There are approximately 2,500 bike shops in the UK, most of which are independently owned and managed. However, like many retail industries, there are a small group of companies that dominate the sector, these being the likes of Evans Cycles, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle and Halfords, not to mention the likes of Tesco, Argos and Amazon.

For someone who owns a small independent bike shop in a typical UK town, the increase in popularity of the Internet initially brought optimism as the opportunity to expand the business beckoned. In the late 90s, it was pretty easy to rise to the top of the search engine results with little knowledge and only a handful of tactics. But as the years rolled forward, it became more difficult as the big boys poured money into the pursuit of this new channel and Google wised-up to the fact that too many sites had manipulated their way to the top of the rankings.

Image of Giant Bike Store in Radlett

In early 2011, Google introduced the first of several algorithm changes that were to have an enormous effect on how websites appeared in their search results. The Google Panda update seemed [Google never confirms these things] to crack down on thin content, content farms, sites with high ad-to-content ratios and a number of other quality issues. Panda rolled out over at least a couple of months, hitting Europe in April 2011. In effect, it was a wake-up call to webmasters to improve the quality of the content on their websites with Google saying it no longer wished to see poor quality websites in its index.

One aspect of the cycling industry that would be hit by the Panda update was the habit of webmasters listing bikes (and other products) using the manufacturers product descriptions. This resulted in hundreds of websites (perhaps thousands) using the same content to describe the same bikes. Google sees this as low quality content and as such, is unlikely to reward these sites with higher placements in the search results (known as rankings).

Over the next year, there were thought to be around a dozen Panda updates [source: Moz.com] before Google rolled out their next big algorithm change. Whereas Panda targeted low quality on-site factors, the Penguin update targeted low quality off-site spam factors like links.

Webmasters that had been building links to their sites using poor tactics and adding large quantities of low quality links, were heavily penalized by the Google Penguin update. Conversely, webmasters who had done little or no link-building now found their sites appearing higher in the search results as the other websites were stripped away from the results.

92 Tips to Help Small Business Owners Compete Online

So you want to sell online but don’t know how to compete? Here are some top tips, in no particular order, to help you compete against the larger cycling retailers. If you manage a small business that’s not cycling related, most of these examples still apply. However, this dedicated SME Guide to Technical SEO may be more appropriate for you.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat – Sun Tzu

Unsurprisingly, competing online starts with an effective website. However, if you think you can challenge the larger retailers with a website costing less than a basic road bike, think again.

Website

The Internet is another channel to market, it is in fact, your second store. The difference with this additional shop is that it is on a high street that reaches from Lands End to John O’Groats. If you see it in these terms then it’ll be easier to understand the investment you’ll need to make. For your physical shop, you pay rent. This is more or less what you’ll have to pay to build the site. Annual site maintenance is the equivalent of paying rates and don’t forget you’ll need someone to staff the shop (website). However, there are no heating & lighting bills and very few other running costs so it can be more profitable.

If this sounds too much money, then you’ll always going to be behind others when it comes to selling online.

