How small business ecommerce can plan for a successful Black Friday

Black Friday for small business ecommerce

Love it or hate it, Black Friday is here to stay in the UK.  This year it falls on 25th November 2016 and encompasses the four-day period from Black Friday through to Cyber Monday on the 28th November.

How you view Black Friday may well depend on your business. Whilst some online retailers welcome it with open arms, others find it more problematic and not necessarily something they are eager to embrace. According to Tech Radar businesses selling electronics or gadgets are likely to fare better over the Black Friday weekend than other industries. This is why it is important to plan your approach carefully to ensure both you and your customers are happy.

Black Friday 2015 saw record-breaking online sales in the UK

Traditionally Black Friday – certainly in the US – was more of a bricks and mortar affair however over the last couple of years in the UK we’ve seen it move steadily towards a major online event. According to research last year UK shoppers spent a record £3.3 billion online over the Black Friday weekend – with Black Friday itself taking in a record-breaking £1.1 billion online sales. This was an uplift of 36% from 2014 sales.

So, it looks like the Black Friday phenomenon is here for the foreseeable future with firm expectations from customers that there are deals to be had. So, as a small business owner, how can you ensure you make it both successful and profitable?

Planning is key to a successful Black Friday

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Planning your Black Friday promotions is central to ensuring success. Probably the worst thing you can do is leave it to the last-minute, panic and whack out something like a 40% discount across the board. Not taking the time to work out your profit margins is likely to make your bottom line go pear-shaped very quickly.

Don’t plan in isolation – view Black Friday weekend as an element of your overall holiday planning and sales strategy. For many online retailers, the run up to Christmas is probably the biggest sale period of the year, so planning your sales and promotion strategy well in advance is essential.

Carefully consider your offers your promotional offers

Most importantly do your sums before you run any promotion. You should be confident that any discount you offer won’t adversely effect your profit margin. Of course you want to attract customers and show an uplift in sales, but this shouldn’t be to the detriment on your bottom line. Spend time working out what will numbers will keep both you and your customers happy.

Planning your Black Friday promotions in light of your overall Christmas sales strategy will help you implement the most appropriate and effective offers. Try and choose a promotion specific to Black Friday that stands out from the general seasonal promotions you have planned.

For example if you are running a regular general promotion over the Christmas sales period such as 10% offer with free delivery, then choose something else for Black Friday. If customers know that they can get the same offer from you in a week or two’s time there is little incentive for them to make a purchase. You want to create a sense of urgency amongst your customers – if they don’t take the offer up now they will miss out completely. Keep the promotion limited to a specific time frame such as the four days over black Friday.

What products do you intend to discount?

In the same way you look at the promotions you intend to run, think about which products you will include. For example to you intend to run a blanket sales promotion across all your products or are you going to be selective about what products are promoted and discounted.

If you decide to be selective then it can be a good idea to choose products, perhaps seasonal ones, that you think you are likely to find you have excess stock of in January.

Promote your black Friday deals in advance

Promoting your offers is essential to ensure customers are aware that you are running a specific, time-limited promotion over Black Friday. It’s about making sure that you generate awareness amongst customers and prospective customers that you have some special deals going on. Plan you promotions in advance – so you are ready to go on the day. This is far better (and likely to be far more effective) than trying to hastily put together some poorly thought-out promotions last-minute. Review last year’s activities – what worked well and what fell flat?

It can also be a good idea to give you customers some advance warning that you will be doing something for Black Friday. Some of the bigger retailers have holding pages on their website months in advance – for example here is Argos’ Black Friday holding page.

black friday ecommerce

 

Email: Email is a great way to promote your black Friday deals. Indeed, according to Forbes, email accounted for 27% of Christmas sales in 2014. Consider flagging up Black Friday in your newsletters or running  teaser emails beforehand so customers know that your business will be holding a special promotion.  Then ensure you alert customers on the actual day to any special offers you are doing. Create a sense of urgency by being very clear this is for Black Friday / Cyber Monday only and that offer is for a limited period.

Here is an example of 2015’s Black Friday email offering from Gap.

Black friday email promotions

Social Media: Don’t forget social media is a great place to promote your special black friday offers. Share you promotions across all your social media platforms. Use eye-catching images to help increase engagement and don’t forget to include relevant hashtags such as #blackfriday or #cybermonday.

 

PPC advertising: Competition is likely to be higher at this time of year but PPC can still offer you an additional channel to get your promotion in front of your audience. You may have to spend a bit more time crafting the right keywords  –  try looking at long-tail search terms and implementing some negative keywords to help make your search more relevant.

Other considerations…

Potential sales uplifts can have a knock on effect of other areas of your business. More traffic may mean more customer service queries, a surge in sales may result in longer delivery and fulfillment times so take a moment to consider any potential impact.

For example do you intend to entice people in with free delivery? If so you will need to factor this into your costs and your profit margin.

Equally if, due to the costs associated with the promotion, you decide to only offer a standard delivery service then make sure this is clearly stated during the checkout process. Customer may well be content with longer delivery because of the saving they have made on your Black Friday promotions but only if you have made this clear upfront.

