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Engaging your audience and driving engagement is now about more than just posting content. After all, millions of blog posts go live daily.

If you want to stand out and drive more engagement, you can’t just start a blog without a plan and write content or share on social hoping it gets seen. Instead, you need to be proactive, creating opportunities for people to engage and in turn, boost customer experience in the process.

Did you know that improving customer experience is proven to boost ROI and lead to strong differentiation among competitors? Here are four reasons why you should feature fan-made content to boost your traffic, engagement, and social shares.

1. Fan-Made Content Boosts Your Social Engagement

According to a recent study by BuzzSumo, social media engagement (in terms of likes and shares) has gone down 50% in the last three years alone. And the trend is pointing even further down. As the landscape becomes more pay to play, driving organic, natural engagement is harder than ever.

Social media engagement (in terms of likes and shares) has gone down 50% in the last three years alone.

But, one method is standing the test of time: sharing fan-made content on social media. Fan-made content has a 28% higher engagement rate on social media. It helps you improve all markers of social interaction, from social customer service to lead generation. A prime example is Buffer:

Using branded hashtags, they compile lists of fan-made content and re-share their posts on their Instagram almost daily. Tagging each user who submits a photo, they get proper photo credit, further establishing a great brand connection with their customers.

Volusion merchant Real Good Gum has stellar examples of fan-made content:

When customers find their products in stores, the company page shares the post on their Instagram. Fan-made content helps you produce tons of social posts without having to develop them yourself, too.

2. Use it As Social Proof For Your Landing Page

Not only is fan-made content a good source of social proof, but it can also serve as a case study. For example, take a look at how Housecall Pro uses fan-made content as social proof on their page:


First, they take a quote directly from a customer to use as a case study element. Next, they use a video created by the customer as a fan of the business to drive more engagement and improve sales.

One study found that websites who used fan-made content have users who spend 90% more time on site. This helps you improve on-page SEO metrics like dwell time, too.

Websites who used fan-made content have users who spend 90% more time on site.

From photo to video, user-generated content can come in many different formats that you can leverage on your landing pages.

For example, Jon Hart Design embeds Instagram pictures based on their branded hashtags to their site in multiple locations. This helps to showcase real people wearing and using their products:

Check out how Eterneva repurposed fan-made content into a blog post by sharing customer stories, review videos, and their reviews from Google and social media to build up the ultimate social proof landing page:

User-generated content can have a big impact on making your landing pages more vibrant, creative, and most of all, trustworthy.

3. You Can Repurpose It Into Any Format

Fan-made content comes in many different formats. From Instagram posts tagging your brand products to videos on YouTube showcasing them in action. This type of content is often very high quality too. The beauty of it all is that you can repurpose fan-made content into almost any format.

Source


Turn their social photos tagging your brand into a slideshow or video, or turn their soundbites or audio testimonials into a podcast. Use fan-made content in your overall email marketing strategy by repurposing your blog posts with customer contributions, or by sharing social media posts in a snippet in your email newsletter.  

The options are truly limitless when it comes to repurposing content and making user-generated content flow across various platforms. Repurposing content is one of the easiest ways to improve your content promotion process, one of the most underrated aspects of content marketing.

With fan-made content, you can reuse it on multiple pages on your site in different formats, and even use a social media scheduling tool to schedule it on social media.

4. It Improves Authenticity

Authenticity is what modern consumers crave. More than ever people feel like they have been deceived, and UGC works to counter that all-too-common feeling. 90% of consumers stated that brand authenticity was a major key in their buying process. In other words, if you lack brand authenticity, you will be losing out on 9/10 sales.

90% of consumers stated that brand authenticity was a major key in their buying process.

UGC improves your authenticity because it shows real people engaging with your company, not just company-driven content. While company-driven content isn’t bad, it’s incomplete without showcasing your loyal followers too. Want to improve authenticity? Share more fan-made content.

Conclusion

Fan-made content is incredible social proof that you should be leveraging, but knowing how to use it is critical.

Start by re-sharing it on social media. This will appeal to your current followers by re-sharing their content and will serve as positive social proof for new followers.

Using UGC on landing pages will also improve time on site, SEO, and social signals.

Finally, start repurposing fan-made content into multiple formats that you can use on all of your platforms.

Fan-made content is perfect for generating brand awareness. What’s your favorite way to leverage it?

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Volusion is what it is because of the people who work within its four walls. So we thought we’d tell you more about some of those people. What makes them tick? Why do they come to work each day? And what do they look forward to doing when they leave the office? In this Employee Spotlight series you’ll get a glimpse at one featured employee each month. This month we talked to Portfolio Credit Analyst Chelsea Fox.

What do you do here at Volusion?

I’m a Portfolio Credit Analyst for Volusion Payments, which is the service we provide so that merchants can process credit cards in their online store.  I look at applications for Volusion Payments and review credit history, stores, products and Volusion history and determine if we can offer Volusion Payments or refer them to a partner.

How did you get into the field?

I had just started a contract customer service position at another company in 2008 and was looking for something more permanent. I had a friend who worked at Volusion at the time and she put in a good word for me and got me an interview. I started out as a Customer Care representative and soon moved to Volusion Merchant Care after taking over the tickets, chats and calls about Volusion Payments. I was soon promoted to Senior Merchant Care Specialist and then Team Lead. I always wanted to learn more about underwriting and risk and when a position opened up earlier this year, I was promoted.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

It’s challenging when a merchant sells a product I don’t know much about. I have to do my research to determine what the product is, what it does and if we allow the sale of that product type and whether we can offer services or not.

What are you most proud of in your career? What about outside of your career?

I just celebrated 11 years at Volusion! I’m also the go-to person for anything Volusion Payments. I’m proud that I made it my mission to learn all I could about merchant services, and that my coworkers think of me as an expert and come to me with questions and issues.

