Marketing is one of the most important skills to learn as an e-commerce store owner. By learning marketing, you’ll always have a steady stream of new customers.
Plus, knowing the basics of marketing can get you ahead of the competition, and it’s valuable to have a base understanding if you ever hire marketing roles for your company.
In this guide, I share the five main marketing channels and how to use them, plus a few marketing tips to help you earn more and spend less.
There are five main channels you can use to promote your products. They are:
- Search engines
- Social media sites
- Email inboxes
- Display ads
- Brand affiliates
Let’s talk about how you can use each of these channels in your e-commerce marketing plan.
1. Search engine marketing (SEM)
Search engine marketing covers both organic and paid traffic from search engines like Google.
Both are important. Take Solo Stove, for example. Its online store gets over 300,000 organic visits from Google every month—plus an additional ~28,000 monthly visits from paid ads:
Search engine optimization (SEO)
In order to show up organically on the first page of Google’s search results, you need to learn and implement search engine optimization practices on your website.
This includes things like:
- Figuring out what keywords people are searching for to find your products.
- Aligning with the search intent of the query.
- Getting other websites to link to your website (aka backlinks).
- And more.
I’ll discuss these steps in more detail in the “tips” section below. For now, if you want to learn more, check out our complete guide to e-commerce SEO.
Paid search ads
You can pay to “skip the line” and show up at the top of Google’s search results. This is called pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and it’s a great complement to your SEO efforts. PPC ads are a quick and easy (albeit sometimes expensive) way to get in front of your target audience.
Here’s a chart explaining why you should utilize both PPC and SEO:
What does this look like? You’ve probably seen ads like these, annotated with the word “Sponsored” next to them:
You can run Google Ads by creating an account, choosing the page you want to send visitors to, writing up various headlines and description ad copy, and selecting keywords to be displayed for.
But there’s quite a bit more to it than that—it takes time and money to learn what works. Check out our guide to Google Ads basics to get started.
2. Social media marketing
Probably the most obvious place to market your e-commerce store is on the many social media apps.
Again, with Solo Stove as an example—it uses both organic and paid social media marketing and has been able to gain over half a million TikTok followers, 347,000 Instagram followers, and almost 300,000 Facebook followers.
Let’s take a look at how you can do the same:
Organic social media marketing
Growing an organic following on social media is a great way to get your brand and products in front of people without spending a ton of money. However, it’s also a lot of work—especially if you plan on growing multiple channels.
If you’re not sure which channel(s) to use, a good starting point is SparkToro. You can type in a product keyword like “mens boots,” and it’ll show you social stats of relevant accounts:
From here, if you hover over the social media icons, you can see the individual channel statistics. This tells you which channels brands have the most followers on, which can be a hint on which channels are most effective for them.
Use this data to decide which channels you should invest your time in first. From there, check out this list of resources to learn more about how to grow your accounts.
Paid social media advertising
The other side of the coin is social media PPC ads. You can use ads to drive immediate sales—but at a cost. There’s a steep learning curve to maximizing sales while minimizing ad costs.
That said, one of the easiest ways to run a successful social media ad is through retargeting customers who abandon carts. This works by putting a browser cookie on a visitor who adds an item to their cart but doesn’t check out, then using that cookie to show them ads on social media of the item they left in their cart.
Again, Solo Stove does this well. I added this heat deflector to my cart…
… then almost immediately saw this ad on my Facebook feed after leaving its site without buying:
There’s a lot more you can do with these ads, though. Check out Mayple’s guide to social media advertising to learn more.
3. Email marketing
Email newsletters are typically one of the highest-converting traffic sources for e-commerce stores. This is because your email list, if done well, will be full of people who know who you are and have an active interest in your brand. That said, you need traffic to grow an email list, so it doesn’t make a good stand-alone marketing channel.
There are many ways to grow an email list, including:
- Email opt-in forms on your site offering a discount or free information.
- Collecting your customer’s emails when they make a purchase (with their permission, of course).
- Running a giveaway for your products.
Once you have an email list, you can send them product updates, content from your blog, clearance sales, etc.
Here’s an example from clothing brand Off The Grid, which uses its newsletter to give tips on how to get the most out of its clothes:
Just make sure you keep your list engaged by deleting inactive subscribers every three to six months and avoid sending too many emails. Your list is one of your biggest assets, so take care of it.
4. Display ads
Have you ever been bombarded by display ads on every website you visit after looking at an online store but leaving without buying anything?
This is because the online store you visited placed a cookie in your browser that allowed it to “retarget” you with display ads across any websites that run these retargeting ads. What I already showed in the “social media ads” section above was a retargeting ad too.
It’s been found that it takes anywhere from 28–62 (or more) “touchpoints” to make a sale.
A “touchpoint” is any time a potential customer is shown a brand, either through an ad or by visiting your website or social media channel. Every time they see your brand or product, that’s one touchpoint.
That’s what makes these retargeting ads so effective. You can get multiple touchpoints of your product at a relatively low price compared to traditional PPC ads.
The catch is that you can only show retargeting ads to people who have either visited your website and allowed the cookie in their browser settings, or to people in your email list.
HubSpot has an excellent beginner’s guide to retargeting if you want to learn more.
You can also run general display ads, which are suitable for making people aware of your brand and products. You can use them to get people to your site, then run retargeting ads to those people who visited your initial ad but didn’t purchase.
For example, Advance Auto Parts paid to show me these display ads across various blogs even though I haven’t visited its site before:
Check out Google Display Ads if that’s something you’re interested in.
5. Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is where someone promotes your product or service and makes a commission any time they send you a sale.
This typically works by giving your affiliate a unique ID that they include in their URL when they link to your website. It might look like this:
When a customer makes a sale through the URL with the unique affiliate ID attached, your affiliate program will attribute that sale to that particular affiliate so you can pay them their percent of the income.
For example, Solo Stove has an affiliate program, and I used to promote it in my articles and videos, like this blog post and YouTube video review:
To learn more about setting up an affiliate program for your e-commerce store, see this guide.
Now that you know where to promote your products, here are a few tips to help you maximize your sales and minimize your marketing costs:
1. Don’t compete solely on price
Above all, never get into a price war. You will never be able to compete with giant brands on price. They can afford to lose money until you’re long out of business.
Instead, compete on things like quality, customer service, experience, and value.
Make sure the entire experience of finding your brand and buying from you is seamless and easy. And use your marketing to educate and entertain, not just to promote your product. If you offer people something of value first, they will be more likely to buy, even at a higher price point.
For example, Squatty Potty both informs and entertains in what is arguably one of the best ads ever made: