We could all use a little retail therapy from time to time. From the first online purchase, (fun fact: the first online purchase was on August 11th, 1994 when a guy sold his friend his copy of Sting’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales”) eCommerce has exploded in popularity and etched its mark in everyday life, changing how we look at both selling and buying goods online.
If you’re in the eCommerce business, then you are probably very aware of just how competitive the industry can be. Even if you have the very best product in the whole internet market, if people can’t find you online, you’re bound to be drowned out by your competitors.
FIND THE RIGHT PARTNER
So, how does one stake their claim of market share? Well, one option is: you can sit and hope that your product magically goes viral on TikTok overnight. However, we don’t advise that strategy, if you can even call it that.
To make it in the eCommerce market today, it’ll require equal parts diligence and strategy.
Unfortunately in the digital marketing industry, there’s a bit of a chronic issue of would-be SEO agencies promising a front page placement in a week’s time, or a 1,000% increase in conversions by next quarter. While these are indeed exciting goals to shoot for, in most cases they’re wildly unrealistic. If you’re an eCommerce business searching for your first digital marketing partner, make sure they’re a reputable firm that has a proven track record of results.
If you’re a burgeoning eCommerce business that hasn’t really found the traction you’re looking for just yet, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to break down the tricks of the trade when it comes to eCommerce marketing, from SEO to influencers.
Go ahead and skip around to the topics that interest you, or if you’re new to the marketing game then start from the top and make your way down.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FIRST THINGS FIRST…
We’ll start things off with a little baseline knowledge.
Without needing to go on a long tangent about the inner workings of the Google algorithm, we’ll give a quick overview/refresher of SEO and the SERP (search engine results page).
SEO, aka: search engine optimization, is a collection of techniques and tactics used to rank higher on search engines. Search engines have a specific list of attributes that they look for on your site. Based on how they size your site up, they will rank you on the search engine results page (SERP) accordingly. SEO helps your site climb the proverbial ladder of the SERP to hopefully, one day, earn a coveted place on the first page.
This takes time, some dedication, and a bit of trial and error.
There are a lot of reasons why you want to make it big on the SERP.
Organic traffic (aka: people finding and clicking into your site from a google search) has a much higher conversion rate than its outbound (i.e. email, print advertising) counterparts; we’re talking 14.6% vs 1.7%
Now, we’re not mathematical wizards, but if given the option between the two strategies, we’re inclined to go for the organic traffic strategy. That’s not to say outbound marketing doesn’t have a place in your overarching strategy – there’s definitely merit there. However, when it comes to the hard, cold facts, it’s pretty undeniable that investing in inbound marketing offers some huge advantages.
I. HOW TO MAKE KILLER CATEGORY PAGES
THE ANATOMY OF A WELL MADE CATEGORY PAGE
So, now that we have that settled, let’s talk category pages. Category pages are pretty self explanatory. The category pages are the bridge between your homepage and your product pages. They help your potential customer navigate your site, narrow down their options, and guide them through to their desired product page.
It can be helpful to think about your buyer’s shopping experience like a trip to the supermarket. Your category pages are like the store aisles. The easier, more intuitive your category pages are laid out, the easier it is for customers to find what they are looking for, and ultimately for you to make a sale.
We’ve all been to a poorly planned out grocery store once or twice and dealt with the seemingly indiscriminate placement of some items. It’s maddening.
A well laid out category page should act as a tour guide through your product listings, presenting them in a well informed, attractive arrangement. This means including texts, images, links, and all relevant information that helps a visitor understand what they’re looking at, and better yet, why they should want it. When it comes to category pages, more is more, and nothing should be left to chance. As far as design goes, make sure to use color as an accent, highlighting where you want your visitors’ eyes to go.
II. NAVIGATION BAR BASICS
If your eCommerce site doesn’t have a navigation bar, well, it definitely needs one. Navigation bars help orient your visitor and make it much easier to find what they’re looking for. There are two major types of navigation bars: vertical and horizontal. Deciding which to include on your site largely depends on your priorities.
Vertical/Left Side Navigation Bars
When to Use:
- You want to encourage browsing though all categories (scanning downward is more natural to people)
- You want to give all of your products equal weight
- You have a complex line-up of products or with lots of variables (i.e. a digital camera or TV)
Horizontal Navigation Bars
When to Use:
- You’re looking to show items in decreasing priority
- You need to conserve valuable page space
- You want to add a dropdown menu to expand categories
- You want your site to be intuitive; have high visibility
FEATURED ITEMS & TOP CATEGORIES
Maybe you’ve got a few newly released items that you want to highlight, or alternatively, you have an all-star list of best sellers that people are clamoring for. If you’re considering adding a featured items section, it’s good to remember the golden rule of category design: make it as easy as possible for people to purchase your products (try saying that three times fast).
- Having pages like these taps into two human truths:
- People want what’s new
- People want what other people like and/or have
Having a featured item page not only helps highlight certain products, it also encourages visitors to browse through products they might not have given a second look otherwise.
III. PAGE OPTIMIZATIONS 101
This is the part where we harp on keywords, again.
For the uninitiated: keywords are words or phrases that you want to rank for when someone searches for that particular word on google. For example, if you sell hand-stitched handbags, you might want to try to rank for that exact phrase or maybe “hand-sewn purses”. You get the idea. Finding the right keywords can take a little experimentation.
You can try to hawk our hand-stitched handbags by simply aiming for the keywords like “handbag” or “purse”, but until you have the marketshare to back it up, it’s going to be an uphill battle against Amazon and Jeff Bezos, himself. Until that day, it’s best to find a sweet spot of targeting a highly searched term that is specific enough that you’ll be able to rank for it.
