You may still be polishing off the last of the champagne and eggnog, but we’re already one week into the new year. It’s time to wake up from the food coma and get serious about growing your business in 2014.

Problem is, there are a million things you can do to grow your online business. You can write more content, better content, improve SEO, hire more employees, start an Instagram promotion, boost social sharing, do a publicity stunt, use PPC advertising, guest blogging, or get better at email marketing. There are so many things you can do, but what should you do? Where should you focus your energies in 2014 for maximum impact on the bottom line?

Fix Where You’re the Worst

Growing a business doesn’t happen from any single activity, it happens when you’re continually getting better and optimizing your business to deliver the best possible experience.CLC Doing this requires shifting your thinking away from one-off tactics, and instead focusing on lifting conversion rates throughout the lifecycle.

The places where you will have the biggest impact are the areas in which you are currently the worst. You can’t just be good at turning strangers into visitors, you have to turn those visitors into users or customers, then turn those customers into repeat buyers. If you’re underperforming in one of these areas, your whole business will suffer.

How to Identify Where You are Underperforming

Acquisition

The acquisition stage is focused on one thing – get more eyeballs. Traffic is the lifeblood of any ecommerce store. You need eyeballs, and lots of them, to keep an ecommerce store growing.

Check this:

  • Time in business: If you’re a new store then this area will undoubtedly be a top priority, and it should be.
  • Traffic growth: If you’re not experiencing double digit traffic growth month-over-month then you have an acquisition problem. Keep in mind, if you’re looking at 2013 data to check the health of your acquisition strategy, be sure to exclude 2013 holiday data – it will muddle your averages.

Recommendations for improvement:

  • Test your strategies: Every ecommerce marketer should be testing acquisition strategies weekly. If you’re struggling in this area, you’ll be well served by ramping that up to daily.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in the PPC basket: PPC is often a quick win for ecommerce, but it’s not cheap. Be sure not to ignore the slower-momentum channels like SEO and content marketing. These activities won’t have the immediate impact of PPC, but over time, the payoff is big. Particularly in the post-holiday slow down there’s additional opportunity to gain attention as plenty of ecommerce stores will be slowing their content production during this time.
  • Targeted landing pages: One very common mistake ecommerce marketers make is having ads that don’t point to targeted landing pages. This acquisition error is one that tends to have a negative impact on conversion rates. Make sure the customers’ experience stays consistent from ad to site.

Conversion

Once you’ve got the eyeballs, it’s time to turn them into paying customers. Small, targeted tweaks to the conversion process can have a big impact on overall growth. If you use data wisely at this point you can get big results with much lower effort.

Check this:

  • Macro conversion rates: One big warning sign that you definitely do have a problem is if less than 3% of your visitors are turning into customers.
  • Micro conversion rates: Leading up to the big conversions there are often smaller conversions that happen along the way such as subscribing to your blog or newsletter, adding items to a wish list, or interacting with you on social media. These numbers don’t immediately translate to revenue growth, but steady improvement over time indicates a healthy ecommerce business.

Recommendations for improvement:

  • A/B test your face off: Make tools like Optimizely your best friend. Get smarter about how, where, and when you test.
  • Test visitor flows: Tools like Google Analytics will provide insight on your visitor flow so you can spot the areas where visitors are dropping off.
  • Revive abandoned carts: Abandoned shopping carts are a huge opportunity for online stores to boost conversion rates. Use your data to find the best time and approach for sending these follow-up emails to soon-to-be customers.

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Retention

If you have a steady stream of new customers coming in, it’s time to look at how you keep them coming back.

Check this:

  • Repeat purchase rates: Repeat purchase rates vary dramatically depending on your business. If you’re selling computers, this number is likely very low, if you’re selling used books, it should be quite a bit higher. Benchmark your repeat purchase rates and use this as a barometer of your future success.
  • Churn rate: Churn is a vital health metric of your business. Even if customer acquisition is wonderful, high churn will destroy the success of your business.
  • Customer lifetime value: Your customers are not all created equal. If retention is low among customers with a high customer lifetime value, that’s a far bigger problem than if retention is low among your discount-chasing customers.

Recommendations for improvement:

  • Repeat purchase analysis: Use your data to find out where shoppers are dropping off. Is it between order 1 and order 2? What were the characteristics of the people who bought a second time and those who didn’t?
  • Churn analysis: Things like website difficulties or shipping delays can cause surges in churn. If you find that this was the case for you then go back to these customers and offer an explanation, a sincere apology, and an invitation to give your business another chance.
  • Test email marketing: Email marketing is a staple in the ecommerce marketing toolbox. You can drive repeat purchase rates by testing things like sending follow-up emails recommending items frequently purchased together, subject lines, and content.

