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Written by Caroline Cox on Oct 13 , 2020

From building your merchant accounts to optimizing your ads, here’s everything you need to know about e-commerce marketing.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What e-commerce marketing is
  • Different types of e-commerce ads
  • How to leverage social media marketing
  • Best practices for creating e-commerce ads

The e-commerce space has boomed in popularity over the last several years. And with the convenience of ordering, speedy delivery, and a wide range of products and services that can be browsed through online, it’s easy to see why.

For marketers, this means more potential customers — and more competition. That’s where a solid e-commerce marketing strategy comes in. 

Below, we break down everything you need to know about the state of e-commerce marketing today, from the latest social media trends to ad options and everything in between.

What is e-commerce marketing?

The aim is e-commerce marketing is to drive awareness, interaction, and sales to a business that sells products or services online. E-commerce marketers can do this through paid digital avenues such as pay-per-click (PPC or paid search), display ads, paid social ads, remarketing, and more. 

Organic, non-paid methods of e-commerce marketing include organic social media posts, content marketing like blogs, an optimized website, and email marketing. A well-rounded e-commerce strategy likely includes a mix of these two kinds of marketing. 

retrieving package: e-commerce marketing

Paid search campaigns are a great way for your e-commerce brand to showcase what you have to offer. (Image via Rawpixel)

Build your e-commerce marketing plan

The steps to building your e-commerce marketing plan don’t deviate much from a standard marketing plan for any business. 

First, you want to define your ideal client persona. (Most companies have a few different target audience personas they’re marketing to.) You want to keep these personas in mind when making decisions about copy, images, and other ways to attract the right people to your offerings.

From there, you want to determine which tools and platforms you want to leverage to manage your program. Tools could be anything from Google Analytics and CRM software to Shopify and BigCommerce. 

As far as social media, which we’ll dive into more below, it’s wise to create accounts on the major platforms. (Plus, many of these boast e-commerce-specific features.) These include:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

You also want to establish your goals and KPIs. You can do this among your internal team, or partner with an experienced digital marketing agency to help with the workload. 

How to start e-commerce paid search

Paid search campaigns are a great way for your e-commerce brand to showcase what you have to offer. Rather than mainly relying on keywords, these campaigns focus on images and product feeds that feature descriptive info paired with accurate inventory availability.

As we’ve highlighted before, the steps to getting started with e-commerce search ads include:

  • Choose a product data input method: There are a few different ways to input your products into the Google Merchant Center; the one you choose will depend on things like how many products you have and which e-commerce platform you’re leveraging
  • Optimize your Merchant Center settings: This involves things like enabling automatic updates and connecting to your Google Ads account so you can be eligible for free listings
  • Set up your e-commerce search ads campaign: Decide which campaign you want to run (we recommend starting with standard Shopping), split products into separate campaigns and ad groups, and separate out searches based on specificity
  • Optimize your campaigns: Once you’ve run your campaigns and gathered some data, you can decrease bids on anything the underperforms and increase bids on what’s producing the highest conversion value 
  • Export successful campaigns to Microsoft Advertising: If you’re seeing positive returns on Google with your paid search ads, consider transferring those campaigns to Microsoft Advertising — they’ve made the process easy 

Boost sales with e-commerce remarketing

Remarketing, also called retargeting, is a type of ad that highlights your product or service to a targeted audience of people who have already visited your site or mobile app. Setting up dynamic remarketing will show users specific products they’ve previously viewed on your site.

This type of marketing can help combat obstacles e-commerce brands often run into, such as cart abandoners. Remarketing can be an effective way to nurture your funnel and turn “window shoppers” into customers. 

Pro tip: Usually, setting up remarketing involves adding code to your site that’s powered by your Google Merchant Center feed. 

online shopping: e-commerce marketing

From paid search to display ads to social media and CRM software, there are a variety of platforms you can leverage for your e-commerce marketing. (Image via Rawpixel)

E-commerce SEO tips

Of course, all businesses should follow the standard SEO practices for best results when it comes to traffic and rankings online. But with e-commerce competition being especially fierce, brands in this industry often have to get creative — and strategic — to truly stand out.

Finding the right keywords is a solid place to start. E-commerce brands can do this in a few ways, including leveraging Google Keyword Planner, manually searching to see what already ranks organically, and leveraging tools like SpyFu and SEMrush. 

Other e-commerce SEO tips include:

  • Use relevant product titles and descriptions
  • Create a Merchant Center account (as mentioned above)
  • Ensure your site is properly reported and set up with canonical info
  • Keep CRO in mind and regularly test layouts, filters, and product images

Lastly, consistency is key to avoiding common SEO errors. This means monitoring things like how your products are organized, keeping inventory up to date, leveraging img tags and metadata at a product level, and making sure image sizes are consistent across your site.

Choose the right e-commerce platform

From paid search to display ads to social media and CRM software, there are a variety of platforms you can leverage for your e-commerce marketing. The ones you opt to use will depend on a few different factors, including your bandwidth, budget, and goals.

Overall, when you’re exploring e-commerce ad platforms, a few things you want to consider are:

  • If your various vendors integrate together cohesively
  • Where your audience is already shopping
  • What types of e-commerce ads are most successful for your brand
  • How you can use seller ratings in your ads

Leverage e-commerce email campaigns

If you’ve ever purchased something online (and the odds you have are very high), you’ve likely also been the recipient of an e-commerce campaign email. Email remains one of the most popular digital marketing strategies around, and that especially goes for e-commerce brands. 

Often, brands will create an opt-in option for customers to sign up for emails when checking out on their websites. And, much like remarketing, email campaigns can be an effective way to combat cart abandonment. It’s also a great way to let your audience know about a special offer, upcoming sale, or other deals they might be interested in.

Pro tip: The most successful e-commerce emails often include eye-catching visuals, concise copy, and an unmissable call to action (CTA). 

Consider content marketing for e-commerce

Creating high-quality e-commerce content can do wonders for your SEO. Once you’ve done the front-end work of defining your audience and determining where your content will live on your site, you can start building your content strategy.

This plan should include:

  • Ways to illustrate what makes your brand different from others in the space
  • Creative methods for educating your audience and helping them problem-solve
  • An emphasis on storytelling
  • Plenty of on-brand, high-quality visuals

How often you create content will depend on your goals and bandwidth. Creating a calendar with planned-out content around things like your keywords, outside-of-the-box initiatives, and new company updates will keep you organized and on track. 

mobile shopping: e-commerce marketing

More than half of all online shopping is expected to happen on mobile devices by 2021. (Image via Unsplash)

E-commerce social media 

There’s plenty of value in e-commerce brands leveraging social media platforms, both paid and organically. That’s because it’s a highly effective way to reach users where they already are in a way that’s unobtrusive and seamless.

Creating organic social media content is a great way to raise brand awareness and attract followers. By regularly posting content, you can show off your company aesthetic, get creative with your marketing, and increase followers without spending a dime. 

If you’re just starting out with the paid side of social media, aka paid social, you can try out boosting organic posts that are seeing decent engagement on platforms like Instagram. You can also reach out to industry influencers who have their own engaged followings and explore an ad partnership with them in exchange for products, services or a fee.

The main social media platforms also offer standard ad options that allow you to do things like create and monitor a campaign, target a specific audience, and showcase products while directing potential buyers to your site. 

Another reason it’s worth being active on these platforms: they’re often adding new tools and features that are beneficial to e-commerce brands. Instagram and Pinterest, for example, recently unveiled shoppable posts that allow you to link items in your images that go straight to the product page on your website for a seamless buying experience. 

Prioritize mobile-friendliness

Optimizing your store for mobile “means more than having a responsive design,” as Shopify explains. It also means you’re designing your e-commerce site “with mobile visitors in mind from start to finish.”

And with Statista data suggesting more than half of all online shopping is expected to happen on mobile devices by 2021, keeping mobile in mind will be more crucial than ever.

Luckily, there are quick fixes you can perform to ensure your site is mobile-friendly. These include:

  • Making call-to-action buttons large and easy to see
  • Keeping links far apart so they’re easier to click 
  • Keep navigation menus organized
  • Anchoring things like “add to cart” buttons so users don’t have to scroll to add items

The takeaway

With so many aspects of business taking place online, it’s wise for e-commerce marketers to use all of the tools and tricks at their disposal to effectively stand out, connect with their customers, and beat out the competition. 

By defining your ideal customers, creating a multi-channel approach that takes advantage of paid search, social media, email and more, and staying on top of the latest industry trends, you can create a strong e-commerce marketing plan that’s both agile and built to last. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Oct 5 , 2020

It’ll be a holiday season like no other — and your advertising strategies should follow suit.

Here you’ll find:

  • Tips for creating optimized holiday ads
  • Expert insights into making your ads stand out
  • What makes up an effective holiday email campaign
  • How to tap into the mobile-shopping demographic

This holiday season will be like no other in recent memory, as the pandemic is likely to push more consumers than ever into doing their shopping online. For marketers, that means holiday ads are poised to potentially have more visibility — and competition — than ever before. 

In fact, experts say e-commerce sales are already up year over year and are expected to remain that way throughout the holidays across retail industries.

