Selling products online is probably one of the greatest opportunities right now, but there are some large pitfalls and it is not as easy as it may seem. There are many reasons for not letting this opportunity slip through your fingers and chances of success are good if you prepare well and accept that you need to master some new skills to succeed. The number of people with access to the Internet explode and the mobile avalanche we are experiencing is likely to be a game changer. The fact that literally hundreds of millions of potential buyers will have access to you shop 24/7 from everywhere, a bus, the beach, a restaurant, etc. is nearly unbelievable. Latest U.S. E-commerce sales figures also show that the online market is strong even in recession periods. Spending went up 9.3% in the first half of 2010 compared to same period last year (comScore) and still as an example the online retail market in the U.S. is only about 4% of the total market (census.gov). So if you decide that you want to do business online – how do you become successful and avoid the typical mistakes and pit falls?
Lets investigate what the common mistakes of E-Commerce Design and Strategy is. Please note that this is the first of a series of articles and that you can sign up to our new E-Commerce list at the bottom of the page if this is a topic you want to be kept up to date on. In future articles we will focus on topics like Mindset and personal drive, Customer Service Options, Site and product Search Engine, Shopping Cart Design, Checkout Process, Including Shipping Rates, Payment Options, Related Products and up sale and more. Drop a comment if there’s a topic you would like to have covered.
- Low or Wrong Marketing Investment
- No continued focus on improving conversion rates
- Bad Quality and too few or small Product Images
- A lack of detailed product information
- Hiding Contact Information and support
- Paying Too Little Attention to the Product Catalog
- No Mobile Device support
If you are planning to create your own online business you should consider some of the popular open source platforms. I recomment you check out WordPress as it is great for getting started and supports simple shops really well. You may also consider using dedicated platforms like OpenCart.
The competition on the Internet is pretty tough. What is an opportunity for you is also an opportunity for others. The Internet is still young and far from established compared to may other markets, and the possibility to start a business with little or no capital investment draws many hopeful, creative and hard working individuals to the battlefield. This effectively means that with no or little marketing you will be completely invisible! Internet Marketing techniques applied right however can easily lift you up above the masses and into the spotlight. Of course it is not simple to give generic advice on marketing as each niche may have certain specific strategies that work best, however some elements should be implemented by most internet business owners.
One of the most important things to prioritize for any online business is email list building. Now even though email is one of the oldest internet techniques it is still one of the most powerful. Reason is that if you have a list with thousands of targeted subscribers you are less dependant on other traffic sources (like for example google that will change their rules for ranking now and then…). And lets face it traffic matters and is the single most important thing for any online business. Even if you have the best products, the lowest prices and the most friendly and competent customer service it does not matter at all if you have no customers. List building is a slow building but long term investment in traffic generation. However you need to understand that there is more to it than just asking visitors and customers to sign up. If you only send tons of “sale letter” style emails people will not open the email and unsubscribe faster than you can imagine. Generally speaking you need to build an relationship with your list and give them incentive to open your emails. Give them something valuable making them trust you and curious about what’s coming next. Then one of every 5-7 emails can contain offers that you believe is really targeted to the list and your conversation will be going in the right direction. Consider using a professional tool for your list building. Your list will soon turn into your best friend but you need to make the right choises from the beginning. Changing your provider later can be problematic and require subscribers to opt in again. We covered tools for email marketing in an earlier article – check it out and pick wisely!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Traffic from search engines – primarily Google these days – is an essential and completely free source. SEO is considered a topic and an industry of it own and I only cover basics here. Business owners that have seen the effect of well implemented and targeted SEO efforts have learned how important it is for their business growth and are willing to pay experts to do better than the competition. In fact it is a battle and you need to be ready to go in with a winner attitude and fight for a good spot or loose. There are 10 spots for a given set of keywords and statistically top 3 get 50% or more of the clicks. This means that if you fx. sell dog food online you need to rank in top 10 and if possible in top 3 on Google for keywords that your potential customers would use when searching. Consider “Pet Food” – it is as generic as it can be. Competition may be hard on keywords like this and clicks will not be very targeted. After all some may be looking for cat food. The rule of thumb is that if you use more keywords or more specific keywords the competition will go down and the conversion will go up. Consider this keyword and consider the synonym variations available “healthy food for senior dogs”. Could be “premium dry food for old dogs”. The likelihood that you can rank on long tail keywords like these are much higher and relevance of the traffic will be better. Compare the number of results below and you will understand 120.000.000 vs. 308.000.
