Ecommerce Marketing Strategies To Kick Your Ass Into Profitability

Are you struggling to make money with your Ecommerce business?

Do you ever think that perhaps you are too close to your company’s operations and need to step outside the bubble to get the full picture?

Or do you just feel completely unsure of whether or not your acquisition strategies are having a net positive effect at all?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, it’s time to think about some fundamentals regarding Ecommerce marketing.

So let’s get into it.

You can skip the intro if you want to get right down to the nitty gritty.

  1. Intro: Your E-Commerce Company Is A Business, Not A Startup
  2. Know Your Product’s True Place in the E-commerce Marketing Landscape
  3. Make Amazon’s Marketplace Part of Your Ecommerce Strategy
  4. The Key to Ecommerce Marketing Attribution
  5. 10x Your Advertising Investment with Email Marketing
  6. Fix Your AdWords Account, Dummy
  7. Face Some Facts About Facebook Marketing

Intro: Your E-Commerce Company Is A Business, Not A Startup

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar to you: You came up with a great idea for a category of products to sell online. Maybe you discovered a fantastic niche or dreamt about financial freedom, or maybe you just had a passion for making beautiful products? You envision people lining up to buy your product.

shut up and take my money
All of these things were good reasons to keep thinking your idea through, and then take it to the next level. You then vetted your idea to your friends and family, and they all encouraged you to go through with it. You found that creating or sourcing products could be more than just a hobby – it could be a viable source of income.

One of those friends or family members probably made this suggestion: “Hey, why don’t you just throw up a Shopify site and see what happens?” So you took that advice and started playing around with Shopify themes, and seeing how easy it was (which it really is), you pushed forward with your dream.

You got excited each step of the way, whether it was making a minor tweak to your online store’s category pages or starting your company Facebook page or signing up for new accounting software to track your revenue and expenses. Okay, maybe that last part would only be exciting to geeks like me. In any case, you’re feeling amped at all the prospects and the possibilities that the future may hold.

You make all the preparations to launch your Ecommerce store. Not just a store, but a “startup”- an idea you’ve become so enamored with, you just want to say it over and over again. “Startup! Startup! Startup! I have a startup!” You think you’ll soon be sipping cocktails at some Bay area mansion, a la HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Shopify Gif
In fact, you’re obsessed over the very idea of a “launch”. You think it’s going to be the next big thing. Maybe you think your idea is completely unique or that it’s unique enough to kick ass and take names (of customers). All is ready to go when the sentiment suddenly sinks in:

How the hell am I even supposed to get people to my site?

You have this epiphany: The notion of build it and they will come is utter bullshit.

Online Marketing Mistake
Some despair kicks in, but then you think to yourself, “Oh, I know. My friend Andrea’s husband, Jon, does marketing.” Because to you, a product person, the broad notion of marketing seems just like it sounds – promoting your products through some kind strategy that may or may not include paid advertising.

Brushing off your momentary feeling of despair as fleeting, you set up a meeting to talk to Jon. You meet up with Jon, who happens to work at a large luxury fashion brand corporation.

Jon, while not quite a marketing veteran, has a decent amount of knowledge, so he gives you a broad overview of traditional media vs digital advertising, traditional digital advertising vs new digital advertising, and so on. Thinking it’s always easier to understand things with concrete use cases, you start asking him questions about how his company does marketing and your head begins to spin.

You suddenly realize that none of what a multi-billion dollar company like his does for its marketing actually applies to your startup.

You say this to Jon and as soon as he hears the term “startup”, the phrase “growth hacker” gets mentioned. You go home and start googling “growth hacking”. You read articles all about the concept of growth hacking, and how all these phenomenal startups succeeded through growth hacking and think, “I gotta get me one of these growth hackers.”

You put an ad out on Angel List and you interview a bunch of people. They throw out phrases like acquisition, activation, revenue, retention, referral. You think it sounds smart, and you even start to believe that one person can do all this.

But here’s what you don’t realize. The term “growth hack” has become a buzzword to mean “generalist”. Generalists are great at knowing a little bit of everything, but horrible at knowing a lot about anything.

Growth Hacking Meme Joke
Here’s where you went wrong from the start: You created a false equivalency in your head between your Ecommerce store and all startups. Traditionally, “startup” refers to tech companies that make software. Software companies typically focus on a single product and their goal is to sell subscriptions to users.

