8 ways to get traffic to your online store without spending a fortune

eCommerce Growth and Scale
An icon of a megaphone: a metaphor for getting traffic to your online store

You’ve had a brilliant eCommerce business idea. You’ve chosen the best eCommerce platform for your online store. Now you need to get traffic to it. In this post – the third in our how to start an eCommerce business series – we show you eight cost-effective ways to do just that.

It’s estimated that there are 108,029 online stores in the UK alone. With so much competition, following the Field of Dreams mantra – “If you build it, they will come” – is a bad idea when starting an eCommerce business.

Instead, you need to work hard to get traffic to your online store, and secure each and every sale thereafter. Fortunately, the internet affords us plenty of opportunities to do that, even on a start-up budget.

Here are our top eight ways to increase website traffic without breaking the bank.

  1. Get good at SEO
  2. Dive into social media
  3. Offer advice and inspiration
  4. Send freebies to influencers
  5. Ask customers for reviews
  6. Start an email newsletter
  7. Run an online competition
  8. Experiment with paid adverts

1. Get good at SEO

Screwfix uses the same language as its customers: an example of using SEO to get traffic to your online store.
Screwfix uses the same language as its customers: an example of using SEO to get traffic to your online store.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s defined as “the process of getting traffic from the ‘free,’ ‘organic,’ ‘editorial’ or ‘natural’ search results on search engines.” Ultimately, you want your product to appear in the green box above when someone searches for it.

SEO can be one of the most effective ways to get traffic to your online store and make sales. That’s because people who are searching for a product already know they have a need for it, so you’re not contacting them cold and convincing them from scratch.

If you followed our earlier advice about testing your eCommerce business ideas, you’ll have already taken the first step in your SEO strategy – keyword research. This involves using tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner, to figure out how many people are searching for a product and what specific terms they’re using to find it.

Using the same language on your website as your buyers are using in their searches is the fundamental basis of SEO. For example, Screwfix realized it was missing out on millions in revenue by calling products the wrong name – “outdoor lighting” instead of “security lighting”, and so on.

Once you’ve done your research, you can then begin the journey of optimizing your site. BigCommerce has the ultimate guide to eCommerce SEO to help.

2. Dive into social media

Madotta shares posts from its customers on Instagram: an example of using social media to get traffic to your online store.
Madotta shares posts from its customers on Instagram: an example of using social media to get traffic to your online store.

Social media is big. Really big. 2.34 billion people – that’s a third of the world’s population – are thought to regularly access one social media platform or another. That means most businesses now have a social media presence, and many online stores use it as their main source of promotion in their early days.

There are three things you need to remember, when using it to get traffic to your online store:

  1. Turn up everyday: once you’ve set up those Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat or Twitter profiles, you’ll need to start posting regularly, in order to grow any kind of following. And once you start, you’ll need to keep going, in order to maintain it.
  2. It’s not all about you: don’t shout into the void about how great you and your products are. Instead, start conversations with brands you admire, respond to customers’ questions or problems, and share or like other people’s posts (like our client Madotta does above). In short, be social.
  3. Don’t forget the call to action: on the occasions you do post about your products, don’t forget to include a link to your online store, so it’s easy for customers to buy. This is getting easier with the slow roll out of tools like Instagram product tags.

For more help, read our post on how social media can benefit your business and eCommerce Platforms’ list of social media tools for eCommerce.

3. Offer advice and inspiration

The Sugru blog: an example of using advice and inspiration to get traffic to your online store.
The Sugru blog: an example of using advice and inspiration to get traffic to your online store.

Adding a blog to your online store is a simple thing to do – the best eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify and WooCommerce, have the functionality built in. Regularly writing a blog will help you improve your SEO and provide you with content to share on social media.

Some businesses use their blogs to inform customers about company news or events. The best, however, use them to offer advice and inspiration, which creates desire for their products among customers and hence gets traffic to their online store.

For example, Sugru (who we provide e-fulfilment services to) uses its blog to encourage people to use its moldable glue. This includes sharing useful tips, the stories of how other customers are using it, and projects to try at home.

And like Sugru, once you start blogging, you can then extend this approach to your social media channels, offering similar advice via YouTube videos or asking your customers to share their photos via Instagram.

70% of consumers say they prefer getting to know a company via its content rather than its ads, so it’s a tactic worth pursuing. Read Shopify’s post on why every eCommerce business needs a blog for more.

4. Send freebies to influencers

Hera London shares images of celebrities wearing its clothes on Instagram: an example of using influencer marketing to get traffic to your online store.
Hera London shares images of celebrities wearing its clothes on Instagram: an example of using influencer marketing to get traffic to your online store.

Influencer marketing is defined as “a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.”

This tactic is becoming increasingly popular, as more and more bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers reach celebrity status and have more influence over consumers than traditional media.