Making the online shopping experience as joyful, seamless and stress-free as possible will be top priority for many brands this year. Conveying that message will largely be up to marketers. So, how can you leverage the latest tips and tools to ensure your holiday ads stand out? We’re glad you asked.

holiday ads

Add a customized touch by personalizing recommendations to drive more sales. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Take advantage of the latest resources

Facebook recently released their annual holiday advertising guide that offers concrete steps on how to create effective holiday ads this year. The helpful resource includes success stories, post-holiday tips, and a checklist sectioned out by month. For October, they suggest focusing on:

  • Lead ads
  • Brand awareness campaigns
  • Dynamic ads
  • Message ads

Similarly, Google just launched “a hub of holiday marketing resources to help marketers reach customers across Search, Shopping, and Maps,” Search Engine Journal reports. The mini-site, as it’s been dubbed, features personalized recommendations to help businesses reach more online shoppers across the Google suite. 

The Google resource includes useful features like Local Opportunity Finder and Grow My Store. The latter is a tool that can analyze your website’s customer experience and let you know how your performance stacks up against others in your same industry or retail category. 

2. Personalize your campaigns

Mailchimp suggests adding a customized touch by personalizing recommendations to drive more sales. This way, you can leverage sales data to offer relevant product recs, showcase bestselling products, and highlight new arrivals. (This can also help address the dreaded issue of cart abandoners.)

Nurturing relationships is, of course, always a key marketing component. And personalizing your holiday ads is one of the most effective ways to do just that. Even just adding the recipient’s name to an email campaign can bring you significant engagement (more on email below). 

3. Embrace authentic messaging

It’s easy to play into emotions with holiday ads. It’s a sentimental season that, for many, symbolizes things like family, reflection, and the year’s end. Injecting emotion into your digital marketing is an acceptable, and even encouraged, tactic — if you do it right.

HubSpot has examples of how emotion works effectively in holiday marketing ads. Frequently, these have a focused message on charitable giving along with tapping into personal feelings.

You don’t want your campaigns to come off saccharine or like you’re using emotion to manipulate your audience. You can avoid that by keeping authenticity at the forefront when building your campaigns.

“People have always been inspired by moments that define culture,” explains Adweek, “but the way people experience and interact with these moments has changed with curated, on-demand access to video content from creators, publishers, artists and brands across the world.” They add that video content can help foster connection, particularly when you leverage creators. 

Need more help with your marketing strategy? Let’s talk.

holiday m-commerce

Social media apps have made m-commerce more convenient than ever. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Leverage email marketing

We’ve talked before about how email campaigns remain one of the most effective tools marketers have at their disposal. And the holidays are a great time to get creative with your marketing emails. In fact, Shopify reports that 24% of all holiday marketing conversions come from emails.

No matter the season, emails that get the best open rates often include elements like:

  • An eye-catching subject line
  • A hierarchy of content (with the most important info at the top)
  • A mobile-friendly design
  • A strong call-to-action (CTA)

For example, a “countdown” email noting something like a limited-time-only sale often creates successful conversions. You can also leverage visuals like GIFs (attention-grabbing moving images) — data shows more than half of marketers have used GIFs in email campaigns. 

5. Get social

Mobile commerce (or m-commerce) is on the rise. Business Insider reports that this type of shopping is slated to reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, by the end of 2020. 

Social media apps have made m-commerce more convenient than ever. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a strong social media strategy particularly focused on the holiday season. 

People are looking for fun, values, kindness, and compassion in their paid social ads, according to Search Engine Journal, so keep that in mind when crafting your campaigns. And since social media ads peak during the holidays, don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside the box (while staying true to your brand’s ethos). 

Pro tip: Facebook reports that Gen X and Boomers are dominating global mobile and e-commerce growth, so don’t forget to market to this demographic if they’re part of your audience.

The takeaway

Unprecedented times call for swift pivoting and flexibility. Luckily, these are skills many marketers know well.

As brands put their holiday plans in play, tactics like taking advantage of all the available resources, getting creative with ad platforms and messaging, personalizing where possible, and staying on top of social media trends are sure to serve them well through the end of 2020 and beyond.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 24 , 2020

This holiday season is predicted to be especially lucrative for e-commerce brands, as more people will be shopping online rather than in-store. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Predictions for the 2020 holiday season
  • How e-commerce brands can make their holiday ads stand out
  • Ways to optimize your website for peak performance
  • Why audience targeting will be especially key

Believe it or not, late summer is the prime time for brands to start thinking about the upcoming holiday season. 

If you’re finding it difficult to get in the spirit, maybe this stat will help: A recent eMarketer report predicts that shoppers will spend more than $156 billion on online shopping this year. (It’s also worth noting that this report was published before the COVID-19 pandemic fully hit.)

