Getting your first real customer is a significant milestone for every entrepreneur.
But sealing the deal on your first sale takes time and focus. With hundreds of channels and ways to promote your business, it can be hard to find the ones that make the most sense for your business and produce worthwhile results.
It's easy to fall into the trap of endlessly tweaking your store in the pursuit of perfection, instead of investing that attention into the most important activity: getting people to your store. Try this challenge: If your store has already launched, spend the next 30 days focusing exclusively on driving targeted traffic that’s likely to make a purchase.
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Why targeted traffic is crucial for new stores
As the owner of a new online store, it's easy to think you’re improving: nitpicking brand colors, flip-flopping on fonts, second-guessing your pricing, and getting caught up in the minor details as you build a business behind closed doors.
Real improvement, on the other hand, is only possible when you expose your business to the world. You can't know what you're improving unless you establish a benchmark that you can quantify through hard numbers. That's why traffic is so important.
You won’t know if there's any interest in your products if you don’t drive traffic. You won’t know if your prices are too high if you don’t drive traffic. You won’t know if your brand resonates with your intended audience if you don’t drive traffic.
That's why I propose this challenge:
No matter where you are in your business, spend the next 30 days focusing on driving targeted traffic to your store above all else.
To ramp up your marketing, I’ve organized some of the most widely applicable ecommerce marketing tactics into a checklist you can use to focus your efforts, along with beginner-friendly resources to learn how to execute them.
We'll start this checklist with free, easy traffic sources to get warmed up. Then we’ll move on to more highly targeted marketing that requires bigger time or even financial investments.
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What to know before you begin
If a tactic doesn’t apply to your store and what you're selling, skip it. If you’re selling computer keyboards, for example, Pinterest probably won't be your first pick.
Set up Google Analytics in advance and keep a close eye on traffic as you implement each marketing tactic. Not everything’s going to work. With that said, get ready to spend the next 30 days learning and iterating quickly as you work toward your first sale.
Free traffic sources: Going after the low-hanging fruit
The first sources of traffic to explore are the free ones. This typically involves sharing your store manually with your network and relevant online communities.
Since these traffic sources are relatively easy to create and available to every online store owner, they're a great place to start. Keep the following tips in mind as you tackle free traffic sources:
Tip #1: Consider offering a discount code to entice people to check your store out.
The Jewelry Wardrobe is using LinkedIn to manually reach out to potential customers, offering $25 gift cards in exchange for email addresses and survey responses.
Tip #2: Every action you take online has the potential to drive traffic back to your store. Add your store URL to your personal online profiles, such as your Twitter bio or your Disqus profile for blog comments.
Tip #3: Don't spam audiences with repetitive, low-quality promotional messages. Instead, look to provide value and make authentic connections.
Tap into your personal networks
Many entrepreneurs get their first few sales from their personal connections, and there's nothing wrong with that. So share your store on your personal Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts to announce it to your entire network.
Consider also emailing your closest connections directly to get the word out about your store's launch. Explicitly ask them to donate a share—they don't need to buy from you to show you their support.
While any sales you get this way aren’t going to be as satisfying as when you earn a complete stranger’s trust as a customer, this is a good way to solicit early feedback.
If you don't get any sales from this, don't be discouraged as this is the least qualified source of traffic in this entire list.
Recommended for: Everyone (since we all have friends/family/coworkers), but especially those who are already fairly active online with large personal networks on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Join online communities
Don't underestimate the value of putting a link to your store in the right place. Post on forums like Reddit, join Facebook Groups, and find niche online communities in your industry. Each of these channels is an opportunity to reach people who’ve organized themselves around specific interests. Conduct a search for interests that relate to your business.
Join groups that your target customers frequent and become an active member, connecting with others in the community. After you’ve built up a reputation and created authentic connections, you can share a link to your store, perhaps with a discount code.
You can also use groups to get help and support from experienced entrepreneurs. Check out the following communities, for example:
- Shopify Entrepreneurs Facebook Group
- Grow and Sell Facebook Group
- Bright Ideas and Entrepreneurs LinkedIn Group
- Shopify Community
Recommended for: Stores that sell to specific interest groups (for example, dog owners). However, anyone can take advantage of entrepreneur-focused support groups online to get great feedback from those who've been there and done that.
