E-Marketing Strategy Primer

Designed for Small Business Startup

E-Marketing Strategy Primer
This book provides a quick start guide for online businesses and information concerning trouble areas of development. 

Introduction

In 2007, I built my first online business. Prior to building this website, I utilized WEB developers to create websites for small businesses I owned.  These sites were more window dressing then actual business operations. At the time, I was still operating in traditional businesses and I was not aware of the many issues with creating an online business such as advertising and marketing.  I created my website using a really crappy web platform design tool and then put up a Craigslist ad and used Myspace to create some advertising.  As luck should have it, my site was successful in spite of itself.   I lucked out because I was selling a high demand product which led to sales and I mistakenly attributed this success to having built a proper e-commerce.  I would pay dearly for this mistake.

At the peak of my success with this initial website, I decided to expand and improve the e-commerce. This decision almost put me out of business because the cost of fixing the initial website and making it more SEO friendly was 10 times what I was initially told and it took 10 times longer to complete than estimated. Worse yet, decisions were made and information was not shared that directly caused the loss of the existing business that I had. After a year, I had an esthetically pleasing website that had no sales. 

This led me down that abyss of SEO in which I spent another six months trying to improve SEO and spending enormous amounts of money on advertising which did not work. Finally, I managed to correct the problems and I got the business functioning again but the losses were extreme. 

When it comes to marketing online there are many areas of misinformation, misunderstanding, and just plain old BS. It is easy to get sucked into spending a lot of money and time trying to get your e-commerce off the ground. This book was written in an effort to focus marketing efforts to keep new business owners and managers from falling into these pits.   

There are a number of areas outlined in this book which you are welcome to jump to in order to learn about specific online marketing avenues. However, I urge you to read the first section in order to develop an understanding of your business needs and what your role is in accomplishing these needs.  It is important to understand your role in the business because e-commerce can become a tremendous time consuming endeavor and this can actually interfere with your actual role in the business if it is undertaken incorrectly. 

Defining Your Role

Most small businesses have the unfortunate problem of being too small to hire experts. As a result of this problem, owners, managers, and startup companies must rely on their individual skills to develop new markets.  This is a tremendous problem because it can create role confusion and actually detract from the person performing their proper function in the business.  This problem can also lead to the abandonment of projects such as websites and online marketing. Many small businesses have websites which sit and do nothing because small business owners and managers do not have the time to work on things such as content or marketing for e-commerce. For this reason it is imperative that you understand your role in the business, your time constraints, and what is needed from your website. 

Let’s look at a typical small business such as a plumber. Plumbers often work long hours and these businesses range in size from one man, to teams of professionals.  The owners and mangers of this business typically do not have time to work on a website and they often fall into the trap of creating a poorly built website which eventually sits and does nothing except provide a small online presence. The owner of a company such as this may have the ability to build a site but will lack the time. If you are the owner or manager of a small business that provides service work or there is a great deal of administrative function attached to your selling then this can be problematic for making the e-commerce function. Likewise, marketing may be the primary function of your business which means you selling to customers is a large part of your job. In this situation, selling online becomes equally important as selling on the phone or in person. The problem, again, may be the fact that you will not have the time to develop the website. This leads us to the first pitfall of e-commerce development- building the website.

Website

I find that the actual website construction is one of the most frustrating areas for small businesses. Choosing how to construct your website is perhaps the most important decision you are going to make.  I cannot stress the importance of this decision enough. If you choose the wrong method of construction, then you will pay for it in time and money.  This decision needs to be made with the realization of how much time you have to dedicate to building the site.

Most people choose what are known as web platforms or content management systems, which are prebuilt websites that you add content and products. This is actually a good choice if you do not understand code or do not wish to become that involved in the process of designing the webpages. If you wish to have a large amount of control over the website and you understand code you may wish to use web design software such as Codeigniter. Choosing to use code and building your website in this manner really comes down to a choice of need or desire. Because this book is concerned with marketing we will not discuss web design.  Suffice it to say, that if you choose to design a website from code you will need to have a strong understanding of the software as well as the time to dedicate to design. 

If you are like most owners and managers you will not desire to do this because of the technical skill needed or because of the cost of hiring a web developer. The more effective solution is to use a reputable e-commerce platform. This will save time and money. 

From the point of marketing, you need a system which is easy to use and provides flexibility for growth. More importantly, you need a system that can be easily manipulated in order to achieve your marketing goals. Having used a variety of different platforms, I have personally found that Shopify offers the most effective means of building an e-commerce. The cost is reasonable and the learning curve is short. Most importantly there is tremendous support both from the Shopify community and from the company. 

Whatever system you choose to build your e-commerce on you need to be sure that it has a strong support system e.g. phone, chat, email, etc…  Having support will save you valuable time when you do run into issues.  Choosing the right platform will also save you money especially if you need to hire developers.