And, be realistic – are you likely to need to help to ensure your delivery and fulfillment runs smoothly? If you think demand will be high, then you may have to accept that you and your staff will need  to work longer hours or you’ll need to consider bringing on temporary help to ensure you products are fulfilled and delivered when promised.

Black Friday looks like its here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future anyway. To make the most of the potential sales opportunities it can offer your business, ensure you plan it into your calendar and most importantly look at it as a key element of your overall sales strategy. By planning your promotions, carefully considering what products to discount, implementing an effective marketing campaign and taking into account areas such as delivery and fulfillment, you are far more likely to find the right balance – one that keeps your customers happy and your profit margins healthy!

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on Black Friday, so please do leave a comment.

 

How to create great landing pages

 

create great landing pages

Landing pages are an essential marketing tool for small business ecommerce. They can play a key role in helping increase conversions.  Defined simply, a landing page is webpage built specifically for a particular purpose, such as to generate leads or bring about a purchase. It is the page people land on because they have been directed to it by your campaign channel.

“Specific page(s) on a web site created for visitors referred from marketing campaigns which are designed to achieve a marketing outcome.SmartInsights 

So what is the difference between a homepage and landing page? Unlike your ‘campaign specific’ landing page, your homepage is more of a hub for your whole website.  It usually caters to a number of different purposes, and therefore often has more than one objective and call to action.

Creating landing pages can help increase conversions

So why is it important to create a separate landing page for specific campaigns and what’s wrong with always directing people straight to your homepage ? The most compelling reason to create separate landing pages for each campaign is to increase conversions. A successful landing page makes it clear from the outset what it is you are asking your visitor to do, leading them firmly towards  a specific call to action. If visitors are sent to the homepage after receiving a specific campaign message,  they may get distracted by all the other messages and ‘call to actions’ that are going on the page. The key message of the campaign gets lost and the chances of a conversion are decreased.

How to create a great landing page

What makes a successful landing page? Great landing pages can help engage your visitor, lower your bounce rate and increase conversions. Creating a landing page in itself  won’t automatically increase your conversion rate. You need to craft your  pages so that they actively do all that they can to entice your visitor to perform a specific action. We’ve outlined some tips to ensure your landing pages are working as hard as they can.

Create a unique landing page for each separate campaign.

We talked earlier about the difference between your homepage and landing pages. Landing pages should reflect the campaign you are communicating to your customers. For example if you have sent out a special 25% offer email, then you should have a specific landing page focused on the 25% offer. Likewise, if you are trying to generate leads via a ppc advertisement for a  free e-book download , then you need to create a unique e-book landing page.

Here is an example of a Boden email about new clothes that are ‘New In’ and below is the specific landing page . Customer aren’t directed to the homepage rather they are taken straight through to a specific landing ‘New In’ landing page. By focuses solely on clothes that are new in it is reflecting the promise of the email message and meeting customers expectations.

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Landing page content should reinforce your campaign’s message

Whatever  message you have enticed your visitor to click-through with should be clearly reflected in the content of your landing page. When visitors arrive on your landing page they will have a clear idea if what they expect to find. If the content doesn’t match the promise then they may well leave without bothering to find out more. Make sure that the customers are given the information they are expecting.

Here is an example from HubSpot. The first image is an email I received about a free e-book download and the second is the landing page I was taken through to. Then landing page content clearly reflects the message in the email.

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Consider your goals and have a clear call to action

What is the key purpose of your  landing page – what is the main goal? Are you generating leads, building relationships , looking for sales conversions. For example when visitors arrive at you landing page do you want them to make a purchase, download an e-book, sign-up to a newsletter, refer a friend, complete an order, enter a competition or leave a testimonial? When you have determined your key goal you can then ensure that your content is focused clearly towards achieving that goal.

Visitors should be left in no doubt as to what it is you are wanting them to do. Have a very clear, standout call to actions buttons on both your original campaign channel and the landing page . For example; Add to basket, Buy now, Download now, Register here, Shop Now,  Open an account, Enter here. Here are a few examples of some strong call to action buttons.

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Choose campaign specific keywords 

As we mentioned earlier the relevance of your landing page is essential – your content needs to reflect the message of your campaign. No more so than if the channel is via PPC ads. Make sure that you include the same keywords that you have used in your ad campaign in the body of the landing page as well. Landing pages whose text is directly relevant to the ad text will score better ad rankings. The more relevant your page is,  the more helpful it will be to your rankings and the higher the likelihood of an end conversion. So if your ad is promoting your new line of christmas gifts, then ensure your landing page is solely focused on your new line of christmas gifts.

Plan your layout to optimise response

How you layout your landing page is also important. I well-designed page will support your key goal and help optimise response.  The purpose of a landing page is to convert your visitor as quickly as possible to your key objective – whether that is to download and e-book, make a purchase or enter a competition. So the when you design your page keep this in mind.

