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How to drive traffic to an e-Commerce site

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Why read this? : We share 5 key actions which help you drive traffic to an e-Commerce site. Follow these steps to pull in more high-potential customers to your store. Read this for ideas on how to attract visitors to your online shop.

When your e-Commerce plan is to sell direct, there’s lots to do to set up the D2C experience.

You have to build a store website with great content, style and functionality. Plus, set up and test back-end systems like payments, deliveries and customer service so they run smoothly.

But none of these matters unless you can get customers to visit your store.

You need traffic to your site so customers can experience what you have to offer.

e-commerce planning process - 5 key steps in e-commerce experience

That’s why this week’s focus is on how to drive traffic to an e-Commerce site. We’ll look at 5 key actions :-

Understanding the target audience

You start with understanding the customer. You have to know who they are and what they need and want before you can plan how to attract them. Clearly, you want the highest potential customers to visit. Those most likely to spend big. 

There are 2 key areas to consider here. 

First, there’s your overall target audience for the products or services you sell. You should have relevant research and insights into who’s most likely to buy in general.

Quantitative research results example

But because it’s e-Commerce, you also have to understand which customers will want to buy online. And even more specifically, will want to buy from your online store.

You normally bring these insights together as you fill in your customer segment profile.

This is a one-page summary of your ideal customer. It collates learnings about the customer’s demographics, usage occasions and attitudes.

The product / service element will be specific to your brand and category. But as per our what online shoppers want article, the specific online shopping needs usually relate to :- 

  • ease and convenience. 
  • range.
  • price. 
Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

This profile becomes part of the brief you write for your agencies to come up with a plan to drive traffic to your e-Commerce site. 

Briefing your agencies

The e-Commerce plan which drove building your site should have included a business goal, based on :- 

  • how many visitors you think you’ll get.
  • how many of those you’ll convert to buy.
  • what those conversions will mean for your store’s profit and loss.

From these numbers, you can work out how much you can spend to drive traffic to your e-Commerce site and stay profitable. Technically, you’ve done the first step in the advertising development process. You now know your business objectives and budget.

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

Now, you brief your agencies so they can help you deliver those objectives. You’ll be asking your advertising agency and media agency to recommend how to drive traffic to your e-Commerce site. 

Key areas to brief

The brief normally covers 5 areas :-

  • brand.
  • objectives.
  • communication.
  • rationale.
  • project.

Brand summarises your vision, essence, personality and values.

Objectives covers the business opportunity, marketing challenge and growth target. 

Communication brief template with 5 sections - brand, objectives, Communications, Rationale and Project - including additional copy about how to complete

In this brief, that’d be how many visitors you want to attract, how often, and by when. You should also specify the target audience and what you want them to do (visit the site)

Communication is your thinking on what the advertising needs to say and do. You usually focus on the key benefit you want to highlight. This normally links to your competitive strategy and positioning. The benefit underpins the advertising idea and media plan. We’ll look at those more closely in the next step. 

Rationale is the backup for your benefit. It shows why customers should believe what you say. (Usually adapted from your positioning’s reason why and reason to believe).

Project outlines the timings and budget for the project. Plus, it details project-specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and who is the client lead on the project. 

Developing the advertising idea

There are 2 parts to the agency’s response. The first part focuses on what you should say and how you should say it. That’s usually summed up in the advertising idea. (It may also cover other communication areas like PR and packaging). 

As per our how to advertise guide, adverts can :-

  • build long-term brand equity (to make customers more likely to consider your brand).
  • drive immediate actions (when the focus is on short-term sales).

Three-brains Unpause campaign first draft storyboard

As the goal here is driving traffic, you’d expect the advertising idea to focus more on immediate action. You want customers to do something specific i.e. visit your store. 

To get customers to visit, the advertising idea has to stand out and be relevant (see our advertising evaluation guide for more on this) and also have a compelling call to action to visit your site. 

The idea should reflect your competitive strategy

The advertising idea should also reflect your competitive strategy

For example, if that’s cost leadership, the advertising idea should focus on price discounting and sales promotions. You make it clear your online store offers the best prices. Many cost leader retailers, like Bunnings in this example, highlight their low price guarantees. Or they run short-term sales offers like 20% off all products this weekend only. 

