10 Essential Dropshipping Business Tips for Beginners

10 Essential Dropshipping Business Tips for Beginners


Many people shy away from starting an online store because of the startup costs and fulfillment hassles.

But imagine if someone offered to pay your upfront inventory costs on thousands of items and manage your fulfillment operations. It’d be much easier to get started, and you could run your business from anywhere in the world. Sound too good to be true? It’s not, if you know how to get started.

In this chapter, I’ll remind you of the benefits of dropshipping, share two vital operating principles for starting a dropshipping business, and give you in-depth tips—ideal for beginners.

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The benefits of a dropshipping business model

There are a number of reasons you should consider dropshipping as an online business. Here are a few of the most compelling:

  1. You don’t need capital to get started. Dropshipping makes it amazingly easy to get started selling online. You don’t need to invest heavily in inventory, yet you can still offer thousands of items to your customers.
  2. Convenience and efficiency. Successfully launching and growing an ecommerce business takes a lot of work, especially if you have limited resources. Not having to worry about fulfillment is incredibly convenient and frees up your time to concentrate on your marketing plan, customer service, and operations.
  3. Mobility. With all the physical fulfillment issues handled, you’re free to operate your business anywhere you can get access to an internet connection.
  4. It’s a tested model. Plenty of online stores, even major retailers like Macy’s, use dropshipping to offer a wider selection of products to their customers without having to deal with increased inventory hassles.


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Must-know dropshipping principles

If you’ve never run a dropshipping business, the information in this chapter could save you weeks of wasted time and frustration. Many of these dropshipping tips are drawn from two basic principles about making a dropshipping business work efficiently:

  1. Accept that things can get messy. The convenience of dropshipping comes at a price, and having an invisible third party involved in each sale often complicates things. From botched orders to out-of-stock items, fulfillment problems will be something you’ll have to deal with. If you accept this ahead of time, you’re less likely to throw in the towel due to frustration.
  2. Adopt a KISS mentality. Having a KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) mentality will serve you well with the dropshipping model. Given the inherent complexity of dropshipping—multiple suppliers, shipments from various locations, etc.—it’s easy to think you need to set your system to perfectly track your costs and inventory at all times. But if you try to do this, you’ll likely go crazy, spend thousands on custom development and never launch a store. Focusing on the easiest-to-implement solutions, even if they’re not “perfect,” is usually the better option, especially when you’re starting out.

Ask any dropshipping store owner and they will agree. With these two concepts in mind, let’s discuss dropshipping tips that will help you structure your business operationally and make things run as smoothly as possible.

Everything you need to know about running a dropshipping company

In this video, we’ll show you how to dropship on a budget, how to identify winning products with Oberlo, how to find a dropshipping supplier, and how to market your products. By the end of this video, you’ll understand dropshipping on Shopify and set your dropshipping business up for success in 2020 and beyond.

10 Dropshipping tips for new entrepreneurs

1. When suppliers botch an order

Even great suppliers make mistakes, and you’re guaranteed to have fulfillment errors from time to time. So what do you do when your supplier sends the wrong item or nothing at all? Here are three possible options:

  1. Own the mistake. Under no circumstances should you blame your dropshipper for the mistake. It will only cause confusion and make you look like an amateur. The customer has no idea the dropshipper even exists. Instead, you need to own the problem, apologize, and let the customer know what you’re doing to fix it.
  2. Make it up to the customer. Depending on the level of the mistake, you may want to proactively offer the customer something for the error. This could mean refunding the shipping fee (a personal favorite of ours) or an upgrade if the customer needs a new item shipped out.
  3. Make the supplier pay to fix it. You may have to assume responsibility for the error, but that doesn’t mean you need to cut into your profit margin. Any reputable supplier will pay to fix its own errors, including paying for shipping costs to return items. However, it probably won’t pay for any freebies or upgrades you gave the customer. You need to consider those public relations and brand-building expenses.

Again, even the best dropshipping suppliers will occasionally make mistakes, but be extremely wary of a supplier that habitually botches your orders and fails to fulfill them properly. Unless you can get the supplier to change (unlikely), your business’s reputation will suffer. If this is the case, you should probably start looking for another supplier.

2. Managing inventory and multiple suppliers

Most experienced dropshippers would agree that managing the status of inventory across multiple suppliers is the biggest challenge you’ll face running a dropshipping business. Do a poor job of this and you’ll constantly be informing customers that their order is out of stock—not a great way to attract repeat business and loyal brand fans.

Learn more: Everything you need to know about ePacket and dropshipping

Properly managing inventory across your suppliers and distributors—and limiting the number of out-of-stock items you sell—is a complex process. Shopify apps like DuoPlane and Syncee or a web-based service like Ordoro can help you sync inventory. This is a great option when suppliers offer real-time data feeds, but suppliers don’t always have them. 

Below are some best practices for inventory management that should help drastically reduce the number of out-of-stock items you sell:

Use multiple suppliers

Having access to multiple suppliers can be a huge advantage. Why? Because having multiple suppliers with overlapping inventory is the best way to improve your order fulfillment ratio. If Supplier A doesn’t have an item in stock, there’s a good chance Supplier B has it. Additionally, it’s risky to rely on one supplier as the only place to source your product. If they decide not to work with you, raise their prices, or go out of business, it jeopardizes the future of your business. 

You’ll never be able to find two suppliers that carry all the same products, but if they operate in the same niche or industry, both will likely stock the bestselling items—and these are your biggest concern.

Pick your products wisely 

Drawing on the last point, try to sell primarily items that you know are carried by both suppliers. This way, you have two potential fulfillment options.

Learn more: How to Find the Best Products to Dropship

Use generics to your advantage

Even if they don’t have exactly the same item, two suppliers might carry near-identical products that are interchangeable. This is particularly true for smaller accessories and product add-ons. If you can confirm that two products are nearly identical, write a generic product description that allows you to fulfill the order from either supplier. Also, list both suppliers’ model numbers in the model field. That way you can forward an order invoice to either supplier without having to make changes. 

A word of warning: you need to exercise some judgment in this area. Each market will have well-known brands (e.g., Nike, Bose), and you should never substitute one for the other.

Learn more: How to safely source products from AliExpress and AliBaba

Check on item availability

Just because a dropshipper lists an item on its website doesn’t mean it carries that item consistently. It’s a good idea to chat with your sales representative about the availability of products you’re considering selling. Are these items in stock 90% of the time or more? Or does the dropshipper keep only a few on hand and often have trouble getting the product reordered from the manufacturer? You’ll want to avoid stocking the latter type of products.

Dealing with out-of-stock orders

Despite your best planning, you’ll inevitably deal with customer orders you can’t fill. Instead of telling the customer the item is out of stock, offer a complementary upgrade to a similar—but better—product. Your customer will likely be thrilled, and you’ll be able to retain the customer relationship. You might not make any money on the order, and that’s OK. You wouldn’t have made any money had your customer canceled the order, either.

3. Order fulfillment for dropshipping

Using multiple suppliers has a number of benefits that we’ve discussed: it increases the likelihood that items will be in stock, offers geographical diversity for faster delivery times, and prevents you from being reliant on any one source for your products—a useful fallback plan if your go-to supplier runs out of stock on Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend. But with multiple options for filling an order, how do you know which is the right supplier to choose? There are a few different methods to consider:

Route all orders to a preferred supplier

If you have one supplier that’s best to work with (superior service, great selection, etc.), you can simply route all orders to that supplier by default. This is particularly easy to implement, as you can simply add your supplier’s email address as a recipient for all new order confirmations, automating the entire process. If you use this method, ideally your preferred supplier will stock most of the items you sell. Otherwise, you’ll frequently have to deal with re-routing orders that it couldn’t fill.

Route orders based on location

If you use multiple suppliers that each stock the majority of your products, you can simply route the order to the supplier closest to your customer. This not only expedites delivery to your customer, but also saves on shipping fees.

Route orders based on availability

If you stock a large catalog of products spread out over numerous suppliers, you’ll likely need to route each order based on which dropshipper has the item in stock. This option requires more work if you’re doing it manually but can be automated with a service like eCommHub if your suppliers provide data feeds.

Route orders based on price

This sounds great in theory, but unless one supplier has significantly better pricing it can be difficult to automatically determine which supplier will be cheapest. Any automated solution will need to consider potential drop fees, real-time shipping rates, and real-time supplier pricing. So while not impossible, it can be difficult to implement an accurate automated system to accomplish this.

Note: Even if you don’t route all your orders on price, you should have your suppliers bid against each other to achieve the best pricing possible as your business grows. Just don’t try doing this too early—if you’re asking for pricing discounts as a newbie, you’ll likely only annoy your suppliers.

We’ve tried all four methods and found there’s no “best” way to do it. It really depends on your store, your suppliers, and your personal preferences.

4. Security and fraud issues

Storing credit card numbers

Storing your customers’ credit card information can allow for convenient reordering and may increase sales. But if you’re hosting your own site, this typically isn’t worth the security issues and liability. To store credit card data you’ll need to abide by all sorts of PCI (payment card industry) compliance rules and security audits. This process is expensive and complex, especially for non-technical business owners. And if your server is hacked or breached, you might be liable for the stolen card information.

The best solution is to not store your customers’ credit card data. Consider offering payment options such as Shop or PayPal, which speeds up checkout and can reduce cart abandonment. Implementing payment gateways frees you to focus your efforts on marketing and customer service instead of security audits. Fortunately, if you’re using a hosted platform like Shopify you won’t need to worry about any of this. But if you’re using a self-hosted cart, make sure to disable the “store card information” feature in your configuration panel.

Dealing with fraudulent orders

The possibility of fraudulent orders can be scary when you’re starting out, but with some common sense and a bit of caution you can prevent the vast majority of losses due to fraud.

The address verification system 

The most common and widely used fraud prevention measure is the AVS, or address verification system. When the AVS feature is enabled, customers must enter the address on file with their credit card for the transaction to be approved. This helps prevent thieves with just the raw credit card number from successfully making purchases online. Fraud is rare for orders that pass the AVS check and are shipped to the customers’ billing addresses.

The vast majority of fraudulent ecommerce orders occur when the billing and shipping addresses are different. In these cases, a thief enters the card owner’s address as the billing address and enters a separate shipping address for the goods. Unfortunately, if you don’t allow customers to ship to addresses other than the billing address, you’ll lose out on a lot of legitimate orders. But by allowing it, you’re at risk for fraudulent orders that you will have to pay for. If you ship an order to an address other than the card holder’s, the credit card company will make you foot the bill in the event of fraud.

Fortunately, fraudsters tend to follow patterns that make it easier to spot illegitimate orders before they ship. Individually, these signs won’t help you flag a fraudulent order, but if you see two or three of them you should investigate:

  • Different billing and shipping addresses. Again, more than 95% of all fraudulent orders will have different billing and shipping addresses.
  • Different names. Different names on the billing and shipping addresses could be a red flag for fraudulent orders. That, or a gift purchase. 
  • Unusual email addresses. Most people have email addresses incorporating some part of their name, allowing you to match part of an email address to a customer’s name. But if you see an address like [email protected], there’s a good chance it’s a made-up address and is one sign of fraud.
  • Expedited shipping. Since they’re charging everything to someone else’s card, fraudsters will often pick the fastest—and most expensive—delivery method. It also reduces the amount of time you have to catch them before the item is delivered.

If you spot an order you suspect is fraudulent, simply pick up the phone. Fraudsters almost never put their real number on an order. If the order is legitimate, you’ll likely have a 30-second discussion with someone that clears everything up. If not, you’ll get a dead number or someone who has no idea that she ordered a 25-foot boat scheduled for overnight delivery. At that point, you can cancel the order and issue a refund to avoid any chargebacks or problems.

5. Understanding chargebacks

When a customer calls his or her bank or credit card company to contest a charge made by you, you’ll receive what’s called a “chargeback.” Your payment processor will temporarily deduct the amount of the disputed charge from your account and ask you to prove that you delivered the goods or services to the customer. If you can’t provide proof, you’ll lose the amount in question and be slapped with a $25 chargeback processing fee. If you rack up too many chargebacks relative to the volume of orders you’re processing, you could even lose your merchant account.

The largest cause of chargebacks is usually fraud, but customers will also dispute a charge because they didn’t recognize your business, forgot about the transaction, or simply didn’t like the product they received. We’ve seen it all.

When you receive a chargeback, you often have just a few days to respond, so you need to act quickly! To have a shot at getting your money back, you’ll need to provide documentation of the original order, tracking information showing delivery, and likely a wholesale packing slip showing which items you purchased and shipped. If the contested charge was for a legitimate transaction, you’ll have a good chance of recovering the funds, as long as you didn’t make any untrue statements or promises in the course of the transaction.

Unfortunately, if the chargeback is related to an order with different billing and shipping addresses, you’re almost certainly not going to win. Most processors will only compensate you for fraudulent orders shipped to the billing address on the card. In our businesses, we don’t even bother responding to these kinds of chargebacks because we know it’s a waste of time. 

6. Dealing with returns in dropshipping

Before writing your own return policy, you’ll want to make sure you know and understand how all your suppliers deal with returns. If they have a lax 45-day return window, you can afford to be generous with your terms. A strict return policy from just one supplier can cause you to re-evaluate the terms you can afford to have in place.

When a customer needs to return an item, the process will look like this:

  1. A customer contacts you to request a return.
  2. You request an RMA (return merchandise authorization) number from your supplier.
  3. The customer mails back the merchandise to your supplier, noting the RMA # on the address.
  4. The supplier refunds your account for the wholesale price of the merchandise.
  5. You refund the customer for the full price of the merchandise.

It’s not always this straightforward, however. The following can complicate returns:

Restocking fees

Some suppliers will charge a restocking fee, which is essentially a surcharge for having to return an item. Even if your supplier charges these fees, we strongly recommend not having them be a part of your return policy. They seem outdated and unfriendly toward your customer base. Although you may have to eat a fee here and there, you’ll likely recoup that expense in more customers who decide to do business with you.

Defective items

The only thing worse than receiving a defective item is having to pay additional postage to return it. Most dropshipping suppliers won’t cover return postage for defective items. In their minds, they didn’t manufacture the item so they aren’t liable for defects. They simply view it as a risk of selling poor-quality products to a retail market.

You, however, should always compensate your customers for the return shipping fees for defective items if you’re interested in building a reputable business. Again, this is a fee you won’t be able to pass along to anyone, but it’s part of the cost of running a quality dropshipping business. Unless you have your own UPS or FedEx account, it can be difficult to print a prepaid shipping label for customers, so you may need to issue a return shipping refund to compensate them for their out-of-pocket expense. However you do it, make sure you compensate them somehow.

If the defective item is relatively inexpensive, it often makes sense to just ship the customer a new product without requiring them to return the old one. This has a number of advantages compared to making them return the old item, including:

  • It can be cost effective. It doesn’t make sense to pay $10 to return an item that only costs you $12 from your wholesaler. You’ll get a $2 net credit, but it’s not worth it for the hassle to your customer, supplier, and staff.
  • The customer is blown away. How often do companies simply ship out a new product without needing an old one back? Almost never! You’ll score major points and may land a customer for life. Also, the customer will get the new product much faster than if the old one had to be returned to the warehouse before the new item could be shipped.
  • Your supplier may pay for shipping. Suppliers won’t pay for return shipping on a defective product, but most will pay to have a replacement sent to the customer. Because they’ll be paying for return shipping anyway, most suppliers can be talked into covering the shipping on a replacement product that you simply purchase separately. Plus, many are glad to duck the hassle of processing the return.

If a customer wants to return a non-defective product for a refund, most companies will expect the buyer to pay for the return freight. This is a fairly reasonable policy. If you’re willing to offer free returns on everything, you’ll definitely stand out (and companies like Zappos have made this part of their unique business model). But it can get expensive, and most customers will understand that you shouldn’t have to cough up return shipping fees simply because they ordered a product they ultimately didn’t want.

Note: If you’re dropshipping on Amazon or eBay, your returns policy is subject to that marketplace. What you state in your return policy may not apply if using these sites.

7. Shipping issues

Calculating shipping rates can be a big mess for dropshipping business owners. With so many different products shipping from multiple locations, it’s difficult to accurately calculate shipping rates for orders.

There are three types of shipping rates you can use:

  • Real-time rates. With this method, your shopping cart will use the collective weight of all items purchased and the shipping destination to get an actual real-time quote. This is very accurate but can be difficult to compute for shipments from multiple warehouses.
  • Per-type rates. Using a per-type method, you’ll set flat shipping rates based on the types of products ordered. So all small widgets would ship for a flat $5 rate, while all large widgets would be $10 to ship.
  • Flat-rate shipping. As the name implies, you’d charge one flat rate for all shipments, regardless of type. You could even offer free shipping on all orders. This method is the easiest to implement but is the least accurate in reflecting actual shipping costs.

When it comes to shipping, it’s important to refer to the overarching principles about dropshipping that we listed at the outset of this chapter. Specifically, we want to find a solution that emphasizes simplicity over perfection, especially if we’re just starting dropshipping.

Some business owners will spend days—or weeks—struggling with shipping rules for an ecommerce store that has yet to generate a sale. Instead, they should focus optimization efforts on search engine marketing, social media, and customer service and quickly implement a shipping policy that makes sense from an overall level. Then, once they start to grow, they can invest in a more exact system. With this philosophy, it’s often best to estimate an average shipping fee and set that as your overall flat rate. You’ll probably lose money on some orders but make it back on others.

Even if you could implement a system that passed along extra shipping fees based on supplier location, would you really want to? Most customers balk at excessive shipping fees, especially when they assume their order is originating from one location. Instead, try to limit multiple shipments by using suppliers with overlapping inventory and by being selective about the items you sell. This is a much more practical and simple long-term solution.

International shipments

International shipping has become easier, but it’s still not as straightforward as domestic shipping. When you ship internationally, you’ll need to consider and/or deal with:

  • Different weight and length limitations for different countries
  • Additional charges from suppliers for processing international orders
  • The added expense of resolving problematic orders due to higher shipping fees
  • Excessive costs for shipping large and/or heavy items

Is the hassle worth it? It depends on the market you’re in and the margins you earn. If you sell small items with higher margins, the increased market reach may make it worthwhile to deal with the hassle and expense of offering international shipments. For others, especially small business owners that sell larger or heavier items, the added benefit won’t be worth the expense and inconvenience.

Picking a carrier

Selecting the right carrier is important, as it can save you a significant amount of money. In the US, the largest decision you’ll need to make is between UPS/FedEx and the US Postal Service.

  • UPS/FedEx. These privately run giants are great for shipping large, heavy packages domestically. Their rates for big shipments will be significantly lower than those charged by the USPS.
  • US Postal Service. If you’re shipping small, lightweight items, you can’t beat the rates offered by the USPS. After dropshipping fees, the cheapest UPS shipping fee you’re likely to see is around $10, while you can often ship items for $5 or less through the post office. The post office tends to be a better choice for sending international shipments, especially smaller ones.

When setting up your shipping options, consider categorizing them by shipping time (“Within 5 Days” or “Within 3 Days”), as this gives you the flexibility to pick the carrier that’s the most economical for each order and delivery time.

8. Provide customer support

Take it from us: managing all your customer emails, requests,and returns in an Excel spreadsheet is not ideal. As excellent as Excel is, it’s not built to handle customer support. Similarly, as your business and team grow, managing support with a single email inbox also quickly breaks down and leads to problems and service lapses.