With more people than ever planning to shop exclusively online this year, e-commerce stores can predict an extremely busy holiday season. But with increased online shopping comes more competitors vying for the same sets of eyeballs as you when it comes to digital advertising.

Here, we’ve laid out some tips to help your holiday e-commerce strategy stand out this holiday season.

holiday email from clothing and accessories brand ASO

A holiday email from clothing and accessories brand ASOS. (Image via Printful)

1. Create a personalized shopping experience

Page journey tracking (or what Google calls flow visualization) can identify a customer’s cursor at every stage of the shopping process through checkout. Not only can this help you identify strengths and weaknesses on your site, but you can use these details to reveal different information and products to different customers based on their browsing history and content interaction. 

Add a call to action (CTA), reduce page length, or insert an exit-intent popup to help engage the customer more effectively. You can also re-engage repeat customers through remarketing ads that include similar products or special offers like a discount or free shipping.

2. Leverage peak promotions

If it seems like every other company is blowing up ad space and social feeds with holiday catchphrases and Santa Claus memes before the holidays, that’s probably because they are. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the busiest days of the year for most online retailers, with the month of December not far behind. 

Google Trends suggests people begin to holiday shop in September and are in full purchasing mode by mid-October. This means it’s wise to form a strategy early so it can be ready to roll before the big buying push, not afterward. To make promotions as effective as possible, figure out when peak purchasing times are and design campaigns to be released ahead of time.

Estée Lauder offers live chat and video options on their site.

Cosmetics brand Estée Lauder offers live chat and video options on their site.

3. Prioritize customer service

As the number of shoppers and purchases increase, so do the questions. You don’t want to run the risk of an unhappy customer — or a negative online review. Especially since we know that research shows it’s cheaper (and easier) to retain existing customers than attract new ones. That’s why your e-commerce customer service is especially important around the holidays.

Here are just a few FAQs to be prepared for:

  • How many days does it take to ship a product out?
  • Are there any additional promos or deals going on?
  • Will it be here by the holidays?
  • How can I find or track my purchase?

Live chat and automated chatbot options can often help answer common questions or link customers to a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) page. You can also consider outsourcing after-hours phone calls to a virtual assistant service provider.

Speaking of FAQs, make sure this page is updated with all the necessary information. You don’t want broken links or any info that’s outdated, since this will just frustrate your customer. 

4. Create holiday e-commerce email campaigns

Email is one of the most effective marketing methods you can leverage when it comes to holiday e-commerce strategies. Cyber Monday drives billions of dollars in sales each year. Furthermore, Shopify reports that, in recent years, approximately 24% of those sales have been through email.

Holiday email marketing lets you meet your customers and potential buyers where they already are. But to stand out in an overflowing inbox, you’ve got to get creative. 

When crafting your emails, we recommend you:

  • Keep the message short and include eye-catching, themed visuals
  • Create a “holiday countdown” email that tells recipients how much time they have left to place an order for overnight delivery, free shipping, etc.
  • Always include a clear CTA that leads back to your site
  • Add a limited-time offer (LTO) — customers are more likely to take action when they know the deal won’t be around for long
  • Segment your email lists so you can send the most relevant products to each group
  • Optimize for mobile, as the percentage of people purchasing straight from their phone continues to rise

Is your company participating in any philanthropic initiatives during the holidays? Whether it’s donating to a nonprofit organization or volunteering, highlight this in your email. Consumers tend to favor brands that give back over those that don’t. 

Pro tip: Plan to launch your holiday campaign before Black Friday. Data shows that Thanksgiving Day is actually the fastest-growing day of cyber week for e-commerce sales.

5. Focus on video ads

Video ads on sites like YouTube and platforms like Instagram’s IGTV can produce better results than a text advertisement in some instances.

The current generation of shoppers mostly prefers video ads, and this type of ad tends to be a better way to engage consumers. Live-action features like Instagram Live also make it easy for e-commerce brands to get traction through promotional videos.

6. Use ad extensions and sitelinks

Because pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns encourage targeted traffic, they’re on the top of most e-commerce brands’ wish lists. When your company ad comes up, give customers the option to click on sales products, special holiday gifts, bonus offers, and similar promotions. 

Using ad extensions and sitelinks gives you the chance to add more context to the ads you publish. When a brand is searched for on Google, sitelinks can appear below the ad’s main URL. Similarly, Google Ads can include ad extensions that provide more info about whatever your ad is about through copy.

These sitelinks and extensions reduce the amount of work shoppers have to do, which can encourage them to click the link. You can also use review ad extensions to mention price reductions, special holiday shipping information, and more.

Outdoor clothing and gear company REI eco-friendly

Outdoor clothing and gear company REI has been working towards a goal of becoming zero-waste by the end of 2020.

