Category Archives: Advertising Your Products

Make Your Website Visible

Make Your Website VisibleNow that you’re ready to start selling online, it’s time to make your website visible to search engines like Google, Bing and the others.

You can make your website visible through a combination of basic setup steps that announce your presence to the search engines, and search engine optimization (SEO) practices to follow each time you create content on your website, so that prospective customers can find you.

Basic Setup Steps

Your first step to getting found online is to sign up for Google Webmaster Toolsand also submit your site to Bing. Both free services provide basic tools to help make your website visible, including information about how to set up sitemaps to help the search engines find and display your relevant content to people searching for products like yours.

At the time this was written more than two-thirds of internet searches used Google, so prioritize your work accordingly.

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

The purpose of search engine optimization (SEO) is to improve the visibility of your web pages to people who are searching online. If you search Google for SEO you’ll find a great many articles and ads related to the topic.

There’s a lot of information available online about SEO. Some of the advice is valuable, but a lot of it is definitely not, as you’ll learn with experience.  One website I’ve liked that provides free information (along with paid tools) is*, which currently offers a free beginner’s guide to SEO that could be helpful if you’re just starting out.

Avoid Beginner Mistakes

A common SEO beginner mistake is to place too much emphasis on your product or company name in web page titles, headline text, and so on. If few people know your brand, you should focus on figuring out the terms that they’re likely to search to find your solution, and emphasize those key phrases far above your store or product name.

Beware of companies that advertise SEO services, and especially those that claim to boost your search engine rankings through sale of bogus links, fake content, and other artificial tactics. Search engines will almost certainly spot these illegitimate methods and will penalize your website. And as discussed in the article about Steve’s Marketing Rule, you can be almost certain that these advertised services are a waste of money.

Importance of Online Advertising

Paying for search engine marketing through Google AdWords* (and to a lesser extent its competitors) can have important benefits.

  • Creating effective paid search ad campaigns will require you to research and prioritize keywords that people use to find products like yours online, and could help keep you focused on using these terms as you create new web content.
  • I doubt Google would admit it, but I believe there’s a strong correlation between paying Google for their search engine advertising and the free (also called organic) search results people see when they search for your product category.

Next, we’ll cover a few more of the basics of online adverting.

Next: Advertise Online


* This is not a paid endorsement.

Advertise Online

Advertise OnlineAs discussed in the article about making your website visible, there are important reasons to buy online advertising from Google* and others.

The benefits of online advertising can include jump-starting traffic to your website, and keeping you focused on the key terms you’ll need to emphasize on your web pages and in your ads so that you attract relevant visitors.

Different types of online ads that you can buy include:

  • search ads that shows text-based ads to people who are searching for related terms online
  • product listing ads that show very prominent product images and descriptions to people who are searching for items like yours
  • content network ads that show text and graphical ads to people who visit other websites that might be relevant to your product, or to people who fit demographic or behavioral characteristics that you choose
Ads in Google Search Results
Paid Ads Can Be the Most Visible Part of Search Results (Click to Enlarge)

Online ads use a bidding system that costs more when visitors click ads that appear for highly sought-after keywords. Your cost for a single click can range from a few pennies to many dollars.

This image shows examples of the ads that Google displayed when I searched for particular keywords. As you can see, the ads can really stand out compared to the unpaid (also called organic) results that Google also shows.

Focus on Advertising

The success of your online advertising will likely be critical to your business, and in the beginning you can expect to spend lots of time studying different techniques to improve the effectiveness of your ads.

Especially at first, you should keep a watchful eye on advertising effectiveness and spending, as small changes can have a big impact. We’ve heard stories of Google charging unwary advertisers huge sums of money in a matter of hours when improperly configured campaigns caused big expenses without the desired results.

It’s important to set realistic goals for the cost per conversion you’re willing to pay for each sale, and to constantly monitor your campaigns to meet your goals. In the case of our business, increasing online ad budgets to the point where we maximized profits – and avoiding the emotional decision of how much seemed “fair” to pay Google – had a positive impact on our bottom line.

