The Hoth

I’ve recently been looking into “The Hoth”, an SEO agency specializing in link building. I’ve been on the fence about whether this is the type of thing I’d want to try for any of my sites – certainly the most important ones.  I’ve never outsourced link building – in fact, I’ve never actively engaged in Link building at all. All links to my sites have always been organic.  With my 17 year old authority site, I never once did anything to actively solicit links from anyone, and it has thousands of high quality, relevant links – including editorial links from top tier sites like The New York Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and more.

But one of my other sites definitely needs a boost of link juice to get it to where it needs to be in the SERPS.  The content is excellent, indepth, and lengthy. The on page optimization is close to idea  – gets a perfect score in several respected website graders.  All I’m missing is the links, and while I know I could get relevant authoritative sites to link to me if I had the time to go out and make that happen, in truth, right now I just don’t.  I’m struggling with a painful rib injury, I’m caregiver for my elderly parent who has a serious degenerative disease, and dealing with a whole host of other stuff – in addition to needing to take care  of business. So the idea of outsourcing a little bit of link building is tempting, and yet, the very thing I have always wanted to stay far a way from.  Because anything unnatural has the potential to hurt your sites. And if you paid someone, it ain’t natural, now is it?

If you are looking to outsource some link building for SEO purposes, then based on my in-depth research into these guys, The Hoth is about as reputable as it gets, short of using a very high ends service that gets you some serious editorial placements at $150 – $1000 per pop (acutally, the Hoth offers that as well…). But still, its always a risk to buy links, and the Hoth themselves say that on their website – although in some cases, the risk is mitigated much better than in others.

However, what I’ve also discovered is that there is an affordable link building software package that does a lot of the same stuff The Hoth will do for you. Its by Brad Callen, who I am familiar with going years back.  He has a solid reputation and doesn’t do anything black hat, so when I found out it was by him, I felt reassured.  I noticed int he research and reviews I read about The Hoth, some people commented it was pricey.  I don’t actually think it is, given the reputation and trust factor that The Hoth has.  If you want a quality job done, you have to pay for quality. If you don’t then you get what you pay for. Getting exposure on the web, the right way, costs money. Always. No way around that. But anyway, if cost is the concern, then the software is definitely a great alternative.

I’m compiling some of my own notes on my research on the Hoth below:

This was a comment someone left in response to this article / review about The Hoth (the reviewer says the service worked, but he no longer uses it because he doesnt want to do anything that can be viewed as unnatural in his backlink profile – valid concern).

“We have used Hoth for many campaigns and have spent over $10K on their platform over the last 2 years. Here is the bottom line… Too often people buy the basic most package $60 one time, have virtually no other links then expect the rank fairy to show up and power them to the top of SERPs overnight.
If your on page is good and your money site has a handful of authority links then running their $60 – $200 service for 3 -6 months will make a tremendous difference.

For example one of my clients is a national manufacturer, with HOTHs help we actually beat Home Depot and Target for shade product keywords. Make PBN’s PART of your overall strategy and it will work. No way I would have dropped 10k on them if it didn’t. Best of luck.”

  • This was an interesting article, backing up the credibility of The Hoth, but still the same concerns and issues remain.
  • The CHicago Tribune wrote an article on the Hoth when they were acquired by a Nevada company, so there’s no question that these guys are credible – not your typical smarmy scammy link builders. Here’s an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune article:“It also has a “distributed workforce” of writers in the Philippines and the U.S. who write 400- to 500-word articles about various subjects, based on keywords that the client wants to optimize on search engines. This content appears on WordPress.com and Blogspot.com sites, among many others, with the large number of resulting sites pointing back“We don’t want to spam the Internet or create ‘advertorial’ content,” Pyatetsky said. “We just create relevant content around the subject matter and we cite our clients’ sites wherever is appropriate within those articles.”

    Google has cast an unfavorable eye on the Web properties generated by SEO-focused companies, seeing them as “content farms” that churn out low-quality sites solely to maximize Web traffic. In early 2011, the search giant tweaked its algorithm to reduce rankings for what it deemed poor-quality sites.

    Pyatetsky said he sees his startup as a necessary part of the Internet food chain, since websites can have trouble getting highly ranked by Google even if they try to follow the search giant’s guidelines.

    “Our primary concern is to get the client to rank and keep them safe,” he said. “There’s excruciating detail paid to naturalizing the process and making sure it stays in line with the things Google does like. The other thing is we do have unique content … The whole purpose of our content is to be contextually relevant and unique.”

    The HOTH said its services have been used in more than 10,000 Web campaigns to date.

    “We’ve been in this industry for a decade,” David Martin and Marc Hardgrove, co-chief executives of Next Net Media, said in a joint statement. “It’s extremely competitive and we know that The HOTH is a winner.”

  • This was also an interesting review.  As a lot of people have said, the Hoth could be a good way to develop link diversity when you are spending your own time an effort going after top tier authoritative links with anchor text.  Use the Hoth packages to give your SEO a bit of a boost, but don’t rely on them entirely for your link profile.
  • A lot of people have said buying one $50 package wont really help you. Some have said, but three, or one a month for 3 months, and it’ll have impact. Others said go straight for the Blitz packages. That was very much along my line of thinking when I was reviewing their offerings. Its tempting to think you can get a bump in the SERPS with just a $50 one time spend, but realistically, you’re probably going to need something more than that.

