When you’re trying to get more views for your videos, it can often feel like you’re at the mercy of YouTube’s algorithm. That’s why it’s important to think about distribution at every stage, from creation to promotion. In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from two entrepreneurs who regularly produce YouTube videos that drive millions of views.
With Instagram surpassing 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, and over 400 million people using Instagram Stories on a daily basis, Instagram offers ample marketing opportunities for ecommerce brands, retail shops, and small businesses to reach their customers.
Now with Shopping on Instagram, connecting your online store to your Instagram account, the social media site has developed into a thriving marketplace for brands to connect with consumers.
But incorporating Shopping on Instagram into your marketing still requires some creativity. There are many ways you can go about it, after all. So, let’s take a look at examples of how some of the world’s top ecommerce brands are using Shopping on Instagram to drive sales and growth.
Why use Shopping on Instagram?
Shopping on Instagram is quickly becoming the preferred way for consumers to not only learn about new brands and products on Instagram, but also purchase them in just a few simple steps.
In fact, 80% of Instagram users follow a business account, making the expansion of shopping on Instagram more effective than ever for merchants to tag products in their posts and simplify the entire buyer journey from discovery to checkout.
From major brands to mom-and-pop shops, businesses around the world are driving proven results with Shopping on Instagram.
Sell more with shopping on Instagram
Start tagging products in your posts and stories to turn engagement into purchases with the shopping on Instagram sales channel.
Getting started with Shopping on Instagram
First things first, in order to get started with selling your products on Instagram, make sure:
- Your business sells physical goods that comply with Instagram’s commerce policies.
- Your Instagram account is converted to a business profile.
- Your Instagram business profile is associated with a Facebook catalog. See this full guide from Instagram on creating your Facebook catalog with your Instagram business profile.
If you’re a Shopify merchant, here’s a complete rundown of everything you’ll need to get started.
Once you’ve taken care of the step-by-step details above, you should be all set to start selling your products on Instagram.
4 tools to drive organic sales from Instagram
Before we dive into specific examples of how top brands use Shopping on Instagram, let’s quickly outline the four main tools you can use together to drive organic sales from Instagram:
- Product Tags in Posts: In a nutshell, product tags on Instagram are similar to tagging other users in your posts, except you’re tagging your products. This allows shoppers to click on your tags and quickly shop your catalog of products.
- Product Stickers in Stories: With Product Stickers in Stories, ecommerce brands can tag specific products in Stories, just like you can with standard product tags in posts.
- The Shop tab on your profile: The Shop tab is where your profile visitors can find all the products you’ve tagged in your Instagram posts, including the content that features them.
- Swipe-up Links in Stories: While not a feature of Shopping on Instagram, swipe-up links are a great tool for driving traffic to specific landing pages directly from Stories. Previously only available to verified accounts, all business Instagram accounts with 10,000 or more followers can now add links to Instagram Stories.
How brands use Shopping on Instagram in posts
Due to the highly visual nature of Instagram, Shopping on Instagram’s product tags are a natural fit for various ecommerce merchants across several industries and verticals.
With that said, many brands struggle to create a compelling aesthetic in their Instagram posts, making it difficult to sell their products in a crowded ecommerce landscape. Here are our three biggest takeaways for making the most out of your Shopping on Instagram posts.
1. Create high-quality product photos
Brands today cannot afford to post poor quality product photos to Instagram (or any other channels). But don’t worry, today’s smartphone cameras are often more than enough to take high-quality product photos if you’re on a limited budget.
For example, Beardbrand uses flat-lay product shots to showcase fan favorites, adding product tags for each individual item
But let’s take a look at the three elements that make Beardbrand’s product image “high quality”:
- Backdrop: Use a black, white, or light gray backdrop behind your product to give your photographs a clean and consistent look across multiple products.
- Table: Utilize a table so that your product sits higher, which will make it easier for you to photograph your product during the photoshoot.
- Light: The most budget-friendly option is natural window light. Set up your product and equipment near a large window to allow for ample light in your frame. If natural light is not available, use a larger lamp or renting a softbox-type lighting kit and remember that “white” light is optimal for capturing products.
With multiple products featured in one photo, you can tag each one separately to let interested shoppers learn more about what they’re interested in.
It may seem like a lot of work up front in order to capture quality product photos, but it’ll make a huge impact on sales in the long run. Remember: You’re creating assets that you can repurpose and reuse over time.
Of course, staged product images aren’t the only way to crush it with Shopping on Instagram.
2. Showcase your products as part of a lifestyle
If you’re looking to lean into the visual nature of Instagram, there’s no better way than to show your product in action. That’ll help shoppers to actually visualize themselves using your product and take the next step in the buying process.
Herschel Supply Co is one of the best in the business at helping shoppers imagine a lifestyle with their product.
What makes this Shopping on Instagram strategy so effective is that, instead of using a call to action like ‘Shop’ or ‘Buy’ in their product photos, they simply share stories from real individuals who love their products. They even tag the people in the posts!
But even if you don’t have the time or resources to create high quality product images of your own, there’s still another way to make your Instagram account stand out.
3. Curate user-generated content
If people are buying and enjoying your product, chances are they’re posting about it on social media. User-generated content is a great way to fill your feed with quality content while still taking advantage of the various shopping on Instagram features.
One of my favorite examples of user generated content done right is from inkbox Tattoos. With more than one million followers on Instagram alone, they’re the poster child for how effective UGC can be for brands.
inkbox Tattoos has grown by more than 500,000 followers in 2018 alone and are showing no signs of slowing down.
This is even more so with the introduction of Instagram’s new Shopping Tab within the Explore page.
Instagram first began testing a shopping feature in November 2016, rolling it out globally in March of last year. Now with the addition of the Shopping Tab to Explore, Instagram’s algorithm selects items it believes users will be interested in. Here’s what it looks like:
In a recent earnings call, Facebook said that 90 million people a month tap posts to reveal shopping tags. The Shopping Tab is another huge step to embrace ecommerce for the social media giant.
Many brands have come to see social media as the gateway that allows them to connect authentically with audience members one-on-one. With user-generated content, brands give real users the opportunity to tell real stories—something that is often hard to achieve with traditional brand-generated content.
How brands use Shopping on Instagram in Stories
Instagram Stories has seen rapid growth in adoption and usage among consumers around the globe, with more than 400 million accounts using Stories daily. Believe it or not, one-third of the most-viewed Stories are from brand accounts.
With the expansion of Shopping on Instagram into Stories (and even the Explore page), brands now have even more ways to get their products and services directly in front of eager buyers.
1. Educate or entertain your audience (don’t just sell)
One of the biggest strengths of Instagram Stories content is the fact that it’s less curated and more human due to its ephemeral nature. In other words, where the Instagram Feed is typically a brand’s best content, Stories are much more raw and unfiltered.
Educating or entertaining your audience, instead of going directly for the sale, will ensure that your content fits well within the Stories narrative as well as offer your audience a compelling reason to find out more about your product or service.
While Product Stickers can promote your specific products, you can also use swipe-up links instead (if you have more than 10k followers) to surface your content or other key webpages.
Parachute, for example, does an incredible job of creating educational content around what might seem like a mundane topic: sheets and bedding. They encourage their followers to “swipe up” if they’d like to learn more after posting a series of interesting stats and figures.
The Stories link then leads shoppers to a landing page with more tips on bedding, several products, as well as an email popup to entice newsletter signups.
Parachute proves that you can still sell your products effectively while simultaneously improving the lives of your followers.
2. Use video to showcase your product
Did you know that, after watching a video, 64% of social media users are more likely to purchase a product online? Or that 15-25% of Stories viewers swipe up to follow a link and engage directly with a brand’s website?
Needless to say, video should be an integral part of your Shopping on Instagram strategy.
Letterfolk, for example, does a great job of using video in their Stories. From product demonstrations to live Q&A, the Letterfolk team knows exactly how to take advantage of this compelling format.
The best video content tells stories that connect on a deep level with the viewer. The better you tell stories about your brand or product, the more likely your viewers are going to understand what your company is offering and what it can do for them. And, in turn, the more likely they’ll be to buy.
Best of all, you can add product stickers or swipe-up links to your video Stories to drive sales, and even feature them permanently in your Highlights to surface them to new profile visitors.
3. Experiment with Product Stickers in Stories
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Instagram Stories are an effective way for brands to showcase and promote their products in engaging ways. But up until recently, Stories were somewhat limited in terms of directly selling products and driving traffic.
That all changed with the recent launch of Product Stickers in Stories. With Product Stickers, ecommerce brands and businesses are no longer limited to trying to get their followers to “swipe up” to shop.
Users can tap on Product Stickers to learn more about the featured product, and then tap again to be taken directly to the product page to purchase.
Clothing company Madewell 1937, for example, uses Product Stickers in Stories to visually showcase their newest line of clothing.
Key takeaways from how top brands use Instagram
As I mentioned in the beginning, with more than 80% of Instagram users following a business account, the expansion of Shopping on Instagram offers an unmatched opportunity for merchants to tag products in their posts and simplify the entire buyer journey from discovery to checkout.
Before you dive into Shopping on Instagram and start promoting your product or service across the platform, it’s important to keep these 3 key takeaways in mind.
1. Quality is crucial
Everything from your product photos to the way you describe your product in the captions is an integral part of the buyer process. People make snap judgments about your brand in a matter of seconds and so it’s important to consider all of the factors.
2. Help shoppers visualize
While there are endless ways to use Shopping on Instagram to market your product, perhaps the most compelling way is to help potential customers imagine what life would be like with your product. In other words, your Instagram content shouldn’t focus on the features of your product, your ads should focus on what people can do with your product or how it will enrich their lives.
3. Embrace video
Video marketing is here to stay, and it will play a big part in the success of your Instagram content. People are more likely to take action (such as clicking or purchasing) after watching a video compared to content containing a photo or link.
How are you using Shopping on Instagram?
Shopping on Instagram is only just the beginning for merchants looking to boost product sales. As more and more consumers get used to this exciting new shopping frontier, it’s up to your brand to deliver your products where customers are spending a majority of their time: social media.
We know your pain. You’re looking for the right images for your online store, website, or for social media. You’ve searched far and wide for stunning, free images to use, but keep running into cheesy stock photos of people high-fiving in boardrooms or laughing at their salad.
The good news: there’s a huge variety of excellent free and paid stock photography websites for commercial use available online. You just have to know where to look.
We’ve compiled an exhaustive (and freshly updated) list of stock photo resources you can use to find free images for your website. Whether you need one-time hero images for your blog, stock imagery for your website, or first-rate stock photography for commercial use, you’ll find what you’re looking for right here.
Take a look, and enjoy!
📸 Note: It’s always best to double check the licensing for each stock photo resource below. We did our research when putting this list together, but licensing is subject to change and may differ depending on which stock photographers or stock libraries you purchase from. Some may require approval for commercial use, while others may be totally free to download and use.
Free stock photography websites for commercial use
Why it’s good:
- Beautiful stock photography for various industries, captured with ecommerce in mind.
- Easy to navigate and search for photos thanks to a wide variety of collections.
- Free for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- Beautiful high-resolution stock photography for everyone.
- Over 300,000 stock photos in total with thousands more added every day.
- Royalty free for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- New high-resolution photographs added every week.
- Out of the box, humorous and high contrast photography to help you stand out.
- Free for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- A timeless archive of landscape and nature-focused stock photography.
- Tags allow for easy navigation through the expansive archive.
- Free high-resolution images for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- Stunning nature and abstract stock photographs.
- Huge library of 100% royalty free images (as long as you provide attribution).
6. Life of Pix
Why it’s good:
- True to life, high-resolution stock photography.
- Over a thousand stock photos, including everything from food and people to architecture and textures.
- 10 new photos added weekly from a hand-selected “Photographer of the Week”.
- Copyright free images for commercial use, but some restrictions apply for distributors.
Why it’s good:
- Beautiful, high-resolution stock images for startups, bloggers, designers and developers.
- Perfect stock photos for a tech-related website. Plenty of laptop-, desk- and office-related shots.
- Again, 100% royalty free images for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- A full archive of free for commercial use stock photos with new photos added every single week.
- Heavy focus on nature stock photography and macro stock photography.
- Incredibly easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for. Sort by category, tags, colors and orientation.
Why it’s good:
- Over 3,000 new stock photos added every month with well over 40,000 already available.
- Absolutely massive collection of artistic stock images for you to explore. From mountains to music, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
- Looking for nature, abstract and technology photography? Pexels is perfect for personal or commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- Sort the stock photography based on dominant colors, category, tags, etc.
- Easy to navigate system with palette and camera specs.
- Beautiful, high contrast photographs free for commercial use (as long as you provide attribution).
11. Jay Mantri
Why it’s good:
- Beautiful archive of landscape, ocean and city photography.
- Royalty free for commercial use.
12. Stock Snap
Why it’s good:
- Hundreds of high-resolution stock photos added every week.
- Powerful search engine for finding stock images with a user-friendly interface. Sort by date, popularity, views, downloads, favorites and more.
- Absolutely free for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- Easily one of the top sources of gorgeous, high-resolution free photos.
- Hundreds of lifestyle photographs available for commercial use.
- Variety is the spice of life! City, cultural, hospitality, people, scenery, street—you’ll find it here.
14. ISO Republic
Why it’s good:
- Specifically shot with creative professionals in mind.
- Ever-expanding library of over 3,000 free images.
- Free commercial use images, no questions asked.
Why it’s good:
- 10 new, premium stock photos sent straight to your email every two weeks.
- Impressive library of hundreds of free images, especially in the lifestyle photography niche.
- 100% free for commercial use. Just don’t redistribute!
Why it’s good:
- Hundreds of royalty free nature stock photos with dozens more added every month.
- Curated, high quality photos. You won’t want to miss even one new photo.
- All images are free for commercial use, with or without attribution.
Why it’s good:
- Over 1.3 million (and counting) stock photos and videos to choose from.
- Photos, illustrations, vector graphics and videos are all available.
- Free for commercial use, making it the perfect choice for advertisers.
Why it’s good:
- More than 900 photos to search through. Don’t worry, the search functionality and tags are incredibly easy to use.
- Perfect for any food-related website looking for extremely high quality stock photographs.
- Makes good use of the always trendy overhead stock images.
- Royalty free and free for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- Over 5,000 travel stock photos from literally all over the world. Photos from Russia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Peru, France and many more.
- Perfect choice for any travel-related website.
- Extremely high quality stock photographs, all of which are free for personal use (as long as you provide attribution).
Why it’s good:
- Stunning landscapes and nature-related stock photos, perfect for hero images.
- Free for commercial use images, more being added sporadically over time.
21. Foodie Factor
Why it’s good:
- From alcohol to healthy snacks to candy, Foodie Factor already has over 1,000 food-related stock photos to choose from.
- You can choose to have the newest photos sent directly to your inbox.
- All stock images are free for commercial use.
