|Visit your local shopping mall or shopping centre in recent times and you can’t help but notice the increased number of empty shops. It would be easy to totally put this down to the recession, but I can’t help wonder if it’s also a symptom of the slow but steady shift of trade from offline to online. More and more of us are switching to online shopping carts to purchase all sorts of goods and the number of substantial web-based businesses is slowly climbing.|
The fundamental drivers behind online shopping, says Andreas Stjernström, Australian and New Zealand country manager for content management systems provider EPiServer, “is that it is convenient and users can find new products, conduct research around the clock and feel like they have made a great purchase – thereby verifying their spending. Which is classic consumer behaviour”.
But how do you approach the whole issue of e-commerce marketing? How can you attract the right people to your website and convert them into paying customers – and bring them back time and time again to buy more? Amongst the gazillions of sites out there – how can you make yours profitable?
Lee Williams seemed like the ideal person to ask. An online marketing veteran and driving force behind Europe’s most successful motoring website (autotrader.co.uk), he’s now ‘leading the next wave of online revolution’ with online video marketing (silverlinemedia.tv) and online advertising solutions for small business (eboost).
To bring in the customers, first ensure your website is visible to Google and other key search engines such as Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo, he says. “Google is where most of your customers will start their online journey. Ensuring your website ranks well for your products and/or services is critical. Your first priority is therefore to ensure your site is search engine optimised (SEO).”
No surprises so far you might think – most of us know about SEO. But as Maria Wasing points out on the EPiServer blog-site, your SEO is influenced by many factors. “The quality of the content, how it is created, technology (the quality of the code) and site design, how many other websites compete with you as well as their ranking, links to your site, the technology and how the website is coded. You need to look at all of these to ensure that your ranking is good,” she says.
Google is constantly looking at your site’s content and looking at what’s happening off your site, says Netinsites’ Alex Garden. “So consider how many people link to your site. Do they use the right keywords in the link text? If you have other high-ranking sites linking to your site then Google will think you’re important – and up the rankings you’ll go.”
So SEO is the first thing to tick on your list – and it’s worth remembering that 50 percent of all online purchases start with a search. But to do search marketing correctly, it’s best to seek help from an expert.
Another means of attracting potential customers is via online directories, says Williams. “New Zealand businesses have a plethora of choices online with attractive audiences in terms of both volume and targeting.” He cites NZS.com, Finda.co.nz and Hotfrog.co.nz as good examples – as well as vertical directories such as nocowboys.co.nz (trades and services), menumania.co.nz (restaurants) and equinetrader.co.nz (horses).
Online advertising or ‘banner-ads’ is also an option, says Williams “These options are expanding fast as international websites start to offer the targeting of advertisers to ‘Kiwi eyeballs’.”
In New Zealand, he says, the IAB PWC Online Advertising Report indicates online advertising will reach $200 million this year, probably overtaking magazine advertising spend, to add to the scalps of outdoor and cinema. In the UK the IAB PWC survey has shown online is now ahead of the historical giant of TV.
Fourth on the list for generating traffic to your site is social media.
“The big online development over the past couple of years has been the dramatic rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and – for business specifically, LinkedIn. Social media can deliver new customers, but primarily is a terrific tool to communicate and engage current customers.”
But wait, there’s more. Alex Garden says Google AdWords can still be effective if you’re looking to drive the numbers up just a few percentage points.
“Although there’re more up-front costs because you’re paying per click, AdWords are particularly good for real-time promotions. You can have a campaign up and people clicking through within an hour of posting,” he says. “I know of one client who managed to completely regenerate his business through AdWords.”
And Garden says don’t discount traditional forms of advertising to attract people to your site. Channels such as email marketing and e-newsletters still have an important role to play too.
Conversion and engagement
Once you’ve brought those prospects to your website, the trick is to turn them into paying customers. The first question, says Garden, is to ask whether your website looks the part.
“Is it professional looking? When was it last refreshed? How’s its usability – is it well-structured so users can easily find and buy things? What would happen if you threw someone who’s not all that web-literate on your site – would they have difficulty making a purchase?”
Don’t hide things away – and keep everything simple, adds Garden – no use having a cool looking site, when people have to go hunting for things.
Build interaction on every page, he says. “You’ve got to get them to sign up for your newsletter and keep them engaged – you could perhaps do this by hosting a prize draw or a competition.
On the subject of competitions, Garden says in the US particularly there are many tricks and technologies employed to engage customers – user-generated content (UGC) being one of them. “The 3M Post-It Note campaign in the US, entitled ‘You Stuck it Where?’ is an example of UGC – the competition encourages consumers to submit videos of themselves using the brand’s Super Sticky product line in an innovative way. The winner, as voted by the public, received $10,000.”
Converting visitors to your site into paying customers is a bit of an art, according to Michael Walmsley, GM of Experian Hitwise, the online intelligence service and search marketing agency that delivers traffic and reveals the demographics, attitudes and behavioural characteristics of visitors to thousands of websites.
“Once you’ve attracted the right people to your site, it’s all about ‘conversion optimisation’. Look at the path to conversion. It must be as short as possible. Look at the balance between providing too much or not enough information. Make sure it’s a simple process, and that it’s measurable.”