I received an email last week from someone asking me to review their business because sales were low.
At first glance, I didn’t see anything wrong.
So what’s the problem?
Sometimes, a business owner can be doing everything right; following all the best advice and implementing all the right tactics.
But those efforts can fall short when selling a product in a competitive market.
When there are almost 500,000 listings on Etsy for “wedding invitation”, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your product photos are, or how spot-on your SEO tactics are, it’s going to be difficult to get your listing to the top of search results.
There are just too many listings for Etsy’s algorithm to choose from; they can’t all be on page one.
And when it comes to marketing, your target market can’t pay attention to every marketing message they see in a day.
So although you may be posting to social media multiple times a day, there’s just too much competition and your posts are being ignored.
If you feel as though sales are slow because your business and products aren’t being seen, it’s time to make some changes so your business stands out to search engines and to your target market.
Where your business needs to stand out
Writing catchy product descriptions, having smooth sales pitches, or offering guarantees are great ways to make your business stand out once people make it to your online or offline shop.
Offering great customer service, giving back, or creating a unique unboxing experience are great ways to make your business stand out once someone has purchased.
But your business needs to stand out long before someone gets to your shop or buys from you.
If you want your business to stand out so you can attract new customers, you need standout factors that are obvious at first contact.
Otherwise, shoppers don’t make it far enough to discover all the good stuff inside your business.
That first contact happens when:
- a consumer is searching for a product and your listing appears in their search feed (consumers come to you)
- you put your products in front of consumers through marketing (you go to consumers)
1 – Consumers come to you
When consumers need or want a new product, they search for the right fit.
They may go to their favourite website and conduct a search, visit their favorite store or market, or type a keyword phrase into a search engine to discover new businesses.
Let’s look at how a customer might come to the stationery business.
When someone is getting married and needs wedding invitations, they might type “wedding invitations” into a search bar. That search bar may be on Google, a marketplace like Etsy, or perhaps even a social media platform like Instagram or Pinterest.
In the best-case scenario, your business appears near the top of search results, and the shopper clicks on your website or your listing.
2 – You go to consumers
Marketing can convince a consumer to buy, even when they’re not actively shopping or seeking out a business/product.
They may be scrolling through Instagram when a post promoting jewelry appears in their feed. They weren’t shopping for a new pair of earrings, but they look so great on the model, they decide they want a pair. (Or, if they’re not ready to buy, they might follow the business, save the post, or sign up for their newsletter. The business has an opportunity to sell to them in the future.)
In this scenario, the consumer isn’t searching for a product. But the business placed their product in front of them and encouraged them to buy.
That’s marketing. Your efforts are spent finding your target market and advertising your business/products to them.
For example, the stationery business selling wedding invitations may:
- grow a social media account and create content people interact with
- place ads that target soon-to-be-brides/grooms
- send out press releases to magazines and newspapers
- work with bloggers to get featured in an article
In the best-case scenario, their target market notices and interacts with their marketing.
These are the two ways you reach potential customers; they come to you or you go to them (read more about that here).
And these are the areas you want your business to stand out.
How to stand out and attract new customers
Based on the two ways you can reach new customers, let’s look at ways to make your business stand out.
1 – Uncover niche keywords (Consumers come to you)
If you like the idea of customers coming to you and you’re willing to work on SEO (search engine optimization), then focus on standing out when it comes to the niche keywords consumers are searching.
When you focus on niche keywords (e.g. “caricature wedding invitations”), instead of general keywords (e.g. “wedding invitations”), you’ll have less competition, so your product listings are more likely to rise to the top of results and stand out.
This approach does require keyword research and you’ll need to use a tool for accurate stats.
There are free tools, such as Google Trends and Google Ads. And there are paid tools that offer a free trial, such as Semrush, Moz, and Ahrefs. You can take advantage of the free trials and complete all of your keyword research within the free trial period, and then cancel your subscription before your paid membership starts.
I use Ahrefs for my keyword research.
Ahrefs has many valuable features and stats, but the ones I’ll focus on for this article are:
- global volume (GV) – how many people are searching a term each month on Google, worldwide.
- keyword difficulty (KD) – how hard it is to rank for a keyword, based on a scale of 0 – 100.
Using the stationery business as an example, “wedding invitation” has approximately 152,000 searches per month (globally).
It also has a keyword difficulty score of 78 (super hard). The closer the score is to 100, the less chance a small business has of making it to the top of search results because it’ll be competing with some of the biggest websites and businesses in the world.
In my experience, a small handmade business is best targeting keywords with a KD score of 10 or lower (the closer to 0 the better).
When I search “wedding invitation” in Ahrefs, I’m also given a report with all the keyword phrases that include “wedding invitation” (e.g. “wedding invitation templates”, “wedding invitation wording”, “wedding invitation cards” etc.).
This report helps me find niches within the wedding invitation category.
If I set the filter to only show me keyword phrases that have a difficulty score of 10 or less, I can find niche keywords a small business has a much better chance of ranking for.