Headline: 

Your main headline should directly reflect the message of the campaign that your visitor clicked through with. So if they clicked off a PPC ad then your headline should closely reflect the wording you choose. Your headline should marry with your visitors expectations about what the page is about.

Landing page copy: 

The body copy of your landing page should reflect your headline and support your campaign message. You are looking to convince and encourage visitors to convert to your end goal. Use bullet points, sub headers and images to break up text.  People should be able to skim over the page and still understand the key message you are conveying.

Call to action: 

Your call to action, whether that’s a sign-up form or a button, needs to be clear and standout near the top of the page – certainly above the fold. Your call to action should leave the visitor in no doubt about what you are asking them to do.

Here are a few articles about optimal layout for landing pages which you may find helpful.

The anatomy of a perfect landing page

How to design a landing page that delivers customers

11 Great landing page examples

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of creating landing pages, so please do leave a comment

 

How to create SEO friendly blog posts

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Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is really important for small online businesses. Optimising your website to make it more attractive to search engines will help your ecommerce business rank higher on SERPS.  As a consequence your online business will become more visible to people using certain keywords and keyphrases to search for information via search engines such as Google. Making your blog posts search engine friendly are an excellent way to help support your ongoing SEO efforts.

Not only are blogs a great way to engage your audience, grow high-quality leads, build credibility and authority for your site, they are also one of the most straightforward ways to add relevant, fresh and quality content to your website on a regular basis.  Search engines like new content so it is important to keep a regular stream content coming on to your site.  

How to make your blog posts SEO friendly

Start by doing some keyword research

Think about the kinds of keywords and keyphrases that your target audience might search for when looking for products or services related to your business. There are some helpful tools available that can generate ideas and give you indication of how popular a particular keyword or keyphrase is – try Google’s Keyword planner. It’s a free Adwords tool (you just need to create an Adwords account) aimed at advertisers but really helpful if you are doing keyword research for your business.

keyword research

“Is the keyword relevant to your website’s content? Will searchers find what they are looking for on your site when they search using these keywords? Will they be happy with what they find?’ MOZ, The Beginners Guide to SEO

Identifying the kind of words and phrases your target audience may use will help you create copy that is attractive to search engines. Just make sure the keywords and phrases are relevant to the content of your blog article. If they don’t marry-up then visitors won’t stay around to discover more about what your ecommerce business has to offer.

Keywords and phrases should flow naturally through your copy

This is a really important point.  Your keyword research doesn’t for one second mean that you simply use the keywords and phrases you’ve identified and stuff as many as possible into your blog post. This is known as keyword stuffing and as a practice it will actually do your ecommerce business more harm than good. The keywords and phrases you’ve researched should be relevant to the article or post you are writing and therefore should flow naturally into your copy anyway. Utilise a few keywords and phrases to help keep you focused on your goal of optimising your post. If you always bear  in mind that you are writing for your target audience then you’ll probably find that the most relevant keywords and phrases will pop up naturally anyway.

Use keywords in certain key areas 

There are however specific areas in your post where including  some strategically placed keywords and phrases will have a positive impact, not only to help the audience quickly glean how relevant your article, but to help search engine crawlers to index your content. The general consensus is to include your keywords / key phrases in:

  • URL
  • Title (your headline)
  • Headers, sub-headers and body  (remember keeping them natural)
  • Meta description

Include images

Not only will images help engage your audience (content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images), images can also be optimised for search engines. For each image you publish make sure you complete its Alt Text using a keyword relevant to your post. Search engines can’t see an image so they rely on Alt Text to tell them what the image is about. In addition, it is also important that you add alt text to the image to ensure accessibility for people relying on-screen readers.

Link internally

OK, so we all know the value of having inbound links from authoritative industry relevant websites, however don’t forget that there are other opportunities that will be helpful to SEO. When you are creating your post think if there are any other articles you’ve written that it would be relevant to include an internal link to. For example, earlier on when we looked at keywords research I’ve included a link back to  a previous article that examines keyword research in more detail. This ‘internal linking’ can help highlight other related content to search engines – it may also help keep visitors on your site for longer.

In addition, it can be a good idea to link externally in your post to other authoritative sites (if relevant to your content).  It won’t be as beneficial as an inbound link, but it will still help towards your trust rating.

Be mobile friendly

Ensure that your blog posts are multi-device friendly – for example, that they are just as readable on a mobile as they are on a desktop. Firstly, you want your readers to be able to access your posts when it suits them such as on the train on the way to work. According to research mobile now accounts for 65% of all digital media time – with all new growth coming from mobile usage.

blog posts should be mobile friendly

Secondly, if people are using a mobile to search for information, Google will display mobile friendly sites first on SERPS. Google adds a mobile friendly label to all mobile search results displaying websites that have been optimised to be viewed on a mobile device.

Add a comment box

Opening up your blog posts to comments, not only is a great way to build relationships and engage directly with your audience, it is also another way to add relevant, fresh content to website  for SEO purposes. If you decide to go down this road and open you posts up for comments, then make sure you have the resources to monitor them to ensure nothing inappropriate or spam related is being posted.

