How to Keep Your eCommerce Dream from becoming a Nightmare

By Hector Cisneros
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Selling products and services online is a multi-billion-dollar industry. In fact, it’s a 427-billion-dollar industry in the US alone. Worldwide 1.61 billion people purchased goods and services online. However, many seasoned businesses are struggling to find significant returns on their eCommerce investments. An article in BIG Commerce states that many retailers are struggling to capitalize on their digital sales channels. Today eCommerce competition is fierce. Whether you’re competing directly with the giant eCommerce retailers like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart, or you're struggling to get your unique new product found in the sea of online sales sites, today you must be strategic and have all your eCommerce ducks in a row. If your web pages don’t have all their T’s crossed and I’s dotted, people will simply go to your competitor and buy from them instead. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will cover all the important aspects needed to produce your secret sauce to create a successful eCommerce website business. So, keep reading and learn how to make your eCommerce dream a reality.


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Understanding the Cost - If you’re a startup or even a seasoned company, understand that you must keep your eCommerce business efficient. There are lots of hidden costs to doing business online. There are labor costs for setting up and maintaining the website, Costs for processing orders and shipping. Return costs, credit card transaction and banking fees. If you're using one or more of the giant retail aggregators like Amazon, eBay or Walmart, you will also pay a commission on all sales. Finally, you will have marketing fees, lots of them. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to discourage anyone. I’m just trying to make sure you understand that you must account for all these costs when you create your business model and projections. Other fundamentals you must adhere to are: providing the highest quality content for consumers. Consumer expectations are high, and you can no longer get away with substandard products, customer service or websites that underperform or are poorly designed.

Now that you know about these costs, make sure you go through the exercise of creating a spreadsheet cost model to make sure you have the funds to make your eCommerce dream a reality. If you already have an eCommerce site and haven’t done this exercise, it’s time to do it so you fully understand your operation.

Can you Fail to Succeed? - Nothing in business teaches a more valuable lesson than failure! Today an eCommerce site has to be very focused and strategic. A great article in BIG commerce by Jason Boyce talks about a company that turned a $1 million loss that taught them how to be strategic, which in turn showed them how to turn that lesson into a $22,000,000 gain.  So, being strategic is critical for survival during recessions and for the long haul. Now let’s talk about some common mistakes businesses make when setting up their eCommerce sites.

Common Mistakes Made

One of the Most Common Mistakes we see is when a small business builds an eCommerce site
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using the Field of Dreams theory of marketing, i.e., If you build it they will come - wrong! Marketing your site is critical to the success of any online business. This is true whether you have a minimal budget and must use word of mouth and guerilla tactics or you have a site on Amazon or eBay where tens of thousands of vendors compete head-to-head for customers. If you’re just getting started and your spreadsheet model shows that you have enough profit margin to use an aggregation company like Amazon or eBay, I suggest you do so. These platforms have all the infrastructure you need to get started and minimize any security risks that you incur. However, understand these giant aggregators have extensive compliance rules that you also must follow.

The Second Most Common Mistake we see is trying to drive traffic to the home page. In our article called What Your Webmaster Should be Telling You, we lay out the new rules that help landing pages convert visitors into customers. The reality is, “website Home pages” don’t rank very well for specific keywords, usually because they have too many keywords on them. Companies often fail to create landing pages for their ON-Sale items. Landing pages, which are sometimes called splash pages, microsites or focused sales pages, are necessary to narrow the search keywords and keep the prospect focused on their intended goal. When a prospect types in a search term looking for an item, they usually end up narrowing their choices to find the best fit for their needs. An example would be to type in fruit when they are looking for bananas. Eventually, savvy web surfers learn to simply type bananas. A landing page that is focused on a single search term will rank much better than a web page with multiple search terms if all other SEO factors are equal.

