35 step plan to beat your e-commerce website into shape.

July 2, 20122 Comments
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Its been a while since I’ve done any e-commerce related posts so, thought I’d kickstart the imagination again with a bit of an overview of everything and anything I’d do to get an e-commerce site properly performing.

E-commerce sales online are fiercely competitive. There are however lots you can do to give yourself the edge, and a site should never sit stagnant waiting for magic to happen.  This collection of actionable on-site and offsite tips and tricks could help propel you forward.

ON-SITE – Actually on the website.

1) Simplify the Cart Process. 

Your basket is arguably the most important part of the e-commerce experience. Get it right, and you could triple your sales. Get it wrong, and you won’t get off the ground. Invest in making this part of your site as frictionless as possible. Consider implementing a 1-page checkout solution, and eradicate distractions from all parts of the checkout. In some cases, that means getting rid of banners, getting rid of footers and overall ensuring the user has no-where left to click but ‘PAY NOW’.

2) Increase your traffic with out of stock notifications.

Ordinarily, e-commerce sites simply remove stock from the site on a rolling basis. If its in stock it appears, if its out of stock, it disappears. Creating out of stock pages instead, which maintain the item on the web, but just doesn’t let people purchase is a much better option. Better again, if you can automatically record and collect customer details, and email them when it comes back into stock.

There are two reasons this is important. Firstly, it prevents broken links from all of your happy shoppers who have bookmarked or linked to you from around the web, which can go a long way to healthier SEO. It also provides a built in boost in sales for doing relatively little, and thirdly – it helps you pick up long tail traffic which may have not otherwise visited your site. The more pages you have indexed, the bigger your SEO surface area, and in turn – more sales.

3) Improved Tracking. Knowledge is Power.

Google analytics provides a range of tracking options which let you better understand what is working on your website. E-commerce tracking = essential. When implemented, this lets you see what product categories are generating the most sales, which items are converting with the highest rate, and which keywords (both organic and PPC) are generating the most sales.

By using the organic keywords report, coupled with knowledge of how and where you rank for that keyword or phrase, you can focus on improving your ranking for those terms, and experiment with using PPC campaigns to drive sales.

4) Implement a blogging / content strategy.

Understanding what content to write is ordinarily half the battle for retailers. You should be mixing both seasonal and opportunistic trends along with evergreen content which will attract links for the lifetime of your site. (See make it evergreen) and an old post on (seasonal content).

Smart brands are shaping their site and content around everyday events that are attracting search traffic. For sports retail – there are obviously massive opportunities with sporting events such as the Euro 2012, and now Wimbledon.

5) Get regular Health Checks. Setup tracking services

Get rid of broken links. Webmaster Tools provides a much needed view of ‘how Googlebot sees your site’. Get it setup, and setup your email for any alerts from within Webmaster Tools to find out if anything untoward is occurring. An online 404 checker such as Link Tiger  or Xenus Link Sleuth can give valuable insight into lost link equity and where you need to focus to clean up a broken site.

If you do have alot of legacy 404’s happening throughout your site, 301 redirect them for additional SEO benefits. It’s also worth keeping an eye on uptime, as unreliable sites typically underperform.

6) Introducing Brand names and keywords in URL’s

It’s a basic SEO tip, but your website URL shouldn’t be stuff to the gills with useless ID’s and numbers. Friendly URLs are human readable, human memorable, and appropriate to the product you are selling. If your selling purple Chinos, by Mark Jacobs for example.

http://www.myshop.com/chinos/purple-chinos-mark-jacobs – is much friendlier than

http://www.myshop.com/product.php?brand=11&product_id=1556

7) Focus on a maximum of 3-4 keywords per product page.

Don’t go overboard. Keyword research, decide on a number of good phrases and terms that fit your product, and integrate it naturally into your body content, page title, and product description headings. Keyword stuffing is an obvious no-no. Include product attributes such as sizes, colours and shipping information directly into your product description, and write with flair and passion for the product.

8) Don’t automate your Meta Descriptions. 

Meta Descriptions should be treated with as much care and attention as product descriptions, yet many retailers decide that its too much hard work to write them individually. Writing well formed meta descriptions improves your clickthrough rate, and provides yet another opportunity to sell your site, your product and its USPs and entice more traffic. They can also be used in Google Shopping feeds with the same benefits. Don’t forget your Facebook snippet. 

Don’t waste such an opportunity by relying on Google or some computer algorithm to return something appropriate to your customers.

9) Use NoIndex Tags where appropriate.

Fluff pages which provide little value to the user shouldn’t be indexed by Google, as they can often do more harm than good. That should include pages which are currently incomplete, or have little to no information on them. A simple meta tag with no-index on pages which are low value helps Google to identify your site as a valuable one for visitors.

10) Use Canonical Tag where appropriate.