Implementing a help desk and writing a series of FAQ articles is one of the best things you can do to ensure quality service for your customers. Help desk software comes in a number of different forms, but all provide a centralized location to manage your customer support correspondence and issues. Most desks make it easy to assign issues to team members and maintain communication history among all related parties.

A few popular options to choose from include:

  • Help Scout. Less cluttered than other desks, Help Scout treats each issue as an email and removes all the traditionally appended ticket information that customers see with support requests. Instead, support tickets appear like standard emails to customers, creating a more personalized experience. Plans start at $15/month.
  • Zendesk. Highly customizable and powerful, Zendesk offers a variety of tools and integrations and is one of the most popular help desks available. It takes some customization but is very powerful once it’s tailored to your company. While the app is free to use, it does require a subscription to the Zendesk Support Team Plan, starting at $19/month.
  • Gorgias. Built specifically for Shopify stores, Gorgias manages all of your support queries in one place, helping you reduce response time and increase the efficiency of your customer support. Gorgias has automation tools to personalize responses to your most frequent questions. Plans start at $60/month.
  • HelpCenter. Access all customer inquiries from email, Live Chat, and FB Messenger in a single platform and save time. It’s easy to create FAQ pages from scratch to help customers self-serve and find answers to their issues. A free plan is available.
  • Richpanel. See order data next to each ticket. Send tracking info, edit orders, and issue refunds without leaving the help desk. Create self-service scenarios in the help center and instantly answer common repeat questions. A free plan is available.

9. Offer phone support

Deciding whether to offer phone support can be a tricky decision. It’s obviously a great way to provide real-time support but is one of the most expensive support methods. If you’re bootstrapping a business while working your 9 to 5, you won’t be able to handle calls. But if you’re working full-time on your business—or have a staff member who can—it might be a feasible option. If you’re unable to staff a phone throughout the day, you can always have your phone number ring through to voicemail and return customer calls later. This isn’t a perfect solution but can be a good compromise.

You should consider the type of dropshipping products you’ll be selling when thinking about how to offer phone support. If you’re a diamond boutique selling jewelry in the $1,000 to $5,000 range, many customers won’t be comfortable placing an order that large without talking to a real person. However, if you’re selling products in the $25 to $50 range, most people will feel comfortable buying without phone support, assuming you’ve built a professional, information-rich website.

If you do decide to offer phone support, think through strategic ways to do so. Slapping a large 800 number on the top of every page can lead to a surfeit of low-value phone calls that cost more to support than they’re worth. Instead, consider adding your number in more strategic places, like the Contact Us and shopping cart pages, where you know the visitor has a high probability of purchasing.

Regardless of how you decide to handle sales requests, you should always be willing to call customers after the sale to resolve any issues that arise. There’s nothing wrong with carefully evaluating the best ways to offer pre-sale support, but when it comes to taking care of people who have purchased from you, you should never refuse to help them on the phone.

The following services can help you set up a toll-free number and sales line:

  • Grasshopper. Grasshopper offers phone services and is geared toward smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. You can get a toll-free number, three extensions, call forwarding, and voicemail for a reasonable monthly fee (around $26).
  • Aircall. Aircall offers an essential plan that gives you phone, email, and help center, effectively making it basic help desk software. It allows you to have a toll free number and unlimited calling in the US and Canada (international rates apply). It also integrates with other popular help desk software, like Zendesk.

10. Focus on marketing

Making sales ultimately depends on customers finding your store. To do that you need to create a steady stream of traffic. To increase website traffic as a new dropshipper, generally the best marketing channels to focus on are search engine optimization (SEO), Facebook ads, and Google Ads.

SEO

SEO is the process of fine-tuning your website to increase its chances of ranking highly in search results for relevant keywords. 

Ideally, you want your product pages to rank for keywords so people can naturally discover them through search engines. While most keyword searches are short-tail queries, two to three words in length, they are more competitive and crowded, making them hard to rank for. Instead, try focusing on long-tail keywords, which are three+ words in length. While long-tail keywords are lower in search volume, they are much easier to rank for because of lack of competition. 

You can discover these using tools like Google Ads or keyword.io. Plug the name of your product into the tool and you’ll see a list of related queries you can shoehorn into the copy on your product pages.

Free Download: SEO Checklist

Want to rank higher in search results? Get access to our free, checklist on search engine optimization.

Facebook ads

Facebook is a platform used by many ecommerce entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out who don’t have much advertising experience or a big ad budget. It’s filled with opportunities for you to reach new customers and drive them to your online store, as it has over 2.6 billion monthly active users. Creating Facebooks ads allows you to directly access an active and engaged user base.

The perk of advertising on Facebook is you can target customers based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. Facebook is designed as a place for people to share personal updates, vacation photos, new songs they’ve discovered, and relationship statuses. All the likes and connections made on Facebook create detailed user profiles that advertisers can tap into through targeted ads. 

You can use Facebook ads to match your products against a long list of users’ interests, traits, and behaviors, resulting in a higher likelihood of reaching your ideal customer. From there you can bid to put your product in front of a user. Try out different ad types Facebook offers (image, video, carousel, or collection), and see which one converts best at the lowest price.

Google Ads

Google Ads lets you advertise directly to your ideal customer on the two largest search engines: Google and YouTube. Google Ads has features like most other ad platforms, which let you set both a budget and max daily spend, as well as pay-per-click ads, so you’re only charged when someone visits your site. These features make it a great entry-level ads platform, despite the interface feeling somewhat complicated.

What makes Google Ads uniquely attractive is its ability to reach consumers in three distinct ways: search ads, Google Display Network, and YouTube ads. The real lure of Google Ads is you can target a specific audience based on specific behaviors, how they’ve interacted with your site or brand before (from visiting a certain page to abandoning their cart), demographics, interests, and other traits. With a budget in mind as a new dropshipper, this can help you target new or retarget previous visitors and win sales.

Combining some of these features, you could try using Google Display Network to retarget people who viewed certain products. This means that as they explore the web and where websites have display ads set up, they will see the product they were just viewing on your online store. Or, earlier in the SEO section we covered how to find and use long-tail keywords. If the price is right, why not try bidding on those before the page is ranking?

Are you ready to run your dropshipping business?

While starting a dropshipping business is one of the fastest ways to get a business up and running, remember it’s not a fast track to passive income. A successful dropshipping business takes active work to grow so customers are happy and return.

Next chapter: How to Make Dropshipping a Success


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How to Find a Profitable Dropshipping Niche in 2021

How to Find a Profitable Dropshipping Niche in 2021


The first step in starting a dropshipping store is choosing a niche. A niche helps you build an audience, influences your marketing and content efforts, and makes it easier to create better products for your ideal customers.

But choosing a dropshipping niche is tricky. 

Should you build a store around products you’re passionate about? 

Should you pick a niche popular only in the US or think global? 

How do you know if these dropshipping products will even sell?

Regardless of the answers, you need to find an area of expertise to help focus your business and attract the right customers.

So if you want to start a dropshipping store but aren’t sure where to start, use the following guide to figure out a profitable niche. 

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Learn how to find high-margin products, add them into your store, and start selling — fast.

How to find a dropshipping niche

Without demand, it doesn’t matter if your business idea sounds amazing. If nobody wants your product, you’ll have a hard time making any money! As the old saying goes, it’s much easier to fill existing demand than trying to create it.

Fortunately, a number of online tools allow you to measure demand for a product or market. 

Facebook Audience Insights

Facebook is the largest social media network in the world. It has over 2.23 billion monthly active users, with the average US adult spending 38 minutes per day on the site. Facebook Audience Insights is a great dropshipping product research tool that can help you find niche markets and trends. 

Facebook Audience Insights dashboard

Facebook Audience Insights is a free tool that helps you learn more about an audience. It aggregates information about Facebook users and helps determine the size of a potential dropshipping niche and the interests relevant to that niche. 

You can use Facebook Audience Insights to find information like:

  • Demographics: age, gender, lifestyle, education, job role, relationship status, etc.
  • Page likes: categories and topics that interest an audience
  • Location: where people live and the languages they speak
  • Activity: Facebook ads clicked, comments made, promotions redeemed, devices use, and more

For example, if you want to explore a dropshipping niche like fitness and wellness, you can type in any keyword and Facebook will show you how many monthly active people are interested in this niche worldwide. You also can see how many people are interested in a topic, their likes, and their location.

Let’s look at meditation, for example. You can see below that between 200M and 250M people on Facebook are interested in mediation globally. This is a good indicator that meditation could be a profitable dropshipping niche. 

Finding a niche in Audience Insights

You can also look at sub-niches, like yoga pants, buddhist meditation, meditation music, and any related interests to explore different dropshipping product ideas. The estimated size of your audience will change depending on the interests you include. 

Adding interests to Audience Insights

You can refine this audience by location. For instance, if you want to target people in the US, you can search by just that country, then see this more focused audience’s top interests related to meditation in the Page Likes tab.

Searching likes in Audience Insights

This information can help you see what topics people are interested in so you can better test different ad groups later on and get better return on your ad spend. 

Google Keyword Planner

The best way to measure demand for an item online is to see how many people are looking for it using a search engine like Google. Fortunately, Google makes this search volume publicly available via its Keyword Planner tool. Simply type in a word or phrase and the tool tells you how many people are searching for it every month.

Google Keyword Planner

There are entire training modules dedicated to using Keyword Planner, and we’re not able to cover the topic exhaustively in this resource. But keep the following three metrics in mind and you’ll be well on your way to getting the most out of this valuable tool:

Match type. Keyword Planner lets you select broad, phrase, or exact-match types when it reports search volumes. Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, you should use the exact-match option. This will give you a much more accurate picture of the applicable search volume for the keyword. 

Search location. Make sure you look at the difference between local search volume (in your country or a user-defined region) and global search volumes. If you’ll be selling primarily in the US, you should focus on the local search volumes and ignore the global results.

Long-tail variations. It’s easy to fixate on the broad one- or two-word terms that get massive amounts of search volume. In reality, it’s the longer, more specific, and lower volume search queries that will make up most of your traffic from the search engines. These more detailed search terms are commonly referred to as “long tail” searches.

Keep this in mind when you’re looking at potential markets and niches to enter. If a search term has many variations that are actively searched for, that’s a good sign that the market is fairly deep with lots of variety and interest. But if search queries and related volume drop off precipitously after the first few high-level words, there’s probably less related long-tail traffic.

Google Trends 

The keyword tool is great for raw search figures, but for more detailed insights, a lot of people use Google Trends. 

This tool offers you information that Google’s Keyword Planner just doesn’t provide, including:

Search interest over time. Ideally, you want the niche you’re entering to be growing, and Trends can let you know if this is the case. For any given search query, you can see the growth or decline in search volume over time.

Google Trends search interest

Top and rising terms. You’ll also be able to get a snapshot of the most popular related searches and of which queries have been growing in popularity the fastest. Focusing on these terms can be helpful when planning your marketing and SEO efforts.

top and rising terms in Google Trends

Geographical concentration. Another useful feature is the ability to see where people are searching for a term geographically. This can help you identify where your customer base for a specific niche is most heavily concentrated. For example, if you’re selling canoes, you’ll want to determine where the majority of your customers will come from.

Geographic data in Google Trends

Seasonality. Understanding the seasonality of a market—that is, if the demand for a product changes dramatically at different points in the year—is crucial. Because the keyword tool provides data on a monthly basis, you can draw some misleading conclusions if you measure search volumes during the wrong time of year.

We can bet that “canoes” are a very seasonal search term with demand peaking in the summer months. If you measured demand in the summer expecting that it would be constant throughout the year, you’d grossly overestimate the size of demand.

For any product you’re seriously considering, you’ll want to spend time understanding the intricacies of the niche’s search volume. Using the Google Trends tool to understand search volumes, geographic concentration, high-level search trends, and seasonality will offer insights that can help you avoid costly mistakes and optimize your marketing efforts.

The most profitable dropshipping niches for 2021

If you want to start a profitable ecommerce business with the best chance of success, you can’t go wrong by entering a dropshipping niche that’s already proven to be popular. 

Our research on the best dropshipping products identified some of the best niches for 2021:

  • Health and personal care
  • Wardrobe and accessories
  • Kitchen and grocery
  • Home and bedroom
  • Office products
  • Tools and home improvement
  • Camera and cellphone accessories
  • Gaming
  • Car accessories

If you’re not interested in the popular niches above, you can always research other niche markets. Here are some dropshipping tips to help you find the best ones: 

1. Look for accessory-heavy niches. Merchants rarely make much on high-ticket dropshipping niches and will only earn about 5% to 10% on products like laptops and TVs. Where they really make their money is on the accessories.

Accessories enjoy significant markups and customers are much less price sensitive about them. A buyer might shop for weeks to get the best deal on a TV but wouldn’t think twice about dropping $30 on an HDMI cable from the same place. Yet there’s a good chance the business made nearly as much profit on the cable as it did on the flatscreen.

When you choose a niche with lots of accessories, you’ll enjoy significantly higher profit margins and fewer price-sensitive shoppers.

2. Find customers with passion. It’s amazing how much money passionate hobbyists will spend. Mountain bikers will drop hundreds on lightweight accessories to shave a few pounds off a frame, and avid fishermen will invest tens of thousands of dollars in boats and related accessories.

If you can offer a product-based solution to a painful problem, you’ll find a captive audience eager to buy.

3. Look for trendy products you can’t find locally. If you needed garden equipment, you’d likely head down to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. But where would you go to buy surveillance equipment or magicians’ accessories? Probably online. Pick niche products that are hard to find locally and you’ll be able to get in front of the vast majority of your customers as they search online.

While you ideally want something difficult to source locally, you also need to ensure there’s ample demand for the product! This can be a fine line to walk, and we’ll return to the issue in the competition section below.

4. Aim for niches with low product turnover. If your product line is constantly changing year to year, you’ll end up spending valuable time on resources that will soon be outdated. Selling a product line with limited turnover ensures you can invest in an information-rich website that will be viable for years.

5. Consider selling consumable or disposable products. Repeat customers are essential to any business, and it’s significantly easier to sell to existing customers who trust you than to new prospects. If your product needs to be re-ordered on a regular basis—and you’re able to keep your customers happy—you’ll be on your way to building a profitable business with recurring revenue.

Finding a great product is only part of the equation. Even a dropshipping niche fitting all the above criteria would be a poor choice in the face of inadequate demand or crushing competition. Understanding a product’s demand, competition, and suppliers will be important to making an informed decision.

Free Guide: How to Find a Profitable Product to Sell Online

Excited about starting a business, but not sure where to start? This free, comprehensive guide will teach you how to find great, newly trending products with high sales potential.

How to measure competition in your dropshipping niche

Conducting competitive analysis on a potential market can be tricky. Too much competition and you’ll have difficulty building traffic and competing with established players. Too little competition can indicate a tiny market that will drastically limit how big you’ll be able to grow.

Some dropshipping stores use paid advertising but most will rely heavily on free traffic from search engines to build a profitable business model. With this in mind, the best way to measure the overall competition in a market is to examine the organically listed (i.e., not advertised) sites on the first page of Google for a specific term. In order to generate a decent level of traffic, you’ll need to successfully compete with (i.e., outrank) the sites on Google’s first page. 

The world of search engine optimization (SEO) is one we can’t do justice to in this dropshipping guide. For a more detailed discussion, we highly recommend Moz’s comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to SEO or you can read our business SEO checklist

Number of linking domains

Google’s ranking algorithm relies heavily on links. All else being equal, the more links a site receives the higher it ranks in the search results. Knowing how many links are pointing to a site gives you an idea of how much work you’ll need to do (in terms of earning and building links to your own site) to outrank your competitor.

There are dozens of different SEO metrics that are commonly used, but one in particular is useful when evaluating the ranking strength of a site: the number of unique domains that link to it. Often called “linking root domains” or “unique linking domains,” this metric represents the number of unique domains (i.e., independent sources) that link to a site and ignores duplicate links from the same domain.

To best understand this concept it’s helpful to think of links like personal recommendations. If your best friend comes to you and recommends a restaurant, you may remember it. And if he raves about it every day for a week (a total of seven recommendations) you’ll likely be moved to eat there. But even his fanaticism wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as if seven unique, unrelated friends highly recommended the restaurant. Because they’re independent sources, their recommendations hold much more authority.

The same is true when analyzing links to a site. A domain can link to a site repeatedly, but it’s really one “unique” recommendation, and this is where common SEO metrics like “total number of links” can paint an inaccurate picture when measuring a site’s strength. Instead, looking at the number of unique linking domains will give you a much better idea of how difficult it will be to compete with a site in the search results. Google places a high emphasis on unique linking domains, so you should too.

The best way to get this figure is to use tools like Link Explorer, which provides a number of valuable SEO metrics and data including “linking root domains.”

When examining Google’s search results, you’ll want to look most carefully at the link metrics for the top few sites (#1 and #2 on Google) as well as the link metrics for the last site on the front page (#10 on Google). This will give you a rough idea of how much work is needed not only to rank #1 but also simply to make it onto the first page of search results. The vast majority of searchers end up clicking on one of the top 10 results on Google, so you want to understand how difficult it will be to get your site ranked there.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet for interpreting the number of unique linking domains (these are only rough guidelines but should help you make sense of the numbers):

  • 0 to 50 linking root domains. Likely on the low end for most worthwhile markets. Most sites with quality content and some focused marketing and SEO effort should be able to get 50 linking domains within a year.
  • 50 to 250 linking root domains. This is a more realistic range for top-ranked sites in decently sized niche markets. It may take a multi-year approach to build a backlink profile in this range, but it’s feasible. A competitive landscape with this profile often offers the best work-to-reward ratio, especially for individual dropshipping entrepreneurs or very small teams.
  • 250+ linking root domains. Unless you’re a talented marketer or SEO ninja, building up more than 250 unique links will take some serious time and commitment. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it—just make sure you’re ready to face some entrenched competition.

Authority of competing sites

When determining a site’s rank, Google doesn’t just look at the number of links a site has. It also considers the quality of those links. So a link from Mike’s Marshmallow Blog with five readers won’t count anywhere close to as much as a link from The New York Times.

The metric Google uses to measure a page’s authority is called PageRank. It’s not the end all and be all of SEO metrics, but it’s a quick way to get an idea of how important Google thinks a page is. As with unique linking sites, you can get a sense for how competitive a market is by looking at the PageRank for the homepages of top-ranked sites.

The easiest way to check PageRank is to look at sites manually using Check PageRank.

Here’s a quick way to interpret PageRank readings for a site’s homepage:

  • PageRank 1 to 2. A relatively small amount of authority. PageRank in this range for the top homepages likely indicates a relatively small market.
  • PageRank 3 to 4. A much more common range for highly ranked sites in competitive niche markets. It’s not necessarily easy to reach this level of authority⁠—but not impossible, either. Markets in this range usually offer the best work-to-reward range for individual dropshippers.
  • PageRank 4 to 5. A fairly high level of authority. To reach this level, you’ll need to get numerous links from respected, authoritative sites, in addition to a fair number of other links.
  • PageRank 6+. You’ve got a full-time marketing and SEO department, right? Because you’ll need them to compete in a market with sites ranked this high.

