Running a successful online store is a blast. Nothing beats the feeling of having your products sell like hotcakes while you wake up every morning excited to hammer away at your to-do list.
But running your own store can sometimes have its low points - those sobering moments when you realize that things aren’t going so great. When you’re tired of putting in all those hours without anything to show for it and you have absolutely no idea what you should do next.
While these low points can sometimes be enough to make you want to give up, you really shouldn’t. We’ve put together a surefire strategy to help lift you over any obstacle standing between your business and long-term success.
Let’s take a look.
The High of Starting
When you first start your business, it isn’t hard to find the time or motivation that you need to get everything done. Coming up with a brand name, tracking down great products to sell, getting nice product shots and finding a good looking design for your site can be hard work, but they’re simply table stakes.
The real test comes later, at launch day, when you’re staring at your computer screen and can’t wait to reap the benefits of all the hard work you’ve put in over the last couple of months.
But a lot of the time, that hard work doesn’t include any marketing efforts which results in a launch day with a handful of visitors, mostly family and friends, showing their support.
By day two, there’s no one around to buy or even look at your products or pixel-perfect website. This is when doubt creeps in and starts to eat at your motivation.
You might start wondering if you’re really cut out for running an online store.
So, how do you know if it’s time to throw in the towel or if you’re just making excuses?
Giving Up the Subtle Way
When the first doubts appear, some people will simply give up, but in a more subtle way than you might think. They don’t wake up and say: “That’s it, today I’m pulling the plug,” instead, you often hear things like: “I’m just too busy right now”.
If this is you, I’ll be honest with you: It won’t be easy.
To succeed, you need passion and perseverance to get through the rough parts and if you’re getting discouraged after the first speed bump, that’s not the best sign.
At the very least, since you’re reading this article, I know that you want to make things work.
Entering Tactical Marketing Hell
Those that keep going, even though their store doesn’t yield the expected results, might be seduced into tactical marketing hell.
This means you’re trying whatever you can get your hands on: Running Facebook ads, tweeting like crazy, writing daily blog posts to get your SEO going, and making constant changes on your site to improve your conversion rate.
If you’re very lucky, one of those tactics will bring you consistent traffic and sales, but, more often than not, trying everything at once will make you extremely busy without anything to show for it.
And without progress, there is no momentum.
Instead, you’re left with a thought that’s lingering in the back of your mind: Is there something I haven’t tried that could turn things around?
But when you take a look at how other stores generate sales, you seem to have tried that they’re doing and it didn’t work for you. The truth is that most successful stores are getting the majority of their sales from the same handful of channels.
So what can you do?
The solution lies in the parts you’ve overlooked. When you’re trying everything at once, chances are that you’re not really taking your time to get good at anything.
It takes time to set up Google Adwords, make content marketing work, optimize Facebook ads or to set up a network of affiliates. For each one of those tactics, there are people out there that have done nothing but focus on it for the last five years (and even they're probably still learning how to be more effective).
But how can you sell more without having to spend five years getting good at marketing?
Being successful with marketing isn’t rocket science, but the learning curve can be pretty steep, leaving many people overwhelmed.
What you really need to make your store work is a system.
Creating a System for Success
The goal is to create a system that answers two questions for every new marketing channel you’re trying out:
- Am I making progress?
- What can I do to improve?
These essential questions do not only give you direction on what to do next, they will also show you when a marketing channel doesn’t make sense.
So, if you use the approach below and can’t make any marketing channel work, that might indicate your store has more fundamental problems. It doesn’t matter how great your advertising campaign is - if no one wants the products you sell, you will get nowhere.
To create the system, we’re borrowing the Lean Startup Loop and tweaking it to our needs. It’s a loop with three stages that all your marketing efforts will go through.
Your objective remains the same: Make sales - but how you get to those sales is going to be different. First, you’re going to take your best shot at a specific marketing channel. Second, you’re going to measure the results. Then, based on those results you’ll make tweaks to your initial attempt and make it a little bit better.
This process continues until you’re happy with the results or realize that this specific marketing channel won’t work for your business at this stage.
Which marketing channel you start out with depends on you and your business. You might get some ideas after reading an interesting blog post or a conversation with a fellow entrepreneur.
To put this into practice and illustrate the approach, we’re going to create a system to generate sales with Facebook advertising.
Stage 1: Build
Right now you know you need to make sales and you’ll use Facebook ads to do it. The goal at this stage is to get one advertisement up and running, that’s it.
If you’re a Facebook pro, that will be pretty easy. If you’ve never used their advertising platform, getting to the stage where you launch your first ad campaign will take some time.
