Selling online is a great subject to write about as it is constantly changing and evolving. Each month new start-up businesses bring in new ideas. There are lots of opportunities to improve your online business for B2B or B2C. If you have any questions about eCommerce try our FAQs and Ideas Center or just send us a comment or email.
If you watch a few movies you might remember Field Of Dreams a 1989 fantasy movie classic starring Kevin Costner. In the movie Ray (aka Kevin Costner) has a voice whisper in his head and so builds a baseball diamond (field). The line from the movie which is often misquoted has been used in everything from soap commercials to selling cars. It has been used often to justify creating something when there is no logical reason or plan to do so.
James Earl Jones is the voice that keeps Ray on track against all odds and helps guide him to a successful result. In the movie, of cause, there is a happy ending.
In 2018 there are many digital examples of the "Field of Dreams" these are Online Shops and eCommerce Website, and also some Bricks and Mortar businesses moving online. The business owners have a vision of taking advantage of the opportunities online and a growing a thriving business but often no plan. Unfortunately the majority of start-ups do not have a happy ending.
There are many services that allow you to start an online business with no planning and minimal cost. That is the core of the problem. Starting an online store (ecommerce website) is just one piece to the successful business puzzle. Once you have products for sale online you have to find customers and that can be the hard and expensive part.
To be successful, and realise the Digital Dream, a business, any business, needs to have products, a market and customers in order to make sales. You can find out more in this previous blog post about the Foundation of a Successful Business. It is fundamental to the longer term success of the business. Cash Flow and revenue are the blood and blood pressure that keeps the business alive. Yet we often hear about these digital businesses that get started and then fail very quickly because they make no sales or revenue. There are new business start-ups that have no plan for marketing or for finding customers and will not last out the first year.
Just having a pretty website that looks great but doesn't sell anything is not going to develop in to a long term business, and successful Digital Field of Dreams with a happy ending
Many businesses owners believe that if you build and launch a website it will be instantly flooded by visitors. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Search engines drive traffic and customers to your website and Google is the elephant in the room of search engines. Google controls over 80% of the search engine traffic. At the same time Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) firms have become the SPAM masters. I am sure that you have all received the emails:
Pay us a $1,000 a month and be number one on Google....
Some business owners believe that some magical short cut exists that will make the new online store an instant success and revenue generator. But there is no magic and throwing away $1,000's in dodgy SEO practices will not make you one sale.
Good SEO practices are important to the success of your online store. That means that you need to build good quality content and conform to the recommendation of Google and other search engines in order to rank well and have your website and products found online. Google provides lots of great information and advice about SEO Best Practice with their SEO Starter Guide and doing some homework is worthwhile.
For any business to be successful, apart from viable products and good customer service, you need to market. Marketing in the digital age has changed in the way it is delivered but you still need to do it. So an online store without a marketing plan basically has little hope of succeeding.
The Sales Funnel is just as important online as it is in any traditional, or bricks and mortar business, in fact maybe more important. Online the sales funnel starts with traffic to your website but not just any type of traffic. It needs to be made up primarily of people who are interested in what you do.
It is the core job of good marketing to get a pool of people or companies interested in your products and services into the funnel. The sales job, in the digital world the website, is to convert the pool into prospects and then into customers by taking them on a journey. That journey ends up in a sale and a long term satisfied customer. Marketing helps map that journey and provide the content to guide your potential customers.
A new website will not succeed without marketing. There are many tools available to help you market and there is a connection between the website content and marketing.
Remember the golden rule - CONTENT IS KING.
When you launch a new website the work is not over it is just beginning. So you need a plan to manage the marketing process and to track updates and changes. An important aspect of understanding what you need to do is capturing the 'big data' the analytics about what people are doing on your website. Without that information you cannot have an effective marketing plan. If you are an eCorner customer we provide you with a great tool called Wagtail Analytics and Reporting but you might use Google Analytics or one of the many reporting tools available.
On average according to Gartner businesses spend over 10% of their revenue on marketing, and including 2.5% - 5% on digital marketing. While some primarily digital businesses might spend a much higher percentage on digital marketing channels.