Qualitative metrics to consider 

Hard statistics like unique linking domains and PageRank can be helpful in determining how hard it will be to outrank competitors, but it’s also very important to look at a few qualitative factors:

Site quality and usefulness. Visit the top-ranked sites for a market and put yourself in the shoes of a customer. Do they appear inviting and welcoming or old and outdated? Are the sites well organized and easy to navigate or is it a struggle to even find the search box? Do they provide high-quality information and detailed product listings or do you have to squint to make out the grainy product images?

In short, how likely would you be to purchase from those sites? If you’re blown away by the top sites in a market, it will be difficult to differentiate yourself and you may want to consider a different market. But if there’s a lot of room for improvement or, as we see it, opportunity to add value, then that’s a great sign.

Site reputation and customer loyalty. An online business might have a solid reputation based on years of treating customers well, despite a drab design and outdated site. Alternatively, the most beautifully designed site might have a widespread reputation for awful customer service. It can be difficult to judge a book by its cover.

Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if a company has a history of customer complaints. You’ll also want to do a web search to see what people are saying on social media and in online forums and communities. If the top competitors are slacking in the service and satisfaction department, there might be an opening for a store with superior service.

An important note on search results

When you perform a search, it’s important to realize that Google personalizes the results you see based on your geographic location, your browsing history, and other factors. When we’re analyzing a market, we need to see unbiased results so we can understand the real competitive landscape. Also, if you’re living outside the United States but plan on selling to US customers, you need access to the search results those customers will see, as those ranked pages are the sites you’ll be competing with.

There are two ways to get around these issues:

Incognito search. If you use Chrome as a browser, you can browse the web “incognito.” In this mode, any personalized settings or browsing history will be discarded so you can get an unbiased idea of how sites actually rank. You can start an incognito browsing session by going to “File → New Incognito Window” or by clicking on the icon in the upper right hand corner of your browser and selecting “New Incognito Window.” Other web browsers have similar hidden search modes that will clear your browsing history.

Forcing region-specific results. If you’d like to see the results that appear for a region other than your own, you can add a small amount of text to the end of the URL on a Google results page to get country-specific results.

For example, if you were in the UK but wanted to see the search results being returned for searches in the US, you’d add the “&gl=us” parameter to the end of the URL on the search results page and press Enter. Similarly, if you were in the US and wanted to get UK results, you’d add “&gl=uk” to the end of the URL.

For a more detailed explanation of how to implement this, please see this guide to tweaking geo-targeting with Google and this list of country codes used by the site.

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How to be successful with your niche dropshipping business

Of course, selecting an in-demand, low competition dropshipping product is just one part of the equation. To build a successful dropship business, you’ll need to do at least one of the following:

Understand your ideal customers

If you’re having trouble coming up with the right idea for a niche business, think about it this way: Sometimes you need to find a customer first, not a product.

Once you’ve figured out who you want to sell to (and their pain points), narrowing down what you want to sell to them and how you want to sell it to them will come naturally.

To help you determine who you should be selling to and uncover your unique selling proposition, you’ll need to first create buyer personas for your audience to narrow down who should be considered an “ideal customer.” The more specific and detailed your buyer personas are, the better you’ll be able to understand and target your audience.

One of the easiest ways to find a customer is by looking at your own life and interests. Choose one of your passions and run with it. Whether it’s an extracurricular activity you love or a skill that you’ve mastered, anything is fair game.

Manufacture your own product

In this case, you control distribution and are the sole source for the item. This limits competition and allows you to charge a premium price. If you intend to dropship products, you’ll be selling existing products manufactured by someone else, so this isn’t an option.

Have access to exclusive pricing or distribution

If you can arrange an exclusive agreement to carry a product⁠—or if you have access to exclusive pricing from a manufacturer⁠ or dropshipping supplier—you can profitably sell online without creating your own product. These arrangements can be difficult to arrange, however, and hundreds of other dropship merchants will have access to similar goods and wholesale prices.

Sell at the lowest price

If you can offer the lowest price, you’ll likely steal business from a large chunk of the market. The only problem? It’s a business model doomed to failure. If the only thing of value you have to offer is a low price, you’ll be caught in a pricing war that will strip virtually all your profits. Trying to compete against Amazon and other established online giants on price is generally a poor strategy.

Add value in non-pricing terms

Offering valuable information that complements your products is the best way to differentiate yourself and charge a premium price. Entrepreneurs set out to solve people’s problems and that’s no different in the world of ecommerce and dropshipping. Offering expert advice and guidance within your niche is the best way to start a dropshipping business.

Add value in ecommerce

Just add value! Simple enough, right? Well, that’s easier said than done. Some products and niches lend themselves to this strategy more than others. You should look for a few key characteristics that make adding value with educational content much easier.

Have many components

The more components a product needs to function properly, the more likely customers are to turn to the internet for answers. Which purchase is more confusing: buying a new pet product or buying a home security camera system that requires multiple cameras, complex wiring, and a recorder? The more components a product needs⁠—and the more variety among those components⁠—the greater your opportunity to add value by advising customers on which products are compatible.

Are customizable/confusing

Along the same vein, confusing and customizable products are perfect for adding value through content. Would you inherently know how to select the best hot water solar panel configuration for your climate or which type of wireless dog collar system is right for your yard? Being able to offer specific guidance on what types of products are best suited for specific environments and customers is a great way to add value.

Require technical setup or installation

It’s easy to offer expert guidance for new products that are difficult to set up, install, or assemble. Take the security camera system from before. Let’s say the camera site had a detailed 50-page installation guide that also covered the most common mistakes people make installing their own systems. If you thought the guide could save you time and hassle, there’s a good chance you’d buy it from that website even if it was available for a few dollars less elsewhere. For store owners, guides add tremendous value for customers and don’t cost anything to provide once they’re created.

You can add value to complex and confusing niches in a number of ways, including:

  • Creating comprehensive buyers’ guides
  • Investing in detailed product descriptions and listings 
  • Creating installation and setup guides (as discussed above)
  • Creating in-depth videos showing how the product works
  • Establishing an easy-to-follow system for understanding component compatibility

Work with good dropshipping companies

When running a dropshipping ecommerce store, you want to be on the lookout for good dropshipping suppliers or wholesalers. They can help you figure out shipping costs, decide markup for your products, automate dropshipping fulfillment, and even help with product research. 

For example, AliExpress, the leading business-to-business buying portal for online retailers, is home to millions of top-selling products you can sift through to find the perfect items for your store. You can order directly from AliExpress or use a dropshipping product research tool like Oberlo to find, upload, manage, and sell products in your Shopify store.

Build your dropshipping store today with Shopify

You’ve probably heard the mantra “Just follow your passion!” But I have to strongly disagree: I think it’s dangerous advice that can lead new entrepreneurs astray.

This is especially true when it comes to choosing in-demand or winning products to sell. Your life-long love of Star Wars figurines doesn’t mean it’s a great niche to build your new ecommerce store around. If a thriving startup is your goal, you should follow a methodical approach and pick a niche with attributes conducive to online success.


Ready to create your first business? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.

Dropshipping Niches FAQ

Which niche is best for dropshipping?

  • Health and personal care
  • Wardrobe and accessories
  • Kitchen and grocery
  • Home decor and bedroom
  • Office products
  • Tools and home improvement
  • Camera and cellphone accessories
  • Gaming
  • Car accessories

Is clothing a good dropshipping niche?

Women’s clothing is a popular dropshipping niche. The women’s apparel industry is expected to grow annually by 7.2% from 2021 to 2025, with emerging markets for midmarket apparel taking up 55% of market share by 2025.

How do I find my dropshipping niche?

  1. Do market research using Google Trends and Facebook Audience Insights.
  2. Explore the top dropshipping niche list above.
  3. Measure competition for your niche.
  4. Determine potential profits.
  5. Research future trends for your market.



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7 Cost-Saving Tips for New Entrepreneurs

7 Cost-Saving Tips for New Entrepreneurs


When we explored the costs of starting a business, we quickly realized that the financial realities of doing business don’t always match initial expectations. More specifically, small business owners reported spending more than twice as much in their first year than they had anticipated. 

We needed to know: Where did their forecasts go wrong? Did they overspend or waste money in certain areas? And what could they have done to prevent this? 

Turns out, there were some financial missteps almost all founders reported making in their first year.

To help you avoid these common pitfalls, we interviewed successful Shopify store owners to find out what they would’ve done differently in their first year and what financial advice they’d give new entrepreneurs. We also pooled the top resources from our blog so you can dive deeper into each topic. If you’re starting your own business, you’ll want to keep this list handy. 

1. Make a Plan A—and a Plan B 

The first step to hitting your financial goals is actually writing them down. This might sound obvious, but many first-time entrepreneurs find the process of writing a financial plan either too overwhelming or unnecessary in the early days, so they skip it altogether. If you’re tempted to do the same, think again. 

Creating a financial plan forces you to take inventory of where you are right now, where you want to be, and how you want to get there. It also helps you make better decisions in a pinch, and forces you to remember the big picture when you’re feeling bogged down by the day-to-day of entrepreneurship. 

“You have to figure out how much the company is going to need to survive for the first six months, the nitty gritty,” says Baxter Snider, Founder of Olives and Applesauce “What do you think your sales are going to be with that? What do you hope your sales are going to be? What’s going to happen if you don’t hit that? What happens if you go viral and you exceed that? You need a backup plan for both scenarios.” 

What’s more, just the process of writing a financial plan can save you money. 

Our research found that businesses who reported using financial plans and budget kept costs down and made more money in their first year. 

📚Resources:

2. Grow your network 

Generally speaking, the bigger your professional network, the better. Every person you meet could be a potential advisor, customer, or partner. And in the early days, it can actually help you cut costs significantly by turning your time and skills into currency. For example, Baxter Snider traded one of her products, a baby carrier, in exchange for free product photography in the early days. 

Not to mention, the easiest way to accurately forecast how much money you’ll need to invest in your business is to talk to people who have started similar businesses, or who advise those businesses.

Some tips for building relationships with like-minded entrepreneurs and small business advisors:

  • For starters, take charge of your personal Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages letting your network know of your new business venture, what help you might need, and what you’re offering in return. Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your business or industry, as well as more general groups related to small businesses. 
  • SCORE’s mission is to support small business communities through mentoring and education. In the US, it has a huge network of volunteer, expert business mentors, and has helped more than 11 million entrepreneurs since 1964.
  • SheEO is one of the strongest networks and communities for supporting women and non-binary founders. 
  • Backstage Capital is a community of investors, mentors, and entrepreneurs focused on supporting Black founders and underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship.
  • The Fireweed Fellowship is an accelerator and hub empowering Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada with courses, mentorship, professional coaching and much more. 
  • When the world opens back up, Meetup.com makes it easy to find local groups of entrepreneurs, whether they’re operating in your industry or talking through specific issues. Browse topics like “Small Biz” and “Small Business Owners” to find meetups near you.

3. Familiarize yourself with free tools and apps 

Every small business owner wishes they had more time and resources at their disposal. But free goes pretty far these days. Don’t hire employees or buy pricey software until you’ve tried some tools out yourself and know exactly what you’re looking for. In the early days, just focus on experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t, rinse and repeat. 

Some popular free tools and apps you want to check out: 

  1. Hatchful helps you create professional looking logos and social media assets, without any design experience. 
  2. Burst allows you to browse and download free, high-resolution photos for your website or commercial use. 
  3. Wave app offers accounting, invoicing, and payroll services built for entrepreneurs, with plans starting from $0/month. 

LEARN MORE: If you’re just getting started, Shopify’s list of Free Business Tools includes everything from logo makers to purchase order templates. And if you’ve already decided to launch your store on Shopify, the Shopify App Store has thousands of free apps to help you grow your Shopify business.

📚Resources:

4. Invest in product research and validate your idea 

With your product idea in mind, you may feel inclined to leapfrog ahead to production, but that can become a huge financial drain if you fail to do any product research or validate your idea first. 

If you’re manufacturing your own product, you should be spending the better part of your first year investing in research and development. And once you have a prototype, you need to validate that other people will love it just as much as you do. Product validation ensures you’re creating a product people want and will pay for, so that you don’t waste time, money, and effort on an idea that won’t sell. 

There are several ways you can validate your product ideas, including:

  • Talking about your idea with family and friends
  • Sending out an online survey to get feedback
  • Starting a crowdfunding campaign
  • Asking for feedback on forums like Reddit
  • Researching online demand using Google Trends
  • Launching a “coming soon” page to gauge interest via email opt-ins or pre-orders

In the same Cost of Starting a Business study, we found that companies who didn’t spend enough time on product research and validation, and jumped ahead to branding and marketing their product, spent twice the amount of money when they had to inevitably revisit their product designs later. 

“In hindsight, we should have taken a step back and figured out how to design our [swimsuits] the right way,” says Marcia Hacker, Founder of Sauipe Swim. “We rushed and I’ve had to spend a lot of years making up for it—and financially I’m still paying for a lot of those early mistakes. We were investing so much on packaging and product photography, without having the foundation there. We got distracted by the shiny stuff. So, number one lesson: don’t rush product research. Evaluate your market. Follow successful competitors for a few months and see how they do things. Then invest in the shiny things.” 

“Number one lesson: don’t rush product research. Evaluate your market. Follow successful competitors for a few months and see how they do things. Then invest in the shiny things.”

📚Resources:

5. Keep marketing budget low and track obsessively

Startup marketing is tricky, especially if resources and expertise are limited. And even if resources aren’t limited, pumping money into paid ads doesn’t guarantee you sales. 

In our Cost of Starting a Business research, we found that businesses who spent more on marketing in their first year earned less revenue. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to make sure you only spend between 5% and 8% of your total budget on marketing in your first year. 

In our Cost of Starting a Business research, we found that businesses who spent more on marketing in their first year earned less revenue.

Make sure you’ve covered the following bases before running any sophisticated campaigns:

  • Choose the right social media channels for your brand. And once you’ve chosen your platforms, make sure your brand is showing up consistently and constantly on all platforms. 
  • Optimize your website for sales. It only takes a second for a customer to form an impression of your website. Everything from your homepage navigation, to your site speed, to your checkout experience need to be on point. 
  • Grow your email list. You can link to offers on your website that capture email signups (e.g. 15% discount for signing up), or use your social media accounts to host a free giveaway in exchange for contact information. You can even start doing this pre-launch with your “coming soon” page. 
  • Reward loyalty. It’s more affordable to make money from loyal customers than it is to find new customers. Consider a VIP program for your loyal customers, or offer them discounts for referrals. 
  • Cross promote with complimentary brands. Cross promotion allows you to partner with related businesses who can market your services, in exchange for you marketing their services—at no cost to either of you. 
  • Get to know micro-influencers in your market. Are there any local influencers in your space who might be interested in your product? Offer them some freebies in exchange for a mention on their platform. 
  • Identify key performance metrics (and track them). You’ll want to get familiar with Google Analytics to see how your website is performing and where you’re losing customers. And if you’re running paid campaigns, calculating customer acquisition costs is one way to see if your marketing efforts are working. 

📚Resources:

6. Understand your shipping strategy 

In the era of free shipping, smaller merchants are getting squeezed in their attempt to stay competitive with the likes of Amazon. Where big brands with high shipping volumes can negotiate lower rates with carriers, small businesses with lower shipping volumes have no bargaining power. Typically, that means they have to settle for high rates and absorb the shipping costs if they want to offer their customers affordable shipping. 

So, before you do anything, ask yourself: 

  • Are you going to pass the full cost of shipping to your customer, charge a flat rate, or absorb the shipping cost yourself? 
  • Are you going to get free packaging from a carrier or use branded packaging? 
  • Are you going to ship internationally?
  • Are you going to insure and track packages? 

How you answer these questions impacts your overall costs, so understanding them early on will ensure you allocate enough money for shipping. 

Normally, small business owners have to negotiate rates themselves with each carrier individually. At Shopify, we recognize that shipping is an extremely challenging aspect of running a small ecommerce business, so we’ve given our customers a leg up with Shopify Shipping. Right now, that means that Canadian merchants get negotiated rates with Canada Post, and US merchants get negotiated rates with DHL Express, UPS, and USPS. 

Shipping at low volumes directly through FedEx or USPS was way more expensive than I expected. If I could do it again, I would go straight to Shopify. I would’ve saved a lot in shipping costs.

Mike Copeland, Founder of Loophole Pedals 

Save with Shopify Shipping

When you ship with Shopify Shipping, you get access to pre-negotiated rates with carriers in the US, Canada, and Australia and you can manage your entire shipping process in one place.

Get started with Shopify Shipping

📚Resources:

7. Understand your tax obligations (or hire someone that does) 

Tax laws and regulations are complex and can change often, so staying on top of your tax obligations is critical if you want to avoid penalties or hefty fines. More than that, understanding tax laws means you can take advantage of some real cost savings. 

There are many ways for small businesses to legally reduce their taxes. Some tips to keep in mind in your first year: 

  • Hold onto your business receipts. The parking fee on the way to meet a client, the coffee you picked up for the office—all these small costs add up over time and can be written off as business expenses if you’ve held onto your receipts. 

  • Find home-based business deductions. If you run your business from home, you may be able to deduct a portion of home-related expenses, such as heat, electricity, and other home maintenance. 
  • Employ a family member. The CRA in Canada and the IRS in the US both allow small business owners to hire family members for income sheltering purposes. (Check with your country’s revenue service to see what options are available to you.) 

Still, we strongly advise you to consult a tax professional to help you navigate tax laws and policies for your business. In fact, when interviewing business owners for our Cost of Starting a Business research, “hiring an accountant” came up repeatedly as advice to new entrepreneurs.

One business owner put it this way:

“I realized I had two options: I could keep doing my accounting and taxes myself to save money, which would cost me a few days of work, sleepless nights, and my kid’s soccer game. Or I could hire an accountant who can do it in 30 minutes and give me time back to focus on my business.” 

Not on Shopify yet?

Here’s a quick reminder why launching your business on Shopify is the right move. With Shopify you can: 

  • Build a professional website and brand with no coding or design expertise required for as little as $29/month. 
  • Offer your customers flat or free shipping because we’ve negotiated the lowest possible carrier rates on your behalf. 
  • Promote your products and create marketing campaigns with Shopify Email, or through any of our channel partners, like Facebook and Google. 
  • Choose from thousands of free or affordable apps to help you grow and manage your business.
  • Hire from a list of Shopify-vetted experts for the specialized tasks you can’t manage on your own. 

Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required!



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What are the Most Profitable Businesses to Start in 2021?

What are the Most Profitable Businesses to Start in 2021?


Each month, we bring you insights from our own research to help you start or grow a thriving business. With over one million stores using Shopify, we have the inside edge on the latest trends in commerce. Don’t miss next month’s insight—subscribe to our newsletter at the end of this article.


We talked about 2021 as if the pop of a cork would create a magical reset. Truth is, the pandemic rages on, and since the new year, political unrest in the U.S. hit a record high. It’s a new year, but the same challenges persist. We found silver linings in 2020, from resilient business owners to positive impacts to the environment, but overall it was a rough year to run a business. 

Though many businesses closed in 2020, maybe for good, many others sprung up in the face of crisis. And some actually thrived.

Though many businesses closed, maybe for good, many others sprung up in the face of crisis. And some actually thrived. 2021 is still a murky time to start or grow a business, but our research shows that opportunity is out there—and not just for hand sanitizer manufacturers. 

We surveyed* business owners about their performance over the past year and their outlook for the future. Among their responses, some trends emerged. Here, we’ll explore three business types that thrived in 2020 and make predictions of the most profitable small businesses to pursue this year. 