Bunnings Price policy which shows if you can find a lower price, they'll beat it by 10%

On the other hand, if you’re more about differentiation or unique niches, those will be the focus of your advertising idea. For example, the shopping experience you offer e.g. fast deliveries, easy returns, or product customisation. Or you use more advanced e-Commerce selling techniques like online exclusives, targeted offers, or extra services like subscriptions.

You evaluate the advertising agency response to make sure it meets the brief. But you also have to look at when and where it’ll appear, which brings us to the other half of the response. 

Planning media

The media agency response takes the advertising idea and defines the best times and places for the advertising campaign to appear. 

It may include traditional channels, but you’d expect it to be digital media-led.

Digital adverts can include call to action buttons which link directly to your site. If your goal is to drive traffic to your e-Commerce website, you want it to be as easy as possible for the customer to visit. Links make it easy for customers because they get an immediate response. 

The media schedule - an example

The main channels you’d expect to see in the response are :-

Social media channels

The way social media works fits well with e-Commerce. It’s a great channel to drive traffic to an e-Commerce website. 

For example, social content is usually very visual. You can show customers what you’re selling in ways which grab attention and make your products or services look desirable.

The content is also very shareable. If your content is good enough, you get even more bang for your media buck as customers share it with their friends. 

Plus, it’s comparatively easy to create social content and target the media at relevant customers. The basics of creating an image, short video or animation, writing some sales copy and booking the media space against a specific customer segment isn’t hard to do. 

Most new online stores start their advertising on social media. It’s relatively cheap to try out ideas, and you can do this without a media agency. Channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter help you find your audience, and build interest in your e-Commerce store. (See also our review of other social media channels you can use). 

The real challenge comes in doing all these things well enough to make an impact. That comes from testing and learning to see what works, and what doesn’t. You do more of the former and stop doing the latter. 

Test and learn social media

For example, you run separate adverts with different product images. Say one with the product on its own and another with someone using it. Or you try video content. Or an image carousel.

What works best in each category differs. There are no set rules about what works on social. You test to learn what works best for your target audience.

You can also test out different advertising copy. If you’re not sure which features or benefits have the most appeal, run adverts side by side with different messages. See which works best.

Or try out different sales promotions. What about promo codes and price discounts, for example? Limited-time offers (e.g. 20% off until this Sunday)? Limited availability offers (e.g. last 50 units left in stock)? (See our advanced e-Commerce selling techniques article for more ideas like this).

Instagram post saying No Network cables? Thank Dr John O'Sullivan and the team at CSIRO - with a picture of a woman wearing a T-shirt that shows a WiFi symbol and the words Australian Invention

You can test these quite cheaply. A $10 Facebook ad spend will reach about 600 people currently. This is a good test number to see if your social media adverts get a reaction before you decide to spend more.


Another focus area to drive traffic to your e-Commerce site is search, where you’ll look at :-

  • paid search – you pay for your site to appear against specific search terms. 
  • organic search – your site naturally appears in search results because of how it’s been set up. 

Your search plan normally starts with keyword research. You use tools like Google Ads or Answer the Public to see what people search for.

laptop google search

For your store, you’d look at search terms on the products/services you offer, your brand terms and relevant category information or content. 

Paid search

With paid search, you normally look at specific buying-related terms. That could be buy “x”, where to buy “x” or the specific product names, for example. 

This is especially true If you sell the same products as other stores. Unless you have a lot of search authority on your site, you’ll likely need to do some paid search so customers find you in the rankings. 

Google Ads Brand and Marketing Keyword research results

Organic search

Organic search is more about making sure your site and product page content is optimised with good SEO writing. You should rank for unique products only you sell, and for your brand terms on organic search. Depending on what extra content you add, you may also be able to organically rank on some category search terms. For example, how-to articles and buying guides will give your site an SEO boost. 

You’d also make sure your site uses good technical search practices. For example, filling in the metadata on product pages like the page title, focus keywords, slugs and meta description. You’d also check your H2 and H3 titles reference your focus keywords enough.