Once I do that, there are several options:
- Muslim wedding invitation
- Whatsapp wedding invitation
- Christian wedding invitation
- Tamil wedding invitation
- Caricature wedding invitation
- Blue wedding invitation
- Black wedding invitation
- Telugu wedding invitation
- Gold wedding invitation
- Floral wedding invitation
- Chinese wedding invitation
- Black and white wedding invitation
- Pink wedding invitation
- Green wedding invitation
- Passport wedding invitation
There are dozens of pages of results, these are just a handful from the first page, and ones that had the highest global search volume in a month (each niche product listed above has over 1000 searches each month).
The stationery business could continue selling wedding invitations, but shift its focus to a specific type of wedding invitation, based on low competition niche keywords.
For example, they may create wedding invitations designed to be shared through popular apps or digital platforms (e.g. “WhatsApp wedding invitation”, “email wedding invitation”, “Facebook wedding invitation”, etc.).
They’d have a much easier time making it to the top of Google search results when targeting the keyword “WhatsApp wedding invitations” (GV = 4000, KD = 3) than they would targeting “wedding invitations” (GV 152,000, KD = 78).
On Etsy, their invitations still have the opportunity to appear when someone is searching the term “wedding invitations” or shopping under Wedding & Party -> Invitations & Paper -> Wedding invitations.
But now, their listing will stand out. They also have the opportunity to appear when someone searches “WhatsApp wedding invitation”.
You don’t necessarily need to change what you sell to stand out through niche keywords.
You may be able to find keyword phrases your target market searches that are related to the products you sell.
This route will require you to set up a blog and have a good understanding of how to write articles for search engines and people.
For example, “whose name goes first on wedding invitation” has almost 1000 searches every month and a keyword difficulty score under 10.
It’s a lot easier for a small business to rank for “whose name goes first on a wedding invitation” than “wedding invitation”.
Sure, not everyone searching that phrase is necessarily looking to buy wedding invitations, but chances are pretty good they’re in the process of shopping for invitations and haven’t chosen a stationery designer yet.
If a business selling wedding invitations finds dozens of search phrases related to wedding invitations and preparing for a wedding, it can attract thousands of people who fit within its target market.
When those people visit the article to read wedding invitation info, they should see images of the invitations the business sells and little snippets of promotional text (e.g. “Not sure what type of information to include on your invitations? As part of my wedding invitation design services, I help brides/grooms edit their text”).
This will encourage more people to shop with them after gathering information from the article.
Spend some time researching the specific phrases your target market is searching for each month and consider if you can offer products to match those queries (and offer products that are better than what’s already out there).
2 – Find a niche within a target market (You go out and find consumers)
When you’re going out and finding potential customers, you’re approaching them when they’re not shopping.
This means, your marketing images and copy need to be extraordinary to not only catch your target market’s attention in a busy world, but also get them to consider buying when they don’t necessarily need/want to.
You must target a specific group of people so your marketing message speaks directly to them and catches their attention.
In the words of Marie Forleo:
If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.
When your marketing messages are too broad/general and try to appeal to too many types of consumers, it gets lost and doesn’t stand out to anyone.
For example, if the business selling wedding invitations fills its Instagram feed with a wide variety of invitation styles (e.g. modern, gothic, caricature, bohemian, vintage, etc.), that feed doesn’t appeal to anyone. There will only be one or two invitations each type of bride/groom might like.
No one feels like that business was made for them. They don’t feel a connection to the business or as though the designer “gets” them, their style, or their vision for their wedding.
On the other hand, if they fill their feed with bohemian-style invitations, now they’re talking to brides/grooms having a bohemian-style wedding (“boho wedding invitations” is also a low competition keyword with a healthy search volume; GV = 2700 KD = 0).
The stationery designer is giving a niche target market (boho brides/grooms) lots of options to choose from, positioning themselves as an expert when it comes to boho bridal designs, and making a connection with the niche target market.
Instead of being just another business selling wedding invitations, they’re THE business selling bohemian-style wedding invitations/wedding stationery.
They stand out by offering something different and appealing to a niche within the bride-to-be/groom-to-be target market.
To start, you must know who your target market is.
In this example, the wedding invitation business has a target market of brides/grooms.
That’s a pretty straightforward example. But for many business owners, their target market isn’t as clear.
For example, a business selling jewelry may have defined its target market as “women in their 30’s”. As I explain in How To Find a Goldmine of Customers, that is not a good target market.
>> If you’re not sure who your target market is and you want help finding a profitable one, check out: How to Define a Target Market for your Handmade Business
>> If you want an idea of the type of target market I suggest small business owners define, check out: Every Craft Business Needs One Of These
In the wedding invitation example, the target market of brides/grooms is a good start, but it’s too competitive.
So we must find a niche within the bride/groom target market.