Outside of my career, I’m proud to be someone that my friends can come to to vent or get advice from, and to be involved in volunteering with Unhushed: a non-profit dedicated to sex education and breaking the social silence and stigma surrounding sex.  Unhushed is a great organization that educates people of all ages and is involved both locally and internationally. I’m proud to volunteer at events and see people having fun while learning.

What do you love most about Volusion?

I love the people at Volusion. I’ve met some of my closest friends here. I also love the environment. There’s pretty much an open door policy where you can walk into an executive’s office to chat or talk about a problem. Also, the dress code is relaxed, which is awesome since I dye my hair a different color every few months. I love that Volusion focuses on our products and work versus employee’s attire or what they look like. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s free food practically every other day.

What’s the first thing you do when you get off work?

I’m often at Whole Foods after work picking up a few things and dinner. If not, I head home and make dinner and watch Netflix or Hulu. I recently just caught up on Veronica Mars, so I’m super excited for the new season to start.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love trying new restaurants or going to my favorites with friends and family. I’m always looking for taco and sushi places to try. I also love that Austin has so many places where you can have a drink or two on a patio or rooftop bar.  I love going to the library (the new Austin Central  Library is amazing!) and going to a coffee shop and enjoying a chai or matcha latte with a book.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?

I had brain surgery when I was 19.  I have Arnold Chiari Malformation, which means that my cerebellum was falling into my spine and causing a lot of problems, mostly migraines and muscle spasms.  I had to decide if I wanted to forego the surgery and risk developing other symptoms or have the surgery.  Having brain surgery was one of the scariest things I've ever done, but it ended up being the best decision: my migraines are mostly gone and I have no more muscle spasms.

Where are you going on your next vacation?

That’s a good question! I recently went to Galveston for the first time and really enjoyed it. I’m attending a friend’s wedding in the Dominican Republic next year, which I’m really looking forward to. Hopefully I can plan another little getaway before that!

If you could open an online store, what would you sell?

An affordable plus size clothing store. I find it difficult to find clothes that are comfortable and flattering at an affordable price. It would be nice to partner up with some designers that I can explain what I’m looking for and share the results with others.

Anything else you’d like to add?

My favorite quote is “Happiness is not a destination, it’s a method of life". I have it tattooed on my arm to remind myself that while setting goals is important, it’s important to enjoy life now not only when the next big thing happens; otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot.

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Are you ready to bring your brick and mortar business online? With 81% of Americans in possession of a smartphone, nearly three-quarters owning a desktop or laptop computer, and almost half owning a tablet or e-reader device, it's no wonder that online shopping trends continue to rise. Online shopping is not even limited to general merchandise, clothing, and electronics ⁠— you can now buy groceries and used cars online.

If you are looking for ways to convince yourself or your boss, even the most reputable sources have conflicting opinions based on the same data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. CNBC says the total market share of sales with general merchandise was higher online than in traditional department stores. Forbes, on the other hand, points out that this data only applied to a small sector of merchandise sales, and online sales were only a small percentage higher than offline sales.

Here is what we do know about consumer behavior. According to Consumer Barometer with Google, almost 50% of consumers look for local businesses online to plan a purchase or seek out a specific product. 80% of consumers who research local businesses online begin their quest with a search engine.

If you want to ensure that local customers can find your business online, you will need to build a website and a strong online presence. In this post, we'll show you how to successfully bring your brick and mortar into the digital age to increase both online and offline sales.

1. Build a website.

The first step to bringing your brick and mortar business online is to build a website. To build a website, you will need to choose a domain name and website builder.

Ideally, your domain name will match your brick and mortar business name.

The domain name you choose for your website is the address that customers will use to access your website on the internet. Ideally, your domain name will match your brick and mortar business name. You can purchase your domain name through services like Google, GoDaddy or through the website platform you choose.

The website builder you choose is the software that will allow you to design your website and display the content of your website to your website visitors. If your brick and mortar business wants to sell products online, there are a number of ecommerce website builders, including Volusion.

Volusion will host your website and online store with an unlimited number of products starting at only $26 per month. It also includes options for point of sale hardware so you can integrate your offline sales with your online technology, as well as a comprehensive management system to make processing and shipping orders simple.

If you don't want to sell products on your website, you can choose from several hosted website builders and content management systems. The most popular hosted solutions include Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and WordPress. Each of these services offers hosted solutions that allow you to create your website content on your own domain for monthly pricing similar to Volusion.

2. Get high-quality photos of your products.

If your brick and mortar business sells products online, plan to invest in more than just your domain name, monthly website platform or hosting fees, and custom website design. To ensure that more website visitors want to buy your products, you will want to budget for a product photographer as well.

You can expect to spend, on average, between $10 - $25 per photo or $50 - $100 per hour.  

How much will product photography cost? It will depend on the number of products you sell, the level of detail you need for each product photo, and your photographer's level of experience. You can expect to spend, on average, between $10 - $25 per photo or $50 - $100 per hour.  

Even if your business doesn't sell products, you will still want some high-quality photos for your website that will likely require a professional photographer (or, try taking some yourself with these helpful tips). Customers researching a business that they plan to visit will appreciate high-quality photos of the exterior building, meeting rooms, waiting rooms, applicable facilities, and staff. Beautiful food photos of a restaurant's top dishes are sure to entice more customers into their dining rooms.

3. Establish your business on social media.

Want to get your business noticed on social media? The top three social media networks, based on the number of active monthly users are Facebook (2.38 billion), YouTube (1 billion+), and Instagram (1 billion+). Establishing your business on each of these networks, consistently posting content, and engaging with your customers will go a long way towards increasing brand awareness within your local community.

Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram also allow you to reach new customers through highly targeted advertising. If you're using business funding to get your brick and mortar online, you can invest some into advertising that targets audiences on Facebook and Instagram who live in, who are traveling in or who were recently in a specific location.

