So you’re starting a new ecommerce business. You’ve identified your niche, got the products and you know who your customers will be.
Next step is to get your website up and running – right? Wrong. Before you order yourself a nice, shiny, new website, you need to get your marketing plans in place.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say, “I’ve set up my ecommerce website but it isn’t getting any visitors and I’ve no budget for advertising”. Your website is only part of the story, so you must allow sufficient resources both for developing the site and promoting it.
Which Marketing Activities?
Deciding on which activities to target is the next step – there are so many options and, unless you have unlimited time and money, you will need to be selective.
These are the key ones you’ll want to consider:
Search Engine Optimisation
Achieving good search engine rankings takes time but ultimately will be key to creating a successful business – bringing good quality visitors to your website at low cost.
So SEO is something you should be working on from day 1. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and spend lots of money on link building services, but you do need to do your keyword research, make sure your website is structured properly and that your product descriptions are SEO friendly.
Using paid search advertising like Google Adwords can be a good way to start getting website visitors and making sales quickly. Adwords is good for targeting more generic search phrases and product categories, while for individual products it’s worth considering Google Shopping Product Listing ads. Until recently Google Shopping was free, now it’s a paid for channel – here’s a really good article if you want to know more.
If you’re a novice it’s worth getting professional help with these – it’s easy to make mistakes and lose money quickly. But done well it can be very cost effective.
Make sure the ecommerce shopping cart software you choose includes product data feeds – even if you don’t plan to use them initially.
This is the fast way to get your products in front of millions of buyers, and it’s the starting point for many successful ecommerce businesses. Amazon and Ebay are the big ones. But there are also niche market places such as Not on the High Street and Etsy. They are a great way to test your products in front of real consumers and see if there really is a market for them. It will also test your margins – can you pay the fees and still make a profit? If not, ask yourself how viable your business really is?
Once you’ve acquired a customer from a marketplace, do try to get them to your own website. This is not always easy, but flyers with offers on their next purchase are worth trying.
Starting a Blog
There are so many ways a blog can help with your business – good for SEO, engaging with customers and showing them how to get the best from your products. Think about the type of content that your prospective customers will appreciate. Remember that your blog shouldn’t be a sales brochure, but a way of adding extra value for your website visitors.
Getting into the habit of regular blogging from the start will make it easier to keep going once you get really busy.
Once you’ve got those customers, you’ll want to keep them and email is a really good way of maintaining contact. Again, this is a good habit to start from day 1 – asking permission from customers and encouraging website visitors to subscribe in order to build your mailing list. Then keep in touch regularly and make sure your emails offer something worthwhile to the reader such as exclusive offers, new arrivals and useful tips.
Facebook and Twitter (not to mention Pinterest, YouTube and others) can be great for building a buzz about your products in the run-up to launch and building your brand awareness. But not many ecommerce businesses can rely on social media alone for long term sales. It also depends on your product – it’s much easier to build a fan base on social media with a new fashion or beauty product than something a little more mundane (although it can be done with a lot of creativity and a good USP).
Success depends on doing more than simply promoting your products and broadcasting special offers – be prepared to work hard and develop a good content plan.
PR has moved on in many ways from the days when you wrote a press release and posted it by snail mail to the newspapers and magazines. But it’s still a really good option for new ecommerce businesses. As well as the print media, you can also target bloggers who review products (expect honest feedback!) and this type of activity can be really good for your search optimisation and social media activity too.
You will need to have a good story to tell – journalists and bloggers receive hundreds of emails a day – and be prepared to provide additional information and fantastic images at short notice.
Don’t be afraid to explore ways to promote your business offline too. Market stalls, craft fairs, Christmas events, summer shows are all worth considering if relevant for your product.
Magazine advertising can be successful if you choose the correct niche publications, but do your homework and don’t agree to place an ad because it’s a “really good deal”. You’ll probably want to get established online first, ensuring there is a demand for your product and that your website is converting well.
Your Marketing Plan
Now you’ve considered the options, it’s time to make some decisions. The choices you make will depend on how quickly you want to grow, the budget you have available – both money and time – and the level of competition you are facing. Make sure you create a written marketing plan and budget (it’s more likely to happen if you write it down) – and review it regularly.