This model is great in theory, because with software at its base you only have to build it once so it exists, and then you can sell it. Of course, to keep customers happy, it needs to work and keep getting better to retain users.

The nuances of running a store are completely different. There are tons of variables with buying and selling physical products, not to mention fulfilment and delivery. Subscription Ecommerce is slightly more similar to tech startups since, like SAAS, they try to get you to become a recurring customer. But maybe that model is to blame for muddling up all these how-to articles as a one-size-fits-all.

Subscription Ecommerce is vastly different than your catalog Ecommerce store. Catalog sales usually refer to selling multiple physical products. Think of it as a traditional “shopping” experience.

Marketing and sales strategies differ greatly depending on whether you work at a B2B software company vs B2C subscription Ecommerce vs B2C catalog sales (B2C). Which leads us to this bold sentiment:

Your Ecommerce store is a business, not a startup.

Ecommerce Store Success

Know Your Product’s True Place In The Ecommerce Marketing Landscape

Start thinking of your company more as a business and less so as a startup – and all the allure that comes with that. If you do this, believe me, you will be much closer to success. The basis of business is simple: Profit and loss. Your end goal is sales, right? You should always be thinking, “Is this actually going to bring me more sales and even more profit?”

  • So when it comes to marketing your catalog of products, here are some concrete things you should be thinking or asking yourself:
    • What is the total addressable market of your product niche and does it come with enough inherent demand that you won’t have to invest in building demand for an entirely new market? Your idea can be totally unique – so unique that people don’t even know they want it. See where I’m going with this idea?
  • Demand means people are actively looking for your type of product, which comes in the form of them searching for it on Google. However, high demand is a double-edged sword, because that means you’ll face more competition. To combat this you’ll either need a:
    • Superior product, or
    • Superior perception of your product. Your product may be just as good as your competitors, but maybe your landing page design rocks enough to sell them
  • Be realistic about your product. Is it niche enough that you won’t have to rely entirely on branding? If not, are you prepared to build a brand? This is a totally acceptable route, but know that it will mean you’ll need to grow people’s consideration of your brand for that product category. Say you want to sell a broad category like socks. You better go into it knowing you’re going to need to invest in PR or some form of push marketing – like Facebook ads – so that when people think socks, they think of your brand.
  • Always set goals for your business. These should always revolve around sales and profit.

Online Profits

The above points will help you understand your position in the market. Having this knowledge will enable you to know where to allocate your marketing investment. It’s all fine and dandy to set a goal for building a great brand and spending money to do so.

In many cases, spending money on a “brand” is a means to an end – the end being more sales. But just keep in mind that focusing on ROI from the top down will allow you to build up your profits, which in turn will give room to less efficient branding tactics.

With these first principles in mind, here are some practical tips to staying profitable.

Make Amazon’s Marketplace Part Of Your Ecommerce Strategy

Consider Amazon: If your own Ecommerce site isn’t moving the needle yet, move the cart to the back of the horse. Or if you haven’t begun building an Ecommerce site, use Amazon as your minimal viable product testing ground.

According to a recent study, Amazon grabbed 44% of all online sales in 2017. And according to Market Pulse, 140,000 3rd party sellers surpassed $100,000 in sales in 2017.

While Amazon is certainly a beast and has no need for more market share, they have Ecommerce down to a tee. Their reach is enormous and their website is optimized to hell for conversions. You can list your products for free and Amazon can take a commission anywhere from 8% – 15% on most products.

Amazon’s FBA program (which stands for Fulfilled by Amazon) lets you store your products in their warehouse, and they fulfill and ship your products to their customers for a fraction of the cost you would pay if you did it yourself. They even take care of all the customer service, so it’s really a sweet deal.

Even sweeter is that participating in the FBA program automatically makes your products Prime eligible, so customers are more likely to buy your product because of free 2-day shipping.

With FBA, your product is also eligible for placement in what Amazon calls ‘the buy box’.

This is very important, because this means that customers who come to their product page can simply add-to-cart. Otherwise, the only way to get to your product is to click something like, “New (36) from other sellers” if you are selling a brand you don’t own. If your product is completely yours, without the buy box, customers will see that pesky “See More Buying Options” button which takes you to another page.

