E-commerce has never been easy. In addition to a solid concept and a good idea, it takes a lot of perseverance and an overview to achieve the level of success you want with an online shop. Which system should I choose? Shopify or WooCommerce? How do I want to proceed: Dropshipping or have own warehouse? There are questions upon questions at the beginning of every e-commerce adventure. But the trickiest part is still marketing: how do I get people to my shop who'll actually make a purchase?
A few years ago, this question was much easier to answer. Classic social media advertising. And while ads on Facebook, Instagram and co. have by no means died out, marketing is all the more difficult today. This is mainly due to data protection measures. Especially in recent years, these have had a strong impact on the e-commerce industry. First came the Europe-wide GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and then, in 2021, Apple introduced the App Tracking Transparency framework with iOS 14.
Collecting data and building profitable ads has thus become an extreme feat that requires massive technical know-how and large budgets. What does this mean for e-commerce? Is it still worthwhile starting online shop at all? Can you still be successful with average experience and a smaller budget? Absolutely!
In this post, I'll introduce you to three effective strategies to help you generate quality traffic and buyers – while remaining GDPR compliant!
Classic e-commerce: Facebook Ads and Pixel
Before we delve deep into the strategies, let's take a quick look at what has actually changed with GDPR and iOS 14.
In its simplified form, the development of a (dropshipping) online shop used to look something like this. You think about a concept, develop a product, build the shop and start placing ads. Most shop owners mainly used Facebook Ads, as it's the best developed advertising platform with a huge number of active users. To be successful with Facebook Ads, you also use the Facebook Pixel. This is a small code snippet that's integrated into the shop and tracks and collects the users' actions.
The pixel then gradually fills up with data on the potential clientele. Who has visited the page? Who's been looking at a product? Who put a product in the shopping cart? Who bought the product? The more data Facebook had on these so-called "events", the more accurate and profitable the ads became. This principle is still used today. It's clear that data is absolutely the trump card in this area. The more data, the more successful the ads and the more you sell.
App Tracking Transparency framework + GDPR = data loss
The problem is that serious data protection tightening is making it increasingly difficult to obtain this valuable and essential data. The measures that are supposed to increase data protection for end consumers make it difficult for anyone in e-commerce to collect sufficient amounts of data to be able to place profitable ads.
Two of the most significant limitations from this perspective are Apple's App Tracking Transparency Framework and the GDPR.
> App Tracking Transparency framework
Apple introduced this framework in 2021 at the same time as iOS 14. It allows users to choose whether or not personal data may be collected when using social media platforms.
Similar to the cookie banner on websites, social media visitors can decide by means of a simple click. This is problematic from an advertiser's point of view. Although many people agree to cookie tracking, even a minor loss of data can mean more expensive ads.
How many people ultimately consent depends on many things. These include the way the cookie banner is embedded on the website, the color design and other factors.
A loss of data occurs -> the advertisements become more expensive -> the profit decreases.
The General Data Protection Regulation was first introduced in 2016. It came into force on 25 May 2018. With it came numerous new regulations for online retailers and website owners across Europe regarding data protection.
The cookie banner we mentioned was also made mandatory by the GDPR and is probably the most important point for advertisers. It means that users of a website or online shop must actively consent to data being collected. As with Apple's Transparency framework, some website visitors reject tracking.
These are the main restrictions that have come about due to Apple and the GDPR. There are also many other interesting points and technical options to somewhat cushion the effects of missing out on the data. In this article, you can read all about how to make your shop technically fit for the GDPR and Apple.
3 long-term marketing strategies for your online shop
Now we're familiar with the concepts, we're going to look at three sustainable marketing strategies you can use to achieve the success you want for your online shop even without the traditional social media advertising.
Strategy 1: Social media
It may not sound like a revelation to set up social media presences for your business. The fact is, however, that despite the incredible reach and diverse possibilities offered by Pinterest, Instagram and the like, many shop owners still rely solely on paid ads instead of trying their hand at organic content.
The reason for this is usually a lack of patience. Building up a large site is a long-term undertaking that requires a lot of patience and planning. However, it's all the more worthwhile later because then you can look forward to sustainable, organic traffic for your shop.
Moreover, with your social media page you can usually directly address the people who are interested in your product. The traffic is therefore of good quality and has a high probability of converting into sales.
Now I want to introduce you to two of the most important platforms and what you should – and shouldn't – do while you're there.
Instagram is still one of the top platforms and enjoys great popularity. Over 8 million people in Germany use Instagram every month. There are also plenty of opportunities for shops to present themselves and showcase their own products.
