Just about everyone has a website these days, and for good reason – there’s simply more and more money to be made online each year (take the $453.46 billion of U.S. ecommerce transactions in 2017 vs $390.99 billion in 2016 for instance, a growth of over $62 billion). However, with opportunity comes competition. Even if you have a great product or site, it may not be enough to succeed.
Making it on the internet requires an edge. Here are the three most effective ways to kickstart your online retail business so you can develop that edge, survive, and even thrive in the competitive world of ecommerce.
#1: Get Into the Online Marketing Game (in 4 steps)
With a little research, it’s easy to see something in common across all the top websites on the internet – they all have blogs. Although having blog content on your website is only one element of successful online marketing, it’s a crucial one. Here are four steps to establish yourself through online marketing .
Step 1: Create a WordPress Site
The Walt Disney Company uses WP, and it looks sharp (from their homepage)
Not very tech savvy? You’re in luck – WordPress , the content management system (CMS) behemoth that dominates the internet, makes it exceedingly simple to put one together for free. Of course, if you want to buy a unique URL or would prefer additional features and premium plugins, it’ll cost you. Regardless, setting yourself up on WordPress is the beginning of great things for your business on the web.
If you have the funds, finding a WordPress Developer on a site like Top Talent is a good way to customize things even further. It all depends on your needs. Either way you go, the WordPress interface makes it so that anyone can learn (with a bit of practice) how to handle the basics of website modification.
Step 2: Start Writing (or Procuring) Content
As I mentioned earlier, a common thread between all major players in the online world of business is their use of a blog to bring in customers. Many studies corroborate the effectiveness of this strategy – for example, Traffic Generation Cafe discovered having a blog drives 67% additional traffic (or more) to a website. If you want that traffic, it’s time to start proffering interesting, free, and (ideally) valuable content to denizens of the internet.
Unless you love writing (or can at least grudgingly string together sentences without giving in to despair), the idea of curating a blog may seem intimidating. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to hire writers to create content for you if you’re just not interested in doing it yourself. You’ll still have to put the pieces up on your site, but that’s the easy part!
Step 3: Link Build
Western ecommerce runs on Google (sorry users of Bing and other search engines). If you want to succeed online, it’s critical to appeal to our Googley overlords. Google’s algorithm judges the quality of websites on their content, the overall user experience, and the links the site has from other websites. You may be the world best in your industry, but if your site lacks links it’s going to get outranked by competitors.
Link building has been written about extensively, so here are my three recommendations if you’re ready to dive into it (with links to my favorite resources):
1. Write and pitch guest blogs on topics related to your industry, and include links back to your site
2. Respond to reporter queries related to your business using the HARO platform
3. Dive into broken link building (if you dare)
Step 4: Hone Your Conversion Funnel
Having a beautiful homepage is great, but if it leads users nowhere then you’ll be hard-pressed to make many sales. If you wish to sell more products and turn more websurfers into paying customers, it’s in your best interest to build a finely-tuned conversion funnel.
There are various methods for optimizing your own funnel so that it converts more users. One of them is to strategically place a variety of Call to Actions (CTAs) across your site, so that anyone actively browsing is never too far away from the checkout page. Text links, buttons, sidebars, pop-ups – each of these, when used with care, has the ability to boost customer engagement and increase sales.
Directing legitimate energy into online marketing will help you pull ahead of your competitors, but it will take some work. In this case, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
#2: Optimize your Payment Processing
Online businesses frequently get ripped off by payment processors. Since transactions over the internet are handled without physical cards (dubbed CNP, or “card not present”), they are less secure, and thus incur higher rates. Furthermore, chargebacks are more common in the digital world than they are at in-person retailers – hurting anyone looking for reasonably priced credit card processing to bolster their ecommerce business.
Regardless if you’re brand new to the world of merchant services or not, there’s a good chance you can find better rates and services somewhere. To get an idea, investigate a few online reports that break down the pros and cons of various payment processors and see what’s available on the market. It’s a competitive industry, so don’t be afraid to play hardball when necessary.
Some processors, such as Square , offer flat rates for any type of transaction – but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Although the consistency may seem nice, most credit card transactions shouldn’t cost 3.5% plus 15 cents. A good agent will be able to optimize your processing, and get you rates that are consistent with the type of cards being swiped (which ends up being a lot better than the flat fee model).
#3: Win at Social Media
Unless you’re a celebrity, you’ll soon begin to realize that leveraging social media to help your business is an investment. And not just a monetary one either — it’s also a big time sink. However, if used appropriately, social media has the ability to solidify your company as a major player in your industry. Just keep these three things in mind:
I. Understand why you’re using it
Social media is not going to make you a bunch of money immediately, and it may never directly make you fistfuls of cash. What it will do though, is build brand awareness and help you create a persona for your brand. Using social media to get your name out there and to establish yourself with your target audience (there are some great examples of this) is going to be more effective than simply using it as a sales tool.
II. Don’t use a shotgun approach
Or more specifically, don’t target everyone on every platform when establishing your presence online. Understanding your user demographic and which websites/apps they use is crucial if you wish to leverage social media effectively.
Free online tools such as Google analytics can help you figure out some of this information (if you already have an active website). You can also look into the successes and failures of competitors, and improve upon what they’re doing. Once you start to understand more about the people who use your product or enjoy your service, you can begin catering to them with your social content.
Social media is filled with examples of companies doing this right, but one example I particularly love is Wendy’s Twitter account. Understanding that their brand appeals to a younger demographic, Wendy’s spends a lot of time teasing McDonalds and interacting sarcastically with their followers. Young adults love seeing this kind of irreverence acted out by a major corporation, and as a result Wendy’s has almost 2.5 million followers on Twitter.
SS of Wendy’s Twitter feed
III. Engage with your audience
Seeing many of the posts and comments you’ve invested time and energy in not get any traction at all can be disheartening. Don’t give up. Constantly updating your chosen social accounts will help build credibility with customers, even if it feels like you’re shouting out into the void. Your efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
Once you’ve built a small to moderate-sized following, keep pushing forward. Don’t check off the “mission accomplished” box just yet, because your social media accounts require some love and care if you want to avoid letting them fizzle out and flatline. Plus, this is where things can get entertaining as a business owner.
Engaging on social media can be fun with a little effort and creativity. Using emojis, embracing the persona you’re building for your brand, and pushing the envelope a bit can all help you add a little personality to your company. Such tactics have allowed many big businesses thrive in the world of social media (although many have also failed).
There’s no better time to start honing your online store into a well-oiled machine. Tighten up your website with an online marketing strategy, find an effective payment processor suited to handling your company’s needs, and play around with social media to see what works best for your business. It’s not an easy three-step plan, but if executed correctly will pay major dividends down the road.