Google’s algorithm is a voracious reader. It likes to see web pages that are full of content. This both offers an opportunity to include your keywords in your webcopy and gives you the chance to get a bit more in the weeds on the benefits and uses of your products.
As a general rule, you should have at least 500 words of unique copy on every category page. If your category pages are a little barren, adding some SEO-friendly copy laden with keywords is a great way to up your site’s ranking.
TECHNICAL SEO TRICKS
Tackling technical SEO might not be as sexy as other aspects of your marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any less important.
(PS: We dive a bit deeper into this subject in our comprehensive SEO Guide for Small Businesses)
All of the meta data (title and descriptions) should be filled out and optimized. Meta titles and descriptions might seem inconsequential, given that it’s not actually copy on your site itself, but it’s super important. Meta descriptions are the copy that propagates in google to describe your website and (with luck) entice them to click your listing on the SERP.
Notice how every page has a subheading and description that gives an insight into what that specific page is about. So, if I were a prospective customer, I could jump right to the services page to see if Boxwood offers the services I’m looking for. Such a simple concept, and yet it’s so often overlooked. Google really likes seeing your meta descriptions filled out, as it signifies that your site is well made and maintained.
IV. CHOOSE YOUR AD EXPERIENCE: GOOGLE OR SOCIAL?
Paid Search vs Paid Social
Navigating the turbulent seas of paid online advertising can be difficult to say the least. Between Google and Facebook, there’s a lot to consider. Which one do you want to invest your resources in? The answer is: it depends. Both offer certain benefits the other does not. But, a good way to think about the difference is that Google Adwords helps businesses find new customers while facebook helps new customers find you.
Adwords will show someone your ad if they search a specific keyword you are targeting. On the other hand, social ads will serve your ad to people who match a certain criteria of predetermined online behavior.
We should elaborate a bit further.
Google ads are for customers already searching for a specific product. This is due to how google ads work. A person will go onto google search for a term like, “wood dresser”, and voila! An ad that matches that search is served to the person. This ad platform is better for larger ticket or one-time buy items.
Facebook ads, or social ads, are for products that the buyer is not necessarily looking for, such as consumer and lifestyle items that you don’t just shop for one time – like, clothing, makeup, gadgets, etc. Targeting on Facebook is less precise. Because no one is typing a search into google, you are just showing ads to someone who fits a certain profile of your typical buyer.
- Reach potential customers right at their time of need
- We already know they are shopping for your commodity before we spend money on putting an ad in front of them
- Very large reach, over 90% of all internet searches happen on Google
- Often more expensive per click
- Takes a higher level of knowhow to run them well
- You will get zero help from google
- In highly competitive industries, the big guys can buy up all of the best ad spots and easily price you out
- Visually appealing products can be more easily be showcased in social ad formats
- Generally has a cheaper cost per click and cost per reach than search engine ads
- There is more ad space available within social media so you can more easily compete with large, wealthy competitors, you aren’t just competing for the top three placements like google
- Your target customer must use social media for these to work
- It’s difficult to get these ads in front of the right buyers as you target them by general interests and demographics
V. BRAND POSITIONING
Finally, let’s talk about branding. This is a broad topic that could be its own guidebook all on its own. But, in the spirit of brevity, we’ll cover some of the most important characteristics we’ve noticed from brands that succeed.
BUILDING A BRAND STRATEGY
According to the father of modern marketing, Phillip Kolter, brand positioning is defined as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”.
Let’s break that down a bit.
In order to find your company’s brand position, you need to understand three fundamental things:
- What your customers want
- What your company’s brand capabilities are
- How your competitors position themselves
Once you’ve got those three down, then you can start to look a little deeper. What can your company deliver to customers that will both resonate with your audience and position yourself far enough away from your competitors? A good thought experiment is to try to epitomize your positioning into three words, like “natural, feminine, and forward thinking”. Try to not fall into the trap of choosing overused, generic phrases like “successful, quality, and unique.” Everyone wants to be successful and unique.
Finally, now that you have your three descriptors, it’s time to follow through with it. All of your messaging, packaging, and brand voice should fall in line with your positioning. Think of it kind of like creating a persona or personality for your product. Before putting a piece of marketing material out there, ask yourself: does this fit within my positioning? If my product were a person, would they say this or want to hear this?
Finally, once you have your product’s persona picked out, it’s time to start sharing it with the masses. The biggest drawback to eCommerce shopping is that consumers are unable to actually experience your product until it arrives at their doorstep. Thus, people are naturally going to be hesitant to spend money on something they’re unsure of.
This is where social proof comes in.
Social proof relies on a physiological phenomenon in which people tend to conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior.
In other words, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
Social proof, in more marketing jargony-speak, is a conversion rate optimization tactic to ease the minds of apprehensive consumers. The first thing that should come to mind when you think of social proof is product reviews.
Here’s some stats to back that up:
- 92% of online customers look at reviews before making a purchase
- Online product reviews are seen as 12x more trustworthy than product description or sales copy
There are six different types/sources of social proof:
Each one of these sources essentially take a different path to the same destination: endorsing your product as something worth having.
Jumping into the eCommerce world can be a wild ride. In this guide, we outlined several practical techniques we advise our own eCommerce clients to utilize. Implementing these techniques in your own marketing strategies are sure to offer the sustainable growth your company has been striving for. As a digital marketing agency, we’re here to help eCommerce companies get a leg up in a competitive market. Get in touch today to set up a free consultation with our team.