The most common mistake shop owners make on Instagram is posting only product photos. Even if you have a very nice product, it doesn't bring your target group much benefit to be constantly besieged with advertising.
Instead, you should focus on added value with your postings. What does a typical customer of yours look like? What behavior do you notice? What are your target group's wishes and concerns? If you know exactly what makes your customers tick, you can create customized content that answers these questions.
Let's say you have, for example, a shop that sells nutritional supplements. Instead of just posting products on Instagram, you can create value content. This could be on nutrition tips, sharing anatomy knowledge, different diets or something along those lines.
The more different approaches you try at the beginning, the better. Sooner or later you'll find out which format is most popular with your target group.
Keep a finger on the pulse! Right now: Reels
It's always important to follow the latest trends and developments on Instagram. When the platform introduces a new feature, it often makes sense to try it out. This is because new features are stronger at the beginning, as Instagram wants to promote them to as many users as possible.
A prominent example of this is Instagram Reels. The new video section in the style of TikTok promises enormous organic reach since mid-2020. The advantage is that you don't need thousands of followers to be successful with Reels. The only important thing is that you create unique content that appeals to people and captivates them. Then it's possible even for completely new profiles to grow quickly and generate a large reach.
Example: The sustainable fashion brand Armed Angels shows different ways to integrate sustainability into everyday life in its reels. Here, for example, "5 ways to eco-friendly living".
For shop owners, Instagram Shopping is of course the most interesting function. You can create a small shop directly on your Instagram site and display your products, including prices and descriptions.
Your followers and visitors can come to your actual shop via your Instagram shop and buy something there. If you use Shopify or WooCommerce for your shop, you can easily synchronize the products.
Through the Facebook Merchant Center, you can even further personalize the shop on Instagram and customize fonts, colors and sections to your liking.
This way, you offer your audience a perfect opportunity to familiarize themselves with your brand and your products directly on Instagram – and possibly persuade them to make a purchase.
Search Engine vs Social Media
Pinterest is one of the most exciting platforms for anyone involved in e-commerce. Pinterest is a very visual, creative place based on images and videos. Unlike Instagram, which is also made up of images and videos, Pinterest focuses on photography and art.
Another important point is the definition of Pinterest. It's much more a search engine than a social network. People use the platform to search for images, photos and videos.
Just like on Google, this means creators need to focus on SEO optimization researching keywords and building trust to get reach.
On Instagram, posts have an extremely short half-life and are usually no longer relevant after a few days. With Pinterest, the exact opposite is the case due to search engine behavior. The advantage of Pinterest is that a post (pin) still gets reach and is displayed to users even months after you've uploaded it.
Exciting target groups
Pinterest has a reputation for being particularly popular with middle-aged female users. While this is still partly true, numerous other niches and target groups are also developing.
During Corona, the platform has seen dramatic growth. User numbers rose from 416 million to 454 million in one year, an increase of 9 per cent.
The Pinterest target group is correspondingly diversified. So whether you're targeting women or men, in the fashion or supplement industry, Pinterest is a platform you should look at for your shop.
With unique value content, you can also achieve great success here and attract people to your shop.
A great advantage of Pinterest is that you can add a link to each pin. This means that users can go directly from a pin to your shop. With Rich Pins, you can even display more product information, such as the price and description.
Social media: interim conclusion
Instagram and Pinterest are ideal ways to give your shop a face in the social networks (or search engines). They give you the opportunity to build up a following and generate traffic for your shop without any data protection concerns.
Strategy 2: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is a closed book for many shop owners. But not taking the plunge is a much bigger risk than trying. Because if you succeed with SEO, you'll have hit the jackpot. Long-term, high-quality traffic, consistency and chances of high conversion rates are possible with an SEO-optimized shop.
It's true that it takes a lot of knowledge and perseverance. As promising as SEO is, the path to success is also complex. Here I'd like to explain the most important points so that you too can make your shop SEO ready.
> On-page SEO
On-page measures, i.e. those on the visible page, are usually the first step in the SEO process. On the one hand, this includes the creation of SEO content. First and foremost, we mean texts.
If you have a furniture shop with many products and categories, for example, you could write product or category guides. There you could write about colors, materials, styles and many other aspects of furniture and offer users real added value. In SEO, it's of course essential to use the right keywords.
With different tools like Sistrix, Ahrefs or Ubersuggest you can research keywords in terms of their competition and search volume. In the beginning, it's advisable to focus on small keywords that have low search volume but also low competition.
