In the previous articles on eCommerce marketing, I discussed ways of growing and nurturing your circle of friends (i.e., customers) using email and social media. But, of course, while you can certainly grow your online business with those techniques, the acquisition of new eyeballs to your store can be greatly enhanced by how well you use search engine listings and online advertising.
It can be argued that this should have been the first of this 3-part marketing series. After all, sales growth begins with getting people to take notice of your store. Apart from referrals by existing customers, attracting new visitors to your store has to come first before you can begin to solicit sign-ups or, once they purchase, continue to encourage repeat sales and posting on social media.
There is a method to my madness, though.
In my way of thinking, if you’re not set up to maximize every single visit to your website, you’ll be wasting a lot of money and opportunity if you first draw visitors to your online store without a plan in place for encouraging initial and ongoing purchases. To put it in baseball terms, you don’t want to pay to have a star player come to the plate for only one at-bat. There’s only a 1-in-3 chance they’ll get a hit. But, if that same player has more than one chance to bat for you, you’ll eventually get them on base. Without a solid plan for marketing to new customers — whether they buy from you or not on their first visit — you’re paying for only “one at-bat.”
The first thing new merchant clients ask me about is “how good will our SEO be?” If you’ve had a website for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly received lots of unsolicited inquiries from shady characters promising to get you on page one of Google search results. Most will even claim that they’ve “noticed problems with your site” which they can fix.
First, let’s back up a bit. The visitors you acquire by folks clicking on search result links are called organic traffic. That means you didn’t spend any advertising dollars reaching these visitors. They clicked to visit your store because your website appeared in a search result on Google or Bing, and the listing was worded so that they felt they would find what they were looking for on your site.
Second, let me dispel a very common mythology: there are no shortcuts or “tricks” to make your site suddenly appear on the first page of Google/Bing search results. Yes, being on the first page of results is prime real estate. Your chances of attracting visitors by having a link on the first page of results is much, much greater than if you appear on page 2 or further. But, you can’t “buy” your way onto the first page, and there are no methods for guaranteeing this position.
Realize that Google’s primary objective is to provide users with the most relevant links based on the search query. If you’re selling trailer hitches, you’re not going to be on page one of results for pickup bumpers unless you have a considerable amount of information about pickup bumpers. Just because you mention pickup bumpers on your site (e.g. “you can install the hitch onto your pickup bumper”) or include “pickup bumper” in your meta tags, you’re not what Google might consider the most relevant site for people who are seeking information about pickup bumpers.
In addition, you’re competing with other sites on any of 200 different ranking criteria, including your site traffic, the age of your domain name (how many years it has been in use), and whether your site works well on mobile devices. The reasons why a site ranks are constantly evolving. Even if you’re in the #1 position today, chances are that without ongoing maintenance, you might rank on page 3 of the results next week. You can bet your competition is working to knock you off the top of the results!
The key to ranking high in the search engines is the same for converting visitors into customers: build a site that satisfies a user’s quest for buying a product you sell. Generally, you should focus on a few important aspects:
- Use an optimized platform. Leading SMB eCommerce platforms work hard to include the code and markup that is most attractive to search engines. Unless you’re a programming and marketing whiz, leverage systems that include all the features needed to communicate your store to the search engines.
- Write content that sells. Read your product descriptions. Do they convey enough information for your customers to make an informed decision? Do they have “sizzle” that plays on a customer’s emotions? Are the images, charts and other supporting information sufficient to give your customer a complete picture of your product? If you feel a customer might still have questions about your products, then you’re leaving out important information that could convert a hesitant buyer and better inform Google about your site and products.
- Focus on solutions. Google is noting that more and more people are asking questions to solve some issue they’re experiencing. “How do I iron a cotton dress shirt?” “What is the spark plug gap for a 2016 Ford F-150 V-8?” Present your products as solutions rather than simply specifications. Solve a customer’s need and you’ll get the sale!
Above all, use common sense. Sure, there are technical considerations to building an SEO optimized website, but the part that matters is the actual content. Do some research to find out what your customers are seeking. If you sell parts whose part numbers are often searched for, then include the part number in the product page title and description. Use selling language in your meta descriptions, such as “Buy widgets at low prices. Backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee.”
