COVID-19 has added fuel to the “shop local” movement at a time of unprecedented uncertainty. 

“I want to buy local” is music to an entrepreneur’s ears. More shoppers are making a point to buy local than ever before. This is thanks to two factors: unpredictable delivery times by go-to retailers like Amazon – plus a desire to inject their dollars into their own local economy. 

With this shift comes a demand for smaller and local businesses to offer innovative options like curbside pickup and of course, online ordering. For businesses without a strong ecommerce strategy, it’s a daunting endeavor, but it’s also a vital opportunity to seize.

Ernst & Young reports that 42% of shoppers believe the way they shop will be forever changed by COVID-19. Thirty-four percent say they would pay more for local products.

So how do you transform your side gig online store into one worth buying from? First things first, you need to increase website traffic. That’s what we’ll tackle in this blog, if you need some ideas to get started.

As you begin to optimize your store for online selling, you’ll want to make sure you have some key elements in place, like the free “Google My Business” feature, shipping strategies and more. Keep reading for the full rundown.

6 Smart Ways to Increase Website Traffic as an Ecommerce Newbie

Here are some ideas to get you started, and resist the pressure of making the wrong choice. The only wrong decision here may be no action at all; anything else can be adapted or nixed. 

1. Take Advantage of Google Shopping Ads

Google Shopping Ads are simple ads that appear as part of a results page after a Google search. Try searching your favorite shoe brand on Google, then hit the “Shopping” tab to see these ads in action. In April, Google announced that the ads, which were previously paid, are now free. These ads are uniquely useful because they serve the user with local results tailored to exactly where they are and what they’ve searched.

Google Shopping Ads are certainly helpful for local customers, but they also serve a purpose for those not local: competition. If a customer is searching online for a certain product with the intention of buying locally, an ad delivered at the right moment could be a chance to convince them to purchase from you instead. Without Shopping Ads, this customer would never have seen your products or know your business’ name. It’s an all-around win. 

2. Use Google Posts on Google My Business Listings

Google My Business is another free tool from the search engine giant. It helps businesses manage their online presence across Google’s network, including search results and maps. You can verify and edit your info to help customers find your business and learn more about it. 

For now, Google My Business continues to be a free tool. Although this traditionally is a local business tactic, mid-market and larger companies are now encouraged to use GMB to maximize search engine visibility. Like Shopping Ads, this is a significant amount of free real estate in the SERPs and your only cost is the time it takes to set it up and maintain it.

A few things to remember:

  • It’s really important that name, address and phone (NAP) data is accurate on your GMB business listing. Even if this is the only thing you do, it goes a long way in increasing Google’s confidence in your business (which, in turn, improves your ability to rank).
  • Highlight any special deals or features of your product. For example, maybe remind customers of the convenience and savings they enjoyed pre-COVID-19 and that you’re “back in business” again with those same (or better) perks.
  • Utilize UTM tracking to accurately measure results. Check Google Analytics monthly to measure the impact of Google Posts and determine whether it’s a viable channel to keep investing in.

3. Focus On Niche Products That Are Hard To Find Locally

Often, shoppers rely on ecommerce sites to find specific or niche products that they can’t easily find in stores locally. This is a big opportunity for merchants selling these sorts of products online. Whether it’s specialty gift wrap, orthopedic shoes or something else altogether, buying it online will almost certainly be easier than locating it in a store. Even if customers do find these items in stores, they still have to hope the store will be open, which today is far from a given. 

Use this line of thinking to determine which of your products would be good for gaining site website traffic. A little keyword research and creative writing and thinking can get your store’s name in front of specialty shoppers with unparalleled efficiency.