Start a new business in 2021—and try Shopify free for 14 days


3 types of businesses that thrived in 2020

From our research, we defined a “thriving” business type as one whose founder had a higher than average rate of satisfaction with business performance and/or a higher than average rate of positive outlook on the future of their businesses. 

While there have been some clear winners—we don’t even have to look at the numbers to call out loungewear brands and home fitness businesses—our research revealed some unexpected standouts.

Those thriving business types—and our predictions for the most profitable small businesses to start in 2021—are:

  1. Health and beauty businesses
  2. Subscription businesses
  3. Businesses that sold both B2B and B2C

1. Health and beauty businesses

Data visualization of stat: 55% of health and beauty businesses were satisfied with performance in 2020

The numbers: 55% of founders of health and beauty businesses reported being satisfied with business performance in the past year. (The average across all business types was 38%.) While the past year’s performance is a good indication of success, an even higher percentage expects continued success. 79% of health and beauty founders reported having a positive outlook in the following months.

Why these businesses thrived

Under the category of health and beauty, you’ll find personal care items like hand sanitizer and soaps. These products were in high demand, especially at the outset of the pandemic, with increased concern about surface transmission. Another side effect to rolling lockdowns was the impact on the beauty service industry. Consumers diverted their beauty spending to at-home spa and salon experiences.

With the slow rollout of vaccines and the continued need for self-care, we predict that health and beauty businesses will continue to thrive through 2021.

High-potential health and beauty businesses to start in 2021

If you’re looking to start a profitable health or beauty business this year, consider the changing needs of consumers. We identified trends that emerged in 2020 that are here to stay.

Businesses that can sell online and offer multiple delivery methods will win. Pair that approach with product ideas that are in high demand:

  • Personal care products like hand soap and sanitizer
  • At-home spa rituals like face masks
  • Beauty technology like massage guns, smart mirrors, and makeup refrigerators were exploding trends in 2020 

💡 Quick start tip: Spin up a beauty business quickly by considering reselling or white label. For more on these models, consult our guide to starting a makeup line.

2. Subscription businesses

Data visualization of stats: 63% performance satisfaction among businesses who sold subscriptions / Two top subscription models were replenishment and membership

The numbers: 63% of founders who sold subscriptions were satisfied with business performance, compared to 55% of founders who did not sell subscriptions. We identified two subscription models commonly used by businesses that thrived in 2020:

  1. Replenishment model: subscribers receive the same or similar products each cycle.
  2. Membership model: subscribers have access to exclusive products or perks.

Why these businesses thrived

In our consumer trends research, we found that buyers were more likely to shop from businesses that offered convenience, say through online purchasing options and multiple choices for delivery or pick up. Subscriptions offer an easy way for customers to receive the products they buy frequently without having to make multiple trips to stores—and risk exposure. 

Even early in the pandemic, it was reported that subscription box businesses were experiencing a surge. Many replaced a lack of connection to activities that brought joy with delight delivered regularly to doorsteps.

High-potential subscription businesses to start in 2021

We recently announced that Shopify has made it even easier to sell subscriptions on our platform. That means, if you already own a business, you can add a subscription option to help you increase predictable revenue and customer loyalty. If you’re starting from scratch, meet the needs of consumers right now:

  • Basics like diapers and personal care (replenishment model)
  • Self-care boxes
  • Current product trends that work well with subscriptions: non-alcoholic beverages, puzzles and board games, nail polish

💡 Quick start tip: Read our quick guide to adding subscription options to your existing business. If you’re starting from scratch, reach out to existing subscription box businesses to see if you can partner up. Having your product included in a popular box can increase your reach and exposure.

3. Business that sold both B2B and B2C

Data visualization showing that 53% of food businesses used both B2C and B2B models in 2020

The numbers: 62% of founders who sold both B2B and B2C were satisfied with business performance in 2020, while only 53% of B2C-only business owners reported the same. This model was most common among those running businesses in the food and beverage industry, with 53% of those surveyed reporting selling both B2C and B2B. 

Planned business expansion is an obvious indicator of a business’ current success. Among those who sell both B2B and B2C, 24% reported that they planned to expand their business into new product areas in the near future.

Why these businesses thrived

Reaching new customers and getting products into their hands became increasingly challenging as stores shuttered and delivery providers became overwhelmed. Those who used multiple channels or models to reach customers had a better chance of survival in 2020—and high potential to be profitable in 2021.

For example, a brand that sold its handmade skincare wholesale to beauty retailers may have seen its B2B business dip with closure of these partner stores but could supplement the loss by selling the same products B2C via an online store.

High-potential B2B/B2C businesses to start in 2021

In 2020, Shopify announced the launch of Handshake, a wholesale marketplace for retailers and suppliers alike. If you already sell direct-to-customer, consider adding wholesale to the mix and increase your exposure to new markets. If you’re a wholesaler, spin up a direct-to-customer arm of your business to make up for sales that have been impacted by the pandemic.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking for a product idea, many can be sold both B2B and B2C. Our findings indicate that a combination of these will give you a better chance at having a profitable small business. Start with our resources to help you find a product, or tap into some recent product trends: 

  • Workout gear like exercise bands and yoga mats
  • Health and beauty products
  • Home decor items like rugs and furniture

💡 Quick start tip: Take your existing B2C business to a B2B audience by consulting our guide to selling wholesale. 

Although the global economic outlook for 2021 still looks grim, there are opportunities for independent businesses to thrive. The ideas identified by our research have high potential to be profitable small businesses if you stay connected to changing trends and customer needs. We’re continuing to uncover insights to help you succeed. Sign up below to receive monthly updates direct to your inbox.

Research by Adam Spadaro
Illustrations by by Kristyna Gottvald

*The research collected in this article was based on the Q4 2020 Shopify Merchant Survey with a sample size of 4,981 active merchants and collected between October 13 and October 27, 2020.



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Ecommerce SEO Strategies To Get Your Online Store In The SERPs

Ecommerce SEO Strategies To Get Your Online Store In The SERPs


SEO is a huge topic: Hugely important for website owners, and hugely daunting for those unfamiliar with it. If you’re new to SEO optimization or don’t know what steps to take with beginner SEO or ecommerce SEO, this post is for you. If you’re looking for advanced SEO strategies, you’ll find some of those in this post, too! There’s something for everyone in this SEO article.

Our main goal here is to help website owners and ecommerce store merchants understand what SEO is, how to use SEO, and what kind of ecommerce SEO strategies they can and should use on their site.

But, before we get started, it’s important for us to point out that SEO is a long-term commitment. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are strategies, but there are no shortcuts. You can’t buy your way to the top—you have to consistently implement SEO tactics and best practices and hope they pay off in the long run.

You can’t buy your way to the top—you have to consistently implement SEO tactics and best practices and hope they pay off in the long run.

However, using the tips and strategies in this guide, your SEO should pay off.

In this guide, we’ve included some SEO tactics that are basic website hygiene practices all sites should implement, plus some other important SEO strategies that will give you a leg up on your competition.

But—don’t underestimate these SEO strategies! Some might seem boring or too long-game, while others might seem too insignificant to move the needle, but that’s the thing with SEO—after you’ve implemented all the basics, sometimes it just takes small additional adjustments to give you an edge over your competitors that helps drive you up in the SERPs!

Overall, SEO is something that compounds, and the little things contribute just as much as the big things. So, if you want to improve your SEO, it’s worth trying out everything in this guide to see what works and doesn’t work for your site.

With all that said, let’s jump into this ultimate guide to SEO!

What is SEO?

What is SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the act of making a website or online store appealing for search engines like Google to recognize, crawl, and categorize for the purpose of showing up in search engine results.

SEO is a strategy that website owners or online store merchants use to get more visitors to their websites. Getting more website visitors usually equates to getting more customers, which means earning more revenue and profit—so optimizing for SEO can actually be really lucrative and thus, worthwhile.

However, SEO takes time to build up. It’s a slow process to get recognized by search engines—so think of it more like a marathon than a sprint.

The Three Types of SEO

In general, there are three types of SEO: White-hat SEO, Grey-hat SEO, and Black-hat SEO:

  • White-Hat SEO: White-hat SEO is used to define completely legitimate SEO tactics that follow Google’s rules and suggestions basically to the letter. Using white-hat SEO techniques is the proper way to get your site ranked in search engines, but it also requires a lot of time, work, networking, and relationship-building. Ultimately, this is the type of SEO you should use on your website as it will be the safest in the long run (grey- or black-hat techniques put your website at risk of being de-indexed by search engines) and yield the best results.
  • Grey-Hat SEO: Grey-hat SEO is used to define SEO techniques that are a mixture between following the rules and bending them slightly. They include taking some shortcuts that search engines may not advise, but don’t tend to penalize either. You shouldn’t rely on grey-hat SEO techniques for your website, but they can sometimes be used cautiously, ethically, and in small amounts to add a little oomph into white-hat SEO techniques.
  • Black-Hat SEO: Black-hat SEO is used to define the SEO underworld. Here, software can be used to spin hundreds of versions of blog articles, blast them to automated websites, create thousands of social links on automated accounts, and mine spammy backlinks. The purpose of black-hat SEO is to get sites ranked on search engines quickly—but it’s very likely that search engines will notice the black-hat techniques and de-index the websites just as fast. Black-hat SEO techniques are usually used by churn-and-burn sites (sites that are set up to make money fast with the knowledge that they’ll likely get de-indexed quickly) but they’re not effective, ethical, or recommended techniques to rank a long-lasting website.

Every SEO tactic or technique we cover in this post is white-hat SEO.

Why is SEO Important?

Why is SEO Important

SEO is important because it can bring massive amounts of relevant traffic to a website. It means that if you’re a website owner, you just have to implement SEO techniques once and you’ll reap the rewards day after day, month after month, and sometimes year after year. Done well, SEO can be one of the main drivers of traffic to your website—and it’s free!

This differs from most other marketing channels which stop delivering traffic the second you stop paying. Although SEO is a little bit trickier to implement than paid marketing channels and it will take more time to reap the rewards, the results can often be better and more consistent over a longer period of time.

Plus, implementing SEO practices is just good website hygiene. The techniques are often simple enough to carry out—it’s just a matter of doing them consistently, thoroughly, and smartly—but every website should keep up with their SEO to maintain their website’s overall health. SEO is to your website what a healthy diet and exercise is for you: It might not seem like it’s doing much day-to-day, but it adds up in the long run and you’ll thank yourself later for being consistent with it as early on as possible.

SEO is to your website what a healthy diet and exercise is for you: It might not seem like it’s doing much day-to-day, but it adds up in the long run and you’ll thank yourself later for being consistent with it as early on as possible.

Overall, SEO can be one of the biggest sources of traffic to your website, and although it takes some work and time to get it up and running, it will be worth it in the end when you don’t have to pay to get visitors landing on your site. And, it’s just a best practice all websites should have.

Should You Hire Someone for Your SEO?

Should You Hire Someone for Your SEO

Inevitably, at some point in your website’s lifetime, you’ll either be contacted by a freelancer or agency to improve your SEO, or you’ll think about hiring a freelancer or agency to improve your SEO.

So… Should you?

While there are a lot of great people out there who can likely help you, a major problem exists in hiring someone to do SEO work for you.

SEO, by nature, takes time. It can take weeks, months, or longer to show any signs of success. When paying someone to optimize your website’s SEO, they might feel pressured to produce results to show you that they’re working and doing a good job. In order to show results faster though, corners might get cut and not-so-legitimate methods might be used (such as grey-hat or black-hat SEO techniques).

As search engines like Google discover and crack down on grey-hat and black-hat SEO methods, you may lose the results you’ve gained, and Google may even penalize you by bumping you to the bottom of the search engine ranking positions (SERPs) or stop indexing you altogether.

This can be potentially catastrophic for your website, as it can drastically reduce your traffic overnight, with no warning.

So, as a new small business and website, we can’t stress enough the importance of learning SEO yourself. Not only will it be beneficial for you to know how and where to implement SEO tactics, but it can also help prevent anyone from causing any kind of catastrophic SEO-related event that jeopardizes your website or livelihood.

The only situation that would change our minds about this is if you already know how to do SEO yourself. This way, you can keep an eye out for grey-hat and black-hat SEO techniques and ensure none are ever used on your site.

How Does SEO Work?

How Does SEO Work

Are you confused about what SEO is and how it works? Let us break it down for you.

There are 4 main players involved in SEO:

  • The websites/blogs/online businesses
  • Search engines (like Google, for example)
  • The searchers (who use search engines like Google to find websites)
  • Google’s algorithm (which is mostly unknown and always changing)

And here’s a breakdown of how SEO works:

  • People go to search engines (like Google) to find websites, blog posts, or online stores.
  • Search engines (like Google) want to be helpful and show searchers the most relevant results for whatever they’re searching for.
  • In order to do this, Google has a formula (also known as an algorithm) that helps them determine which results are relevant to which searchers.
  • They use robots to “crawl” websites to find special indicators that let them know what the website is about, so they know which searchers to show the website to.
  • Because Google doesn’t want their algorithm to be taken advantage of, they don’t always make it obvious what special indicators they look out for. If they did, there are some people who would likely take advantage of that information and use it for nefarious purposes (as in, they’d spam the process).
  • So, people who have websites, blogs, or online stores know they need to appease the algorithm in order to be shown as a Google search result—but they don’t know exactly what kind of special indicators (AKA, SEO techniques) they need to use on their websites and where.
  • Plus, search engines like Google are always changing the SEO techniques they look out for, because they’re always making updates to improve the search results for their searchers.
  • Luckily, over time, website owners have figured out some of the main SEO tactics that all websites should have so search engines like Google recognize them and show them to searchers.
  • When these tactics are used, it means that searchers will be able to find your website more easily, which means that you’ll have more people landing on your site, and hopefully, purchasing your products.

Why Do I Need SEO?

Why Do I Need SEO

It’s simple—you need SEO if:

  • You want your site to be easily discoverable by searchers on search engines like Google
  • You want traffic coming to your website easily and without having to pay for it
  • You want traffic coming to your site consistently
  • You want to be competitive against your competitors, who are likely also using SEO
  • You want to keep your website in its best condition

As a basic rule of thumb, all websites need SEO.

If you’re using white-hat SEO, there’s virtually no downside to optimizing your website, so it should not be avoided. Plus, it’s pretty simple to do, you just need to learn what to do and keep it consistent over time. The benefits outweigh any kind of negatives, so if you have a website, blog, or online store, you should be implementing SEO—no questions asked.

The benefits outweigh any kind of negatives, so if you have a website, blog, or online store, you should be implementing SEO—no questions asked.

On-Site SEO vs. Off-Site SEO

On-Site SEO vs Off-Site SEO

There are two types of SEO:

  • On-Site SEO: This includes all of the SEO tactics you have direct control over. These are things you can do on your own site to help search engines better understand what your site as a whole is about, plus what each individual webpage and product page is about.
  • Off-Site SEO: This includes all of the SEO tactics that you don’t have direct control over. These things are usually signals from other websites that show search engines that your website is being vouched for and that others get value from it. These things can’t just be added to your website, you have to hope other websites support your site, or ask other websites to do these things for you.

The differences between these two types of SEO are important, so we’ll be categorizing the SEO tactics down below into On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO categories so you can differentiate between the two.

SEO Strategies to Get Your Online Store in the SERPs

SEO Strategies to Get Your Online Store in the SERPs

It’s time to get into all of the SEO tactics you can use to optimize your website for search engines.

But, before we jump into the On-Site and Off-Site SEO tactics, there’s just one more thing.

A major component of any SEO strategy is keyword research. Without any keyword research, you won’t know what you’re optimizing for search engines, and without any keyword optimization, you probably won’t get very far in the SERPs. Keyword research is the foundation upon which SEO optimization is built.

Keyword research is the foundation upon which SEO optimization is built.

So, you need to have an understanding of what keywords are and how they’re used so you can use them to SEO optimize your site.

But—the good news is that keywords and keyword research are easy to understand! You can check out our Guide to Keyword Research to get the full picture as to what keywords are, why they’re important, how they’re used, and how you can research keywords for yourself. But if you want the short version, we’ll break it down below.

Keyword Research for SEO

Keyword Research for SEO

First things first.

You need to choose the right keywords. Not only for your site as a whole, but also for each individual webpage and product listing.

What is a Keyword?

A keyword is a word or phrase that people search for online to find what they’re looking for.

Keywords are typed into search engines like Google, and when the user clicks on the “Search” button, Google shows a list of search results to the user based on what it thinks will be the most relevant results related to the keyword (or keywords) they searched.

Examples of keywords include:

  • Digital Marketing
  • World Cup
  • Best Hiking Trails
  • Top Travel Destinations
  • SEO
  • Ecommerce

Why Do You Need Keywords for SEO?

Keyword research is the first step in the ecommerce SEO process.

Why?

Because without the right keywords, you won’t be able to optimize your website or your product pages for search engines.

With the right keywords, you have the ability to push your site to the first page of Google and bring in hundreds—or even thousands—of pageviews week after week.

Which Keywords Should You Use?

There are several different ways to categorize keywords, and one of those ways is by their length.

Short-tail keywords are keywords that are two words or less. This also includes abbreviations like, “SEO.” Long-tail keywords are keywords that are longer than two words but are usually no more than four or five words. Long-tail keywords can also be referred to as “key phrases.”

Examples of short-tail keywords are:

  • Ecommerce
  • Notebooks
  • Digital Marketing
  • Golf Courses
  • Chairs

Examples of long-tail keywords are:

  • Best Ecommerce Conferences
  • Notebooks for Teachers
  • Digital Marketing Tools
  • Top Scottish Golf Courses
  • Ergonomic Office Chairs

The difference between short-tail and long-tail keywords (besides the fact that long-tail keywords are obviously longer) is that long-tail keywords are usually easier to rank for. This plays an important role in the keyword research that you’ll do for your own site’s SEO because it means that you’ll usually be on the lookout for long-tail keywords.

In addition to categorizing keywords by being short-tail or long-tail, you can also categorize keywords by the searcher’s intention.

The different types of search intent are as follows:

  • Informational Intent: This is when searchers are looking for information. An example keyword with informational intent is, “Best keywords to target.”
  • Navigational Intent: This is when searchers are looking to get somewhere online. An example keyword with navigational intent is, “Keyword research tools.”
  • Commercial Intent: This is when searchers are looking to buy something. An example keyword with purchase intent is, “T-shirts with digital marketing slogans.”

It’s important to optimize the right parts of your website with keywords that correspond to the appropriate searcher intent so users find what they’re looking for when they land on your site.

If they don’t, they’ll likely bounce away, which can have a negative impact on your SEO.

What is Keyword Optimization?

Keyword optimization is the act of perfecting the use of keywords on your website, webpages, product pages, or blog posts so that you can rank in Google search results for them.

In other words, it means knowing what keywords to use, where to use them, when to use them, how often to use them, and then actually using them.

How Do You Do Keyword Research?

Now that you understand more about keywords and keyword research, the next step is to actually choose which keywords to target.

The best way to narrow keywords down is based on these four criteria:

  • Search Volume
  • Keyword/Product Fit
  • Commercial Intent
  • Difficulty/Competition

You can find out this information for each keyword by using a keyword research tool. Our preferred keyword research tool is KWFinder (KWFinder Review) because it’s sophisticated and thorough while being easy to understand. In our opinion, KWFinder offers the best value when you consider the cost as well as the services offered.