The canonical tag when used appropriately can be useful in helping Google determine a master page for multiple different URLs. For example, consider that you can view different sizes for a product.

URL 1) http://www.shop.com/friendly-product-name

URL 2) http://www.shop.com/friendly-product-name/sizeXL

URL 3) http://www.shop.com/friendly-product-name/sizeXXL

If you have more sizes, you are going to have more and more URLs, however, when someone links to the XL size, or links to the XXL size, you are splitting your link equity between three potential landing pages. This is where the canonical tag comes in. Simple set URL 1) to be the canonical URL, and boost its signals and ranking in the search results. More technical information is available directly from Google.

11) Create Better 404 pages.  

Regular readers, you know the deal with 404 pages, and how they can be made infinitely more useful. For retailers, implementing a good onsite search, recording failed searches, iterating and learning from them is key to a healthy site, and healthier sales. #datarocks.

12) Create better search.

E-commerce sites rely on their search hugely. Forget natural navigation through your product categories; if your internal search engine isn’t pulling its weight, its time to look at tuning it up.

Introduce more search tools. Price filtering, results page size adjustment, Colour and other attribute refinement. People want to get to your product AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. If your search lets them down, wave bye-bye.

13) Create Richer sales reporting.

What is important to know about e-commerce sales? Well, time of day when they occur is pretty important, as it may influence CPC spend. If your peak is the evening when people come home from work, making sure your email campaign, or text message hits them at the same time is common sense.

Accurate reports help you understand where your visitors are coming from, and which referrers are sending, not just the most, but also the highest converting traffic. The same goes for affiliate partnerships.

14) Get faster 

Optimize the shit out of your site. Reduce MySQL queries, and HTTP requests. Crunch your images until they are barely a blip on the radar. Use both Yahoo and Google testing tools for speed. Use GZip compression. Benchmark your progress.

15) Get simpler. Low-fi or bust. 

Streamlining the entire sales process right from Search > Product > Checkout, removing superfluous information along the way will stand you in good stead with visitors. Let them get on with the task at hand, move out of the way and let them perform their task. Buying.

16) Add Keywords to your image titles

Google Image search, (and Bing for that matter) are great sources of traffic, albeit with a lower conversion rate. However, it makes sense to your SEO strategy overall to have love for the images on your site and optimise the tags which are available to you. You will pick up sales as a result.

17) Use Microformats

Microformats provide a number of benefits. If you are providing reviews on your site, they improve click throughs, and offer visitors a much more attractive SERP. You can also tell Google whether a product is in stock, whether it has dropped in price, and a host of other properties. More information here. 

OFF-SITE

There’s also a ton of stuff you can do offsite:

18). Automate a Google Site Map

Creation of a sitemap fills any gaps in site indexing that might existing through poor architecture, and provides Google with a useful way to easily crawl for new content. Consider splitting this up into a selection of sitemaps that changing at different paces to give Google the clue that your (products) sitemap is the most important, and most frequently changing element on your site.

Matt says ‘start with an HTML sitemap‘ as its good for both visitors and search engines, but if you can – do both. Submit to Webmaster tools, and monitor the results. Sitemaps should also be linked to from your robots.txt file in the following format:

19). Automate an XML Google Product Feed

Get listed in Google shopping results by providing a feed to Google. The higher the quality of these feed, the more likely you are to show up in searches, so you should take care to study whether Google shopping could benefit from additional attributes your database doesn’t already have, or indeed format your information better when delivering to Google to gain a ranking benefit. Great article over on Hubspot on optimising for Google Shopping, which mentions consumer reviews, and RDFa data.

20). Domain Marketing

Are there domains in your sector which have established traffic that you could use or leverage? Scan domain market places and third party websites for sale on sites such as Flippa. You might be surprised at what gems you can find there. If nothing else, I frequently look at verified Google Analytics reports on Flippa for keyword ideas, competitive insight and where a site may be getting decent traffic from. Google is also your chum. There’s gold in them there hills folks :)

21). Grab a Pinterest Account

Simply put, if you are a retailer, you need to be on Pinterest. Not convinced? See this list of major retailers and their follower counts on that particular network. Adding pin friendly bookmarklets to your site will go some way towards helping drive social traffic, but being a part of that community and pinning things you like will boost it further. Pinterest is a visual site, and visual imagery works best.

22). Facebook / Twitter  / Social

Wake up and smell the social coffee. It’s important that you not only set these up, and market them, but also decide on a social media strategy and add valuable content to your social presence,  including social bait to drive brand awareness and engagement. Consider implementing social as part of your entire sales process. Automate  new products feed directly through your social media outposts.

This is the one time it makes sense to automate your marketing. It will save time, and is useful enough to your audience not to be annoying.

23). Use eBay / Amazon / Third Party Marketplaces.

