If you run an online store, you’re probably thinking more than anything else about how to boost traffic and sales. After working with e-commerce clients over a number of years we’ve collected a solid list of tactics. Read our step-by-step guide, broken down into SEO, Design, Content, Marketing, Website Actions, Testing and General Psychology, and you’ll be on your way.
1. Find keywords for your homepage and product pages
When thinking about optimizing the most important pages of your website, you need to consider relevancy, ranking difficulty, and search volume. I suggest going for keywords that are highly relevant to your brand or products, with a high exact match search volume in Google’s free Adwords Tool, and a low difficulty score from Moz’s keyword tool.
Be careful not to choose keywords that are too broad or competitive. If that match is too broad, it’s likely you’ll have a high bounce rate and low conversion rate because of users clicking through and not getting exactly what they were looking for. In addition, if you go after keywords with high competition, you’ll be going after big brands with significant budgets.
2. Pinpoint keywords for blog topics
Creating blog content can assist in ranking your e-commerce business for additional keywords that might not have a place on your main website. Plus, you can capitalize on long-tail keywords with your blog.
What are long-tail keywords anyway? These are unique searches that people use to find things online. They consist of more than one word.
For example, it might sound like a good idea to try to rank for “coffee” if you sell coffee beans; however, the data shows that “popular” search terms like “coffee” make up “less than 30% of the searches performed on the web.” This is where long-tail keywords come into play.
According to Moz “The remaining 70% lie in what’s called the ‘long tail’ of search. The long tail contains hundreds of millions of unique searches that might be conducted a few times in any given day, but, when taken together, they comprise the majority of the world’s demand for information through search engines.”
With this in mind, go after long-tail keywords that have a high exact match search volume (local, not global) and low difficulty score. After you have exhausted that list, you can start targeting lower volume keywords that still are highly relevant.
3. Avoid keyword cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization happens when several pages of the same website are trying to rank for the same keyword. This can be confusing to the search engine, and you end up forcing it to choose which page is more relevant for that particular keyword from the group of pages. This effectively makes the other pages redundant.
To avoid this, list each page of your website on a spreadsheet with the keywords you are trying to rank for, and edit any duplicates.
4. What are your main competitor’s keywords?
Moz make this really easy with the open site explorer.
If your competitors have significantly higher DA’s or PA’s than you, it may be a good idea to focus on different keywords, as competing against them will be very difficult.
To determine the DA or PA of any website or webpage, simply install the toolbar for Chrome or Firefox.
5. Where are they getting links?
A really important step to remember is to gather a list of the places you competitors are getting their inbound links. To collate this list, we suggest open site explorer.
Try to get inbound links from sites that are linking to your competitors if they have a high PA and DA. You can attempt to get a link from these sites using blogger outreach, press outreach, or setting up your own company page.
6. What is their site architecture like?
Take a top-down view of competing sites architecture. What’s the navigation like? How deep do their links go? E-commerce sites should pay special attention to the architecture for:
- Popular products in a particular category
- Related products
- Top rated products
- Recently viewed products
Once you have an idea of how the biggest sites within your industry organize their architecture, you can decide if you want to follow the same route, modify it slightly, or take a completely different path.
According to Moz in 2011, “most SEOs argue that pages buried very deeply in the architecture might not receive enough link juice to be visible in search engine rankings. Certainly, it remains true that by promoting content ‘up’ the architecture, you can improve its overall rank.”
So simply copying a major competitor might not be the obvious answer, if they haven’t architectured their site properly.
7. Quickly find website errors
Use Screaming Frog to find any website errors. Screaming Frog is free, and will crawl your site and check links, images, css, scripts and everything else from an SEO perspective. It will tell you if you have any duplicate meta titles, meta descriptions and missing header tags and so on!
The top errors you will want to correct quickly include:
- Redirecting any 404 pages to actual content
- Changing 302 redirects to 301 redirects
- Updating duplicate content pages, meta titles, and meta descriptions
Screaming Frog will help you identify the above and many, many other site errors that will help improve your SEO and overall usability and conversion rate.
8. Determine your website speed
Once you have taken care of keywords and any errors the site might have, it’s time to think about speed. Research shows that 40% of people abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Visitors simply won’t hang around and wait for a slow website, and worse still, they’ll likely bounce and go to a competitor.
If you want a guide on how to improve your website speed, check out our website speed blog post.