Keyword research, finding the free traffic
There are many other important factors and the technique for finding the best keywords for your business is called keyword research. It is basically about finding low competition keywords with a high number of searches as this is the ticket to receiving loads of free traffic. There are tons of free and premium tools available to assist you in doing this research. I have tried many of them and I have found that Market Samurai is pretty smart and fast to work with. It helps you build a keyword baseline from even just a few keywords fx. “pet food” and generates hundreds you can analyze on. I also think the tutorials they have on their site has helped me get started and learn what is important really fast. It is not free but you can try it out for free and see if it works well for you too. Many of the good tools in this category are subscription based and very expensive, but Market Samurai is $97 once which is important I think.
On page SEO factors
SEO techniques are overall divided into two main areas “on page” and “off page” SEO. In both areas keywords play a role, but you can really only control the on page SEO factors yourself while off page factors requires “help” from others in most cases. As search engine main goal is to provide relevant content to its users it is nearly impossible to rank well for keywords that are not present on the web page. This is why on page SEO is important as it is optimizing the individual page for relevancy towards specific keywords. Without going into too many details here I can say that these rules are important.
- Have keywords in the page title (html title tag) and as early as possible in the title
- Have keywords in H1 and H2 tagged text. Headings count more than regular text.
- Add alt text to images with keywords
- Make sure keywords are part of the url and if possible the domain
- Add a meta description and keywords (Google say they don’t use meta keyword…but add it anyway). Meta description is important as it is the text Google shows in the search result page. If it is not there Google will pick text from the page and it may not convert as well as a text you have written with the purpose of making people click on your link! NB! Only have this text 160 characters long.
- Don’t fill in too many keywords and over do it. Google will know you stuffed them in and consider the page spam and less relevant for its users.
Look at this example from Amazon. It is the sales page of their new wireless Kindle. There is not doubt that the keywords they optimize for is “kindle wireless reading device, Wi-Fi”. It is in the title and all meta tags.
Off page SEO factors
One of the most important aspects of good ranking in Google is page authority. Simply this means that if many other pages link to a page it is ranked better. Google give all pages something called Page Rank, PA and the better a PA is for a page the better it is to have a backlink from it. This is why there is a industry for link building…however sales pages and squeeze page are hard to get a good ranking on and may not be worth the effort. Question is how can you use this knowledge to sell more? Ask yourself why so many companies have blogs and product sites, and why they write articles for free and get them published in online magazines like fx. tripwire magazine. Writing about products or about related stuff (side door technique) is called article or content marketing and it is a very effective way to get search engine traffic. Good articles that many people find interesting get links themselves and start raking well in Google over time – especially if you solve a problem that many people have and seek relief for. Let’s use the dog example again. Let’s say you have an old dog, you love it and you have been together for a nearly a decade. You know that it is aging and start to see health problems. You probably start looking for information on how to make it more comfortable for the dog and you may consider if you can spoil it with special food and so on. Professional and fact based articles that help and solve a problem is likely to invite people to take action and it could be following a link to a dog food sales page. If you invest in writing high quality content (typically outsourced) and work with both on- and off page SEO you are going to get free traffic for sure! It takes time to do and also to take effect in Google, but the effect is long term and typically gets better over time.
Another cool feature of Market Samurai is the ability to spy on the competition for specific keywords. Lets go back to Amazon and check the keyword “kindle wireless reading device”. You will be able to see many of the top ranking factors for the keyword in one place. Let me explain a few: DA = Domain Age, PR = Page Rank, IC = Index Count (number of indexed pages for domain), BLP = Page Backlinks, BLD = Backlinks for domain, Title/URL/Desc = is keyword in title/URL/Meta Description?, CA = Google cache age (days since last visit).
Further you can do PR and Text link analysis and get a report showing page rank for link pointing to a page or links used on pages that are linking. All this is very useful if you want to know what competitors are doing and if you want to take their spot in Google by getting the same links as they have. While going for the PR 0 links may be waste of time all PA 3-10 will be pushing your ranking dramatically in the right direction.
Again there are many other tools available and you just need to find one or some that you find useful. I recommend though that you give Market Samurai a test drive.
