Best Advertising Strategies For Online Shops (July 2018)

When you finally launch your store, you secretly hope for it to be a runaway success from day one. For me that feeling lasts about a day, then the sobering reality sets in. You realise that this will take more time than expected and you need some solid advertising strategies.

Even with unique products and a great design, it takes time to make your store work. And one of the things that’s hardest to be patient about is your marketing.

SEO, social media, and email marketing will all work to get traffic to your store. But they all take time to grow.

Advertising is one of your only options to make progress faster when you’re just starting out.

Why Advertising Strategies Help You Make Progress Faster

The reason most entrepreneurs want to see progress fast is simply because we’re impatient. Launching an online store requires a lot of preparation. And when it’s finally live, you want to see results NOW!

In the past, I’ve wasted way too much time on projects that were going nowhere. So for me, the biggest reason is that I want to spend my time on something that’s working.

Advertising speeds things up in three ways. It allows you to:

1. Iron Out Wrinkles

No matter how much you spent on testing your website. Some mistakes only show up once you have real visitors on your site. Broken links, unclear instructions, missing product info, etc.

With tools like Optimizely you can create heat maps and recordings that will show you what’s going on, allowing you to catch obvious mistakes or things you can further improve.

2_heatmap-ecommerce-store

Check out this heat map from Brothers Leather Supply. All visitors seem to do is click on the product images. How would you use that information to make your product page better?

If you only have a single, low-quality product image, you might want to add more. Or instead of only writing all the possible cases in which the product can be used, maybe you could add more pictures where some of these cases uses are shown.

Two other great tools are quick polls or live chats. They allow you to get extra information about your visitors, find out what’s missing on the page or discover why users aren’t buying.

2. Learn Your Numbers

Before you started your store you hopefully made a rough calculation of how many sales you needed. How many visitors would you need to make a sale? How much would you pay for each click? What would an average order be worth?

Advertising allows you to get clarity on these numbers. With visitors (and sales) rolling in, you’re able to adjust your plan with actual numbers, not ones you made up. That might be sobering, but it will help you make smarter decisions.

3. Make sales

There is nothing like making actual sales to motivate you. Even if the numbers don’t make sense yet, generating sales will feel good and show that there is some potential.

So if you think advertising makes sense for your store, let’s take a look at where to start to see the maximum results, while minimizing losses.

Your Advertising Blueprint

There is a good chance you already feel overwhelmed with everything you “should” do for your store. And the more you look into advertising strategies, the bigger that should-do list seems to get.

But too many new store owners jump blindly on the first advertising opportunity that appears. And without a solid plan, they often end up going nowhere.

This is because you’re competing with companies that have been at this game for years. They have spent thousands of dollars and might have dedicated teams to tune this machine.

To compete effectively in this space and to shorten the process, I suggest you start out with things that have a lower likelihood of failing.

And over time, as you get smarter about your numbers and get more familiar with the inner workings of the different platforms, you can move up to the next levels.

Level 0: Tracking

If you pay for traffic, it’s vital to know what comes out of it.

Google Analytics is the perfect tool for that. You’re able to see exactly where visitors come from, and what they do on your site.

But some traffic, like from Facebook Ads, isn't automatically tracked. You’ll often see these visits come in as referrals or direct traffic, which makes it hard to know what is working.

To avoid that, you need to add extra parameters at the end of your links. That way you’re able to identify exactly where each visitor comes from.

You can also use this technique to track visitors that come via links from other places like email or social media

Level 1: Retargeting

The hardest part of marketing is getting people to care.

So if you start with people that have already visited your site, the results will be better. The conversion rates will be higher, which means a lower cost per conversion compared to people that have never heard from you.

This is called retargeting and you can do it both via Facebook Ads or Google Adwords. They work pretty similarly. The main difference is where your ads will show up. On Facebook people will see your ads show up on their news feed while Google uses its network of third-party websites to show remarketing ads.