Consider using third party marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon – its not just small retailers who are doing it, larger high street names such as Argos, Next and others have all found value from being visible in these marketplaces. Fish where the fish are.  Details on how to provide your inventory to Amazon here.

There are also a number of other niche marketplaces worth considering to maximise your profits. Etsy,  ShopHandmade.com and Ruby Lane, all of which focus on independently made art, antiques, jewelry and craft items. There’s also Tias.com, an antique and fine art marketplace, ArtFire and MySoti, where art, artistic furniture and accessories can be sold.

24).  Provide a product digest email

Your email campaigns need to be smart. Sending at the right time, delivering tailored campaigns which are driven by the products users have previously been looking at when signed it, being more opportunistic (sending emails on payday) and tapping into global and local trends are just some of the ways you make your email campaigns work harder.

Be data driven. You are going to want to track exactly which email campaigns delivered results inside your e-commerce tracking. Using the Google Analytics URL builder to properly tag your clickthroughs is a great way to tie together the data you need to make better decisions.

25) Use Adwords – Text ads

Goes without saying really. Google Adwords work. However, getting a campaign off the ground properly is an artform. If you aren’t sure where to start, hire a professional so you don’t end up pissing money up the wall, and make sure you have the tracking you need in place FIRST before spending. If you can work out costs and margins properly, and granularly Adsense will pay for itself if properly setup.

26) Use Adwords – Banner Ads

Adwords banners should evolve throughout the year, with seasonal trends being targeted with hot products from your inventory advertised on an individual basis, as well as doing brand campaigns. Keeping these fresh, and interesting increases your CTR, and helps to drive traffic not just to your homepage, but to product landing pages from around the web.

27) Use Adwords Remarketing Snippets

Remarketing snippets are an incredibly powerful part of the Adwords product. Want to only display adverts to visitors who have converted? You can do that. Want to only display adverts to visitors who haven’t converted? You can do that.  Want to only display ads to people who have visited your homepage? You can do that to.

The possibilities for how you use this are only limited to your imagination. You may, for example want to tag people who open HTML emails or HTML emails within a certain category. Well worth investigation.

28) Manage Google Site Links

Google Webmaster Tools (see earlier point 5 -Health Checks) allow you to control site links, including removing less appropriate pages that Google finds as part of its crawl. Consider reordering these to push areas of your site which are relevant in different seasons throughout the year.

29) Purchasing ad-space on popular sector-related blogs

Blogs often provide cost effective advertising that can drive traffic and sales. Use Ad marketplaces such as BuySellAds to find relevant blogs within your niche that you can easily purchase low risk advertising on.

Tagging with appropriate tracking code lets you monitor their effectiveness individually, and if they are working – consider contacting the blog owner directly and negotiating a longer term deal or better placement. Similarly, you may want to place Advertorial content on the same, and monitor the results.

 30) Directory listings

Relevant, High PR, high traffic directory listings can still drive traffic and sales to an e-commerce shop, and shouldn’t all be tarred with the spam brush. Yahoo, BOTW, and DMoz are all still worth getting listed on IMO, particularly as they are heavily syndicated elsewhere on the web. Good discussion on the merit of Directories over on WebmasterWorld.

 31) Optimise Google Places for local search

There’s traffic to be gained from Google’s places product, and making your website location aware is a good place to start. Flesh out your Google places profile, facilitate reviews and monitor the results.

 32) Linking out to relevant sector authorities

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Link out. It will not only bring influencers to your site, but also provides your visitors and Google with a good indicator of site quality.

33) Aim to generate 10-20 new organic in-bound’s a month

Linkbuilding is hard work, but to get a site off the ground, its an essential part of the marketing process. Think outside the box, and if you are stuck for ideas, have a look at this.

34) Setup Affiliate programs

There’s every chance that someone out there has a much better idea on how to market your products on the web than you do. Give the the data, (and an obvious percentage cut of sales) and you are well on your way to growing an invisible sales team that generate you business – without the overhead! Affiliate programs make obvious business sense.  Good information on how to get started (and some of the third party providers) over on Marketing Professor.

35)  Analyse, Rinse and Repeat

Consult your Google Analytics account, and consider setting aside half a day a fortnight to mull over the results of your efforts. Examine emerging trends from the content you are creating, and the sales that it is driving. Only by getting a handle on the figures, and arming yourself with the data which is crucial to compete in a crowded online market – will you truly dominate your chosen niche.

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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

Comments (2)

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  1. Great post Paul, some great tips there. The other thing I’d suggest is look at alternative pay per click avenues, especially price comparison and shopping sites. There’s nextag.co.uk, become.eu (used by sites like moneysupermarket.com), and price runner to name but a few. Some require minimum monthly spend, but they can generate masses of additional traffic and often have set PPC fees unlike the typical ‘auction’ approach used by google plc, bing etc.

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