Developers 

I hate referring to developers as a pitfall in e-commerce development, but often these individuals and companies can create more obstacles than than they alleviate. Developers can be expensive and sadly there is a lot of people out there who call themselves developers but lack the creativity and skill for the job. If you are an owner or manager it is important that you choose the correct developer for your website. This is a difficult area of choice because as a business owner you may not be qualified to judge the developer appropriately.  What I have found that seems to work best is to look at their work.  Look at their work and then look at competitors and the look and function of the sites will be obvious in comparison. Any skilled developer will be able to create a site that fits your needs and cost requirements. Any good web developer will also have other websites in his or her portfolio which you can look at. If you are using an e-commerce platform you may need development help at some point and you should look at the costs associated with these different companies prior to constructing your website. 

Another important aspect of development is the fact that developers are not responsible for the profitability of your website. There job is to create a functional website that fits your business needs.  As long as the site is functional and works in the manner you need it to, then the developer has done his or her job. You must understand that once you have a website the actual site itself does nothing beyond its appearance and functionality to promote your business.  This brings us to the largest pitfall of e-commerce which is marketing and SEO.

Marketing and SEO

Online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) can be an absolute nightmare! I am not going to sugar coat this or make it appear that there is some easy solution. This is the single worst problem that e-commerces face and it can suck you dry of money and it can cost you an incredible amount of time. To understand this pitfall  you must understand the nature of marketing and SEO. 

While marketing refers to the communication of a product or service between company and consumer such as advertising; SEO refers to the content of your website being optimized for search engines to find and relate it to consumer searches. This means that all marketing efforts online are at the mercy of SEO. If the content on your site is not optimized properly it will not be ranked well in search engines which means that your customers will not find you in searches. 

SEO is one of the most difficult areas of web work. SEO is complicated by a number of factors which makes it a nightmare for individuals just starting out in e-commerce. The largest factor concerning SEO is information or misinformation. There are many companies and individuals who make their living selling SEO marketing and these companies have no problem charging ludicrous amounts of money to optimize your site.  However, these companies will never guarantee results.  Almost everyone who opens an online business or attempts to build an e-commerce falls into this trap and spends enormous amounts of time or money or both trying to achieve results.  This problem is amplified by the fact that most managers and owners do not have the time or the money to be dumping into SEO and this impacts other areas of the business.  This is the number one reason that most small businesses have websites that sit doing nothing other than being window dressing. We will discuss SEO as part of your marketing approach in this book and how to simplify it.   

Your Role Defined

Understanding these pitfalls of e-commerce does not make you immune to them. In order to avoid these problems you have to decide how much money and time you can allocate to building and maintaining an e-commerce. This decision is different for everyone depending on the circumstance. If you are the owner or manager of a small traditional company, you will likely have many other responsibilities and limited time to dedicate to developing a website. In contrast, a business owner who operates completely on the web will have more time and a greater vested interest in making the website profitable.  If you are limited on time, then what you need is a website that is easy to maintain or you will need to have someone maintain your website so that you can continue conducting business. If you have the time then you can spend it in the development area.  In either case, the marketing of your e-commerce will be tied in with development and the less time that you spend developing, the more time you can spend marketing your business.   

Getting Started 

Assuming that you have chosen your web platform and have the basic understanding of how to set it up, you can now begin formulating a marketing campaign. One of the interesting features of marketing online is the fact that all of the elements of marketing are equally important for all companies and all products. Unlike a traditional brick and mortar stores that relies primarily on factors such as location and advertising, online stores rely primarily on the ability to be discovered through search engines. This is not to say that other elements such as word of mouth are not important but they are overshadowed by search engines.   You must understand this differentiation in order to create a proper marketing scheme.

Once a person realizes that their ability to sell online is dependent on the search engines being able bring people to their site creates a situation in which people begin looking to build SEO.  While this function is necessary it also has the ability to grow out of control. I have read and seen outrageous amounts of money being required for SEO services. Having felt the loss of SEO cost, I have learned a few things that will provide some clarity for beginner marketer. 

The first thing that one needs to understand concerning SEO is that in order to optimize a website for search engines, you need to understand how a search engine works. Well, herein lies the problem. No one really knows 100% how search engines work. The Google bot and Bing bot are proprietary information so the exact nature of these engines is not publicly known. Anyone telling you that they know entirely how the search engine works is lying. What is known about search engines is what companies and individuals have learned by trial and error as well as what the search engines suggest. Google and Bing provide Webmaster Tools for this very purpose. There are lots of companies and individuals who are going to swear that they can get traffic to your site and some of them can, but if someone is telling you that they have some secret method of getting your site to the front page of Google or Bing they are most likely lying.  Listening to these people is more likely to get you in trouble rather than increase your selling. 

What I am about to say may sound counterintuitive to what you may have read or been told, but what works in online selling is not catering to the search engine but rather catering to the consumer. This is accomplished by creating an Integrated eMarketing Network. An integrated eMarketing network is a marketing approach that attempts to link multiple online marketing functions and processes together in a manner which makes it self-sustaining. 