My Shareasale Merchant Review

Shareasale Merchnant ReviewWhen we signed up as a Shareasale vendor over a year and a half ago, I didn’t look for any shareasale merchant reviews from other vendors – I simply discussed it with Chris, we considered it for a couple months and then decided to go ahead with it. In retrospect, it might have been smart to read at least one shareasale merchant review! It would have been beneficial to hear about other Shareasale merchant experiences before we moved forward as a Shareasale vendor and opened our Shareasale merchant account.

For the benefit of anyone who might be interested in an honest Shareasale Merchant Review, here’s our personal experience.

We have a high ticket product with a solid 18 year track record of strong online sales (within its target market) with a very generous affiliate payout ($100 per sale). Putting it into ShareaSale should have been a slam dunk. I’m sorry to say, the ShareaSale experience has been utterly dismal. We’ve been merchants for over a year, and have yet to get any legitimate affiliates (and 0 sales). Putting the $500+ in to setting up a Share a Sale merchant account has been a complete waste of both time and money for us.

I have recently heard other ShareaSale vendors complain of being bombarded right from the get-go by affiliate applications from useless coupon sites.

We, too, got immediately hit by a ton of affiliate applications on the first day, and every day after that for the next week or so – all from crappy coupon sites. Why are all these coupon sites applying to sell my product – this is a premium product in its niche, we don’t offer coupons of discounts. Apparently this is to be expected on ShareaSale – they even address on their blog the fact that merchants are going to be flooded by affiliate requests from coupon sites. To this day, over a year later, we continue to deal with the applications dripping in from coupon sites on almost a daily basis

It sucks up a ton of valuable time having to constantly go in and administer (decline) all these crappy applications. Whats worse, no sooner do we decline these sites, and they simply resubmit their application all over again. Its such a nuisance, its almost to the point of being spam. Its the same applications coming in over and over again from the same non-suitable sites – even though we have clearly flagged these sites as “not appropriate” when we decline them.

AND, it gets even better. We FINALLY, just a month ago, got what looked like a legitimate application from a site in our niche, and approved them. They have proceeded to message us through the ShareaSale system on a regular basis, soliciting us to buy advertising on their website. So essentially, they are using the ShareaSale system to send spam to merchants. Lovely.

And no, they did not put up our affiliate links.

If you are looking to attract affiliates using and leveraging the Shareasale platform (which is what we had been expecting), based on our experience, I can only say don’t get your hopes up. In over a year, we have not received a single relevant or qualified affiliate request as a result of being on the platform.

In the meantime, we launched our own affiliate program, did some direct outreach to bloggers in our niche, and have had much better success.

The way we see it is if we are going to invest the effort in direct outreach, we might as well put them into our own self-managed program and not be paying ShareaSale a chunk of each transaction.

We always give the affiliates we reach out to the option of joining via ShareaSale (since we’ve already made the investment, so might as well offer them the assurance of a 3rd part platform if they want it), or thru our self managed program – we offer a bit higher of a commission if they join us directly, and they are happy to do it.

We have a solid, verifiable reputation in our niche and, again, have been around in the niche for a long time. So in our case, affiliates trust that they’ll be paid and don’t seem to feel the need for the 3rd part reporting. And I’d rather pay more money to the affiliate who is promoting us, rather than to a platform that has done nothing for us.

All of our affiliates have been acquired through our own hard work and outreach outside of the ShareaSale platform, after discovering that Shareasale was doing nothing for us in terms of attracting affiliates.

The main reason we joined ShareaSale was to get exposure to affiliates on their platform. Yes, we liked the idea of the assurance we could offer affiliates with 3rd party reporting and payouts, but for us that has turned out not to even be a concern of our affiliates.

So that’s our Shareasale merchant review. Just our experience! Some merchants/vendors may do well with them I suppose, but, in hindsight, they haven’t benefited us in anyway, and we’re simply out the $650 fee ($500 set up fee + $150 deposit against commissions). Since we have this Shareasale vendor account sitting there doing nothing, we may try putting our ecommerce stores (different niche) into ShareaSale, since we can do it on the same account. But based on our experience, I’m not holding my breath on how that would do, and its not a high priority in terms of time allocation.

Building Backlinks

Backlink BuildingTraffic is the cornerstone of every online business. Without traffic, you have NOTHING.  So that means, you better know how to build backlinks.  Because today, building backlinks (and that means quality backlinks!) is KEY to SEO.

Building backlinks is something we’ve been devoting a lot of time to learn how to do well over the last year. We used to be very fortunate in that our niche authority site we had since 1999 was very well established and well respected, so over the years it had acquired a lot of links very naturally and organically.  Except for in its earliest days when we were first launching the site, we never actively did any backlink building – because we never had to.  People just linked to us very naturally.  Even major media sites linked back to us (without our ever asking), as did some .gov and .edu sites.  That’s just what happens when you are authentically an authority in your niche!

