Inbound Marketing for eCommerce: The Complete Guide
eCommerce Inbound Basics
Smith Island Cake is the official cake of Maryland (where Groove Commerce is based), and it’s a delicious, multi-layer cake, often made with chocolate ganache. Not only is this cake an amazing treat, but it’s also the perfect analogy for inbound marketing. Here’s why:
- It’s tempting, and just seeing it often makes people want it.
- Individually, each layer is a little boring, but when combined the sum of the parts is greater (far greater) than the whole.
Just like this
More importantly, an inbound marketing for eCommerce strategy consists of a variety of smaller initiatives that on their own may not be anything remarkable, but when combined can create something powerful, moving, even transcendental (like taking a bite of Smith Island Cake). Making a cake like this takes time and effort; so too does building and executing an effective inbound marketing strategy.
And that’s where this guide comes in. You’re probably reading this because you want to learn how to boost your revenue. You may be looking across the eCommerce landscape and wonder how your brand can stand out, win more customers, optimize revenue streams, and be more competitive. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Pull up a chair, grab a piece of cake, and let’s dive in.
What Is Inbound Marketing for eCommerce?
First things first: let’s start with a definition.
"Inbound marketing is a set of marketing strategies and techniques focused on using content relevant to current and prospective buyers and pulling those customers and prospects toward a business and its products."
The key item to note here is that inbound marketing isn’t just one tool, one tactic, or even a single campaign. It’s a set of on-going activities that, when done in tandem, create a highly scalable revenue driver.
A common question we get is, “Why do I need inbound marketing for eCommerce?” The answer to that question actually lies beyond a question of revenue, but rather focuses on relevancy. Consider these shifts in consumer behavior:
- Shopping online is shifting to mobile, with 35% saying their
smart phoneis their primary online shopping tool, with revenue from mobile alone expected to top $600 million in 2018;
- Consumers are starting to increasingly use voice-assisted purchases on devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home;
- In fact, by 2020, experts predict more than half of all product searches will be done by voice or by
- Online purchases aren’t only happening on eCommerce websites; they’re happening on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and many other platforms;
Notice any trends? eCommerce is getting faster, more accessible, and taking place over a wider variety of platforms and devices. The bottom line for most e-tailers is that inbound marketing is the one marketing approach that empowers businesses to scale engagement with prospective, current, and past customers. Thus, our goals for inbound marketing for eCommerce typically include:
- Increasing Visitors
- Increasing Conversion Rate
- Increasing Average Order Value
- Increasing Lifetime Value
A good way to approach inbound marketing techniques is to look at them through the lens of the sales funnel.
This is the top of the marketing funnel. It’s all about generating awareness and brand recognition among key targeted audiences.
Convert can have different meanings in different industries or business categories, but here we’re using it to define gaining some sort of initial relationship with a prospective customer. That usually means capturing an email so that you can continue to market to them over time.
This is the stage where the sale takes place aka SHOW ME THE MONEY.
This final stage is where a business not only fulfills an
To reach customers at each of these stages, and to move them through the sales funnel, you’ll be developing a number of “micro-campaigns,” a series of small, on-going activities that ultimately culminate in a larger marketing effort. We’ll explore tactics you can execute at each of these funnel stages in more detail throughout the guide. But before we get to tactics, it’s essential to start with strategy.
Creating a Strategy
The distinguishing factor for success in any inbound marketing program is the degree to which a company spends time gaining insights into their customers and planning tactics around those insights. Thus, the first step in any program should be to develop an ideal buyer
To arrive at these crucial pieces of a marketing strategy, we like to look at Recency, Frequency, and Monetary across all buyers. That means answering:
- How new are the buyers?
- How often do they buy?
- How much are they spending?
You can hone in on your ideal buyer by calculating these three data points, which sets a baseline set of metrics for you to build on. Your ideal buyer profile may also include other data such as:
- Age Group
- Race or nationality
- Geographical Location
- Technical Ability
Buyer modalities, on the other hand, are based
- How do you use the product?
- What do you intend to do with it?
- What are your goals for using the product?
The point here is that two users with identical demographics can be motivated and influenced in different ways through their interaction with your product. As a result, marketers will need to persuade them differently.