Integrated eMarketing Network

Step 1- SEO Simplified

It is important to understand that SEO is the fundamental element for selling. If your web pages are not optimized for search engines, they will rank very low. (This goes for all parts of your site.) However, there is no need to spend enormous amounts of time performing this function. When you optimize your product page you will need to perform the following steps:

  1. Name your product or service appropriately. The title, also known, as an H1 tag tells the the search engine what to look at first.  The title of your product is the most important part of the SEO process. It is one of the first things that the search engine will match to a search. The title should reflect both the product and the brand. The company Tina’s Toilet Paper is the name and brand, but the product might be Tina’s Tough Toilet Paper Rolls. Depending on your product or service and its name, there is only so much you can do with this title. 
  2. In the description on the page, you can utilize a subtitle or what is known as an H2 tag. If you have subsections (like a report) you can use descending tags to order their importance with search engines. Your description needs to be complete and relevant to your product. If you are using manufacturing descriptions these will normally be concise and clear but if possible you should consider adding some form of content to the page because manufacturers descriptions are not unique content and search engines rank it low. The ability to make your product stand out is really based on the number of products you sell and how these products are differentiated from other similar products. If you are selling thousands of products it will be much more difficult to create unique content for this many products. Finally, your product description should be easy to read and should be well written. Having grammatical errors and misspellings on a WEB page is unprofessional and reflects poorly on your brand.
  3. The link that is used to get to your product page should reflect the product as well. This enhances SEO. For example, a company named Gourmet Peanut Butter should have the domain Gourmetpeanutbutter.com Similarly, a product on this site such as Apple Spice Peanut Butter should be designed as gourmetpeanutbutter/applespicepeanutbutter.com
  4. You will need to tag your product which is performed a little different on every platform.  Tags are  content descriptors which help the search engines understand what the page is about.  Typically, tags are one to two word descriptions such as “peanut butter”, “apple”, “spice”, etc. 
  5. Once you have created your product or page following these steps, you will need to maintain your pages such that they stay relevant in search engines. Web pages are ranked on a number of factors, one of which is relevancy. The older a page becomes, the less relevant it becomes to the search engine. In order to maintain relevancy one must update their pages and content. This can become a real chore when dealing with tons of products. This may not be possible to do except as a process in which you perform this function continuously over time, such as up dating so many products per month.   

From the website standpoint, this is really all that needs to be done. Search engines are sophisticated software and in most cases they can easily discern what the content on your site is about and what you are selling. From a marketing standpoint you are done. There is only so much you can do to make your products stand out in search engines. This presents a serious problem for people selling large numbers of products that are not unique. For instance, drop shippers will have tremendously difficult time selling because they cannot differentiate their products from competitors selling the same thing. In the same respect, people who have only a few products will have a difficult time selling because no matter how SEO friendly their pages are they only have a limited number of pages which is difficult to rank in search engines.  

This is the big secret of SEO- volume sellers will rank more often, but will have tremendous difficulty maintaining rank in search engines due to lack of ability to up date content often enough.  Likewise, a person with a site that only has a few products on it will almost never rank unless they have a product that is high demand and extremely unique. 

Because we are at the mercy of search engines and because these engines work against us with selling; it is pointless to fight with them by trying tactics like duplicating products, retitling products, buying multiple domains, and many other useless approaches. The point is that one should make sure their site is optimized properly and maintain it but move on from a marketing standpoint. 

Step 2- Content

This is another “big secret” of e-commerce that actually occurs by accident. You might have heard the expression “content is king” and this expression sort of tells the story. Because webpages are designed using written descriptions and titles, this means that the written content of the page is absolutely vital and necessary to creating SEO.  Like many things in the tech world, this idea is taken for granted by many professionals who are only concerned with their understanding of their area in the industry. For instance, web developers do not get involved with SEO beyond the function of the site and as a result they will generally discuss the site in terms of its esthetics and functionality. This is huge problem because (for whatever reason), content is often ignored or overlooked in early stages of website development.  Once many companies have sold you or built you a site; content is presented as almost an afterthought:

By the way, now you need to add a crap load of articles to make your site SEO friendly.  

Many people who start down the road to building a website are completely unaware of this fact.  Most small business owners don’t realize this and they build a site only to later discover that they now need to find or write content. When building an e-commerce this form of content is an absolute necessity because product pages will only provide limited SEO.  

Content is effective at creating SEO and serves two important functions.  Content such as articles and blogs provide a means for people to find your site and products. The more content you have the greater the chance that you will attract business, providing it is relevant to your products or services.  Every e-commerce should have content because it provides a means for people to find your site other than from product pages alone.  You will hear content such as articles and blogs referred to in the context of SEO, but I suggest not thinking of it in this manner. Thinking of blogs and articles in terms of SEO can lead to a lot of time wasting practices. Essentially, if you have a product or products that you are selling, then you will likely know a great deal about them and you will desire to talk about these products. By discussing products, services, or other areas of content that relate to your products and services, you can increase traffic and focus on products.  As you read this book, keep in mind how you came to find this information and you will readily see the value in content. Quality articles can do wonders for a business.  

