The multi-billion-dollar online retail business is a market that is growing in double digits and is projected to gallop at the same pace for the foreseeable future. An online shop is one of the best businesses to be starting at this moment.
Or at least it could be, if you get it right.
Some of the online shops being opened right at this very moment will become the Zara, Zalando and even Amazon of the future.
And there will be thousands that might not grow quite as big, but they will still be successful enough for their founders to spend most of their life dipping toes into turquoise blue water under a palm tree, sipping martinis and cracking open oysters, if that’s their thing.
The eCommerce cake is big and there is plenty to go around, but there is more to it than just showing up at the table. You need to work for your share.
Developing a web page and convincing people you are not a con artist used to be the difficult part of online business. Now, customers trust online shops more than their grandma and with services like Prestashop, WooCommerce, Shopify, Wix etc. …you need to know literally zero about the spooky world of programming and fancy design to have a sleek and professional looking online shop up and running for business before you can say “one-highly-converting-online-shop-please”.
But that does not mean things can not go wrong. And to be honest, things go wrong more than they go right…
So what can you do, to make sure your online store does not become a sad statistic, but a great success story? What are the essential basics that you need to get right?
What would Amazon tell its baby online shop to ensure its success?
Organize the mundane not-so-sexy details of your online business with passion. They are the foundation of your success.
There are a lot of cool things you get to do when setting up an online business.
Choosing the design for your online shop, brainstorming for a great name, picking out the fabulous products to sell, boasting about it on social media…. But there are a lot of not-so-sexy specifics that you need to address before they address you.
Some of these “dull” details you need to define are:
1. How much money will you make per item sold?
2. What will be the projected average order size?
3. Will your margins on the average order cover the direct costs you incur?
4. Are you planning to sell on volume or quality?
5. How many items do you have to sell/orders to deliver to break even?
6. How many to make a big enough profit to make it worthwhile?
7. What is your shipping policy – will you offer it for free and take the cost burden to increase your sales, or will you charge for it in order to offer lower product prices?
8. What kind of impact will your shipping policy have on your sales numbers?
9. Who will be doing the deliveries and how much will it cost?
10. What is the perfect shipping box size for your items to make sure you are not accidentally doubling your costs by shipping too much “empty space”?
11. How can you make sure that your clients will have a positive experience after clicking the buy button? Can you guarantee fast delivery? Will they be able to easily track their orders? Will their experience be good enough to come back for more and invite friends as well?
12. How can you minimise time spent daily on customer support for shoppers needing technical support or trying to find out where their package is located?
These and many other “small details” will make or break an online success.
It has happened many times over that the coolest sites with the best products do not make it because of insufficient margins or neglected operations management.
And there are many sites that are so outdated and user-unfriendly (not to say hostile) that still make a lot of money, just because they really got their bottom line worked-out to the detail.
To beat the crowds – yes, do the cool stuff, but make sure to put your time into the boring details first:
Figure out your margins and profitability numbers.
Make sure to choose a reliable platform for your site that offers all the specific options you need (for example, not all of them support multilingual shops or offer flexible ways to make sales campaigns).
Select a payment platform that offers rates and conditions most suitable to you.
And get your shipping policy figured out and fulfilment processes set up. The only physical interaction between you and your customers will be that moment when they receive their package. This is not something that should be left to chance, it is an opportunity to offer superior service. Outvio can give you a hand and save a lot of time and money with this vital step.
An organically grown audience is the healthiest one. So make a lot of noise… without being too loud.
You might be selling sliced bread 4.0, but if only 100 people know your shop exists then maybe just 1 of them will eventually buy from you… there is not much gain in selling the greatest product ever if nobody is buying.
Unlike traditional brick and mortar shops, online stores will not have any random passing by traffic. There will be no Sunday shoppers that accidentally drop in looking for great new offers. And there definitely will not be any nosey grandmas coming to check out the new addition in the neighbourhood.
Don’t expect people to find you by chance. Your organic traffic must come from elsewhere.
This is why, if you are completely new to online marketing, get ready to hear a lot about SEO and organic traffic growth. What all this means, in a very basic way, is:
1. Make sure that Google falls in love with your shop.
Optimize it based on their guidelines; make sure your item descriptions are clear, consistent and use the keywords people might search for when looking for things you sell; use original pictures and content to avoid making Google think you are trying to fake it.
There are a lot of criteria to meet, but fortunately, Google very kindly gives you a complete checklist right here. To get even more into SEO have a look at this great resource from Ahrefs to give you all the details you need.
2. Write a blog that your target shopper will find engaging and useful.
Use original content and don’t write articles just for the sake of writing articles – share real and honest advice and stories that people can relate to and learn from. This will help people find you and get them to come to you for more than just shopping.
Google and its AI are getting better and better in assessing substance over matter, so even if you are on the lower side of the recommended 1000-3000 words per blog post (or even below it), but what you are delivering is first class content, Google will know and reward you with traffic.
“First class” can really be any content that is irresistible to your target audience and enables Google to identify it as such.
If writing really is not for you then you could outsource on Textbroker or Upwork or Freelancer. However, this might not be a solution for everyone – if you have strong opinions or just don’t like anyone speaking in your name, it might be difficult to present someone else’s work as your own.
On the other hand, if you find your perfect “soulmate writer”, it can be the best investment you make.
In case you really can’t find the time or the will for running a blog and outsourcing is not for you, you may scroll down to the next point. There are plenty of sites that triumph without a blog. But there is something you absolutely must do…
3. Be active in social media and discussion sites!
Yes, you need to post often (enough) and about things that matter to your target audience. Look for what they say on related topics and chime in with your own opinions and advice. Highlight the best things about your store, but don’t sell.
Also, make sure it is clear from your bio who you are and where people can get more of what you are offering.
If you own an online sneaker shop for example and find a twitter discussion on the best ways to clean shoes, then contribute with your best advice. Don’t just tell people that at mysneakershop.com they can buy a new pair of shoes and throw away the old dirty ones. Instead, tell them about your grandma’s trick of using baking soda and how her love of clean shoes is what inspired you to open your own shoe shop at mysneakershop.com.
Keep in mind that social media is all about your followers – give them what they want to see, not what you want to show them.
If you sell coffee mugs to hipsters then post photos of people drinking coffee while riding their bicycles through Brooklyn, NOT of coffee mugs with a -5% sales banner over the image. Peoples Instagram walls are not your product catalogue! (Click to tweet if you agree 😉).
4. Find the influencers of your target shopper.
Who are the bloggers, journalists, public figures, celebrities they follow? Ask yourself if there is a way to work with them.
Even though it will likely not be free, to get an influencer to promote your online shop or a specific product can have one of the most significant returns on investment.
5. Hijack someone else’s news and reach more audience that way.
Keep yourself up to date with the news and anything causing a lot of noise on the web.
If there is a safe way that will not compromise your image or force you to take dangerously emotional positions, that might not align with all of your audience, join the discussion.
6. Try to capture as many emails from people interested in your products and services as possible.
Keep them updated with weekly newsletters about the great things you do and offer.
Whatever you do, be it a video post or social media update – if there is a natural way to incorporate a call to leave behind email addresses, do it. Just make sure you don’t do it in a creepy annoying way.
7. Use all of the above to create content and relationships that will award backlinks to your site and increase your online shops’ value and authority on search engines.
In short, be everywhere and current, always keep your eyes and mind open for new opportunities to promote your store. And remember, do all of this in a subtle, natural, pleasant and charming way.
Do not use the sales techniques of royal heirs in desperate need for quick cash in exchange for a disproportionate cut in their billion dollar inheritances.
Don’t be too loud, but make sure you are heard!
PPC. Pay per click. Or, the supermassive black hole for money, as I used to call it.
Anyone at the beginning of their PPC journey, just about to start their first campaign, ready to click launch… STOP right there! Do not boost that post because Facebook tells you other managers did so. Do not click that “Save Ad” button. Do not launch the campaign. Repeat, do not launch campaign! Abort mission!
Ok… now that we have averted disaster and saved you spending the “whatever amount of money you had set as the budget for the campaign” in exchange for absolutely no conversions and return, let’s get to the point.
PPC is a very powerful tool that can, in the right hands and with good planning, really boost your traffic and conversions.
However, without planning and with no previous experience, you are more likely to get conversions if you take your PPC budget, cash it out in small bills, write your online shop domain on each one, flush them down the toilet and hope that whoever finds them in the ocean will go and use them at your online shop.