In more recent years, however, when launching our e-commerce sites and some other projects, we realized that to get traction for a new website today, you really have to work hard at building backlinks and you’ve got to have a very solid strategy for backlink building. Building a backlink profile today is all about getting high authority, high quality links from high authority, high quality sites.  And that’s easier said than done.

So we really had to throw ourselves into learning how to build backlinks the right way – and that took a lot of research.  In fact, we are still learning – its an ongoing process.  We don’t just like to learn how to do something – we like to master it to the point of expert status. And backlink building is definitely no exception. And so on and on we go.

Here is our list of some of the best resources on building backlinks when its time to get serious about building backlinks – since, as we said, our process of learning never ends, we’ll be adding to this list as we come across more valuable resources we want to archive:

Quickspout’s 4 Ways to Build Backlinks to a New Website

Moz’s How to Build Backlinks Using Your Competitors Broken Pages

GotchSEO’s How to Build Backlinks in 2017 (New Guide)

Neil Patel’s Building High Quality Backlinks in a Scalable Way

Entrepreneur Magazines 10 Ways to Build Backlinks

Webconfs How to Build Backlinks

Brian Dean’s (Backlinko) 17 Untapped Backlink Sources (Updated)

Brian Dean’s How to Get High Quality Backlinks (Without Guest Posting)

Convince and Convert’s Build Backlinks – 14 Easy Ways

How to build backlinks to your website (from Monitor Backlinks)

Backlink Building Services:

Note: We haven’t used these backlink building services yet, but they are on our radar to try in the near future.

Link Lifiting

Ocean’s SEO

Posted in SEO

Our SEO eCommerce Store Strategy

SEO for ecommerce websitesYou’ve built an online store or e-commerce website, and now you’re wondering where all the customers are?

We’ve been there and we feel your pain.  It took some time, but we got smart and figured out how to do SEO for an ecommerce store (actually for all three of our online stores!).

In getting to know other ecommerce store owners in forums, private Facebook Groups like the one from Sellosity, or at local online marketers meetups that we go to, a lot of new ecommerce site owners seem really confused about SEO for ecommerce stores.  Even though they know you have to do SEO for a content site, they seem to think that with an ecommerce store you just load up the products and then hope the customers will somehow come – as if its all in the hands of fate.

Maybe its the interface of an online store that confuses people and makes them think there isn’t really anything you can do to SEO an ecommerce site.  I’ll admit that when we fired up our first ecommerce site, we were a little clueless as well about the SEO strategies we could use to ensure the store got search traffic. Which is really wierd since we’d already had a 10 year run at dominating the Google SERPS using 100% white hat SEO to drive our authority niche content site all the way to thousands of 1st page rankings on Google.

Yet, when it came to our first ecommerce site, we were like “Geez, what can you really do to SEO an ecommerce site?”.

Man, saying it  makes me feel like such a dork when I look back at those early days when we, like so many other ecommerce site owners, were inexplicably clueless about SEO for an ecommerce site.

The thing is, your ecommerce website or online store is just like any other website – it needs SEO if customers are going to find their way to it.

Its not enough to just load it up with pages and pages of products. If you want free search engine traffic to bring you customers, you need to give the search engines what they want (most importantly, the Big “G”). Peop’tle tend to think there isn’t a lot you can do to SEO an ecommerce website, but actually, there are some pretty smart SEO moves you can make specifically for ecommerce stores.

Here is our SEO strategy that we use on our three ecommerce stores (this is exactly what we do, and it works).

Write Long Product Descriptions

One simple little trick to increase the search traffic to your ecommerce site or online store is to write long product descriptions. Google likes needs to see lengthy product descriptions so it can really figure out what your product is and what its about. It may seem tedious, even silly, to write a super-long product description for a relatively simple product, but I promise you, this is the path to better search traffic for your online store or ecommerce site. Ideally, you should be shooting for about 1000 words

But make sure the content is meaningful and truly descriptive. Don’t just spit out a bunch of gobblygook – Google got wise to that a long time ago. Garbage is not going to rank on Google today. Dig deep and really think about what you can say about your products that is genuinely descriptive and helpful both to the buyer in knowing what they are ordering, and to Google in knowing what you are offering.

Short URLs are Better Than Long URLs

Generally speaking, the longer your URL for the products on your ecommerce website, the trickier it is to rank. So if you are going to SEO your ecommerce website, you want to strive to keep your product URLs as short as possible. Keep them descriptive, but cut out all unnecessary stuff.

Keep this in mind when you are building product pages. But be careful about running off and renaming all your URLS if you already have a lot of products; this can be risky business if any of your products are already ranking. Your would need to set up re-directs on all those pages or you’ll simply lose your rankings, and that can be a lot of work. So instead of going back and renaming every product URL, just use this strategy going forward.

Yes, Backlinks Matter in SEO for an eCommerce Website

If you know anything about SEO in general, you know that getting links from other websites (link-building) is a core SEO strategy which most online businesses should be devoting time to each and every week.

