The Ultimate Guide To Ecommerce Marketing


Ecommerce marketing – meaty topic (!) – in this article, we’ll dive into actionable tips on creating an ecommerce marketing strategy to grow your online business.Ecommerce Marketing

We’ll discuss which digital marketing channels to use (and when).

Which are the best KPI’s to use? And who is your audience anyway?

This article will cover:

a) How to formulate your strategy – and the frameworks to do this.

b) How the business and marketing maturity of your organisation directly impacts strategy.

c) How marketing can complement your wider business operations for exponential growth.

Here. We. Go!

Ecommerce Strategy

Ecommerce marketing starts with strategy.

[sidebar] ‘Strategy’… the most overused term in business? Probably. It’s still important though.[/sidebar]

Many businesses skip strategy and jump straight into tactics. Like Facebook Ads. Or some ‘growth hack’.

screenshot from sumo
sumo logo

Sorry Sumo. These are tactics not strategies.

A strategy does NOT describe in detail what you need to do on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis. A strategy is a top-level plan.

Your marketing roadmap. Your marketing tactics. It all starts with a strategy that defines the stepping stones to growth. From personal experience, I’ve also found that strategies give you confidence in your roadmap and build momentum.

With strategy, your roadmap no longer feels like an arbitrary list of actions, but a cohesive plan that maps closely to your business objectives.

How do you create an ecommerce strategy?

To create an ecommerce strategy, it’s helpful to break down the metrics that contribute to profit. I call this ‘The Profit Formula’:

The Profit Formula

Traffic

x

Leads > Sales

x

Average Order Value

x

Gross Margin

x

Repeat Purchase Rate

=

Lifetime Customer Value

Which of the above are your major bottlenecks right now? If you’re a startup, perhaps you don’t have much traffic so need to solve for that. More mature businesses might have consistent traffic and sales, so focusing on average order value and margin could be the major profit contributors.

As a rule of thumb, you work your way down the Profit Formula (from traffic to repeat purchase rate). However, as we’ll see later in this article, there is often cause to go back and re-focus on prior activities. It just depends which activity is going to be your biggest lever.

I don’t know your specific business situation. But here’s an example of how to map those objectives to specific activities:

Objective Key Results Example Activities
Increase Traffic Increase website visitors by 50% Search engine optimisation

Joint venture partnerships

Increase  Leads Increase newsletter signups by 75% Email capture (lead magnets & content upgrades)

Facebook Lead Ads

Increase  Sales Increase transactions by 50% Email acquisition (autoresponder method)

Website UX updates

Increase  Revenue Increase average order value by 25% Upsell messaging (website)
Repeat Purchase Rate Increase lifetime customer value by 30% Email retention (segmentation method)

Consider what resource you have in place. Consider knowledge levels. What can you do in-house, what should you outsource? Which of these five areas will be your immediate focus?

OKR’s

This article is focused on ecommerce marketing not planning methods. With that said, I highly recommend using OKR (Objectives and Key Results) as your system to align your team around your measurable goals.

You’ll notice that in the above table, there is a column for Objectives and a column for Key Results.

OKR is a system used by Google and others. In fact, Larry Page, former-CEO of Alphabet and co-founder of Google, has credited OKRs as having:

“helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They’ve helped make our crazily bold mission of ‘organizing the world’s information’ perhaps even achievable. They’ve kept me and the rest of the company on time and on track when it mattered the most.”

The big difference between traditional planning methods (like SMART goals) and OKRs is that KOR’s are frequently set, tracked, and re-evaluated – usually quarterly. It’s fast-cadence and more agile. I’ve personally found it to build momentum and energise the team by creating alignment and engagement around measurable goals.

How might your OKR’s be turned into a roadmap? Let’s take a quick example and imagine that you wanted to increase traffic. Let’s say your team has identified SEO as the biggest opportunity.

Objective Key Results Example Activities
Increase Traffic Increase website visitors by 50% Search engine optimisation (SEO)

You would then break down SEO into various activities.

Workstreams

Objective Activity
Search engine optimisation Keyword research

Content creation

Publishing & on-page optimisation

Link-building

Content silos and internal linking

Naturally, there are sub-activities to each Activity, and now we are venturing into the world of project management (and that’s a WHOLE other subject).

Marketing Strategy Framework

It goes without saying that your marketing strategy framework is unique to your business. That’s because your value proposition is unique (or else why are you in business?). And that’s exactly why I can’t offer a template, pdf presentation or other copy-paste document that you can swipe for your own marketing strategy.