9. Keyword Optimization
As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to optimise your page and blog posts on your site for one keyword. In order to optimize a page, you need to ensure that page has the keyword in strategic locations, including:
- The page title
- Paragraph copy
- Product descriptions
- Image file names
- Image alt tags
- Meta title and description
When creating URLs, make sure they’re user friendly. This means they should include real words (your keyword) and not lots of numbers and gibberish.
Also, remember that your meta title and descriptions should not sound like gibberish or be packed with keywords in stop start fashion. They should read as a sentence like an ad because the higher your click-through rate (CTR), the higher Google will place you in its results.
10 Site Structure
Thinking about your information architecture is imperative. Well planned site architecture can dramatically affect your website’s usability, rankings, and conversions. In addition, proper planning will make expanding your product lines in the future significantly easier. This is especially true of e-commerce websites because of their sheer size.
Your focus should be on creating as “flat” architecture as you can for you website, which means a design that requires as few clicks as possible to go from your home page to a product page. This will help to pass the maximum amount of page authority from your homepage to your product page via internal linking.
Using your keyword research findings, you can base your architecture on the targeted keywords in a way that still provides your customers and search engines a logical path from the homepage to product pages.
Remember it’s also helpful to link between pages and categories to distribute page authority to other pages you want viewed as high priority for ranking.
11. Internal Linking
You may or may not have heard about internal linking before, but doubtless you know what it is. It’s when you link pages of your website to other pages internally. Internal linking allows you to establish your own anchor text, which helps ranking for your selected keywords.
It’s worth knowing to use internal linking somewhat sparingly. If you pack all your pages with internal links, Google might view them skeptically, as it will be suspicious that your website is trying to game the system. Place internal links only where it’s natural to do so.
Once you’ve created or reorganised your website, you should create and submit a sitemap to Google so it can crawl your entire website and index each page.
A great user experience makes a website easy to use, intuitive and useful, which will lead to users spending more time on your site, and they’ll come back repeatedly.
Part of your usability checks should include making sure there are as few steps as possible in the checkout process, confirming the checkout process works seamlessly, giving your visitors quick ways to contact you, making navigation super easy, and ensuring your site loads quickly.
You know mobile is important, but do you know how important? Many people are not only browsing the web, but also making purchases through mobile devices, so clearly it’s incredibly important to have a mobile-friendly version of your site.
- 31% of mobile Internet users “mostly” go online using their phones
- 61% of customers who visit a mobile unfriendly site are likely to go to a competitor’s site
- 58% of mobile users expect mobile sites to load as quickly or faster than desktop sites (Google, 2011)
Product findability is paramount to any e-commerce business – if customers can’t find a product, they can’t buy it. When it comes to e-commerce navigation and how to structure the main site navigation, 18% of sites use a single main navigation item to contain all of the main product categories. On these sites users have to hover over a single navigation item, typically called “Products” or “Catalogue”, before being able to even see the first level of categories. Usability testing by the Baymard Institute shows that not displaying product categories directly in the main site navigation causes multiple and serious navigational issues for users.
i) Put the first level of product categories directly in the main navigation.
The most severe issue of placing the entire product catalogue into a single navigation item leads to something as basic and fundamental as users not being able to fully understand what type of site they’ve landed on, as well as not fully understanding what type of products the site sells.You want to make your value proposition clear.
ii) Don’t make parent categories shallow.
When the hierarchy of categories is just labels and headers, it breaks users expectations and forces them into a decision, preventing exploratory browsing. Grouping subcategory options in drop-down menus and other areas is a great way of making them both manageable and scannable.
iii) Put the same subcategory within multiple main categories if necessary.
When a subcategory could logically appear in multiple parent categories but doesn’t, it can lead to some users missing out. While the ideal solution is to craft a completely unambiguous set of top-level categories, this is not always realistic, therefore to avoid the severe usability problem of users not being able to find a subcategory where they expect (which often leads users to conclude that the store simply doesn’t carry the item), consider putting the subcategory in multiple parent categories.
Site search is one area which, if it doesn’t give the user what they expect, will cause them to promptly leave for a competitor where it’s easier. There are no big revelations here. You should pay attention to your ecommerce site search engine simply because people use it and they expect to see search on your store. It’s even more of a factor on mobile.
Don’t hide your search box away in the bottom left-hand corner next to the business address. The first rule here is that it should be easy to find, so place it prominently for site visitors to see as soon as they land. Standard ecommerce site design metrics say that users expect to find the site search box in the top right or top middle of their screen. This should be in the header section of your store and visible on every page.
Don’t empty out the search bar on the results page. By including the search input again in the search box on the results page, you make life much easier for the user. They can quickly amend their search, add more details without having to type everything again.
