Does your thrift store have its own website? If so, great—but that’s just the first step. A website is only useful when potential customers can find it. That means you need a plan for search engine optimization, or SEO.

What is SEO?
Search engine optimization includes all the steps you take to drive people to your website when they search online.

Contrary to popular belief, SEO is not reserved for big-box retailers with equally large budgets. Even small businesses can benefit—especially those in the booming resale industry.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, sales at resale stores steadily increased by more than 50% between 2008 and 2016. During that same time period, discount department store revenues fell by 50% and traditional department stores lost 25% of revenues.

Young shoppers appear to be driving this trend. For example, large numbers of people between the ages of 18 and 37 are adopting second hand apparel shopping, according to research from GlobalData.

While there is great potential in the resale industry right now, you must consider the demographic that drives the charge. Once you recognize that millennials and Gen Z live in a digital world, it becomes apparent that your thrift store needs a prominent presence online.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enhance your online authority and drive traffic to your storefront. In this playbook, we outline some of the most relevant SEO strategies for consignment stores. Before diving into those, however, it is important that you analyze your current SEO strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

RELATED: How to gain customers to your thrift store

An SEO SWOT Analysis

Assuming your resale store already has a live website, you want to start this journey with a comprehensive SWOT analysis. You may have completed a SWOT analysis before starting your business. Indeed, it’s a time-tested activity for entrepreneurs and marketing agencies. However, this type of review is also insightful for SEO purposes.

An SEO SWOT analysis helps you understand what customers want and whether you’re meeting those demands. And if you aren’t rising to those expectations, a SWOT analysis can tell you where to focus attention. Using the results, you can determine exactly where to direct SEO efforts, so you don’t waste time or resources.

Strengths

Start with the positives: what you’re currently doing well. Strengths are internal factors that you can assess easily.

You will, however, need access to basic analytics tools to determine the details of your web activity. Budget-friendly and free services like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Moz or Serpstat work well for this.

Not sure where to look? Use the list below as a guide.

To identify SEO strengths, analyze the following:

  • Your unique value proposition—the factors that set you apart and that your customers deem valuable
  • The keywords for which you rank well—ideally, the ones where you show up on the first page
  • Your content pieces that rank well in search results
  • The links that get the most clicks on your website
  • Your most-visited web pages

Weaknesses

It’s humbling to admit your weaknesses, but it’s the only way to get the complete picture. Look at internal obstacles, using the same analytics tools you used when identifying strengths.

When pinpointing weak spots, think about these factors:

  • What your competitors are doing better
  • Which content or web pages fail to drive traffic
  • Whether you have built-in SEO tools (such as Yoast SEO in WordPress) and if they are limited by any technical or budget constraints
  • How much time and money you can afford to invest in SEO efforts

Opportunities

Ultimately, your weaknesses become opportunities. So use this section to get specific about where to focus. But don’t overlook your strengths.

You might have one strong blog post that explains how to care for vintage clothing. While it ranks well and drives a ton of traffic to your blog, there might be an opportunity to include product links, partnership mentions or links to your other (relevant) content pieces.

Threats

Typically, these are external factors that are largely out of your control. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive.

Stay on top of SEO trends and industry changes, as they can help shape your SEO decision-making going forward. For example, you’ll want to know if Google is changing its search algorithm, as that could impact your rankings.

Of course, always keep a close eye on your competition. Know where they rank for certain keywords and take note if they rise or fall from that spot. Also, pay attention to any newcomers and how their online presence might affect yours.

The 4 Key Focuses for Successful SEO

If you want to craft an effective SEO strategy, you have to speak your customers’ language..

Stephan Bajaio, chief evangelist at technology company Conductor, says this requires in-depth keyword research. In-depth keyword research can enable you to duplicate the ways that your audience already finds you. In other words, you can build on your current success.

Once you’ve determined the most relevant keywords and keyword phrases, use them to tackle the following SEO tactics.