From there, you can dive into your ad audience's specific demographics, interests, and behaviors to ensure that your ad budget is spent on the people most likely to not only click upon your ad but actually convert into a paying customer.

4. Claim your local business listings.

Do a Google search for your brick and mortar business online. There is a good chance that you will find your business on sites like Yelp, Mapquest, Manta, YellowPages, Yahoo Local, and many others. You will want to claim your business on these sites ⁠— particularly the ones that appear on the first and second pages of Google search results for your business name.

Make sure that your business name, address, phone number and website URL is consistent on each business listing.

Once you've claimed your business listing on these sites, you will update your listing with your information. Make sure that your business name, address, phone number and website URL is consistent on each business listing, and that it matches the business name, address, and phone number found on your website and social media profiles.

Also be sure to add your business to Google, Yahoo, Bing, BBB and Yelp. Then do a search for your top local brick and mortar competitors on Google and make sure your business listing is available on those networks as well.

5. Encourage customers to review your business online.

Last but not least, be sure to encourage your customers to review your business online. You can do so by letting your customers know in-store and online that they can find you on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and similar networks.

Note that you can't give your customers incentives to review your business online, like offering discounts for positive reviews. And you can't get caught trying to skew your reviews towards the positive by only telling your happiest customers to review your business. If you're caught doing either, networks like Yelp will blatantly call your business out for it by adding a consumer alert to your business listing.

In Conclusion

Getting your brick and mortar online can improve your business in a number of ways. It will:

  • Increase your brand awareness and business' reach.
  • Enable you to reach new customers through targeted advertising.
  • Give more customers the chance to discover your products.
  • Allow customers the chance to shop your store 24/7.
  • Strengthen your business through word of mouth marketing.

Have any questions about making the move to ecommerce? Let us know in the comments!

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Each month we like to spotlight our merchants who have found success by running the businesses that they love. Read on to learn about this month's merchant: Fly Fish Food!

What inspired you to start your store?

We had been working on a fly fishing blog and social media channels for a year or so, and we kept getting requests for what products we were using for our fly patterns. We figured it made sense to start to sell those items so we could help our followers get the same products.

Who has been your greatest source of inspiration and encouragement?

Our passion is fly fishing and fly tying. This passion has driven the business, but a large portion of that inspiration is our customers and their passion to the sport as well. It's a good feeling to provide products and a buying experience our customers enjoy.

What was the biggest thing that surprised you about starting your own business?

The biggest surprise was how quickly the business grew once we started it. We needed to find the business tools to scale it much bigger without having to dump inordinate amounts of time into the mix since, we were limited in the amount of time we had.

What advice do you have for other people trying to build their store from scratch?

Be prepared to scale beyond where you are today. That means you need to think about the tools you use, the people you employ and understanding that your time is a finite resource. If you can't scale those three things, you're severely limited in your growth.

What does the future hold for your store?

We expect to continue to add products and offerings and hopefully continue our growth to reach our goals

What do you like about Volusion?

I feel Volusion's biggest asset is its scalability. We've grown from a selection of 30 SKUs to now over 10,000 SKUs, and from a couple or three orders to per day to now 50 times that. The support team has also been helpful in working through any issues that arise. We feel that at the entry level, Volusion provides value, and also scaled to a much larger solution it also provides good relative value (considering we pay a lot more today than we did 4 years ago).

What's the Volusion feature you use most?

Beyond the standard functionality of providing a shopping and checkout experience for our customers, one of the best features, in our experience, is the API and Query builder. That helps us get data behind the scenes and integrate to our other business solutions.

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Did you know that as a merchant, you’re responsible for preventing fraud on your store? The Wall Street Journal reports that fraudsters are targeting online merchants more and more, amounting to $16 billion in total losses. And when fraudulent online purchases happen, it’s the merchant that is held liable. This means your store could get hit with expensive losses that will be your financial responsibility. Luckily you can protect yourself — and your bottom line — with a little know-how.

As you may know, card issuers have begun to roll out EMV enabled chip cards. These chips are helpful, but only helps cut back on fraudulent activity when the cardholder is present and the chip is inserted into a chip-enabled terminal. What the industry has learned over many years is that fraudsters will generally exploit the path of least resistance – or least risk to themselves. This means that as chip-enabled cards continue to roll out, ecommerce and mobile credit card fraud will be the most obvious paths criminals follow.

Credit card chargebacks and lost merchandise as a result of fraudulent transactions can be costly, and in the case of many small businesses, can cause a severe financial and operational strain. It's important that you know what a high-risk order looks like before you choose to capture payment on the transaction and fulfill the order. This may vary depending on your business model. Since merchants are liable for all the transactions they choose to capture – and because chargebacks can sometimes come in several months after the date of the transaction – by the time you realize you have been targeted and accepted a number of bad orders, you could be looking at a significant loss of inventory and revenue.

As an ecommerce merchant, it's important to be educated about credit card fraud. If you're new to ecommerce credit card processing, or have just been lucky enough so far to not be heavily impacted, please know that now is the time to boost up your fraudulent order review processes before it's too late.

Use extra caution when addresses don’t match up.

One red flag in regards to fraud is if the billing address and shipping address on an order don’t match up. That’s not always the case, of course — some people will ship to work addresses or family members — but if the addresses are different it won’t hurt to take a second look at the order.

Always examine the billing address prior to shipment.

If you’re already a Volusion merchant, the Address Verification System checks orders against street address and zip codes. But even when that comes back clear you should take a look at where you’re shipping the order. If the order needs to be shipped outside of your normal service area or is going to an unfamiliar country, you should double check to make sure nothing else looks suspicious.

If the order is going to an unfamiliar country, you should double check to make sure nothing else looks suspicious.