Blogging is a really excellent way to support your SEO efforts through adding fresh, relevant and regular content to your small online business. Hopefully by introducing some of the tips we’ve mentioned above your posts will be that extra bit more search engine friendly. 

 

We’d  love to hear your thoughts and experiences on blogging and SEO so please do leave a comment. 

 

 

18 top tips for successful email marketing

 

email marketing

Email is arguably one of the most useful tools in a small business’ marketing toolbox. It is incredibly flexible, cost-effective and offers an impressive ROI. Indeed most small businesses wouldn’t be without it.

A rosy future for email…

“9 out of 10 clients perceive email marketing as a channel of ‘importance’ or ‘great strategic importance’ for achieving business goals” DMA National Client Survey 2015

  • Email has an average ROI of $38 for each $1 spent
  • 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it every day.
  • 76% of marketers are seeing active growth in their number of email subscribers
  • The average order value of an email is at least three times higher than that of social media
  • A message is 5x more likely to be seen in email than via Facebook

Email’s future continues to look rosy as newer technologies such as marketing automation offer even more options and email systems become better and better at identifying and getting rid of spam.

With this in mind, we’ve created a checklist of what we think are the key tips for ensuring your ecommerce business is making the most out of its email communications. So, in no particular order, here is our list of what to do and what not to do as far as your email marketing is concerned.

18 top tips for great email marketing

  1. Focus on content: The quality of your content is key to whether your emails succeed or fail. There is no point sending out emails where the content has no value to the recipient. Focus on sending out information that is relevant, entertaining or useful to your target audience – otherwise your emails we’ll remain unopened or go straight to the trash bin.
  2. Create killer subject lines: You may have painstakingly created an email that is packed full of valuable content for your audience, but if you don’t spend a bit of time crafting your subject line your email may not even get opened. Try to keep your subject line short and to the point and make sure it reflects the actual content of the email. Here are a couple of  helpful articles on how to create successful subject lines: 10 Simple Tips for Writing Killer Email Subject Lines and Best Email Subject Lines.
  3. Mix up your communications: Do not bombard customers and potential customers with just sales messages. You need to mix up the type of content you are sending. Of course, sales emails are essential but they be the only emails you send. Make sure you are also dispatching other useful content for example; newsletters, links to blog posts, helpful tips, relevant account information and so on. It’s all about having a good balance.
  4. Don’t use ALL CAPS.Using all capital letters in emails, particularly the subject headers can look a bit ‘spammy’. More importantly, they may get picked up by your customers’ email system’s spam filters and end up straight in Junk Mail.
  5. Make your email easy to read. Format your emails so they look visually appealing. Recipients don’t want to (and probably won’t) plough through reams of unbroken text. Use short paras, bullet points, images and sub headers  to break up the text. Not only will it look better,  it will also enable people to skim over your email and still understand what it is all about. Include a text only version too as you don’t want to exclude people who can’t open HTML templates.
  6. Personalise your email. Personalise your email when you can. This goes back to building a great permission-based database. Include first name and last name fields in your data capture forms. Research shows that emails that are personalised can lift open rates by  26%, click-through rates by 14% and conversion rates by as much as 10%.
  7. Proof your content: Always give your emails a thorough proofread before hitting send. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, missing information etc. can make you look unprofessional and could reflect poorly on your brand.
  8. Always have a clear call to action. With most of your small business email marketing you are likely to want the recipient to perform a specific action such as purchasing a product, leaving a review, registering for an event, signing up to a competition and so on. Whatever it is that you want, ensure your call to action is highly visible and leaves your audience in no doubt about what it is you are asking them to do.
  9. Test before hitting send. Once you’ve hit send there is no going back. Always send yourself a test email before you dispatch it to your whole small business marketing database. Check its format is multi-device friendly – you want people to be able to read it equally well on a mobile as on a desk top. Make sure all the links are working properly and give it a final once over in case you missed any spelling mistakes at the proofreading stage.
  10. Include an easily visible unsubscribe button. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe to your email communications. Not only are you required to do this, it is a great way to ensure you are keeping your email contact data clean and up-to-date. There is no point in sending out marketing communications to people who have no interest in your product – it serves no purpose and you will only annoy them.
  11. Grow your permission-based list. Focus on building a great permission-based email contact list. Email marketing databases can decay by as much as 23% a year so it is important that you look at ways to data capture new email address to enable your list to continue to grow.
  12. Consider email automation. Automated emails, particularly those that are triggered after a specific action, can have a great impact on your email marketing. In fact, research shows that transactional emails can have up to 8x more opens and clicks than other types of email, and can generate over 6x more revenue. Again there are plenty of excellent email marketing automation systems available offering this kind of email technology.
  13. Images help engagement. Using interesting and relevant images in your emails are a great way to capture attention and increase engagement. Most humans are, by nature, visual learners so by including images you can really lift response. Of course there are caveats – here is a helpful article on how to ensure you use images correctly within emails: Email Images: How and when to use them.
  14. Brand your email. Email is a great opportunity to strengthen your brand and grow your visibility. Include your logo in all of your email communications.
  15. Familiarise yourself with email rules and regulations. You don’t want to fall foul of the law, so familiarise yourself with the relevant legislation and best practice  guidance for you country. In the UK check out Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and the Data Protection Act.
  16. Target your emails: Rather than sending out blanket communications to everyone on your database, try to target your emails to different segments of your audience. The more information you can gather about your customers, the better you will be able to do this. The more targeted you are the higher the likelihood of boosting your response rate and decreasing your unsubscribes.
  17. Test, measure, tweak. The great thing about email is that it offers you the ability to test, measure and tweak your emails quickly and easily to ensure you are getting the best response rates. There are plenty of excellent email service providers that offer free services to start-ups and small business. For example MailChimp offers a free service for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month.
  18. Don’t forget your landing pages. You may have just dispatched a top-notch email, full of interesting and inspiring content, however if you call to action buttons don’t take your recipient to an equally well thought out landing page, then your efforts will be wasted.

