Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Ecommerce SEO

Our CTO has a great saying. He says that the hardest part of any project is “getting to 1″. Whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish; whether it’s building a new software application, training for a marathon or building an online business, the hardest part is getting started. Once you’ve got that under your belt you can then leverage the momentum you’ve new got to keep going.

When it comes to building an online business, one of the most common topics we get asked about is SEO or search engine optimization. Specifically how to get started with ecommerce SEO. What are keywords? How do I find the keywords for my online store? What the heck is a long-tail? Where exactly do I use keywords in my ecommerce store? etc…

So like most people we decided the best way to address some of those “getting started” questions was to write a whitepaper :)

The objective of this whitepaper wasn’t to be entirely comprehensive. But to help beginners (and even veterans loking for a new take on SEO) “get to 1″

Please leave any question, comments, or suggestions in the comments below.

Why Shopify Will Win The Platform War

If you run an enterprise level e-commerce shop right now chances are you’re running Magento Enterprise or you run a custom built shop. If you’re looking to start your online boutique right now, chances are you’re deciding between Shopify and BigCommerce (some version of a hosted e-comm platform). Magento GO decided fold up shop so they are no longer in the conversation.
I’m not going to get into a features/price comparison here, for that you can do some further investigation here: Shopify vs Magento – An Epic Battle.
Currently there is a clear demarcation line that separates these two platforms. Shopify solves the barrier to entry challenge with lower overall cost of ownership and ease of use. Magento addresses the enterprise’s need to fully customize their e-store to fit their needs (albeit at a price).

But I’m going to tell you why I think Shopify will power the vast majority of e-stores in the next 5 years. And Shopify will dominate regardless of size, number of products sold or need for store customization.

History Repeats Itself

In 1999 a group led by a former Oracle executive launched an interesting software product in the burgeoning CRM (customer relationship management) space. The product was widely ridiculed as a marketing ploy. My friends from Siebel, Oracle and SAP dismissed it as a fad with a shaky business model at best. The company was called Salesforece.com and that fad turned into a movement called SAAS (software as a service).
I see that same pattern repeating itself with Shopify (although Shopify is much further along the path of acceptance). Shopify is democratizing e-commerce much in the same way Salesforce.com democratized enterprise class CRM software for small to mid-sized business. But Salesforce.com didn’t convince the Fortune 500 to adopt the SAAS model overnight. The movement was accelerated by empowered users of Salesforce.com moving up from running CRM in small organizations to larger enterprises. With that movement came the firm belief that salesforce.com could be deployed successfully within any enterprise regardless of size.
I see the same movement happening with Shopify and much more rapidly to boot. The hundreds of thousands of small to mid-sized Shopify shops will grow, or the people running those shops will move onto operate larger shops bringing their allegiance to Shopify. The rate of adoption is staggering and it’s only a matter of time before this adoption seeps into large enterprises.

Customization ALWAYS Stunts Growth

A custom made suit is beautiful because it’s made especially for you. But Zara and H&M will always outpace custom suit makers in growth and scale. The key to Shopify’s growth will be the nature of the hosted platform itself. Shopify’s decision to lockdown the backend is annoying for shops that want to customize but it’s a huge benefit for the growth of a community. Thousands of developers and partners can develop on a consistent and standardized platform. Magento also boasts a lively partner community. However, each Magento store is a slight variation from one another and thus one must custom fit any third party solution to a Magento store. This slows down the growth of community. You’ve heard the saying “An unlimited number of monkeys on an unlimited number of type writers will produce works greater than Shakespeare.” The ease of integration and the sheer mass of the Shopify community will help push Shopify to greater heights. This same scenario played out between Salesforce.com and the market leaders of that time Siebel. By the time Siebel launched their version of a cloud based solution it was too late.

When Will This Happen? It’s Happening Now.

I’m already anticipating your denials. Sure, there are e-stores right now where Magento or a custom e-shop is the better solution for you than Shopify. Shop.ca is built on IBM Websphere and I wouldn’t recommend Shop.ca use Shopify as a platform. But the movement is happening and it’s happening now.
I’m seeing a growing migration of Magento customers who realize the costs they incur with running a Magento enterprise shop is not worth the benefits they’re experiencing. They’re realizing that it’s not about customizing a process to fit the desire, rather it’s re-working the desire to fit into process best practices. And for those who absolutely feel the need to customize, Shopify offers the PLUS program for enterprise level clients. Google, The L.A. Lakers and Tesla are just some of their clients currently on the PLUS program. You can check out http://www.shopify.com/plus for more information.

