How Referral Programs Can Encourage Customers to Do Your Marketing for You

How Referral Programs Can Encourage Customers to Do Your Marketing for You

Ecommerce powerhouses like Bonobos, Rothy’s, and Everlane have all been known to run referral marketing programs. They work. They help retailers build a loyal following of their best customers.

But referral programs can be complicated to set up, aren’t a fit for every business, and, as with every growth initiative, offer no guarantee of success. There are many moving parts to consider and configure because an effective referral program needs to be treated as a holistic marketing campaign.

As a result, many retailers setup referral programs prematurely, often before they’ve found product/market fit or a large enough customer base. Or, they invest in referral marketing halfheartedly, not allocating enough investment in promoting their campaigns. Either situation is sure to lead to underwhelming results, which means wasted time and resources.

So, with all of that in mind, should you run a referral program? To help you answer that question for your business, let’s walk through the broad strokes of what you’ll need to do to run a referral program successfully.

Is a referral program right for your business?

Referral programs amplify the existing word of mouth that your store already gets from your customers and fans; they cannot create brand new customers or word of mouth out of thin air.

Since referral programs depend on happy existing customers or advocates to help extend your reach, there’s no single magic measure to tell you in advance whether a referral program would be successful for your store. However, for entrepreneurs who are seriously considering implementing a referral program, I recommend looking at the following two variables:

  1. Are you already getting organic word of mouth referrals?
  2. How many sales does your store make a month?

To be confident about the potential success of your referral program, already having at least 100-200 monthly transactions is ideal. A customer base of this size accounts for the fact that not every customer will be willing to make a referral, and even those that are will often forget, or fail to recognize opportunities to refer your products.

Tailor the specifics to match your store

There are a few things you need to get right when setting up your referral program from scratch.

1. Incentives

Referral marketing example.
The whole point of a referral program is to incentivize more deliberate word of mouth from people who are already casually talking about your store.

To do this, you need to think clearly about what would be a meaningful incentive for both the advocate and the friends they are referring. The right incentives vary depending on the conditions of your store, your product, your pricing and so on.

The big question to answer is: Should you use a cash incentive or a discount coupon?

This depends on whether you expect advocates to return to your store to make future purchases. If you’re selling a product people buy once, or infrequently (like a mattress), it’s better to offer a cash incentive since your advocate won’t have any use for five “20% off your next mattress” coupons.

If you’re selling something people buy often or need to regularly replace i.e., apparel, makeup, or shaving razors, then a discount coupon means that each referral is likely to lead to two new sales. Score!

2. Messaging

Brand values in referral programs.
Example from Shopify customer GoldieBlox.

There are multiple touchpoints in a referral program where you’ll have the opportunity to communicate your brand’s voice, particularly through the images and copy you create.

You want to ensure every referral touchpoint reminds your advocates, and the friends they’re referring, what your store is about: your ethos, your company’s mission, and the values your brand represents.

Consider the above example from GoldieBlox. The mission of the product is to encourage girls to get involved in engineering. The messaging makes sure to emphasize that, and in turn creates an offer that’s significantly more compelling than a mere discount.

Referral emails are a particularly important channel in which to hone and refine your messaging. Referral emails can be an effective way to remind your existing customers that they can be rewarded for referring their friends to your store.

But to do that, the emails you send have to capture attention and spur action—the table stakes are an interesting email subject line, copy that is short and sweet, content that highlights the benefits to both the advocate and their friends, and a crystal-clear call to action.

Promoting your referral program

Airbnb is one of the mega-brands that is commonly referenced when people discuss and analyze examples of highly successful referral programs. But did you know that their first referral program was a complete failure?

It failed because it wasn’t adequately promoted; even Airbnb employees didn’t know it existed.

You want to avoid this outcome at all costs. It’d be pretty tragic to take the time and energy to figure out the right incentives and messaging for your referral program, only to have customers completely ignore it.

There are several steps to effectively promote an ecommerce referral program to ensure the right people hear about it.

1. Email your existing customer list

Example of a referral email.
Example from Shopify customer ZOOSHOO.

Store owners who’ve been running businesses for years will sometimes confidently declare they wish they would’ve created and run referral programs sooner. There’s a hint of regret that they must have missed out on acquiring lots of new customers.

But that’s not necessarily true! Relatively “mature” ecommerce stores often get significantly more out of their referral programs compared to brand new stores, because they have the opportunity to send out an email campaign to a much larger email list of past customers. And in general, the audience available to established stores makes getting the ball rolling for a new referral program significantly easier.

2. Feature your referral calls to action

Where to highlight referral programs.
Example from Kurgo.

It’s always sobering to realize how easily distracted customers are. They’ve got tons of other things on their mind—now more than ever. So it’s always worth taking the extra effort to remind them of your offers at every step of the way. Here are some locations you could consider putting your referral program calls to action:

  • Header (“Earn $20”)
  • Hero Image Carousel
  • Pop-up Widgets (use sparingly!)
  • FAQ Page

3. Prompt customers after they purchase

Prompt customers for referrals.

One of the best times to ask your customers for a referral is right after they’ve purchased your product. They’ve just made the decision to buy, and they’re extra receptive to taking another little action—ideally, telling their friends about you.

This is an important time to get the copy exactly right. Your customers have just purchased, they’re (hopefully) excited about completing the purchase and getting what they want. You want them to do you a favor, but you don’t want it to sound like a burden or a chore.

To do this, you’ll want to emphasize the good feelings that your customer is going to have when their friend enjoys your product at their referral.

4. Add referral marketing to existing channels

Example Facebook ad.
Example from Boxed.

Your referral program doesn’t need to “live” in any particular place, like on your site or in your marketing emails. You can and should remind your customers about your referral program across all your marketing channels.

Of course, be tasteful about this. A referral program, while it offers benefits, is still a marketing tactic. Space these messages out within the context of a broader, more comprehensive social media strategy.

5. Send smart email reminders to your advocates

Schedule referral emails.

It’s incredibly easy to overestimate how many customers have heard or paid attention to any of your campaigns, referral or otherwise. We all lead busy lives, and that often makes us very forgetful customers.

Sometimes it takes multiple reminders before customers realize that your business even has a referral program, and a few more after that before they remember they’ve got a friend who’d be a perfect fit for your product. To address this, it’s worth sending reminder emails from time to time.

It might be tempting to send referral reminders every week, but what other emails are you sending your customers? If you’re already sending them lots of other emails—discount coupons, new arrival announcements, and so on—then it makes sense to send them out less frequently.

You can always also insert mentions of your referral program in your existing marketing emails! The important thing is to pay attention to your customers’ experience, and make sure that it’s a positive and pleasant one.

Reach your next best customer

Let’s not sugarcoat things: referral programs are a lot of work. But they work.People who participate in your referral program are doing you a huge favor—they’re incentivized to think about which of their friends, colleagues, or followers would most love your products, and that level of targeting is how you reach some of your best and most loyal customers.

Customer referrals are proof that you’ve built something that your customers truly love. If you’re selling something that has a positive impact on your customers’ lives, then a customer referral program will enable and encourage them to tell their friends about you.

What’s more important, however, is that you get a good sense of the scale and scope that a successful referral program requires. This will help you better plan how and when you should run your referral program. Happy referring!

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How to Sell Photos Online: For Both Amateur and Pro Photographers

How to Sell Photos Online: For Both Amateur and Pro Photographers

Making money as a photographer, like a YouTuber or Instagrammer, is all about harnessing that same creativity at the heart of your work and applying it to the monetization of your talents.

It can seem hard to make it when anyone with the newest iPhone can call themselves a “photographer.” But success, for most creators who turn to entrepreneurship, comes down to three things:

  1. Finding your niche.
  2. Building an audience.
  3. Creating several streams of income.

This guide will explore some of the things you should know about selling photos online with resources to help you make your photography-based business a reality.

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How to sell photos online: two essential steps

1. Define your niche

Every successful photographer has a consistent style or theme that runs through their work. Whether your thing is travel, fashion, cityscapes, nature, food, etc., consistency is key.

People follow other people online to see more of whatever it is that interested them in the first place. People unfollow other people when those expectations aren’t met.

Finding your niche if you want to sell pictures online is typically something you feel your way into as you see which styles and photos resonate with your audience. But you can also evaluate the demand for certain topics using keyword research to analyze the search volume for terms related to your photographs.

Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension that shows you the search volume right below your Google search, making it easy to find and experiment with in-demand subjects and angles to see what you can cater to with your photographs.

As a suggestion, anything above 1,000 average monthly searches is sthe ignificant volume to consider capitalizing on.

Photographers, just like bloggers, YouTubers, and artists of any kind, should also invest in building their audiences because that’s ultimately what helps them build their business and sell photography online.

Whether you’re freelancing or selling photography online as prints, you’ll need to build and leverage your network to expand your reach and credibility.

Visual social platforms like Instagram and Tumblr with built-in audiences can help you reach a wide audience, but there are also photo-sharing sites that can connect you with other photographers where you can build a following and, depending on the platform, sell licenses to use your photos (more on that later).

Linking your various accounts makes it easier to manage your photo-sharing across several platforms, which is good for visibility of your photographs, especially important when you’re trying to figure out how to sell your photography. On Instagram, for example, you can go to Options > Settings > Linked Accounts to connect Tumblr, Facebook, and more to publish in more than one place with a single post.

IFTTT is a free tool that can help you create other useful integrations between apps that don’t usually integrate, like Instagram and Dropbox.

On Instagram, you can also use Hashtagify to discover relevant, active hashtags to increase the visibility of your photographs on the platform to get more likes, comments, and engagement.

2. Integrate ecommerce into your portfolio

Most photographers have a main portfolio site to showcase their work and let clients hire them. But by adding ecommerce to it, including the ability to accept payments, you can open several more doors to monetization, like selling courses, physical products, and services.

Matt Suess (below), for example, has a store that showcases his work, lets others purchase da igital and print version of his shots, and buy his courses.

Source: Matt Suess

You can build your portfolio or store on Shopify, install the relevant apps to customize it to your needs and monetization strategies, and start sharing and selling your photography in different forms: online or even offline through POS.

 

You might also want to consider installing apps to add more functionality like Digital Downloads (free), an Instagram gallery, and more.

There are a lot of reasons your own ecommerce site can be a best place to sell photos online, many of which we’ll explore below.

Best place to sell photos online: 20 stock photography sites to license your photography

Here are 20 stock photography sites to sell photos online:

  1. Getty Images
  2. Shutterstock
  3. iStock
  4. 500px
  5. Stocksy
  6. Can Stock Photo
  7. FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  8. Adobe Stock
  9. Fotolia
  10. PhotoDune
  11. Alamy
  12. Twenty20
  13. Depositphotos
  14. Dreamstime
  15. GL Stock Images
  16. EyeEm
  17. Image Vortex
  18. Crestock
  19. 123RF
  20. Foap

Licensing is one of the most popular ways to “sell” your photos online to brands, publishers and anyone who might have an interest in using your photos for their own purposes.

And that’s the key here. You need to work backwards and think about how your photos can used by a brand or a publisher — versatile photos that express ideas tend to be popular, especially when they feature human subjects.

There are a lot of stock photo sites to choose from, including:

1. Getty Images

On the higher end of stock photography sites, Getty Images attracts brands and publishers looking for high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The standards for becoming a contributor are predictably higher than many other stock photo sites. For photos licensed via GettyImages.com, rates start at 20%.

2. Shutterstock

Shutterstock is a micro-stock site where photos are cheaper and non-exclusive, and the way to increase downloads is by contributing a large quantity of images that can be used as visual metaphors. Don’t expect to earn as much here, but it’s a good place if you’re just starting out. Payouts are based on your earnings over time and range from 20% to 30%. There’s also an affiliate program where you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.

3. iStock

iStock is the micro-stock offshoot owned by Getty Images. Commission ranges from 25% to 45% depending on whether the photos are exclusive or non-exclusive.

4. 500px

500px isn’t just a stock photo site; it’s a community-based platform for photographers. You can follow other photographers, list your photos in their marketplace, and participate in Photo Quest competitions for prizes. The community is full of stunning, creative shots with a 30% commission payout for non-exclusive photos and 60% for exclusive ones.

5. Stocksy

Stocksy is a popular mid-range stock photography site, especially among publishers. The standards to be accepted are higher, and Stocksy requires exclusive images, but it also pays out a generous 50–75% commission.

6. Can Stock Photo

More than 70,000 photographers sell photos on Can Stock Photo. There are various payout structures ranging from percentages to fixed amounts, and they’ll also give you $5 for every 50 photos your referral sells. When you sell photos on Can Stock Photo, they also list your photos for sale on Fotosearch, a stock photography agency.

7. FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FreeDigitalPhotos.net offers free photo downloads as well as images for users to purchase. When the small version of your photo is downloaded for free, attribution is required. While you won’t earn a cent, you will get credit. When their target market (professionals who need images for business use) purchase images, photographers earn 70% commission.

8. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a best place to sell photos online because when you list photos for sale here, they’re also available on stock site Fotolia. You’ll earn 33% commission on the photos you sell through Adobe Stock.

9. Fotolia

Fotolia, which has been purchased by Adobe Stock, has two pricing models for users: Pay-As-You-Go and Subscription. Photos sold to Pay-As-You-Go customers earn 20–63% commission, while Subscription generates 33% commission but has a minimum guarantee.

10. PhotoDune

PhotoDune, part of Envato Market, is another best place to sell photos online. Payout structures vary. PhotoDune also has a referral program:Receive a 30% commission from your referral’s first cash deposit.

11. Alamy

Alamy pays contributors monthly and has a varied payment structure. Sales through www.alamy.com earn photographers 50%, Distributors earn 70%, Novel Use earns 50%. Payments are deposited monthly, as long as your Cleared Funds are $50 or more.

12. Twenty20

Twenty20 started as a tool for Instagram photographers to sell their images to brands. Now, it’s a robust stock photography site where you can sell photos online and connect with potential clients. You can earn money three ways: selling a photo, for you earn $2 per photo licensed, 100% cash prizes from photo challenges, and 100% commission from whatever brands hire you for scheduled shoots.

13. Depositphotos

Depositphotos has its commissions based on the contributor’s experience and status on the platform, as well as the resolution and license type. Commissions range are 34–42%.

14. Dreamstime

Dreamstime is a stock photo site with a generous payout for contributors. However, they require more commitment: You must have at least 70% of your portfolio on their site for at least six months. But, non-exclusive contributors earn 25–50%, and exclusive photos generate a 27.5–55% commission. There are also lots of ways to earn money for referrals, both on the contributor and the purchaser side.

15. GL Stock Images

On GL Stock Images, you have the choice of setting your own prices. And you’ll earn 40% commission on all sales.

16. EyeEm

EyeEm focuses more on advertising stock photography, making it a best place to sell photos online if you’re looking to be in the commercial photography space. They advertise a 50% commission on their site.

17. Image Vortex

Image Vortex doesn’t require exclusivity, so you can sell your photos on other sites as well. Commission rates are 70%, and you establish your own prices.

18. Crestock

Crestock pays contributors 20–40% commission rates based on the total number of downloads. They also have several affiliate programs through which you can earn money.

19. 123RF

This is another stock photo platform that pays contributors based on the number of downloads and purchases. Commissions range from 30% to 60%.

20. Foap

Foap offers contributors five ways to earn money from selling photos online: $5 for every photo sold, $100–$2,500 for Missions, $0.25/photo for album-specific photo sales, submitting photos to Getty Mission (payouts vary), and selling photos online via partner platforms, such as Adobe and Alamy.

How to sell photography prints, products, and photo books

  • How to sell photography prints and products
  • How to sell pictures as photo books

It’s not just brands and publishers who might want your work. Your fans might too.

And there are plenty of ways that they can potentially own it, whether it’s as a simple framed print or a pillow. Luckily, selling your own physical products is a lot simpler than you think.

How to sell photography prints and products

There are many sites and tools where you can upload your photographs and sell your pictures as photo prints on paper or physical products, such as mugs, T-shirts, and calendars.

You can work with a local photo lab that ships prints or use a print-on-demand service like Printful to dropship a wide range of products (prints, phone cases, pillows, and more) featuring your photos.

Be sure to order samples first to ensure that the quality of the products match the quality of your photos.

how to sell photography onlineImage via Burst

There are many other sites and tools you can use to print photos and products to sell.

How to sell pictures as photo books

You can also learn how to sell pictures by creating photo books with your photographs and selling those online.

Photo books are another physical photography-based product that can complement any coffee table. The more niche and consistent your photography is, the more likely you’ll be able to put together a stellar photo book based around a compelling theme.

You can use a service like BlurbYork Photo, or Shutterfly to create, print, and ship them on the demand.

While you won’t get the best margins with print-on-demand services, it’s a great risk-free way to test demand for your products before you decide to invest upfront.

How to sell your photography as a service

Whether you’re covering events, doing fashion shoots, or taking product photos, there’s ample opportunity to take advantage of the demand for professional photography. Here’s how to sell your photography as a service:

While you can list your services in freelance directories like Fiverr and Upwork, or apply to be an Expert, selling your photography as a service for decent pay usually involves networking locally since you need to be able to travel to meet clients in-person.

Here are some tips to build your network:

  • Always have business cards handy — you never know when you might meet a potential client
  • Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, showcase your work, and optimize it for the main photography service you provide (“Event Photographer”, for example).
  • Attend networking events where entrepreneurs and event organizers go — these folks will inevitably have a need for a professional photographer in the future.
  • Build a personal brand as a photographer so you’re top-of-mind when anyone in your network needs your camera and skills.

Since photographers, unlike other freelancers, must operate in strict time slots, it’s good to have a booking platform you can use to let prospective clients see your schedule and book you when you’re available.

Both Set More and Simply Book have free plans and features that work well for photographers. Or, if you’re using Shopify, you can install BookThatApp to schedule appointments directly from your site.

Now, let’s talk about usage rights and protecting your work.

A photographer’s legal primer to selling photos online

Figuring out how to sell your photography online can be overwhelming enough. And while rights and licenses related to selling photography may seem a foreign language, there are some terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself from theft and infringing upon others’ rights when selling photos.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, or a substitute for actual legal advice (I’m not a lawyer), but it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.

Glossary of legal terms for selling photos online

  • Editorial use
  • Commercial use
  • Retail use
  • Exclusive
  • Non-exclusive
  • Public domain
  • Creative Commons
  • Royalty-free
  • Rights-managed
  • Right of publicity

Editorial use: Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines and other publications.

Commercial use: Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.

Retail use: Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). Sometimes talked about in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.

Exclusive: Exclusive use means that the one who purchases the license from you is the only one who can use the photo.

Non-exclusive: Non-exclusive photo licenses can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less than exclusive ones.

Public domain: Holds no restrictions or copyright claim and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes. Works created by U.S federal government agencies (such as NASA) generally fall into this category unless otherwise stated.

Creative Commons: Conditional usage of your work is allowed as long as it’s in compliance with the stated restrictions. Attribution to credit the creator is sometimes required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this license for free.

Royalty-free: Others can buy a license and use the photo for an unlimited duration and unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of license purchased and on the cheaper end of the spectrum since these photos are usually non-exclusive.

Rights-managed: A one-time license can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licenses must be purchases for additional use.

Right of publicity: The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use when you sell photos online. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above and you should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.

For more in-depth information about copyright laws and licensing in the U.S., check out Photo Secrets to understand the copyright laws that protect your work, or look at any major stock photo site to see how they define different types of licenses.

What to do if someone steals your photos

Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.

It’s common practice for photographers to watermark their images before selling them online to offer them at least some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply your own identifying mark in Photoshop or use a Watermark Generator.

A smaller watermark, often in the corner, still lets others enjoy your photo, while a larger tiled watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.

But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway?

cease and desist request will usually work. Or you can send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to either pay you or take the photo down.

At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic back to your other work, but also good for search engine optimization and helping your standing in Google search results.

Turning your passion into profit

Whether photography is your hobby, your side gig, or full-time hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to how you sell photos online.

Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love and what you’re good at is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.

How to Make Money on Instagram (Whether You Have 1K or 100K Followers)

How to Make Money on Instagram (Whether You Have 1K or 100K Followers)

You’ve probably heard stories of Instagrammers who are cashing in on the pictures they snap and share every day. You might’ve even looked at your own sizeable following and thought, “Maybe I can do that too”.

Just like bloggers, YouTubers, and anyone who’s amassed an audience around the content they produce, Instagrammers have reach and influence figured out—two things many companies struggle with.

Together, these two things offer the opportunity for Instagram creators to explore multiple streams of potential revenue, whether they want to build an empire or just earn some extra cash and free stuff.

How many followers do you need to make money?

If by now you’re wondering how many followers you need to make it happen, the short answer is “not as many as you think”.

The long answer depends on factors that range from:

  • What niche you’re in and how easily you can directly tie it to a product category (fashion, food, beauty, and fitness are popular niches, based on top hashtags)
  • How engaged your followers are (100K fake followers won’t amount to much).
  • Which revenue channels you explore.

Naturally, the more engaged followers you have, the better.

While top Instagrammers make thousands per post on the photo-sharing platform, even those with a smaller-but-engaged following of 1000 have the potential to start making money.

How to make money on Instagram

Depending on your unique brand of Instagram content, your audience, and your level of commitment, you can make money on Instagram in the following ways:

  • Doing sponsored posts for brands that want to get in front of your audience.
  • Becoming an affiliate and making a commission selling other brands’ products .
  • Creating and selling a physical or digital product, or offering a paid service.
  • Selling your photography.

The beauty here is that chasing one revenue stream doesn’t necessarily rule out another.

So let’s start with the most common approach to Instagram monetization: partnering with brands as an influencer.

Work with brands on sponsored posts

The term “influencer” gets thrown around a lot these days.

An influencer is basically anyone who’s built themselves an online reputation by doing and sharing awesome things online. To their audiences, influencers are tastemakers, trendsetters and trusted experts whose opinions about certain subjects are respected.

Many brands just can’t compete with that and so they partner with influencers instead to do sponsored posts that help get the word out about their products.

But it’s not just the size and reach of your Instagram account that brands want. It’s your audience’s trust and engagement with your content.

It can be hard to balance your revenue as an influencer and your integrity as a creator, but if you’re not relying on your Instagram income to stay afloat, you always have the freedom to be selective about the brands you work with, just as brands will be selective about the Instagrammers they work with.

brands looking for influencers
Brands of all kinds are using influencer marketing to get their products out there (via Fohr Card). 

How to decide what to charge as an influencer

Typically these influencer deals involve the creation of content—an Instagram post, video or Story—and will sometimes include permission for the brand to use this content on their own site or in an ad.

Most of these deals are negotiable and can involve a single post or an entire campaign in exchange for a fee, a free product, a service, a gift, the promise of exposure, or some combination of these.

Keep in mind when negotiating that you’re not just offering content but access to your audience, a potentially large reach on one of the most popular social platforms around, and usage rights too.

In a survey of 5,000 influencers, around 42% said they charged $200 to $400 per post—just to give you an idea of what some brands are willing to pay, and how to negotiate based on the cards you’re holding.

Finally, it’s important as an influencer to also know your own audience.

What is the make-up of your audience and what is your engagement rate (total engagement divided by your number of followers)? You can dig up numbers to back this up in your Instagram Analytics report, if you’ve switched to a business account. This will help you be prepared when it comes time to negotiate.

How to find brands to work with

If you’re big enough, chances are brands will find you. But you can also look for brands to work with that are on a similar level in terms of personality and values, so your audience won’t feel like you’re “selling out”.

You can reach out to them directly to try to work out a deal, but you can also list yourself on one of the many influencer marketplaces out there to increase your chances of being discovered:

  • Shoutcart: Sell a “shout out” to your audience on behalf of a brand, regardless of how large your following is.
  • Fohr Card: Connect your Instagram, blog, YouTube channel, and other social platforms to create an influencer “card” that shows your different profiles and total reach for brands shopping around for a partnership. You also get access to a list of brands and their wants, so you can take the initiative to reach out too.
  • Grapevine: If you have 5000 or more followers, you can list yourself in the Grape Vine marketplace for the opportunity to work with like-minded brands.
  • Crowd Tap: Do small content creation tasks to earn rewards. This is great if you’ve got a smaller audience. Available in the U.S only.
  • indaHash: Brands put up campaigns that you can participate in. Post a picture with the specified hashtags on Instagram and get paid. You need 700 engaged followers to be eligible.

The rules vary when it comes to sponsored content, but to be on the safe side and respect your audience’s trust, consider adding a #sponsored hashtag to indicate sponsored posts. If you need reassurance, about 69% of influencers in one report said that being transparent about sponsorships didn’t affect how consumers perceive their recommendation.

You can find examples of sponsored posts and how Instagrammers integrate brands into their story by searching up #sponsored on Instagram, like this one from How He Asked, an account that shares wedding proposal stories and partners with a jewlery business:

howheaskedToday is a good day – it’s a @ShaneCompany takeover day! We’re sharing a few of our most-loved designs throughout the day, so feel free to chime in if you’re into them too. The first needs no introduction – we’re always a fan of showstoppers ✨ More rings via the link in our profile! #Sponsored

Instagram also has a “Paid Partnership with” tag that prominently identifies sponsored posts, which some brands might require you to use to disclose your relationship with them.

Become an affiliate

Unlike an influencer, an affiliate is more invested in making sales for the partner brand—not just generating awareness—in exchange for a commission.