That niche might be defined by:
- The bride/groom’s style (e.g. boho)
- Or the type of wedding a bride/groom is having (e.g. beach wedding)
- Or the bride/groom’s wedding venue (e.g. barn wedding)
Once a niche is determined (e.g. bohemian-style brides/grooms), marketing efforts should target that niche.
The wedding invitation business may now:
- focus on bohemian images, text, and hashtags when marketing on Instagram
- create ads that incorporate bohemian wedding text and images and that target bohemian brides/grooms
- pitch the unique angle to magazines and newspapers (e.g. send out press releases to magazines and newspapers)
- focus on reaching out to boho style blogs and offer to write a guest post about key components of throwing the perfect boho wedding (which obviously starts with the perfect boho wedding invitations).
It also helps if a business’s branding reflects the niche market they’re targeting.
Obviously, you don’t want to go too niche, or you’ll have trouble expanding down the road. But if you find a niche that has lots of people in it, and keyword stats look good (e.g. high search volume/low competition), it may be worth it to get specific with your brand.
For example, the stationery business may re-design their logo to have a boho vibe, change their tagline to include “bohemian”, update their website to have a boho look, etc.
Keyword research does come into play here too.
You want to be sure you’re choosing a target market niche that actually exists (this will help) and that your marketing is using keywords that the niche target market will use/search.
For example, when creating an Instagram post, the wedding stationery business will want to research which hashtags are popular among their niche target market. #bohochicwedding? Or #bohemianbride?
If you’re creating a business for everyone within a broad target market (e.g. ALL brides), you won’t stand out to anyone.
Build a business that is perfect for a niche target market and you’ll stand out to everyone within it.
3 – Niche keywords AND niche target market
A business can thrive by focusing on either option 1 OR option 2.
There are several businesses that don’t offer a niche product (or a unique product), but they’ve attracted thousands of customers because they have a unique brand and a unique marketing plan. They don’t need to worry about being at the top of searches because they market their products in a way that stands out and goes viral.
On the other hand, there are several businesses that don’t rely on social media or extravagant marketing campaigns because they’ve found high volume/low competition keywords to target, then focus on SEO and rise to the top of search engines.
That being said, if you can build a business that takes advantage of keyword research and SEO, as well as unique marketing campaigns that target a niche market, you’ll find even more success.
Some popular search terms don’t necessarily translate to powerful marketing campaigns.
For example, if the wedding stationery business focused on niche keywords relating to colors and color combinations (e.g. “blue wedding invitations”, “black wedding invitation”, “black and white wedding invitation”, “pink wedding invitation”, etc.) they may have hundreds of customers discovering them through search engines.
However, on Instagram, sharing a blue wedding invitation, then a black and white wedding invitation, then a pink wedding invitation, won’t create an eye-catching feed that speaks to a niche target market. The color niche in wedding invitations also isn’t a unique angle to pitch to blogs, magazines, or newspapers.
It won’t work for every type of business/product, but if you can find niche keywords that also target a niche market, you’ll find success faster.
Of course, one can’t simply slap some high volume/low competition keywords onto their existing Etsy listings and call it a day.
Once you create a business that stands out from the outside, it must reflect those changes on the inside too.
For example, if the wedding stationery business decided to target the niche market of bohemian brides/grooms, they couldn’t simply design one or two bohemian-style wedding invitations and fill their Instagram feed with bohemian imagery.
They would need to create an entire line of bohemian wedding stationery and re-brand their business to have a bohemian vibe.
On the other hand, if they decided to work on SEO and target keywords such as “Christian wedding invitation”, it’s not enough to simply create one listing titled “Christian wedding invitation”. Their website/shop must use the keywords multiple times, and those keywords must be surrounded by other related keywords.
When a website uses “Christian”, “Catholic”, “Judaism”, etc along with “wedding invitation”, “wedding thank you card”, “bachelorette party invites”, etc. it helps paint a picture for search engine algorithms.
A search engine, such as Google, will know that the website focuses on religious + wedding stationery, and will be able to match search queries accordingly.
On the other hand, if a website uses a mishmash of keywords “Christian”, “bohemian”, “wedding invitation”, “cleaning checklist”, etc. search engines can’t easily define what a website is about and how to match it to a search query, so it won’t show up in search results.
Nothing comes easy when you’re building a business; you must put the work in if you want results. The changes you make to stand out can’t just be on the surface.
It’s also important to ease into a change and test the waters. Once you see proof (i.e. sales), you can lean into the change more.
For example, the stationery business should not re-brand their business, re-design their website, scrap their existing products, and design a new collection of boho wedding invitations without creating a few designs first, marketing them, and seeing if shop stats and sales increase.
That process also takes time.
Adding a few listings and creating a few new Instagram posts isn’t enough work to see big results.
You may only notice a few extra views, likes, and comments at first. And maybe just one extra sale in a month. You’ll get small indications that you’re moving in the right direction.
Let your numbers guide you.
I hope this article has given you some ideas about how to make your business stand out. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions!
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!