Why it’s good:
- Over 900 high quality, high-resolution stock images to choose from.
- Free stock videos are also available.
- The abstract and portrait photography here is particularly eye-catching.
- Did someone say free for commercial use? (Yes, yes we did.)
Worth a thousand words
Now that you’ve taken a look at the best places online to get free, high quality images for your website, it’s time to get creative. With all of these stunning stock photos at your fingertips, your creative juices are no doubt flowing.
So, whether you’re using the images for a blog post, a website, your store, a Facebook ad, a presentation or whatever else life throws at you, you’re all set.
For more inspiration and ideas, check out The Complete Guide to DIY Product Photography.
Let us know in the comments if you have any other favorite stock photography resources!
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Why do your customers buy from you? What motivates people to choose you, to choose your products over the hundreds of alternatives? What makes your company, and your products, better than the rest?
The answer: your value proposition.
If you can perfect your value proposition, you can increase your conversion rate and improve your marketing strategies across many channels. Learning to present the value your company and products deliver in a compelling way is one of the most high-value, wide-reaching marketing activities.
What is a value proposition?
A value proposition is the value you promise to deliver to your customers post-purchase. It’s ultimately what makes your product attractive to your ideal customer. A compelling value proposition meets three criteria:
- It’s specific: What are the specific benefits your target customer will receive?
- It’s pain-focused: How will your product fix the customer’s problem or improve her life?
- It’s exclusive: How is it both desirable and exclusive? How well does it highlight your competitive advantage and set you apart from competitors?
Don’t confuse brand slogans, catchphrases, or even a positioning statement with a value proposition as they are different things.
Here’s a visualization that will help you avoid that trap.
Your value proposition should focus on the superpowers that potential customers get, not the product. Rarely is your value proposition the product itself or its features. Instead, it’s the way the brand or product fixes a meaningful pain point, improves the lives of your target audience, and the way it makes them feel (like they have superpowers, for example).
A value proposition should be front and center when a visitor arrives on your site. Although it’s often found above the fold on the homepage, you should be aware of other common entrance points (e.g. a landing page, category pages, blog posts, and product pages).
Even if you manage to create an effective value proposition, it won’t drive sales if it’s tucked away in a dusty corner of your website or absent on high purchase intent pages.
How to write a unique value proposition
So, what goes into a good value proposition, and where should you begin?
1. Gather voice of customer copy
The best value propositions use voice of customer copy. That is, they use the exact words of your current customers to hook your future customers.
For example, if they were interviewed for a case study, how would your target customers describe your product? How does it improve their lives? How do they describe your company? Why do they choose to associate with your brand?
Interview your customers or send out a survey to better understand how they speak about you, both to other people and to themselves. Pay attention to common words and phrases they use. Your visitors should see themselves in your value proposition. The language you use plays a big role in shaping their perspective.
2. Emphasize clarity before creativity
Above all, you must ensure your value proposition is clear. Sounds obvious, right? Your value proposition needs to serve many purposes, so achieving crystalline clarity can be quite difficult.
When evaluating your draft, ensure it answers the following questions:
- What product are you selling?
- Who should buy your product?
- How will buying your product improve the visitor or her life?
- Why should the visitor buy from you and not your competitors?
- When will the value be delivered?
Your value proposition should be relatively short, 2-3 short sentences maximum. Every word should improve clarity or make your main selling point more compelling, otherwise it needs to be cut.
3. Focus on benefits, not hype
How many “World’s Best Coffee” signs would you see in store windows walking down just one busy New York City street? Dozens. Each sign would make it a little more difficult to believe the previous.
Hype, which can come in the form of superlatives (“best”) and exaggerations (“world’s best”), can be dangerous that way. Instead, focus on distinct benefits and the concrete value your product delivers.
If you need to use hype to sell your products, it’s a sign that your value proposition is not well-defined. Or, perhaps, even that your product is not as valuable as you think.
Examples of strong value propositions
The best way to get a feel for how value propositions work and how to get them right is to look at some strong examples.
BustedTees uses “brings you the highest quality graphic tees on the net” as their homepage value proposition.
In this case, they’re betting on the quality of their production materials and designs. The value proposition is small, but centered at the top of the page.
The site appears to only display the value proposition to first-time visitors, who are more likely to be unfamiliar.
Note how the value proposition is followed quickly by a relevant call to action. “Hey, we have high quality graphic tees. Want to shop our best selling graphic tees?” If your value proposition does its job, it motivates and inspires action, so make it easy for visitors to take that action.
2. NOVO Watch
NOVO Watch promises to deliver “timepieces handmade in Alberta from repurposed pieces of history”.
Instantly, you know the difference between a watch from NOVO Watch and their competitors. The value is unique and undeniably different.
When you arrive on the site, the value proposition fills the entire page, but you’ll also find the value proposition reiterated on the product pages.
The continuity from the homepage to the product page is immediately evident. Phrases like “manually wound timepiece” and “132 year old train track” reinforce the value proposition, creating a clear message match.
3. Studio Neat
Studio Neat creates simple products that solve common, everyday problems. That value proposition and brand ethos is communicated throughout, even though it’s not explicitly stated on the homepage.
Simple products that deliver simple, but desirable value. “Tripod mount for smartphones”, “wood docks for Apple stuff”, “wide-grip stylus”, “make and store simple syrup”, etc.
The same theme is continued on product pages.
No exaggerations, no complex product details. “On your nightstand or at your desk, it’s nice to have a designated spot to charge your devices.” Tell me that sentence doesn’t read like a customer wrote it himself.
4 important types of value propositions
In ecommerce, your value proposition is more than just the big, bold heading on your homepage. There are four distinct types of value propositions you should know about when optimizing your store.
1. Your company value proposition
Did you know there’s a difference between the value proposition of your company and products?
Take Studio Neat for example. The value proposition for their company would be something like this: simple products that solve simple problems. The value proposition for their Material Dock is: it’s nice to have a designated spot to charge your devices. Now, you can see and feel the company value proposition in the product value proposition, but it’s important to see the distinction.
Further, in this article, we’re talking about your external value propositions. It all starts with a strong brand ethos, which is the way you talk about and think about your brand, both internally and externally. For example, Studio Neat’s brand ethos might be something like this: “subtract until it’s perfect”. You can see how that ethos trickles down through everything, including the company value proposition and the product value propositions.
2. Your homepage value proposition
This is the type of value proposition you’re most familiar with. It’s the big, bold heading on your homepage. Just think back to the NOVO Watch value proposition example above.
Your homepage value proposition will depend on the type of store you run. For example, if you have a small number of products, your homepage value proposition might be more product-focused. If you have a wide range of products, your homepage value proposition might be more company- or brand-focused.
NOVO Watch’s homepage value proposition is product-focused, for example.
Timepieces handmade in Alberta from repurposed pieces of history.
They have a relatively small number of products and are specifically focused on watches. If they were to introduce a line of handcrafted pens made from pieces of history and a line of handcrafted wallets made from pieces of history, how might their homepage value proposition need to change?
3. Your category value propositions
Don’t overlook the need for a value proposition on your category pages. Why? Just look at the search engine results page (SERP) for “women’s jeans”.
First, you’ll notice that all of these pages are category pages.
Second, many of the page descriptions are value propositions in disguise. Abercrombie & Fitch has variety, the perfect fit for everyone. Bootlegger’s black jeans won’t fade. Old Navy jeans will make you look polished, even on a casual day.
When you click through to Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, you’ll see the value proposition reiterated in the on-site copy.
High rise, low rise, a variety of washes, “fit for your story”. All of these triggers help reinforce the value proposition. As you can see, though, it’s still quite uncommon to find a clear and succinct value proposition on a category page.
With so much competition among category pages, especially on SERPs, that’s a huge missed opportunity that you can step up and capitalize on. Ask yourself what each category of products on your site promises that’s specific, pain-focused and exclusive.
4. Your product value propositions
A product value proposition goes, you guessed it, on your product page. Each product within each category needs a specific value proposition. Think back to the Neat Studio Material Dock example above.
Here’s another great product value proposition example from Studio Neat.
Anyone who has an Apple TV knows that losing that tiny remote is a common occurrence. Instead of having to tear the couch apart a couple times a day, buy Studio Neat’s Apple TV Remote Stand. “You know you’re going to lose it. You won’t if you buy this.”
Simple, right? Perfect, because that’s Studio Neat’s company value proposition.
By now, you’re starting to see how the value propositions trickle into and influence one another. Start with the company value proposition, then the homepage value proposition, then category value propositions, then product value propositions.
Here’s a good way to visualize the connectivity of ecommerce value propositions:
A two-step template for creating a value proposition
Now it’s a matter of combining everything you’ve learned about value propositions to craft one of your own. There’s no reason to complicate the matter; the process can be broken down into just two steps:
- Identifying your value proposition.
- Communicating your value proposition.
The question becomes, how do you get both steps right?
Step 1: Identifying your value proposition
Before you dig into identifying your value proposition, it’s important to frame your thinking properly.
All great value propositions start with one question:
- What do I do better than anyone else?
Maybe it’s your customer service, maybe it’s your product design, maybe it’s material quality, maybe it’s price. It can be anything customers find valuable.
A word of caution, though: your company and products are more comparable than you think. Your visitors will certainly be comparing you to your competitors, so beat them to the punch. See how your value proposition stacks up against the promises of your top competitors. What will set you apart in the minds of your visitors?
Note that small values like free shipping, money-back guarantees and same-day delivery can be useful conversion tools, but are secondary to your unique selling proposition.
If your answer to, “What do I do better than anyone else?” is “free shipping”, you’re not digging deep enough. That’s something any store can copy-and-paste, meaning it’s not a defensible value proposition. Often, identifying your value proposition requires quite a bit of thought and research (customer interviews, for example).
Please, promote those free post-purchase gifts and shipping guarantees alongside your value proposition. You will likely capture people on the fence. But that’s just a band-aid if the core value proposition isn’t unique or compelling.
Step 2: Communicating your value proposition
Distill what you do better than anyone else into a single sentence and display it prominently. You want to ensure this is what grabs attention first.
Just like an article headline, many people will read the single sentence value proposition and move on. If they like it, they might read a brief elaboration or just continue on to the next step. If they don’t like it, they’ll often just go ahead and leave.
That’s a lot of pressure on just one sentence, so you want to make sure you’re getting it right. That is, you want to make sure it’s clear and relevant.
It’s a useful exercise to spend the time coming up with 10-15 variations of your initial value proposition.
Now, you want to know which one is the most unquestionably clear. A simple 5 Second Test can help you with that. In a 5 Second Test, people see your site (with your value proposition) for five seconds and then answer questions about what they saw. What do they remember? What do they think your site does? What do they think your product does?
If you find people can’t answer the questions correctly, you have a clarity issue. A common clarity problem? Hiding the value. Here’s an example from Best Buy.
“TV & Home Theatre” is prioritized visually here, but the value proposition is hidden below.
Here’s the same problem on Tiffany & Co.
And on TOPSHOP.
You get the idea. Make sure your value proposition is as clear as possible. The first step? Visually prioritizing your value proposition.
The 5 Second Test is just one way to test your value proposition. You can also run on-site A/B tests to figure out which of your 10-15 variations is most effective. Short of that, running paid Facebook ads to test the persuasion power of each of the variations is another option, especially if you have a low traffic site.
Value propositions help you perfect your promise
Your value proposition is a promise to your future customers. If that promise is specific, pain-focused and exclusive, you will turn future customers into paying customers.
Every entrepreneur believes her company and products are valuable. That’s why it’s so easy to overlook the way that value is communicated to strangers.
Spend the time to perfect your promise. It’s not just a branding exercise, it’s a marketing exercise that will pay off over and over and over again.
If you have questions or just want to get feedback on your value proposition, leave a comment below!
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Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual marketing channel for your brand and an opportunity to build a loyal audience that grows with your business.
In fact, over 500 million Instagram users browse the app every day, making it home to some of the most engaged audiences around.
But like any social network out there, there are the right ways to use your Instagram profile, wrong ways to use it, and clever ways to use it.
In this post, we will show you how to most effectively use Instagram to increase engagement and grow a massive following over time—one that’s full of real fans, not inactive fake accounts.
How to Get More Followers on Instagram
There are 13 tactics that will help you reliably get more followers on Instagram:
- Use the right hashtags
- Use the right filters
- Post at the right time
- Steal your competitor’s followers
- Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews
- Use geotags to boost local discovery
- Organize your Stories into Highlights on your profile
- Ask new users who engage with you to follow you
- Be consistent
- Hop on trends
- Run a giveaway
- Monitor your following closely over time
- Use the Instagram tools at your disposal
Let’s dive deeper into how to implement each tactic to get more Instagram followers.
1. Use the right Instagram hashtags
Your goal on Instagram is to engage your current audience on a regular basis while also growing your number of real followers. Posting new, interesting and engaging photos will satisfy the first requirement, but to begin growing you’ll find hashtagging your photos to be extremely important. Hashtagging your photos makes it easy for people to find your photos that are searching for those specific terms.
So which hashtags should you use? Just like with Twitter and other social sites, users on Instagram use certain hashtags over others. If you use popular hashtags within your photos, you’re much more likely to reach new users and be discovered.
Here are the current top 20 hashtags on Instagram:
- #love (1,271,692,015)
- #instagood (742,795,562)
- #photooftheday (507,358,504)
- #fashion (487,010,088)
- #beautiful (463,668,566)
- #happy (427,528,663)
- #cute (418,686,470)
- #like4like (417,887,839)
- #tbt (413,049,020)
- #followme (392,011,012)
- #picoftheday (380,504,677)
- #follow (371,102,705)
- #me (348,193,980)
- #art (343,874,151)
- #selfie (337,204,715)
- #summer (324,498,110)
- #instadaily (323,307,593)
- #repost (309,603,537)
- #friends (307,567,075)
- #nature (303,040,276)
If you looked at the list above and said, “But none of those apply to my products or brand”, you’re likely correct.
Using hashtags is one thing, using the right tags is a completely different thing.
Popular tags like the ones listed above will likely net you additional engagement and likes, however they will not lead to increased long-term engagement, new interested followers, and most importantly, sales.
If you want to tag your photos properly, you’ll need to find and use the most relevant hashtags. This means doing the appropriate research to make sure you’re using hashtags that not only describe your brand, but are also being searched for on Instagram.
To find relevant hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online tool like IconoSquare or Websta to start.
Below, I used Websta to find relevant, related and popular hashtags for my men’s accessory brand by searching for key hashtags that are closely related to my brand.
As an example, searching the hashtag #MensFashion, I was able to pull the following list of additional keyword hashtags along with the number of times they have been used (popularity).
You can also find more related hashtags and their popularity if you search for any of your target keywords directly in the Instagram app.
You’ll want to go through this exercise trying different keywords that describe your brand and products, building out your hashtag keyword list as you go.
Keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Additionally, the popular words will change over time, so make sure you revisit your hashtag keywords every few months to make sure you’re using the best possible terms.