Backlinks won’t just happen. It’s something you need to be putting work and effort into building over time. It’s a long-term strategy. The best way to approach the process is to give yourself some goals to work towards.You should be building links every week and every month. The trick is to set weekly and monthly goals, and then hold yourself accountable to achieve them.

We recently came across some backlink building software that we want to try in the next couple of weeks. The results shown on the sales page were pretty exciting, in terms of SEO effect, so we’re eager to give it a try. If I recall, there is a one week trial period for just $7, which, for us, makes it a no brainer. If it doesn’t work, $7 bucks is not much to spend, but if it DOES work, WooHoooo!  I can’t remember the price of the software after the trial, but its not much.  I’m just waiting til I have a little time to play with it because right now I am so stretched for time, but I’m really excited to try it.

We won’t lie.  Getting backlinks to an ecommerce site is considerably less straight forward than it is to get backlinks to a content site.  (It’ll be exciting to see if the software I mentioned above will help with that). People may be persuaded to link to and share great content, and they may even do it naturally, without being asked. But they don’t generally feel as inspired to just go out a link to a product someone is selling on their ecommerce store (unless it is really something amazing).  Sure you might get the occasional link, but getting large numbers of links can be tricky.

We have found that a couple of the best link building strategies for ecommerce websites is, first, to reach out to bloggers in niches compatible with the products in your online store, ask if you can send them a free product for them to review, and ask them to include a link to your product in the review. Yes, this costs a bit because we have to give them a product for free and pay to ship it to them. But if its an influential blogger, this can actually do more than just get you a link for SEO purposes, it can send some targeted customers and sales our way. So when we do this, we make sure to carefully choose the right bloggers, and match our products to the particular bloggers really well – and make sure the products we send out for review are awesome, so that we pretty much know readers of the blog are very likely to head over to us and buy.  Don’t even try this if your product is just so-so, because it won’t be worth it – the product needs to be fabulous in the eyes of the blogs typical audience.

The other strategy we use to build links to our ecommerce sites is to send out press releases to the media – even a link from our local paper has SEO value if its not a no-follow.  We’ve also sent sample products along with a product press release to relevant magazines, and have gotten some valuable links that way as well.

If you are new to backlink building then here is some additional stuff you need to know:

Backlinks fall into one of two categories which are referred to as follow and nofollow. A follow backlink is a link from another site that tells search engines, “I endorse this website”. This type of link can help in SEO for an ecommerce website, just as it can for any website. Alternatively, a nofollow backlink, is a link where the person/website giving the backlink is saying “I’m linking to them but I’m not necessarily endorsing them”.

To make a link nofollow, an author simply needs to add an extra bit of text to the HTML of the link. By looking at the HTML you can also tell if a link is follow or nofollow:

Example of a “follow” link:

Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal

Example of a “nofollow” link:

Not All Backlinks Are Created Equal

Unfortunately,  links from Facebook, Twitter, blog comments and forums are almost always nofollow links. Its still great to get these links because they give exposure for your ecommerce store, but no follow links like these generally don’t do anything to boost a site in search engine rankings.

Even when it comes to follow links, some links are still more important than others. The better quality and more popular a website is, the more important and valuable a link from them pointing to your site will be.  “Garbage” websites really have no value to you at all, and can actually be harmful to your search engine rankings (this is referred to as “negative SEO”). They’re usually a lot easier to get links from than links from high quality sites, but forget about it because they could end up being worse than no link at all.

Like I said, building links to an ecommerce site is slower and trickier than it is to get links to content, but it can be done – and you do need to do it if you want to SEO an ecommerce website!

Key Words Also Matter in SEO for an eCommerce Website

Your product keyword (the main search string people are searching for when they look for your product) should appear in your product title, in your url, and, of course, in your product description. In fact, it should appear 3 times if possible in your product description, distributed evenly through the description – in other words, use it close to the beginning of the description, use it in the middle of the description, and use it toward the end of the description. But again, be sure to use your keywords in a meaningful and sensible way. If you are simply keyword stuffing, and if your use of keywords looks unnatural to your customers, Google is going to detect that, and there will be no free search traffic for you!

These are the top 3 techniques we use to SEO an eCommerce website or online store. Do this and you’re going to be well ahead of 80% of the other e-commerce websites competing for your keywords. Ever notice how so few ecommerce websites and online stores write much, if any, of a description for their products? That is such a huge mistake and a major missed opportunity for ranking an ecommerce website. Clearly, the more information you can feed to Google about what your product is, the better it is going to understand your product page, and therefore, the more traffic it will be able to send you. When we started doing this with our 3 ecommerce stores, traffic jumped dramatically.

This one step alone is so important, and it is such an easy improvement to make that its just silly not to do it. Yes, it takes a little time, effort and thought, but the payout if well worth the effort.

Try it for yourself and and watch the traffic for your ecommerce store start to rise. Let us know how it works for you!

BTW, if you’re serious about building a successful ecommerce store, a program we highly recommend is Sellosity.

 

 

 

Google Says “No” to Pop-Ups

Based on an announcement Google made a couple of months back, starting now (January 2017), website rankings will be negatively affected if you are using pop ups on your website.  The use of pop ups will now negatively affect site rankings.