Another keyword research tool is the Google Keyword Planner, however, we’ve found it to be hit or miss. It allows you to search for and find keywords but it tends to focus on the level of competition for keywords in terms of paid search marketing, not organically through SEO. GKP is free though, so that’s a bonus.

A third option that’s super powerful and has a ton of different features is SEMrush. SEMrush is a web-based tool that makes finding the best keywords for your site/store super easy. In fact, it’s kind of like stealing candy from a baby—if candy = traffic, and a baby = your competitors. It’s high value, so it’s worth pursuing if you’re really serious about keyword research for your SEO, but keep in mind that it has a premium price tag to match.

Check out our Guide to Keyword Research for more free and premium keyword research tools you can use to find keywords.

On-Site SEO Tactics

On-Site SEO Tactics

Once you’ve nailed down your keywords, it’s time to put them to use on your site. You can do that with these on-site SEO tactics.

These are the SEO tactics that you have control over. You can make these changes to your website or ecommerce store at any time, and in doing so, you’ll be optimizing your site in a way that makes it more appealing to search engines.

Let’s get into it.

Optimize Your Meta Title & Meta Descriptions

No matter where you’ve set up your website—whether it’s on Shopify or WordPress or BigCommerce or wherever—you should have the ability to edit the meta title and meta description for each page of your site.

  • What’s a meta title? It’s the title of your website or webpage that shows up in search engine results. You know when you search on Google and the list of results comes up? The title of each result is its meta title. Meta titles should usually be 50-60 characters or less. You don’t want to go over the character limit otherwise searchers won’t be able to read your full title.
  • What’s a meta description? It’s the description of your website or webpage that shows up in search engine results. Under every meta title in search results is the meta description. Meta descriptions should be anywhere from 150-160 characters. You don’t want to go under the character limit because it won’t be enough information for the search engine or for the readers, and you don’t want to go over the limit either as searchers won’t be able to read the full description.

You have the option to create a custom meta title for each page of your website (whether it be your homepage, your product pages, your blog post pages, etc.) and you should optimize them with keywords to make them more SEO-friendly.

Tips for optimizing meta titles and descriptions:

  • Use Keywords at the Beginning of the Meta Title: Ideally, your keywords(s) should start off the title. The closer your keyword is to the beginning of the title, the more weight search engines will give to it. But don’t compromise on the integrity of your title—you want to think about the reader first and if the title makes sense to them; optimization comes second.
  • Use No More than Two Keywords in the Description: Use your keyword at least once in the description, and again, as close as you can get it to the beginning, the better. If you can create an opportunity to mention your keyword a second time in the description, then go for it. But again, remember to ensure that the description reads well for the reader first, and for SEO optimization second. And ideally, don’t use your keyword more than twice. Any more than that and it could seem spammy.

Optimize H Tags

Every page on your website (including your homepage, product pages, and blog posts) should use H Tags. These are “heading tags” that break your page content into headers. H Tags start with H1, which should be the title of your page; followed by H2, which should be subheadings; H3 should be used for less-important subheadings; same with H4, and so on.

Breaking your content up by headings not only makes it easy for your readers to navigate the page, but it makes it easy for search engines to navigate the page, too.

Plus, make sure to use your keywords in your H Tags too, especially H1 and H2 Tags as those carry the most weight.

Optimize the Introduction Paragraph

Use your main keyword in the first sentence and/or paragraph of your website page, blog post, or product description. Again, the closer your keyword is to the beginning of the page, the more emphasis search engines will put on it.

Improve Your Site Load Speed

How quickly your site loads plays an important role in your SEO, and you have the power to make it faster if it’s loading slowly.

A widely quoted study found that 57% of consumers leave a website after just three seconds if it’s slow to load. Not only that but if a page loads within two seconds, it only has a bounce rate of 2%, whereas if the same page takes five seconds, the bounce rate increases to 38%

When visitors click away from your website quickly (otherwise known as “bouncing”), it indicates to search engines that your website or store isn’t providing searchers with value, so your site might not get recommended in search results often, or at all.

To improve your site’s loading speed, you can do a few things:

  • Reduce the File Size of Images: Optimize all of your images so they take less time to load. This can shave seconds of time off your site’s loading speed which can equate to keeping a much larger percentage of visitors. Use tools like ImageOptim and ShortPixel to do this.
  • Host Videos Off Your Website: Hosting videos on your own site weighs it down, so keep videos hosted on platforms like YouTube and just share the embed link on your site.
  • Keep Your Code Clean: Too much extra code on the backend can bog down your site, so keep it clean. If you don’t know how to edit your site’s code, then don’t worry about it. But if you are adding code, make sure to narrow it down to what’s necessary.
  • Don’t Add Too Many Apps or Plugins: Connecting your site to different apps and plugins adds extra weight, so only integrate with apps and plugins that are really important. Bloating your site with apps and plugins you don’t use won’t help your site’s loading time.

In general, the more things your site has to reach out to, connect to, or load up will impact how long it takes to get your site up and running for a visitor, so keep that in the back of your mind every time you add something to your site.

For more tips on how to minimize your site’s bounce rate in general, check out our How to Minimize Your Store’s Bounce Rate article.

Optimize the Page Slug

What’s a “slug?”

It’s the part of a URL that comes after the main body of the URL’s domain. For example:

www.abetterlemonadestand.com/this-is-the-slug

When you create a new webpage, product page, or blog post page, your slug will be automatically created for you, but instead of using whatever’s generated, change it to your primary keyword.

For example, check out the slug for this blog post:

www.abetterlemonadestand.com/ecommerce-SEO

Best practices for slugs are to keep them short, use your target keyword, use hyphens to separate words, and don’t use any numbers.

Add a Blog

If you don’t already have a blog on your website or ecommerce store—add one!

Adding a blog is a great SEO tactic because it gives you more opportunities to use keywords, which presents more potential opportunities to rank for them. It also gives more opportunities for visitors to land on your site, bringing you more traffic. Plus it helps you link to other pages on your website which helps create a web of internal links that search engines use to learn more about your site and which pages relate to one another.

So start a blog on your site and use it to target your keywords! Check out our Content Strategy post for everything you need to know about running a blog.

Add & Optimize Images

Images can add great SEO benefits if done right.

Why?

  • They break up content and make it more digestible
  • You can use them to include keywords you want your pages to rank for
  • You can use them to include auxiliary keywords you also want to rank for
  • Plus, so many sites fail to optimize their images with keywords, so it’ll give you a leg up!

Tip: Google also favors custom images that it hasn’t seen before, so creating original images gives you a further boost.

But, don’t forget to keep your image file sizes small so they don’t weigh down your website and make it load slower. Slow-loading websites are less appealing to search engines, so improperly optimized images can actually negatively impact your SEO.

To optimize your images for speed, use Photoshop’s “Save For Web” function and select JPEG at 80%. Then use ImageOptim to further reduce the image size, and then ShortPixel’s “Lossy” or “Glossy” options to get the image as small as possible.

Check out our post on How to Save Images for Web for a full explanation and rundown of the image optimization process.

Add & Optimize Relevant Videos

Google loves Google, so to further improve your SEO, add custom videos to your webpages.

Adding custom videos—especially when trying to rank a blog post for a keyword where the current top posts don’t have an embedded video—can be the thing that pushes your site to the top of the SERPs. Sometimes with SEO, all it takes is just having one slight edge on a competitor!

You can also consider embedding other peoples’ videos into your posts, particularly ones that are already ranking well by Google. Just like with images though, Google favors original content, so if you can create and embed your own video then do that instead of featuring someone else’s video.

Another benefit of adding videos to your pages is that it increases your visitor’s time-on-site!

This signals to search engines that your users are engaged with your content and find it useful, which is an indicator to them that your content is valuable so they’ll be more likely to show it to more searchers.

Consider adding these types of videos to your website or ecommerce store:

  • A welcome video on your homepage
  • An “About” video on your About page
  • A product showcase video on all product pages
  • Product review videos or unboxing videos on your product pages or homepage
  • Product assembly videos on your product pages or FAQ page
  • An FAQ video on your FAQ page or Contact page

And make sure to optimize your videos with your keywords, too! For tips, check out our guest post on the Printful blog covering 10 YouTube Marketing Steps for Small Businesses.

Add Internal Links

Link to your content from your content!

This isn’t a major SEO tactic that’s going to make or break the success of your webpages in the SERPs, but interlinking between your different webpages is just a part of good website SEO hygiene that all websites can do.

It’s simple, and it has a purpose, so you might as well just do it!

All you have to do is link to your other webpages within your webpages. So link to related blog posts from other blog posts, link to your About page from your Homepage, link to your FAQ page from your product pages, link to your FAQ page from your Contact page, link to your Shipping & Returns page from your product pages, etc.

Basically, just weave a web of links directing your visitors (and search engine crawlers) from one webpage to another to create an entire system of your website’s content. This can help your visitors navigate your website more easily, and it helps search engine crawlers understand what’s important on your website.

Add External Links

Linking to other websites from your website or online store can give you some major SEO benefits. By linking to other sites, you’re basically telling search engines that you’re related to them or affiliated with them in some way, which search engines take into consideration.

Since linking to other websites affiliates you to them in the eyes of search engines, you only want to link out to trusted websites. If you link to poor-quality or spammy sites, it could have a negative impact on your SEO instead.

So link out to trusted websites whenever it’s relevant. You can do this in your blog posts, or even in a “Featured and Quoted” section of your website.

If you aren’t sure whether a website is high-quality or not, check their domain authority with Ahrefs. This will give you a website’s rating so you can understand whether it might be worth linking to or not.

If you’re still not sure, or you still want to link out to a low-quality website, make it a “nofollow” link instead of a “dofollow” link so search engine crawlers won’t affiliate you with the other site. You can find tutorials for how to make a link nofollow here.

Optimize Anchor Text

When linking internal or external links on your site, make sure to place the links on anchor text that is your target keywords.

Anchor text is the words that your hyperlink is attached to. For example, this is anchor text.

So instead of attaching your links to any ol’ text, attach them to relevant keywords. Many websites will place their links on text like find the post here but if you use anchor text like “find the SEO Strategies blog post here” then you send a signal to search engines about what the content is about.

This is especially important for your internal links because you’re linking to your own content! Linking your content to relevant keywords that exist on other pages gives search engines further confirmation about what your content is about. And when you link to external sources, they’ll appreciate a keyword-optimized anchor text backlink because it will give them even more SEO benefit.

You can use keyword-optimized anchor text anywhere on your website—in your blog posts, on product pages, on your home page, in your FAQs, in your homepage header and footnotes, etc. Basically anytime you link something on your site, try to optimize the anchor text with relevant keywords.

Add Other Multimedia

Media-enriched webpages generally perform better with site visitors, and so they also generally perform better in the SERPs.

Again, it’s just like using images and videos in your content: They increase visitor engagement which increases time-on-site which indicates to search engines that your content is valuable and worth showing to more people.

So, add more media! Add podcast embeds, add reviews and rating widgets, add slideshows, add image galleries, add infographics, add tweet embeds, add screenshots, add GIFs, etc.

Add Alt Tags to Images & Media

One of the best reasons—in terms of SEO—to use images and multimedia on your site, is that you can add alt text to it, and you can optimize the alt text.

Alt text is short for “alternative text” and it’s what shows up to website visitors if your images can’t load for any reason. Alt-text is also important because it’s the description of the image that will be read to individuals who use screen readers. So, not only is it a useful aspect of SEO, but it’s important for accessibility as well.

In your image alt text, use your keywords to further optimize the image from an SEO standpoint. Make the text coherent so it’s readable to a screen reader, but ensure that you use your keywords as well. It’s also a good place to use any alternate keywords if you have them because alternate keywords are often long-tail, and alt text tends to be long-tail keyword friendly.

No Duplicate Content/Duplicate Keyword Targeting

When creating keyword-targeted content on your site (like blog posts targeting specific keywords or product pages targeting specific keywords) don’t create multiple posts or pages targeting the same keyword. Once is enough, and any more than that can confuse search engines and/or make your site look spammy.

No Keyword Stuffing

When using keywords in your blog posts or on your webpages, it’s important to use your keywords multiple times, but don’t go overboard.

The general rule of thumb is for your keyword to make up 1%-3% of your page’s total word count, so aim to keep it within that range. Using your keyword too often may be recognized as “keyword stuffing” which can be seen as spammy, which search engines will generally not reward.

If you find that you tend to overuse your keywords, try switching out some to latent semantic keywords instead. Latent semantic keywords are keywords that have a similar meaning to your root keyword, without being exactly the same. This means that it will reduce the overall keyword count of your post or webpage, while still remaining relevant.

Latent semantic keywords are also indexed by Google—in fact, they look out for semantically related keywords to your root keyword in a process called Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI).

Here are some examples of root keywords and latent semantic keywords:

  • Original Keyword: SEO
  • Latent Semantic Keywords: Search engine optimization, beginner SEO strategies, advanced SEO strategies, best SEO tools

 

  • Original Keyword: Christmas decorations
  • Latent Semantic Keyword: Festive baubles, Christmas lights, seasonal decorations

 

  • Original Keyword: Notebook
  • Latent Semantic Keyword: Day planner, journal, diary

Keep Your Word Count Up

The higher your word count, the more search engines have to work with! Plus, generally speaking, it means there’s more value to offer visitors. So, keep your word count up if you want to boost your SEO!

Generally, search engines don’t index webpages that have less than 300 words—so that’s the bare minimum. There’s basically no maximum, though, so go nuts! Especially if you’re competing against other webpages for the top spots in the SERPs, a higher word count than your competitors can be part of the equation to getting an edge on them.

But obviously, quality is more important than quantity. Don’t have a high word count just for the sake of SEO purposes. The quality of your content needs to come first, so prioritize that over a high word count.

Fun Fact: Have you ever wondered why recipe websites put a bunch of text first before the recipe? Why not just list the recipe first—what gives?? Well, it’s an SEO play. They need to have at least 300 words to get indexed by search engines, plus, it helps to keep visitors on the page for as long as possible. So, they put the 300 keyword-rich text first, hoping some people will read it and others will spend time scrolling past it, and then they list the recipe. It kills two SEO-birds with one stone. Plus, you’ll often also find them adding images, video, and other multi-media content, which as we’ve already discussed, are important parts of the SEO equation too. So ultimately, if you want to see SEO in-action plain as day, check out your favorite recipe site.

Use Rich Snippets

This leads us to another SEO tactic recipe websites do well (and other sites can, too!): Rich snippets—otherwise known as structured data.

Structured data helps search engines pick out important parts of your content (like recipes, numbered lists, bullet points, definitions, etc.) so they can turn it into a rich snippet. Rich snippets are displayed on search engine result pages as a distinct box of content with more information than just the standard meta title and description, so they really stand out to searchers and are a sign that Google recognizes the importance of the content.

Rich snippets are hugely beneficial to get, but there’s no magic formula to help you get one.

Check out Google’s documentation on how structured data works to learn more about what you can do to put yourself in the running for rich snippets, because there are some important indicators that you can use.

Make Content for Skimmers

The truth is: People don’t read webpages, they skim them.

So make your content easily digestible by skimmers!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Use short-form sentences and paragraphs
  • Use a lot of headers and subheaders
  • Add numbered lists and bullet points where possible
  • Use call-out boxes to highlight important information
  • Add call-to-action buttons to direct visitors where you want them to go
  • Make use of images, videos, and media to engage visitors

Skimmers that stay on your webpages for a long time are just as valuable to you from an SEO perspective as engaged readers are, so format your content in a way that keeps skimmers engaged, entertained, and on your webpages.

Add Numbers, Dates & Brackets in Titles

Part of SEO is enticing searchers to choose your meta title and description out of all of the rest in the SERPs, and anything that will help you stand out is basically a win.

We’ve noticed that posts with a number, date, or bracket in the title (especially in the meta title) tend to stand out more in the SERPs which helps those posts get more clicks. But, you can use this technique on any kind of webpage—it’s not just limited to blog posts.

Here are some examples of what we mean:

  • 25 SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs
  • 100+ SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs
  • SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs (Updated June 2020)
  • SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs [UPDATED]
  • SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs (With Examples)
  • SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs (+ SEO Checklist)
  • SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs (Case Study)
  • 50 SEO Techniques to Rank Higher in the SERPs [FREE WORKBOOK]

Numbers, dates, and brackets tend to catch the eye, and just adding these small little details can be the reason why a searcher clicks on your SERP result over the others—so try them out!

Create a Content Hub

Does your site frequently cover one topic? Create a content hub for it.

Content hubs are basically landing pages that collect all of the information, links, and media one site has for a particular topic or subject matter. They might not be the right fit for all websites, but for some websites, they can really work.

To create a content hub for your site, pick a keyword that you want to be the main focus of the hub. Generally, it’s a short-tail keyword that’s an umbrella term that a lot of other similar keywords fall under.

For example, we could create a content hub for the keyword “SEO” and then within that content hub, collate information for all things related to SEO, including other keywords like SEO marketing, SEO tactics. SEO strategies, SEO for beginners, advanced SEO tips, and more.

In this hub, we could include basic content about SEO and what it is, and then link out to all our other SEO-related blog posts, SEO-related media, include podcasts about SEO, etc.

The purpose is to have a lot of content and links on one page that point back to all of your different content. Think of it as a table of contents that rounds up all your different content related to one topic so people can find it easily and then branch off to other more niche areas of the topic that interest them.

To create a content hub, simply add another page to your website! Include an overview description of the topic, and then link to related media. You can update it whenever you create new content that’s relevant to it!

Off-Site SEO Tactics

Off Site SEO Tactics

As we’ve previously mentioned, off-site SEO tactics include all of the SEO tactics that you don’t have direct control over.

These things are usually signals from other websites that demonstrate to search engines that your website offers value, and the more reputable the websites are that vouch for your site, the more search engines will take them into account.

Off-site SEO can also include another factor though, which depends on visitor engagement.

Visitor engagement metrics like bounce rates, time-on-site, pageviews per session, etc. also indicate to search engines that your website provides value and therefore should be shown to more searchers.

So although you don’t always have control over off-site SEO tactics, there are some things you can do to improve the likelihood of achieving them—and we’ll share how in this section.

Submit Your HTML Sitemap to Google Search Console

This is kind of an on-site SEO tactic and an off-site SEO tactic but regardless, it’s an important SEO step every site should be doing.

Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console.

If you have absolutely no idea what this means, don’t worry—it’s super simple! A sitemap is a list of the webpages that belong to your website. Since there are so many websites out there—and so many new ones started every day—submitting your sitemap helps Google keep up with what they should be indexing. Since you want your site to show up in Google’s search results (since they’re the most-used search engine) you should submit your sitemap to Google so they know to index your webpages.

By doing this, you’re basically signaling to Google that your website is up and running and ready for it to direct visitors your way!

Here’s how to submit your sitemap:

  • Connect your site to Google Search Console. GSC is basically your hub for all things related to your site and Google Search, so you can monitor what Google is indexing, and if there are ever any problems
  • In Google Search Console, click on the “Sitemaps” tab
  • In the “Sitemaps” tab, click “Add a New Sitemap”
  • Then follow the instructions GSC prompts you with to get your Sitemap submitted

Get Backlinks

This is one of the most important off-site SEO tactics that you can do. It’s possibly one of the strongest SEO-boosting indicators, and it’s something search engines put a lot of stock into.

So, what are backlinks?