This is typically done with a trackable link or unique promo code to ensure clicks actually translate into sales. Since Instagram doesn’t yet allow links anywhere outside of your bio, you can only focus on one product at a time if you choose to rely on affiliate links, making promo codes a better option for Instagram since you can actually incorporate them into your posts.

Note: Instagram has plans to roll out links for Instagram Stories, which will open up new opportunities for you as an influencer.

Consider reaching out to one of the many online merchants that offer affiliate programs that you can participate in. Or you can also explore popular marketplaces like:

  • ClickBank: An affiliate platform with a tier-based commission that’s open to everyone.
  • RewardStyle: An invitation-only fashion and lifestyle influencer network that offers 20% commissions.
  • Amazon’s Affiliate Program: A popular option that pays out a 10% commission.

Though it sounds like a numbers game, affiliate marketing is also an art, and you’ll have a better chance at success if you have a plan going into it and expand your online presence to include a website and other marketing channels.

Tip: Affiliate links can be long and ugly, so I recommend a URL shortener like bit.ly, especially if they’re going in your Instagram bio.

Open your own online store

By now it might sound like the only way for an Instagrammer to make money is to sell out and work with other brands.

But creators of all kinds are also in a good position to “sell out” with their own products: physical goods, services, or digital items that can be an extension of their brand, building a business with an audience at its center.


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You need to invest some time upfront, but in today’s world it’s almost natural for creators to make the leap into entrepreneurship.

Just look at Doug the Pug, one of the biggest Instagram dog-preneurs of his time.

doug the pug making money on instagram

By selling your own stuff, you  don’t need to worry about integrating messages from other brands into your posting strategy. Better yet, you can get your own brand out there on the products you sell.

Sell more with shoppable Instagram posts

Start tagging products in your posts and turning engagement into purchases with Shopify’s Shopping on Instagram sales channel.

Learn more

Fans can show their love and support your work by buying from you—a purchase they can feel good about.

There are a few ways to do this:

  • You can use a print-on-demand service to print and ship your own t-shirts, pillows, coffee mugs, wall art, and more.
  • You can sell services such as photography or consulting, using your bio to direct interested people to a contact email or a link to your professional website.
  • You can sell digital products such as courses, ebooks, or design templates.
  • You can use your Instagram account to launch a business selling your own original products, or even a book.

If you plan on selling several items in your own Shopify store, you can also make your Instagram shoppable on your website using one of the available Instagram gallery apps.

Take it a step further with our Shopping on Instagram integration to enable product tags that make the experience from Instagram posts to your own products more seamless and fluid. To use it, you’ll also need to switch to an Instagram business account, have a Facebook page, and an approved Facebook shop (all of which you can set up for no additional cost).

making money on instagram with product tags
Source: Child of Wild

Sell your photos online or on things

Someone might get famous on Twitter by telling 140-character jokes, but Instagram is a photo-sharing app at its core. And photos are assets that can be licensed, printed, and sold in a variety of ways.

If photography is what got you into the Instagram game in the first place, you can list your photos in marketplaces like 500px or Twenty20 where brands and publishers might license them.

However, you can also sell your photos as prints and on other physical products using a similar methods described in the last section. Services like Printful and Teelaunch can let you put your photos on posters, phone cases, pillows, and more, taking care of fulfilling orders and customer service so all you really need to worry about is making sales.

Take the story of Daniel Arnold who went from “eating toast 3 meals a day”, according to an interview on Forbes, to making $15K in a single day by offering to sell prints of his popular-but-controversial photos. If you’ve already got the demand, all you need to do is take the initiative and offer your audience the opportunity to buy your photography from you.

Do it for the ‘Gram (and get paid)

What started as a hobby—making people laugh, doing silly photoshoots with your dog or sharing pictures of food—can snowball into the chance to turn Instagram into a source of income fuelled by your engaged following.

There’s a world of possibilities out there as a creator with a large online audience made up of people who can’t help but stop when they scroll past your post in their feed. It’s this special appeal that you have that opens the door. You just have to walk through it.

How to Predict If Your Next Venture Will Be Profitable

How to Predict If Your Next Venture Will Be Profitable

Starting a business often carries risk. As the saying goes, “You have to spend money to make money.

While that’s not always true, there is one very effective way to lower your risk: do a break-even analysis. A break-even analysis will tell you exactly what you need to do in order to break even and make back your initial investment.

If you run a business—or you’re thinking about starting one—you should know how to do a break-even analysis. It’s a crucial activity for making important business decisions.

What is break-even analysis?

Break-even analysis sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. It’s a calculation that will tell you how many units of something you need to sell to break even.

For example, how many cell phone cases you need to sell to cover your warehousing costs. Or how many hours of service you need to sell to pay for your office space. Anything you sell beyond your break-even point will add profit.

There are a few definitions you need to know in order to understand break-even analysis.

  • Fixed Costs: Expenses that stay the same no matter how much you sell.
  • Variable Costs: Expenses that fluctuate up and down with sales.

Why you must do a break-even analysis

Why you need to do a break-even analysis

There are many benefits to doing a break-even analysis.

Price smarter

Finding your break-even point will help you price your products better. A lot of psychology goes into effective pricing, but knowing how it will affect your profitability is just as important. You need to make sure you can pay all your bills.

Cover fixed costs

When most people think about pricing, they think about how much their product costs to create. Those are considered variable costs. You still need to cover your fixed costs like insurance or web development fees. Doing a break-even analysis helps you do that.

Catch missing expenses

It’s easy to forget about expenses when you’re thinking through a business idea. When you do a break-even analysis you have to lay out all your financial commitments to figure out your break-even point. This will limit the number of surprises down the road.

Set revenue targets

After completing a break-even analysis, you know exactly how much you need to sell to be profitable. This will help you set more concrete sales goals for you and your team. When you have a clear number in mind, it will be much easier to follow through.

Make smarter decisions

Entrepreneurs often make business decisions based on emotion. If they feel good about a new venture, they go for it. How you feel is important, but it’s not enough. Successful entrepreneurs make their decisions based on facts. It will be a lot easier to decide when you’ve put in the work and have useful data in front of you.

Limit financial strain

Doing a break-even analysis helps mitigate risk by showing you when to avoid a business idea. It will help you avoid failures and limit the financial toll that bad decisions can have on your business. Instead, you can be realistic about the potential outcomes.

Fund your business

A break-even analysis is a key component of any business plan. It’s usually a requirement if you want to take on investors or other debt to fund your business. You have to prove your plan is viable. More than that, if the analysis looks good, you will be more comfortable taking on the burden of financing.

Doing a break-even analysis leads to better financial planning for your business. [Click to Tweet]

When to use a break-even analysis

When to use a break-even analysis

There are four common scenarios when it helps to do a break-even analysis.

1. Starting a new business

If you’re thinking about starting a new ecommerce website, a break-even analysis is a must. Not only will it help you decide if your business idea is viable, but it will force you to do research and be realistic about costs, as well as think through your pricing strategy.

2. Creating a new product

If you already have a business, you should still do a break-even analysis before committing to a new product—especially if that product is going to add significant expense. Even if your fixed costs, like an office lease, stay the same, you’ll need to work out the variable costs related to your new product and set prices before you start selling.

3. Adding a new sales channel

Any time you add a new sales channel, your costs will change—even if your prices don’t. For example, if you’ve been selling online and you’re thinking about doing a pop-up shop, you’ll want to make sure you at least break even. Otherwise, the financial strain could put the rest of your business at risk.

This applies equally to adding new online sales channels, like shoppable posts on Instagram. Will you be planning any additional costs to promote the channel, like Instagram ads? Those costs need to be part of your break-even analysis.

4. Changing the business model

If you’re thinking about changing your business model, for example, switching from dropshipping products to carrying inventory, you should do a break-even analysis. Your costs could change significantly and this will help you figure out if your prices need to change too.

Break-even analysis formula

Before we start calculating break-even points, let’s break down how the formula works.

Your break-even point is equal to your fixed costs, divided by your average price, minus variable costs.

Break-Even Point = Fixed Costs/(Average Price — Variable Costs)

Basically, you need to figure out what your net profit per unit sold is and divide your fixed costs by that number. This will tell you how many units you need to sell before you start earning a profit.

As you now know, your product sales need to pay for more than just the costs of producing them. The remaining profit is known as the contribution margin because it contributes cash to the fixed costs.

Now that you know what it is, how it works, and why it matters, let’s break down how to calculate your break-even point.

Before we get started, get your free copy of the break-even analysis template here. After you make a copy, you’ll be able to edit the template and do your own calculations.

A template spreadsheet to help you create a break even analysis

Step 1 – Gather your data

The first step is to list all the costs of doing business. Everything from the cost of your product, to rent, to bank fees. Think through everything you have to pay for and write it down.

The next step is to divide them into fixed costs, and variable costs.

1. Fixed costs

Fixed costs are any costs that stay the same, regardless of how much product you sell. This could include things like rent, software subscriptions, insurance, and labour.

Make a list of everything you have to pay for no matter what. In most cases, you can list the expenses as monthly amounts unless you’re considering an event with a shorter time frame, such as a three-day festival. Add everything up. If you’re using the break-even analysis spreadsheet, it will do the math for you automatically.

Fixed costs in your break-even analysis

2. Variable costs

Variable costs are costs that fluctuate based on the amount of product you sell. This could include things like materials, commissions, payment processing, and also labour.

Some costs could go in either category, depending on your business. If you have salaried staff, they will go under fixed costs. But if you pay part-time hourly employees who only work when it’s busy, they will be considered variable costs.

Make a list of all your costs that fluctuate depending on how much you sell. List the price per unit sold and add up all the costs, or use the spreadsheet which will add them up automatically.

Make a copy of the file before you edit it

3. Average price

Finally, decide on a price. Don’t worry if you’re not ready to commit to a final price yet, you can change this later. Keep in mind, this is the average price. If you offer some customers bulk discounts, it will lower the average price.

Step 2 – Plug in your data

Now it’s time to plug in your data. The spreadsheet will pull your fixed cost total and variable cost total up into the break-even calculation. All you need to is to fill in is your average price in the appropriate cell. After that, the math will happen automatically. The number that gets calculated in the top right cell under break-even units is the number of units you need to sell to break even.

 

In the break-even analysis example above, the break-even point is 92.5 units.

Step 3 – Make adjustments

Feel free to experiment with different numbers. See what happens if you lower your fixed or variable costs, or try changing the price. You may not get it right the first time, so make adjustments as you go.

Warning: Don’t forget any expenses

The most common pitfall of break-even analysis is forgetting things—especially variable costs. Break-even analyses are an important step towards making important business decisions. That’s why you need to make sure your data is as accurate as possible.

To make sure you don’t miss any costs, think through your entire operations from start to finish. If you think through your unboxing experience, you might remember that you need to order branded tissue paper, and that one order lasts you 200 shipments. If you’re thinking through your festival setup, you might remember that you’ll need to provide napkins along with the food you’re selling. These are variable costs that need to be included.

Limitations of break-even analysis

Limitations of a break-even analysis

Break-even analysis plays an important role in making business decisions, but it’s limited in the type of information it can provide.

Not a predictor of demand

It’s important to note that a break-even analysis is not a predictor of demand. It won’t tell you what your sales are going to be, or how many people will want what you’re selling. It will only tell you how many units you need to sell in order to break even. It’s also important to note that demand isn’t stable. As you change your price, the number of people willing to buy your product will change as well.

Dependent on reliable data

Sometimes costs fall into both fixed and variable categories. This can make calculations complicated and you’ll likely need to wedge them into one or the other. For example, you may have a baseline labour cost no matter what, as well as an additional labour cost top that could fluctuate based on how much product you sell.

The accuracy of your break-even point depends on accurate data. If you don’t feed good data into the formula, you won’t get a reliable result.

Simplistic

The break-even point formula is simplistic. Many businesses have multiple products with multiple prices. It won’t be able to pick up that nuance. You’ll likely need to work with one product at a time or estimate an average price based on all the products you might sell. If this is the case, it’s best to run a few different scenarios to be better prepared.

As prices fluctuate, so do costs. This model assumes that only one thing changes at a time. Instead, if you lower your price and sell more, your variable costs might decrease because you have more buying power or are able to work more efficiently. Ultimately it’s only an estimate.

Ignores time

The break-even analysis ignores fluctuations over time. The time frame will be dependent on the period you use to calculate fixed costs (monthly is most common). Although you’ll see how many units you need to sell over the course of the month, you won’t see how things change if your sales fluctuate week to week, or seasonally over the course of a year. For this, you’ll need to rely on good cash flow management, and possibly a solid sales forecast.

It also doesn’t take the future into account. Break-even analysis only looks at here and now. If your raw materials cost doubles next year, your break-even point will be a lot of higher unless you raise your prices. If you raise your prices, you could lose customers. This delicate balance is always in flux.

Ignores competitors

As a new entrant to the market, you’re going to affect competitors and vice versa. They could change their prices, which could affect demand for your product, causing you to change your prices too. If they grow quickly and a raw material you both use becomes more scarce, the cost could go up.

