Online stores are an easy way to make money. Leading eCommerce platforms can help you set up an online store in a matter of hours. You don’t have to be a coding genius.
Technology makes some parts uncomplicated, but it’s still not easy. If you don’t have a solid plan, you can fail. Make that plan before you go any further. Ask yourself these 39 questions about starting an eCommerce business.
1. How do I build an eCommerce business plan?
There are six elements:
Executive Summary – You’ll write this part last. It summarizes the other seven elements. Even so, it belongs at the start of your planning process.
Company Description – It’s a high-level overview of your company. What products and services will you offer? Who are your customers? What are your online store’s competitive advantages? Answers need a deep dive for details. Then, sum it up in a paragraph or two. You’ll have an elevator pitch.
Market Analysis – What do you know about your industry and target market? These can’t be gut feelings. Free resources on the Internet remove any excuse you have not to have the facts and figures.
Products and Services –What will your online store offer? Approach this from a customer perspective. To do this, you need to know and explain why you will offer these products and services.
Marketing and Sales –What’s your approach to reaching customers? Just because you build an online store, it doesn’t mean they will come. Or even buy things. Explore the “why” aspect with your strategies. Define how you’ll reach your target market.
Financial Projections –You cannot hope for online sales revenue. You have to make it happen. If you’re successful, will you see a profit? Operational facts and figures are the baselines that help you forecast. How much will you need to sell to cover operations? Establish goals instead of just seeing what happens.
2. How do I choose a niche for my online store?
Answer that question by asking yourself a question. What’s your passion?
Fads have short lifespans. You’ll have lots of competition if you create an online store just to sell what’s hot today. You’ll also join them in failure when that product is no longer hot.
Pick a product or service you are passionate about selling. You love the product because you know everything about it. People want to buy things from experts. Are they searching for it online? Find out by researching keywords using Google’s free Keyword Tool.
You can be passionate about something and still not make money selling it. Choose a market segment with room for growth. The market must be large enough so you can exploit and own a particular section. That’s what a niche is all about.
Niche products and services are hard to find in general. Scarcity creates value. It’s even better if the product or service has high margins. You can sell less and still make a profit.
3. How do I evaluate market demand for my products?
Now that you’ve determined your niche, it’s time to take a deeper dive. You need to find out the potential of the market.
Determine the potential. Use the chain ratio method. Start with a large group and drill down on the characteristics that match your product. Is that market growing? Will they need the education to be receptive to your product? Overestimating your market potential is easy. You may determine that millions of people want your product. But there might be thousands of online businesses already competing with you. Factor your competition into the potential.
Who are your competitors, and where are they? If you don’t know who the competition is, you need to find out. How are they reaching customers? Examine their social media followers. It will give you insight on ways to position your product to stand out from your competitors.
Use Google. Use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool to determine product demand. Enter keywords that describe your product or service. Google will tell you how many people searched for those keywords. The tool also shows competition of this keyword. You can find out how many other businesses use the keywords to attract customers.
What if Google tells you no one is searching for your keywords? It’s a strong sign you should reconsider selling that product or service.
4. How do I develop a unique selling proposition?
This helps you stand apart from competitors. It lets you focus energy on efforts that cater just to your ideal customers. You have to tell them you know how to do this. It’s your unique selling proposition.
Appeal to an ideal customer. There’s a risk in trying to be everything to everybody. Identify the perfect prospect by asking yourself these questions:
- What does your perfect customer want?
- How can your product or service solve their problem?
- What factors motivate their buying decisions?
- Why should they choose you instead of someone else?
Once you know these things, you can create the proposition. It must explain how you’re going to solve their problem. People buy products to solve their problems. Does your unique selling proposition give them a solution?
5. How do I source products for my online store?
Unless you create the product yourself; you need suppliers. Where do you find them?
Research trade and industry organizations related to your product. These organizations have missions to match up buyers and sellers. Check out these resources for help in locating the proper channels:
- Directory of Associations from Concept Marketing Group Inc.
- The National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States is a paid source.
- The Thomas Register online locates companies and products manufactured in North America. This website lets you place orders online and view thousands of online company catalogs.
- Put some of your tax dollars to use and head to the website of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
6. How do I identify my target market?
Your target market the collection of your ideal customers. You need to understand their behavior. What are their reasons for wanting your product or service? Find out why by asking these questions:
Who will use my product? This is demographic information.
When will customers buy my product? Few people want a Christmas tree in July. Does your product have a seasonal window of opportunity? Even products that don’t have peak buying periods. You need to know when this is.
Why do customers need it? Develop a deep understanding of the problem your product or service solves.
7. How do I find reliable suppliers for my online store?
How do I find reliable suppliers for my online store?
That depends on what you are looking for. Do you need existing brands and products that you’ll ship yourself? Or, are you looking for a drop shipper? They supply products and fulfill orders of existing brands and products.
