In the ecommerce design and development overview last month, we introduced some of the reasoning behind why ecommerce website businesses should consider local marketing first in their strategy. Many first attempts at building an ecommerce business begin with a plan that is ‘too big’ and a lot of budget is often blown by focusing on strategies that don’t yield a result.
Our take on this, then, is that, unless your business is already national or global, it is better to start your online marketing locally. That is because making contacts and winning over new customers is much easier when the business is something tangible that people can relate to.
Imagine a local restaurant. It’s in a beautiful, but somewhat intimidating building in the middle of town. It is spacious and tastefully refurbished inside, but from outside, the building is a little daunting to the passer-by. It takes a little courage to walk through the door the first time.
Now imagine that this restaurant starts following you on Twitter because you mention you’re from the area. You follow them back because you recognise the name, having walked past many times.
They tweet a special offer for Mother’s Day. You click the link and see pictures of the interior which you had never seen before because you’d never made it inside. It looks like a perfect place for a Mother’s Day treat. You book online via their website and share the offer with your own friends and local followers.
Slowly, but surely, you have become part of a local online marketing campaign.
Real ecommerce success comes from real business
Despite the size of the ecommerce marketplace (globally estimated to reach £2.7 trillion by 2016), it is important to recognise that online retail business is still retail business. Although the barriers to entry are fewer than starting an offline business, there are real barriers nonetheless, the biggest of which is the fact that your ecommerce website is new and unknown while the big ecommerce sites are established with solid supplier relationships, loyal buyers and huge marketing budgets.
Despite dreaming to the contrary, you aren’t going to take on Amazon’s multi-billion dollar business and multi-million dollar marketing engine…yet.
Like all good business, building up a real business that works with real people is the first step toward success.
Online marketing strategy for ecommerce
When you launch your ecommerce website, it will be new to everyone: your potential customers won’t know about it, your current customers (if you already operate a business) won’t know about it, and the search engines won’t know about it.
The first part of any good marketing strategy should be to gain market share, but you aren’t going to get on page 1 of the Google search results on day one, or probably even day 100. You need to be realistic about what it takes to build up a business online. Consider this quote from Stoney deGeyter on Search Engine Journal Put Your Business in its Place or your Marketing Campaign Will:
“Those who already have an established online presence have the advantage. New sites take more time to build the authority and reputation that is necessary to push past the mainstays.”
Begin your growth tactics by looking at the so-called ‘low hanging fruit’; the local people that you can connect with, talk to, meet with, and market to.
As your business builds up its reach and sales over time, so you can build on your marketing by reinvesting, building your budgets up and building on what you learn from the people you serve.
Search Engine Marketing
Of course, some of your growth strategy will come from directing searchers to your website. A solid search engine marketing strategy begins with making sure that your ecommerce website is search-friendly (SEO-friendly): Can the search engines see your content? Does your ecommerce website design and development use SEO best-practices?
But this is not everything that you’ll need to think about for search marketing.
Your strategy will need to consider competitors, customers, keyword and key phrase terms to target in on-site and off-site SEO work. Then there are backlinks: How are you going to get others to link to your website to help promote it and to help boost its rank in the search engines?
You can buy traffic, but you won’t out-bid your competitors with budgets a thousand times the size of yours.
This is where being local really pays. Instead of competing for clicks at a national level, a quality local paid search campaign (Pay Per Click or PPC) can be restricted to your local geographic area. This saves money and keeps your reach within the power of your early online marketing budgets.
A local focus is the clearest way to begin and forming a solid base will give you something to build on. After all, even Amazon started as a small online bookseller!
The people power of local ecommerce
Successful online businesses begin at home. People want to know who and where a business comes from. They would like to know that they could visit the premises or talk to the owner if they wanted to or needed to. Many people attach more importance to supporting local businesses than to finding the best price.
For service-oriented online businesses, starting local is one of the best ways to build an online presence. Hosting workshops and handing out vouchers are some of the ‘old school’ tactics to consider for building up traffic from a local base.
Promoting your ecommerce shop with vouchers distributed locally helps drive traffic and build a loyal group of shoppers.
The power of local search for ecommerce websites
Getting links to your website from others is one of the hallmarks of SEO campaigns. In the jargon of the industry, these are called ‘backlinks’. Earning links is not easy, and there is no magic wand you can wave that will give you enough quality backlinks to move your site up the ranks in the search engines. The only way to get good links to your site from others is to make connections with them.
In this sense, link building is really about relationship building, and what better place to start than with the local businesses, tourism sites and directories that reside on your doorstep? Most of these businesses will be happy to support another local startup, and as you grow your business, they too will benefit from the mutual relationships that you form early on.
Google Places for ecommerce websites
At its heart, Google Places is a directory of businesses. But, this directory is accessed directly via Google’s map service. When a searcher enters keywords relating to your business sector in Google searches, they will receive a map as part of the results that includes local businesses that offer that product or service.
Google Places listings not only offer you a place to list your business for SEO reasons, it also allows you to literally link your business to a specific geographic area. You can add photos and videos, show offers and special promotions to potential customers, add live updates and, perhaps most importantly from a social perspective, your customers can review and rate your business.
This is a great way to build your online presence through local feedback and reviews, as potential customers from further afield will consider local reviews to be extremely trustworthy.
The importance of mobile in ecommerce
Recent research into the role of mobile devices in purchasing behaviour shows that mobile phones are most commonly used as a research and price comparison tools prior to purchasing either in a physical shop or online.
In fact, 37% of mobile users started their purchases in the mobile channel and completed the purchase on a desktop computer. More importantly for as the ecommerce retailer, 41% of mobile shoppers actually completed the purchase on their mobile device.
This is why Google’s industry director for retail, Todd Pollak, believes that retailers need to improve the way they connect the mobile experience with the in-store or web-based shopping experience.
It is important to note that mobile searches are optimised to show local results (to the device) by default, putting even more importance on ensuring you have a solid local base for your ecommerce business.
Mobile is so important to Google that it has created an entire site called Howtogomo.com. This initiative is dedicated to helping online marketers and ecommerce websites to their mobile stores are easy to access and use on a mobile device.
Google announced in one of its updates late last year that mobile website optimisation is now a major factor in determining the quality score of PPC ads displayed to mobile devices.
This means that Google looks at how your website looks and responds when viewed from a smartphone or tablet device. An ecommerce site that is optimised for a mobile is going to perform better in Google’s eyes, and in reality:
“Ads that have mobile optimized landing pages will tend to perform better in AdWords — they will generally drive more mobile traffic at a lower cost.” 
What you can start doing right now to build your business
Even before your ecommerce website is designed and developed, you can (and should) begin building up the local contacts and business links you will need to create a solid base of local support for your ecommerce website.
Talk to people who already have businesses and seek out other online retailers in your local area. Create a realistic plan to start close to home and to build upon your base.
Most importantly, choose an ecommerce website design and development partner that not only ensures your site works on a mobile, but also optimises the experience to support the power of local.
In next month’s instalment of the 12 Ecommerce Website Design & Development White Papers in 2012 we focus on ecommerce and device technology.
If you need help with any aspect of your website, then please feel free to browse our services.
 eMarketer, February 2012, http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1008871 Accessed 06.03.2012
 Google Mobile Ads Blog, November 2011, http://googlemobileads.blogspot.com/2011/11/update-on-mobile-optimization-in-ads.html Accessed 06.03.2012
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