Of course, buyers aren’t some monolithic group; different people have different motivations for buying; they likely purchase different types of products in different ways, and often for different reasons. We often break buyers into four buyer types: fast buyers, slow buyers, logic-based buyers, and emotional buyers.
Within those you have competitive buyers, spontaneous buyers, methodical buyers, and humanistic buyers. Those are the four types of buyer modalities, and you want to make sure you’re catering different campaigns to each different modality. There’s no one-size fits all approach. A good strategy addresses each buyer modality through each step in the sales funnel, and plans for creating materials that speak directly to and attract each type and modality.
Which leads to the next step in building your inbound marketing strategy: Planning for implementation. That includes two distinct steps:
- Planning & Scheduling Content/Offers
- Identifying and implementing automated workflows.
Planning & scheduling is just what it sounds like: Creating a marketing calendar that outlines what supporting materials or content you’ll be producing, the channels where you’ll be releasing and promoting them, and when you’ll be doing all these activities. Remember that it’s important to address each buyer at each funnel stage. We still see many mid-market e-Tailers who do not operate off a proper schedule. You should be able to map out 80-90% of your store's campaigns and editorial schedule at one time.
The second part is to identify common workflows and build
What drives buyers to brands? Some might argue that’s it’s the value they get from that brand, but we think it has as much to do with soul or personality as it does with financial motivations (though those aren’t to be discounted, as we’ll discuss below). Your marketing efforts need to serve content that is both meaningful and relevant to your target customers, while also showcasing your brand’s soul... I liken it back to the 1980’s cult classic, North Shore, One of my favorite movies of all time. If you want to compete against Amazon, you’re a soul, an essence, an opinion. In the movie, Chandler tries to embody this mentality into a young Rick Kane who is redesigning the logo for his surfboard brand.
This soul has to be delivered at the right time on the right platform. As the first step in your sales
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for eCommerce
Search engines and humans read the web differently. That's why structured data was developed to help search engines understand the context of your content. Using a standardized format, structured data organizes information in a way that search engines can easily navigate using simple algorithms. As a result, search engines like Google can use structured data to display special search results including product names, bulleted lists, and customer reviews. There are several elements of a product listing or information on a page that are crucial to helping that page appear in search engine results.
Your main focus for SEO should be on using keywords properly and sufficiently. There are several areas on your page that are seen only by search engines, but remember, the rest of the content on your pages must be readable by humans as well! Sounding like a robot or excessively repeating keywords will only hurt you. Here are a few areas where you should be using highly targeted keywords to boost your SEO.
Each product you sell should have its own page, and the URL for that page must include the keyword (not necessarily the product name, though sometimes that will make sense) and should be longer than 125 characters. For example:
- Unoptimized URL:
- Optimized URL:
This is the text that appears in your web browser tab. It’s read by both humans and search engines. Typically, search engines only read the first 50-60 characters, so keep it short!
- Buy <Product Name> | <Category Name> | XYZ.com
A brief description of the content on the page. Should be no longer than 300 characters.
- Find discount <Product Name> and read <Product Name> reviews and other <Category/Brand Name> products at XYZ.com
The header for each section on a page should include the keyword for that page, but should also be tagged as a header (H1, H2, etc.). This tells search engines that the information is important to that page.
Your H1 should be the primary theme of the page, while you may want to include some modifier words in your H2's like Buy, Best, Find or Reviews.
Multimedia and Image Alt Text
Not only are images essential for merchandising your products, but they’re also extremely helpful in boosting SEO. Images should have “alt-tags” containing the page’s targeted keyword, and the image itself should be relevant.
Think about these as additional information search engines used to categorize the information found on each page. You should definitely consider adding these to your templates!
- Search Box
- Social Media
Have Yotpo? Here's how to add Yotpo Rich Snippets in BigCommerce.
These tags are a must-have for large eCommerce websites, where there is often a lot of duplicate information. Canonical tags help search engines identify which content is “original,” while ignoring duplicate content. Not using canonical tags can actually hurt your search engine listings, as Google does not like when a website uses the same content multiple times.