7. Target the eco-consumer

Customers value sustainability more and more — and it can affect a purchase decision. Get creative by highlighting any eco-conscious efforts you have at your company (hopefully you have a few). It may be the tipping point that gets someone to choose your product over a competitor’s. 

Consider, and following through with, the following ways to comfort shoppers concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases:

  • Reduced packing material
  • Reusable boxes
  • Recycled (or recyclable) packing materials
  • Eco-friendly package transportation
  • Packing a multiple-item order in as few packages as possible

8. Create a holiday gift guide (or related content)

Who doesn’t love a gift guide? Adding a fun branded gift guide into your email newsletter can be a highly effective way to grab the attention of shoppers and help boost sales. It’s safe to guess that subscribers are already familiar with your brand, so these guides connect with consumers through convenience as well. 

It saves shoppers from having to scroll through page after page or list after list of older or less relevant products and showcases the new merchandise or services alongside (ideally) special promos and ways to save.

If you only have one or a few products or a gift guide just doesn’t mesh with your brand, you can also consider creating holiday-specific content. This could be a gated guide or e-book that provides value to the consumer and incorporates your product.

Clothing brand Madewell allows you to shop via their Instagram posts.

Clothing brand Madewell allows you to shop via their Instagram posts.

9. Leverage social — and mobile

Holiday ordering through social networking platforms continues to grow, according to insights from Salesforce. Not only that, but they found mobile ordering and traffic shares skyrocket during Christmas and Cyber weeks as compared to the rest of the holiday season.

It’s yet another reason why it’s crucial for your site to offer an equally pleasant and easy experience on mobile, tablet, and desktop. Another great way to capture those who mainly search and scroll on their phones is by creating timely organic and paid social media marketing content. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have made it easy to purchase items directly from you, right from the app. 

10. Focus on review sections

When 91% of 18-34 year olds say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, you know they’re incredibly valuable. Online shoppers tend to pass over or red-flag products with no reviews or too many negative ones. 

You can beef up your credibility by adding review sections, making them more prominent on your product pages, or asking previous satisfied customers to provide reviews via automated emails.

11. Pay attention to millennials

Nearly half of U.S. millennials say they plan to do more online shopping in the future, even after the pandemic is over, according to Adweek. And that doesn’t just mean big-name brands and stores. They also report that more than half of millennials plan to make most or nearly all of their holiday shopping purchases through small local businesses. 

Depending on your products, it could be worth it to come up with creative ways you can target millennials specifically for the holidays. Which items seem to resonate most with them? Can you experiment with organic and paid social in new ways to attract this audience? You may be surprised at the positive results you get. 

12. Ensure your site is speedy

Oh, what fun it is to shop on a site with an average load time of under two seconds! (…Right?) Experts note that most people will abandon a site if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds

There are ways to minimize your site’s loading speed, but working with a developer or your existing dev team is your best bet. They can help speed up your website through things like:

The takeaway

The holidays should be a time of cheer — not a time to run yourself and your team ragged trying to keep up. Like many things in 2020, this season is bound to look quite different than years past. 

Having a solid holiday e-commerce strategy in place that maps out how you plan to handle this busy season can help you and your team push through together — and come out profitable on the other side. 

Need more help managing your digital marketing this holiday season and beyond? Let’s talk. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2019.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Neelie Palmer on May 7 , 2020

Because getting your products in front of the right people at the right time is key

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to set up your e-commerce search ads
  • Expert tips for optimizing your ads
  • How to import Google Shopping campaigns to Microsoft
  • Why you should consider dynamic remarketing

Here’s a stat for you: recent data shows that just 17% of brands say they’re ahead of the curve or leading in the e-commerce space in their industry. What that tells us is that there’s a wealth of opportunity for your e-commerce company to rise above the ranks. One of the most effective ways to do just that: paid search (or PPC) campaigns.

Traditional search campaigns are powered by keywords. But with Shopping campaigns, it’s all about the product feed. You want your feed to show your products in the best light, with accurate info and up-to-date inventory. Wondering how to get started with e-commerce search ads? You’ve come to the right place — let’s get into it.

HawkSEM: E-commerce search ads

Google will allow your products to remain active for 30 days without new product info. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Choose a product data input method

When you’re getting into Google Shopping, your first step is to create a free Google Merchant Center (GMC) account under the email you use for other Google programs, like Google Ads and Google Analytics. This way, all of your Google accounts are linked together, making it easy to stay consistent.

Next, it’s time to get your products into the Google Merchant Center. A few things to consider when determining how to get your product data into GMC are:

  • Which e-commerce platform will you be leveraging?
  • How many products will you be uploading?
  • How many product variations with individuals SKUs will you be uploading?
  • Do you have all of the product details organized?

