How to start generating traffic for your store (and how to switch to building a brand later)

There is conflicting advice about marketing ecommerce stores out there.

Some say you should build a brand. Others advise you to build a list. And others again tell you to pay for traffic.

So which is it? Who is right?

Well, all of them. If you want your store to be successful fast, working on all measures is the best way to go. But who has time for that? Few online-shops have the resources to sink every waking hour into setting up their marketing, let alone three different paths of it. But there is a logical strategy and step-by-step path to follow that won’t mean you’ll be trying to set everything up simultaneously:

  1. Paid acquisition to generate traffic to your shop
  2. Building an email list
  3. Building your brand

By starting with paid marketing that will get the traffic rolling to your website, you’ll actually have someone to market to when you begin to grow your email list and brand.

It’s why new brick-and-mortar stores advertise before their grand opening; they want to get people interested in their products and brand, so that people will be curious and interested as soon as the doors open. If a store opened first and then started advertising? Crickets.

It would take a lot longer for people to start trickling in. The same goes for online stores.

So driving traffic to your shop with paid ads first makes sense. Make them aware that your shop and its brand are out there. And then build it with and on the people who are interested enough to check it out.

To avoid confusion: by “building your brand”, we’re not talking about designing your logo and style, or defining your message and target audience. These all need to be set up before you start with paid advertising. Those are your online shop’s identifying and distinguishing features, by which people can recognize and differentiate it from your competition.

But a brand goes beyond logo and style. It’s the feeling and emotions it invokes in its followers, it’s the way people describe you and your shop, it’s the message you’re conveying. All this takes time to grow and build – another reason why starting with paid advertising makes sense. So let’s focus on that for the moment; we’ll circle back around to building your brand later.

1. Paid Acquisition

The internet is a wonderful, wonderful thing. There are so many ways to market your products for a fraction of what it used to cost – because you can so specifically target your ideal customers.

Where before you had to spend thousands of dollars for billboards and TV ads to reach everybody in the hopes that the right people were watching, you can now distribute low-cost, tailor-made ads to exactly those specific people. This not only cuts down on advertising costs but also increases your return on ad spend in leaps and bounds.

Even better, people can just click on an ad that piques their interest and are automatically forwarded straight to the product or shop being advertised.

So what are the best ways to advertise online?

First, you need to find out if people are already actively searching for your products online through keyword research. If people are already googling your products, you can start straight with Google Product Listing Ads.

If they aren’t, you first need to generate interest with “paid social” – advertising on social media platforms.

Let’s assume for now that your product is something people already want and search for online.

1.1 Google Product Listing Ads

Uncle Google is everyone’s favorite search engine. It’s the first place people go when they’re looking for something online. So that’s where you’re products should be displayed, especially if people are already actively searching for your products.

You’ve probably seen the Google product listing ads that pop up at the top or top right of your search results list when you enter a search word. And if you click on the “Shopping” tab underneath the search bar, you’ll see pages and pages of results.

Google Shopping ads are one of the leading traffic sources that can give you an edge in the competitive landscape of ecommerce stores.

Google Shopping is powered by two platforms: Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Google Merchant Center. Google Merchant Center handles your product feed. This feed is a database of your product details. AdWords is where you create the advertising campaigns. Here you’ll set your budget, manage your bids, gain insights, and make optimizations based on performance.

Success with Google Shopping is based on three things:

  • Feed creation and optimization: Includes product data, product images, and price, organized in a format Google likes.
  • Bidding: There are several ways to bid successfully. Bidding can be complex; shifts in bidding strategies can result in doubling the return on ad spend, so always be:
  • Monitoring and optimizing: Because it’s Google – and Google loves analyzing data – you’ll be able to see granular performance data, which helps to monitor and continuously optimize your campaigns.

Check out Shopify’s great guide on how to get started with and set up Google Shopping for your shop here. If you don’t want to DIY this, you can work with a capable freelancer.

But what if people aren’t actively searching for your products online, yet? They’ll never be shown Google product listing ads, because they won’t type in the search word for your products.

So you have to take a step back and generate interest through paid social first.

1.2 Facebook Advertising

The most obvious and well-known way to advertise your products online is via Facebook – and with good reason. With over 1,7 billion active users, Facebook not only is the biggest social platform on the planet, it also knows every little detail about those 1,7 billion active users.