The mantra of inbound marketing is “Content is king,” meaning the better quality your content, the more success you will have. What constitutes “high quality” content? Anything that provides value to your buyers. That could be blog posts, buyers or gift guides, case studies, videos, and more. The more creative you can be here, and the more helpful you are to your buyers, the more likely you’ll attract and convert them.
eCommerce blogging can be a fantastic way to increase website traffic. Successful blogs share valuable information and expertise with prospective customers. That information improves trust, increases brand loyalty and leads to more purchases.
So why isn't every business including blogging in their eCommerce marketing strategy? Writing content takes time, and as the saying goes, time is money. Unless it’s your primary responsibility, regularly writing content can be an uphill battle. Luckily, there are ways to make blogging easier and less time-consuming.
We recommend brainstorming as many ideas in advance and building those into your marketing calendar. Give yourself enough time each week or each month to draft the content, and be sure to have a clear editorial and publishing process in place, which can include gathering any relevant information or images, and uploading it to your website.
Remember to always include a clear path to purchase in your blog, using images and links directly to the relevant product pages. Regardless of the tool you use, remember to make it easy for your customers to purchase.
Gift Buyers & Guides
This is an especially important content around major shopping holidays, mostly because the people who are doing the buying are not likely your normal buyers. You need to think about how you are going to drive people to the specific pages on your website where they’ll easily find what they’re looking for. One excellent example of this is from our client who sells millions of dollars in lacrosse equipment. The holiday season is a prime selling time, but it’s rarely the lacrosse players who are buying. It’s their parents or relatives who may not be as familiar with lacrosse as the player. Instead of organizing their gift guide around product categories, they organized it by the gift recipient, such as “For Him,” “For Her,” and “Youth.” They even included a quick link to their gift cards page.
Gift and buyers guides also make excellent blog fodder. Consider post ideas like “Stocking Stuffers,” “What to buy for your husband/wife/child,” “This year’s top products for men/women,” etc. Guides like these can have a huge impact on your organic SEO as well as providing useful, valuable and shareable content.
Ratings & Reviews
If you’ve ever googled a
- It helps your organic search engine rankings. See
- It draws visitors to your site, allowing them to get good information about the products you’re selling, and possibly finding other products on your site.
Social Media Sharing
One great way to build your social media following is to entice your social media followers to share your content and posts. It starts with well-placed global social buttons on your site, in the footer, header, and other parts of the content on your website. Another tactic is to encourage a “friend buy,” which incentivizes customers with rewards to share your products with their friends by email and on social networks.
Of course, every brand wants to have their social media content shared. Part of the approach is having flexible content guidelines and a creative but diligent staff to manage your social media accounts. That is, you want to give them clear direction on brand voice, but at the same time allow them to be creative with accounts. Social media is often about being present in the moment, like when Oreo shared this tweet during Super Bowl XLVII.
(Side note: This is our favorite
Local Events/Trunk Shows
This is ideal for retailers with brick and mortar presences. Build lists for potential customers who are local to your retail locations. Use custom audiences to drive RSVPs to events and trunk shows while not burning out folks on your list who may not be in the same geographic regions.
Paid media is a broad category of online advertising that includes things like:
- Search engine marketing (paid placements in search engines)
- Display advertising (banners on websites)
- Social media advertising (ads on Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
Search engine marketing is an excellent tool to attract buyers based on what they’re searching for, which usually signifies an intent to buy. Display and social media advertising
One of the really powerful Facebook features is Lookalike Audiences. This allows you to find and attract prospective customers who are similar to your existing customers. By using this feature, you can easily and quickly expand your reach to a set of highly qualified leads.
Additionally, Facebook offers a value-based Lookalike audience, which allows you to reach potential consumers who are similar to existing customers AND are considered “high value.” Of course, you have to know the lifetime value (LTV) of your customers in order to take advantage of this feature.
These capabilities help you very narrowly focus your ad spend, and can significantly improve the ROI of your Facebook campaigns. Consider offering these potential buyers a special offer or free trial to rope them in. Make sure you follow Facebook’s customer data preparation best practices in order to increase the match rate. This will help ensure you don’t pay to show ads to people who may not be interested in your product.
As we mentioned earlier, the convert phase of your sales funnel is all about capturing new email addresses so you can continue to market to them. Common activities in this stage include sending customized, targeted, and well-timed emails to different customer segments, but also creating the type of content and services that increase the value of your website, as well as the incentive to buy from it. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these key tactics.