After you decide your supplier type, you need to decide on their location. Overseas suppliers tend to offer lower prices. Cost shouldn’t be your only deciding factor. Consider these, too:
- Low manufacturing costs
- High choice
- Lower perceived quality from customers
- A potential for language and communication barriers
- Longer shipping time
- Less payment security and recourse
- Higher manufacturing quality standards
- Easier communication with no language barrier
- Easier to verify the reliability
- Faster shipping time
- Greater payment security and recourse
- Higher manufacturing costs
- Less choice
Many online store owners look to their network for recommendations. Don’t underestimate the power of friends and family. They may already know a reliable source.
8. How do I research my competition?
If you want to know what your competition is doing, go to their online stores and find out. What you can’t do yourself is find out where they are marketing to customers. Technology offers powerful tools to find this out. Here are a few of the most popular:
Monitor ads of up to 10 competitors. See where their ads are placed. This paid service provides deep competitive intelligence. It can even estimate the competition’s marketing budgets.
The first level of their services is free. You can use an ad search tool to display recent ads by your competitors. You see the size and places ads were recently seen.
Check your competitors’ organic and paid keywords, landing pages, and ads. You’ll see keyword position rankings for a thousand of specific keywords. This service is free for the first 30 days.
It’s not as high-tech as these three suggestions, but consider asking friends and family to help you with competitive research. Have them forward marketing email they receive. They get a lot of it!
9. How do I build an eCommerce website?
You’ve come up with your product line and determined the target market. You know who your competitors are and where they look for customers. Now it’s time to create your online store.
If you’re not sure where or how to start, you are a good candidate for an eCommerce platform. You can build an online store with one even if you have no technical skills at all.
But which one? Most boast about how easy it is to set up an online store with their software. There are two main ways to build an eCommerce website.
- Hosted eCommerce software (more user-friendly)
- Self-hosted open source eCommerce software (more advanced)
Consider a hosted eCommerce solution if you want to focus on selling your product. It removes the technical aspects of building and running an online store. These are turnkey solutions ready for you to use. Integrated product management and payment processors are part of the package. You can build your online store with simple drag and drop technology. No coding skills are necessary. The benefits are many, but you may bump up against flexibility.
Self-Hosted open source software makes sense if you are a skilled web developer. The set-up costs are significant. You’ll also incur ongoing development maintenance.
10. How do I choose the right eCommerce platform?
Your choice requires careful consideration. Don’t make a selection until you’re confident you’ll stay with that solution. Changing your mind is expensive and consumes time.
Technical ability is a major factor in this choice. If you doubt your skills, choose a platform offering the tools and support you need to be successful. This is just as important for your customers as it is for you. They expect an optimal experience.
11. How do I choose a payment gateway?
A payment gateway is your online cash register. Your online store can’t accept cash. You must accept credit card or other types of online financial transactions. Here are some considerations:
Cost. You’ll pay for a payment gateway. There’s an initial startup cost to cover setting up a merchant account. There’s also a cost to configure the gateway on your website. Other costs are ongoing. A payment gateway vendor may charge you per transaction, or as a flat monthly fee. It will cost you money to make money.
Compatibility with how your customers want to pay you. Not everybody uses credit cards. Many people use debit cards or even PayPal. These transactions are handled in a different way than credit cards. Make sure your payment gateway works for customers as much as it does for you.
Security. Theft of online payment information is on the rise. Security one area where it’s impossible to be too careful. Ask vendors to explain how their payment gateway solution approaches security and data encryption.
Customer support. In this case, you’re the customer. If you have trouble with your payment gate, you can’t sell anything. A claim of 24/7 support doesn’t mean someone will answer the phone if you call. It might mean nothing more than an email response. You should know this ahead of time.
12. How do I pick a profitable domain name?
Think of the most popular brand names in the world. They’re short, relevant to what they sell, easy to remember, and easy to say. Follow that branding exercise for your domain name.
Domain name dos
Use the name of your business or product. It’s not always possible. Check to see if you can register a domain name that matches your online store’s name. Do this before you get too far into any branding exercises.
Build a domain name from keywords if a search is your priority. paintbrushes.com isn’t available for your paintbrush store. Most generic domain names are gone. Customers today use more specific terms in a search. Think about your niche and target market. It might make more sense for your online store’s domain to be lefthandedpaintbrushes.com. Pick a domain name that specifies what you’re selling.
Stay with a top-level domain. If you can get .com, do it. People will remember it. If they know the name of your business but not the URL, .com is what they will try first.
Domain name don’ts
Unusual spellings. You want a domain name that’s easy to remember and pass on. If it’s easy to misspell, people will get it wrong. You’ll lose a sale. Or they could end up on your competitor’s site.
