How To Sell Online / Success Stories

The 19 Steps One Bigcommerce Employee Implemented to Bring His Dad’s Brick-and-Mortar Online –– And Grow Revenue 2400%

/ 9 min read

As the managing editor over here at Bigcommerce, I get to talk to some of the platform’s most successful customers. My goal is to understand the ins and outs of exactly how they became the successes that they are –– and then distill that information into actionable advice for other online store owners.

Recently, an Ipsos study found that merchants selling on Bigcommerce are growing 2x faster than those selling on similar ecommerce platforms –– and that’s a really big deal. Now, I like to think that the reason why Bigcommerce merchants are growing so quickly is thanks to all of our features, product updates and partnership integrations –– and that’s likely a large portion of it. But, I talk to enough midsized businesses to know that in order to be successful, you have to be strategic beyond your backend capabilities.

And the payoff from a smart strategy takes time, which is why I rarely emphasize a “scale quickly” mentality. I’ve learned through talking with merchants and their teams that “success” and “quick” are two words that simply don’t go well together.

Of course, this only applies in so far as your personal definition of “quick.” I talk to businesses who move over to our platform and in a matter of weeks are seeing a 10,000% increase in traffic from search engines thanks to an increase in SEO (I’m serious, that’s real –– we’ll have a story on that in 2016). Then, I find internal employees who come from a family business background and who have managed to convince their family that an online selling channel is a good idea (I’m still in the process of convincing my own –– more on that in 2016 as well) –– and prove out in less than a year that ecommerce can match, double or just plain outdo the sales of a single brick-and-mortar.

The following is proof of the latter. Meet Tommy Ekstrand, a self-service UX developer and designer at Bigcommerce. This is one of the team members responsible for how our Bigcommerce University looks and feels. And because he’s spent so much time with all of the educational content over there, he qualifies as an expert in the following areas as well: SEO, brand building, customer service, site development.

Here is exactly how Tommy went to work to get his dad’s site up and running, and generating revenue while they slept. I’ve asked Tommy to be as detailed as possible, not forgoing any step in the process, no matter how small. Thanks to the below strategy, his dad’s company, US Paint Supply, has grown their online revenue by 2400% in less than two years.

The Tactical Steps Implemented to Build an Offline Paint Company a Strong Online Presence

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Here are the steps Tommy took leading up to his store launch…