At the beginning of your SEO journey, your shop – like any other – has no trust with Google. It's therefore virtually impossible to rank well in the search results for very general and competitive keywords.
An example using the furniture shop:
- recommended long-tail keyword: care of oak living room furniture
- highly competitive keyword: furniture living room
On-page optimization also includes improving the user experience. This is an incredibly important factor for Google. Google always wants the search intention to match the page that Google searchers come to. This is measured, among other things, by the bounce rate and the session duration on your shop.
With clear pages, crisp design and by providing all the important information, you can keep these values at the best possible level.
Another on-page aspect is images, videos and all other media. These should always be properly formatted, sized and compressed. This way, they don't take up unnecessary space and continue to enable a fast website.
> Link building
Probably the most important factor for SEO is link building. You can have the best texts with the most meticulously researched keywords, if you don't have trust, you'll have a really hard time with SEO.
But what is "trust" anyway? Trust simply means that your domain has a good reputation on Google. One value that shows you how respected your shop is with the search engine is the so-called "Domain Authority (DA)". You can easily check this for a large number of websites.
The higher the DA, the better your ranking. But how can the Domain Authority be increased? The only way is through backlinks. These are simply links from other websites that lead to your shop. The more pages that link to your shop, the more trust you get. The quality of the linking pages is also important. If you were to get a backlink from apple.com, for example, it would be like winning the lottery. Backlinks from small and newer pages, on the other hand, have correspondingly little effect.
But getting backlinks isn't that easy. Depending on the industry you're in, you can write to bloggers for product tests, interviews or similar. You can also register your shop on Google MyBusiness and – if you also run a physical shop – register your shop in local business directories.
With this approach, you can gradually collect backlinks and optimize the ranking of your shop in the search results.
Search engine optimization (SEO) – Conclusion
SEO is definitely a long road. You always have to do research, create new content, optimize your shop and build backlinks at the same time.
Nevertheless, SEO is a must-have strategy for every shop because, at the moment, most shops still rely on classic advertisements. If you have staying power, are patient and want to achieve sustainable results, SEO can be the GDPR-compliant way to go for you.
The sooner you start the SEO adventure, the better!
Strategy 3: Branding and community building
The last strategy that can help your shop succeed without coming into conflict with data protection regulations is branding and community building.
Branding is particularly important these days. There are more and more Instagram pages, Pinterest profiles, online shops, etc. An essential success factor is to stand out from the crowd. Branding is all this combined with sustainable success that's not based on short-term hypes through aggressive marketing.
To build a brand, you need to think carefully about who is behind the brand, what it should embody, what the long-term vision of the brand is and how best to convey its messages in a consistent style.
Community building is closely related. Building a community, not just an audience, brings you numerous benefits such as reliable results, more information about your customers, improved brand loyalty and so on....
There are several places where you can put branding and community building into action:
> Online shop
A logo that reflects the values of your shop, consistent design with a uniform color scheme and matching fonts are the absolute basics of branding. Establish design guidelines at the beginning of your branding and follow them consistently.
Another great way to brand your shop is through storytelling. I've already described in detail how to use this strategy effectively in this article. An example: We dedicated an entire storytelling page to one of my shop projects, in which we explain the company's history, values, philosophy and vision.
This way you can bring your brand closer to people and, at the same time, give your shop more personality.
> Social media
Social networks are, of course, the ideal place for branding and community building. The latter works perfectly on Instagram. You can easily interact with your followers by replying to comments or using interaction stickers for stories like polls, questions or quizzes.
As with your online shop, keep in mind to use uniform designs.
Instagram is a community platform and users love to build a bond with pages. This way you can build trust and develop a strong community. You don't need millions of followers to push your shop on Instagram, a strong community of 5,000 fans can move mountains!
Branding and community building: Conclusion
It's not because of data protection restrictions that branding and community building are so important today. Increasing competition means that you need to develop concepts to stand out.
A long-term brand strategy coupled with continuous community building is the optimal way to get the most out of these two organic traffic and revenue sources for your shop.
Conclusion: 3 strategies for sustainable success
You now know what challenges GDPR and iOS 14 will bring to you and your shop. Be prepared for classic Facebook Ads to be more difficult than ever before.
But that's no reason to not set up an online shop. There are some effective methods to be successful in e-commerce even without a lot of budget or data protection concerns.
With social media, SEO, branding and community building, you have three strategies to hand to get your shop to the top!