Long names. Is it difficult to remember and easy to type in the wrong? It might be a fun name, but it won’t get you, customers. The top length of a domain is 63 characters. Try to keep it under 25.
Hyphens. You can get the domain name you want, as long as you include a hyphen. Pass on it. They make keywords stand out, but they’re easy to forget. Do you want a hyphen to stand between you and your customers?
Run your domain name selections by people you know. See what they think. Tell them what it is. See if they can spell it. That’ll let you know if you’re on the right track.
13. How do I choose a hosting provider?
The wrong eCommerce hosting provider can sink your store. Here are some features to use in your evaluation process.
Don’t stop at infrastructure. The best eCommerce hosting providers also offer tools and customized support. Are they focused on their growth, or yours? Look for a company willing to be a partner, not just your provider.
Managed Services. Marketing and product development grow online sales. Can your eCommerce hosting provider help you with this?
Support. Skimping here is dangerous. Invest in having guaranteed help as soon as a problem arises.
14. How do I manage site maintenance and updates?
The best way to manage them is not to do it yourself. A hosted eCommerce platform takes care of this for you. Maintenance and updates happen in the background. They’re invisible to you and your customers. Nothing gets in the way of selling your products and services. Hosted platforms also offer:
- Automated daily backups of your site
- Staging sites or development areas for testing
- sFTP access
There are some things you still may decide to do yourself. If you can’t afford to lose your data, then you can’t afford to put all your eggs in one basket. Consider a secondary backup. What does it hurt? It is your business, after all.
15. How do I set up my online store to accept credit card payments?
Your online store will need a merchant account or a payment gateway account. An Internet merchant account lets you process credit cards. Banks issue these accounts. They view your merchant account as a line of credit extended to you. You apply for one like you apply for a loan.
Start with your bank as you search for a merchant account. It’s a big plus if you have a long-term relationship with your bank. If they turn you down, try other local banks. Offer to move all your accounts there. It’s often the route to snagging a merchant account.
That’s the first step. You also will need a payment gateway account. The gateway is the handler that connects shoppers’ credit cards to your merchant account. It takes care of verification and transfer requests.
As a small merchant, you should consider combining these two requirements. Vendors can set up a merchant account for you and provide a payment gateway as a package.
16. How do I protect customer information?
The best way to keep hackers away from customer data is not to have any data to steal in the first place. Let third-party providers handle credit card information. They have the security and tech muscles to handle customer data in a safe way.
Use SSL encryption on pages that have customer information. This includes sign-up pages, checkout pages, and customer login pages. SSL encryption will prevent hackers from stealing your website’s stored data. The extra layer of security increases your shoppers’ trust. They’ve learned to associate the “https” with high security.
Arm your site with extra protection. A web application firewall and other security-on-demand solutions provide confidence. A content delivery network helps block threats. It will speed up your website’s load time for shoppers.
Encrypt. Always encrypt customer passwords and other sensitive information. Consider all the information your customers share with you as sensitive.
Educate your customers. Help them to take on an active role in keeping personal information safe. Let them know what information you collect, and how. Ask them to report suspicious behavior on your site.
17. How do I collect sales tax?
It’s more important to determine when and why first. How you do it is often a function of the eCommerce platform you use.
Determine where you have a nexus. Almost all states mandate online merchants to collect a sales tax from buyers. You only have to collect sales tax in these states if you have what’s called “sales tax nexus.” You must have a significant business presence in that state. It includes things like:
- Having an office
- Having an employee
- Having a warehouse
- Having an affiliate
- Storing inventory
- Dropshipping from a third party provider
Use this interactive guide to determine where you have a sales tax nexus. Your online store will collect sales tax based on this information. You must register with the states for which you will collect the tax.
Your eCommerce platform vendor is your partner in this obligation. Use their resources to educate yourself about sales tax basics. Ask for their support to confirm you have a proper and compliant tax collection procedure from the start.
18. How do I set up eCommerce order fulfillment?
Once a customer buys something from your online store, you have to get it to them. You may not need a warehouse to store your products, but you should treat fulfillment as if you do need one. It sets you up for the time when you might need it. Or, for when you’ll need to partner with a fulfillment company.
Do these things now, so you’ll be able to scale later:
Organize Products. Label all your products with an SKU, bar code, or UPC. It’s even better if they arrive that way from your manufacturer.
Keep product identification simple. Make SKU information short and unique. It might make sense to you today, but what about a couple of years from now? What if you move your inventory into a huge warehouse? Will your current SKU’s make sense to future fulfillment employees?
Manage product quantity. How much product to keep in stock? Focus on what’s known as lean inventory. But be careful that you don’t frustrate customers who don’t want to wait too long for your products. It’s a balancing act.
Keep an eye on product selection. This may not be an issue for you if you start out small. As you grow, you’ll want to offer more choices for customers. You may have limited storage space. It makes sense to offer more choice only for products selling well.
