Marketing for E-Commerce: What Works and What Doesn’t

Marketing budget allocation can be a real struggle. Especially when there are so many marketing channels and platforms — each vying for your attention, each evolving rapidly. Keeping up takes a lot of time and mindspace — two things business owners and many marketing managers may not have the luxury of.

Our webinar, “Marketing for E-Commerce: What Works and What Doesn’t” sifts through data, leverages our own experience as an eCommerce SEO agency, and gives you tangible advice on what channels work best for DTC companies.

Before we begin, you may wonder why you should pay attention to what an agency (which is not your agency) has to say about allocating your marketing budget. So, here are a few reasons:

  • We have 10+ years of experience working in different verticals of digital marketing for eCommerce companies. From PPC to SEO to pricing strategy, we have more than dipped our toes into various marketing tactics. We have seen what works and what doesn’t.
  • We have worked with several eCommerce companies and delivered measurable results like increased site visitors and increased conversions.
  • Our clients stick with us long-term proving that the work we do for them combines high quality with efficiency.

Let’s dive into the meatiest, juiciest parts of our webinar. We’ll begin by looking at a few statistics related to eCommerce and eCommerce marketing.

ECommerce isn’t going anywhere. If anything, all studies point to it growing bigger. So, as an eCommerce business, what are some marketing channels you should consider to make a place for yourself in your customers’ minds?

While there is really no limit to creative ways in which you can market your products, some of the common digital marketing channels we tackled in our webinar are:

  • Paid Search Ads
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Email Marketing
  • Website Design and Marketing

Below, we will weigh the pros and cons of each and give them each a verdict!

Paid Search Ads

Paid Search Ads: These are most popularly run through Google. These are paid placements at the top. These sit above the organic listings.

On average, eCommerce businesses spend about 3-6% of their annual revenue on PPC or pay-per-click ads.

Google search ads have an average ROI of 200% for those using them. However, 92% of browsers do scroll past the ads to go to the organic results.

  • Pros of Paid Search Ads

  • Works immediately once it’s running

  • If done well, it’s a great way to find shoppers with high intent to buy
  • Will work with your current website. You can send clickers right to your existing product and category pages
  • Cons of Paid Search Ads
  • Likely need an expert to set up and run
  • Does need a fair amount of $budget to work effectively
  • Bid price is based on what your competition is willing to pay. It can get expensive in a super-competitive market

Our Verdict: It Depends. We usually recommend our clients aim to rely more on SEO over time.

  • Paid Search Ads Work Well For …

  • Retailers with high-name recognition where shoppers will be searching for a specific brand or product name
  • Re-marketing campaigns
  • Larger budgets — your campaigns get more effective over time
  • Paid Search Ads Can be Difficult For …
  • Retailers with a wide variety in product types and stocking levels
  • New-to-market products have no one is search for on Google yet
  • Small budgets and low-margin products

Social Media Marketing

These are paid placements in someone’s social media feed.

Typical ROI for those using social media ads is around 95%. It’s difficult to measure ROI for organic posts. Social media ads cost 47% more today than they did in 2021.

  • Pros of Social Media Marketing
  • Organic works well if you have a following, but you require time and $ to get there
  • It’s an easy way to increase your “touchpoints”
  • It’s easy to do for fun and visual products
  • Cons of Social Media Marketing
  • It’s hard for an agency to do well — you typically need someone on staff to do the organic posts
  • Costs are skyrocketing and ROI is tanking due to recent privacy laws, so we recommend you don’t put all your eggs in this basket
  • Nearly impossible if you have a “boring” or B2B product

Our Verdict: No/It Depends. Over the past two years, we’ve seen social media marketing really struggle for our clients. For most brands, it makes sense to change the strategy to focus on SEO and PPC.

  • Social Media Marketing Works Well For …
  • Fun and visual products like clothing, accessories, and lifestyle items
  • If your target customers are in a niche that is easy to target with social ad options
  • Anything you can’t explain and compel a shopper to buy with one image
  • Social Media Marketing Can be Tough For …
  • “Boring” and B2B products
  • Costs are skyrocketing and ROI is tanking due to recent privacy laws, so we recommend you don’t put all your eggs in this basket
  • Anything you can’t explain and compel a shopper to buy with one image

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is the strategy of getting your website to rank well on Google for relevant search terms. Organic listings appear below the paid ads. There is no cost to someone going to your website when they click on your organic listing.

