Did the Queen of Shops Get it Wrong?

By Feb.27, 2012

In December 2011 Mary Portas published her report into the on-going decline of the British High Street. In her report she clearly identifies the upward trend in eCommerce as one of the main reasons why sales and footfall on the nation’s high streets are in free-fall.  Mary makes 28 recommendations all of which are valid but I am left wondering why she doesn’t encourage the small trader to believe that they have as much right to profit from the opportunities of eCommerce, Social Media and Search Engine Marketing as the big boy multiples with their enormous digital marketing budgets?

Who am I to have an opinion?

I am essentially Mary’s cause – Queen of my own shop and the proud owner of Venus Flowers.

Florist in Manchester

A Manchester City Centre florist – a somewhat unusual sight in Manchester City Centre these days – a small independent retailer who engages in a daily battle to survive if not thrive in the brave new world of post credit crunch depression.

Like most small businesses I recognised years ago that I needed an on-line presence and have since lost count of the amount of time and money I have spent engaging with ‘experts’ in the field of web-design.

I am now onto the third developer and the third version of my site the previous two being utter disasters the details of which I don’t have the time or energy to go into.

I have literally lost thousands of pounds and at times my faith in humanity.

Sadly, I know from talking to other small business owners that I am not alone.

Taking Back Search Marketing and Social Media Control

At the end of 2011 I discovered by accident a huge mistake in the development of my current website (quickly acknowledged and rectified by my current developers) which was the final straw – I had an epiphany…

I realised that without knowledge I would never have control, I understood something of every other area of my business why not this one?  So after some research (web based of course), here I am attending Salford Business School’s Search and Social Media Marketing Course, a slightly nervous florist/business owner/complete novice.

My eCommerce Journey So Far


Here I am four weeks in writing my first blog-post, but more than that, understanding why blogging is important and how I can respond to some of my potential customers long-tail searches and build links to my website by writing interesting and authoritative blogs on subjects I understand and enjoy (GET ME!).  For example this beautiful picture of a brides bouquet we made a couple of weeks ago which is lingering on my iPhone:

Spring Brides Bouquet image from Venus Flowers Manchester

now gets a title of “Spring Brides Bouquet” (in response to a small but significant number of long tail searches I found when I was developing my keyword plan), and becomes a part of venus flowers blog I am writing on the subject, this will include a video of us making a Spring Brides Bouquet as well as links back to my wedding page where brides to be can click on a link to request a no obligation consultation – impressive hey? In the meantime I have been able to share this image with our Twitter Followers.

eCommerce – importance of Keyword Research

Using Goolge Adwords to research how people are searching for your products and services has to be the simplest but the most revealing part of the course for me. Why is it when I have paid thousands to have an eCommerce site developed I have been asked to write my own content “so it will be more authentic” without so much as a reference to the importance of keyword research?

I am ranking third for “florist Manchester”:

Florist Manchester search result with Venus Flowers

This ranking is more by luck than judgement, but I rank nowhere for “flower delivery Manchester” which has far higher search numbers – time to write some content!

I have also learned that my industry language isn’t necessarily the language of the searcher, when writing I would always use the term Sympathy Flowers believing this to be more grammatically acceptable, however my Google Adword research revealed only 480 monthly searches for this term and over 12,000 for “Funeral Flowers” – time to get back to plain English and write even more content!

Suffice it to say that encouraged by my tutor and our guest speakers industry experts like the mind-blowingly brilliant Mark Johnson from Latitude and Dan Taylor from Seowned both of whom have restored some of my faith in the integrity of the industry, I now have a fully researched keyword plan. This along with a carefully considered Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign for the areas I don’t yet rank organically for means that hopefully I should get a return on my course investment in the near future.

eCommerce and importance of Links

Having spent ages agonising over why a competitor who (in my humble opinion) has a poor website and isn’t actually anywhere near as good as we are consistently out-ranks us for some key terms. Using tools and techniques I have learned over the last four weeks like using google link query and SEOToolbar, I have been able to compare our sites and it’s clear that the only reason for this is the number of links into their site.  Link-building is somewhat more time consuming and complex than keyword research and content writing, it also involves good old fashioned relationship building and networking. I however understand how vital this is to Google and also how to go after links with authority – quality rather than quantity.

Watch this space competitors I’m on your case!

Manchester Florist Venus

Like Raef and Stuart from Channel 4’s Celebrity Wedding Planner you can follow us on twitter or Facebook where I will be sharing our latest flower pictures, stories and offers from Venus Flowers:

So…eCommerce and the High Street – Crisis or Opportunity?

Having read my blog tell me what you think, do you think that eCommerce can help small business owners to stay on the High Street or are you with Mary Portas and believe that eCommerce will mean the end of British High Street? Please share your views in the comments section below!

6 thoughts on “Did the Queen of Shops Get it Wrong?

  1. Briony says:

    Mary Portas aside, I know of a few small businesses in Manchester who have created great local communities online via social media. They organise local offline events and then feed it back into social media channels.
    Communicating with your local community (businesses and consumers) is a vital key to the success of any small business (especially in financially tough times!). Blogging is certainly a great way to promote your beautiful products and reach out to the local community.

    I think one area that you could look into is perhaps blogging about the source of your products. These days, most people are conscious of being green and ethical. By blogging in earnest about the sources of your products, you could gain some great genuine backlinks from green bloggers (of which there are many!)

    Setting yourself apart from the competition, identifying what makes you unique is what can really help your blogging original.

    It’s great that the SSMM course has been so valuable to you anyway!

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Long time no see! Great post. I had an experience very similar to yours which drove me to Aleksej’s course! Checked on Google and I have you ranking at #2 not #3. Enjoy the rest of the course and the ongoing struggle with #SSMM. Feel free to call me if I can help with anything.
    Smithfield Wine Merchants UK

  3. Excellent straight talking blog post there, and a bit of cute link-building and brand awareness too. I admire the efforts you made to learn as plenty of SEO/web development is low entry for great knowledge – whilst I’m an ‘expert’ I’ve got plenty of friends who have done it themselves and made a great success via social or blog marketing.

    The problem is those who don’t know much (your first 2 developers) but want good money for it until they get ‘found out’ and you educate yourself to their level. If you are an authority on your subject, Google simply wants you to prove it in terms of content – enjoy creating!!

  4. Thank you for this insightful report. We too noticed that sympathy flower and funeral flowers have very different rankings and somehow we fall completely off the radar for both, even though we (kokofloradesign.com) do well with floral design, florist or flowers in local searches (East Haven, CT, USA or 06512). I don’t think it’s keyword density, which is okay, but perhaps the placement isn’t good. Any advice? The reality is that we’d like to do some ‘sympathy flowers’ but can’t be found…. – Thanx Koko

  5. PS. I love your tulip arrangement. Really great!! -Koko

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