Ultimately, break-even analysis will give you a very solid understanding of the baseline conditions for being successful. It is a must. But it’s not the only research you need to do before you starting or making changes to a business.

Strategies to lower your break-even point

What if you complete your break-even analysis and find out that the number of units you need to sell is too high? If the number seems unrealistic or unattainable, don’t panic. You may be able to make some adjustments to lower your break-even point.

1. Lower fixed costs

See if there’s an opportunity to lower your fixed costs. The lower you can get them, the fewer units you’ll need to sell in order to break-even. For example, if you’re thinking about opening a retail store and numbers aren’t working out, consider selling online instead. How does that affect your fixed costs?

2. Raise your prices

If you raise your prices, you won’t need to sell as many units to break even. The marginal contribution per unit sold will be higher. When thinking about raising your prices, be mindful of what the market is willing to pay, and expectations that come with a price. You won’t need to sell as many units, but you’ll still need to sell enough—and if you charge more, buyers may expect a better product or better customer service.

3. Lower variable costs

Lowering your variable costs is often the most difficult option, especially if you’re just going into business. But the more you scale, the easier it will be to reduce variable costs. It’s worth trying to lower your costs by negotiating with your suppliers, changing suppliers, or changing your process. For example, maybe you’ll find that packing peanuts are cheaper than bubble wrap for shipping fragile products.

Free break-even analysis template

Don’t forget to grab your free break-even analysis template. Click here to access the template in Google Drive. To save your own editable version of the spreadsheet, click “File” → “Make a copy…”. You’ll need to be logged into your Google account to do this.

Doing a break-even analysis is essential for making smart business decisions. The next time you’re thinking about starting a new business or making changes to your existing business, do a break-even analysis so you’ll be better prepared.

The 17 Best Places Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Go To Find Product Ideas

The 17 Best Places Ecommerce Entrepreneurs Go To Find Product Ideas

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for.

The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far, so we’ve compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.

17 Places to Find Ecommerce Business Ideas:

  1. Start with what you have
  2. Your local community
  3. Online consumer trend publications
  4. Industry leaders
  5. Product and trend discovery sites
  6. Social curation sites
  7. B2B wholesale marketplaces
  8. Online consumer marketplaces
  9. Social forum communities
  10. Social media networks
  11. On-site and third-party customer reviews
  12. SEO analytics and insights
  13. Consumer lifestyle publications
  14. Your competitors
  15. Audience surveys
  16. Crowdsourcing
  17. Look to the past

As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:

While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the previous post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.

Don’t be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

In this post we’ll go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.

As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.

1. Start with what you have

Before you begin searching the depths of the internet for business ideas and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you’ve had for years. Maybe it exists in a half-written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea, right?

Here are a few questions to consider when making your list of internet business ideas:

  • What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
  • What products, niches or industries are your friends passionate about?
  • What pain points do you have in your own life?

Example: Sisters/entrepreneurs Lisa Kalberer and Allison Hottinger are passionate about family and tradition. They instill these values in their homes by assembling a manger during the holidays. When friends were interested in starting their own traditions, The Giving Manger was born. The product born of passion attracted the attention of influencers that made the brand a nationwide hit, online and in stores.

Identify pain points and challenges

If there’s a problem, solve it. Consider which pain points you have in your life, or even the pain points of those around you. Active Hound, for example, stepped in to solve the challenge of dog toys that were easily chewed and destroyed. Dog owners would become frustrated with unreliable products, and the expenses can quickly add up. The market for that product was based on this one specific pain point.

 

2. Your local community

Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique internet business idea. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information.

Example: Grocery-delivery service InstaCart is a perfect example of a company that saw a way to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. Most grocery shopping happens in-store, according to PwC’s 2017 Total Retail Survey, but with the growing popularity of services like Amazon Pantry, there’s an opportunity to drive and capture online sales. Though many consumers may be apprehensive to online grocery shopping, InstaCart partners with brick and mortar retail stores so customers are still shopping from the same grocery store they know and love. This also supports the small business movement, allowing customers to buy from select local grocers.

3. Online consumer trend publications

A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.

There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:

TrendWatching: TrendWatching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. TrendWatching has a team of professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos who report on worldwide trends.

Trend Hunter: Trend Hunter is the world’s largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.

Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, “Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn’t know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea… but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter — a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired.”

PSFK: PSFK is a “business intelligence platform [that] inspires creative professionals as they develop new products, services and experiences across retail, advertising and design.” It analyzes research-based consumer trends and insights that you can use as a jumping-off point and validation for ecommerce business ideas.

Example: A great example of someone who noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes made of authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successfully funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.

4. Industry leaders

If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas through a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.

There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:

5. Product and trend discovery sites

Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source for product and internet business ideas. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and AHALife (luxury products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.

Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:

Using product discovery sites.

Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you’re particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.

6. Social curation sites

Polyvore and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending businesses and consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.

Several of the larger social curations sites that may inspire niche business ideas are:

  • Polyvore: Polyvore is a way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore’s global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
  • Fancy: Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
  • Wanelo: Wanelo (Want – Need – Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest-like product posting format. You can start by checking out out trending people.
  • Wishlistr: Wishlistr is a way to collect, organize and track products you want, as well as share that list with others. More than 9 million “wishes” have been listed to date.

7. B2B wholesale marketplaces

What better way to get product ideas than right from the source? This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites expose you to thousands of potential products ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of products available, so take it slow.

 

Alibaba: Alibaba is one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. The platform connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba.

Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.

Oberlo: is a marketplace owned by Shopify where you can purchase products to sell on Shopify from suppliers. These suppliers provide automated order fulfillment services, so it’s a popular turnkey option for many entrepreneurs deciding what to sell on Shopify. Browse what’s available and review Oberlo’s trending products to help come up with your own ideas.

Some other B2B wholesale marketplaces include:

8. Online consumer marketplaces

Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Millions of products is probably an understatement, so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:

eBay: eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. Use eBay Market Research to find some of the most popular product categories on eBay.

Amazon: Amazon is the largest internet retailer.Amazon Best Sellers shows Amazon’s most popular products based on sales. Amazon Movers & Shakersdisplays the biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Both are updated hourly.

Kickstarter: Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website. Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options with Kickstarter Discover.

Etsy: Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items. Look up what’s trending to find the most popular listings.

AliExpress: AliExpress is Alibaba’s consumer wholesale marketplace that allows you to order in smaller quantities. AliExpress Popular reveals the most-bought products.

Finding products on AliExpress.

Jet: Jet is another internet retailer that continues to grow in popularity. Each product category has its own list of best sellers, such as this one for wholesaleand this one for books and media.

9. Social forum communities

Reddit

Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea.

If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.

There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:

If you’re active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like this one, which asks commenters to share their best purchases for under $50.

Searching for products on Reddit.

No matter which approach you take, Reddit has been and continues to be a valuable source of ecommerce business ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.

Quora

Quora is a community question-and-answer site, “a place to gain and share knowledge,” as the company says. Essentially, users come to Quora to ask and answer questions about pretty much anything and everything. Like Reddit’s subreddits, Quora has topics that you can choose to add to your own customized feed. Consider adding some product- or industry-related feeds, as well as anything else inspired by online business.

Quora also shows which topics and questions are trending, as well as a count of the total number of answers (each with a number of upvotes and downvotes from the community).

Once you populate your feed, you’ll start to discover questions and answers that may inspire ecommerce business ideas. Here are a few:

Industry and niche forums

Depending on the industry you’re targeting, there may be niche forum sites that you can tap into for product ideas to sell. Gaming is one industry that has an active online community, and you can check out forums like GameFAQs or NeoGAF. Here are a few other industry forum sites for niche product ideas:

10. Social media networks

There are a few ways you can use social media to search for product and niche ideas.

Hashtag: If you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on social media for hashtags that indicate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.

Product curation accounts: There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you’ll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in.

Audience insights: If you already have a business page on one or more social media platform, you may be able to use your audience data to find ecommerce business ideas. Understand which pages, hobbies, interests and other characteristics they have in common and brainstorm products based on those insights.

Instagram

Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product and ecommerce business ideas. Because it’s photo-based, it’s easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.

Facebook

Facebook still has the most active users out of any social media platform. If there’s a market you’re trying to reach, there’s a chance they’re on Facebook. In addition to hashtags, trending topics and popular pages, check out which Facebook groups are popular in your niche. You may be able to participate and find inspiration through those communities.

Pinterest

The average order of value of sales coming through Pinterest is higher than any other social channel. This indicates that Pinterest users are browsing, shopping and buying, making it an ideal spot to research popular products and trends. Another visual platform, it’s easy to scan and find inspiration for ecommerce business ideas. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.

Snapchat

Especially ideal for a younger demographic, Snapchat admittedly has more limited capabilities in terms of identifying trends. Use the Discover option to find out what the Snapchat community is talking about and follower influencers in your niche to gain more insight into their needs and motivations.

Twitter

Twitter trends will be helpful in finding new ecommerce business ideas. You’ll be able to see what’s popular in your network or a chosen location. You’ll find these trends on the left-hand side when you log in at twitter.com, or look for the Explore option when you’re on the mobile app.

Niche social media sites

If you’re searching for niche product ideas, social media sites dedicated to related topics and hobbies are another way to gain insights into new product ideas. Here are a few, as examples:

11. On-site and third-party customer reviews

If you already have a business (online or in real life), check out your own customer reviews. Savvy entrepreneurs consider customer recommendations, the motivation behind it, and respond accordingly.

If you don’t have any reviews of your own to consider, look at reviews of companies and products in your niche. Identify commonalities, paying careful attention to customer complaints, and determine how you can create a product that will address those concerns. Amazon is an especially great place to find honest customer reviews.

12. SEO analytics and insights

Search engine optimization (SEO), insights can show you what’s trending on search globally or targeted to specific geographic locations. Google has a number of free and paid tools you can use

Google Trends: Find out what’s trending, globally and regionally, and choose from specific topics like Business, Health and Sci/Tech. You can also browse Top Stories to see what’s most popular. If you have a specific market or idea, you can also research keywords to find common related searches, as well as anticipated peaks in search volume (which can help dictate timing for your product launch).

Google Keyword Planner: Keyword Planner will help you find average search volume and related keywords to your chosen phrases. You can also look at AdWord competition to gauge whether someone else is bidding on your targeted phrases for your ecommerce business idea.

Google Analytics: If you already have a website, use the data from Google Analytics to find out which terms users are searching to find your site. Volume isn’t always important: There may be a longtail, descriptive search phrase that makes you think of your next big idea! You can also use data from your onsite search to find the same insights.

Google search: Google.com is an often-forgotten tool to use in your SEO research. There are a few key areas to look when you’re look at a search on Google.com: predicted text (as you type your query in the search bar), paid ads at the top and on the side rail, suggested searches (at the bottom of the page), and Google Shopping results. Remember to check out images and news, too.

 

13. Consumer lifestyle publications

Consumer-facing publications in your industry can reveal a lot about a market segment and what’s trending. Consider what these publications are talking about and which articles resonate most with the audience. To find out which articles are most popular, look at how many comments, social media engagements, or social media shares the content has received. The more popular articles could inspire niche market ideas.

14. Your competitors

Learn from the successes of your competitors and popular businesses in your chosen industry. Which products have they launched with the most success? Why were they so successful? Sometimes, brands will share the why and how behind new products.

Beyond your competitors’ products, examine their community. Who is their audience and why do they love those products? Look at what the brand is saying to consumers, as well as how customers are interacting with them online. Identify gaps in your competitors’ product offerings and look for ways to fill those gaps with your new product.

15. Audience surveys

Surveys are one of the best ways to get qualitative and quantitative insights into an audience. Craft questions about the problems and challenges they face, which products they love most and why, and what they wish they had to enhance their everyday life. Keep a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions that will let you inside respondents’ heads. Use this information when you brainstorm your ecommerce business ideas.

Here are some tools you can use to create and distribute your survey:

16. Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is along similar lines as surveying, except when it comes to crowdsourcing, you’re asking for ideas more overtly. LEGO Ideas is a prime example of a brand that uses crowdsourcing to find new product ideas to sell. Consumers can submit their ideas for LEGO sets, and the site also features popular and successful ideas. Create your own crowdsourced ideas or look to those hubs for inspiration.

If you want to organize your own crowdsourcing campaign for product ideas to sell, check out the following:

17. Look to the past

One way to learn is from the past. Through examining history and old trends, you can come up with a list of revived product ideas to sell. This is one tactic that Dogfish Head Craft Brewery came up with their product series of Ancient Ales, which uses old-school brewing techniques.