Amazon buy box image

Pro tip: The majority of customers simply perceive they are buying directly from Amazon when they add-to-cart. If you don’t have the buy box, it’s obvious to them they’re buying from a 3rd party and they’re less likely to purchase.

Owning The Buy Box allows you to run ads with Amazon PPC ads through their Amazon Sponsored Products program. It’s not enough to just list on Amazon. Amazon is comprised of so many similar products in each category, that you may be just one out of five hundred others in the same category. Yeah, yours may be far superior, but it takes a while to ramp that up.

Running ads on keywords allows you to show up on top of your competitors.

What’s also great about this is that you know people clicking your ads are already qualified. People come to Amazon to shop! On Google, they may just be doing research or maybe they’re not looking to buy at all. Maybe they just want to know who invented that toilet scrubber product.

Increasing visibility on Amazon is all about sales rank.

Product Info - Amazon sales rank

There are many steps to improving your sales rank on Amazon. You may think product visibility is based on reviews, but reviews play a tiny part in sales rank, if at all. Reviews definitely improve the likelihood of someone buying your product, but it’s really all about selling units.

The more you sell, the higher up in the results you will show. Think of this like Google organic results, except where Google’s rank is based on on-page and off-page factors, Amazon is primarily focused on how well your product actually sells.

Amazon changed the dynamics of the customer “consideration phase”. Having a recognizable brand name can always help – but to succeed on Amazon, it’s not necessary. People trust what other people have bought before. You can become a “best seller” just from increasing your sales rank, and that can mean selling hundreds, if not thousands, per day (depending on the category).

Surely, when it comes to crock pots names like Kitchenaid and Cuisinart have way more recognition than Instant Pot, but Instant Pot shows up as a best seller, and that’s all that matters.

Product Example - Amazon best seller

Pro tip: Sales that come through Amazon PPC count towards your sales rank. Whereas Google AdWords ads have no bearing at all to how your site will rank organically, Amazon makes no secret of the fact that sales from ads absolutely count.

This is Amazon’s way of giving you the keys to the kingdom. It’s really in your hands to leverage this strategy. Sure, it’s just another way for Amazon to make more money, but there are clear ROI metrics you can follow to ensure your spending is seeing a return.

The Key to Ecommerce Marketing Attribution

Make your paid advertising dollars for your website count. Literally.

To do so, avoid the attribution silo.

Chances are, you are using Google Analytics or some tool to track all your acquisition channels: Paid Search, Organic Search, Paid Social, etc.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure that your PPC advertising URLs are using proper tracking parameters.
  • AdWords let’s you auto tag URLs to have proper UTMs
  • For other channels like Facebook ads, you may need to build these parameters manually, but Google has an easy tool for that.
  • PPC, whether through AdWords or Facebook, is one of the most scalable digital strategies out there. The problem is that it can become super expensive. If these are your main acquisition channels, be sure you are giving them as much credit as possible.

To do so,

  • Pro tip: Normalize your online attribution data. What this means is that if you find that your business is tracking a large percentage of sales attributed to Direct traffic (i.e. people typing your URL into the address), don’t just let that data sit there. After all, how did your customers first hear about your website to begin with? There’s no deus ex machina causing them to just know about your site. It had to come from somewhere. Make sure Direct counts toward your paid marketing efforts.
  • And here’s an easy way how to do that. Say you have $1,000 in revenue overall. 50% or $500 of your sales come through Direct. Take that $500 and redistribute that revenue into other paid channels. If AdWords accounts for 50% of your traffic and Facebook ads the other, give $250 to AdWords and $250 to Facebook.

Google Analytics Channel Attribution

Don’t forget about offline sales. Say your business does a fair amount of sales over the phone. Unless you’re getting a bunch of robocallers, those phones didn’t just start ringing out of nowhere. Like the above example with Direct traffic, make sure your offline sales give credit back to online marketing.

10x Your Advertising Investment with Email Marketing

Say the market you’re in is saturated. Your average CPC is over $2 and the whole thing is becoming cost prohibitive. You’re just about to give up on AdWords advertising. While you should make a simultaneous effort on landing page testing, you can make your life a whole lot easier by collecting emails. By doing this, each visitor who doesn’t buy is still a potential customer and not just disappearing into the ether.