Paid advertising: Spending money to make money
The best way to get targeted traffic quickly is through paid advertising. The good news is that many paid advertising channels allow you to pay per click. In some instances you can start with a budget as low as $10.
Each advertising platform is different, and you should choose these channels based on who you’re targeting and how the tools allow you to reach potential buyers. If you're targeting specific countries, you might even want to check out which social networks are popular in certain markets.
Before exploring paid social media marketing, populate your main profile's feed with several posts (curating content is an easy way to go). Then it won’t be completely barren of activity when visitors check it out.
That's why a wide range of brands can leverage Facebook’s targeting options that include age, gender, job title, location and interest to reach their ideal customers.
That last one—interests—is especially useful. You can use the pages that people have liked on Facebook as the basis to build ideal buyer profiles that determine who your ads reach.
Recommended for: Store owners that have a clear idea of who their ideal customers are and what they like. A store that sells t-shirts with pop culture references, for example, can easily find its audience on Facebook if you target users who are interested in pop culture icons.
United By Blue uses Facebook advertising to promote their eco-friendly products. They can target users who are interested in the environment and conservation to promote their apparel. This example is a carousel ad, where they promote different collections of items.
Instagram's visual format and predominantly millennial audience aren't the only appeals of the platform.
It also has one of the most engaged user bases among social networks, according to data from Smart Insights. It’s not only a great platform for influencer marketing, but also for your regular unpaid posts to reach a good number of people if you use relevant hashtags.
With Instagram advertising, you can display your own visual ad in others' feeds to drive traffic. Beauty and skincare brand Follain uses Instagram ads to promote their free samples. You can see that the ad’s been viewed more than 3,600 times.
Brandless uses Instagram ads to drive product sales. Here, they use a video to showcase the product.
Recommended for: Fashion, food, fitness and any verticals with strong visuals is a must. If you have high-quality and enticing product photos, plus you want to market to millennials, give Instagram a try.
Pinterest is an often under-appreciated channel. But it's also the one with the most clearly defined user base. According to Pinterest, it’s mostly comprised of female users, and HootSuite cites that many of those users have disposable income. Plus, you can drive significant traffic through free and paid efforts.
Using Pinterest is similar to scrapbooking; users create boards to collect and save "Pins" according to specific themes. It's often used to plan events, save interesting articles, and curate wardrobes, so keep that in mind when you advertise on Pinterest.
From Promoted Pins to Buyable Pins, Pinterest offers a lot of tools that make it easy to market on.
Recommended for: Fashion, home decor, food, artwork, designs and other verticals where visuals shine, particularly if you’re learning how to sell stuff online to a female audience.
This ad from bra company ThirdLove takes users directly to the product page, which has a similar look and feel.
The first thing many people do when they want to buy something is look it up on Google. Google Ads, formerly Google AdWords, enables your site to be shown at the top of the page when customers search for relevant terms.
Google Ads offers a few different options: text ads that show up prominently in search results, and Shopping Ads that show your product photo and price in a more ecommerce-oriented format.
Conduct keyword research to see the search volume for terms that your target customers might be looking for. Many people find Google Ads intimidating because of its complicated interface, so consider hiring a Shopify Expert if you want to seize the opportunity but would rather hand it off.
Recommended for: Trending products, local businesses and products/services with high search volume.
- How to Spend Your First $100 on Google Ads
- 6 Common Google Ads Mistakes You Should Stop Paying For
- How To Use Google Remarketing for Ecommerce
Outreach: Connecting with existing audiences
Messaging about your brand won't be very effective if it only comes from you. Thankfully, the internet has made it possible for anyone to build a platform and, as a result, for you to partner with them.
Not only do the following tactics help drive traffic, but they often use content to do so—a news story or a product review, for example—and that helps you build your brand's credibility. Essentially, you’re killing two birds with one stone through each successful collaboration.
Remember: When you pitch to create these relationships, you need to constantly ask yourself, "What's in it for them?"
Reach out to bloggers
Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret about online content: Publishers are always on the lookout for fresh content and stories to tell.
With a solid pitch based on a good story or an interesting product, you can potentially win a spot on a blog or publication that your ideal customers read. Look for publications that overlap with your niche and try pitching them about your brand.
Here are a few ideas for how you can partner up:
- Write and submit a guest post. Share your expertise about a topic, and use your author bio to describe and link to your business.
