In the last issue, I outlined some important thinking that makes up basic foundational elements of a successful ecommerce business. I talked about how stores often adopt a "traffic-product-website" (TPW) mentality, and how falling into this trap can end up hurting your business before it ever has a chance. For those that may not have read that article, my TPW mentality stores believe all they need is traffic and if they drive enough traffic to their site the product will sell itself. They believe websites are simply channels through which transactions are possible and nothing more.
I proposed that this thinking is wrong, and said that presentation was far more important than any other factor, at least initially. Everyone has heard that "image is everything," and that saying is especially true on the Internet, where the primary means a potential customer uses to gather information to make a buying decision begins with his eyes. Yes, with the advent of video, we can stretch this. But the primary way people determine if they are interested in a product or company is by pictures, copy, layout and pricing passing through the eye before it ever reaches another part of the potential consumer. So if the way to a consumer is through their eyes, why do so many stores sell their products with unusable, outdated, and often poorly designed sites? It makes no sense that these companies have the false assumption that all they need is more traffic and their sales will increase.
My proposition is that the way to approach ecommerce success should be thinking in terms of website-product-traffic (WPT), with traffic last on the list. First, refine the look of the website, then refine the presentation of the product, and finally, drive the traffic. With this approach, providing you let marketing and customers drive design, you should end up with a foundation that is built upon the proper principles, ready to convert the traffic you are driving to it.
This is all well and good, but many are going to ask, "What happens once they get to the website? How do we apply that to the site itself? Where do we start with our efforts to get the biggest bang for our buck?" These are great questions, and are the primary questions I will answer, using the same conceptual approach as the "WPT" illustration.
When a user arrives at a website, they follow what should be a pre-defined path based on their demographic profile. While traveling this path, they go through a series of pages until they reach the end of their journey and either make a decision to buy or leave. The path they travel should be well planted with information that enables them to complete what are called micro actions, leading up to the actual sale, or macro action. Understanding that a site is compromised of both micro and macro actions on multiple levels and at varying points, as well as understanding the role of each, will help you identify the answer to the question, "Where do I start?"
In working with store owners and operators, I teach them to think in terms of each page on a website having one primary job, yet multiple sub jobs. These are the micro actions of the page itself, much like building a house, as each element has a job to perform dependant on another for the completed project to work as it was intended. In other words, you don?t start building a house by working on the roof first. You need supporting structure to hold the roof if it is to perform its job. Likewise, you don?t begin building the walls without some type of support to put them on first, i.e. the cement foundation. Each portion of the house has its individual role and they all perform together to accomplish the primary objective. Without these actions performed in the proper order, the entire structure is in jeopardy of failing.
A site should be looked at no differently. When attempting to make incremental design changes in an effort to boost productivity of the site, you need to first determine and understand what areas of the supporting structure are the weakest in order to strengthen the complete package. There is really only one place you should get this data from, which is within your analytics reporting.
Objective data does not tell lies, assuming you have your analytics installed correctly. Take this fairly typical path as one example for increasing productivity: The consumer enters at the home page, proceeds to the category page, then to the product page, and lastly to the checkout process. This is a very high level depiction for simple illustrative purposes to help you understand where and why you should begin your efforts at one spot versus another. Taking this path into account, let us apply some analytic figures to it. For this example, let us say that the overall website bounce rate is 85 percent, the exit rate at the category page is 30 percent, the exit rate at the product page is 25 percent, and the shopping cart abandonment during the checkout process is 50 percent.
Many stores would dive right into the shopping cart abandonment as the problem and focus efforts there first, which is not a bad idea for picking up quick sales. However, in our scenario, this would not be a good starting point for increasing overall site productivity. In fact, more often than not, stores who focus their efforts on the shopping cart abandonment as the sole problem end up discouraged to find that even when they streamline the checkout, sales do not increase to expected levels. The lack of increase makes sense if you consider "building the house the proper way." In other words, our problem of an 85 percent bounce rate is far more of an issue than the checkout abandonment at the moment. If visitors leave at the same point they arrive without going any further, then focusing efforts deeper in the process (i.e. the checkout) is not going to increase sales. Putting it bluntly, if the majority of visitors are not making it beyond the home page, then they are not even getting to the checkout process, so focusing efforts there first is not going to strengthen the ultimate outcome.
Likewise, making alterations to the product level page without consideration given to the category page will do you no good. You must first concentrate your efforts to the areas preventing your visitors from completing the micro actions required to ultimately achieve the macro action. Let your analytics be your guide in determining where to focus efforts at any given moment. Success does not come from making random changes and taking estimated shots in the dark, but rather it comes from making incremental changes based on measurable and objective results, and having the ability to weigh the impact those changes will make towards reaching your goal.
Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce blog at www.TheEcommerceExpert.com. He coaches store owners using his online coaching system, EcommerceAmplifier.com, teaching how to increase website sales using his proven six step process. Contact Eric at 1-866-602-2673.
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