Saturday, March 29, 2014

Google: Excellent Servant, Horrible Master

I admit it... I use Google a lot.

I guess I am used to it and—for the most part—I usually get the information I'm after.

And when I need to check the meaning of a word, for example, I automatically enter "define," followed by the word into the URL/text field in Google Chrome. Plus I have all my important bookmarks neatly organized, and the same goes to the several apps I regularly use.

I gave up on Explorer several years ago (do not remember why), but have not looked back. And the same applies to my trusty Eudora email client. Once I got used to Gmail, that one fell to the back burner a few years ago.

So yes, Google has been an excellent servant, for the most part.

One exception to my search habits happens when I am looking for something to purchase. In those cases I check eBay first followed by Amazon, so I can compare prices and check availability. Google, Bing, and other search engines, come in a distant third place for such duties.

However, if you depend on Google for organic search results as a small business, they are the master, and they can be quite horrible in that capacity. They seem to have absolutely no mercy for the small businesses that end up being hurt or destroyed in their algorithmic wake.

As a former small e-commerce merchant, I had my run-ins with Google's algorithms, and even though they kicked the living crap out of me, I managed to survive. Granted, at the end I was exhausted and sick and tired of the constant "floggings" imparted by their algos, so I sold the company I founded before Google even existed.

I don't consider it giving up. I simply was burned out and tired. Don't misunderstand. I was still profitable and able to get by when I sold my biz, but—like most entrepreneurs—I did not build a business to simply "survive." I built a business to "succeed."

After taking a long hiatus in order to clear my mind and recharge my batteries, I am getting the itch to start something new, again. I have no idea as to what it may be but I am in the process of considering several possibilities.

One thing is for sure; when I'm ready to move forward I will make sure I don't have to depend on Google (or anyone else, for that matter). As a matter of fact, I am not even sure if my new venture would involve the Internet at all, but even if it does, I'll make damn sure that I don't pin my hopes on search engines in order to be successful.

If you are a small web store owner that's been affected by Google algorithms, I'd like to hear your story, so feel free to comment, or contact me through LinkedIn (LHernandezJr).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Web Store or Marketplace?

Back in the early days of the world wide web, circa 1995, there were but a few reliable platforms that allowed forward-thinking entrepreneurs to easily create a stand-alone web store where they could offer their merchandise and accept online payments.

In 1997 I launched such a store through the ViaWeb platform (later Yahoo! Store), and I started selling motorcycle literature online overnight. It was that easy.



By the mid 2000s, the e-commerce landscape had already changed significantly and—I believe—that rapid growth, along with SEO "experts" offering all sorts of dubious optimization techniques, were the force that spawned the tidal wave of algorithm changes that would bring organic traffic almost to a standstill (at least for most small online merchants), by the late part of that decade. Fast-forward a few years into this one, and that scenario has worsened to a worrisome extent.

Web store owners cannot afford to wait indefinitely for a "kinder" Panda or Penguin algorithm. Or for (namely) Google to learn a fair way to dispense organic results.

Salaries, rent, taxes, and utilities, to name a few of the fixed monthly expenses most business face, are due regardless of profits, and since most small—and even a few large—businesses have lost focus and devoted resources to chasing algorithms instead of finding other ways to generate sales, the severity of the situation they find themselves in, is the equivalent of quicksand.

Human nature compounds the problem by making these entrepreneurs focus of the wrong things in a desperate attempt to keep the doors open. And so, things such as pay-per-click advertising, for example, are the first (as well as the easiest) things to go, when in reality, PPC—if used properly—is one of the few things that can help the business slowly crawl out of the quicksand pit.

Having said that, many businesses already are well beyond that point, which means that the possibility of having to close the doors forever, has now become a probability.

Granted, I am talking in very general terms. Only you, the web store owner, knows if you've crossed that threshold. But like most self-made individuals, you probably won't go down without putting a good fight.

What am I saying! If you've made it to 2014 and your web store is still limping along, you have been fighting the good fight for quite some time, and I respect that.

So what are your options?

