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.
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 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’.
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
Leads > Sales
Average Order Value
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?
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:
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.
|Search engine optimisation||Keyword research
Publishing & on-page optimisation
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%?
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 (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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
In all cases, consider your strengths and weaknesses, where you have had past success, and what you think is the path of least resistance.
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.
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 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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
Summary – List 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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
1st Party Data (quantitative)
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:
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.