As you look at each product in your store, spend time carefully crafting:
- Page title. Put the most important information first (i.e. your company name may not be as important as you feel). “Red suspenders with brass adjusters, button connectors.”
- Meta description. This is what will appear in Google search results. “High-quality red suspenders for dressy look. Button connectors and brass adjusters. Fast delivery at flat shipping fee. Satisfaction guaranteed.”
- Product description. Generally, the more, the better. Start with a one-sentence description, followed by a bulleted list of features. Each feature should be in the format of “what-and-why”: “Brass adjusters for long-lasting wear,” “Button connectors for dress pants,” “Durable stretch material designed for comfort.” Follow the list with a paragraph that creates emotional desire. Finally, include a list of specifications. Don’t use industry shorthand, either; spell the specifications out so anyone will understand them.
If you invest in making these three items as good as they can be, your rankings will surely benefit!
Before we get into advertising, let me take just a moment to implore you to use videos to demonstrate your products. Besides giving your customers a better idea of your product, posting the videos on YouTube with links to the product will certainly help your SEO rankings. Google loves displaying video in their search results, and you’ll be doing something few merchants do. Why? Because most merchants are chasing the brass ring of “doing as little as possible” — a ring almost impossible to catch!
Your videos don’t have to be professional. You can shoot really good video these days using a recent iPhone. Good lighting is the biggest key. Videos are also very good sellers on mobile devices.
In short, if you’re not using video to sell, do so! We use video a lot in our business — and work with clients to set up video capabilities.
For most merchants, advertising is well outside their core capabilities. Over the past few years, online advertising has gotten more crowded and more complicated, too. We’ve seen merchants waste thousands of dollars on pay-per-click (PPC) ads and become reasonably discouraged.
The fact of the matter is that advertising — whether online or offline — is a very complex art and science. While the Internet has awarded us with incredible data insights of customers, the analysis and use of that data are considerable challenges for most.
Therefore, as much as I would love to give you a short, proven list of “keys” to online advertising success, I would do you a great disservice. I’ve spent the past 35 years in advertising, marketing and the Internet. And I am still learning and experimenting, as the industry is evolving at a tremendous pace.
But, I will let you in on one important secret: no amount of automation or software can relieve the need for sound, solid, research-driven creative. Creative is the intangible element of all advertising: the copy, design and messaging that drives sales. I’ve owned and worked at advertising agencies. Today I continue to work hard to craft advertising that works. I’ve tried many online systems, but the best they can do is manage your ad placements. They can’t understand your customers, your products or your brand. Only you and a quality agency can do that.
Beyond the creative, though, there are some guidelines that can help you formulate an online advertising plan that can work for your online store. If your creative is strong:
- Budget for Cost of Acquisition. In the second installment of this Master’s Series, we discussed in detail how to calculate and plan for Cost of Acquisition. This should be your foremost financial consideration: spend money based on how much you’re willing to spend to acquire a new customer. Continually monitor this metric, week in and week out, to make sure you’re hitting your target.
- Build one ad channel at a time. It’s tempting to advertise on Google, Facebook, et al all at once. For most, though, that’s very difficult to do well, as each is different and requires a different set of expertise. Start with one, optimize your results, then go to the next. Only take on what you can truly manage well.
- Test, test and test again. Very rarely does the initial creative and placement strategy work as well as possible. Despite all the research, the strong copywriting, the great images and the scientific placement strategy, you should always be evaluating, revising and testing variations to fine tune your advertising. The more you test, the better your results. And once you feel you’re receiving the maximum possible return, well then, it’s time to test again, as consumer tastes, media performance and placement algorithms continue to change. Nothing online sits still!
I know this may sound like a “hire us since this is so complicated” message, but the truth is that you want every ad dollar to be as efficient as possible. Unless you have deep experience in online advertising, you’re very likely going to be dissatisfied with the results you get if you try doing this yourself. In the least case, find someone who is great at creative and allow them to devote all of their time to your campaigns. They can learn the technical aspects; it’s the creative aspect that can’t be quickly learned.
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