The online marketplace is crowded with retailers of all sizes peddling their wares. So, as a small business, you must be able to distinguish your products to get shoppers to your website and turn them into paying customers. Using the right key words in your product descriptions can help bring in potential customers and enhance your site’s search ability. But it’s just as important to make sure your e-commerce platform has a clean, uniform design that allows consumers to locate the products they’re looking for quickly. The easier it is for customers to navigate your site, the more likely they will complete the sale and return for future purchases.
“The idea is to try to think about all of the different products and services your business sells and categorize those key words into buckets, starting from the most broad, top-level categories, then breaking up those into smaller more specific subcategories, creating a key word ‘taxonomy’ for your business,” explains Larry Kim, founder and CTO of Boston-based WordStream, a search marketing software firm. “By mapping out your keywords, you can create an information architecture to organize the different navigational menus for your web site.”
Kim recommends aligning content on your website with ads so consumers can find what they’re looking for without having to navigate through multiple pages. “People don’t have a lot of patience online,” notes Kim. “Aligning the content of pay-per-click (PPC) ads with landing pages increases the chance for completing the sale.” Kim suggests creating several ads that land to specific products, which will encourage more traffic to your site. And Google rewards higher click rates by offering lower costs per click and more prominent rankings.
Stephen Antisdel, managing partner at Buchanan, Michigan-based Precept Partners, LLC, an Internet strategy, marketing, and web design firm, believes a quality e-commerce site should recreate the positive experience of a bricks and mortar (B&M) retail shop. “Just like a store needs to be clean and well organized, with labeled aisles and products grouped in a way that makes sense, a website should be well designed and appropriate to the market and consumer, with easily understood taxonomy,” explains Antisdel. This requires a balance between offering enough information to potential customers with their need to get that information quickly and clearly. “This is especially important if you have a broad product line,” notes Antisdel. “You have to think like your customer.”
However, there are limits to how much a consumer will “drill down” to find a product. “You lose half of your original visitors with each click,” cautions Antisdel. “That’s why it’s important to make navigation intuitive.” Antisdel recommends placing products across multiple categories but to avoid long dropdown boxes or unwieldy flyout menus, as the former causes the customer to lose interest and the latter can be difficult to use. And don’t forget about the internal search function on your site. “Having a high-quality internal search tool can help solve taxonomy issues to some extent,” notes Antisdel. “It lets you see every word that has been searched, which is often a clue that these terms are not visible in your navigation or people are searching for a product you don’t have.”
Use images and customer reviews to boost online sales
Paul Goldman, CEO of JuicedHybrid, a Redwood City, California online retailer of hybrid and electric car accessories, decided to overhaul his company’s web site to combat flat to declining conversion rates despite very rapid growth after just four years in business. “Our site had become very textual,” explains Goldman. “Users tend to navigate very quickly through sites heavy on graphics, as less information needs to be read to get them where they want to go.”
While preserving the positive aspects of the old site, which was well organized, the new site is meant to immediately “build trust” with visitors while highlighting all brand offerings using recognizable logos higher up on the home page. “We brought our Better Business Bureau logo, satisfaction guarantee, free shipping information, and customer testimonials up front,” notes Goldman. “While a lot of our sales are related to the [Toyota] Prius, the conversion rates for products of other car makers were low. So, we moved all other car manufacturers above the web fold. That way, consumers can click through the relevant manufacturer logo to find the product for their car. As the initial contact with the customer has improved, so have conversion rates.”
Goldman cautions against buying or leasing content, however, because search engines frown on replicated data. “We write directly to our consumers, so they really understand what each product does,” he explains. “We also try to use imagery that’s representative of the product and provide instructional videos for certain products.” The site has adopted a star system for rating products along with written reviews. And more recently, Goldman has begun soliciting those reviews. About a week after buying something, customers are emailed asking to rate and review their purchase. “It helps us know more about the customer and their perception of us and the product,” he says. “This technology allows our customers to put all this content onto our site for us. And search engines like it, so conversion rates go up.”
Understand your customer’s purchase path
After more than a decade providing unique products from working artists to such retailers as Pottery Barn Kids and Land of Nod, co-founders Karen and Tom Capp launched a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform just over a year ago, with their line of art and room décor for children (Oopsy Daisy), tweens/teens (wheatpaste), and adults (greenboxart). It was not only important for the Capps to create these websites with an artist’s sensibility, but also make them easy to navigate. “We wanted a pretty design so the art would pop,” explains Karen Capp. “This isn’t easy to do when you have to think about key words, which require more text.” The Capps had to strike that uneasy balance between design/imagery to catch the shopper’s eye and providing enough content so their products can be found.
The sites were also recently updated with better themed access. “We found that with our market, home décor products, consumers want to see themes up front,” explains Karen. “So some categories were added (e.g. maps, robots) or modified (boy/girl, though many of our products are unisex) and multiple filters can be used (most popular, price, new) to find products, as we carry over 4,000 products.”
“The internet is a visual medium,” Antisdel points out. “That’s where having multiple [product] views so you can simulate the experience of picking up a product and turning it over is so important.” For their personalized art, the Capps offer an additional feature where the shopper can see how large the lettering will appear on the product, which may be longer/shorter than the image on the screen.
Shopping cart abandonment rates have risen from 70 percent in 2011 to as high as 89 percent on so called Cyber Monday of this year. As Antisdel explains, the same 50 percent loss rate-per-click that applies to finding products also applies to the shopping cart. The more pages it takes to check out, the more customers you’ll lose. Antisdel suggests a one-page checkout with the option to create an account once the purchase is complete.
The three sites of the Capps’ e-commerce platform are connected, so you can move through each and check out all your purchases in one shopping cart. There’s also a field for customers to add special instructions. “Our customer service staff is diligent about following up on such requests as soon as possible,” notes Karen Capp. “That personalized relationship with the customer is critical to retention.”
The Capps recently added live chat, which has proved very successful, particularly during the holidays, when customers can have special requests or can’t wait for an email response to their questions. “We have customer service on staff here in San Diego,” notes Karen. “So the customer can talk to someone close to the products.” It also helps to reduce cart abandonment rates, as it allows for the sale to be completed while the customer is still on the web site.
Attracting repeat visitors/customers
For those online window shoppers, remarketing encourages their return through email offers and strategically placed ads on various web sites they visit. Goldman sends a thank you email to past visitors of his site and offers them a coupon to encourage their return. “Remarketing is a powerful shopping cart optimization tool, as it can be used to specifically target those who left items in the cart to finish their purchase,” notes Kim. “Targeting such low lying fruit has the highest likelihood of conversion.”