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The Third Most Common Mistake we see is a lack of SEO factors. Many eCommerce sites do not create metadata automatically for you. Having a Search Engine-friendly eCommerce engine is critical to the success of any catalog site. We have looked at a lot of products, and there are many good ones on the market. I like a product called ShopSite because it is economical to use, is SEO-friendly and is scalable. I never recommend that you host an eCommerce site on your local server. The cost of security and maintenance is too high. If you only have a small number of items, make sure every page has all the metadata, and ALT tags are fully fleshed out. On top of the metadata, make sure your pages are crosslinked to your blog and social sites. 

Traffic is also a major SEO factor. Traffic is important for two reasons. First, if no one sees your product no one will buy it. Second, search engines look at traffic as a vote for the value of your web page. This is one of the main reasons businesses engage in pay per click advertising; it produces traffic when implemented properly. Your efforts should be focused on driving traffic to your landing pages from your blog and social sites, (often if not daily). Your post needs to talk about these products in a soft sell, informational approach, with educational videos, testimonials and by providing eBooks and white papers that talk about case studies of your product. It is critical that SEO factors are relevant, timely, perceived as useful, and are delivered as infotainment (informational and entertaining).

The Fourth Most Common Mistake -  we see is that the landing pages, when used, are mainly informational. Any web page you send traffic to needs to be compelling. Many businesses we see use Wordpress pages that have large banners taking up most of the space above the fold. This leaves little room for compelling elements that are needed to make the customer feel confident your business is trustworthy. Today all sites must be secure showing an HTTPS designation. They also need to provide elements that build trust. For example; real contact information like a physical address and phone number need to be added to the homepage. Testimonial videos are another must, (read How to Turn Your Best Customers into Your Best Salespeople). 

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Also, your website needs to have an easy to use and understand navigation menu. Along with these items, we also always recommend providing a compelling sales offer to get them to commit while they are there. We also recommend providing a free offer for an eBook or other item that is accessed when they fill out a contact request form. This will give you another shot at the prospect if they don’t buy right then and there. Some products will also recommend adding tracking cookies to the visitor's browser. This can be useful if you're also engaged in re-targeting using Google or any other large ad network. However, understand that re-targeting can be easily defeated and in some cases can make the prospect wary because they know they are being tracked.