The premise is that pop ups result in a poor user experience because they interfere with what the user has come to your site to do.

It can’t be argued that this is sometimes the case, but I’m just not sure that this should really be a ranking factor.  After all, users always have the option of using pop up blockers, just as they can use ad blockers, so I’m not really persuaded that this isn’t an example of Google going just a little too far in terms of what they consider a ranking factor, and in terms of controlling what a website owner can do on their site.

Whether or not pop ups truly interfere with user experience all depends how intrusive the pop up is. Does it offer a value-add to the user, or does it just get in the way?

I use pop ups on my e-commerce sites, on site for a course I offer (entirely unrelated to internet marketing), and on the new niche content blog I’ve been working at building out over the last little while (also completely unrelated to the internet marketing genre).

Across all my sites, I  have a pretty consistent optin rate of about 6%, which is pretty darn good.  People obviously are very interested in what my pop ups have to offer them.

Now to be clear and completely accurate the new no pop-up rule applies to landing pages. If a user clicks through to a second page on your site, you can have a pop up there (for now, anyway).

The trouble is, a lot of time users will find a site in search. The site does a great job of answering their question on the page they land on, and then, being very focused on whatever they are trying to accomplish at the moment, they leave the site to continue on with what they are doing.  They may be interested in taking a closer look at the site, but don’t have time right there and then to take a look around. A pop up is basically an invitation to come back; it says we know you’re in a rush right now, but if you’d like to get to know us better just let us know and we’ll send you a good reason to come back. I like one analogy I’ve heard – that a pop up on a website is like a welcome mat at a house.

I personally don’t object at all to pop ups on the sites I go to – and I’ll often optin if the site seems interesting to me.  In fact, I appreciate those little pop ups that give me the opportunity to quickly enter my email address to be reminded to come back to a valuable site. And sometimes those pop ups offer some really valuable resources that I might not have otherwise noticed as I rush through the page just getting what I came there for.   The only time I have an issue with a pop up on a site I visit is if it is difficult to close or get rid of quickly, or if one pop up leads to another and another. Or if it pops right back up at me seconds after I’ve closed it.

I’ve heard the argument made that when a visitor arrives at your site for the first time, they don’t even know you, so why would they give you their email address on the first page. Well, its an interesting argument, but I know my visitors do, and I do as well. I guess the answer to the question is, because if the site clearly offers value you can often get an impression of that in the first few seconds, and so you want to get to know the site better and you don’t have a problem giving your email address to hear more from them.

However you look at it, this new ranking factor once again makes it a little more difficult for website owners to do what it is they need to do to keep visitors coming back and build their website traffic.  There are certainly other ways of embedding lead capture forms into website, and we’ll all have to focus a little more on those methods now, but are they as effective. I do currently use other lead capture methods on my site (and have for a while). I have tested different ones, and gotten rid of the ones that really didn’t perform well, and kept the ones that do.  However, my landing page pop ups are without a doubt the top performers in terms of capturing email addresses – simply because they are immediately noticeable.

Not long ago I removed the sidebar optin form from my sites because it was the poorest performer by a long shot, bringing only a dribble of subscribers as compared to my other optin locations – scroll bar, popup, and top bar.  I was pretty surprised by the poor performance of the side bar form, since it was in a pretty visible location, not too far down the page, but I think this shows that people are largely ignoring what is contained in the side bar these days. They’ve sort of got “side bar blindness”. That’s why Google Adsense ads no longer perform particularly well in the side bar on many sites.

So after removing the side bar optin form, that left me with the pop up, scroll bar form, and top bar – in that exact order of performance.  The pop up is my number one lead capture tool, followed by the scroll bar which I also consider to be valuable. And then there’s the top bar email capture. I’ve been on the fence about that one, and had been considering taking it down. It brings in leads but not at the rate of the other two, and I also dont like the way it displays on some of my websites, covering up stuff I would rather it didnt cover up. So I had been contemplating taking it down, on the basis that if someone is willing to enter their email address into the top bar email capture field, they’ll most likely enter it into either the popup or the scroll box if the top bar wasn’t there. So again, I’m quite bummed that Google is saying no to pop ups on the landing page, and leaving me with less effective options, and I’ll have to revisit my plan for whether to keep or drop the top bar.

That leaves one more email capture option I haven’t talked about yet, and that’s the embedded option form (embedded right into the content).  I had used that for a while on my content site, and my course site. It didn’t do too badly pulling in email addresses, but still came in third behind the pop up and the scroll box.

Even though it performed decently I made the decision to remove it quite some time back because I didn’t like the way it would break up my content on some pages or articles.  In some cases, it made it appear that the article had ended and I was concerned readers might not realize that the information continued below the scroll box. When I break up content in that way, I usually like to indicate “Continues Below” so visitors know to keep reading.  But with the auto-injected optin form plug in I use, there is no way to do that, so I simply turfed the embedded form. Again, I reasoned that anyone who would use the embedded form would most likely see either the pop up or the scroll box, and if they were willing to enter their email address on the embedded form, they’ most likely enter their email address into one of the other two options.

