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Jessica Greene on January 30, 2019 (last modified on April 6, 2021) • 16 minute read
But for most e-commerce store owners, trying to tackle every method all at once isn’t the right way to drive growth. Not only will your efforts consume all of your time, but you’ll likely produce lackluster results. After all, it’s hard to do anything really well when you spread yourself too thin.
The better approach is to choose a limited number of ways to promote your online store. Focus your efforts on those channels, and measure your results to see what’s working and what isn’t.
Then, over time, you can expand and refine your efforts based on what you know is driving growth and sales.
But where should you start?
In our most recent survey, we polled a group of e-commerce marketers to uncover the most effective channels for promoting a new online store. Content, influencer, email, and social media marketing topped the list.
We also asked our respondents to share the specific strategies they use to drive growth and sales on their recommended channels. Here’s what we learned.
*Editor’s note: Take full control over the growth of your online store by having real-time visualizations of your key store performance metrics. Grab this free template and track how well you’re converting visitors to buyers, which products are most popular, gross sales, abandoned carts, and much more.
“When it comes to online stores, we’ve always had the biggest successes promoting our clients through content marketing,” says Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing. “Publishing provides an opportunity to explain what sets one store apart from the rest and it builds a corpus of content that can fuel a stronger social media presence as well.”
Jaywing Australia’s Katie Bolton agrees: “Producing free, valuable content creates trust in your brand, keeps people informed, and helps you rank in search engines. You’ll see the power of content marketing via social shares, increased visibility in search engines, and increased traffic.”
So what specific tactics should you use? Our respondents offered several suggestions.
Bolton argues that running a blog is one of the best ways to create a loyal following and build brand awareness, particularly if you’re publishing top-of-the-funnel content. But other respondents recommend going beyond just publishing blog posts.
“If you want your store to stand out, provide free content to potential customers,” says Pupford’s Devin Stagg. “But I don’t just mean blogs. You should also give away valuable and in-depth content pieces like ebooks and courses.”
If you require nothing but a name and email address for visitors to access these premium pieces of content, Stagg says, “you can market to those visitors via email campaigns in the future.”
Grit’s Jason Acidre recommends using video content to stand out: “I think one of the most underrated ways to promote a new online store is creating high-quality video content that shows what a certain product does and how it benefits its users.”
Once you’ve published the video content, Acidre says, “promote it heavily on social media.”
According to James Boston of Paperlust, combining content marketing and SEO is particularly effective when you’re marketing a product that has high search volume for generic terms (e.g. “wedding invitations”).
“Targeting all of our major head-terms has allowed us to become the number-one player in the Australian market,” Boston says, “with over 50,000 organic visits a month.”
Paperlust uses the following strategies to drive traffic with content and SEO:
And while Paperlust’s results show that combining content marketing and SEO can lead to remarkable growth, Boston cautions that “SEO is a medium- to long-term strategy. Paid search and social,” he says, “is still critical to gaining exposure where we do not dominate organically.”
Grand Cru Digital’s Casey Bryan recommends “getting Google Ads—Google Shopping ads and some display/video branding ads—set up for the new store immediately to help get the new business name out there.”
“Then,” Bryan says, “have these running while implementing ongoing SEO. This strategy will draw attention straight away while also laying the foundations for long-term organic growth.”
Jaywing Australia’s Katie Bolton agrees: “The benefit of PPC advertising through search engines is that you can choose what specific keywords your ads—and therefore your content—display for.”
“Influencer marketing is one of the most powerful ways to promote a new online store,” says Peacock Alley’s Ryne Higgins.
The best part of influencer marketing is that it’s easy and inexpensive to get started. All you need to do is identify relevant influencers and send them your product to test and review.
As Christian Schauf of Uncharted Supply Co. says: “The best way to promote and grow a new online store is to get your product in front of the people who are most likely to use it. At Uncharted, we sent our flagship product, The Seventy2 Hour Survival Bag, to survival experts and survival blogs in order for them to review and post on their site.”
According to Higgins, sending your products to influencers leads to two big benefits: “First, it helps you gain exposure through the influencer’s audience. Second, it acts as quality assurance for consumers who like to study reviews before making a purchase (which is most of them).”