1. Technical SEO

What this means:

Technical SEO is concerned with the framework of your website. For instance:

  • Can search engines easily crawl your site?
  • Are your pages properly indexed?
  • Is your site mobile-friendly?
  • Is the site quick to load, or do plug-ins bog it down?

These factors will directly affect your search rankings, making it either easier or harder to find your store online.

Fortunately, many of these questions will be addressed when your website is built. If you used WordPress, Squarespace or a similar service to set up your site, you can rest easy. These players are well-versed in SEO and make the technical structure pretty point-and-shoot. That said, there are still a few changes you can make as a small-business owner.

What you can do as a thrift store owner:

Divide and conquer. Look at how your web pages are structured, starting with the homepage. Bajaio suggests dividing your web pages into the categories in which you sell. If you sell clothing and shoes, make sure you have a separate page for each of those “departments.” Then, give each of those pages a prominent navigation tab on your homepage’s menu bar.

By optimizing the hierarchy of your website, you can drive traffic, increase page visits and boost your search rankings. Each categorized page gives search engines more relevant content to serve up during specific search queries. It also helps set an expectation for your potential customers.

“Your site experience should parallel the in-store experience. Let them know what they’re going to get when they get to your store,” says Bajaio.

2. Content

What this means:

Content includes all the words you put on the website. Through content, you communicate to your target audience what you sell and where you sell it. Content can also be used to help build your brand’s credibility.

As a resale store owner, your focus should be on leveraging user-generated content and offering informative blog articles that engage potential customers. As you create blog content optimize it for search results, which means incorporating the keywords you determined were most relevant for your thrift store business.

What you can do as a thrift store owner:

Encourage reviews. Reviews and testimonials on your site are powerful pieces of content because they instantly add to your store’s credibility. The best part? Testimonials are user-generated content, so you don’t have to write a single word.

Instead, your job is to encourage the creation of these reviews. Once you’ve established a good rapport with some of your customers, ask them to share their positive experience. You can guide them to a third-party site, such as Google My Business, and/or take down a direct quote to post on your own website (with the commenter’s permission, of course).

If you have enough content, you might want to dedicate an entire page to testimonials. Otherwise, weave a few quotes throughout your site when it makes sense to do so.

Build a blog. A blog is made up of long-form content that you create to answer a customer’s question, to solve a problem or simply to inform. You should blog consistently and add a mix of different types of content.

One week, you might post a “how-to” article about how to gently clean vintage furniture. (This answers a question.) The next week, you can highlight a specific furniture manufacturer that you often have in stock and elaborate on what makes that company special. (This informs.)

A blog is a big undertaking and may be too much for your small operation. But if you can make the commitment, the return on investment is invaluable. For starters, search engines favor the most up-to-date websites. By maintaining a regular blog schedule, your website remains fresh and relevant.

Blogs are also great at engaging potential customers, first drawing them to your website and then convincing them to come back again and again. Remember, these longer pieces of content are the best opportunity to compete for long-tail keywords, (words which are phrases or more than two words used consecutively), which give your site a better chance at rankings to gain new customers.

RELATED: Customer loyalty programs that work

3. On-site SEO

What this means:

On-site SEO involves optimizing specific features of your website to improve rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). This refers to the:

  • Content on your webpages
  • Structure of your URLs
  • Page titles
  • Page headers
  • Alternative text of your images
  • Meta descriptions

Some of these elements may be automated with your website service provider. As a small-business owner, your energy is best directed toward your web page content. This is where you can make the most headway with search rankings and overall online presence.

What you can do as a thrift store owner:

Explain your category pages. Once you’ve separated your site into store “departments,” add content to explain the purpose of each page. On your “Shoes” page, for instance, you’ll talk about the selection of your secondhand shoes as well as their quality and condition. Bajaio also urges you to highlight brand names or any other persuasive selling points.