Keep packaging costs down. Apple has taught us that packaging is part of the brand. High product prices increase the expectation of quality presentation. Most people buying products from online store care more about getting the best price. You can keep packaging down by minimizing box and packing material variety. If you use branded boxes, understand the costs involved versus the value it provides.
19. How do I determine shipping costs?
Your shipping strategy should cut into your margins as little as possible. It still has to remain attractive to customers. Studies show that shipping and handling fees cause shopping cart abandonment. Consider these options:
Free shipping. It gets a customer’s attention. It may cut into your profits, though. Free shipping is a significant advantage over competitors who don’t offer it. Determine whether increased sales volume covers the profit hit.
Offer free shipping with a minimum order. It drives up your average order value. You can apply that against the shipping cost. High-cost items need extra handling. Customers expect that. Competitive low-priced merchandise is a different story.
Charge what you get charged. Your customers more or less pay what you would pay to ship your products. It doesn’t have the same impact as free shipping. It does prevent you from eating into your profits. Smart customers understand they’re getting the best deal possible.
Flat rates. This option requires preparation. You need to figure out ahead of time the average cost to ship a package. It’s important to know, so you don’t undercharge or overcharge your customers. Armed with the range of costs, you can set tiered, attractive options. Delivery time dictates the price.
20. How do I manage inventory?
How much do you need on hand? Inventory is an asset, but it ties up money until it’s sold. Your eCommerce store needs to optimize inventory by keeping it lean. It must do this without risking customer disappointment.
Here are ways to this juggling act:
Stay organized. Huh? Isn’t that obvious? It may not be. Make sure your inventory is obvious. Is it organized, so it’s easy to know what’s placed where?
Pick a customized system. Look for a shopping cart solution that integrates inventory management with bookkeeping services. Can it subtract sold items each time there’s a sale? Can it push out emails when a stock is low?
Be vigilant. You may be small now, but isn’t your goal to scale? Treat today as if it’s the future. Keep accurate records and track of the inventory at all times. Invest in inventory management software that can help you right now, and when you’re as big as Amazon.
21. How do I build trust with my online store?
Phishing scams, malware, and poor customer service make online shoppers wary. Trust indicators on your website are crucial. Here are five things you can do to build trust and confidence:
Make it personal. People don’t trust pages or websites. They trust people. Does your website have the human factor? They want to see faces and names. Use your About Us page to show your team. List names and give contact information.
Look professional. It’s all in your presentation. You’re not virtual. You’re real. Prove it. Make customer service a robust area of your website. Explain your returns policy and other support in plain English.
Share that others trust you. Feature customer testimonials. Text-based is okay. A video is even better. Boast about press coverage. Display the logos of the media coverage you.
Prove your website is secure. That padlock symbol is valuable. Does your eCommerce solution display a notice that customers are using a secure server? Even if it does, take it a step further and remind them.
Mitigate risks. What’s at stake for your customers? They’re concerned that they’ll be stuck with your product if they don’t like it. Increase your credibility. Address their concern up front. Spell out the shipping and returns policy. This is about managing expectations.
Your customers are judging you as soon as they land on your index page. They decide whether to trust you in a matter of seconds. It’s up to you to gain their trust.
22. How do I attract shoppers to my online store?
There’s no end to the online advice about SEO and getting your online store to show up in searches. But robots aren’t shopping on your site. Humans are.
The one thing online stores forget most is that we all want a human connection. It might sound like a grammar lesson, but it starts with the correct use of pronouns. Make the focus on the customer. That means using the pronoun “you.” Avoid a focus on yourself. Make little use of the pronoun “we.”
Include a blog on your website. Remember, customers, are coming to you for a solution to a problem. The products and services you sell are those solutions. Talk about those things. Price and product aren’t the only things that sell.
23. How do I attract shoppers to my online store?
Here are some sobering statistics.
- 78% of consumers cancel a transaction because of poor customer service.
- Americans tell an average of nine people about good experiences. They’ll tell 16 people about poor ones.
- It takes 12 positive reviews to make up for one unresolved negative review.
- 59% of U.S. shoppers would try a new brand for better service experience.
Social media amplifies this. It’s also your best tool. It makes customer service a collaborative effort. Social media offers online community tools that empower customers to find answers and help others. Use self-help and community forums on your website. Don’t overlook the power of direct engagement to handle customer service issues.
Here are ways your online store can use customer support to increase satisfaction levels:
Be helpful. That’s not as obvious at it sounds. Being available is not the same as being helpful. It goes beyond having someone who will a live chat or phone call. The quality of help is your goal. Do you give your customer support reps the authority to solve problems?
