9 Social Media-Related Tools E-Retailers Should Consider For Their Digital Toolbox

May 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Social Media

I am a self-confessed geek. From cool apps (geek speak for applications), to productivity-enhancing web tools, I’m what my IT colleagues call a “power user.”

My laptop is a treasure trove of sites, tools, gadgets and widgets I’ve found on list-blog posts like these. Don’t even get me started on my phone. It’s my laptop’s “mini me.”

For the sake of productivity — and to make your e-commerce toolbox as rich as they come — I’ve compiled a list of the tools I can’t go without throughout my day so that you can use them as well. (You’ll see a lot of Google products pop up on my list. This has more to do with their ease-of-use and free pricetag than anything. I highly suggest using Google’s applications as much as possible particularly if you’re watching your dimes.)

1. GMail/GCalendar. (http://mail.google.com/) Used by some of the most intelligent and techno-savvy minds I know, Google’s email platform, Gmail, is similar to Microsoft’s Outlook email client insofar as organizing e-mail is concerned. Where most e-mail systems use folders, Gmail uses Labels which are color-codable organizing tools. You can also create filters and rules to jettison your email into a particular “label” thereby keeping your inbox relatively clean. Gmail also works in concert with the Google Calendar which is a God-send for busy types like me. Both Gmail and Google Calendar are accessible by phone, which brings me to…

2. iPhone. I just bought mine a few weeks ago and quite honestly, I’m not sure how I managed without it. In a coming post, I’m going to detail some great social networking apps, but for now, I’m just going to rave about the phone. It’s true that the iPhone isn’t a social networking too, per se, but as I mentioned, it has a number of apps (applications) you can install to keep you as connected as you would be sitting in front of a computer screen. On my own phone, I have several applications that can tell me how far the nearest bathroom is — great when I need to change for a face-to-face meeting; where the nearest free wi-fi spot is; recipes I shouldn’t go without; up- and down-loadable shopping lists that I can concoct while I’m sitting in traffic. My iPhone has become my lifeline.

3. Skype. (http://www.skype.com) My phone only has so many minutes without my seeing a huge bill which is why I depend on Skype for cross-country, international or lengthy phone calls. To call Skype’s calls phone calls isn’t quite true. They’re computer-to-phone line calls. Skype is incredibly easy to use (and free for basic use) and even offers an instant messaging feature if you’re without one. Other options include an telephone address book and search tools to find people or businesses you may know also using Skype. Skype-to-Skype calls are free so you may want to invite everyone you’ve ever done business with to download and use.

4. Widgetbox (http://www.widgetbox.com) If you’ve ever seen a feed of recent video, blog, Twitter, etc. posts, odds are, the site was using a Widget. There are several widget sites you can use, but my favorite is Widgetbox. I’ve created easy-to-install widgets for my own sites to keep visitors updated on recent posts. Like most tools, there is a free, basic version and a pay-for-customization version. I’d play around with the free version and if you like what you see, pay for the rest.

5. Lijit (http://www.lijit.com/) I’ve talked about Lijit before. Lijit is useful when you get around in the social media sphere like I do. I have a membership on a lot of sites, blogs, etc. and I like to show them off which is why I’ve housed my networks in my Lijit account. I can use embed code Lijit gives me to display my social media-prowess on my own sites if I chose (which I often do).

6. Twitter. (http://www.twitter.com). I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing me talk about Twitter because I’m a huge fan. I can connect with thousands of people throughout the world in 140 characters or less (which is good, because I can get wordy). I can ask a question about a social media app, find other people like me who want to connect and even promote myself and my sites. I use a desktop application called Tweetdeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com/beta/) to manage my incoming and outgoing messages which clears up valuable real estate on my browser’s search bar.

7. Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics/) Another free tool, Google Analytics lets me know who is visiting my sites, when, where from, what terms they’re using to get there. I consider Google Analytics my owner personal website private investigator.

