31 Oct 2012

Getting Started with Google Shopping

One of the best-kept “secrets” for creating incremental traffic to online retail sites is actually Google Shopping. Not only is this traffic “free,” but the conversion rates are often higher than the more widely used channels.
Google Shopping Logo

Historically, it has been quite difficult to get Google Shopping set up, and it was almost certain that you’d need to hire a company that specializes in running shopping feed programs. While I still highly recommend seeking out experts with specialized experience here, it is actually quite possible to begin this process on your own. Here’s how:
First, you will need to open a Google Merchant account within Google. If you already have a company Google Adwords account you use, I would use the same login credentials to open the Google Merchant Account to keep your accounts and management process streamlined.
Once you set up your account, you will need to verify and claim your url, create your product data automated feed and launch the store.
Here is some in-depth information on how you can set up your Google Merchant Store.
Once you are running a Google Shopping program on your own or through a provider, there are some great opportunities available for advertisers that are on Google Adwords and are also running Google Shopping.

What is Google Shopping?

Google Shopping allows you to submit your products for inclusion in their search results under the "shopping" search results. People searcching in google for a product can use google shopping results to search for specific products and order by price and other criteria.

Additional paid options for Google Shopping....

Google Product Extensions

Product Extensions are an excellent way to enhance your existing AdWords ads. It’s a great tool to increase click through rates and drive more sales.
Product Extensions are based on your product feed. They will show in a plus box under your regular text ad on the search results when the search query typed in by the user is related to one or more products on your Google Merchant Center account.
This is a core reason to  keep your product feed updated with as much information as possible about your products. The more complete and updated your feed is, the higher the chances your Product Extensions will display with your text ad.
Product Extensions

Just like a normal text ad, your Product Extensions ads are also charged on a CPC basis, which means you will pay the same price per click regardless if the user clicks on your text ad or on one of your Product Extensions.
You can track Product Extension metrics on a campaign level through your AdWords interface. Here, you can view impressions, clicks, CTR, cost, AVG position, conversions etc. You can also track Product Extensions revenue using Google Analytics, but you will need to add a unique tracking code to your destination URL on the product feed. This way, you can identify revenue that came from clicks to your Product Extensions versus your text ads.
Setting up Product Extensions on your AdWords account is quite simple. Once you have your product feed uploaded to your Google Merchant Account center, just click on a campaign and click on the “Ad Extensions” tab. Once there, just select the “New Extension” button and choose your product feed.
Keep in mind that if you are running Site-Link Extensions simultaneously for the same campaign, your Site-Link Extensions are more likely to show than your Product Extensions as they have a higher priority in terms of extensions rankings. Sometimes both extensions will display at the same time but it doesn’t occur very often.
So, if you really plan on gathering accurate data from testing Product Extensions, make sure you disable all other extensions for that campaign.

PLA’s – Product Listing Ads

Product Listing Ads campaigns are fairly easy to set up, and you can manage them through your Adwords interface or Adwords Editor just like any other campaign. PLA campaigns, unlike your normal text ad campaigns, are not keyword-based. Google will choose to show your ads based on the quality and relevance of your product feed.
This means you want to make sure your product feed includes as many details as possible about your products, such as product name, description, color, size, images, price, etc. Make sure that your destination URLs are updated constantly and are taking your customers to the correct product page.
Even though your PLA campaigns are not keyword-based, it’s important to understand how different products and categories are performing. The best way to do this is to split your campaign into Ad Groups. One best practice to employ when creating Ad Groups to your PLA campaign is to separate them according to the product labels column on your product feed. This will allow you to easily manage your bids and ads.
To set up the Ad Groups with the product labels, just click on one of the Ad Groups and go to your “Auto targets” tab on AdWords. Once you’re there, you will want to click on the “Add product target” button and select “Add a group of products.”
From the combo box below, you will choose “adwords label” and on the input box just type the name of the label. Click on validate, and a green check sign should appear. That means your label is set correctly.
Now, just repeat the process for all of your Ad Groups. If you get an error message saying that your label is not validating, it could be that you have your product label name typed incorrectly or that you have too recently uploaded your product feed. It often takes up to 48 hours for a new feed to be available to validate your labels.
Now that you have your campaign set up and ad groups in place and validated, you must also create Ads for your PLA campaigns. PLA ads are a bit different from your regular text ad copy.
A PLA ad consists of a single line and only allows up to 45 characters. So you want to make sure you create a very concise and direct message. If you offer free shipping or some type of discount, make sure you state that on your ad. You can also run multiple ads per ad group.

