It’s a scenario familiar to all businesses – you invest a huge amount of time and money in an online campaign and, come review time, the figures aren’t what you were hoping for. Nowhere near. And you need answers for the boardroom, fast.
Because e-commerce is so multifaceted and not an exact science, it can be difficult to assess performance, let alone navigate the whys and wherefores of a debacle so that you can avert another one. To help you out, we’ve compiled five steps for composing yourself in the face of a major e-commerce marketing hurdle.
Step 1: Make sure there is actually a disaster.
This might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many marketers get jumpy about top-line figures without really considering what’s going on. If you’ve pushed money into an initiative, such as display ads, did you have reasonable targets before starting the project? Have you run similar activities before that are comparable, to benchmark whether the numbers actually are a disaster?
Whenever you change any variables of an online campaign, there will always be consequences. For example, you want to launch a new paid search campaign around some generic terms, in an account that is currently running 100% on brand. You could expect that, overnight, adding generic terms to your account is going to have consequences; impressions will increase and spend will go up. Cost per click (CPC) figures are likely to be high on generics.
When you review your top-line figures a week later, your find that your spend rocketed, your overall CPC is high and your click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CR) have dropped dramatically.
Is it a disaster? Not necessarily. You need to consider what your long-term goal is.
If it’s keeping a low cost of sale (COS), low CPC and spend to a minimum, you have almost certainly failed miserably (sorry).
But if you were pursuing long-term customer value and brand awareness, all is not lost. For that, you need to look at your Google Analytics conversion paths (to see if generic campaign touchpoints are feeding into brand conversions) and your top-line sales over time. This isn’t a relevant example for everybody, but the point is, consider the goal, look at the big picture and check that you’re evaluating the outcome against the right variables and criteria before classifying your endeavour as a failure.
Step 2: Put it into context.
Check your channels. It’s tempting to blame the channel where you’ve been making changes or pushing harder recently. It’s also lazy.
Just because you were, for example, running a new PPC campaign last week and PPC figures were bad, doesn’t mean you should consider pulling the plug early, or vowing never to be brave again. Not until you can establish whether this is an isolated issue. So take an omnichannel view.
Get back on Analytics and check all your channels over a few periods – before the initiative (at least one week’s data, two is better), the performance during the initiative, and then compare all those channels to the same period last year. If organic, paid, direct and referral traffic are all down, then stop looking at this as an issue linked to recent initiatives and start considering wider issues such as seasonality, industry-specific issues or your brand.
Step 3: Check the industry mood.
So you’ve decided that the figures are indeed a bit funky. Regardless of whether the scope is a single paid channel or more, have a look at what the mood is across your brand and the industry.
A great place to start is just by doing a live search of general terms associated with poor performance. Are you being undercut heavily by a competitor? Have they got a better promotion running? These could all be factors contributing to poor performance. In the case of paid search activity, it’s sensible to look at your Auction Insights reports on Google and compare them for a period before your promotion/event/test to one during. It may be that during this time, competitors became increasingly aggressive on the landscape in terms of advancing average position, increasing impression share or encroaching on your top-of-the-page rate.
Google Trends is also a fantastic tool to gauge the mood across the landscape. Use it to track your own brand terms, those of your competitors or even your top search terms and evaluate them over time. A decline in top search terms, or your own brand, is indicative of failure to reach new audiences (i.e., lack of investment in more above-the-line marketing strategies). If this is the case, it’s worth re-evaluating your overarching marketing approach and changing tactics (investing in display, prospecting, remarketing and other traffic-driving/re-engagement approaches).
Step 4: Look at your site.
Look at your campaign. Then look at your site. Then consider them together. Revolutionary? Many marketers look at their campaign and their site as independent entities, but they are both touchpoints on the same journey. If you’ve pushed money into an e-commerce campaign that isn’t driving the engagement or conversion in the way you expect, don’t just consider this a failure of the campaign. Follow the journey through without overlooking end-user experience; try to understand the problem.
For example, typically at ChannelAdvisor we see a majority of revenue from Facebook dynamic ads originating from mobile. If your mobile website isn’t up to scratch, or your responsive website isn’t up to the job, a Facebook campaign isn’t likely to be as profitable for you. Before you plug money into a campaign, consider the kind of traffic it will drive to your site and whether your site will be able to cope with it. A great tool for evaluating your mobile presence is the Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
It’s also worth noting that for key e-commerce periods when you expect surges of traffic to your site (e.g., Black Friday), it’s a good idea to test how your website will cope. If the site can’t cope, you can’t expect any of the campaigns that are driving traffic there to perform well. Ultimately you need to consider that the failure of an e-commerce campaign could actually be a result of the website’s shortcomings.
Step 5: Plan for next time. If you’ve decided that poor performance was the fault of a recent initiative, get back up, brush yourself off and get back out in the e-commerce jungle – just with more preparation.
Consider what went wrong. If you identified a website issue, speak to developers. If the brand is in decline, look at above-the-line marketing and engagement strategies. If the campaign just wasn’t strong enough, take the opportunity to look at what successful competitors are doing – what promotions do they run? When? What offering gaps do you have compared with them?
It’s also a good time to do some market research. Consult an independent consumer survey group or conduct some research yourself to understand why your target audience isn’t engaging with your brand.
Ultimately, e-commerce disasters – real or imagined – are likely to arise for all businesses at some point on their great digital adventure. The real key to overcoming these issues is to identify their origin, assess them logically and in context, and tweak your campaigns and planning in an attempt to avoid making the same mistakes again.
But in such a dynamic environment where constants fail to exist, even on a Google search results page, you can also bet your bottom dollar that it’s going to happen again. The real secret of surviving e-commerce is being brave enough to break some eggs to make your omelette. #FortuneFavorsTheBrave.
For tips to help you succeed on Google, take a read of our Conquering Google: A Retailer’s Guide to PLAs, PPC and SEO eBook today.
Blog post by Evie Davies, Campaign Manager at ChannelAdvisor.