Two things before I get started with this post. 1) This is my first business venture of any kind. and 2) This post may be a little long winded.
So I opened my store in late August of 2013, after about 3 months of creating the site, ordering and branding product, etc.
Initially, I tried to do many of things suggested in this forum and others to market it. These included :
- Posting in the appropriate forums, trying to provide value.
- Buying some cheap backlinks and creating some of my own. I fully realize this may hurt me long term, and will probably have to delete them, but I thought it was worth the risk to try to get some immediate traffic.
- Creating a blog and updating it twice a week.
- Making guest posts on other similar blogs.
- Creating Facebook, Twitter, PInterest, Google+, Instagram & Youtube accounts. Using these to share my content.
- Creating inforgraphics.
- Creating videos and posting them on my site and Youtube.
For the first few months, things went pretty well, considering the site was so new. We were averaging 3-4 sales per week, which was a decent start, I thought. After we bought some backlinks, we made it to Page 1 of Google and traffic really started pouring in, and we did alright over the Christmas season.
Then around the end of January, Google changed their formula again, and the bottom fell out. One day we were on page 1, getting great organic traffic.. the next day, we were bounced back to page 3 & 4 and the traffic disappeared. I'm sure we're not the only ones this happened to, but unlike other businesses, we are very capped in what else we can do to drive traffic.
We rely almost entirely on Google traffic, which is not ideal, but it is the reality of my product. Let me explain why :
Electronic Cigarettes are basically lumped in with guns, tobacco, pornography and gambling. This, despite the fact that we don't sell any nicotine products whatsoever. What we are selling are essentially liquid vaporizers. Still, to Google/Bing/Anyone else selling advertising, we may as well be peddling crack to kids.
So what to do now? I've done a ton of research on e-commerce marketing, but unfortunately, most of it doesn't apply to my business because of the problems I just mentioned :
- I can't buy a Google PPC Click campaign. Same goes for Bing. (Interestingly, my competitors who also run B&M stores can.. seems arbitrary and unfair).
- Everyone talks about the importance of content marketing. I get that, and that's great. I have a background in writing and film, so creating content is not a problem. The problem is where do I distribute it? No decent article submission sites will take the content because it is about e-cigarettes. Same goes with infographic submission sites, etc. How can I distribute and share my content anywhere of value?
- We seem to be able to generate a little traffic from the forums, but the problem with that is I HATE forums. They are filled with negative, trolling a-holes (with a few great exceptions, such as this forum :) ). I don't want to spend my time creating quality posts, only to be bashed by a bunch of ignorant fools behind a keyboard. It's so negative and destructive. Besides, we are targeting people who are looking to switch over from smoking, not the hardcore vapers who have 24 different models to choose from. These are not our customers, and these are the people who fill the forums.
I've tried hiring people to hand out flyers, p;osters, etc.. But don't seem to be getting much return on that.
Another thing that has been suggested to me is to study my competition, and see what they're doing to get such high Google rankings. But when I look at the top 3 guys in my field (in Canada), I honestly don't see anything they are doing better than us. This is not being cocky. They don't have blogs, they don't have video, product images are bad, the sites are hard to navigate. I would copy them to try to compete, but then my site would look as crappy as theirs!
So with so few avenues to choose from, I feel a little bit frustrated and stuck. I am getting some quotes from some SEO firms in the hopes of gaining back some traction on Google.. but it's expensive, and even so, I know I can't rely on Google 100%.
And yet, I can't really advertise anywhere or distribute my content anywhere!!
I feel like I need a new approach on this, something outside the box. But my experience is so limited, and I am starting to feel lost.
How can I reach my customers if I can't advertise to them?
Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions would be very welcome!! Thanks so much for reading, have a great day.
you should check your google webmasters tool and see if there are any notifications and any actions you can take. its possible the backlinks you bought were too spammy. You might have to disavow the backlinks and work with google on restoring your site to good standing.
e-cigs is a highly competitive niche and if you hit page 1 quickly then the backlinks must've been spammy.
if successful, you'll have to start building white hat natural links and avoid buying spammy backlinks from fiverr.
if unsuccessful, you'll have to start afresh with a new domain name.
Here are my thoughts, which are based on my experience with different groups of goods, channels, and sales strategies.
You are entering into a niche, but a very high visibility niche - the growth rate, and the debates on whether regulation will occur, what the rules of the playing field will be, and how to market the product are eating up the news wire. Because of all that news - the amount of sites that are getting ranked ahead of you will probably continue to grow. its not by any fault of your own, or bad luck, etc - its the amount of participants jumping in, manufacturers staking a claim, and daily news stories.
One of the key problems, for your site, is that you are nicotine free vaporizers. And ALL of the press is focused using the same ecig nomenclature, but the stories are about the regulation related to nicotine. So, although your product is unique, ecig and nicotine are 'linked' and you are not linked to that train because you don't sell those products.
I think you are being pushed out by an increase of attention, and search's that are trending to those that sell a nicotine solution. And, frankly, I think it will get worse for your business. The problem being, the massive growth in this category is riding on the nicotine wave, and whether you can now get this drug in a package that doesn't cause issues like regular smoking. While the market is estimated to be about $2 billion now, the question is what is the market for nicotine free products, and I think you would find it to be very small.
Just my two cents - but if you want to increase attention and increase traffic and sales, you have to add some nicotine variants to your line, and blog about that - and show that upfront and center. That is what will get you eyeballs. its a bigger market with a lot more searches.
Hi BIll, thanks for taking time to write a response.
I'm fully aware of the competitive nature of this niche. However, it is not nearly as competitive here in Canada as it is in the US. Part of the reason for that may be the fact that nicotine e-juice isn't openly allowed here the way it is in the US, so it really hasn't caught on to the same degree. This is part of the reason I chose this niche. I know I can compete with what's currently available in Canada. And I still believe I can.
Nicotine products are part of it, yes. And we are looking at expanding to include those products. This is mainly dependent on whether our payment processor will allow us to. But that's not really the point. I am looking to drive traffic. And it's not like a google search for "electronic cigarettes canada" differentiates between nicotine and non-nicotine products. Would the lack of a nicotine option hurt our conversions once people are on our site? Sure. But I don't believe it's playing a role in driving traffic at this point, and that's what I'm trying to do.
I could be wrong.. But I just don't see how selling or not selling nicotine would matter in the eyes of a Google algorithm. Once I get them to my site, converting them is a whole other problem for another post.
The point of my post was not to debate the validity of my niche. The point is how do I market a product that I can't advertise in the traditional way?
This is a great post. I am small photography/Video company that just started and am struggling with these concepts. Is fighting to get to Googles first page just a total waste of time??? I am going to loose to the Likes oflarger budgeted firms etc etc so why spend that time ( And it seems like alot of time ) to get to page 5 where very few will see you?
As my customers ask me how they can promote their business/websites better....is the answer just things like Ad Choice and targetd ads??Especially if I am looking for things like site traffic VS google/search rankings???
I do see people that offer first page in 3 months for 125 a month...I am assuming those are some shady tactics and really not worth it...
Not once did anyone mention social media marketing. This may be the best place for you advertise your e-cig business. I have a colleague who started his business marketing only Facebook and has since grown into a brick and mortar location. Another idea, since your a content pro would be to do a few product reviews and post those to YouTube. This can create a huge spur of traffic for people looking to invest a e-cigs but do extensive product research.
Please let me know if I can help you flesh out this plan.
Check out my friends business here.
Thanks for the post. I have been using social media to some degree, but mostly to share the content I am creating for the blog and website. Im not sure I'm using it to it's fullest potential.
The big thing I find about Twitter, Instagram etc is yes, it can help drive some traffic to my site, but it doesn't really seem to be qualified traffic. People clicking on a link through Twitter aren't looking to buy product they way someone searching on Google is. Have you had different experiences? Or is it more a matter of driving traffic, building the brand, and worrying about sales later?
I think branding will happen as you start to receive great customer reviews and exploit that. As far as driving qualified traffic through Google. This may be 2 fold, one part is to keep blogging and also building targeted landing pages for long tail search terms like "e cigarettes for sale online" finding these terms that are less competitive but still receive qualified traffic is going to help you the most in the long term.
Have you considered advertising just personal vaporizers. I see those ads all the time. I have attached a screenshot of another site that seems to get around 450,000 website visitors each month. Maybe do some back link research and find out where most of there traffic is coming from.
Hm-m, there's one blog with quality articles on vaping, I casually read it and think they really do their best in covering this topic, so maybe it would be of use for you too? Check it: https://vapingdaily.com/