How to Create an Effective Ecommerce Inbound Marketing Strategy
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Let’s start with the definition of inbound marketing. HubSpot, a growth software company, defines inbound marketing as a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them.
In contrast, outbound marketing is a traditional method of marketing seeking to obstruct potential customers. Outbound marketing includes activities such as trade shows, seminar series and cold calling. It is costly, and the ROI is much lower than inbound marketing.
The biggest takeaway here is inbound marketing focuses on customer experience.
Both the inbound methodology and ecommerce best practices proactively address customer needs.
This attention to detail creates positive purchase experiences that delight website visitors—turning potential customers into customers and promoters of your brand.
In addition to customer needs, consider recent changes in consumer behavior. As few as five years ago, businesses could create an ecommerce site, leverage paid campaigns, and watch the revenue roll in. Although that approach isn’t completely outdated, today’s landscape is significantly more complicated.
By 2021, mobile is predicted to dominate online sales, driving 54% (or $659 billion) in sales.
These purchases aren’t just happening on ecommerce websites. In an omnichannel world, consumers purchase on platforms, like:
Additionally, consumers are increasingly using voice-assisted devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
The bottom line is that ecommerce is getting faster and more accessible and is taking over many platforms and devices.
For most online retailers, inbound marketing is the one marketing approach that empowers them to scale engagement with prospective, current, and past customers.
The key item to note here is that inbound marketing isn’t just one tool, one tactic, or even one single campaign. It’s a set of ongoing activities that create a scalable revenue engine for your business.
Ecommerce success starts when businesses understand their customers. In our experience, this is unfortunately an area that’s often rushed or overlooked during the planning process. So before we get started, I strongly encourage you to take the time to truly understand your customers, and respect the process. I guarantee your business will reap the rewards.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, based on real data and some select educated speculation about customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
To supplement a buyer persona, consider developing ideal buyer profiles to help you clearly understand customer demographics and information about their behaviors, interests, hobbies, and lifestyles. Ideal buyer profiles typically include information like:
Next, define specific ecommerce behaviors by answering these three key questions:
How new are buyers?
How often do they purchase?
And how much are they spending?
These questions are best summarized with the acronym RFM, which refers to recency, frequency, and monetary.
RFM is a method used for analyzing customer value.
Unlike ideal buyer profiles, buyer modalities analyze customer intent related to your product or service. The “buyer modalities” concept was first introduced by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg in their book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark.
The Eisenbergs argued that customers can be segmented into four fundamental buying types:
Keep in mind that two users with identical demographics can be motivated and influenced in different ways.
To pinpoint customer motivations, ask questions like:
How do you use the product?
What do you intend to do with it?
And what are your goals for using the product?
To help with the process, consider grouping buyers on a scale that evaluates purchase speed and emotional vs. logical thinking.
Customers with short purchasing cycles include competitive and spontaneous buyers. Competitive buyers rely more heavily on logic and often look for social proof or awards to make sure they’re choosing the “best” option available. By contrast, spontaneous buyers lean on convenience and emotion to justify their purchases.
Customers with longer purchasing cycles include methodical and humanistic buyers. Methodical buyers conduct painstaking research and rely on logic, while humanistic buyers let their emotions guide their decision making.
(source: Groove Commerce__)
Remember that there’s never a one-size-fits-all approach.
A good strategy guides each buyer profile and modality through the inbound flywheel with experiences that address their needs.
Although inbound and ecommerce are similar, the two differ most when it comes to goals and key performance indicators, also known as KPIs.
A KPI is a quantifiable measure to evaluate the success of an organization, employee, and so on in meeting performance objectives.
Ecommerce campaigns often emphasize financial growth and direct attribution more than B2B inbound initiatives.
Sample ecommerce KPIs include:
Ecommerce conversion rate.
Average order value.
Lifetime customer value.
Creating a goal-based approach using these KPIs will help you better align your clients’ specific tactics and strategies to their bottom lines.
Once you’ve clearly defined goals for your ecommerce business, your next step is to outline your marketing efforts to achieve them. Let’s look at these using the inbound flywheel model.