Measure Everything

Before you begin advertising online, you should paste small pieces of tracking code provided by Google and the others on each page of your website to help report how different types of visitors are using your website.

Start by visiting the Google Analytics page (and the analytics pages of other advertisers you will use) to sign up for a free account, and to find the instructions for adding the provided code to your web pages. You will also want to paste different code for conversion tracking on the page that customers will see after they complete a purchase; this helps you to measure the effectiveness of your advertising expenditures.

If your website uses a content management system (CMS), there will likely be a free module to do nearly all the work for you. In the case of WordPress you can choose one of several free plugins that handle the job.

Advertising Considerations

Every product is different, and the nature of your business and competition will determine how easy it can be to create effective online ads. Special considerations can include:

  • Selling a new type of solution whose category is known to few people can make it tough to create effective search ads. In the case of our products, it’s been necessary to aggressively bid for keywords that generally describe our solution, and to run print ads in magazines that prospective customers are likely to read.
  • Products or services that target a limited geographic area can sometimes be easier to advertise online. I’ve found that it can be simpler to compete against other online businesses if your product is focused on a particular territory, since you can design ad campaigns and website pages that appeal to local customers.
  • Competition from large, national companies can make it a real challenge to create cost-effective ads. Your careful planning of targeted online ads – and the quality of information and ease of navigation that people experience on your website – must be better than the competition for you to survive.

Recommended Reading

Online advertising drives a large percentage of our sales, and I feel we owe some of our success to a $49 eBook The Definitive Guide to Google AdWords (Basic Edition)* by Perry Marshall. While I personally have not liked any of the add-on modules or other products I’ve tried from this author and his affiliates, I think this basic $49 eBook is worth many times its cost.

Early on I was persuaded to pay $500 for a credible-sounding consulting company to study our Google AdWords campaigns and suggest some improvements. It quickly became clear that because I knew my customers and had studied that $49 eBook, my own planning and analysis was much better than what the consultants could provide.

Test Your Alternatives

In addition to online ads, there are lots of other advertising options that you can try. These include advertising in print publications, sponsoring publishers’ email newsletters, and even direct mail.

My advice is to try everything you reasonably can, and to always test your results. In the case of more traditional advertising like print ads, we found it necessary to publish different coupon codes that offer readers a discount so that we can track the effectiveness of those ads.

We did discover one iron-clad rule to save money on marketing. More about that next.

Next: Steve’s Marketing Rule

* This is not a paid endorsement.

Steve’s Marketing Rule

Steve's Law of MarketingAs our business grew, we made a real effort to measure each marketing program to find out how much of a return it provided. We carefully monitored our online campaigns, and used incentives like coupons to test the effectiveness of print ads.

Because we measured the return on every dollar spent on marketing, we learned a simple rule that’s proven true virtually 100% of the time.

Steve’s Marketing Rule:

Never trust anyone who tries to sell you anything marketing related.

In other words, never trust someone who is making the slightest effort to sell you online ads; print advertising in magazines, newspaper or flyers; search engine optimization (SEO) services; TV or radio ads; customer email lists; or any other marketing-related service you can imagine. This also holds true as your company grows and providers that you have used successfully in the past approach you to sell add-on offerings.

Here’s Why

The truth is that the better the marketing-related service, the less it needs telephone salespeople, email Spam, and other kinds of outbound promotion.

Any advertising or marketing-related service that can show a positive return is quickly adopted by companies who are hungry for better sales, and a little positive word-of-mouth spreads rapidly among prospective clients. So if a marketing service or advertising media is any good they’ll almost never make any real effort to approach a small company like yours first.