There’s plenty of easy-to-use automation tools to help ramp up email address acquisition. Sumo is one of the best ones out there. If you don’t know them or their founder, Noah Kagan, you need to start following their blog now if you’re serious at all about marketing.

Sumo Email Popup
Just to be clear, email marketing is one of the most cost-effective and targeted strategies out there. People already willingly gave you their email address in return for whatever spiel you pitched them, so they’re halfway into the shopping cart already.

Fix Your AdWords Account, Dummy

It’s funny, because clients are always saying they want more traffic on Google. I always come to them and say that getting traffic is the easy part. Give anyone a bigger budget, and he or she can easily do that. Of course, what they really mean is, get me more qualified traffic on Google.

I’ll be honest, while the phrase “best practices” makes one sometimes want to gag, there are three ‘dummy’ rules every PPC account manager should follow when it comes to managing ad money:

Don’t Waste Money

Even large companies can have limited budgets, and everyone wants the best bang for their buck. Be diligent about cutting out irrelevant traffic, whether it be though pausing positive keywords or adding negative keywords. The trend you want to see is clicks going up with average CPC going down.

AdWords AVG CPC is going down

Follow The Money

With paid search, it’s all about doing more with less. Once you filter out the garbage traffic, focus ad spending on what’s actually working – the higher quality (read: targeted) keywords, best-selling shopping products.

Google Adwords clicks conversions

Ask For (Or Invest) More Money

Scale baby scale. There ain’t more sales without scales. (That’s a song I just made up). All too often with PPC, success stops at your ability to spend. A healthy PPC program is a money-making machine that’s a proven model. If this success has been proven plainly through data, pump more money into it if you can. I’ll go further. Pump more money than you would any other channel, because success is so much more repeatable with AdWords since you are marketing to people’s intent.

If your PPC manager isn’t doing this, get them the heck out of the kitchen.

If you want to get more serious about fixing your AdWords account, here’s the actual checklist we use to increase our clients’ profitability on AdWords. Get the 15-point checklist to hardcore AdWords Ecommerce success for your client or company.


Face Some Facts About Facebook Marketing

The reality is that Facebook is just fancy banner advertising due to its insanely awesome targeting features.

That being the case, nobody on Facebook is actually asking to be advertised to. It just happens.

Because of this lack of intent, prioritize your campaigns effectively:

  • High Priority – Retargeting Warm Audiences
    • If you already have visitors coming to your site, start advertising on Facebook through retargeting. Savvy marketers will go beyond just targeting “All Visitors” and segment their users into Custom Audiences.
    • Ecommerce sites with product catalogs can use dynamic product retargeting to show users ads with the exact products viewed on site. If you already have a Google Shopping catalog, then this shouldn’t be challenging to set up. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify also have apps that make it super easy.
  • Medium Priority – Target Lookalike Audiences
    • Once you have enough first party data – customer lists and email subscriber lists – you can create lookalike audiences of people “more likely” to want your product based on Facebook’s algorithm. Just know that these audiences are technically considered cold.
    • Start by testing a 1% lookalike audience and then move on from there.
    • Pro tip: On lookalikes lists greater than 1%, layer in specific interests, demographics and locations to improve your targeting.
  • Low Priority – Prospecting Cold Traffic
    • This is truly the “top of the funnel” targeting on Facebook.
    • Unless you have your target market nailed down, you should really be mindful not to let your marketing dollars go to waste.
    • Narrow your targeting if you can. For example: Say you sell a product that’s bought mostly by moms or parents, layer that in.
    • Pro tip: Build up your email sign ups with Facebook’s Lead Ads.

A Final Note on Ecommerce Profitability

Your business’s ability to stay profitable may depend on some self-awareness and knowing your product’s position in the marketplace. With these first principles understood, you’ll be able to leverage acquisition channels more efficiently through profitable E-commerce strategies.

Profitability can come to fruition by taking advantage of platforms like Amazon, Google, and Facebook the right way. Done right, you can take away the fear factor of capital investment when your acquisition channels become a well-oiled machine.

What are your thoughts when it comes to keeping your E-commerce business profitable? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.