N.B. This Guide is intended as a very basic introduction for the layperson to eCommerce. Going forward, we will be adding more advanced Guides for the more digitally aware. (However, Appendix One – Technical Suggestions does provide some technical advice and suggestions.) There are also more focused, detailed guides listed in the Free Online Tools & Guides section.
Please also note that in the Section eCommerce of the Exporters Almanac there are a number of online resources which can be used to assist you in the development of your eCommerce strategy.
Although we separate eCommerce from “traditional” commercial channels and methods, it should now be considered an integral element of any commercial activity. We have prepared this Guide to help those who are new or are uncertain as to what this exactly means.
It is important to understand that although eCommerce can be a lower cost channel to market, you still have to budget for related costs in terms of internal personnel and, often, external consultants.
Done well, eCommerce can be your most cost effective channel to market – done badly, it’s money thrown down the drain. If you do not have the expertise in-house to manage your eCommerce activities, then you should use external consultants. In this case, we list below the considerations you should take into account when contracting with such consultants.
N.B. B2C vs B2B. There will be some differences between your approach to eCommerce depending upon whether your target market is Consumer or other Business. However, many of the points we cover below are valid for both market segments.
It is important that you have your own domain. Using email addresses such as @gmail.com or web sites which are subdomains of services such as wix have their place in the scheme of things, but you greatly diminish your chances of being taken seriously unless you have your own internet domain.
If you do not have your own domain – go and register one now. (There are a number of online services which will register these for you – and where you can check (free of charge) what names are available.)
The next step is to check your web site’s functionality.
The functions of your web site are:
Information. What does your company do? Other relevant information.
Point of Contact. How can potential clients contact and interact with you?
Service\Product Show Case. What do you offer?
Optional –depends upon your business model:
Catalogue of Products.
Point of Sale.
Where did they come from?
What do they view?
What do they do?
Where did they go to?
Do they come back?
Give users the option of not accepting your cookies, before the cookies are deployed.
Not a trivial matter. The level of security that you will need will depend upon the nature of the business you decide to conduct through your site. As a minimum, you need to have the necessary anti-malware systems in place. Moving forward the various considerations are (in alphabetical order):
Internal Cyber Security Policy Do you have an internal policy covering Cyber Security?
Secure Certification of your site encrypts data transferred to and from your site.
Data Protection Systems. Where is data stored? Who can access it? Who can copy it?
Anti-Intrusion Testing. A check by experts whether your site can be hacked.
Security Monitoring. If there is a breach, would you know? Would you know what to do?
Insurance. Are you covered in case of any breaches?
Physical Security. Who has physical access to what – including your own staff?
Most countries now have data protection laws in place. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are aware of these laws and how they apply to your business.
All companies can improve their potential by implementing a focused Digital Marketing programme. Digital Marketing represents a low-cost channel to market – both domestic and international. However, low-cost does not mean no cost. Money will have to be spent and resources will have to be dedicated to ensure that this channel is fully exploited to its maximum potential.
Although the strategic details will be different depending upon the target markets (consumer, business, finance, government, products, services etc.), the principles remain the same. The key areas to focus on are:
The company’s web site – not just the look and content but also its functionality;
The promotion of the web site – e.g. via search engines, yellow pages, industry directories etc.;
Use of eCommerce platforms, networks and directories e.g. eBay, Amazon, Alibaba etc.
The processes and techniques related to attracting qualified visitors to your site include:
Search Engine Optimisation (“SEO”) - a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the number of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine.
Search Engine Marketing (“SEM”) - a type of Internet marketing associated with the researching, submitting and positioning of a website within search engines to achieve maximum visibility and increase your share of paid and/or organic traffic referrals from search engines. Where SEO aims to provide better organic search results, SEM helps you successfully target users of search engines via advertising (paid) links in search results in addition to organic search to send targeted traffic to your website.
If these skills do not exist in your company, then outside consultants can provide support. These consultants may be with your web design company or within a specialist internet marketing company.
Digital Marketing is the marketing of products or services using digital channels – primarily the internet - to reach buyers who are looking for suppliers. (Digital Marketing is a relatively new profession with many new concepts with its own jargon – see the Digital Glossary in the Reference Resources Section.)