  1. We determined who our primary customer was and how they would find us. We ended up deciding on organic traffic through search engines. This was determined mainly by just knowing our market thanks to previous experience in the industry. [[Editor’s note: Tommy’s dad has been running this business since 1973.]] The same people who were buying in our brick-and-mortar, we thought, were probably searching online nowadays. We didn’t research search volume. We just went off of our past experience and knowing our customer really well.
  2. We decided between using our family business name or an SEO-friendly domain name. We ended up with an SEO-friendly version: US Paint Supply. We’ve owned the family name website since 1998, but that site is purely informational. The decision to go with a more SEO-friendly domain was to find something more universal across our selling area (U.S. target audience). We didn’t do any research here. We just found something that was general enough to meet our needs since we have a broader range of products.
  3. We selected initial products to place online. We chose those which sell well nationally due to climate, common surfaces, etc. We narrowed it down to ~100 products. Having owned the brick-and-mortar for so long, our primary focus was around two types of products:
    • Items which are major sellers in the store and were already listed online by other sellers
    • Items which do not sell that often, but we were receiving calls or special requests for at least 2-3 times per month from customers looking for the product. These oftentimes were nowhere to be found online.
  4. We researched our competitors. We looked at other retailers on the web to see who sells the products, what their pricing was, and what their total cost (tax + shipping) was. Shipping was a big thing for us as almost everyone was charging an arm and a leg for shipping due to heavy products. Most of the product itself was priced moderately. On Amazon, though, product prices were extremely high because of their marketplace fees for someone to sell. Many of the products we sell that also sell on Amazon are nearly 2x the price over there.
  5. We wrote custom page titles and meta descriptions. We collected all products and product data into a CSV file, and wrote custom page titles and meta descriptions to start. We decided writing product descriptions would take too long to start with, and we needed to focus on other areas in order to get the store launched ASAP. I followed a general format for the page titles and meta descriptions, which was “{Product Name} is a {type of product or category} used in/for {primary uses}”. If the product comes in multiple sizes/colors or has dimensions that are important I typically try to mention them here. Don’t spend a ton of time on this to start, just having something custom is what’s important. Refine from there.
  6. I had my dad take product images on his phone. It’s not that there weren’t stock photos of our products out there, but having unique images gives you a leg up in SEO. There was no fancy setup, just a piece of white paper in the background. Original images and image descriptions helped us to rank far above other retailers using stock photos. Having alt tags on all images is absolutely necessary. Most of the time it’s just the product name and maybe “- Front” or “- Back” or “- Side.” Since I sell paint, some examples are “C2 LUXE Gallon in Satin” and “C2 LUXE Quart in Eggshell.”
  7. We decided on our shipping costs. We ended up with a flat rate of $10 for all orders, and free shipping on all orders over $100. This helps our conversion rate by setting up total cost expectations right away and removing surprise costs during checkout. It also helps with organic advertising in SERPs (search engine results page) as a quick callout to “Free Shipping.” Consider a meta description that says “Free Shipping over $100” at the end of it. I know online shoppers are deterred by added costs during the checkout process. This includes shipping, taxes, processing and handling or other random fees. By choosing a simple shipping cost table, we were able to present our customers with the exact fees they would be charged right up front, which prevents a lot of abandoned carts. In addition, we increase our AOV (average order value) by pushing customers to free shipping at a certain price point. A single line that says “Free Shipping on orders over $100” encourages customers to put that extra item they were on the edge about in their cart, because they may as well do it now and get free shipping! Consider using a discount rule for free shipping since it can display a conditional message at the top of your store encouraging a customer to spend more. That’s what we do.
  8. We chose our payment methods. We ended up with both PayPal Express and Stripe as a credit card processor. This enables us to capture the widest variety of customers by making them feel comfortable with different payment methods.
  9. I made sure we were zipped up in regards to tax nuances and security. This is when I got into the other details of setting up an online store, including taxes –– we use Avalara –– importing products, and installing an SSL. This is all standard stuff and the Bigcommerce backend walks you through these. You just have to make sure they’re done if you want to have the most success and not run into issues later.
  10. We decided on our shipping and refund policies. I created public facing pages for these details and provided links to the pages in store emails. Being up-front with customers about both shipping and return policies is extremely important. If you aren’t a major brand or established national store, customers will be wary of placing an order with you. Everything from shipping times and return policies to trust seals and security should work to make customers feel more comfortable entering their credit card number and spending their hard earned cash. By providing links in emails, we were able to prevent additional contacts through our customer support channels. Typical questions were “What does this status mean” or “When is my order going to ship” or “I need to return this,” so making sure that those things are right up front in their emails they receive helps to deflect that stuff. It saves us time and cuts service costs in the long-run.
  11. We launched the store and started building organic SEO. It is really important that as soon as your products are uploaded and your store can process a checkout that you start building SEO. I wasn’t ready for outbound marketing just yet. If you’re a brick-and-mortar looking to launch online, at this point, don’t worry about your storefront looking perfect. You’ll get to that next, after it’s launched and generating SEO. There are certain markets that are exceptions here. If you’re in fashion or crafty items, you may need to focus more on design before you launch. I’d like to estimate that for 99% of stores, it does not matter how your store looks initially. Grow into it!

Here is what Tommy did post-store launch…

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  1. I selected a site design. I needed something not extremely modern as our customers weren’t focused on purchasing from a pretty site. Our customers want functionality rather than something that excites their imagination or creativity. Currently my site is based off of the Munchen theme. It’s not responsive though, so I probably would not recommend this theme any more. In the end I ended up doing all of the theme customization myself. That’s the benefit of being a developer!
  2. I focused on tightening up the design to increase conversion. Areas that can have a real impact include: reducing clicks on checkout (default to guest checkout, pre-select a shipping method), menu categorization/structure options, and adding trust seals (SSL, Payment Gateways, Credit Cards accepted).
  3. I didn’t focus much on the home page. Very few people search for our brand or store by name. They’re searching for the products we carry and therefore landing directly on those product pages. Product pages, then, were where I spent my time.
  4. I worked on writing product descriptions. I used consistent styling (headings, descriptions, bullets for specifications) so that customers felt comfortable finding the information in certain spots every time they visited a product page.
  5. I wrote even more content. If you’ve never heard the rule for SEO, it’s “content, content, content!”
    • I used banners to add content onto brand pages, keeping it short so the products stay above the fold.
    • I used category descriptions to add content into category pages, keeping it short so the products stay above the fold.
    • And I considered creating an FAQ page. My products require specific knowledge for use and application, so this seemed relevant. However, I haven’t created it. It’s on my list, but a lower priority. The only reason I will create it at this point is to drive traffic from people searching Google for those questions. We don’t actually get contacted about too many product-use-related questions that often. If you do get contacted often on product-related questions either a) put it in the product description or b) create an FAQ page for the brand/category/your whole site.