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks occur when one website links to your website. They might link to your website from a blog post or on their homepage, but essentially, a backlink is recognized by search engines as one website vouching for another one.

It’s basically like the website is saying, “Hey, I like their website so much I’m telling my audience about them!”

Backlinks are important and getting them is essential to your success in the SERPs. You can have great content on your site and have it entirely SEO-optimized, but if you aren’t getting backlinks, it could still hurt your performance.

That said, getting backlinks can be hard. Which is part of what makes them so valuable and such a strong indicator to search engines. Site owners know the importance of backlinks, so they don’t just give them out freely. Backlinks need to be earned—worthwhile backlinks can’t be bought.

Backlinks need to be earned—worthwhile backlinks can’t be bought.

Although, some people will try to buy backlinks—which we don’t recommend doing, or selling. Backlinks are best when they’re awarded and earned organically, so don’t try to bribe websites into giving you backlinks. Go out there and earn them, and you’ll likely have better SEO results because of it.

Why Backlinks Are Important

Although backlinks are important, it’s not necessarily the case that more backlinks mean you’ll get better SEO results.

This is another instance where quality matters more than quantity.

The value of a backlink depends on the quality of the website from where it comes. Backlinks that come from irreputable websites like gambling, porn, or spam sites aren’t the kind of backlinks you should be aiming for. Backlinks from these sites can hurt your SEO more than they help it. You should aim to get backlinks from high-authority, trusted, established, and reputable websites that have been around for a while. These are the kinds of backlinks that will improve your SEO.

But of course, getting those kinds of backlinks is difficult (that’s why they’re so valuable!) so how do you get them?

How to Get Backlinks

While you can’t actually force anyone to link back to your site from their site and you shouldn’t bribe them to, these are some things you can do:

  • Be the Source: If you’re the source of information, data, insight, analysis, analytics, etc. then people will be more likely to link to you. So create content about the information that you’re an authority on, share your own data or analytics, provide expert insight, or be the innovative producer of a product. If you’re the source, people will link to the source.
  • Include Stats and Data: Related to the above point, stats and data are important to include in your content, whether it’s your stats or data, or someone else’s. Of course, if you’re sharing stats and data that weren’t discovered by you then link out to the appropriate source. Including stats and data—whether in written or image format (think infographics)—is a very strategic way to generate more backlinks to your site.
  • Create Great Content: Above all else, simply creating great content that people want to share is one of the best backlink-building strategies. When you create content that’s useful and valuable, you’ll increase the chances of people linking back to it.
  • Guest Post: Posting content on other websites is a great way to get a backlink or two. Usually, sites that accept guest posts allow the author to place a link or two in the body of an article plus in the author bio, so find some reputable websites you can guest post on and get those backlinks! The guest website benefits from your content and you benefit from the backlink and audience cross-over, so it’s a win-win for everyone. Just remember to be pleasant and polite in your pursuit of guest posts—this is definitely a scenario where you’re more likely to catch more flies with honey rather than with vinegar, as the saying goes.
  • Feature in Industry/Expert Roundups: Some websites or blogs reach out to experts in their respective industries to get quotes for articles, so try to get yourself included in one of those articles. They’ll include your quote, plus a link back to your site, so it’s an easy way to get a backlink. Find ones that are relevant to your niche and reach out to the site to see if you can be featured. Remember to focus on quality here though, not just quantity.
  • Feature on Your Vendors’/Suppliers’ Sites: Some vendors and suppliers mention the brands that they work with on their sites, so if yours do, ask them to link back to your site! This might not bring in a ton of traffic, but these sites have the potential to be reputable in the eyes of search engines, so it’s worth getting a backlink.
  • Get Featured on Influencer Blogs: Influencer blogs tend to be busy places, and it’s likely that they have at least some domain authority, so get featured there! You’ll likely have to send them your product(s) for them to test out, and you’ll likely want to build a relationship with them, but it’s worth doing for both the backlink as well as the potential exposure to their audience.
  • Create a Subreddit: We walk through exactly how to do this in our How to Build Backlinks article, but basically, you can create your own subreddit on Reddit and link to your blog posts, website, and/or product pages in the sidebar. Technically these are nofollow links (which we define down below) but there’s speculation that there is still some SEO value. It’s so simple to do, so it’s worth doing even if the benefit is small!
  • Get a Backlink from Wikipedia: Did you know that you can get backlinks from Wikipedia? Now you do! You can use a tool like WikiGrabber to find links on Wikipedia that are missing or broken, and you can submit your link as a replacement. Again, Wikipedia links are technically nofollow, however, there’s still potential for SEO benefits. And again, it’s low-hanging fruit so you might as well go for it if you have anything relevant to be linked to.
  • Link From Your YouTube Channel: Google loves Google, and Google owns YouTube, so link to your site from your YouTube Channel “About” section, as well as every video description box. These are easy links, so go for it!
  • Link From Your Podcast Show Notes: Link back to your site from your podcast show notes, too! This is another easy link opportunity.
  • Link From Your Social Media Bios: Another great backlink opportunity is your social media bios. Head to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and any other socials you use and make sure your site is being linked to.
  • Request a Link: You don’t get what you don’t ask for—so ask for a link! If you think there’s a website you would make a great addition to, or an affiliate or partner you can reach out to—ask for a link! Be polite and be authentic—don’t use a generic template to ask for your request. The worst they can say is no, but at least you tried!
  • Get Your Product Reviewed: Ask influencers or product review sites like Bless This Stuff, Uncrate, Cool Material, or Product Hunt to review your product. If they do, they’ll likely give you a backlink as well, which is a bonus. We discuss how to do this in more detail in our How to Build Backlinks article.
  • Comment on Blogs: Find high-quality blogs to leave thoughtful, non-spammy comments while providing a link back to your content. Make it authentic and value-adding, so it doesn’t come off as spammy. You want to show that you’re there first and foremost to engage with the content and that you also have something relevant on your website to add to the discussion. It’s likely that links from blog comment sections are nofollow, but again, it’s worth the effort for the potential SEO benefits.
  • Syndicate Your Content: There are some websites where you can syndicate content which means that articles you’ve published on your own website can be re-published on other websites. This enables you to get your content out in front of a larger audience, and the original source of the content (your website) will get a link back to acknowledge where it was originally published. Find out more about how (and where) to do this in our How to Build Backlinks article.
  • Interview Authorities in Your Niche: Seek out “authorities” in your niche, whether it’s bloggers, influencers, speakers, entrepreneurs, creators, etc., and interview them. Post the content to your website and reach out to whomever you interviewed and let them know about the content you created. More often than not, the person will share your content—whether it’s on social media or, if you’re lucky, on their own website—and you’ll generate a backlink from it. People love it when they get noticed, even if it’s by a smaller player in their niche, so you will likely be recognized.

Dofollow Backlinks vs. Nofollow Backlinks

On your quest to get backlinks, it’s important to know the difference between the two main kinds: Dofollow backlinks and nofollow backlinks.

What is the difference?

  • Dofollow backlinks share “linkjuice” between websites. This means that websites that link to each other want to be affiliated with one another, and want search engines to take notice of the backlink. By sharing linkjuice with one another, their backlinks carry more weight with search engines, and really stand for the websites vouching for one another.
  • Nofollow backlinks don’t share linkjuice between the websites. By making a link “nofollow” you’re basically telling search engines that you don’t want them to recognize the link and don’t want to be affiliated to the site you’re linking out to.

Dofollow backlinks carry more power and will do more for your SEO, so you want the backlinks you receive from high-authority sites to be dofollow. If you’re linking to sketchy sites for any reason, you should make the link nofollow.

Generally speaking, most links are dofollow unless otherwise stated.

That said, links on high-authority websites that can be added by the general public are usually nofollow. For example, links that are added to Wikipedia by the public or on Reddit by users, are usually nofollow links. This is because basically, any user has the ability to link out to anything, so the websites don’t want to be affiliated just in case it’s something sketchy.

That being said, even though nofollow links are generally understood to have no SEO linkjuice power, there is some speculation that they still do—even if it’s just a little bit. So although we’ve recommended some ways to get backlinks that would give you nofollow links instead of dofollow links, we still think they’re worth pursuing because there might be some SEO-boosting potential, so they’re worthwhile anyways.

Minimize Bounce Rate

When searchers have clicked onto your content from a Google search, land on your site, and then promptly click back or exit, that hurts your SEO.

Why?

Because it demonstrates to search engines that your site wasn’t what they were looking for, and if it happens often enough, it seems to search engines that your content isn’t worth showing to their searchers.

So, you need to minimize your bounce rate to prevent this from happening. You want searchers to land on your site and stay there.

Here are a few ways you can minimize your bounce rate:

  • Optimize Above-the-Fold Content: What visitors first see when they land on your website is really important, so place your best content “above-the-fold,” where it’s easy for them to see.
  • Make Your Webpages Scannable: Evidence shows that 79% of people scan a webpage rather than read it fully. So, if most people are doing this, why not cater to this habit by creating easy-to-read pages that are enjoyable to look at, too? Web pages that are optimized for “scanners” works both in your visitors’ favor as well as your own.
  • Use Images: Images aren’t just there to make your website look pretty—they keep visitors engaged for longer, too.
  • Use Videos: Uploading good-quality, fun, informative and engaging video content is one of the best ways to keep visitors on your pages for longer. For best results, place a video above-the-fold.
  • Create Quizzes & Polls: Quizzes and other interactive content like polls keep people engaged with your site by harnessing the power of entertainment.
  • Minimize Pop-Ups: Almost 70% of consumers find pop-up ads both intrusive and annoying so if you do use pop-ups, ensure that they’re well-designed and as discreet as you can make them.
  • Target the Right Keywords: Optimizing your site for the right keywords plays an important role in your site’s overall bounce rate. If you’re targeting keywords that are loosely related to your content or are pretty unrelated, then when searchers arrive at your site they’ll realize the content isn’t what they’re looking for and they’ll click away. This might mean that you have to target keywords with lower search volumes but it’ll be worth it in the end when the traffic that’s coming to you is highly relevant.

Improve Time On-Site

Time-on-site is an important SEO metric because it shows search engines how engaging—and thus, valuable—your content is.

To reap the most SEO benefits, make necessary changes to your store to improve each visitor’s time on site. Here’s how:

  • Use Videos: This is one of the best ways to improve time on site because your visitors will be engaged with the video. Add videos to your homepage, your product pages, your FAQ page, your blog posts, or anywhere else where it might make sense for your site.
  • Reduce Pop-Up Use: Again, pop-ups can annoy visitors, so reduce the use of pop-ups unless it’s absolutely necessary. Alternatively, time your popup to occur after your visitors have been on your site for a while, so it doesn’t immediately deter them.
  • Add Comment/Review Boxes: When your visitors can comment on your blog posts or add reviews to your product pages, they’ll stay on your site longer in order to formulate those comments or reviews. Or, if visitors don’t write their own, they’ll spend time reading through them instead.
  • Make Your Site Pretty: An aesthetically pleasing site is more likely to keep visitors around than an outdated, spammy, ad-ridden, or glitchy-looking one is, so keep web design at the forefront of your mind and make your site nice to look at.
  • Make All Links Open in a New Tab: When you link internal or external links on your site, ensure that the links open in a new tab, not the same tab. When they open in a new tab, the tab with your website will remain open so it will appear as if the visitor is still active on your site.
  • Add Quizzes & Polls: Another reason to add quizzes and polls to your site is that it keeps visitors on your site for longer while they have fun participating.
  • Allow Users to Create Wish Lists: Create a space where your users can dream up the products they want to buy next with a wish list feature! This may encourage them to stick around on-site for longer as they browse.
  • Create an On-Site Members Forum: Keep your community on your site with a members area! This can be a place for members to interact, share their experiences, talk about their purchases, ask for advice, answer questions, or whatever works for your community! If your visitors are getting value from it, they’ll be more likely to be on your site.
  • Add a Blog: Create more value for your visitors with blog posts that inspire and inform them and they’ll be more likely to stick around. Case studies are another similar branch of this type of content that could be engaging, too.

Encourage Multiple Pageviews Per Session

In addition to all of the off-site SEO strategies mentioned above, another metric that can add to or detract from your standings in the SERPs is pageviews per session.

Pageviews per session refers to how many webpages a visitor visits anytime they come to your website. If a visitor checks out multiple pages per session, it shows that they’re highly engaged with your site, which signals to search engines that your site’s content is valuable.

Here’s what you can do to encourage visitors to visit more than one page per session:

  • Make Your Site Easy to Navigate: If your site is easy to navigate through, it’s more likely that users will navigate around! Make sure your header and footer menus are clear and well-laid-out and ensure that users can search on your site easily, and that content, products, information, and posts are easy to find.
  • Add Internal Links: Internal linking is key for keeping visitors on your site. Make sure to link to other relevant blog posts within new blog posts, link to your FAQ page, size guides, or product assembly videos from your product pages, link to your most popular product collections from your homepage, etc. Basically, just make it easy for users to click around your site without having to search for anything. Anticipate where they might want to go next!
  • Add Call-to-Action Buttons: Draw attention to where you want your visitors to go next with call-to-action buttons. These should be obvious, they should stand alone (meaning they should have a fair amount of whitespace around them), and they should have great copy that makes users want to click. You can add call-to-action buttons on your homepage, on product pages, on blog pages, on thank-you pages, on your About page, etc.
  • Optimize Your Site for Mobile: Most people use their mobile devices to browse the internet rather than desktop computers—plus if you’re directing traffic from your socials then you’re even more likely to have visitors viewing your site on their mobile devices, so make sure your site is optimized for it. If visitors are having a hard time navigating your site or it doesn’t appear clearly on their smaller device, they probably won’t want to keep browsing.

How to Track Your SEO Progress

How to Track Your SEO Progress

Improving your SEO is the goal—but how do you know if you’re successful or not?

You need to keep tabs on your SEO progress! Here’s how.

Track Your Traffic

The main goal with all of your SEO efforts is to drive traffic to your site—so track that metric!

But since SEO tends to be a slow burn, track the traffic to your site over time. See how certain webpages, blog posts, or product pages perform monthly, quarterly, and yearly, and keep track of how much traffic they’re getting. If traffic starts to die down, it might be an indicator that your SEO efforts are wearing off and it’s time to update them or try new ones.

You can track your traffic through your site platform’s analytics dashboard, or through Google Analytics.

Track Your Keyword Rankings

A big part of your SEO strategy is where you end up in the SERPs. Whether you’re in the first spot, third spot or tenth spot is going to make a big impact on the amount of traffic you get, so it’s important to keep track of where you’re landing.

Plus, it’s important to know if you’re not ranking for your keywords at all so you can modify your SEO strategies and/or change the keyword you’re targeting!

We use SERPWatcher to keep tabs on our keywords and it’s one of the best things we do. We already use its sister tool, KWFinder, for our keyword research so it made sense to add SERPwatcher to our roster of SEO tools, too.

We love SERPwatcher because it keeps tabs on the keywords we’re ranking for—or not ranking for—and how our positions change in the SERPs. SERPwatcher lets us know when our rankings go up or down so we can make any changes, and it also gives us an idea of which of our posts aren’t doing so well so we can update the SEO on them.

Track What Keywords You’re Ranking For

Just because you set out to target a certain keyword, doesn’t mean that you’ll rank for that keyword—but you might rank for another keyword you hadn’t even planned for!

You can track this with a tool like SEMrush. It’s a powerful SEO tool that offers a lot of different insights, but one of those insights is the keywords that you rank for. This can help you understand what you’re actually ranking for that you might not have planned to, so you can keep those keywords on your radar and keep tabs on them if you want to.

Track Your Website Authority

Use a website authority checker like Ahrefs to track your site’s authority over time. As you improve your SEO, and as your domain ages, it’s possible for your website authority to increase, so keep tabs on it quarterly and yearly to see if it does. An increased site authority demonstrates that you’re doing the right things!

Track Ancillary Metrics

Remember all those additional off-site SEO strategies we mentioned in the section above?

  • Time-on-Site
  • Bounce Rate
  • Pageviews Per Visit

Keep tabs on those metrics over time, too. If your time on site is increasing, your bounce rate is decreasing, and your pageviews per visit are increasing, it’ll likely bring you SEO benefits.

Tracking these metrics won’t tell you exactly how your SEO is doing, but they’re SEO-related so they’re worth keeping an eye on monthly, quarterly, and yearly.

SEO Tools

SEO Tools

There are probably lots of different SEO tools out there, but these are our top recommendations and the ones worth actually spending money on:

  • KWFinder: For finding keywords to target. Find out how we use KWFinder in our Keyword Research article and get more in-depth information in our KWFinder Review
  • SERPWatcher: For tracking keywords in the SERPs. Learn more about the tool in our SERPWatcher Review.
  • LinkMiner: For finding backlink opportunities
  • SEMrush: For all-things SEO (there’s basically nothing SEO-related that SEMrush can’t do). Find out how SEMrush boosted our organic traffic by 500% in our SEMrush Review.
  • Ahrefs: For tracking your domain authority
  • SEOReviewTools: For checking domain authority and page authority

Note: The first three tools are all part of Mangools, which offers several SEO-focused tools under one subscription, so you actually get access to a lot of tools for a reasonable price!

How to Use SEMrush to Spy on Your Competition

Not only is SEMrush useful for your own SEO efforts, but it’s also useful for conducting SEO warfare. Use it to spy on your competitor’s SEO so you can swoop in under their feet and take the top spots from them. In this section, we’ll share how.

Note: As helpful and powerful as it is, you don’t need to use SEMrush. If you are interested in SEMrush, keep reading this section. But if you don’t think you’ll use it, skip to the next section.

In the main search bar of SEMrush, you have three main things you can search for. The first is a domain (i.e. amazon.com). By searching for a domain, SEMrush is going to pull all the information from that domain, which includes all pages for that domain. To search for a domain, make sure you leave out the http://. For example, amazon.com instead of https://www.amazon.com.

The next thing you can search for is a keyword. By searching for a particular keyword, SEMrush will pull a report of all domains and pages ranking for that keyword.

Finally, you can search for a URL. A URL differs from a domain because SEMrush will only pull information from that exact one page. For example, if you search https://www.amazon.com, SEMrush will only pull information from the homepage of Amazon, and none of the other pages from the Amazon site.

For the purpose of this walkthrough, we’re going to walk you through uncovering lucrative keywords from a domain (not a keyword or URL).

To begin, search for a competitor’s domain in SEMrush that feels relatively similar to your site. Keep in mind that unless you are trying to target a specific geographical area, most of you will want to make sure you select the USA. This means that all the information and reports that SEMrush pulls will be coming from Google’s USA database.

Your search will bring up a dashboard, similar to this:

SEMrush SEO Research Tool

The top section gives an “Overview” of the domain’s stats:

  • The predicted Authority Score (in this example, the domain has a score of 87/100 which is considered high and therefore valuable)
  • The Organic Search Traffic (4.3 million visitors/month coming from search engines)
  • The Paid Search Traffic (243,500 visitors/month coming from paid search engines ads)
  • The total number of Backlinks (there are 741.8 million backlinks to this domain)
  • The Display Ads (89,200 websites publish this domain’s Google Display Network ads)

On the right-hand side of the second section, you’ll see the “Traffic Trend” which is a graph showing the total predicted organic search volume over 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, and all-time. This can help show you how both your domain—as well as your competitor’s domain—are progressing.