Be honest. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to own up to a mistake. Your customer support should feel comfortable in doing this. Nobody expects you to know all the answers. Online shoppers who need customer service will expect to hear that you’ll find out an answer for them. And, “no” is an appropriate answer if it means you over-promise and disappoints them.
Keep it straightforward and easy. Customer support is not a cost of doing business. It’s an investment. It strengthens your relationship with your buyers and encourages repeat sales. Satisfied customers share their discoveries. That’s your goal with customer service. Make it easy to find critical information. Put pricing, shipping, and return policies where they can find it.
24. How do I create product images and descriptions?
Your online store is a visual medium complemented by words. Use both to your advantage.
Larger images increase sales. Make them high resolution and include a variety of angles. Let customers zoom in on details.
Don’t skimp on product descriptions. Describe the benefit of the product using its features. Find the “why.”
Be generous with details. Make them available. If your product has 37 all-natural ingredients, provide a link to images of them. Customers appreciate this. They become comfortable with their buying decisions.
25. How do I handle exchanges and returns?
First of all, encourage them. It shows buyers you’re committed to customer service. If they’re not satisfied, take it back. End of discussion. That said, you can cut down on returns with a comprehensive policy that you share with customers. Manage their expectations.
No sale is final. Stand behind your product. Don’t make it difficult for them to return things. If you do, you’ll never see them again.
Reduce disappointment.Accurate product descriptions and good product photos reduce returns.
Use plain English acronyms and jargon rule our world. Keep them out of the dialog. Make it easy to find your information about exchanges and returns. If it’s not easy to find, your customers think you have something to hide.
Don’t add hidden costs or hide time limitations. Let customers know if they have to pay for return shipping. Make it clear if shoppers have a certain amount of time to return or exchange something they buy. Nothing is worse than getting hit by hidden costs. Don’t hide anything. You’ll have to find new customers.
26. How do I track my store’s performance?
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) measure how you’re doing. Track these data points, and you will know:
Site traffic – It tells you how many people are visiting. Are some days more popular than others? Maybe those days are when you have special buying incentives.
Average time on site – It measures engagement. Low times mean customers can’t find what they want. Or, you don’t have what they want. Both are bad news for you.
Exit pages –It shows you where you’ve lost interest. Use this data to refine your site and keep customer attention.
Referrals –How did new customers find your online store? This helps you confirm your marketing strategies.
Conversions – Visiting your online store is nice. Buying something is better. This conversion rate helps you decide if you need to apply more sales pressure.
Return rate – Return visitors are great. Return buyers are awesome. Examine your return rate to see how you’re doing at getting repeat business.
Average order value – This helps you understand spending habits. Big spenders on your site deserve extra attention.
27. How do I build a brand for my online store?
Every brand has basic elements. Your online store does, too.
Make all these elements work together. Know them all before you start. They’re interdependent. Here’s what you need to do to create the elements.
Decide what you are. A brand strategy includes your values, your vision statement. It expresses what you want for your customers, and what you want people to think of you. Convert this into keywords.
Design toward a purpose. Limit your color palette and fonts. Pick a font for headlines and one for body copy. Don’t forget your mobile shoppers. Are the fonts legible at small sizes?
Understand what your brand communicates. Do all parts of your store reflect the same theme? Your brand is about serenity. Your business practices are more like a wrestling match. This sends mixed messages to customers. Everything should reinforce what you decide you are.
28. How do I create a customer loyalty program?
What is rewarding about complications? It defeats the purpose. Remove complexity. Reduce it and turn it into the enjoyable experience it should be for a buyer. After all, it is a reward. It shouldn’t take long to figure out. It should take less time to join.
It’s not a customer loyalty program if there are barriers to joining. Can you make it as easy as an email entry? Can they join or login to your site with their social media credentials?
Successful loyalty programs allow customers to earn rewards without effort. Shouldn’t buy something from you be enough? If your loyalty program requires much more than a login, it’s too complicated. Are your rewards are so generous that you hope customers don’t take part? Stop being so generous.
On the flip side, are the rewards for your loyalty program superficial? If customers don’t see the value, the program will fail.
The most successful loyalty programs raise the reward stakes for continued activity. It motivates and generates repeat purchases. Your most loyal customers are powerful marketing agents for you. Give them ways to share their experience and encourage others to join, too. Social icons should be everywhere on your loyalty program pages.
29. How do I get customers to write reviews?
Ask them. Everyone understands the importance of good reviews. Those positive words are best requested right away.
Make it easy for your customers to leave reviews for you on your site. If it’s not evident, they won’t look for it. Put links to review profiles in more than one place. Include them in your newsletters and emails.
Give customers a reason to review. Show them your appreciation with an incentive. Be clear, though, that it’s for an honest review.
30. How do I promote my online store?
Your best promotional tool is email. Send a message to your database. Make sure there’s a call to action to share the email.
