ABCs of Ecommerce Success – Part 2

In part one of The ABCs of Ecommerce Success I outlined some important thinking which I consider makes up some very basic foundational elements of a successful ecommerce business. I talked about how many stores adopt a ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ (TPW) mentality and how falling into this trap can often end up hurting your business before it ever has a chance.

For those that may not have read that article, my ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ mentality proposes that stores believe all they need is traffic and if they drive enough traffic to their site, their product will sell itself. They believe the website is simply the channel by which that transaction can be made possible—nothing more.

I proposed this thinking wrong and said that presentation was far more important than any other factor—at least initially. Everyone has heard that ‘image is everything’, and that saying couldn’t hold more true than on the internet where the primary means a potential customers users to gather information in an effort to make a buying decision begins with their eyes.

Yes, with the advent of video we can stretch this. But the primary way people determine if they are interested or not in a product / company is with their eyes. Pictures, copy, layout, pricing, it all has to first pass by the eye before it ever reaches another part of the potential consumer.

So if the way to a consumer is through their eyes, then why do I find so many stores trying to sell their products with unusable, outdated, and often poorly designed sites? It makes no sense that these companies feel all they need is more traffic and their sales will increase—a false assumption that should now make perfect sense why.

My proposition is that the way to approach it if you want to find success should be thinking in terms of ‘website’, ‘product’, ‘traffic’ (WPT)—with traffic coming in last on the list. First you refine the look of the website, you refine the presentation of the product, and then you drive the traffic. With this approach, providing you let marketing and customers drive design, you should end up with a foundation that is built upon the proper principles and which is ready to convert the traffic you are driving to it.

This is all well and good, but many are going to ask, great, what happens once they get to your website? “I realize the thinking and it makes sense, but how do we apply that to the site itself? Where do we start with our efforts to get the biggest bang for out buck?”

This is a great question, and is the primary question I’ll answer using the same conceptual approach as the ‘WPT’ illustration.

When a user arrives at a website they follow what should be a pre-defined path based on their demographic profile. While traveling the path they go through a series of pages until they reach the end of their journey and either make a decision to buy, or leave. The path they travel should be well planted with information that enables them to complete what are called micro actions all leading up to the actual sale or macro action.

Understanding that a site is compromised of both micro and macro actions on multiple levels and at varying points, as well as understanding the role of each will help you identify the answer to your question “where do I start?”

In working with store owners / operators, I teach them to think in terms of each page on a website having one primary job (yet multiple sub jobs—these are the micro actions of the page itself.) Much like building a house in that each element has a job to perform which is often dependant on another for the completed project to work as it was intended (the macro action is completed.)

In other words, you don’t start building a house by working on the roof first. You need supporting structure to hold that roof if it is to perform its job as expected. Likewise you don’t begin building the walls without some type of support to put them on first (i.e. the cement foundation.) Each portion of the house has its individual role (job) and they all perform together to accomplish the primary objective. But without these items all performed in the proper order, the entire structure is in jeopardy of failing.

A site should be looked at no differently. When attempting to make incremental design changes in an effort to boost productivity of the site, you need to first determine and understand what areas of the supporting structure are weakest if you are to strengthen the complete package. There is really only one place you should get this data from, and that is within your analytics reporting. Objective data doesn’t tell lies, that is, assuming you have your analytics installed correctly of course.

Take this fairly typical path as one example. Mind you that the path could start at a product or category page if traffic enters there however, the path I presented here is a fairly common path that many visitors follow and thus we’ll use it for illustrative purposes.

The path we’ll examine for increasing productivity is that for the visitor(s) who enter at the home page, proceed to the category page, proceed to the product page, and then proceed to the checkout process. This is a very high level depiction and again, is for simple illustrative purposes in helping you understand where and why you should begin your efforts at one spot versus another.

Taking this path into account let’s apply some analytic figures to it. For this example let’s say that the overall website bounce rate is 85%, the exit rate at the category page is 30%, the exit rate at the product page is 25%, and the shopping cart abandonment during the checkout process is 50%.

Many stores I find would dive right into the shopping cart abandonment as the problem and thus focus efforts there first—not a bad idea for picking up quick sales, however; in our scenario this would not be a good starting point for increasing overall site productivity. In fact, more often than not, stores in this situation who I find focus their efforts on the shopping cart abandonment as the sole problem end up discouraged to find that although they have streamlined the checkout, the sales have not increased to the levels they expected.

The lack of increase makes sense if you consider ‘building the house the proper way.’

In other words, our problem of an 85% bounce rate is far more of an issue than the checkout abandonment at the moment. If visitors who arrive at our site leave at the same point they arrive without going any further (in our example the home page) then focusing efforts deeper in the process (i.e. the checkout) is not going to increase sales. Putting it bluntly, if the majority of visitors are not making it beyond the home page, then they aren’t even getting to the checkout process and thus focusing efforts there first isn’t going to strengthen the ultimate outcome.

Likewise, making alterations to the product level page without consideration given to the category page will do you no good. You must first concentrate your efforts to those areas of the funnel which are preventing your visitors from completing the micro actions required to ultimately achieve the macro action. Let your analytics be your guide in determining where to focus efforts at any given moment.

