strategies posted in business strategies  on 11 April 2009
by Andrew Lang 
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Good news: Selling online isn't easy

The following article assumes you don't have wheelbarrows of cash to throw at Google Adwords and advertising to bring traffic to your website (even if you do, this is a useful article for increasing your profit margins).

There still is this perception with selling online that once you launch your website, magically everyone will know about it, and you will get lots of visitors and sales from day one.

It's one of those seductive myths that bring us many enquiries from people asking about our website template. They want to join the party. I then talk about the need for effort, patience and ultimately perseverance to be successful online. I feel like a party pooper.

But the reality I speak of is routed in a very optimistic premise: the internet is a meritocracy. You WILL be rewarded for your effort, patience and perseverance. Moreso, it really doesn't matter who you know, it's WHAT you know that counts. We have chosen to do much of our marketing very simply : by spending nearly all of our time improving our product.

Let's imagine for a second selling online was easy. Didn't matter what you sold, how you presented your product/service, there's always a queue of customers. If it's easy for you, it's easy for everyone. Low barrier to entry = tons of businesses each only getting a thin slice of the available market. Luckily free markets don't work that way.

Our philosophy to our clients (and to ourselves) is : save your money, be patient, put in some effort to improve your product/services, learn a few things about marketing online (which will stand you in good stead for future online businesses), persevere and build on your success when (not if) it finally happens.

A bit more about puresilva and how we are in the same boat as you

puresilva are a very small company. Really there's just two people working here. Since the launch in 2006, we've spent next to zero on advertising. We're really not well connected or networked. We don't have friends in high places. We don't go to conferences or even exhibitions. And it gets worse : back in 2006, we had just rudimentary knowledge of search engine optimization. But at least we did have a product to sell : our website template. So we had a product, website development skills, no real budget to spend on promotion, and basic SEO skills. Oh, and we were in perhaps THE most saturated market online : website development. You think you have it bad, try being a website developer and distinguishing yourself from hundreds of thousands of competitors, of whom many can outgun you in terms of production staff and marketing budget very easily.

Yet puresilva now ranks top-10 for most of the generic keyphrases regarding e-commerce and website templates (and has done for the last 12 months, e.g. e-commerce websites, e-commerce templates, website templates), and we have become one of the most visible website template brands online because of our search engine visibility. Also word of mouth has given us organic growth. These two factors make all the other (costly) marketing strategies redundant. So while it may raise a few eyebrows that we keep a low profile in terms of not really "networking" or using the usual channels of marketing, our business and profits have grown year-on-year.

We've also given a helping hand in making many of our clients a success online themselves, many of whom are thriving without huge (or sometimes any) spending on advertising and marketing.

This has come about just by learning what is necessary to succeed online: great content / improving our product/service (promoting word of mouth, repeated visits), and search engine visibility (making it easy for complete strangers to find our site).

The website effort paradox - you work hard for little reward, then eventually you're rewarded greatly for putting in a lot less effort

Here's the paradox: when launching a website, you're guaranteed next to no sales, yet you're putting in a lot of effort. Later on down the line, you're getting a lot more sales for less effort. It SOUNDS like a paradox, but really it's just common sense. If you think about it, even offline businesses are like this. The difference is the misconception that selling online is effortless, yet when selling offline, people seem to be already prepared to make sacrifices early on for future rewards. Online should be no different.

Still, launching a new website can feel like a very unrewarding task. You're working hard on your content, marketing your site across the internet, but your website traffic is hardly improving on a week to week basis. It can be demoralising. But this is normal! Links to your website gain value with age. It takes a while for you to build up your content to a reasonable level where your site can take on a "resource"-like status (so people will come back to it, see what's new, recommend it, talk about it on their blogs). What you're doing with your effort is ensuring FUTURE gains in your visitor and sales stats. The content on your site IS your brand (no gimmicks, no slogans, you can't beat content) - and your brand takes time to create until it reaches a point of maturity and start to be recognised as such by your market. It's a kind of leap of faith in the beginning, because your efforts often have no effect til a few months later. The early stages are crucial because so many website owners give up early thinking they've "failed", and/or lose interest. And of course, this guarantees failure.

Incubation period for websites can differ

We took a punt in selling pashminas using our own website template ( It launched in December 2007 and seemed to be "incubating" even longer than I had anticipated when throughout the summer of 2008 we still had only attracted a few customers despite judicious link building and content creation (yes, pashmina sales dip in summer but even so, we had not made much gains in 6 months). But we persevered. By autumn 2008, we had leapt into the top 10 rankings for generic keywords like "pashminas" and "pashmina shawls" and suddenly found ourselves with a successful business. We spent zero on marketing/advertising to get to this point, and invested around 5 to 6 hours a week on the website in the first month or so, followed by 2 to 3 hours per week on the website after that. Hardly a great sacrifice. The investment in time has paid itself multiple times over and now the only time we spend on the site is shipping orders and updating our online stock, with the odd article being written, and some continued judicious link building. The lesson: incubation periods for websites can differ depending on the market you are in. Expect the period to be longer in more saturated markets. "Incubation" meaning search engines aren't quite letting you "in" - you're "sandboxed", dithering around the low rankings of search engine results, despite your continued efforts. This is enough to test the most patient and experienced website owner. To paraphrase Winston Churchill : "When you're going through (Search Engine) hell, keep going".


Selling online isn't easy. That's GOOD news. It means the market is less saturated the further you travel, the more effort you put in. Free markets have always demanded some kind of discernment between good and bad, excellence and mediocrity. The real secret to success online is actually based on very old truths: success demands effort, patience and perseverance. The difference though is that online, you don't need to spend big (like you would offline). Do you have a spare few hours a week?

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