Have a small business and looking to expand? Maybe you’ve had a brick and mortar store for a while and for whatever reason you haven’t bothered to set up an eCommerce site. Perhaps you’ve tried selling your products online before and didn’t have much success but want to take another crack at it. Regardless of the reason, if you’re ready to get serious about selling your products online, you need a solid plan and that’s what we’re going to talk about this week.
We’re going to go step by step from planning to launch of a brand new eCommerce website using the methods that I’ve personally seen have the most success. Some people might disagree and that’s fine, you know what they say about skinning cats, but the steps I’ll discuss today really should be part of every business’ Digital Marketing launch strategy.
Step 1: Figure Out Who You Are and Why You’re a Thing
This is the first and, in my opinion, the most important step of the process. Whether you’ve been in business for fifty years or just opened shop yesterday, you need to determine who you are as a brand and what makes you unique. This is not the mid-90s. There is no such thing as a ‘set it and forget it’ method of success with eCommerce anymore. There is simply far too much competition out there these days. You sell T-shirts? Great. So do five thousand other sites that probably can beat you on price and brand recognition. You sell unique hand-crafted whirligigs? Lovely. So does literally everyone else on Etsy. The point is that you need to ask yourself why should people buy from you instead of everyone else. In marketing, this is called a Unique Value Proposition (UVP) and this is absolutely crucial to nail down before moving forward. Basically, if you can’t answer the question why someone should buy from you instead of your competitors, don’t expect customers to answer it for you.
Remember: The UVP that you offer customers in your local area may not be the same one for your online efforts since the competition is so much higher online, so make sure you do your research! You might be the only person that offers ‘Funny Tees’ in Sheboygan but online, you’re a drop in the bucket, so that angle isn’t going to work.
Step 2: Figure Out What You Need and Gauge Your Resources & Budget
This is what I call ‘reality check time’. This is the part when you get real about how much time, money and effort you really want to spend on this whole ‘online marketing’ thing. Some businesses can just throw a few bucks on Social Media ads and see a nice return while others won’t see a thing. Some places found their niche with AdWords while others like to stick with Content Marketing and SEO. Other places, usually B2B types, are all about Email marketing. If you’re a brand new business starting out, you’ll want to do a target audience study and figure out who they are, where they hang out and what they like to see online. This is key because you need to know where your brand will have the most return for your investment. And it WILL be an investment. Which leads me to the next part of this, figuring out your budget.
I’ll be straight up with you, while your budget is up to you, if you cheap out on it, you won’t get any returns. That’s just a fact of life. If you’re brand new – and as an SEO, I really hate to say this – if you think you can just ‘organic traffic’ your way to the top, you’re going to have a bad time. Even if you tried to just ‘SEO ALL THE THINGS BECAUSE FREE TRAFFIC!’, you still have to pay people to write your content, fix your technical problems on site and more.
The point I’m making here is that you need to determine which channels you want to focus on and how much money and manpower you want to throw at this whole thing.
My personal advice to those just starting out is pretty simple and it’s the same thing I’d tell someone about to go to Vegas: Only budget what you’re willing to lose but go big enough to where it would make an actual difference.
Step 3: Determine Your Order of Attack
Once you’ve figured out what exactly you have to offer, where your audience is and how much you want to spend on this, you now come to another crucial step and that’s to plan out which channels to hit in what order. Some people prefer the Combination of SEM & SEO while others prefer Social and Referral traffic (weird combination but I’ve seen it work…somehow). Whatever you choose though, it’s all going to come back to one thing and that’s Content Marketing.
Yes, eCommerce drop shipper guy who is still attempting to get by with manufacturer’s content, write your own content.
I’ve said it a million times but I’ll say it again. If you ain’t got content, you ain’t got nothing. I’ll explain why with an example later but, for most businesses, I personally suggest the following order:
Technical SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, SEM, Email Marketing and then SEO (Local & Organic).
Again, I’ll give you an example of why later but for now, this is the order that I’ve seen have the most success.
I didn’t mention retail or referral channels here because those, to me at least, are things that may or may not be applicable to your business but definitely include those if they apply. Also, just because I mentioned them in that order, you can really launch them simultaneously (AFTER Technical SEO is done, always do that first before anything else!) if you want to live dangerously but I personally don’t recommend that because if your campaign flops, man did you just spend a lot of money on a lot of channels for a flop.
Step 4: Should You Be Local or Nationwide?
Ok look, this is a touchy area for a lot the eCommerce ‘I’m a big man!’ types out there but you need to get real with yourself or Google can and will do it for you. Real talk: maybe your SEO or your DM team won’t tell you this but I will, so listen up:
It. Does. Not. Matter. What. You. Think. You. Are. It. Matters. What. Google. Thinks. You. Are.