There are specific targets that you need to identify and then determine the best way to hit them.
But remember that the one true fact that you can rely on is change. Nothing really stays still in the digital world so you need to be on a constant review and improvement path. There are new tools that can be effectively used that become available so testing new marketing tactics can lead to quick results. For example organisations like Dynamic Creative can assist you in building and implementing a plan.
Digital spend has often been centered on Search Engine Marketing (SEM) with the main player being Google Adwords. If the campaign is built well then it can be an effective way to drive qualified opportunities into the sales funnel. SEM is not cheap and you cannot run a successful Adwords campaign on a dollar a day. Other search engines offer similar services such as Bing Ads.
The Social Media channels such as Facebook and Twitter now also offer paid advertisement that can deliver good results often at a lower cost. But social media pages can be effective marketing. The channel itself maybe free but there is effort involved in running successful social media channels.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns using one of the shopping portals can also help drive qualified opportunities to your business.
Google Merchant Centre allows you to deliver a product feed directly from your website that will deliver product ad tiles during search.
The benefit of these portals is that they have a higher than average digital marketing spend and often a higher search engine ranking so they can get exposure that you might not be able to get.
If you are a small business looking for local customers then take advantage of Google Local a free service. Local search is becoming increasingly more important for small business.
This is a “Purchase First” Media selection Strategy. Dynamic Creative believe in a reverse funnel approach to digital advertising. Get sales “in the door” or “through your shopping cart” via Shopping, then Search Ads, before prospecting for out of market customers through display and video ads.
This is a typical media roadmap for the companies we work with, prioritised by shoppers’ likelihood of purchase and our suggested order of campaign execution. Focusing at the conversion end of the advertising funnel provides benefits over and above the obvious improved return on ad spend (ROAS).
This is especially true for retailers, those needing inbound sales enquiries and bookings. Each conversion provides us the opportunity to gather useful buyer insights such as their age, gender and location. This information can be used to build smarter prospecting display campaigns as we progress through the range of digital media.
Reaching people at every possible interaction as they search and browse the web is Google’s official recommendation. Having a well executed brand ad in front of prospective customers at the right place and time is effective when you have all the creative assets in place to support each product, category and ad format.
This is great advice for large international brands with deep pockets but it's not a realistic starting point for most Australian brands.
If you build it they won't come unless you do something to reach out to your customers
80% of the failed online businesses failed as a direct result of not doing any marketing. If you want your new digital business to succeed then develop a marketing plan, think a little outside of the square and expect change. If you want to generate a million dollars in sales a year then expect to spend $50,000 - $100,000 a year on marketing.
When you first sit down and decide to start your new online business remember that you need to develop a budget and a plan. Just building an online store and applying the "Field of Dreams" approach will leave you frustrated with the results and with no rewards to show for the effort.
Dynamic Creative is leading Google Partner and an AdWords technology company, they sell AdWords and Shopping Software and offer managed AdWords and Google Shopping services.
Starting and running a business can be great fun and deliver rewards. Having been in business now over 40 years we've see some recurring patterns that can be indicative of a business in trouble. Many new starters in business will be recommended to read some book or blog site and can get bombarded with the great business platitudes that sound great and mean nothing.
There are many foundation issues to a successful business but I would like to cover just three I think most important, Products, Markets and Customers.
Every year we hear of stories about retailers who leave the preparations for the Holiday sales and Christmas to the last minute and then wonder why they don't do well. Christmas is the biggest retail sales period of the year for the vast majority of businesses. Sales increases related to holiday spending start in late September and peak late November to early December. There are heaps of issues to think about so start early and be prepared!
This year it is expected that the latest that you will be able to order online and expect delivery before Christmas will be Wednesday 20th December for most Australian deliveries. Australia Post have already advised for the international sea-mail cutoff dates however they have yet to announce the Australian dates.
We often get asked for recommendations for online tools and providers to help small businesses grow and succeed. We thought we might compile a list of the various tools we either use ourselves or recommend for businesses looking for new or more effective ways of managing their day to day tasks.
eCorner will look to keep adding to this list as we find new products and solutions which complement your online stores and can be used to help make your business successful.