If you view content from the standpoint of advertising- you will fail to create proper content.  When one views content as advertising it ends up becoming spammy sounding and search engines often catch this because this content will be stuffed with keywords such as the name of the product or possible search terms. It is better to cater to the customer by building content that attracts potential buyers rather than seeking to find the person intent on buying your specific product. 

From a marketing standpoint, you need to build content that is unique and place it on your website in the form of a blog. This links your content directly to your site and makes it easier to access your products. You can also directly link the content of your blog with your products and services.  There are number of tools which you can use to do this such as Blogger or Wordpress. If you are using a platform such as Shopify to build your commerce there will be a blog function built into it. 

The real question is what is the amount of content needed for a website or to sell a product? The answer to this question is really dependent on your marketing skill and the number of products and pages on your site. If you have a one-product site you will need more content than a site with hundreds of products. However, you must keep in mind that the benefit of large numbers of products is still limited due to the fact that products are not viewed by search engines as being quality content.  As such, you still need content other than products. 

I would like to say that content is dependent sheerly on quality such that if you have high quality content that you will not need tons of content. However, this is only partially true. Even if you have quality content that is able to garner attention whether it is controversy, humor, or other stimulating reading this will decrease your content needs only slightly.  Another big secret with SEO is that it is a numbers game still and the more content you have (that is relevant and good quality) the greater your chance of selling. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that posting tons of crap articles is going to increase your traffic and selling.  It is better to have really good quality, relevant content than to have weak redundant content. As such you need to plan your content as a function of marketing such that you are consistently posting new content. This can be an article per week, month, or daily, but it needs to be consistent. If you have the time to spend writing articles then you should allocate time for doing this function. If you don’t have time to write articles then you will need to purchase them. 

Purchasing articles is a difficult area of business because it is necessary but it is really difficult to find a decent content writer.  In order to choose a writer it is necessary to understand WEB writing to some degree. To be perfectly honest much of the writing that is done on the WEB is what is known as “hack writing”. This writing consists of fast produced content that is typically low quality. This type of writing is prominent in content writing due to a few reasons such as competition, financial gain, and time constraints.  Obviously, we do not desire to have a hack writer because they will not produce the sales conversions or traffic desired.

Writer Requirements

Having formal training such as college can be beneficial but it can also be a detriment with WEB writing. Now, be mindful that I am not making some gross generalization concerning every English graduate. I am only talking about some of these graduates. I have many friends who are writers and some of them are what I refer to as mechanically correct authors. These writers have exceptional skills in grammar, punctuation, and context development, but they often lack the focus on web marketing development. The point of most WEB writing is to increase site traffic, make conversions, or to inform specific groups about ideas or events. Even if you are writing just to inform people, you still need to design your content with the object of reaching the correct target audience. The mechanically correct author will write content that serves the function of expressing the topic but often lacks the ability to reach the search engine. This occurs because they do not understand how to write articles in a manner which excites the search engine.

Then there is my other group of writer friends who are the artists. Typically these writers are college graduates and view themselves as either intellectuals or artists. This is great, providing they are writing textbooks or fiction, but not so great when writing content. These writers tend to be too elaborate and too consumed in the writing process to be practical WEB copywriters. Many of these writers fail at WEB writing because they are unable to draw distinctions between the types of writing that they perform. These writers will often take enormous amounts of time to complete a blog or article. They will not be able to work within time constraints or budgets.

Expertise is another huge issue with choosing writers. Successful writers will tell you that they can write anything. This statement is not entirely true. A more accurate statement might be to say that “a good writer can write almost anything- within reason.” All writers have their limits. There are some areas of writing such as certain types of technical writing which require specialized understanding of subject matter. One can see this in certain areas of B2B selling. For example, a dental equipment supplier or manufacturer needs to be able to list products and create content which is geared for a highly specialized audience. There are writers who specialize in this type of technical writing and the average writer will not be able to write this content.

So you might be asking “how do I choose a content writer?” The answer to this question is not as difficult as one might think. A large factor to consider is the cost. There are numerous sites which advertise writers who will work for as low as $15-$20 for a 500 word article. Think about this pricing for a moment- who would write 500 words for this kind of money? No one who is serious about making a living selling content would work for this rate. You would have to write 500 words per hour to make a decent living wage. Even if you  could write this fast it is not leaving any time for research or revision. Believe it or not, there are websites which sell content for as low as $5 an article. The majority of writing on these sites is poorly written and will be filled with errors. Ten of these articles will not have the same impact as one well-written and strategically designed article. If you look at articles in the price range between $30 and $60 per 500 words you are now in a quality zone. Time is also a factor to be considered. I will definitely give you a 500 article for $30 dollars providing I have a week or more to work on it. However, there are limitations with this because no matter what, you still have to do the work of writing the article and it is not like selling in volume the profit in writing large numbers of articles does not provide an economic benefit the same as selling large numbers of products at reduced rates. 

