how to advertise an online store for free

How to Drive High Quality Traffic to Your eCommerce Site without Spending a Dime


In this post I am going to give advice to e-commerce site owners on how to advertise your online store for free. Many sites have a large advertising budget but at the same time you have folks who are building their site from the ground up and don’t have that kind of cash, if that sounds just about right then this post is for you!

There are many tactics which people use to drive traffic to their site for free such as:

  • Offering valuable content on their website such as a professional blog
  • Sharing their website on social media or sending out an email to their contacts
  • Using the barter system otherwise known as ‘link sharing’ whereby you link to someone’s site and they do the same for you
  • Spending time on communities that are related to their business offering useful advice and insights

I am going to focus on the latter as I believe that though this can be a time consuming and tedious strategy, it is the best way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and drive free targeted traffic to your e-commerce business.

How to advertise your online store for free?

Let me start by using a shopping metaphor, if you are looking to buy food you would obviously go to a grocery and if you are looking to go clothing shopping you would go to Macy’s or some other department store. My point is that just as you shop in the type of store where you are most likely to find the product you are looking for, so too, you should get involved in online communities related to your field of expertise.

I am talking about:

  • Facebook communities
  • Online forums
  • Reddit
  • Chat rooms
  • Blogs

The category specific communities and forums you can take part in are endless and like I said you should ‘shop’ in a store most suited to you and what you are selling. Here are some examples:

  1. If you are selling clothing then you can get involved in fashion forums and offer styling tips. For example maybe there is a woman wondering which colors are in season now and if she can wear a vintage orange top with modern slacks. If you have the answer this makes you an important source of information in the fashion community.

Here is an example of a girl who is looking to become popular on Instagram and is looking for fashion tips in order to achieve her goal:

2. If you are selling computers and electronics and someone is asking for advice on what computer he should buy then by giving him good quality advice based on his needs will be good for your online reputation

Here is an example of a student who is looking for a desktop computer on a budget and a guy who bothered to give him a relatively lengthy and nice response:

promote online store via forum advice

3. If you are selling dog food and someone was wondering what food he can and cannot feed his dog and which is the healthiest dog food out there. You should definitely consider getting in on this conversation and giving your professional opinion on the matter.

Here is an example of a woman who has a very picky dog and another woman who identifies with her problem and tries to give her advice:

promote online store via advice

As I mentioned and will reiterate, these interactions when repeated often and assuming you are offering sound advice, have the potential to establish you as a sort of expert or guru in your field. This can cause people to be interested in who you are and what you do. And this could be good news for you since, continuing with my previous example, if you are on a dog owner’s forum and you sell dog food online and owners really appreciate your advice and expertise, they may very well start buying their dog food supply from you.

There are however some things I would recommend you avoid doing as this may hurt your possibilities, these include:

  • Spamming – many of the communities I am recommending you join, are just that, communities. And as such they appreciate dialogue as well as genuine useful information. Instead of constantly promoting your business become an active contributor – intrigue in your business will hopefully follow naturally. Moreover, the tolerance these days towards spamming is very low, if you are identified as one you will be blocked immediately.
  • Ethics – people appreciate an ethical and trustworthy person and in the long term this really makes for a worthy business strategy. Consider you are selling ‘x’ dog food brand which is more appropriate for larger dogs and someone asks for a dog food recommendation for a Shih Tzu which is a smaller dog. You are better off giving them a recommendation for ‘y’ dog food brand, even though you don’t carry that brand – your honesty will go a long way and this person will most likely cross reference what you recommend either way.
avoid promoting mistakes
  • Political correctness – Let’s revisit the fashion example. What if the woman asking for fashion tips is not a woman at all but transgender or maybe even a crossdresser. Now, you may or may not agree with his/her life choices but that is irrelevant – keep your personal opinions to yourself and avoid offending a whole community which may do more damage to your reputation than good. If you are simply too morally opposed to something you are better off refraining from engaging and if you can engage but keep your opinions to yourself and stay professional then that is fantastic.
political correctness promoting online store

Build one-on-one relationships

Another important aspect of how to advertise your online store for free is creating grassroots movements around your e-commerce business and products. This means you get a small number of people who become deeply involved and invested in your brand and they serve as the foundation for getting the word out.

So the most important thing in order for people to know your site is word of mouth and the best ways to spread the word are:

  1. Collaborations – When I talk about collaborations this may include working with an:
    • Artist
    • Poet
    • Musician

Your goal is to create a symbiotic relationship whereby you create a mutually beneficial agreement. Let’s say you are selling headphones so you would naturally want to collaborate with a musician. That musician might agree to create an album in cooperation with your business and to have that album exclusively associated with your company. The benefits here for both sides are exponential – on the one hand the musician gets exposure through your website and by association with your product and on the other hand your product gains creds and a potential new customer base by association with said musician.    

An extreme example would be ‘Beats by Dre’ even though in this case the musician Dre was one of the founding partners of the company but even if he had just been a collaborating artist, his name and music would have had a similar explosive effect on the brand.

99.9% of us aren’t Beats and we don’t have Dr. Dre on our side but this effort pays off at a smaller scale as well, I’m sure anyone will be happy with 1/100 of the revenue Beats generates.

dr dre promoting beats

2. Charity campaigns – Associating your company with a charitable initiative is also something that can lead people to share and talk about your brand ultimately driving up sales.   

One great example of a company who is leveraging charity in their favor is ‘Smile Squared’ – for every toothbrush you buy, they donate one to someone in the third world.

promote webstore with charity

This is a very powerful marketing technique which plays on people’s desire to live well but simultaneously help others. Many people will prefer to pay more or less the same price for a product knowing that they are helping someone else. Additionally, the types of pictures they produce of smiling children who have gotten toothbrushes from them have the potential of going viral on social media and that is the strength of this campaign from a business advertising perspective.

promote webstore give away

Key takeaways on how to market your online store for free

The three most important things that I mentioned in this post which can help you drive traffic to your e-commerce site without spending a dime are:

  1. Become involved in online forums and social media groups that are directly connected to your e-commerce business. Be a constructive part of the conversation and establish yourself as an expert in your field.
  2. Build collaborations with ‘icons’ related to your business from musicians to writers, the credibility and appeal they create for your product is priceless.
  3. Engage in corporate charity endeavors – these initiatives may payoff in free grassroots social media shares and posts when people get hyped about the programs you are running.

Please comment below and share your experiences using these e-commerce site promotion techniques or any other best practices you would like to share with the community.

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