When small businesses rely on their ecommerce sites or online operations to generate a healthy revenue stream, it can be frustrating when sales slow to a crawl or reach an impasse. If the slump is temporary, attributable to a sluggish economy or bad weather, for instance, then small business owners need only to stay the course until customers start buying again.
However, if the slowdown in sales has been happening for a while, then it makes sense to look at the entire online sales process. Remember, it's not just content but context that can help drive customers to your site.
Following are five tips that can help small business owners increase their online sales.
Leverage SEO for your content
You could have the greatest product in the world, but if few people know about your site then your hopes of increasing online sales are severely limited. To drive traffic to your site, you will need to broaden audience awareness of your business and product.
A great way to do that is to make your site, specifically the content on it, as search friendly as possible. This way when customers are using a search engine, such as Google, to look for online sites that sell a desired product, they will easily find out about yours via high search result rankings.
Brian Forrester, owner of Dynamic Web Solutions, a digital marketing business in Richmond, Virginia, works with small businesses and is a staunch proponent of this tactic. In fact, his firm has used targeted paid search, which is the practice of increasing web traffic by purchasing ads on search engines, for a local client, which boards pets. Not only did it double traffic to the site but the client ended up with numerous leads.
“Paid search such as Google AdWords, tends to capture traffic further along the buying cycle,” explains Forrester. “This often results in higher conversion rates than other website traffic sources.”
And for those with a tight budget, Anna Lundberg, owner of Crocus Communications, a digital marketing consulting firm that works with small to medium-sized businesses, recommends making a paid search campaign as specifically targeted as possible. This includes putting the limits that you can set within Google Adwords, to define the maximum amount to spend per day.
Says Lundberg: “This means that you can make sure that you don’t go over the budget you have available. It’s very flexible and you’re never charged more than what you’ve specified; you can start as low as you like and increase as you learn from the results which keywords and which ads are working best as your business grows.”
To illustrate her point, Lundberg says that for one client, Grace & Wilde, a new luxury shapewear brand, her firm optimized their website so that it ranked on Google for select keywords. They also launched a paid search campaign that matched ad copy to the specific keywords.
“We also ran targeted Facebook and Twitter campaigns to go from zero up to over 2,000 fans and 500 followers respectively in just a few months,” she continues. “And these were real fans, not just fake or non-interested accounts,” as evidenced by their level of engagement and purchasing interest they showed in the product.
Build up social media presence
This might sound like a given for most business owners but the question needs to be asked: Do you have an active Facebook page? Do you post regular updates, which might include photos of items, special discounts, and even giveaways? Do you even have a Facebook page? If you've answered no to any of these questions, then it’s time to establish a better social media profile. The same applies to Twitter and YouTube. The more you can use these tools to actively promote your brand, the more you will be able to attract prospective customers to visit your site and buy your products.
At the same time, be careful not to oversell. Balance the sales pitches with content relevant to your target audience, such as how-to articles or whitepapers.
Says Forrester: "Creating content that resonates with the small business audience can drive targeted traffic via organic search. These visitors can convert into leads for service-based businesses and sales for ecommerce businesses.
Study dropout results in your analytics
Another way to boost your online sales is to see if there are any bottlenecks in your checkout process. Check your analytics to see if customers are not completing purchases and if not, when in the sales cycle that is occurring. Perhaps the fault isn’t with your actual products or digital advertising efforts as much as it is your online checkout procedure. Review the steps: Is the navigation complicated, full of superfluous steps? Does the customer have to click through too many pages? If so, you might want to tweak your checkout process to help convert these dropouts to sales.
Offer loyalty rewards
Regardless of the nature of your business, all customers like to feel special. Offering loyalty programs, such as cards or points that will award customers discounts or other rewards for their continued purchases is not just an effective way to increase sales but a best practice when it comes to customer retention.
Digital marketing consultant Lundberg agrees, noting that loyalty options can be done via e-mails that target customers based on specific purchases or information on their profile. “For example, this can be done via exclusive offers to reward Facebook fans,” she explains.
And once the customer signs up, he or she will receive regular news alerts, free shipping offers, and even birthday wishes, according to Lundberg.
Solicit customer feedback
Perhaps the best way to find out what you can do to boost your sales conversion rate is to go directly to the source—your customers. Ask for their feedback on your site. Poll them on their level of satisfaction with your business. What kinds of products would they like to see added to your offerings? Has your price point ever been an issue with them? (And to encourage free and unfettered disclosures, allow customers the option of remaining anonymous or cloaking their identity).
Sure, you may hear some cold hard truths about your business and your selling practices. But at the same time, the information gleaned could jolt you from complacency to begin the steps you need to take to increase your online sales.