So you can see cost is a large factor. While cost is very important, it is not the only factor. Choosing a writer should also be done based on quality. Now this might seem like an insulting thing to say but when judging a writer, you may not always be the best judge. This does not mean that you have to be a writer to choose a content author, but you should be familiar with basic grammar and punctuation rules. If you are not familiar with these rules, then it may be wise to have a teacher or someone who is skilled in this area check the writing.  Here are a few rules that you can follow when looking for a content writer:

  • Don’t hire a writer simply because they have a degree in English. Ask them if they have ever written commercially. If they have not you may need to test them out with a small article or two and set deadlines.
  • Don’t hire a writer because they write WEB content. Look for the signs of them being a hack.
  • Look for writers that price their writing at around $30-$60 per 500 words or $20-$30 per page (250 words).
  • Don’t use services that allow anyone to sign up and be a writer. These social media services tend to attract spammers and fraudsters. At the minimum, you will have to waste a lot of time sifting through people claiming to be writers who do not speak English as their first language.
  • Don’t ask for samples. I know that this sounds odd but there is no way to know if the writing is genuine. Any quality writing service will have a website filled with pages of content that you can sift through.
  • Have another person or a few people judge the prospective writer’s site and content. It is more likely that a few people will provide a more comprehensive perspective than just you.

There is one final and important thing that you should consider when you are looking for a writer. Does the writer connect with you and your business? Does the writer understand what you are trying to achieve and can he or she discuss your content needs in an intelligent manner? Understanding your need for content is a tremendously important factor. You need to feel comfortable that the writer is going to be able to market you or your company in a proper and effective manner. Any writer or writing service will readily discuss what you need and how to go about achieving this end.

Content Positioning

Another aspect of content marketing is positioning. What I am referring to is where to place your content.  There are two parts to positioning which include: where to post the initial content, and how to share it.  Both of these positioning factors work together in your marketing. 

The first part of where to position your content may seem to be obvious to many people- put the content on your website. This answer is steeped in some controversy.  There is some merit to the argument of having your content posted on one site vs another. For example, content posted on Blogger does appear to rank better on Google- mainly because Google owns Blogger and it gives its blog priority over others. It is believed that factors such as this impact the effectiveness of the blog because it ranks differently. Personally, I believe that this factor is insignificant in the face of the quality of your blog. Posting on a separate blog also creates the problem of increasing the number of clicks that it takes for the customer to get to your site. For example, if you post your blog on blogger you may get better exposure but it causes the person to have to click on keywords or product embeds in order to get to your site or product. It is believed that reducing the number of clicks to get to the desired product makes the product sell better. Whether this is true is debatable but what we should consider is the fact that we live in a society where consumerism is based largely on instant gratification. I know that if I have to keep clicking on links to find something I get frustrated and go back to the search engine. If someone clicks on a search result on Google to get to your blog, they now have to click on a keyword or product link in order to get to your product. Hopefully, they will be willing to purchase the product at this point but no matter what they are now being redirected to a site from a separate blog. This may not be what they were intending to do and this can cause them to leave abruptly. I personally think that placing the blog on the site is the best means of marketing because it directly brings traffic to your site.  People argue this point because of what is known as back linking. Back linking is the practice of placing links on other domains or sites which link back to your website. This back link is placed in an article that is relevant to your site. Supposedly, this linking provides the site with more authority but this is questionable. Personally, any well written blog or article is going to carry more weight  than a poorly written one and whether you place it on a separate site or not does not change this fact. Again, post your content on your site and make sure you have really good content.  

The second part of content positioning is sharing your content.  This is where SEO and content links with social media. By placing your content on your site you now have created a means of directing not just WEB searches to your site but also social media traffic. Once you have setup your social media channels you can now position your content on these channels to further attract customers. This becomes clear in step 3. 

Step 3- Social Media

One of the great things about content is that it can be shared across many different channels. The way that this is accomplished is through social media. Social Media is a broad concept that encompasses many diverse applications and communications methods. Because social media is based on user sharing, the term social media has become inclusive of every type of website and application that allows people to share and comment. For the sake of clarity, the scope of this book is limited to social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, YouTube, and commenting systems such as reviews. 

Social media is a difficult topic for me because it is hard to write about it in an objective manner. Social media continues to be promoted as an effective means of selling and marketing but I believe that this assertion is questionable. I personally believe that it is more likely that the real benefit to social media is (maybe) raising awareness of a product or service. It is also possible that social media may negatively impact marketing rather than benefit it.  While social media is a necessary aspect of marketing, you need to understand the pros and cons of this advertising channel. 