Your email database will grow after you launch. Use it to send out weekly messages that highlight your products. Include images and direct links to buy. Spend the extra time to format the message, so it looks good on mobile devices. Email generates a normal tide of traffic.
Establish yourself a leader in your industry with a blog. It’s a powerful yet indirect way to promote your online store. Your blog posts should be helpful and informative. Write from a neutral point of view. Reference both peers and competitors. Keep blog links back to your store minimal and relevant.
Contact other bloggers about your online store and products. It requires a bit of research. You’ll have to read their posts to determine a connection. Then contact them. Explain why your product is a good fit for a review on their blog. Be promotion-minded and offer a sample for a giveaway.
Use that research on blogs to create a second list. Contact them and offer to guest blog. It’s not going to be self-promotion. These bloggers will expect thoughtful commentary that provides solutions their readers can use. Your reward is a link to your store in the bio.
Video attracts viewers. They’re shareable and add depth to your online store. Show your products in action. People also love behind-the-scenes content. Have fun and share some bloopers! Create a YouTube account for your online store and post your videos there. Cross-promote these two sites.
Social media is essential. Effective use of social media to promote your online store will take time and effort. You need a schedule of regular posts. This means daily or even more, depending on your number of followers. Images grab attention and get shared. Include a direct link to buy it at your online store.
Many social media sites offer paid targeted advertising to their audience. Facebook and Twitter have powerful interfaces that allow you to be specific. Be sure specify the destination is your online store and not your company page on their sites.
Optimize the product names and descriptions in your online store. Comprehensive descriptions yield more opportunity for SEO. Do the same with your photos. Give them descriptive names. Add your product feed to Google Shopping. These three SEO efforts will help new customers find you.
31. How do I create an effective marketing plan?
Your plan starts with knowing who you want to sell to, and how they want to buy. Determine, who your customers are, and their shopping behavior. That information prepares you for the next step.
Make your online store visible where these customers are looking. Search engines, social media, and blogs can send them to you with a direct link. Make sure you’re ready for them before they arrive. Use search engines to find your online store. These search engine links will make the first impression for your customers. Is it the one you want?
Successful marketing is effective communication. Audit your website. Does every page communicate its clear purpose? Find at least 10 people who match your target demographic. Ask them to shop at your online store. Watch as they go through the process. Ask for their feedback and take action to make the experience of shopping at your online store better.
Value is what marketing communication should provide. For online shoppers, that means showing them they’ll find what they want to buy. Boost the sales of your product with information that’s easy to consume.
Effective communication is interactive. Focus on your ability to have a two-way conversation with customers online. Marketing is also about managing expectations. Don’t assume customers know what to do or what to expect as they shop with you. Help them with prompts. These can be calls to action that lead to sales.
32. How do I allocate an eCommerce marketing budget?
Use your allocation for customer acquisition. While you do have a brand, it’s your individual products or services that drive revenue. That’s what you want to get in front of people.
It seems logical to invest all your budget in the least expensive channel. You may see an initial response, but it can’t sustain it. Online behavior and preferences are fickle. Where people are today isn’t where they’ll be tomorrow. A channel’s rates may increase and become unaffordable for you. The better strategy is to spread your budget across many channels. Here’s a general breakdown of how other eCommerce sites approach allocation:
Invest 10% to 30% in SEO channels. Plan sustained application for optimal results. SEO will generate steady traffic. The downside is that it won’t drive a quick return on investment (ROI) the way other channels might. It’s a longer cycle.
Invest 10% to 20% in social media channels. The three social network giants (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) are obvious choices. They have huge audiences. Targeting is easy. Don’t rule out other social networks. Your products or services may be a good fit for smaller and more specialized social networks. Online shopping is a visual experience. Pinterest and Instagram are visual social networks.
Invest 20% to 40% in SEM. If your online store is new, this may be the only way to get visibility in searches. More spending isn’t always better. Results come from making sure your ad is relevant to the audience you’ve asked Google to target. If you do not see results, more money won’t help. Change your ad copy often to determine what’s resonating with searches. Your keywords may be right, but your copy doesn’t convert to a click.
Invest 10% to 20% in retargeting.If you’re just starting an eCommerce site; you may have a small customer base. Retargeting them is a limited opportunity. Those customers have been to your online store. Touching them again with marketing is a way to invite them to return and buy. Wait on retargeting until your monthly visitor count justifies the investment.
Invest 5% to 25% in prospecting using display ads. These increase brand awareness on targeted websites.
Invest 5% to 10% in email marketing. It’s been around for a long time because it works. Newsletter campaigns are effective drivers of site traffic and conversions. Cart abandonment emails can revive a lost sale. Cross-sell emails can increase spending by existing customers.
Keep your allocations fluid. As your online store matures, and the audience grows, your objectives will shift. Brand building channels become more important. If a channel doesn’t produce results, don’t abandon it. First, test different creative for it.