But history doesn’t necessarily mean historical events and techniques. It’s also about pop culture trends. In fashion especially, we often see the resurgence of trends, and consumers love nostalgia. Choker necklaces have made a comeback, and countless movie and TV show reboots have created renewed interest and passion for consumers. You can evoke this sense of nostalgia through a product that is no longer available or highlights a seemingly forgotten subject likely to inspire fond memories.

The Beginner’s Guide to Advertising on Instagram

The Beginner's Guide to Advertising on Instagram

If you’ve ever posted anything on social media as a small brand, you know how often if feels like you’re talking to a void. Too often, no one responds. No likes, comments, retweets—you get the idea.

Not so with Instagram. No matter how small your audience, your posts probably still receive at least a few likes and comments—especially if you use relevant hashtags. And with 500 million daily active users, it’s an enticing marketing channel.

The business case for Instagram ecommerce is strong. Not only does Instagram’s engagement demolish Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn, but, for brands, it even outperforms Facebook by a factor of ten.

It kind of makes you wonder why more brands aren’t on Instagram, right?

How to Create Instagram Ads (Updated for 2018)

  • Instagram’s link problem
  • Introduction to how to advertise on Instagram
  • Types of Instagram ads
  • Instagram ad campaign objectives
  • Targeting options when advertising on Instagram
  • How to create your first Instagram ad

Instagram’s link problem

For a long time, the big problem with marketing on Instagram has been getting your fans on Instagram back to your website. Since you can’t place clickable links in organic posts, brands have to direct Instagram follows to the link in their bio instead—and continuously update that link as they post new products.

Although this isn’t ideal, Instagram has still been an impactful source of traffic and sales for many companies. In fact, Instagram was the most successful source of traffic in one of our case studies. All that traffic came from the same “link in bio.”

But here’s the really exciting part: You can include links to your website in your posts if you advertise on Instagram. In the example below, the “Shop Now” button takes readers directly to a product page.

Instagram advertising examples.

Shopping on Instagram

Instagram is now partnering with Shopify to take things a step further and offering product tagging and a Shop tab directly inside the Instagram interface.

Shoppable posts provide a seamless customer checkout experience for anyone who discovers your products in their Instagram feed.

With product tagging, ecommerce brands will have even more reason to start advertising on Instagram.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20href=%20%20%20%20https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fshopify%2Fvideos%2F759112292995%2F&width=640&show_text=false&height=358&appId

Introduction to how to advertise on Instagram

In the past, if you wanted to advertise on Instagram, you had use sponsored posts. This requires negotiating privately with Instagram influencers and asking them to promote your brand on their account. While this can be a very effective way to drive traffic and sales through Instagram advertising, it has limitations:

  • Often expensive.
  • Requires reaching out and negotiating.
  • No accountability or recourse if they don’t deliver.
  • Limited audience targeting.

Sponsored posts still have their place in Instagram advertising. Getting someone else to promote your product carries solid benefits. It provides social proof, adding a cool factor to your business, and people are more likely to buy something when someone they trust bought it first. Plus, while you don’t have a lot of control over the influencer’s audience, at least you don’t have to make any decisions about who to target.

Sponsored posts are still a great way to do influencer outreach, especially if you sell a product. And they’re not the only way to leverage influencers. In October 2017, Instagram launched paid partnerships in an effort to increase transparency for users and provide influencers and brands alike with more Instagram advertising opportunities. The feature, available to accounts with lots of followers and engagement, offers more insights and reporting than standard sponsored posts.

Instagram sponsored post example.

How Instagram advertising works

Since late 2015, anyone can now learn how to create Instagram ads through Facebook’s self-serve advertising platform. With it, you have total control over your ads, how they appear, and who sees them. And unlike sponsored posts and paid partnerships, your ads get posted directly from your own account. The advantages to this method of Instagram advertising include:

  • Scalable pricing.
  • Self-serve and instant.
  • Robust reporting so you’re in control.
  • Highly refined audience targeting.

What’s more, with Instagram’s move away from a chronological feed in favor of a curated feed, you never know how many of your followers will see your posts.

Types of Instagram ads

You can run five different types of Instagram ads:

  1. Photo Ads
  2. Video Ads
  3. Carousel Ads
  4. Slideshow Ads
  5. Stories Ads

1. Photo Ads

A Photo Ad is one simple photo in landscape or square format. These are the simplest in terms of visual asset needs, since you just need a single image. Here’s an example of a Photo Ad from outdoor ecommerce brand Fimbulvetr Snowshoes, which takes users to the product page of the snowshoe featured in the ad creative.

Photo ads on Instagram

2. Video Ads

Instagram used to have a 15-second limit for videos, but it has since lifted that rule. Now, videos can be up to 60 seconds long and shot in landscape or square format. Dollar Shave Club uses the Video Ad format in its Instagram advertising to promote a new membership deal, highlighting the various products included in the deal.

Video ads on Instagram

3. Carousel Ads

An Instagram Carousel Ad can have anywhere from two to ten images and/or videos that users can view by swiping through. West Elm uses Carousel Ads to highlight their range of products for their Instagram advertising campaigns.

Carousel ads on Instagram

4. Slideshow Ads

Slideshow Ads are similar to video ads in that they appear as a video in users’ feeds. These ads, however, are made up of a series of still images which play as a video, much like a slideshow. You can add text and audio to your Slideshow Ads.

5. Stories Ads

Instagram Stories Ads is one of the newest kinds of ads available to businesses on the platform. Instagram Stories is similar to Snapchat in that it allows users, and brands, to share self-destructing photos and videos. Brands can also advertise on Instagram Stories with photo or video content. Online fashion brand ASOS has used Instagram Stories Ads with much success to build brand awareness and ad recall.

Stories ads in Instagram.

Instagram ad campaign objectives

  1. Brand awareness
  2. Reach
  3. Traffic
  4. App installs
  5. Engagement
  6. Video views
  7. Lead generation
  8. Conversions

When advertising on Instagram, you can choose from several campaign objectives. These are potential goals for your Instagram ad campaign that you select from a list. Don’t neglect this choice; it will influence how your Instagram ads are optimized and how you pay for them. For example, if your goal is to get people to watch your video, you probably don’t care how many users click on your link.

You may already be familiar with campaign objectives from creating Facebook ads. Options include:

1. Brand awareness

This objective is for when you want to drive awareness of your business, product, app, or service when advertising on Instagram. The objective formerly called Awareness falls under this objective. The Brand Awareness objective supports Image Ads, Video Ads, Carousel Ads, Slideshow Ads, and Stories Ads.

2. Reach

With a Reach objective, you can also drive awareness of your business, product, app, or service. The objectives formerly called Local Awareness and Reach & Frequency now fall under this objective. The Reach objective supports all Instagram ad types. Reach is different from Brand Awareness in that it allows you to reach a larger audience, whereas Brand Awareness is a bit more targeted to users who are more likely to recall your ad or brand.

3. Traffic

You can use the Traffic objective to drive visitors to your website. If you have a mobile app, this is also effective for driving app engagement. The objective formerly called Website Clicks now falls under Traffic. You can also use this objective to create an offer for your audience. The Traffic objective supports all Instagram ad types. The Mountain Collective, which sells ski passes and packages, has used the Photo Ad type to drive users directly to their online store.

Ads for more traffic

4. App installs

Unsurprisingly, the App Installs objective is ideal if you’re trying to get users to download your app. You can use any Instagram ad type with the App Installs objective. Here’s a Carousel Ad example from Poshmark that drives users directly to their respective app store to download the mobile app:

Ads for more app installs.

5. Engagement

Engagement is another objective you can use to promote offers. It’s also effective at promoting your Instagram account and posts. Image Ads, Video Ads, and Slideshow Ads are your options under the Engagement objective.

6. Video views

If you’re running a Video Ad, Carousel Ad, Slideshow Ad, or Stories Ad, you can use the Video Views objective to promote the video. This is an effective objective to drive awareness for your brand and products.

7. Lead generation

Instagram ads with a Lead Generation objective are great for collecting information from users, like their email addresses, so you can market to them in the future. This objective supports all Instagram ad types.

8. Conversions

The Conversions objective is a great choice for ecommerce businesses that want to drive sales. The objectives formerly called Website Conversions and Dynamic Ads both fall under the current Conversions objective. If you want to optimize for people completing a specific action in your app and you have the Facebook SDK installed, you should use conversions as your objective.

💡 Note: In order to use this objective, you need to have a the Facebook pixel installed on your website. If you don’t have one installed yet, you’ll get a message letting you know.

Targeting options when advertising on Instagram

Instagram ads have all the same targeting options as Facebook ads. These include targeting based on location, demographics, interests, behavior, lookalike audiences, and automated targeting (let Facebook decide).

Even better, if you have Custom Audiences, you can target them on Instagram. Custom Audiences are groups of people who have already connected with your brand in some way. This could be by visiting your website, engaging with your posts on Facebook, using your app, or sharing their contact info with you.

How to create Instagram ads

  1. Link your Instagram account to your Facebook page
  2. Create an Instagram ad campaign
  3. Create your ad set
  4. Analyze and optimize your Instagram ads

Let’s dive into exactly how you can create your first ad on Instagram.

Step 1: Link your Instagram account to your Facebook page

The first step to creating an Instagram ad is to link your Instagram account to your Facebook page. You only need to this once.

Visit the Settings for your Facebook page and click on “Instagram Ads.”

Facebook ads settings.

Next, click “Log In” and fill in your Instagram login credentials. If you don’t already have an Instagram account, you can also create one now.

Instagram login.

Step 2: Create an Instagram ad campaign

After you’ve linked your Instagram account to your Facebook page, it’s time to head over to the Ads Manager and create your first campaign. If you’re more comfortable using Power Editor, you can also create Instagram ads there. If you already create Facebook ads, much of this process will be familiar to you.

In the Ads Manager, click on the “Campaigns” tab and then “+ Create” near the top left corner of the screen.

Account overview.

Next, choose your campaign objective. Remember, not all objectives are compatible with Instagram Stories Ads.

Campaign objectives.

 

Step 3: Create your Instagram ad set

On the Ad Set page, you’ll be able to choose “Purchase” as the type of conversion you want to optimize for.

Instagram ad set.

You can also choose to add an Offer, which will help drive even more conversions on your ad.

Ad offer example.

Next, define who you want to see your ads and how much money you want to spend. All the same targeting options are available for Instagram ads as for Facebook ads.

Facebook audience.

If you have any Custom Audiences already created, you can select them for targeting with your Instagram ad at this point.

Next, select your ad Placements. You’ll see the option to run your campaign on Instagram, as well as Facebook and Messenger.

Instagram ad placements.

When figuring out how much you want to spend when you advertise on Instagram, start low. You can always increase the budget later if your ad is performing well.

Ad budget.

When you’re finished choosing who to target and how much to spend, click “Continue” in the bottom right.

On the next screen you’ll see an option to choose your Instagram ad format. Note that the Canvas format is not compatible with Instagram. Once you’ve decided, scroll down to upload your images or videos.

Ad format.

After you’ve uploaded your visuals, scroll down further, and you’ll see an option on the left to add text to your ad.

Finally, to the right of the text editor, you’ll be able to preview how your ad will look on Instagram. Here’s how an example ad would look. You can also see how your ad would look in any other formats selected.

Advertising on different social platforms.

Once everything looks good, click “Place Order.” Otherwise, go back and make changes.

Confirm spend.

Step 4: Analyze and optimize your Instagram ads

Your work isn’t complete after you’ve launched your first Instagram ad campaign. Once it’s running, you’ll want to monitor its performance and test ideas to find the most effective messaging, creative, and targeting. Within Ads Manager, you can edit your Instagram ad to incorporate split testing, change the targeting parameters, and view analytics for the performance of your ads.

The first Instagram ad is always the hardest. Once you’ve conquered your first one, it’ll be much easier the second time around.

Are you advertising on Instagram? What are some strategies and techniques that you’ve found are especially helpful? Share your tips in the comments below!

How to Get More Followers on Instagram: 13 Reliable Ways to Grow Your Audience

How to Get More Followers on Instagram: 13 Reliable Ways to Grow Your Audience
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Sell more with shoppable Instagram posts

Start tagging products in your posts and turning engagement into purchases with Shopify’s Shopping on Instagram sales channel.

Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual advertising channel for your brand and an opportunity to build a loyal audience that grows with your business over time.

In fact, over 500 million Instagram users browse the app every day, making it home to some of the most engaged audiences around.

But like any social network out there, there are right ways to use it, wrong ways to use it, and clever ways to use it.

In this post, we will show you how to most effectively use Instagram to increase engagement and build a massive following over time.

How to Get More Followers on Instagram

There are 13 tactics that will help you reliably get more followers on Instagram:

  1. Use the right hashtags
  2. Use the right filters
  3. Post at the right time
  4. Steal your competitor’s followers
  5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews
  6. Use geotags to boost local discovery
  7. Organize your Stories into Highlights on your profile
  8. Ask new users who engage with you to follow you
  9. Be consistent
  10. Hop on trends
  11. Run a giveaway
  12. Monitor your following closely over time
  13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal

Let’s dive deeper into how to implement each tactic. 