Here is an example of PLA ads for “joules sherpa hat”

As you employ these tactics, continually test messaging and visuals to determine what works best for your brand and products within the Google Shopping arena. I hope to have demystified this rather easy-to-deploy channel, as it is a prime opportunity for incremental traffic and competitive leadership in the search space.
Do you have any Google Shopping “secrets” of your own? Please do reach out and let me know what is working for you, or where you’d like to see guidance in future columns.

How can Easitill Help?

Easitill have created a Google Shopping feed data file which can be exported from Easitill and picked up by your Google Merchant account and submitted by you to be part of the Google Shopping results.
We charge £125 one off setup fee for this assistance. Please contact us on 01604 881881 to arrange.

UPDATE - March 2013

Please note that due to changes in Google, Google Shopping data feed submission and listing is now no longer free as it once was. It is still a powerful source of driving traffic so worth while.
Please see our new article "Google Shopping Listings Now replaced by paid Product Listing Ads in UK now too" for further information on this subject.


5 Ways to Attract New Customers

For ecommerce merchants, new customers mean new business. There are many customer-acquisition tools available to online retail marketers. Five of the best can be pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, social media marketing, marketplaces, and contest marketing.

1. Buy Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising is frequently the premier online marketing tool for attracting new business. For the unfamiliar, pay-per-click ads appear on search engines and other sites. When a potential customer clicks on one of these ads, the marketer is billed.
For search engines, consider using at least Google. It may also make sense to look at other PPC networks, including Facebook, to reach potential new customers no matter where they shop.
Once a PPC network or networks have been chosen, it is important to have clear goals and a clear plan of execution.

In addition, Google will often provide free AdWords consulting for new advertisers. If it offers one of these free consultations, take it. As a final bit of PPC advertising advice, sign up to become a Google Trusted Site. Once earned, a Google Trusted Site badge appears next to PPC ads on the Google AdWords network.


2. Get Email Subscribers

Email marketing is another powerful tool for online retailers, but it can be overlooked as a new customer acquisition tool. This is a mistake. Make it very clear that you want site visitors to register for a newsletter, special offers, or discounts.
Once a visitor subscribes, the retailer will get many new opportunities to convert that subscriber into a paying customer.
Murdoch's Ranch & Home Supply enters new email subscribers in a contest to win a $50 gift card.
Murdoch's Ranch & Home Supply enters new email subscribers in a contest to win a $50 gift card.


3. Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing has received some poor press recently thanks to a report from research firm Forrester, which I addressed here recently, in "A Social Media Marketing Paradox?" In spite of this, practically speaking, it is one of the most effective tools available to small and mid-sized retailers.
Social media can take many forms. For example, blog content is social, as are posts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Fancy, and YouTube.
While most of the marketing on these platforms should be aimed at engaging customers in a sort of ongoing conversation, from time to time, it is acceptable to ask for a sale. This is especially true during the holiday shopping season.
Asking for a sale on social sites can be as simple as posting occasional specials or sales.
Asking for a sale on social sites can be as simple as posting occasional specials or sales.


4. Use Marketplaces

Retailers should be willing to sell where shoppers are.
“Selling products across multiple channels is a growing trend for ecommerce merchants. If you rely on a single online store, you will likely to be left behind, because consumer-shopping behaviors are changing rapidly,” wrote Dale Traxler, of E-Business Vision, an ecommerce consulting firm, in "Multichannel Selling a Necessity," a recent article.
Amazon, eBay, Sears, Newegg, and many other large retail sites with millions of monthly visitors also allow small and mid-sized retailers to sell from their site. Put simply, to get more customers, place products on these marketplaces. When orders come in, be sure to include coupons and discount offers in the shipping box, encouraging folks to return directly to your ecommerce site.
Amazon allows other retailers to sell products from its site.
Amazon allows other retailers to sell products from its site.