In a recent report that was produced by SAI Global Online Retail was rated as the 3rd least trusted industry in Asia Pacific. This aligns with similar reports that have been done internationally.
To some consumers this does not come as a great surprise but online retailers are asking why?
Often we see in forums or hear people ask "why don't visitors buy from my online store?".
Of course there are many potential answers to this question. It could be issues like design and user experience, maybe the prices are too high, maybe it is shipping cost.
Understanding why people do not buy can be hard. The starting point is to use a good web analytic system to track what your visitors are doing and then use the results to improve your business and conversions. This can often show that visitors will start a basket but then abandon it before checkout. By looking at the step of the drop out you can often find a cause.
Feedback from your customers is also a great tool to understand what they like and don't like on your site. While it can be difficult to engage with customers in the online retail space, tools like surveys can be used very effectively to identify problem areas and let your customers feel like they are involved and being heard.
Every week we have new customers come to eCorner, some have never had a website or online business before and for them it's the beginning of a long and challenging journey.
For those that have a website and an online business and are re-platforming, we often find that they are not prepared for the change that is coming to their business and have made a snap decision to change without fully considering the implications.
Of course we never like to turn away a new customer but we always ask these questions to ensure they are making the right decision and will get maximum value from their move to our platform.
Sometime the answer is vague and this can often mean that the change has not been fully thought out.
"Change is as good as a holiday? Not always…"
A good parallel to draw is a home owner that needs to up-size (or down-size). Families outgrow the family home and need more space, comfort or a different location, or maybe it is retirement time and you are down-sizing.
When this happens it is a huge decision and impacts all the family. It can be time consuming and expensive. Mistakes in the process or bad decisions can often be life changing or cause ongoing problems for the whole family.
On the other side of the coin it is also very exciting. Moving to a new neighbourhood, suburb or city can open up new opportunities. Moving in to that sparkling new house with all the new space and fittings can be a buzz.
It is a decision that takes analysis and planning and not one that it undertaken lightly - do you move, renovate your current home, or is it better to just stay put. The choice often depends on a number of factors like availability, time, cost and life-style impact.
Moving also invariably comes with a long list of things to do like change of address, change phone, internet, digital services, power, water and the list goes on.
Bottom line: it’s a major decision that needs careful consideration. Moving your online businesses home should be considered just as carefully.
Consider that your website is just like the digital home of your business. When it comes to a decision to change, the impact can be as lasting as changing your family home. You need to look at the options and ask the right questions to ensure you aren’t making the wrong decision or missing some critical factor in your decision making process.
Once you feel you have all the information then build a plan that will help you transition through the change. You may find once you’ve done your diligence that a move isn’t the right option and you should simply renovate your online home or leave it as it is and focus your efforts elsewhere.
If the decision is to move (i.e. build a new website), then your plan becomes the core of the process with all your key information, including all the necessary requirements that can be provided to the companies that can build your website.
This is really an important question to ask as change is not always your friend.
If you are a business owner or manager then you invariably get pounded with emails and calls from SEO and Digital Agencies telling you how bad your website is and how “easy” it would be to rebuild. This should never be the reason why you change websites, building a new site is never “easy” (or cheap) and there are a range of flow on issues that should be considered in formulating your plan.
The key reasons to change are in general a need for new features or some failure in your current site.
Main reasons for change:
The downsides of changing should also be considered.
There is a risk with any site change that your search rankings will be lost or reduced, content may be lost or not be able to be migrated to the new site and there will likely be a huge investment of your time both as part of the build process but also to learn the new system and change your business process to adopt the functionality of the new platform.
The first consideration that you need to make is to build a simple plan to cover the change process. This way nothing will be missed and your decision to renovate, move or do nothing will be much easier.
There are some key questions that you can ask and you should consider all stake holders involved in the process.
Who are your stakeholders:
Once you establish the list of people that can impact (and will be impacted by) the change then you can get their input which will help make the process (project) simpler.