You may be asking yourself, “What is the inbound flywheel model?” To learn more about it, check out the video below.
Let’s adapt the flywheel model to ecommerce inbound marketing.
The first stage of the flywheel is to “Attract.”
During the “Attract” stage, you want to cast a wide net to attract new website visitors. This stage of the flywheel is similar to the top of the funnel in that your main goal is generating awareness for lead generation. You can attract new website visitors by focusing on search engine optimization, owned content like blog posts and YouTube videos, user-generated content, social media, and paid media.
Search engine optimization, also known as SEO, can sometimes feel like a large task for ecommerce marketers. Ultimately, it boils down to technical and non-technical strategies to increase organic visibility.
Let’s focus on the technical first.
Every product you sell should have its own webpage. Its URL must include a unique target keyword and should be longer than 125 characters. For example, an unoptimized URL may include a string of characters and numbers, while an optimized URL will directly reference a product name or keyword.
(source: Cutter & Buck__)
Every URL you create will also have a corresponding page title tag.
Typically, search engines only read the first 50-60 characters, so keep it short.
Although you have some flexibility here, consider including the following in your page’s title tag: a product name, category name, and website name.
Meta descriptions are the supporting copy that you’ll see below a page title tag in search results. Every page should have a unique description that naturally includes your target keyword.
Also remember to limit these descriptions to under 300 characters, so they won’t get cut off in search results.
When it comes to on-page SEO, few things are more important than your header tags. These tell search engines what content they should focus on. Every H1 tag should include a unique primary keyword.
(source: Final Draft__)
You’ll also want to sprinkle in modifier words in lower headings, like Benefits, Features and Specifications, and Reviews.
(source: White Shanty__)
Behind the scenes, there are a few things you can do with code to improve your organic visibility. Every image on your site should include “alt-text” with target keywords.
Taking the time to do this will help your images show up in Google’s image search results.
You’ll also want to include rich snippets to help search engines understand the context behind your content. Sample rich snippets include product names, bulleted lists, and customer reviews.
Obviously, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to technical SEO. To learn more check out this article.
Now that we’ve covered technical SEO, let’s move into non-technical tactics you can use to increase website traffic. In many ways, this closely ties into content creation.
Blogging is an important facet of a long-term content strategy. Successful blogs share valuable information and expertise with prospective customers. That information improves trust, increases brand loyalty, and leads to more purchases.
Here are a few blogging tips:
Although writing is time consuming, designating a few hours each week can offer a significant return on your investment.
When writing for ecommerce specifically, always include a clear path to purchase on your blog. You can do this with product images and links that go directly to relevant product pages.
(source: Final Draft__)
Offering a free trial is one of the only ways to let your product sell itself. In fact, GoToWebinar reportedly sees around 40% of its free trial users convert into paid plans.
For seasonal content, try creating shopping guides with titles like “What to buy for your husband, wife, child, or friend.” Guides like these can have a huge impact on your organic SEO and help your customers through their buying process.
Specifically, ratings and reviews. If you’ve ever searched for a product online, you’ve likely read reviews before purchasing. Adding reviews to your site offers two key benefits:
It can improve your organic search engine ranking.
It attracts visitors to your site and increases their confidence in purchasing your products.
If you aren’t currently showing customer reviews on your site, then you should start. It’s a small change that can significantly increase your ecommerce conversion rate and customer satisfaction.
Social media also plays an important role in your inbound strategy.
These same concepts are even more relevant in ecommerce, where influencer marketing can greatly expand your product reach. In addition to placing global social buttons on your site and incentivizing social shares, consider creating flexible content guidelines to ensure your brand is accurately represented regardless of the channel.
Paid media strategies include:
Paid search advertising.
Social media advertising.
Paid search advertising is an excellent strategy to attract new buyers, because people who click on a paid ad usually have high purchase intent. Display and social media advertising is generally more geared toward expanding brand reach.
Pro tip: If you haven’t tried it already, I highly recommend using HubSpot’s free Ads tool. This feature integrates directly with Facebook and Google to create lists of users you want to target specifically.
Likewise, you can create lookalike audiences in Facebook to find users who are similar to your existing customers. And as a quick reminder, always be sure to follow Facebook and Google’s data guidelines. By focusing your approach, you can significantly improve your paid media ROI.