33. How do I develop an SEO strategy for my online store?
Successful SEO strategies revolve around round six elements.
Keywords – Do the research. Understand what people are searching for. Associating yourself with these keywords is what SEO is all about. See how the competition looks by using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Some keywords will be too competitive in your niche. Choose long-tail keywords (between two and five words), instead. Fewer businesses will compete for these longer keywords. They will give you a higher placement rank.
Meta tags –They are vital. Your most important keywords belong on your page titles. Meta tags are what Google looks for and ranks. The same is true for page description titles.
Content – Quality content creates a positive user experience. Content is the best place for your keywords to live in. Make your content shine, and use it to educate your buyers.
Backlinks –These are almost as important as content. Quality trumps quantity, though. Think through your content strategy. Structure it for relevant links back to your website. Cultivate peer blogs for the same reason. Sell things people love. They’ll help you with this, too.
Social media –There’s no getting around this. You must establish a strong social media presence, or you won’t succeed. Sites such as Facebook have such a huge audience that members use it much like a search engine.
Product images –Images play a crucial role in SEO. Search results return images, as well as websites. You sell products on your site. Images of those products need to be as good as you can make them. There’s something just as important, though. The images file names must contain relevant keywords. You’ll see a higher rank for them on search engines.
No SEO strategy would be complete without competitive analysis. What are other eCommerce sites like yours doing?
34. How do I use social media to market my online store?
Social media marketing will bring buyers to your online store. Need numbers to prove it? The eCommerce Shopify reviewed data from over 37 million social media visits. The visits resulted in 529,000 orders. Here’s what you need to do to get started.
Create a Facebook page for your online store. Don’t use your personal Facebook page for this purpose. Invite your Facebook friends to share and like your page. Have more than just your brand new company Facebook page waiting for them when they arrive. Make sure there’s content for them to consume, and to share. Keep a new content pour constantly. It should be relevant and interesting enough to share. The call to action is a visit to your online store.
Tweet about your online store. Come up with exclusive discounts for your followers. Give them incentives to reach out to their followers. Don’t forget to include this offer to your Facebook network. Follow your customers. Follow your vendors. Use Twitter to reach out to influential bloggers, journalists, industry analysts. They have large followings. You want that attention. Engage them with images and videos.
Set up a Google+ business page. Google products work well together. Your business profile on Google+ helps it perform better in Google searches. Here’s where you can have some interesting interaction. Create a Google+ Hangout and connect with your customers and prospects in real-time. Find the relevant Google+ Communities and start contributing.
Create a YouTube channel. This is where most businesses have fun. It’s your choice. You might want to feature just videos on how to use your products or services. Or, mix it up with some pure entertainment. What’s important is that you keep the video content coming.
Create a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is where you’ll grow and maintain professional networking. Add links to your online store. Use the update function inform people about business aspects of your eCommerce store. Find and follow your vendors. Join their groups and take part in the discussions. Ask your network to add recommendations to your profile.
Set up a Pinterest profile. Pinterest is all about images, so take advantage of your product photography here. Create themed boards to showcase your goods and/or services. Your online store should have the Pinterest Pin It button next to every product so visitors can share it. Those videos you’ve created for YouTube can do double-duty here, too.
35. How do I build an eCommerce email list?
Email addresses are some of the most valuable things customers can give you, besides money. Make it easy to share that information with you. Then use it to create a dialog.
Email addresses are so valuable are because they show that someone wants to hear what you have to say. They have given you permission to market to them. Here’s how to get those email addresses.
Use advertising to drive people to a landing page. Your landing page must offer a clear benefit in exchange for the email address. It can be a special discount or a free download. Even if a visitor doesn’t buy anything, you still profit from the gain of another email address.
Hold contests and giveaways on social media. Let people who enter know they can increase their chances of winning. All they have to do is share the contest with their Facebook network of friends. Images get attention. If the prize is a gift card for your online store, create a collage of the most popular products they can use it for.
Put email sign-up boxes everywhere. Every place you put it in your online store is an opportunity to collect an email address. Don’t forget your blog. Quality blog content is a natural magnet for email addresses. People subscribe to know when you’ve to post something new.
36. How do I set up an eCommerce newsletter?
Newsletters are a valuable conversion source. People who sign up have indicated they’re interested in knowing more about your business. Now you can reach them with frequency and give them more reasons to buy. The content in your newsletter must be relevant and provide value.
You are an online store. Images drive your sales. Keep that in mind when planning the content of your newsletter. It’s news, not advertising. Your content should be about what’s going on with your online store. This is an opportunity to focus on your people. It’s a hard sell about your business, with a soft sell for your products. Your customers want to know about you, too.