Here’s how Tommy began to market his site once it was launched and designed…

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  1. I used Webmaster Tools to see what keywords/phrases I’d naturally rank for with my current product titles/meta descriptions. Then, I rewrote and adjusted titles, meta descriptions and product descriptions accordingly. This is probably deserving of its own post. It’s a massive topic. Basically, though, here is how to do it:
    • Go into Search stats and turn on all of the data types (CTR, Position, Clicks, Impressions).
    • Sort by impressions and look through the top keywords/phrases.
    • Know that moving from position 50 up to 10 or even 20 is going to be extremely difficult. Consider paying for these (AdWords) if you know they’ll convert.
    • And, moving from positions 10-20 up to 1-8 won’t be easy either, but it is a great goal. Being on the first page will increase conversion exponentially.
  2. Look through this keyword list. It will give you a good idea of what your potential customers are actually searching for in Google. Take these words and phrases back to your site and use them in the product description, meta description, product titles, image alt tags and (very sparingly and not often) changing even your product names and URL’s to match these. Don’t forget 301 redirects if you do this. Bigcommerce should do that automatically though.
  3. I implemented outbound marketing using YOTPO post-purchase review emails, Justuno social bribery, abandoned cart email customization with coupon codes, and weekly Facebook posts (which are more about link building than they are social sales for us).
  4. I continue to focus on increasing conversion. Here’s how:
    • Taking feedback from customers through any channels available: Anytime I get a question about a product, I add the answer to that product’s description so that other visitors who are too hesitant to contact can find that answer.
    • Watching for drop off points through Google Analytics: If I see a sudden dip in traffic, I dig in to find out why.
    • Increasing site speed as much as possible: Compress images, load javascript in async mode or defer, minify all CSS and javascript files or combine if possible. If an app that requires extra javascript isn’t performing, remove it!

Looking Forward to 2016

“In 2016, we will continue to focus on finding new product lines that our customers are interested in,” says Tommy. “Our strategy worked extremely well this year, and we do not have any massive changes planned. We will likely increase our paid advertising through Google AdWords as the year rolls along, but this is subject to a good amount of research since we still don’t have money to just throw away.

“We’d love to see another year of growth in the 50% range. As of right now, it seems we’ve really captured the organic search traffic as well as we can! 2015 was a great year of growth for me in the paid advertising world as I learned how to manage campaigns, track statistics and make projections based on those statistics.

“Also, Bigcommerce’s new theme platform Stencil is going to be amazing –– AMAZING. I’ve worked with all sorts of front end systems and this is by far the most advanced, capable and well-thought through. I’m psyched to get to rebuild my own store using Stencil, I hope to see a 10-20% increase in conversion from the changeover.”

Have any questions for Tommy? Drop them in the comments below!

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  • Thanks a lot for providing this needful article.I appreciate this post

  • Wonderful article analysis Tracey. I hope this seo technique help me my won online business. Thanks for this informative post.

  • Thanks, Jamila!! More to come, for sure :)

  • Excellent article Tracey as always. I must use the technique in my own marketing strategy. Hope that you will continue posting the good one.

  • Wonderful analysis Tracey. We need to focus on SEO if we want to increase our online presence. Thanks for this informative post. It will help the person who want to start an online business.

  • No problem! Thanks for reading @disqus_tyFCsZ696J:disqus !

  • Thanks for reading @disqus_JGGCUPW382:disqus ! We’re hoping to do a follow-up on this here soon, since the owner works at BC :) Stay tuned — and let me know if there are any questions in particular you’d like to ask!

  • Great article Tracey. I am taking some points for my work and hope it will help me a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  • I think this is one of the leading posts on search engine optimization that can be fruitful in 2016. I am going to apply the technique in my own marketing strategy.

  • thanks for sharing this – benefiting from someones real world experience is so much more useful than reading marketing material for “vendor x” product

  • Hi Tracey, I read your article just now. I am releasing and thinking what is your marketing strategy and Which is the time I am applying your strategy.

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