Facebook Ads, in a way, can be a vicious cycle.
You pay for the traffic and get a few sales. But in order to sustain your business you need more, and in order to get them you’ll, in many cases, need to pay for more traffic. But how can you continue to afford this without more sales?
And then now, businesses are having to contend with the havoc wreaked by Apple’s relatively recent (and ever-evolving) iOS update, in which tracking visitors and customers through paid channels like Facebook Ads has become increasingly complicated (and more or less non-existent, in many cases).
But this article isn’t just about how businesses can break this cycle – it’s also about what being in this cycle can mean for your business. Typically, an over-reliance on paid ads—in particular Facebook or Instagram, and we all felt the pain of Monday’s outage—means that your categorisation may not be right, or at the very least misaligned with the kind of thing for which your audience is searching.
This is a fundamental issue. Organic traffic can be by far the most cost-effective channel for many retailers, but solving this is not always a straightforward journey. Fortunately for you, the first step is becoming aware of the problem.
The perils of over-relying on paid advertising
Relying on any one channel as a marketing strategy is dangerous in and of itself, but depending too heavily on paid advertising–especially Facebook Ads–can be particularly tricky.
This is even more true in light of Apple’s iOS 14 update, which saw e-tailers losing wide access to customer data that’s essential for targeting and audience profiling. And now that this update is in full swing, a huge number of businesses are feeling the effects.
While this is an extreme (albeit very pertinent) example that has deeply affected a number of online businesses, paid advertising has its difficulties even in the best of times.
First of all, paid channels like Facebook Ads are often a short term gain. You can spend money quickly to generate traffic, but it’s not necessarily scalable. Spending £1,000 a month and then doubling that budget doesn’t mean you’ll see double the results.
On top of this, paid ads take a lot of testing, which means you have to spend a lot before you can start earning much (if anything) back. It also means it can take up a fair bit of time that many people either aren’t willing or can’t afford to take.
Plus, tracking can be notoriously finicky (and with the iOS update, near impossible), so sometimes it isn’t even possible to gain useful data about where your revenue and traffic are coming from, which then makes future campaigns that much trickier. And then even if you do get it right, there’s no guarantee that the traffic is actually any good and won’t just bounce anyway.
But let’s be clear here – we’re big fans of channels like Facebook Ads and other paid social advertising. We, like many SEO-focused agencies, offer it as part of our services and have worked with clients that have seen a lot of success with it. We’re just arguing that like anything in digital marketing, it shouldn’t ever be the make or break element of an eCommerce business’s strategy.
It’s all about categorisation
It’s the million-dollar question for many businesses these days – where can you start in cutting (or at least trimming) your reliance on paid channels like Facebook Ads?
Looking to organic traffic is the obvious solution, but the first step in implementing an effective SEO campaign for an eCommerce store isn’t about the usual suspects of technical auditing or keyword research. These can wait until the more fundamental work has been carried out.
We’d argue this should start with categorisation.
With avenues like Facebook Ads, you’re putting yourself in front of people. You’ve typically only got one chance to make a first impression, and if you get it wrong, that opportunity is gone. But with organic search, you’ve got a much better chance of hooking people in, because they’re already on the hunt for what you’re offering.
And to get in front of people through search, you’ve got to make your business and product more searchable. But how can this be achieved?
With the right categorisation. Categorisation can be one of those make or break elements for businesses – we’ve seen a lot of brands with strong categorisation succeed, but very few succeed without it.
And we’ll level with you here – it’s possible for brands with an unclear categorisation to see success with Facebook Ads, but we’d argue this success will likely stop there and not translate into much organic traffic.
Let’s use Mood Pants as an example of how this might happen. Mood Pants are a women’s underwear subscription that have incredibly eye-catching designs and imagery, which lends itself really well to Facebook Ads.
From an organic perspective, the homepage is currently targeting the term “ladies underwear”.
This is an incredibly saturated category—especially considering you’re competing with the likes of M&S, John Lewis, Next and H&M—and even “women’s underwear subscription” is a fast emerging and quite congested market. Here, categorisation isn’t 100% straightforward.
So, what exactly do we mean by categorisation?
Where eCommerce businesses are concerned, categorisation involves customers being able to slot your brand or product into groups that are easy to digest. Think about UK grocery chains, for example. Even though they largely offer similar products, Waitrose (expensive, high quality) would be in a different category than Tesco (affordable, middle of the road), which would be in a different category from Aldi (cheap, bargain hunting).
When customers are able to categorise your product, there’s a much higher chance they’ll be able to find you via search. Because the more defined your category (eco-friendly/reusable food storage bags vs. food storage), the more likely people who are searching for it will find you.
To highlight what exactly we mean by eCommerce categorisation and how it can be conveyed effectively through a website, let’s look at a business that does it well.
Kuru Footwear, as you might have guessed, is a footwear company. “Footwear” is a category in and of itself, so technically they could have stopped there, like Mood Pants more or less stopped with “ladies underwear.” But “footwear” is also incredibly broad, so they’ve instead narrowed their categorisation down to “footwear for people with foot pain.” It’s much more specific and much, much more searchable.