Of course, email marketing is a huge area and there a plenty more do’s and don’ts you will want to consider. But hopefully the above list gives you a helpful checklist to get you emailing with confidence.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of email marketing, so please do leave a comment. 

8 Marketing Ways to use Instagram for e-Commerce

Businesses, it seems, have squeezed the entire commercial potential of Facebook in the last few years. Reports suggest that there has been a 63% decrease in organic marketing reach since 2012 on Facebook. The world’s largest social network, in all probability, has plateaued. The decline of Facebook has led to a mad rush by brands to find the next big social network. And it is not without a sense of irony that this new social network is owned by Facebook!

We are talking about Instagram. And by all accounts, it is just getting warmed up. This visually-led social network has 500 million users, 300 million of which use Instagram daily, at last count, making it the fastest growing social network in the world. Launched in October, 2010, it was bought by Facebook at a whopping $1 billion within a year and a half. The amount Facebook closed this deal at was scoffed by most experts, but Zuckerberg, it seems, had the last laugh.

Although Instagram does not offer any business-specific features, it hasn’t dissuaded 93% of premier brands that are active on Instagram. Many smaller brands, especially, e-commerce, have made Instagram their own. With a 115% increase in organic marketing reach since 2012, Instagram has become a darling of brands.

A brief comparison of the business potential of Facebook and Instagram

Apart from the massive difference in organic marketing reach of the two social networks, more than twice the number of Instagrammers engages with brands as compared to Facebook users. Instagram has 58x more engagement per follower than Facebook. While brands on Facebook reach 6% of their followers per post, brands on Instagram reach 100% of their followers per post. Also while the average order value on Facebook was $55, it was $65 on Instagram. User statistics on Instagram are just as mind-boggling.

So how does an e-commerce brand that relies so heavily on product pictures use Instagram that does not allow use of copy or links to online stores?

1. No external links? No problem. Use hashtags instead!

The biggest challenge with Instagram is that it does not recognize links that takes a user outside of its cozy environs. For an e-commerce store, this could be the biggest problem as there is no way it can guide users to its online store. You can only have links in your profile.

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Without links, hashtags are your best friends. Judicious use of hashtags help you organize your posts and make them noticeable to Instagrammers. If you are a fledgling entity on Instagram, use hashtags to get your pictures noticed. Find out the hottest hashtags on Instagram and use them for your brand.

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Once you garner a good number of followers, you can shift your strategy to focus more on pictures. A hashtag becomes a link to your brand. All your posts featuring a particular hashtag will be displayed at a single place. Thus, you can now showcase your products in one place. You can also invite users to submit pictures using a particular tag and they all will appear in one place.

2. Try influencer marketing

Influencers can turbo-charge your marketing on Instagram. The most popular industries on Instagram have influencers – those who have a ton of followers. Fashion, cosmetics, personal care, food and alcohol are among the industries that have a high number of influencers.

A bit of research into whom your target market follows and you can approach them to help you. The best way is to get them to post a picture wearing (or using) your product and a hashtag, and voila! You have a campaign on your hands. The bigger influencers will very likely expect to be paid while some smaller ones (having a fan base of a few thousand) will be happy with a free product sample. Choose your influencer depending on what you want to offer in return.

Influencers aren’t necessarily celebrities. It is how they post and what they post that has helped them garner such a huge following. Take for example Adam Gallagher. He is a big influencer in the fashion/lifestyle/travel industry and has a whopping 1.8 million followers. He is the founder of the popular blog “I am Galla,” which “aids the men’s demographic with styling tips, trend forecasts and third-party inspiration.”

iamgala3. Use raw, natural photos

Being a purely visual channel, Instagram poses many challenges for businesses looking to engage with their audience. It’s like selling without a copy, as Jim Squires, Instagram’s director of market operations puts it. He advises brands to be creative and use Instagram’s existing features to build an awesome user experience. “Fit in to stand out,” is what he tells marketers.

