The only thing harder than successfully marketing your eCommerce store is trying to do it with outdated, ineffective techniques. That’s why I’ve compiled a “hit list” of my favorite highly effective eCommerce marketing strategies.
Also included is a list of outdated/ineffective/dangerous/cancer-causing techniques that only spell trouble for your marketing efforts.
Killer, Effective Strategies
These techniques are my all-time favorite methods for eCommerce marketing and provide the most bang for the buck in terms of time spent vs. long-term SEO benefit. If you’re only going to focus on a few strategies, make sure you pick from this list.
1. Write Articles for Individual Sites
This is my favorite technique for marketing an online store. The strategy involves approaching sites individually and offering them a unique article on a topic you’re an expert in. You can cherry-pick sites with lots of PageRank link juice and, when done tactfully, you can include a handful of links to your site in the article. The site gets unique, helpful content for its visitors, and you get some SEO love. It’s a win-win.
2. Guest Post on Industry Blogs
Guest posting takes a similar approach to the strategy above, but focuses on the blogosphere. The great thing about bloggers is that they are ALWAYS looking for quality content. Convince the blogger you have something valuable to say that’s of interest to his or her audience, and you can include a few tasteful links in your post.
3. Donate Products for Review
Donating a product for review is a great way to get someone else to create information-rich content with natural backlinks to your site. This approach costs a bit more money, but can generate an incredible long-term return in sales and SEO benefits, especially if the product is positively reviewed.
4. Offer Testimonials to Other Companies
I’ve used this strategy to land a number of high-authority backlinks to my sites, including links from Rackspace and WPEngine, both PageRank 6 (that’s huge!) blogs. Here’s how it works: When there’s a service you use and love, get in contact with the business and offer to write a testimonial. If they decide to post it, they’ll almost certainly include a link back to your site.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you do this only for services you genuinely endorse. Even a backlink from a PR 6 page isn’t worth ruining your credibility and reputation over if the service is poor, or if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
5. Optimize Your On-Site SEO
All the link building in the world won’t do you any good if you aren’t ranking for the right terms! Invest time in keyword research so you understand what terms people are using to search for your products. Then, make sure to structure your internal linking and on-page content to match these commonly searched terms. Investing heavily up front in keyword research and optimization will pay massive dividends down the road as your site authority — and organic traffic — increase.
6. Create and Host Amazing Resources
Often referred to as “link bait,” creating great resources on your site will inevitably lead to people linking to you. This could be a comprehensive buyer’s guide or a detailed troubleshooting tutorial; the specifics will depend on your market. Additionally, the resource will brand you as an expert, increasing credibility and trust, which always results in more sales.
7. Ask for Links From the Manufacturer
Many manufacturers have a “Where to Buy” or “Retailers” section of their website, and getting them to list you is often as simple as asking. Before you do, make sure your website is on par (in terms of quality, design, etc.) with the others they list. It also helps to have a few testimonials on your site to increase their confidence that you’ll be a quality source for customers.
Apart from the SEO benefits of the links, you’ll find that traffic from a manufacturer’s site converts at a significantly higher rate and can be a great source of direct sales.
8. Build an Email Marketing List
It’s much easier to convince an existing customer to buy something than to try to sell to a brand-new prospect. Assuming you’ve taken care of your existing customers, there’s a level of trust established from previous transactions. With a list of buyer addresses, you can literally drive sales with the push of a button.
These techniques aren’t quite as effective for link building, but are still worthy of consideration as you form your marketing plan of attack. Depending on your niche and market, some may fit well into your overall strategy (sombrero not required).
9. Get Involved in Forums
If your niche has a number of active forums, they can be a great place to engage with your target customers. When getting involved, it’s crucial to remember the #1 rule of marketing: nobody cares about your business! If you use forums as an advertising venue, you’re going to meet with some serious backlash and likely hurt your brand’s reputation. Instead, view the forums as a way to establish your expertise by helping others and answering questions. Once you establish yourself in the community, place a tactful signature link to your site.
Nearly all forum signature links are “nofollows,” so you won’t get any SEO benefit out of it. But if your answers are helpful and informative, you’ll likely see forum participants click through to your site. And as forum posts often pop up in search results, you’ll experience click-throughs from forum visitors as well.