Additionally, if you receive a very large transaction through your website from a first-time buyer, it may be fraudulent if the customer is requesting to ship it to an address that is different than the billing address.

Perform a reverse lookup.

If an order is looking somewhat shady, you can always perform a reverse lookup on the phone number or billing address. This could be as simple as entering the customer’s information into Google and seeing what comes up, or using a tool like this one from Whitepages. If the results seem innocuous, you’re probably good to go, but if they come up with no results or a weird address you should take a closer look.

Check the IP and ISP

Be certain the customer’s IP address (a unique number assigned to a computer) address and Internet Service Provider are fairly close to the billing address. (Here's a handy tool you can use!) If the billing address is in Atlanta but the IP address is coming from Russia, you may have a fraudster in your midst.

Be wary of orders from certain parts of the globe.

Some parts of the world are more likely to be the source of fraudulent transactions. Watch out for international orders from high-risk regions such as Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central America.

Keep an eye out for failed order attempts.

If a purchaser has tried and failed to place multiple orders with your store, there’s a good chance that they might be trying to defraud you. If you notice that a transaction has several previous declined attempts, and that each payment attempt has a different billing address and credit card number used, you’re probably being targeted with a fraudulent order.

Keep an eye out for orders with an originating IP address that is in a different state (or country) than the billing or shipping information on the order.
Look at the IP Address

Keep an eye out for orders with an originating IP address that is in a different state (or country) than the billing or shipping information on the order. Additionally, Volusion’s IP firewall controls traffic to your storefront and your Admin Area, blocking harmful and malicious visitors.

Look at the email address.

Be wary of email addresses that contain random-looking character sequences, especially addresses provided through free services like Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail. Of course, lots of people use these services, but if the email resembles something akin to “frj7999264@gmail.com,” it might be fraudulent.

Look at the card name.

Look closely at any order placed with an email address that includes a different name than the cardholder’s. Often fraudsters will steal credit card information but use their own personal email to track orders.

Be cautious with orders that have unusually high transaction totals.
Look at the numbers.

Be cautious with orders that have unusually high transaction totals. Many fraudsters will attempt to get you to ship a big order and they’ve moved on to the next victim before you even know it. Everyone wants a big payday, but if an order turns out to be fraudulent it will unfortunately be up to you (and your wallet) to fix the problem!

Check the order’s Fraud Score

Volusion offers a Fraud Score service to automate checks, as well as performing an analysis to include verification on devices, identity, physical location and cart details. You can easily and quickly approve each store transaction with more confidence and assurance that your orders purchases are authentic and real. This service is included with every plan for the first 10 orders of every month.

It's essential that you have a plan in place and that you know what a high-risk transaction may look like.
Think Back

If you correlate your order details and notice that previously identified suspicious transactions or declined order attempts have similarities to some of your other orders that you have captured payment on, be alert. The similarity could be something like a similar IP address, email address, phone number, shipping destination, order notes, product type, etc.

It's essential that you have a plan in place and that you know what a high-risk transaction may look like.

Here are some potential indicators of transactions that are at a higher risk of being fraud:
  • First time customers that your don’t have an established relationship with
  • Any order requesting expedited or overnight shipping
  • Orders that do not have a good AVS response
  • Any previously declined orders prior to a successful order, especially if the billing information or card number was changed for subsequent order attempts
  • Email addresses that are excessively random or where the person’s name in the email address is not consistent with the person’s name on the billing details

Consider doing additional verification when something doesn’t add up. If you feel like something isn’t right about the order, do not capture the payment until additional verification is done.

If it appears to be a business-to-business transaction and they list a business name in the order details or as the email domain, consider doing a Google search on that company to see if the order make sense and if it's located at the address they represent.

Also consider doing a call out to the customer to verify they authorized the transaction. Remember: the number provided to you by the “customer” may be the number of the fraudster. Consider looking up the buyer’s phone number online and using a publicly listed phone number to increase the chances of talking to the correct person. You may also consider searching the customer (or business) online or on social media. Is their location consistent with what they represented and does it make sense for them to order the products that they did?

While fraud may seem scary, it's actually fairly easy to prevent on your store.

While fraud may seem scary, it's actually fairly easy to prevent on your store. With attention and due diligence, you should be able to spot most fraudulent orders from a mile away.

When it comes down to detecting fraud, your best resource is your intuition.

You may have an order that looks completely benign on paper, but something about it just doesn’t seem right. You’re well within your rights as a store owner to reach out to a customer if you have any questions or concerns. When in doubt, give them a call, ask them a few questions and trust your instincts! Most honest customers will appreciate your diligence. Even when you do business in the digital world, there’s no substitute for human interaction.

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Dropshipping is one of the most common ways for people to get involved with selling online. The extremely low entry costs mean that almost anyone can start a dropshipping store, which means there is a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs who lack the budget to start a more traditional startup. However, with accessibility comes competition, and it can be difficult to get a dropshipping business off the ground.

Serious entrepreneurs know that while there are a lot of great business blogs and other resources for small business owners, it's hard to beat a book when it comes to in-depth coverage of a topic. That's why we've done a LOT of reading and voted on our choices of the 5 best dropshipping books of 2019.

Dropshipping: The Ultimate Guide to Building a Six-Figure Ecommerce Business by Timothy Winterborn

While a good broad-level walkthrough of dropshipping as a business model and how to begin with dropshipping, The Ultimate Guide to Building a Six-Figure Ecommerce Business lacks the in-depth insights provided by some of the other books on this list. However, it makes up for this by providing a very simple, well-organized beginner's guide to getting started with dropshipping. While this won't be the book of choice for someone with previous dropshipping experience or who is looking for a more expert-level read, this is a great indroductory primer into dropshipping.