This content should be evergreen. If you only sell boots in the winter, make note that your boot selection is seasonal and that these boots are only sold in the colder months. The content you place on your main product pages should live on even after you change out products.

Consider this content an opportunity to differentiate and establish your thrift store as the best place to shop resale.

4. Off-site SEO And Reputation Management

What this means:

Off-site SEO is defined by any effort you make beyond the realm of your own website to enhance your search engine rankings. These efforts often include link building, where other reputable websites verify your authority by linking back to your website.

Other off-site (or off-page) SEO tactics include guest blogging, managing online reviews and mentions of your brand, and building business relationships that serve your business. That might mean connecting with influencers or networking within your community. The goal for each of these tactics is to secure a positive brand image and build authority online.

What you can do as a thrift store owner:

Manage third-party review sites. Third-party review sites—like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Citysearch and Angie’s List—will quickly impact your store’s credibility. According to a BrightLocal local consumer survey, 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses. That number jumps to 95% for consumers 18 to 35 years old. This latter group is the same demographic largely responsible for the resale industry’s growth. Furthermore, 91% of consumers who are 18-34 trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

It’s also important to note that how businesses respond to those reviews matters, regardless of whether the remarks are positive or negative. The survey found that 89% of consumers are reading businesses’ responses to reviews. With your reputation on the line, it is imperative that you take the time to watch those review feeds and respond promptly.

Verify your store information across the web. Google My Business is a free listing service that serves up your thrift store’s name, address, phone number, business hours and even the types of payment you accept at your store. While there’s no charge for the service, business owners do have to claim and verify their listing. You also want to stay on top of it to guarantee accuracy.

“You’ll need to update for holidays, too,” says Bajaio.

Bajaio also recommends adding photos to your Google My Business listing, as this can help customers understand what to expect when they visit your physical store. Take full advantage of your Google My Business listing, because it will increase your chances of appearing in Google’s Local Pack and Google Maps.

To take it a step further, Bajaio strongly suggests getting your thrift store listed in other pertinent places across the web. Start with reputable directories—such as the BBB, Yelp, the Internet Yellow Pages and MerchantCircle—to get more online coverage for your resale store. Wherever you choose, check in often to verify and update your store’s information. This creates more fodder for search engines and helps to uphold your business’ trusted reputation.

Talk to your neighbors.

Word-of-mouth marketing is still an effective tool, especially for locally based businesses. You can establish valuable connections through your Chamber of Commerce, professional networking and various resale industry events. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and become an active participant in your community.

“Build relationships with local commerce, so you can get authentic and credible links back to your site,” Bajaio says.

Let’s say your thrift store is a couple doors down from a pet store and you know the owners on a cordial basis. Once you feel comfortable with that connection, simply propose a promotional exchange: They mention your thrift store is a “pet-friendly shopping experience” with a link back to your website, while you highlight their expansive dog treat selection with a link to their website.

As a small, local business, link building doesn’t need to be your primary focus. But it won’t hurt to invest a little on the local level. After all, backlinks are the backbone of off-site SEO. The same way word-of-mouth references influence consumer perception, backlinks indicate to search engines that your content is trustworthy, relevant and effective.

Conclusion

Over the next five years, the resale industry will ride on the coattails of a younger generation of shoppers. With this demographic, your digital presence will carry more weight than ever before. So, why not take all the help you can get?

You don’t need to hire a consultant or invest in expensive technology. Basic search engine optimization is effective at driving traffic to your website, as well as sending foot traffic through your doors. According to Google, 50% of consumers who performed a local store search on their smartphone visited the store within a day. In addition, 18% of local searches on a smartphone led to a purchase within a day.

Any secondhand retailer in this climate has great potential to realize these benefits, especially when they implement smart, low-cost (or no-cost) SEO tactics. This playbook emphasized all the best options for a resale business owner. With these efforts in place, your store will reach new revenue heights while remaining relevant and reputable within your community.

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