Web Marketing And Emarketing Guide For Ecommerce Startups


Is there a ‘secret sauce’ to successful web marketing and emarketing? Of course there isn’t.

Except to do it consistently over a long period of time.

Web Marketing

But firstly, you need to know that you’re following the right path.

This article, for ecommerce business leaders, is a guide for creating and following a PROFITABLE digital marketing plan. 

We’ll cover:

a) objectives and opportunities of web marketing

b) types of online marketing

c) systems and processes

I’ll be using terms like ‘web marketing’, ‘emarketing’, ‘online marketing’ and ‘digital marketing’ interchangeably. Others have tried to differentiate between them. What a waste of precious life.

[sidebar] If you want more advanced versions of these concepts, check out my Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce Marketing  For Online Businesses [/sidebar]

Let’s start with a simple, broad, definition. Web marketing is the process of harnessing demand for a product or service in order to supply it – using the internet.

Demand is either there or it’s not. Marketing CANNOT create demand for whatever it is that you sell.

Demand can be latent or it can be self-evident. In 1903, demand for cars was latent (there was HUGE demand even though everyone was riding horses).

In 2008, demand for the iPhone was latent (there was HUGE demand even though smartphones didn’t exist yet).

On the other hand, demand for facemasks during the Coronavirus pandemic is self-evident.

To help us define (and therefore use) web marketing to its fullest, it’s useful to draw comparisons between web marketing and ‘traditional’ (offline) marketing.

Traditional Marketing Web marketing
Slower to launch Quicker to launch, just click a few buttons.
Higher barrier to entry (buy media space from media outlets or via a big Madison Avenue agency) Low barrier to entry (self-serve on your laptop), simple user experience built for SME’s
Slow-moving, longer lead time to get results Agile. Real-time feedback allows for optimisation based on performance.
Hard to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) Quantifiable. Results can be attributed to campaign performance.
Intrusive and disruptive: “We exist! Buy our stuff!” Permission-based: “based on your previous behaviour, we’d like to offer you XYZ”
Expensive (based on reach) Cheap (based on clicks, views or engagement)
Mass market Niche, personalised

Table 1: traditional vs web marketing

The above list is a framework for the opportunities of internet marketing. It’s not hard to understand why more money is increasingly spent online, particularly by startups and SME’s.

But emarketing is not without its own set of challenges:

  • Incredibly fast pace of change makes it difficult to keep up with the latest tools, technologies, strategies and tactics
  • Low barrier to entry means that marketers tend to spend on platforms like Facebook and Google, whether or not they are the right places to advertise.
  • Tendency to think technology can somehow replace understanding the customer, good content/copy and psychological principles.
  • Tendency to spend more time ‘lost in the weeds’ using tools – rather than working on other higher value activities.

Type Of Online Marketing

That’s the macro level. Let’s go deeper now – what are the different types of online marketing?

Most businesses are already marketing on the internet. They have an e-presence of some sort, whether that’s a website, a Google Business Listing, advertising on Google and Facebook, email marketing, or other.

The various tactics are too numerous to mention and, for ecommerce leaders, a big laundry list of tactics isn’t actionable information anyway.

Instead of tactics, start with your objectives. What are you trying to accomplish?

It’s useful to separate your activities into three streams:

Direct response marketing

Relationship marketing 

Conversion optimisation

Direct Response Marketing vs Relationship Marketing

Most businesses primarily use digital marketing as a direct response medium. Their activities are geared towards ‘money metrics’ like leads, sales, customers, revenue and profit.

Another (smart) approach is using digital for relationship marketing. This can be powerful because, online, you can nurture relationships with your prospects and customers. These deeper relationships tend to be more profitable and longer lasting.

In fact, relationship marketing is increasingly necessary, as it can be extremely difficult to turn a ‘cold’ prospect into a ‘hot’ paying customer right away. Most purchase decisions need longer lead times than that.

Conversion Rate Optimisation

Direct response and relationship marketing happen ‘offsite’. They engage your audience before or after they’ve visited your website.

ON your website, you need to persuade and convince visitors to take action. This is conversion rate optimisation – the practice of increasing your visitor-to-customer conversion rate on your website.

Without strong conversion rate optimisation and a high-converting website, your marketing efforts will be wasted.

Optimal results come from combining direct response AND relationship marketing AND conversion rate optimisation. More details on each in the next sections.

Direct Response Marketing

Below are some ways to run direct response marketing using the most popular digital marketing channels.

Bear in mind that there are OTHER ways to use these channels. I am exclusively focusing on direct marketing here.

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Facebook Ads

(There are of course other social media platforms where you can advertise. But Facebook will remain the biggest ad platform – by far – for the foreseeable)

Your strategy should consider ‘hot’, ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ audiences

Cold audiences: never heard of your brand, product or service

Warm audiences: heard of you, possibly in the consideration mindset

Hot audiences: heard of you and in the purchase mindset

Cold audiences are targeted based on audience interests

Warm and Hot audiences are targeted based on audience behaviour. For example, a Warm prospect might have watched one one of your video ads, or clicked on an ad, or read your blog article, etc. – you get the idea.