PAY PER CLICK ADVERTISING

You could start an aggressive PPC ad campaign to boost your sales. Of course the definition of "aggressive" varies, but I think you get the idea. A successful PPC campaign will be determined by the profits you make. Buying "visitors" does not make the register ring. You have to acquire customers (or buyers), for whatever it is you sell.

And let me tell you something; if you have to hire someone to "manage" your PPC campaigns, you may end up being disappointed. And really, really broke. If you are unable to manage your own PPC advertising, do not put that trust in the hands of others.

MARKETPLACE SELLING

One thing to keep in mind and seriously consider, is the importance of having a marketplace strategy in place. I suggest having such a venue as a complement to your regular web store, as well as a backup, in case things get really ugly.

Marketplaces have been around forever, and one of the first online marketplaces dates to 1995 and you probably are quite familiar with it. Yes, I am talking about eBay.com.

eBay not only offers auctions but also fixed-price selling—as well as stores—for its subscribers, and although I have no idea what the exact number of daily visitors may be (I am guessing it is in the hundreds of millions), Alexa ranks it in 26th place globally, and 8th place domestically (as of this writing).

Another very popular marketplace was launched in late 2000 by none other than Amazon.com.

Amazon's Marketplace is something that every small business owner/operator has to look into.

Over the years I've heard the typical complaints about Amazon taking too large a cut and all that. I've also heard that Amazon uses your sales data so they can decide when to start selling the same merchandise for cheaper prices.

But conspiracy theories aside, I do not know your business or the margins you operate under, so maybe there's little if anything to share. However, if the real reason you have not looked at offering products through Amazon's Marketplace is due to what you've heard, you are really doing yourself a disservice by not really doing the math in order to find out if you can make the numbers work.

As they say, I have no dog in this fight," so it doesn't matter to me if you sign up with Amazon, eBay, or anyone else, but it may actually make a HUGE difference to you! So make sure you really understand the numbers behind every business decision you make. Otherwise, you're just guessing.

By the way, Amazon is ranked by Alexa as number 12 worldwide and in 5th place in the U.S.A.

There are many popular marketplaces out there, such as WebStore which is very similar to eBay, for example, albeit not as big. However, you can list and sell for free. Another venue worth exploring may be the Sears Marketplace. I have no experience with it, but with Sears behind it, it may be worth a shot.

Marketplaces have something that every web store owners wants, and that is millions of buyers. Your business needs to tap into this huge resource.

The way I see it, once you build your store or list your products for sale, you are competing on price and availability. SEO becomes a thing of the past and, if you've been spending lots of money trying to "fix" the issues that are affecting you, that no longer is a factor and you can save that money, which allows you to be more competitive price-wise.

There are tons of other benefits from having a marketplace presence, and you will have to decide on the marketplace (or marketplaces) you want to join and discover what they can do for you.

Amazon, for example, allows you to use their warehouses for storing and shipping product. You can also participate in their Prime Service which has millions of subscribers. I've been a subscriber  for a number of years and have purchased tons of stuff just because I want fast (and free) 2-day service.

From books to auto parts to exercise equipment. If I need it I check with Amazon first. Heck, I even bought an exhaust system for my '84 Trans Am a couple of years ago! The savings on the shipping alone paid for my yearly membership.

Aligning yourself with such a company may allow you, one day, get rid of your traditional e-commerce site forever. And if you do things right, you can become someone who works one or two hours a day, and makes more money, that you thought possible.

Even though the Internet has been around for a quarter of a century (or longer, depending on who you talk to), the business online world still is a new paradigm, and things change quickly and dramatically. Your job, as an entrepreneur, is to stay on top of changes and be able to adapt quickly.

I know that many like to talk about "creating brands" and crap like that. But the idea is to make money and be profitable.
Did people forget about that part?

Forget about the branding concept, and—while you're at it—stop drinking the SEO and marketing Kool-Aid. We all have been duped into believing this "content" garbage, and have wasted precious time generating free content for others.

Wake up and take control of your business and your life!