You can engage with influencers in a number of ways: telling them about your product on social media; sending them free samples to use and review; or even paying them to share your product via their social media channels. (Don’t worry, influencer marketing returns £6.50 for every £1 spent.)

Influencers are unlikely to share a product they’re not passionate about, so choosing who to contact is important. If you did research to develop your eCommerce business idea, you’ll probably have a good understanding of who the influencers are in your market. If not, read SproutSocial’s advice on identifying influencers and the rules and regulations for doing so.

5. Ask customers for reviews

The Snowbird ski resort used a bad customer review to its advantage in this brilliant ad.
The Snowbird ski resort used a bad customer review to its advantage in this brilliant ad.

Once you get your first few customers, asking them for online reviews should be a priority. You not only want to hear and respond to feedback on your product and customer service, you also want to influence prospective customers – 92% of consumers now pay attention to online reviews.

There are a number of ways that you can start getting reviews. Again, the best eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify and WooCommerce, have this functionality built in, enabling you to add star ratings or comments to your product listings pages.

Alternatively, you could direct customers to services like Google My Business or Trustpilot, to leave an overall review of your site.

If you start receiving bad reviews, it’s important to acknowledge them and apologize publicly, while fixing problem areas privately. After all, only 14% of consumers will buy from a business with one or two star reviews.

eCommerce Nation has the definitive guide for making the most of online reviews.

6. Start an email newsletter

A personal note from Naked Wines' Managing Director: an example of using email to get traffic to your online store.
A personal note from Naked Wines’ Managing Director: an example of using email to get traffic to your online store.

Again, if you followed our earlier advice about testing your eCommerce business ideas, you may have built up a database of customers’ email addresses via a landing page sign-up form or a crowdfunding campaign.

If not, add an email sign-up form to your site now, and ask customers if they’re happy to opt-in to regular email communications as part of your checkout process. It’s a brilliant way to build loyalty and get traffic to your online store – in fact, 72% of customers prefer to receive communications from companies by email, making it the most popular of any on or offline channel.

There are a variety of tools out there to help you communicate via email – you could start with a free service like TinyLetter, which enables you to send a one-size-fits-all newsletter to a small group of subscribers, before moving onto a bigger, smarter email marketing platform, to automate communications based on customers’ behavior. You might also want to test different communication approaches – from a glossy e-newsletter to a more personal note, liked those from Naked Wines’ Managing Director (pictured above).

Remember, if you’re based in the European Union (EU) or serve customers there, you’ll need to ensure your email communications comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) from 25 May 2018. This no-nonsense advice might help.

7. Run an online competition

Sophia's Thermomix Baking Blog on Facebook: an example of using an online competition to get traffic to your online store.
Sophia’s Thermomix Baking Blog on Facebook: an example of using an online competition to get traffic to your online store.

Running an online competition is a great way to generate content for many of the channels above, and increase your social follower numbers, email subscribers and website traffic.

You could ask customers to share photos of themselves with your products on social media and send freebies to the best. You could incentivize customers to leave reviews or refer their friends, by offering prizes or discounts. Or you could run a giveaway for your new product, to capture email addresses and build your newsletter list.

For example, Sophia’s Thermomix Baking Blog (one of our clients) uses topical social media competitions to engage with customers, get new followers and promote new products. The possibilities are endless – check out Ecwid’s 25 contest ideas to promote your online business for more inspiration.

8. Experiment with paid adverts

Various brands compete for the top spot on Google: an example of using paid search to get traffic to your online store.
Various brands compete for the top spot on Google: an example of using paid search to get traffic to your online store.

If you’ve tried all of the free (or at least cheap) ideas above and still aren’t getting traffic to your online store, it might be time to try some paid-for, digital advertising. This is still much cheaper than running traditional TV or print ads.

Broadly speaking, there are four big categories of digital advertising:

  • Paid search: paying to appear at the top of search engine results, in the green box above
  • Display: paying for image-based ads to appear in places at the top or side of newspaper or magazine websites
  • Video: paying for video-based ads to run at the beginning, middle or end of online videos
  • Social media: paying to get your posts in front of people who wouldn’t ordinarily follow you on social media.

For all of the above, you’ll be able to target specific customer groups, based on what they’re searching for, what websites they’re reading, or what their interests and demographics are. You can also target “look-a-like” audiences – people who are similar to the people who already visit, follow or buy from you – or use “remarketing” campaigns, to target people who’ve visited your site but not purchased.

Paid adverts are complex – it can take a while to figure out the best approach for your business and it may not always be easy to attribute sales to specific ads. Take a look at HuffPost’s Beginner’s Guide to Digital Advertising for more.

So now you know eight cost-effective ways to get traffic to your online store. In our next post, we’ll show you how to turn that traffic into more sales via conversion rate optimization. Read it now, or browse more posts from our how to start an eCommerce business series.

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