If you have a lot of products and are using a popular e-commerce platform such as Shopify or BigCommerce, you should be able to easily integrate this with GMC. This will help you map your product feed and submit the most updated info to GMC on a regular basis, ensuring your product data is always fresh. 

If you’ve got a smaller number of products, you can input product data simply by uploading a text file Google Sheet. You can also manually add products one by one if you want to test out the platform first. 

Google will allow your products to remain active for 30 days without new product info. After that time, the platform will expire those products, meaning they won’t be eligible to show. Because of this, you want to either reprocess your feed or send your data continuously on a regular basis. Depending on your products and how much they change, daily is generally a good frequency for updates.

2. Optimize your Merchant Center settings

There are a lot of things in GMC settings that I often see get missed. One is enabling automatic updates. Google will actually crawl your page and find your most updated price and availability if you’re opted in to automatic improvements. This is great if, for example, you run out of stock on a product, because it keeps you from running Google Ads to a page where your products aren’t available. 

However, If you have your site structured in a way that keeps Google from understanding your pricing, it’s probably best to turn off the automatic price updates.

Once you have everything in GMC, you’ll connect to your Google Ads account. The good news: Google recently announced that they’ll start running free listings on Google Shopping. This applies to the Shopping tab on Google. This Shopping section is a lot like Amazon in that you can filter by things like price. This means it’s more important than ever to get your GMC created with your products and prices, because you’ll start getting an organic lift from being able to be on the Shopping tab for free.

HawkSEM: Google Merchant Center

A look at how GMC has recently started reporting free clicks (via Google Merchant Center)

Pro tip: Even if your business isn’t in the financial place to give budget to new campaigns, I still recommend going into GMC and setting up a feed, because you’ll be eligible for those free listings. Then, once you’re ready, you can start leveraging all that Google Shopping has to offer.

3. Set up your e-commerce search ads campaign

It’s pretty easy to get started once you have GMC linked. I recommend starting with a standard Shopping campaign. Smart Shopping is usually fueled better by having a solid foundation of account data. If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend doing a manual cost-per-click (CPC) campaign first, then experimenting with Smart Shopping or automated bidding down the road.

The #1 thing you can do to set yourself up for success when it comes to your campaigns is to get granular. You can subdivide everything into product groups. You can split products into separate campaigns and ad groups that can then be split further into product groups. If you have a small, manageable number of products, I suggest breaking everything out by single-product product groups.

An example: Let’s say your core products are sporting goods, but you also sell apparel as 20% of your business. It’s probably a good idea to put all of your apparel into a separate campaign to make sure you’re giving most of your budget to your core products. 

Another one of my favorite strategies is to separate out searches based on how specific they’re getting. The more specific a search, the higher the purchase intent is likely to be. It makes sense: someone searching for a specific brand, style, color, and size of running shoe is probably more motivated to buy than someone just searching “running shoe.”

Pro tip: Google Shopping is unique in that it has a priority system — you can set low, medium, and high priority campaigns. If you have several Shopping campaigns, this system dictates which ones serve an ad first.

HawkSEM: e-commerce search ads

A remarketing email from Uncommon Goods triggered by cart abandonment.

4. Consider dynamic remarketing

If you’re running Google Ads, you’re already paying for people to get to your website. But, as consumers ourselves, we know not everyone buys the first time they visit a site or product page. That’s where dynamic remarketing comes in.

Dynamic remarketing is a great way to nurture your funnel. At its core, this method aims to show users specific products they’ve viewed on your site. If they look at running shoes, you then show them that exact pair of shoes as a Shopping ad while they browse other sites on the web. 

To set up dynamic remarketing, you generally have to add a bit of code to your site. This is powered by your GMC feed, so you have to make sure your account is set up and working if you want it to be successful.

A lot of people put things in their carts while shopping online, then don’t end up following through with the purchase. You can remarket these products to cart abandoners and, if you have the e-commerce settings set up correctly in Google Analytics, you should already have some audiences available.


Here’s a short clip from the webinar I hosted on e-commerce search ads.

5. Optimize your campaigns

There are two KPIs I consider most important when optimizing a Shopping campaign. If you’re on a manual bidding strategy, I’d pay attention to your conversion volume and the result of  conversion value over cost. That will calculate a rough idea of your return on ad spend (ROAS).

After you’ve accrued some data, you can decrease bids on anything under your goal or your average. You can also increase bids on items that are producing the most conversion value when compared to ad spend.

With Shopping, you can’t run a traditional experiment within Google Ads, but you can switch over for a time period and compare after a while. Automatic bidding strategies are powered by data, so the longer you run them, the better they should get. 