Dropshipping E-Commerce Business Model 2019 by Steven Sparrow

Like many dropshipping authors, Steven Sparrow has crammed his book title full of keywords. Unlike many dropshipping authors, he has also crammed his book full of useful information. Focusing on the generation of passive income through dropshipping or retail arbitage, Steven Sparrow's Dropshipping E-Commerce Business Model 2019 will teach you how to set up dropshipping (or other delivery-on-demand business model) on a variety of platforms. This book focuses more on the procedure of setting up a dropshipping store and fostering an entrepreneurial mindset than on the minutiae of how to select products and set pricing. It's a great read for someone looking for a motivational, 'let's get this bread' read.

Dropshipping: A Beginner's Guide to Making Money Online by Brett Standard

Dropshipping: A Beginner's Guide to Making Money Online is an excellent beginner's introduction to dropshipping. While it won't get too in-depth into advanced marketing techniques, it will walk an aspiring dropshipper through the store setup and creation process in full detail. With lots of examples and tips for new dropshippers, this dropshipping book is one of the best choices for inexperienced merchants.

E-Commerce by Chris McDonald

Chris McDonald's E-Commerce is an ambitiously large overview of everything ecommerce, from arbitage to dropshipping. Weighing in at a full 243 pages, E-Commerce will walk you through everything you need to know to start making money with your online store. It does an excellent job of providing a beginner-level introduction to a topic and then expanding on those topics until you have a thorough and professional understanding.

While not focused entirely on dropshipping, E-Commerce nonetheless offers a great walkthrough of dropshipping including info on how to find suppliers, choose your audience, and market your product. With a huge amount of real-world, hands-on insight from a variety of online businesses, E-Commerce gives readers the perfect blend of beginner-friendly theory and practice-tested insights.

The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping by Mark Hayes and Andrew Youderian

The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping is an in-depth guide on how to create and run a successful dropshipping business. It gives great advice and in-depth walkthroughs of some of the most difficult aspects of running a dropshipping store, especially picking a winning product and finding a reliable supplier. With step-by-step instructions for how to use free tools and winning strategies to help you build your dropshipping store, The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping is hands-down the best dropshipping book of 2019.

The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping is hands-down the best dropshipping book of 2019.
Best Dropshipping Books of 2019

There are a lot of low-quality, self-published dropshipping books out there. (Trust us, we read a lot of them when making this list). However, for those who know where to look, there are also some absolute gems packed with tons of real world dropshipping insights by experienced pros. The books on this list are a great place to get started, or you can check out Volusion's own Beginner's Guide to Dropshipping for up-to-date insights on how to start dropshipping. Or, if you're ready to get started, try a 14-day free trial of Volusion's all-in-one dropshipping plugin to see for yourself why Volusion merchants sell 2.8x more than merchants using other platforms.

Happy selling!

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Every ecommerce website is different. One of the first steps to building your new website is figuring out your own unique priorities and positioning. But no matter what the particulars of your business are, there are seven essential pages you should definitely plan on including on your ecommerce website.

1. Homepage

You can’t have a website without a homepage — something has to load when people put in your root URL. But it bears mentioning on this list, because it’s arguably the most important webpage on your whole website. You need to make sure it does its job.

And its job is to clearly communicate what your business is and where you want visitors to go next. To do that, a well-designed homepage should include:

  • Your unique value proposition (UVP). Your UVP communicates what your business does, how it benefits your audience, and how you’re different from your competitors. Ideally, you want to express all that within a few words or a sentence—which is hard! But defining your UVP is an important step that will help guide how you design and organize the rest of your site and marketing strategy. If you’re stumped, it can help to look at some good examples of how other brands communicate their UVP.
  • High-quality images that communicate something about your brand and products. Images play a key role in how people interact with a website. Can you imagine clicking on an ecommerce website that’s nothing but text? Use your website to showcase high-quality images that tell your visitors something about your brand. That can be product photography, images of your employees at work, or photos of people enjoying your products, to name a few possibilities.
  • A main menu with links to the main pages or categories on your site. Almost every website you visit will have a main menu along the top of the screen that clearly lays out the main categories of the website you should know about. For ecommerce stores, the menu often consists of your main product categories, your About page, Contact page, and maybe a Blog or Resources section. Your main menu should actually be included on all your website’s pages, not just the homepage. So once you figure out the most important links to include, make sure you keep it a consistent part of our design throughout the entire website.
  • Social proof. One of the most important questions you want your homepage to answer is why your visitors should trust you. Your own words aren’t enough for that, anyone can say nice things about themselves. Social proof is using evidence from third-party sources to prove to your audience you’re legitimate. It can include testimonials from your past customers, links to case studies, reviews, or logos from impressive companies you’ve worked with before.
  • A clear call-to-action (CTA). What do you want your visitors to do next? Make it clear by using a standout color and straightforward language to tell them what step to take. Your main CTA for the page may change over time. It can push short-term offers you’re promoting or particular products you want to highlight.  You may want to test out how different CTAs work over time to see what gets the best results. Whatever your CTA is for, it’s important to include to get your visitors to take action.  
2.  About

While your homepage will do some of the work of communicating who your business is to your visitors, your About page has room to go into a little more detail. This is where you can tell your brand story — when the company started, why it exists, and what you stand for. And it’s a good place to humanize your brand. You can include images and bios of some of your main employees to remind visitors that there are humans behind the business — people will always connect more with other people than they do with a brand logo.

While the About page is about your business, you still want to center your customers in how you think about it.

While the About page is about your business, you still want to center your customers in how you think about it. What will they most want to know about the company? What would make them trust you more and feel more connected with you? You can get some inspiration by viewing other About pages and picking and choosing what you like from each. Not a writer? Use our about us page generator to craft your own.

3. Contact

When you have a question or problem about a product, you need to get in touch with customer service. If you’ve ever had the experience of digging around on a website to find basic contact information, you know how frustrating it is. Don’t do that to your customers!

It's a good idea to have a contact page that includes the various ways customers can get in touch.