Finally in the third section, on the left-hand side, you’ll see the “Top Organic Keywords” which are the top keywords the domain is organically ranking for in Google, along with their position in the search results (1 is the first search result, 10 would be the last search result on the first page, and 11 would be the first search result on the second page of Google).

Also in the “Top Organic Keywords” section, under “Volume” you’ll see the approximate monthly search volume for each keyword the domain is ranking for, and the approximate cost-per-click (“CPC”) if the keyword was being targeted with Google Adwords ads. Finally, next to CPC is “Traffic %” which shows the percentage of organic traffic that’s coming to the domain from each particular keyword.

Note: It’s really important to note that most websites have a few main keywords and pages that bring in 80% of their traffic. This is the Pareto Principle (80% of the results for 20% of the work) at play and is exactly why what we’re about to show you is so powerful.

Here’s how you can use this data to get an edge on your competitors:

  • In the “Top Organic Keywords” section, click on “View Details” to get the full keyword report
  • Look at all of the keywords to see the top-ranking posts
  • Click on each top-ranking blog post’s URL and analyze the content. How good is it? Can it be better? What are the comments saying? How many social shares are there? What’s missing? (There’s always something missing.) Is it practical and resourceful?
  • Check the SEMrush report for the number of backlinks to the page—can you get more backlinks?
  • Now check the domain authority and page authority. Is the website in the same battle arena as you? Can you compete?
  • If so, game on.
  • Gather your resources for the battle.
  • In Googele, search for the keyword and review the other top blog posts. Create an initial list of headlines and subheadlines to start giving your post some structure.
  • Then create your content and make it killer. Make sure the writing’s on-point and interesting, add stats and data, include charts or diagrams, include links, tips, and resources, and don’t forget images, videos, and other media, too.
  • Next, SEO-optimize your content (using all the tactics we mentioned in this article).
  • Finally, post your content, and then watch the magic happen!

And there you have it! A competitive SEO strategy to steal your competitors’ keywords.

This is just a snapshot of what SEMrush can do though—we’re barely even scratching the surface here—so if you really want to dig into your or your competitor’s SEO, it’s worth checking out.

SEO Courses

SEO Courses

There are very few SEO courses that we trust and recommend, but these are the ones we do:

  • Clickminded SEO Course: This is a really beginner-friendly SEO course that’s thorough and practical. Get more information about this course and other good courses for entrepreneurs in our Best Online Business Courses for Entrepreneurs article.
  • Backlinko’s SEO Course: Brian Dean is the king of SEO so his blog alone is worth reading, but his SEO course is next-level. If you want to know everything about SEO or want all the advanced SEO strategies, this is the course to take. It’s not always open to enroll in though, so check out his blog and sign up to his newsletter in the meantime.

Short SEO Checklist

SEO Website Checklist

Next time you’re optimizing a webpage or blog post for SEO, use this quick checklist of on-site SEO tactics to make sure you don’t miss anything. This is what we run through every time we post a blog post or a product page to make sure that we keep our SEO consistent and thorough at all times.

  • Is your title optimized for SEO? Is the keyword is in the title, and if possible, at the beginning of the title?
  • Is the meta title for the page optimized?
  • Has the page slug (URL) been optimized to include the keyword?
  • Is the meta description for the page is optimized?
  • Have you used keywords in your H Tags?
  • Is the keyword used in the introductory paragraph?
  • Is the keyword is used an appropriate number of times throughout the page/article? Not too often (keyword stuffing) and not too little (under-optimized).
  • Have the page tags been optimized with the target keywords?
  • Have the file names for the images on the page been optimized with the relevant keywords?
  • Have the titles and alt tags of the images on the page been optimized with the relevant keywords?
  • Are all images optimized to reduce their file size as much as possible? (Using tools like ImageOptim and ShortPixel)
  • Have appropriate backlinks been linked on the page/article?
  • Have internal links been linked where applicable?
  • Do all of the links have keyword-optimized anchor text?
  • Have you added other relevant multi-media to your page like videos, GIFs, podcast audio, infographics, charts, etc. to make the page as engaging as possible?
  • Does your page/article have a competitive word count compared to other pages/articles ranking for your target keyword?

Conclusion

And there you have our comprehensive overview of all things SEO! You should now have an idea of why you need to implement SEO on your site, and which ecommerce SEO strategies you can use, whether they’re on-site or off-site. Using these SEO tips will help you boost your traffic so be consistent with them, don’t be afraid to experiment with the different SEO strategies, and keep trying new things! There’s a lot of value in SEO so it’s worth putting the time in to get it right.



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The Marketing Strategy That Grew Sales 10x in 18 Months

The Marketing Strategy That Grew Sales 10x in 18 Months


Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson always had a hard time finding safe and effective hair care products for afro, coily, and curly hair. The duo founded Afrocenchix to create the products they’ve always dreamed of that are good for people and the planet. In this episode of Shopify Masters, we chat with Rachael on how the business was created and how COVID-19 has challenged the duo to find new ways to grow.

For the full transcript of this episode, click here.

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Show Notes

Tips for transitioning your side hustle into a full-time career

Felix: Your journey started as a consumer looking for a product, almost a decade earlier. Tell us more about where it all began.

Rachael: My business partner Joycelyn and I met at university and we bonded over the haircare problems we both had. She was suffering from traction alopecia, which is hair loss caused by tight styling by things like braids and weaves. I also had some hair loss and I’ve got really bad eczema. I’m allergic to most of the haircare products out there. Joycelyn used to relax my hair for me, which is chemically straightening it by using sodium hydroxide. That’s the same active ingredient that you find in drain unblocker and oven cleaners. It’s caustic soda and is really, really strongly alkaline. Dangerous stuff that you should not apply to your hair. Both of us had had our moms do this for us since we were about three or four.

So my scalp was a mess, my neck was a mess, and one day she said, “I’m not doing this for you anymore.” And very long story short, we got talking. Joycelyn had started looking into natural ingredients for her hair loss and she’d made an oil for her hair. I used it on my skin and got really excited because I wasn’t allergic to it. I tried to get her to start a business. She said, “No.” And here we are 10 years later running Afrocenchix making safe, effective hair care products for people all around the world.

Felix: What made you take that jump from “There’s no suitable product out there” to “Let’s start a business”?

Rachael: It started off with that conversation. After Joycelyn had given me a DIY oil and I wanted her to start a business and she’d said no, I started thinking that there have to be other people like us who struggled to find products that work for them. We would both joke that we are product junkies, and nothing really worked. At this stage, it was all about research. I was studying law at the time. If you’re a law student, you get super into going into journals and doing research. 

I did manage to convince Joycelyn to do that with me, so we did a little research and I said to her, “Okay, look, we’ve got at least three years at university. Let’s put in £50 each,” so about $65, “And let’s buy the best possible ingredients.” ”Let’s get some organic oils, let’s research which ingredients work best for all our problems. And let’s make our own cosmetics to last us through university, and we can just sell the excess.” Worst case scenario, we don’t sell anything. We’ve got products to last us through university. Best case scenario, we sell some and it covers the cost and we’ve essentially got all cosmetics for free and find a fun hobby on the side. We agreed on that basis and, I’ve always been a bit of a hacker, I like to mess about with websites. So I built a really basic website. It was rubbish, it was very, very basic but we were getting traffic from all around the world. People asking us questions. We would just like reading these science papers, putting them into basic simple language, and putting it up on the site and people really loved it.

We ended up entering a competition for ethical and sustainable business innovation at our university. We won some money and they encouraged us to properly register the business. It wasn’t a real business yet, but we registered it in order to access this money. It wasn’t until much later, 2017, that we launched our Shopify store and things started to really take off.

The co-founders of Afrocenchix, Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson sitting down with products in front of them.
Afrocenchix

Felix: What was the process? What obstacles did you encounter between “Let’s start a business” to winning this award? 

Rachael: It was struggle upon struggle. Joycelyn and I used to just have these little hustles. Initially, this started off as one of many little schemes and we had to just survive university. We came from quite poor backgrounds, we didn’t have families that could support us financially. We both had part-time jobs and in a way, it was another one of these little, “Okay, let’s do a little scheme to survive,” kind of thing.

What changed is we had all this traffic to our website. We had this award that we won for the idea. It’s funny because we had this huge vision from the start. It was all about health and wellbeing and helping people who have allergies or who had hair loss. We really cared about people having an option for their beauty needs that didn’t mess with their health. If you look at the research, 78% of products that are aimed towards black women contain toxic ingredients linked to cancer, fibroids, respiratory issues, all really serious conditions. We had this huge vision that every single person around the world who has Afro and curly hair will be able to access safe, effective products. We just didn’t have the confidence to think we could do it and we were students, right?

The timeline is we finished our degrees, we graduated around 2011, Joycelyn 2012. We got full-time jobs. We realized it wasn’t sustainable for us to do this on the side because it was growing too fast. After work, Joycelyn would get on the train, come to my house, we would make six bottles of shampoo, post them out, and then we’d do the same the next day. It was quite exhausting. Every other day we were having to travel to one or the other’s kitchen, and then go to the post office for these really small orders. Around this stage, it got a bit unmanageable. We realized, ‘Okay, this has been a hobby. We like to learn, we like to make things simple and share that information with people.”

We’re getting traction on our YouTube, on our blog, and people are really interested in the product, but all the money we were making we were reinvesting into the business. We weren’t making enough money to sustain us, we realized we had to take a leap of faith. We had to either quit our jobs or go part-time in order to give it a real shot. We always used to joke that if we knew how hard it would be, we would never have started the business. We’re really glad we didn’t know how hard it would be.

When we started making the products, we literally sat there with a pipette and a Petri dish and we would drip out the essential oils until we found our signature scent and got that right when most of our competitors were just using artificial fragrances, which were much easier to blend. Because we were paying so much attention to detail, it was difficult having to move huge, heavy vats of olive oil or coconut oil, having to mix things by hand. It’s not glamorous at all. It’s quite physically strenuous work to do. Doing that in the evening when you’re tired, after a full day of lectures or a full day of work, that’s really hard.

There wasn’t much space to think about strategy, to think about when we wanted this to be a real big focus for us. What pushed us over the edge was in 2016, I was doing my masters at UCL and we won another business competition there. We started talking about raising investment and realized, ‘Okay, this is kind of the tipping point.” I had to quit a full-time job to go back to study, Joycelyn went part-time so that we could sustain the business. We realized, “Okay, we’re either going to raise investment, do this big and become a global brand, or we’re just going to stop.” So clearly we didn’t decide to stop and now we’re building a global brand.

“When we switched to Shopify our sales tripled overnight.”

Felix: Many entrepreneurs come to this tipping point, where they have to decide if they’re all in. Any recommendations or lessons from managing that transition? 

Rachael: The main thing we learned is that it’s really important to just do your best work. If you do your best work and if you publicize that, the rest comes along. We started off by saying, “Okay, let’s make a new strategy.” Every year around the time the annual accounts are due, we set the strategy for the company. We set the budget for the next year, and we present it to our investors. We were doing this even back in 2016. We had a couple of angel investors who had put in like a really small amount of money, around £10,000. That had gone on equipment, because it’s really expensive to start off the kind of business that we run, and on a training course.

I studied trichology, which is super specialized dermatology, the science of the scalp and hair. That helped us to lay a strong scientific foundation for Afrocenchix. When we decided, “Okay, we’re going to take this a bit more seriously. Let’s see if it can be a full-time job. Let’s see if we can hire people and grow a team.” It started off with getting in touch with a friend who did a lot of volunteering with us and who I’d worked with. I knew what her work ethic was. I knew she was really smart. She was really clued up, she loved the brand and she cared about what we were doing.

We sold her on the vision and she became employee number one. The first project that she did was to help us migrate our buggy, glitchy, broken WordPress site over to Shopify. That was major for us. For context, when we had our WordPress site, we had a great developer, but they were super busy and we didn’t have much budget. I was doing a lot of the work on that, and I’m not a developer. I learned how to code from Myspace and the Neo Pets. We’re talking really basic stuff here.

Every time someone would try to buy something and check out, their basket would end up abandoned. Not because they abandoned the basket, but because the site was so buggy that I would have to call the customers to recover the baskets over the phone. That was time-consuming and it was the worst kind of website you could have for what was attempting to be an e-commerce brand. When we switched to Shopify, our sales, I kid you not, tripled overnight. We were still doing really low amounts. We went from doing say 10 orders a week to 30 orders a week, which for us was a big deal because we were still making batches of six bottles of hair product at a time. 

From there, we were able to grow really rapidly. Every month we had massive growth because of the fact that with Shopify, you can add plugins, you can change the code really easily. Everything works pretty smoothly. That helped us a huge amount and then also, we had an employee now. I was still working as a contractor, so I had a lot more flexibility to my time. It was starting to all come together. Then we were able to focus on, “Okay, what would a marketing funnel look like for us? What kind of campaigns can we set up? What extra value can we give our customers? What kind of content should be created?” That’s helped us to get to the stage where now we’re doing a thousand orders a month, which two or three years ago was a bit of a pipe dream.

Balancing things was about having the humility to ask outside help, to look for opportunities, and take advantage of them, but also to make sure that we were constantly re-aligning ourselves to our vision and to our strategy and making sure that every single move we made was something that would take us to the next significant milestone.

“Balancing things was about having the humility to ask outside help, to look for opportunities, and take advantage of them, but also to make sure that we were constantly re-aligning ourselves.”

Why asking for help can be the best thing you do for your business 

Felix: A lot of entrepreneurs think they can do it all themselves. How do you diagnose when it’s time to seek help, either for yourself or your business? 

Rachael: That’s a really good question. You can always do it with help. Which is a separate question, to whether or not you need help. But even if you are the world’s top expert on something, there’s always something you can learn, or you can get together with another expert and get real leverage to multiply your efforts. The African proverb applies: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Joycelyn and I both have what you would call a hurry up the driver. We had some Exec coaching together, which I jokingly call founder therapy. We identified the different drivers that lead you to action. Some people will have a “be perfect” driver. Some people have a “hurry up” driver.

There are all sorts of things that drive people and both of us have this thing where we’re obsessed with speed and doing things quickly, unlike many founders that means that we are forced to react to opportunities and we’re constantly innovating, coming up with new things. The detrimental side of that is the quality isn’t always where you want it to be, if you’re constantly going fast. We put in breaks by creating processes. If we’re going to write a blog post, rather than just throw anything together and put it out there, we have a process.It starts off with research. What are the questions people are asking? What are the Google keywords that are important to hit for SEO? What are the questions our customers have come up with recently?

Then you go into: these are the sources we’ll use for our research, this is the length of the article, this is how many pictures this is where the alt tags will go, this is going to be the H1 heading, this will be the H2 heading. There’s a whole process in place where you’re thinking about snippets and Google, and you’re thinking about how the different algorithms work, and you’ve got a clear purpose in mind. Then you’re going to also need to plan out when to release the article. It can’t be a standalone article. What other articles do you need?” You go from, “I’m just going to quickly write this article to, Oh, it has to fit within this process, within this wider system, and it needs other things to hold it up so that it works.” When you do that, even though you introduce breaks and you slow yourself down a little bit, it ensures that the work you do will actually achieve the purpose that you want it to achieve, instead of putting in a bunch of effort and nothing comes out of it.

That’s the key. Making sure that you plan things out, and you force yourself to slow down and think, “Okay, what’s the aim in this?” When you start to do that, you realize, “Oh, okay. So in this area, perhaps I don’t know much about the latest algorithm, or I need a little bit more help in how to do research into customers, or maybe I’m not the best person to look into keyword analysis.” At that stage, you’ll either be thinking, “Okay, let me speak to a freelancer, let me speak to a friend, or let me put together a job description and get ready to hire someone who could be an intern, work experienced person, or it could be an employee.” The easiest way to identify where you need help is to do a bit of research, do a bit of planning, and it will become very evident.

A model looks into the mirror while adjusting her bonnet from Afrocenchix, the table in front of her has products from Afrocenchix, books, and a candle.
Constant learning and seeking new opportunities allowed Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson to land funding that were crucial for the growth of Afrocenchix. Afrocenchix

Felix: You mentioned a benefit of the “hurry up” driver is that you’re able to quickly identify opportunities and seize them. What are some ways that you have been able to find opportunities and seize them?

Rachael: Before we hired a team we were raising investment in 2008, and we are both black women; we’re relatively young. There’s been loads of research recently about the investment gap for black founders and a really interesting piece that came out last week, that showed that for black women, the gap is a bit ridiculous. Only eight women have had VC funding in the last 10 years in the UK. We’re talking not even one a year. It’s really, really low. Obviously, that piece of information came out recently, but we did know that less than 1% of VC money went to black founders and even less to female founders. We knew it was going to be really hard, but we thought this is a venture-backed proposition. We’re building this huge global brand; we’re planning to be available to every person with Afro and curly hair around the globe. We need to do this big, otherwise, there’s no point. When we started to speak to people about pitching, we found that we just didn’t know that much information. We’d go to events like Startup Grind, we went to any kind of fireside chat that was happening, that we heard about. We joined Product Hunt. We started looking at AngelList. 

We Googled a lot and thought, “Okay, that’s a place to go. Let’s do that.” Eventually, we started to make friends with people who were in the VC space and that was really helpful. One of the things we did is we started to engineer opportunities. If we saw that a VC that we wanted to invest in us was speaking somewhere, we would get tickets; we’d go to the talks, we’d take notes, we’d make sure we’ve watched their talks beforehand. Then we would always ask a question where we’d start off by introducing ourselves and doing a little elevator pitch, and then go into our question. Not those annoyance statement questions that everybody hates, because those are awful. But a question that shows that we were actually listening to them. A question that if it was answered would be useful to us, also to the audience and that got attention.

We did that with Arlan Hamilton, and that was the first time she heard about Afrocenchix. She ended up being part of the round where we were selected from thousands of entrepreneurs for the Backstage Capital Accelerator program via the inaugural one in London. We raised some investment there. Similarly, we would just go into different events and just talk about the fact that we were raising investment, which some people said that’s not the way you do it and you’re meant to be undercover. People even said, “It’s embarrassing for people to know you’re raising investment.” But it worked for us. We were trying to raise £350,000. We actually raised well over £500,000. We had to turn down money from investors who weren’t aligned with us. 

We raised a little bit of money from SoftBank via WeWork. We ended up winning the WeWork London Creator Awards, and then they flew us out to LA and we won some money in the Global Creator Awards as well. The judges were people like Gary Vee, Ashton Kutcher, Vanessa Kingori, who is a Vogue editor. People like Kirsten Green, who is from Forerunner Ventures and one of the first investors in Glossier. The way we got that opportunity is kind of crazy. I was asking for advice in this WhatsApp group someone had added me to when they saw I was raising investment and a few people in there ended up investing in us.

One of the angels who were soft committed at the time worked in tech and he was like, “My company is based in WeWork. WeWork have this competition you should enter.” That was this huge opportunity, but I didn’t take it seriously because I knew the stat about black women not doing very well when it came to investment. I thought this is a big PR exercise, but it’s a VC investment. That hasn’t gone too well for people who look like us. Also, Joycean was on holiday. So it was just me and Nadia, whose employee number one in the office and we had other stuff to do. But I was like, “Okay, I respect this guy. He’s saying he’s going to invest. Let me just do it just so that Gary will know that I take him seriously.”