Build these relationships by including other information your customers find valuable. Did you pay a visit to a vendor who lives in an exciting place? Write a short piece about it and include links to attractions in the area. Suggest other companies who complement your products or services. Let those companies know. They may return the favor. It adds to your network of connections.
Create special offers or discounts for newsletter subscribers. People like feeling exclusive. Let them know about future sales events before they are announced elsewhere.
Social links in your newsletter help subscribers share it with others. It’s a way to build the subscription list. Be sure to let your social networks new when you put out another issue of the newsletter.
Your eCommerce newsletter is not a blog. They can reference each other, though. Use both to cross-promote.
37. How do I protect my eCommerce site from hacking?
Security is a top concern right from the start. Make it a big part of your consideration as you select an eCommerce platform. Pay close attention to PCI compliance and SSL Certificates. Ask about spam protection if you plan to use their email system.
Your eCommerce platform offers protection from hacking, but it’s not the vendor’s sole responsibility. The two of you are partners. Ask how you can help them watch for suspicious activity on your online store. Know what signs to look for. Install virus and malware protection on any computers that interface with your vendor.
Your online store customers may never know that you have an eCommerce platform in place. They have a relationship with you. You are who they trust, not your platform vendor. They will blame only you if there’s a security breach. Make sure you can trust that your vendor will help you keep that customer trust.
38. How do I optimize my online store to increase conversion rates?
Conversion rates are the foundation for high sales volume. Let’s look at the math. If you wanted to increase your sales by 50%, how would you do it? A 50% increase in your advertising budget?
That’s an expensive investment.
It is easier to set a goal to increase your conversion rate by a single percentage rate. That 1% equates to a 50% uplift in sales. How do you do that?
Sometimes just a small tweak can lead to significant improvement in conversion rates. Many small tweaks combined can bring a dramatic increase in your results.
Do A/B testing. Create two alternative versions of your product pages. Each gets a different product description or image. A/B testing software directs half of the incoming traffic to each page. One page will see more conversions. That’s the one you’ll use. Higher conversion rates result from constant A/B testing. Google offers free A/B testing as part of its Google Analytics package.
Have a clear and compelling value proposition. Can you state your value proposition in 10 words or less? Get to that point if you can’t. Why should your customers buy from you? When you make that clear and communicate it, you’ll increase conversion rates. Your value proposition should not be exempt from a bit of A/B testing, either.
Create a sales funnel. Are you asking for the sale too fast? That can impact your conversion rate. People won’t buy if they’re not ready. This time increases as products get more expensive or complicated. A sales funnel develops trust. Slow things down to increase the pace of sales. Increase awareness first with value. Help customers understand the results they’ll get. Then ask for the sale. If all you get from a first-time visitor is an email address, they’re in your sales funnel. You’ve won the privilege to keep talking to them.
Get rid of jargon. Use conversational language everywhere in your online store. Include a summary if you have to display required legal disclaimers.
Increase buyer trust. Why will customers trust your online store? Introduce them to the trustworthy people behind your website with staff photos and bios. Have clear and easy contact methods. Not just an email address. Include a phone number and a physical location address. Prove that you’re professionals with your site’s design and layout. A single typo is all it takes to kill a sale.
Make it easy to buy from you. It might take a few visits, but people want to buy within minutes when they’re ready. Get rid of unnecessary fields. Add sign-ups using social network credentials. Add filters to remove excess options so they can zero in on what they want to find. Don’t assume that buyers know what to do. Tell them the next step.
Remove distraction. You want customers to buy things. How can you help them focus on this? Remove anything not relevant to that action. Yes, they want access to comprehensive information about what they’re buying. Provide access, but don’t display it all at once. This creates option overload. It decreases conversion rates.
Compare product or service with the competition. This sounds counterintuitive. Why even talk about the competition? Your customers will do the research before they buy. Why give them an opportunity to leave and do that? When you give them the comparison, you keep the upper hand. Is your price higher? Explain why. Set up the comparisons in tables so customers can see everything at once.
Add an incentive to buy right now. You’ve seen this work if you’ve gone to airline websites. They track seats. You can see there are a few left on a flight. You know you must make a decision to buy or lose out. Create scarcity. Make the quantity limited, or give the price a limited time.
39. Are you ready to work on a long-term project?
If creating an online store is something you want to do today. Is it something you see yourself doing years from now? You couldn’t open up a physical store and run it for a month or week at a time. Your eCommerce store won’t work that way, either.
It may take just a small commitment of money to start your online store. Launch day is only the start. Success requires growth. That comes over time.
Now You’re Ready to Start! Create a checklist and work out answers to every question. There are no definitive answers. Most of these subjects, though, have best practices. Spend time shopping online at your favorite eCommerce stores.
What do you like about them? What frustrates you? Come up with better solutions and put them to work for your online store.
Care to share which was the hardest question to answer and why?