I’ve changed the name of our blog

admin wrote this on Oct 6 |

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I’ve just returned from Chicago Market and based on the feedback received from independent bridal shop owners, I’ve decided to change the name of this blog to “Bridal Shop Meets Internet”. After the first day of speaking with shop owners is became clear that many of us are struggling to effectively use technology/internet to build their sales.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting pithy insights on how the independent bridal shop owner can utilize technology to create an experience that the internet discounters and big box chains could never provide.

Cheers,
Tom

Retailer Spotlight – Pure Brides

admin wrote this on May 17 |

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Wedding Dresses Norwich Norfolk

courtesy: Pure Brides

Over the past few months I’ve had the privilege of working with Anna and Gemma from Pure Brides in Norwich, Norfolk UK. Pure Brides carries fabulous Wedding Dresses, Bridal Gowns in Norwich, Norfolk. Anna and Gemma have been instrumental in providing feedback and suggestions for BridalLive enhancements; especially for the UK. Many of the features you see in BridalLive are a direct result of their insightful feedback. So if you happen to be looking for wedding dresses in Norwich, Norfolk, Pure Brides is THE place to go.

I caught up with Anna and asked her a few questions about BridalLive. The interview follows:

Tom: Tell us a little about your shop? How did you get into bridal, your location, how long in business, sq footage, etc.

Anna: I’m based in Norwich in the UK and got into bridal simply as the opportunity presented itself, the numbers looked good and I was looking for a different direction from the corporate background I had come from. We have been trading for 5 years now and have around 1300 sq ft.

Tom: What made you choose BridalLive over the other bridal-specific software vendors?

Anna: There was nothing else in the UK that was even close to doing what BridalLive does. I have looked at a variety of different options, only one of which was Bridal specific and none of these even came close to what I was looking for. I was at the point where my web designer and I were looking to try and develop our own software when I found BL and so it was a great find for me as all the hard work had already been done!

Tom: How long did it take to learn to use BridalLive? How long to train your staff?

Anna: My manageress and I found it very intuitive and got to grips with it very quickly, and we are pretty used to working with Windows and regularly use a computer, the other members of my team have definitely found it harder, as they are less comfortable working on a computer and are very used to writing everything down, so the transition has been painful in places, but they do all love it now and despite the many ‘how do I’ type of questions that we get throughout the day, they can see the benefit and are beginning to feel more professional as a result of BridalLive. It’s take a few months, but we are rather unique in that we were the 1st UK shop and have had to change several bits and pieces to make the system ‘feel right’ in the UK and we deliberately took it slowly as we weren’t able to fully switch over until all the UK specific updates were in place.

Tom: Has BridalLive improved your bridal shops operations? How?

Anna: YES! It’s very easy to immediately locate brides info, and there are no excuses for mislaid paperwork or incorrect balances or payments being taken. The reports features are fab and actually made it very clear to me where we are making good money and where we need to re-evaluate stock etc.

Tom: What is your favorite feature of BridalLive?

Anna: There are so many, the reports are excellent, but so are the tasks, you’ll never again forget to do something, just set yourself a task and it will stay in the list until you mark it as completed! Yay, a few less sleepless nights worrying about the thing I’m sure forgotten, but can’t actually remember what it is!

Tom: Would you recommend BridalLive to other bridal shops? Why?

Anna: Absolutely, although the fact that I don’t want my immediate competitors to have it tells a story!

I want to thank Anna for taking time out of her busy schedule to share his thoughts and insights with everyone. Pure Brides has an excellent selection of Mother of the Bride dresses. Check them out!

Version 1.3 now available

admin wrote this on May 2 |

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Version 1.3 is a direct response to your feature requests. All of the enhancements and new features added in this version were a direct result of the outstanding feedback I’ve received from shops using BridalLive. In this blog post, I’ll outline some of the more notable new features.