Choose Your Marketing Programs Carefully

Our QuickBooks reports show that advertising and promotion are always a very big part of our expenses, and choosing the right marketing programs was critical to our success. I’ve found that the most reliable way to create productive new marketing campaigns is to:

  1. Figure out what media your prospective customers are most likely see; this could include online searches, targeted magazines or newspapers, YouTube videos, and so on.
  2. In each case, look for how other companies who appeal to your same target audience are using the media, and consider starting out by matching their style of ad.
  3. Measure the effectiveness of every campaign, and keep working to improve your results over time.

It can also be a big help to share your advertising experiences – good and bad – with people at non-competing online stores.

Steve’s Marketing Rule is really just a corollary of Steve’s First Rule of Money, discussed in the next article.

Next: Steve’s First Rule of Money

Amazon Is No Friend

Amazon Is No FriendAs a consumer it’s hard to imagine a better online shopping experience than you get with Amazon. The company does an outstanding job selling and delivering products, while also promoting items that are shipped to you by other retailers.

I’ve always found transactions on Amazon to be fast and trouble-free, and I’ve been satisfied with their customer service for as long as I can remember.

However, because of their market power – and some behaviors that I feel are outright irresponsible – I think that you should approach Amazon with great suspicion when it comes to your online business.

Fierce Competitor

Let’s face it: many consumers would be happy to buy a slightly inferior or more expensive product from Amazon than a comparable product from your website. Amazon makes it so easy to buy and return items – and there’s so much trust in their store – that the risk is practically zero.

This is the natural and deserved advantage that Amazon gets from its good customer service. But it also means that you should think twice about starting an online store if Amazon sells even somewhat competitive items.

Our Mistake

Knowing that customers feel comfortable with items they find on Amazon, we signed up for their Seller Central program to display our ads whenever Amazon visitors searched for items like ours. People who clicked the ads were taken to our website, where they found detailed information and accurate shipping rates quoted in real-time by UPS and others.

Shocked, then Angry

Amazon Affiliate Ad
Soon after we started advertising on Amazon, websites offering fake discounts on our products appeared

Soon after joining the program we found ads appearing on websites all over the Internet, offering bogus discounts and nonexistent free shipping on our products. It turns out that the ads are published by Amazon affiliates, who Amazon pays a commission to bring buyers to its website regardless of the products sold.

So many affiliate websites offer bogus discounts on our products that people who search for our company name on Google often click the results that show enticing fake offers. We know because frustrated shoppers contact our customer service staff, demanding that we make good on the bogus ads.

Amazon Affiliate Paid Search Ad
Affiliates ran ads above the Google search results, showing our trademark alongside the bogus offers

Next, the affiliates began running large ads above Google’s search results, showing our company name and the bogus offers.

Feeling confident that Amazon would handle the issue fairly, we contacted the company to ask that they stop the affiliates’ ads that offer fake discounts on our products. Amazon’s reply was a real surprise.

It Gets Much Worse

Instead of putting a stop to fake offers published by its affiliates, the email reply from Amazon seems to blame our company with the odd pretext that our website, like many stores, offers our customers accurate shipping rates calculated in real time by UPS and others.

We concluded that Amazon makes a thin excuse for paying its affiliates to act irresponsibly. Not wanting to reward that behavior, we stopped our Amazon Seller Central ads.

And then things got really ugly.

The affiliate ads with bogus offers on our products continued after we stopped advertising with Amazon, of course. But now when you search for our product name and click the big ads with the fake offers, you’re taken to Amazon’s web page that displays our product images and names, with the misleading message that they are all “Currently unavailable” and a list of cheap alternatives you can buy from Amazon.

Lesson Learned

Early-on another business owner told us that fulfilling products through Amazon can be a big mistake, too, since Amazon has a reputation for using the data they collect to seek out and replace successful products with their own, aggressively undercutting the original sellers on price.

We could have saved a great deal of time, money and frustration if we’d only heeded those early warnings about doing business with Amazon.

Thank goodness our company’s products have positive word of mouth. It seems certain that Amazon harms our business, but more and more customers still find our products without being lured away by bogus ads.

Next: Focus On Customer Service