Archive for the 'eCommerce' category

Internet Marketing - a Great Way to Learn

am2 Silver

 

I’ve been in AM2 Gold for quite a while now - over a year and a half. In that time I’ve learned a great deal about internet marketing.

AM2 Gold does come with a pretty hefty price tag - worth every penny if you ask me.

Now there is a secret way to get in and for a whole lot less money too.

Even if you don’t buy in, you get to watch three free videos, so I suggest you go check it out and discover what a small group of us already know.

Internet Marketing Explained

Are you making, trying to make, or thinking of making money from the internet? If so, check out this video! I have gone through the product that inspired this one, and it is fantastic - taught me most of what I know about internet marketing.

Now the product has been redeveloped, and it is even better!

Check out this video to learn more. Oh, and be sure to sign up for the free mini-course on internet marketing


Online Adverting with Microsoft

I am promoting a new product, and so far have been using the excellent Google ad words system to do it. Excellent yes, but rather expensive for the key words I am using.

I heard that MSN is cheaper, so I nearly signed up for it. Then I discovered the billing method Microsoft uses.

They have a monthly budget. You get billed every month for that amount. When that amount is used up, your campaign stops. You can increase the budget of course, but then your budget is increased for the next month too! You have to remember to bring it down again if that’s what you want, and it is unclear what happens if you get part way through the next month before you remember to reduce it.

This might be OK for businesses that have a fixed monthly advertising budget, but it does not suit a “lets see how we do and then change the budget, the product, the sales letter” type of approach.

As I am at the experimental stage, deciding what ads, keywords and budget make sense for my business, MSN does not seem like a good choice. Google does - although as I say, it is a bit expensive.

Still, I highly recommend Google for adversing.

You can try it out yourself:

Improvement Ideas for the WordPress Shopping Cart

I recently set up an ecommerce website using WordPress and Instinct Software’s ecommerce plugin. I have already written briefly about customizing WP Shopping Cart for WordPress. I explained how I had to hack the system to get the look that I wanted.

I a simple suggestion for improving how WP Shopping Cart outputs its HTML so that the process of customizing the look becomes much easier.

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eCommerce Digital Download Wish list

I recently wrote a post about setting up an ecommerce system for digital downloads, specificaly my frustrations with finding an ideal platform, and my choice of wp shopping cart for WordPress as the closest fit, even if it really is not ideal.

The good news is that Dan at Instinct Software is monitoring comments about the software that he and his company have created, and are willing to do something about it (see comment on related article about ecommerce).

This post is for the benefit of anyone developing an ecommerce platform, especially Instinct Software who which to improve their existing system. Feel free to add comments if you are either a developer of ecommerce software for digital downloads, or if you want a better platform for selling digital download products.

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E-Commerce Experiment: I Now Have a Complete System

After a lot of work, I now have a complete end-to-end ecommerce system. Is it perfect? No, far from it. Each stage of the system can be improved quite a bit, but if I wait until everything is perfect, I’ll never get started. Firstly, no system is ever perfect. This is even more true on the internet where things change hour-by-hour, quite literally, as I will explain in a moment.

Let’s review what I consider to be a complete end-to-end system at present, noting that complete means the bare minimum to conduct business on the internet, not comprehensive with every imaginable feature one could throw at an on-line business .

Firstly, I have a product, in this case an ebook. Delivery involves a download .

Secondly, I have a website to sell it from. I’m still not revealing the website or the product, simply because I want to conduct and experiment that excludes search engine optimization .

Thirdly, I have a way of taking payments. To keep things easy in the beginning, I am using PayPal , and PayPal only. It accepts credit cards without the need to register.

Finally, I have a marketing method. To begin with, I am using Google AdWords exclusively.

Producing the product was a lot of work, but it was straightforward. I am using someone else’s content (legitimately and legally I might add), but I did have to put a great deal of effort in to turning it into an attractive pdf that is worth buying. This took a lot of work the first time, but it will be much less work the second time. Still, it is time consuming and takes certain skills and talents.

Developing the platform also took a fair bit of work, even though I used freely available software. I used a WordPress plugin, but it didn’t work quite the way I wanted it to, and didn’t look at all the way I wanted it to. I worked at it until I had something that was good enough to get started.

PayPal is not hard to use, but it is not very well documented. And the ecommerce software isn’t documented at all. I bought my own product about four or five times to verify that the system works, and works as well as possible, given the limitations of all the various components. I set my product price very low to keep transaction costs to a minimum, since transaction costs are what it costs me to buy my own product.