You can also steal hashtag ideas from competitors or similar accounts that have the kind of following you aspire to have, but you ultimately want to create your own groups of hashtags to use that relate to your specific account.
Protip #1: Here’s a trick that I use for my ecommerce businesses. For every product and product category for my stores, I have done the research to see which are the most popular Instagram hashtags around those product categories. I came up with 15-20 popular hashtags for each category of products I sell, as well as a base of 5-10 popular tags that describe my brand and product offering overall. Finally, I also created a list of popular local specific hashtags that relate to my brand.
(Brand Keyword Hashtags)
#mybrandname #mensfashion #mensaccessories #mensgoods #fashion #mensstyle #instafashion #menswear
(Product Category Keyword Hashtags)
#bugatchisocks #happysocks #corgisocks #socks #sockswag #socksoftheday #sockgame #sockswagg #socksofinstagram #happysockday #sockwars #funsocks #happysockday
(Location Specific Keyword Hashtags)
#Toronto #TorontoFashion #TorontoFashionBloggers
All of these groups of keyword hashtags are stored in a page on Evernote. This makes it easy and efficient when I’m on the go to post a new Instagram image, optimized for the most relevant keywords.
I can easily open my Evernote and copy my standard brand, product and location specific hashtags to post with each photo. Some Instagram scheduling tools also let you save caption templates that you can use to store your hashtag groups.
Doing the work upfront of researching, organizing and saving the most applicable and popular hashtags will save you a ton of time down the road, increase your engagement and help garner new followers.
Protip #2: If you’ve been posting to Instagram for a while and feel like you’ve missed out on all these opportunities to build your audience by using keyword hashtags, fret not. You can still go back and post a comment with your new hashtag keyword lists and watch the likes and followers roll in.
Using hashtags in Instagram stories
Hashtagging on Instagram posts are a given, but you should also be using hashtags in your Stories for the chance to be seen by users who follow that specific hashtag.
You can use hashtag stickers (which can be found in the Instagram Stickers menu when creating a Story) or just hashtag directly in your captions for a chance to be featured in a hashtag story.
Now that users can follow hashtags, your stories on Instagram have a chance to be seen by both people who are following that hashtag and anyone who’s just checking it out.
2. Use the right filters on Instagram
Keyword hashtags aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to. The Instagram community responds to certain photo filters more favorably than others. Using these preferred filters can have an impact on your engagement.
Here are the 10 current most popular filters on Instagram according to Iconosquare:
- Normal (No Filter)
- X-Pro II
TrackMaven ran a study on Instagram accounts to see how filters affected engagement and found that Mayfair, Hefe, and Ludwig drove the most interaction.
But more important than the general Instagram community’s favorite filters, are your particular audience’s favorite filters. Consider this custom graph which correlates filter usage to engagement from my own Instagram account:
You can use IconoSquare to review the performance of your own account to understand what is and is not currently working for you.
3. Post on Instagram at the right times
Beyond adding the appropriate hashtags and using the best filters, you should also be considering the timing of your posts.
A targeted approach is to analyze what has and has not worked for you in the past. By visiting IconoSquare’s optimization section, you can get a detailed analysis of your posting history vs. engagement. This report will also highlight the best times of the day and days of the week to post.
The dark circles indicate when you usually post media. The light gray circles shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light gray circles represent the best times for you to post.
You can also get a lot of great insight from Instagram Analytics for Business accounts for free, under the Followers section.
You may want to consider using a social media scheduling tool to schedule and automatically publish your posts for when your audience is the most engaged.
4. Steal your competitor’s followers on Instagram
One of the best ways to find and attract a new following is by seeking out your closest competitors’ Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry simply by following your competitors’ account.
So how do you effectively steal your competitors’ followers? You can steal your closest competitors’ followers by engaging with them. There are several ways to engage with Instagram users, and the more work you put in, the more followers and repeat engagement you’ll get out of it.
The three types of engagement on Instagram are:
- Follow a user
- Like a photo
- Comment on a photo
I ran an informal test with my business account to see how my competitors’ followers responded to my marketing advances. I targeted the followers of a close, local competitor. Since I know many of his followers would be local, I added my city to my profile to create a greater sense of familiarity between my brand and the people I am targeting.
I began by simply following 100 of my competitors’ followers. Later, I followed another 100 but I also took the time to like one of their photos. Finally, I followed a third group of 100 and liked as well as commented on one photo from each account..
Here were the results:
- Follow: 14% followback
- Follow + Like: 22% followback
- Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback
Although the are many variables and the test was far from scientific, the results were clear. The more you put in and engage with people, the more you’ll get out of it.
Note: While it’s against Instagram’s terms of service, some entrepreneurs use automation to follow the same process above. House of Hannie discusses this tactic and the pros and cons of it on the episode of Shopify Masters below.
5. Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews
All this optimized posting to your account is great but if you really want to make an impact, you need to take advantage of influencer marketing on Instagram, exposing your brand to a wider audience.
So how do you do that? First, unlike the tactics above to grow your account this one usually isn’t free. However, if done correctly, it’s good value.
To get started, you’ll need to make a list of large accounts in your niche. For example, if you sell beauty products, you’ll want to find large accounts from beauty bloggers.
You may already be following these accounts, but if not you’ll need to find them. One of the best ways is to use Webstagram (mentioned earlier) and search for some of the closest hashtag keywords you uncovered in the beginning of this post. When you do a search for your keywords, not only will it show you the related keywords, but it also shows you the top Instagram accounts that feature those keywords.
There are a few things to look for in the profiles results:
- A large following—usually 20k to 200k
- An email address in the profile
If there is an email address in the profile, it usually means they’re open to sponsored posts or a shoutout in a sponsored Story.
You’ll want to email them and ask them their sponsored post pricing. In general, I have found the average rate to be around $20-$50 per post, depending on the size of their following.
However, if you’re selling a unique and original product, you may also want to consider sending them your product to review and post. The more natural and less advertisement-like the image, the greater the engagement and response usually.
You don’t necessarily need influencers with a massive following, but rather ones with a high engagement rate (likes and comments relative to follower size), which many influencer marketplaces can provide.
6. Use geotags on Instagram for local discoverability
Besides hashtags, you can also make your Instagram posts and Stories discoverable by tagging your location, either the city you’re in or the venue where the photo or video was taken.
Locations not only have their own Instagram feed but also their own Story just like hashtags that you can contribute to when you use the location sticker in your own Stories.
Local businesses can get the most value out of location tags by posting regularly to these feeds and also engaging with posts from prospective customers who are physically in the vicinity.
7. Organize your Stories into Highlights
Whenever a potential follower lands on your profile, you have a short span of time to convince them to follow you.
One way to do this is by using the “Highlights” feature on your profile to organize your Instagram Stories in a way that communicates what your account is about.
Since Stories have a 24-hour lifespan, Highlights can be used to give them a second-life and entice others to follow you so they don’t miss out on more Stories in the future.
Use Story Highlights to:
- Create trailers that tease what your account is about
- Organize your Stories into themes (like countries you’ve visited to for travel accounts)
- Explain your products through pictures and videos
- Promote your products using swipe-up links (you need at least 10K followers and a Instagram Business account to do this with your Stories)
8. Ask for more followers
It sounds obvious, but it deserves to be said: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ask your audience to follow you.
The same way YouTubers ask their viewers to follow them at the end of their videos, you can also ask viewers to follow you for more content.
Sometimes people might really enjoy what you put out on Instagram, but need a nudge before they actually follow you. Sometimes you just need to remind the users of a platform that they can subscribe to get more in the comments of a post.
You can also do this in your captions or even work it into your content by pitching what your audience will get if they follow you or hinting at content that’s coming up that they won’t want to miss.
9. Hop on trends for more followers
When the opportunity presents itself, aligning your content with trending topics or hashtags can improve discoverability and engagement.
For example, you can ride the wave of a trending topic or event, such as a holiday, in a relevant way to boost your engagement and reach. Or you can participate in one of the many hashtag holidays that exist, such as #NationalCoffeeDay (falling on October 1st in 2018). Mark relevant events in your calendar so you can prepare relevant content in advance.
Be sure to join the conversation in a meaningful way and when in doubt, ask yourself if your target audience would actually pay attention to the trend.
10. Run a giveaway to attract Instagram followers
One of the best kinds of comments you can get on any social media post, not just Instagram, is a comment where one user tags a friend. Not only do these comments contribute to your post’s engagement, which in turn makes it favorable to the Instagram algorithm, but each tag brings you a new audience member who arrived through a recommendation and who you could potentially win over as a follower.
One way to encourage this behavior is by posting relatable content that begs for 1:1 sharing (e.g. A gym meme that asks you to tag a friend who skips leg day). But a more reliable way to get your audience to tag their friends is by running a giveaway that encourages your audience to tag a friend and follow your account.
Be sure to check out our post on running a giveaway for more, as well follow Instagram’s promotion guidelines and any legal requirements for running a contest that apply in your country of operation.
For inspiration, here’s an example of a successful product giveaway from the5th that incentivizes people to follow their account and tag a friend for the chance to win two free products for the both of them.
11. Be consistent with your Instagram posts
Most of your followers won’t follow you for what you posted in the past but for the promise of what you’ll post in the future. Your audience wants to know what they’re going to get if they hit that follow button.
Having a feed with a consistent theme running through, where you publish at a consistent pace, can have just as much of an impact in growing a following as many of the other growth strategies we’ve covered above. Even a simple pattern can entice new followers, as long as it’s communicated at first glance to anyone who lands on your profile.
Consider your Instagram bio and your last 9 posts as your first impression on Instagram. Do they effectively communicate some degree of consistency through personality, filters, colors, or layout?
The layout of your grid is an often underestimated way to get creative with the aesthetic of your feed while adding a rhythm to your publishing strategy and consistency that’s worth following.
In fact, many accounts that adopt this approach are often able to spend less effort on creating content by focusing on converting visitors into followers, producing text graphics or other content with a faster turnaround and streamlining the overall production of their Instagram content.
You can use a tool like Later to easily plan out and schedule the look and layout of your feed in advance. Sonnet Insurance is just one example of how far some brands go with the aesthetic of their Instagram layout.
12. Closely monitor your Instagram following over time
It’s not enough to get more Instagram followers if you’re losing them just as fast. Keep an eye on the rate at which you’re growing as well as how engaged your following is overall.
Social Blade is a great free tool for analyzing the growth of your following (or your competitors), showing you followers added and lost over time and on specific days.
With an Instagram Business account, you also get an Instagram Analytics dashboard which offers valuable insight for free that you won’t get anywhere else. You can see how many people are checking out your profile, how many people your posts have reached, what your most engaging posts are, and where most of your followers are from.
You can use this data to diagnose where you’re falling short and where you could do more.
Look for patterns in the posts that were the most engaging and try to replicate that in your future content.
13. Use the Instagram tools at your disposal
There are hundreds of Instagram tools out there that can help you and your Instagram strategy, but I mentioned three key ones to help you build your audience and engage with them over time:
- Later: Schedule and automatically publish your Instagram posts from your computer or mobile device.
- IconoSquare: Info, analytics and insights into your account and followers.
- Webstagram: Find the best hashtags for your posts and people for your sponsored posts.
You can find more in our list of top Instagram tools, as well as some apps to help you with creating and editing your content.
Once you’ve built up a large following on Instagram, you might also want to check out these tactics for making money on Instagram.
Grow an Instagram following that grows your business
In this post we talked about the most effective ways to use Instagram to build a targeted following, but it’s not always a numbers game. As with any social network, the most successful strategy overall is to be authentic and social.
If you focus on engagement, not just followers, Instagram can be a great home for your products and brand that can lead to a healthy stream of revenue for your ecommerce business.
You’ve heard it time and time again. It’s cheaper to get current customers to make a repeat purchase than it is to find new customers. It’s true for many businesses, especially in the crowded ecommerce arena where clicks and conversions always seem to be increasing in cost.
When was the last time you made an effort to re-engage customers to get them to come back? If you’ve yet to market to current customers after the sale, now is a good time to build a cohesive strategy for customer retention. Let’s look at how to get started.
What is customer retention?
Customer retention is the collection of activities a business uses to increase the number of repeat customers and to increase the profitability of each existing customer.
Customer retention strategies enable you to both provide and extract more value from your existing customer base. You want to ensure the customers you worked so hard to acquire stay with you, have a great customer experience, and continue to get value from your products.
In short, acquisition creates a foundation of customers while your retention strategy is how you build customer relationships and maximize revenue for each one. But how much time and resources should you devote to your retention program? The answer to that depends on your store.
When to focus on customer retention
Whether you should focus more on customer acquisition or retention is heavily influenced by where your store is in its lifecycle. A store that started yesterday is vastly different than one that’s been up and running for many years.
Take a look at the timeline below for general guidance on your store’s potential investment levels.
1. Just starting: When you’ve just started your store there is one thing you should be focused on: getting customers. At this point your acquisition efforts should completely trump retention. Focus on strategies and tactics that will help you grow your customer base.
2. Gaining traction: You now have customers and you are getting sporadic sales. At this stage you can begin to introduce retention elements to encourage each customer to buy more. My recommendation would be to start with retention email campaigns that focus on encouraging a past customer to purchase from you again.
3. Consistent: You aren’t quite an ecommerce juggernaut, but sales are growing. This is the point where you should begin to think about mixing in more retention with your acquisition efforts. You can look at starting a loyalty and/or a referral program as well as getting more serious with marketing automation.
Your retention strategy is how you maximize the profitability of each customer.
4. Established: You are now an established ecommerce store. A common problem for retailers of this size is finding ways to continue to grow. Acquisition may be leading to a lot of one time purchases, but a retention strategy can get customers to buy more often which increases their lifetime value. At this stage, you should be serious and deliberate about your retention efforts.
5. Well-established: At this stage your store has made it past the initial gauntlet. You’ve achieved many early successes and you have a lot of processes and automations in place. Now is the time to focus heavily on retention.
For example, in the graph below, each store has 100 customers buying a $10 item each month. The light purple store is retaining 5% of those customers each month, and the dark purple is retaining 10%. As you can see the 5% increase can lead to rapid growth that is difficult to match with straight acquisition.
Aside from the current stage your store is in, you’ll also want to tailor your strategy based on what you sell.
How retention fits your business
What you sell has a huge impact on which strategy you should focus on. A retailer selling high-end leather furniture is going to be categorically different than a store selling tea and coffee.
A store whose customers purchase high value items frequently will have the highest customer lifetime value (CLV). These are the types of stores that have the most to gain from a solid retention strategy.
In general, as you move to the right across this matrix you should start focusing more and more on retention. But remember, you should never ignore one or the other. It’s about finding a balance that makes the most sense for your business.
The customer retention metrics that matter
The key to improving your customer retention rate is understanding the underlying metrics. But what are these metrics? How do you measure them? More importantly, how do you improve them?
Answering these questions will equip you with the tools you need to build a customer retention strategy that has a significant and lasting impact on your store’s profitability. In order to do that, let’s look at three of the most important customer retention metrics and examine why they matter.
1. Repeat customer rate
Repeat customer rate is the backbone of customer retention. It measures the percentage of customers willing to make a second purchase from you. Measuring your repeat purchase rate is an excellent way of evaluating how well your retention strategy is actually working. The higher this metric is, the more willing customers are to return to your store.
How to calculate repeat customer rate
When it comes to measuring retention metrics, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of complicated calculations. Thankfully, calculating your repeat customer rate is fairly straightforward and only requires two pieces of information:
A. Number of customers with more than one purchase
This refers to the number of customers who have made more than one purchase in a specific period of time. I recommend looking at an entire year to see the big picture.
B. Number of unique customers
This is the number of different customers that purchased from your store in a distinct time frame. Note that this is different from number of orders.
Fortunately, this is calculated for you in your Shopify reports. Should you want to do this manually, all you need to do is divide the number of customers with more than one purchase by the number of unique customers.
When you write out this equation, it looks like this:
# of Customers That Purchased More Than Once / # Unique Customers
2. Purchase frequency
Purchase frequency shows you how often customers are coming back to buy from your store. This is especially important when you consider that repeat customers are responsible for 40% of the average store’s annual revenue.
How to calculate purchase frequency
Calculating your store’s purchase frequency is similar to calculating repeat purchase rate. Using the same time frame you chose for your repeat purchase rate (e.g., a single month), divide your store’s total number of orders by the number of unique customers.
When you write out this equation, it looks like this:
# of Orders Placed / # Unique Customers
3. Average Order Value
Once you understand repeat purchase rate and purchase frequency, it’s time to maximize how much each of those purchases are worth. This metric is known as average order value, and refers to the amount of money a customer spends in your store on each transaction.
How to calculate Average Order Value
Just like purchase frequency, your average order value should be calculated using the same time frame you set for your repeat purchase rate. From there, all you have to do is divide your yearly revenue by the number of orders your store processed. Shopify reports also calculates this number for you.
When you write out this equation, it looks like this:
Total Revenue Earned / # Orders Placed
Customer value: The big picture of retention
Whether you hope to increase these metrics one at a time or simultaneously, the ultimate goal of retention marketing is to increase customer value. Customer value is the final piece of the puzzle because it helps you understand how much each customer is actually worth.
In order to calculate it, you need to already have a handle on your purchase frequency and average order value. By multiplying these two values together, you can truly see the fruits of your labor and understand the power of retention marketing.
Customer Value = Purchase Frequency x Average Order Value
Now is the best time to create a customer retention strategy to see how improving each of these metrics can help grow your business.
Strategies to boost customer retention
- Use customer accounts
- Improve your customer service
- Start a customer loyalty program
- Send engaging emails to customers
- Offer a discount or credit to return
We’ve explored why developing a strategy to retain our current customers can be just as valuable as finding ways to acquire new ones. We’ve also looked at what we should measure in order to stay on track. Now, let’s outline some tangible ideas you can apply to improve customer retention.
1. Use customer accounts
Customer accounts can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, accounts can make repurchasing easier by giving customers instant access to previous orders as well as pre-filled shipping information. On the other hand, customer accounts are often seen as too big of a commitment for new customers.
Because of this, many people choose to checkout as a guest if given the option. So how can you effectively implement and encourage customer accounts while not hindering conversions of first time customers?
The trick is to provide the option to create an account after the first order has been placed.
If you’re on Shopify and your customer accounts are optional, you can send customers direct invitations to encourage them to activate an account after they’ve completed a purchase.
2. Improve your customer support
Support systems help you effectively communicate with your customers and provide them with the right level of support. A support system can help both pre- and post-sale by enabling you, or a customer service rep, to clearly communicate with the customer.
Having a live chat or help desk tool available can turn a customer question into a sale or a customer complaint into a resolution, whether they come in on site, through email, or via social media. Very often, an effectively resolved complaint or problem can turn an unhappy customer into a loyal, repeat customer. And that’s to say nothing of the value of customer feedback, which can help you improve your products and your overall shopping experience.
Data suggests that while delight has its place, customers see fast, friendly, and consistent customer service as the gold standard. If you help customers avoid problems and get the most out of your products, you’ll be doing both of you a favor.
Depending on your niche, product mix, and margins, sending a small gift to your best customers can be a great way to remind them to return while adding the element of surprise and delight, which can increase customer satisfaction. Giving an unexpected gift also plays to the law of reciprocity, which refers to our tendency to respond to a positive action with another positive action.
Delight has its place. However, customers see fast, friendly, and consistent service as the gold standard.
For example, in a world where everything is instant and done over the internet, sometimes people just want a change of pace. A handwritten thank-you note is a thoughtful way to show customers you care and can encourage them to come back and purchase from you again.
When something is handwritten, it shows your customer you’ve taken the time to address them personally. This attention to detail will help you stand out from the deluge of automated receipts and one-size-fits-all order confirmation emails. These considerations go a long way and can potentially create a loyal customer for life.
3. Start a customer loyalty program
Loyalty programs, sometimes referred to a customer retention program, are an effective way to increase purchase frequency because they motivate customers to purchase more often in order to earn valuable rewards.
This becomes a profitable exchange for both you and your customers: they get more value each time they shop, and you benefit from their repeat business.
You can encourage customers to continue investing in the program by giving them welcome points when they create an account. When they see how easy it is to earn rewards, they’ll be excited to come back to your store to do it again.
Creating a loyalty program can be as simple as rewarding customers on their second purchase, or after a set dollar figure. Your store reports make it easy to see who your best customers are by dollar value and total number of orders. Additionally, you can opt for automated loyalty apps which can reward your customers for a variety of actions they take in your store.
4. Send engaging emails to customers
If purchase frequency is the backbone of customer retention, email marketing is the backbone of customer engagement and your retention toolkit.
Emails give you the opportunity to continue building a relationship with your customers before and after their initial purchase. It’s critical that each message you send adds value to your customer’s experience. If it doesn’t, you run the risk of losing them.
Shopify data from Black Friday Cyber Monday also shows that, relative to other sources, email has the highest conversion rate at 4.29%, followed by search in second. It’s clear email is a channel that converts.
A great way to get started is with follow-up emails. A week after a customer’s first purchase, send them an email that acknowledges and thanks them for buying. This type of acknowledgement helps customers feel good about their decision to buy from you, and makes your brand more approachable.
You can make this initial email even more impactful by recommending products that complement their initial purchase. Finally, you can even start including customer reviews as well. These endorsements will increase both the value of each recommended product and the customer’s desire to buy.
After this initial follow-up has been sent, you should make sure to send personalized messages regularly. Beard King does this beautifully, sending personalized emails that offer new products or sales every two to three weeks. Making additional product recommendations and sending invitations for upcoming sales and promotions for new products are great ways to keep the conversation going with first-time buyers.
If you have a product that is perishable, consumable, or otherwise needs to be refreshed over time, knowing your products’ lifespan and sending well-timed emails can be the perfect way to bring back dormant customers. This tactic can be particularly effective because ideally, you’ll be delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.
For example, Luxy Hair mentions in their FAQ section that their hair extensions will last three to six months on average, or up to a year depending on wear.
Knowing this, Luxy could set up a series of automated emails to go out after three months, six months, and one year that explain to customers the benefits of a fresh set of hair extensions. These emails would help educate a first-time buyer, keep Luxy top-of-mind, and encourage repeat business, all while providing customers with a great experience.
In all of your post-sale marketing communications, remember to remind customers of why they bought from your brand in the first place. Getting them to come back rests on your ability to show them why an additional purchase is worth their time and money.
5. Offer a discount or credit to return
Generally, I would tell you to be wary of discounting. When you discount your products you enter a perpetual race to the bottom that conditions customers to expect dropping prices, which ultimately results in a loss of revenue for your store. When margins are tight, discounting is even more of a risk.
However, when discounts are sent to a first time buyer I actually love it! Sending a discount code for their next purchase with a first time order is a great way to nudge them to come back. For this reason, discounting can also be an effective way to bring back customers that haven’t purchased in a while.
You can strengthen that nudge by giving them more than the standard 10% off. Giving 20%+ is more motivating and according to Market Wired, once a customer comes back for a second purchase they have a 54% chance of doing so again. When you think of that 20% off as an investment in boosting your repeat customer rate, it sounds a lot more reasonable.
You may also want to experiment with offering credits to use at your store (i.e. $10 towards any purchase) versus a percentage discount (i.e. 10% off any purchase).
Keep customers to grow your business
Your current customer base is the best asset your store has. Customers already know your brand, they know your products, and they appreciate your service.
Focusing your time and energy on improving the experience for this group as oppose to always trying to find new customers can be a powerful way to supercharge revenues for your store.
Thank you to Kirsten Burkard for her contributions to this post!
The technology you use to run your business should make your life easier, not harder.
Time you spend troubleshooting software is time you could be spending on higher-impact activities for your business—and ideally, your software can help you identify what those activities are, too.
That’s why so many merchants turn to the robust, turn-key platform provided by Shopify over stitching together similar functionality through plugins and 3rd-party services with WooCommerce. With built-in hosting, analytics, marketing features, shipping services, live 24/7 support, and a carefully curated app store, Shopify is made for entrepreneurs who want to build and sell, not manage an ever-growing list of tools.
Moving from WooCommerce to Shopify is a significant decision for your business, and when you’re ready we want to make the switch as effortless as possible.
Starting now, you can directly import your WooCommerce store to Shopify, no external apps or services required—it’s included for free on all Shopify plans, including trials.
To import your WooCommerce store to Shopify:
- Open a Shopify store
- Select “WooCommerce” when asked what platform you’re coming from
- Export your WooCommerce data
- Upload the file in Shopify
- Review and update your imported data
“I was ready to pay for help migrating from WooCommerce if I had to. When I signed up for my trial, Shopify told me how to download the file from WooCommerce and then upload it, and it literally took about 30 minutes to get all my products and contacts moved over. I was just kicking myself for not doing it sooner.”
That’s the “how” of switching from WooCommerce, but Shopify merchants are more qualified to explain the “why.” We spoke with business owners running different types and sizes of businesses about making the switch and why they decided it was time.
Add features without slowing down your store
When you’re just starting out, your focus is understandably on the foundational tasks you need to get your business off the ground.
But even early on, you’ll come across new tasks your online store needs to handle, and new ways to support your growth. Many of those tasks can be handled directly in Shopify, as opposed to requiring an additional extension with WooCommerce. For the ones that aren’t, you can turn to the Shopify App Store for vetted, professionally developed apps that won’t conflict with your store or your theme.
That’s what Brian Podolak, a former consultant for high-growth businesses like DeliverLean and Funky Farms CBD, and now a full-time business development manager at Arise Bioscience, noticed with multiple clients who moved from WooCommerce to Shopify.
“One client of ours had about 25 different WooCommerce plugins installed, so the speed of their store just crawled to a halt, and things stopped working. We took all the different WooCommerce plugins they were using and trimmed things down to seven different apps that covered everything in Shopify, so it was a lot simpler.”
Podolak’s client also had a list of new functionality they needed to add to their store, and doing so would have required adding yet another set of plugins to WooCommerce. Given that their site was already loading slowly, and that some plugins would likely conflict with others, the move became necessary.
“With the Shopify App Store, there seems to be an app to do just about everything you can think of—you aren’t stuck customizing everything for your store,” says Brian. “And every app person I’ve ever worked with, their support has been amazing.”
24-hour support so you can get back to selling
When you’re faced with a challenging technical question, you need answers so you can get back to running your business and making sales. That’s why our support team is around to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone, chat, or email.
It’s one of the main reasons Erik Morin, co-founder at Massage Guns, a tool to help athletes recover after strenuous workouts, was ready to make the move from WooCommerce to Shopify.
“The question wasn’t if, but rather when we’d make the move to Shopify. We knew the day would come when our WooCommerce website would not hold water for our popularity. Our page load times continually rose, and WooCommerce customer service was absent for the entire year, so we migrated our whole website to Shopify.”
Built-in analytics that surface the most important data
The right data can help you make savvy decisions for your business, saving you time and helping you focus on your highest-impact activities. That’s why analytics are such a crucial companion as you grow. With Shopify, all the information you need is at your fingertips, which is what Tahwii Spicer, founder of The Eco Baby and Z. Birdie noticed after she made the move from WooCommerce to Shopify.
“I really appreciate the home dashboard where it tells you how many people are on your site right now and also where they’re coming from,” says Tahwii. “One of the biggest things I learned was that I have so many organic visits from Pinterest. I never would have known without digging deeper into my analytics, and as a one-woman show I don’t have time to do that very often. Now I know I should focus a whole lot more on Pinterest because I have quite a few visitors coming from pins organically. That knowledge alone is worth the monthly price I pay for Shopify, in my opinion.”
“That knowledge alone is worth the monthly price I pay for Shopify, in my opinion.”
Run your business from the palm of your hand
Running a business shouldn’t mean being chained to a desktop for hours every day. Shopify’s mobile app is built to help you run your business from wherever you find yourself, whether that’s handling customer service in line at the store, or adding new products from your phone as you unpack them.
That flexibility was one of the unexpected benefits Tahwii has relied on the most since moving her two businesses to Shopify.
“Not only am I running my businesses, but I also have really young kids so I often have to stop and go feed the baby or go pick up somebody from school,” says Tahwii. “There’s always something going on, but no matter where I am, I can be in contact with customers through Kit, and I can use the Shopify app to handle important tasks and not forget about them, even if I’m on the go.”
Shopify’s mobile app lets you manage the most important parts of your business from the palm of your hand.
This flexibility is something that came as a pleasant surprise. Since Shopify’s mobile app lets you manage the most important parts of your business from the palm of your hand, Tahwii found she was able to tackle her to-do’s even when her desktop wasn’t in reach. Specifically, she found it a relief to be able to seamlessly switch between administrative work and the responsibilities of everyday life.
“I have a newer printer that connects to wireless printing so I can pick the order, print out the packing slip, print out the label, stick it all on, and I’m done,” she said. “Literally, sometimes I’m nursing the baby and I’m printing labels in the other hand, which saves me so much time and makes it possible to balance it all.”
Create a seamless experience for online and offline customers
You should be able to create a consistently delightful experience for your customers no matter where they buy from you.
Shopify gives you a single place to manage your business, so you can easily bridge the gap between online and offline shopping. You’ll be able to handle all your in-store point of sale needs, track inventory across multiple locations, and help customers with their purchases no matter where they made them or where they’re coming to you for help.
That’s one of the main reasons Benjamin Hills, owner of Flying Crow Coffee in Springfield, Vermont, made the move to Shopify.
“I had been trying to integrate gift cards for online and in-store use between my café and my online store,” says Benjamin. “There’s no integration between my previous payment provider and WooCommerce’s gift card options, so if a customer bought a gift card online they couldn’t use it in store, and vice versa.”
Moving from WooCommerce to Shopify helped Benjamin skip the process of trying to navigate multiple tools and plugins to integrate his in-person retail with his online store, and gave him a single place to track and manage all of his inventory and purchase data.
Convert more sales with payment options and cart recovery
One of the most important conversion moments for your store is the checkout process, and it’s easier to convert customers if they can pay with their preferred method.
That’s one of the reasons Mayank was happy to make the move from WooCommerce to Shopify.
“We were having trouble getting all of these different payment systems up and running—that became one of the key reasons we moved to Shopify. We wanted to offer multiple payment options, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, which was a struggle to configure on our WooCommerce website.”
On top of making it easier for their customers to complete a purchase, Ibkul’s team also took advantage of Shopify’s built-in cart recovery options to capture sales they may have otherwise missed out on.
“We didn’t have any system in place for recovering abandoned carts,” says Mayank. “With Shopify it was incredibly easy to get an abandoned cart email set up and it works very well for us. We have more than doubled what the industry standard is for abandoned checkout recovery.”
Streamline shipping and access better rates, all in one place
Fulfilling orders is something that scales in complexity as your business grows. Packing a few orders by hand is no problem, but managing a few hundred orders is a different story—so you need tools that can scale right along with you as your shipping needs change. That might mean relying on additional tools, or expanding your shipping to serve multiple countries.
With Shopify, managing your shipping process is streamlined at any scale.
With Shopify Shipping, you’ll be able to print all of the documents you need to include with international shipments, access negotiated rates with major carriers like DHL, UPS, and USPS in the United States, and Canada Post in Canada, and provide accurate estimates of shipping times, even if your products are held at multiple warehouses.
That was one of the major reasons Brian recommended one of his clients make the move to Shopify.
“Shopify Shipping gives you a real-time quote of what the different carriers are going to charge you,” says Brian. “Customers don’t really care that their two items are in different locations, they just want to get their product. They want to have a clear shipping cost and time, and Shopify helps to do that—even when products are at two different warehouses.”
Stop losing sales to slow-loading pages
Data shows page load times can have a dramatic impact on your conversions. Visitors are 32% more likely to instantly leave your mobile website (or “bounce”) as page speed increases from 1 to 3 seconds, according to Google. That’s why site speed matters so much in ecommerce: slow page speeds cost money.
When Ibkul made the switch to Shopify, they noticed a boost in page speed almost instantly.
“In terms of site performance we’ve done much better compared to what we were on WooCommerce, without much direct work on it as a team,” says Mayank. “Primarily because Shopify uses a content delivery network (CDN).”
While any site can take advantage of the improved speed offered by a CDN, it’s an enhancement we’ve built into Shopify to speed up your site, save you time, and take one more technical task off of your to-do list.
Focus on your business, not on the technology
Step-change growth happens when you have the headspace needed to work on your business, not in your business, dealing with the technology that was supposed to save you time. There are enough big hurdles and tricky to-do’s you need to wrangle when starting and scaling a business—troubleshooting your technology stack shouldn’t be one of them.
Ready to make the move? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Running a business can have a powerful impact on your life and the lives of those around you. But before you can run a business, you need to start a business.
Deciding to start your own business can seem like a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it before. Luckily, plenty of other entrepreneurs have, and you can benefit from the wisdom they gleaned from their successes—and their mistakes.
These 13 time-tested steps will help you start a business—whether it’s your first or your 10th—with tips on everything from finding and validating your money-making idea to figuring out your shipping strategy to finally launching your product or service.
- Use the time you have available
- Identify a business idea
- Validate your business idea
- Find a business name
- Make a plan
- Understand business finances
- Develop your product or service
- Pick a business structure
- Research licenses and regulations
- Select your software systems
- Find a business location
- Plan workload and team size
- Launch your business
No matter how ambitious your business goals ultimately are, you can still start a business in your spare time, working around the current commitments in your life. Not everyone has the ability to quit their full-time job and pursue launching something of their own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started.
For example, it’s possible to launch a handmade goods company on the side of a full-time job, or start a blog that you later turn into a business. If you’re looking for further inspiration, here are seven more ways to start a business without quitting your day job.
Finding a business idea is something you can approach systematically by relying on time-tested approaches that have worked for other entrepreneurs. Here are 12 ways to identify a product you can sell, including strategies like:
- Mining your personal interests. What do you like to do in your spare time? Are there products you can sell that relate to your hobbies, or that would solve a common frustration you have?
- Research existing products. Peruse product reviews to see if there are common complaints about popular products, and see if you can identify gaps in the market.
- Capitalize on trends. If you notice a particular product seems to be popping up everywhere, or you have a great idea to help make the most of a popular product, those can make for great business ideas.
In addition, here are 17 places entrepreneurs often look to find new product and business ideas. Remember, all you need is one idea to get started. Many successful businesses launched with a signature product and expanded into complementary goods from there.
Validating your business might sound difficult, but it’s really just a matter of testing whether customers are willing to pay for your product before you sink too much time and money into it—and it’s important to do no matter what type of business you’re starting.
There are plenty of ways to validate your business, from the simple to the complex. Here are some tactical examples that can help you figure out how to gauge market demand before getting in too deep.
- Set up a store to take preorders
- Launch a crowdfunding campaign
- Create a beta of your product or service to sell
There are other ways to validate your product ideas, but when in doubt, start selling as quickly as possible. Learning from direct customer feedback, and understanding how your products are being used, is invaluable when growing a small business.
Take PopSockets, a now-ubiquitous way to confidently hold a smartphone in one hand. Initially, David Barnett designed PopSockets as a way to manage headphone cords. It wasn’t until he saw students in his class using their PopSockets to get a better grip on their phone that he realized the unplanned value his customers saw in the product. That insight helped PopSockets sell more than 35 million units.
Work on finding a name for your business that makes it clear what you do, that’s short and memorable, and that isn’t already in use in your industry. This isn’t an easy task, but it’s one that’s achievable with a bit of effort and imagination.
A strong name will usually have a few characteristics:
- Short and simple. You want customers to be able to quickly remember your name, and the best way to do that is to avoid long names. One or two words is ideal, although three to four short words can also work if they create a memorable phrase.
- Different. If your market research shows that everyone in your industry seems to have similar names, or relies on similar elements, it can be helpful to avoid them in order to come up with a name that really stands out.
- Original. Beyond just avoiding similar names, you’ll need to make sure that your business name isn’t in use by a competitor already. To do that, run a free trademark search in the countries you’ll be doing business in, and make sure to check Google and social media sites, too. (The same goes for URLs, so do a domain name search too before you register anything.) Even if someone hasn’t registered a trademark, in many jurisdictions they can legally challenge your use of a name they’ve been using to do business in the same industry. If you’re unsure, it’s best to consult independent legal counsel for advice specific to your situation.
Writing a business plan helps validate and formalize your idea, and can streamline the business-creation process by getting you to sit down and think things through methodically.
A classic quotation that’s especially applicable to the business plan process is, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Many entrepreneurs say they rarely look at their plan once they’ve launched—but they’ll also tell you there’s value in thinking through and researching your idea while creating a plan.
When creating your plan, make sure to pay extra attention to the competitive analysis and SWOT analysis sections. While nothing can replace validating your idea by confirming that people will pay for it, the research involved in completing these sections can be further proof you’re on the right track.
The shared goal of any business is to make money, which means the flow of money is an integral part of running a business. You’ll need to understand some basics to get started and scale that knowledge as you grow.
There are plenty of businesses you can start with only a small startup cost, but others will require money for inventory, equipment, or physical space. A clear view of your total investment—before you spend a cent—is a must, and can help you make important projections, like when you’ll break even.
A clear view of your total startup costs is a must before you spend a cent.
If those calculations show you you’ll need more funding than you can afford to spend out of pocket, you can look at funding options like a small business loan or a crowdfunding campaign.
Bookkeeping needs to be one of your primary financial tasks as soon as you’re ready to start making purchases for your business. Accurate records of your income and expenses will help you keep an eye on cash flow, and make for a smooth transition to working with an accountant or bookkeeper later on.
To make the process even easier, consider opening a separate bank account and credit card for your business. Keeping your personal and business finances separate makes doing your business taxes much simpler, and can help you automate some of the steps as well.
- Shopify Capital. Helps approved merchants get the funds they need without lengthy bank approvals or giving up part of their company.
- Profit First. A book designed to help make sure your business is profitable, no matter what kind of business you run.
- Accounting tools. Apps that work directly with Shopify to streamline your accounting processes.
You’ve done the legwork, and you understand the financials—now it’s time to dig deep into the product or service you’d like to offer.
For a product-driven business, developing your product could mean taking one of three general approaches.
- Creating your own product. Whether you’re making items by hand, or sourcing an original product from a manufacturer, developing your own product to sell can help you stand out in the market.
- Customizing an existing product. With print on demand options, you can add your unique designs and ideas to products including t-shirts, leggings, towels, backpacks and more.
- Curating a selection of products. Dropshipping is a way to stock your store without creating a new product, so you can start selling almost immediately without managing inventory.
As you develop your product, keep your total costs in mind when figuring out your pricing. While your product’s price is not solely driven by costs—and there are many factors that influence pricing strategy—it’s important to price your product profitably.
Your business structure influences key parts of your business, from taxes to operations to your personal liability. Choosing the right structure is about balancing the legal and financial protections you need with the flexibility offered by different options. It’s an important decision, and it’s one you should consider carefully before you launch your business.
Choosing the right structure is about balancing the legal and financial protections you need with the flexibility offered by different options.
Business structures vary based on your country and area, but two common types—that may go by different names in your country—are sole proprietorship and incorporation. A sole proprietorship is great if you’re the only person involved in the business, and is usually the lowest-effort structure to pursue, but you remain personally liable for the business and its activities. You can even hire employees as a sole proprietor, but you’ll need an employer identification number to do so, which means registering your business.
On the other hand, if you opt for a more formal structure like a corporation, it’s easier to involve multiple owners in the business, and you’re not personally liable for the business—but there’s more paperwork and steps involved in starting and maintaining a corporation.
When it comes to choosing a business structure, there are a few factors you’ll need to consider.
- Where is your business located? Your country’s laws will outline the different business structures you can form., and whether or not you need a business license to get started.
- What kind of business are you running? Some structures are more suited to businesses of a certain scale or within a certain industry. There might come a time when you need to restructure your business in order to work with new partners. It’s not uncommon for large businesses to ask that their suppliers or partners be incorporated, for example.
- How many people are involved? If you’re going it alone as a solo founder, you may be able to look at streamlined options. If you have a business partner or multiple people with ownership in the company, you’ll need to look at more advanced options to ensure everything is set up and shared properly.
An accountant or lawyer can be helpful in evaluating the different options available in your area and with the process of setting up your business.
No one wants to end up in legal trouble. Your business is subject to the laws governing businesses in your area, as well as laws and regulations specific to your industry. For instance, a food service business needs to follow specific licensing and regulations for handling what it sells, but it also has to pay attention to the legalities of its marketing efforts and to trademark and copyright laws.
With so much to know, and a lot of it specific to your location and industry, it’s worth consulting with a lawyer to get advice before you launch your business. Investing time and money upfront to obtain legal advice can save you from considerable headaches down the road.
One of the best ways to reduce the heavy lifting involved in running a business, and to set yourself up for future success, is choosing software that can help you automate or streamline the things you need to do.
Often, when you choose the right software systems, you’ll be able to set them up once and have them run efficiently with little ongoing work. Consider looking into software to help you manage the following:
- Accounting. With multiple options to help you track everything from a meal with your business partner to a big inventory order, accounting software is one of the best ways to start your business off on the right financial foot.
- Email marketing. A good email marketing tool will help you stay in touch with your current (and future) customers and make sure you’re able to send the right messages to the right people at the right time.
- Ads. Paying for ads is often a cost of doing business, especially online, but there’s marketing software that can help streamline the process and make the most of your advertising budget—no matter how much you have to spend.
- Project management. Even if you’re a sole proprietor, having one place to plan your work and keep track of important tasks can help you stay on schedule. Tools like Trello and Asana can help.
- Website or online store. Choose a platform that allows you to easily manage all the critical tasks involved in running your business. Look for a theme that supports your product lines to the ability to take and manage orders easily. To get an idea of what you’ll need to do, here’s a comprehensive store launch checklist.
Free Course: Getting Started with Shopify. Learn everything you need to know about starting a Shopify store, with step-by-step video walkthroughs, from a six-figure store owner.
Your business plan will help guide what kind of space you need for your business. If you’re selling print-on-demand t-shirts, you may only need to find space in your home for a small workspace, a desk, and a laptop. On the other hand, if your business requires in-person retail space, you’ll need to find a place to rent.
To help narrow down what you need from your business location, consider these questions:
- How much space will you need for inventory? If you’re accepting deliveries of thousands of items at once, you may not be able to accommodate it in your living room.
- Do you plan on offering in-person retail sales? While selling out of your home is certainly an option for your first orders, if in-person is an important channel you’ll want to find space that’s comfortable and easily accessible for customers to visit.
- Will you be packing and shipping orders from your location? Depending on the scale of your shipping operations, that may necessitate more space than you have available in a home office.
It’s possible you’ll be able to run your business from a space you already have available, especially if you don’t plan to sell in-person. If that’s the case, here are some home-office design ideas to help you create an effective workspace while you get your business off the ground.
How much work will you need to do and what skills will be required to launch your business? These are fundamental questions you’ll need to answer, because they’ll guide both your timeline and your level of investment in the launch.
If you plan to do all of the work yourself, you’re limited by the time you have available to invest. If you plan on hiring help, you’ll need to account for those costs—as well as the time involved in finding and onboarding freelancers or employees.
Here’s an overview of the basic skills you’ll need to learn, know, or hire as you launch.
There are many design decisions that need to be made as you set up your business, from designing a logo to choosing your brand’s colors. There are tools available to help make some initial decisions and guide you in the right direction.
- Logo. You can rely on a logo creator like Hatchful or online image software like Canva to build your logo.
- Colors. Start with one of the many online tools that can create a color palette, or use Hatchful to pick colors for your brand.
- Website design. Starting with a professional theme for your website gives you a site that’s based on design best practices.
If a DIY approach to setting up your store is too far outside of your area of expertise, you can find professional designers by asking for referrals from other business owners or searching for a Shopify Expert.
Great photos are essential to your business, especially if you’re selling online, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t DIY your product photography.
There are also templates you can use to mock up product designs, like these t-shirt mockups.
Marketing is an integral part of your business, and can require multiple skill sets. Start by deciding which marketing activities will have the biggest impact for your new business, and use your plans to make a list of the skills you’ll need to execute them. For example, running paid ads is a much different skill set than taking lifestyle photos to build your Instagram following.