Pros

Social media provides product awareness. If you are selling a product and it is posted somewhere on Facebook or Twitter it provides some level of awareness. The awareness of the product may lead to an indirect sale somewhere, at some point. I have to give this point to social media (despite the fact that I don’t believe it) because I admit that it may be possible for a person to see a product on Twitter or Facebook and click through to buy it. 

There are people who are social media maniacs and they use social media for just about everything. I personally know a few people that use social media for just about all their communications needs. I also find this extremely frustrating because I really do not like communicating through Facebook. These maniacs tend to be the drivers in social media and if you get a product or service in their hands in a positive manner they may drive sales. (Maybe!)

To be perfectly honest, the only sites that I have seen that are truly successful at selling products are Pinterest, Craigslist, Rating Systems, and YouTube.  These successes have also been limited.  

Sadly this is about the best I can say for social media!

Cons

Where do I begin? Social media has so many disadvantages that it is difficult to list them all. Perhaps the most glaring and common drawback is the fact that social media can do the exact opposite of what the business intends by creating negative impressions about the business. For example, I had a product on one of my websites that was selling well and I decided to put a review system on my products and the first thing that happened was a competitor began putting negative reviews on products. I lost thousands of dollars in sales before I realized what was happening. While reviews might be a good thing for selling it can also be detrimental to the business. One of the major problems (that most firms will not admit) is the fact that most reviews are fake.  Because there is a tendency for people to complain more often than compliment, reviews are difficult to work with because they tend to only get used when there is a problem. This leads to another aspect of reviews in which reviews are often used against businesses because customers use them as leverage to get discounts and other benefits. If you have a review system on your website you should be prepared for customers to blackmail you for discounts.  This problem also extends to social media such as forums and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. 

People use sites like Facebook to voice issues and concerns. Despite the fact that most people really do not care about what someone is saying, it is likely that someone who is displeased with your product or service is going to go on some social media site and plaster their complaint there. It is much more likely that people are going to remember this negative posting than all the postings that you have created in order to raise product awareness. It is a basic fact that people tend to remember negative things about businesses rather than positive. 

Social media is inaccurate. Social media constantly distorts and confuses subjects. It is far more likely that social media is going to cause a situation to become negative in some manner rather than to create positive buzz. Let’s look at the Boston marathon bombing. A terrible event in which social media was the cause of law enforcement to waste time and created a situation where people were being falsely accused of the crime. At the time when the initial event was unfolding, social media seemed like a hero. In reality, the assailants were apprehended through police efforts and eyewitnesses. Media outlets kept reporting how Facebook was being used to hunt down the assailants, but in a later documentary the truth was reported how social media was actually disruptive to investigations. 

Social media, by its nature breeds misinformation and rumors. This is a terrible marketing system when you think about it because it is simply unreliable. If a marketer came to you and said, I want to advertise your product on a billboard on a busy highway- you would be ecstatic! However, if that same marketer said, the only catch with the free billboard is that anybody can post anything they want on the same billboard about your product; you would probably walk away from this deal. Yet this is the nature of social media except on a global scale.

Another major drawback to social media is the fact that it simply is not conducive to selling most products. If you are selling a standard sort of product such as cat litter- who the hell is going to want to like that and talk about it online?   Now, if you named that same product “Shitty Kitty” you would probably raise some buzz and maybe sell a little. There is an inherent problem with social media in the fact that it was not designed to sell and market products and services. This may come as a shock to all those people who grew up using social media because many of them honestly believe that social media can do anything. Social media has evolved out of communications and most social media sites have an appeal that goes beyond the utility of contacting and communicating with people. The appeal that social media has is that it allows people to massage their egos. People build Facebook accounts and create little monuments to themselves. Think about how Facebook or Twitter pages are filled with crap about people. In these individuals minds they are posting things about themselves that they believe other people are interested in. This is what gives these sites such appeal, because people believe that other people are reading about them and are interested in them. People also use Facebook and Twitter as a soap box to voice their opinions and to post things they believe in. Unless you can somehow connect your brand of kitty litter to some social cause, the chances of social media marketing your product is slim to none. Even if you do connect it to a cause of some sort, this does not mean that it is going to work. 

I realize that a lot of what I have said is subjective, but that is because social media is difficult to quantify. There are some basic questions which are really difficult to answer such as:

What is the ROI on social media? How would you quantify it?

How much time needs to be spent working with social media?

Where is all the research showing the effectiveness of social media marketing?

There are more intrinsic questions such as how much money have you made on social media?  How many products have you sold through social media channels?

If social media was a viable marketing approach or business model, one would be able to make this a primary conduit for selling. I don’t know any company that is using social media as a primary selling outlet. In fact the only companies I know about that are making money on social media are social media companies and people selling social media marketing tools. There is an entire cottage industry based on social media marketing which is questionable at best.  Contact any “social media marketing company” and you will find that they want a lot of money and guarantee nothing.  

So if social media is bad for marketing why use it? The answer is presence. Having a Facebook and Twitter account provide avenues for people to look at your product or service and to become aware of it.  More importantly, social media provides your site with credibility.  For better or worse, one of the first things people do is look at a social media pages when checking out companies.  A decent looking and active page provides your company with some level of credibility. This one function makes social media worthwhile but only in so far as using it for building presence. In this capacity, social media serves a valid function that may indirectly increase sales. More importantly the Y generation are social media fanatics and despite the fact that this generation resists most forms of overt social media marketing, it simultaneously expects businesses to utilize social media such as having a Facebook page. If you don’t have a social media presence it is likely to harm your business by reducing your credibility.  With this understanding of social media, let’s simplify our social media marketing.

Facebook/Twitter

You should create a page for your product or service on both sites. This will provide you with some WEB presence.  Once you have developed your page, the real key is to gather an audience. There are a number of ways to do but one of the biggest mistakes I see that people do in this area is that they will follow or like pages that are the same or competitive style business. This is kind of dumb since these companies or individuals will not be purchasing from you. It is more effective to gain followers and likes from people who are potential customers. For instance, if you are Diet Company then seek out groups, companies, and individuals who need your products. 

The other method of gaining audience is to provide discounts on your website for liking or following your page. This will help build audience.  The real goal here is not the building of clientele but to create a presence and to build credibility. As stupid as it sounds, the more likes and followers you have, the more credible you are as a company. 

Depending on the type of website you own there are applications which can be used to showcase your products on these sites but this has been an area of difficulty.  At one time, there were many third party programs which allowed you to link your posts directly to these sites but this is a changing tide.  Social media companies have recently started barring the use of these third party apps.  This means that you may need to post directly on social media sites which can cost time.  I won’t recommend any apps for this purpose because I am afraid that the social media companies will not be allowing them much longer. This was one of the nice things about most social media that it could be automated with products and blog announcements. Applications made  building a presence simple but this may not be the case much longer.

In so far as advertising is concerned, I do not recommend advertising on these sites in so far as paying them on a pay per click basis or views. There are many people who will argue with me on this point but I have yet to be presented with any real proof that this type of advertising is effective. This is my position on this topic based on years of experience with e-commerce and research.  If you are one of those diehard social media people and you believe that this form of advertising works then you can check it out here and here.

Before you go dumping money into Facebook or Twitter advertising I would suggest you look at some research first. Gallup performed a survey “Americans Say Social Media Have Little Sway on Purchases” and had some interesting things to say about social media advertising. 

Pinterest

This is a really great site for marketing because it has a strong following and it readily lends itself to selling.  Pinterest allows individuals to post pictures known as pins which connect directly with products and content providing it has pictures. Pins are arranged and organized on Pin Boards. In this way, your product can be pinned on Pinterest which allows other viewers to see it. I like the Pinterest format because it readily lends itself to marketing as well as showcasing ideas in visual forms. Pinterest is gaining momentum as a social media selling outlet but it does require some creativity to make interesting Pin Boards. I have seen sales come from Pinterest and it is definitely worth pursuing for marketing purposes, at this point in time.  My only concern with Pinterest is that it will eventually change it policies or terms of use and this may make it less effective for selling.  

Reviews

This is an optional function for a website. Despite the fact that most reviews are fake, people still look at them.  This may sound funny, but despite the fact that I know that most reviews are fake- I still find myself reading them when considering a purchase online.  Reviews can be very helpful but one thing that you should be aware of is the fact that- you need to be able to control your reviews.  There are many applications which are not controllable and this presents problems with competitors and customers abusing the review system. If you are going to use a review system you will need to manage this function to some degree. the best advice in this area is to keep it simple and use a review system which is easy to install and has a large degree of control. You can expect limited success with reviews but it is an area worth considering. If you are using a platform such as Shopify or WordPress, you will find any number of these applications at your disposal. 

Craigslist

Its strange animal that I avoid like the plague because of its issues with spam and just really weird people inhabiting its communities. I also dislike the fact that Craigslist relies on community policing to deal with issues and problems which can be counterproductive to selling. Despite my dislike of this site, I find that it can be somewhat useful for local marketing.  Craigslist reaches a very large market and provides an inexpensive means of advertising.  It may be worth having some ads. This is especially true if you have a business that operates locally because you can target your ads to your community. However, this is really dependent on the level of engagement that Craigslist has in a particular community. Some areas are much more likely to sell than other areas. You will need to test the waters to see if it works in your area.

Craigslist has changed its rules for posting recently which has eliminated a large amount of spam and scammers. However, Craigslist is still a bizarre marketplace because it is community monitored. This means that anyone can flag anyone else's advertisement and have it taken down. In a highly competitive market you will likely have problems with this because competitors abuse this function. Another one of the most frustrating aspects of Craigslist is the posting issues which I have experienced. I have learned through trial and error that posts need to be designed a certain way or they are automatically spammed. The site is also not great for selling in multiple markets because this can create issues with being flagged and spammed. I have seen people dump enormous amounts of time into Craigslist. Depending on the type of product you are selling and the area you live, Craigslist might be worth some effort.