Next, we move into the “Engage” stage.
The “Engage” stage of the inbound flywheel focuses on nurturing prospects and moving them toward a purchase.
Catalog optimization is the process of analyzing, optimizing, and streamlining the products you offer to maximize revenue for your business.
When you run an ecommerce site, you should regularly analyze your products and determine what’s selling, what’s not selling, and where you can remove friction to make it easier for customers to buy. Consider classifying products using a matrix that compares website traffic and conversion rate.
First, look at top-selling products.
These experience high traffic, high conversion, and sell day in and day out.
Next, look for products that experience lower traffic, but high conversion.
These products are craving promotion—and with a little more traffic, they will start to grow your store.
On the other side of our matrix, we have products with high website traffic but low conversion. To improve this category, consider experimenting with product page content and the user experience to help close the deal.
And finally, look at products with low traffic and low conversions. These are taking up space on your site and should be removed.
Once you’ve made sure that your products are converting at a high rate, you need to identify ways to capture micro- and macro-conversions from your website traffic. This is where welcome offers like 20% off your first purchase and pop-ups with something like a free content offer become tried-and-true ecommerce essentials.
The sooner you can capture an email address and pair it with a cookie on a user’s internet browser, the quicker you’ll be able to interact with them in a more personalized and meaningful way.
Try experimenting with different discounts or offers to entice them to convert.
Email marketing is probably the strategy that’s the most synonymous with supporting an ecommerce sales funnel. In addition to marketing automation, don’t forget to schedule emails to drive sales around promotions. Email is still the highest converting channel for many e-tailers and offers a consistent revenue stream. When sending email, always A/B test email templates and messaging.
A/B Testing is a method of comparing two versions of a webpage, email, app, and so on against each other to determine which one performs better.
Over time, this testing will help you identify which emails drive the most revenue and how to adjust your future approach.
When shopping online, few experiences are more frustrating than not being able to find the product you need. To fix this issue, consider adding site search to your ecommerce store.
(source: Cutter & Buck__)
To optimize for customers using site search, you should evaluate:
Products users search for compared to products they click.
Product combinations that are viewed and purchased.
Products that are added to the cart from site search.
Products that are ultimately purchased.
Once you understand how your site search performs, you can return smarter and more relevant results that meet customer expectations.
Regardless of their purchasing stage, users appreciate responsive customer service. In addition to a phone support line, many ecommerce companies offer a live chat option on their website. Although real-time interaction is an effective option to consider, it’s often too expensive and hard to implement for growing businesses.
Instead, many businesses are investing in chatbots, automated Q&A systems that emulate human interaction using artificial intelligence. You can use these tools to manage frontline customer service inquiries and transfer to a live human being as needed. And the best part is, you can build your business’s first chatbot for free with platforms like HubSpot.
When in doubt, allowing more ways for a prospect or customer to contact you will always improve their experience. Consider including a form or email address on your website for general inquiries.
Alright, so now your users are ready to purchase. In addition to providing a seamless and mobile-friendly checkout experience, you should consider how messaging and merchandising can contribute to your bottom line.
On average, conversion rates and average order values jump when clients offer free shipping over a certain threshold. Although this may not be possible for every e-tailer, you should consider exploring options that make sense for your business.
For example, you might consider offering free shipping for orders over a specific dollar amount, like $150. If customers fall short of the threshold, you could include a “countdown” message during the checkout process, enticing them to spend just a little more to get the free shipping. This upsell will ultimately help to increase your average order value and your bottom line.
(source: Di Bruno Bros.__)
Additionally, you can apply this upsell concept in other areas of your site by including related or suggested products, which are proven to increase order value.
(source: Di Bruno Bros.__)
Abandoned carts happen when a visitor places an item in their shopping cart, but doesn’t complete their transaction.
To solve this problem, consider setting up an abandoned cart email workflow, also known as marketing automation.
This workflow includes a series of emails to re-engage users and tempt them with special offers and discounts. Below is a sample formula you can experiment with to recapture abandoned carts:
For most products, trigger the first email 1–2 hours after abandonment.