The details of the digital marketing strategy for your company will depend upon a number of factors including:
However, there are a sufficient number of general similarities to provide an introductory guide and these are described below.
The “bad” news is that the promotion of your site will require a multi-faceted campaign including the use of new tools and techniques.
The “good” news is that the results of your promotion campaign can be precisely measured. The internet, unlike other promotional tools, can be precisely measured
N.B. Digital marketing should be an integral part of your overall sales & marketing effort, not separate from it. Therefore, it is important to have a holistic approach to your overall sales & marketing activity.
Essentially, Digital Marketing will:
Promote your web site; if buyers cannot find your site, you cannot sell to them.
Identify your major online competitors.
Assess your market position relative to your competitors.
Effectively get your message out to your target market.
Although the internet is global, Digital Marketing can be focused on national, regional and city locations – as appropriate to you.
The main activities consist of four phases:
Phase One – Initial Assessment
Website Assessment: Is your site optimised?
Search Engine Optimisation: Does your site appear on Google’s first results page?
Competitor Assessment: Who are they? How do they compare in the online rankings?
Market Assessment: What Digital Marketing strategy is most appropriate for you?
What needs to be changed to make your site more effective?
What needs to be implemented to reach your potential market?
Phase Two – Adapt & Budget
Make any adaptions to your web site to improve the results of the Initial Assessment Phase.
Decide what budget to allocate to Digital Marketing; this is a “low-cost” channel but it is not a “no-cost” channel.
Design and define your Digital Marketing campaign – with specific targets.
Phase Three – Promotion
Implementation of your Digital Marketing campaign.
Monitor your campaign against the targets you set.
Phase Four – Continuous Assessment & Adjustment
Are your targets being met?
How is the competition reacting?
Implement any changes required to your Digital Marketing program to maintain your ranking and optimise your reach.
Digital Marketing is important. Do it. The point of your website is to increase and/or improve your business. Unless people are finding your website, it’s not even worth having one.
For most businesses, Digital Marketing represents the highest ROI marketing effort; exceeding the value of other marketing approaches e.g. direct mailing, broadcast advertising, online ads, etc.
It is not enough to follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines important as they are (see below); these are only the starting point.
Think of Digital Marketing as a long-term investment. The real value of Digital Marketing efforts are, generally, not realised in the first month(s) of the effort. Instead, they will produce results months down the road.
There are a very limited number of places on a Search Engine results page; a place in this list is being chased by all of your competitors. Don’t let them exclude you. Rankings rise and fall with the change of algorithms and the entrance of new competitors. It takes constant monitoring and adjustments to keep your position.
It is very important to be aware of the industry directories which are relevant to your products and services and ensure that you are correctly listed – with full contact details. See the relevant directories in Industry Profiles.
Relevant industry magazines are read by those interested in your products and services. The approach should be similar to those to industry blogs and forums. See the relevant magazines in Industry Profiles.
These exist to promote the interests of its members. They key here is to ensure that they do in fact promote the interests of your company. Be proactive. See the relevant Trade Associations in Industry Profiles.
There are more search engines than Google e.g. Bing, Yahoo and others.
If you do not have a Digital Marketing Agency – and your web design agency may not be fully qualified to deliver a high quality Digital Marketing Campaign. You should:
Be very wary of:
SEO companies that offer guarantees: This is an “art”, results cannot be guaranteed. An educated estimation of the outcome of the work proposed can certainly be made, however.
Instant results: These can be delivered but often involve SEO practices that are against webmaster guidelines put out by search engines. Invariably, Google seeks out these techniques and penalizes them, resulting in lost rankings that can take months to recover.
Low costs: When it comes to SEO, you are not shopping for the lowest price; you are seeking the best level of service. Be wary of rock bottom prices or “unbelievable deals.”
Offering a large number of links: Quality is better than quantity. SEO campaigns that include a large number of incoming links within a short period of time almost always use unethical and/or low quality linking schemes; receiving the bulk of your links from such directories can and will damage your link profile. N.B.: There is nothing wrong with an SEO company/service that does not offer a link development component. It is better to not have a link development initiative than to have one that is going to hurt your ranking potential.