Research and understand some of the most common promotional tactics used in your industry, and make sure you have the skills required to implement them.
- How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy: A Beginner’s Guide
- Instagram Marketing 101: Using Hashtags, Stories, and More to Grow Your Business
- The Google Ads Playbook: 13 Campaign Types And What to Expect From Them
Once products are ordered, how will they get from Point A to Point B? Make sure you have a shipping strategy in place that covers key details like:
- Pricing. Will you offer free or discounted shipping to your customers, or pass on the exact cost to them? This is a nuanced decision that impacts many parts of your business, so it’s important to run the numbers and weigh the options.
- Packaging. Lighter packaging often means lower shipping costs, but you’ll need to balance weight with protection. Cardboard, while heavy, is more protective for many products than a poly mailer.
- Locations. Will you ship internationally, nationally, or just locally? The answer will depend on your products and your goals—and it can change as your business grows.
Whatever your shipping strategy, Shopify Shipping is here to help with negotiated rates with USPS, UPS, and DHL in the US, and Canada Post in Canada.
Hiring help for your business
If you don’t have the time or skill to DIY everything you need for your business, hire help. You can find a virtual assistant for ongoing, routine tasks, or work with an expert for more involved projects, like creating your website or your marketing plan.
Managing your workload
Once you have a good understanding of what needs to happen and who will be completing the work, it’s time to add a bit of project management to make your life easier. Consider using a time management tool like Trello or Asana to write down, assign, and track tasks. Time management tools are especially helpful for keeping teams on schedule, but don’t underestimate the value of structure for yourself as well.
You’re ready to take the last step in starting a business: launching. The preparation you’ve already done has laid a solid foundation to support your launch, so you can focus on marketing activities and making your first sale. However, a plan of attack, especially as you’re trying to build traction, can help make your launch even more successful.
While every launch will be unique, there are some elements that can boost any business’ first few days of sales.
- Leverage your network. Promote your store first and foremost on free channels that are already available to you, which includes your personal social media and your contacts list. Sending one-on-one emails asking for support, which can be as simple as a social share, can go a long way towards gaining traction.
- Consider offering discounts. Rewarding early customers with a discount code that fits with your profit margins can help you get traction early on, especially when your store is new and may not have many customer reviews or social proof points.
- Test paid ads. Even if you start with a small budget, paid ads can be one of the most effective ways to get in front of your ideal audience. Testing early and learning from your results can help you drive your first few sales and optimize your ad performance as you scale.
Start a business and make an impact
Starting a business isn’t easy, but it also doesn’t have to be daunting. Whether you want to bring a product into the world to solve a problem you’re having, build a profitable business to be self-employed, create opportunities for the people around you, or bring in some extra money every month, these steps can help you make your dreams a reality.
Using the right Instagram hashtags can help you extend your reach, engage your audience, and even boost your brand. In order to get each of these distinct benefits, however, you need to have specific strategies in place.
This is something that’s often mystified brands, as it can be difficult to notice trends and patterns at first glance. Hashtag strategies aren’t one-size-fits-all, which can cause even more confusion for businesses trying to figure it out for themselves.
Today, we’re sharing how to create an effective hashtag strategy for your Instagram account, including hashtag research, how to implement and develop hashtag strategies, and even specific hashtags you should add to your roster based on your business’s goals.
How hashtags work on Instagram
Hashtags on Instagram can be attached to posts and become clickable phrases and topics. Any word or phrase can be turned into a working hashtag, as long as it has the # placed in front of it.
When users click on a hashtag, they’re taken to its discover feed, which shows all the public content attached to it. People will click on or search for hashtags they’re interested in as a way of finding content on Instagram.
Since hashtags are used with an intent to discover content, the right hashtags can put you in front of your target audience, even if they haven’t connected with you before. Recognizing the importance of hashtags on the platform, Instagram has expanded the functionality of hashtags. Brands can now add clickable hashtags to their profile bios.
Instagram Stories has a hashtag sticker, which lets you place working hashtags on your Stories. When users click, they’ll be taken to the hashtag’s feed, just like they would if they’d clicked on a hashtag on your post.
Users can also follow hashtags they’re interested in, ensuring that content from those hashtags appears in their feed regularly.
Most popular Instagram hashtags by category
There can be a lot to consider when working with Instagram hashtags, so let’s regroup around a solid starting point. Below, you’ll find the top hashtags sorted by categories like industry or event that you can use to start the process of fleshing out your hashtag strategy.
Best general Instagram hashtags
Best hashtags for inviting likes and follows
Note: No promises made on the quality of the followers or likes you’ll receive, as these and other related hashtags are typically based on new Instagram users trading likes and follows.
Best fashion hashtags
Best food and beverage hashtags
Best travel hashtags
Best pet care hashtags
Best tech and gadgets hashtags
Best wedding hashtags
Best athletic and workout gear hashtags
Best holiday hashtags
Best hashtags for Instagram contests
Using hashtags to connect with your audience
Understanding which hashtags you should use is a crucial part of developing a strong hashtag strategy that maximizes your reach and increases engagement. There are different types of hashtags that each serve a purpose, and any strong strategy incorporates a combination of them.
These should be listed in your profile bio, and are exclusive to your specific store. They can be used to build brand awareness, and you can encourage users to share user-generated content using them. Examples include Harper Wilde’s #LiftUpTheGirls, Shwood Eyewear’s #shwoodshop, and So Worth Loving’s #swlfamily.
This won’t apply to all ecommerce merchants, but if you have products that would appeal to local audiences, use it to your advantage. Do you have novelty mugs that feature different states? Use #FloridaLife or #NewYorkDrinks to connect with the right audience.
These hashtags aren’t meant to grow your audience, they’re meant to expand on the relationship with the audience you already have. These phrases often have little to do with a brand itself, and a lot to do with the situation in the specific post. In the example below, #shopitlikeithot and #getitgirl are both entertainment-focused.
Mass appeal hashtags
Mass appeal hashtags are general hashtags that can apply to almost any post. They’re frequently used, meaning they’re also frequently sought out. They can occasionally give your posts a significant bump in reach, putting them in front of established audiences. Examples of these include #instagood and #lovelife.
Maybe you want to remind your followers it’s OK to have a #caseofthemondays, or appreciate that #summerrain. Timely hashtags can be related to a certain holiday, time of year, or even time of the day. Users love timely content, and are likely to seek out holiday and seasonal content in particular. The example below uses the timely hashtag #sunsout to put their product, sunglasses, in front of an interested audience.
Hashtags go in and out of favor just like styles of clothing and slang. Sometimes trending hashtags are just really popular hashtags people are using at the time, which have surged in popularity for some reason. In many cases though, they’ll have more to do with current events.
Maybe Apple has announced a new version of the iPhone, or it’s election day somewhere in the country. These hashtags won’t give you evergreen results, but they can yield meaningful returns in reach and interest when used correctly.
Certain products have audiences with niche interests. People who are buying their own virtual reality systems, for example, are likely to be interested in all the latest technology. Customers who are interested in healthy eating may search for phrases like #organic or #eatinggreen. Use niche-specific hashtags to connect with a highly relevant audience.
Bremont does this exceptionally well in the example below. They use hashtags like #luxury and #watchoftheday, knowing that these niche hashtags could connect them with their target audience.
Special event hashtags
Sometimes hashtags can act like beacons that alert users to special events going on with your store. Are you about to host a contest? Hashtags like #contestalert and #instagiveaway can help you find an interested audience. Similarly, hashtags like #flashsale and #BOGO can both help you find bargain hunters and signal to followers you’ve got special deals for them online.
Which types of hashtags should I use?
Not all ecommerce businesses will benefit from every type of hashtag.
A merchant with national or international reach may not have a reason to use location-based hashtags, for example, and B2B merchants with a strictly professional voice may not use a lot of the entertaining hashtags. That’s fine. Adopt the ones that will work best for your brand and your audience.
How many hashtags should I be using?
You can use up to thirty hashtags on a single Instagram post. That answers how many you can use, but not how many you should use, which can be quite different.
There’s lots of research on this topic and various findings. A fairly consistent takeaway is that you should definitely be using a few hashtags (as in more than one) on every post. Instagram posts with hashtags receive 70% more likes, according to a study by Agorapulse.
As for precisely how many hashtags work best, the data is inconsistent. Some marketers swear by using just two hashtags, while others say use all thirty. In reality, the sweet spot for a single post may only be something you can uncover through testing.
Instagram hashtag tools: Streamline your process
Whether you’re shooting for six hashtags or thirty, it can be time-consuming to enter in that many characters, especially since autocorrect can’t save you. Ask any social media manager, and we’ll tell you it’s not our favorite thing in world.
Fortunately, there are tools that can streamline the process. These are the ones I recommend:
PreviewApp, which allows you to save groups of hashtags to the app, apply them to content, and then export the posts right to Instagram— hashtags and all. They’ll also test your hashtags and let you know which are getting you the most results.
Later, whose Saved Captions feature lets you apply captions and their hashtags to new posts. You’ll want to change up the hashtags, but it can save you a lot of time if you’re using a handful of them over again.
Tag for Likes Pro, which can help you find, copy, and paste Instagram hashtags on a mobile device. You can create custom lists containing multiple hashtags and then copy them right to Instagram.
If you aren’t willing to invest in a tool just for this purpose, the more affordable route may be to use a general social media tool. You can keep a document of different hashtags and use social media scheduling software like Agorapulse, Hootsuite, or Sprout Social. You can create the posts on your desktop, copying and pasting hashtags or groups of hashtags to the caption as needed. Since all of these tools can now post directly to Instagram for you, this can save you a few steps.
How to conduct hashtag research for Instagram
Hashtag research is a key part of distribution on Instagram. It can help you identify the most high-performing, popular hashtags, give you new ideas for hashtags you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, and help you to identify trending hashtags.
There are several different strategies you can use to conduct hashtag research, whether you want to grow your list or find new trending topics. Let’s take a look at each.
Scope out Twitter
If you want to look for trending hashtags or trending topics that are relevant right now, Twitter can give you an edge. They have a trending topics section, where you can see what people are sharing.
Note that hashtag usage on Instagram and Twitter is different, and Twitter is more heavily focused on news. Keep that in mind, and use it for research purposes instead of copying and pasting hashtags blindly to Instagram.
Check out your competition
It never hurts to see what your competition’s marketing strategy looks like, and that includes their hashtag strategy. Look for trends in which hashtags they’re using, and you might get a few ideas for phrases you want to add to your roster, too.
Influencers—including micro-influencers—are called influencers for a reason: they already have an audience and people actively look to them for advice, inspiration, or expertise. It’s not surprising that these profiles may have mastered their hashtag game and found the best performing terms out there. Take a look, and don’t be afraid to snag a few that you like.
Use hashtag research tools
All the other methods of hashtag research we’ve looked at have been manual. Hashtag research tools can help you identify trending hashtags and more evergreen hashtags that will benefit your business most.
A solid hashtag research tool is essential, because they can provide you with the kind of detailed feedback about specific hashtags no other tool can give you.
These hashtag research tools can help you get started:
Keyhole: Ever since Keyhole extended their hashtag research to cover Instagram, it’s been one of the most complete hashtag analysis tools on the market. They give you a lot of information about each specific hashtag, including how many users added it to their posts, the reach of the hashtag, and the impressions it receives. You can also see how many unique posts featured the hashtag, to evaluate popularity against competition.
Hashtagify: They’ll show you the overall popularity and recent popularity of specific hashtags. This tool is an excellent one for hashtag discovery, as they’ll show you related terms and hashtags that other users are including on their posts. You can even track hashtags over time, monitoring their popularity to decide if you should ever cut any from the rotation.
Ritetag: If you’re looking for a tool that can help you generate relevant hashtags quickly, Ritetag is the way to go. They’ll automatically suggest hashtags based on your text or images. You can also link Ritetag to a handful of social media management tools and get suggestions while creating posts within them.
Should my Instagram hashtags be visible?
Nobody wants to read through thirty different hashtags, or even six for that matter, just to get to the content. Big blocks of difficult-to-read text also look visually unappealing.
Because of this, many brands opt to hide the bulk of their hashtags by strategically placing them below the “See More” tag. Some will even take this a step further, adding significant extra spaces even outside of the “See More” in order to aesthetically remove large chunks of hashtags from the rest of the description. Other brands will add hashtags in a separate comment on the post, but this may cause the hashtags to lose effectiveness.
For most brands, the best option is simply to make sure that your hashtags are separated by at least one line from the caption, and are hidden under the “See More” tag. This keeps the focus on your caption, increasing the likelihood that it will be read. It also looks cleaner.
The exception is if you’re using one or two hashtags for branding or entertainment purposes. In this case, leave them above the fold if necessary, and make sure that they’re listed first or written in-line in your caption. That way users are more likely to read them.
Although you may see this happening, there’s no reason to use more than one line of separation for hashtags. If users click on that “See More” tag, you don’t want them to have to scroll forever to get to the comments, because there’s a good chance they won’t continue to leave their intended comment.
Banned hashtags: The dark side of Instagram
Did you know that there are such things as banned hashtags on Instagram? They aren’t even swear words and outright obscenities, either—though those definitely make the list.
Instagram routinely “bans” hashtags that they detect are frequently used alongside some sort of illicit content. Some of these aren’t surprising, like #nasty, but others like #fitnessgirls and #tgif could be used for perfectly innocent reasons. Instagram won’t post new content to a banned hashtag’s feeds, if the feed even stays up at all.
Hashtags can be banned permanently or temporarily, and when you use them, your posts could be shadowbanned. This means that they may not show up in your followers’ feeds, and they may not appear when users search for other hashtags attached to the post, too. All in all, using a single banned hashtag can unravel all the work you did on a single post.
When compiling your lists of hashtags that you want to use, check out the full list of hashtags that have been banned in Instagram.
Measuring your Instagram hashtag strategy
All marketing efforts should be measured whenever possible, and that goes for hashtag strategies, too. Hashtags can be much more difficult to evaluate on your own, especially since you have groups of them on posts. This can make it difficult to know which are working, and which aren’t pulling their weight. Fortunately, there are several ways to measure the impact of your strategy.
First, take a look at the overall growth of your channel. You can do this with Instagram’s analytics, though many third-party social management platforms will offer more detail.
See if impressions, reach, and likes go up for your profile and posts. Significantly, how many accounts have you reached through the Discovery channel? Are there big changes since you’ve adapted the new strategy? You should see month-to-month increases. If not, it’s time to adapt.
You should also be using hashtag research tools to monitor the hashtags you’re using regularly. Make sure their popularity is trending up overtime instead of decreasing. You can also use tools like Keyhole to track your branded hashtag, to see the reach, impressions, and overall use from other profiles. This can help you evaluate how much your branded hashtag is helping you, and if it’s gaining traction organically.
Third party tools can also provide data about your hashtag usage and their results. Sprout Social has excellent hashtag data, showing you the hashtags that yielded the best engagement and which you used most often.
