It’s no secret that e-commerce sales are exploding.
With more consumers shopping online than ever before, retailers have their work cut out for them to get noticed.
But what if you don’t have the budget for ads? Are you doomed to fade into the online abyss?
But with the proliferation of online marketplaces and hoards of choices available to consumers, it’s tough to get the attention you need to drive traffic and revenue.
Thankfully, you don’t need a huge advertising budget to increase your e-commerce traffic.
I’m going to show you 25 ways to get more visitors shopping in your online marketplace without spending a dime on ads.
Can I really boost traffic without buying ads?
Even better — e-commerce sales are expected to top $2.4 billion this year.
The problem is, it’s hard to rise above the competition without spending a fortune on advertising, right?
That’s a common misconception.
Larger retailers with huge budgets tend to throw money at their marketing problems.
So smaller retailers without unlimited marketing and advertising funds may feel like they are at a disadvantage.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to drive traffic and gain customers without breaking the bank.
1. Referral marketing
If you don’t have a referral program in place for your e-commerce store, it’s worth firing one up.
81% of consumers say that a recommendation from a friend or family member heavily influences their buying decisions.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate.
Include a simple way for customers to view reviews and recommendations, as well as recommend your brand to others.
It takes a little work on the front end, but here’s why it matters to you:
A customer gained through a referral has a lifetime value 25% higher than other customers.
This is certainly true for Dropbox. They grew from 100,000 users to over 4 million users in only 15 months, thanks to their referral program.
2. Buyable Pins
Pinterest offers a unique feature that allows users to search for products and buy them directly from the Pinterest site.
Many social media platforms are pay-for-play when it comes to ads or direct links. So far, this Pinterest feature won’t cost you anything.
Buyable Pins are free for online retailers to set up and simple for consumers to search and find:
Think Pinterest is just for window shopping? Think again.
Many smaller e-commerce stores ignore one of the most accessible selling weapons in their arsenal: upselling.
There is a false impression that it isn’t worth the effort, but that’s not the case.
Upselling can drive an average of 4% more sales within your current customer base alone. It might not sound like much, but it adds up when you consider it in relation to your entire revenue stream.
The very first year that Amazon tested upselling on their platform, they increased sales by 35%.
Base recommendations on either complementary products, warranties or logical bundles, like this example from Amazon.
Don’t leave money on the table.
It’s 68% more expensive to get a new customer than it is to upsell to a current customer.
If upselling can boost sales up to 35%, then what do you have to lose?
4. Write with an angle
Content should always be written with your unique value proposition in mind.
What is a value proposition? It’s not just a fancy buzzword. It’s the one thing that makes your business unique.
It’s your spin on a product or service that a million other people might offer, but none in the same way you do.
Your web visitors spend 15 seconds or less on a page. Use every one of those seconds to reinforce why your product offers something that no one else can.
It gets right to the point of who their product will help and why, by selling their value instead of their product.
5. Watch your speed
How is your site speed? Have you checked it lately?
If your site is taking longer than three seconds to load, you could be losing up to 50% of your visitors.
And sadly, you aren’t likely to get them back after they go. Nearly 80% of visitors who get frustrated with a site’s loading time will never visit again.
Try a tool like webpagetest.org to see how your site is performing.
6. Don’t forget about social proof
92% of consumers trust a recommendation from a peer, and 70% trust a recommendation from a total stranger.
Social proof is exactly what it sounds like. It’s proof that your peers (or at least a big chunk of the population) trust a brand enough to buy from it.
Amazon uses social proof on every single product page, in the form of reviews:
How does this translate into conversion?
Look at Express Watches. They increased conversions over 58% by using social proof:
All it took was one little review widget.
Worth a shot, right?
7. Go mobile
60% of mobile users have purchased something online from their mobile device. Whatever you do, don’t forget to optimize your site for mobile shoppers.
So what does optimization look like?
Here are some features consumers said are important to them on a mobile site:
After you start adding features, if you want to know if you’re on the right track, enter your URL in a page like the Google Mobile-Friendly Test to see how it stacks up.
8. Strategize SEO
We all know SEO is important, and yet sometimes we let it “happen by accident” instead of giving it the attention it deserves.