Including autocomplete options in a dropdown can also make the experience much, much easier for mobile users.
16. Refine easily
i) Provide Category-specific filters.
Most of the time, users are interested in filtering a product list across category-specific attributes, and not just a few generic site-wide attributes such as brand, price, user ratings, etc. For a category like ‘Coats’ that might mean the ability to filter by ‘Material’, while for ‘TVs’ it could be the ‘Pixels’, and for ‘Jeans’ one could easily imagine filtering by ‘Fit’ for regular or skinny jeans
ii) Allow users to apply multiple filters of the same type.
When it comes to filtering logic the filtering values should, in general, not be mutually exclusive within the same filter type. During testing, filter values that were wrongly implemented as mutually exclusive caused site abandonments as the test subjects couldn’t establish an overview of the products that matched their unique set of product requirements.
iii) Have themed filters.
Themed browsing is quite common in physical retail, where any sales assistant will be able to help store visitors with common requests like “Leather jacket” or “Summer dress”, benchmark testing revealed 20% of top e-commerce stores lack thematic filters.
While leather jackets and summer dresses can all be easily located on most e-commerce sites, only seeing products that match a certain “theme” will be next to impossible for users if the site doesn’t offer thematic filters.
17. Live Chat Assistance
We recommend using a live chat widget. This works well to lift conversion rates and increase the average time spent on site per session, which is also a great ranking factor.
If you’re looking for a live chat tool, check out Olark
18. Reviews / Testimonials
Naturally, for any e-commerce website, have customer reviews for each product. According to internet retailer, you can increase your e-commerce conversion rate by 14%-76% by adding product reviews to your online store. Also, Jupiter Research has found that 77% of consumers read reviews before purchasing online. In addition to increasing conversions, customer reviews positively impact your SEO by adding fresh content, which Google likes to see.
To obtain more customer reviews, try rewarding the customer with something in exchange for the review. You can also send an email out a few days after you know a customer has received a product asking if they need any help, and if not, would they please leave a review.
19. Trust / Security / Award Badges
In e-commerce, there’s a lot riding on trust. If the customer doesn’t trust you, they won’t buy from you. So how can you earn the trust of your visitors? One way is to include a trust seal. You may have noticed them displayed in other online stores, they’re usually a logo or seal, associated with the site’s security, it’s SSL certificate.
Finally, a study on Nuvonium shows that according to an internal study of their retailers, McAfee noticed that there was a “12% increase in sales when using the McAfee Site Secure seal.”
21. Rich Snippets
When you’ve used Google recently, you probably noticed a few search results looking like this:
These are “Rich Snippets” and they have a huge impact on a website’s rankings. There are different types of rich snippets for the each of the following: albums, authors, business information, events, music, people, products, recipes, reviews and videos.
Rich snippets are pieces HTML code added to the page that tell search engines what searchers should be able to understand about your website before they click through to see it. When people see a search result with an image in Google, they’re more likely to click.
To add rich snippets, do the following:
- Get into your HTML of each page that you want rich snippets on.
- Add the microdata for the desired rich snippet. Read this guide from HubSpot to learn how to get the appropriate code. Then, publish the changes.
- Test to make sure it works here: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets.
22. Blogging & Longform Content
As mentioned previously, keyword research is crucial to any SEO strategy. Since each page of your site should be optimized for only one keyword, there will be plenty of important keywords that don’t make it onto a page of your site.
The way to rank for those keywords is through a blog. With a blog, you can optimize each post for a keyword that you aren’t targeting with the main pages of your site.
Every day millions of blogs posts hit the internet, but hardly any of them will be read. Why? Because they’re short and don’t give any value to the reader. Go back in time to when you first started your e-commerce business, now imagine finding a guide that seriously helped you. It’s full of information you need, and you begin to trust the people who created it. So, when it’s time to get something for your business, or you need e-commerce consulting, you know just where to go. Ultimately, you should create long-form content because it will get you more of what you want: more online visibility (social shares, links), proof of your authority and industry expertise, and material for community building and engagement.
SerpIQ did a study of the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries. The company found that the top-rated posts were usually over 2,000 words. This article is infact 5,360 words.
If it’s well written and genuinely helpful, you’ll also get users spending more time on site, sharing it more on social media, and acquire more inbound links.