For e-Commerce search, it’s also worth registering with Google Merchant Centre. This helps your products appear in search on the Google Shopping channel. You input data about your product and refresh the information every month. It’s a great way to make your online store more visible when customers are searching on shopping-related terms. 

Display advertising

Display advertising refers to adverts you place on other websites. These will typically be high-traffic sites regularly visited by lots of your target audience.

For example, news, sport and entertainment sites carry lots of display adverts.

Plus, there are often sites with category-level content you can place display adverts on too. 

For example, if you sell baby clothes, you can advertise on sites for new parents. If you sell gym equipment, you can advertise on health and fitness sites.

Though you can often buy these media spots directly, it’s more usual for your media agency to do it. They know the market and can make informed recommendations about which ones will work. Plus, they’ll already have systems in place to manage the media buying. 

The main exception is when you sell on marketplaces like ebay or via pure players like Amazon. You can buy their media space directly as part of the way your account is set up with them.

A broader view of display

If you take a broader view of “display”, then arguably you can use other, more traditional communication channels to help drive traffic to your e-Commerce store. 

For example, your packaging and PR activities can help highlight and remind people your store exists. 

And if you advertise the products or services you sell separately, you should make sure you feature or link to the store’s URL so customers know where to buy. 


Finally, it’s also worth making sure you understand tagging and how it links to your data and analytics. When you run multiple display advertising campaigns, tagging adds a piece of code to each advert. When someone clicks on the advert, that code then helps you track what they do. You can understand what type of customer clicked, and what they did on your site. 

So, it helps you identify which advertising drives the most traffic and which drives the most sales. You use that to optimise which adverts to show and your overall experience.

Optimising the experience

Some e-Commerce experts say your site is at its worst on the day it launches.

That’s because there’s always something more you can do to improve it.

In terms of driving traffic to your e-Commerce site, you want to make sure your advertising messages are brought to life when customers visit.

Your site has to deliver on the promises your social, search and display adverts make to help convince customers to buy.

Customer Experience Journey Map

Seeing an advert is usually the first step of many steps on the customer journey. If it doesn’t deliver, the customers won’t take the next step of visiting your site.

So, you should keep looking for ways to make the whole journey work better. And then reflect these improvements in what you do to drive traffic to your e-Commerce site. Let customers know about ways you’re making their online shop easier and / or better. 

This can be as simple as writing clearer, more compelling product names and descriptions and making your images and videos more engaging. (See our online grocery and high-ticket product page articles for examples of this). 

Or it can tap into more advanced selling techniques and adding extra services. For example, subscriptions to make re-ordering easier or better payment and delivery options.

Use data to understand if you’re meeting the customer’s needs

You aim to make sure the overall customer experience meets the customer’s needs. The tests you run and the improvements you make are all about making customers happier.

If you can’t explain what it’ll do for the customer, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. 

You’ll know if it’s working by analysing your data.

You should set up an e-Commerce dashboard and use it to track feedback on your activities and look for new insights.

Example of an e-Commerce dashboard showing results on campaigns, operations, platforms and sales

These help you learn more about your customers. And that’s where the process starts again, so next time you drive even more traffic to your e-Commerce site. 

Conclusion - How to drive traffic to an e-Commerce site 

Your e-Commerce site needs visitors to survive and thrive. So, you have to plan how you’ll let customers know your store exists and how you’ll persuade them to visit it. 

We’ve covered 5 big steps which will help you drive traffic to your e-Commerce site. 

You start with understanding your target audience. You gather data, research and insights to dig into who they are, and what they need or want. 

Arrow shaped sign on a brick wall saying entry

Then you write a brief and work with your advertising and media agencies to come up with a traffic-driving plan. This includes a motivating advertising idea and a targeted media plan to get that idea out to the right people, at the right time and in the right places.

Finally, you measure the activity results and use the learnings to do it better next time. The more you learn what your customers like, the more traffic you’ll drive to your e-Commerce site. 

Check out our advertising, media planning and online store website guides for more on this. Or get in touch if you need help to drive traffic to your e-Commerce site. 

Photo credits

Entry : Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Social Media : Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Google on a laptop : Photo by Benjamin Dada on Unsplash

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