For ecommerce businesses, putting some form of contact on every page is good practice. For example, you could include a phone number at the top of every page, or a chat box that pops up on each page. But it’s also a good idea to have a contact page that includes the various ways customers can get in touch — email, phone, chat, and the address of your storefronts (if applicable) — all in one place. Put the Contact page right in your main menu so it’s easy to find, and your customers can take their pick of the way they prefer communicating with you.

4. FAQs

A thorough FAQs page is essential for a couple of main reasons:

  • It’s good for your customers. When customers have a question about your store or products, it provides an obvious place for them to seek the answer. Finding what they’re looking for quickly and easily provides a positive experience and makes them more likely to buy.
  • It’s good for your support team. Many customer support teams are accustomed to answering the same questions over and over again. If people can easily find those answers on their own, it saves your customer support specialists time and energy so they can focus on other issues.
  • It’s good for search engine optimization (SEO). A big part of SEO is figuring out what topics your customers care about. An obvious way to find out is to look to the questions your company regularly hears from them. Your main FAQ page can provide basic answers to the common questions, but also serve as a starting point for a content strategy based on developing expanded answers to those questions in blog posts you link out to from the page.

To create your FAQ page, think about all the questions you’ve heard from your customers. Go through your old emails, and ask your sales and customer support teams what questions they get frequently. And make a habit of adding to it over time as new questions come in.

5. Terms of Service

The list up until now has been focused on pages important for marketing and conversions. But as an ecommerce business, you have other practical and legal considerations to make as well. To cover your legal bases, one of the necessary pages every ecommerce website should have is a Terms of Service page.

Luckily this isn’t something you have to do on your own. Volusion has a Terms of Service generator to help get your page up and running.

6. Privacy Policy

Creating a good privacy policy for your ecommerce business is crucial. Between the constant news stories about high-profile data breaches and a growing customer concern about data privacy—71% say they worry about trusting their data to businesses—businesses have a greater responsibility than ever to do their part in handling data responsibly and with transparency.

Working with a lawyer to draft a clear and responsible privacy policy you publish on your website is a good first step. But don’t stop there: put guidelines in place within your business to make sure everyone knows the policy and follows it. Want to easily create a privacy policy? Use this generator!

7.  Return Policy

Anytime customers choose to buy an item online, they’re taking a risk. They can’t try clothes or shoes on, they can’t see what soap or candles smell like before purchase, and photos don’t always look exactly like the product that shows up. The best way for ecommerce businesses to proactively address that risk is with a good returns policy.

49% of consumers check an online store’s return policy before making a purchase. If you don’t have one, you’re likely to lose those sales. And if you don’t have a good one, that’s not much better. 74% said being charged return shipping fees would keep them from making a purchase, and 84% said the same about restocking fees.  

A return policy that provides clear information on what customers can expect from the return experience is necessary. One that promises a return process that’s as seamless and painless as possible for the consumer can be a competitive advantage that helps you earn more sales. And yes: we also have a return policy generator.

Build a Strong Website

For an ecommerce business, your website is the main way you interact with your customers. It has to provide all the information they need and show they why they should trust you. These seven pages will do a lot of that work for you.

Have any queestions about this post? Ask them in the comments!

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Crawl efficiency in SEO is a metric that SEOs use to describe the ability for a search bot to crawl and index your site’s pages and products. The easier it is for bots to crawl, the better the efficiency. It might help to understand how bots crawl a website. Simply put, they’ll land on a page and crawl all the corresponding links on that page, indexing those pages and connections as it goes. A crawl is completed once it’s crawled all links on your site or has run out of crawl bandwidth.

By having an efficient site for search engines, you’ll get your pages indexed quicker, meaning you’ll rank for a wider range of search terms, or bolster existing rankings with content depth.

Here are some characteristics of site’s that have great crawl efficiency:

  • Utilizing an XML sitemap to easily guide bots through all the pages on your site (Volusion generates a sitemap automatically, so no need to worry here)
  • Clear page hierarchy. You’ll want to make sure your pages have a clear and logical hierarchy to them. For Volusion store it’s common to have Homepage > Category Page > Product Page hierarchy.
  • No Content Bottlenecks. Bottlenecks happen when a search engine can’t efficiently crawl a page or pages without tediously combing through individual links on single or orphaned pages.
  • Minimal 404s on their site. Search engines read 404s as a “dead end.” If they find an abundance of 404s on your site, you’ll get less crawl depth and might even lose some authority
  • Minimize unnecessary 301s. Abundant 301s can send search engines on a wild goose chase to find out where your site actually is. Domain consistency and URL canonicalization is important to make sure your site is crawled as efficiently as possible.
  • Exclude unnecessary pages. Search engines don’t need to crawl ALL the pages on your site. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to exclude pages that don’t add any SEO value. For instance, admin pages, login pages, and more can be excluded from search engine indexing.

When it comes to crawl efficiency, simplicity is key. The ultimate goal should be that your site is easy to understand from a search engine perspective. By improving your site's crawl efficiency you'll not only be getting good with Google, but you'll also be making the customer experience better for shoppers.

Have any questions about crawl efficiency? Ask them in the comments and we'll get back to you!

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In 2019, consumers assume that just about every business trying to sell to them has a website, but that website is more important for some businesses than others. It’s likely no surprise to you that ecommerce websites are among the most impactful—after all, that’s where you sell.

When we talk about impactful ecommerce websites, they typically hinge on a few elements:

  • They look professional
  • They’re easy to navigate
  • They work

All of those things come down to how your website is designed. In this article, we’re covering the basics of why web design is so important, best practices, and 3 quick steps for a beautiful ecommerce website that converts like crazy.

Why Website Design Matters

Let’s talk more about why website design matters so much for all business website (and ecommerce sites in particular). To start, for most ecommerce sellers, your website is your brand. It’s really the only way for customers and potential customers to get to know you.