23. Product Copy
Product copy and descriptions can seem like such a minor part in the grand scheme of things. Do people even read them? While there’s evidence that most people skim, not read, online, there are also good reasons why product descriptions matter. A study conducted by NNGroup found that in 20% of overall task failures – where a user failed to successfully complete a purchase when asked to do so – could be attributed to unclear or incomplete product information.
So while it’s not as important as a hero image, product copy is an important component. It also has SEO benefits too. Search engines can’t see images, so be sure to add descriptive copy to your products, especially when it’s such an easy thing to accomplish.
24. Product Images
This point should really explain itself. High quality photos, from different angles, in context and make them zoomable. The more the better.
25. Product Videos
While images are great, videos are the next step, just before touching and feeling the product. Try them with a couple of items in your inventory and see if it makes a difference.
26. Capture more email subscribers
Email is still one of the best channels in online marketing at your disposal. Driving traffic to your store, it supplements content marketing, and outperforms both Twitter and Facebook for generating sales. Simply put, email marketing works. According to recent research:
- Email has an ROI of around 4,300% (according to the Direct Marketing Association)
- 80% of people say they receive marketing messages alongside their personal emails on a daily basis.
- 70% of people make use of coupons or discounts they learn about from email.
- 60% of people say that receiving special offers is the top reason they subscribe to an email list from a business.
Be active about promoting your newsletters to get as many subscribers you can on a high-converting channel.
27. Improve your email campaigns
It’s not enough to capture your customer’s emails. You actually have to send them emails they want to read. Identifying your exact target audience for each email is imperative. You have to know who you’re talking to, how you’re going to write for them, what language to use and how to reach them. The more segmented the audience, the better the results. As Campaign Monitor’s research shows, segmented campaigns drive 760% more revenue for businesses. Our customers want to receive relevant emails that are personalized to them. Here are some more tips:
- Identify your readers goal
- Write an outline for the email
- Choose a subject line that hooks
- Write a compelling story
Always test your emails.The most common practice is to AB test the subject lines, which is good, but it’s not enough. If you want to create emails that convert, whether sales emails, newsletter or even onboarding emails, you have to run meaningful tests that can help you optimize each email you send. They’ll be more on split testing later. More information can be found on this great blog by GetUplift.co.
28. Improve your ad spend
Using Google AdWords is one of the best ways to attract qualified visitors to your store when people search for your keywords. Have you tried experimenting with your ad spending? You should be regularly trying out variations on your bids for keywords to find a good niche. After Google, try out advertising on Facebook. Keep experiment with the ads, see what works for you, and try to make improvements.
29. Facebook Store
As you can see from this Shopify infographic, Facebook takes the majority of orders placed from social media.
Facebook isn’t just a good source of traffic, you can also sell directly on the platform with a Facebook store.
Before jumping headfirst into another social media tool, first determine what you want from Twitter. Rather than trying to secure new customers directly from the platform, you might consider establishing yourself as an authoritative source of valuable information for your customers. Try to work out if your target market is using Twitter, and if you can bring any value to them, possibly as real time customer support.
A recent study has found that Instagram gives brands 25% more engagement than other social media platforms, and the average order value is higher too. By thinking about the hashtags, filters and what time of day to post, you can progressively build up a big following on Instagram. And the key to Instagram marketing is engagement with your users. What are the ways of engaging? You could try running campaigns or contests, show a “behind the curtain” view of your product, or show pictures of your customers using your products. These user-generated photos are a great way to demonstrate you have happy customers, which is great social proof.
Youtube’s place as one of the most popular sites on the internet makes it a great channel for marketing. It gives you a chance to showcase videos that really show off the benefits of your products. This isn’t just because of the amount of time your ideal customer is spending on there, but in its emerging use as a search engine. That’s right, people use Youtube as a search engine destination for finding things out.
Many content marketers are hesitant to get involved with creating video content, because of the perceived higher barrier to entry. Less competition means it will be easier for you to generate great search results, brand awareness, and possibly some new customers.
A great resource for ranking on youtube is backlinko.
33. Influencer Marketing
When influencers vouch for your brand, they help you win the trust of your target audience while generating buzz, it’s essentially a more targeted form of social proof. Why? Because of the influencers already established audience and reputation, it has a bigger impact.
First of all, you need to establish if the influencer you want to work with can actually influence your target market. Take a look at the people who make up your influencers audience, are they in your target market?
Once you’ve established an influencer to work with, promote the content they create on your product pages and marketing emails. Not only will the influencers original post generate buzz, but you can further leverage it by displaying them on your site.
“Do you want to go supersized? Only for an extra…”
Many of us have heard that question in some form. It’s an example of upselling, where merchants sell you a slightly more expensive product when you consider a product. And it works.