5. Give Something Away

Contest marketing seeks to get potential customers to register or sign up in exchange for a chance to win a prize.
In the context of attracting new customers, contest marketing is similar to email marketing, in that it is a gateway of sorts that introduces customers to a merchant and increases the chances of making a sale by increasing the amount of exposure.
In "3 Examples of Contest Marketing," I explained site-based promotions, social media-based contests, and email-based giveaways.
Consider giving everyone who enters a contest a coupon for 10 or 20 percent off.
A contest on a social network like Facebook can help a merchant get new customers.
A contest on a social network like Facebook can help a merchant get new customers.

Multichannel Selling a Necessity

Selling products across multiple channels is a growing trend for ecommerce merchants. If you rely on a single online store, you will likely to be left behind, because consumer-shopping behaviors are changing rapidly.

This article examines sales and marketing channels that are now available for online retailers.

Sales Channels

  • Physical stores. Brick and mortar is thriving in some segments and dying out in others. Stores selling commodity products or electronics are the most challenged.
  • Online stores. Most resellers have at least one online store; even well known brands sell directly to consumers.
  • Mobile stores. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, it is becoming mandatory for your store to function well on those devices.
  • Mobile shopping apps. Dedicated apps will likely be the preferred way to shop for most consumers. How those apps become visible to search engines is yet to be determined.
  • Marketplaces. These are virtual malls like Amazon, eBay, Sears.com, Overstock.com, Buy.com, and more. How long before Google Shopping and Facebook join in?
  • Comparison-shopping engines. These are places to promote your products, not sell them. You need to support CSEs with the same content you do in other venues. Popular CSEs include Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Shopping.com, and TheFind.com.
  • Catalogs. Many observers thought printed catalogs would go away. But they are thriving for many multichannel retailers as a means of promoting their brands and creating customer loyalty.
  • Direct sales. Many companies still employ field and telesales forces for direct order taking. 
Zoom Enlarge This Image Even Sears.com now offers a marketplace for third-party merchants. In this example, a lawnmower is offered for sale at Sears.com from an independent retailer, "D's Play Store."
Even Sears.com now offers a marketplace for third-party merchants. In this example, a lawnmower is offered for sale at Sears.com from an independent retailer, "D's Play Store."

Marketing Channels

  • SMS. "Short message service" — text messaging — is still more of a marketing channel, but it could lead to more transactional sales with the advent "near field communications," where smartphones communicate by touching or being physically close to each other.
  • Interactive advertising. This includes banner ads, pay-per-click ads, Facebook ads, and other online ad formats. The goals here are changing from click-throughs to sales conversions, with the use of more sophisticated ads and landing pages.
  • Mobile advertising. This is in its infancy and could drive huge direct revenue to merchants.
  • Social media. As with mobile advertising, we’ve barely scratched the surface with social media. 

What Does This Mean for Ecommerce Merchants?

Retailers need to support all the touch points where their customers are browsing and shopping. To the lists above, add traditional media such as magazines, newspapers, television, and radio — which some think of as brand advertising. You should support the entire customer lifecycle. I addressed this in my recent two-part series "Managing Your Ecommerce Sales Funnel."
Forrester blogger Brian Walker addressed the notion of touch points in his recent post, “Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce.” According to Walker, "agile commerce" refers to adapting commerce to where consumers are, and not focusing on channels. This makes sense to me.
In short, understand what your prospects are up to. Are they still using search engines to look for products, or do they go to Amazon? Are they using iPhones? Do they seek shopping apps because they are so user friendly, and then forget about shopping on their laptop? Do they research on Facebook, or Bing Shopping?
For example, if I find a product online that looks interesting, the store better have the level of content detail and reviews I am seeking, or I will go to Amazon and be assured of good technical content and many reviews to read. I likely will buy there, too.

Systems and Processes to Support Multiple Channels

Next, look at your environment and decide if you can support the required channels. At the very least, you need to reduce the number of silos you have to as few as possible. Don’t create a mobile website that is separate from your existing online store. You need to leverage content and product information in all your channels.
Face the reality that your marketing budgets are going to increase. You will likely need to (a) support social media, (b) create increasing amounts of content, (c) have a mobile app, and (d) utilize mobile advertising on various platforms. And competition will get more intense. Develop a mobile strategy now. That’s where the ecommerce action will likely be in the next three years.