- Ask for product reviews. Give your product to a blogger for free in exchange for a review.
- Pitch a news story. Use your compelling origin story or unique product as the hook for an interview-style piece.
Whatever you choose, your pitch needs to be interesting to both the writer or editor you reach out to and to their audience. Consider publications based on the right "fit" first, and look at the size of their readership second.
Recommended for: Entrepreneurs with interesting backstories, unique products that bloggers haven't seen before, entrepreneurs with an expertise in their niche who can share it.
Seek out strategic partnerships
Partnerships can be a great way to get your products in front of someone else's customers.
The key here is to look for non-competitive and like-minded brands that already attract the kinds of people you're looking for. It can take some time and luck to find and create these opportunities, but the trade-off is you can get really creative with the nature of the partnership:
- Run a contest with your product as a prize.
- Package samples of your product or exclusive discounts with complementary products (e.g. a drink mix sample with every order of your partner's water bottles).
- Sponsor an event.
- Create a product together.
Sunglass brand Prive Revaux is a serial collaborator, working with celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Hailee Steinfeld and Madelaine Petsch to launch sunglass lines.
Recommended for: Entrepreneurs who are already connected to other entrepreneurs in their niche or have contacts at relevant organizations that don't directly compete with them, or people with a knack for sales and business development.
Work with influencers
Big brands aren’t the only ones that can harness celebrity endorsements to market their products.
You can work with influencers—creators with sizeable audiences in your niche—to tap into an existing fanbase for traffic and get some content created about your products while you're at it.
Influencers exist on every channel from YouTube to Instagram. And while you can reach out to them directly to negotiate a deal, there are several influencer marketplaces that connect creators with brands:
- Grapevine: One of the more popular influencer marketplaces.
- Famebit: Endorsements start at $100, but influencers need a minimum of 5,000 followers to list themselves here.
- Crowdtap: Smaller in scale than the many others, this marketplaces lets you incentivize small content creation “tasks” with money and other rewards.
Recommended for: Fashion and technology products. There's also ample opportunity for lifestyle brands to promote their products in the context of lifestyle photography by working with Instagram influencers in particular.
You don't need to drive all your traffic online. If you're struggling to make early sales, take your marketing offline and spread the word yourself.
If you're selling dog collars, for example, visit your local dog park and hand out flyers while you talk to people. Or, if you can easily turn your product into samples, consider giving some out for free. You could also create some buzz with your own pop-up shop.
Guerrilla marketing involves a combination of guts and creativity. But in the connected world we live in, it's never been easier to say, "Check out my website" to someone offline and see it translate into traffic online.
Recommended for: Anyone near a place where groups of people with similarities gather offline. It especially helps if you're a people person with no problem putting yourself out there.
Analyze: Reflecting back to optimize
By this point, hopefully you've tried enough tactics to see a jump in traffic and maybe even some sales. This challenge is meant to be an exercise in creating a feedback loop, where you expose your store to traffic, set a benchmark for its performance, and then work to improve it.
So now you can begin diagnosing the potential problems with your store by looking at your analytics dashboard (both in Shopify and Google Analytics), as well as the feedback you've gotten from actively promoting your store.
There are a number of reasons customers might not be buying from you and you can make informed guesses based on how your traffic behaves:
- If you have a high bounce rate—that is, visitors coming to your site and leaving immediately—your traffic might be low quality or your store might take too long to load (you can test the latter here).
- If none of your visitors added products to their cart, it might be that you haven’t achieved product/market fit (in which case you need to find the right niche or try different products). Or maybe they just don't trust your store enough to buy.
- If you have a lot of abandoned carts during checkout, maybe you need to reconsider your shipping.
Based on these learnings, you can start tweaking things about your store so you'll have a better chance when you have your go at another round of marketing.
If you're in the mood for more marketing ideas, check out: Ecommerce Marketing Essentials: 17 Actionable Tactics to Drive More Sales
You need to get out there to grow
Driving traffic is all about connecting the dots between your brand and your buyers in a world of ever-growing possibilities. That's partly what makes marketing so overwhelming—the fact that there are just so many opportunities out there.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Exploring, trying, failing and improving is the only way to find out what works for you. So get your store out there, because it's the only way to grow. And if you're still struggling, check out our guide on how to diagnose and improve your store if you're driving traffic but no sales.
Illustration by Eugenia Mello