Which one works best for your store depends on your customers and ads. But it’s worth giving both a shot and comparing the performance.

Let’s start out with Facebook and tackle Google afterward.

Retargeting with Facebook Ads

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Example of a Facebook retargeting ad for MVMT Watches

Let’s take a look at how you can set something like this ad up for your store.

1. Install the Facebook Pixel

First, you have to install the Facebook Pixel. This is a piece of code you put on all pages of your store. It allows Facebook to identify which visitor has visited which pages on your site.

The actual implementation will depend on your ecommerce platform. Some, like Shopify, have automatic integration, while with others you will have to make changes to your templates.

2. Create Audiences

Thanks to the pixel, Facebook records all visitors. After that, you have to set up audiences. These are groups of people who have done similar things on your site.

Some ideas: your website visitors, all visitors that visited a product page, blog visitors, buyers, etc.

When you start out, you'll probably use pretty broad audiences. But as you get more visitors, you can create more specific audiences who will give you better results.

3. Create Ads

Now that you’ve decided who you want to target, you need to come up with a good advertisement.

Remember that people on Facebook aren’t waiting to click on ads. They are busy doing different things. So you need to grab their attention.

Before you’re off looking for catchy images, decide on your offer. The people you’ll show this ad to already know about your store. So what message will get them to come back: maybe a discount, special promotion, your bestsellers, or a general message about your store.

If you’re not scared of a technical challenge, you can load your product info into Facebook using product catalogs. That way you can show the actual products that people were visiting on your website.

What works best will depend on your customers and your store. You’ll need to try many different variations before you get to the one that gets you the best results.

Google Remarketing

google-adwords-remarketing-ad-birchbox
Example of an Adwords remarketing ad from Birchbox

Let’s take a look at how you can set something like this up for your store.

1. Install Remarketing Code

To show your ads, Google needs to know who visited your site. Like with the Facebook pixel, it’s not hard to do. You have two options. If you use Google Analytics, you just need to make a small tweak to your code or you can also use the special remarketing code of Adwords.

I prefer this first one because it allows you to different kinds of audiences that you will show your ads to.

2. Create Remarketing Audiences

Again here you need to define audiences, groups of visitors. Unlike Facebook, you also have the option here to go deeper into what these visitors did on your website.

You can, for example, create an audience of visitors that have spent a certain amount of time on your site, or only include people that have visited at least 6 pages during their visit.

Creating these audiences allow you to target the highest possible quality of visitors.

3. Create Ads

Now you have to create your remarketing ads. Google Remarketing uses the Display network, which is a huge network of sites.

Unlike Facebook, Adwords allows you to submit ads in different dimensions. To get the maximum reach, you’ll need provide a couple of different formats.

I found that unless you got a designer on staff with free time at hand, it’s usually more effective to use Google’s ad builder. That allows you to create ads faster and cheaper in all of the different formats.

That’s the practical side, more important for your advertising strategies is what you’re going to put on these banners: an offer, specific products or a simple reminder to visit your store.

If you have your product feeds set up, you can create dynamic remarketing campaigns. These will show the actual products that visitors were looking at. This increases the relevance and often leads to better results.

Level 2: Google Shopping

Google Shopping ads show up in the search results. But instead of regular text ads, these are product ads that contain the image of the product, price and a short description.

If a visitor searches for a specific product, there is a better chance they will actually end up buying.

He might not buy that exact product or might not buy it from you. But your chances of making a sale are a lot higher than when you show a Facebook ad to someone that has never heard of you.

The reason I’m suggesting Google Shopping campaigns is that they have become more and more important the last couple of years. Google gives them more real estate in its search results. And for you as an advertiser, they are pretty easy to manage once they are up and running.

If you provide Google a file with all of your product information, Google Adwords will do most of the heavy lifting to create the ads and match them with the right search queries.

But setting up Google Shopping campaigns can be quite challenging. Let’s take a look at the two big parts you need to get right: create a product feed without errors and use it to set up an actual campaign.