Managing Your Ecommerce Sales Funnel, Part 2

An ecommerce sales funnel refers to the steps involved in converting a targeted market segment into paying customers. In the initial installment of this series, I reviewed the first three steps of a typical funnel. They are:
  • Step 1: Convert Target Customers to Visitors;
  • Step 2: Convert Visitors to Prospects;
  • Step 3: Convert Prospects to Shoppers.
In this final installment, I will review the remaining steps — 4 through 6 — that ultimately lead to a community of loyal customers.
A sales funnel refers to the steps involved in converting a targeted market segment into paying customers.
A sales funnel refers to the steps involved in converting a targeted market segment into paying customers.

Step 4: Convert Shoppers to Buyers

This is a crucial part of the process. For many online stores, cart abandonment can be 50 percent and checkout abandonment 20 percent. That is a lot of money being left in the shopping cart. Many stores don’t know why they lose deals. Here are some of the things you can do to reduce your abandonment rates.
  • Watch your analytics. Rigorously monitor your analytics, especially the abandonment rates. If you see a sudden increase, there is probably a reason.
  • Test your checkout regularly. Put an order through your own checkout at least every other week. This will detect items such as a simple change of a graphic or script that makes your checkout insecure.
  • Shopping cart clarity. Make sure you have an easy-to-understand shopping cart that includes a description of the item, an image, price, quantity and extended total for all items, as well as shipping and tax.
  • One step check out. Amazon sets the bar here. Having a one step checkout will likely increase your conversion rates.
  • Guest check out. Do not force a shopper to create a login. Many simply will not do that. Offer a guest check out as well as a registered login.
  • Have a shipping estimator. One of the fastest ways to cart or checkout abandonment is to not clearly spell out shipping costs or sales tax.
  • Saving carts. Allow your customers to easily save their shopping cart for future use.
  • Multiple methods of payment. Be sure to offer more than one way to pay. Offer credit cards, PayPal, and Checkout by Amazon, among others.
  • Email cart and checkout abandoners. Many ecommerce platforms now offer the ability to email shoppers who abandon their carts during checkout or even during the shopping process, reminding them they have an open cart and offer to answer any questions they may have.
  • Offer an incentive to buy now. As in the prospect stage, provide an incentive to buy now versus later. Present an offer with a time deadline on it.
  • Offer a rewards program. Shoppers enjoy exclusive offers. Make shoppers feel special by offering them some type of rewards program for frequent purchases. This will create repeat sales, encouraging the shopper to buy now.
  • Have competitive pricing. Be aware that its very easy to price shop. Assume that your buyers are armed with alternative prices. Be competitive.
  • Chat and phone support. Offer a method to immediately answer questions from shoppers. Conversion rates will go up in most cases.
  • Ask for feedback on your website. Many stores now place an obvious link to provide feedback. This engenders trust and the feedback can help you address problems.

Step 5: Convert Buyers to Customers

Is a one-time buyer really a customer? It depends on the type of business you are in. But I don’t consider a one-time buyer as a customer. "Real" customers are likely to buy from you more than once if they are happy with your product or service. Certainly, the cost of acquiring a new customer is much higher than retaining a loyal customer. So most businesses aggressively build their repeat-customer-base.
Here are things you can do to promote long-term customers.
  • Deliver the goods. Ship the products your customer ordered in the timeframe that you promised. Document the items shipped. Charge the correct prices. Package the order securely. Ship via the carrier requested.
  • Provide terrific customer service. Send a confirmation email with a tracking number. Respond promptly to any customer requests.
  • No nonsense returns and refunds. Make it incredibly simple to return unwanted items. This does not mean you have to pay return shipping, but don’t haggle over returns. Also, don’t dispute missing items. It just is not worth it. You are always just a chargeback away from both alienating a customer and losing money on your sale.
  • Customer follow-up. Send an email asking if the customer is happy with his order. Include a promotional offer or incentive to return to your store.
  • Do surveys. Ask customers what they want to buy, how their experience was, what they like about your website, and other relevant questions. You will likely receive more input than you expect.
  • Newsletters. Offer a topical newsletter that is not promoting something, but has value.
  • Exclusive offers. Make occasional offers to your customers that you don’t post on your website.

Step 6: Convert Customers to Community

The last step in the funnel is converting customers into a community. This possibility exists largely because of social media.
  • Engage in a dialogue with your customers. Blog about relevant topics. Post pictures and updates on Facebook. Tweet about new products or promotions. Post original boards on Pinterest.
  • Have some fun. Sponsor a contest on Facebook. Conduct surveys and quick polls.
  • Post customer stories or images. Solicit stories and testimonials from your customers, and post them in your store.

