Over the past ten years I spent a lot of time working in the order fulfillment industry. I was the owner of a small 3PL company. As a small business owner, I wore many hats. From janitor to secretary to accountant I was involved in every aspect of the business. But the most interesting element of an otherwise monotonous business was my position as lead salesperson. Since we did very little outbound marketing, most of my time spent on sales was simply fielding incoming inquiries. I always enjoyed hearing about people’s new, entrepreneurial ideas. Many concepts were great but, unfortunately, a lot more were not. I soon realized that a product’s chances for success laid less in the idea/quality of the item and more about the game plan on how to sell it. I would often ask prospects basic questions like, “how many SKUs will you have?”, “which shopping cart are you using?” or “how many orders do you anticipate?”. But the best way to sniff out a project with a chance to succeed was to get the answer to one simple question…”how do you intend to market the product?”. If the answer was one of the following, it seemed doomed to fail or as we used to refer to them…they were “dogs”:
- “I am going to put a website up on the internet and watch the sales fly in”
- “My friend’s cousin is really good friends with [insert celebrity name here]”
- “I have a list of 5,000 people that I am going to send an email to and it should take off from there”
- “I am pretty sure it is gonna be on Oprah”
If there was an angle for accessing some type of large customer base that the client had or some other out-of-the-box concept, then I might go in to the partnership with some enthusiasm for real volume. But otherwise, I would give them my spiel about the main ways to go about marketing their site/project and hope they were able to figure it out. If the product was any good and had potential to satisfy a niche, then there was always a chance the using the standard internet marketing techniques may pay off. Since establishing an ecommerce site with a cart can be done fairly easily (as opposed to opening a physical store front etc), getting things started online makes sense for most new product endeavors.
1. Pay-per-click (PPC)
Pay-per-click advertising is the fastest and most direct way to get your website in front of people’s eyes. As the name suggests, PPC is when you pay for every time someone clicks on your advertisement. The most prominent PPC platform is Google Adwords. Yahoo and Bing both have their own paid search networks as well. But just as Google dominates market share among search engines, they also dominate the paid search advertising industry. Adwords is a terrific tool for configuring ad campaigns with extremely specific criteria. Gone are the days of the guesswork involved with advertising on TV, radio or print media. You can customize your campaign to run the ads that are the most successful and you can dictate which ads display for which keywords, what time of day they run and how prominent they are based on your bids. The main problem with PPC marketing is that it is very expensive. If you are not able to convert sales, the costs associated with your campaign can get out of control very quickly. If you intend on running an ongoing PPC campaign, make sure that your copy is clear and your offer is prominently displayed.
2. Organic Search (SEO)
Organic search engine listings are the main search results. They occupy the main section of the search result page. SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of manipulating your website with the goal of satisfying the Google search bots and giving your website high page rank with more prominent listings. SEO best practices should be employed by every online merchant when building and maintaining a website. The site criteria for achieving higher listings is a moving target. Google is constantly changing and updating their algorithms. Since having highly ranked sites for sought after keywords can mean increased revenue, people and companies have been chasing Google since the beginning of paid search. There are endless amounts of companies that offer SEO management services and promise to raise your site’s search results. In some cases using a third party SEO consultant can be a great idea. But many of them overcharge and require lengthy contracts. Despite the constant changing landscape of SEO, there are some basic best practices that anyone can implement and help your site perform. Strong target keyword content, seeking inbound links from prominent sites with applicable content and page title optimization are a few of the most commonly used techniques.
3. Social Media
The latest trend in internet marketing is the use of social media. It has proven to be a very powerful tool for finding new customers. Some products fit more clearly into this category than others. Opening business pages for your site on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other newer social media platforms allows you to tap into a user base that may not have found you otherwise. Adding the logos of these well branded companies can also be strong badge of legitimacy on your website. Additionally, interlinking between your site and your various social media pages, can give your site search engine listing prominence. You can use social media sites to promote special offers and sales or just make people aware of you.
4. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is the process of having people, companies or websites market your site/product. You pay the affiliates a sales commission based on any orders that result from customers who have been routed to your site. Affiliate marketing is great in that you do not have to pay any advertising costs unless there is actually a conversion. This allows you to have fixed marketing expenses that are not possible through paid advertising. You can easily set up your own affiliate program through a number of shopping cart software providers or a 3rd party affiliate program software. Another option is to join a major affiliate network. This allows you to tap into the established base of affiliates that a network already has in place. They also manage all of the payments to affiliates which can become laborious as your affiliate list grows. The problem with affiliate networks is that you will have to pay them a percentage of the sale which cuts into your bottom margin and often forces you to reduce your affiliate commissions. This can in turn reduce the number of affiliates willing to market your product/site.
5. Email/List marketing
Email marketing has gotten a bad name over the years. It’s understandable. Who wants to get a bunch of junk mail in our inbox everyday? SPAM is a bad word and so closing your eyes and blasting a million emails at a time is just not a viable method of marketing. That’s because in the end, people are getting emails for products and services that they don’t want. What about the people out there that are interested in your site/product? Would you want to pass up the chance to contact them? Some sites that provide information can use the medium to update their customers on new articles or information. But the reason email marketing still works is that people love deals! Using email to let people know about special offers is a tool that will always work. If you are spending money and resources getting people to visit your site, why not cash in by adding a “newsletter” or “promotions” email sign up form. You can set up a free list management service like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp and route all new sign ups to your account. Then you can use the service to generate great looking emails from their template builders. It is also a great idea to allow customers placing a purchase to opt in to your email list. The list may take a while to build up but each person that signs up will more than likely represent money in your pocket down the line.