The Ultimate Ecommerce Guide for Stores in the Food Industry

Do you sell edibles or related products online? Then you won’t want to miss this ultimate guide to crafting the perfect online food store. Get best practices for design, SEO, social media and more, all tailored specifically to the food induOur relationship with food runs deep. Yes, we need it to survive, but we also spend hours upon hours looking up recipes, gathering the right ingredients, carefully preparing it and sharing it with loved ones. Food is about subsistence, family and fun, and it’s this very relationship that makes running an online food store is so unique.

In this guide, we’ll learn how online business owners in the food industry can leverage their websites and popular marketing channels to maximize success.

Contents

Design for the food industry
SEO for the food industry
PPC for the food industry
Shopping feeds for the food industry
Social media for the food industry
Email marketing for the food industry
Increasing conversions in the food industry
.
I. Design for the food industry
How food tastes is important, but how food looks gets people excited. And since the visual aspect of food is so important, web design for food-related ecommerce sites is even more critical.

Follow these best practices when designing your online food store:

1. Feature large, professional photos of your products
High-quality product photos are especially important when you’re selling food. Truly delectable images will help your products sell themselves. Instead of using stock photography, invest in a photographer. Professional-grade photos will differentiate your foods from other websites and increase your products’ appeal. Trust us—this one improvement will pay for itself!

Once you have those drool-worthy photos, showcase them with a slideshow on your homepage. It’s eye-catching, space efficient and bound to pique your customers’ interest.
2. Think about your typography (and how you’re using it)
Stunning product photos pair wonderfully with great typography. Together, the two create an appetizing experience for your visitors. So pay attention to the way your type is styled and presented, and make sure it helps to quickly set the tone of your site (playful, sophisticated, casual, etc.) in a subtle but powerful way.

Another aspect to consider when you’re dealing with typography is how you’ll get different fonts to play nicely together. In general, a larger, bolder font signals to the reader that the information is more important and needs to be read first, while smaller text typically indicates that the content is more nuanced and detail-oriented.
.
.
3. Keep your website “clean” with flat design
Flat design has now permeated our digital, cross-device landscape, which is fantastic news for food stores. A flat aesthetic highlights images and gravitates toward simpler, more straightforward design without trying to “trick” the eye. This is particularly handy in the food business, since it psychologically conveys a clean, pure environment—the ideal setting for buying food.
4. Use interactive elements with HTML5 and CSS3
Used correctly, HTML5 and CSS3 improve your store’s usability and help you stand out from your competitors. You can display more information with rollovers, or add a touch of excitement to your site with hover effects. A good example of the latter is the Sausage Maker‘s popout effect, as seen below under the category “Spices.” The goal is to make customers feel like they’re interacting with the site rather than just looking at it. This draws them in deeper and encourages them to make a purchase.

5. Choose your color palette carefully
An attractive, food-appropriate color palette can get your customers salivating the second they hit your homepage. Reds, greens, yellows and browns are popular choices for food stores, but don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to that palette.

You can also mirror the colors that appear in your products. Do you sell fair trade, wood-roasted coffee beans? Experiment with lots of browns and natural hues. Is fruit-flavored candy your money maker? Try playing off the bright colors of your most popular flavors.
6. Feature a detailed shopping cart summary on every page
This goes for any ecommerce site: Make sure your shoppers can always see how many items are in their carts, and that they can check out quickly and easily. Not only will this help prevent sticker shock later on; it creates a pleasant user experience.
8. Look for inspiration elsewhere
Like any creative endeavor, it helps to get a look at what others are doing. Check out your competitors, other brands you admire and even spend some time with a Pinterest board or two. What’s important is that you’re keeping yourself in the know, discovering new looks you like and never letting your site get stale.
II. SEO for the food industry
Climbing to the top of the SEO food pyramid is all about having great content on your site. Specifically, your site’s content should be user-friendly and super useful for your unique audience.

What’s great about the food industry is that food-related content, like recipe blogs, are very popular on the web already. If you can find out where your store and your expertise fit into that larger picture, then you can get out there and join the fray.