Improved Order Tracking/Management

In version 1.2, in order to be able to see the status of a customer order, you had to open the customer’s Sales Order and click “Associated POs”. We’ve improved this in version 1.3, by adding the PO #, Est. Ship Date, and Qty Received to the contact’s purchase history tab. These new fields are available for each sales order line item listed in the purchase history. Also, you can now jump directly to the Inventory Item, Sales Order, or Purchase Order right from the from the line item!

Additionally, we’ve added the ability open the contact tab directly from the Purchase Order. For each line item on the PO, we’ve added a new icon that will open the contact’s tab. Also, we’ve added the ability to copy the Contact’s name and event date to the notes field on the PO. Simply select “Copy contact information to PO” when you are creating the PO and voila!

From the POS side, you can now enter notes for each line item and track which items have been taken home on a Sales Order. Also, for those of you who require a certain deposit percent for Sales Order (i.e. 50% down), you can now specify this percentage under Administration > POS > Default Deposit Percent.

Receipts got an upgrade as well. With version 1.3 you can now print your logo and any line item notes. To add your logo, simply go to Administration > POS > Print Logo on Receipt.

Improved Appointment Options

In version 1.2 appointments were either “Pending” or “Completed”. With version 1.3 we’ve now introduced the concept of “Re-Booked”, “No show”, and “Canceled”. Using the accompanying report titled “Appointment Status Count By Month”, you can now track how many appointment were not completed and why. With this feature, you will now have the ability to measure improvements made in Pre-Sales communication with the bride.

Also, the Quick Appointment now has a notes field where you can enter notes specific to that appointment without having to open the appointment.

Improved Inventory Management

In version 1.2, every item was unique by short description, size and color. As a result, new items for the same style were added to the inventory every time a different size or color was sold. While some prefer this technique, we added to option to manually specify color and size on the Sale and Sales Order without new items being added to the item list.

To make things even easier, we’ve added to concept of Color Groups and Size Groups that can be added to Vendors. When these color and size groups are linked to the inventory item, the color and size fields on the Sale/Sales Order use these available options. Moreover, this feature establishes a foundation needed to be able to suggest sizing based on the contact’s measurements.

For a complete listing of new features and improvements, please reference the release notes.

How to get the new version

Updating is free and simple and takes less than 30 seconds. On each computer running BridalLive, follow these 3 steps:

  1. Open the Administration Module
  2. Click “Program Settings” in the left navigation menu
  3. Click “Check For Updates” and accept the updates.

As always, if you have any questions/suggestions, please contact me.

Helping you thrive,

Tom Esposito

Top 7 Bridal Shop Website re-design tips

admin wrote this on Jan 27 |

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In this post, I’ll outline my top 7 website re-design tips for your bridal shop website. If you are thinking of overhauling your website, be sure to read these first.

  1. Focus on conversion – The only reason you have a website in the first place is to generate new leads. If your old website wasn’t set up to measure conversion, make sure your new one is. For more information on this, take a look at my other post on Measuring your bridal shop website’s conversion rate .
  2. Your website must attract prospects – Your website has to be more than just pretty, it has to attract visitors. Visitors are attracted by remarkable content. Whether that be a great blog post, a cool video, or a special promotion, you must give web surfing brides a reason to visit your website. Once you’ve figured out what that is, be sure to tell the world. Post to Facebook, tweet, write a blog post, share a video on you tube, etc. The bottom line is that your brand now has more real estate that it can claim online and much of it is free. If you do nothing else, be sure to create your local listings at all of the top search engines. Here are the links: Google Local Business Center, Yahoo Local, Bing Local. As an added bonus, the effort spent to create your Local listings will help you out in the SEO department as well.
  3. Create Landing Pages – Landing pages that visitors usually “land” on first. Often times, these are pages have been optimized for search engines. Since most visitors don’t enter your web site through the front door (home page), make sure that each of your landing pages are well designed with appropriate calls-to-action.
  4. Re-use what’s working with your current site – Don’t completely trash your old site if there were parts of it that were working. For example, if you have a significant amount of inbound links to a page, don’t get rid of it. Keep any keyword rich copy that you spent time creating and re-use that as well.
  5. Don’t re-invent the wheel – There is a reason why amazon hasn’t done a major re-design of it’s website. It’s because it works. There are plenty of designs out there that work really well. Take inspiration from them.
  6. Spend more time creating content than beautiful design – Be sure to include elements to your site that allow you to change and/or produce content on a regular basis. A blog is a great way to keep fresh content on your site. Plus, it shows that your business has a pulse.
  7. Include a simple way to measure your site’s effectiveness – We’re bridal retailers and we don’t have time to check our web site analytics every day. That’s why it’s important to have a system in place for measuring your site effectiveness. I keep tabs on a few key numbers: Conversion rate, bounce rate, total visitors. Then I look at my top 10 referring sites to make sure that my marketing spend is in check. These numbers usually give me an idea of how well our site is working.