They can’t walk into a brick-and-mortar and chat you up. They can’t pick up a product to gauge the quality of its materials. And remember: You’re asking customers to hand over their sensitive personal and payment information when they submit an order.

That puts a lot of pressure on your website to prove that you’re a legitimate, professional business—not a random scammer—and to convey what your brand is all about.

Your website is the place where you conduct business, so it’s imperative that customers can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

Your website is also the place where you conduct business, so it’s imperative that customers can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Making that happen starts at the very beginning of the web design process, and it has a huge impact on ecommerce success.

In addition, your website’s design can help you highlight specific product or elements that you want customers to notice.

Design Best Practices for Ecommerce Websites

Before you get started actually building out your website, it’s helpful to have a solid understanding of the best practices and standards of ecommerce web design. Here are a few of the most common and accepted web design standards for ecommerce websites.

  • Use a one-column, mobile-friendly theme. According to Statista, mobile commerce accounts for more than 67% of all retail ecommerce (as of 2019). That means it’s actually more important that your site looks and functions well on mobile than on desktop. So use a website theme designed for mobile, and ensure your product pages, images, zoom function and more work flawlessly on smaller screens.
  • Don’t get cute with web architecture or navigation. When it comes to helping customers find what they’re looking for, it’s always best to go the traditional route. Use common page titles in your navigation bar and organize pages with a clear, no-nonsense hierarchy.
  • Make calls-to-action (CTAs) prominent, compelling and tap-able. Aside from the size of the screen, the biggest difference between mobile and desktop shopping is how people select a link. When you want customers to do something (like add an item to their cart or sign up for a free trial), you have to make it easy to see, easy to read and easy to “tap” with a finger.
Step 1: Designing Your Website’s Architecture

Designing your website’s architecture is kind of like drawing up plans for a building. You have to think through how information and graphics will be framed and organized, and how people will move from one section to another. Well-designed and thought-out website architecture ensures that your content exists in a logical pattern, that website visitors can get where they’re looking to go, and that your website serves as a vehicle to move potential customers through to a purchase.

Well-designed and thought-out website architecture ensures that your content exists in a logical pattern.

Some breeze right by this part, but it’s a vital first step — for ecommerce businesses in particular.

As we mentioned in best practices, the number one rule of website architecture is to keep it simple and expected. Customers can easily find the pages and links they’re looking for when those links are presented how and where they expect them to be.

For example, most software websites have “Features” and “Pricing” in the main navigation bar, so that’s where you’ll find them on our website. Similarly, it’s common for the blog and other educational content to be grouped under “Resources,” so that’s what we’ve done, too.

So how do you know how customers expect your website to be structured? The best way to figure that out is to go directly to the source — talk to your customers and target market. Get their insights before you build and, once built, run A/B tests to ensure your website architecture works for them.

There’s really no substitute for talking to your customers, but another way to draw inspiration for your website’s structure is to take a look at how your competitors have structured their sites. And as a rule of thumb, HubSpot recommends, “Even if your website has a million pages, the architecture should allow users to start from the homepage and end up on any page within three to four clicks.”

Step 2: Choosing a Theme, Colors, Fonts, and More

Now that you’ve mapped out how your website will work and be structured, the next step is to decide how it will look. To start, you’ll choose a theme from your ecommerce platform (for Volusion users, you can find those here). Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a website theme:

  • Your theme needs to be mobile-friendly and responsive — there’s no compromising here.
  • Some website themes are designed and tested for a particular type of website. By choosing one designed for ecommerce, you’re one step closer to a great site that converts.
  • Your theme needs to allow for a lot of customizability and/or work for the website architecture you’ve already outlined (preferably both).

Once you have a theme, you can set about choosing the right colors, fonts and visual feel for your store and your brand.

Keep in mind: colors are more than just an aesthetic choice. Color can make consumers feel something and make a statement about who your brand is and what it represents.

Source: Canva

If you’ve ever received an email written in Comic Sans, you know typography can have the same effect. There are four main types of typography on the web:

  • Serif
  • Sans serif
  • Script
  • Decorative

Typically, we associate sans serif fonts with brands that are modern and clean. Apple pioneered and exemplifies this kind of brand. Serif fonts, on the other hand, can convey a sense of authority and tradition.

As a general rule, your website should use either a serif or sans serif font (or both)—many script and decorative fonts can make your site look less professional and easily lead to readability issues.

Step 3: Taking A+ Product Photos for Your Website

In the ecommerce world, there’s simply no overestimating the power of really good product photos. Photos are the only real way consumers have to see and judge your products and base a purchase decision on.

In an episode of the How I Built This podcast, Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia talks about the difference high-quality photography had on consumers’ willingness to rent Airbnb listings sight-unseen. Quality photos have the same effect for physical products—and when it comes to ecommerce, high-quality photos are the real conversion-drivers.

So what makes a good product photo? Here are a few basic elements for every product photo:

  • High resolution, clear, and well-lit
  • #NoFilter
  • Showcase the product from different angles and/or in multiple settings

As long as your product photos encapsulate those elements, you have 3 main options for making them happen:

Design a Website That Converts

From your customers’ perspective, your ecommerce website is your business—so it’s important that your website is professional, on-brand and, above all, ridiculously easy to use. By following the best practices and steps we’ve outlined above, your store will be well on your way to a beautiful website that does what it’s designed to do: sell.

Have any questions about site design? Ask them in the comments!

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If you’ve recently opened an online store, your imagination is probably churning with ideas about how to promote your business. If you’ve been doing your digital marketing homework, you’ve probably come across the term link building during the course of your research. Link building can be kind of a complicated concept, but when it’s done well, the SEO boost it lends to your site is definitely worth the effort. Read on for some link building tips for new sites, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your store’s visibility!

What is link building?