Create a (Good Enough) Product Feed

To create the Shopping ads, Google Adwords needs a product feed. This is a file with all of the information on your products: things like brands, descriptions, images, sizes, and prices.

How difficult it is to create that file depends on your ecommerce platform and the quality of the data in your system.

Even if you’re on an obscure platform, chances are you’ll find apps, plugins or tools that can help to simplify the exporting of your product information in a format that Google can understand.

You’ll then need to upload that file to the Google Merchant Center, which is a free tool by Google where it processes all the items in your product feed and checks if it corresponds to its requirements.

google-merchant-center-interface
Google Merchant Center interface

Most people will manage to get a product feed out of their store and upload it to Google Merchant Center.

Note that if you’re using an app or plugin your product feed might get pushed automatically into Google Merchant Center.

But after processing, that’s when the trouble often starts. Google Merchant Center will tell you what is wrong with all of the information you just provided.  Some fields might be missing, information might be wrong or simply in the incorrect format.

Fixing them can be as simple as adding a shipping policy to your site.

But to move forward you’ll have to fix the errors in your product feed that are most critical.

Besides tools that will help you with the creation of your product feed, there are also platforms that will help you manage all of your different product feeds. That can happen if you are using other services besides Google Shopping like Bing, Nextag, Pricegrabber or Amazon.

Create Google Shopping campaigns

If your product feed is free of critical errors, your items will be approved by Google Merchant Center. Then you’re able to use this feed in Google Adwords to can set up your campaigns.

This is pretty straightforward. When you start a new campaign, you select the feed you want to use for your campaigns, you pick a daily budget and an amount you want to pay for each click.

Then your campaign is ready to run.

By default, all your products will be in one big Product Group, all with the same bid. This might be good to start out, but some products will be more valuable to you than others. Their price will be higher, their margins might be higher, or it might be a product that only you sell.

When the first clicks and other data starts rolling in you can further optimize your shopping campaigns.

That means three things:

  • Sifting through the “Search terms report” to look for irrelevant searches and adding those to your negative keywords.
  • Improving your account structure: make sure the products that sell well get the most clicks.
  • Improve the quality of the information in your product feed. Providing better information will lower the price you pay for each click.

Pro tip: If you like the results you’re getting from Google Shopping, you can easily import your campaigns into Bing. Their Product Ads work almost identical.

Try-Shopify

Level 3: Facebook Ads

A lot of new store owners start here and they are surprised when they don’t see results straight away.

“I’ve spent $120 on FB ads and have made exactly 0 sales, I’m thinking about closing this shop and open one in a different niche.”

facebook-ads-facepalm

It takes some extra work to get someone to click through on a Facebook ad, since they've never heard of you and didn't come to Facebook to shop.

Unlike the shopping ads from the previous step, people that see these ads aren’t looking to buy your product. They aren’t on Facebook and suddenly thinking: “Wow, this is a nice sweater, I’ll spend $129 on it.”

It usually takes between three to five times before someone is ready to buy. That means you can’t draw any conclusions if you run ads for only a single day.

You can’t do everything at once.  First, you draw them in, then later you convert them.

Specifically on Facebook, you’ll first need to find people who are good potential customers.

Think about your ideal customers: How old are they? Are they men or women? What kinds of TV shows do they watch?

Facebook has a free tool that can help you identify your audience: Facebook Audience Insights.

Facebook wants to promote good ads, so if people click, like, share or comment on your ad, Facebook will reward you with a lower cost per click. In the Facebook interface, you can see this via the Relevance score. That’s a score between 1-10, the higher the score for a particular ad is, the less you'll pay for each click.

Starting out you won’t know the best approach. Should you target a broad, general interest or go after specific pages? Should your ad have a picture of your product or one of the people using it?

You can only find out by trying different approaches and seeing what works well.

By this point, you’ll have an ad that brings people to your site at a low cost per click. You may or may not be making sales, but you see that they are browsing around on your site (vs bouncing away).