According to econsultancy, upselling is 20 times more effective than cross-selling online. Sometimes your customers don’t know that a better product is available, or they may be convinced that a different product may be a better fit for their needs.
Just remember to:
- Keep the upsell related to the original product
- Be sensitive to the price range of your customers.
It needs to fit the original needs of your customer, and they might not be very enthusiastic about a higher product price when they have an anchor price in mind.
Here’s an example of a product upsell:
35. Reduce Abandoned carts
Your potential customer has found you, browsed around your store and has even added a product to the basket. But they didn’t buy. Don’t take it personally, it’s a well-studied phenomenon. According to the Baymard Institute 67.45% of shopping carts are abandoned before they’re completed. Your sales are one-third of what they may potentially be.
It’s worth the effort trying to resolve why they may have hesitated, because a significant proportion of those who abandoned cart may yet be convinced to complete their purchase Try persuading with a discount or offer free shipping, or maybe they never even meant to exit from their cart in the first place because their computer crashed.
A simple and effective way to reduce the incidence of abandoned carts is an email recovery campaign. Craft a good email to entice your customer to return to their cart.
36. Make the checkout as easy as possible
What makes a great checkout?
Pauses or delays of any kind are the worst. It damages user confidence about the checkout process itself.
ii) No forced registration
Encouraging users to sign up is cool, but not at the expense of sales. Allow quick guest checkouts. The user will likely give you their email and address anyway, to receive a confirmation and the product they just purchased.
iii) Security reassurance
Refer to point number 19.
iv) Easy form filling
People hate forms. Don’t ask for too much, avoid anything that isn’t really necessary and make sure your error messages are clear. And if the user makes an error, don’t clear out the whole form and make them fill it all in again.
v) Progress indicators
The customer should know where they are in the checkout process, and how close they are to the finish.
vi) Persistent Basket Summary
Remind users of the contents of their baskets and the total order value, so they don’t have to leave the checkout to double check this information.
vii) Remove Distractions
Ensure your shoppers are focused on the task at hand and not distracted and ultimately taken out of the checkout process.
37. Exit Offers
Even after designing and building the perfect store, being open to customers finding you and your products, you could still lose a potential customer who just isn’t sure yet.
When customers move their mouse to leave your store, you can make a special offer popup, offering a discount, or a two-for-one. By tracking the success of different exit messages, you can experiment with different ones.
38. Don’t Charge for shipping
Nearly half of all merchants offer free shipping! Some offer always free, some have conditions. Amazon offers free shipping if you buy at least $25 worth of products. Nordstrom offers free shipping for all purchases. This has gotten people used to the idea of free shipping.
High shipping costs are consistently rated high in the reasons why consumers were not satisfied with their online shopping experience. So people want free shipping. In fact, orders with free shipping average around 30% higher in value than those that charge a small amount for shipping.
What about charging a small amount instead of free?
When Amazon implemented the free shipping offer, sales went up in every country except one – France. Why? France charged 20 cents instead of free. While 20 cents is very close to free, it didn’t seem that way in people’s minds. Once it was dropped sales went up in France.
39. Reveal shipping costs early ( If you have to charge )
We understand that there can sometimes be constraints, and it’s not always feasible to provide free shipping. If you don’t, reveal the shipping costs upfront, preferably on the product page. A comScore study revealed that 47% of consumers will abandon cart if they see they are being charged for shipping during checkout.
I won’t go into detail about what A/B (or split) Testing is here, suffice to say if you have an e-commerce store and the resources to do so, you should be doing it. Here are some ideas to consider, but the number of testing ideas is practically limitless.
40. Test your drop-down menus
One case study, replaced its drop-down menu with an elaborate product category page for better usability. The results? Their revenue increased by 56.43%.
41. Carousels don’t convert
I’m sure you’ve come across dozens of image sliders and carousels when landing on a website. They might even look good. But the truth is they kill conversions. Several conversion guru’s have confirmed this in separate tests. Try for yourself.
42. Time limited offers
Time limitations can trigger a customer’s desire to avoid losses (especially if an offer seems good) forcing them to act quicker than they might have otherwise. Countdown timers work very well to visualise this urgency, serving as a reminder of how much time is left before they miss out. Try testing different ideas around this concept.
43. Only X remaining
Only 3 left! We’re running out! Look at how booking.com use scarcity to increase conversions:
That’s it! Congratulations on reaching the end. If you liked this article or found it useful please share it on facebook and twitter.