Find the best Instagram hashtags for your brand
Instagram hashtags are an essential part of Instagram marketing. If you don’t have a strategy in place, your marketing may not be reaching its full potential on the platform. Use the tools and hashtag suggestions detailed in this post to form your own list of high-performing hashtags that will extend your reach and keep your audience engaged, and remember to switch them up based on your analysis and measurement for best results.
Tech commentators love to declare—with seemingly great confidence—that email is on its last legs. But we’re willing to wager one look at your inbox is enough to prove “you’ve (still) got mail.”
In fact, many small businesses are showing a renewed interest in email marketing as a way to reach their customers with relevant, personalized messages at the right time—without needing permission from the internet’s increasingly restrictive gatekeepers. Plus, email has seen consistently healthy growth in global users with no signs of slowing down.
Whether you’re just getting started with email marketing or dreaming up your next big campaign, our guide reveals what email campaigns work best and how to make the most of every broadcast.
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is the practice of sending marketing messages to prospective and current customers via email in order to sell, educate, or build loyalty.
Email is an “owned” digital marketing channel—that is, the sender fully controls the content and distribution—and typically works best when used to send personal, relevant messages to segmented lists of recipients. Email is an especially important tool in relation to ecommerce, where it’s used for sending transactional, promotional, and lifecycle messages (which we’ll cover in more detail below).
Why email marketing is key to ecommerce success
The reality of website traffic, even highly targeted traffic, is most new visitors to your store will never return—unless, that is, you do something to keep them coming back.
Building an email list and sending compelling broadcasts gives you a way to retain the traffic you worked so hard to earn by providing subscribers with an incentive to stay in touch.
If your ecommerce business hasn’t taken the time to adopt email marketing, you’re likely leaving money on the table. To prove it, here are five reasons to consider employing email in your marketing mix.
1. Email lets you build ongoing customer relationships
Search engines and social media platforms are great for getting discovered by future customers, but email remains the best way to maintain and strengthen existing relationships over time.
Email is one of the best channels for maintaining and strengthening customer relationships over time.
According to a Nielsen study, 66% of online consumers prefer to buy new products from brands they are familiar with. This may not come as a surprise if you’re a regular online shopper, since online shoppers are more likely to buy from the websites and brands familiar to them and that they’ve formed a relationship with.
Email typically plays a pivotal role in encouraging a customer’s second purchase and beyond. Having customers return is important for many businesses, because it keeps their average cost of acquiring a customer down.
2. Email is incredibly effective at driving sales
A 2018 study from the DMA found that for every dollar spent on email marketing, businesses can expect an average return of $32.
Of course, certain businesses (and products) pair especially well with email marketing, and returns are never guaranteed. But over the years, similar research has painted the same picture: email is a high-performing channel that frequently outperforms the alternatives.
What’s more, a 2018 report from Emarsys showed roughly 80% of businesses rely on email as their primary channel for acquisition and retention. Email marketing is relatively unique in its ability to drive the first sale as well as unlock more revenue from your most valuable customers.
3. Email can affect the three main growth multipliers
As Drew Sanocki discusses in his Shopify Academy course, marketer Jay Abraham was one of the first to popularize the idea that there are only three ways to grow revenue: increase the total number of customers (C), increase the total number of purchases per customer (purchase frequency, or F), or increase the average order value (AOV).
Most entrepreneurs pursuing an acquisition “silver bullet” usually end up disappointed and discover that acquiring customers can quickly get expensive. Email marketing offers a viable way out of the acquisition rat race because it can influence all three growth multipliers at the same time:
- Automated welcome and abandoned cart emails can increase conversion rates (C)
- Bounce back or winback campaigns can increase a customer’s number of purchases (F)
- Lifecycle campaigns and broadcasts can automatically highlight high-value products to the right customers (AOV)
According to Drew Sanocki, systematic focus on all three areas will further compound your results, and that’s one of the biggest reasons he always develops a deliberate email marketing strategy when growing and scaling an ecommerce business.
4. Email isn’t influenced by third-party gatekeepers
One aspect of email marketing that continues to grow in importance is that email isn’t subject to the whims of centralized platforms, where unplanned tweaks to algorithms can completely derail a distribution strategy.
In contrast, organic reach for Facebook pages has been declining since 2013, as the platform continues to focus its News Feed on promoting content from friends and family. Similarly, climbing the search rankings in Google is only getting harder, with advertisements and answer boxes resulting in a noticeable increase in no-click searches, especially on mobile. More than ever, if you want to reach your customers on these platforms you may be forced to pay—and those costs are increasing.
Getting started with email marketing
Even the best email marketing strategy begins with choosing an email marketing service, establishing a plan to generate new subscribers, and understanding how to send emails legally.
Choose an email service provider
The first step in getting started with email marketing is to choose email marketing software through which you’ll begin building your list. There are many robust and cost-effective email marketing tools to choose from, so don’t get caught up trying to pick one that’s “perfect.” You can always switch providers down the line. Instead, pick a well-reviewed solution that fits your needs (e.g., pricing, drag-and-drop editors, email templates, etc.), then start emailing and making money.
Klaviyo, Conversio, Jilt, and Omnisend are some of the email marketing tools that integrate with Shopify we’ve seen new merchants have success with. Other popular solutions include Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and GetResponse. (You can get our full list of recommendations on the Shopify App Store.)
Start building your email list
Ask any online business owner about their biggest marketing regret and many will tell you it’s that they didn’t start collecting email addresses from Day 1. Learn from this frequent mistake and start growing your list of subscribers as soon as you can, even before you launch your business.
A key thing to know before you begin building your email list is that you need permission to follow up with prospects and customers over time. To do that, subscribers need to “opt-in” to hear from you, and there are a number of ways you can encourage them to do so.
1. Set up a pre-launch page
Although real product validation requires paying customers, having an engaged email list full of potential customers is a close second.
Before you officially open your doors to paying customers, set up a basic landing page on your domain that invites visitors to stay informed by entering their email address. Don’t beg—write copy that describes what’s exciting about your upcoming product and offer strong incentives for early adopters where it makes sense (e.g., early-bird customers get 20% off on launch day).
2. Collect emails from sales and customer accounts
Customer accounts are valuable to businesses because they require shoppers to share relevant information—including their email address—and make purchasing history easier to track. The downside is many customers find it frustrating to create an account for a single shopping destination.
A useful compromise is providing the option to create an account after a customer’s first order has been placed. If you’re using Shopify, customer accounts are optional, and you can send customers direct invitations encouraging them to activate an account after they’ve completed a purchase.
3. Place opt-in forms across your site
To grow your list, you need to ask people directly to sign up. So it stands to reason the best place to ask is where they’re already engaged, on relevant pages across your online store. Just be sure you’re not compromising your site’s design and leaving a bad first impression. Try placing your signup forms in these locations first:
- Your header, navigation, or footer. Although these locations will likely have lower overall conversion rates than a dedicated landing page, over time the number of subscribers they generate will add up, especially if you provide an incentive like a first-time customer discount.
- Your About Us page. As marketer Bob Frady writes, “Customers don’t sign up for email, they sign up for your brand.” Email is merely a mechanism—your brand and offers are the backbone of your value proposition and a subscriber’s incentive to give you their email. If your About Us page is doing its job selling your company’s vision, it’s a great place to encourage customers to subscribe.
- Your blog or resource pages. If you’re using content marketing to educate your customers and rank in search engines, you’re already attracting prospects looking for information, so including a targeted opt-in form inline or in the sidebar of your blog can help move them down the funnel.
- A pop-up form. Try setting pop-ups to trigger when a visitor is slipping away, so you don’t interrupt their experience. Exit-intent pop-ups only show when a visitor moves their mouse off your website, toward the search bar or back button, giving you a second chance to collect their email. Try apps like Privy, Sumo, or JustUno on the Shopify App Store to create your pop-ups.
4. Accelerate sign-ups with lead magnets
Too often, online businesses assume the idea of receiving a newsletter is a compelling enough reason for people to subscribe. Marketing is about messaging and measurement, and “get our weekly emails” is not a compelling message.
To up the ante, consider creating a real offer as an added incentive for visitors to share their email. Here are a few tried-and-true approaches:
- Offer exclusive deals and discounts. Be careful with discounts: they can hurt your margins by coaching customers to always wait for deals. Discounts do often make financial sense if they keep a prospect you were going to lose anyway, which means they can be a solid motivator to get customers to leave their email.
- Run sweepstakes or a contest. Although contests can potentially bring in a lot of sign-ups, the inherent downside is the person you’ll attract is looking for free stuff. Use a giveaway to break through the noise, or to jumpstart your list, but don’t rely on them to grow an engaged audience for the long term. Check out contest apps on the Shopify App Store.
- Access to educational content. Certain consumer products benefit from sharing additional context with customers. As developer Kathy Sierra argues in her book Making Users Awesome, no one wants to be “good at cameras,” they want to take beautiful photographs. Consider producing a free piece of content that contains tangible value for your target customers and will put them into a buying frame of mind. The best converting lead magnets offer something visitors can immediately apply and that highlights a gap your product can fill.
5. Ask for emails in person
There’s hidden value in less-scalable approaches to collecting emails, particularly the options available to you in the physical world. If you sell your products through pop-up shops, take one-off orders from friends, or already have a physical storefront, you’ll encounter a number of opportunities to ask customers for their email directly.
The same idea applies to physical calls to action: packaging inserts and small cards shipped with orders can include discounts or offers for customers who return to store—just set up a separate page customers can access by entering the link from the insert into their browser.
Send emails legally
Email promotion is an example of “permission marketing”—a term coined by Seth Godin, marketer and bestselling author—which means people can opt in and out of their relationship with your brand as they please. The relationship you build with your email list needs to be based on permission; not just from a marketing standpoint, but a legal one too.
If you neglect the law, you could face serious fines. To start, familiarize yourself with the following rules and regulations:
- CAN-SPAM. The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. CAN-SPAM sets rules around commercial email.
- GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation, is meant to protect personal data for individuals within the European Union.
- CASL. Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation. It helps protect Canadians while ensuring that businesses can continue to compete in the global marketplace.
Disclaimer: The material shared in this guide is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any specific questions about the legality around sending email, consult a lawyer who specializes in this area.
Types of email marketing campaigns to send
Sending irrelevant or unwelcome messages to the wrong people at the wrong time is a surefire way to squander email as a valuable marketing channel. So let’s talk about the different types of campaigns and how you can make them engaging to customers.
There are three core categories of ecommerce marketing emails: transactional, promotional, and lifecycle.
- Transactional emails are sent during checkout and other purchasing actions and are more functional in nature, sending key information to individual customers. Order confirmations, receipts, and order-shipped emails all fall within this category.
- Promotional emails are designed to raise awareness for a specific deal or (you guessed it) promotion. For example, a Black Friday Cyber Monday email, a Father’s Day gift guide email, a summer savings email, or a limited-time-only discount email would all fall under this category.
- Lifecycle emails, also known as “triggered” emails, are so named because they’re sent based on what action a shopper took and where that shopper is in the customer lifecycle. For example, a cart abandonment email only sends after a customer leaves products in their cart.
1. Transactional emails
According to a 2016 study by IBM, the mean unique open rate for transactional emails is 47.1%, nearly double that of the 21.6% open rate for non-transactional emails. The chasm is even wider for average engagement, with a mean unique click-through rate of 8.8% for transactional emails and just 3.3% for non-transactional emails.
Why the drastic difference? Transactional emails are not just expected, they’re anticipated—customers seek them out. Because of their high engagement, you shouldn’t skimp on making your transactional emails great. Let’s start with a few basic transactional emails your store should send out.
Order confirmation and email receipts
The average open rate for an order confirmation email, or a receipt, can be as high as 70%–90%, depending on the industry. You’d be wise to use the near-guaranteed attention receipts receive as an opportunity to keep a customer after an initial sale.
First, however, you’ll want to ensure your email receipts answer the basic questions customers have: when they can expect to receive the order, what address you’re shipping to, and where they can ask questions. Only once the fundamentals are in place should you experiment with extras.
For repeat customers, try suggesting related products, or include the option for an add-on or accessory to their purchase before it ships. Dollar Shave Club sends an order confirmation email to monthly subscribers before their package ships, inviting them to add more items to their box.
Ways to improve order confirmation emails
- Upsell related products by suggesting accessories, offer the option to buy the same product for a friend as a gift, or add the option for a subscription purchase.
- Offer a discount code or free shipping for a future purchase within a limited time frame. This is called a bounce-back offer and it’s one way the loss in revenue you’ll incur by giving a discount makes sense, because it’s often better to have the customer come back at a cheaper price than not at all.
- Ask the customer to join your community. If you’re selling a purely functional product, this may not work. But businesses that seek to have shared values with their customers should use their receipts as another avenue to get customers plugged into their community.
Shipping confirmation email
Shipping confirmation emails are sent once a package has been shipped. They’re valuable because your customer is already excited about receiving their order—they’re also an underused opportunity to get creative and delight your customers.
You can think outside the box in terms of converting more customers, too. How can you use the shipping confirmation email to drive action and deepen a customer’s relationship with your brand?
Tradesy uses its shipping confirmation email to promote its referral program, encouraging customers to gift their friends and family $20 off.
Shipping confirmation emails are especially effective when the CTAs are personalized to the customer’s purchase. For example, if a customer purchases a pair of men’s pants, product recommendations could focus on matching shirts and ties instead of less relevant apparel, like a full suit or women’s clothing.
Ways to improve shipping confirmation emails
- Make it easy for your customers to track their order. Include the expected delivery date and tracking number linked to the shipping company so people can click once to see exactly where their order is in the delivery process.
- Suggest the customer refer a friend by forwarding a link to the product they purchased. Incentivize word-of-mouth marketing by implementing a referral program with rewards.
- Include product suggestions that match a customer’s purchase. Make sure you’re asking shoppers to purchase something they’ll actually be interested in.
Many brands neglect customer feedback at their peril. Fortunately, soliciting feedback can be as simple as sending a survey or a single question about the customer’s shopping experience.
You’ll want to send these requests after a customer presumably has received and used the product they ordered. Here’s an example survey from Death Wish Coffee:
While Death Wish sends the customer to a third-party survey tool for feedback, many businesses will include the full survey in the email itself, often by using a rating system (e.g., “Rate your experience”). You can also send customers to a survey available on your store. This makes it easy to prompt a satisfied customer to start shopping once their review is complete.
What about those who are less than happy with their previous purchase? Follow up is essential here, first to prompt a response and next to figure out how you can improve the experience for future customers.
Ways to improve customer feedback emails
- Focus on customer satisfaction, not sales, so you can get your customers’ thoughts on their purchase. Track these metrics over time and look for actionable insights you can implement to improve your business over time.
- Consider placing the review/survey form on your website so the customer can see related offers and products after submitting their feedback.
- Include the review on the product page as user-generated content to boost future buyers’ confidence.