However, common patterns tend to emerge. I encourage you to assess the maturity of your business with respect to the following marketing growth stages:

Stage #1 Generate cashflow via ONE acquisition channel.

Diluted focus leads to diluted results. Pick ONE channel to drive traffic to your website. Double-down on that channel and make it profitable.

Profitability is defined as follows: the cost of acquiring one customer is LESS than the lifetime customer value of one customer.

This means that every time you acquire a customer, you make a profit.

Stage #1 is achieved when you have steady cashflow and profit coming from a reliable acquisition channel.

You should optimise this channel until you hit a saturation point where it’s hard to reduce cost per acquisition any further. This typically happens when it eventually becomes more expensive to acquire customers because you’ve tapped out the market. For more about reaching channel saturation, see Andrew Chen’s famous law of shitty click-throughs.

Once you’ve saturated your primary acquisition channel, move onto stage #2.

Stage #2 Conversion optimisation

Most website visitors don’t buy. The average conversion rate for an ecommerce store is 2-3% for cold traffic. That’s like driving road traffic into a brick wall!

What do you do with the other 97%?

Transaction optimisation

You’re probably investing a not-insignificant amount into your primary acquisition channel. What if you could increase the average visitor-to-customer conversion rate on your website?

The process of conversion optimisation involves analysing user website journeys to understand:

– where are the conversion bottlenecks on the website;

– how to address them with better content and design solutions.

If you‘re currently turning 1 out of 100 visitors into a customer, you might focus on converting 2 out of 100 visitors into paying customers, effectively doubling your revenues.

A-B-Testing

A/B testing (or split-testing) quantifiably demonstrates the impact of conversion optimisation to website performance

Conversion optimisation does not only focus on increasing transactions per visitor. It also optimises revenue per visitor, by improving the average order value metric.

Check out my Ultimate Guide For Hiring A Conversion Rate Optimisation Consultant for more information about what the process involves.

Email Acquisition

Another approach is to focus some of your conversion optimisation efforts to acquiring email addresses.

The most cost-effective way of remarketing to your website audience is via email. This means capturing their email address with a pop-up, content upgrade or other technique on your website.

You can then send targeted emails to subscribers so that they purchase later. This is a great way of increasing the average revenue-per-visitor on your website.

Stage #3 Retention & Customer Lifetime Value

At this stage, you have addressed both traffic and conversion.

Perhaps your business could continue in this vein for a long period of time. However, to achieve the next phase, high-growth businesses focus on customer retention and lifetime value.

In this third decade of the 21st century, the switch to stage #3 is what differentiates best-in-class ecommerce businesses versus the competition.

Your initial focus will be getting first-time buyers to become second-time buyers. After that, retention rates are exponentially higher.

Power of Repurchases

Customers are more likely to buy than non-customers. The more purchases, the more likely they are to repurchase. This data is from Constant Contact.

How do you increase repeat purchases? You have two options: email marketing and advertising retargeting (for example, displaying Facebook Ads to people who have already purchased with you before).

Remember, it doesn’t make sense to focus on retention until you’ve solved for acquisition (the first stage).

Stage #4 Expand into other acquisition channels

Now that you have cashflow, and you’re acquiring and retaining customers, what next?

Scale. Your systems are working, add fuel to the fire with additional acquisition channels. This might mean learning new skills or making new hires (internal or external). It can involve a period of testing and learning.

Stage #5 Improve efficiency of cost per acquired customer (CAC)

The major ad platforms have become so advanced that it has leveled the playing field for media buyers. The Facebook & Google algorithms are now so refined that the skillset barrier is much lower.

A common & effective strategy for targeting on Facebook now is “just let Facebook’s algorithm do it’s thing” and hope it produces results.

This creates an opportunity to bring performance marketing competencies in-house.

To further improve lifetime customer value, bring other core competencies in-house that contribute to lower

– CAC’s.Retention & LTV team;

– Creative team, testing team, data team.

Inhouse Team Structures To Improve CAC

You can in-house core competencies to reduce cost per customer acquisition. Image courtesy of Wilson Hung: source.

Stage 6# Improve customer lifetime value (CLV)

The levers to improve CLV are gross margin, retention and average order value.

Brands tend to over-invest in acquisition and under-invest in CLV. For example, ask yourself, how much resource have you invest in improving purchase frequency? If you’re stage 5, this could now be low hanging fruit.

With repurchases, all future purchases have improved margins because there are no advertising costs (unless you pay to re-acquire a customer, but even then the CAC is lower).

Methods to increase (re)purchase rate:

Personalisation Icon

Website Personalisation

Customise your website to the visitor based on previous behaviour and purchase history.