Trust me, from someone who learned it the hard way – the “ocean method” will convert better than any unversed PPC campaign.
With PPC there are many things you can (and have to) do, to make sure you have at least some chance for success.
There likely could be a post-graduate degree earned just addressing PPC. Exactly why WordStream has compiled a great source of knowledge fittingly titled PPC University for anyone who wants to learn it inside-out.
But to give a very quick peek into the PPC world, here are some basics:
Before anything else, seriously think about who are the people that will buy from your online shop?
Why do they want/need what you are offering and what will convince them to buy from you? Define this person to as much detail as you can. From what are their hopes and dreams, to what they snack in the middle of the night when they get the munchies. Plan your campaign with that specific person in mind.
Only once you have that clear, move on to the next steps:
1. Set your goals.
What is the ad campaign supposed to achieve? More traffic, sales, e-mail leads? Even though this should be the first question to ask, somehow it is often overlooked. The general notion is that “we need advertising… let’s go”…. And that’s about how much consideration goes into that. Make sure you do it differently because what you want to achieve affects all the following choices you make.
2. Narrow down your target audience.
Translate the profile of your perfect customer into the parameters your chosen PPC channel offers. The better you define the target group within the options of your PPC campaign, the easier it is to convert per click or impression.
3. Advertise for the right keywords, at the right price, at the right time.
This sounds quite obvious, but unfortunately, without proper planning, this is much more difficult to carry through than it might seem.
Say you have an online shop to seasonally sell your homegrown organic apples. You would not want the crowds of people looking for tablets, mobile phones or computers to be accidentally clicking on your ad and eating up your budget.
Here, negative keywords can help. As well as targeting the right demographics and excluding the wrong ones. If you are only shipping locally, restrict your ad geographically. And think about timing – maybe advertising slightly before the harvest season will mean cheaper clicks because your neighbouring apple growers are not pushing up the prices yet.
There is a whole universe of keyword science out there. A great place to learn more can be the infinite SEO knowledgebase on Moz.
4. Thoroughly think through your ad text (or as the more skilled call it, “the copy”) and graphics.
Go back to points 1 and 2 and figure out what will make these people click and convert for the goals you have set. And what will keep the wrong audience from clicking too much? Imagine yourself in the head of your target – how would you like to be addressed? Would you like funny and sharp innuendos or subtle and professional discourse?
Keep in mind that there is a whole list of psychological tricks the advertising professionals use. Try to read up on some of them for great ideas on how to write better copy (for example here on Kissmetrics or Instapage).
5. Make sure you have a landing page made especially for each ad.
The landing page copy should follow the same idea and style as your ad and continues as a natural next step for it. Your online shops welcome page is not a valid landing page, ever.
6. Make sure you track every possible move on that landing page.
And for where ever it leads to and from there onwards. You need to know not only if your ad is converting or not, but also why. Where are the people falling off? Where are they most likely to follow through the conversion?
7. Generously offer cookies.
To anyone who visits your site. So that you can follow them around with re-targeting ads that are an amazing tool and you should not miss out!
Although, remember what I mentioned earlier about making sure you do not become creepy and annoying? Yes, this also applies to re-targeting ads, big time! Read over here how to get it right on Hubspot and then check out this practical guide from Wordstream on how to fine tune it to perfection.
So there you have it, the three pillars of your online shops’ success: the fundamentals of your business, organic growth, and PPC.
There is a great temptation to do everything yourself when starting your online business journey.
On one hand, everything is supposed to be soooo easy online and doing it yourself obviously saves a lot of money. On the other, let’s face it, if you have not done this before, you have a steep learning curve ahead and the money you save today might be much less than the revenue you lose tomorrow.
If all this seems a bit overwhelming and work intensive, and very far off from those martinis and oysters on the beach, then worry not!
There are great tools and services that can take a little (or a lot) of the organic and PPC campaign management burden off your shoulders. WordStream, Frank.ai, Hubspot, Kissmetrics are just to name a few.
Do your research and find a partner you can trust. Strong allies are key to your success!
A well-planned business setup, wholesome organic strategy and skilful PPC management will enable your online shop to thrive in the eCommerce market and give it an invaluable competitive edge.
Whenever you see an online shop failing you can be sure that 90% of the times it is because one of these key pillars of success was ignored. You can beat the statistics by keeping these areas under control and outsourcing where necessary.