The brands that have been successful the most are the ones that use beautiful photos that elicit emotions. Use lifestyle photos of your products. Instead of studio pictures, ask users to submit their own pictures using/wearing your products. Take a look at how Tsuru, a local clothing retailer uses customer-generated content for promotion of its products.

tsuru

Instagram is also not following the Facebook route towards allowing explicit ads. It has set very strict rules for brands to follow.

4. Use Instagram Direct for e-commerce marketing

Instagram Direct is a way to send photo and video messages and can be used creatively by e-commerce brands. Brands can now share photos and 15-second videos and share it with their audience.

Using Direct is simple. Take a photo and/or record a video. Add effects, filters and captions if you like. Tap on the “direct” option on the screen. Select names of followers you wish to send this to and tap on “send.”

You can use Direct to announce the launch of a new product. Since Direct only allows you to send a photo or video to 15 followers at a time, you can use this strategy to give a sneak peek to a select bunch of really engaged users.

You can also use Direct to gift coupons to your best followers. You can select the followers that comment on, like and share your posts frequently and send them the photo with the gift code that they can use for their next shopping.

Direct also allows brands to chat with their followers. Holding a Q&A with followers gives you a great opportunity to get feedback and educate them. You can also target specific demographics using Direct that allows you to send your message to a select audience. This is a great way to do brand research.

5. Leveraging the Videos Channel in Explore

The Search and Explore feature in Instagram is an intuitive way that is used to serve relevant content to users depending upon their preferences. This is a non-invasive way and what content will be served depends upon any factors including the people one follows or the posts one likes.

In April this year, Instagram launched video channels in Explore. They’ve realized the popularity of videos among users and through this feature they’ll make it easier for users to discover relevant videos. This offers a fabulous opportunity for brands to create awesome video content and reach a wider audience – people who do not yet follow them.

According to Instagram, Explore gets better by adjusting to your preferences and shows you more content that you’ll enjoy. So you may consider it as free promotion of your content by Instagram! This is a great way to create awesome videos and let Instagram serve it to the right people.

6. Run contests

Contests are popular ways to engage users and drive attention. Everybody loves the chance of winning a prize in a contest. To make a hashtag trending, tie it with a giveaway or contest. Take a look at this simple content run by Bows-N-Ties.

bowsnties

The most important part of the contest is to choose the right hashtag, one that is, preferably, your brand name and which is not already in use. Set the scope for the contest (what kind of picture, whether it has to be your products, which hashtags to be included, etc.). Finally, set the reward. A recurring reward is better than a one-off contest as it keeps the hashtag alive and you get a continuous steam of user-generated content.

7. Use Instagram Stories

On August 2, 2016, Instagram announced the launch of Instagram Stories. Most experts believe that this is to counter the growing popularity of Snapchat and Instagram is pulling all plugs to retain its leader tag. Instagram CEO, Kevin Systrom even admitted that the credit for introducing the “stories” format goes to Snapchat.

This feature lets you share photos and videos without posting them to your profile. Your entire 24 hours will be packed in a slideshow format – your story. The story remains “alive” for 24 hours.

This is another exciting opportunity for brands to be as creative as they can and create brand stories that will increase user interest and engagement. Brands can upload photos and add effects like neon marker, brush tool, pen. They can increase the visual appeal by selecting various colors from the palette. Brands can also use Boomerangs and Hyperlapses and add them to the story to make it more enticing.

8. Check out these cool tools to make marketing on Instagram easier

  • Iconosquare – With this software, a small, dedicated team can easily manage a company’s Instagram account. A platform is created on your desktop which shows you your feed and what followers are posting. A powerful search functionality and statistics help you manage your account like a breeze.
  • Offerpop – They have a unique photo contest builder that you can use to create exciting contests on Instagram.
  • InstaOrders – With this software, you can create a free e-commerce store on your Instagram account. This allows shoppers to directly place orders on Instagram.
  • 10sec – This is a free flea market app that you can use to sell your products on Instagram. From making a listing to shipping an item to depositing money in your account, 10sec does it all.

Takeaway

Instagram has struck the right balance – helping brands to tell their stories and engage customers, without being too invasive. It still is a very personal social network, unlike Facebook. It has managed to create the right mix of social and commerce. The visual impact of this platform makes it creatively challenging for brands to create brand stories and yet gives them the perfect opportunity to engage better with its audience by allowing user-generated content on their profiles.

Even B2B marketers are using Instagram successfully. So it should hardly come as a surprise that e-commerce brands are using this exciting platform to generate a buzz around their products. We hope that the above-mentioned marketing ideas will inspire you to creatively engage with your audience on Instagram.

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

How to offer excellent customer service – 7 tips for small business ecommerce

 

customer service for small business

Customer service is a direct reflection on your business and your brand. Consequently how you manage your customer care is important. Poor customer care could result in the loss of customers and ultimately damage your reputation. Great customer service can create loyalty, bring in new customers and give you the edge over your competitors.