With this niche categorisation, they’re then able to organise their website not just by shoe style but by foot ailment, which will inevitably make it easier for customers to navigate. So now, UX is better too. And ultimately, Kuru is incredibly relevant for this niche search term, so if people looking for it land on their website, they’re much more likely to convert.
That said, finding your business/product’s categorisation takes a fair bit of insight and self-reflection. When undertaking this kind of positioning work, you’ll want to ask yourself:
- What are your customers’ pain points? What problem is your business or product solving? This is one of the driving forces behind search – how often have you found yourself typing a question into Google and clicking on first-page products offering a solution?
- What are your customers searching for? If your product does solve some particular problem, is it one your customers are actually aware of having? If so, how are they searching for it? The better you can articulate this pain point and understand how your customers are actually attempting to solve this problem, the better you can optimise your site in the long-run.
- What are your points of differentiation? What sets you apart from the competition? Why would someone choose your product over another? If you can’t answer this question (or the answer is, “nothing sets us apart”), this brings on a whole new list of complications and questions you’ll need to ask yourself.
- And then, once you think you’ve nailed down your categorisation, is that what your customers think you do? This point is huge. Because your understanding of your categorisation might be different than that of your customers, and ultimately it’s only the latter that really matters. If they don’t see your categorisation in the same way you do, it’s likely you won’t be optimising your site (and selling your product) in a way that will increase conversions.
And then once you’ve pinned your categorisation down, the real work starts.
So, can your product or business be categorised?
It’s perhaps the most crucial question in the whole exercise – can you actually slot your business or product into a category? Your answer will influence next steps.
If the answer is yes and you are able to fit your product into a (relatively) unique category, you’re in a great position (pun intended) to start some serious marketing work.
From here, you can turn your focus to keyword research and customer personas, which will help guide your marketing strategy and site optimisation. We’ve written a free guide on how to create customer personas, map out user journeys and then create content strategies based on these findings if you’re ready for this and want a little more information.
That said, moving from A to B (A being “defined category” and B being “exploiting that category to its full marketing potential”) isn’t always as straightforward. There are instances in which a business’s category is entirely new or, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, way too broad. We’ll be tackling what brands can do when they’re dealing with forging a new category in an upcoming blog, so keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks.
And if your category is too broad (“streetwear,” for instance), we’d argue this probably puts you closer into the category (another pun for you – you’re welcome) of not having a categorisation at all. At least not one that’ll actually do you any good.
Loud is an online clothing brand that, for all intents and purposes, has a pretty nice web presence and is likely aiming to be slotted into the “streetwear” category. However, we’d argue that in this instance, “streetwear” is so broad that Loud might as well not have any category at all.
If we look at the terms Loud is ranking for, we find that it’s largely products rather than categories and subcategories. And while this isn’t terrible, it’s not exactly desirable, either.
Let’s take “snake t-shirt” as an example. The intent behind it could be any number of things: t-shirts with snakes on them, t-shirts in snake prints, t-shirts for your snake. You get the picture. And if the customer’s intention is misaligned with the page they land on, there’s no chance of getting a sale.
The bottom line is, you want people landing on pages relating to broader categories rather than extremely niche ones, because it’s the former that’s going to increase conversions. And in order to do this, you really need to be able to fit your business into a specific category.
Which brings us to our next point.
Your situation just got a whole lot trickier, but not impossible.
Let’s go back to the example we’ve just mentioned above – “streetwear” as a categorisation. This is problematic because “streetwear,” while a category in the fashion industry, is both incredibly broad and already very saturated.
Slotting yourself in here won’t actually do much to set you apart from the competition, so you’re going to have to work incredibly hard if you want to be noticed in and for this particular category, especially because you’re going to be competing with e-tail giants like ASOS.
In these instances, it might be necessary to go back to the drawing board and forge a point of differentiation for your product. Because really, why would someone buy from you if what you’re offering is exactly the same as somebody else?
And then, what if you have no category at all?
If you flat out can’t come up with a category for your product, see the above. Because if you want to succeed in the DTC sector—and we mean really succeed, not just drop ship or sell the odd customised t-shirt to your friends—you’ll need to find what makes you stand out. There’s just no getting around it.
Like we said earlier, there will be the odd instance in which you’ll need to build your unique category from the ground up. And while the process for harnessing this won’t be the same as that for already-established categories, it’s still much better than flat-out not having a category at all.
Once you’re able to clearly define your business/product’s categorisation, you’re in a great spot to start harnessing that on your website and improving your searchability which, as we know, is the key to gaining more organic traffic and reducing your reliance on paid ads.
As we mentioned above, we’ll be releasing a blog in the next few weeks on how businesses can forge successful SEO strategies when operating in new categories. Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss it.
And if you’re in the market for branding work or just want to chat about where your business fits in the category debate, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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