Simply put, link building is the practice of earning links from other websites. Why do SEO professionals concern themselves with this? Well, as you probably already know, search engines use complex algorithms to determine which websites they’ll return for any given search query. While we don’t know everything about what goes into those algorithms (search engines are notoriously tight-lipped about their criteria), we do know that incoming links are considered significant indicators of relevance, authority and trust. Websites that search engines recognize as being relevant to the search query, authoritative within their industries and trustworthy sources of information are more likely to show up in the search results.

Incoming links are considered significant indicators of relevance, authority and trust.

When another website links to your store, it’s like they’re giving you a thumbs-up or a vote. The more highly regarded the linker is, the better that reflects upon the linkee. Think of it like a political endorsement: If a reputable organization supports your run for office, others will take note and think better of you. On the other hand, if you receive an endorsement from an organization that either no one has heard of or that’s not very respected, it’s probably not going to do you any favors. Links work the same way. You want links from sites that are highly regarded and relevant to you, and you want to avoid links from spammy directory sites or those that are unrelated to your industry.

How are good links earned?

Earning valuable links to your store can be time-consuming. But as with all SEO efforts, the time you put in will eventually result in more organic traffic (and hopefully more revenue) for your store. The best way to start is by determining which link building tactics are worth your time. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Does your store have a brick-and-mortar location? If so, local SEO will help you build links from directories and review sites that are actually worthwhile. Getting your local SEO in order is actually pretty simple, and it’s something that every brick-and-mortar store should do. Read our blog post for more information about local SEO.

If your inventory includes an item that isn’t sold anywhere else, you may have a significant leg up on link building.

Do you sell a unique product? If your inventory includes an item that isn’t sold anywhere else, you may have a significant leg up on link building. This can also be the case if you sell something that requires a lot of comparison shopping, especially if your version of the product is superior. For example, if you sell LED dog collars that feature enhanced comfort or longer battery life than average, you can use those competitive advantages to build links from online product reviewers.

You may have noticed that there are booming review industries on YouTube for things like cosmetics and toys. Similarly, there’s a world of product review bloggers in just about every industry you can imagine. It’s easy to find these influential folks with a quick Google search — simply find an email address, reach out and offer to send one of your awesome products for review. Just be aware that in certain industries, these reviews are in high demand and the video producer or blogger may ask you to pay a fee in order to be featured. Even so, one or two positive reviews from reputable sources can do wonders for your store.

Is there an active blogosphere in your industry?

Even if you’ve determined that product reviews aren’t the way to go, you may still be able to benefit from influencers writing about topics that are important to your industry. Keep in mind that if you’re reaching out to a blogger for link building, you need to have something to offer them. This might be an infographic you’ve created, a useful piece of content that they might be able to reference or just a listing of your site that they could add to a resources page.

If you’re regularly creating your own blog content or building a resource library for your site, you’re already producing linkable assets.

If you’re regularly creating your own blog content or building a resource library for your site, you’re already producing linkable assets. Find bloggers who write about similar topics to your own and offer them one of your assets — a news post, infographic, etc. If they agree that it would be useful to their audience, they could write a blog post that links back to yours. You might also offer yourself as a guest blogger on their site. Most bloggers allow guests to link back to their own sites within posts or author bios.

What are the do’s and don’ts of link building?

In link building, the don’ts are more important than the do’s. Search engines keep a close watch on websites’ link profiles, and if it appears that a site has acquired its links through unnatural means, they may issue a harmful link penalty against that site. Link penalties can cause sites to disappear from search results, and they can take years to recover from.

The best way to avoid a link penalty is to follow the search engines’ guidelines for link building.

The best way to avoid a link penalty is to follow the search engines’ guidelines for link building, just as we always try to follow best practices for SEO in general. Search engines want to make sure that websites go about increasing their organic traffic, well, organically. This means that, in an ideal world, other sites would link to you entirely of their own accord. But link building does allow for some types of asks, as long as you follow the rules.

Never, ever pay for links.

This contradicts with our tip about paid reviews, but the type of transactions we’re talking about here are slightly different. It used to be common for website owners to pay for their sites to be linked from a bunch of directories or other link networks all at once. Now, search engines discover these link farms quite easily, and they may be tipped off by a sudden increase in the number of links to your store from low-quality sites. It’s highly frowned upon to pay for even a single link or to participate in a link tradeoff between one site and another — this is called a link exchange and it can be reported to the search engines with devastating results.

Don’t spam social networks or forums.

Logging into Reddit or an industry forum and commenting on every available post seems like an easy way to earn relevant backlinks. However, most forum moderators are savvy to this trick and will quickly downvote or remove posts that appear to exist solely as link spam. It’s okay to contribute to forums, but make sure you’re actually contributing. Only link to your product page if that product solves the problem that’s being discussed in the thread.

Guest blog with caution.

In 2014, former head of Google Webspam Matt Cutts declared that guest blogging was dead. That statement has since been revised, but the sentiment still stands: If you’re going to use guest blogging for link building, you have to do it right.

Do not offer to write a guest blog for another site (or accept a guest blog from someone else) if it simply rehashes information that’s already been shared.

Just like forum comments, guest blogs must be unique and genuinely useful to the blog’s readers. Do not offer to write a guest blog for another site (or accept a guest blog from someone else) if it simply rehashes information that’s already been shared. Bad guest blogs are pretty obvious, and there are far too many sites that take advantage of this tactic without providing anything of value. Keep guest blogging in your back pocket, but don’t let it be your go-to strategy.

Link building is a skill that takes patience, time and lots of practice. You’re likely to encounter your fair share of rejection, but remember that you should be focusing on quality of links, not quantity. If your targets are well-chosen and your tactics are above board, you should be able to reap the benefits of this tried-and-true off-page SEO strategy.

Drop us a comment with any questions you have about link building!

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