From gender, age, marital status and location, over profession, interests and hobbies, to likes and dislikes, Facebook knows every click every one of its users ever makes. And they make that information accessible to people who want to advertise.

This means you can target very specific people. For example, if you’re selling purple iPhone X cases, you can target people who:

  • own an iPhone X,
  • are Apple and/or iPhone fans,
  • like the color purple,
  • are between 18 and 45 years of age, and
  • who have shown interest in colorful phone cases.

Even better, with Facebook’s pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns you only pay for an add each time someone clicks on it.

For details on how to set up and rock your first Facebook Ads campaign, read Neil Patel’s step-by-step guide here.

Pro Tip: Video content on Facebook receives 135% more engagement than images.

1.3 Instagram Ads

With 500 million daily active users, Instagram has become an enticing marketing channel. Not just because its engagement demolishes Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, but because it even outperforms Facebook by a factor of ten for brands.

Which makes sense. The image-centered platform is a great way to showcase your brand and get your message across. People adore beautiful visuals and love to engage with them.

If at this point you’re thinking sheesh, yet another platform I must learn the advertising ins and outs of, let me comfort you: Instagram belongs to Facebook, which means you create Instagram ads on the same platform and interface as your Facebook Ads. You can even just create one ad and let it play on both platforms. All you have to do is link your Instagram account to your matching Facebook page.

1.4 Retargeting

Just because someone clicks on your ad, doesn’t mean they buy from your shop on the spot. Especially first-time visitors to your shop won’t have enough trust in your products or your shop to click that “buy” button. You’re going to have to earn that trust, first.

That’s where retargeting comes into play.

Ever wondered what the deal is with the “cookies” that you’re asked to approve whenever you enter a new website? Well, these cookies help the website you landed on mark you as a visitor and then keep marketing to you. You’ll start noticing ads on Facebook or Instagram for a product you recently stumbled upon. That means you’re being retargeted (or remarketed, same thing).

That’s how it works for your online shop, too. Cookies included in your website code mark every visitor who lands on your shop. You then create retargeting campaigns on Facebook or Instagram, that show your ads to the people marked by this cookie again.

And again and again. Placing your shop and products – and, later, brand – in front of their eyes repeatedly builds recognition and trust.

Let Conversio put your retargeting on autopilot.

1.5 Be scientific: Testing, analyzing and optimizing

Setting up your paid acquisition – and later your list and brand building steps – is not a “set it and forget it” type of deal, sorry. To be successful and optimize your marketing measures over time, you must always be testing, monitoring and tweaking. You’ll only get a successful campaign going if you keep track of your results and improve things accordingly.

You probably don’t have the time or budget to test every single method simultaneously, so we suggest to start with two and develop from there. With two, you can test them against each other to figure out which works better for your shop.

Focus on the one that works better, analyze and optimize it, and test it against a different marketing measure to see how it holds up. Maybe the new one works even better, so start to focus on that. And so on – you get the idea. Always be testing, analyzing and optimizing your marketing measures. Read all about the metrics you should analyze in your online marketing campaign here.

Return on ad spend (ROAS)

So, how much should you be spending on these paid acquisition measures?

Let’s look at ROAS to give you an idea of what’s a “good” number there. For paid ads, you generally aim for an ROAS of 1 in the beginning. Meaning that for every dollar you pay for ads, you make one dollar back in revenue.

Now you’re probably thinking: “But that’s not profitable!”

You’re right, it isn’t – yet. It’s a place to start, a proof of concept from where you can start optimizing. Give your paid advertising campaigns three months of setting up and optimizing to reach an ROAS of 1. Then give yourself another three months to reach an ROAS of 3, at which point you’re paying 33% of your revenue for ads.

That’s still not enough to break even, so now you start upselling and cross-selling (the biggest brands have a resale rate of 76%) via email marketing to up your ROAS to a grand total of 6 or 7.

If you get an ROAS of 10 or higher, you are basically printing money – but that won’t happen overnight. To get there, you have to keep testing. Keep analyzing. Keep optimizing.

That applies to not only your paid acquisition, but the following measures to grow your shop and brand as well.

2. List building

So you’re attracting the right visitors to your shop and they’re intrigued enough by your brand and products to hang around for a bit and check you out.

