Whether you are planning to sell online for the first time, or are tuning up and re-launching an existing e-commerce site, drawing visitors to your website is a challenge. Some traditional marketing strategies actually translate well to e-commerce, such as promoting to places where you know your customers congregate (either online or in the physical world). If you have a physical store, review what has worked there and morph those activities into your online efforts.
One of the biggest hurdles in online marketing is keeping visitors on your site long enough to buy something, says Jean Van Rensselar, a Chicago-based marketing expert. At a store, they've already made a time investment to be there and are less likely to walk out. Online, however, there's no such investment so the quality of your site will make or break your online business. With a single click, potential customers can bolt. Here are some tips for marketing an online store and some errors to avoid:
Organize and optimize your keywords and keyword phrases: These are the exact search terms that people are likely to use in the real world to look for the products or services that you sell on your e-commerce website. Put this on your to-do list well ahead of launch. "You should start on keyword optimization 60 days before you publicize the site," says Van Rensselar. "Optimizing" means selecting your keywords carefully and placing them strategically into every online and offline piece of marketing material you have.
Create awareness: Potential customers need to know they can buy from you online. "Don't assume your loyal brick and mortar customers will figure this out," says Van Rensselar. "And don't assume other prospects will just bump into you online." If you have a physical location, leverage that first to gain awareness among visitors. One basic but effective strategy is to place signs in the widows and inside the location announcing the site. You can also hand out coupon-bearing flyers and place them into every bag or box.
If you don't have a physical location, the best way to create awareness quickly is to place pay-per-click search ads on Google, the yellow pages site serving your area, specialized sites such as Business.com and elsewhere. If you are short on funds, Van Rensselar says you can limit this to about six months just to get things started. Other options include sending announcements via press release, email, direct mail or Twitter.
Drive traffic to your site: Knowing your site exists isn't enough -- potential visitors need a compelling reason to go there. "Promise them it will be worth their time," says Van Rensselar. Make every page interesting and easy to navigate. Each page needs to be no more than one click away from your online store. Include something noteworthy on each page -- such as a tip that can make their life a little easier. For example, a pet store might advise, "Did you know that a $15 mat comb will remove most mats from your dog's coat easily and painlessly?"
Make it about them, not you: If your web pages are nothing but self-serving spin, people won't come back, says Van Rensselar. Maybe not ever. Consider creating separate pages that educate visitors on each product or service category you cover. Such features encourage visitors to stay or return to your site. Make it quick and easy for visitors to contact you with questions or comments if they need help.
Convert visitors to sales: Don't worry that visitors will resent your trying to sell them something. Quite the opposite. That's why they are there, and most fully expect that your business has to make money to survive. Your goal is this, says Van Rensselar: After prospects have browsed your site, you want them to think: "I can see that you know what you're doing and I trust you. I appreciate your help and it would feel good to buy something from you right now." That means you have to make it easy for them to do so. Here's how:
- Make product selection easy.
- The checkout process should be quick and seamless.
- Be clear and upfront about shipping costs and choices.
- Show them ways to save money if you can.
Don't waste time trying to figure out how to make visitors buy, suggests Van Rensselar. If you give visitors smart reasons to buy instead, you will see more sales.