You need to be on that first page, friends.
Pay attention to the product keywords you should be using.
Use a tool like the Google Keyword Planner to guide you to the right list of words that are the most relevant to your product.
9. Do some housekeeping
When someone visits your website, can they tell at a glance how you’ll solve their problem?
Over 75% of online shoppers say that their first impression of a website is a major influence on if they purchase from that website or not.
The way you present your products makes a huge difference.
Instead of long, arduous product lists, make your product descriptions jump out, like this example from Warby Parker.
Another way to keep visitors from abandoning ship is a sleek, user-friendly navigation. Design your whole site to be easy-to-use and intuitive. Apple is great at this:
10. Send abandoned cart emails
There are few things that are more frustrating than a web visitor reaching the precipice of a purchase…and then vanishing without a trace.
All is not lost once someone abandons a shopping cart, though. In fact, almost 30% of abandoned carts are recovered, thanks to abandonment emails.
The best news is that there are tools like Get Response to help you automate your abandonment email campaigns and start capturing lost revenue.
Not sure where to start?
Check out this guide for some tips on writing an effective abandonment email:
11. Test your CTAs
First of all, if you don’t have clear calls-to-action on your site, you need to create some.
Hard to believe, but 70% of small B2B sites lack a CTA.
Only 2% of your web traffic will result in a sale on the first visit, so capturing email addresses through your CTAs is crucial.
You need to experiment a bit to see what works. Even something as simple as the color of your CTA button can make a difference.
Look at this example from HubSpot:
By running a few simple A/B tests, they discovered that the red button created 21% more conversions than the green button.
You should also consider personalizing your CTA like Square does in this example.
They not only include benefits to the buyer, but they also include an explainer video after the CTA. These extra elements of personalization to your target audience can bump conversions up to 42%.
12. Send promotional emails
You’ve been diligently building a healthy subscriber list. Now, what do you do with it?
Try testing the waters with promotional emails.
Did you know that repeat customers spend 67% more, on average than new customers?
Promotional emails build loyalty and keep customers coming back for more. You’re letting your “best customers” in on something special before anyone else.
Look at this clever example from Birchbox.
It’s an opportunity for a repeat sale, wrapped in a discount for customers. Everybody wins.
61% of marketing experts agree that mail marketing is one of the best tools for marketers to engage with their audience. Use it often, but use it wisely.
13. Simplify your checkout process
Have you ever tried to check out on an e-commerce site, only to abandon your cart because the checkout process is so frustrating?
Don’t be that company. Just check out these statistics.
Are you doing any of the things on the list?
Follow this guide for a few tips to keep your checkout process simple, including:
- Eliminating unnecessary text, buttons, and navigation
- Enable a fast guest checkout
- Making the process mobile-friendly
- Offering multiple payment options
It really does pay off to tweak your process a bit.
Need proof? Clean Program boosted conversions 76% by cleaning up their checkout process.
14. Offer a rewards program
80% of your future profits will come from your 20% of your current customer base.
Put another way: 20% of your current customers will be responsible for eight out of every ten of your future sales.
It makes perfect sense to not only keep your customer base happy but to grow it, right?
One of the most famous examples of this is Amazon Prime.
It’s widely known, widely trusted, and growing at a pace of 38% YOY.
Amazon Prime offers enough value to their program members that they can even charge an annual participation fee — and customers gladly pay it.
You may not want to charge a fee for your rewards program if you’re just starting out, but the Amazon Prime model is certainly something to aspire to.
15. Give retargeting a try
Retargeting is a smart way to use the data you collect about your visitors.
Here’s how it works, in a nutshell:
Here’s a real-life example of how Mazda used retargeting to create 53% more conversions than their control group.
They used intelligent ads to retarget shoppers who were most likely to go a specific Mazda dealer in their area and matched inventory information to those buyers.
Retargeting is effective because it matches known shopper behaviors to specific marketing messages. Done right, it can boost ad response rates by up to 400%.
16. Create urgency
Visitors who leave your site without purchasing, planning to come back later, rarely complete the sale.
Urgency offers a compelling reason to purchase.
