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Google is No Longer Free! Now What?

Proven techniques online sellers can use to drive traffic

Google Product Search drove a lot of traffic to online sellers—traffic that was free, as merchants didn’t have to pay to submit their product feeds.

That’s all changing now that Google is retiring Google Product Search and replacing it with a paid model called Google Shopping. As of Oct. 17, only merchants who buy Product Listing Ads will display in Google Shopping in the U.S., according to Google Commerce.

Some online marketplaces are acting to ensure their sellers don’t see a big drop in traffic. For instance, Esty is spending $250,000 to buy Google Product Listing Ads, on behalf of its sellers.

Bonanza has launched a feature that allows sellers to specify if they want the site to list their items on eBay and Google for a fee.

Sellers can also directly purchase Google Product Listing Ads. But the fees for these could get expensive. Does that mean you’ll lose traffic if you don’t pay Google? Not necessarily. We looked at other marketing techniques online sellers, like you, can use to drive traffic. We’ll start with email marketing.

Back to basics with email marketing

Shoppers who get promotional email in their inboxes spend 83 percent more when they buy

Email marketing is alive and well—and it can be a powerful tool. Just consider that 92 percent of Internet users 18 and older have at least one email account, and that 72 percent of people who use email check their inboxes six or more times a day. Also keep in mind that 13 percent of holiday buyers say email is their favorite way to hear about offers, according to iContact, an email marketing company that serves more than 70,000 small and mid-sized businesses.

Got all that? Now think about this: Shoppers who get promotional email in their inboxes spend 83 percent more when they buy.

John Hayes is a marketing strategist and contributing author at Vocus, where he specializes in email and social media marketing for businesses using iContact. He says email marketing is the most cost effective and profitable online marketing tool available to entrepreneurs.

“It is often referred to as a retention marketing tool—which means it is most successfully employed to target existing customers and engaged prospects,” he says. “Email marketing helps marketers find profits from repeat visits and sales, which—especially when margins are tight—might not be achievable from more expensive ‘acquisition’ marketing techniques, such as paid search.”

Hayes says successful email marketing depends on how relevant email content is to its recipient, so it’s important to know who you’re emailing. Are they past buyers, subscribers to your blog, past buyers who bought a particular item?

Content should be interesting, not forced—and it should be rewarding. “This could be a special offer, discount code, an interesting piece of news or detailed thought leadership piece,” Hayes adds.

When it comes to writing the email, keep a few things in mind. First, think of the subject line as the “first line of defense between you and the delete [button],” he says.

Pretend you’re a newspaper editor as you write it, Hayes advises. “[The subject line] should scream benefits, tell the full story and entice the recipient to read more,” he explains.

Also, rely on the text of your email, not images, especially near the top, since readers won’t be able to see images until they open the email, Hayes says. Plus, keep in mind that large images could take a long time to load.

“[This] may conceal important benefits and limit the number of opens you email receives,” he adds.

Be social to spread your message

Another way to drive buyers to your listings or store is to be social. Corrine McHie, the owner of SeptemberHouse, an Etsy store filled with modern embroidery patters and products, uses her blog, Facebook page, Google+ and Pinterest to get word out about her latest designs.

“It gives people a chance to see what is new, but also to easily share it with others,” she says. “That is so valuable to business owners. Pinterest has been great for SeptemberHouse. I wish I could send a thank you note to all the people who have pinned my items!”

If you are trying to sell a dress, don’t just say ‘Cute dress’ with a link. Give the brand name, size, color, type, etc.

McHie isn’t the only merchant seeing benefits from being social. According to Bizrate Insights, 25 percent of shoppers have bought a product online after seeing the item on Pinterest or similar sites.

According to Shopify, a company that allows sellers to create online stores, the average online order per referral source was $80 via Pinterest and $40 through Facebook.

Brieanna Owens, the owner of Playtime Friends and Loveys on Bonanza, is a big fan of social networking. She has more than 50,000 followers on Twitter. When we first met Owens, she told us she fully recommends sellers use social sites.

