Common Ecommerce Mistake #1: Get Niche or Get Out

One of the most common mistakes new online businesses make is trying to sell too many different kinds of things.

Last year I sat down with a lovely chap in his fifties who had an idea for an online business that he was really excited about, and he wanted me to help make his dream a reality. He had spent the last six months going round craft fairs and trade shows looking for unique and unusual gifts that weren’t available on the high street and he was going to create an online store that offered them all to the public.

“Great” I said, “So what sorts of products are you selling?”

“All sorts” he replied. And he wasn’t kidding. He had a selection of beautiful environmentally friendly candles, a range of cute animal slippers for kids, a few wonderful handbags and even threw in some fountain pens with crystal detailing.

It was at this point I started to get nervous. And I knew no matter what I designed for him, and no matter how hard he worked, his business was probably going to fail.

Whatever Works On The High Street, Do The Opposite

With a bricks and mortar store it’s good to have lots of different sorts of products, as it can encourage people to linger longer and explore. But with ecommerce it’s much better to do completely the opposite and think about focussing on a more limited range. And the reason for this all comes back to the ideas about search engine optimisation I talked about here.

With my chap, although some of his business would have come from people who had heard about him locally or saw one of his adverts, the vast majority of his business was hopefully going to come from search engine traffic.

“But that’s OK,” my chap might say, “as someone searching for candles will certainly find me”.

Don’t Dilute Search Engine Results

Well, no. Because all the other things he was selling actually counted against him from a search engine point of view. The reason for this is that if someone searches for ‘candles,’ Google sees a site that sells nothing but candles as much more relevant to the searcher than a site selling candles and shoes and handbags and pens – therefore the shop selling nothing but candles will appear much higher in the results. The more different types of product you have on your site, the more it will dilute how well each individual item performs on search engines. Specialising in a certain type of product, or limited range of products, will mean that all the content of your site is concentrated around a smaller range of key words, concepts and phrases. And that means your site will appear much higher up in the search engine rankings when someone searches for that thing you specialise in.

Great Big Niches

And don’t worry that it could mean missing out on some sales opportunities. Never forget the internet is MASSIVE and the niches are still going to be bigger than any offline audience you could potentially reach.

So what should my chap have done? My suggestion was that he specialise in his range of environmentally friendly candles as they were unique, gorgeous and easy to talk about. But he didn’t. And his business failed.

On a more positive note, another one of my customers had a couple of high street stores selling a huge range of kitchenware. A few years ago they had put their entire massive product range online, but they were struggling to really make any headway in sales. The one product which they sold most of were Riedel wine glasses so I worked with them to create a mini-site that sold nothing but these wine glasses. And lo and behold it quickly began to outstrip their main business in terms of sales.

Leave The Mass Market to the Big Boys

Only someone like Amazon can get away with selling everything. So don’t try and compete with them. If you are a small business thinking about going online you should think about selling a small range of products that you understand and are passionate about. Doing that means that people looking for you are more likely to find you, and once they are on your site, that passion and expertise that will encourage them to go on and buy.