From entrepreneurs with fledgling websites to Fortune 500 retailers asserting their sales dominance online, e-commerce websites are the American economy, incarnate. A successful, user-friendly website, while not built overnight, is not out of reach for any brand willing to learn about and invest in the product- and web-development processes. In many ways, e-commerce storefronts (and the search engine algorithms that govern them) act as a great equalizer between startups and big business; with e-commerce the American Dream is alive and well. Read on to capitalize on free and inexpensive tools that will positively contribute to your website’s social-capital impact while increasing sales.
Crowdfunding has exploded in popularity in recent years as a way for the public to contribute to businesses and the arts. For an e-commerce business, crowdfunding has twice the potential as an art-project counterpart. The best way to capitalize on crowdfunding is to utilize it as a free and accurate proof-of-concept tool. Known as “enterprise funding,” there’s no better way to determine how solid your new product is than by asking customers to pay before it’s even been invented. Which brings us to the second benefit of crowdfunding for e-commerce stores: it takes preordering to a new level.
Here are the major crowdfunding players and the points of difference for each*:
Kickstarter is the most popular crowdsourcing platform, boasting a whopping $3,248,941,443 pledged across 130,739 successfully funded projects. As a self-described “funding platform for creative projects,” business-oriented fundraisers are acceptable, as are those supporting the arts. However, if you’re hoping to raise money for Hurricanes Harvey or Irma, you’ll have to use a different platform. Charitable causes are prohibited from Kickstarter. Kickstarter further differentiates itself with the “backer reward” feature. Backers are provided various incentives for increasing monetary donations. As a backer, you will only be charged if the project reaches its goal, ergo becoming successfully funded.
Indigogo is similar to Kickstarter in concept and use of backer rewards (called “perks” on this platform). In contrast to Kickstarter, Indiegogo users can start a campaign for charity.
Projects are broken down into the following buckets: tech and innovation, creative, and community.
“Flexible funding” allows users who create a campaign to cash out even if the project fails to reach the funding goal (for a higher percentage fee paid to Indiegogo – 9% as compared to 4% for a successfully-funded campaign).
(Image Credit :Indiegogo)
*A note on GoFundMe
GoFundMe’s site is not the best bet for business owners or entrepreneurs hoping to test a concept due to its focus on individuals’ fundraising efforts. However, those looking for a crowdfunding platform for personal gain (raising money for a new car or plastic surgery, for example), should take to GoFundMe. This is a true-donation platform, where people give money (less a 5% fee to GoFundMe), with no perks or backer rewards in return.
Social Media Management
It is advisable to only devote time to building an online presence on outlets that not only align well with your brand’s image, but also will further its goodwill with consumers. A common way to do this is by allowing your social media management team to humanize the brand through a blend of curated and created content. Don’t forget to capitalize on brand-right captions to further the mission of each image. For example, a Chicago company might choose to work in baseball imagery to make their ads topical. However, an aerial image of a baseball diamond, as aesthetically-pleasing and trendy as it might be, is not maximizing its impact without a caption cheering on the home team, complete with relevant hashtags to garner exposure to those not already familiar with your brand, but interested in your content (e.g. #GoCubsGo, #FlyTheW, #Take17).
Furthermore, simply posting is not enough; engaging with virtually every comment on your brand’s posts is critical for fostering a lasting, positive digital experience for each of these potential customers. Give every positive comment a like, and respond to all feedback, especially negative; empower your team to do anything within reason to improve the experience of a dissatisfied customer. After all, those consumers willing to post about a lackluster interaction on social media are the same ones who will later belabor the point on an official ranking platform like Yelp. Conversely, they will just as soon let the Twittersphere know all the ways in which your brand managers bent over backwards to improve their situation. Know that the reputation of many a brand has been made or broken in the way its social media team reacts to criticism.
As social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) become increasingly relevant in the life of the consumer, so, too, will they – and their live-update variations – continually insert themselves as necessary outlets for businesses to stay relevant vis-à-vis consumer engagement. Large corporations have entire teams of full-time staff dedicated to social media management. However, the sheer volume of platforms can be overwhelming to a sole entrepreneur working to get an e-commerce shop off the ground. Even personnel employed by long-established web storefronts may struggle to find time to not only post on every relevant social media outlet, but to also interact with consumers on the respective posts of each platform.
The following tools will help you determine on which platforms it is worthwhile to establish a brand presence by providing both post-scheduling and engagement-tracking software on every post on each platform:
For $19 per month, Cyfe will help you determine your return on investment (ROI) on any – and every – social media platform.
Cyfe’s social tracking features a variety of widgets across a multitude of categories. The broad expanse encapsulates the engagement with posts (clicks on hashtags, likes, shares, and comments) across blogs, social media, Shopify, Google Analytics, email tracking, advertising, and more.
