis
  6. No more than 1 in 300 protected orders shall be escalated on a 90-day rolling basis
  7. It shall take on average no more than 4 calendar days for a merchant to resolve any issues
  8. If the annual payout of refunds paid by Google exceeds $5000 the client’s participation in the program may be suspended or terminated.

If you believe your store qualifies, head over to Google Trusted Stores to sign up for an account. Google will ask you several questions about your business. Once you answer all the questions you are ready to integrate the Google Trusted Store code into your site.  Depending on the platform you use this could be relatively easy, both Yahoo! Stores and Bigcommerce have built the code into their platforms, or may require more technical knowledge to integrate the code with your site.

Once the Trusted Store code is in place you need to test the code to make sure it is working correctly, Google gives you a special URL to test the code.  If the code is working correctly, your store will enter the Trusted Stores qualification period.  The qualification period can last anywhere from 30 – 90 days, depending on your order volume.  During this time Google will monitor your store and the badge will not appear on your site.  After the qualification Google will notify you whether your store passed and was accepted into the program.  If it was the badge will automatically appear on the site.

 

The Absolute Beginners Guide to SEO

Most of the visitors to your site are going to get there through search engines, the vast majority of which from Google.  There are many companies out there that will promise to get you at or near the top of Google rankings for your keywords.  Stay away from these companies; stay far away.  There are no guarantees in SEO, particularly if you are in very competitive field with many established competitors.  If you are a new company with a brand new URL, even if you do everything right you might still find yourself buried on page five in the organic search engine results.

That being said, there are many simple things you can do to increase your chances of being listed higher in Google.  This guide is intended for someone who is just starting out and has no experience in SEO at all.

Behind the Scenes Code 

  1. Page URLS: Each page should contain a keyword rich URL.  For example if you have a page on your site about fishing boats, example.com/fishing-boats/  is a much better and more descriptive URL than example.com/fshngbts/
  2. Title Tags: All pages should have unique title tags that are keyword rich and no longer than 55 to 60 characters in length.  The title tag should accurately represent and describe what the content on the page is about. Don’t repeat keywords or make the title just a string of keywords.
  3. Meta Description Tag: Each page also needs a unique meta description, which should be no longer than 160 characters.  The meta description should be easily readable by humans and accurately describe what the page is about.  The meta description should be keyword rich, but don’t repeat a keyword more than once.
  4. Meta Keyword Tag: Ignore the keyword meta tag.  Google doesn’t currently use them. They were prone spam, as people would try to game the system by repeating the same keywords over and over.
  5. Image Alt Tag and File Names:  Google can’t tell what your picture is about by just looking at it.  It uses the file name and the alt tag to determine what the picture is about.  This info is also used by Google to help it understand what the page the image is on is about.   For example, if you have a picture of a Tracker Pro 160 Mod V bass fishing boat, a good file name for the image would be: tracker-pro-160-fishing-boat.jpg, and a good alt tag would be “Tracker Pro 160 Mod V bass fishing boat”.  Don’t just put the image on the page with a file names\ such as image1.jpg or DSC_0001.jpg.  Make sure you give it a descriptive file name.  The alt tag shouldn’t be too long.  It should be short and to the point.  Google will see excessively long alt tags as spammy.

On Page Content

  1. Page Structure: The content on your page should fit within a certain structure. You need a heading, paragraph(s) and in some cases subheadings.  Make the headings stand out from the main content.  Your content should be geared toward the users of your site and not toward the search engines. Use heading tags properly, h1 for the most important headline, h2 for the next most important headline, and so on.  Make sure your content is easy to read and typo-free.  Your anchor text (text that links to other pages within your site) should be keyword rich.  Anchor text should not simply be “click here”, as that doesn’t give any context to Google about the page you are linking to.
  2. Text as Images: All the important text on the page should actually be text.  On some web pages you will see what looks like a block of text, but when you try to copy that text you find out it is actually an image. This is often done to get a pixel perfect layout or because the font used for the text is non-standard.  Avoid this at all costs.  Google doesn’t read the text in the image so it is useless for SEO.
  3. Navigation: Your site should be easy to navigate and have a well thought-out navigation hierarchy.  All navigation menus should be text based with no images, JavaScript or Flash navigation that Google can’t read.  If it is hard for your users to navigate through your site and figure where things are, it will be hard for Google to understand as well.
  4. Mobile Ready: Your website should look good on both mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.  Google favors websites that have mobile-friendly designs.  If your website doesn’t look good in mobile it will be penalized in Google’s mobile search results.  There are two different methods to make your site mobile friendly, either via responsive design or adaptive design.  Both ways work, but Google’s preferred method is responsive design.
  5. Content: Though this is last on the list, it is probably the most important.  Make sure the content on your site is original, high quality, and updated frequently.  The content should be easy to read and geared toward people, not search engines. Though you shouldn’t write content that is geared to the search engines, you should keep in mind keywords that your users may use when searching for your content and use those keywords, in a natural way, throughout your pages.