Retargeting

Once they are on your site, the remarketing or Facebook retargeting will kick in to keep your store on the radar of your potential customers.

Lookalike Audiences

When you start out you’re trying to find an audience that responds well to your ads.

The Facebook Pixel you've installed on your site allows you to create audiences that have performed specific actions on your site: they’ve seen a product, added something to their carts, or bought something.

Besides targeting these people with retargeting, you can also leverage Facebook’s massive user base. Facebook will use its algorithm to search through its user profiles to find people that are similar to the ones in your audiences, or lookalike audiences.

Facebook will scan everyone that has been purchased from your store, and identify what users have in common. Maybe they are all around 35-39 years old, they tend to like cars, and they actively post on Instagram.

The more people you get in your original audience, the better Facebook lookalike audiences become. So, compared to targeting a cold audience, your chances of seeing good results become a lot higher with these audiences.

Level 4: Paid search

Next up is paid search.

You might wonder why it’s the last item in the list and that's because search ads on Google Adwords have become rather competitive.

Some of your competitors on Adwords will have spent many years and a lot of money on getting smarter, refining their approaches, and leveraging the best tools out there.

So you can’t afford rookie mistakes. But if you’ve implemented all of the above, you’re not a rookie anymore. You’ll have a good grasp of what quality traffic looks like and what you can afford to pay.

There are two big tasks you need to nail to be successful with paid search:

  • Find profitable keywords
  • Create great ads

Find profitable keywords

First, you need to find keywords that are relevant to your store. You can use Google Keyword Tool to get an idea of the different keywords that people use to search for your products. If you don’t have any inspiration you can also check the websites of your competitors to see which keywords they use.

Open up a spreadsheet to create a list of these keywords. Next, you divide them into groups of keywords that are closely related to each other. Later you’ll need to write a specific ad for each ad group.

Then you can start to create the campaign in Adwords.

While setting up there are three rookie mistakes to avoid:

  • Match types: this decides the freedom you give to Google to show your ads for related keywords. (Less freedom is better)
  • Turn off the Display Network: this makes sure your ads only show in the search results
  • Add negative keywords: with these, you can specify when you don’t want your ads to show.

Before you launch, there is no way to tell exactly which keywords will result in sales. That will only become clear when you start getting clicks. However, the Google Keyword Tool has averages and competition stats to give you an educated guess.

Then, you can combine your results from Google Analytics to see whether these visitors actually end up buying.

Create great text ads

With Google Adwords, you’re paying for each click. The amount you pay for each click is determined by the Quality Score for that specific keyword. This score is Google’s judgment of the relevance of your ad for that specific search query.

Google is tightly lipped about what makes up this score, but one of the biggest variables is the clickthrough rate for a specific keyword.

This means that the more relevant your ads and landing pages are, the more people will click (and the lower your cost per click will be).

Creating great ads goes beyond repeating the keyword in the advertisements. Can you match the intent of a person searching? Or can you show in your ad that you know what they are thinking about?

You still have a limited amount of characters, but with the new expanded text ads you have a little more space to get your message across. And with ad extensions you’re able to get more visibility for your ads and raise the CTR.

Advertising Strategies Summary

The key takeaway from this article is that it is very easy to lose money with online advertising. And when you’re starting out, you want to do everything you can to avoid that.

So instead of avoiding advertising altogether, you can use the approach above to maximize the money you spend.

Start with retargeting, where people already know you. Next, move to Google Shopping, where Google will do a lot of the work matching keywords with products. Then move to Facebook Ads. And finally, use search ads to capture all demand.

By doing this, you start where few things can go wrong, and build up your skills and scale your budget from there.

If you’re interested in learning how to do this, sign up for our free online advertising course. That will help you get your products, website and advertising in tune to get the maximum possible results.

Dennis Moons

A profitable ecommerce business can really change lives.That’s why I started Store Growers, a community dedicated to helping store owners build better ecommerce businesses.