For Alejandra Melara of Gray Group International, Higgins’ second point is key: “We believe that in order to start producing online revenue, the most important thing is to build trust with your audience. Having a relevant influencer promote your product not only increases your traffic, but it also helps you start to build a relationship of trust with your audience.”
But when it comes to influencer marketing, bigger isn’t always better. “Don’t work with influencers with millions of followers,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray. “Start small. Find what I call macro-influencers—those who have between 10,000 and 100,000 followers—in your niche. Make sure their followers are engaged and correspond to your target audience.”
“Then,” Aufray says, “build a relationship with the influencer and start building and promoting content together. After that, analyze your campaigns and optimize.”
“Working with influencers is not a new growth tactic for e-commerce businesses,” Dennis says, “but the way Frank Body approached it was interesting.”
“From the very beginning, Frank Body focused on ‘authentic’ content created by others to boost their brand awareness. Before they even had a website, Frank Body sent thousands of sample products to those they considered Instagram micro-influencers in Australia—predominantly makeup artists and beauty bloggers.”
“Below is one example of an authentic influencer post on Instagram:”
“What’s unique about this post is that the influencer states upfront: ‘This is NOT an ad. I’m obsessed with @frank_bod products.’”
“Sending your product to a few Instagram influencers isn’t going to be enough. There were three things that Frank Body did that made their influencer collaborations successful:”
“The results? This original influencer campaign went nuts. People that followed these micro-influencers were envious. They wanted the product themselves and couldn’t wait to order it.”
So what’s the actionable takeaway? Dennis says: “Don’t just aimlessly send out products to influencers and expect to go viral. Focus on those who have influence over your narrow customer group, emphasize the ‘one thing’ that you do better than anyone else, and make the whole experience believable by backing the quality of your product.”
“We have the benefit of working closely with online stores on their marketing initiatives, and we consistently see email marketing generate a higher ROI than any other acquisition channel,” says Josh Reyes of SmartrMail.
Reyes continues: “The algorithms that power social media and the duopoly of Facebook and Google have resulted in an ever-rising cost of doing business and reaching customers for online retailers. Email allows retailers to intimately connect with and address their most loyal customers while enabling budding startups to develop armies of influencers.”
Coffey & Tea’s Meg Coffey agrees: “Focus on your database. Emails are the only thing without an algorithm at play.”
In fact, even if you’re using a different channel to promote your online store initially, you should still use that channel to grow your email list. As BOOM Marketing’s David Balogh says: “We use a lot of online marketing channels—influencer marketing, social media, and paid ads—but we only want one thing from our prospects: to subscribe to our list.”
“Right now, we do this with a giveaway campaign,” Balogh says. “That’s how we build our email list, and we mostly promote our giveaways on social. Once we have someone’s email address, we take advantage of pre-built email marketing automation so that after someone gets on our list, we are ready to sell to them if their actions indicate that they’re ready to buy.”
But even if you don’t focus on social media marketing alongside email marketing, you can start building your email list on day one. Jaywing Australia’s Katie Bolton says building a database of emails is as simple as “including an email subscriptions form somewhere on your website.”
Capturing the contact information of your earliest visitors, says Arvind Krishnan of Swym Corporation, “lets you engage with those visitors over time and leverage that engagement to drive conversions. It’s a great way to maximize value on a sustainable basis.”
“Right from the beginning, it’s important to go live with your social media marketing efforts,” says Blogging.org’s Zac Johnson. “This includes building a following and also making sure you have a presence on all platforms.”
Glacier Wellness’ Samuel Meyers agrees: “The genius behind social media marketing is that it is designed to spread ideas and news like wildfire. As a result, it should be one of the first channels for new companies to get exposure and bring traffic to their stores.”
As far as what social channel to focus on, Meyers highly recommends Instagram for e-commerce stores: “Thanks to its unique format, we’ve found Instagram to be particularly effective in expanding our audience. Unlike other social media channels which focus on giving you what you already like, Instagram predicts users’ interests and delivers new content.”
And while it’s possible to grow your social following organically, you may also want to consider running paid ads. James Marques of Iconic Genius asserts that “social media advertising is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to promote your online store.”