To set up your first Facebook advertising campaign you’ll need to decide on the following:
Your end-goal is to sell, but Facebook has all kinds of options for optimizing who it will show your ads to. For now, just pick Send people to your website or Increase conversions as an objective.
Which page are you going to send your visitors to?
Which combination of criteria are you going to use to select your target audience?
- Demographics: Location, gender, age, language, education level, etc.
- Interests: Which pages do they like or which subjects are they interested in?
- Behaviour: This targeting option is based on what Facebook has learned about its users’ behaviour.
How much should you spend right now, before you know what the results will be? To start, just pick something that you’re comfortable with like a couple of dollars a day.
Where do you want your ads to display: In the News Feed on desktops, on mobile devices or in the right column?
What will be the headline and text of your advertisement? Are you pitching your whole store or one specific product? Or are you just promoting content to grow your email list?
Will you use simple product shots, photos that feature people using your products, or a different image altogether that grabs your audience’s attention?
Each of the options above might seem like a small decision, but they’re all necessary to create a great ad, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed and get stuck. Use resources like Google, blog posts, and guides to help you figure out exactly what you need to do.
Your first attempt will not be perfect, but don’t worry about that. Just try to get something out there.
When you’ve got your first ad running, it’s time to move to the next stage.
For other marketing channels
To apply this to other marketing channels, you’ll need to learn the fundamentals of those specific channels. Keep in mind that you don’t need to know everything, just enough to get something out there.
Here are some good places to get started:
- Content Marketing: A Beginners Guide to Content Marketing
- SEO: The Beginners Guide to SEO
- Referral Marketing: Referral Marketing 101: 7 Tactics to Launch Your Own Referral Campaign
- Instagram: How To Build A Massive Following On Instagram
- Pinterest: The Ultimate Pinterest Guide for Your Online Store
- Facebook: The Complete Guide On Getting Started With Facebook Marketing
- Google AdWords: How to Spend Your First $100 on Google Adwords
Stage 2: Measure
In this stage we’re going to answer the first question: How do you know if you’re improving?
For an online store, orders are the ultimate goal. If you can't turn visitors into customers, you don't have a business, so your number one metric to track is orders.
But what if there aren’t any orders coming in?
Knowing where you are at and not getting discouraged is one of the main reasons that we’re creating this whole system.
It all comes down to having the right expectations. Because when you’ve put out your first simple Facebook ad, it will be tough to measure its performance if you only look at the raw sales numbers.
So how can you evaluate your efforts?
The answer comes from the data you collect in your ecommerce platform, Google Analytics and Facebook. We’ll run through the three platforms and indicate which metrics are worth paying attention to.
Your Ecommerce Platform
This is probably the part you’re most familiar with. In your online store back-end, you can find all of the details about your orders:
- Number of orders
- Average order value
- Sales conversion rate
- Added to cart conversion rate
- Reached checkout conversion rate
In Shopify, you’ve got these metrics right on your dashboard:
If you’re using a different ecommerce platform, you might need to make some website tweaks in order to track all of these metrics.
Getting the right data from Google Analytics can be pretty overwhelming for a lot of people. But you don’t need to look at every report in there. Here is which metrics are worth paying attention to:
- Users (in the Audience report)
- Traffic sources (Acquisition report)
- Bounce rate, time on site and pages/session (in the Audience report)
- Transactions and revenue (in the Conversions report)
To make sure you’re able to track the data above, especially for your Facebook campaigns, you’ll need to make some extra tweaks:
- Enable ecommerce tracking
- Add the Facebook pixel to all pages of your store
- Add tracking to all Facebook URLs (this is a good idea for all marketing efforts)
That will make sure that when there are sales coming in, you’ll be able to see in Google Analytics where those sales originated from. For more details, check out this guide on using Google Analytics for ecommerce.
Facebook will show you three levels of data: Information about your overall campaign, your ad set and individual ads.
- Click through rate or CTR
- Cost per click or CPC
- Cost per conversion
- Relevancy score
Now that you’ve got all the data coming in, let’s figure out in the next step how you can use all those metrics to make your ads better, and start selling of course.
For Other Marketing Channels
Measuring is the cornerstone of getting better. You’ll need data from your ecommerce platform, Google Analytics and the specific channel you are testing. This could be keyword positions for SEO or reach if you’re working with Twitter posts.
Stage 3: Learn
All the data from the previous stage might leave you a bit overwhelmed, but don’t worry, you don’t need to look at everything at once.