What are some of your tips for redesigning a web site? Anything you learned last time around? Share your ideas with the readers of this blog by commenting.

Version 1.2 now available!

admin wrote this on Jan 3 |

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It’s finally here and you’re going to love it.

If you’ve ever wanted to automate your prom dress registry, it’s here. If you were one of the many that requested Credit Card processing, today’s your day. With over 25 new features and improvements, version 1.2 is the next step in making your bridal business more profitable.

For a complete listing of these new features and improvements, please read the release notes.

For more information on how to use the new features, see the Online User Guide.

Updating is simple and takes less than 30 seconds. On each computer running BridalLive, follow these 3 steps:

  1. Open the Administration Module
  2. Click “Program Settings” in the left navigation menu
  3. Click “Check For Updates” and accept the updates.

Have fun with it and let me know how we can make it better.

Shameless plug follows:

Today BridalLive’s Marketing Tools are helping retailers all over the country generate more web site leads, reduce appointment cancellations and increase their closing ratio. If your shop could use improvement in these areas, I encourage you to learn more about the marketing tools. To see it in action, contact me directly at 1-888-764-2605 for an interactive live demo and case studies.

Automated Bridal Shop Marketing: Part #3 – Measuring Conversion

admin wrote this on Dec 19 |

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bridal shop software measuring conversion

This is the thrid article in a series entitled “A Systematic Approach to Bridal Shop Marketing“. In the last article, I showed you how to convert your bridal shop website visitors into prospects. If you’ve completed that step you are now driving tons of traffic to your web site and getting them to perform your calls-to-action. Now it’s time to focus on how you can measure the effectiveness of your website. Specifically, your website’s conversion rate.

As Bridal retailers, we routinely measure our closing ratio for our in-store product. We also monitor the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns by tracking coupon codes, asking brides how they heard about us, and reviewing the “referring sites” in our web statistics software. The more retailers I talk to, the more I’m finding out that there has been little attention paid to the effectiveness of their website. In today’s world, simply having a web site is not good enough. Your web site MUST be doing its job of driving foot traffic in to your bridal salon.

Most web sites have a conversion rate of less than 1%. Conversion can be influenced by many different things: the placement of your calls-to-action, the quality of the web site visitor, how compelling your marketing copy is, etc. In the last article in this series we talked about how to establish effective calls-to-action. Now, we’ll look at how to measure your results using Google Analytics.

The rest of this post will assume that you are familiar with Google Analytics. If you are not familiar with Google Analytics, I advise that you read my previous post entitled Setting up Google Analytics for your Bridal Shop’s web site.

Now let’s look at the steps needed to measure your web site performance.

  1. Establish web site goals
  2. Measure
  3. Tweak

Establishing web site goals within Google Analytics

Before you can measure the effectiveness of your web site, you must first establish “Goals” for your visitors to perform. These are the same as your calls-to-action and you must tell Google what they are before they can be measured. Before we get started, if you are a BridalLive Marketing Tools customer and would like to establish goals for your Marketing Tools submission, please read my previous post entitled How to use our Bridal Shop POS Software to measure website conversion.