"If it’s not broken then don't fix it..."
Don't laugh! The first and most important thing to consider is do you need to change at all.
If your website or online store is delivering results then changing it may negatively impact the business. You can use your website analytics to determine how your website is performing.
Website performance is often thought of as how many people find your website but in reality that is generally more about marketing and search engine optimisation. The website's performance is really about what people do once they find your website, how many become buyers or customers and are the business results meeting expectations.
For example, if you're concerned you aren’t selling enough but your statistics show that a large percentage of users on your site buy products (i.e. high conversion rates). Then problem to fix isn’t likely to be the site itself, but the way customers are find or are driven to your site. Then your time and money may be better spent reconsidering your marketing strategy or on a new pay-per-click campaign (like Google AdWords).
If you know what is being achieved then you can set targets for improvement in your plan, and that can be communicated to your stakeholders, to ensure that any changes you make are for a purpose which is measurable.
My advice is to start by talking to your existing web developer or web service provider.
You've likely already committed time and money on your current site, and making your existing website more modern or improving user experience may be much more simple and less expensive than a full rebuild. Just like renovating a bathroom or adding a bedroom versus moving house it will come with a far shorter list of things to do and also have less risk of failure.
There are situations where the previous web developer has disappeared or gone out of business, or maybe the existing website has been a catastrophic failure. So the only real alternative is to start from scratch.
What questions do you need to answer?
Consider seeking feedback from your customers as part of this process, that will allow you to ensure it isn’t just your potentially ‘bias’ view of the site that is incorporated but also the needs/desires of your customers become the core of the build process.
Once you have developed your plan for the future of your website, there will likely be an obvious answer to whether you should move, renovate or do nothing.
If not, having conversations with your existing provider and other similar providers in the industry will help you analyse your plan and determine your next steps.
We, as a provider, will never advise someone considering a change to their online store that it will be a "quick, easy process", nor that it will be risk free. Unfortunately, not all providers and agencies in the industry are as unscrupulous. So ensure you take all advice with a grain of salt, and are comfortable with your decision before you move forward.
By having a plan and a clear view on the objectives, costs (both money and time) and risks of the change, it will ensure you make the decision for the right reasons not because the grass is greener on the other side of the digital fence.
If you are planning a change and want some help or don't know where to start then the eCorner Assist team has services available that will help you review your existing website.
It was coming up to our end of week team meeting on a quiet afternoon in August 2015. Discussions were about what the weekend would be like with everyone looking forward to winding down and how we would spend our family time. Somewhere thousands of kilometres away someone had a different idea (ominous music plays).
It all started as a blip on the radar with our incoming data charts starting to show excessive activity. That is not necessarily unusual as we often see spikes in activity. However before long we knew the prolonged and aggressive spikes meant a potential attack. Then the phone calls and emails from our customers started to roll in and the rest of the weekend went downhill fast…
What started as a Friday prelude to the week end was an attack that lasted (on and off) for over a week. It impacted most of our customers’ websites, it was a large attack that was relentless. It disrupted customers and cost a great deal in time and money before it was eventually beaten. No one asked for money, there was no vulnerability uncovered, it was done solely as a business disruption.
Starting an online store or business, or extending your bricks and mortar business online can be a real challenge for many people and is much more complex than most new business owners understand. There are lots of forums where the general feedback will tell you how easy it is to build you website and sell online. How often do you see: “Your products will sell because you have a great looking website! Customers will just turn up and buy from you! You can do it all for free!”
Well sorry to tell you, but it is all basically rubbish!
Making the most from your online store or website means making sales. In order to make sales your visitors have to find you and also understand what your business and products deliver. So what do we mean by structured content and how does it improve how your website or online store appear in search engines?
Search engines like Google look for clues in your content to the meaning of the page and the importance of content in the page. These can often be referred to as "snippets" and Google provide great advice on best practice. It is also useful to remember the important basic issues when you are writing your website. Additionally website structure is very important for both your visitors experience and also for search engine optimisation. MOZ provide excellent advice on how best to structure your website. Of course ePages will do most of this for you.