Investing in fast servers is important

  1. Carefully Select a Host – You don’t choose the cheapest bike, because they’re all the same, so why would you choose the cheapest website host? Once you know that road bikes are different to mountain bikes and Shimano Acera serve a different purpose to XTR, then you can ensure you select the right bike and components for specific needs. Choosing a website is exactly the same. Go for the cheapest and you’ll get an off-the-shelf basic service with little or no support. However, paying more does not necessarily equate to getting a better service. My own host is excellent value for money and offers outstanding customer service, including live chat and a support ticketing service.
  2. Use Fast Servers – Site speed is now a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm [source: searchengineland.com]. So if you want to rank at the top of Google, one of the things you need to ensure, is that you invest in a fast server. It is also important for user experience (UX) as we tend to move away from slow websites much quicker than we once did, we are so much less tolerant these days.
  3. Use Efficient Code – Fast websites aren’t just about fast servers, they’re also about well written code that build pages quickly. This means the page layout, design, colours, images and all the elements pulled from the database. Make sure your web developer understands how to fully optimise your site for search engines and that the pages load quickly. There are some handy tools listed below in the Useful Tools section.
  4. Use the Right Web Platform – Part of the solution to building fast websites is to choose an effective web platform. Some of the more common eCommerce platforms include Magento and Venda but others are also available, including low-cost options such as WordPress (more on this later). Remember, this is the backbone of your online business so if you build it with cheap bricks, it’ll fall down.
  5. Implement Caching – A web cache is a mechanism for the temporary storage (caching) of web documents, such as HTML pages, style sheets and images, to reduce bandwidth usage, server load, and perceived lag [source: Wikipedia]. This is important as it can significantly help to speed up your website.
  6. Use Asynchronous Scripts – Using asynchronous scripts means that your page can render more quickly. Instead of forcing users to wait for a script to finish downloading before the page renders, a script can be downloaded in the background and thus improve page load times.
  7. Minify Files – Minification is the process of removing all unnecessary characters from source code without changing its functionality. These unnecessary characters usually include white space characters, new line characters, comments, and sometimes block delimiters, which are used to add readability to the code but are not required for it to execute. Overuse of these unnecessary characters are typical of web developers who are not conscious of reducing page load times. Files commonly reduced in size using this method are JavaScript and CSS. Whilst this will help, it’s not usually by a huge amount. [source: Wikipedia].
  8. Use a CDN – A content delivery network or content distribution network (CDN) is a large distributed system of servers deployed in multiple data centers across the Internet. The goal of a CDN is to serve content to end-users with high availability and high performance. CDNs serve a large fraction of the Internet content today, including web objects (text, graphics and scripts), downloadable objects (media files, software, documents), applications (e-commerce, portals), live streaming media, on-demand streaming media, and social networks [source: Wikipedia]. Using a CDN can significantly improve page load times. The cost to value ratio is high and is definitely worth considering. For example, this site uses a CDN, and 1TB costs less than £40.
  9. Use Responsive Design – You’ve probably seen the spam emails asking if your website is enabled for mobile devices and whilst this was thought to be the right approach as late as last year, the rise in popularity of tablets has meant that web designers have had to think again. Responsive design is an approach to web design that aims to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy-to-read, easy-to-navigation, with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices, including mobile phones, tablets, notebooks, laptops and desktop computers. Online sales (not visits) from mobile devices (phones and tablets) is expected to be more than half of all Internet sales by the end of 2014. Are you ready?
  10. Use Clear Navigation – In your physical bike shop, you probably have signs indicating what products are in which part of the store. A website is no different and as such, you need to ensure that things are easy to find, otherwise your visitors will go in the shop next door, which is very easy to do online. This isn’t only about signalling road bikes from mountain bikes, it’s also about the things that are harder to find. For example, don’t lump everything under a category like Components, list each of the items as a sub-category; chainrings, cassettes, derailleurs etc.
  11. Use Enhanced Search – Most web platforms are built with an off-the-shelf search functionality. The truth is that these are pretty awful. The reason for this is that they search for each keyword individually rather than as a semantic search. For example, a search for “scott speedster road bike” will return search results for each of those words and as such, will include all “bikes” on the site, plus all “road” bikes etc. Using an enhanced search tool like FactFinder™ or Omniture™ will allow you to return significantly improved search results, which will in turn improve sales. The cost of these services is equivalent to selling an additional 3 or 4 bikes per month.
  12. Use Automated Merchandising Tools – This one is possibly for those who have already implemented many of the things on this list. Web merchandising tools provide users with personalised produced recommendations based on their site visit behaviour. It’s like having a personal shopper without you realising it. Imagine a virtual sales assistant making personalised recommendations to a site visitor, it’s likely that this will lead to increased sales. Industry leaders Peerius™ offer a cost-effective service that is likely to be self-funding in a matter of months.
  13. Use a Sitemap – An up-to-date sitemap helps the search engines locate, and subsequently index, new pages on your website. Sitemaps can be in several formats but most commonly are XML files. It is important that you list the sitemap in the various search engine webmaster tools (more on this in the Useful Tools section).
  14. List Contact Details – It might sound obvious but too many websites fail to clearly list their contact details. I’m not talking about adding an address to an about us page (although that is of course important), I’m suggesting you list your telephone number in a clear font size at the very top of the page. Despite your aims of selling more online, customers feel reassured when they can clearly see your contact details. So go big and bold.
  15. Add a Contact Us Page – Following on from ensuring your telephone number is clearly visible, it is also important to clearly show your other contact details – shop address, email address and/or contact form, directions to the shop and a map of the area, along with shop opening hours.
  16. Add a Footer – The footer is the section at the bottom of every page on a website. This should include the Company name, registration number, vat number and contact details such as address, telephone number and email address.
  17. Add a Robots.txt file – Webmasters use the robots.txt file, situated in the root directory, to give instructions about their site to web robots, or bots, and is known more technically as the Robots Exclusion Protocol. A must for every website. Poorly formatted robots.txt files can prevent search engine bots from crawling and indexing your entire website so be careful.

Product Page

Web pages need to have an impact

If your website is effectively optimised for search engines, the product page – and not the home page – is the first page people will see on your website.

It is therefore not only important that is stands out from other websites but also that you have the key information well laid out and available, as first impressions are vital in an online world. There are however, some steps to take to ensure that you attract visitors in the first place. Some of these are referred to as on-page SEO (search engine optimisation) but I prefer to see them as being good practice for every visitor and the first step to converting a visitor in to a customer.

  1. Write Unique Content – Write your own product descriptions, known as unique content, rather than use the manufacturers descriptions. Just think of how many hundreds (if not more) of websites are using exactly the same product descriptions. How is Google to judge which of these websites is the most accurate with regard to the searchers’ original search request? Using unique content significantly helps improve your search engine rankings, ie. which position your website appears in the search results. This is important from an on-page SEO point of view.
  2. Write Longer Product Descriptions – This sets you apart from other websites and will help you appear in the search results for longer search phrases, known as longtail searches. For example, Scott Speedster vs Scott Speedster with triple crank and in white.
  3. Write Longer Product Titles – As above but for the actual product name. For example, Scott Speedster vs Scott Speedster 60 Triple 2014 White.
  4. Include Product Name in URL Structure – The product name should appear in the URL and so again, the longer the product name, the more keywords appear in the URL. However, don’t go too daft as this will dilute the core product name.
  5. Use Unique Page Title Tags – Search Engines use the page title tag in the search results and it is one of the most important factors on the site. It is important that every page title tag is unique and should be no more than 50-60 characters. This is a good resource to learn more about page title tags.
  6. Use Header Tags – Header tags are html code that adds paragraph headers to a page. The H1 tag is the most important and should only include the product name, on a product page. As a general rule, header tags should not be over-used and a simple guide is that H1 tags should be used once, H2 tags twice and so on for H3 to H6 tags.
  7. Add Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs are effectively an easy-to-follow on-page navigation description (look at the example on this page). For example, Home > Mountain Bikes > Trek > Trek Slash
  8. Use Large Images – Using large images allows users to see more detail, either through normal viewing of the image or because your site has an effective zoom functionality. It’s also another source of traffic, for examples, people searching in Google Images or on Pinterest.
  9. Add Multiple Images – Images are important for customers to see more detail. Add additional images of the key components (cassette, crankset, chainring, derailleurs etc) so that they can see each part of the bike. Whilst the manufacturer provides many of these images, it is good to include some of your own, making this another unique element to the product page.
  10. Add Product Specifications – Most bikes come in several models so it is important for customers to see the detail of each one. Customers researching a new bike start by looking online and sites with a full list of specifications may just retain that visitor and convert them into a buyer, either online or in the shop. It also shows off your product knowledge and thus, expertise.
  11. Add Videos – Adding videos to a product page really brings a product to life. Whilst these can be the manufacturers own videos, it is much better if you can film your own. In addition to the standard, ‘look at me’ type of bike video, it would be advantageous (and again, unique to you) if you were to include some ‘how to’ type videos for that particular bike – for example, how to change the seatpost or handlebar stem etc (more on this in the Social Networks section).
  12. Add Customer Product Reviews – Customers like to read reviews from other customers. Adding a section on the product page will help people to make a more informed product selection. Companies like Feefo™ can help automate this process and a few hundred pounds per month.
  13. Add Customer Service Reviews – Once the customer has chosen their specific product, they then want reassurance on the service they can expect. Adding a section on your website on other customers experience gives this reassurance and also demonstrates your willingness to share this information. Companies like Feefo™ and TrustPilot™ can help automate this process. Be warned, TrustPilot™ staff are quite aggressive in my experience.
  14. Add Stock Availability – In addition to selling online, your website is an advertising tool for customers planning to visit your shop. As such, showing stock availability shows customers whether you have an item in-stock before they make the journey to your shop. Some websites show the exact amount of items in-stock but a simple ‘in-stock’ message or logo will suffice.
  15. Add Live Chat – Some customers, like myself, prefer to use the Live Chat facility on websites rather than use the telephone. These allow an instant message exchange between operator and customer, either about a specific product or a question on your delivery and/or returns policy. One of the leading providers of Live Chat is LivePerson.com but there are of course others. However, before implementing this facility, consider what hours it you’ll be able to operate it as having no-one available turns a positive service into a negative experience.
  16. Clearly Display Delivery & Returns Policy – Selling online is governed by the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR), which are rules that protect consumer rights when buying products from a distance (either online or over the phone) [source: Which?]. It is important that you understand and comply with this legislation. That aside, customers want to be reassured that they will get their goods in a timely manner and that if anything goes wrong, they’ll have no hassle when returning them. Too many online retailers hide this information so it is an advantage to highlight them clearly and in a prominent position.
  17. Effective Checkout Process – Basket abandonment is one of the biggest challenges facing online retailers, with three-quarters of customers effectively walking away at the till. According to eDigitalResearch and IMRG’s research, 77% of online shoppers abandoned their baskets in 2013. If you lost three out of four customers in a store, you’d know about it and no doubt take action. Not knowing about it from an online perspective is however no excuse. In the first instance, check your analytics (Google Analytics is a free and easy to use service) and then look at each stage of the checkout process to identify areas that you need to improve. Finally, take action asap before you lose anymore money!

Natural Traffic

Probably the most common type of spam email in your inbox is from online marketing companies guaranteeing that they can get you to the top of Google. Rubbish. No one can actually guarantee this from a natural search perspective so they are either a con-artist or intend to achieve this via paid adverts.

The art of SEO (search engine optimisation) is the craft of preparing a website for optimum performance in the search engines, or in other words, the ability to improve your site’s position in the search results. Google have actually produced a Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide, and whilst at 32 pages it’s quite hefty, there is a lot of useful information in this guide for beginners and so well worth the read.

I say art of SEO because it’s not an exact science. There are several aspects to SEO; on-page, technical and off-site. There is far too much on this subject to cover in this article but I have listed a few quick points to get you started. SEO can be complex and there are more myths than grains of sand on a beach so be careful who you listen to and be even more careful what you do to your website as bad seo can be fatal.

Become an authority in your community

  1. Adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – Many people have tried to find a way around Google’s Guidelines but the list of failures is long, oh so very long. There are no quick wins so my advice is to spend time and effort working within the guidelines rather than repeating others’ mistakes [Google Webmaster Guidelines].
  2. Build Natural Links – If you are approached by an organisation to offer to build backlinks (links) to your website, don’t. It may be tempting, cheap and appear to be a quick win but you will regret it one day. These companies are looking for a quick way to earn money and they do not care how they do it. Links should be earned from other webmasters wanting to link to your website because of some great content you’ve added, so go ahead, find something awesome to add to your site.
  3. Be Visible Locally – One of the things that you have over the major retailers is the fact that you are local. People that live in a community, prefer to buy from people who also live in that community, so become an authority in your area. Ensure your business is listed in all the local directories; yellow pages, yell, thomson local, yelp etc, sponsor local events, put up posters in local council offices, libraries and shops. Most towns have individual websites to support the local community, many of which were once what we’d have called the local tourist information authority. For example, I live on the Wirral and my local site is www.visitwirral.com. This lists local businesses in the area, places to go, things to do etc. So take a look at your local site and see how you can list your business and events.
  4. Become a Local Partner – Many local hotels and bed & breakfasts also list local places of interest, which could well include cycle paths. Offer to write a short description of the cycle paths in the area in exchange for a mention of your company. Better still, if you offer cycle hire, list this as well.
  5. Add Schema – This is a way for webmasters, using specific html code to markup web pages in ways that will be recognised by the major search engines. Schemas include product reviews, product markup, organisation data and many more types. This schema creator tool helps to create accurate markup for those with limited coding experience. Whilst there’s no concrete proof that Schema helps with search rankings, it may do one day and in the meantime, it could help with click-thru rates, which in turn gives you more traffic.

Paid Traffic

Advertising has been around for a long time and it simply helps you to spend a lot of money reach a wider audience.

This is generally where the major bike retailers win over the small shops, as they have more money to spend. However, be smart and you’ll beat them.

For example, a search for “bike shops” returns over 6 million pages, whereas “bike shops wirral” results in just 640 pages being returned. This isn’t the number of bike shops, merely the number of web pages that refer to bike shops in the Wirral area.

Someone searching for the latter clearly wants to find a bike shop in that area and as such, is of much higher quality to someone who has a bike shop in the same location. The cost differential between those two phrases will be huge too.

  1. Use Google AdWords Carefully – Very easy to use, and very easy to spend a lot of money too. The key is to carefully select exact match words and not broad match. This means you only target the exact word or phrase you list rather than any of the words listed. This also brings the cost-per-click (cpc) down considerably. In addition to the previous example, where you’d target words and phrases coupled with you location, you could also look at longtail phrases. This is where you target people looking for something very specific and whilst the search volume is going to be low, these customers are ready to buy.
  2. Google Shopping Ads – These are a must for anyone selling online. They are a paid advert on Google but one that is more dynamic that plain text ads. Google will show the customer a picture of your item, its price and your shop name. Customers who click on your ad will be directed to your website where they can buy your item. Here’s a quick video on how it works.
  3. Price Comparison Sites – These are websites that list and compare products from different retailers. Whilst you may believe this is the territory of the larger bike shops, that isn’t necessarily true. There are only a handful of cycling retailers using this type of service and as such, you’d not have many competitors. Costs are relatively low and one of the advantages is that these customers are, in part, pre-qualified and are therefore more likely to buy than those just browsing.
  4. Amazon Marketplace – Listing products on Amazon is easy but their costs are quite high. However, you do get exposure on the UK’s largest retail website.
  5. eBay – The largest auction site in the World offers small retailers an opportunity to reach millions of people. Using eBay is very easy and costs are low, sometimes free. This is one that you should try, especially for discounted or discontinued products.

Social Networks

Many of these social networks will be familiar to you and so I’m not going to explain what they are. My advice is to focus on only those that you have the time to commit to. You should be looking to play an active role in all of the networks you setup, simply creating an account and walking away is not an effective strategy, afterall, if you opened a physical shop, you would be there every day wouldn’t you?

By active-role, I mean listing new posts, responding to comments and getting involved in the various online communities. This means being in the account around three to four times per day. If you can’t commit to that, I’d recommend reducing the number of accounts you setup.

  1. Facebook – Be active, post regular updates on your own account by way of new product, news and events. Add photos and videos as well as text.
  2. Twitter – Interact. In addition to add new tweets, interact with comments from other people. Search for bike related hashtags and join the conversation. This is one you can do between customers, on those days when trade is a little quieter – we all have them.
  3. Google+ – This one’s my favourite and I’m an active member of several cycling communities. G+, more so than any of the other social networks, genuinely brings like-minded people together in dedicated Communities. For example, the Cycling UK community is a great place to start.
  4. YouTube – YouTube is the second largest search engine in the World. More than 1 billion people watch more than 6 billion hours of video each month. If you want to reach more people, this is the place to start. So how do you do that? Add value. Don’t repeat what other’s have already done, either be first, different or unique. Just think of the vast amount of knowledge you have available to you, both from a product perspective and also the local area. How to videos are very popular, so why not film some technical videos. Unboxing videos are very popular in the gadget world (no, I don’t understand why either, but they are) so why not do the same for brand new bikes? The local theme could work well here too, a video on how easy it is to hire a bike or an overview on each of the local trails.
  5. Bebo, Buzznet, Flickr, Instagram, Vine etc – The list of other social networks seems endless, in fact, here is the list on Wikipedia. As I said earlier, choose the ones you join carefully and ensure you participate.
  6. Google Places – This is where you list your business online with Google. It’s very easy to use and allows you to list your business name, address, telephone number alongside opening hours, website address and pictures of your company. Google describe it well on the Places website.
  7. Google Images – People looking for photographs of bikes or components could well use Google Images, and as such, this is a potentially a good source of new customers. In order to rank well in GI, you must ensure the photos are of good quality, I’m not talking about professional images, just clear, in focus pics that are of a good quality resolution. Images that are larger than 600 pixels wide are easier to view and are likely to receive more click-thrus.
  8. Open Graph – The Open Graph (OG) protocol enables any web page to become a rich object in a social graph. For instance, this is used on Facebook to allow any web page to have the same functionality as any other object on Facebook. OG markup (code) must be used in order for web pages to render effectively in social networks, like Facebook. Talk to your web developer to get this implemented on eCommerce sites or use a Plugin on WordPress sites.
  9. Knowledge Graph – Google’s aim is to deliver the best results for any one search. As part of it’s learning process, it brings together what it knows about people, objects, activities and brands. This is the Knowledge Graph and it is this last element, brands, that you’re interested in. In order for you to be recognised by Google as a brand, you need to have been seen in plenty of places (online), doing different things and being talked about. As you’re credibility as a business grows, so does your brand. There are ways in which you can build you’re brand but this is quite a specialist area and too in-depth for this particular article.

WordPress

WordPress is a content management system (CMS) that runs on php and MYSQL. It’s an open source platform which means anyone can access the code and write supporting functionality for it, including add-ons called plugins. Best of all, it’s free and widely supported.

Here’s an overview video from WP101, which highlight that WordPress is more than just a blogging platform. After that, there are some tips on how you could use WordPress for your bike business.

  1. Blog – The most common use WordPress is as a blogging platform. It’s extremely easy to setup and use, with a wealth of support online and a growing number of local support groups. The question of content is one that you need to ask yourself but the answer includes, yes, you do have enough content, you just need to dedicate some time to bringing it to life. This can include some of the things already mentioned, such as how to videos, cycle hire info, cycling news & events from your local area and any sponsorship or partnerships deals that you’re involved in.
  2. Business Website – Every business that wants to compete online, should have their own website. At the very least this should be a basic introduction and history of the Company, coupled with basic business contact details and opening times.
  3. eCommerce Site – WordPress isn’t just a basic CMS, it can be your eCommerce platform too. WooCommerce is one of the most popular but there are many, many more. An eCommerce WordPress website can help you list products for sale and manage the payment process. Whilst this can be a free solution, it may be worth investing in a premium theme and plugins to offer a more professional shopping experience. This is still a low cost option to selling bikes online.
  4. Articles – If you write articles, either on the products you sell or cycling related topics, WP is an outstanding platform for this purpose.
  5. Image Gallery – If photography is your preferred medium, WP offers a wide range of themes to showcase your work.
  6. Videos – There are numerous themes dedicated to presenting videos in an effective way. So if you find yourself with a number of videos you wish to show-off, WP is a great solution.
  7. Themes – WordPress use themes to sit on top of the core code and as such, you can change the look & feel of your website in minutes, with no coding experience whatsoever.
  8. Plugins – Plugins can extend the core WordPress functionality to do almost anything you can imagine. At present, there are over 30,000 plugins which have been downloaded more than 655 million times, so they are quite popular!
  9. Hosting – Most hosting companies are able to provide a platform for WordPress. All that is required is PHP version 5.2.4 or higher and MySQL version 5.0 or higher. WP recommend Apache or Nginx as they are the most robust. Hosting costs are low and only start to increase if you have higher traffic / bandwidth volumes and/or your setup becomes more complex (some plugins require more).
  10. Security – WordPress security is sometimes mentioned as a concern and whilst this must be taken seriously, so long as you keep your core WP and plugins up-to-date, and chose a respected host, you should be fine.
  11. Backup – WordPress uses a MySQL database to keep a record of all the files used to build the site. It is important that you keep regular backups of these files. To that end, there are plenty of plugins to choose from to help you with this task, many of which automate this process.
  12. Responsive Design – We saw earlier that responsive designs are important. Choosing an appropriate theme can help with this. This website uses a responsive design, which means that it works perfectly well on any device.
  13. Reviews – WP is ideal if you just want somewhere to store your reviews, whether this be customer reviews of your great service or product reviews you’ve written on new bikes and gear. There are plugins to help with the Schema (see earlier) elements too.
  14. Forums – Forums are a great way for people to ask questions, they also offer you the opportunity to answer questions, which in turn demonstrates your knowledge and expertise. Customers are likely to feel reassured and this could therefore lead to you generating new sales leads.
  15. Polls – A quick one question poll takes mere seconds to complete. Conducting polls will build a knowledge base that may spark ideas for future articles and videos. It could also be a source of additional traffic to your website.
  16. Surveys – In much a similar way, surveys offer you the opportunity to gauge people’s opinions on a wide range of cycling related topics and may again add much needed inspiration.
  17. Comment – A WordPress blog could allow you to voice your opinion on the cycling industry, either on matters raised by governing bodies such as ACT, Sustrans and British Cycling or Government, especially local council activity in your area.
  18. Jobs – Vacancies in your bike shop could be advertised, for free, on your WP site. They could also be somewhere that you could recruit from, with the pre-application questions filtering out unsuitable applicants.
  19. Press Releases – Given all this new activity you’ve got planned [;-)], you’ll need somewhere to add all the press releases you’re going to be publishing.
  20. Directory – Directories are useful places to find information on specific topics. You could start a directory of local cycling related interests like cycle paths & trails, road routes, cycle centres, B&B’s etc.
  21. Guide to the Area – In a similar way to the directory, you could produce a guide to the local area. This would however be more extensive and contain personal thoughts on each of the places and services listed. This would help to build a definitive guide to your area and define you as the most credible source of cycling related knowledge in the area.
  22. Classifieds – You may not buy second hand bikes but you could offer customers a place to sell their unwanted bike gear. The advantage over eBay, Craigslist etc is that you are supporting your local area, which may result in the customer buying their new bike from you.
  23. Podcasts – The word podcast came from the rise of the iPod and is combined with ‘broadcast’ to describe audio (and latterly video) recordings. You could record a number of podcasts on cycling topics, either from your local area (trails, routes, services), to sound-off at local government inadequate services or audio versions of the how to videos.
  24. Competitions – A great way for you to increase followers on Facebook and Twitter, or gather email addresses.
  25. Coupons & Discount Codes – A dedicated WordPress site (or section) for discount codes keeps these offers separate from other parts of your website and helps to ensure you don’t give money away unnecessarily.
  26. eMail Newsletter – Building loyal customers is the backbone of any successful business. Providing a regular email newsletter helps you to keep in touch with those customers. Combining useful information, product reviews, competitions and opinions on local matters helps to keep the newsletters varied and interesting.
  27. Cycling Routes – Cyclists are always looking for new trails and routes so why not provide maps and routes for them to follow. Offering free downloads in a variety of formats helps to broaden the customer base, for example, PDFs, digital GPS downloads, on-page digital maps using Google Maps, paper maps etc.
  28. Support Ticket – An online support ticketing system is a great way for businesses to keep track of customer service inquiries and complaints. It also helps to present a more professional approach to a plain online contact form. Solutions need not be expensive and some free solutions are available.
  29. Courses – If you provide bike maintenance courses, this could be an effective way to advertise them online. It would also give you an opportunity to produce short videos to recruit new customers.
  30. Tutorials – An alternative to courses is to provide online tutorials, which are another great way for you to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise.