In a perfect world retailers would experience dropout rates of zero, customers would always complete their orders and there would be a simple plan to ensure customer satisfaction.In reality dropout rates up to 99% is a painful fact that a lot of webshops has to face. It’s impossible to be very precise due to the fact that different ecommerce sites measure different KPIs, such as times of basket conversion, first time buyers and repeat buyers and shopping list makers. But if you do only little to improve your conversion you are probably seeing really bad dropout rates and maybe you can’t even measure it. It is a waste of opportunity if you have tons of potential buyers running through your website without taking action. Of course if you are talented at building traffic and spend all you time there your customer experience may suffer. Make sure you have focus on improving the experience of the visitor and increase the probability that they turn in to customers.
What can you do
First of all you need to tell you potential customers what you want them to do. Simply speaking “Call to action” is about asking the visitors on a webpage to do something. It can be signing up for a newsletter, making a purchase etc. Experienced internet marketers knows that call to action matters and that asking and making it easy to take action by placing a big green button is critical for conversion. Don’t be afraid to ask for the order. Remember, when a customer enters your store, it’s not for fun. In most cases he has already decided to buy something and you just have to make sure that he buy it from your shop. Here are some examples of call to action.
One way of knowing what is going on when your users click around on the site is using heat maps – it is as simple as adding web site statistics like Google Analytics. Let’s say an important button or sign is difficult to see for some reason or that people seem to click on a wrong link etc. You need to know this and improve it if it is preventing visitors from making an easy buy. There are many service providers in the heat map / web site analytics area to choose from, but how is it used. below is an example of a web site that have been redesigned based on input from heat maps – taken from this article.
Another approach is user testing. By watching people go through the process, you can get a better insight into the customer journey. This is much more expensive than using heat maps and have pros and cons. The good thing is that you can have a conversation and get real human feedback. On the other hand it is not real busy customers making decisions… Finally do it yourself, try being a customer! Does it feel right, is it easy and fast? Redesign and retest if something is not working efficiently. To maximize profit make sure the pages flow and it is easy for users to get to the checkout.
Buying a product online is very different from walking onto a store and being able to hold it, try it on, taste it, smell etc. We rely solely on the impression we get from the eyes and possible memories if we know the type of product. If we as shop owners does not do our best to feed the customer eyes with “candy” to convince them that the product is just what they are looking for we may ourselves introduce doubt and uncertainty. To compensate for the lack of physical contact with the product high quality images are essential and the more the better, from different angles, in different colors etc. It is important how the images look, but also how the overall website is designed. It needs to match the target audience and the mindset of the customers you want to attract. One way to get started fast and without spending too much on a custom designed solution is to use ecommerce website templates. I previously created a roundup of themes for WordPress and you may also like this collection at ahrefmagazine.com.
Inspirational examples and what to do
There are many ways to give the customer a great visual impression of the product. First of all you need to invest in having professional photos created if the company manufacturing the product does not provide it. Light, exposure, angle, distance etc. all add up and should as much as possible be the same throughout the shop. Generally I believe having too large images can be a problem to as it is bad for getting an overview, usability and navigation. It is much better to have image sizes that fit well into the site and allow customers to click on them to get a much larger version.
Apple Store is one of the places you can seek inspiration and get ideas on best practice for creating convincing a visual impression. Notice how images of different colors are otherwise identical, how the product is presented from different angles and with different options activated.
There is also a product site with a lot more details and photos that leaves nothing for the imagination. You know what you get, how it is to hold it in your hand, how to use it etc.
Another company that really knows how to make online shopping attractive is H&M. It is easy to browse through the available designs and models and the photos is in the highest quality.
Once something looks interesting you are able to take a closer look at the specific product and change colors. The technique of photographing the cloth with form as if someone had it on is great.
Uncertainty = “no sale” in most cases. This is why I put so much focus on building the right visual impressions with high quality photos. This however cannot stand alone. A photo, even a really good one will not do it. If you’re happy with what you see you are OK with spending a bit of time reading right? In fact online buyers are hungering for information and capable of scanning large amounts for finding just what they are looking for and verifying it is REALLY the product they are about to purchase.