 A few things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure there’s search volume for your unique product. In fact, search analysis can help you figure out what this product is.
  • Once you’ve identified your niche product(s), ensure there’s plenty of supporting content on your site that adheres to SEO best practices. For example, a long tail query on how to use your very specific product would make for a great topic for a long-form guide or blog post. 
    • Think “10 Gift Wrapping Tips Beginners” or similar content with high-value search terms.
  • If you’re already investing in Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, create a separate campaign for this product and see if you can get any traction. 
  • If you can’t fit your products into a niche, re-think or re-purpose your product so that nobody’s doing it better than you. Or you are meeting a new and emerging demand. (We’ve seen this happen a lot recently in the case of face masks, from both local shops and big-box stores.)

4. Target Local Keywords in your SEO strategy

For the beginner ecommerce marketer or owner, SEO may sound like a mysterious, complicated concept. But at its core, SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is simply the practice of improving your website in very specific ways to help it be found by search engines. When a user enters a query into Google, their results are populated based on relevancy. A business that’s worked to ensure they appear in search results for their category and location will fare much better than those who choose to be laid and play a guessing game.

Optimizing your site for general website traffic is one thing, but it’s a separate challenge to specifically optimize your site against local competitors. To start, you’ll need to research keywords (Keyword Planner is a great, free tool), then find opportunities to use those words or phrases in a natural way on your site. This applies to URLs, headlines, article copy, product descriptions, categories, and any other text that a user might come across. For an effective local SEO strategy, you’ll need to inject your site with plenty of locally-centered content. 

Additionally, some local and online PR can go a long way. According to a recent survey of local SEO practitioners, content development, direct asks and sponsorships were the top three strategies used when link building. With so much need in local communities right now among multiple fronts, there is plenty of opportunity to both make a difference and increase your search visibility and brand awareness.

When developing locally-centered content, it’s important to incorporate the location and product name prominently and in accordance to SEO best practices. That means at the very least incorporating “[your product] + [city name] throughout your content and interlinking related pages and posts. (When in doubt, use Yoast.)

5. Tap The Local Social Media Scene

This is a great time to leverage your social channels. More than ever, brands need to embrace authenticity and humanity. 

Are there local brands or influencers you can partner with to help position yourself as the “shop local” option? Make sure these types of posts also incorporate any trending hashtags for the cause or topic. Spend a few minutes each day on your favorite social media channel and organically have conversations with locals. Don’t even mention your product (but make sure your profile does). Think about other brands who’ve mastered this sort of branding. Tito’s Vodka out of Austin, TX does a great job of maintaining a “local” feel, thanks to its community involvement and branding, but is actually a very successful global brand. Consider partnering with brands like these in your community, or if you’re feeling ambitious, becoming that kind of brand.

“The brands that get out there to start conversations about how they’re being impacted, how their people are coping, what measures they’ve taken to change or what they’re doing in the community — those are the brands that will propel forward,” Director of Marketing at Edge One Media, Megan de Salvo tells Better Business Bureau. 

On the flip side, this is not the time to be negative social media fodder. The news is rife with posts gone wrong from business leaders or social media managers who have posted offensive material either on their business or personal social media accounts. If you’re going to enter the local social media game, ensure you are posting in a way that reflects positively on your business. 

6.Leverage Shipping As A Marketing Tool

Shipping options grow by the day, and now is the time to become a master at finding the best carriers, shipping times and costs for your customers. For example, holiday or free shipping promotions can set you above the local competition, as you may be more equipped to sustain the discounts.

Experiment with various price thresholds for free or affordable shipping and loyalty programs for repeat shoppers. The latter is a great opportunity to generate the type of goodwill intended by the “shop local” movement.

Need some help leveraging shipping as a marketing tool? We’re here to help with tools that drive sales at checkout with flexible shipping rates and delivery methods.

To Sum it Up

There are a lot of tips in this article, and virtually endless resources out there for burgeoning ecommerce stores. Remember that you’ll have to take it one step at a time, and starting small is not a bad thing. 

Even the smallest businesses can make small changes like headline adjustments for SEO purposes, keeping Google My Business info updated, or creating a PR piece can help stir up business and increase both awareness and conversions. If you’re feeling stuck and not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Check out our guide to quickly creating an ecommerce shop