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eCommerce is experiencing exponential growth in 2020 as brick and mortar stores have had to shut the doors amidst the global health crisis. But even as traditional retail rebounds in the months and years ahead, it has become clear that online sales are the only sustainable means to maintaining revenue. Putting your products on Amazon (where applicable) may be one channel, but given the subscription and per-item selling fees it’s often not as scalable of a solution as managing your own website. However, eCommerce is fiercely competitive, which is why sellers must increase their investment in highly targeted digital marketing. Below are five important things to integrate into your new strategy.

5 Essential Steps to Smarter Digital Marketing for eCommerce Websites in 2020 and Beyond

1. Don’t Generalize Products Into Broad Categories

Remember, you’re competing with Amazon and other “big box” online sellers (as applicable) so going after a broad product category will be a challenge. You need to be very specific in the messaging and positioning of your products. 

For example, if you sell health supplements, be sure to break supplements down not only by brands but into specific categories, targeting online search for primary ingredients and health benefits. You can do this by adding relevant keywords to product descriptions and providing supportive content (i.e. blog articles) which will link back to the product purchase pages. This concept applies to all types of products.

2. Avoid the BIGGEST SEO Mistake Made by Online Sellers

Adherence to general SEO best practices is critical to eCommerce success, however there is one problem that plagues eCommerce SEO unlike any other – canonicalization. In computer science, canonicalization is a process for converting data that has more than one possible representation into a standardized form. This has become a big SEO concern in the eCommerce environment. 

The issue is born from when there are many variations in sizes, colors, and designs (etc.) for a single product. For example, let’s say that you sell pants. Now let’s say that your most popular design comes in blue, black, brown, and gray. Standard eCommerce website plugins will generate a separate URL for each design (blue, black, brown, and gray). The issue when this happens, is that each URL will end up with the exact same product description and meta-data which immediately creates duplicate content. Duplicate content is a violation of Google’s requirements which will make it difficult for your products to rank, and may lead in a drop in rank for already established product pages.

You can fix this issue manually in the CMS, but when you sell numerous products with numerous variations in design it becomes too labor intensive. This is where canonical tagging comes in handy. Your developer will need to integrate canonical tags which essentially tell Google exactly which product URLs should be indexed, and by default, which URLs should not indexed. How does this work?

In the example above, you may choose your best selling color of pants (i.e. black pants) and apply the canonical tag to its URL, effectively telling Google that the black pants URL is the only one among the four that they should treat as the primary URL. Your website must indicate the preferred URL using what is known as the rel=“canonical” link element.

Your developer will need to add a <link> element with the attribute rel=“canonical” to the <head> section of each of the pants design pages, such as: <link rel=”canonical” href=”” />. This indicates to Google the preferred URL to use to access the black pants so that the search results will be more likely to show customers that URL while removing the duplicate content concern.

For the uninitiated this may seem like a complicated “fix” but your developer should understand what to do. If not, Strategis Consulting Group can perform an SEO audit of your product pages and make the necessary adjustments. 

3. Be Upfront About Shipping

Nothing frustrates the online shopper experience like confusion around shipping. Very few customers want to wait until they get to their shopping cart check-out to see what shipping will cost, or to find that the service may not be available to their locale. Uncertainty is the mother of point of purchase failure in the eCommerce environment. To keep visitors on your site, create a dedicated shipping page that is accessible to “window shoppers” and search engines alike. The page should be easy to find in the primary and/or footer menu of the website, and should include general shipping estimates (expected cost and delivery) by region and method. In addition, provide clear information about restrictions such as not being able to ship to international destinations. 

4. Target by Geography When Too Competitive

The nature of eCommerce allows access to customers all over the world but it also opens the floodgates to national and international competitors. If you’re already selling products in a highly competitive market, you should consider targeting your product sales by city, province/state, and country. 

For example, let’s say that you sell fitness products (very competitive) from a distribution center in Vancouver BC. You may have full international shipping capabilities and assume you can gain customers all over the world. You may target your campaigns using search expressions such as “Fitness Equipment for Sale Online”, but given the sheer number of competitors in the online space you may barely tread water on Google page 2 or worse. Instead, if you simply add “Vancouver” and “Canada” to your keyword targets (as in “Fitness Equipment for Sale Vancouver, Canada”) you will be able to pick low hanging fruit near you. Over time as your site gains traction on a local and national scale you can then think about casting a wider net.

Before proceeding, you first need to verify that there is enough online search for a given area. You can do this using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool (here). Once verified, you can go after key geographic areas with both keyword targeting and via geo-targeted campaigns on search engines, email, and social media. 

5. Don’t Sell, But Build Your Brand Narrative on Social Media

The steps above will help you draw online customers to specific product URLs, but we cannot overstate the importance of building general interest in your brand at the same time. For eCommerce based brands, this must occur on social media. You may be tempted to start selling your products on Facebook Store and by flooding your Twitter feed with links to products, but that’s not the point we’re making. You need to show your target market that your products match their own lifestyles in an organic and non-obtrusive way. You need to connect and engage to not be seen as a used car salesperson, even if you are.

Focus on sharing eye-catching brand imagery, useful content, and building a narrative about your brand. Awareness about the products you offer will follow naturally. For example, if you sell sustainable fashion goods, you should be sharing stories about how your company is celebrating Earth Day and World Oceans Day, while monitoring how others in your target market are doing the same, and engage them by commenting on their posts. As reciprocal engagement follows your newfound followers will learn about your eco-friendly fashions in the most organic manner and be primed to purchase. 

The five tips above are just the tips of the iceberg. eCommerce is an opportunity-rich yet complicated beast. You have enough on your plate, including product design, packaging, manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, licensing, and more. Focus on the core of your business while passing eCommerce marketing duties to a specialist. Strategis Consulting Group will turn your website into a customer acquisition machine. Contact us today to learn more.