10. Answer Questions on Q&A Sites
Like answering questions in industry forums, providing insightful answers on Q&A sites such as Quora and Yahoo! Answers can help establish you as an expert. If your answers are helpful enough, you’ll see a number of people click through to your site.
11. Build a Presence on Social Media Platforms
Social media can be a tremendously powerful platform to spread a message and build a fan base. But for driving early sales, your time is often better spent on long-term techniques to improve organic SEO rankings. (Sorry, Gary Vaynerchuk, but I’ve often seen too much effort for too little ROI in this area, at least in terms of driving sales and traffic.)
So do social media platforms have a place in your eCommerce marketing efforts? Absolutely! While they might not be the best direct driver of sales, I think social platforms can be a great way to interact with customers and build your reputation as a quality company. And taking a proactive approach to encourage social engagement from the get-go can help you slowly build a community of brand ambassadors and fans.
There are definitely exceptions to this. If you sell something unique or artistic that has the potential go viral, you may be able to get tremendous traction with social networks. That’s great, so long as you test and confirm it’s working. But too many people fall into the trap of thinking, “I HAVE to be marketing heavily on social networks!” even though they’re not seeing results themselves.
12. Directory Submissions
To be clear, I don’t advocate submitting your site to hundreds of directories in the hope of gaining an SEO boost — it likely won’t work. There are too many low-quality and spammy directories, many of which Google likely discounts entirely.
But submitting to quality, niche-specific directories can be a good idea when used with other marketing tactics. You’ll also want to submit your site to the DMOZ.org directory, one of the best-known on the web. It can take a LONG time to get listed in DMOZ, so make sure you submit your site as soon as you think it’s a quality resource.
Avoid Like the Plague
Most of these strategies have worked at some point in the past, but will be a waste of time now. Even worse, they could cause your site to be penalized by Google, negating all the legitimate work you’ve done!
My recommendation? Steer clear of these shady practices if you want to build a long-term business.
13. Article Marketing
“Traditional” article marketing consists of writing one article and distributing it to dozens — or even hundreds — of sites via an automated distribution service. While I admittedly dabbled with this technique early in my eCommerce career (and even saw some limited success with it), I’d strongly recommend against it as a strategy today.
Google is getting better and better at recognizing spammy and low-value marketing techniques, and even if this strategy works now, it likely won’t work — or will even be penalized — in the future. Rand over at SEOMoz did a great video on why you should be very wary of using article marketing.
If you want to contribute a unique article or two to a decent article directory like EzineArticles, that’s fine. But I’d advise against making “traditional” article marketing a cornerstone of your marketing efforts.
14. Print Advertising
If you’re running an eCommerce store, there are few times when print advertising in a third-party publication would make sense. It’s expensive, hard to track and difficult for the customer to take immediate action. Instead, invest your money into SEO or, if you have to advertise, into online PPC campaigns.
15. Blog Commenting
Unless you’re leaving relevant comments on high-traffic blogs in your industry, blog commenting will be a poor way to promote your eCommerce store. If you’re thinking that you’ll get some SEO juice, think again. All links in blog comments are nofollowed, meaning they don’t pass any SEO benefit. So you’re solely dependent on people clicking through to your site, and then just happening to also want what you’re selling. Not great odds.
16. Reciprocal Linking
You’ve undoubtedly received those “let’s swap links!” emails, usually from people you’ve never met before. There’s nothing wrong with sites naturally linking to each other, but aggressive reciprocal linking is incredibly easy for Google to detect and discount. Don’t waste your time.
17. Hiring a Cheap SEO Firm
It’s tempting to hire a cheap SEO firm that promises you the moon, and you may see results in the short term. But the spammy and short-sighted tactics they’re almost certain to employ will eventually come back to haunt you. I hired an overseas SEO firm to do a lot of work on one of my websites, and for a while everything worked out great. It was only until the recent Penguin update, when I lost 80% of the site’s organic traffic, that I realized the mistake I’d made.
If you’re going to use an SEO firm, make sure it’s highly respected with a long track record of white-hat link building. Otherwise, you’re putting all the legitimate SEO work you do at stake.
Let Me Know What You Think!
Did I miss any great marketing and SEO strategies? Think I’ve unfairly demonized a technique? I’d love to hear your questions and comments in the section below!