If you are considering the idea of getting in to ecommerce at some point, get a PayPal account right now . You need to have one for at least 90 days before you can make full use of all of its features.

For marketing , I am using Google AdWords exclusively. For now. Although setting up and using an account is straight forward, AdWords has some very strange characteristics that I am just learning about. For example, I chose a key word that worked pretty well, but then Google, in it’s infinite wisdom, or lack there of in some cases, upped the bid price on my key words, citing quality issues, in other words the Google system determined that the best key phrase did not very well match the landing page or the ad.

For about 6 to eight hours, I was getting my ads served and very inexpensive clicks, but as I say, Google decided to change the price on me. Things change that fast. One phrase went up by five times, then later up by ten times. Another went up by 50 times. I’m not planning to bid that high at present, I’d rather see what it takes to get the bid price down again. As much as Google changes the rules hour-by-hour, I may change my mind as to what I bid, what ad network I use, and what other promotion techniques I use hour-by-hour.

This is all very interesting. And eventually profitable, that is why I am doing this. The question is: how to make it profitable?

I got a few clicks yesterday, and a few people downloaded the sample chapter. The next challenge is for visitors to buy the book! There are endless adjustments I could make to the website to get it to convert better, including reducing the number of steps to go from landing page, to shopping cart , to checkout.

Each of the above paragraphs can be expanded into many many posts. I’ll certainly be sharing some of what I learn as I go along.

Note that since there is so much I could write about, but won’t be spending all of my time writing this blog, your comments and questions will help direct what I write about next.

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eCommerce for Digital Downloads - Finding a Platform

I started looking into ecommerce solutions a while back, and wrote about my initial research in an earlier article about ecommerce systems for digital downloads, in which I discussed a few systems I have run across.

So far, I have not found the ideal system. All of them have something that is not quite right, often very not right.

Zen cart, OScommerce and the like could work pretty well, but they are designed for a complicated store with physical products, and this sort of system is not really ideal for digital downloads in my opinion. I felt that it would take a tremendous amount of work to learn the system well enough to get the template and buying process to work the way I want it to. I already know a fair bit about WordPress and Drupal, and want to build on that.

Drupal has two options, and a third on the way. Neither e-commerce, nor Quickfile really have a properly thought-through buying process that is ideal for the buyer. E-commerce really would be good with some streamlining, and probably I will roll up my sleeves and do just that eventually. Mean while, it has a very long list of unresolved bugs which makes me leery about investing time and energy into adopting and deploying it. Ubercart looks very promising. Handling digital downloads is on their to-do list, but it does not sound like a priority for the development team, unfortunately. I suspect it will be pretty good though, when it does become available.

The best (least worst) I have found so far is wp shopping cart for WordPress. It has some problems too, as I will explain, but it 1) works and 2) is possible to provide a pretty good buying process for visitors (with a fair bit of work). It did not work the last time I tried it, but they have fixed a few things since then.

My plan is to start with wp shopping cart for WordPress , then determine if my digital download store concept works, or more to the point, how it works and how to optimize everything from the product selection to marketing to make the on line store really successful. At some point, I will deploy a new platform, probably Drupal-based. At that point it will be worth putting in considerable effort to rework the software to provide an excellent buying experience to visitors.

Customizing WP Shopping Cart

WP Shopping Cart is functional, but fairly ugly out of the box. The trick is to do extensive work on the CSS for both the WordPress theme, and for the shopping cart system. For example, rather than just having links for various functions such as visiting the store or proceeding to the check-out, why not make them look more prominent and more like buttons? I gave various buttons a height, width, background colour and border to suit the prominence I wished to bestow upon them.

Some elements are very hard to specify with CSS, necessitating some code hacks to add classes to some elements. I was able to circumvent much of this by applying additional class tags within the language files.

In the end, I got a system that looks pretty good. (It’s not completely ready, so I am not linking to it from here, not yet anyhow). I have discovered some major technical stumbling blocks with WP Shopping Cart however.

The biggest problem is that the system does not fully automate the buying process. Even though it is a digital download, it will still require my intervention in some cases. When this becomes too time consuming and troublesome, I will certainly switch to another system, but it will be good enough to get started.

Another shortcoming is that if the user has any trouble with the download, there is no way to give them access to the download page.

