There are creative ways that a small business may use to help visitors find them online, engage those visitors and customers, and keep them coming back. The Small Business Administration has a article that describes some ways that many businesses can use to promote their business in 15 Foolproof Ideas for Promoting Your Company. The article offers ideas like holding contests, or publishing a newsletter, offering demonstrations and seminars and more. Many of those ideas can work well in an online setting.
When you create content for an ecommerce site, it also can help to think about more than just how you may present the products or goods that you offer on your pages. Many ecommerce sites on the web simply break products own into categories, and provide very little beyond a listing of those products and brief descriptions about them.
Understanding how people may search for what you have to offer can be really important, especially if you hope to have visitors find you through search engines. It can be a key to finding creative ways to bring people to your site who might be interested in what you have to offer.
Different Intents Behind Searches
It can be helpful to understand that when people search, they often have different purposes in mind. When someone from one of the major search engines writes about these different purposes, they often refer to them as “user intent.”
Some people may want to learn about a topic, or to buy something, or to learn how to do something for free. Since many visitors may arrive at a web site through a search engine, it helps to know about different types of queries that a searcher may use to find your site. So, an important way of thinking about queries is to consider the intent behind them.
A convenient way of breaking down queries into different types is described in a paper written by search engineer Andrei Broder, who classifies the intent behind queries down into navigational, transactional, and informational, in the paper A taxonomy of web search (pdf)
Informational Queries – The web is much more than just a commercial space, filled with marketing and commerce. It’s a medium where people can communicate with each other, share ideas, learn about a world of topics, find and offer advice, and explore other countries and cultures and communities. Many people who do go online with some kind of commercial intent do so to save money rather than spend it, often looking for ways to do things themselves. People who may want to buy something may be looking for information that can help them make an informed decision before they decide to make a purchase.
Navigational Queries – A navigational query is one in which a searcher is attempting to find a specific page or site that they have visited before, or have assumed likely exists on the Web. For example, if I want to visit the pages of the American Psychological Association, I might type [apa] into a search box, hoping that the top search result might be the home page for the organization. The major commercial search engines have even been trying to help people who perform navigation type queries by attempting to associate certain query terms with sites that may be ideal destinations for those queries. The search engines may even offer additional links under a listing for those sites, referred to as site links or quicklinks, which may help lead searchers to pages within a site that they may be interested in ending up at on those sites.
Transactional Queries – Transactional queries are ones in which a searcher may not have a specific site in mind, but they want to perform or complete some kind of task online, such as accessing and searching a database about a topic, being entertained interactively, downloading a video, making a purchase, or interacting with the site or others in some way. If you offer goods or services to consumers or to other businesses, you’ll want to be found by the people who are looking for what you have to offer and want to interact with you.
An Example – Bill’s Blues
I really enjoy blues music, and I’ve always thought that it would be fun to start a web site that sells both modern CDs of old and new blues music, as well as vinyl recordings of old blues songs.
While the site would have a shopping area where people can buy both new CDs, and older records, I would want to be seen as the place to learn about blues music, blues musicians, blues instruments (even though I don’t sell them) and blues history.
One thing I might consider having would be a Blues Hall of Fame, where I include biographies, photos, snippets of recordings, interviews, and links to CDs and collectible vinyl (imagine starting with something like the wikipedia entry on Robert Johnson and adding pictures, snippets of songs, interviews with people who knew him, and more).
I’d also create a history section, where I would have a page for each year from the early 1900s to the present, and talk about the great performances, the top selling songs, the best venues, the greatest dramas. I’d include links to items I have for sale on those pages, and to the Hall of Fame members in my other information section. The focus in this history section would be on sharing information, and making this the place for people who love blues music, and for people who just don’t know yet that they love blues music.
I would also want to share my knowledge of guitars, banjos, harmonicas, drums, horns, and other instruments that have been used to make blues music. Some musicians only played certain brands and models of instruments. So, I would want to mention those, and maybe point to some recordings (which I sell) where people can hear those instruments. I’d also point to the Hall of Fame Entries for those performers, or the history section or both.
In building Bill’s Blues, I’m aiming at having an online music shop. I’m also creating an authoritative site on one type of music that may get linked to by lots and lots of people, visited by school children and college professors, music fans and musicians, and many other people. If I create the engaging and informative site I envision, it may also get mentioned in books, and newspapers, and magazines.
I’m aiming at receiving visitors from some of the transactional search queries that I mentioned above from my sales pages. I expect to have visitors show up at my site for many informational searches. I’d even expect to get some of those navigational searches when someone wants to buy one of my CDs, and they remember they can get to the sales page by searching for some of the terms that delivered them to my pages originally, such as my Robert Johnson page.
The site gives me the chance to share my love of music, provides me with income, and maybe even allows me to hire some folks who love blues music as much as me and like to write, to create some of the informational pages that help others find the site.
Chances are also good that the majority of visitors who come to my site will be there because of the hall of fame, the history pages, and the instrument gallery. They may buy to thank me for my efforts. They may buy because they love the music as much as I do. They may buy because this is the only place they can get some of this music. If I do things right, when people think of blues music on the web, they’ll think of Bill’s Blues.
I need to be credible as a merchant. I need to provide shipping information, and an easy way to find and purchase what they are looking for. I have to show my products off in a compelling and persuasive manner. But I don’t care if they came to the site with the intent of learning, and listening, instead of buying. My articles and essays and images and snippets of song aren’t fluff – they’re part of the experience that makes my place the one to go to when they want the blues.