Here are some SEO best practices for online stores in the food industry:
1. Focus on a targeted niche
“Food” as a keyword is way too broad for your store to see any benefits from it. Instead, when it comes to your keywords and your audience, you’ll want to get as specific as possible. Focus on your super-targeted niche, whether that’s gluten free, fair trade, southern home cooking, French bakery, etc. Then make your name in that space, much like Kiffle Kitchen did for kiffles.

If you have a large range of products, you can target multiple niches by creating category landing pages for each specific group of products. That way, you’re delivering specific, targeted content to interested audiences, while still making sure your entire product line gets attention.
2. Create unique, informational content
When it comes to the food industry, you have a lot of ways to provide unique, valuable content to your customers. For starters, be sure to include size, quantity, taste and texture in your product descriptions. Since your online customers can’t actually do a taste test of your products, you’ll want to deliver that experience the best you can with your copy.

Secondly, consider featuring either a blog or knowledge center for your products. That way, you can share recipes, spotlight new products, list unique ways to use your food, showcase video reviews and display other content that will catch your customers’ eyes. A resource library will not only help your SEO, but also give potential customers an idea of what it’s like to use and consume your products.
3. Reach out to bloggers
Blogger outreach is a very effective and often underutilized SEO tactic for food businesses. An endorsement from an influential blogger will drive traffic to your site and increase your website’s SEO link juice. Luckily for food stores, there’s no shortage of popular food bloggers who’d love to receive a free sample or two.

To get started, create a list of relevant bloggers who might be interested in your products and your story. Then reach out to each blogger by sending samples their way. You can also offer a discount code to be featured only on their website to encourage their followers to purchase. Or, if you’d really like to spread the love, you can send the blogger a few additional products that they could use for a reader giveaway.

When you contact a blogger, make sure your pitch is personalized and conversational. The most influential bloggers get contacted by hundreds of online stores every week, so you’ll want to stand out by offering a truly great product and explaining how their readers will benefit from reading a review. Even just a handful of great links can make a big difference to your SEO, so choose your targets carefully and be outgoing!
III. PPC for the food industry
Food and advertising have been good friends for a while now. Flip on a TV, turn on a radio or open any magazine and you’ll hear all about the latest burgers, cookies and everything else that’s edible. PPC for the food industry is similar, except you have the added benefit of being able to target your audience. That is, you can make sure that your ads only display to searchers who are already looking for what you offer.

Here are some best practices for using PPC for your online food store:
1. Find the right keywords
Targeting the most relevant keywords for your food products and services is the surest way to find the right customers and effectively compete with similar businesses online. Bidding on long-tail keywords that best describe your food and services is the best way to gain new customers and keep your campaign cost-effective.

When writing ads for your food products, you’ll want to use highly relevant language. For example, say a potential customer googles “fruit basket delivery same day” and sees the following results page:

Of the three PPC ads, only one specifically mentions both “fruit basket” and “same day delivery.” The top ad makes no reference to same day delivery, and while the third ad says “same day baskets,” it can be confusing as to what exactly that means. So of the three, the second ad wins hands down. Likewise, when creating your ads, make a point to include the most relevant keywords and details in the limited space you have.

People are not only searching for relevance, but also for convenience or the best deal. If your business offers any special sales, promotions or incentives, make sure to include these in your PPC ads. Displaying these special offers will help your ads stand out on search result pages and may even help raise your ad position.
2. Use negative keywords
On the flip side, it’s equally important to use the right negative keywords in your PPC ads. That means choosing keywords that will help filter out searches that don’t apply to what your business offers. For example, if you don’t offer same day delivery, include it in your negative keyword list so your ads don’t show up for those searches.
3. Geotarget the correct areas
If you offer fresh food or same day delivery, make sure to use the geotargeting functionality in AdWords to advertise only to customers who live in the locations where these services are possible. This will help eliminate unqualified traffic from clicking on your ads, and save you from having to pay for their clicks.
4. Choose the right products to advertise
The food industry is rife with competition. And that means it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to compete with big grocery stores selling generic food items. To combat that, only use PPC on products that you specialize in, that are hard to find in stores or that appeal to people all across the country, such as “fresh Texas pecans.”
IV. Shopping feeds for the food industry
You’ve probably heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Well, that’s true for shopping feeds as well! Comparison shopping engines are great marketing channels for food businesses, but they can only be as good as the product data you feed them. Give them poor, unhealthy product data and they’ll become fat and sluggish, consuming more of your advertising dollars than they should. On the other hand, feed them healthy product data, and they can grow to be one of your strongest marketing efforts.

Here are some best practices for using shopping feeds for your food products:
1. Play by the product data rules
Google and other shopping engines have restrictions on the products that they’re willing to display. Make sure you know which products are the troublemakers and avoid submitting them. Otherwise, they could get your Shopping Feeds account suspended.
For example, Google allows you to advertise animal-related products, including food (such as frozen oysters). However, it doesn’t allow you to advertise live animals (such as live oysters). This distinction can make or break your product feed acceptance, so it’s a good idea to follow the rules to the letter.
2. Include all relevant information in your product descriptions
Your customers may be selective about what they eat, so make sure your product descriptions are as specific as possible. This means including the ingredients and nutrition information for your product, as well as other information like the size of its packaging and how many are included in each order.
3. Indicate expected delivery times
Online food shoppers want to know how long they can expect to wait for your products to arrive, especially if your food items are very perishable. So if we return to our frozen oyster example, your shopping feed data should indicate whether you provide expedited shipping and whether there are additional charges for this service.
V. Social media for the food industry
Brands in the food industry have a huge advantage when it comes to social media: people’s emotional connection to food. Everyone can think of a few foods that bring back positive memories and lift their moods. And that means food businesses on social media are in a unique position to not only engage customers, but put smiles on their faces and create a really memorable brand experience.

Here are some best practices for using social media with your food store:
1. Build and showcase your brand personality
Think of every social channel as a showroom for your store. Use branded URLs and logos, verify profiles, write short but detailed descriptions, use high quality imagery and try to integrate your brand name in unexpected places. Dunkin Donuts does this very well—all social profiles are named consistently with good logo usage, and they make clever use of the “DD” in their Pinterest boards with titles like “Happy HoliDDays” and “Words of WisDDom.”

Don’t forget to have fun with your brand personality! Grey Poupon, Oreos and Lay’s are great examples of brands who successfully engage their communities with their unique voices.
2. Take advantage of image-focused social channels
As we know, people love looking at tasty food. Use that to your advantage by leveraging channels like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. Not only can you easily showcase your products, but also share recipes, post inspirational pictures and even highlight other food products that pair well with your own.

Whole Foods does a fantastic job with this across their social channels, especially on Pinterest. They have boards featuring recipes, gardening tips, natural makeup hacks, kids’ lunchbox ideas and so much more. They offer a fantastic example of how to provide a variety of valuable and visually appealing content for your audience.
3. Be timely and relevant
Pay attention to trends and events, and get creative about joining the conversation. During March Madness season, M&Ms tweeted this fun image and caption featuring one of their most recognizable characters:

Now that Twitter allows for easy posting of gifs and videos, it’s a great medium for instantly sharing a variety of different content types in one place. Food products can easily be endowed with tons of personality, so think about how your brand would react to what’s going on in the world and take advantage of seasonality. Giving your customers those holiday recipes, food hacks, summer drink recipes and dinner party decor tips that they crave will help you connect with them.
4. A little investment goes a long way
You’ve probably noticed that social media has become increasingly pay-to-play, especially if Facebook is your primary social channel. You can always post on Facebook and other channels for free, but your posts are much more likely to be seen by plenty of customers if 1) they include an image or video and 2) they’re boosted by a small amount of ad spend. You probably don’t need to boost every single Facebook post, but keep in mind that you’ll get your message in front of far more customers if you’re willing to spend a couple of dollars on a post.

Social media advertising gives you the advantage of a huge amount of data to draw from. You can target your social media ads so that they’re only shown to an incredibly specific group of people, like women ages 35-45 who have children and are interested in gardening. If you invest even a small amount of your marketing budget into social media advertising, you’ll see much greater returns than with organic results alone.
VI. Email marketing for the food industry
Email marketing is about engaging and reconnecting with customers who have already expressed interest in your food. Provide your customers with captivating subject lines, eye-catching visuals and fun content, and you’re sure to have them drooling for more.