1. Use the right hashtags

Your goal on Instagram is to engage your current audience while also growing your following. Posting new, interesting and engaging photos will satisfy the first requirement, but to begin growing you’ll find hashtagging your photos to be extremely important. Hashtagging your photos makes it easy for people to find your photos that are searching for those specific terms.

So which hashtags should you use?

Just like with Twitter and other social sites, users on Instagram use certain hashtags over others. If you use the right hashtags within your photos, you’re much more likely to reach new users and be discovered.

Here are the current top 20 hashtags on Instagram according to Websta:

  1. #love (1,271,692,015)
  2. #instagood (742,795,562)
  3. #photooftheday (507,358,504)
  4. #fashion (487,010,088)
  5. #beautiful (463,668,566)
  6. #happy (427,528,663)
  7. #cute (418,686,470)
  8. #like4like (417,887,839)
  9. #tbt (413,049,020)
  10. #followme (392,011,012)
  11. #picoftheday (380,504,677)
  12. #follow (371,102,705)
  13. #me (348,193,980)
  14. #art (343,874,151)
  15. #selfie (337,204,715)
  16. #summer (324,498,110)
  17. #instadaily (323,307,593)
  18. #repost (309,603,537)
  19. #friends (307,567,075)
  20. #nature (303,040,276)

If you looked at the list above and said, “But none of those apply to my products or brand”, you’re likely correct.

Using hashtags is one thing, using the right tags is a completely different thing.

Popular tags like the ones listed above will likely net you additional engagement and likes, however, they will not lead to increased long-term engagement, new interested followers, and most importantly, sales.

If you want to tag your photos properly, you’ll need to find and use the most relevant hashtags. This means doing the appropriate research to make sure you’re using hashtags that not only describe your brand, but are also being searched for on Instagram.

To find relevant hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online tool like IconoSquare or Websta to start.

Below, I used Websta to find relevant, related and popular hashtags for my men’s accessory brand by searching for key hashtags that are closely related to my brand.

As an example, searching the hashtag #MensFashion, I was able to pull the following list of additional keyword hashtags along with the number of times they have been used (popularity).

how to find menswear instagram hashtags

You can also find more related hashtags and their popularity if you search for any of your target keywords directly in the Instagram app.

You’ll want to go through this exercise trying different keywords that describe your brand and products, building out your hashtag keyword list as you go.

Keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Additionally, the popular words will change over time, so make sure you revisit your hashtag keywords every few months to make sure you’re using the best possible terms.

You can also steal hashtag ideas from competitors or similar accounts that have the kind of following you aspire to have, but you ultimately want to create your own groups of hashtags to use that relate to your specific account.

Protip #1: Here’s a trick that I use for my ecommerce businesses. For every product and product category for my stores, I have done the research to see which are the most popular Instagram hashtags around those product categories. I came up with 15-20 popular hashtags for each category of products I sell, as well as a base of 5-10 popular tags that describe my brand and product offering overall. Finally, I also created a list of popular local specific hashtags that relate to my brand.

For example:

(Brand Keyword Hashtags)

#mybrandname #mensfashion #mensaccessories #mensgoods #fashion #mensstyle #instafashion #menswear

(Product Category Keyword Hashtags)

#bugatchisocks #happysocks #corgisocks #socks #sockswag #socksoftheday #sockgame #sockswagg #socksofinstagram #happysockday #sockwars #funsocks #happysockday

(Location Specific Keyword Hashtags)

#Toronto #TorontoFashion #TorontoFashionBloggers

All of these groups of keyword hashtags are stored in a page on Evernote. This makes it easy and efficient when I’m on the go to post a new Instagram image, optimized for the most relevant keywords.

I can easily open my Evernote and copy my standard brand, product and location specific hashtags to post with each photo. Some Instagram scheduling tools also let you save caption templates that you can use to store your hashtag groups.

mens fashion hashtags in instagram posts

Doing the work upfront of researching, organizing and saving the most applicable and popular hashtags will save you a ton of time down the road, increase your engagement and help garner new followers.

Protip #2: If you’ve been posting to Instagram for a while and feel like you’ve missed out on all these opportunities to build your audience by using keyword hashtags, fret not. You can still go back and post a comment with your new hashtag keyword lists and watch the likes and followers roll in.

Using hashtags in Instagram Stories

Hashtagging on Instagram posts are a given, but you should also be using hashtags in your Stories for the chance to be seen by users who follow that specific hashtag.

You can use Hashtag Stickers (which can be found in the Stickers menu when creating a Story) or just hashtag directly in your captions for a chance to be featured in a Hashtag Story.

Now that users can follow hashtags, your Stories have a chance to be seen by both people who are following that hashtag and anyone who’s just checking it out.

using hashtags in stories

2. Use the right filters

Keyword hashtags aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to. The Instagram community responds to certain photo filters more favorably than others. Using these preferred filters can have an impact on your engagement.

Here are the 10 current most popular filters on Instagram according to Iconosquare:

  1. Normal (No Filter)
  2. Clarendon
  3. Juno
  4. Lark
  5. Ludwig
  6. Gingham
  7. Valencia
  8. X-Pro II
  9. Lo-fi
  10. Amaro

TrackMaven did a recent study on Instagram accounts to see how filters affected engagement and found that Mayfair, Hefe, and Ludwig drove the most interaction.

best instagram filters for engagement

But more important than the general Instagram community’s favorite filters, are your particular audience’s favorite filters. Consider this custom graph which correlates filter usage to engagement from my own Instagram account:

best instagram filters for engagement

You can use IconoSquare to review the performance of your own account to understand what is and is not currently working for you.

3. Post at the right times

Beyond adding the appropriate hashtags and using the best filters, you should also be considering the timing of your posts.

A targeted approach is to analyze what has and has not worked for you in the past. By visiting IconoSquare’s optimization section, you can get a detailed analysis of your posting history vs. engagement. This report will also highlight the best times of the day and days of the week to post.

The dark circles indicate when you usually post media. The light gray circles shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light gray circles represent the best times for you to post.

best times to post on instagram

You can also get a lot of great insight from Instagram Analytics for Business accounts for free, under the Followers section.

best times to post on instagram

You may want to consider using a social media scheduling tool to schedule and automatically publish your posts for when your audience is the most engaged.

4. Steal your competitor’s followers

One of the best ways to find and attract a new following is by seeking out your closest competitors’ Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry simply by following your competitors’ account.

So how do you effectively steal your competitors’ followers?

You can steal your closest competitors’ followers by engaging with them. There are several ways to engage with Instagram users, and the more work you put in, the more followers and repeat engagement you’ll get out of it.

The three types of engagement on Instagram are:

  • Follow a user
  • Like a photo
  • Comment on a photo

I ran an informal test with my business account to see how my competitors’ followers responded to my marketing advances. I targeted the followers of a close, local competitor. Since I know many of his followers would be local, I added my city to my profile to create a greater sense of familiarity between my brand and the people I am targeting.

I began by simply following 100 of my competitors’ followers. Later, I followed another 100 but I also took the time to like one of their photos. Finally, I followed a third group of 100 and liked as well as commented on one photo from each account..

Here were the results:

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + Like: 22% followback
  • Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback

Although the are many variables and the test was far from scientific, the results were clear. The more you put in and engage with people, the more you’ll get out of it.

Note: While it’s against Instagram’s terms of service, some entrepreneurs use automation to follow the same process above.

 

 

5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews

All this optimized posting to your account is great but if you really want to make an impact, you need to take advantage of influencer marketing on Instagram, exposing your brand to a wider audience.

So how do you do that?

First, unlike the tactics above to grow your account this one usually isn’t free. However, if done correctly, it’s good value.

To get started, you’ll need to make a list of large accounts in your niche. For example, if you sell beauty products, you’ll want to find large accounts from beauty bloggers.

You may already be following these accounts, but if not you’ll need to find them. One of the best ways is to use Webstagram (mentioned earlier) and search for some of the closest hashtag keywords you uncovered in the beginning of this post. When you do a search for your keywords, not only will it show you the related keywords, but it also shows you the top Instagram accounts that feature those keywords.

There are a few things to look for in the profiles results:

  • A large following—usually 20k to 200k
  • An email address in the profile

If there is an email address in the profile, it usually means they’re open to sponsored posts or a shoutout in a sponsored Story.

You’ll want to email them and ask them their sponsored post pricing. In general, I have found the average rate to be around $20-$50 per post, depending on the size of their following.

However, if you’re selling a unique and original product, you may also want to consider sending them your product to review and post. The more natural and less advertisement-like the image, the greater the engagement and response usually.

You don’t necessarily need influencers with a massive following, but rather ones with a high engagement rate (likes and comments relative to follower size), which many influencer marketplaces can provide.

instagram sponsored post

6. Use geotags for local discoverability

Besides hashtags, you can also make your Instagram posts and Stories discoverable by tagging your location, either the city you’re in or the venue where the photo or video was taken.

Locations not only have their own feed on Instagram but also their own Story just like hashtags that you can contribute to when you use the location sticker in your own Stories.

geotagging on instagram

Local businesses can get the most value out of location tags by posting regularly to these feeds and also engaging with posts from prospective customers who are physically in the vicinity.

7. Organize your Stories into Highlights

Whenever a potential follower lands on your profile, you have a short span of time to convince them to follow you.

One way to do this is by using the “Highlights” feature on your profile to organize your Instagram Stories in a way that communicates what your account is about.

Since Stories have a 24-hour lifespan, Highlights can be used to give them a second-life and entice others to follow you so they don’t miss out on more Stories in the future.
story highlights on instagram

Use Story Highlights to:

  • Create trailers that tease what your account is about
  • Organize your Stories into themes (like countries you’ve visited to for travel accounts)
  • Explain your products through pictures and videos
  • Promote your products using swipe-up links (you need at least 10K followers and a Instagram Business account to do this with your Stories)

8. Ask

It sounds obvious, but it deserves to be said: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ask your audience to follow you.

The same way YouTubers ask their viewers to follow them at the end of their videos, you can also ask viewers to follow you for more content.

Sometimes people might really enjoy what you put out on Instagram, but need a nudge before they actually follow you. Sometimes you just need to remind the users of a platform that they can subscribe to get more in the comments of a post.

You can also do this in your captions or even work it into your content by pitching what your audience will get if they follow you or hinting at content that’s coming up that they won’t want to miss.

9. Hop on trends

When the opportunity presents itself, aligning your content with trending topics or hashtags can improve discoverability and engagement.

For example, you can ride the wave of a trending topic or event, such as a holiday, in a relevant way to boost your engagement and reach. Or you can participate in one of the many hashtag holidays that exist, such as #NationalCoffeeDay (falling on October 1st in 2018). Mark relevant events in your calendar so you can prepare relevant content in advance.

Be sure to join the conversation in a meaningful way and when in doubt, ask yourself if your target audience would actually pay attention to the trend.

10. Run a giveaway

One of the best kinds of comments you can get on any social media post, not just Instagram, is a comment where one user tags a friend. Not only do these comments contribute to your post’s engagement, which in turn makes it favorable to the Instagram algorithm, but each tag brings you a new audience member who arrived through a recommendation and who you could potentially win over as a follower.

One way to encourage this behavior is by posting relatable content that begs for 1:1 sharing (e.g. A gym meme that asks you to tag a friend who skips leg day). But a more reliable way to get your audience to tag their friends is by running a giveaway that encourages your audience to tag a friend and follow your account.

Be sure to check out our post on running a giveaway for more, as well follow Instagram’s promotion guidelines and any legal requirements for running a contest that apply in your country of operation.

For inspiration, here’s an example of a successful product giveaway from the5th that incentivizes people to follow their account and tag a friend for the chance to win two free products for the both of them.

example of an instagram contest

11. Be consistent

Most of your followers won’t follow you for what you posted in the past but for the promise of what you’ll post in the future. Your audience wants to know what they’re going to get if they hit that follow button.

Having a feed with a consistent theme running through, where you publish at a consistent pace, can have just as much of an impact in growing a following as many of the other growth strategies we’ve covered above. Even a simple pattern can entice new followers, as long as it’s communicated at first glance to anyone who lands on your profile.

Consider your bio and your last 9 posts as your first impression on Instagram. Do they effectively communicate some degree of consistency through personality, filters, colors, or layout?

The layout of your grid is an often underestimated way to get creative with the aesthetic of your feed while adding a rhythm to your publishing strategy and consistency that’s worth following.

In fact, many accounts that adopt this approach are often able to spend less effort on creating content by focusing on converting visitors into followers, producing text graphics or other content with a faster turnaround and streamlining the overall production of their Instagram content.