To establish goals inside of Google Analytics click the “Edit” button next to your web site profile.

analytics-settings-edit

Next, you’ll want to add your goal. Click “Add Goal” on your web site settings page as seen below.

analytics-add-goal

Next, you’ll want to name your goal and choose the “Goal Type”. If you simply want to measure how many times a web visitor visits a web page on your site, choose “URL Destination”. This is the easiest type of goal and the only one that we’ll discuss in this post. Now, enter the URL of the page on your site that you’d like to measure.

analytics-goal-add

Once you’ve defined your web site goals, it’s time to start measuring.

Measuring your Web Site’s Effectiveness with Google Analytics

Google provides a lot of nice graphs and stats that help you visualize your web site’s performance. To view the Goals stats, navigate to the “Goals” section in the left navigation bar.

analytics-goals-nav

On the overview page, you’ll see a “Goal Performance” graph that shows how many conversions you’ve received and what percentage of visitors are converting. It’ll look something like the graphic below:

analytics-goal-performance

There are a variety of other great reports that Google provides within the “Goals” section of its Analytics software. Take a look through and be sure to visit often to keep tabs on how well your site is working for you.

Tweaking your website

It’s important to remember that measuring performance is only half of the equation. Once you’ve established the means to measure your performance, you must now work on improving your site’s effectiveness. Some things that you can play around with are:

  1. Change the location of your Calls To Action
  2. Simplify your home page
  3. Make your Call To Action stand out more
  4. Place your Calls To Action in more places on your web site

This concludes the discussion on measuring web site performance.

Follow the links below for the rest of this series:

  1. Part 1: Your Lead Machine
  2. Part 2: Conversion Principles
  3. Part 3: Measuring Conversion
  4. Pre-Appointment trust building and differentiation
  5. Fostering post-sale word of mouth

Stay tuned via Email, RSS, or Twitter. You are not going to want to miss the rest of this series.

Webinar Notes – Blogging – 12/17/2009

admin wrote this on Dec 18 |

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blog

I hope everyone enjoyed the webinar last night on blogging. I’ve included some notes from the session below.

Getting Started with Blogging

3 Step process:

  1. Install
  2. Configure
  3. Design

Installing your blog

If you don’t have a host like BlueHost that has a simple WordPress installation feature, then you’ll have to follow WordPress’s Famous 5-minute Installation

Configuring your blog

The most important things to remember here is that you want to make your blog “Public” by making the neccessary selection under the Privacy settings. After you’ve done that you’ll want to make sure your Permalinks are set up properly so that the links to your blog posts are keyword rich. To do this, set the “Common Settings” to use a custom structure of “/%category%/%postname%”.

One of the last steps in configuring your blog is to install plug ins. Here is a list of plug-ins that you’ll want to install:

  1. Akismet – blocks spam comments
  2. All in one SEO Pack – helps your posts be keyword rich
  3. Google XML Sitemaps – builds a “map” of your site ans submits to Google and other search engines routinely.
  4. Subscription Options – or something like it that allows people to subscribe to your blog.
  5. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – Shows a list of related posts at the bottom of each post. Great for keywords
  6. Sociable – or something like it that allows people to book mark your site on social sites.

Designing Your Blog

When it comes to making your blog look pretty you have a few options.

  1. Free Themes – search within WordPress to find and install free themes
  2. Premium Theme – use a site like Templatic to find some really nice premium themes
  3. Custom Theme – use a site like Elance.com to find a WordPress freelancer who can make a theme that matches your website

I’m looking forward to the next webinar where we’ll look at how you can measure website conversion rates using Google Analytics.

Tampa Bridal Shop Seminar Materials

admin wrote this on Dec 11 |

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This year’s Tampa Seminar was amazing. There were some excellent sales and marketing sessions led by Jim Butler of Arizona’s Bridal Warehouse and Bridal Training Systems. Jim really knows what he’s talking about and if you are serious about growing your bridal business, you need to be paying attention to what he has to offer.

