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From secret to success: How to use inbound marketing to boost your independent merchant website

​You’ve invested in a new and improved website but haven’t seen even a fraction of a return. We discuss the lack of self-promotion in the independent merchant industry, and how local search is the key to competing with the nationals.


Originally published in Builders Merchants News April 2023 Edition (page 36/37) 

It remains a common fallacy with many independent merchants and distributors that once they have pressed “publish” on their new website, the trade and orders will come rolling in.

They sit back and wait, expecting mind-blowing visitor numbers, wondering when their site’s going to crash under the sheer weight of traffic, dreaming about luxury yachts in the Bahamas and early retirement.

But that time never comes.

Promotion, promotion, promotion

In my experience of working in, and with, SMEs, there’s always a buzz around website launch day, a cause for celebration and patting yourself on the back.

But there’s rarely a strategy in place for the promotion of the site going forward.

And a few “hit and hope” social media posts just won’t cut it.

A crude analogy would be you creating some bright and exciting wraps for your vans and trucks, but never sticking them on. If you are going to bother with the effort and expense of creating a website you need to brag about it, make it easy to find and once found, have content that keeps the customer coming back.

This applies to the typical “shop face” websites/brochure sites and to those embarking on an eCommerce journey – probably more so given the upfront and monthly costs associated with them.

search engine marketing

Outbound marketing

No-one else is going to shout about your website for free, so make sure you do!

Put your web address (URL) on the footers of your invoices and statements, in the email footers that deliver them and in your own email signature.

It should feature on the side of your company vehicles and any physical marketing, such as business cards, posters and flyers.

If you are exponents of social media (and you should be) then your website should be broadcast regularly (but cleverly) on all social media platforms.

And if you’ve invested in eCommerce, don’t forget to mention your new tool every time you speak to an in-store customer. Promote the benefits afforded to them by signing up – 24/7 access to pricing, availability, their copy invoices, statements, special offers, etc.

Inbound marketing

Inbound marketing, put simply, is attracting customers by creating valuable online content tailored to them. It’s all about making your website easy to find, and full of the type of information your customer is looking for. The goal is to create customers by providing solutions to their problems.

This can be a slow burn, and consistency is key. But it pays off - inbound marketing costs 62% less per lead than traditional outbound marketing and generates 54% more leads than traditional paid marketing methods.

One of the main inbound marketing methods used to promote a new website (and one that should ideally be considered at build stage) is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). It’s the science of getting your webpages to rank higher in search engines, such as Google.

68% of online experiences begin with a search engine, but only 0.63% of Google searchers click on results from the second page – so it’s imperative to continually work on it to improve and maintain your search rankings.

But how do you compete against the budgets of the big boys?

content marketing

1. Use niche and “long-tail” keywords.

Keywords are the terms or phrases that people type into search engines when looking for the kinds of products you sell. It’s about bringing customers into your website and providing them with the exact information they’re looking for, so they don’t look elsewhere.

Long-tail keywords are longer, more specific phrases that are generally more detailed than generic keywords. They’re often less competitive and easier to rank for, making them a great option for competing with larger businesses.

So, instead of trying to rank for broad and highly competitive keywords like “tile stockists” or “builders’ merchant”, focus on niche and long-tail keywords that are more specific to your products, such as “reclaimed timber suppliers in Southampton”, “roofing materials for eco-friendly homes” or “insulation boards for loft conversion”.

2. Focus on locality.

While the larger companies may have a national presence, independent merchants can dominate the local search results.

By optimizing your website for local SEO, you increase your visibility in the local area and attract customers who are searching for products or services nearby.

This can be done by creating local business listings (such as a Google Business Profile), building local citations (any online mention of your company name, address, and phone number), and targeting location-specific keywords (such as “timber stockists in Hove”).

3. Build quality backlinks.

Backlinks are links pointing to your site from other sites, but not reciprocated.

Studies have shown that backlinks are actually the most critical element of off-page SEO, as search engines regard links pointing to your website from other sites as a “vote from the Internet” that your site is relevant and trustworthy. Links from your suppliers as stockists, buying groups and associations would work well.

Compete with larger competitors by creating editorial for local press websites, sponsoring a local charity or event, becoming a guest blogger for industry relevant websites, or by creating content so good that others share it across the web – wherever it is, the goal is to gain a backlink to your website.

Upkeep and maintenance

The bad news is that search engines continually change their SEO criteria to avoid those that take advantage of the algorithm, and favour those that create content for the benefit of real human beings (instead of the search bots).

For you, this means that your website needs periodic performance reviews, benchmarking against competitors, and regular optimisation to ensure you stay in Google’s good books.

It takes some thinking outside of the box to come up with solutions that engage the search engines without compromising on human-centric content. But once those solutions are in place, and you’re seeing the results of a higher search ranking, the investment pays for itself.


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