The Most Important Pages on an Ecommerce Site

February 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Conversion, Design & Usability

To be successful in ecommerce you need to be proactive not passive. Continually analyzing to discover problem points and testing methods that better those points is essential. You must market, promote, adapt and be willing to go out on a limb in some cases — thinking outside the box. You must continually monitor the customer experience your site delivers to your visitors and ensure the layers of that are working together.

You cannot sit back and expect sales to come in simply because you have a website listing products which target a specific market — even if you are getting loads of traffic to that site. If you are not going to be proactive you are not going to see results.

During my coaching engagements with store owners I often see the same underlying mis-conception in where to focus improvement efforts, and what objective to target first for increasing sales conversion.

As the old saying goes, “you must crawl before you walk and walk before you run.” To expect conversion increases without first targeting the most important areas often ends up in frustration.

For example, to focus on the checkout process in an effort to increase sales when your website analytics shows that the majority of your visitors never even make it that far will yield nothing. Why? Because if your visitors are not even making it that deep into your site then they can’t checkout anyhow. It goes to say that if they don’t see the checkout process then making adjustments to it will not yield additional sales.

So where should you focus your improvement efforts?

To answer that question for every store is difficult. Each business is different and each situation needs to be analyzed in order to develop an action plan for improvement based on the unique circumstances and objective desired. You should let your website analytics dictate where to begin.

However, although the answer to that question is not clear cut, I can certainly give you a starting point for focusing improvement efforts. You see, although each ecommerce site is unique, the pages that visitors encounter — on any ecommerce site — which influence them to make a successful purchase remain fairly consistent.

If you are wondering where to focus your improvement efforts try adding these pages to the top of your list.

1. Home Page

Oftentimes (unless paid search or SEO efforts dictate otherwise) the home page of a website is where a bulk of your visitors will end up at some point — if not right from the beginning.

The home page needs to effectively speak to the visitor demographic(s) in such a way that they desire to continue deeper into the site. If they don’t move past your home page (often indicated by high website bounce rates) they aren’t getting to the product pages. If they aren’t getting to the product pages they likely can’t add an item to their cart. If they don’t add an item to their cart, they won’t checkout. Got that?

The home page should, at the very least, give visitors multiple options for accessing the products on your site and should have some room reserved for the latest promotion.

If your website has a high bounce rate from the home page, you need to first focus your efforts on that page with the single objective of getting deeper visitor penetration into the site (i.e. increased pageviews, longer time on site.) This is one example of what I meant when I referenced the “crawl before you walk …” statement above.

2. Product Pages

It is from this page that most product information is gathered and questions are answered which ultimately lead the buyer to adding an item to their cart. Take care in your presentation, placing wording, descriptions, photos, and customer assurances in the best location to persuade action.

The goal of a product page should be to get the user to add the item to their cart. You can’t make a sale if the item is not in the cart!

3. Checkout Pages

Once an item has been added to a visitors cart the only way they can get out of your store with that product is through the checkout. This is a critical part. Think of it … you have an interested visitor who has a product or products in their cart and that likely wants to become a customer. The only thing keeping from that now is your checkout.

The checkout process should definitely be monitored for abandonment rates using website analytics. In Google Analytics I recommend setting up a funnel and associated goal for this process alone to keep track of its effectiveness. You want to know where in this process people may leave so you can refine it to capture future opportunities.

The ultimate goal of the checkout process is to get the visitor out the door with a successful sale. Keep in mind though that for multiple step checkout processes you may likely need to develop smaller incremental goals throughout the process to get to that final objective. Your abandonment points reported by your tracking funnel will tell you where and what these smaller goals should be.

In Summary

There are an almost unlimited number of areas on a website which contribute to higher conversion. In reality, the entire customer experience must be considered if a sustainable and profitable ecommerce business is the goal. The list of pages I provided here are just a starting point for organizing your approach.

Although these pages are important (each serving its role in closing the sale) changing just one will not always guarantee increased sales. You will need to interpret what your analytics is telling you in order to determine which page(s) to devote attention to.

Pay particular attention to your visitor click paths and develop an action plan for improvement with realistic incremental goals as the objective. Think big but be willing to start small. Measuring and expecting incremental improvements over the “ultimate goal” will result in that final goal being reached more often.

Remember, identifying and addressing the actual problem is the first step toward increasing conversion. You wouldn’t put the cart before the donkey and the same applies when looking for improvement from your website.

Finally, take it in stride making alterations to the most “problematic” pages first as reported by your analytics program. In doing so, you’ll be gradually building what I call a “trail to the sale” which will lead the visitor down a specific and intended path toward the end goal.