How are businesses getting people to buy from them online? Here is a checklist of several marketing venues you should look at and experiment with to see which will provide the best return on investment. 
  • Organic SEO Marketing - If you’re in a very competitive market, then this is one of the most important things to be successful. That being said, SEO no longer just means Search Engine Optimization of your web pages. It now incorporates search engine optimization of everything you publish online. This means every web page, social post, every blog, video, podcast and press release must be optimized, balancing usefulness to the end user and driving traffic to your eCommerce properties.
  • Blogging for Business - Blogs are the new de facto magazines for the world today. The great
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    thing about using a blog for marketing is that it has multi-media capabilities. This allows you to provide a media rich, compelling product with useful information for the prospect, while providing you with trust and credibility. A blog is also a full-fledged website that can support eCommerce. It also always gives a prospect a reason to come back - that of a new interesting and useful article for them to read. Blog articles are perfect fodder for the social networks. A blog can be a great audience builder, and this audience can be independent of the search engines. Once you develop a following, you can also monetize your blog by adding banner ads from one of the banner networks like AdSense.
  • Video Marketing - YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter offer video platforms where you can provide video content marketing messages. These can be used to increase your credibility, show off customer testimonials, provide videos to support product usage, provide a video that tells your story, including your “about us,” ”unique selling proposition” and your “feature/benefit product” video. Like Blogging, it can be used to build an audience that is independent of the search engines. It is also an ideal content piece for posting to the social nets.
  • Podcasting - Like blogs and video marketing, podcasting can be used as a content marketing
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    medium. It will require a time investment on your part to build an audience. We do a weekly show on BlogTalk Radio that turns into a podcast at the end of each show. We push the show out before each episode and then also put like to the show on our websites and social nets.  
  • Social Media Marketing - Today consumer sentiment determines the credibility of companies and products. Testimonials and high ratings turn prospects into buyers. Engaging in social media marketing means much more than just providing ads on a social platform, it means providing a useful, authoritative and curated post to build a loyal and trusting audience. This audience can also be independent of the search engines. A positive testimonial post from a  happy customer can become your next Advertisement that drives new sales.
  • Using Aggregation Sales Platforms -  like Amazon, eBay, Jet, and Walmart come with
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    millions of shoppers who trust and are committed to using these platforms. For the exchange of following their rules and paying them their commission, they give you access to their customers. However, understand that they already support millions of vendors and that your product will not be found unless you optimize the product content properly. You will also have to use their promotional platforms or pay per click to push your product to the top of their list.
  • Pay Per Click - AdWords, Video PPC on YouTube, Social PPC (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.…) and other pay per click platforms offer a quick way to get to the top of the search engines. When executed properly the return on investment can be a good one. However, understand that most PPC platforms are complicated and have many marketing parameters that must be setup correctly. Otherwise, you can throw away a lot of money very quickly. That is why we offer a free pay per click audit for potential clients. We have been able to save clients as much as fifty percent off what they were getting without using our methods. On top of the fees you normally pay for the media buy (to Adwords or other vendors), there are usually management fees (around 35% on top of the media buy). Here we can save the client money again because our management fee is one of the lowest in the industry (we charge 20% or less).
  • Banner Advertising - Banner advertising can be used in conjunction with PPC or as a
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    standalone effort. It is usually used with re-targeting platforms and can be a very effective way of getting traffic to your landing pages. It is usually cheaper than PPC, but it does not always translate into a high ROI. You are not just stuck with using the big banner companies like Google, Yahoo, Bing and AOL, you can also create a banner on your websites, blogs, and social sites, where you control the cost and message size. You can even use your banner to generate revenue from partner companies that you sell to directly to or by using Google or other banner networks as plug ins on your sites.
  • Email blast and Newsletters - If you're using free eBook offers and collecting prospect and customer contact information, you can engage in email blast and newsletters. Your list must consist of opt-in subscribers and your message must be useful, focus and compelling to produce results. You can buy list, but they also must be opt-in subscribers, otherwise, you can be fined for spamming to the tune of 11,000 per incident! Also, if you abuse your subscriber list, by sending them too many marketing messages they will simply un-subscribe.
  • Texting Platforms - Like email marketing, you can gather mobile phone numbers via an opt-in
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    list on your websites, blogs, and social sites. Often this type of marketing is tied to mobile apps that require the subscriber's contact information as part of getting the app for free. You can then push out your information or marketing messages to your subscribers as needed. If you have a loyal subscriber base, these types of messages can produce instant results, but it does take experimentation, and you must take care of your subscriber base. Otherwise, they will just us-subscribe!
  • Digital Press Releases - Press releases have been used to generate hype and interest since the invention of the printing press. Digital press releases are no different, except for the fact that they can be sent to hundreds of media outlets and can reach millions of people very quickly. They can also rank quickly in the search engines, but unfortunately, their ranking factor also fades just as quickly. They work extremely well for timed events like concerts, community events and other annual or seasonal events. They can also provide interest for important business, invention, project or discovery announcements. They can target local media companies, regional territories, specific industry concerns, just the US or even the whole world.   

Making your eCommerce website profitable is achievable if you’re willing to put in the time for research, strategic planning and experimenting with the different marketing venues available to your company. It should go without saying that you must strive to provide the best content and quality you're capable of producing. You also must be selling a product or service that provides real value to consumers. If you cross your t’s and dot your I’s as listed in this article you will be successful. If you find you need help, we can offer several different cost-effective marketing methods to help you reach your sales goals.

This article provides the reader a list of important factors that lead to eCommerce success. This article includes important financial factors, many common marketing mistakes businesses make and a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of viable marketing venues. Also included are various other articles and resources.

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Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.” 

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