Tips on How to Improve Your Online Shop
The web has finally reached a level of maturity where people have the confidence to shop online and the numbers for gift items, art, and the kinds of things this audience would look for compete neck to neck with brick and mortar shops and galleries. Almost anyone can set up shop these days and there are many marketplaces there like Etsy, eBay, and now, Amazon, where handmade goods thrive. You can live under a rock but have a site that looks squeaky clean and gorgeous. It’s an exciting time because the tools and pricing for this access are available to all of us.
Build it and they will come! Right? Uhhhhhh…. no. The problem is that all of this access has made it harder than ever to get found and if the right people don’t see what you have to sell, your shop will just sit there, along with all of the stuff that’s taking space up in your physical location. There are things that you can do to improve your visibility, but it takes some work and some understanding of how things work on the web. It’s a broad topic with endless tutorials out there, but in this post, my hope is that my tips on how to improve your online shop will serve as a good starting point. Things change constantly, but there are some basics that we can look at.
First, you have to have something that people might want to buy. For our audience this will be something related to textiles and fiber art: quilts, weavings, felt, embroidery, etc. The range in pricing could be from a $5 card to a $50,000 textile, but most likely, we have jewelry, accessories and wearables between $30-$600 and then home decor textiles like art quilts, tapestries, rugs and sculptures ranging from $250-$6,000. These two price points have specific audiences who behave differently, but both increasingly look to the web as a reliable market. Within both categories, we find market saturation of certain types of products. Even three years ago, there were not that many felters competing with each other. A search for “nuno felt scarf” on Etsy gives me 4,666 results:
You can narrow down the results by price, color, location, etc., and hopefully you will find something you love. The key, if you are selling nuno felt scarves on Etsy, is to figure out how to end up on that first page of search results. You learn by looking at who is there, how they listed their item, their content, their tags, and then hopefully you can replicate things to end up there from time to time, too. More importantly, you should use search results on the web and on different marketplaces to find out who your competition is and analyze whether it is a saturated market. Look at the images. Check out how much the different shops have sold over the years. Do they look like they are making a living at it? If so, learn from them.
Pricing and Product Quantity
We’ve established that you do have something that you want to sell. How much of your income is going to come from your online sales? There are many formulas out there, but the way I look at it is that if you want to make $1,000 a month in income, then you need to have $3,000 in products available so that people can have choices. These do not all need to be ready made products. Many shops list things that can be made for the customer, but you have to be careful with this as you can end up taking more orders than you can fulfill within the time frame that will keep the customer happy.
If you decided that you were going to make $12,000 a year in product sales, can what you make support that? How will you make the rest of your income?
And, there are some lucky ones among us who sell as fast as they can create. These talented exceptions have developed a faithful following which waits in line for the next completed work. When this happens, it is a sure sign that you can raise your prices! Start adding 10% to every new batch until you reach a plateau where things still sell, but not so quickly. Jenny Marshall‘s dolls are an example of a hot item that cannot be made quickly enough. Her shop on Etsy is always empty! Jenny keeps an active Facebook page where she documents what she is working on and by the time the doll is finished, it’s sold.
At this point, there is an opportunity to merchandise the products and offer cards, prints, posters, patterns, and so on. There are only so many original pieces an artist can produce in a lifetime and when it has a loving audience, why not offer a taste of that talent in a way that many can enjoy it?
Salley Mavor of Wee Folk Studio is a case in point. Her work takes months to complete. It is extremely labor intensive and much of it has been made specifically to illustrate children’s books. Her shop on Etsy is always full! Posters, books, cards and supplies.
Pricing is something we all struggle with. By selling online we are all competing with different economies and with levels of professionalism. We have to figure out what our costs are in terms of supplies, time and workspace, along with hidden costs like banking fees, marketing, and any unforeseen problems like servicing a sewing machine. Some people create as a hobby and have other incomes to rely on (spouse, inheritance, etc.). Emerging economies from the former Soviet block and Asia have brought in a new level of competition as their products show stunning workmanship and originality while their costs of production and living are much lower than the industrialized Western countries and Japan, places which have had the spotlight as THE sources for fine handmade contemporary textiles and art. The single weaver also competes with fair trade groups and sweat shops. While fair trade products may have similar pricing to a working studio’s, they have the advantage of being able to produce in quantity. “It takes a village and all that…” We won’t even get into the nightmare of competing with sweatshops here, although they are a serious reality any artist or group faces, even within the high end market.