12 Oct 2012

Managing Your Ecommerce Sales Funnel - Part 1

An ecommerce business has a sales funnel. Business-to-business sales funnels are generally more complex than business-to-consumer ones. But the basic steps are the same, as are the supporting sales and marketing activities. Service businesses generally have a different funnel that includes more research and may not include an actual sales transaction.
This article will focus on the various activities that support a sales funnel and how to manage them to optimize your conversion rate.
A sales funnel refers to the steps involved in converting a targeted market segment into paying customers.
A sales funnel refers to the steps involved in converting a targeted market segment into paying customers.

Step 1: Convert Target Customers to Visitors

Invest the time to identify who your target customers are and how they likely seek out the products or services that you sell. You can research this using the keyword tool within Google AdWords or other similar tools.
Once you understand your target customers, be sure your website is visible to them from search engines, affiliate sites, relevant blogs, directories, and other online sources. Your goals in this stage of the funnel are to identify your target market and drive visitors to your store. Here are a few of the marketing tools you should be using to make this happen.
  • Search engine optimization. Focus on keywords likely to draw visitors to your website
  • Online advertising. Includes pay-per-click ads, ads on Amazon.com, banner ads in relevant ad networks, and affiliate sites.
  • Print advertising. In targeted industry publications.
  • Comparison shopping engines. Support product feeds to Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, TheFind, Nextag, Shopping.com, and other comparison sites.
  • Marketplaces. Sell on Amazon, Buy.com, Overstock.com, Sears.com, eBay, and others.
  • Blogs. Your blog should have compelling content to attract traffic.
  • Social media. Be sure you are visible in the various social media sites. They will be more important later in the funnel.
Develop content — including relevant ads — that supports your keywords and otherwise appeals to your target customer.


Step 2: Convert Visitors to Prospects

Once you get visitors to your website, you need to keep them engaged beyond the initial landing page. A prospect, to me, is someone who browses more than three pages and bookmarks your website. Here are some of the key factors to turn visitors into prospects.
  • Site design. You want a visually clean site, with relevant content that's clearly visible.
  • Compelling content. Provide original, detailed descriptions of the items you sell. Don't force visitors to leave your store for research. They likely won’t come back.
  • Good navigation. Be sure you have a robust site search, hierarchical navigation, and other ways to navigate to your products.
  • Security and trust. Establish trust through testimonials, security badges, and memberships. An “about us” page that includes a history of the business, its location, and identifies its management is also helpful.
  • Load times. Be sure your store is fast so your visitors do not leave.
  • Merchandising. Offering promotions of some type in your store is important. Be clear about what they are, but don’t let them be your entire focus. Think about them as the end cap in a grocery store. You see a few things in a product category that are appealing, but you can move past easily. Loss leaders are a good way to skip directly from visitor to shopper.
  • Wish lists. This is an effective way to move someone from visitor to prospect.
  • Landing pages. Use landing pages that are tightly integrated with where visitors came from and what they may have been searching for or browsing when they clicked through.
  • Contact and signup points. Include obvious links to your email signup, and links to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and any blogs you may support.
  • Reviews. Product reviews develop trust with your visitors and demonstrate that you are transparent and open to feedback.
Your ability to turn visitors into prospects will also be assisted by your presence in social media. Many people click through to those sites to see what other people are saying about your company or products.


Step 3: Convert Prospects to Shoppers

At this stage, you are trying to get a prospect to put something in the shopping cart. Here are some of the critical elements of this stage.
  • Chat and phone support. Offer a way to get immediate answers — not an email — to questions.
  • Newsletters. Send initial subscribers a confirmation email. Offer them a few preference choices — topical, frequency, type ( i.e., promotions only, new items, general updates).
  • Social media postings. Mix up your posts with offers, new product introductions, how-to tips, surveys, images, funny stories. Let your prospects get to know you.
  • Remarketing ad campaigns. Google and other ad networks now offer ad campaigns that target visitors to your store. It’s becoming popular because it is effective in reinforcing brands and products. We've addressed remarketing recently at "How to Use Google's Remarketing Platform."
  • FAQs. Be sure to have a section for frequently asked questions. This may include information about products, returns, shipping, pricing, and discounts.
  • Site promotions. Offer a daily deal, free shipping, or something that creates a “buy now” impulse.