We now live in a society where social media and customer review sites are part-and-parcel of the business world and although they are both excellent vehicles for positive customer feedback, it also means that negative consumer experiences are out there for everyone to see – sometimes before you’ve even had the chance to deal with them directly yourself.

58% of consumers are more likely to tell others about their customer service experiences than they were 5 years ago

Ensuring that your small online business or start-up is offering all it can in terms of excellent customer care is essential for the long-term success of your business.

Impact of poor customer service

  • 82% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service
  • 44% of customers switch to a competitor following inadequate customer care
  • 55% of customers intending to make a purchase have walked away due to poor customer service

Impact of great customer service

7 customer service tips to help your business stand apart

As a small online business or ecommerce start-up, you are unlikely to have an all-singing, all -dancing customer service call centre to hand. Chances are it is going to be you fielding the majority of  calls and emails. We’ve outlined some simple tips that are easy to implement, cost-effective and could make a big difference in terms of customer satisfaction.

1. Offer that little bit extra

Going that extra mile for a customer won’t cost you much but can pay dividends in terms of customer loyalty and repeat business. A little extra effort on your part – for example getting something in the post to a customer on the same day or going a bit above and beyond the call of duty to deal with a query or issue – will be noticed and appreciated by your customers. In the days of automated customer services, long waiting times and being passed around from pilar to post, you have the great advantage of still being able to personally deal with many of your customers directly – it’s your chance to establish a solid relationship.

2. Walk in your customers shoes

walk in your customers shoes

If you don’t understand your customers and recognise their needs, how can you be certain you are offering them a positive customer experience? Get to know you customers (and as we mention before you are in the great position of being able to have direct contact with your customers so use those moments to find out a bit more about what they like and don’t like about your business), think about their customer journey from start to finish and see what you can implement to improve their experience. Having a good understanding of your customers will enable you to deliver the service they want.

3. Be flexible.

There are times when a little bit of flexibility will reap rewards for your business in the long-term. Of course you will need to make a judgement call on each individual situation after all you are in business to make a profit, but a little bit of give now and then, particularly when you know you are dealing with a loyal customer, can be a great way to give a customer the feeling off special treatment. For example perhaps honouring a promotion or sales voucher when the deadline has passed or accepting a return even if it doesn’t quite meet your criteria.  Remember it is far more cost-effective to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. So where you can offer customers some flexibility – you’ll find it will be appreciated.

4. Save precious time – pre-empt simple queries

Of course, dealing with customer queries yourself is great for getting to know your customers and for relationship building, but the reality for a small business owner is lack of time means that having to deal with all customer queries is a potential headache. It is essential that you set up a way to deal with the most frequently asked questions and queries – ones that are simple and straightforward to deal with .  This will include simple things like your return policy, shipping times, opening hours, product descriptions, set up instructions and so on.

set up an FAQ page

 

Think about the calls you take and emails your receive.  What are your most frequently asked questions and which ones don’t require a telephone or email response. Set up  FAQ page and put all those kind of queries on to there. Make sure your FAQ page is clearly marked on the website and direct people there in your initial order confirmation emails and paperwork. It will save you time, enabling you to concentrate on the customer queries that require a little more personal attention.

5. Start with ‘sorry’

Even if you seriously question whether you should be saying ‘sorry’ always start your response to any customer complaint by saying that you are sorry that your customer has experienced a problem. This is simple good manners and not an admission that the fault is yours.  It takes the wind out of a customer dissatisfaction and shows that you are genuinely concerned that your customer is unhappy enough to take the time to make a complaint. Acknowledge if you have made a mistake and don’t try to  pass the buck. Your customer isn’t interested in whose fault it is – they just want their complaint listened to and dealt with quickly and efficiently. Remaining polite, well-mannered and professional at all times is essential no matter how frustrating the phone call or email .

6. Have clear guidelines in place

There may be times where other member of your team will need to step in and deal with complaints on your behalf. If this is the case with your small business, then it is imperative that you have clear guidelines in place. Not only on a practical level so that the issue can get resolved in your absence but also in your company’s overall approach to customer service. For example all members of the team should be clear on the kind of service they are expected to offer customers all  such as being friendly, polite, approachable, professional and communicating clearly and effectively.

7. Respond to negative comments

45% of customers share negative reviews on social media and 63% of consumers read negative reviews on social media.

Social media and customer reviews sites mean that even with the best effort in the world you will be faced with a disgruntled customer who will post a negative review. How you handle negative feedback is important. The difference between dealing with an unhappy customer via email or on the phone is that any negative comments posted on social media or customer review sites are there for everybody to see. It is really important to respond quickly and efficiently to comments. Apologise upfront for any inconvenience caused – showing you take the complaint seriously, be honest and remain professional and polite at all times – no matter how unfair you deem the complaint to be. To ensure the comment doesn’t escalate if it is appropriate take the comment offline to deal with – as in the IKEA example below:

 

social media dealing with negative comments

 

Don’t underestimate the importance of great customer service . It doesn’t cost the world and even implementing some simple practices can make a real difference to how you are viewed by customers and potential customers. A little bit of extra effort can pay dividends in the long-term.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what great customer service means so please do leave a comment. 