But how do you entice them to buy your product? How do you convince them to happily buy from you again and again?

By making sure that you can contact them. Don’t wait around for them to remember you. Even if they do by chance remember you, they’re still a long way away from hopping online or into their inbox and trying to find you again.

Don’t leave it up to chance. You want to be the one to never let them forget about you, your shop and brand in the first place. To do that, you need to build a list of potential customers and their email addresses. A.k.a. subscribers to your email list.

Here’s how you get them to sign up.

2.1 Content upgrades

Content upgrades are exactly what the name says: they upgrade your content (usually on your blog, but you can get creative in other ways, as well) by adding extra value to your post. This can be:

  • Checklists
  • Whitepapers
  • How-to guides
  • Cheat sheets
  • Lists of resources
  • Video recordings
  • Reports
  • Ebooks
  • Printables
  • Worksheets
  • Case studies
  • Exclusive interviews
  • Templates
  • Mini course
  • Anything your ideal customer might be interested in

But to get that bonus content, the reader must first sign up for your email list. Basically, they’re giving you their email address – and permission to use it – in exchange for your content upgrade.

Pro tipp: Add a twist to your content upgrades by including them in your product pages, too.

And here’s what you do with those email addresses.

2.2 Email Marketing

Against common misconception, email isn’t dead. Far from it. According to Econsultancy’s “Emailmarketing Census”, 61% of companies generate more than 10 percent of sales from email.

To this day, email marketing remains the most effective way of digital marketing, because you know your subscribers are interested in what you have to say (or at least in what you had to say at some point). It’s far easier to market to people who’ve shown interest in your product or brand than calling into the online void and hoping someone is listening.

As usual, it’s about being specific to be profitable. And you can’t get much more specific than with your subscribers.

But we’re not talking about a newsletter here. Newsletters are too generic. You want the emails you send to your customers to be more personalized, more refined, more segmented. Better to use that effort to set up dynamic emails that send the right content to the right person at the right time. This type of email marketing is also known as a drip campaign.

Instead of sending one email to everyone on your list, you send specific emails when someone in that list fulfills a specific condition – for example, when they sign up for your list.

Check out here what a welcome email series could look like.

2.3 Set up your sales funnel

Everyone who is anyone in ecommerce is talking about their sales funnel and how you need to set one up to draw in the masses. But what exactly is this mythical beast that everyone believes in but few people can actually describe properly?

On a very basic level, your sales funnel is both a filter and an automated salesman. It first filters out the people (and their email addresses) who are going to love your product. In the next step, it shows off your products, shop and brand to those people until they can’t resist clicking that “buy” button.

A sales funnel

  1. makes potential customers aware of your shop and products,
  2. piques their interest,
  3. helps them make a decision and
  4. take action.

Learn more about sales funnels and how to set one up for your own shop in our detailed, step-by-step guide Here’s all you need to know about optimizing ecommerce sales funnels for profit.

Your content upgrades and email list are important tools in your sales funnel toolbox. If set up right, your sales funnel will (among other things) spread your content upgrades to the right potential customers and entice them to opt-in.

The most obvious way to share your content is via social media, in a combination of both paid advertising and organic posting – and we explain it in minute detail in our guide. But here’s another tipp about how to spread and share your content that many ecommerce brands haven’t discovered for themselves yet.

Pro Tipp: Mix it up with videos

Video is becoming the next big thing. More and more people are turning to videos – and especially YouTube – to find all the information and answers they seek in blog posts.

So it’s time to hop on board. Supplement your images and written content with videos to reach a broader audience on more platforms.

For example, you can make YouTube videos out of your blog posts with the most traffic. This doesn’t have to be the full post in video form. You can also record a short excerpt or an overview. The important thing is that you link to the original post on the video’s YouTube caption, with the promise of an extra bonus (the content upgrade).

3. Building your brand

Once you’ve set up your paid visitor acquisition measures and people are signing up for your email list, you can focus on building your most powerful business currency: your brand.

3.1 Brand elements

As mentioned earlier, you need to have certain brand elements in place before you can start successfully building your brand. So let’s take a look at those before we dive into how to use them to spread the word and get people hooked on everything you sell, do and say.

Style & brand guidelines

When they hear “brand”, most people immediately associate it with “logo”. But a logo is not the only thing that defines a brand. It’s also about style and mood and, most importantly, the way you make people interacting with your brand feel.