Here are some best practices for email marketing in the food industry:
1. Make a great first impression
Sending an immediate “Welcome!” email whenever a new user subscribes to your newsletter is a perfect way to introduce your email campaign’s tone and give your subscribers an idea of what to expect in the future. You might be sending recipes, discounts and deals or new products, and email also offers a chance to showcase some of your stellar food photography.
2. Retain and engage your readers
Your two primary goals with email marketing are to keep customers engaged and retain repeat business. And what’s great about email marketing in the food industry is that you can be so much more personal and involved in order to accomplish these goals. So don’t be afraid to include fun activities and ideas for customers to share with friends.
Here are a few ideas to kick-start engagement:

Polls: Include a link to a poll on your website. Customers can vote on different topics like recipes, favorite products, future newsletter articles and so on.
Recipes: Include a picture of a prepared meal, a tempting description and a link to your website. This will entice customers to try it for themselves and spend time on your website.
Party ideas: Keep them coming back for more by building a collection of inspirations, ideas and themes for parties focused around your product line.
3. Use promotions to boost conversion
You don’t have to offer promotions all day everyday, but the occasional promotion can help increase sales during competitive times. To do this effectively, start gathering information about your customers and segment them in order to better personalize their experiences. Specific segmentations include birth dates, anniversaries, genders, favorite foods and more. By capturing this information, you can send targeted emails to customers like: “Brian, your anniversary is coming up. Please enjoy 25% off all chocolates!”
VII. How to increase conversions in the food industry
Purchasing food without being able to taste the product is a new experience for many online shoppers. Ease this transition by exciting their other senses as much as possible. Emphasize the benefits and uses of food products to make users feel comfortable, while also making it easy for them to understand what they are purchasing.

Here are some best practices for increasing conversions:
1. Include detailed, relevant product information
Get to the meat of the product by describing ingredients (keep common food allergies in mind), nutritional facts (low fat, calories per serving), preparation details (frozen or refrigerated) and serving sizes. More data is better than not enough, so include all relevant information for every product you sell.

Product pages are also perfect for videos. Consider including recipe demonstrations, cooking how-tos, spotlights on how the products are crafted, serving ideas and more. Videos not only boost conversions; they’re a form of content that people love to share. Speaking of which, don’t forget to include social media sharing buttons on your product pages. These make it easy for your fans to share your products and your brand with their networks.
2. Clearly indicate packaging protocol as well as shipping, delivery and return policies
Potential customers may hesitate to purchase if they doubt the freshness of the food. This is especially important with perishable goods. To build customer trust, clearly communicate how products will remain fresh and intact without any spills or spoilage. Text such as “shipped with freezer packs,” “airtight” and “guaranteed fresh” are a great way to boost customer confidence.

It’s also critical to have clear instructions on return policies. Returning perishable products can be tricky, after all. Clearly communicate timelines and any qualifications for what can be returned.
3. Feature related products and pairing recommendations
How great is it when restaurants list what beverages go well with the entrees on their menus? You can offer your online shoppers that same experience by enabling Related Products and Product Accessories in your Volusion store.

Related Products are similar items, usually found in the same subcategory, like different flavors or varieties of olive oil. A Product Accessory is something that pairs with or can enhance the product. If you’re shopping for olive il, a specialty French bread or pesto sauce might be appropriate accessories. Adding this feature is also a great way to upsell additional products and bundle products together.
4. Have an easy-to-navigate website structure
A clear and intuitive website is important with any ecommerce site. Products should be logically categorized and easy to find. With edible products, you can also think outside the box and add resources such as “Where our ingredients come from” or “Health benefits of our products” to the site structure.
5. Clearly indicate that seasonal products are up-to-date
With edible products, you may see frequent changes in your supply and demand. So make sure to define seasonal products with specific titles, headings or categories. Depending on your products, it may be easier to change out or hide seasonal products when they’re not available. You’ll also want to let customers know which new seasonal items will be arriving soon.

This chart from a store selling oranges is a good example of how to communicate seasonal availability quickly and easily.

The food industry and ecommerce are a fantastic match. It’s all the things we love about food, plus the speed and convenience of the internet. With the right know-how, a targeted customer base and some thoughtful work, your online food store can take off in 2016!

Get the guide