But with this recent change by Google I may have to revisit that, and in general, start getting more creative with ways to capture email addresses. Just another challenge to work on.  All in the day of the life of an online marketer 🙂

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Getting a US Mailing Address

This is just a quick little note to self – and to anyone else who is doing business from outside the US (we are in Canada) and might need a US mailing address.

If you need a US mailing address, there is a company called Traveling Mail Box, which for the basic package costs around $100 per year;  they are a good company and allow you to select the city and state of your choosing, which is quite cool.

There is also Mail Link Plus – they offer an address in Las Vegas for just under $100 per year.

My Bonanza Selling Experience

My Bonanaza Selling Experience

Here’s the rundown on my recent Bonanza selling experience.

Bonanza (Bonanza.com) is an online selling marketplace that has positioned itself as an eBay alternative.

In fact, Bonanza touts itself as being “the best ebay alternative”.

Actually, on their website, Bonanza even goes as far to claim they are the “Most Recommended Marketplace over eBay, Amazon, and Etsy”.

Wow, that’s quite the claim, and it sure sounds pretty impressive.

Well, needless to say, I was excited and intrigued when I first heard of them a couple months back, so I jumped right on board.

Here’s the rundown on my Bonanza Selling Experience.

I jumped into selling on Bonanza around the end of November or it might have been the first week of December.  So, basically, right in the heart of the Christmas selling season.

Sales from our three online stores were doing better than ever (standalone stores we run on WooCommerce), and my biggest worry about venturing in to selling on Bonanza in the 2 or 4 weeks before Christmas was whether I’d have any problems with orders arriving in time for Christmas.  Shipping and delivery times are still one thing we’d like to improve with our online stores, and we’re working on fine tuning and improving this, but we’re not there yet.  I was worried I might be biting off more than I could chew by selling on a new marketplace in the weeks before Christmas. What if I couldn’t keep up with the additional orders?

I’d never heard of Bonanza.com before, but I stumbled upon a mention of them in an ecommerce forum, so I headed directly over to check them out.  Signed up that same day and started stocking my Bonanza storefront with some of the top selling merchandise from our three online stores. Our 3 online stores are all in adjacent product niches (but we’ve separated them out into different “themes”), so blending merchandise from all 3 of our stores into one Bonanza storefront worked well.

I really wasn’t sure of what to expect from selling on Bonanza, I’d never even heard of them before, so I figured, just how worthwhile could it be?  But I like to have an open mind, and I’m the type who believes you won’t know unless you try, so I figured it was worth a whirl.

Well, here we are, pretty much 2 full months later, and not a single sale on Bonanza. Nadda.

Meanwhile, this has been our best two months for 2 of our 3 ecommerce stores (the longest established ones).  Even after Christmas, and through the early part of January, sales have remained strong in those 2 ecommerce stores, quite to my surprise. I always expect sales to slump in the month after Christmas, but this year its been quite the opposite for us, with this January being one of our strongest months ever.

And yet, not a nibble from Bonanza.  Not so much as a product inquiry.  In fact, our products are getting very few page views on Bonanza at all, to the point that I’m wondering if anyone even goes there….

I contrast this to when I started selling on Etsy nearly two years ago. I started getting orders rolling in almost from day one. Our products and storefront were certainly getting visibility and traffic on Etsy right from the start.

Of course, Etsy isn’t the right marketplace for everyone. On Etsy, you have to have the right type of product. You can’t sell just anything there (they won’t allow it and restrict the types of products you can sell). It’s pretty much got to be handmade, a vintage item or collectable, or a supply used in making crafts, etc.

Using basic SEO techniques, I was able to rank our products really well on Etsy and get them showing up high in the search results right from the start – it was pretty exciting. I mean, by the second day, our products were ranking. I was, like, “WooHooooo!”.

But based on my personal Bonanza selling experience, its a whole different show over there at Bonanza.com

In fact, and again, and this is purely based on my personal Bonanza selling experience (necessary disclaimer there), I really have to wonder about all those “better than eBay claims”.

Now mind you, I don’t sell on eBay, and never have. Never even tried it. Maybe one day I will still – it would be interesting to see how it would go.

My impression is that the “hay-day” of selling on eBay are long over, unless you are already an established seller over there, since that marketplace is so crowded.  But I could very well be wrong about that.

I don’t know, because I never really took interest in selling on eBay and haven’t looked into the current viability of it.

When I decided I wanted to get into selling physical merchandise online a few years back, I just went ahead and set up my own online stores on my own domains, rather than trying to sell on a marketplace like eBay.

Later, I tried Etsy (with success, as mentioned), and now most recently Bonanza, because I liked the idea of getting extra traction for my products, and exposure for my store, on a marketplace that wasn’t already overly crowded, but yet could offer me visibility.  At this time, I don’t sell exclusive merchandise. I hope to in the future, that’s the ultimate plan, but at this time, I sell the same merchandise that oodles of other merchants are selling. We all have the same suppliers. So it seemed to me that trying to sell the same stuff so many others are already selling on eBay, would be an uphill battle, and my time could likely be much better spent on other efforts.