So figure out how you want people to feel when they interact with or think about you and your shop and products, set up your style accordingly – and write it down.

Create a style guideline, in which you capture

  • Color codes
  • Fonts / typography
  • Photography style
  • Illustration and icon sets
  • Moods (via “mood boards”)
  • Patterns and texture
  • Spacing

As examples, check out this brand guide by MKW Creative Co. for Solano Painting Concepts:

Or the photography brand guide for Balanced By Katie, also by MKW Creative Co.:

For the full expert scoop, check out MKW Creative Co.’s post What the heck are brand guides and why your biz needs them. Or try this three-hour brand sprint by GV to get started on your brand.

Logo

Your logo is an essential element of your brand that helps people instantly recognize you and what you’re putting out there. So creating a logo is a vital step in crafting your brand – and you want to do it right.

You want to be able to quickly and easily plug your logo into any sort of content or platform and have it still be instantly recognizable. So you should make sure your logo comes in at least the following versions – we’ll use the well-known Instagram logo as our examples:

  • Standard logo – the one you will use most often
  • Background variation – readable on different background colors
  • Submark – an abbreviated version of your logo
  • Black-and-white – in case it gets printed, it should still be recognizable

With this variety, you can add the right version to blog posts, as thumbnails, on Pinterest, Facebook or IG – like keeping the proper logo tools in your brand toolbox.

Craft your message

Your brand message ties your product and communication message together, aligning everything to your value proposition.

Examples you’ll probably instantly recognize – meaning they’re great brand messages – are

  • Just do it
  • Eat fresh
  • I’m lovin’ it

If you associated these immediately with Nike, Subway and McDonald’s, you’ll understand why these are three great brand messages. And you can probably already figure out what they all have in common, which is what you should strive for when creating yours.

Make sure your brand message is

  • Simple and to the point
  • Singular
  • Unique
  • Authentic
  • Consistently used throughout every communication and marketing channel

Build your brand for your key buyers

Create your brand around your target audience. For example, if you’re selling biker gear, making your brand visuals bright and frilly is probably the wrong way to go. So have your key buyers in mind when setting your brand guides.

You can always find inspiration on competitors’ websites. What colors, fonts and photography do they use? Compare and contrast – but don’t copy! Stick to the most basic common denominators they all seem to use and then create something new and unique out of them.

Find your competitive advantage

That uniqueness should stem from your competitive advantage. Why should your customers buy from you and not your competitor? Hopefully not just because you’re offering free shipping.

What unique selling point does your shop or product, you and your brand bring to the table that others don’t, that your customers will love? Figure this out and incorporate it in your branding.

And, while you’re doing this, always…

Grab them by their emotions

A logo on its own is just a set of letters, colors and symbols. A brand guide is just a set of rules and instructions on visuals. A message is just a string of words – unless you infuse it with meaning.

Meaning comes through emotion. People associate different things with different brands. It if makes them feel good, happy or satisfied, they’ll love and remember it. Ultimately, that is what you need to strive for with branding.

Because branding can only be felt. Your brand elements – logo, message, style and unique selling point – are the threads you need to weave to create the big picture that elicits a desirable reaction from your key buyers. If your branding taps into their emotions, your branding strategy will attract your most valuable customers and drive them to purchase.

Always keep this in mind as we now discuss how you can create and connect that emotion, and actually start building your brand.

3.2 Inclusion instead of influence

Let’s start with using influencers, because many experts will try to convince you that influencers are your best bet to building your brand, fast. We at Conversio don’t believe that, and here’s why:

  1. To reach the same number of people, many brands are paying 10 times more for influencer marketing compared to investing in non-influencer marketing campaigns. In Germany alone, $500M spent on fraudulent influencers went down the drain.
  2. Fake follower counts are a major issue and an “above average” engagement rate on sponsored posts is a measly 4%.
  3. “Consumers want brands to dump the photoshopped models from ads and replace them with authentic, real men and women.” ~ Sprout Social 2018 Index

People crave authenticity. Consumers desire genuine interactions with you and your brand. That’s why we believe that inclusive marketing is the future.

To us, this means focusing on and including our customers and giving them the chance to voice their opinions versus having the influencer push your products at them.

Influencers, despite promoting your products, make it all about themselves. “Here I am, look at me and this cool thing I’ve started using.”

