5 Ways Online Retailers Are Handling Marketing All Wrong
Established e-commerce brands are the model all marketers should aspire to, hoping to achieve the booming success of the e-commerce sector, where sales as a proportion of total retail have risen by a factor of seven since 2002 and a compounded 10 percent growth rate is expected right through to 2017.
Or so you'd think.
Thing is, though, e-commerce growth is stagnating due to an ever-growing number of participants. While big players like Amazon.com and eBay have businesslike marketing that gets the job done, and smaller guys like Naked Wines or Dollar Shave Club exhibit flashes of brilliance, most online retailers aren't seeing anything like the revenue they could. Why? Their marketing just isn't good enough.
So, what are e-tailers doing wrong, and what should they be doing instead?
If you build it …
No one will know about it. The No. 1 error e-tailers commit is having a great product, a great website and no marketing. That way, you get no traffic. if you build it, tell them about it, or I don't care what Kevin Costner says, they won't come. Your first and most important step is to take your marketing seriously, regardless of how awesome your product is.
The search continues
Why is search like email? Not a joke, just an observation. Every year, people say search is dying, email is dying, search engine optimization is over, online retailers can forget all about it. Meanwhile, both channels continue to pull in traffic and drive revenue, delivering return on investment well in excess of more fashionable channels.
Search is the source of 30 percent of traffic to small and midsized e-commerce sites. That should be enough on its own to redirect e-tailers’ attention. In addition, it's also the source of most of your best customers. Customers coming to you via organic search were worth 154 percent of average CLV (customer lifetime value). Yet it gets the least love and least integration with other marketing avenues. Everything you do should be optimized for search to the extent that it doesn't interfere with the primary goal, and that goes double for your website.
Across search channels, e-commerce businesses are leaking traffic and sales opportunities in several ways. Many use paid search to maintain their incoming stream of customers. That's like using a traditional advertising campaign to retain the customer base you already have. Instead, online retailers should switch to using paid search for customer acquisition.
Don't neglect mobile search. It's the fastest growing sector in retail and accounted for 33 percent of orders in 2014. Remember when big-box stores thought they could afford to ignore e-commerce? Let's not make that same mistake. Target "in market" customers with product ads, and narrow product focus with negative keywords. Use a tool like Google's Ad Preview and Diagnostic tool to test effectiveness.
You should also optimize websites for SEO, addressing the title and H1/H2 tags as well as getting the most out of simple juice-uppers like canonical tags. And blog, with a focus on information keywords ranking (the How-to-Install-Door-Knobs types) and content quality. Keep your blog under domain.com/blog to maximize the SEO benefits to other pages on the site.
Social media can be extremely effective at generating leads, driving traffic to your website, nurturing leads and even has (indirect) SEO benefits. But most online retailers are using social media all wrong, flailing and failing when they should be planning to succeed.
Too many e-tailers "pay and pray" — i.e., using too many channels, uncoordinated with each other and with no clear objectives. Your starting point should be to build a clear social media plan based around achievable objectives.
Incredibly, e-commerce social media managers don't have a content schedule. Twelve percent of social media managers don't schedule posts in advance. Forty-three percent manage social media manually. And yet, a content calendar could deliver as much as 31.5 times more traffic!
All too often, online retailers use individual channels inappropriately — e.g., social media for driving sales. What's Facebook good for? Nurturing customers, segmenting and retargeting. What's Twitter good for? Customer service. What's LinkedIn good for? Partner relationship building. What's Pinterest good for? Actually, it's pretty good for e-commerce, featuring a mix of shopping-friendly activities with plenty of product images, a super-long post life, and buy buttons that let users purchase directly from the social network.
Video is definitely the new black when it comes to social media. Since it introduced native ads, Facebook has been giving YouTube a run for its money. And video is the post format with the maximum reach at present. Throw live streaming with Periscope into the mix, and it's a brave new world out there!
Therefore, you might want to look into different ways of using video to reach out to potential or existing customers, like product explainer videos, plain old ads, campaigns promoting upcoming products, or even private chats with focus groups.