4 Tips to Ensure Your Site is Customer Focused

February 11, 2009 by  
Filed under E-Commerce Optimization

Website conversion is increased using a variety of strategies all of which play an important role in the ultimate effectiveness.

I seem to constantly mention that one must make sure they pay careful attention to the customer experience their website offers. After hearing this so many times one might ask “Why do you keep saying this? Enough is enough already.”

The reason I continually bring it up is because it is one of the most important factors playing a role in your success, yet is most often overlooked by many store owners. This quite possibly could be because the customer experience is an all inclusive concept involving many systems working in unison.

The customer experience is not a single tangible element which can be held or altered but rather a series of elements which make up a system upon which the customer relies to get them to their end goal — making a purchase. For it to be effective each of the elements which makes up the system must each be in top shape.

A big part of that customer experience lies in the content (text) your site uses to describe everything from products to the way you use them to your business itself. This is your chance to shine — and many stores fall short.

“Words have the power to influence. Use them carefully but wisely.”

Take the following example from a dealer selling automobiles.

Company Focused: The auto dealer features a particular automobile in its inventory as offering “30 miles per gallon.” Although customers may find this promo informative, they may not see the benefit this statement offers them.

Consider this reworded description.

Customer Focused: The auto dealer lists the car and says “spend less on gas and save more money with this gas-efficient vehicle getting 30 miles to the gallon.” Now this phrase speaks to the customer. It provides them with a specific benefit that buying this car will give them. Everyone wants to “spend less and save more” right?

So after that introduction and example, here are 4 tips you can implement to ensure your site is focused more on your customers and not yourself.

  1. Examine your content “bulk.” Content is what encourages customers to continue through the conversion path toward a completed sale. From product page and shopping cart wording to customer assurance terminology which builds confidence, make sure your site includes plenty textual content aiding users at understand the purpose of each page, where to go next, and what to expect.
  2. Analyze and assess your content. Who does your content focus on (speak to)? Is it your customer or your company? While content should describe your offers, products, and company (to name a few), it should do so from a customer perspective. Turn any “we” / “our” statements into “you” statements.
  3. Describe product and shopping benefits. Let your customers know more than just about what you offer; tell them how your offers or how shopping with you (instead of competitors) will benefit them. For starters, try to include one benefit for each attribute. Customers who clearly understand the benefits are more likely to turn into sales.
  4. Start from the top and work your way down. Begin updating content on the high level pages of your site (home page, product pages, shopping cart, etc…) — pages that play the biggest role in moving customers toward conversion. Once the top level pages are out of the way you can focus on the lower level pages of the site. Another good option is to take a close look at your website analytics program to determine which pages have the highest bounce and exit rates. Examine these pages and use them as a starting point for your improvement with the goal of keeping customers from abandoning at those points.

To your success!

3 Important ECommerce Principles for Small Business

It’s no secret that the internet can enable small business to compete on an equal playing field with larger online competitors; however, due to budget differences between the two the approach might be a bit different.

The current economy has made some small business owners shy away from internet marketing thinking it “simply costs too much to operate online.” This misconception is one that has caused many ecommerce businesses to close their doors during the past year or so.

The fact is that operating an ecommerce business online can actually be more profitable than operating the same retail business offline — but you must make sure you adhere to a few fundamental principles to make it work.

  1. Create ICE (Investment, Credibility, Exposure): Invest in your website design ensuring it speaks to your customers in their language and with a professional image. Talk about the benefits your products have for them rather than about yourself. Site design and functionality is important as it helps build credibility. Gain exposure for your products using a combination of online marketing channels such as SEO, Paid Search (PPC), and Social Media (great viral effect). The combination of marketing channels ensures that if one channel’s effectiveness temporarily lags the rest can help pick up the slack.
  2. Don’t Quit: Whatever you do, don’t stop marketing or promotions — doing this is a sure way to lose market share and sales. It may be tempting especially during tough economic times such as these, but refrain from doing it. Some of the most successful companies online actually increase their marketing spend during economic downturns. A previous article I wrote titled Ecommerce Survival in a Tough Economy – 6 Tips goes into that a bit more. If you think you do not have the funds to invest in marketing you need to consider enlisting the help of an expert who can ensure your marketing dollars provide you a proper rate of return and/or look carefully at your business model and product you are offering. Marketing should be an asset to a company not a liability. Proper marketing almost always drives sales.
  3. Instill Trust: I’ve asked this question before; “What is the one word that makes people buy?” The answer is trust. If you want to compete with the big guys then you need to ensure your approach always builds customer trust. Things like site design, use and appearance of security seals, and customer points of assurance go a long way toward building trust. If you can’t build trust you won’t build sales. It doesn’t matter whether a product or service is priced lower than the competition, if potential customers are uncertain about the quality of their purchase — or the companies behind them — they simply won’t buy.

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