“You get to meet so many interesting people and find other people with the same interests,” she says. “Many times, those same people will make a purchase from me instead of my competitor because I took the time to say ‘Hello.'”

She tweets a few of her items every day, as well as interesting products from other online sellers. However, she spaces out her posts by hours, so she won’t bombard followers. She also shares interesting articles she finds online, and funny photos and stories.

“You have to get out of a seller’s mindset when using Twitter,” she reports. “You do not want to be bombarded with ads in your timeline, so don’t do it to your followers. On Pinterest, I have various boards set up that my items fall into, but I do not just pin my items. I will repin from other people into my boards to mix things up.”

She also has a few boards that have nothing to do with selling, like one of sand sculptures. Having these may attract some people who weren’t initially looking to buy, but they may check out her other boards and stumble across something they want to buy.

Owens tells us she also keeps in mind what appeals to a larger audience. For instance, if she has two items, for instance, a baby blanket and a teapot, she’ll likely tweet the teapot because it will appeal to more buyers.

And when she tweets a link, she tells people what they will find when they click on that link.

“I see so many people tweeting links with little or no description. I won’t click on those because I don’t know where those links will take me,” she continues. “Use all of those 140 characters to attract customers. If you are trying to sell a dress, don’t just say ‘Cute dress’ with a link. Give the brand name, size, color, type, etc. As far as pins go, I suggest making a board with an interesting title.”

And online sellers should share their knowledge along the way, whether it’s knowledge of their products, selling online or their niche, she advises.

Try pay-per-click advertising

You could also go the pay-per-click route to advertise your items. With these, advertisers—that would be you—bid on keywords or phrases they think shoppers will search for. Then, when shoppers enter the keywords or phrases people are targeting, pay-per-click ads display in the top left, or in a section labeled Sponsored or something similar, and advertisers pay when people click on ads.

You can create pay-per-click ads through Google AdWords, Microsoft adCenter and Facebook. Fees for these can vary, but they can be worthwhile.

Pay-per-click ads work best for people in a niche, shops with a local customer base and businesses that want to target a particular area

According to one of Google AdWord’s testimonials, sales for seller Richard Sexton, of Carolina Rustica, increased by 50 percent, year over year, when the shop began using AdWords. Conversion rates were up 20 percent.

Shahram Bijan, the owner of First Crush, a restaurant in San Francisco, notes Google AdWords upped site traffic by 400 percent.

You can get a pay-per-click ad campaign up and running in just days, says Melinda Emerson, a business expert and the author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months.

For her, pay-per-click campaigns are the most effective form of online advertising.

“Pay-per-click ads appear every time an online search is done using your keywords, which means you can find potential leads where they are looking for your product or service,” she explains. “It’s cost effective. You only pay when users click on your ads. You can control how much you spend each week. You can target these ads down to specific demographics and even ZIP codes.”

However, advertisers must know who their best target customer is and “where they hang out online,” she adds.

Then they should hire a reliable pay-per-click advertising company to help them develop a campaign, she adds. She suggests starting with ads on Google AdWords or Facebook ads, and being ready to invest at least six months into a campaign.

Emerson reports that pay-per-click ads work best for people in a niche, shops with a local customer base and businesses that want to target a particular area. She suggests sellers start with three to five ads and test those to see which ones get clicks.

“Then reduce your ads to the top two that potential customers are responding to,” she says.

Submit your items to free search engines

Finally, you can also submit your product to other search engines. Bing and TheFind are two free options—and not only are they free, they were among the 10 best shopping search engines, according to CPC Strategy, a data feed management service.

With Bing, you need to have a Microsoft AdCenter account, but you won’t be charged for the clicks you get, notes Andrew Davis, a writer for Search Engine Watch.

The nice thing about TheFind is that you don’t submit a feed; you just allow TheFind’s bot to crawl your site, he adds.

Google’s move to a paid model was a big change for online sellers, but as you can see, you have other marketing options to drive traffic. What was your reaction to Google’s change? How will you drive traffic to your listings? Tell us in the comments below.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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  • Bing will not index pre-owned, vintage, antique items in their shopping search.

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