2. Promotional emails
Broadcast emails are sent to your entire list of subscribers or, more commonly, to a segment of your email list. Examples of broadcast emails include a new product release, monthly email newsletters, a time-sensitive promotion, seasonal deals, or a content update.
You can think of these emails as messages you send when you have something newsworthy to share, so carefully consider your underlying goal, offer, and segment of subscribers.
New products (or services)
New products often are developed thanks to feedback from customers, so there’s no better place to begin when launching a product than with your subscribers. If your latest release appeals to a specific set of your customers, for example, you can segment your list based on previous purchases.
Create a time-sensitive promotion that relates to customers’ interests. Offer a discount on the same category of items they bought in the week before. Remember, when a sale is compelling, it’s best not to let overly clever copy get in the way.
Whether you send a regular newsletter or set up a drip campaign about special promotions, you can always include discount codes to boost your subscribers’ motivation to make a purchase. Offering a feeling of exclusivity and membership is a great way to introduce emotion into your marketing.
A traditional and effective form of email marketing is notifying subscribers of special offers based on upcoming holidays or the time of year. You might want to let your subscribers know about a Black Friday sale, an after-Christmas sale, or a spring clearance sale. You can also remind people about upcoming holidays, like Father’s Day.
A regular newsletter can help with the important tasks of educating your customers and telling your brand story. Customer case studies and brand stories are an under-appreciated way of staying in contact and building closer connections with customers (and prospects) without relying on discounts or promotions.
In the example below, Uncommon Goods shares more information about the brand’s mission to make a positive impact on the world, specifically how the company supports ethical brands and artisans. It’s a smart way to form a stance and speak to customers who feel the same way.
Everyone loves a compelling story, so if you can find a notable one from a staff member, customer, or even your own business and life, consider using it as a topic for a newsletter. Maybe a customer used your fitness products to lose 50 pounds, or you could share what originally inspired you to start your business. Whatever the story is about, it should be both interesting and relevant to your brand.
Email is often the lifeblood for new content. If you use content marketing to educate current customers and reach new ones, consider including that content in a regular newsletter, or have new content sent out automatically over email, through RSS. When you’re able to make the investment, consider creating content that provides additional context for your new or updated products (e.g., grooming tips for beauty products).
3. Lifecycle emails
Lifecycle emails are powerful because they’re personal and only target a small segment of your subscribers with relevant messages based on their behavior.
There are a number of effective lifecycle (or triggered) emails even a new store owner can consider: cart abandonment emails, a welcome email series, second order emails, and win back campaigns. Each of these emails has the potential to make a significant impact on customer satisfaction and retention.
Shopping cart abandonment emails
The average shopping cart abandonment rate sits between 60% and 80%. That’s a lot of revenue left unrealized. Fortunately, you can win a few of those potential customers back. As Drew Sanocki explains, abandoned cart emails typically can recover between 5% and 11% of otherwise lost sales.
“Abandoned cart campaigns are the closest thing there is to a ‘quick win’ in ecommerce.”
You may want to consider including an added incentive for completing a purchase, though this can coach shoppers into abandoning their carts for a discount. At the very least, use benefits-driven copy that nudges them back to your store with credit card in hand.
While plain text can be effective, you may want to visually show the products a customer added to their cart. In either case, remind them they were just moments away from a completed order, and focus on the reasons why they’d consider buying the product in the first place.
Würkin Stiffs sends a cart abandonment email with a 20% discount to encourage shoppers to finish checkout.
Ways to improve cart abandonment emails
- Put the main message in text format so customers will see it right away without having to enable images. Include a link back to their shopping cart so they can easily complete the transaction.
- Remind the customer about item(s) in their cart that are awaiting purchase so they can get excited about them again. Highlight specific features and show off high-quality product photos.
- Consider communicating a specific incentive to return to their cart, such as free shipping or discounts. If an item is running out of stock, let customers know as a courtesy while also instilling a sense of urgency.
- Use a clear, compelling call-to-action. Keep it concise and limit yourself to a single call. Multiple CTAs can distract from the action you really want the customer to take: completing their purchase.
Welcome email series
Welcome emails are what you receive when you submit your email address to an online store—you’ve likely seen them in your inbox after creating an account or joining a newsletter.
According to data from Omnisend, welcome emails have an average open rate of 45%. Though the data varies, first purchase automation generally produces 3-6 times more sales compared to a regular promotional email. In addition, though a series of welcome emails may perform better than a single send, engagement drops off after the first email in the series.
Ways to improve welcome emails:
- Provide value upfront. You don’t want to inundate customers with promotional messages during your only window of opportunity to create a strong first impression.
- Send your welcome email within minutes. Let’s say you incentivize joining your newsletter with a promo code for 10% off the customer’s next purchase. If someone is ready to purchase now and they don’t receive that promo code, you risk losing out on the sale for good.
- Set transparent expectations. Let subscribers change preferences easily, inform them what and how frequently you’ll be emailing new content, and remind them of how they ended up on your list in the first place.
Second order emails
Let’s say you sell video games. You might notice that, on average, a week after purchasing a video game console, 20% of customers purchase a second controller. Another 50% of customers don’t return at all.
In order to turn that 20% into 70%, you design a new customer or second order email campaign. Quite simply, when an order comes through for a video game console, an email campaign that showcases controllers triggers a week later.
This requires that you start looking at your customers and segmenting your data in Google Analytics. Some people will buy the controller when they buy the console, but there’s a sizable segment that doesn’t, which is where you hav leverage.
Ways to improve second order emails:
- Start with your two or three top-selling products. Are there any complementary products associated with your top-selling products?
- Try increasing their effectiveness with discount ladders. In this scenario, all you did was highlight a complementary product. You could also try offering a discount on that complementary product. You could also try offering a discount ladder: 5%, then 10% if they don’t bite, then 15% if they don’t bite, etc.
- Test campaigns based on your own data. No one can tell you what your top-selling products are or which products would be complementary to them or when to send the one-two punch campaign. These campaigns will look different for everyone.
Win-back email campaigns come in different shapes and sizes, but they’re all designed to lure lapsed customers back to positive purchasing behavior.
Let’s say you’ve done a bit of digging and you know that customers tend to come back and make their second purchase after 45 days. If 45 days come and go without a second purchase, you know it’s unlikely that customer will ever make a second purchase.
Or let’s say you’ve had an active customer who has purchased from you every 45 days or so for the last six months. Recently, he’s been MIA. No orders from the last 44 days. This is where a win-back campaign goes to work. An email would automatically be sent out after 45 days of no activity because you know, according to your store’s unique situation, that’s unusual for a healthy, active customer.
Ways to improve win-back emails:
- Test early so you don’t leave money on the table. Split test these emails to find out what the minimum amount you can offer without losing conversions is. Can you get away with 5% instead of 10%? 10% instead of 15%?
- After 90 days of inactivity, the outlook is not good. If someone goes three months without purchasing, the odds of them returning to purchase are not great. Though, this is definitely dependent upon your store and industry. Some stores simply have a long sales cycle. Just be aware that you will probably start experiencing diminishing returns at 90 days.
Foundational metrics to track email marketing performance
1. List size and growth
In his Shopify Academy course, Sanocki says, “To grow your email list is to grow your business.” Whether you’re collecting emails from customers or capturing emails from website visitors, the larger your email list, the more potential customers you can reach to grow sales—it’s the next best thing to revenue.
Keep track of this straightforward but important metric by using your email service provider to see how many new subscribers you’ve added on a weekly or monthly basis, or between your most recent broadcast emails.
2. Open and click-through rates
An open rate is a percentage that tells you how many successfully delivered emails in a campaigns were opened by subscribers. A standard open rate is 20%-30%. You will notice your open rate is usually higher when you’re first starting out. Your subject line plays a big role in your open rate, too—the more compelling the subject line, the higher the open rate.
A click-through rate is a percentage that tells you how many successfully delivered emails in a campaigns registered at least one click. A standard click-through rate is generally two to three times the conversion rate of your online store, maybe 5% or so. Why? Because you have a highly targeted group of people on your list who have opted in to your content. Your calls to action and images in your email play a big role in your click-through rate.
While open and click-through rates measure separate behaviors, together they tell you something about how engaging your emails are. When the numbers are lopsided—for example, if lots of people opened an email but few clicked the call to action—you can see what improvements are worth making.
3. Deliverability and list health
According to IBM Marketing Cloud, the mean global hard bounce rate is 0.47%. A hard bounce is an email that’s returned to the sender because of an invalid address. If the email does make it to your intended recipient, they still have the option to report the email as spam. If you’re consistently marked as a sender of spam you’ll hurt your deliverability rates for all subscribers.
Spam filters are fairly straightforward. There is a long list of factors emails are scored on. If the email’s score gets too high, it’s flagged as spam by the email server. Unfortunately, every server is different and constantly changing. So what’s marked as spam on one server might not be marked as spam on another. As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid:
- Being too “salesy” by using all caps, exclamation marks, and trigger words like “free”
- Big images with very little text, because many spam filters don’t recognize images
- Emailing old lists you haven’t properly maintained over the years
Human spam filters are even more complex. No one can tell you exactly what makes someone click the spam or abuse button, but there are some general rules. You’ll want to avoid buying lists or sending emails without explicit permission, being vague about when you’ll email, hiding the unsubscribe option or making the process of unsubscribing unnecessarily difficult, or leaving unengaged, inactive leads or customers on your list (though, you can and should eventually mount a reactivation campaign for those inactive leads).
Many email service providers, especially those that take deliverability seriously, consider a 0.1% complaint rate a reasonable threshold. That means for every 1,000 emails you send, no more than one person marks it as spam or abuse.
4. A/B test results
Running an A/B test means carving out three groups of recipients: an A group, a B group, and a C group. After sending two variations of an email to the A and B groups, you’ll use your analytics to decide which message performed better by way of generating more engagement or sales. Then, you’ll send the winning version, whether that’s A or B, to your final pool of recipients (C).
A/B testing lets you confidently send high-performing emails by testing specific messaging, design, and calls to action with a smaller segment of subscribers first.
Revenue is, of course, how much money is coming in the door. What percentage of your store’s total revenue can be attributed to email marketing? As an example, Sanocki tells us many successful stores he’s seen get about 20% of their total revenue from their email channel.
The value of using green light benchmarks
Tracking the performance of your marketing on any channel where you invest time and money is essential, but obsessing over metrics is also an easy way to get distracted.
Instead, consider aiming for “green light benchmarks,” a concept created by Ramit Sethi. Once you’ve reached a certain threshold, you can give yourself the “green light” to move on to something else for a bit—there are always bigger fish to fry when growing a business. Sanocki recommends the following benchmarks for most of your promotional and lifecycle email campaigns:
- A 20% open rate, which says you’re sending relevant emails to the right people with interesting subject lines
- A 5% click-through rate, which says the content and offers in your emails are compelling enough to click
- A 20% of total store revenue from email marketing, which says email marketing as a channel is converting first-time customers and upselling existing customers enough to warrant further investment
Bonus: Drew Sanocki has also created a simple free template you can use to track the individual performance of your initial email marketing campaigns.
Lifecycle automation: the next level of email marketing
Marketing messages gain potency through relevancy, which means sending email based on a customer’s existing behavior—and where they are in the customer journey—is the ideal state. Since lifecycle marketing automation deserves its own lengthy guide, we’ll start with a brief introduction here.
To start talking about lifecycle marketing through email, we need to begin with RFM. Essentially, RFM is a database marketing term that can help you define your customer buckets. RFM stands for recency (R), frequency (F), and monetary value (M).
- Recency is the number of days since a subscriber or customer’s last purchase. An R0 purchased today. An R365 purchased a year ago.
- Frequency is the total number of times a subscriber or customer has purchased. An F0 has never ordered. An F10 has ordered ten times.
- Monetary value is a customer’s total spend—the sum of all his or her orders ever.
With these three metrics you can pinpoint and describe almost any stage in the customer lifecycle.
For example, what’s an R0 F0? Well, it’s someone who has never ordered but just joined your email list. How about an R7 F10 M1000? That’s probably a loyal buyer: 10 orders which total $1,000, the most recent being a week ago. And an R400 F10 M1000? Unfortunately, that’s a former loyal buyer, a “defecting customer,” who’s very far along in the customer lifecycle curve. She’s slipping away and hasn’t bought in more than a year.
R, F, and M are useful because they can define the metrics that will set rules in your email software. When you want to reach loyal buyers, you first have to define them, and R, F, and M are useful for that.
While there are a near-infinite number of segments you can create based on a customer’s existing behavior, there are five essential buckets you can start with first when outlining the customer lifecycle:
Segment 1: New subscribers
Your goal with brand new subscribers is to build trust, introduce your products, and get them to make their first purchase. In other words, to establish a relationship that turns them from an F0 (no purchases) into an F1 (first purchase).
Segment 2: One-time buyers
Get them to buy a second time! This seems obvious, but it has serious implications for your email marketing strategy. Due to high customer acquisition costs, most retailers break-even on the first purchase, the F1, and it’s only on repeat purchases that they generate profits. And yet if you were to look at all your customers today, you’d probably have 80%–90% F1s. Put another way, 80%–90% single-purchase, marginally profitable customers.
So you can see it’s important to turn an F1 into an F2. Improving this area makes you money. A bounce-back email is an ideal campaign to run, or a campaign that delivers an offer on a product related to the product that was just purchased. After a customer buys a pillow, it’s a great time to send them an offer on bedsheets.
Segment 3: VIPs
Your “whales” are those customers who make large or consistent purchases from you. These customers are worth a lot and, better yet, they rarely require discounts to come back. To engage these customers, employ targeted email campaigns that court them and keep them buying—say and showcase how much you value their business, give them an 800 number if it makes sense, or offer a special loyalty program. And don’t forget to gather feedback on what they want to buy so you can sell it to them later.
Segment 4: Defecting customers
While these folks might have been enthusiastic customers at one point, for one reason or another they aren’t now. When a customer is slipping away, to potentially never purchase again, offering discounts to win them back can make financial sense. The perfect email for this segment is called a win-back, which should include an eye-catching offer with a deep discount used to entice them to return.
Segment 5: Cart abandoners
Earlier in this guide we shared just how valuable a simple cart abandonment campaign can be. Once that’s in place, you may want to test a series of emails that goes out over two weeks. Start with gentle reminders first and, if they don’t work, move on to greater incentives, like discounts. You’ll find that many of your recovered carts return before the discounts are even required.
In total, five simple segments, but as a basic strategy they cover the customer lifecycle from start to finish. Use R, F, and M to define these groups in your own email marketing tool, then build out and automate campaigns to target each valuable segment.
Push send and drive more sales
One of the best things about email marketing is it’s a low-risk channel to explore when you’re getting your feet wet. Start building a basic email list, set up your first cart abandonment campaign right away, and slowly iterate until you have a holistic strategy in place. There’s no better time than now to get started!
Illustrations by Axel Kinnear.