Jon Saltzman (Jon’s Bridal) gave 2 talks. One was for Newbies and the other was a great contrast between Special Order and Off-The-Rack shops. Lisa (Formals Of Litchfield) and Barbara (Mary and Tux) had a great presentation on how to make bridesmaids a more profitable part of our businesses.

On Monday, I spoke about “How to use today’s technology to gain a competitive edge”. During the talk, I gave away a few prizes. Angela Ng from Bridal Image in San Francisco and Lynn Atkins from Charlotte Bridal both won books. The grand prize, a FREE COPY OF BRIDALLIVE, was won by Beth Clark of Bridal Chateau. Congratulations to all the lucky winners.

Rachel and I enjoyed meeting everyone. We’ll see you next year!

Are you ready for the Tampa Bridal Shop Conference?

admin wrote this on Dec 4 |

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The Better Bridal Group seminar starts Monday 12/7/2009. Are you ready? If you haven’t yet registered for the event, jump over to www.bridalconvention.net and get signed up already! Last year (although we couldn’t attend) there were over 50 bridal stores represented sharing their ideas and networking. This bridal seminar easily pays for itself.

This year I will be giving a talk entitled “How to use today’s technology to gain a competitive edge”. I’ll address how changes in marketing have allowed savvy bridal shops to leverage new technology products. I’ll also be demonstrating how you can turn your website into a lead generation machine. After that, we’ll do some hands on demonstrations of some excellent software products that can help streamline your marketing efforts.

There will also be some excellent sessions led by Jim Butler of Arizona’s Bridal Warehouse and Bridal Training Systems. His materials on sales and marketing are a necessity if you are an independent bridal shop looking to get ahead of the curve.

I look forward to meeting new shop owners and developing new friendships.

Automated Bridal Shop Marketing: Part #1 – Your Lead Machine

admin wrote this on Nov 8 |

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gears

This is the first article in a series entitled “A Systematic Approach to Bridal Shop Marketing“. In this topic we’ll provide an action plan for effective web site design, optimizing your site for Google, and how to increase your web site search rankings. The latest issues of Vows Magazine has an article on understanding what brides are searching for online. In this post, I’ll add some action steps that you can perform to achieve more search engine traffic.

When companies explore the idea of creating a web site, many simply have a web designer convert their paper-based brochures into a “web site”. The end result is beautiful, but the content is static and void of interactivity. Visitors to these sites typically click around for a few minutes and leave. If the site owner is lucky, they’ll convince the visitor to pick up the phone and call. However, in reality most visitors leave, never to return. These “Brochure-ware” web sites have low visitor loyalty and typically have a low conversion ratio. Why? Because these sites are full of the same old marketing speak and void of any content that engages the visitor.

In this article, we’ll outline an action plan for turning your website into a lead generation machine. If you have a website like the one mentioned above, using the techniques outlined in this article will result in more traffic and more leads.

Getting Found

Before you can begin converting visitors into prospects, you must have visitors. The most effective way to drive traffic to your website is through search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO).

At the core, there are 2 approaches to SEM: paid, and non-paid. Paid SEM involves placing advertisements on search result pages. These ads appear at the top and right hand side of the search result page. With non-paid SEM, your website’s link appears in the actual search results. This is commonly referred to as organic or natural search placement. Paid search will have quicker results with less traffic, but may carry high costs for competitive keywords/key phrases. The organic approach has the potential to drive far more traffic to your site at a much lower cost.

Consider the following heat map for Google’s result page:

google heat map

Some interesting points here are:

  • Organic listings capture 75% of the traffic
  • The first page captures 89% of the traffic
  • The #1 result captures 42% of the traffic

So you want to be in the “HOT” area of that heat map, huh? Well, first things first. Google must be “taught” about the content of your website before you can achieve a high ranking. To do this, you’ll want to make sure you’ve perform the following steps. These steps should be followed in order.