Reactivation

If you’re younger than a year, don’t worry too much about reactivation. You will lose customers, but at this point it’s more important to focus on acquisition and conversion. Once you’re more established, it’s time to start looking at how to get those churned customers back.

Check this:

  • Win back rate: Your win back rate is a measure of customers who came back and remained customers. If this number is too low it can indicate a problem with your reactivation strategy.
  • Customer lifetime value: If you’ve lost a number of high lifetime value customers than this is the #1 place to start getting reactivation results.

Recommendations for improvement:

  • Win back analysis: There’s a tendency to approach reactivation with the discount hammer. This can lead to customers coming back once for the discount, only to never purchase again…again. Understanding why customers returned and turned into repeat customers will help you design a reactivation strategy with the offers and messaging to create repeat customers.
  • Retargeting: Most people think of retargeting as an acquisition strategy, but you have your customers’ cookies, go ahead and test using this for reactivation.

Test and Measure

Once you know your weak spot, it’s time for the fun stuff – testing new tactics and measuring the results. Remember: you don’t have to have all the answers up front. Just make sure you’re always trying new things and learning what works!

Shameless Plug

Want a marketing strategy grounded in data and aimed at fixing your business where it needs it most? Get in touch. We’ve got the tools and the people that can help you conduct the types of analysis described in this post.

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Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • http://workado.com/ Justin McGill @ Workado

    Love the concept of fixing where you’re the worst. There’s always a leak somewhere, so start with the beginning and work your way through them.

    • JanessaLantz

      Glad you like it! It’s a strategy that we rely on heavily to guide our own marketing efforts.

  • http://loyalis.co/ Filip@Loyalis

    Great point about PPC. Retailers always think that`s the only way to reach someone, and there is a lot more options available, especially with content

    • JanessaLantz

      Hey, thanks for weighing in. I think if marketers learned anything from Google’s changes over the past year it’s that you can’t put all your eggs in one marketing channel. A variety of tactics, paid and unpaid, is the best way to ensure an algorithm change, new competitor, etc. won’t be enough to unravel your marketing efforts.

  • Laura Lee Catleugh

    This is a really great article! Any thoughts about the trend of retargeting? From a business perspective, it has shown little conversion From a consumer’s persepective, I’m beginning to find it increasingly invasive, especially since it is not permission-based.

    • JanessaLantz

      Laura, Glad to hear that you liked the article. I don’t think retargeting is going anywhere. While it clearly has some issues to work out, the appeal of being able to reach out to potential customers who haven’t purchased from you yet is too good to pass up.

  • http://www.referralcandy.com/ Visakan @ ReferralCandy

    Great post. In my experience, I find that a lot of weaker retailers who’re just starting out aren’t equipped to think about their business in such precise terms- and the vaguely written, buzzword laden blogposts out there don’t help!.

    Posts like these give me something to point them to. Thank you!

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    Keyword relevancy is one of the keys to success with Google AdWords. While it may be tempting to include all sorts of keywords you can get your hands on, be aware that this is often the #1 mistake advertisers make when creating their first campaign. You only want prospects who “Need You Now” and are going to be motivated to contact your company, or purchase your services if they click your ad. People bid on the wrong keywords all the time and it hurts them big time. My company was losing an average of $0.67 per click until Simon over at RDM helped us get our ducks in a row with the campaign and now it makes $2.19 per click on average instead of -$0.67. He’s really helpful on the phone, his number is 325-446-1507

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  • http://onlinebusinessreef.com/ onlinebusinessreef

    Good article I think one of the most underutilized aspect of your strategies is the A/B testing especially on landing pages and PPC ads.

  • Wilson Calaham

    Janressa, this a great article in case of online business, your writing is the 10th im reading from google, some writers just show the problems,but no solution.from your paragraphs i got the question and answer, im marketing planer for daymart.ir the first online shop based on stastics, not chance.you helped me and gave me good ideas.
    Thank you

  • Marianne

    Excellent article, Macro and Micro conversion rates are really important to measure your business progress as mentioned above. I need to add that setting timelines to your business achievements is very important to measure success and evaluate the business strategy. Also here are some tips to grow your business https://arminds.com/business-ideas/starting-and-growing-online-business

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