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E-commerce 2.0 – So much more than just putting up products!

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
My husband and I have a special affinity for small business e-commerce websites. As our portfolio shows, the majority of projects we’ve worked on to date have been for small sales-oriented companies, whether they make their own products, or retail products they are getting from a wholesaler. The goal for most of these folks is to get their inventory on-line in a way that gets good rankings, gets traffic and gets sales. One of our duties as their developers and their webmasters is to educate them about the fact that accomplishing these goals is going to involve quite a bit more than just listing products on a site and providing a checkout.
How much more?
Enter E-commerce 2.0; the new, exciting approach to the web that involves offering not only a place for customers to buy things, but also to learn about your subject, to talk with you, and to talk with one another about your subject. Whether you make candles, repair old radios or sell jewelry, horizons are widening for the outreach you can make into your market, and the lasting impact you can have on your shoppers’ lives.
How does it work?
I find myself explaining this fascinating topic to various people in a variety of ways every week, but this week I read a post that summed up this whole concept so beautifully, I asked the author if I could reprint his writing here, and he kindly authorized me to.
The Smart Man’s Approach to E-commerce
Bill Slawski is a man about whom I find it difficult to speak enough praise. He is a fantastic scholar, and from my daily reading of blogs, I have discovered that his reputation for brilliance and generosity appears to precede him wherever he goes. In a recent thread at the Cre8asite Forum, a member asked if it was honestly important for e-commerce websites to have content in addition to their product descriptions. Many good replies followed, but none quite so succinct as Bill’s. I present his answer in full here:
Imagine that I’m a huge blues music fan, and I want to start a web site that sells both modern CDs of old and new blues music, as well as vinyl recordings of old blues songs.
In addition to having a shopping area where people can buy both modern CDs, and older records, I want to be seen as the place to learn about Blues music, blues musicians, blues instruments (even though I don’t sell them) and Blues history.
I can have a blues Hall of Fame, where I include biographies, photos, snippets of recordings, interviews, and links to CDs and collectible vinyl (imagine starting with something like the wikipedia entry on Robert Johnson and adding pictures, snippets of songs, interviews with people who knew him, and more).
I create a history section, where I have a page for each year from the early 1900s to the present, and talk about the great performances, the top selling songs, the best venues, the greatest dramas. I can include links to items I have for sale on those pages, and to the Hall of Fame members in my other informational section. The focus is on sharing information, and making this the place for people who love blues music, and for people who just don’t know yet that they love blues music.
I decide that I want to share my knowledge of guitars, banjos, harmonicas, drums, horns, and other instruments used to make blues music. Some musicians only played certain brands and models of instruments. So, I want to mention those, and maybe point to some recordings (which I sell) where people can hear those instruments. I’d also point to the Hall of Fame Entries for those performers, or the history section.
I have an online music shop. I also have an authoritative site on one type of music that gets linked to by lots and lots of people, visited by school children and college professors, music fans and musicians, and many other people. It gets mentioned in books, and newspapers, and magazines.
I get some of those 22% of the transactional searches I mentioned above, and some of those 63% of the informational searches. I’d even expect to get some of those navigational searches when someone wants to buy one of my CDs, and they remember they can get to the sales page by searching for Robert Johnson – which is how they found my site the first time.
The site gives me the chance to share my love of music, provide me with income, and maybe even hire some folks who love blues music as much as me and like to write, to create some of the informational pages that help others find the site.
Chances are also good that the majority of visitors who come to my site are there because of the hall of fame, the history pages, and the instrument gallery. They may buy to thank me for my efforts. They may buy because they love the music as much as I do. They may buy because this is the only place they can get some of this music. If I do things right, when people think of blues music on the web, they’ll think of Bill’s Blues.
I need to be credible as a merchant. I need to provide shipping information, and an easy way to find and purchase what they are looking for. I have to show my products off in a compelling and persuasive manner. But I don’t care if they came to the site with the intent of learning, and listening, instead of buying. My articles and essays and images and snippets of song aren’t fluff – they’re part of the experience that makes my place the one to go to when they want the blues.

Applause! Cheers! Hurrah! My guess is that no committed e-commerce website owner could possibly read the above without it setting the wheels turning in their mind. Bill Slawski’s holistic, far-seeing approach to this can be applied to nearly any industry I can think of, to very excellent effect.
Beginning to build up that library of articles on your area of specialization is the way to become a part of this admirable practice of providing great value for your visitors that will bring them back to you time and again. In addition to creating static articles on your website, incorporating a blog into your site is a wonderful and easy way to begin adding new information to your website, as well as a way for people who share your interests to speak to you. Your interaction with your visitors could even make a forum a good possibility for your website, where many people come to share their ideas on your special subject. Becoming a hub of activity, an authority source for the BEST information on your topic is what this is all about.
I want to reiterate one of the most crucial points in Bill’s post here:
Recent studies have shown a pattern of the types of searches being performed by Internet users. About 22% of searches are transactional (such as shopping) and about 63% are informational (looking for answers to questions). If you want to tap into that big 63%, you’ve got to provide answers to the queries people are making. If you do a good job of this, you will have won users to your website. And, who knows, those information-seekers could turn into shoppers if they have a good experience with you.
But, even if they don’t turn into shoppers, there is still serious value for you in having people come to depend upon your website as a trusted resource. This value could be in the form or links to you, brand recognition, word of mouth press about you, traditional press about you. All kinds of good things!
I know that as a small business owner, budget is something you always have to be mindful of. You’ve got to budget your time and your funds wisely. My hope is that in reading this post, you will see that there is genuine value in pushing beyond the simple concept of putting up products, hoping people will buy them. The increasing sophistication of the web and of web users is opening up the possibility for you to:
A) Educate others on the subject about which you are an authority
B) Spend your time writing about something you know well and enjoy
C) Tap into popularity, buzz and profits in a very organic manner
If you love what you do, or even just like it a whole lot, chances are, the quality of your worklife as a business owner is only going to be improved by these new opportunities for communication. I hope this post has lit the flame of creativity in your mind, and that you will find unique and compelling ways to put this concept into practice, for the good health of your web business!