Increasing website sales is a process involving three, primary components: (1) attracting qualified visitors, (2) motivating and influencing visitors to perform actions on your website and (3) building relationships with your customers to motivate them to perform actions again. Attacking each of these components with proven marketing strategies creates a high performing web business. Likewise, leaving any one component out sacrifices your profit potential.
Attracting qualified visitors is a prerequisite to a sales process. It is not about generating traffic, but of allocating your advertising budget to online and offline marketing channels that most accurately target your audience type. It also involves writing effective ad copy and selecting relevant images whether for pay per click marketing, email marketing, direct mail or banners, that qualify and attract the right visitors to your website.
A strategy of marketing segmentation proves that focusing your efforts on serving a smaller niche market rather than a larger, generalized market, using a highly relevant offer uniquely positioned to satisfy the market's intentions, will generate greater performance. As Alan Cooper, author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum, stated in his landmark book, "The broader the target you aim for, the more certainty you have of missing the bulls' eye." Although it may sound counterintuitive, strongly satisfying 90 percent of a smaller market generates far greater results than partially satisfying 5 percent of a larger market. Thoroughly satisfying a smaller market creates a significant opportunity to create and sustain long term and profitable customer relationships.
How you segment and target depends on your understanding of how your product or service benefits the needs of your customers. As Harvard Business Professor, Clayton Christensen, in his article, Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and The Cure, described, "When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products [or services] to do that job for them. If a marketer can understand the job, then when customers find themselves needing to get that job done, they will hire that product [or service.]" What job does your product or service perform for your prospective customer? Answering this question helps define your value proposition and sets the foundation for writing your ad copy, selecting relevant images and communicating a killer offer.
After identifying which market to attract, how you access that market involves planning, measuring and testing. Pay per click marketing is an excellent first step for clearly defining market segments. Because of its flexibility gained through keyword selection, its ability to split-test ads and offers and the opportunity to accurately track keyword performance, pay per click marketing helps identify active markets and determine how they are most effectively qualified. I recommend starting with Google AdWords and Yahoo Search, moving into MSN AdCenter after proving keyword performance. Because of user demographics, search engines could perform differently based on your product and service offering.
Almost concurrent to launching a pay per click campaign, I recommend getting to work on a search engine optimization (SEO) program. SEO is crucial because it generates free visitors at higher volumes over a long term horizon. However, it takes time, potentially up to seven to nine months or more, for it to noticeably contribute to total visitor volume. The most prominent benefit of SEO (way beyond the worn out emphasis on meta tags, keyword density and reciprocal links) is the planning and build out of incoming links. I recommend planning and executing an incoming link program that focuses on article writing, directory submissions, blogging, social networking (RSS, Feedburner.com, De.Li.cious.com, MySpace, YouTube) associations, and press releases. The objective for all incoming links is their direct relevance to your product or service. Qualified links, like qualified visitors, is critical to high performance.
The most powerful SEO programs focus first on understanding your market, planning the best ways to develop, acquire and create link opportunities and executing them consistently every month with patience. Because SEO is dependent on your website's structure both for indexing and ultimately for conversion (turning web visitors into customers) it is ideal to start your SEO program while undergoing a website redesign. If a website redesign is not practical, then minor website enhancements are at least recommended to support SEO efforts.
I also recommend to my e-commerce clients moving into shopping comparison sites like Shopzilla. Similar to pay per click marketing, these sites provide customers with product comparisons. Clients often question why they want to pay for placement right next to their competition and be forced to compete on price. Fair question, yet it assumes that customers are not already comparing prices. Trust me, they are, and therefore your value proposition (unique offer) is critical for generating sales without sacrificing profits from price reductions.
Likewise, for some ecommerce clients, eBay and other auction based sites play a role in generating targeted sales opportunities. However, it is not a panacea for sales success. What I recommend is studying your competition to determine where they are placing their bets. Are they using eBay? Why or why not? Allocate a, "speculation," budget to test different channels to see how well each attracts and ultimately converts visitors to buyers. Balance the time it takes managing the channel against the visitor volume and sales rate gained from it. A new marketing channel may turn a high percentage of visitors to customers. But if the overall volume is low and revenue volume is low, yet the cost to manage the channel is high, then question whether it is worth maintaining.
Moving beyond search and especially if your market's pay per click costs are high, I recommend joining an affiliate network like SharesSale.com, AffiliateZoom.com or any affiliate network geared towards attracting potential web salespeople, motivated to represent your products and services. I prefer well managed affiliate networks because they handle a great majority of the work associated with running an effective affiliate program.
Affiliate programs generated great excitement among web businesses in the past, followed by even greater frustrations for their difficulty in managing, and in some cases their lackluster results. Unfortunately, many web businesses were caught up in building affiliate volume versus nurturing a smaller team of super affiliates. Like running a sales staff, an effective affiliate program that increases web sales requires time, focus and energy. Using an affiliate network provides the opportunity for you to focus on motivating your affiliates while leaving the administrative and initial recruitment details to the affiliate network.
What about email? I prefer to use email marketing as a prominent customer relationship building strategy versus first time customer acquisition. Due to spam related barriers like ISP filters, double opt-ins and other restrictions, email tends to have a lower rate of effectiveness. However, email is a powerful tool for generating repeat customer visits and purchases. Any ecommerce site not executing a well planned email marketing program with their existing customer base is losing out on profit making opportunities. Email marketing is inexpensive, targeted and measurable. Programs like ConstantContact.com and Bronto.com make email marketing easy.
Traditional marketing including direct mail, print publications, radio and television, as well as its online equivalent, interactive advertising (banner, contextual, behavior, text-based), are effective if planned out correctly. I have seen a significant increase in website visitors when traditional marketing is executed by web businesses.
In my next column, I will discuss the second component; motivating and influencing your visitors to perform actions on your website. Attracting qualified visitors is the start of a successful and profitable web business. Yet how you motivate and influence your visitors to buy is the golden egg of high performance.
Kevin Gold is managing partner of Enhanced Concepts, a leading conversion marketing firm specializing in turning web visitors into leads and sales through proven web marketing strategies. Kevin is a contributor to multiple national publications and editor of the blog, www.BlahtoBling.com; improving the online customer experience to increase website sales. Have a specific ecommerce marketing question? Ask Kevin at www.EnhancedConcepts.com.
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