"If you build it, he will come." That single heartbreaking line from 1989's Field of Dreams describes the hopes of too many would-be website owners: build an awesome site, and watch visitors race through the digital door.
Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way.
Your handmade or vintage goods won't sell themselves. Instead, you need to make it easy for the right customers to find you. That's where Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, comes in.
Like advertising, except it's free
In the simplest terms, SEO is the process of telling a search engine such as Google or Bing what your store is about and who should visit it. Do it right, and your website will rank highly in search results when potential customers look for the types of products you sell.
If you are making the move from an online marketplace such as Etsy, Ebay and Amazon's Handmade to your own standalone website, and are wondering how you'll get found, we have three ways to get started with SEO right now.
1. Unify your tags.
Say you make intricately embroidered hats that you've been selling via Etsy. Describe the key features of each design with "tags." Think of labels you put on an envelope; tags are the digital equivalent. Use them to describe some feature of your hat -- men's adult to connote size, red stripe to connote design, and so on. Use the phrases in these tags across major parts of your website, like your product descriptions, homepage content, and page titles.
Whatever tags you decided to use on your online marketplace site, make sure you have the same set of tags at your standalone website and that you describe the products advertised there in the same way. Why do this? So when a shopper enters "adult men's hat red stripe" into Google, it'll be more likely to pull up your website for a nice SEO win.
2. Get social.
Search engines give authority to sites and stores that are linked to in large volume. In that sense, spending time on social media to advertise various products in your store can help build a storehouse of "inbound" links to your site. Even better is to get fans and customers to share your posts with their friends. One easy way to get that: offer coupon codes to those who follow you and re-share a link.
The site for AO Designs offers a good example. Shoppers who follow on Facebook or Pinterest get 10% off their purchase of any of the company's college-themed art pieces. Every follow boosts the site's authority -- another SEO win! -- while increasing the odds of selling more. Notably, AO Designs already has over 8,300 followers on Facebook alone.
3. Be a teacher.
Often, good SEO is about having good content. Why? Google doesn't like it when you click on a link and then bounce immediately. Good content holds attention. To a search engine, these sorts of sticky clicks signal a job well done -- you've arrived at a useful destination. Seek to make your site sticky by having a blog that creates a sense of community around your mission and products.
For example, Joy and Joe Baby advertises a series of livestreamed events at their blog. Customers who want to learn about different ways to carry their baby, how to breastfeed in a sling, or the origins of traditional babywearing can tune in at their leisure. Some customers are sure to appreciate the extra value. Others may leave comments that signal an opportunity to interact, introduce new products and expand the business.
Make your site 51 percent better
While we can't say for sure that these techniques will bring oodles of new traffic, research confirms that adopting them is worth the effort.
A 2014 study from BrightEdge (via Search Engine Land) is particularly telling. Researchers' analysis of "billions of pieces" of content at that time found that organic search was responsible for, on average, 51 percent of traffic. Paid search accounted for 10 percent of the total over the same period, while social sharing accounted for just 5 percent.
Every eCommerce entrepreneur should know those stats cold. Selling online doesn't begin and end with making good products. Using SEO to get Google and Bing to put those products in front of prospects is just as important -- if not more so.
Interested in learning more about creating a website for your handmade business? Start here.