Many e-tailers struggle to integrate social media with other marketing channels. Integrating social media into your overall marketing strategy is vital. Tying email and social together makes sense. For example, putting email sign-up links on social channels and social buttons in emails is a start, but the tighter your integration with email the more effective social will be.
Delivering the message
Email marketing is the lifeblood of e-commerce. It's where the most effective customer retention, retargeting and cart abandonment rescues happen. And it's one of the channels that online retailers comprehensively blow the most often!
How? When they make their emails about selling products. You got people onto your email list, at long last. Now they're off the hook and safely in the bucket, right? You can stop playing about and start selling them things. It doesn't work that way. There's no moment when you can relax, throw off the trappings of modern marketing and start just pushing products at people. Instead, emails are an opportunity to move people toward a sale.
Online retailers also fall down when using untargeted emails — i.e., the "spray and pray" approach in another setting. One size fits all gets on everyone's nerves, but that doesn't stop e-tailers machine-gunning their email lists with inappropriate messages.
Another email stumbling block is welcome emails. Welcome emails boast four times the open rate and five times the clickthrough rate of broadcast emails. And when they do get opened, what do you get? Three hundred and thirty-six percent more transactions. Some 74.4 percent of e-commerce customers say they expect a welcome email, yet 80 percent of online retailers don't send welcome emails.
What about cart abandonment emails? Not sending cart abandonment emails is simply opting to leave money on the table. It makes no sense, yet it's an oddly popular choice. Cart abandonment sits at somewhere between 68 percent and 75 percent, depending upon whom you ask. Fifty percent of cart abandonment emails are opened — a rate that's barely touched by any other emails, apart from very highly targeted B-to-B campaigns — and a third of those who open them click right back to your website. Cart abandonment emails should be part of every e-tailer's strategy.
Too many online retailers don't integrate email with their other marketing channels. Keeping any marketing channel in a silo is a big error. Using social, email and search together is the most effective way to generate more traffic and sales. You should be nurturing leads and maintaining relationships with existing customers using targeted, personalized emails, preferably delivered by automated software.
Suppose you offer the most lavish and desirable transportation to your brick-and-mortar store. Chauffeur-driven limos deliver potential customers right to your door ... where they're greeted by surly staff, and everything they want to buy is upstairs in a locked room. Sounds good, right? No?
Funny. Because that's exactly the same as having killer marketing that stops at your URL. Marketing doesn't stop when customers reach your website, unless you want the bounce rate of a Super Ball. No, it's just getting started.
Website usability has a gigantic effect on how your website ranks in search as well as how many visitors make it to that all-important checkout. If your website is hard to use, people will do what we'd all like to do when something's hard: stop doing it. Therefore, websites should be "designed downhill," i.e., built around data-backed customer journeys, with the path of least resistance leading to checkout. Why would you build it any other way?
Look at load speed, too. It's a crucial factor in usability. You can't sell anything to people who got bored of waiting for your page to load and clicked away, and that will happen in about two seconds. But it's also got a lot to do with how well Google treats you. Slow sites get penalized. Google is looking into slapping a "Slow" label on slow-loading mobile sites. And if the average e-commerce site takes 6.5 seconds to load on a desktop, mobile users have a real big problem on their hands.
Online retailers bungle their marketing in all kinds of ways. That's the bad news. The good news is that most of their mistakes are really easy to fix. Most of them will yield to sensible planning backed by automation software. Scheduled social posts integrated with automated emails, pay-per-click display retargeting, and cart abandonment rescue can drive conversions through the roof while a simple-to-use website that loads fast will hold more visitors longer and increase sales.
Rohan Ayyar is the regional marketing manager for India at SEMrush. His blog, The Marketing Mashup, covers digital marketing from the perspective of B2B, B2C, lead generation, mobile marketing, SEO, social media, content marketing, database marketing including predictive analytics, and conversion rate optimization. In addition, he'll look at emerging marketing technology and how marketers can use it. Reach Ayyar at firstname.lastname@example.org.