What to do
There must be a detailed description written using best practice copy writing, easy to read tables of features etc. Product copy must be clear, with no spelling mistakes, and be unambiguous. Generally you should add as much as you know about the product fx. size, weight, materials, dimensions, colors etc. A good example of an industry where many details are typically provided is computer hardware retail. In some cases it is extreme, but since there are often many models that are almost identical it is required to give certainty of the choice. Who would buy a $200 graphics card without knowing if it has all the right ports, enough RAM and so on and risk getting a smaller model when paying what the best model should cost. Since there is no one to ask for details they need to be on the page or available through a link.
Consumers want to know that they’re dealing with a real company when they hand over their credit card information. Trust is critical for making a sale online. People want to know that if they have a problem they’ll be able to talk to a real person and get the help they need or if there is a place they can return the product to if it is not working. If your site doesn’t provide any contact information, or hides it so the consumer can’t find it easily, they’re less likely to trust your site, and therefore less likely to do business with you.
What you need to do and examples
Make it easy to find phone numbers and addresses. Phone numbers placed at the top on the front pages is often seen. A contact page available from main navigation is not a bad choice either.
FAQ or support / help desk pages are also a good way to make customers feel safe. After all they need to know that if something goes wrong they are not left alone with no options and less money in the pocket.
It’s easy to think of your product catalog as your database of information about products, stock, prices, discounts, size, weight etc. In fact is that is exactly what it is… to you. However from a customers point of view it’s something completely different. First of all customers use the catalog to find products and sometimes they do it without knowing exactly what it is they need. So it needs to be easy to browse and do targeted search in at the same time. Also it needs to give ideas for up-sale, related products and as we covered earlier contain as much details as possible for the sales details pages.
The Nike shop is a great example of how a product catalog can be interactive and have many search and filter options to make it simple and fast to find what you are looking for.
Another example of an interesting product catalog is gap.com where new tabs are created with filtered items.
Consumer behavior….is changing rapidly. Mobile devices have evolved into fully featured computers with internet access and guess what – people will start buying stuff when they are waiting for the bus, laying on the beach and so on. In other words Mobile commerce is here and getting stronger! This may very well be a game changer and it is just starting. If you don’t have mobile support in your shop now it is time to start the planning.
What to do
I believe that all serious E-commerce platforms will support mobile devices at some point or disappear. Question is when and if you are able to wait for it. One of the major open source players Magento recently announced a mobile solution and it is worth investigating.
Magento Mobile enables companies to take customer relationships to an entirely new level with a native mobile iPhone application that incorporates branded design, navigation and search capability, user account features, merchandising tools and best-of-breed payment applications.
A good resource to convert your current site into a mobile device friendly format is Skweezer.com. Simply enter your website’s URL, and it will display your website in a mobile-friendly version by removing large images, CSS styles and page elements that will not display properly. This is not by itself a mobile e-commerce solution – far from, but useful as a starting point for learning how mobile pages are formatted. There are more similar solutions here.
Need more information like this?
E-commerce is a hot and interesting topic. Here at tripwire magazine we have decided to dedicate some of our time on covering trends, best practice etc. related to all aspects of doing business and selling products online. If you find this article useful and would like get more I highly recommend that you sign op for our new Next Generation E-commerce List. We are planning on providing valuable content to the list directly and exclusively so make sure you fill in your name and email below before browsing on.
Also consider taking a look at these articles.
- 15 Open Source eCommerce Platforms – We take a look at the 15 most popular eCommerce platforms, breaking each one down into its respective pros and cons. There is a wide choice available, so it’s vital that you do your research before choosing which one is right for you. Most share a basic set of functions, but offer a couple of unique features on top.
- 14 Plugins to Extend WordPress for Making Money – Anyone trying to sell stuff online need to consider WordPress – unless of cause you’re planning to build a huge webshop with thousands of products. In that case pure play e-commerce suites may be a better choice. Let take look at how you can turn WordPress into a shop, auction or membersite.
- Showcase and Tips: How to Create Effective Landing Page Designs – Customers today can pick and choose, compare, analyze etc. your products and services against others making it essential to know your competitors well and more important to get a sale whenever you have the opportunity! This is where Landing Page Design becomes important and rally can make a great difference.
- 20 Excellent Web Site Front Pages Designed for High Conversion! – If your web site front page or landing pages does not convert (visitors take action before leaving the page) you may have lost the money you spent on advertising and the opportunity to get a new customer on board.