The first element that is often used is the Title tag which appears in the HTML head area on each page as <title>...content here....</title> this is one of the main clues that search engines use. The Title should be generally around 65 characters long and contain a good description of the main content. It will appear in search results and when you mouse over the tab in your browser.
There are other snippets like the Meta Content Description that is used in the search displayed results. The META Description is created in ePages when you add a description (first or short) to any page or product. The description should be meaningful and typically around 160 characters long. Longer descriptions will appear on the website in full but would be truncated in search engine results.
There are other tags like the Image alt tag, which is the "Alternative text" in the ePages Image Properties, that help search engines understand the content that cannot be read in this case images. The "alt" tag appears in the HTML and should contain meaningful information and keywords about the image to which it is associated.
TIP: Make sure that the ALT tag makes sense and relates to your content and keywords
All these snippets help with your search engine results by either improving search engine optimisation or by helping the search engine to show more meaningful information about your page to the person searching.
Website webmasters, content managers and owners need to help search engines understand what the content on a page is all about. In this case we are talking about the content that appears between the <body> </body> tags.
In HTML there is a concept called <H> tags these are structured from H1 to H6 and are used to structure content.
On the webpage the main title of the page should be the H1 following that the content is broken into sections so that the H1 section can contain many H2 tags. H2 sections can contain many H3 tags and so on.
With most good Content Management (CMS) or eCommerce Solutions editors the system will help you setup default formats for H1 through H6 tags so that you have consistency of font, font size and font colour.
Then when creating content it is very easy to format that content with the correct H tag.
ePages has built in an editor that will allow you to make styling changed to the content of your website as well as the ability to add images, videos and other rich content. When you want to edit you content always use the expanded editor window which allows more options and also provided you with in-content search.
Once you have expanded the window you will need to shrink it down in order to save your content changes.
So you can see from this example using that I can select the content I want to format and then select the H tag that I want applied and it is done.
TIP: There should only be one H1 tag on a webpage, or at least carefully used.
By styling (colour, font and size) the H1, H2, H3 etc tags differently you can give a visual indication of the structure. The H1 might be larger font (or different) than the H2 which might be larger than the H3. Always make the font and font size of the content consistent so as to help make the webpage visually appealing. You can also use other HTML markup tags to emphasise the content for example by using the <strong> (important text) </strong> tags. Again these different tags should be available in your CMS or eCommerce Solution editor.
TIP: Don’t overdo the styling and limit the number of fonts you use so that content is consistent.
One of the most important aspects of getting results and sales from your website and online store is to have good content. Lack of content will effectively result in lack of sales.
When writing content always have another person review the content before you publish it to your website. Everyone makes mistakes in spelling and grammar. Your view of good content and the opinion of your website visitors may vary dramatically.
A common mistake made by business owners who understand their products and the terminology around them is to write content they understand. However someone looking for information about your product or service may not understand buzz-words or technical terminology. Your product descriptions needs to meet the information needs of an uninformed buyer and not an expert.
TIP: Ask someone to read your product description and tell you why they should buy your product.
In face to face communication words make up around 7% of the understanding while tone (38%) and body language (55%) make up the rest. There are many words that can convey multiple meaning or even lead to disbelief or distrust. When verbalised tone and body language pay an enormous part in the meaning. There are some great tips for writing good product content that sells available also on MOZ.
When you are presenting information about your product online, words are not enough and need to be supplemented with photos that don’t just show the product but that also relate to the description.
TIP: Product images are essential for online sales
This is a mistake that almost ever website content editor will make from time to time. Generally think that less keywords in content can be better as long as they are well used.
MOZ Beginners Guide to SEO has some excellent advice on the issue:
“Not surprisingly, a persistent myth in SEO revolves around the concept that keyword density—the number of words on a page divided by the number of instances of a given keyword—is used by the search engines for relevancy and ranking calculations.”
Content and structure can be the difference between a successful online store or website and no sales. Spend some time reviewing and improving structure and content every day. Ultimately it will mean better results for your business and will be time well spent.