When you run an eCommerce site, you regularly need to analyze your product offerings and determine what’s selling, what’s not, and what can be optimized. We like to classify products into four main buckets based on their views and conversions.
Products should be classified
Second, there are the products that need promotion. These are items that have low traffic but a high conversion rate. Are there ways to drive more traffic to those pages? It’s likely that the more traffic you drive, the more you’ll be able to increase the conversion rate of those products.
Third, there are products that have high traffic pages but a low conversion rate. This category of product usually needs extensive testing with a variety of conversion and closing tactics, because you are losing a lot of potential sales. You want to get more of these products added to the cart and into the checkout.
Finally, products that neither get traffic nor conversions should be removed from your site altogether. These products are just taking up space on your site (and possibly in your warehouse) and are dragging down the overall quality of your site. Consider removing them entirely (possibly at a loss) or at least having a fire sale. The sooner you can get them off your site, the better off you’ll likely be.
Have you ever felt annoyed by welcome pop-ups?
We often ask this question in presentations, and
Why not add a HubSpot form to your product detail page allowing visitors to ask questions about specific products while generating leads at the same time? You can create hidden fields for data like product name, SKU
Live Chat & Bots
Customer service can be a key differentiator and is an essential part of converting visitors. Many companies today offer a live chat option on their website that connects people browsing a site to a live customer service agent who can answer any questions the customer may have. To ease the burden of resources needed to staff customer service departments, many firms have turned to chatbots, automated Q&A systems that emulate human interaction using artificial intelligence. They can manage frontline customer service inquiries, and transfer a prospective customer to a live human being as needed. Oftentimes, companies require an email address to engage with a chatbot or live chat representative, giving the opportunity to not only capture that contact for future marketing
Closing the Deal
Now that you’ve gotten people to your site, you’ve engaged them with your content, your products, social media, and email, it’s time to get them to pull the trigger. After all, that’s what you want in the end, right? As soon as someone becomes a customer, the nature and depth of your relationship
Site search, the function of your website that allows visitors to
First, you need to track several different metrics, including what visitors search for versus what they clicked, what product combinations are viewed and purchased, which products are added to the cart, and which products are ultimately purchased. We can take all these different metrics and apply them to a website’s search results, creating a system that dynamically learns and adjusts to visitor demand over time. This will eventually return search results on your website that are smarter and more relevant to the shifting customer demand.
You can also use this data to show more relevant product recommendations and to provide more detailed information to customers, such as ratings and reviews, compare, and quick views. On sites that offer hundreds or thousands of products, being able to create filters based on unique product attributes in search results can be incredibly powerful. All the data that you have on your products—sizes, colors, different makes, models, years—can be used to create filters that make search results very usable. The more efficient it is to find products, the more likely a search will lead to a sale.
Frictionless Checkout and Free Shipping
Having an easy to understand checkout process is as important as getting people to your website in the first place, so it's crucial that you spend time perfecting it. The checkout has many merchandising opportunities, and free shipping is still the number one, most bulletproof promotion in eCommerce. Over and over again, we see conversion rates and average order values jump when clients turn on free shipping over a certain threshold. For example, you might offer free shipping on orders over $50, which is publicized on every product page and in the checkout process. If customers fall short of the threshold, you can include a “countdown” message during the checkout process, enticing them to spend just a little more to get the free shipping. If you can get an extra $5 or $10 out of every order for smaller, easy to ship products, you’ll grow your AOV—and your bottom line—very quickly.
Have you ever bought a new car, and you’ve got all the details worked out with the salesperson, but then you go to financing and they want to add in all kinds of options? Dealerships make millions of extra dollars by getting their customers to spend just a little more before closing the deal. The checkout process on your website can serve exactly that same function. A good example of this is the popup used by Domino’s Pizza, where the buyer is offered the opportunity to make a $1 donation to a good cause while also promoting their chocolate lava cake. Many of us might not order that dessert every time, but it’s likely enticing enough to make folks add the cake to their order at least 10-20% of the time, effectively raising their average order value.