Success does not come from making random changes and taking estimated shots in the dark. Success comes from making incremental changes based on measurable and objective results then having the ability to weight the impact those changes have in reaching your goal.

ABCs of Ecommerce Success

October 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Conversion, E-Commerce Optimization

One of my primary jobs as an ecommerce consultant is helping businesses turn the corner—increasing conversion and website sales. In doing so, I find that many stores I work with have the same things in common. Many feel they are doing the right thing with their website, they believe in their product and customers, and they believe that all they need is more traffic to increase sales.

It goes without saying that none of them are satisfied with their current results and expect more. They want to do better, they know they can, but they can’t seem to uncover what barrier is really holding them back. The one thing they all understand is that they need to change if they are to reach their goals—but many don’t know where to start. Do they focus on driving more traffic or redesigning the website, should they spend more to market to current customers or actively seek new customers? Do they rework pricing, keep pricing as is, or develop more powerful sales?

These are just some of the issues facing each and every business owner who wants to be better.

Turning a business around often begins with first knowing where to focus your efforts—and quite often that is not where one might think. Knowing where to start can be the difference in experiencing frustration or a feeling of accomplishment in moving toward your goal.

In my experience, most stores focus so heavily on traffic generation as a whole that they overlook the fact that the traffic must not only be from a qualified channel (one interested in what they sell), but that the website must be setup to speak to that channel in a way in which it has the bests chance of getting them to act.

These types think in terms of what I call the ‘traffic’, ‘product’, ‘website’ mentality. Or in other words, they think so long as they attract enough traffic to their site, their product will sell itself, and the website is simply the channel by which that transaction can be made possible—and nothing more. This notion is a primary reason they often fail and feel frustrated by their efforts and is precisely what ends up resulting in higher than needed (wasted) expenses and lower sales—a recipe for disaster.

It’s great to feel so strongly about your product, but let me propose that the presentation of that is far more important than the product itself (assuming now that there is indeed a market demand for your product in the first place) and even so, it doesn’t matter how nice the appearance is, if I’m not interested in what you sell, you’re still not going to sell it to me.

Let’s take it from a different perspective to further illustrate. I’ll give you two more angles on it. You wouldn’t feel comfortable eating food from a diner—no matter how good the food was supposed to be—that had roaches actively and clearly crawling around on the floor would you? Furthermore, you likely wouldn’t be interested in entering a super clean diner that only served puréed baby food right?

Here is how I translate these to an online ecommerce store. Example one is the store owner who is so focused on traffic (getting people in the diner to eat) and so passionate about their product that they neglect the attention to detail needed (keeping the store clean) to sustain any quality of business.

Example two represents the store owner that keeps their store in shape yet markets their product(s) to anyone that is willing to click. This store owner may get a lot of traffic but it’s primarily consistent of window shoppers. The may take quick peak out of curiosity sake, but they never intended to buy from you because they weren’t qualified in the first place (many adults idea of a good meal isn’t feasting on puréed baby food.) And if running any PPC campaigns, every click you generate costs you more money.

Both businesses will fail because neither has approached it from the proper angle.

I propose the following general approach as a starting point to turn an ecommerce store around: ‘website’, ‘product’, ‘traffic’. Notice that in my approach I target traffic last. Here’s why.

The website is one of the main factors that will ultimately help the customer determine if they are going to buy your product or not, it’s not the product itself (this is especially true in competitive markets.) Without the needed elements that aid in usability and provide the customer with confidence, it doesn’t matter what you sell, you’re going to have a hard time selling it.

In the simplest terms (and this is very basic … there are far more factors involved to closing a sale), would you buy a product from a website that wasn’t secure? No matter how bad you needed it or wanted it I doubt you would—even if the product was a one of a kind.

So, the website acts as more than a ‘transaction processing center’. Its true role is to aid in supporting the entire customer experience which ultimately closes the sale and keeps them coming back for more.

After attention to the website is complete, the product focus comes next and this is because without a product you have nothing to market and no target to market to. You must understand how your customers use your product, how they interact with it, where they frequent, and what competitors also sell the same or similar product before you can accurately target them for marketing. A complete understanding of your product from all angles will help you speak to potential customers in your advertising, resulting in more qualified traffic, higher sales, and less expense.

Finally, in my approach I have the traffic. I never focus on traffic until all other elements are in place first—providing me the best opportunity at gaining the highest return on my advertising dollar (the investment needed to drive traffic to the site.)

At this point, with all other elements present, driving traffic makes sense. With the website in ‘conversion ready’ form, I now provide myself with the best opportunity at winning sales from my advertising efforts. Prior to this it wouldn’t have mattered if I drove ‘qualified’ traffic to the site, the likely hood of it resulting in a sale was slim (remember the diner with the roaches crawling on the ground?) You lose your appetite real quick in a place like that.

Yes, it takes more than just a few tweaks to really turn a business around, but starting with the right approach is often what is needed to jumpstart the process. Understanding change is needed is one thing, accepting that change is another.

In the next article I’ll address this same fundamental principle approach yet we’ll focus solely on the website itself and cover how you know where to focus your efforts to gain the biggest bang for your buck when engaging in a redesign.