When building your Ecommerce Presence, there’s one key mistake that an embarrassingly large number of entrepreneurs make. They spend months building a shiny new website, and assume that as soon as it’s launched, the dam will burst and 100s of thousands of users will hit the site.
They don’t realise that generating traffic (and more importantly generating converting traffic) to a website requires just as much effort as building and maintaining the website does.
The difficult part then, is where to start? Each Digital Marketing channel has its own combination of pros and pitfalls that it pays to be abreast of before you get users flying onto your site.
PPC – Paid Search is a channel that can do great things in short periods of time, get a solid PPC Manager who understands your business and provided the search volume is there, and you have the range, site and competitiveness to convert it, you can throw some serious revenue numbers up on the board within weeks. Though Google and Bing can facilitate quick results, before you throw all of your Marketing and staff budgets at PPC, you need to consider a few things: PPC only works out for your bottom line if you can perfectly balance; Average Cost Per Click, Average Order Value and Conversion Rate and then throw enough clicks through that magic triangle to hit your revenue targets. The problem is that the triangle doesn’t stay in perfect harmony forever. Average CPC is controlled by what the market is willing to pay, not just you. If your business is willing to pay half that of the competition, then you won’t see anywhere near the clicks you want. This will depend on the maturity of the industry as well as whether you’re selling your own brand or reselling a commodity product online. Also, conversion rate is a fickle mistress, if any of your competitors have taken aggressive steps towards improving their range or lowering their price, your conversion rate will likely decrease, meaning CPC needs to drop to match and balance the triangle. Paid Search is also affected by seasonality and the longer-term popularity of products, as well as any changes Google decides to make to how Adwords itself works, which can mean loss of functionality or time to readjust.
In summary, PPC should be your number one go-to channel when you’re launching, because of how quickly your effort leads to pound notes into your business. The problem is that your business can’t rely on 100 per cent PPC traffic, because the advantage is never sustainable, there’s nothing to stop a competitor from throwing up a website and emulating your PPC account. A great watch-phase for the early days of an online business is that ‘Man cannot live on PPC alone’. As a channel, PPC is a high investment, high reward, so you need other channels to balance out all of the marketing budgets that you’re handing to Google.
SEO – Long seen as the gold standard of ‘free’ traffic, Organic Search is a great way to tempt the balance of your marketing revenue away from Paid Traffic to bring your direct cost of sale down. SEO traffic has the misfortune of being difficult to get rolling in the short term, building domain authority, links and content from nothing is a very arduous task, normally with little reward in the first months. SEO traffic has the benefit of being one of the most stable traffic sources over time, as it doesn’t usually find itself muddied by short term competitor activity. Though it’s terribly easy to fall foul of Google’s rules and new changes to the algorithm that emphasise different ranking factors, such as penalising bad links or improving the weighting of good content. Also, recent shifting in Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) have sacrificed SEO screen real estate in favour of Google Shopping Ads, changes like this affect everyone, regardless of how good you are at SEO, when Google changes it’s mind, it doesn’t matter if you’re in position 1, position 1 is now worth what position 4 was last year.
Though PPC will be your main way of generating traffic in your first 6 months as an online business, SEO must start from Day 1 also. You can’t make decisions on category structure or page layout without first consulting what’s the most favourable for Google. One of the largest mistakes that you can make as a business is to leave SEO for ‘later’.
Affiliates – Affiliate codes and deals can be a very tempestuous channel. Best friend one day, enemy the next. Two of the best ways of making money out of the Affiliate channel are through voucher codes and cashback deals. What is a problem is that getting a deal that’s going to work very much depends on the ‘temperature’ of the market at the time, and this is twofold: the deal that you’re bringing to market needs to be strong enough to really grab a prospect’s attention, dependent on industry and time of year, you’re normally looking at 15% discount and above, and the percentage or fee you’re offering to the Affiliate needs to be strong enough to get the coverage you require. These are by no means static and are highly dependent on what the competition is running in the same week. Sometimes, a 15% code will be all you need, others, (particularly the dreaded Black Friday – Christmas season) 20% doesn’t even touch the sides. You also need to be careful of Voucher Code dependency, if customers see that you do a 15% off code every other month, what incentive do they have to pay full price?
Affiliates can be a great way to announce your arrival on the scene or clear your stock at the end of a season, but the intangible problem with Affiliates overuse is that it turns you into a ‘discount brand’ in the eyes of your customer base, and you end up with behaviours like customers adding items to their wishlist and waiting for a voucher code.
CRM – has the benefit of being a very cheap Marketing channel, once you’ve acquired an email address from a customer (alongside marketing permissions), it’s normally pence per thousand sends you to pay to contact them. CRM is a very cost-effective strategy, but cannot be built up overnight, ‘buying’ a large database can land you in some hot water legally, and there’s a good chance that you’ll lose a big chunk to unsubscribes and bouncebacks on your first hit. When Marketers see how easy it is to make money out of CRM, they tend to get far too trigger happy with sends, thinking more sends = more money. CRM holds at its’ core, however, a law of diminishing returns, you can only email as often as you have a relevant, targeted and fresh message for your target audience. Otherwise, you run the risk of grinding your base down into submission. This happens in one of three ways; they unsubscribe, they hit the ‘mark as spam’ with their email provider, or they just stop opening. The lower your open rate and the more customers that mark you as spam, the more likely you are to be sent to the junk folder or even blacklisted by the big domains such as; Gmail & Hotmail. The best option is to take yourself and your team to the task before you hit send, why should your customer care about the email you’re sending, is there a new offer, range, new content or information or are you just trying to hit sales targets any way you can?
CRM is a tactic that should also start at day 1, it needn’t be as labour intensive as it first appears, with intermediate level software allowing you the ability to schedule recurring emails, welcome, abandon basket, lapsed customer, and only need to be designed/scheduled once and then improved/iterated on every few months. As your bank of ‘Brand Loyal’ customers grows, you should see your Revenue numbers increase, but be wary of overspending and falling into the same trap as Affiliates with over discounting.
Building a sustainable set of Marketing Channels is difficult and don’t expect your numbers to add up and books to balance immediately if you’re starting from the very beginning. Balance is one of the most important factors, as more than 40% reliance on any one channel can leave you massively exposed to the algorithm, legal or cultural changes. This is why all forms of Traffic Generation need to be at the forefront of your mind as you build towards a sustainable mix.