You can use a tool like Later to easily plan out and schedule the look and layout of your feed in advance. Sonnet Insurance is just one example of how far some brands go with the aesthetic of their Instagram layout.

example of an instagram grid layout

12. Closely monitor your following over time

It’s not enough to get more Instagram followers if you’re losing them just as fast. Keep an eye on the rate at which you’re growing as well as how engaged your following is overall.

Social Blade is a great free tool for analyzing the growth of your following (or your competitors), showing you followers added and lost over time and on specific days.

measure your instagram following with social blade

With an Instagram Business account, you also get an Instagram Analytics dashboard which offers valuable insight for free that you won’t get anywhere else. You can see how many people are checking out your profile, how many people your posts have reached, what your most engaging posts are, and where most of your followers are from.

You can use this data to diagnose where you’re falling short and where you could do more.

Look for patterns in the posts that were the most engaging and try to replicate that in your future content.

13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal

There are hundreds of Instagram tools out there that can help you and your Instagram strategy, but I mentioned three key ones to help you build your audience and engage with them over time:

  • Later Schedule and automatically publish your Instagram posts from your computer or mobile device.
  • IconoSquare: Info, analytics and insights into your account and followers.
  • Webstagram: Find the best hashtags for your posts and people for your sponsored posts.

You can find more in our list of top Instagram tools, as well as some apps to help you with creating and editing your content.

Once you’ve built up a large following on Instagram, you might also want to check out these tactics for making money on Instagram.

Grow an Instagram following that grows your business

In this post we talked about the most effective ways to use Instagram to build a targeted following, but it’s not always a numbers game. As with any social network, the most successful strategy overall is to be authentic and social.

If you focus on engagement, not just followers, Instagram can be a great home for your products and brand that can lead to a healthy stream of revenue for your ecommerce business.

Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

You’re writing, and writing, and writing. You’re polishing your category pages. You’re toiling over countless product descriptions. You write for humans, while always keeping one eye toward search engines.

But let’s admit it: Sometimes you wonder, is your copy working hard enough? Are you persuading web visitors to buy?

Let’s look at six ecommerce copywriting mistakes that might be costing you business and explore how you can fix them.

Mistake #1: Too much product focus

This mistake is easily made. Even experienced copywriters make it.

As a salesperson and business owner you’re excited to share how special your products are (of course!). You want to talk about unique features and splendid specifications.

But you know what? Your buyers aren’t interested in all these features and specs. Buyers want to know what’s in it for them. Each time you list a feature such as a thread count of 400, pair it with a benefit such as for a luxurious feel that provides a better sleep.

A product feature is a fact about your product, while a benefit explains what’s in it for the buyer. A benefit explains how your product increases pleasure or takes away pain. And that’s exactly what your customers are most interested in.

Your oven, for instance, might have a fast preheat system (feature) which makes you more relaxed about getting dinner ready in time (this benefit is an increase in pleasure—feeling more relaxed) and it makes cooking less stressful (this benefit is taking away the pain of stress).

Before you start creating your product pages, outline a comprehensive list of features and benefits. Consider benefits that increase pleasure and benefits that take away problems, pain, and hassle. Planning what you need to write helps you write more persuasive copy, and it helps you to write faster.

Mistake #2: Meaningless drivel is soiling your pages

Formerly top-shelf words like “world-class”, “market-leading”, and “innovative” are used so frequently they’ve lost much of their impact. Now they’re just filler—taking up space without adding meaning.

Put on your devil’s advocate hat, and ask yourself for each sentence and each word: what does this mean? If you can’t come up with a specific answer immediately, then cut or rephrase until your text is concrete and meaningful.

❌ Meaningless drivel: “Innovative office chairs from a world-leading manufacturer.”

✅ Try instead: “Office chairs with lumbar support used in over 150,000 offices in the US.”

Meaningless drivel distracts and wears your reader down. In contrast, facts and figures increase your credibility. Where possible, include numbers and write them as digits (7) rather than words (seven) because numerals stop wandering eyes.

Mistake #3: You’ve taken an adjective overdose

Adjectives help us to explain what our products look like (appearance), what they do (features), and how they make our buyers feel (benefits). In moderation adjectives are useful, but an overdose gives your reader a headache because it makes your content hard to read. An example:

This relaxed, romantic collection of beautiful cookware has a unique look, up-to-date yet completely classic with a result that’s perfect for your kitchen.

The problem with so many adjectives is that it slows your reader down and confuses them. What about simply saying:

This romantic cookware collection suits most kitchen styles.

When using adjectives, follow these essential best practices:

  • Use only one adjective before a noun. Rather than relaxed, romantic collection, go for romantic collection.
  • Don’t use adjectives to state the obvious. Don’t simply describe what a product looks like if you’re showing it on a picture.
  • Choose sensory or emotional words. They make your reader feel something. Words like nice, good, or effective are rather bland. Opt for delightful, dazzling, or tantalizing instead.

Too many adjectives make your copy slurred and incomprehensible, but in moderation adjectives make your copy compelling and magnetic.

Mistake #4: Over-reliance on factual information

When potential buyers read stories, they forget they’re being sold something. Their barriers to your sales messages go down and your content becomes more engaging and persuasive.

People don’t think in abstract terms and facts. Our brains are wired to think in stories. Stories make your content meaningful as they help your readers visualize using your product.

“Facts give stories substance. Stories give facts meaning.” —Lee Lefever

A story can be ultra-short. Imagine you’re selling an office chair with lumbar support. You can tell a simple story about a customer who tries different chairs and continues to suffer from back pain. Meet Sarah. Sarah finds it hard to concentrate on her work. She paces around during meetings. She’s grumpy.

Then one day Sarah buys your chair and after just 1 month her back pain is finally gone. Her colleagues notice she’s more cheerful at work. Her boss remarks she’s more productive. And when she gets home, she’s not as tired and cranky as she used to be. Even her dog notices it.

A simple story can help potential buyers visualize the benefits of your products—especially if they’re complicated; but stories also add personality. You can tell stories about the development, testing, or sourcing of your products to make your products more fascinating or to increase the perception of quality.

Follow these tips to apply the seductive power of mini-stories:

  • Learn from investigative journalists. Dig deeper to uncover fascinating details. Talk to your suppliers and customer service representatives. More importantly, talk to your customers. The more you learn the more stories you have to tell.
  • Keep your stories concise and concrete. Focus your story on just one simple idea.
  • Avoid the obvious. Tell unexpected stories to engage, entertain, and sell.

We’ve all been educated to focus on data, figures, and facts. Facts increase the credibility of your product description, but facts on their own don’t make your content persuasive. Facts are cold. Facts don’t have soul or personality.

The most persuasive product descriptions include both story and fact. Stories engage your reader, while facts help justify their purchase.

Mistake #5: A complete lack of personality

Many big-box ecommerce sites sound like what they are: big corporations without a soul. They don’t connect, they don’t engage, they hardly sell the value of the products they offer. They simply provide bread, butter, beer, and toothpaste.

But nobody likes chatting with a faceless corporation. Nobody likes ringing a soulless call center. So why create text that sounds like a dull corporation?

To connect with your readers, you need a dash of personality on your ecommerce site. Think about your tone of voice—if your website was a real salesperson talking to a customer, how would you like her to sound? What stories would she tell? What jokes would she crack? Which words would she choose?

“Copy is a direct conversation with the customer.”
—Shirley Polykoff

Before you define your tone of voice, consider who you are writing for. Try to visualize one buyer and consider how you’d talk to her in real life. Don’t sound like a big corporation. Be human. Because that’s how you engage potential buyers.

Mistake #6: You edit in less than 5 minutes

Professional copywriters can’t write in one go. They plan. They write. They edit. Unless you’re superhuman you need to carefully edit your content.

Imagine you’re talking with your favorite customer. Now, read your copy aloud. Is your favorite customer laughing at your bombastic phrases? Does she start to glance at her phone because you’re boring her?

Re-write and polish your text until you’re able to persuade your favorite customer to buy your product:

  • What objections does your favorite customer have to buying your product? Have you addressed each objection?
  • Price can often be an issue, so be sure to justify your price by explaining how much value your customer will get.
  • Check your engagement level. Is your content focused on your customer? Count the number of times you’ve used “I”, “me”, “we”, and “us” versus “you.”
  • Ensure you’ve included a benefit for each feature.
  • Cut unnecessary words. Reduce the number of adjectives. Kill adverbs like “just,” “really,” and “actually” because they don’t add meaning.
  • Read your text backwards as this makes it easier to spot spelling and grammar errors. Even better: ask a colleague or professional to proofread your text for you.

Whether or not you’re a good writer doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re a good editor and that you understand the differences between crappy, good, and great copy. Once you know what makes copy good, you can get to work to improve yours over time.

The truth about ecommerce copywriting

Many big ecommerce sites treat their web visitors like numbers. You have a huge opportunity to be different. To be human. To have personality. To engage and delight potential buyers.

Your starting point should always be your ideal customer. Sell the benefits he enjoys. Always remember who you’re writing for. And don’t speak at him. Instead, try having a conversation. Give advice. Be helpful and engaging. Customers will reward you for it.

Build Your Store’s Site Structure for Humans and Search Engines

Build Your Store's Site Structure for Humans and Search Engines

Strategically organizing and structuring your website into categories, subcategories, and product pages will benefit both your visitors and the search engines.

When your visitors can find what they need quickly and easily, they’re more likely to buy. When search engines can find what they need quickly and easily, they’re more likely to rank your site high and reward you with traffic.

The question becomes: how do you balance both?

In this article, I will teach you why information architecture and site structure matter in ecommerce, how to do basic keyword research to determine the best structure for your store, the basics of URLs and internal linking for SEO, and how to deal with filtering and faceting to control the potential for duplicate content.

This advice comes from my ten years of SEO experience, the last six spent helping large websites with complicated structures drive more traffic.

Table of Contents

  • Why site structure matters
  • Keyword research for site structure
  • Keyword research tools
  • Organizing keywords into rank tracking buckets
  • Basics of internal linking
  • Avoiding the SEO pitfall of duplicate content
  • Next steps

Why site structure matters

Your website’s organization and information architecture are important not just for search engine optimization (SEO), but more importantly for conversions and cart size. If you can help your visitors find what they need more easily, then you have a better chance of converting them into customers.

Search engines want to rank the best results for a given query. If you search [dog food], would you prefer to land on a single page that only lists dog food or a page listing dog, cat, bird, and mouse food?

My guess is the former, which is why you see sites like Chewy.com, Petco.com, PetSmart, and Petflow all ranking with pages that only list dog food:

Dog food SERP

Ranking is much more complicated than this of course, as you have to take links, site authority, and much more into account to get a full picture of what it takes to rank.

Because the search engines want to serve up the best result for a given query, they prioritize pages that target that specific term. Realistically, you cannot expect the page that ranks for [pet food] to also rank for [dog food] or a page that ranks well for [dog food] to rank as well for [Purina dog food] since the word “Purina” shows that the results on the page only cover one brand.

User intent aside, website architecture plays a critical role in determining how well you’ll rank because search engines partially base their rankings off of how well you link and organize your important pages. You don’t need to go as far as calculating internal pagerank (though you can, if you want) to know that you should link to your pages that target high volume and high competition terms from as close to your homepage and other highly linked-to pages as possible.

A clean website architecture looks like this (more information here):

Site structure example

Starting from your homepage, visitors should be able to navigate down to categories, then subcategories, and then products. Every product should be in one category (for example [pet type] food) and can then be in multiple subcategories (e.g. [brand] dog food, [brand] cat food, etc.)

Using this simple example, each category page receives 25% of the equity passed from the homepage. Then each subcategory receives a percentage of that category’s authority, and so on down.

Site structure map

The more competitive a search query you are targeting, the more internal (and external) links that page needs.

Products are purposefully organized below categories and subcategories because they receive less traffic than the head terms targeted by your categories. Individual products are also much easier to rank for because they have less competition in the search results, thus they do not need to be as close to your homepage. They simply do not need as many internal links to rank.

Keyword research for site structure

Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. If you want to drive traffic to your website from search, then you need to understand which terms people are searching for, how hard those terms are to rank for, how many potential visitors you could receive from those terms based on your page’s ranking, and the potential revenue those terms could bring in (based on conversion rates and average cart value).

Of course, you don’t have all of this information from the start, especially if you have not built or optimized an ecommerce website before. But you can optimize towards traffic and, from there, conversions based on the products you have on your site.

Keyword research takes time, but building your site correctly from the start reduces your time to rank and saves you the trouble of redoing URLs, fixing internal links, and implementing redirects. In short, doing the work upfront will pay you back in the long-term.

When you start keyword research, you have data sources available to you. You have:

  • Google Search Console, which you should already have installed on your site.
  • Competitor data in a tool like SEMrush or Moz.
  • Autosuggestions from Google using a tool like Soovle.
  • Any existing AdWords data you have from ads you are running.

What you’re looking for are buckets of keywords, which you can use to segment your products.