A hot prospect might have visited your website and added to basket, or downloaded a pricing guide – you get the idea.

From a direct response perspective, cold ads are least profitable, hot ads are the most profitable. The purpose of cold and warm campaigns is to move prospects ‘down the funnel’ so that they become hot prospects.

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Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

SEO is not a short-term channel. Rather, it’s more helpful to think of your SEO efforts as assets that will pay off in the future (months and years).

Like Google Ads, you are capturing traffic from Google’s search engine results pages. From a direct response perspective, the best way to capture SEO traffic is to optimise your Product List Pages, your Product Pages and your Homepage so that they are content-rich and Google-friendly.

This means including valuable content on these pages.

Technical on-page optimisation plays a role here too. In the back-end, your pages will be optimised in a way that helps the Google bots to interpret and rank your content.

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Google Ads

Great for direct response since you target visitors based on their search intent. If they type “buy office furniture” and that’s what you sell, your ads have a good chance of converting.

Your targeting, your ad messaging and your website experience can all be tailored towards this purchase intent.

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Email Marketing

You can send offers to subscribers of your email list. It’s a great direct response tactic, especially if you have a new product or a sale.

Best results come from targeting offers to your subscribers based on what you already know about them. For example, what they’ve purchased before, what web pages they’ve visited, what email offers they’ve clicked on before, etc.

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Affiliate Marketing

This involves recruiting affiliate partners to drive traffic to your website (from their website, from ads or from their email list).

When this traffic converts to sales for you, you then pay your affiliates on a commission rate. It’s less labour-intensive than other digital marketing channels, because you don’t have to manage the traffic or the messaging as closely.

Return on investment is fixed, since you only pay out when you make money.

You can find affiliate partners by approaching them directly, or via an affiliate network like TradeDoubler, ClickBank, AWin or CJ Affiliate.

These are not ALL the channels available to you, but they’re the main ones. Focus on ONE channel first. Go all-in to learn the ins and outs, before your progress to the next stages. The section below called “Internet Marketing Plan” goes into more detail on this. 

Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing splits into two categories.

1. Content

The content trifecta is blogs, podcasts and videos. In other words, your audience can consume your content by reading, listening or watching.

You COULD produce content in all three formats. However, diluted efforts create diluted results.

Instead, to start with, it’s important to stick to a content schedule and publish regularly. That’s why I recommend starting with ONE content approach.

Only once you have built a following (see next section) and are producing consistent content should you consider adding another content format. This is because:

– creating excellent videos requires a different skillset to creating excellent blogs or podcasts (for example);

– every platform has its own nuances, user mindset and culture (e.g. creating successful content on Instagram requires a different skillset to creating successful content on Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.).

Consistency is key. Your content should be published regularly over a long period of time to build a loyal audience.

To grow your audience (see next section), your content should be valuable and worthy of your audience’s attention. It needs to relate to your audience’s needs, wants and desires.

One way to think about your content is how you can make it useful OR funny. Successful content marketing often makes your audience feel either smarter or happier.

💡 Tip: create content that relates to your audience’s PROBLEMS, and offer them SOLUTIONS. Creating a problem map will help you to develop a pipeline of content in this vain.

2. Audience Growth

To nurture a relationship, you need an audience that is listening to you. That means you have to grow your audience i.e. the number of people consuming your content. This is audience growth.

You grow your audience by getting them to follow you on social media or subscribe to your email address.

a) People who like and follow your content on social media will see more of your content on their newsfeed;

b) and anyone that subscribes to receive your regular newsletters will receive emails to their inbox.

These are the two ways to grow your audience so you can reach out to them regularly.

Digital Marketing KPI's For Ecommerce Businesses During A Downturn

Bear in mind, the point is not to create content ad infinitum. This is not content for content’s sake. You are building a relationship, earning your audience’s trust, so that when they are ready to buy they will come to you.

The point of relationship marketing is that the vast majority of your audience are not ready to buy yet. Your job is to nurture them until they are.

Internet Marketing Plan

Successful ecommerce leaders create internet marketing plans that take into account:

– direct response marketing;

– relationship marketing;

– and conversion rate optimisation.

Below I have laid out the seven stages to achieve this in the roadmap.

Bear in mind that you needn’t start from the beginning if your business has already achieved some of these steps.

(For more advanced detail about each of these stages, read my blog post: Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce Marketing  For Online Businesses.)

Stage #1 Generate cashflow via ONE acquisition channel.

Invest time, money and resources into ONE channel to drive traffic to your website. Focus on this channel until it is profitable. Each digital channel has its own set of challenges, so focussing on MULTIPLE channels at the same time will significantly increase the time it takes you to become profitable in one channel.