Perhaps its odd that I took that view, since I do sell on Amazon, and with considerable success. Somehow, I just felt instinctively that Amazon would be an easier platform to sell on than eBay. I can’t verify whether that is true or not since I’ve not tried eBay, but its just the impression I’ve always sort of had, and I went with it.

I guess maybe that’s where the claim of “the best eBay alternative” comes from.  With eBay being so crowded for sellers, Bonanza’s USP is that you can get better visibility there – I guess. But again, based solely on my Bonanza selling experience, it was a complete waste of my time to set up the store on their marketplace and load it up with my products. There just doesn’t seem to be sufficient customer traffic there.

On Amazon and Etsy I starting making sales within the first day or two of listing my products. I believe on Amazon I sold my first item with the first 24 hours, and with Etsy it was within 2, maybe 3 days. It was fast on both platforms, and I was very pleased.

Though I am  not experienced with selling on eBay (yet – may still try), I am experienced with Etsy and Amazon, and there is a complete night and day difference. Those two platforms actually have traffic, and therefore your products get exposure (assuming you’ve set up your listings well for rankings). I can’t imagine who is actually doing well on Bonanza, but I guess there are sellers who are, because Bonanza has apparently been around for a number of years (even thought I’ve just heard of them recently, which perhaps says everything there is to say, since I spend a lot of my time learning, hanging out in ecommerce forums, etc….), but based on my personal Bonanza selling experience, this marketplace gets a FAIL from me.

If you’re curious to try it, and you have the free time on your hands — that you can’t find a way of doing ANYTHING else with that would be useful for your business — then the only way to know is to try it for yourself and see.

I’m all for trying anything once, and like I said, my personal philosophy when it comes to my online business(es) is that you never know until you try, so it never hurts to just get in there and see what happens if you think there could be potential in something.

But my opinion would be – and again, this is based purely on my personal Bonanza selling experience – that if there is another task that you could be doing for your online business, it might be more worth it to put your time and effort into that, and save setting up a Bonanza store for a time when you really can’t think of ANYTHING else that needs to be done (like that’s going to happen, right?).

I don’t mean to be hating on Bonanza.com, but for me, it just killed of a pile of my time and effort that could have been much better put to use elsewhere.  As a busy online marketer, there’s already never enough hours in the day, so doing something that ends up being complete waste of time makes me cranky. 😉

Hope this review of my Bonanza selling experience has been helpful.

Got something to say?  Leave a comment!

How to Sell $1000 a Day on Amazon

One of the online monetization models we use is selling physical goods on Amazon.com.  In this post we’ll share our personal success strategy for selling on Amazon.

Now, to be perfectly accurate, we do not sell $1000 a day on Amazon every day. But we do get our share of $1000 days, and that’s always an awesome feeling.

This is the strategy we use for selling on Amazon.

What we are selling is new merchandise that we buy at wholesale, usually from drop shippers.

We don’t do arbitrage – yet – but we have considered it and we are interested to try it. The main reason we’ve haven’t tried Amazon arbitrage yet is that we are in Canada, and when we looked at the arbitrage business model, it seemed virtually impossible because of all the logistical issues in shipping goods we buy in Canada over to Amazon.com in the US. Shipping costs in Canada are so much higher than they are in the US, that it seemed to make the arbitrage model ridiculously cost prohibitive and non-feasible.

Sure, we have Amazon.ca here in Canada, and Amazon has its Canadian fulfillment centers, but you’re never going to make any real money just selling into the Canadian market through Amazon.ca. It just isn’t big enough. The real money is being made in the US market at Amazon.com. So that was a bit of a bummer. I felt like the kid being kept out of the playground.

HOWEVER, we have just recently come across a Canadian seller who has worked out the arbitrage strategy for selling on Amazon.com from Canada.  I was pretty excited to discover this. He teaches the process, and as soon as time permits, I will be getting his course to learn how this is done, and then hopefully we’ll get in on the arbitrage action.  I’m a pretty savvy shopper and I know I can find the deals to make some good revenue with the arbitrage model. This sounds more like recreation to me than work – I’m always up for a little retail therapy 🙂  Its just a matter of finding the time to venture into a new project – our plate is pretty full right now with all the things we are juggling; and we have learned (the hard way) in the past that you never want to spread yourself too thin or you risk becoming a master of nothing!

So back to what we ARE doing, and what’s working for us now.

We use FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) to streamline our process, and it works wonderfully. Earlier in our business, we used to handle all order processing, packing, shipping, and customer service. It, quite honestly, was a labor intensive nightmare.

There would be times when we would run out of shipping materials or packaging supplies, so orders would be held up while we ran around town to get the supplies we needed.

There would be times when we were tied up with other aspects of our business which were placing demands on our time, so order fulfillment and shipments ran long. And of course, that would lead to dissatisfied customers, which in turn led to us being very angry with ourselves and feeling like we were failing the people who bought from us (we were!). That’s not how we like to do business.

Our business was built on providing exceptional customer service, and we prided ourselves on that – and then as things grew, there we were, letting our customers down. We were making great money, but we weren’t exactly happy with our business because we just couldn’t keep on top of what needed to be done. And the customers suffered – and we weren’t okay with that! Yet, we didn’t know how to put in processes to fix it.

