My most recent blog post on buying, governing, and optimizing data resulted in a number of inquiries from customers and acquaintances who operate in the ecommerce space — particularly the subscription service space. As you can imagine, nurturing leads, maintaining a clean funnel, and ensuring swift lead velocity become less important in ecommerce, where buy cycles are swift and the sales metric can be immediately attributed to specific campaigns, tactics and partners. As Scott Vaughan discussed in a recent blog, business outcomes are the ultimate simple metric and sales are the ultimate business outcome.
If only it were that simple.
The B2C ecommerce space is fraught with pitfalls that aren’t often encountered by a large demand-gen organization at a Fortune 1,000 company. To that end, the approach to governance and optimization must be very different. Let's take a look at four critical elements of a successful ecommerce site.
1. Building a foundation
The first step here, and one that is too often glossed over, is operation architecture. Simple traffic tools like analytics and reporting are key to spotting patterns of suspicious traffic, understanding your traffic and scoring this data against your target audience and various campaign goals. But none of this will happen smoothly without data standardization. While it’s really nice to be able to go 42 layers deep in a very niche tracking platform in order maximize attribution, what’s far more important is being able to understand the big picture. Trying to tie together what’s coming out of 10 different reporting suites in different “languages” to draw effective conclusions isn’t the most effective approach to optimization.
The quickest solution to data standardization is typically an open platform with which you can API data inputs to consolidate information and report performance cleanly. From there, you can easily layer on tools and controls to govern data sources and continually optimize campaigns and programs with actionable insights. Simply put: the best operational architecture always starts with a solid foundation that can support, govern and communicate all the data your marketing organization leverages.
2. Protecting your merchant accounts
I see many marketers rush headlong into online purchasing with the mistaken assumption that there will be 100% real users on the backend, and that they can leverage any old relationship for credit card processing. I hate to be harsh, but this is naïve. There will be invariable hiccups. With all of the risk basically taken out of the ad buy on a cost per acquisition model, someone will look for a soft spot — that is, credit card fraud. Marketers should never take this possibility lightly. You should have controls in place to ensure the numbers are real, and that these are credit cards and not gift cards. You should also build a strong relationship with your bank so that they’ll work with you if issues arise. If need be, enlist a third party to help you manage this potential risk.
3. Proactively scoring your traffic
There are a number of third-party tools that can help you with this, but simply looking out for suspicious patterns in your click data will substantially help you mitigate most of the risk. Every click coming from Firefox? Impossible. Does every browser have the same extension? Does that browser auto-update? If so, what are all your clicks coming from legacy versions? This is about normal site behavior; if you have an analytics suite plugged into your site and you have organic traffic in any significant amount, score your acquisition buys against that traffic. If something is wildly off, assume you’re being cheated and make your media partners defend the traffic.
4. Casting a wide net
Once you have a good infrastructure in place, buy small samplings of every conceivable type of online media that's available and appropriate for your brand. Certain types of traffic, such as organic search, will obviously score best, but starting with a wide net and benchmarking various types of traffic against each other will give you a prioritization plan. With that plan in place, invest in talent and relationships to manage those specific channels. Make sure to negotiate directly with media partners, and secure specific segments with understood, marked and manageable amounts of inventory. With this process completed, take a break from buying media to allow the data to mature and to more effectively evaluate the lifetime value of the users/members/subscribers you’ve purchased.
This last part is a simple but important step; many marketers in the ecommerce space rush into the growth phase of buying media under assumptions that all users come with the same value. It’s only later that they find out that a single erroneous KPI calculation has torpedoed the ROI of the whole campaign. Each type of media will yield a different type of user that will behave differently over time. Knowing that and assessing accordingly enables you to evaluate true media value and better drive program success.
One final note on this: There is a limit to how much media you can buy, a point above which everything you’ll buy will be junk — be aware of this inflection point. As you approach it, each lead or sale will become harder and harder to buy efficiently.