I have discovered that by looking up the session id in the database, I can provide a link to the buyer’s download page in a very manual, back-end sort of way. If I get many questions about this, I will provide further details on how to go about this.

They system I am setting up is close to ready. More posts to come on this subject.

eCommerce experiment: Zen Cart

I want to learn about ecommerce, and have decided to bring you on my journey.

To make the fist step as easy as possible, I will use PayPal only, and make some digital downloads available for sale. This simplifies the mechanics of my ecommerce system, so I can work on the ins and outs, before implementing a much more sophisticated e-commerce operation.

You might think the first step is to have something to sell. That is a good first step, but actually, I don’t - not yet anyhow. I have some ebooks I plan to write, but for me, I will be more motivated to write them if I know I have a way to sell them. For others, the motivation to work out how to sell something may only come with something to sell. In that case, I hope you find this series of articles useful.

Note that I will not be writing these articles on a schedule, but on an ad-hock basis, as I discover things that I think are worth sharing. Feel free to share too - feel free to add your comments (at the bottom of the article).

Digital Downloads

According to Wikipedia, a digital download applies to music (and software as well). The article needs more work - a digital download could be a whole lot more than that, including an audio book, an electronic book, a video, Flash, photographs, clip-art, you name it - if it can be turned into a digital file, it can become a digital download. If it has value, you can charge for it. If you market it well, and get enough visitors, you will surely sell some.

Payment

If you can collect money over the internet, then you can sell stuff on the internet, so this seems like a good place to start. Of course you could accept cheques through the mail, but this slow, awkward, and un-internet-like.

The easiest way to accept payments that I know of is PayPal. It is easy to apply for, easy to set up, well know (and therefore trusted), and allows shoppers to pay with a credit card.

Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly.

Other payment systems exist, but I am talking about the easiest and quickest way to get started.

Taking Orders

You can use PayPal to take orders too. This makes it very easy to get started, but there is a catch - PayPal does not offer a mechanism for selling digital downloads. If you want to get started with physical products, items that you will mail to your customers, PayPal is a great way to get started, to test the market without building complicated systems. You can either use their system to set up a “shopping cart” (allowing your website visitors to select several times, then pay for them all at once), or individual “buy now” buttons that allow visitors to order a single item at the click of a button. Either way, PayPal will send you an email with the order details (what they ordered, their name, address etc.), which you can then use to mail them the items they purchased from your store.

You could use this for digital products, but internet shoppers expect to be download a digital product immediately upon paying. If they have to wait for you to receive the order email, then email them the file (or a link to the file), they will be disappointed.

Digital Download Mechanism

Digital downloads are a great way to get started with an on-line store. ebooks, music, or digital photographs are examples of great digital products. If someone wants to download your MP3 song, they will expect immediate results, so PayPal on its own isn’t going to cut it.

Since this blog (and others, including my travel information website) run on WordPress, the natural choice is to find a plug in for WordPress that can handle ecommerce.

WordPress Shopping Cart

The only one I was able to find, wp-shopping-cart, looks good, and operates in a fairly nice way. It suffers from a fatal flaw - it doesn’t work! Well, I shouldn’t be quite so categorical about it - it didn’t work on my test system, when I discovered an article by Chris Garrett saying that wp-shopping-card didn’t work for him either, I decided not to waste my time trying to fix it. Eventually, I want to get big. Really big. So while I want to start with the smallest and easiest steps just to get going quickly, I am not prepared to fiddle with a system that is neither easy to get started with nor a long-term solution.

If you envision your full ecommerce solution consisting of WordPress and an integrated shopping cart, you should look into wp-shopping-cart some more, it does look like it is worth the trouble to make it work if you want to stick to WordPress.

Drupal Shopping Cart

I investigated ecommerce with Drupal enough to discover at least two solutions for integrating ecommerce into this very capable content management system.

The full-featured system is E-Commerce. I have not played with it yet (when I do, I will write about it), but I do know that buyers must have an account on your Drupal system to shop. This may or may not work for you.

Another system, perfect for digital products, is Quickfile. Again, I have not yet tried this out, but it allows for purchase of digital products without needing an account on your Drupal installation.

Zen Cart

Zen Cart is a stand alone ecommerce system, with good reviews from a number of sources. I am just trying a test installation of it now. I will have more to say about it after I’ve tried it out for a bit.

Do you have recommendations or suggestions on how to implement ecommerce? Feel free to share, leave a comment!

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