With your rival no more than a click away, ecommerce is extremely competitive. Therefore, it is critical that everything from your website, to customer service, and even SEO, is completely optimized. After years of working with ecommerce websites, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most important and foundational things you should consider to get your ecommerce business off the ground.
Jump to tips related to the following topics, by clicking the links below:
1. Detailed Product Descriptions
Customers in a brick-and-mortar store have the advantage of being able to see, feel, read the package, and try a product before buying it. Online shopping eliminates this ability, and therefore, ecommerce websites need to provide as much detailed product information as possible. How many times have you been buying something online and had questions about a product? What is the length? What are the materials? Ecommerce websites often make the mistake of leaving customers with questions about a product, causing them to seek information, and even purchase, elsewhere! Provide as much information as possible about the product including: weight, sizes, materials, dimensions, instructions, fabric type, care instructions, and reviews. Product descriptions also have SEO implications (check out #40) for more information.
2. Use High Quality Photographs
Product images are critical for online businesses, where the photo is the only opportunity for your customer to see the product! The more, the better. First, make sure that the images are high quality. Then, make sure to include all alternate views and variations (ex: color) so the customer has no questions. Finally, allow a zoom feature (high-quality photos will help for this!), especially for very detailed or intricate products.
3. Have a FAQ Page
Make it easy for customers to find the important information on your website. Customers are often looking for a lot of the same information such as: shipping, return policy, etc. and having a FAQ page can help decrease customer confusion and customer service requests. Benchmark against other websites in your industry to see what they are including on their FAQ page. Make your FAQ page easily accessible – header or footer of your website – and include a contact link just in case the customer doesn’t find what they are looking for!
4. Make Contact Information Easy to Find
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often this tip can be neglected. Have a dedicated contact page, but also small bits of contact information in the header of your website. A website without contact information is not trustworthy, a major factor in your customer’s mind is who they are about to give their credit card information to. And if customer’s have a question they can not get answered, they can just shop elsewhere.
5. Have Search Functionality
These days, your customers have short attention spans and may not have the patience to browse page after page of your website. Consider that shoppers who use site search on ecommerce sites convert at two to three times the rate of those who don’t use it (Marketing Sherpa). Not only is search a great tool for your customers, it provides incredible insights for you! You can see what people are actually searching for, how often, and more, allowing you to adjust keyword strategies or even product offerings. Make the search bar stand out on your website by including it at the top in your header!
6. Have a Mobile/Responsive Website
Ready or not, mobile is here to stay and it is growing! Mobile purchases account for more than one in ten ecommerce dollars. And by 2017, it has been projected that mobile commerce will make up 25% of all ecommerce transactions – that’s $87 billion in sales! (Smartbear) Your website needs to be able to be viewed on a mobile phone or tablet without losing user experience.
7. Make Navigation Easy to Use
Your website’s navigation has a significant impact on overall user experience. Your primary navigation should feature the most important product categories or pages on your ecommerce website. Remember, this is typically on every single page! In the end, the goal is to make it is easy as possible for your customers to find exactly what they are looking for while minimizing the number of clicks it takes to get there.
8. Boost Sales With Cross and Up-Sells
Product recommendations are responsible for an average of 10-30% of ecommerce site revenues (Forrester research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru). Have you ever been shopping and seen ‘You May Also Like…’? These are cross-sells or up-sells and they should be on every product page on your website! A cross-sell is when you try to get a customer to purchase more products by recommending more products. For example, if someone is buying a t-shirt on your website, recommend a similar shirt, pants, or an accessory they may be interested in! An up-sell is when you try to get a customer to purchase a more expensive model/product than the one they are looking at. For example, recommending a 16GB phone to a customer who is viewing an 8GB phone. Common titles for these areas on a product page include: you may also like, recommended products, customers who bought x also bought, frequently bought together, etc.
9. Use Product Filters
Filters allow customers who may not know exactly what they want to easily browse your website. Ensure your customer can find exactly what they are looking for by using filters such as brand, size, color, or price. What are some filter best practices? First, make sure it is very easy to add filters or remove filters that have already been added. Then, consider showing selections in a breadcrumb trail so customers know exactly what they have selected. To avoid duplicate content, don’t index filters.
10. Use Product Videos
High quality images are just the start. More than half of online shoppers watch product videos before making a purchase. And almost half of customers say they purchase more from websites with product videos (Invodo). Videos are increasingly effective for complex items that may require further explanation. Beyond increasing conversions, product videos have even more benefits. First, visitors spend more time on websites with video. Second, they can decrease the number of support queries and product returns you receive by providing a more in-depth description of a product.
11. Ensure Payment Security
If you have an ecommerce website, you should be using a SSL certificate and ensuring PCI compliance. Address your customers security concerns by displaying security seals across your website to reassure your customers you are keeping them safe (ex: in your footer). At minimum, display security seals at the time of payment processing. In recent news, you should update from a SHA-1 to SHA-2 SSL certificate as soon as possible.
12. Don’t Force Customers to Register
Don’t annoy your customer before you’ve made the sale. Customers may feel inconvenienced if you require them to create an account, forcing them to abandon their cart without purchasing! Are you worried about tracking customer activity? Consider offering options like in the example below. Customers can login to their existing account, continue as a guest, or create an account.
13. Have a Quick and Easy Purchase Process
The fewer steps in the checkout process, the better. With cart abandonment rates so high, minimizing this process is crucial. How can you keep customers from leaving or becoming frustrated? First, provide a progress bar. Number the steps and label each task clearly. Again, as mentioned in #12, don’t force customers to register. And be sure to use a logical checkout flow. Most customers are accustomed to filling out their contact information first, shipping, and then billing information. Remember: the fewer the fields, the better. Don’t ask for extra, unnecessary information.
14. Conduct A/B Testing
A/B testing, often referred to as split testing, is the process of use two different versions of a part of your website, monitoring, and identifying which version was the most successful in getting your visitors to take a desired action. A/B testing can be used for virtually anything related to your ecommerce website, from website copy to marketing emails. Some examples of things to test would by layout, prices, promotions, and call-to-action locations. Then, use metrics like click-through rates, bounce rates, sales, and conversions rates to measure performance of each version.
15. Have a Blog
Ecommerce websites are notorious are for being thin on original content and fresh/new content. A blog can help you provide fresh, original content to your visitors, while helping you rank for important or long-tail keywords and build your website traffic. In addition to its SEO benefits, blogging is a great tool for ecommerce businesses to connect with prospects and existing customers and build credibility. For example, a company who sells healthcare products, may want to blog about health tips and news, providing another touch point for you to reach your potential customers.
16. Clearly Outline Your Shipping Policy
Your customers will want to know how you will be shipping their items and how long it will take. A clear shipping policy on your website can decrease customer service requests and also eliminate confusion or complaints about shipping. Provide information on shipping timeframes. For example, what customers can expect with standard or expedited shipping. Also, let customers know how long it takes to ship their package. For example, “Packages are shipping from our warehouse within 24-48 hours”. And show expected delivery date when they are making their choice. Include information on any shipping discounts (for multiple items) or insurance you offer. And finally, spell out your international shipping policy – what countries you ship to. Put a link to your shipping policy in the footer of your website if possible and definitely include on your FAQ page.
17. Have Competitive Shipping Prices
44 percent of online shoppers abandon their shopping cart (leave without making a purchase) because of high costs. (Forrester). Using flat rate shipping options, regardless of the location of the customer, can be a useful strategy that prevents customers being surprised by a large cost at the end. You don’t want to lose money on shipping, however, shipping should not be a profit center for your business.
18. Offer Free Shipping Incentives
Offering a free shipping discount is a powerful strategy for getting customers to buy from your store. Free shipping is a very popular discount that often encourages customers to spend more in order to meet a minimum spend threshold. For example, “Free Shipping on All Orders Over $50”. Consider that 93% of online buyers are encouraged to buy more products if free shipping is included (Compete).
19. Offer a Variety of Shipping Options
It is reported that 67% of online shoppers choose the cheapest available shipping option. However, it is still important to offer a variety of shipping options! That leaves a third of customers who expect a next-day delivery option to be available. Have you ever waited to the last minute to buy a gift? We are looking at you Christmas Eve shopper! Online shoppers may wait until the last minute too, so don’t lose a sale because they need their package sooner.
20. Don’t Require Login to View Shipping Prices
This goes along with #12, not forcing customers to register – don’t annoy your customer before you’ve made the sale. Customers don’t like to be surprised with fees. And shipping prices is often cited as the number one reason customers abandon their cart. Consider adding an overview of your shipping price structure on your FAQ page, especially if you have flat rates.
21. Email Customers Their Tracking Number
Have you ever ordered something and wondered where your package is? Don’t leave your customers wondering. In addition to an order confirmation email, send customers a shipping confirmation email that includes a tracking number. That way customers know when they can expect their package.
22. Show all Shipping Options, Prices, and Estimated Delivery Time
Customers are demanding more delivery options. An Econsultancy survey found that 50% of respondents had abandoned a purchase online due to unsatisfactory delivery options (Econsultancy). So it is important, to not only offer a variety of options, but to present all of them to your customer when they are checking out. Also, it can be an added benefit to show the option, price, and estimated delivery time all at the same time so customers can understand and be reassured they are making the right selection. Looking at you last minute shoppers!
23. Use Branded Packaging
Branded and unique packaging is a great opportunity for online retailers. In addition to enhancing customer experience and loyalty, it can help you gain word-of-mouth advertising. According to the 2013, Ecommerce Packaging Survey results, 40% of consumers will share a picture of an online order via social media if it comes in a unique, branded, or gift box.
24. Put Social Media Icons on Your Website
Make it easy for customers to find your social media profiles. Include links in a prominent position on your website. Not only is this a trust booster, it can help increase your following.
25. Offer Followers Exclusive Incentives
In the noisy social media world, why do you stand out? Customers are sick of being told follow us, like us, etc. Incentivize these actions by offering exclusive discounts or offers to your social media fans and followers.
26. Use Share Tools on Your Website
Drive more traffic to your website with the power of social proof by adding share tools all around your website to encourage customers to share with their friends and family. Some common places to add share tools is on your product pages or on thank you/order confirmation pages. Or, after a customer gives a product review, use a share tool to give them an easy to way to share it with their Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Here is an example of a share tool on the product pages of Threadless:
27. Leverage Social Media Contests
Social media contests are a great engagement tool for ecommerce websites, who often struggle connecting to customers on social media. First, make sure to define your goal, which will dictate the type of contest that will work best for you. Are you trying to get newsletter subscriptions? Increase brand recognition? Types of contests include sweepstakes, connect (like/follow to enter), like/share (like/share to enter), voting (vote for your favorite), or submit (submit/upload content to enter). Make sure to keep it targeted. If the entrants are not your target audience, they may be less likely to engage with you again once the contest is over.
28. Engage on Social Media
How can you increase interactions and engagement on social media? Hold contests, use visual content, ask questions, and show your personality. Visual content tends to be even more engaging than other types on social media. Photos have been found to be the most engaging type of content on Facebook, with an 87% interaction rate from fans. Similarly, on Twitter, adding a photo URL to your Tweet can increase Retweets by 35% (Social Media Examiner).
29. Don’t Oversell on Social Media
Are you struggling to engage with your audience on social media? You may be overselling. Promotional posts are important for ecommerce businesses, however, they should only make up a small percentage of your posts on social media. Instead, look to actually engage without selling. Engagement can increase brand loyalty so don’t just focus on vanity metrics.
30. Integrate Customer Service With Social Media
The amount of customer service requests through social media continues to rise year after year. 71% of consumers who experience a quick and effective brand response on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers who do not receive a response (NM Incite).
31. Show Your Personality
Customers like to see that there’s actually a person behind the profile. Tell stories, share personal experiences, use humor (if appropriate for your brand), show photos of employees at work, or personalize interactions with customers. These types of tactics are relationship and loyalty building tools that can turn a regular customer into a brand advocate.
32. Make it Easy For Customers to Contact You
In an effort to decrease customer service requests, some companies don’t make it easy for you to get in touch with customer service. This is NOT recommended. Don’t have barriers to getting in touch with your customer service department.
33. Send Customers An Email Order Confirmation
Your customers have just trusted you with their credit card or payment information and hit ‘placed order’. You can reassure them that their order was indeed placed and prevent customer service requests by sending them an automated order confirmation email. Include details in that email like the order number, products purchased, total price, billing address given, and shipping address provided. That way, customers can review their order and make any necessary changes before the order is shipped.
34. Email Customers a Shipping Confirmation With Tracking Number
It is important to keep customers informed during every step in the purchase process. In addition to an email order confirmation, you should also send customers an email notification that their order has shipped. This email should include a tracking number, so customers can know exactly where their order is and the expected delivery date.
35. Offer a Live Chat to Assist Customers
Offering live chat on your website is a great opportunity to increase conversions and improve customer service. 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a Web site can offer (Forrester). In addition to improving customer service, offering live chat can help to reduce employee expenses overall. For example, over the phone customer service requests with product questions or payment issues.
36. Offer a Toll-Free Phone Number
Placing a toll-free number in a prominent position on your website is a powerful way to increase your website’s credibility and increase customer trust. Branded toll-free numbers are even more powerful, and easy to remember for customers. For example a baseball bat provided may use, 1-800-BUY-BATS.
37. Respond to Customer Requests in a Timely Fashion
Response times are a crucial metric that you should be monitoring and constantly trying to improve. It is important to establish a realistic response time for all outlets (phone, email, social media, etc.) and consistency is key.
38. Establish a Customer Loyalty Program
Customer loyalty programs can help you increase the chance of buyers making repeat purchases or encourage them to spend more money. And with rising customer acquisition costs, it is becoming even more important to keep current customers. Some ideas for loyalty programs include:
- A simple points based system where dollars spent = different tiers of rewards
- Exclusive deals to preferred customers (or those who have spent more than $xx)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
39. Fix Broken Links
Broken links can negatively impact your website. First, they result in a poor user experience for customers who are taken to a dead-end 404 page. Second, they devalue your SEO efforts. Therefore, it is important to periodically check your website with broken links. With a variety of free tools available that will help you identify these harmful links, there is no excuse for broken links on your website. Our favorite is www.brokenlinkcheck.com.
40. Don’t Use Vendor Product Descriptions
It is common for ecommerce websites to simply cut and paste descriptions from a manufacturer’s website. This is a huge problem, as hundreds of other websites could be using the same description as you. Google can penalize your website with duplicate content, and Panda 4.0 further attempts to eliminate this sort of content. In the long run, unique product descriptions (that are written well), in combination with many other factors, can improve how high your website ranks in SERPs.
41. Make URLs Meaningful
Make your URLs meaningful. What does that mean? Instead of using a generic, generated URL string such as, www.website.com/product/id4589u35, use keyword-rich formats such as, www.website.com/coffee-makers/brand-of-coffee-maker-and-model/. Clean, descriptive URLs can rank higher, and are easier to understand for visitors!
42. Setup a Homepage Redirect
Also called a canonical redirect, the 301 permanent redirect is vital to proper search engine optimization and improved rankings. Search engines will index both the www.domainname.com and domainname.com versions of your website. This scenario creates what is known as duplicate content, thus diluting the search authority of both. A simple way to test whether your website has a 301 redirect in place is to type “yourdomain.com” into your browser address bar then hit “Enter”. If the URL does not automatically change to “www.yourdomain.com”, then the redirect is NOT in place to resolve canonical issues and, therefore, is not optimized for the search engines (or vice versa).
43. Optimize Images
Make sure that all images on your website use descriptive file names and ALT tags. ALT tags are the file names, image titles, or descriptions for images contained on your website. These are useful when search engines index or “spider” your website since the engines automatically turn off images and read only text, including file names. Therefore, instead of image filenames such as “DCP0003.jpg,” images should be re named “product-name-keywords. jpg,” to increase search results.
44. Optimize Meta Titles and Descriptions
Unique title tags are very important to an ecommerce website, which often suffer from duplicate titles. Title tags should be simple, keyword-rich, and approximately 60 characters in length including spaces. Also, each page should have a keyword-rich Meta description (also relevant and specific to the page). Use a tool such as Screaming Frog to identify missing, duplicate, or long meta titles and descriptions and get them fixed.
45. Create Sitemaps
Take advantage of using an HTML and XML sitemap. Sitemaps help search engines crawl and discover all pages of your website and are especially helpful if your internal linking structure is poor. An HTML sitemap is a page on your website that includes a comprehensive list of links on your website. For example, http://www.modernmarketingpartners.com/sitemap/. This page is often linked to from the footer of your website. Some visitors may use this list in order to easily find what they are looking for. An XML sitemap has the same content, but has a different protocol, meant for consumption by search engines. Create and submit your XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Learn more about XML sitemaps.
46. Speed Up Your Website
In the competitive online world, being at the top of search results is critical! A fast website may rank higher in SERPs because Google and other major search engines take website speed into consideration in their ranking algorithms (If you are using paid search, a slow loading page could lower your quality score). To see how your website is performing, check out Google’s Page Speed tool. Google tells you exactly what you need to change and how to fix it to improve your score and performance.
47. Analyze Competitors Paid Search
Discovering how your competition is using paid search is now easier than ever with tools like Spyfu.com. This tactic can give you an idea of how much your competition is spending on paid search, but also, and most importantly help you discover new keywords to bid on.
48. Use Remarketing
If your ecommerce business has a budget for paid search, consider remarketing! Remarketing is a paid search strategy that lets you target and reach people who have previously visited your website. Remarketing ads are displayed to these past visitors on other websites or within search results. This strategy is particularly powerful for ecommerce businesses, who can reach customers that left their website with buying anything. And because they have already shown interest in your products, remarketing campaigns can have not only higher conversion rates, but a better ROI overall.
49. Bid Higher For Exact Match Keywords
With exact match, your ads can appear only when someone searches for your exact keyword, without any other terms in the search. Broad ads in combination with negative keywords can have their benefits, but exact matches tend to have higher conversion rates, so bid higher to get better placement. Google recently terminated exact match, so close variants will be used.
50. Bid Higher For Commercial Intent Keywords
Commercial intent keywords tell you that potential customers are ready to buy right now. Some commercial intent keywords include: buy, free shipping, coupon(s), deal(s), etc. Ex: “buy iPhone”.
51. Use A/B Testing
Similar to the importance of A/B testing on your ecommerce website, you should also conduct testing on your paid search campaigns. The good news is that PPC testing can actually be simpler to test than other element. Typically you should be testing: the headline, the body text, the link, and your keywords. Of course, make data-driven decisions based on the results.
52. Install Conversion Tracking
Do you want to know how many Paid Search clicks converted into sales? Or which ads led to the most sales? Then you need to install conversion tracking! Tracking conversions will allow to you to calculate the overall ROI of your clicks, keywords that lead to conversions, and more. The good news is that conversion tracking is free and relatively easy to setup. First, determine the landing page a visitor reaches after they have completed a conversion. For an ecommerce website, this could be a “thank you for your order” or “order received” page. Next, get the code you need from Google AdWords and insert on that page. Learn more about adding it to your website here.
53. Build Your List
Email is one of the best ways to communicate with potential or current customers. Email allows you to introduce new products or offers, promote existing products, and importantly, drive measurable traffic to your website. So building your list is critical to reap the benefits of email marketing. Some ideas to build your email list include:
- Offer a discount code in exchange for an email address (example below)
- Have an email signup box on your website (footer or sidebar)
- Require an email address to enter contests
- Obtain emails as part of the checkout process on your website
54. Send Triggered Emails
Triggered emails typically see increased response and conversion rates. Here are some triggered emails your ecommerce business should be sending:
- Holiday or special occasion emails
- Welcome emails
- Transactional emails (order confirmation, shipping notification)
- Abandoned cart emails
- Order reminders
55. Offer an Email Newsletter
Email newsletters can help you attract new customers or help you communicate with current customers. Consider that, In Q3 2013, email amounted to 2.53% of eCommerce sales, whereas all social channels put together amounted to 0.22%. As for average order value, email orders had an average value of $100.48 as opposed to $93.43 from social channels (HubSpot). What should you put in your newsletter? Your newsletter is a great platform for introducing new products or sharing current promotions or discounts.
56. Procure Lists
If you are suffering with small lists or time constraints, there is the option to purchase email lists from professional database providers based on your target audience. When buying a list, there are many important things to consider in determining the quality of the list. For example, the age of the list. Lists that are dated can suffer from email deliverability problems, or high bounce rates.
57. Email Promotional Offers Based on Order History
Send emails to customers based on their behavior or purchase history. This is an increasingly effective tactic for purchases that take place monthly, quarterly, or yearly – and serve as great reminders! If you have new products, send an email to customers who have purchased similar products or products within the same category to let them know. The possibilities are endless!
58. Measure Analytics
Monitoring and measuring website analytics is critical to the success of your ecommerce business. No other metrics can provide such a powerful and actionable snapshot of where your business stands and potential areas of improvement. Is the bounce rate on your checkout page extremely high? That could be an indication that shipping prices are too high, or your process is too long. Make changes/improvements and see if the bounce rate decreases. Some of the most important analytics to monitor: abandoned carts, overall traffic, traffic sources, purchase funnel, etc.
59. Setup Google Analytics Ecommerce Goals
60. Track Abandoned Carts
Over the past four years shopping cart abandonment rates have run in the 60% range, meaning six in 10 shoppers who place items in a cart do not check out (eMarketer). Abandonment is when a shopper puts something in their cart, but doesn’t actually purchase. Shopping carts are abandoned for a variety of reasons, but they all have the same outcome – lost sales. And therefore, it is important to track your websites shopping cart abandon rates and what step in the process it is taking place. Where buyers are dropping off can be indicative of where the problem lies. You can set up goals and funnels within Google Analytics to measure this metric. Or, there is a variety of software available to track abandoned carts.
By: Lindsay Brown
Modern Marketing Partners offers unique ecommerce expertise for large ecommerce entities or even those looking to launch their first online store. To talk to an ecommerce specialist, please contact us today, or call 630-868-5060.