The top 3 Google search results get 54.4% of all clicks. On average, eCommerce companies spend 1-3% of their revenue on SEO. The ROI on SEO is around 175% and importantly, organic traffic is the #1 source of eCommerce traffic.

  • Pros of SEO
  • If you do it well, SEO is a fairly stable source of traffic
  • Some of it can be DIY
  • It is self-compounding — over time, your return from SEO work will outgrow your investment since it’s no pay-per-click
  • If you hire an agency and then decide to leave them, you will still benefit from their work
  • Cons of SEO
  • It takes time to see results, especially for new websites
  • To really compete on a large scale you will need to hire experts
  • It is a more difficult form of digital marketing so it can be expensive
  • If you hire an agency and then decide to leave them, you will still benefit from their work

Our Verdict: Yes. We are huge advocates of SEO. The traffic has high conversion rates and nearly every eCommerce business can benefit from this strategy.

  • SEO Works Well For …
  • Google is the #1 source for e-commerce sales for most businesses

  • Businesses that don’t want to rely on ads forever
  • Generic products or hyper-competitive spaces
  • SEO Can Be Difficult For …
  • New businesses
  • Small budgets
  • Generic products or hyper-competitive spaces

Email Marketing

Email marketing is sending promotional emails to your mailing list of either earned contacts or past customers.

On average, eCommerce businesses spend 1.3% of annual revenue on email marketing. According to Constant Contact, the ROI on email marketing is 450%, however, this form of marketing requires the work of a larger team comprised of designers, photographers, and copywriters.

  • Pros of Email Marketing
  • If you are internet savvy your can probably DIY
  • Has a good ROI if you have a good list of past customers and earned contacts
  • It can be an easy way to get a boost in sales even if clickers don’t buy the products advertised
  • Good lists take a long time and other forms of marketing to build
  • Cons of Email Marketing
  • Generally needs some graphic design know-how to do well
  • Really needs a high-quality list of contacts to work well
  • Open rates are on the decline as it becomes oversaturated
  • Good lists take a long time and other forms of marketing to build

Our Verdict: Yes. Email marketing works well for our clients that have an established customer base, but for brands that don’t have a repeat buy type of product, it can be difficult.

  • Email Marketing Works Well For …
  • E-commerce companies where you can purchase directly on the website
  • “Fun” products like clothing and lifestyle items
  • Businesses that hold lots of sales and promotions
  • Email Marketing Can be Difficult For …
  • Businesses that sell only one or two products because it can get hard to keep content interesting
  • Businesses that don’t run sales or promotions
  • Products that are not repeat buy — such as a durable good

Website Design and Branding

Website design and branding is more than a Shopify account with a Fiverr logo on it. It’s creating a trustworthy shopping platform and a distinguished brand look and personality.

88% of visitors are unlikely to return after a poor website experience. Memorable brands are correlated with higher price points and can typically charge 2X more than their competitors.

  • Pros of Web Design and Branding
  • Stronger, more memorable brands have an easier time with visual ad channels

  • E-commerce shoppers trust and will buy from websites that are polished and professional
  • A strong brand helps both customers and employees feel more connected
  • Professional branding and web design work is often a large one-time cost and success is subjective
  • Cons of Web Design and Branding
  • It can be difficult to measure ROI as it is a more intangible marketing asset
  • To go beyond the basics it does require design and aesthetic skills
  • It can be hard to get buy-in from stakeholders who don’t “believe” in it
  • Professional branding and web design work is often a large one-time cost and success is subjective

Yes/It Depends. Website design and branding are necessary to some level for every client, but they can be done pretty simply for most. Then, as a company grows, we develop a stronger brand identity.

  • Web Design and Branding Works Well For …
  • Businesses that have a unique point of view and story

  • Visually pleasing and fun products
  • Founders that lack an eye for design
  • Web Design and Branding Can Be Difficult For …
  • Small budgets
  • Products and companies that don’t have a lot to say — B2B or “boring” products
  • Founders that lack an eye for design

In Summary

  • Paid Search Ads
  • Social Media Marketing

  • SEO
  • Email Marketing
  • Website Design and Branding
  • It Depends
  • No/It Depends
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes/It Depends

At Boxwood, we are committed to delivering high-value, no-nonsense expertise to our clients and their customers. If you enjoyed the information in this post, join us for our next webinar, “E-Commerce Holiday Shopping: A Dive Into Audience Behavior and How to Leverage It For Your Business.”