You can take a head keyword that you identify, such as [dog food], and plug that into a tool like SEMrush. They then show you related keywords, like so:

Finding related keywords

By looking through the suggested terms based off the seed keyword of [dog food], I can tell that if I were creating a pet food store, then I should create categories based on:

  • Animal type
  • Brand
  • Price (e.g. cheap, sales, discount)
  • Type of dog (e.g. puppy, old dog)
  • Color (e.g. Purina dog food yellow bag)

This information lets you create the strategy for labeling your products and it bases your top level pages off of search volume. For [dog food], I’d organize everything by brand first, then treat price and type of dog as equal levels.

Your website’s information architecture will then be based off of what terms people search for most often. The top level will be your highest volume keyword, then subcategories that become more specific and have smaller keyword volume. Finally, you have your products, which likely have less search volume than a brand or a type.

Here’s a potential dog food category -> subcategory -> products taxonomy. Your site architecture would look like this:

Specific site structure example

And your URLs would be organized like:

It’s important that you already have [Pedigree dog food] covered with /dog-food/pedigree, so you do not also want /pedigree/dog-food underneath the Pedigree brand subfolder. However, having Pedigree (or any brand) with its own page will let you optimize for terms like “Pedigree pet food” and it is also a great way to get all of your products under that brand indexed close to the homepage.

Keyword research tools

The right tool depends on your needs and how often you will use it. There are a few tools that I use and recommend for keyword research.

  1. Moz’s Keyword Explorer. This is probably the best tool for you. A Moz Pro subscription costs $99 a month and gives you access to all of their tools, including: campaigns, keyword tracking, competitor tracking, and more.
  2. SEMrush. Starts at $99 a month. It’s ideal for larger sites.
  3. Soovle for autosuggestions to find longer tail keywords under your head terms.
  4. Answer The Public to identify informational queries your audience is already searching.

A free tool you can install is the Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere, which puts search volume by the terms you search in Google as well as the keywords appearing in your Google Search Console Search Analytics report.

Search volume in Google Search Console

Organizing keywords into rank tracking buckets

Now that you have the keywords you want to rank for and have built the pages to target them, you need to track your keywords so that you can see how they are trending over time.

I recommend that you track sets of keywords more closely than you track individual keywords. If you track a set of 50 keywords, you can see more holistically how well you are doing for search than if you just track 1 or 2, as those 1 or 2 may rank well when the other 48 categories you care about are neglected. Simply tracking a few major keywords will focus you on those keywords instead of your whole site. When you focus on sets of keywords across your site, you can drive exponentially more traffic.

Using SEMrush, you can tag each of your keywords so that you can see how your different buckets of keywords are ranking over time. You may identify that your brands are ranking well, but your products are not. From this knowledge, you can adjust your strategy to improve your product rankings.

Here is an example of a set of keywords in one of my SEMrush campaigns, which shows the estimated percentage of clicks I will receive for those keywords:

Rankings overview in SEMrush

This is, in my opinion, a much better way to track SEO success than individual keyword rankings. I do track individual keywords that can drive outsized conversions, but if you are looking to gauge overall SEO performance, then you should really care about share of voice across your keyword sets (like dog food).

Basics of internal linking

Organizing your information architecture in a way that meets your users’ needs and takes search engine crawlers from the most important to least important pages accomplishes a few tasks:

  1. Category and subcategory pages become strong because they are linked from other highly-linked pages (like your homepage), which allows you to rank for more competitive search terms.
  2. All of your pages are brought higher in the architecture to get them indexed and ranked.
  3. Website visitors and customers can more quickly navigate to their goal without having to rely on site search or a crowded top navigation.

There are a few ways to make sure that your most important pages are linked to from as many relevant pages as possible.

First, your most competitive keywords should be one level off your homepage. In our pet food example, this will be your dog food, cat food, and brand pages. Second, use your top navigation to link to your most important pages using relevant anchor text. One strategy a lot of ecommerce websites use is a jumbo top navigation:

Jumbo navigation example

And third, you should use breadcrumb navigation links to link from product pages back up to, at minimum, their top level category (and Shopify allows you to do this). If it makes sense, then link as well to the product’s main subcategory. Here’s how Petco does it:

Breadcrumb navigation example

I would actually extend this and also link to “Dry Dog Food” in this breadcrumb, then list the product name (or a shortened name) as the end of the breadcrumb trail. Doing this would help Petco rank better for [dry dog food], and done at scale, this could really help them rank better in their longer tail of keywords because more internal links from more strong pages correlates strongly to better rankings.

Avoiding the SEO pitfall of duplicate content

If your website has consistent URLs with hyphens, www or non-www, and it’s secured with an SSL certificate, you’ve already built yourself a good base upon which to control duplicate content. For a primer on why duplicate content is harmful, check out this resource from Moz.

The most common issue I see with duplicate content on ecommerce sites is confusing your filters and facets, and not controlling them either via canonical tags or Search Console.

First, let’s define the two terms.

When I talk about a facet, I mean a narrowing of a category into a subcategory that still has search volume. If [dog food] is a category, then [dry dog food] is a facet. Here’s how Petco does it for their categories, and we know that because they link with an <a href> link to a new URL:

Category example

When I talk about a filter, I mean a narrowing that is useful for users, but where there is no search volume. If you look at Petco’s [dog food] page, they also have a lot of filters on the side that do not link to a new URL:

Filter example

There are many different ways to control indexation by using filters, including:

  1. Using a hash (for example, /dog-food#under10k) in the URL as content behind a hash in a URL is not seen by search engines.
  2. Using a parameter in combination with a canonical back to the URL you want indexed (for example, /dog-food?price=under10k with a canonical back to /dog-food). This way, you do not have to redo your filtering technology, but you also essentially tell the search engines that “this ?price=under10k is a subset of /dog-food that should not be indexed because no one is searching for it”. The rel-canonical tag can be a good way to control duplicate content.
  3. Controlling the parameter in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools by marking it as “Yes Changes Content”, “Narrows” to say that the content gets more specific, and “No URLs” so that Google does not crawl them.

Controlling the parameter

Less effective ways to control duplicate content created by filters, depending on the implementation, are to do it:

  • Through robots.txt Disallow. This will work, but will likely cause bigger issues than it solves. Robots.txt is a sledgehammer, not a precision tool.
  • Through meta robots noindex. This will keep the URLs from appearing in the search index, but will not keep the search engines from crawling them.

To quickly explain the two above, every website has a robots.txt file, which essentially is a set of directives that the search engines have agreed to follow.  The robots.txt is a way to tell search engines not to access certain parts of your site, especially areas like staging subdomains or logged in pages that may contain personal information.

The meta robots tag is a simple meta tag, formatted like <meta name=”robots” content=””>, where the content area can either be blank (and defaults to index, meaning the search engines should store the URL in their index) or noindex, which tells the search engines that you do not want that URL to be in their index.

A difference between a robots.txt block and a meta noindex directive is that search engines will still crawl pages with the meta noindex. The noindex solves the issue of removing a page you do not want in the index from the index, but search engines can still crawl it instead of other pages on your site that you do want to rank.

As you can tell, duplicate content takes specific strategies to control so that filters do not negatively affect your rankings, traffic, and revenue!

Next steps

You’ve hopefully gained a much deeper understanding of website information architecture and why it matters so much to SEO! You also now understand how to get started with keyword research and identifying the keywords that matter to your business. Plus, how to structure your URLs, categories, and facets and filters to avoid duplicate content and drive more traffic than before.

  1. Use a crawl tool like Moz or Screaming Frog to first get a full view of your existing website. If you do not have an existing website, you can skip this step.
  2. Do keyword research to discover the main categories and subcategories that your products fit underneath. There is no “correct” or “optimal” number of categories or subcategories; you need the amount that accurately describes your products. Don’t go crazy with subcategories that only contain one product as these may be seen as low quality by search engines and will not rank, but do not be afraid to go to the longer tail (e.g. keyword terms like “Pedigree wet dog food pouches”) to rank.
  3. Use the keyword volume data given to you and determine which terms should be facets (e.g. categories or subcategories) and which should be filters (e.g. shoe size or dog food price). Shopify handles filters well out of the box, with canonicals back to the category/subcategory page.

Through a combination of top navigation links, sidebar links to subcategories on category pages, and breadcrumbs from products back up to their subcategories and categories, you can have all of your important pages indexed and given the chance to rank.

Do the Common Things Uncommonly Well

For most entrepreneurs, and indeed most people, the start of the new year is a time to recommit to achieving their biggest goals.

You have to be careful, however, to not let this rekindled ambition turn into distraction. Humans have always struggled with the fact that our time, energy, and attention are not as readily available as our aspirations.

Prioritization is hard. When your enthusiasm runneth over, you can start to (mistakenly) believe every new idea for your store can be implemented, and worse, that every idea should be implemented because it might, maybe, possibly grow your business.

But there’s no need to worry. The siren call of “shiny new things” to potentially try in the new year doesn’t have to stop you from hitting your targets or making substantial progress on your business. The key is to direct your energy toward work that will produce lasting results—the hands-dirty, sleeves-rolled work everyone knows they should be doing.

Our time, energy, and attention are not as readily available as our aspirations.

It’s outside the scope of any humble blog post to provide a game plan for the entire year. However, working at Shopify has provided us with a useful vantage point: we continually get feedback from our readers and merchants, store owners just like you, on their most persistent challenges and exciting opportunities.

You start to notice the patterns, or “common things,” that seem to really make a difference in ecommerce. In the spirit of bolstering our community’s collective commitment to doing high-impact work, we’ll briefly cover the three pillars of growing an online store that aren’t likely to change.

1. Master the unglamorous

In nearly every industry, you’re certain to hear about how the competitive advantages of the past have become “table stakes.” The status quo is forever a moving target. As companies adopt (and copy) what works, novelties and differentiators turn into basic customer expectations.

But that doesn’t make these functions any less important. For example, analysts shout from the rooftops that great customer service is the new standard, but that doesn’t make it any easier to provide.

These critical path activities may not be quite enough to differentiate your business, but they require excellent execution all the same, because they’re the foundation for everything else. Performing these functions well is one part managing problems and one part figuring out how to avoid problems in the first place. A few examples:

  • Shipping and fulfillment. Like delivering on a promise made, shipping is something people don’t think about until there’s a problem.
  • Cash flow management. While it may not make your business, making forecasting mistakes is a surefire way to break your business.
  • Customer service. While there’s real value in delivering the right kind of delight, most customers (in most cases) would rather avoid contacting you at all.

2. Compete on the immeasurable

A business should place its biggest bets on traits that are hard to commodify and copy. Brand and the customer experience are a good place to begin.

I’ve always been struck by this passage from Shoe Dog, written by Nike’s co-founder and former CEO Phil Knight: “Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people’s victories. And defeats. When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete.” Say what you will, but never say Nike doesn’t understand the larger context within which their products operate.

So many products don’t just need to fit in our home, our cars, or our bags, they need to fit in our lives. This is the reason why “soft” measures can play such a determinant role, sometimes even more than raw product quality.

3. Grow intentionally

Despite the occasionally puzzling nature of running a business, some aspects are “solved problems.” They’re the operational equivalent of the wheel, in that there’s no need to invent a set of square tires. Instead, it’s better to use an off-the-rack solution that somebody else already developed.

That said, the strongest advantages for any business are tailor-made. Successful stores deeply understand their customers and match their marketing to their market, versus scooping up a randomly assorted collection of tactics. When we say “grow intentionally,” we mean forgoing the flavor of the week and instead committing to a strategy that fits the business. Exaggerating the point in order to make it, I’m unsure how many lug nuts you’d sell on Pinterest, no matter how many people are now using the platform.

Successful stores deeply understand their customers and match their marketing to their market.

And although smart ecommerce entrepreneurs start with a plan, they also know it’s usually a losing battle to fight against the tide: Being in a growing market is better than being in a shrinking one, and it’s easier to find products people want to buy than to find ways to make people want to buy them.

The way forward

Investor Charlie Munger is famous for having said, among other things, that “the reason our ideas have not spread faster is they’re too simple.” He was talking about the financial world’s reluctance to adopt the value investing approach pioneered by Benjamin Graham and used by Munger and Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway.

Through this comment he reveals an interesting quirk in human behavior: sometimes we subconsciously want things to be complicated. With complication comes a reason, or an excuse, to be distracted. And when things are “complicated,” we can quietly give ourselves permission to fall short.

I wouldn’t dare say building a business from scratch is easy; far from it. But identifying the type of work that matters is often less mystifying than we’d like to admit. Provide products people want and a brand people want to associate with; achieve consistent operational excellence in the unglamorous stuff; grow with an intentional strategy that fits the market and your business model. It’s that simple, and that hard.

This year, we’re making a pledge to help you tackle the challenging, but worthwhile work that can change the trajectory of your business. We’ll be digging deep into what’s covered above and more, with plenty of help from our community of merchants, colleagues, and partners.