The quoted service price changes (drops) readily and in a significant way to encourage the signing of the contract: There is nothing wrong with offering incentives; however, if the price of the project suddenly drops significantly without any change in the level of services offered, then this should certainly be a point of concern because the original quoted price was obviously inflated by a great margin, or there are corners that will have to be cut to justify the price-drop.
You may decide that an electronic market place is suitable for your type of business. In this case, you should check:
Which are the electronic market places suitable for you.
The costs of joining and trading.
You may be happy that deals are conducted on the basis of a simple exchange of emails. However, for more complex and higher value contracts you may consider having an exchange of formal contracts which are:
Signed on paper and then scanned and exchanged.
Signed electronically and exchanged.
If you are considering the use of eSignatures, then you should refer to an eSignature service provider – and then as appropriate a lawyer to confirm that such signatures are valid in your legal jurisdiction.
You will be governed by the laws of your country of incorporation as well as those of the countries where you are operating. In cross-border transactions, the more complex the transaction and the higher its value, the more important it is to agree and state the governing law of the contract. (If in doubt, then refer to Incoterms as published by the International Chamber of Commerce, which are commonly used in international trade contracts.)
These are now much easier and cheaper to set up than in the past. Your webmaster should be able to advise you on how to do this.
The payment mechanisms that you offer will depend very much on the nature of your business. If you are selling to Consumers (B2C), then the standards are: Mastercard, PayPal, Visa and American Express – payment solutions can be provided by your bank or a number of online service providers e.g. PayLane - http://paylane.com/and IxoPay https://www.ixopay.com/. However, in some countries other options are better received see: Adyen - https://www.adyen.com/
However, if you are in the B2B market, then more traditional offline solutions will have to be offered e.g. documentary credits, collection bills etc.
The issues relating to privacy are as a minimum governed by the Data Protection laws of your country – see above. However, you should also consider what your policy will be in using the personal data that you will obtain and hold. This policy should then be set out in a privacy statement on your site.
It is important that the use of your site is governed by a clear set of terms and conditions which is published on your site’s Home Page (and elsewhere as appropriate).
Once you have your own domain and published your web site. It is very important to carry out a web site audit (as we have suggested at SEOptimer - https://www.seoptimer.com/.
Register with the Online Business Directories
Consider using the Online Market Places
Monitor your site and react
These should be considered an indication of the sorts of things you should take into account when reviewing your web site. This page does not provide recommendations by The Exporters Almanac; nor does it cover a complete description of the various facets that should be taken into account when formulating a Digital Marketing plan.
Following the General Guidelines below will help Google find, index, and rank your site.
We encourage you to pay very close attention to the Quality Guidelines below, which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise affected by an algorithmic or manual spam action. If a site has been affected by a spam action, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google's partner sites.
Help Google find your pages:
Ensure that all pages on the site can be reached by a link from another findable page. The referring link should include either text or, for images, an alt attribute, that is relevant to the target page.
Provide a sitemap file with links that point to the important pages on your site. Also, provide a page with a human-readable list of links to these pages (sometimes called a site index or site map page).
Limit the number of links on a page to a reasonable number (a few thousand at most).
Make sure that your web server correctly supports the If-Modified-Since HTTP header. This feature directs your web server to tell Google if your content has changed since it last crawled your site. Supporting this feature saves you bandwidth and overhead.
Use the robots.txt file on your web server to manage your crawling budget by preventing crawling of infinite spaces such as search result pages. Keep your robots.txt file up to date. Learn how to manage crawling with the robots.txt file. Test the coverage and syntax of your robots.txt file using the robots.txt testing tool.
Ways to help Google find your site:
Submit it to Google at https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6259634
Make sure that any sites that should know about your pages are aware your site is online.
Help Google understand your pages:
Create a useful, information-rich site and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
Ensure that your <title> elements and alt attributes are descriptive, specific, and accurate.
Design your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy.
When using a content management system (for example, Wix or WordPress), make sure that it creates pages and links that search engines can crawl.
Allow search bots to crawl your site without session IDs or URL parameters that track their path through the site. These techniques are useful for tracking individual user behaviour, but the access pattern of bots is entirely different. Using these techniques may result in incomplete indexing of your site, as bots may not be able to eliminate URLs that look different but actually point to the same page.