 

 

 

How to create great online content for your small business website

Content Marketing for small business

 

Great content is an essential part of a successful online presence. It helps drive traffic, build relationships, grow brand awareness, reinforce trust and support SEO. So, what makes great content and how can you as a small business owner ensure you are getting it right?

We take a look at how to approach content creation with 7 helpful tips on how to produce content that is top-notch.

1. Focus on your customers

When you are thinking about the kind of content you want on your website your focus should be on creating content that is relevant and of value to your target audience. It can be tempting to pack your website full of sales orientated copy, which of course has it’s place, but your key aim should be to produce content that your customers and prospective customers will find interesting and useful.

SEO also plays an important part in content creation, but the days of keyword stuffing practices are long gone. Instead spend some time researching your target audience and brainstorming the kind of keywords and key phrases they might use to search for the products and services you are selling and incorporate them naturally into your copy.

Essentially if you write content with your target audience in mind you wont go far wrong.

2. Create original content

The most important content for marketers is original written content (45%)

Search engines like high quality content of which a key characteristic is originality –  essentially content that is not already on other website. Hence duplicating content from other sites is not the answer (in fact such practices can be detrimental to your search engine page ranking).  So how can you ensure you are getting enough original content on your site?

Blogging: Posting regular blog articles are an excellent way to ensure original and relevant content is being added to your site on a regular basis. Writing blog articles requires time however in addition to providing you with original content, blogging also helps generate traffic, yield new leads, maintain customer relationships and build brand trust.

blogging

Curated Content: A consistent flow of original content is essential, however in reality small business owners are under huge time pressures and have limited resources.  Therefore there are times when curated content can step in. For example a weekly ‘news roundup’ of relevant articles in your industry can work well – just ensure you are adding your own, original commentary and opinion to it (and as we mentioned before don’t plagiarise or try to pass it off as your own!)

Product pages. Write your own product descriptions rather than simply re-using the information supplied by the manufactures.  Create your own original descriptions with your target audience in mind, making them user-friendly and relevant.

 

3. Make it useful

“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed“

Google Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

Think about what kind of content will be of interest and have a value to your target audience – is it informative content or entertaining content that will most appeal – or indeed a mixture of both? Useful, relevent content will help drive traffic to you website and keep people coming back for more. Some ideas include:

  • Free downloadable e/book or white paper
  • Infographics
  • Latest industry news and trends reports
  • Ideas and tips for using your products in real-life
  • Competitions or quizzes
  • Interviews with relevant industry figures
  •  Online videos such as useful tutorials, product instructions or demonstrations

4. Be visually engaging

Having great visual content is an essential part of successful content creation. As humans we are naturally drawn to all things visual , so think about how you can use visuals to create standalone content and support other content on your site.

visual content marketing

 

 

Engaging images: How can you make the images on your site more engaging? For example, instead of just using product images provided by the manufactures take your own photos – showing off products in relief scenarios.  Avoid using run of the mill stock images. There are some excellent online image libraries where you can source some interesting and inspiring images. Think about using software tools (some of which offer free services) like Skitch and Canva to add text to images. Essentially spend some time thinking about how you can produce your own interesting and engaging visuals for your website.

Video: If you can incorporate video into your online presence all the better. Video has become an important element of successful content marketing – indeed research indicates that 1 in 4 consumers actually lose interest in a company if it doesn’t have video.

5. Make content digestible

How you write and present your content online is important. Reams of unbroken text on a page is off-putting. you may have written something of huge interest to your target audience, but if they can’t grasp the gist of it in moments they aren’t going to bother to read it. Keep to the point and get rid off any unnecessary fluff and waffle.

Think about how you present text on the page – it should look inviting. Break up text into small digestible paragraphs, use headers, sub headers, text blocks, bullets points and of course engaging images.

When visitors look at the content on your website ensure it is visually appealing and that your content is displayed in manageable, easily digestible chunks.

6. Keep it fresh

It is important to keep the content fresh and up-to-date.  Go through your online content at regular intervals to ensure that there is no out-of-date information or broken links. Having old, stale content can make your site look unprofessional. And, whilst you are reviewing your content, make sure you are double checking for any typos and grammar mistakes.

Re-purposing or refreshing an old blog post with new updated information or updates is a quick way to freshen your content and add new original content to your site.

7. User generated content

Search engines like user-generated content such as customer testimonials, product reviews, blog comments and discussion forums. Moreover, this sort of ‘conversational’ content is a good way to keep regular, original and relevant coming into your site. Of course if you do go down this road, you will need to ensure that you are regular monitoring the content that gets put on, removing anything offensive or inappropriate immediately.

When you are creating online content for your business if keep your target audience in mind at all times, you won’t go far wrong. Content that appeals to your customers and is likely to keep search engines happy too. Focus on having a good variety of high-quality content that is relevant, interesting and offers value to your audience,

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experience of creating online content, so please do leave a comment.