I threw together an application and we were prepared for the opportunity because we did a crowdfunding campaign. We already had a video ready. We were raising investments and we already had a pitch deck. That meant the application process was pretty quick, I just got Nadia to chop up the video and change it to meet the parameters of the We Work one. When we got shortlisted, we went to the semifinals, and we did our pitch, we didn’t actually expect to get to the finals. We were shocked that we did. When we got there, I did not expect us to win at all. I did the pitch because I thought, “Hey, I’m like two days off of giving birth.” 

It was my due date to give birth to my son, but it was my second pregnancy. I’d had my daughter. I felt like I know when my body’s going to give up and that wasn’t the day. Joycelyn was ready to jump in if she needed to but I thought, “No, no. I’m going to do the pitch because I think it would be great PR and I want to send the message that being pregnant isn’t some kind of barrier to doing things. You can still do a pitch when you’re pregnant.” I did the pitch and then afterward I thought, “Okay, it went fine. It was okay. I think I like fluff.” It was like a 60-second pitch then Q&A. I thought Q&A went great. Kind of fluffed the pitch. 

Then they were calling the winners out and I didn’t think that I needed to be on stage when they were announcing the winners, because I didn’t think we would win. But I wanted the opportunity just for PR and I thought it would be great practice to do a pitch. I thought, “Hey, the photos will be great.” And it’s something that people talk about, right? Turns out I was completely wrong and we did win. We won this investment, which was pretty crazy. That was a massive lesson to me that when any opportunity arises, you should always take it because you don’t know what can come from it.

We got loads of press. We also got flown out to LA, we got to meet Diddy, Gary Vee. We got to hang out with Ashton Kutcher. We didn’t have long conversations with them backstage, but the things they did say were so helpful that we still bring those things up today. I’d say when it comes to seizing opportunities, luck is like 50% preparation at least. If you want something, make sure that you’ve done all the foundational work so that when your lucky break comes, you’re prepared to take it.

“That was a massive lesson to me that when any opportunity arises, you should always take it because you don’t know what can come from it.”

Felix: Now that there’s more at stake, how do you maintain this kind of attitude? 

Rachael: We’re now a team of seven and we’re hiring for a growth hacker. We’re just about to start a new cosmetic chemist on Monday. We’ve got growth happening at a team level. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that your people are your company. Your customers are your company, your employees are your company. It’s more important as you scale for you to be visible and actually do the training, talk to your team. The way that we ensure that we keep these values, that we keep our power authenticity, our collaboration or excellence, is we literally write our values out on the wall.

We’ve got company values on our office wall. We do quite intensive training for everyone who joins the company. We personally deliver that. There are a few bits and pieces that we get external people to do for training, but I’m a really firm believer in founders training their teams, training their people, being super involved in the hiring, definitely for the first 100 hires. It’s so important. We’ve got an employee handbook, we have the training, and we regularly revisit the training. Quarterly we’ll do some new form of training or some new refresher. But we do it in a way that’s really fun and engaging. We make sure that we keep up-to-date with the latest research, that we add references to our training, that the team knows what they’re going to get from it. We focus on ensuring that our team can achieve mastery in the area for which they were hired.

There’s a book called Drive by Daniel Pink. It talks about the three main components of motivation being autonomy, purpose, and mastery. When we’re training people, we’re making clear to them, “Okay, if you learn these things, if you manage to do these things, well, if you have this attitude, you will be able to have mastery, and having mastery means we can give you more and more autonomy.” Which is what we want everyone to have anyway.

We hire people who are entrepreneurial, who have a growth mindset, who really care about our community. That means we can hand over more and more things to them so we can grow the company. The purpose part is all about reminding people, “Hey, this is about health and wellbeing. This is about giving every single person in the world, access to safe, effective natural products.” People will want to work for us for all sorts of reasons. It might be because we’re like the only vegan certified brand for Afro hair products in the UK. It might be because we win all these awards. It might be that they just love our products, whatever it is, we still have to make sure that we sell them on the dream, we sell them on the narrative and we let them take ownership of that and be part of the process. If you do those things, if you focus on motivating your team and training them, it will help you to maintain the things that helped you to get to the stage you’re in and it will help you to grow even further.

Invest in training: an often overlooked key to start-up success

Felix: How do you develop the training, is it specific to each role? 

Rachael: We have general and specific training. We have an introduction to Afrocenchix that everybody gets, we have product training so that everyone knows everything about the entire range. We have hair science training. I know way too much about hair. It’s a little bit weird and embarrassing, but it’s important that way more than you need to know so that you can pass that information on and so that you can answer customer questions well. We could just train people on a script or like FAQ’s. But rather than saying to people, “Okay, if a mom comes to you and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got straight hair. My child has Afro hair and I don’t know what to do with it because it gets really dry and then it tangles and it breaks. What do I do?”

We could just tell them, “Okay, you sell them the Moisture Surge Set and you explain that it’s got coconut concentrate and it’s got shea butter from an organic fair trade cooperative in Ghana, and it’s got aloe vera, which is a humectant which seals in the moisture. And that if you use these products together, these are the results you’ll get.” We could do that but the danger you have there is people, they learn a script. Things are not personalized. They end up selling features rather than benefits. And if someone presents a question in a way they’re not used to, it falls apart and it’s a hot mess. What we prefer to do, is train people on the basics so that they can construct their own answers. Then we go through case studies to kind of test that knowledge before we get them to speak directly to customers and we’re speaking to customers or prospective customers every day.

Rather than doing all that we say, “Okay, well, the head is made up of bundles that have Keratin fibers, it’s held together by water bonds. You’ve got the structure that’s made up of the cortex and the cuticle.” We show them the diagrams and we explain all of these things so that people understand, “Oh, okay. So you have to strengthen the water bonds with water-based products.” And that means they know to direct customers who complain about dryness towards a base product. They know, “Oh, you have to smooth down the cuticle with oil.” Then they know to tell customers to use oils after the moisturizers and not the other way round. Those things are really important. People always go on and on about how knowledgeable our team is, and how helpful our customer service people are. They enjoy being able to flex on the community and be like, “Hey, I know all this stuff. I can help you with your problems.”

We hire people that really care. We do stuff like hair science training. We do stuff like SEO training. Not everyone on the team will get R&D training, but we will do training on how you develop a product and that’s very intensive. We do it in our mini-lab that we’ve built in London, and we literally show people how to go from research of the product to prototype, and then all the way through to testing product trials and release. We also have communication training, we have GDPR training, which is really important. Everyone has to do that. We have customer care training. We’ve got this customer care manifesto, and every single member of the team has to understand what our promise to the customer is and how we intend to keep it.

It’s probably more than a lot of startups have and perhaps it’s a bit overboard, but we’re gearing ourselves up and we’re preparing for the fact that every single person who we hire now on our journey to get to our first 12 employees, each of them should be able to lead a whole department and train up other people. The only way to ensure that is to pass on the information that we have to people who are competent and help them to be confident, to be their best so they can develop that mastery. They can have that autonomy. They can work towards the purpose of getting our products out there, making them accessible to improve people’s health and wellbeing. By doing that, by really investing hard in training, even though it’s not this urgent thing to do, it’s really important.

We find that things that are important and not urgent often get squeezed out because of noisier things that grab our attention, or emails that appear in your inbox, or press opportunities, conversations with investors. All of these things are a lot more noisy and can grab your attention. Things like training, your team, creating company processes, investing, and things like the SEO of your website or setting up sales funnels and training your team to do all of those things. Those are not activities that are celebrated or talked about a lot in the startup community.

A selection of Afrocenchix products backdropped by a makeup back and mirror along with books and a candle.
Hair care is a high context product category and the team at Afrocenchix is all about training their staff to understand its products inside and out. Afrocenchix

Felix: This focus on the long term is often overlooked, was there something you learned along the way to make you take this approach? 

Rachael: The fact me and my business partner worked for a bit before we went full-time on the company really helped. I worked at Kraft’s head office in the UK, and I worked as a data analyst. I saw that the way I was trained sucked. I didn’t enjoy the training, and it wasn’t like my manager wasn’t cool. It wasn’t their fault. It was just that there were parts that had clearly been planned way in advance. My first day my orientation was fantastic. They indoctrinated me into Cadbury’s World and I had so much love for the brand after that. Then they sent me to Cadbury World, which is basically a theme park and gave me loads of free chocolate. So that was great. That was a good initiation, but the training to actually do my job, it was really boring. I was a data analyst and I was dealing a lot with Excel spreadsheets and VLOOKUPs, that kind of thing. No one at any point explained why I was doing what I was doing. I’m a curious person. I need to understand how things work in order for me to care otherwise they just feel like it’s wasted time. So what happened is they were kind of treating me and everyone in my department that like a cog in a machine, who was just taking data from one place, running some analysis, and putting it in another.

I would ask questions to figure out what exactly I was doing. I was in the supply and demand management department. It was about making sure that the factories produced enough chocolate to meet demand from all of the different retailers, but not too much that it ended up in a landfill, getting thrown away, or destroyed. Balancing that was the super complex thing. That’s actually really interesting, but no one told me that. Big organizations often have this thing where you can just go into folders you’re not meant to be in and just read about the company. So I did that because I wanted to be good at my job. And I just thought it was interesting. 

I took those lessons and I thought, “Okay, I never want anyone in Afrocenchix to feel like a cog in a machine who’s just doing something and do not understand what they’re doing.” So every single member of the team, whether they’re customer-facing or not, they’re going to hear customer reviews. They’re going to hear these transformative stories. They’re going to understand how happy they make our customers and the huge impact that they are making. Similarly, my business partner Joycelyn worked in recruitment. She worked with underprivileged kids, getting them into the corporate world, meaning she worked with a lot of people on improving CVs, cover letters, that kind of thing. Her training was okay, but she didn’t love it. It didn’t really help her to feel a sense of purpose and to feel engaged. She saw that “Okay, there’s high turnover in a lot of these places.” We had a lot of conversations and one of the things we explored was the fact that high turnover is often due to companies becoming too big, too fast, not having clear processes, not taking their people on the journey. That showed us that, “Okay, we want to build a company that we enjoy working at and that anyone who joins us will like working with us.” The way to do that is to make sure that you bring your people on the journey. You help them to understand why you do what you do. For us, the most obvious way to do that was training. I did work in education for a bit. I worked in schools. So training people was an offshoot of that. Before we had our first hires, we used to have work experience students or interns from local universities come and work for us over the summer.

We decided, Okay, we’re going to train them up. We’re going to give them a leg up so that they can get a job when they graduate and we’re going to give them some real-life work experience, because we know it’s quite hard, especially for women, to get experience in stem. As we were doing that, an unintended consequence, we ended up getting training on how to manage people, how to lead the team. We thought that training was so important that before anyone has to think of anything, you almost have to download your brain and pass it on to them. Those were the main things. 

We had a lot of luck with employee number one, and then employee number two, not so much. It was a big headache and it was a real shame because we invested a lot into her. That’s the downside with a startup, you can train someone up, put a load of resources into them, and then they either leave, or you have to fire them. In this case, it was an issue with her not doing her best work, being a bit dishonest. We went our separate ways, but we’d invested so much time in her and it was really frustrating. I’d actually had advice from a friend in HR and some different advisors who were investors, who basically said, “When you’re a small business, you cannot afford to invest loads in people. You’ve got a whole team, you have to support all of your team. So you need to make sure you hire slow and fire fast.”

I definitely agree with that, but that doesn’t take away from the need for training. It’s better that you learn someone isn’t up for the role during the recruitment process. If they still slip through the net and you hire someone who maybe has the gift of the gab, is really good at talking, but not so great at doing the job, it will come out during the training process. It’s better that it comes out in training than that it comes out on the job, in front of a customer or managing your website, or on a big marketing campaign. I still think training is really important. I also think you need to be selective with who comes into your startup and who gets to benefit from that training.

“I still think training is really important. I also think you need to be selective with who comes into your startup and who gets to benefit from that training.”

Developing and achieving a 10x marketing strategy 

Felix: Tell us about your 10x marketing strategy.

Rachael: It started off with data. We had to go into our Google Analytics, open up our Shopify reports, look at the logs from our customer calls that we do at Afrocenchix. We had to look at, “Okay, where do we want to go and where are we now?” Then map out the journey. We currently get about 50,000 visitors to our website every month, but we have a lot to do in this. When we started off our 10x plan, we had like 3,000 or 4,000 people visiting the site a month. At that point, we had a conversion rate of around 3%. We thought, Okay, if we want to 10x ourselves, here are the different routes we can take. 

We can increase our traffic but keep our conversion rate the same, or we can improve our conversion rate and keep the traffic the same and we could achieve the goal either way. To improve the conversion rate, what do you need to do? Okay, here is the list of resources. We’ll take this many people. You’ll need a developer, you’ll need a designer, you’ll need someone to be managing that project. They could be outsourced people. It could be hiring more people. Even if we take on those roles within the team, that’s going to be quite a large time commitment. You’ll need serious deep work sessions. That’s going to be l three, four months of work. It will take a certain amount of money and we looked at it that way. Then we also thought, “Okay, so if we keep conversion rates the same, but we increase our traffic, how do we do that?” You can do it through SEO, which people say is free, but it’s not really for you because you have to create content, which takes time and time is money. You have to do research which you can pay someone to do, or you can do the research yourself.

It takes some kind of resource. We looked at that and we mapped it all out and we thought, “Okay, what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a marketing campaign. We’re going to rebrand. We’re going to go to this trade show and we kind of listed out all the different activities. Then we looked at our data and we looked at where our traffic was coming from and made this huge table. We looked at organic, social media, pay-per-click referrals, and events. Then we broke down the activities that feed into each of those channels, which got people onto our website.

Then we just broke it down into, “These are going to be the steps. These are the milestones in order to 10x sales.” Which we did manage to do. It took us about a year and a half, but we’re quite proud that we’ve reached the milestone of 10 times the cells. We’re working on a similar project now and what we learned from that is that if you get the whole team aligned in something, so we wrote the timeline out on the walls so that whenever we were in the office, we could circle it and be like, “Hey, this is where we are. We’re going to do a five-hour sprint now.” Everyone is hard working on adding tags and adding alt tags to all of our blog posts. Then going forward, we’ll make sure that will never have to happen again because we’ll have it within a process if that makes sense. It was about identifying the low-hanging fruit, the areas where you can quickly iterate in the improvement, and then scheduling in the time and lead in the team to do that together.

Felix: When you looked at all the analytics, did you focus on optimizing the areas where more traffic was coming from, or increasing the areas that were more low traffic? 

Rachael: We went the strength route. We tried to be optimistic. We thought that if people on Instagram are loving us, let’s do more on Instagram and see if we get more love. It worked out quite well for us. Our biggest sources of traffic, most of it is actually direct and organic, which is really good. We know that that comes from things like podcasts, speaking engagements, being on panels. We do a lot of pro bono stuff and volunteering. We’ll mentor young people speaking at schools. We don’t do that because it’s good marketing, but an unintended positive consequence of that is if the teacher has Afro hair, or one of the parents hears about it, they take that as a signal that “Wow, you guys must really care.” No one really has time to go and do some fake volunteer work that they don’t publicize in order for people to think that they care about the community.

That sends trust signals, and that teacher is going to tell their friends and family, “Hey, one of the founders of Afrocenchix came and I used their products and I really like it. They did this talk for the kids and the kids loved it. Those kinds of things contribute to organic traffic. It’s a bit harder to trace, but we know what contributes to organic traffic because we call the customers who come through as organic. We go through this survey with them and then we write it down and we know word of mouth is one of the most effective channels. Events are really effective and obviously, with coronavirus, It’s harder to do events, but there are online events we’re doing. And then stuff like flyers are still effective or people reading about us in a magazine, that kind of thing is also beneficial.

Press often feeds into that. People might read about us in a newspaper and then they Google our name and that comes through as an organic search, or it could just be our blog. SEO is huge. It’s one of the biggest drivers of organic traffic along with word of mouth. Then after the organic, it’s split quite evenly between social media and that’s mainly Instagram and Facebook, then search, so Google and YouTube are the main ones. Google has definitely overtaken Instagram for us in terms of the volume of traffic. That’s probably because we’re on this Google for startups program at the moment and we’ve had loads of support in how to improve our Google ads and in doing so, we’ve also managed to improve SEO a bit.

Our biggest sources of traffic are organic, and I think even though you can get false growth through paid traffic, it’s really important to focus on organic because that’s the real litmus test for whether or not you’re offering value to people. If people are coming to your website spontaneously, then returning and telling friends, that’s a good sign that your content is good, and content in a website that works really well organically is going to do better when you then put money behind that and get paid traffic as well.

A model wears a microfiber towel turban from Afrocenchix.
COVID-19 has shifted Afrocenchix’s focus and challenged the team to find new ways to grow. Afrocenchix

Felix: How has the pandemic influenced the business for you? 

Rachael: We sell in general, about 80% of our sales online through our Shopify store, then about 20% was retail. We managed to secure two large retailers. The first mainstream retailer we went into was Whole Foods in the UK. Then we got to a point where two large retailers were going to place an order that was worth about $120,000. That would have come through in April, for us to be stocked in the summer and that was like our biggest order. It was really going to revolutionize the business. Then, of course, the zombie apocalypse began, and that wall fell apart. With all the changes with COVID, we lost out quite a bit. There was an intern we were going to start. We had to stop that. There was a new hire we were going to make, and we did go ahead with that, but we had to completely change the way we onboarded and trained her. She’s great. She’s passed probation from home, which is a first for us Afrocenchix.

We were going to release a new product, and we didn’t get to do that. What we did to get to do was double down in supporting our community. Coronavirus is awful. It’s hit lots of people and we have members of the team who’ve lost loved ones because of the virus. We have so many people in our community who’ve lost loved ones. We have many people in our community who are key workers that are on the front line. They’re doctors, they’re nurses, they’re teachers that are at risk, and what we wanted to do was support them. We started to put out content that was using all of this knowledge that we have, content like how to look after your hair and keep it clean and safe if you’re a doctor because obviously, you have to wash it a lot more.

If you’ve got Afro and curly hair, you typically wash your hair like once or twice a week, but you can’t do that if you’re going to have a high viral load. Then equally when the virus was announced and the lockdown was announced in London around March, our sales dipped massively. No one was thinking about hair care, which was fine and made sense to us. We felt like it was a bit distasteful to keep running ads the way we were, so we turned them off. We stopped our campaigns and we just had a big discussion as a company. We came up with this covid risk management plan and we said, “Okay if we are struggling as a business, and we’ve recently raised investment like our cashflow is great. We’ve got a lot of runways. We have a lot of customers.” We could survive really low sales for a year. But we know that our community’s super entrepreneurial, that we’ve got lots of sole traders, lots of small businesses who are part of our customer base.

If we’ve had a sales dip, they probably had a sales dip too. We decided to use our platform to support our community instead of worrying about sales. We did a community spotlight where we would talk about different service providers or different products being sold by members of our community. We started to do brand partnerships and promote other black-owned businesses. We found that when we did this, it got loads of traffic to our website, which is what we wanted for these other brands. And it got people buying products from these other brands, buying services from these brands and medical providers. We also had trichologists, therapists, all that kind of stuff. They got in touch to thank us and say that they’d gotten more customers, which was great. That’s what we wanted. Another wonderful unintended consequence of us just trying to do what we thought was the right thing to do was every time we’d send out an email with the community spotlight, people would buy our products and our products weren’t even in the email. The lesson there was, if you look after your community, they’re going to look off to you.



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