Make your site's important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden inside navigational elements such as tabs or expanding sections. However we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view.
Make a reasonable effort to ensure that advertisement links on your pages do not affect search engine rankings. For example, use robots.txt or rel="nofollow" to prevent advertisement links from being followed by a crawler.
Help visitors use your pages:
Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. If you must use images for textual content, use the alt attribute to include a few words of descriptive text.
Ensure that all links go to live web pages. Use valid HTML.
Optimize your page loading times. Fast sites make users happy and improve the overall quality of the web (especially for those users with slow Internet connections). Google recommends that you use tools like PageSpeed Insights and Webpagetest.org to test the performance of your page.
Design your site for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Use the mobile friendly testing toolto test how well your pages work on mobile devices, and get feedback on what needs to be fixed.
Ensure that your site appears correctly in different browsers.
If possible, secure your site's connections with HTTPS. Encrypting interactions between the user and your website is a good practice for communication on the web.
Ensure that your pages are useful for readers with visual impairments, for example, by testing usability with a screen-reader.
These quality guidelines cover the most common forms of deceptive or manipulative behaviour, but Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here. It's not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn't included on this page, Google approves of it. Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.
If you believe that another site is abusing Google's quality guidelines, please let us know by filing a spam report. Google prefers developing scalable and automated solutions to problems, so we attempt to minimize hand-to-hand spam fighting. While we may not take manual action in response to every report, spam reports are prioritized based on user impact, and in some cases may lead to complete removal of a spammy site from Google's search results. Not all manual actions result in removal, however. Even in cases where we take action on a reported site, the effects of these actions may not be obvious.
Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
Don't deceive your users.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
The following considerations should be taken into account:
Email Marketing Email marketing is still a very successful form of digital marketing and is particularly effective at securing conversions because it requires individuals to opt-in. The opt-in point is particularly important, if recipients do not opt-in and you simply send out mass emails, this will be considered “spam”; in which case you risk your domain being placed on blacklists – which is really bad news.
Google AdWords The pay-per-click advertising service that allows companies to purchase ad space on Google search engine results pages. However, ensure that you have: (a) analysed your own key words profile (b) optimised your site and (c) registered with online industry directories before you using this service. There is no point attracting traffic unless you can fully exploit it.
Key Words Keyword research is generally considered to be the foundation of an SEO campaign. Keywords should be incorporated naturally and where appropriate in your web pages. If you are also targeting foreign markets, consider the relevant key words in foreign languages.
Mobile Marketing Mobile users are a rapidly growing sector of the digital marketing audience, which means that the experience of the mobile user is incredibly important. The company’s site must be “responsive” i.e. be readable also on mobile devices. Creating a responsive site that automatically adapts to mobile settings is a key way to not only improve the experience of your mobile users, but earn Google’s mobile-friendly distinction.
Newsletters These allow you to remain in regular contact with your web site visitors – informing them of your latest news.
Offsite Linking These are links from relevant 3rd party sites to your site. This will not only improve your traffic, but build your website’s credibility, as you’ll be seen as a highly-referenced source, which Google takes into account when determining rankings.
Offsite Marketing Offsite marketing refers to the process of building relationships with third-party sources that will “market” your company themselves by providing links back to your website (see offsite linking).
Online Public Relations Media pitches and press releases are the two dominant forms of online public relations. While somewhat easy to master, they require the development of strong relationships with media contacts and distribution sources.
Reputation Management Though many assume that reputation management is only for companies that have a poor online reputation, reputation management is actually valuable to any company. This should form a significant element of your overall marketing plan.
Social Media Marketing (SMM) (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. including blogs). These allow you to directly interact with people involved and interested in your products and services. You can both raise awareness of your company as well as monitor topics that may have an impact on the development your products and services.
Avoid the following techniques:
Automatically generated content.
Participating in link schemes.
Creating pages with little or no original content.
Hidden text or links.
Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value.
Loading pages with irrelevant keywords.
Creating pages with malicious behaviour, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
Abusing rich snippets markup.
Sending automated queries to Google.
Follow good practices like these: