As we move swiftly into Q2 of 2023, we’re all becoming increasingly aware of the biggest challenges our businesses face. We wanted to understand what the biggest challenges are for eCommerce businesses. So, we got in touch with 30 UK eCommerce businesses and asked what their greatest marketing, technical, and operational challenges were.
The greatest challenges suggested were:
- eCommerce SEO
- Attracting more website visitors
- Logistics, stock management and shipping
- Social media presence
Let’s dive into the detail.
From the eCommerce stores we spoke to, SEO was frequently mentioned as a challenge. As an eCommerce SEO agency, we work frequently with eCommerce businesses and SEO is often a challenge before we team up. Generally speaking, a lot of businesses often don’t know too much about SEO so their problems often feel a lot larger or more complicated than they actually are.
From the businesses we spoke to, some expressed a reluctance to invest or reinvest in SEO due to the “high costs” — some, such as Jill Morris from Greener Greens, even claimed they lacked trust in marketing agencies. Instead, what appears common is that many eCommerce businesses will gravitate towards alternative methods to expand their reach and bring people to the site that feel more quantifiable and can demonstrate a clearer return on investment (ROI).
SEO is undoubtedly a longer-term eCommerce strategy, and eCommerce sites which are built for success will end up bringing relevant traffic to a website exponentially. But, without the correct tools and methods, it can sometimes feel difficult to quantify the actual impact it is having on your business.
Adam Perkins from The Invisible Edge expressed concerns about the ROI of SEO having previously employed a team to work on the business’ SEO but only had a small increase in traffic.
Why eCommerce SEO fails
The principal reasons why eCommerce fails for eCommerce stores are:
1. An imbalance of investment versus expected outcomes
Like any competition, you should expect to compete where you can afford the cost and/or the effort required.
Too many eCommerce SEO strategies fail because they target the highest traffic, and most competitive terms – those can be tough battles that need a big budget to compete.
Being more realistic with your SEO budget and targeting lower volume, less competitive, but higher intent search terms can work incredibly well for eCommerce SEO and produce a great ROI for a comparatively small budget.
2. Foundational SEO not being included in website design
It’s so tough and annoying to see this all too often. When you build an eCommerce store, it’s way cheaper to build the SEO structure and strategy into that project than it is to retrofit.
eCommerce SEO comprises five significant pillars:
- Relevance (on-page optimisation)
- Technical (robots.txt, sitemaps, see: The Complete Guide to WordPress Technical SEO)
- Information and link architecture
- Depth of topic content
- Domain authority
The third point in that list should be built into a website build project (as we do with our website builds). Start with the end in mind: research keywords you want to (and realistically can) rank for and create a page architecture and optimised pages (point 1) that are more likely to rank for those search terms.
Including that in a web project will set your eCommerce SEO project off on the right track from step one and saves a heap of budget otherwise used to reverse engineer the entire site.
3. Unrealistic timelines
SEO is a long-term investment. Sure, there are quick wins, but expecting to rank at the top of Google and attract thousands of visitors in a few months is unrealistic.
eCommerce SEO is typically a one-year strategy as a minimum and should deliver consistent growth over the years which keeps on paying back. It’s arguably one of the highest ROI marketing activities but is rarely a quick return.
4. Failing to deliver a content strategy
Depth of topic content is often critical to the success of an eCommerce SEO project.
Optimising sales pages for keywords is great, but if a supporting content strategy and execution are ignored, overlooked or not within the budget of the SEO project, it can be detrimental.
This is a huge shame as informational content can be far easier to create and rank and earn traffic from. It supports the sales pages and keywords that you’d want to rank for, and also ranks in its own right too, not to mention great content for social media platforms too.
5. Hiring the wrong people
Let’s be clear. eCommerce SEO isn’t easy. There are multiple factors involved in a successful strategy, any one of which can topple your rankings.
When you hire cheap, you’re likely to get cheap. In the SEO space, you’re likely to get what you pay for.
Hiring for an internal role to cover marketing, web admin, social media, content, SEO, and PPC is almost guaranteed to fail somewhere. It’s incredibly rare to find one person that is great at creative, strategy, technical and at writing as being awesome at all of that is impossible. Sure, one person might be awesome, but you can guarantee they lack experience in technical SEO and strategy, but might be awesome at on-page, or shooting some Instagram Reels.
Equally, some really poor agencies sell SEO as a commodity. It should never be that. Your eCommerce store deserves an agency that is invested in your brand and in the results they achieve for you.
There are some areas in which you can make your budget go further by collaborating with an eCommerce agency that knows its stuff:
- Creating awesome, optimised content, following their content and SEO strategy
- Making sure your eCommerce pages load fast
Attracting more website visitors
Attracting visitors to a website can be challenging for several reasons. First, the Internet is a crowded and competitive space, with millions of websites vying for attention from potential visitors. Even in local areas, there are so many options available so it can be hard for many eCommerce businesses to stand out and get in front of the right audience.
Second, online user behaviour is constantly evolving, making it difficult for website owners to keep up with the latest trends and preferences. For example, users today may prefer mobile-friendly websites that load quickly and offer a seamless browsing experience. Websites that fail to meet these expectations may struggle to attract and retain visitors.
Finally, attracting visitors to a website requires a multifaceted approach that involves a range of strategies and tactics. From search engine optimisation and social media marketing to paid advertising and content creation, many factors contribute to a website’s success. Website owners who fail to invest time and resources into these areas may find it difficult to attract and retain visitors over time.
Demissie Tulu from Buna-oromia Coffee Company told us that he has been running his company since 2013, but has been struggling to attract customers and generate sales through his website. While he has had success selling his products in person, online marketing efforts through Google Ads have proven costly with no sales.
Although his eCommerce store receives some website traffic from Google, he has yet to convert visitors into customers.
Demisse has also attempted social media campaigns, but with limited budgets, he is struggling to get the returns that he was hoping for from this channel. Realistic goals for all PPC campaigns are important and this is where your digital agency should be able to assist you.
Before focusing on attracting visitors, you should start with the end in mind. Google Shopping ads, social media or organic rankings can attract clicks, but it’s your eCommerce pages that convert traffic. See CRO, below.
How to attract more website visitors
Channels to consider:
Top of Funnel: Create awareness and interest and build an audience using Social Media. This doesn’t have to demand a huge budget and is something most small eCommerce store owners can do without paying for help. Video content on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and other platforms can reach a huge number of viewers.
Middle Funnel: Search: Google Shopping can work well, and gets clicks fast, but be careful to focus traffic on high intent, specific searches with a small budget. Searches for ethiopian coffee are going to deliver a higher return (ROAS) than searches for coffee beans or ground coffee.
Improve the website: Websites should be well-designed and user-friendly so that potential customers can easily find them. Business owners should also develop a content strategy around their products, company updates and industry news.
Offer promotions: It’s also a great idea to offer promotions such as discounts, free samples, or a loyalty program to attract customers. Consider promoting these offers on your website, social media platforms, and email marketing campaigns. This can help build customer loyalty and generate more sales.
If you want to attract users to your website, creating engaging content with visuals can help. Optimise your website for search engines by using relevant keywords in your content, titles, and meta descriptions. Use social media to share links to your content and interact with your followers. Consider using paid advertising like Google Ads or Facebook Ads to drive traffic to your site. By implementing these strategies and focusing on your target audience’s needs, you can attract more users and establish a strong online presence.
Logistics, stock management and shipping
As with all businesses, there will always be internal and operational challenges for businesses to overcome. From the businesses we spoke to, many outlined that keeping stock and product prices up-to-date was a major challenge in their day-to-day operations.
Some of the main challenges companies face when it comes to the logistics of the business are aspects such as inventory management, shipping and transportation, supply chain disruptions, technology integrations and environmental sustainability.
During our conversation with Pal Nagy from Life Changer Audio UK, he mentioned that one of the major hurdles his business is presently encountering is maintaining competitive product pricing while ensuring that they stay current. This is crucial to sustain their international sales and also work towards the long-term objective of expanding their customer base.
To offer products at a lower price for international customers, businesses can optimise their supply chain to minimise costs, negotiate better deals with suppliers, offer volume discounts, automate pricing adjustments, and could consider alternative pricing models.
By testing and adopting these solutions, businesses can improve their competitiveness in global markets, make their products more affordable for international clients, and drive revenue growth.
Increasing visitor value
As above, increasing visitors to an eCommerce store is increasingly challenging, which increases the investment required to compete for visibility on all channels – whether an eCommerce store invests in biddable/paid media or not, the cost of those clicks is increasing, which makes it important to increase the revenue from each of those clicks to remain profitable.
How to increase visitor value
Visitor value is increased by three primary strategies, each of which has many components:
- Optimise traffic at source, focusing on higher intent traffic which is more likely to convert.
- Invest in Conversion Rate Optimisation, increasing the average conversion rate from each click – e.g. if you can increase your conversion rate by 10%, you can increase your average cost per click by 10% too and achieve the same ROAS. Most importantly, that 10% bid increase could increase your ad visibility, clicks, spending and revenue by 20% too.
- Increase your average order value
Optimising traffic is covered earlier in this post.
eCommerce conversion rate optimisation
The basics of eCommerce CRO to consider investing in:
- Pages need to load fast – every second of load time reduces conversion rates by around 5%
- Images are critical to eCommerce success (see: 8 CRO Tips For High-Converting Product Pages)
- Your sales proposition is critical – describe the products clearly. If there are different flavours (like coffee), be clear about what the difference is
- Clearly display pricing, availability and delivery costs and times
- Optimise the performance of your checkout process
Investing in Conversion Rate optimisation typically delivers the highest return on investment and enables eCommerce stores to scale sales – if your product pages don’t convert, traffic from any source will not be valuable enough.
Social media presence
Maintaining a Social Media presence and building a brand and tribe of engaged followers, fans and advocates are challenging. One of the greatest challenges is the constant need for fresh, relevant content.
Another challenge is the level of competition on social platforms. With so many eCommerce stores vying for attention, it can be difficult to stand out and attract and engage an audience.
A Social Content and engagement strategy can help eCommerce stores improve their social presence, but it requires ongoing effort and a deep understanding of the ever-changing social landscape.
Lastly, businesses must also deal with potential negative feedback and online reviews. In the age of social media and online reviews, a negative review or comment can quickly spread and harm a business’s reputation. Therefore, businesses must actively monitor their online presence and respond appropriately to feedback to maintain a positive reputation.
Christopher Williams at Stush Clothing shared his experience with social media. His brand had endured a difficult campaign on the popular social media site, Instagram, even after paying £700 a month for a 14-month contract. He was disappointed, receiving “nothing in return” for the investment. Naturally, this has made Christopher and his team very apprehensive to reach out to social media agencies for the foreseeable future.
eCommerce and social media
As a digital marketer, it’s concerning to hear about Christopher and his team’s negative experience with a social media agency. To avoid similar situations, businesses should research and choose agencies carefully, based on their track record of success with previous clients.
Clear communication, collaboration and regular updates can help ensure that both parties are on the same page throughout a campaign. While Christopher’s experience is concerning, it’s important to remember that not all social media agencies are the same – there are some awesome ones! By finding the right agency and establishing clear goals and expectations, businesses can use social media to reach their target audience and achieve their marketing objectives.
Be clear, and realistic about the outcomes of Social Media. It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring social success using the same metrics as search – how many sales did we get? What was the ROAS? But those are rarely the right measurements of success for Social.
Social is Top of Funnel activity. It’s great for creating awareness and interest and desire for your products, and great for building brand trust. However, Social almost always needs the support of the middle funnel (Search) and Bottom of the Funnel (Website, User Experience, CRO) to deliver a return.
eCommerce SEO can deliver an amazing return on investment, but many eCommerce stores fail to recruit the right partner or the right team, or are prepared to invest at the required level to compete and achieve the results they’d like.
Conversion Rate Optimisation is a significantly under-used strategy, frustratingly. CRO is the key that unlocks the whole eCommerce strategy – convert more traffic into sales, and traffic becomes more valuable and becomes a more investable strategy.
Social Media sounds like the golden ticket, but to succeed also needs significant investment in content creation and engagement – again, many eCommerce brands pay lip-service and fail to achieve their expectations as a result. It’s far better to succeed on one platform than spread your time and budget across multiple platforms.
Whatever you’re going to decide on your strategy, CRO should be at the core and for anything else, focus and fully commit.