The rapid growth of Shopify amazes continues to amaze me. They have the right talent and tool to execute their growth strategy. My prediction is that they will win the e-commerce platform war within 5 years.

Note: My company Toocoo is a Shopify app partner with 2 products on the App store. Our flagship product Forewards is a fully automated customer referral engine that fits on to any Shopify e-store turning customers into sales reps. We are quickly becoming the referral engine of choice for Shopify clients. Visit http://forewardsapp.com for more information.

Want To Grow Your Online Business? How One Real Estate Agent Grew Her Business 1,000% In 2 Years.


Two years ago, a friend told me she was getting into the real estate and asked me for advice. My advice was to NOT be a real estate agent! Why? real estate is a highly competitive field with little differentiation between service offerings. A real estate agent provides almost the exact same service as the next real estate agent and thus differentiation is always a nebulous question. Fast forward two years and she is now the top agent in her region. She started from ground zero and built a wildly successful practice in only 24 months. So how did she do it?

Let’s explore some of the common misconceptions first.

First she didn’t spend any more advertising dollars than the rest of her peers, nor did she take less commissions for her work. She has a good work ethic, but her hours on the job were no greater than her competitors. Did she have a degree from some prestigious University? No, she spent some time in community college but I wouldn’t describe her as a Nobel prize laureate. What I’m trying to say is that like millions of hard working, ordinary North Americans, she was young lady that just wanted to a decent living. So what got that growth engine moving?

The key was and still is quite simple. She put 3 simple concepts into practice and watched her business explode!

1) She asked one simple question
2) She made into a habit
3) She turned into a system

1) The Simple Question? Can you refer me to 5 friends and family who could use my services?

In the corporate world this concept is called Advocate Marketing more commonly known as Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM). Studies show that almost 40% of people would refer products/services but only about 5% actually do. The reason for the discrepancy? People, businesses and companies just simply don’t ask. Think about it, when was the last time you visited an online store or even a brick and mortar business and you were asked this simple question “Can you refer someone to my business?”. Word of Mouth Marketing is extremely powerful, it is the oldest and single most powerful marketing technique known to mankind. But you need to get the engine moving by initiating the referral process. When my friend started asking that one question she was surprised that more than 50% of the people she asked actually did refer and refer enthusiastically.

2) Turn it into a habit

Working out once just makes you sore. Working out consistently makes you strong. Ask the question and keep asking. Studies show that it takes an average of 4 requests for a person to actually process what you’re asking. Ask, ask again and keep asking.

3) Turn it into a system

Now this is a bit tricky because a system that worked for my friend may not work for you. But there are some concepts that apply to all business. When you ask is just as important as what you ask. My friend learned that asking for a referral after a successful close worked best. Following up with a reminder about 2 days usually caught another 90% of the people that didn’t refer on the first ask. She figured out that many of her clients behaved very similarly and built an “ask” calendar. She then used software to help craft messages and remind her when and to whom she needed to send messages. Her referral system is now a well oiled machine.

So How Does This Translate To Growing Your Online Business?

Here’s the first question, do you have a customer referral program for your business?
Second question, do you ask your customers for a referral consistently?
And the third question, do you have an automated and intelligent way of asking for referrals?

If you’ve answered yes to all three questions then congratulations I’m probably preaching to the choir. If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, then it’s time to take a look at how you can grow your business by implementing the oldest and most effective marketing technique in history.

Take a look at a customer referral platform such as Forewards (http://forewardsapp.com). Forewards is an extremely user friendly, fully automated customer referral engine that helps turn your customers into sales reps. The software will ask the simple question, ask the question multiple times in effective intervals and will do this while you sleep.

Visit Forewards to find out more information about implementing an effective customer referral program for your business.

Make The Most of The Holiday Rush With Referrals

The leaves on the trees are starting to change, and the weather is starting to cool (if you’re in Canada like we are anyways :)). You know it, I know, we all know it.

The holiday shopping rush is just around the corner!

If your business is like most other retailers, online or bricks and mortar, you probably rely on the holiday rush to play a huge part of your success every year. This year in particular the National Retail Federation (NRF) is forecasting that in the United States retail sales as a whole will be well over $600B this holiday season. That’s a pretty huge opportunity. No doubt a good portion of those sales will happen online as well.

This begs the question. Is your online store ready for the holiday rush? We’ve provided a number of actionable tips and techniques in this blog which we hope was helpful. if you haven’t yet acted on some of these suggestions the time is now.

One tactic in particular that can help you better take advantage of the rush of new customer this holiday season is to have a customer referral program, or word of mouth marketing program in place. As you can see in the Infographic below, word of mouth can be a huge boon for retailers.

Did you know that word of mouth recommendations are the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decision? Or that 90% of advocates will write something positive about their purchase decision (helping to drive new leads to your business).

These statistics and more can be found here:

Christmas referral marketing Infographic


Is Referral Marketing the most important tool in your ecommerce toolbox?


Could referral marketing be the most important tool in your ecommerce marketing toolbox?

Yes it might very well be.

Customer referrals and word of mouth have always existed as a great way to grow a business. In fact, some people might even say it’s the oldest trick in the book. Even if it’s not, it’s a form of indirect advertising that we’ve all experienced. All of us have at one point gone through the experience of a business owner (perhaps of a local shop or restaurant) asking us to “tell your friends and family about us”.

Assuming we had a good experience, great service or great products from that business, many of us have probably also gone ahead and actually told a handful of friends to go check it out.

The funny thing about referrals is that because it’s such a no brainer, a lot of businesses don’t have a formal program setup to ensure e that they’re maximizing this channel, by automatically or programmatically asking all their customers. That’s both a shame and an opportunity lost, because for every one customer who may be naturally inclined to refer or recommend a businesses to their friends “without” being asked, there are almost certainly a number that will be too busy, or not inclined to refer anything without being asked to do so.

That’s reflected in the research as well. Some research done by Texas Tech showed that while 83% of consumers indicate they’d be willing to refer a business they frequent, only 29% actually do. That’s because surprisingly most businesses simply don’t ask.

A quick and easy customer referral program is not only a great marketing strategy on it’s own, because of that gap in consumer willingness and businesses asking, there is also a really good chance that setting up a customer referral program is great low hanging marketing fruit you can take advantage of.

In ecommerce that opportunity is even larger.

Many ecommerce businesses these days are often a hobby or side project that many of you are pursuing. Thanks to platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce it’s never been easier to “open” a store. However in that rush to get a storefront running, actually marketing your store might fall by the wayside. Even if it doesn’t because some elements of online marketing are so labor intensive, such as SEO and setting up a social media presence, some easier tactics like word of mouth marketing with referral software can especially be overlooked.

Let’s take a look at why this is something you should look to address.

The power of a happy customer or advocate today is vastly different than what it used to be. In fact that power will only increase over time.

The reason why is really centered around 3 areas.

1. Targeting

One of the biggest secrets to great marketing and great marketing campaigns is targeting. Great marketing isn’t just about reaching as many people as possible with a message, it’s about tailoring a message to reach a specific audience as effectively as possible. The great thing about referrals and word of mouth is that that type of indirect marketing is able to target in an exceptionally effective way based on the fact that most people will befriend people with similar interests and tastes. There is almost no better way to target a group of people with similar interests than by targeting a group of friends, or in some cases family.

2. Trust

Even if friends don’t have exactly the same tastes in products and services, what they will no doubt have is a degree of trust. Intuitively most of us would assume that a recommendation from a friend or family is more trusted than a generic advertisement. Again research shows that this is absolutely the case. The recent Neilson trust index research shows that not only are referrals and recommendations the most trusted for of advertising, they are the most trusted form by an exceptionally wide margin.

Neilson study on trust in advertising

Neilson study on trust in advertising

3. Reach

Finally the reach that the average consumer has today is enormous. Whereas a happy customer in the past could refer or recommend a business to a handful or perhaps a dozen friends and family over the course of a few days or weeks, today’s consumers are hyper-connected. With a simple Facebook post, the average consumer can reach, hundred, if not thousands or friends (who again trust their opinions) in a matter of seconds. That kind of social reach should not be underestimated. Inn fact really savvy businesses should be doing their best to get ahead of this social chatter, and customer referrals are an idea way to grab a piece of that word of mouth opportunity.

brand advocates today