Subscription Icon

Subscription Options

Turn one-time products into subscription options by adding auto-delivery options

Subscribe & Save

Add the option to subscribe and save to your product page. Offer a discount for recurring schedules.

Subscription Portal Icon

Subscription Portals

Customer portals allow your customers to manage subscriptions directly from your store.

Email Icon

Email Marketing

Remessage customers to build the relationship, make offers and encourage repeat purchases.

VIP Programmes

Create a membership programme with perks that builds brand affinity e.g. % discount, free shipping, etc.

Digital Marketing Framework

To create a digital marketing framework, which traffic channels should you use? How do you ensure your traffic and website funnels are profitable?

What is the optimal marketing mix? How do various channels complement and assist each other? 

Digital Marketing Acquisition Channels: An Overview

Here are your major options:

google ads icon

Google Ads

The Godfather of digital marketing. And still relevant today. Who doesn’t turn to Google in search of information?

Google Ads is an auction environment where you compete compete with your competitors to appear in the search engine results.

Best for:

– Intent-based marketing. Whey someone types “buy maxidress”, you know it’s a high-value prospect (assuming you sell maxidresses, that is).

– Businesses that sell high-ticket items that easily offset high cost-per-clicks (CPC’s).

– New-category niches where the competition and cost per click is low.

facebook ads icon

Facebook Ads

Now in its adult phase. Gone are the days when it was easy to make money with Facebook Ads. Post 2017, a lot more businesses poured money into the ecosystem, driving up competition and ad costs.

The goods news is that the algorithm is much smarter so the barrier to entry is lower. Skilled media buyers are less relevant than they were.

Best for:

– Businesses searching for a cheaper alternative to Google Ads. Even though prices are higher than they used to be, CPC’s are way cheaper than Google Ads.

– Branding, since display ads and video ads are native formats on the social network.

– Brands than need to convey a message, or a story, in order to educate the buyer, can do well here.

– Brands that already have a lot of website traffic, since this increases your retargeting pool to which you can serve ads on Facebook.

email marketing icon

Email Marketing

If Google Ads is the Godfather, email is the Grandfather. Not sexy, but a cash cow. The truth is: 85% of future-customers will purchase within 18 months. That’s where the value is. Email is a longer term play.

With the rise of mobile technology, around 99% of customers check their email every single day.

Email subscribers already know your brand. It’s your job to nurture them so that they buy. Time and time again.

Best for:

– Every ecommerce business. No exceptions. You can send emails for a small monthly fee from an email service provider. Email capture forms are often included in the package.

– Brands with savvy marketers able to segment the email list based on audience insight and behavioral data.

affiliate marketing icon

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing model. Your affiliate partners will sign up to your programme. They’ll drive traffic to your website (from their website, from advertising or from their email list). In exchange, you pay them a commission when a sale is made.

Best for:

– Brands that know their CAC/CLV index and can identify the most profitable commission payouts.

– Brands with limited resources that want to extend marketing reach without big resource overheads. Affiliate marketing is less labour-intensive than other digital marketing channels.

– Brands that are risk-averse. Since you payout when you make money.

search engine optimisation icon

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO has come an awful long way.

It’s not entirely through the cowboy days of ‘gaming’ the Google algorithm and there are still shady blackhat techniques. But after 20 years of cat and mouse, it’s fair to say that Google has done a good jog of adjusting the algorithm to favour quality, link-worthy content. And that’s a good thing.

Best for:

– Long-term thinking brands that recognise that SEO is an asset that reaps rewards for years, but not necessarily for this quarter.

– Brands with subject matter expertise that can publish quality content consistently.

– Brands with a mindset that winning involves outworking the competition. There is no ‘easy’ button.

community marketing icon

Community Marketing

This involves actively engaging your audience in a non-intrusive conversation.

You might connect with your audience on social networks, at events, via influencers or via sponsorship. Regardless of the medium, the idea is to connect with your ideal customer to increase word-of-mouth about your brand, and gain ‘trusted advisor’ status.

Best for:

– Brands with an strong existing network in their space, or brands willing to work hard to build this network.

– Brands driven by a mission that they want to share with the world as thought leaders.

– Brands willing to engage in bi-directional communication with their customers (online or offline) and agile enough to adjust based on the feedback.

In all cases, consider your strengths and weaknesses, where you have had past success, and what you think is the path of least resistance.

Channel Strategy

I am not going to talk about the latest channel strategies, bidding tactics or platform-specific interfaces. It is a shifting landscape that never stands still.