You’ve decided you really want to do this. You have a look that will sell. You are original, hard working, and will do what it takes. The next most important phase of your success relies on your photography. I cannot stress this enough! It does not matter how wonderful your work is. If it does not shine on the web, stand out, look great…. it will get lost in the shuffle. I edit about 70% of the images I post on TAFA and Artizan Made’s Facebook pages. I crop, resize, lighten, add contrast, lower the intensity…. It’s extremely time consuming, but a page on Facebook or anywhere else which has poor photography will not succeed. I will do a separate post on photo tips at some point, but for now, look if your photos are not good, look for tutorials on whatever editing software you use and learn how to do these things: crop, re-size, brighten, remove image cast and lower saturation. A few tips here:
- Never use a flash. It will flatten your image and cast severe shadows on your product.
- Make sure that a white background is really white on your image (not blue, grey or yellow). This is easy to fix by removing the color cast.
- Use contrast in your photos. Many product images that I see are a soft blue. Most camera settings can be changed, but it’s easy enough to use the tools in the editing software, too.
- DPI means “dots per inch”. The web only needs 72 dpi. If you are going to print an image, you need over 300 dpi. Having a high resolution slows down a web page and it also makes it possible for people to steal your images and print them.
- Pixels means the size of an image file. A web screen is usually no larger than 1,600 pixels wide. Etsy wants images that are at least 1,000 pixels wide and if you want your image to fill the space on your Facebook column, it needs to be 1,200 pixels wide.
- Make all of your images square. This will help you use it in many different platforms. If you have your own online shop, it looks much better if all the images are the same shape.
- Use a watermark or signature, but don’t destroy the image. Don’t go through the middle, smack in the center. Use it elegantly, as an artist would sign a painting.
My recommended size for saving images:
1200 pixels square, saved as a jpeg.
Ariane Mariane wrote a post for this blog showing how she evolved as a photographer: Photo Tips for Wearable Art by Ariane Mariane It’s excellent as she shows some of the big mistakes we all make when we are starting out. Now, her photography is a work of art in itself.
Remember that when people are searching for something to buy, they are most likely going through hundreds of images, if not thousands. And, if you are selling a high ticket item, your buyer is probably older, has tired eyes, and is going to move quickly through images that don’t jump out at her or him. If using models, try to show many races and ages.
Catalog and Styling Photos
Catalog photos just show the product: simple backgrounds, a mannequin, etc. Styled photos show the product in a natural setting, a quilt on a room’s wall, someone wearing an outfit, etc. I will use one of our Artizan Made (our sister site) shops here as I think Kiln House Pottery does an excellent job with both.
The white background is actually white. There is enough space around the product so that if Etsy or Facebook crops it in a share, you can still see what it is. The lime helps inform on the size, while still being attractive and something anybody from any country would recognize. (Currency is a bad idea if you are selling internationally. Who knows how big an American quarter is if they live in Portugal?)
The photo is lean and tells you quickly exactly what is being sold here.
When I shared the image below on our Facebook page, it got lot of likes and shares:
People can imagine seeing these pieces on their own deck or at their home. They look great together and makes you want to get several pieces in order to achieve a similar garden effect.
You need photos for different uses. And, a product listing should show many views of the same thing. When I photograph a quilt or large textile, I show full front, full back, two details of the front and a detail of the back. My house is a disaster, so I usually don’t do many styling photos, although I could if I really tried. The point here is that online shoppers are at a HUGE disadvantage over the brick and mortar experience because they cannot physically see how that product will work in their world. And, for textiles especially, this makes it really hard as so much depends on the tactile experience, how something drapes, how light reflects off the surface… So, YOU have to tell that story and the most powerful way to do it is through photography.
Dud web platforms – responsive designs
Many, many of our websites are now duds, meaning that they are outdated in their appearance and functionality. Smart phones and tablets have increasingly become the navigation tool of choice. This has led to tech innovation to accommodate for smaller screens. The solution has been to create blocks that can be rearranged in different orders, depending on the size of the screen. You can test this on a laptop or desktop by opening a tab or page, letting it float freely on your screen and then pulling on the edges to make it the size of a cell phone or tablet. The old sites will just have the same content get smaller. The new ones actually rearrange the content, one block on top of the other, making it easier to look at images and text. If you are old school, your site is a dud and Google reprimands you by not letting your site show up in search results on a smartphone.
I’ll use Cindy Grisdela’s site as an example. Hers is typical of many in our community who have used services that catered to art quilters and other artists. These sites have an about page, a portfolio, an artist’s statement, a blog and maybe a couple more pages. Navigation is often clunky (you should be able to go anywhere on a site without having to click back a million times…).
Cindy is getting a new site soon, one that is responsive and that will hopefully have more images of each quilt. At least she has prices and a buy button showing, while many others have just the catalog images and no info.
Why would somebody spend money on something they can’t envision in their homes or offices? Well, Cindy does a lot of art shows, so she may have fans who are already familiar with her work, so one image might be enough for them. But, it won’t be for a stranger who is also considering several other quilt artists who may have much more documentation on their sites.
If you want to sell online, it means working hard to tell that story. There is no easy way about it. Cindy has three pieces for sale in our TAFA Shop and although I had seen this coffee cup quilt many times online, it wasn’t until she STYLED it that I really SAW it.
Have you ever gone searching for images on the web? They show up because they have “alt tags” or alternative tags that describe the image beyond the title. Make it a good practice to label all of your product images with your business name and then a description. Most web platforms have fields that you fill in for the image. Don’t use the numbers your camera gave or your special code. Instead, really name the image with a descriptive title that might be found in a search. Cindy’s Cafe Latte quilt might be found by coffee lovers, but in the alt tag area, it could even be longer: Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts Cafe Latte in Situ, Brown Abstract Coffee Cup. Someone searching for ‘”cafe latte art quilt” or coffee cup quilt” might find it. The words don’t have to be in the search order.
As you can see in the image to the left, the alt tag I used for Cindy’s web image was Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts Website. All of the links on this site have been duly tagged in this way. Once you get used to it, it becomes easier. Etsy gives 17 two word tags to help people find products. It’s important to use all of them in any combination you can think of that would be used in Etsy’s search to find your coffee quilt.
Text is the second most important way to tell your story. This gets hairy as there are many theories about how best to describe a product. I will tell you what I know, but assume that it is wrong or that it will change tomorrow.
Search Engine Optimization means that you try to outsmart Google by making it like your words. Ha! There are many search engines out there, but Google dominates and so we bow. It used to be that keywords were the big thing, so everybody started loading their sites with every keyword combination they could think of in order to show up on the front page. That doesn’t work anymore. Google, Etsy, eBay and Amazon all have algorithms they use to help users find what they are actually looking for. Google’s goal is to make computers think like you do, to know exactly what you are looking for based on your history, where you are, what it thinks you want to see. And, I think they do a pretty good job with it as it gets pretty creepy when you type in three letters and the exact thing you were looking for gets filled in as a search option. Yikes!
I follow several tech blogs and most of it just makes my eyes roll around in my head, but I do make an effort to try to understand what they are saying. The message I get is this: Google wants to deliver the best content possible to the user. It bases good content on many things, looking for clues to see if you are a spammer or an expert in your field. Google likes to see that you have social media traffic coming to your site, it likes seeing you as a guest author on other sites, talking about what you do, it likes to see other blogs and intelligent links point to you as an authority (it doesn’t like link lists where you like me and I like you back). Other things Google wants, even on product pages:
- Minimum of 300 words on a page.
- Unique content (don’t splatter your artist statement all over the place. Tweak it for the audience which you are addressing.
- The title, body, headers, at least one image, and excerpt all need to have the same key words. For this post, my words are “how to improve your online shop”. I’m going to get penalized because the post is too long, but who cares? 🙂
- The first three words in a title carry the most weight.
- Similar products need to have different titles and text or Google sees it as spam.
Basically, this means that your product title needs to be relevant and it must show up in the body of your content.