The second email 12–24 hours after abandonment
The third email 48–72 hours after abandonment
The fourth email 3 days after the third email was sent.
Couple this email approach with custom audiences advertising for added visibility.
Custom audience advertising is a targeted service that allows businesses to import user email addresses for remarketing on various social media platforms.
So in case you’re wondering why that couch you viewed on Wayfair.com is showing up on Facebook, that’s because they’re remarketing to you.
You can also leverage custom audiences and automation to win back previous customers, welcome new visitors to your email list, and retarget those who previously visited your site.
Overall, the “Engage” stage of the flywheel is incredibly important because it motivates your users to become customers.
“What gets measured gets improved.” – Peter Drucker
A critical part of your job as an inbound marketer is to:
Learn how to track your successes and failures (i.e., what’s working, what’s not, and why), and
Show how your inbound marketing activities are helping your organization meet its overall business goals and objectives.
If you’re looking for a place to start with measuring and analyzing your marketing efforts, then check out this post. It details 11 metrics to track (and how to do so) using Google Analytics.
Keep these tactics in mind when considering how you want to engage your audience on your website.
Here’s a pro tip: Organize your attract and engage stage efforts into an inbound marketing campaign. Inbound marketing campaigns are concentrated efforts that align all of your marketing channels around a single message and goal. This way, blogging, social media, paid media, email, and other attract and engage stage tactics are working smarter, not harder.
Finally, we move into the “Delight” stage.
Alright, so you got the sale—now the real work begins. From shipping and fulfillment to customer relationship-building, the “Delight” stage of the inbound flywheel is a great chance for your business to shine.
Customer satisfaction lives or dies with fulfillment.
After customers purchase, be sure to include tracking information in their account for easy reference.
You should also ask yourself how you can give your unboxing experience a little extra love. For example, a luxury watch brand called Shinola sets up each watch in the purchaser’s time zone. Although that level of detail might not be feasible for every business, including a scoop of candy or even a personalized note can create a lasting and Instagram-worthy experience.
After customers receive their products, it’s easy to assume that the process is complete, but there are several automation-based tactics you can use to keep the conversation going.
When following up with customers, ask for a product review, recommend upsells to complement their purchase, or even send special discounts.
These short-term follow-up tactics can increase lifetime order value and create a positive purchasing experience.
Unfortunately, the time may come when your existing customers go quiet. Even more unfortunate, it’s generally more expensive to win a new customer than it is to get an existing one to purchase again.
If someone has bought from you in the past but hasn’t made a purchase recently, it’s probably time to reach out. The goal here is to save the customer before they drop off the “cliff”—the point at which they will never purchase again.
To get ahead of this issue, create segmented lists based on last order date. This could include customers who purchased 90, 180, and 365 days ago. Periodically checking in with these contacts can help re-engage them and move them to convert again.
Just remember to frequently review your email lists and remove inactive customers from these lists after a certain period. This really will depend on your situation, but if someone doesn’t open one of your emails over the span of one to two years, then it might be time to consider removing them from your list. If you continue to email them, it could have a negative impact on your email deliverability. Not to mention, emailing people who are continually inactive isn’t a productive use of your time.
A great way to incentivize a customer to purchase from you again is creating a customer loyalty program based on different purchasing tiers. As customers spend more, they’ll receive exclusive incentives to encourage repeat purchases and reward brand loyalty.
Sending notes or gifts on special occasions is a great way to delight your customers. Although sending physical gifts may not be realistic, what about sending a birthday discount or a purchase anniversary code to thank your customers for supporting you? Even though they are easy to set up with marketing automation, these messages can leave a lasting impact on your customers.
While I hope you found this article helpful, please know that this really is just an introduction to creating an ecommerce inbound marketing strategy. If you want to take the next step and grow your business into an ecommerce powerhouse, then check out our resource section. It’s chock full of helpful guides and white papers.
Justin Champion is the author of Inbound Content and Principal Content Professor for HubSpot Academy. Justin created HubSpot Academy's Content Marketing Course , which has awarded over 50,000 certifications to professionals across the globe. You can find him on Twitter @JustinRChampion .