However, certain aspects are timeless. Those timeless aspects are targeting and relevancy:

– Targeting: Reaching the right audience

– Relevancy: Showing them the right message

In this section, I’ll provide you with a high level overview of the top three most prevalent acquisition channels and how best to use them.

With targeting and relevancy in mind, let’s consider the following at an executive level: Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Email Marketing and SEO.

Google Ads

Keywords & Targeting

Targeting is achieved with keyword research. On Google, what terms are people searching that overlap with your product/service?

Be prepared to spend more on head terms that represent “in-market” buyers. But equally focus on long tail keywords with less competition (lower cost per click). 

Longtail Keywords

Longtail keywords usually represent the majority of your search traffic. Image courtesy of WordTracker.com.

💡 Protip: brand search traffic (meaning people who type your brand name as part of their Google search) is usually easy to convert into email subscribers. Consider alternative landing pages for this traffic in order to rapidly grow your email list.

Retarget prospects and customers using RLSA to attract an “in-market” audience to your website. If you can segment your visitor base to identify which users have a higher potential value, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions with your advertising budget.

✔ Ads. Write ad copy that connects with the search term and provides an enticing reason to click.

A good framework is:

1. Front-load your keywords. Users are searching for the same keywords you feature. When they see it in your ad copy, they will want to click.

2. Mid-load your buzzwords. Users are highly sensitive to any semantic keywords that suggest the result they are looking for

3. Back-load your action words, your call to action (CTA).

💡 Protip: Create landing pages that are consistent with the keyword, targeting and ad copy (e.g keywords in the headline, and body copy that relates to the user mindset). Maintaining message continuity increases conversion rates on the website.

I could talk about making use of bid modifiers and auto-bidding to reduce CPC’s. I could talk about the importance of migrating from broad match to exact match to reduce cost per click. But that is optimisation, it is not strategy.

Facebook Ads

Cold Audience

Cold traffic consists of an audience that is unfamiliar with your brand.

According to one estimate, Facebook can classify 52,000 traits of each of its users. It uses these data points to slice and dice the world population for advertising purposes.

The traditional method of targeting Facebook Ads is to run some audience research (typically with the Facebook Audience Insights tool) and identify interests that you *think* you can use to target your audience.

This method is suboptimal because you have a better chance of guessing the winning lottery numbers.

A smarter method is to get your audience to self-qualify as potential customers. You can do this by targeting your ads very broadly and qualifying this audience with your ad copy and messaging.

The big idea is that only users who resonate with your ad will take action (e.g. watch a video, interact with your content, visit your website, read your article, etc.).

Your campaign objective is likely to be ‘video views’ or ‘traffic’.

Retarget Audience. Then, once you have qualified your audience with cold ads, you can retarget them with direct response ads. The objective of your direct response ads could be to make a transaction or capture an email address.

Keep in mind that your retarget audience is not necessarily limited to people who interacted with your cold campaign on Facebook. It can also target people who visited your website from other channels, or custom audiences.

Your campaign objective will be conversions (leads or sales).

Email Marketing

The money is in the inbox

Around 99% of customers check their email every single day.

The typical order value of an email campaign is at least 3X higher than that of social networks.

Customers who purchase products via email spend 138% more than the ones who don’t receive email offers.

No other marketing communication channel comes close to email. And yet:

The simple email newsletter is dead.

Relationships take time. So you should play the long game. “Now” might not be the right time for many of your subscribers. But some time in the future might be.

Autoresponders are drip email sequences that new subscribers receive when they become a lead. The drip sequence is designed to ‘warm up’ the relationship. It is NOT designed to sell.

auto responder image

Sequences are very similar to Autoresponders. Both are automated drip email campaigns. The difference is that Autoresponders represent the first sequence that a subscriber receives when join your list.

After your Autoresponder campaign, subsequent automated emails are Sequences.

Sequences are sent based on insights or data points you know about specific subscribers (for example, subscribers who clicked on a link in your Autoresponder sequence). Sequences are NOT sent to all subscribers. They are targeted and relevant.

The difference between Broadcasts and Autoresponders/Sequences is that Broadcast emails are NOT part of an automated sequence. You send these emails ‘manually’ on a more ad-hoc basis.

For example, send Broadcasts when you have a company update, or when you have a new product you want to promote to a segment of your list. 

SummaryList Segmenting In A Nutshell

1. Your most general list is at the top of your lead funnel (right after opt-in)

– This is your Autoresponder list.

2. Based on what products your subscribers express interest in (by clicking on your emails), or buy, you create sub-lists.

– This is your Sequence list.