If you’re going to try Smart Shopping, it’s a good idea to pick a mix of high and low performers, then exclude those from your regular Shopping campaign. Don’t simply pick all of your low performers from your regular Shopping campaign and put them in Smart Shopping. You want a mix to ensure you’re getting accurate results.

Pro tip: It’s not a good idea to run the same products in your traditional and Smart Shopping campaigns. If you do, Smart Shopping will automatically take precedence.

HawkSEM: E-commerce search ads

No matter the size of your e-commerce brand, search ads can help take your sales to the next level.

6. Carry the success to Microsoft Advertising

If you’re seeing success in Google and topping your impression share, why stop there? You can easily carry your Shopping campaigns over to Bing. As we’ve mentioned before, Bing Ads recently rebranded to Microsoft Advertising. Along with the Bing search engine, this suite includes Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and other sites. 

If you already have a Microsoft Ads account it’s easy to get a merchant center account set up right from the ad platform. Microsoft will process this data just like Google. Once it reviews the product data, you can create a Shopping campaign within Microsoft or import a Shopping campaign from Google that’s already working well.

Recently, Microsoft Ads made it so that you can import on a recurring basis. If you set up a recurring sync, you can optimize in one place and make sure it’s carried over easily, instead of having to manually optimize within each platform. You can even optimize based on the different platform behaviors if that proves advantageous.

Microsoft usually has cheaper CPC and less competition. If you’re in a saturated market, your Microsoft Ads campaign might perform better than on Google.

The takeaway

No matter the size of your brand, e-commerce search ads can help take your sales to the next level. By making sure your Google Merchant Center account is set up properly, keeping product info fresh, experimenting to see what works well, and considering leveraging both Google and Microsoft, you’ll be set on the path to success — and more sales. 

Want even more tips for achieving success with e-commerce search campaigns? Check out our webinar recording, Getting Started with E-Commerce Search Ads.

Neelie Palmer

Neelie Palmer

    Neelie is a lead strategist at HawkSEM. As a digital marketing professional with more than 6 years of experience specializing in PPC & SEM management, she believes in making data-driven decisions with client business goals at the forefront of digital strategy. Since starting at HawkSEM in 2017, she's expanded her experience and produced results across a broad spectrum of industries and platforms, including social and Amazon Advertising. In her spare time, Neelie enjoys running, yoga, and gardening.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Mar 19 , 2020

    Instead of window displays, we’ve got e-commerce ads.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • How to determine the best e-commerce ad platforms for your brand
    • Display ads vs. PPC ads for e-commerce
    • What elements make up a successful e-commerce ad
    • Pro tips to give you an edge over competitors

    Remember the mall? We barely do too. And let’s be honest: Depending on what you’re in the market for, perusing through physical aisles and racks to make a purchase isn’t the hyper-common process it once was.

    These days, the bulk of shopping happens online. In 2019, reports showed that online shopping overtook a major part of retail for the first time ever — and it’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

    If you’re an e-commerce brand looking to stay in the game, online ads are a great way to do it. Search, social, and display ads allow you to target your audience, boost your clickthrough rate (CTR), increase sales, and more. For best practices, agency tips, and expert advice when it comes to e-commerce ad platforms, keep reading. 

    hawksem: e-commerce ad platforms

    Before you go all in on one ad platform, you need a solid understanding of where your audience is already shopping. (Image via Unsplash)

    1. Work with cohesive vendors

    Working with vendors that can easily integrate with the other programs your company uses will be hugely beneficial, especially as your e-commerce business grows. When you’re launching digital ads, it’ll be a more streamlined process when you’re using hosting options (like Shopify or Nexcess) that integrate well with search engines and social media platforms.

    For example, if your e-commerce biz doesn’t use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool or has a custom site, you may have to jump through a few more hoops to make sure everything is synced and reporting properly when it comes to your ads. 

    If you’re just starting out on the paid ads route, you can set yourself up for success by integrating with a CRM, keeping your site simple and easy to navigate, and making sure you can easily integrate with search engines and social platforms where you’d potentially want to show your ads.

    2. Understand the pros and cons of paid search vs. display ads for e-commerce

    Once you’ve decided to invest in digital ads, the next step is deciding which ad type to leverage. E-commerce brands can certainly find success with paid search or pay-per-click (PPC), particularly through dynamic search ads. Simply put by Google, these ad types “are the easiest way to find customers searching on Google for precisely what you offer.”

    Dynamic search ads use content and keywords from your e-commerce site to help better target your ads to the right people (all the more reason to have a strong e-commerce SEO strategy). Simply add a thought-out description, and let the search engine take care of the rest, from the headlines to the landing pages. 