5 Tips for Properly Merchandising Your Online Store

Properly merchandising your online store is just as important as merchandising a brick-and-mortar store. Having a well-merchandised store can lead to increased conversion rates and higher average ticket sizes.

Online merchandising is, at its most basic, a way of displaying your products that entices your customers to make a purchase.  There are a myriad of different ways and methods to properly merchandise your store.  We will take a look at some of the most important.

  1. Make sure people can easily find what they are looking for.  This includes proper categorization of your inventory.  A store with poor categorization can be a nightmare for your potential customers to navigate through.  Make sure your navigation is clear and easy to follow.  The fewer steps a customer needs to take to get to the product the better.  Make sure your store has a search function.
  2. Provide unique product descriptions.  Writing your own product descriptions is more important than having your own product photography.  Using the same generic product description is going to hurt your SEO as Google will see it as duplicate content, and you will be lucky to make it on page one of the search results.  Writing your own compelling product descriptions will give you the opportunity to include any important keywords that the manufacturer may have missed.  It also allows you to optimize the content to your customers and fit within your store’s culture.
  3. Use high quality photos and product descriptions not provided by the manufacturer.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but many stores just use the product descriptions and photos provided by the manufacturer. Using the same photos and descriptions as your competitors will not set you apart from the crowd.   If possible, hire a professional photographer to take product photos for you.If professional photography is out of the budget, take your own photographs.  You should only take your own photographs if you can match or exceed the quality of the photos that the manufacturer supplies.  Poor photography shows a lack of attention to detail and makes your business look like an amateur operation. Make use of alternate images by showing different angles of the products or a close-up of important details.
  4. Make sure any promotions you are running are prominently featured.  Use attractive banners with compelling graphics on the home page to draw attention to your promotions.  If you run promotions that are category specific ,don’t forget to add banners to the category page as well.  Feature your best selling products or newest items on your home page. And don’t miss the opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell by adding related / alternative products and accessories on your product pages.
  5. Make it easy for your customers to make a purchase from you.  You have done a good job of merchandising your store, you have killer photos and product descriptions, cross-sell and up-sell is properly set-up, and promotions are prominently featured.  All this hard work could be wasted if it is difficult for your customers to make a purchase.  Make sure your buy button is prominently featured and easy for customers to see.The checkout process should be as streamlined as possible.  Do you force customers to sign up for an account before they can buy from you, or can they check out as a guest?  Remove any obstacles that may prevent a guest from completing the checkout steps.  Do you offer PayPal as a checkout option?  Many consumers are reluctant to give credit card information to merchants they are unfamiliar with, but they will use PayPal since that information isn’t passed on to the merchant and it gives the customer a degree of better security.

Merchandising your entire store can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but it’s certainly worth the boost in conversions and customer engagement.  VenturaU offers professional, personalized assistance in merchandising your online store.   Contact us today to see how we can help you.

Establishing Trust in your Online Store

Trust is one of the most important factors in whether a customer decides to purchase from your online store.  Visitors to your store need to feel safe when making purchases on your site.  Successful store owners establish trust with  great customer service, but sometimes that’s just not enough.  A proven way to boost credibility for your business is the use of common trust indicators.
Millions of digital transactions are made every day, requiring sensitive data to passed over the internet.  A trustmark from a third-party verification company proves to visitors that your website is trustworthy.  Showcasing your earned trustmark logos is a gret way to ensure that your store is safe to do business with.  Good trustmarks are easily recognizable, and are issued from companies that the public is familiar with, such as PayPal, Norton, McAfee, or TRUSTe.
Trustmarks can also showcase how reliable a store’s customer service is.  Companies like the BBB and Trustpilot issue trustmarks based on customer reviews.
Online stores secure the financial data they pass to their servers by using SSL, a security protocol that encrypts any data passed between a customer and the store.  Displaying your verified SSL trustmark in addition to serving pages securely is a good way to ensure the security of customer transactions.
It is important to make available a clear and concise return policy for items purchased from your store.  Address potential customer concerns up front and you’ll avoid customer service issues post-sale.
The idea that someone is available to chat with should you have any questions is comforting to most shoppers.  It’s convenient to not have to pick up a phone to contact support.  Installing a live chat service is simple and unobtrusive, and there are many chat platforms to choose from that will integrate easily with any online store.
Last but certainly not least, nothing establishes trust in an e-commerce website like professional design.  Successful companies depend on well thought-out, amazing-looking web design.  Their graphics are sharp and planned-out well in advance of any promotions, and they’re consistent across platforms (desktop, mobile, social, email, and so on).
Potential customers approach online shopping just as they would walking into a brick and mortar shop; If they have any reservations about your store, they won’t bother browsing, much less give you their credit card information.  Establishing trust right away is key to getting the sale.