Maybe it’s “Act now! Quantities are low!” or “Buy now for free shipping!” or “This is a limited time offer!”
You can approach it from a variety of angles, as long as the feeling of “don’t miss out on this” is created with your visitor.
Look at this example from American Apparel:
Right there in red font, they warn shoppers that they are about to run out of this item.
Content that fosters urgency has 14% higher click-to-open rates, 59% higher transaction-to-click rates, and twice the conversion rates of other marketing emails.
17. Incorporate chat
83% of shoppers need help at some point during the buying process.
Chat has taken the lead as the preferred channel for customer service.
Check out this Kissmetrics blog for some compelling reasons why you should be using chat, and some tips for getting started.
The evidence is compelling. 51% of customers say that they are more likely to purchase from a website that offers chat than one that doesn’t.
Chatbot interfaces and functionality have come a long way since their inception. They save time, offer answers to common questions, and are an easy way to extend customer service capabilities.
18. Sell benefits, not features
Consumers buy things to solve problems.
20% of missed sales are caused by poor product descriptions that are geared to brag about a product instead of to offer a solution.
An easy fix? For every feature you’re tempted to write about, think of a correlating benefit to your consumer.
Look at this example from Gillette:
You’re selling against everyone in your space. Give your visitors a reason to trust that your product is the only one that can solve their problem.
19. Use demo videos
43% of consumers want to see more video content.
To drill down even further, 67% of YouTube viewers want to see product reviews that will help them make purchasing decisions.
An easy way to connect video to your e-commerce site is by consistently posting how-to content to drive visitors back to your product pages. Hootsuite does this well.
Consumers seek out video content. If YouTube has 1.5 billion viewers every month, it’s your job to get your brand in front of them.
20. Showcase your best sellers
Online shopping can be overwhelming. Too many choices can even deter visitors.
Here’s another tip: they don’t have to actually be your best selling products. You can make the list anything you want to help point visitors to a subset of your inventory.
21. Make your reviews stand out
70% of customers consult reviews or ratings before they decide to purchase. As an added bonus, review pages also reach the top of search results more easily than product pages.
Zappos, a company known for its customer service, prominently features reviews for every product.
And honesty is the best policy when it comes to reviews. 68% of consumers trust reviews only if there is both positive and negative feedback.
22. Understand customer personas
If you don’t know your audience how can you possibly sell to them?
47% of companies that consistently exceed their revenue goals maintain and update their buyer personas on a regular basis.
Don’t try to boil the ocean. Use personas to help you understand your core customers so you can reach them with targeted messaging.
23. Build trust
19% of shoppers abandon a purchase because they don’t trust the security of the online payment system.
It’s crucial to display your security badges prominently on your site.
Depending on your target audience, you may want to take advantage of research that shows which seals are trusted the most by which demographics.
Is your audience predominantly male or female? Older or younger? Displaying seals that resonate with your visitors may give conversions a boost.
24. Offer free shipping
All of these metrics point to the same truth: consumers hate to pay for shipping, and you have an opportunity to use that to your advantage.
25. Collect data everywhere
If you want to build your email list and target customers for repeat sales, you need their information.
Collect it via email, wish lists, back-in-stock notifications — ask for it everywhere.
72% of consumers prefer to communicate with companies via email, but you’re only as strong as your subscriber list. Start collecting.
If you read through the case studies and examples in this article, you should be reassured that you don’t need a huge ad budget to be successful in e-commerce.
With all of the competition online, however, you do need to get creative to draw and keep customers without going broke spending money on ads.
Know your audience, tailor your message to the right personas, and take advantage of some of the free tools and tactics available to you that we talked about in this post.
Keep the consumer at the heart of everything you build and write. Are you solving problems or just peddling features?
Don’t forget to do a status check periodically.
What’s working? What’s not?
Different tactics work for different brands. Don’t be discouraged if one doesn’t bring a ton of new conversions right away. Try another tactic to find the ones that perform best for you.
With all of the digital outreach tools available to retailers, there has never been a better time to think outside of the traditional ad-spend box and stand out in the e-commerce crowd.
What are some of the ways you boost e-commerce sales without spending money on ads?
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