Useful Tools

The multi-tool is an essential aid to a stranded cyclist.

In much the same way we need help with our bikes, we need help with our websites.

The following are a series of online tools that help us to identify aspects of our websites that may not be visible to the naked eye. For example, we learnt earlier how important fast servers are but it isn’t always clear what is causing a website to slow down. Fear not, help is at hand in the shape of these useful tools, all of which are free to use.

  1. Pingdom – A site that performs a speed test on your website by simply adding your site’s URL. Link to Pingdom. In the summary of results, the two key elements are Performance Grade and Load Time. You should be looking for a performance grade of 90/100 or higher and load times of less than 1.5s. The Waterfall tab shows you data for each element loaded on the test page, which helps you to identify which part of the page is hindering fast page load times.
  2. GT Metrix – Another site speed test but one that incorporates tow tests (Page Speed Insights and YSlow). Link to GT Metrix. This site also produces a breakdown of performance by each individual element, which really helps to identify issues. Sppeds should be no more than 3s and performance grades of A preferred but it might take sometime to get to that level.
  3. WebPageTest.org – As the name suggests, this is a site that measures web page performance. This site allows you to select a test location and browser. It’s well-known that Internet Explorer is slower than Chrome so testing with different browsers helps you to see what your customers see. Whilst the Internet works at lightening speeds, it still takes longer for requests to travel longer distances, so choose a location closest to your web host to get the quickest results. Link to WebPageTest.org.
  4. Google PageSpeed Insights – Gives an insight into your page speed, funny that. Link to Google PageSpeed Insights. It gives separate scores for how your site appears on mobile devices and desktop PCs, along with ways on how to fix any issues.
  5. Open Site Explorer – This tool comes from the people behind Moz.com and it provides analysis on the link profile of your website, including the number of links, a breakdown of anchor text and other useful data. Link to Open Site Explorer.
  6. Majestic SEO – This is another SEO analysis tool and one that is widely recognised within the industry as being highly credible. Link to Majestic SEO.
  7. Schema Creator – This website allows you to compile code for specific schema without any prior knowledge of code. Link to Schema-Creator.
  8. Webmaster Tools – Absolutely essential for every webmaster. This is the one place you can see what Google (or Bing) sees with regard to your website. It is also the only place they’ll let you know if there are any issues with your website.
  9. Google Analytics – This is a service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about a website’s traffic, traffic sources and measures conversions and sales.

I very much hope that this information helps you to perform better online. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via email, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

How Small Bike Shops Can Compete Online


Article on how independent bike retailers can compete online.

An in-depth look at how the 2,500 bike shops in the UK, most of which are independently owned and managed, can compete with the likes of Evans Cycles, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle and Halfords. First published on10th May 2014 by .

Local bike shops are an essential part of any community. However, with rising costs and the threat of the Internet, it is important that they learn how to adapt and survive online.