Step #1: Identify your keywords

Select keywords based on search volume, relevance, and competition. Use Google’s Keyword tool or WordTracker to figure out which keywords your website should be optimizing with. The key to selecting the right keywords is balancing search volume with relevance and competition. One trick I’ve used is to setup an Adwords campaign with as many relevant keywords as I can gather. Each Adwords campaign will show you the actual number of impressions per key phrase. This trick allows you to use actual data to properly select keywords.

Step #2: On-Page SEO

There is a lot that goes into On Page SEO. I’ll touch on some of the most important items and provide some resources at the end for those looking for more detail. Ultimately, the goal of On-Page SEO is placing your keywords where Google looks for them. I recommend that your website does not use a Flash intro as this usually makes it difficult for Google to navigate to your content. Any text on your website should be “readable” by Google (i.e. no images containing text).

Follow these guidelines for on page SEO:

  • Page Title – The title of your web page helps search engines understand what your web page is about. The page title appears as the main text of your search result link as well as in the top left corner of the browser window. This should be no more than 60 characters (including spaces) and should include your key phrase. Separate multiple key words/key phrases with a pipe character (“|”). Here is example of a title tag: <title>Bridal Shop in Arizona |Arizona Bridal Shops</title>
  • Page Description – This tag provides a description for your web page. Use your key phrases in this section twice. Rumor is that Google doesn’t weigh the description as much as you may think. The goal here is to use word that contains your keywords as well as encourages the reader to click you link. An example of a page description is: <meta content=”Anita’s Bridal was voted the best bridal shop in Arizona in a contest that included all bridal shops in Arizona.” />
  • H1, H2, H3 tags – These are the heading tags that emphasize text on your web page. Use 1-3 heading tags per page that contain your keywords. The goal is to break up your text in to sections and include an H1, H2, or H3 as a heading. An example would be: <H1>Arizona Bridal Shop celebrates 25th Anniversary</H1>
  • First and last 25 words of the page – Place you keywords in the first (heading) and last (footer) 25 words of your page.
  • Bold your keywords – This should happen at least once.
  • Italicize or underline your keywords – This should happen at least once.

As mentioned earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive list of On Page SEO techniques, but these steps are a good first step if you haven’t spent time doing this. For those interested in more information on SEO, I recommend the following resources:

Once your website has been optimized for your keywords and key phrases, you can now begin your Off Page SEO. As a general rule of thumb, 75% of your time should be spent working off of your site and 25% on your site. This means you should be working to build links to your site from others once it’s been established and optimized.

Step #3: Off-Page SEO

Many SEO experts agree that Off Page SEO is the single most important step for achieving a high ranking. Google determines your site’s relevance to a search term using a complex voting system known as PageRank. The more websites that link to yours, the higher your website’s PageRank. Links from larger sites like Microsoft.com carry more weight than links from less important sites. Off Page SEO involves getting as many credible sites linking to your site as possible.

Follow these recommendations for Off Page SEO:

  • Create and distribute content – Create articles that relate to and include your keywords, then distribute them to the following 3 websites: ezinearticles.com, goarticles.com, and buzzle.com. If this is too much work, use a service like isnare.com to distribute your articles to hundreds of directories.
  • Create and Distribute Press Releases – Follow the same technique in the above recommendation to distribute press releases. If you aren’t familiar with writing press releases, use a service like elance.com and someone will gladly do it for $50.
  • Submit your website to directoriesdmoz.org, business.com, aboutus.org, and others that allow for free links.
  • Link Exchange – Find others that blog about your favorite topics and ask if they’d place a link on their site to yours.
  • Create a blog – Google loves fresh and original content. A blog is also a good way to build trust among your customers. What better want to get inbound links than having someone linking to your original and thought provoking content!

As your website climbs the list for your key phrases, you will begin receiving more traffic. The next 2 posts in this series will center around converting your visitors into prospects and measuring your conversion results.

Follow the links below for the rest of this series:

  1. Part 1: Your Lead Machine
  2. Part 2: Conversion Principles
  3. Part 3: Measuring Conversion

Stay tuned via Email, RSS, or Twitter. You are not going to want to miss this series.