To be successful in ecommerce, you need to be proactive, not passive. Continually analyzing, to discover problem points and testing methods that better those points, is essential. You must continually monitor the customer experience your site delivers to your visitors and ensure all website layers are functioning together as a cohesive unit.
You cannot sit back and expect sales to come in, simply because you have a website listing products which target a specific market, even if you are getting loads of traffic to that site. If you are not going to be proactive about generating sales, you are not going to see results.
Quite frequently, I meet store owners who do not know where to focus improvement efforts or what objectives to target first in an effort to increase conversion. Most say they want conversion increases, yet very few have any real plan of how to get there. They believe that making a few changes will correct all issues, and sales will magically develop. In most cases, this couldn't be further from the truth. As the old saying goes, "You must crawl before you walk and walk before you run." Expecting conversion increases without first targeting the most important areas, often ends up leading to frustration.
For example, to focus on the checkout process, in an effort to increase sales when your website analytics shows that the majority of your visitors never even make it that far, will yield nothing. Why? Quite simply, if your visitors are not penetrating that deeply into your site, they can't checkout anyhow. If they don't interact with the checkout process, then making adjustments to it will not yield additional sales.
So where should you focus your improvement efforts?
To answer that question exactly for every store is difficult. Each business is different, and each situation needs to be analyzed in order to develop an action plan for improvement based on the unique circumstances and objective desired. You should let your website analytics dictate where to begin. Although the answer to that question is not straightforward, there are at least three places you can begin focusing your attention on for seeking website improvement. Despite the fact that each ecommerce site is unique, the pages that visitors encounter, on any ecommerce site, and which influence them to purchase, remain fairly consistent.
If you are wondering where to focus your improvement efforts, try starting with these pages and sections:
1) Home Page
Oftentimes (unless paid search or SEO efforts dictate otherwise) the home page of a website is where a bulk of your visitors will end up at some point, if not right from the start.
The home page needs to effectively speak to your visitors in such a way that they desire to continue further into the site. If they don't move past your home page (often indicated by high website bounce rates), they aren't getting to the product pages. If they aren't getting to the product pages, they likely can't add an item to their cart. If they don't add an item to their cart, they won't checkout; it's that simple.
The home page should, at the very least, give visitors multiple options for accessing the products on your site and should have some room reserved for the latest promotion. If your website has a home page high bounce rate, you should first focus your efforts on that page, with the single objective of achieving deeper visitor penetration into the site (i.e. increased page views, longer time on site, etc...) This is one example of what I meant when I referenced the "crawl before you walk," statement above.
2) Product Page
The product page is where most information is gathered and questions are answered, ultimately leading the buyer toward adding an item to their cart. Take care in your presentation. Proper placement of descriptions, persuasive copy, photos and customer assurances will result in visitor action. The final goal of a product page should be to get the user to add the item to their cart. You can't make a sale if the item is not in the cart!
3) Checkout Page
Once an item has been added to a visitor's cart, the only way they can get out of your store with that product is through the checkout, unless they decide to complete the sale by calling you on the telephone. The checkout process is a critical part. You have an interested visitor who has a product or products in their cart, and that likely wants to become a customer. The only thing keeping from that now is your checkout.
The checkout process should definitely be monitored for abandonment rates using website analytics. In Google Analytics, I recommend setting up a funnel and associated goal for this process alone, to keep track of its effectiveness. You want to know where in this process people may leave, so you can refine it to take advantage of future opportunities. The ultimate goal of the checkout process is to get the visitor out the door with a successful sale. Keep in mind, though, that for multiple step checkouts, you may likely need to develop smaller incremental goals throughout the process to get to that final objective. Your abandonment points reported by your tracking funnel will tell you where and what these smaller goals should be.
There is an almost unlimited number of areas on a website which contribute to higher conversion. In reality, the entire customer experience must be considered if a sustainable and profitable ecommerce business is the objective. The list of pages I provided here are just a starting point for organizing your approach.
These pages are important, yet changing just one will not always guarantee increased sales. You will need to interpret what your analytics is telling you, in order to determine which pages to devote your attention. Pay particular attention to your visitor click paths and develop an action plan for improvement, with realistic incremental goals as the objective. Think big but be willing to start small. Measuring and expecting incremental improvements over the ultimate goal will result in that final goal being reached more often.
Remember, identifying and addressing the actual problem is the first step toward increasing conversion. You wouldn't put the cart before the donkey, and the same applies when looking for improvement from your website. Finally, take it in stride, making alterations to the most problematic pages first, as reported by your analytics program. In doing so, you'll be gradually building what I call a "trail to the sale," which will lead the visitor down a specific and intended path toward the end goal.
Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion expert and author of a leading Ecommerce Optimization blog (www.zencartoptimization.com). He coaches etailers, wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers to increase their website sales through online paid search advertising, targeted marketing strategies and website sales strategies. Contact him at 1-877-481-2323.
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