Take Facebook Ads, for example. You need to learn how Ads Manager works, how to set up your pixel, how to make good ad creative, how to target the right audience, the different bid types, how to set up reporting, etc.

Even if you hire an ‘expert’ for all this, the challenges are unique to your business. It may take some time to test which offers resonate with which audiences.

And that’s just Facebook Ads. As an ecommerce business leader, your no.1 traffic challenge is to determine WHICH channel on which to doubledown. Then race to the finish line.

How do you pick a channel? Assess your internal strengths and weaknesses, resources and budgets. Involve an impartial expert in these discussions. By impartial, I mean someone who doesn’t necessarily specialise in one area or another so that they can give you a balanced perspective.

Stage #2 Conversion optimisation

As we have covered, the process of conversion optimisation is to increase the amount of website visitors who take a meaningful action on your website (a lead, a sale, a download, etc.). Put another way, you’re trying to reduce the amount of traffic that leaves your website never to be seen again.

Conversion optimisation goes hand in hand with your traffic activities (stage #1). As your conversion rates increase, the profitability of your website traffic increases accordingly.

See my article about hiring a conversion rate optimisation consultant for more information about what this process involves. To summarise, there’s no ‘easy’ button or magic template for making a website persuasive and high-converting. The ‘magic’ comes from deep analysis of your audience, using Google Analytics and other user research techniques. Conversion optimisation is a force-multiplier for your existing traffic-driving efforts.

Conversion optimisation increases your revenue-per-visitor. Ultimately, you may find that you can invest MORE into traffic because the value of a website visitor has been increased.

Stage #3 Retention & Customer Lifetime Value

When you have a steady flow of traffic THAT CONVERTS on your website, you can focus on increasing the profitability of that traffic. This means taking steps to increase repeat purchases and lifetime customer value.

Build a continuity plan. Once a customer has purchased, how can you re-engage them to purchase again? This will typically involve segmenting your customers so that you can target them with information and offers that are relevant to them.

How do you-re-engage? Email is the no. 1 channel for retention marketing, for the simple reason that consumers monitor their inbox more than anything else online.

Another channel is posting on social media. Like email, this can also help to nurture the relationship and stay top of mind.

You can also retarget your existing customers with advertising on Facebook or Google. This is more expensive than your first two options, but the return on investment can still make it worthwhile. 

The message or offer is crucial. Perhaps you will promote a related product/service or upsell. However, always remember that nobody likes being sold to all of the time. Providing utility content that adds value and is genuinely useful to your target audience will build trust. In turn, that trust can transition to additional income over time.

Stage #4 Relationship marketing

As we’ve covered already, in this stage you’ll publish regular content that’s valuable to your audience.

You’ll distribute this content via social platforms (probably one to begin with) and your email newsletter.

The purpose of relationship marketing is to grow your audience base of future customers. Building a relationship with your tribe makes it easier to convert them into customers.

Stage #5 Expand into other acquisition channels

Stage #4 is building on the profitable marketing system that you are already running. It’s time to master another traffic channel to increase top of funnel leads and traffic to your website.

Once again, it’s not a case of ‘turning something on’. Your mindset should be more long term, as it’s going to take time to dial in a new channel (but not as long as stage #1 since you should know your audience better, what offers convert, etc. by now).

Let’s take search engine optimisation as another example. You need to understand the Google algorithm, master keyword research, on-page optimisation techniques, technical SEO, content writing, link-building, etc. Most important, you need to publish fresh, valuable content to your audience on a consistent basis. All of this will take time as you master each step one by one.

Stage #6 Improve efficiency of cost per acquired customer (CAC)

This is fine-tuning. You can take steps to reduce CAC by testing and optimising your marketing funnel. This involves fine-tuning your ads, your targeting, your website and your remarketing approaches.

In this stage, you will improve the acquisition efficiencies by testing.

Stage #7 Improve customer lifetime value (CLV)

Increasing CLV doesn’t just involve marketing. It can involve adapting your business operations.

The objective of this stage is to improve the following metrics: gross margin, retention and average order value. You may well have personnel dedicated to this single metric, and work alongside your marketing team.

These are the ‘secrets’ of internet marketing. They’re not really secrets, they just involve hard work!

Each channel has it’s online marketing system. Each stage has its own web marketing method. There aren’t any hacky marketing optimisation techniques that work across the board.

Knowing where you’re headed by following a roadmap keeps you on track.

Whilst the proliferation of ecommerce SME’s is a success story, it hides how many ecommerce businesses fail – or at least struggle to capitalise on the online opportunity.

There are two missing pieces. The first is knowledge; the second is effort. It is only the combination of both over a long period of time, consistently, that creates success.

Oh hi, I’m Alan Chapman and you can get my free weekly email full of crafty marketing tips for ecommerce businesses here. It’s called “Selling On Websites”.