One of the key challenges in any
If you haven’t heard of it, Facebook Custom Audiences is an advertising method that lets you reach leads and customers that you already know. Basically, you upload a list of emails into Facebook and it will deliver ads to that exact list if Facebook can identify them. Moreover, using HubSpot’s smart list tools, you can quickly and easily sync customer data to Facebook’s custom audiences, segment them based on their purchasing habits or other online behaviors, and then target ads with messaging geared specifically to each audience segment. Ads served to Custom Audiences can be major revenue drives when used properly. Here are four examples:
Abandoned Cart Recovery
Using your HubShop.ly Abandoned Cart smart list, you can target those visitors that have left items in their cart. You will need at least 100 folks on this list to really gain traction.
Win Back Campaigns
Create custom audiences for customers who haven’t purchased anything for 180-364 days, or for more than 365 days. Then create offers for those people and target them on Facebook.
Create a “Welcome Popup” using a HubSpot form and include an offer (we suggest a small, free gift that’s low cost to you and doesn’t eat into your margin). Create a smart list and start targeting ads on Facebook using the same offer. Set rules that once the lead makes their first purchase, they fall off the list and don’t continue to receive the offer.
Create smart lists for anyone who does not open your promotional emails. You can then easily target those
If you’ve ever visited an eCommerce website, looked at a few items, and then navigated away only to see those same items being advertised on other websites, then you’ve experienced retargeting. In a nutshell, this is the practice of placing a cookie on a visitor’s web
This can be highly effective in converting people who just browse your site, or even for visitors who abandon their shopping carts.
Delighting Your Customers
So you’ve now convinced website visitors to buy something from you (or hopefully several things). Congrats! Now what?
Well, if you’re a good eCommerce marketer it’s time to think about how you can delight your customer. Why? One reason is to convince that customer to continue to buy products from you in the future. Another reason is to convince that customer to tell their friends about your
Shipping & Fulfillment
Customer satisfaction starts with fulfillment. This could also include offering gift wrapping and gift messaging for when people buy something from your site for someone else. The idea here is to make your brand memorable through your packaging. Ask yourself: How can I add just a little extra love to my packaging? Make opening the box fun, maybe even surprising. We’re seeing more and more retailers add a little extra TLC to their packaging. For example,
You got the sale, but now it’s all about the follow-through. If post-purchase email automation isn’t a part of your inbound marketing strategy, you could be missing out on valuable revenue. Following-up with the customer by asking for a product review, sending them a notification when their items have shipped, recommendations for complementary products, or even special offers will go a long way to build loyalty and keep them coming back.
Win Back Workflows
Did you know that it’s 7x more expensive to win a new customer than it is to get an older one to make a purchase again? If someone has bought from you in the past, but
The best way to manage this is to create segmented lists based on last order date, and you can start to see how your contacts flow across the timeframes. Maybe you have a
Drive Loyalty by Treating Customers like Royalty
People love to be made to feel special, to feel like they’re in a separate tier of
Birthdays & Special Occasions
Everybody loves to get presents on
You should conduct similar outreach for pretty much all holidays—Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. But there are other “special occasions” you can also commemorate with an incentive to make a purchase, such as the anniversary of a customer’s first purchase.
The key here is to be fun and engaging, and the best thing about these campaigns is that you can fully automate these so that customers receive these emails whenever they reach a milestone. It’s really one of the few activities in marketing that you can set it and forget it, and it’ll continue to generate revenue.
Inbound marketing has become the most essential set of marketing tools to impact businesses over the past 10-20 years. Long gone are the days where you might sell directly using direct mail or TV ads (still viable tools even if you had an eCommerce website 10 years ago). That said, the tactics are constantly changing and evolving, and you need to keep up or risk losing market share. But that risk is also an opportunity, especially for mid-market e-tailers. Because the great part of inbound marketing is that it works extremely well, even if you don’t have an oversized budget that larger companies do.
You can execute plans in chunks, you can experiment without sacrificing your marketing budget, and you don’t have to worry about pulling huge media campaigns. Best of all, as we’ve discussed, you can automate so many parts of your marketing that will reduce the workload and help you shore up any revenue leaks you may be experiencing. The key to success is to put your customer first, come up with a strategy and execution plan, and then take action.