A Little More on Social Media

There are countless social media sites.  In this stage of marketing what you are trying to do is build an online presence.  This can help with branding and depending on the social media site, you may even see sales.  It is important to understand that some social media can be a good marketing tool but this tool is limited. There is also the problem that social media sites can change policies and this can severely impact the profitability of your business.  For example, when Craigslist altered its policies concerning links, I am sure that this impacted many people who use Craigslist as their primary means of marketing. You should keep in mind that, any social media outlet you choose, you will be at the mercy of this outlet. These companies all the time change policies which impact how you can post and what you can post, and this can severely impact your business.  

The one good aspect of social media beyond building presence is that it provides a means of sharing your WEB content. This, of course, is only effective if you have an audience to share it with. Once you have an audience, sharing your content will provide you with increased presence and add to your credibility. 

The point is not to overcomplicate this area of marketing or to become too dependent on any one site. Once your have created you accounts, and integrated them with your content, you have now completed your basic marketing structure for your site and products.  You are now ready to pursue the proactive portion of your marketing campaign.

Step 4- Word of Mouth

People all the time open businesses and neglect the e-commerce portion of the business. The same is true of many technology driven companies neglecting traditional business methods. Word of mouth is powerful advertising and anyone with an e-commerce should be promoting their business in this manner. Business cards are a perfect means of promoting your products or services.  If for some reason you do not feel that you can promote your business verbally, then perhaps you need to reconsider what you are doing, or else you will need to concentrate vigorously on other marketing steps. Friends and family can be great avenues for promotion simply by telling them what you are doing. Depending on your product or service you may find people calling you and needing your assistance or products. Obviously, some products are more effective at word of mouth than others but no matter what people need to know that you are in business and what you sell. Always be selling!  This does not mean you have to hard sell but it does mean that you need to always be looking for opportunities for promoting your business. 

Step 5- Email Marketing

Its not spam!  Email marketing is the marketing of products to consumers through email. As a marketer, you are going to build valuable contacts and customers and this will be done largely through email. This is one of the largest and most profitable means of marketing because it costs nothing to send emails. Sadly, this marketing technique does readily lend itself to spamming and for that reason people have developed this idea that any form of marketing through email is spam. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over time you will collect emails from many different people who might have interest in your product. By them giving you their email they have consented to being contacted with promotions. It takes some time to begin building an effective list but once you have a few thousand emails you will be able to consistently sell using this method.  

There are a variety of email applications which can be used for email marketing. These applications will integrate with your site in most cases and make automating your email marketing a simple task. The way these systems work is that people are asked during purchase or on areas of the website whether they want to join your mailing list. When they sign up for your email list they have provided you with their email which can be used to send them promotions and discounts for future purchases. These systems will automatically collect emails for you and up date the email list by providing links for unsubscribing.   

One of the most popular systems is Mail Chimp and it integrates easily with many different sites. This application is great and it is reasonably priced. There many email marketing programs to choose from but you should try to find one that integrates with your website because it will make work easier.  

Step 6- Incentive Marketing

In this step you are ready to take your content and social media channels and put them to work.  Incentive marketing is a broad area of marketing which can include giving away products, cash back, or discounts. This type of marketing can be very effective when implemented properly.  As a small business owner and manager, you are extremely limited in the amount of time you have to dedicate to marketing. Most small businesses cannot afford marketing consultants and massive advertising. There are a number of ways to go about incentive marketing but this will depend largely on your pricing strategy.  If you are selling low cost goods or competing on price, it is likely that you will not be able to create effective incentives for customers or sales persons.  This approach also takes some level of planning because you will need to integrate it into your overall selling. Depending on the depth of your incentive selling program this can also be expensive such as having design systems and applications to make it functional with you e-commerce.   For example, many companies provide their sales people with tools such as computers, leads, etc. This same approach is needed with creating an effective selling force online.  You may need to create referral programs or buy the software in order to provide tools in the form of links, banners, and email marketing.  It is important for a company to incentives its products in some manner.  

One More Time 

You should now be able to build your Integrated eMarketing Network by following this primer. Just remember that it is a process and each step is vital to making your e-commerce successful. By following this primer you will begin building a strong marketing network. More importantly you will have covered all the basic areas of marketing and created an efficient workflow for posting and advertising your products. Following this primer will save you tremendous amounts of money and time by avoiding many of the common pitfalls of e-commerce. 

Step 1- SEO Simplified

Step 2- Content

Step 3- Social Media

Step 4- Word of Mouth

Step 5- Email Marketing

Step 6- Incentive Marketing

If you need assistance understanding the concepts outlined in this primer please feel free to contact me using our contact form.  I wish you good fortune in your marketing endeavors. Thank you.