– You might have several Sequences: A, B, C, D, E, F, etc…

3. You can (if you want) create a sub-sequence for each sequence. Highly recommended.

Summary – Content Strategy In A Nutshell

1. Your Autoresponder is there to earn trust and attention.

2. Your Sequences are based on subscriber actions.

3. Your Broadcasts are evergreen promotions or updates sent to targeted segments.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

I sincerely hope that my SEO friends will forgive me for the following simplification of SEO practices. Again, this article is strategic not tactical.

So let’s break down SEO into its core components:

Content

Stick to a regular publishing schedule. Google needs to see frequency and volume. The important thing is that the blogs or articles you publish focus on ranking for a specific keyword or keyphrase on the Google search engine results.

Onpage Optimisation

Ensure that every page on your website is optimised for the Google bot. This includes:

Content optimisation e.g. title tag, heading tags and keyword density

Mapping the internal linking structure

Paying attention to the URL structure

Optimising page load speed

Keywords

Again – every post, blog or article you publish should focus on ranking for a specific keyphrase on the Google search engine results.

Conduct keyword research to determine which keywords you will try to rank for. Base this on:

1) Search volume

2) Keyword difficulty

Many tools help you to do this. The best one I’ve used is kwfinder.com. In fact, this article is based on keyword analysis of kwfinder.com.

Link building

My prediction is that links will lose influence as a ranking factor this decade. Too many people are gaming the system by building shady links with blackhat techniques.

Links aren’t such a great predictor of quality as they used to be (the real battleground is content).

However, links are STILL a ranking factor. To build quality links, I recommend Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Method. This is a system for turning content into high quality backlinks.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Research popular trends and topics.

2. Come up with your unique angle on the same topic. Communicate a similar message – with a twist.

3. Reach out to existing backlinks of the posts you’re trying to outrank to earn a link.

Why this works:

✔  There’s already demand – demonstrated by the presence of existing material.

  You’re reaching out to websites that are already familiar with your topic.

Content silos

Once you have enough content (100 is a good rule of thumb – to get you in the habit of regular content publishing), group it into themes. In practice, this means internally linking blog posts, product pages, product list pages, etc. that relate to a common topic.

In this way, the sum becomes greater than its parts. Content silos are an advanced SEO technique that helps to signal to Google that your website is an authority on this topic.

Your website navigation should also reflect your content silos.

Customer driven marketing strategy

How do you ensure that your marketing strategy is based on customer insight?

Insight comes from data.

There are two types of data:

1st Party Data (quantitative)

Google Analytics gives you:

1. Sales data. What people buy.

2. Site search data. What people type into your website search box.

3. Google search data. What people search for on Google before visiting your site.

4. The most popular Product List Pages.

5. The most popular Product Pages.

And much more. I have written in detail about using Google Analytics to grow your ecommerce business.

1st Party Data (quantitative)

Session Replay

Session Replay Video

Watch video recordings of live traffic of people using your website.

MORE DETAILS

Heatmaps

Heatmaps

Visualise where people are scrolling, clicking and tapping on your pages.

MORE DETAILS

Surveys

Surveys

Target questions to specific visitors anywhere on your website

MORE DETAILS

User Testing

User Testing

Recruit participants and ask them to execute specific tasks.

MORE DETAILS

With qualitative ‘voice of customer’ data, the trick is data triangulation. This means triangulating the data inputs (as above) to form hypotheses about your customer. The more data, the more solid your hypothesis.

The above data points are not all inclusive. They’re just the most common. To go deeper, talk to: sales people, customer support staff, resellers – and anyone that interfaces with your customer!

3rd Party Data

What are your customers saying on:

Review sites e.g. TrustPilot (about you and your competitors)?

Q&A sites e.g. Quora?

Book reviews e.g. Amazon?

Social media e.g. Facebook?

1. Go through the data, and tag it into needs, wants and desires. Here’s a Google Doc – courtesy of makementionmedia.com

2. Compare research findings with your existing marketing. Here’s a Google Doc – courtesy of makementionmedia.com

Now, based on all your findings, it’s time to build your customer personas. My favourite templates for creating personas are from uxmovement.com:

Persona Template

The best persona templates are based on needs, wants and desires.

Profitable ecommerce marketing doesn’t start with a whiteboard in your boardroom. It requires audience research, customer psychology, familiarity with the marketing landscape, and technical knowledge.

Need help formulating your strategy and executing a plan? Connect with me on LinkedIn or contact me here and we’ll discuss how to apply an ecommerce marketing plan to your business.

Want to know more about conversion rate optimisation services?

Get in touch to discuss how we can apply the Conversion Velocity Formula to increase conversion and profits for your ecommerce website.

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