There. I said it again.
Google doesn’t care if you think you’re a big-time businessman with your website. You have a brick and mortar. Google knows you have a brick and mortar, so guess what: you need to be doing local SEO. There are so many advantages that you can get via local search methods that the ‘big guys’ would kill for so you need to work every angle you can. Embrace the local.
If you want to avoid only ranking in your area, don’t get a Google My Business profile for your company but you need to go ahead and make decent local landing pages (not doorway page junk with no content that’s going to get you penalized but quality local sites with helpful content on them) for your locations. Clean your Citations and try to get quality local backlinks (*insert long sigh here*, I HATE backlinks) to build that strong presence. Local and mobile search are pretty much hand in hand now so nail down that local search if it’s applicable and you can thank me later.
You need to have this figured out before you launch because if you don’t, you could end up wasting a lot of time, money and energy.
Step 5: Set Up Your KPIs Then Create and Launch Your Campaign
You’re almost there now! You’re almost ready to launch your first DM campaign but before you do that, you need to figure out exactly what your goals are here – and don’t automatically say ‘conversions!’
Not every campaign is going to be a conversion campaign. Some are for building brand awareness, some are for gaining new social media followers and others are for just testing the waters and trying this whole thing out and seeing what happens. Whatever your goals are, you need to have those planned out ahead of time. If you don’t, how will you know if it worked or what you need to fix? If you didn’t plan an end date for your campaign, how will you know when to go back and check the final numbers to know if it even worked at all?
Set your realistic goals and KPIs in advance and then go ahead and create and launch your campaign. Remember my advice before, only budget what you can afford to lose but make sure your spend is enough to actually move the needle. You can have the best campaign ever but if you only spent like ten bucks, nobody saw it so you’d never know.
So I’ve talked a lot about what to do, so now here’s an example of my personal ‘best practices’ in action.
So, Bob Storeowner has a brand-new site for his T Shirt store. He has a brick and mortar store in let’s say Pittsburgh. In his area, he beats his competition on price but he knows that online there are several sites that sell for less than he does so he can’t use that as his UVP. However, he does have a lot of Shirts from smaller Pittsburgh Colleges and Universities like La Roche College and Robert Morris, that you can’t really get outside of the city and so he figures that will be his online, nationwide niche. He did his homework and found out where his target audience hangs out online and what kinds of content they like to read and where. Good start so far!
He sat down and figured out how much he wants to spend and the manpower at his disposal and decided he wants to go with Email Marketing, Social Media, SEO (organic and local) and SEM (Adwords). That’s right, Bob’s living dangerously and going for almost everything.
Well, how does Bob do it? Well, he knows that if he just takes a boring, dynamic product ad and starts attempting to cram that down people’s throats without literally anyone ever hearing of him before and without fixing his site to make it load quickly and not look like a Geocities fever dream, he’s not going to convert. Instead, he’ll be the online equivalent of some sketchy dude on the street running up to people and screaming “Hey!! Give me money!” and no one needs that.
The first thing Bob does is talk to an SEO professional to run a technical SEO audit to help him figure out all the tech issues on his site that need fixed like 404 issues, crawl errors, redirect problems, duplicate meta descriptions & titles, page speed and more. Once his web developers have corrected those issues and gets it up to snuff, he then has his content writers and marketing team come up with good, relevant unique on page content for the products on his site, the category pages and the landing pages to make sure that when his site does start getting traffic, people have something great to see when they arrive.
Once the site is taken care of Bob determines he wants to build an audience for his business with his first campaign so he creates his goals and KPIs around that. He has his marketing team get to work on a good brand building campaign so he can build an audience that won’t immediately disregard him as some dude with a nice site that they never heard of that came out of nowhere asking for money. He knows that a great way to find people interested in his topic is by using targeted posts on Social Media and bidding on keywords on AdWords (and now that his site isn’t trash, his quality score isn’t trash and therefore his spend isn’t sky high!) so he launches his campaigns on Social Media and Adwords and targets alumni of those schools, people who like those schools and other relevant audiences.
Lo and Behold, people are coming to his site and signing up for his Email Marketing newsletter using his signup form and the next thing you know, Bob has an audience that actually cares about his message, his products and his business. So now Bob needs to not only keep it that way but also expand it out so this is where he turns to Content Marketing, Email Marketing (thanks to that clean opted in list he just built) and organic and local SEO.
Of course, it can and absolutely will take a lot of trial and error and multiple attempts to figure out what your audience will respond to and your results may vary but this is the formula I’ve seen work many times before for brand new eCommerce businesses. You might never beat Amazon or Macy’s but that’s not the point. The point is to positively grow your business and delight your customers and that’s what Bob did.
Bob is smart.
Be like Bob.