Then came Fulfillment by Amazon. Hallelujah! This was THE solution to our problems. It was the fix we had been needing for a long time.

I can never understand the shortsightedness of online marketers who say they don’t want to pay for the FBA service to handle their order fulfillment. They say they don’t want that added expense eating into their profit margins.

The fact of the matter is that the small fee Amazon charges (relative to all the time and effort they save you) is a BARGAIN.  You can not hire an employee to take care of these tasks for anywhere as little as you pay FBA to prep and ship your orders for you. Its an incredible efficiency. And it makes our business run smoothly and makes it scalable.

So it goes without saying, FBA is a key part of our strategy for selling on Amazon (frankly, we now use it for other non-Amazon sales too, that we make right off our own websites and ecommerce stores. It just makes life easy!

If you use FBA, in total, Amazon will take from 30-35% of your product price, but they are handling shipping and everything else, including customer service.  As far as the cost of doing business goes, realistically, this is a very good deal. It frees up your time to focus on growing your business, sourcing out new products and suppliers, market research, etc – all of the stuff that will really grow your business. These are things you cant easily outsource (and have them done well).

There is a simple formula for doing well on Amazon:

Popularity of product + medium or high rating of product = sales for you

When deciding on a product to sell on Amazon, we look for similar products that are already selling on Amazon, and are ranked 4000 (top level category).

We are aiming for products with a selling price between $10 and $50 dollars. Why?  Because there are a high volume of transactions in this range.

We get more specific product ideas and keywords simply by typing the product into the search bar and looking at suggested searches.

When writing product titles, we study keywords in the titles of competitors products to ensure we are writing strong, competitive titles.

If the product is made in the USA or Canada, we make sure to emphasize this in the product description – this is very important to a lot of consumers, and will often sway a buyer to purchase from you if competing products are not domestically made.

We always use a bullet pointed format for writing our product descriptions. It makes them easy to read for buyers, and this is important.

We always have a back up supplier for every product we sell in case one runs out.  We can not have ordered delays or fulfillment problems – that doesn’t play well on Amazon.com and will lead to negative feedback, or even worse – Amazon could close your account.

When giving feedback on their purchase, the customer will be asked to rate you on the following:

  • was item as described?
  • did it arrive on time?
  • did they receive good customer service?

So make sure that you keep this in mind at all times, at every step of the process – when selecting the products you will sell on Amazon, when writing your product descriptions, when you receive the order, and at every touch-point with the customer.  Your objective always needs to be providing the customer with an awesome buying experience. That’s how we approach every transaction (and every product we list – don’t list crappy products!), and its really contributed to a strong quality score, which has the effect of propelling our Amazon business steadily forward.

Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you are truly putting your heart into providing a good customer experience. Yes, its happened to us.  Sometimes its hard to figure out exactly what customers are thinking when they post something which can only be described as absurd (we’re pretty sure its been a competitor trying to do a little sabotage when its happened to us because its just been that far off the mark).  But those are the perils of selling on a platform.

Its pretty hard to get negative feedback removed, even if its not legit, unless you can absolutely prove its bogus. And that’s almost impossible. For that reason, as much as it hurts, we’ve never even attempted to have the occasional piece of negative feedback removed, because it would just be a wasteful expenditure of time. And by this point in our business we’ve learned to always be assessing everything we are spending our time on, and to always make sure our time is going into tasks that are truly top priority, because heaven knows there are simply never enough hours in the day.

You can get negative feedback removed if any complaints were the fault of FBA and not yourself.

Refund Rate

Your refund rate should be lower than 3%. Anything higher and you are going to get Amazon’s attention (and not in a good way), so again, this goes back to making sure you a selling products of quality, that your description is accurate and detailed so customers know what to expect, and that you are providing an amazing customer experience.

How to maintain a good quality score:

We have found that maintaining a good quality score is not that hard to do (assuming first and foremost that you have a decent product!) if you adhere to certain principles.  We make it our policy to:

  • answer customer email quickly
  • take care of customers
  • give exceptional customer service
  • answers inquiries in less than 24 hours
  • check for messages 4 times a day and answer immediately
  • when answering inquiries, always convey a super-friendly, helpful tone that shows the customer you genuinely appreciate them and value their business

You’re probably getting the picture (there’s a bit of a theme there) – a lot revolves around simply being responsive to customers messages and inquiries. We’re talking really responsive. Fast replies that clearly answer the question or resolve the issue, in a super-friendly and helpful tone, are the basic strategy we use to maintain a good quality score on Amazon.

If you fail to maintain a good quality score, Amazon can close your account.

 

We’re Taking Care of Business!

No time to blog right now, too busy takin’ care of business and helping out our Inner Circle!  We’ve got all kinds of projects going on right now as we gear up for the new year, but we’ll be hitting the blog soon!

Want to know what’s working for us right now in terms of traffic strategies, business models, and all that other juicy stuff?  We share that with members of our Inner Circle – so go ahead and opt-in, its entirely free!

Just shoot us a message with ‘Inner Circle’ in the subject line, and we’ll get you in!