In this stage, we’ll check what you need to pay attention to. It will also help you to answer the second question: How do you know what to improve?
This is hardest of the three stages to learn. Expertise about a specific marketing channel can really help you at this point. If you know when to focus on which metric, you can save a lot of time and money.
In what follows, I’ll use my experience with optimizing a Facebook ads campaigns, to lay out the exact approach you need to follow to optimize your campaigns.
Tweak Your Audience and Offer
With Facebook advertising, you will usually have no problem blowing through your budget. Once your ad is up, you’ll see clicks come in and people visit your website.
This can be exciting at first, but if after a few days there are no sales coming in, you’ll start wondering why you are actually spending all this money. What you need here is a sign that you are actually bringing the right people to your website.
If you’re attracting the right audience with the wrong offer, you’ll see a low CTR. The wrong audience with the right offer will get clicks, but you’ll see your on-site metrics (such as bounce rate) skyrocket.
Decide how you can improve your campaign and create a second ad set with a new advertisement. Then see if your CTR (or your on-page metrics) improve.
Metrics to check:
- Orders: Are you making money?
- Reached Checkout: Are your visitors starting to check out?
- Added To Cart: Have visitors added anything to their cart?
- CTR: Do people find your ad more relevant vs another one?
- Bounce Rate: Are people landing on your site and leaving without doing anything else?
- Pages/Visit and Session Duration: Do your visitors merely scan or do they go deep and really consume your content?
A couple of ideas to improve this step:
- Create ads that are targeted at your ideal customer (better text, images, etc.)
- Select a different audience: Try a new combination of demographics, interests, etc.
- Change your offer: Pitch your store, one of your products, a lifestyle or highly relevant content.
Add in Different Types of Campaigns
When you get to this step, you’re already pretty familiar with the Facebook platform and all the metrics involved, but you still might not see any sales come in. Time to level up.
Besides running ads aimed at people that have never seen or heard of your store before, Facebook also has some other great features.
1. Custom Audiences
Custom audiences are audiences you create. For example, you can target:
- People that have visited your website.
- People that haven’t visited your site in the last 30 days.
- People that have added a product to their cart but haven’t checked out.
- People that have placed an order.
2. Lookalike Audiences
Lookalike audiences are audiences based on the custom audiences above. Facebook will use its algorithm magic to find other people that display the same characteristics and behaviours as the people in the custom audiences. These tactics are great to find new people to introduce to your store and products.
For Facebook advertising, custom audience campaigns are usually the ones that bring home the bacon. Your first ads reach people that haven’t heard of you, but this second set of ads reaches people that already know you and have been on your site, but just need a little more convincing to make a purchase.
A couple of ideas to improve this step:
- Create different audiences and measure the response for each group.
- Adapt your ads to make them more effective. If people have already visited your site, how could you bring them back? Showcase your best offer, give them a discount, etc.
Optimize for ROI
When you get to this step of the optimization, you’ve seen sales come in. You know what you spend and what comes out.
Now it’s time to tune the machine to maximize your sales and scale up your budget. Focus your attention on the campaigns that are profitable and ditch the ones that aren’t very effective. You can also try starting a Facebook product ads campaign.
A couple of ideas to improve this step:
- Pay very close attention to the relevancy score of your ads. A higher score will lower the cost per click (and conversion).
- Continue testing your ads and audiences.
- Can you bring in more “cold” traffic to convert with your other campaigns?
For other marketing channels:
The exact steps you need to follow to optimize your marketing efforts will be different for every channel. One thing to keep in mind is that every marketing channel has its own learning curve. So when you start out, don’t be too narrowly focused on sales. Try to find other metrics that indicate quality and improve on those.
Applying This to Your Store
The main goal of this article was to keep you moving, so that you’re never clueless about what you should be doing next or if there even is a next step.
In summary, here’s how you can apply the system above to your own store:
Pick a marketing channel and give it your best shot. Measure what happens with your marketing and your sales and use this data to evaluate and improve your initial effort. Keep going until orders are coming in or until you can confidently say that a specific marketing channel doesn’t work for your store.
Now that you’ve learned how to create and improve your Facebook Ads and Google AdWords campaigns, you can start optimizing your tactics to put your business on a surefire path to success.Have any questions about what the next step for your online store should be? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Dennis Moons believes that a profitable ecommerce business can change everyone's life. That’s why he wants to help more store owners achieve that goal. To do that, he uses his experience of helping over hundred businesses to increase traffic and sales to create actionable content that get’s people moving. Find out more at Store Growers.