6 steps to making more money from e-commerce

Make more money from your website in six easy steps

Make more money from your website in six easy steps.

There’s a lot more to a winning website than high volumes of traffic. Getting people to visit it is all well and good, but what do they do once they get there? Converting more browsers into buyers will increase the return on any marketing spend that sent them there and boost your overall profitability.

Even if you don’t actually sell anything online, taking steps to enhance your web presence and ‘convert’ more users can increase your bottom line. Conrad Bennett, senior director of technical services at web analytics business Webtrends, elaborates: “Conversion means successfully persuading visitors to take a desired action within your website.”

For many, this will mean sales, but it could also mean completing a registration form, downloading a file or subscribing to a newsletter, which in turn will generate qualified sales leads or the potential for higher advertising revenues.

Essentially, an effective website is high maintenance. The design, content, navigation and usability of your site will all play a part in the amount of time people spend there, how they behave and whether they visit again in the future. Here are some ideas for getting more from your online offering.

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1. Focus on the journey

Most users will decide whether or not they want to stay on a site within seconds of landing on it. Hold their attention by showing them where to find what they’re looking for straight away. “It’s vital that in the first second of a site opening users see everything they need to keep them engaged and exploring,” says Leigh Whitney, MD of digital marketing agency Design UK.

Websites should drive action, channelling users depending on their different motivations. For example, Whitney says an ecommerce site should provide journeys that accommodate for explorers (who are browsing), hunters (looking for a certain type of product), and trackers (who know exactly what they want to purchase and are ready to spend money).

“The perfect website accounts for the fact that users scan web pages quickly, so typographic ‘scent trails’ are needed to draw users into the content that they are seeking,” he says. In other words, use clear signposting and text to indicate what sits behind a link, helping people to find exactly what they need. If your site is content-heavy, a simple search box can help users to find what they are looking for.

2. Fully engage the user 

Once they have found it, enable your visitors to digest this content easily. Whitney is a big fan of rich media, such as flash video or embedded podcasts, which can make your website more engaging for readers and result in more page views per session. This is particularly important for retailers. “Online, consumer engagement is even more critical, as the ability to touch and feel has been denied, and we are more reliant on the written and visual world,” he says.

Web users tend to be put off by large blocks of text, so keep paragraphs short and sweet and prose as concise as possible, particularly when it comes to product descriptions on ecommerce sites. “The perfect website copy will be engaging and succinct, while photography must be clear, large and abundant, with alternate and detail shots available,” Whitney says.

However, Marcus Brennand, MD of web design specialists Digital Marmalade, warns against overloading your homepage. Too many graphics and automatically loading videos can end up doing more harm than good. “There is a fine line between building a site rich in content and it being user friendly, a point which some fail to realise,” he says. “If the landing page takes too long to load or looks cluttered you may well lose a customer to another site, as they just can’t find what they are looking for. Anything below the fold doesn’t need to load immediately and flash can pull in images when they are needed.”

Instead, invite the user in and encourage them to explore. Use signposts to encourage visitors to click-through to other pages to see more detailed posts or videos. “Images on a homepage are a great way to get your message across without using lengthy copy and can give the brand a personality,” Brennand continues. “However, many sites are still failing to optimise images, with huge files being used where compressed alternatives would suffice.”

3. Analyse and review

To give your users want they want, first you need to establish exactly what that is. Two of the experts we canvassed on this subject used exactly the same phrase to outline this point: “Get obsessive about analytics”. What are your users’ motivations? What keywords are driving them to your site?

For B2B firms, analytics software such as Trovus enables you to see which companies are visiting your website and what they’re looking at, which you can use to inform your sales and marketing strategy. Meanwhile, Google’s own free Analytics tool will show all website publishers what users are doing on your website, where they came from, which pages they visited, and crucially, where they abandoned you.

Nigel Muir, MD of search and PPC specialists DBD Media, explains: “You may find that 50% of visitors land on your homepage and then leave immediately, which would lead you to question the relevancy of the search terms you are using, or the quality of your homepage. Or, you may find that 80% of people who place an item in your shopping basket then abandon the process before completing a sale – perhaps you are asking for too much personal information, or have a surprise credit card or delivery charge on this page.”

By continually testing and learning, you will improve your conversion rates. If you’re an online retailer, try purchasing a product from your site. It’s also worth asking friends, colleagues and customers to give you honest feedback on your site, as well as looking at your competitors’ offerings to see what you can improve on.

4. Be prepared for traffic spikes

“For ecommerce businesses, problems generally occur at the checkout stage when a website malfunction means the order is never received in the first place,” says Dominic Monkhouse, UK MD at web hosting firm PEER 1. “Customers won’t notice these issues until their orders don’t arrive.” Such problems are often the result of high customer traffic or page requests, causing an overloaded server or network.

Check that your hosting provider can scale up quickly to meet demands in traffic and bandwidth, and how they charge you for over-usage. Monkhouse recommends using a tool such as Load Impact (www.loadimpact.com) to test how much traffic your site can handle. “You can simulate behaviour right down to the shopping cart, and anticipate situations such as 10 times the normal level of traffic. If the site crashes or is incredibly slow, you know you’re not ready for busy periods.”

If the shopping cart on your site does encounter a problem, call your web hosting company immediately. “Insist on a fixed timing for when they can get you back online, and ask if they’ll be issuing credit for the downtime, which all responsible providers will,” Monkhouse adds.

5. Try out reviews and recommendations

Online bathroom retailer SplashDirect.com recently introduced ‘behavioural merchandising’ through Avail Intelligence, which controls how 3,500 product lines are displayed depending on user behaviour. Providers will often allow you to trial this type of technology for free before you buy.

“We are now able to generate personalised recommendations for individual shoppers in real-time based on the behaviour of similar customers,” explains MD Ted Charalambides. “Automating merchandising has meant that we can expose our customers to far more products than was previously possible. We’ve already seen a remarkable return on investment, with increases in both conversion rates and average order values.”

SplashDirect also recently introduced Bazaarvoice’s rating and reviews platform. “While it is still too early to quantify the impact, it does without question add value in my mind,” Charalambides continues. “It allows shoppers to share their views on products using colloquial language that we might not have considered. It also builds a steady stream of new content that helps with our natural search, which our customers drive for us.”

6. Go mobile

As users increasingly access web content via handheld devices, developing a mobile optimised version of your site is worth looking into. At the very least, load up your site on a mobile device and check its appearance and functionality. If you find it hard to navigate or frustrating, potential customers will too.

“Mobile versions need to be stripped of all unnecessary content and graphics in order for them to be easily navigated and viewed,” says Brennand. “If companies are already rationalising content on their website, they will be well placed to produce a mobile specific version and stay one step ahead of the competition.”

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