How? Marques continues: “Social media advertising lets you target your perfect customer based on interests, behaviors, job titles, and more. You can also use your email database on social media, which allows you to retarget interested buyers or create look-a-like audiences.”
McMahon Marketing’s Kalie Fry agrees: “Facebook lead ads have been a gamechanger for us. They’ve helped us bridge the gap between the awareness and consideration stages while reducing the friction you’d normally encounter with contact forms. Integrating with our HubSpot CRM, we’re able to identify more qualified leads and nurture them more efficiently.”
Our respondents offered a number of tips for succeeding with paid ads on social media.
Ken Marshall of Doorbell Digital Marketing says that “the key to social media advertising is the accuracy of your demographic targeting. You can use interests, hobbies, followed pages, ages, job titles, etc. to get incredibly granular with who you show your ads to.”
Marshall recommends the following process for driving traffic and sales with social media advertising:
“Even if you don’t hit your sales target after the campaign,” Marshall says, “you will have developed long-term content resources and generated an email list of interested users to target again in the future.”
Paperlust’s James Boston also notes that you may need different approaches for organic and paid social campaigns.
“The content we create for social differs for paid advertising and for our own organic feed,” he says. “Customers use our feed more like a brochure, going through our wide range of options before inquiring or going to our site. The content for this purpose is very much traditionally styled shoots and flat lays.”
“However,” Boston continues, “for paid acquisition campaigns, the content is much more emotive. Videos showing our most luxurious designs are filmed using soft-lighting effects to create an emotive connection. Re-marketing content, including video and stills, is much more focused on conversion messages regarding our unique selling propositions.”
While content, influencers, social media, and paid search and social topped our list of the most effective ways to promote a new online store, our respondents also shared some additional ideas for promoting your store both online and offline.
Chris Bauer of ElevenNorth Clothing Co. says there’s a lot of value in promoting your products at live events. “Personally, I have seen the best growth come from live events: art festivals, brew fests, farmers markets, etc. The chance to interact with people—have them see my products and try them on—and tell them my story gets them hooked.”
“For me, that has lead to the organic growth that I think any small, online store needs,” Bauer says. “Going into 2019, I have the chance to grow outside of just the online store and get into some local stores that will sell my products in surrounding towns and cities.”
Jake McKenzie of Auto Accessories Garage recommends a simple tip for promoting an online store: “offer special deals and promotions. After all, there are tons of other online stores at your customers’ fingertips. Deals and promotions can help set your site apart.”
Grit’s Jason Acidre recommends forming partnerships with indirect competitors. “Look for ways to form partnerships with indirect competitors—those that sell products that complement yours. These businesses have email lists of people who might be interested in your products, and you can penetrate their audience by getting featured in their newsletters.”
And Jaywing Australia’s Katie Bolton says there’s power in press releases. “Utilize press releases to attract media attention and, in turn, promote your store to potential new customers. However, make sure your news is newsworthy! Don’t expect a response unless you’re giving the public something interesting to read.”
Hopefully, you now have tons of ideas for new ways to promote your online store. But where should you start?
We asked our respondents for their advice, and most recommended that new online store owners get started by building their email lists:
Building your email list is a great place to start because you can do it on a tight budget, and you can use the email addresses you gather in every other campaign you run in the future.
Plus, email marketing is effective no matter what you’re selling. And that’s key, as Jurrasic Sands’ Joe Sloan points out, because “the best way to promote a new store really depends on your audience and your product—more specifically the cost.”
“If you’re selling an item for under $35,” Sloan says, “you most likely don’t have a long buyer’s journey, so social media and promoted posts are a great idea. Facebook and Instagram are a great place to start because many sales will come from impulse purchases.”
“If your products are $75 or more,” Sloan continues, “you most likely will need to convince the customer to make a purchase. That may take multiple website visits and emails, plus ongoing exposure to online ads. The best place to start in this scenario is with a blog.”
If you decide to start with something other than building an email list as your first promotion tactic—or if you plan to promote via email and another channel—make sure to consider what channels are going to be best for the price points of the products you’re selling.
And finally, consider your own budget when choosing a promotion channel, too. BCG’s Brian Carter offers this recommendation: “On a budget, we recommend influencers, blogging, and email. At scale, the best long-term strategy is dialing into advertising profitability.”
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