Chris Barling shares his valuable tips for attracting visitors to your ecommerce website from his book, Selling Successfully Online - Over 300 Top Tips for Running an Ecommerce Website
1. Try and get a web address that makes sense
It's worth spending some time thinking about your ecommerce website address (URL). Ideally it will be easy to remember, stand out from the crowd and communicate your message. It should be the same as your company name, or include it. Finding one that is suitable will probably take both time and a lot of investigation. Pretty much all obvious, good URLs have been taken.
2. Start with your existing marketing
Put your ecommerce website address on your existing brochures, advertising, business cards and company letterhead. Wherever you promote your company name, promote your web address as well.
3. Major on search engines
Search engines are the number one source of new website visitors, so it's worth investing some time in learning about search engine optimisation. Your ecommerce website developer may also be able to advise you.
4. Consider pay-per-click (PPC) marketing
Search engines allow advertising against results (on Google these appear at the top and right hand side of the page) and while there is enormous potential for spending large amounts of money, it can also be a way of super-charging your progress. It is well worth the effort of learning how to use this effectively.
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5. Use forums, blogs and social media
There are lots of places where people hold discussions online, such as forums, blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Some of these sites will be talking about your specialty. For instance, if you sell yachting gear, there are plenty of discussions taking place about boating. Provided that you participate responsibly and provide genuinely helpful advice, you can get the chance to talk about your company, products and offerings. In fact, done skilfully, people will end up asking you for information about what you sell, and that can be really powerful. Just make sure you know the terms and conditions of each site and abide by them, to avoid tarnishing your reputation.
6. Spend carefully
There are lots of opportunities to advertise online, but many can be a waste of time. Before parting with your cash, you should use the same judgment that you would use when deciding whether to advertise in conventional media. Who will be looking at this medium, and are they my target market? Getting your message in front of large numbers isn't the issue. They must be potential customers who are interested in your products.
Unfortunately there are a lot of scammers around. So always Google the company name of any supplier you are considering before making any commitment. This particularly applies if you receive an unsolicited approach.
7. Ask the question, what's working?
It's a sad fact that when it comes to marketing, the anoraks are in the driving seat. Although being creative is crucial, the way to success is to measure the results and put the next round of money where you got the most results last time. So measure everything you do, and try to find out where all your leads and customers come from. When visitors buy from your site, make sure you post a question there asking how they heard about you, or use technology that tracks this automatically.
As a general rule, you should use a quarter of your capacity for testing new ideas and variations. Your website developer can help you with this.
8. Find websites that are complementary to yours and offer mutual links
If you can, find specialist websites that cater for your particular niche, and ask them to either link to you or put you in their search results. In return, put a link back to them. This can offer added value to your visitors, as well as boosting your traffic - it's a win-win situation. It should give you more online traffic through the link, and also lift your ranking in the search engines, giving more traffic that way as well.
You could also set up your own referral scheme so that the linking site receives a share of the sales that they generate. The downside of this is that you may need to buy some software or a service to do this.
9. Use a commercial referral scheme
There are also a number of referral schemes run commercially that you can join for a fee, and then pay a reward for click-throughs or sales. Some sites report that this is their most cost-effective method of acquiring sales, but it will depend on what industry you are in.
10. Generate interest
Many of our customers have gained national coverage because they have an interesting story. Some have been on the TV programme Dragons' Den, while another is selling products for left-handed people. If you can get the press interested, it's worth a fortune in marketing.
11. Learn from the success of others
Keep an eye on your online competitors, and on successful ecommerce websites in other market sectors. Don't just copy them, but do learn from what they are doing, and think about how you can adapt good ideas in appropriate ways. Trawl magazines and ecommerce suppliers' websites for case studies, and find out what other sites attribute their success to.
12. Provide some additional value at your site
Can you come up with material for your website that will attract more online visitors? We provide free advice on ecommerce and the suitability of businesses for trading online, and other useful content. It's worth trying to do something similar at your site.
13. Remember existing customers
Once you are up and running, remember that existing customers are your best customers. Make sure that you encourage them to return by making special offers and letting them know what you are doing at your store.
14. Use email marketing
There are now many responsible companies offering information and services relating to email marketing. They can supply email lists, advice, and delivery technology. They will ensure that you comply with the law, for instance by only sending marketing emails to individuals that have opted in to receive them.
With email marketing it is often useful to reward a response - for example by offering a discount for people that click through.
15. Show your appreciation for recommendations
Ask your customers to recommend you to their friends. You are much more likely to make a sale if recommended by someone trusted. If you get a sale as a result of a recommendation and the volumes make it possible, say thank you personally and send some form of reward - whether it is a small gift or a voucher that can be used at your store.
16. Get customer feedback
Increasingly, prospects expect to see what other people thought of your products and service, so gather this information on your site. If this can be gathered by an independent third party, so much the better. Customers are rightly cynical and will be much more influenced if they believe you haven't been able to fiddle with the results.
17. Recover the ones that got away
As well as acquiring new customers, you should have a strategy for recovering potential customers that were lost. Your ecommerce solution should provide you with the details of customers that filled in their details but failed to complete the order by making a payment.
18. Market offline
It's true that all of your prospects are online (if they are not online, they can't buy from your ecommerce store!) But it's sometimes forgotten that 100% of these prospects also have a life offline. You need to ask whether traditional marketing methods such as direct mail may drive traffic cost-effectively to your site.
Chris Barling is chairman of SellerDeck, a company he co-founded in 1996. An ecommerce expert, enthusiastic entrepreneur and business angel, Chris has a passion for helping small businesses take advantage of new technology. He has over 30 year' experience in the IT industry.