This is a vintage wallet that I will be listing for Afghan Tribal Arts soon. There are over 20 similar ones so they all have to be different. In this case, I don’t want Afghan Tribal Arts to be the first three words. Instead, I will begin the titles with combinations like: old tribal wallet, vintage asian wallet, embroidered afghani pouch, boho embroidered makeup pouch, etc. A full title might be something like: Old Tribal Wallet with Embroidery and Beads from Afghanistan.
Then, the first paragraph will say: This old tribal wallet with embroidery and beads from Afghanistan is likely from the 1970’s. It is silk on silk chain stitch embroidery with green glass beads, etc. (I’ll go on to describe the inside, condition, size, etc.)
After that, I will copy and paste content that talks about that tribe, Afghan Tribal Arts, where we can be found, and maybe other section in the shop. The reason this is important is that most people will land on a product listing from a search where they know nothing about you. They probably haven’t seen your shop and you have to introduce yourself in every listing in order to encourage them to connect with you. If you are on a stand alone shop (your own site), the same principle applies as the image + words are used in Google’s algorithms to help you find the right product.
Minimalism is death to a sale. I have seen so many shop listings where there is just a couple of words, maybe the size and nothing else. Tell the story!
Keyword Stuffing: Don’t do it! This is when you fill your titles with possible combinations. I just picked a random title off of an Etsy listing for some fox gloves:
Fox gloves, adult size, fox mittens, own design fox fingerless gloves,crochet animal gloves, gift for her, gift for him, gift for bff
All of that is ONE title! You don’t need to repeat the same word over and over as both Etsy and Google’s algorithm will know that it is there. A better title would be:
Fox gloves, fingerless animal crochet design, unisex for men and women, adult size.
Make your titles and text clean, readable and as sensible as possible.
Where to sell?
Ahhh…. that is the big question these days, isn’t it? When Etsy was small, it was a truly great place to sell. Now that it is a mammoth (sometimes out of control…), it’s not so great for some people but really good for others. Same with eBay, although the auctions might be a good choice for products that might get good bids. And, now Amazon is in the picture, too. There are many smaller marketplaces around, but they don’t get the traffic and Etsy has some really good tools for the seller that make it useful.
My feeling these days (I might change my mind tomorrow.) is that owning your own turf is important. A marketplace might be a good place to start, to learn, to test, and then once you have a feel for how your products look and work, set up your own site with your own cart and use the marketplace as a magnet. Either place needs outside marketing by you to drive traffic to your products: a blog, Facebook, Instagram, etc. You absolutely have to network on one of the big social media places in order to establish a community, get followers and then take them where you want them to go. Or, advertise.
There are definitely challenges to running your own site: technical issues (they are always there and a pain!), cart fees (most are around $30/month), dealing with security, establishing trust (a marketplace gives a customer a sense of security in case things go wrong), and dealing with all customer related issues yourself. On the other hand, if you are on Etsy, there are limitations on what you can sell, Etsy can close your shop down at any time without warning, it’s easy for customers to get distracted away from your shop on to something else, Amazon is very controlling, and all of the marketplaces have horrible products and images that can mar your own excellent presentation.
It’s up to each person. You will have to try and test and see how you feel about where you are at. Artizan Made started out as an effort to help our TAFA members who were on Etsy to get extra visibility. It is set up as a collective where each shop pays $10/month to help with the cost of running the site and promotions. There were not enough TAFA members who wanted to participate, so we opened it to other techniques, which has worked really well. Now, we are actively working with self-hosted sites instead of being Etsy centered. I believe that it’s an excellent model that can be replicated with other products and focuses.
One of our TAFA and Artizan members, Wrapture by Inese, just started a site for Latvian artists, Lakstigala. Inese has a large shop on Etsy, set up her own site with gorgeous visuals and now this new effort. She is constantly coming up with new products and works very hard to keep everything stocked. Plus, she hikes and bikes and maintains friendships. How DOES she do it? Groups do help tremendously, not only with marketing products, but also with problem solving and learning about new developments that affect the marketplace.
The bottom line is that you have to be passionate about what you do and you need to commit to the process.
I think I covered the main tips I had on how to improve your online shop. (see! I used my keywords again!) I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comment area and would love to hear from those of you who are selling online, too. What are your big tips? What surprised you the most once you dug into the business of selling online? Do you have any questions or insights? This is, of course, a huge topic, but these basics can help a great deal, so I hope you make use of them.
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