At Conversio, we prefer to turn that into “Yes, we see you and we’re listening to what you think.”

We want to build real relationships and trust with our customers by including them and hearing them out.

So try to build a real brand for real people. Give your customers the equal opportunity to represent what your brand stands for – kindness, trust, and equality. That way, they’ll become your genuine, authentic brand ambassadors.

Click here for more information on why we think inclusion works way better than influence.

3.3 Share your own content

Create online buzz around your brand and products by sharing your own content. This builds the authentic feel you want to establish around your brand. By generating your own niche-specific content like blog posts, or Facebook and Instagram feeds and stories, you provide buyers with value that encourages trust.

Valuable content that will attract your ideal customers can be something that

  • solves a problem,
  • answers a question,
  • Educates,
  • explains your product or show it in action, or
  • shares your brand’s story.

Let’s look at that last one a bit more closely.

3.4 Share your story

Every brand has a story. This could be the story of its beginnings or its founders, or another important turning point in the brand’s life.

Why is it so important to tell that story?

It’s quite simple, really: It’s another way to build trust. Letting customers know the factors that shaped your brand makes them emotionally connected and invested, and builds that trust. It also helps you stay “on brand”. If you find yourself unsure about what direction to take with your store and brand, just ask yourself: Is this consistent with my brand story? If it isn’t, forget it.

So how and where can you share that story?

About page

About pages are a great but often undervalued place to share your story. It’s the place people go when they want to learn more about your business, brand, and you. But more often than not, that’s not what they’ll find. About pages are often treated like a chore rather than an opportunity.

Which is shortsighted, because your About page is the ideal place to accommodate several objectives:

  • Communicating the story of your shop
  • Describing the customer or cause your brand serves
  • Explaining your business model
  • Illustrating how your products are made
  • Putting a face to your business
  • Featuring the founders and people on your team
  • Incorporating persuasive content
  • Going deeper into your message

Social media

Don’t limit your social media communication to advertising and selling your products. Where else can you share your story with the world as easily as on Facebook or Instagram?

The best way is to share small bits and pieces of your story here and there, and connect it with your products or message. Make it funny, entertaining, inspiring, motivating or touching to grab them by their emotions.

Your blog

The same goes for your blog. Share small pieces of your brand’s story in between your usual marketing content: the motivation behind it, why the message is important to you, or your greatest challenge in getting started. Make yourself – and by extension your brand – human.

Guest blog

Find bloggers in your industry who will post one of your articles on their blog. This increases your reach beyond your own followers and gets you in front of new potential customers’ eyes. Give them valuable content that includes a personal part of your story.

In turn, offer to post one of their articles on your blog, which will also draw a new crowd to your website. You can also pitch other brands on this and grow a partnership.

3.4 Above and beyond customer service

To avoid destroying the hard-won trust you’ve painstakingly built to get people to buy your products, their customer experience must continue to be excellent beyond adding your product to their cart.

No matter how enticing your content, story and brand are, it won’t matter if you drop the ball on customer service. Especially with first-time customers. If they have trouble ordering, feel tricked into extra shipping fees or can’t contact you to answer their questions, they’ll drop you faster than a hot potato hits the ground and find the product somewhere else.

And it’ll be almost impossible to get them to pick your brand-potato back up.

So don’t skimp on customer service. Enticing existing customers to buy from you again is far easier and cheaper than acquiring brand new customers. So you want to give them the best possible experience (and yourself the highest possible Lifetime Value per customer), for example by:

  • Making the order process as easy as possible (for example by not forcing customers to sign up to place their order)
  • Setting up a proactive customer support
  • Offering free shipping
  • Offering a free and easy return policy
  • Having a customer service hotline
  • Offering live chat
  • Using a chatbot to answer basic questions and queries
  • Adding a FAQ page
  • Personalizing your email campaigns

3.5 Be authentic

You’ve surely noticed that authenticity is a common thread that ties together many of these outlined steps to building your brand. Don’t try to sell something you’re not, just because it worked for your competitors. They aren’t you, and you want to bring something new and fresh to the table (right?).

Your customers can smell “fake” five miles against the wind. So tell your (brand’s) story. Share your insights and experiences. Your opinions. Your reasons.

Love your brand and people will start loving it, too.

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