8. Google Docs. (http://docs.google.com) Similar to Gmail and Google Calendar, Google Docs has some similarities to Microsoft’s Office suite. Google Docs, unlike Microsoft, let you create and share online rather than emailing a document back and forth. Consider Google Docs the next time you need a word processing or spreadsheet tool and/or also need to share it with another person or group.

9. iGoogle. If you’ve signed up for any of the Google products mentioned above, odds are you now have a Google account. Great!!! Good job. Now you can also customize your Google homepage to include RSS feeds and other widgets that will keep you informed and more productive. Need an example? Using our fictitious animal toys e-commerce site, imagine you want to keep track of your e-mail, calendar and RSS feeds from your favorite animal-related websites. iGoogle lets you create a homepage that houses all of these things on one screen. Nifty, eh?

Most Important Parts of an Ecommerce Home Page

In one of my previous posts titled Most Important Pages on an Ecommerce Site I mentioned the most important pages on an ecommerce site.

In a later post titled Most Important Parts of a Product Page I broke down the various sections specific to a product page. In this post I wanted to point out a number of elements that should be present on the home page of any ecommerce site.

Although a well optimized — from an seo perspective — ecommerce site will likely receive traffic entering on any number of sub pages (rather than the home page), the home page will see its fair share of traffic.

Keep in mind I am not saying the home page will receive less traffic than other pages on the site. I’m saying that any number of pages on a site can be the entry page. This is how each website should be built anyhow — each page being considered a separate landing page which can receive traffic at any given moment from any source.

The home page though does play an important role in the overall picture of a successful ecommerce site. It is the page that many visitors will turn to even if entering first on another page within the site and is the page that no matter what, can set the tone for the rest of the visitor experience.

Although not the only elements, I’ll present below 4 important elements a good home page should possess for driving ecommerce sales.

1) Displays a clear offer. It can have multiple offers but works best when the “featured promotion” (that which you are looking to push hardest) is given prominence. If this is a monthly sale you run, give that sale front and center attention then support it with additional creative.

The image below shows an offer that could be considered the feature.

Overstock.com free shipping offer

It clearly attracts your eye even when additional offers are presented and drives home the message that if you buy from Overstock.com you get free shipping on your entire order.

The offer, although simple, does even better to win the sale though. It creates urgency through adding just one simple word — today. The use of that one word alone strengthens the offer for building sales on the company side and persuades the visitor to act now or else potentially lose the opportunity to receive free shipping.

I talked about creating urgency in my post titled Planning Ecommerce Promotions.

2) Contain a clear call to action. A call to action persuades the visitor to act upon something. This can be clicking a banner to see the monthly sale item(s), signing up for a newsletter mailing, adding an item to their cart, etc… Each of these actions should contain a call to action that supports the end result.

Common calls to action on a home page might be in support of sales, new products, daily features, and more. An example call to action would be a banner with details on the sale of the month and the text “click here to shop now!’

The image below is a good representation of the use of calls to action.

Overstock.com home page calls to action

3) A clear and precise navigational path for accessing site content. This may seem logical, but many sites neglect the “clear and precise” portion. They provide navigation not thinking of how it is presented nor how it will impact their visitors.

4) Multiple presentations of accessing the same information within the site. Most home pages receive a variety of visitor demographics. Each visitor is seeking products to fit their needs yet each searches in a different manner to get to those results. One visitor may use the main navigational elements within the frame work of the site while another may prefer to read a little more before committing themselves.

You must learn your demographics and address them accordingly. To illustrate this point let me present this conceptual example. Let’s say you sell beach clothing.

Two different visitors arrive at your site — both looking for the same product.

The first visitor is going on vacation in the coming weeks and is looking for an outfit to wear on the beach. The second visitor lives on a beach and is looking for the same outfit.

Navigation that might speak better to the first visitor would be a heading that says “Outfits for Vacation” (with a subset of links pointing toward things like beach outfits, bathing suits, sundresses, etc…) while the second visitor may respond better to categorical navigation that simply says “Bathing Suits.”

A good example of how to deliver links to similar content from different angles can be seen in the home page screenshot below. Take note of the lines connecting links to similar products. Notice how they appear in not only different context at times, but also under different headings — each targeting a different search habit based on visitor demographic.

Overstock.com Home Page Screenshot

In order to get your home page working to drive visitors deeper into your site you must speak to the various demographics in a language they understand. To do this you obviously must know what your visitor demographic is compromised of. If you’ve planned out your business correctly then you should have a good idea of the answer to that question.

If you don’t know the answer you better go back and find it out. You can’t expect to grow business by randomly targeting any person that comes to your site. The list of items I presented in this article should give you a start for shaping your home page to work for your audience.

10 Free Social Media Tools E-Commerce Retailers Should Use

May 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Social Media

Are you operating lean these days? Have you slashed your budget to next to zero and still worry about how you’re going to stay afloat?

Have no fear, free social media tools are here.

I’ve put together this list of 10 extremely popular social media sites that have tools you can use to market your products, keep in touch with clients, and manage projects all without paying a cent.

1. Blogger. http://www.blogger.com/ Blogger is one of the most well known blogging platforms (next to WordPress, which I’ll talk about below). Why should a e-commerce site blog? The more appropriate question to ask is why not? Maintaining a blog lets you communicate to past, present and future purchasers that there’s a human behind that site of yours. Use your site to feature a new prouduct or a popular customer.
2. WordPress. http://wordpress.com/ Not to be confused with WordPress.org (which is the pay-for-customization side of WordPress), this blogging platform is very similar to Blogger in its means to publication. I you do decided to start a blog, here’s something to consider when deciding to choose Blogger v. WordPress: Without paying any money, Blogger is more customizable if you intend to add widgets; however, WordPress has many more templates and styles but does not let you customize much more than that.
3. YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/ This video site isn’t just for teen-agers and wanna-be Rock Stars. Consider using YouTube to upload a commercial about your products or how-to videos explaining how a product is used (or constructed). YouTube accounts are free and easy to set up and can be embedded on your site.
4. Twitter http://www.twitter.com/ A microblogging site that asks you to tell the world what you’re doing in 140 characters or less, Twitter truly is sweeping the world as a form of communicating with anyone and everyone who’s interested in what you have to say. Use Twitter to announce an upcoming sale or as a customer service tool. Keep an eye out for trends using TwitterSearch or download Tweetdeck to keep up with your conversations. Check out the folks at Zappos or an example of an e-commerce site that Twitters.
5. Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ This social networking site is most noticeably used to keep up with old pals, however, many consumers are also using it to profess their love for the products they use. Why not create a Fan Page for your products or site and invite your best customers to become a fan. Remember the phrase “If you build it, they will come’? Same thing applies here.
6. GoogleGroups http://www.groups.google.com/ Part of the Google Applications Suite, Google Groups is a free tool you can use to collaborate with multiple users. Think of Google Groups like your very own intranet or wiki. You add content, hit publish, send a note to the other users you want to see it and voila – you’ve communicated to your staff (or vendors, franchisers, etc.).
7. GoogleDocs http://www.docs.google.com/ Another component of the Google Application Suite, Google Docs is a free tool you can use to create word processing documents and spreadsheets. Docs will also let you publish and share with whomever you choose if you so need.
8. Flickr http://www.flickr.com Flickr is a photo management and sharing site with global reach (and popularity for that matter). How can you use Flickr? Upload product images and tag them appropriately. When someone searches for, say, Water Filtration, if you’ve done your job right, your images should appear. Voila: free marketing.
9. Anyvite http://anyvite.com/home If you’re considering trying an offline event, Anyvite helps you assemble an e-mailed invitation (without ads), import contacts, add locations including links and keep tabs on your guest list. If you’ve followed the advice above, you’re also on Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. This site will also collaborate with those sites to post images, videos and messages about the event.
10. Skype. http://www.skype.com Do you ever find yourself wishing you had a second phone line but aren’t sure how to pay for it? Consider downloading Skype, a free voice-over-internet tool

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