    Hawksem: E-commerce ad platforms

    An example of a paid search e-commerce ad from Herbal Dynamics Beauty

    If you want to opt for display ads, e-commerce brands can try their luck with dynamic remarketing (also called retargeting). These ads populate for people who have already visited one of your product pages vs. those who have clicked an ad. These ads are a good money-saving option — you don’t have to have any other forms of advertising for them to work. You can run these on platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon.

    Pro tip: How frequently you want your remarketing ad to resurface for each person is up to you. With Google, you can set a frequency cap, but with Facebook, you can’t. Depending on your offering, your ad may need to show up four or 10 times to be successful. Test out a frequency, then access the data to see how well your ads are performing and determine if you need to modify from there.

    3. Determine where your audience is already shopping

    Before you go all in on e-commerce ad platforms, you’ll want to have a solid understanding of where your audience is already shopping. After all, you want to meet your customer where they already are — the easier you make it for them to purchase your product or service, the higher ROI you’re likely to see.

    PPC ads on Google and remarketing ads on Facebook are great places for an e-commerce brand to start. If more of your buyers are on Amazon or even Instagram, then those could be good options as well. Just make sure you’re not competing against yourself. For example, running Amazon ads may cause you to outrank your own Google Shopping items, and you don’t want that. 

    hawksem: e-commerce ad platforms

    Social ads are a great place to start when you’re working with a limited budget but want a decent-size reach. (Image via Unsplash)

    4. Keep in mind what makes up a successful e-commerce ad

    When it comes to what e-commerce ads resonate best, feel free to be your own test subject! Search for a common item, like “blue t-shirt,” on Google or Amazon, then check out the results. Which images and ad copy blurbs stand out most to you?

    The elements of a successful e-commerce ad will vary by product, industry, and audience, of course. But there are few good rules of thumb that are likely to benefit brands across categories. Clear, high-quality images without cluttered backgrounds are a good place to start. You also want to be sure your products are easy to view on smartphones. Business Insider predicts that mobile shopping (aka m-commerce) will reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, this year. 

    Hawksem: E-commerce ad platforms

    An example of a paid social ad from Intel on Twitter

    Social ads are a particularly great option when you’re working with a limited budget but want a decent-size reach. For these e-commerce ad platforms, think about how you can make your ad seamlessly fit in with organic posts on that specific platform. Depending on which site your ad will appear on, consider elements like GIFs or videos, hashtags, platform-relavant verbiage (like “retweet” on Twitter, for example). Just make sure you’re still being authentic and try to your brand — a joke that falls flat is worse than no joke at all!

    Pro tip: Got a brick-and-mortar location? Make sure your Google My Business (GMB) page is set up correctly with tags in place and the most up-to-date info. If people can’t easily find your physical space (or if your page looks low-quality because Google auto-populated it), they may opt to go elsewhere instead. 

    5. Don’t forget about seller ratings

    Especially for highly competitive markets, having seller ratings on your ads can be a game-changer for your CTR. As we’ve mentioned, peer recommendations, research, and product reviews are some of the most influential factors that affect purchasing decisions. If you’ve ever compared an item with 3 out of 5 stars to one with 5 out of 5, then gone with the latter, you know what we mean.

    As with any ad, think about what sets you apart from your competitors. Something like free shipping may not be as appealing if most of the brands similar to yours are offering that as well. Don’t be afraid to get creative — is your product the softest, fastest, the first of its kind, or something else? Use that angle in your copy to help the item shine. 

    6. Perform tests to see what appeals most to your audience

    Predicting is one thing — analyzing the data is, of course, another. Once you begin launching e-commerce ads, keep in mind that continued testing will be one of the most effective ways to understand your target audience and what resonates with them. 

    Do they prefer free two-day shipping or a coupon code? Do they click more on white backgrounds or real-life images? Consistent testing and measuring will help you answer these questions.

    hawksem: e-commerce ad platforms

    With so much shopping taking place online these days, having ads for your e-commerce brand just makes sense. (Image via Unsplash)

    Pro tip: Before beginning, determine the goals of your paid ad strategy. Especially if you’re working with an agency, it’s crucial that everyone is aligned on budget, KPIs, and what success looks like. Even if you’re just starting out with e-commerce ads, you can still look at your spend and product costs to determine what numbers would mean a campaign was successful.

    The takeaway

    With so much shopping taking place online these days — for everything from necessities to luxury goods — having ads for your e-commerce brand just makes sense. It’s a great way to expand your reach, boost your sales, and beat out your competition.

    By following best practices — like having goals in mind, determining where your audience likes to shop, and making sure you’re putting your business’s best face forward online — you can leverage e-commerce ad platforms and be on the right path to getting the ROI you seek.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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