Companies that sell products and services online have always had to fight for their share of traffic and customers. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this, as more small businesses added an e-commerce component to survive.
In fact, according to a late 2020 survey by Chase Ink, almost one in five small businesses began selling online or shipping to customers for the first time that year. Experts and small business owners offer these five ways to attract new customers in the face of increased competition.
1. Improve your site's search engine optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization—commonly referred to simply as SEO—is what helps your site show up in search engine results when people look for what you're selling. Optimization involves making sure your site's content includes the keywords and phrases people type into search engines.
Niles Koenigsberg, a digital marketing specialist at Real FiG Advertising + Marketing, recommends using tools such as SE Ranking, Moz, and Ahrefs to identify keywords to include in your site's text. When you've got a keyword list, rewrite the related page's content to include the keyword at least three to four times, he says.
"Sometimes the best way to find the most appropriate keywords for your website is to use a competitive analysis tool to study the websites of your competitors," Koenigsberg adds. "Try to figure out which keywords they are targeting so that you can target similar ones and find your way past those competitors."
2. Create content around 'long-tail' keywords
"Long-Tail" keywords are terms with lower search volumes because they're very specific—the searcher often knows exactly what they're looking for.
To illustrate this, Justin Smith, CEO of SEO company OuterBox, uses an online pet supplies retailer as an example. There will be lots of searches for a phrase like "pet supplies," he says, but the term is so broad that you don't even know if it applies to dogs, cats, or guinea pigs. Instead, look for long-tail keywords that reveal the intent behind them.
"A phrase like 'buy 6-foot dog leash' is much more specific and the intent behind it is much clearer. While long-tail keywords will not drive as much search volume, they will drive more qualified traffic to your online store," Smith says.
After developing your long-tail keyword list, he recommends creating detailed landing pages for the products that fit those keywords, making certain that the text includes the appropriate phrases. Site visitors arriving on that page can then immediately add the corresponding product to their shopping cart.
3. Blog about niche topics
Blogging is one of the easiest and most effective ways to attract site traffic. When you write articles that incorporate your ideal customers' search terms, your site will show up higher in search results.
By using the SEO research tool Ahrefs to identify keywords, and then writing helpful how-to or otherwise informative articles about the keyword topics, Black Ink Coffee owner Parker Russell has increased site traffic by 1,000%.
"For example, if you search on Google for 'blonde roast coffee' or 'blonde roast,' you'll see that the number one article right now points to our website, not Starbucks," he says. It took an hour to write, he notes, and it generates a few thousand clicks every month—clicks he converts to sales with a well-designed website.
4. Use social media strategically
Rather than spreading yourself too thin across multiple social networks, focus on one or two that your target audience uses the most. Develop a mix of content that is useful, informative, promotional, and fun or entertaining—as long as it's in line with your brand personality. You can also use video to demonstrate or images to inspire.
"Don't try to sell in every post you make. Keep your content informative and entertaining and balance promotion with providing value for your audience," says Tim Parkin, president of Parkin Consulting.
Whenever logical or possible, attract new customers by adding links that offer more information on your site.
5. Get smart about email marketing
Build an email list by offering something of value that encourages people to add themselves to your list. Retailers often do that with a new-customer discount on the first order. Then stay in touch regularly with updates, information, and offers.
Adam Greenbaum, CEO of WhiskerCloud, a veterinary hospital software supplier, creates blog posts, social media graphics, and podcast episodes that he leverages with email. "We use this content to create educational emails for our customers and prospects that can help them in both the short and long term with their business," Greenbaum says.
"You don't need a massive email list of thousands of people—even a small number of loyal subscribers can generate predictable revenue and referral business," adds Parkin.
Don't try everything at once
Other traffic-generating strategies include advertising, partnerships with businesses serving your audience, and publicity.
Implement one new tactic at a time and monitor results. If it isn't working, explore why. If it is, do more of it. With trial and error, plus some patience, you'll find the best ways to get new customers.