Hootsuite allows companies to efficiently build a reputable, genuine online presence and interact with customers. This platform is perhaps best known for allowing users to post to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter from within Hootsuite (rather than requiring the navigation to – and formatting for – each social media page separately. Once social media accounts are linked to the company’s Hootsuite profile, a brand has the ability to post to any or all of its aforementioned social media accounts either immediately or by scheduling a post for a time between one minute and one year into the future. Hootsuite even has an “automatic post” option that uses data from a brand’s users to determine the best time to post based on follower engagement to maximize the impact of any given post on every platform.
(Image Credit: Hootsuite)
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM works in tandem with social media management to complete a company’s digital media strategy. Like a social media platform’s newsfeed, customers must opt-in to see email updates in their inbox. CRM poses the additional advantage of having the consumer’s undivided attention and a dedicated screen, so long as the customer has the email open.
MailChimp provides an excellent option for growing with e-commerce businesses by offering both free and paid-subscription packages. Start with a free program – up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month – then ante up for the $10/month package as your email list grows. The primary aim of MailChimp is to deliver custom offers and communication to leads in various stages of brand awareness and converting, stay in touch with previous and potential customers, and finally, to generate repeat sales and create regular customers.
Where MailChimp delivers masterful automated emails, HubSpot is particularly effective in aiding the sales staff of an e-commerce business. Built-in features allow salespeople to add and maintain contacts, keep notes on leads, add tasks for colleagues, and keep track of where a prospect is in the sales funnel — complete with alerts of when to follow up based on the step in the process. HubSpot also includes email tracking to determine whether, when, where, and how often your email was read (and on what device!).
(Image Credit: Nectafy.com)
Google AdWords allows companies to broaden their products’ and brands’ reach. Businesses bid on keywords and delivery method (pay per view or pay per click), then create campaigns for any number of keywords within any budget.
The beauty of Google AdWords is although a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign will cost a company money, there is no need to create demand. Google AdWords allows businesses to bid on keywords customers are already searching for, so the customer has been filtered through a level of targeted marketing before ever being shown the ad for the site.
Facebook Ads Manager
(Image Credit: NeilPatel.com)
Facebook Ads Manager provides an excellent opportunity to infiltrate a target market’s social media experience. Facebook provides brands with the ability to achieve a variety of objectives from gaining followers on the brand’s Facebook page to click-through links that will take a user to the e-commerce site. Facebook specializes in allowing brands to drill down into demographics and behaviors to create an ultra-specific target audience for any given ad. Like Google AdWords, Facebook Ads Manager allows you to choose whether to pay when your ad is displayed or clicked. While clicks are often significantly more expensive than displays, it is advisable to select the pay-per-click option. This way, analysts can accurately review ad performance knowing the user clicked through to the site. In contrast, there is no way to know whether a user even visually registered a “display” ad.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Google Analytics is the most widely-used web analytics service on the internet today. This powerful SaaS is user-friendly enough for anyone with access to a website’s coding to install with a simple copy and paste. The earlier a webmaster embeds the Google Analytics code, the sooner the brand’s marketing team can begin collecting data on all aspects of the site’s use — and users — from age, to geographic location, to device and browser accessing the website, to amount of time spent on the site, and page on which the user left the site. The more data amassed, the better the patterns therein for revealing critical information to analysts on how to improve the site to increase conversions, based on how users are reacting to various pages and calls to action on the site. Click here for more information on installing Google Analytics.
A Professional Team
A dedicated team of SEO professionals is perhaps the best tool for an e-commerce business. It is a long-term partnership that is likely to have a lasting impact on garnering organic traffic and a reliable increase in conversions. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to improving SEO, but there is no replacement for the benefits of high-quality grassroots growth, either. Firms with teams of seasoned SEO veterans are often worth the investment, as they will be able to improve an e-commerce site’s search engine result page (SERP) ranking by methodically strengthening the parts of the site Google’s algorithm prioritizes.
Not all SEO packages are created equal, so be sure to research. Aim for a company that offers most or all of the following:
- technical site analysis
- competitor analysis
- keyword analysis
- content duplicity check
- backlinks link analysis
- schema markup
- optimized metas
- optimized pages
- Google Analytics (& installation)
- Google Webmaster (& installation)
- Bing Webmaster (& installation)
- business citations
- premium directories
- authoritative link building
- content marketing
- progress reports: keyword ranking & traffic
These 10 tools are only a smattering of the reasonably-priced, high-caliber offerings available to grow an e-commerce business. Choosing the tools that work best for your brand’s vision, products, and budget is a great first step. However, it is in the integrated execution of campaigns across channels that will produce synergistic growth for a business, so enrich your online presence by maximizing the utility of a small number of tools rather than dabbling half-heartedly in a large pool of resources.