10 Jan 2013

Search Engine Optimsation Basics Webinar

We know that not all our information within blogs is easily digestible and can sometimes be overwhelming to read that sea of text, so we found this valuable audio/video presentation for you to listen to that was given by Groupon.com SEO Manager Jill Kocher, which accurately describes SEO and how to go about it on your website.

We hope this helps demystify the subject a little and also try and correct a lot of misinformation or misunderstandings you might have picked up along your quest for how to optimise your website to increase rankings and visitors.




A lot of the architecture Jill Kocher speaks about in this presentation is already taken care of as part of the design and build of the Easitill website but is useful to listen to if you wish.
The rest is definitely invaluable information about content and optimising it, link building and keywords.

We think the most key and important message that needs to be understood is at the beginning when Jill talks about keywords and choosing them. For example if you are selling a certain brand of item and you choose to optimise your site by putting that brand everywhere, that might be well and good for people who are already looking for that product and know the specific product brand and range name and search for that exact phrase in a search engine, but it is better to target more broadly than that. If you are selling equestrian products optimise your website with keywords and phrases which describe the types of equestrian products you sell, their uses etc. But also be sure to check Google keywords tool and your Google analytics to actually find out which key phrases people are actually searching for, then use these to optimise your site content.

Most importantly don’t just rely on your product pages. Try and drive traffic by creating content pages within your ecommerce site aside from your products which are optimised for specific keyword phrases to make people you want to attract who are searching for these phrases land on your site. Write articles for example "Our Favourite Warm Winter Coats this Season" and write all about "winter coats", and "warm winter coats", do some reviews of products you stock and talk about each one and include links to the product pages. SEO is about serving up information which relates to keywords people are actually searching for (not just what you think) and obviously giving searchers what they want when they get there.

What Do Shoppers Think of Your Ecommerce Site?

In "Reviewing your Ecommerce Business at Year End," we offered a framework to critique your business's performance for 2012. This week's article focuses on how to improve your ecommerce businesses for 2013.

To start, look at your business from the perspective of your shoppers.

Review Home Page, Landing Pages, Navigation

Go to your home page and see if you are presenting products and content that is relevant and compelling. Look at your navigation. Is it still optimized for your target market? Search on trendy products and see if you are taken to the pages you want visitors to land on.

Next, check your analytics to identify the top 10 landing pages and what keywords or referrals brought the visitors to them. What is the bounce rate for those pages? Is the content relevant to the keywords that brought them there? Did they take further action in your store?

It’s easy to lose focus on your home page and introduce too much information. Promotions, new products, and older products that are past their prime, and navigation that is dated, can lead your home page to lose some of its sharpness over time.

Sometimes you will draw traffic to pages that don’t necessarily present your full product offering. If you identify a page that is popular but has a high bounce rate, it may be because its content does not match the search that led your visitor there. Or, it may be dated. Consider adding fresh content to that page that more closely aligns with visitors' intent and leads them to the products they are looking for.

Research competitors' sites for the items you are focused on selling this year. Test their site-search capabilities. Sites are increasingly adding guided and faceted search to enhance their merchandising capabilities. If you are still using the default search in your shopping cart, you may be losing a competitive edge.

Use Your Cart and Checkout

When was the last time you really looked at your shopping cart? This is another area of your site that may have gone stale. Merchants often test the cart when it first launches and then assume it's always good.

Look at your competitors' shopping carts. Are they offering creative upsells or in-cart promotions? Are they using a mini-cart? Are those carts faster than yours? Can shoppers easily see tax and shipping costs?
Shopping carts matter to customers. The trend is to allow customers to add multiple items in the cart without visiting the cart itself. If your store is still designed to take shoppers to your cart with each item they add, it may seem dated. And, remember, showing shipping options and total costs is essential.

On the checkout side, do not force the creation of a login and account —offer guest checkout. Consider a one-page checkout in lieu of forcing your customers through several different screens. And make sure the speed of your cart and checkout process is acceptable.

Ask Your Customers What They Think

Ask your customers about their shopping experiences on your site.

There are many ways to approach this. I have had good results with survey links on email order confirmations, asking a few simple questions.

  • "Did you find everything you were looking for?"
  • "Was your checkout process fast and efficient?"
  • "Did you receive all the product information you desired?"
  • "Would you refer us to your friends?"
  • "Would you be willing to participate in a more in depth customer survey to help us better serve your needs in the future?" 

Beyond those questions, you should create detailed surveys for more in-depth information. Topics might include the following.

  • Shoppers' perceptions about the products you sell and the descriptive content you present.
  • What shoppers think about your site design, navigation, and overall usability.
  • What shoppers think about your pricing.
  • Which products they would like to buy from you if you carried them.
  • What buying plans they have for the coming year for the products you sell.
  • Do they prefer to shop on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
  • Where do they go for product research — social media, Amazon, Google, comparison-shopping engines.
  • How often they want email promotions or newsletters. 
You may also email shoppers who abandon their carts, to solicit feedback. This is controversial, but most stores find they receive useful information from respondents.

Shoppers like to be asked about their opinions. It indicates your desire to meet their needs and improve your business. Just be considerate of their time and don’t ask for too much.



Review Your Customer Support

Finally, critique your customer support function. What are the most frequent enquires? What is your return rate and why? Look for patterns and then seek solutions.

The customer experience is not just about the usability of your website. It encompasses everything from site design and navigation to the way you describe your products to the way you resolve problems.

Reviewing your Ecommerce Business at Year End

Many ecommerce businesses owners will soon perform a year-end count of their product inventory. For many merchants, this process will determine cost of goods sold — and profit — for the year.
Beyond your products, however, we recommend you critique your entire business. As you close your books and review your financial performance, analyse other goals you set for the year — for all aspects of your business.

This is how top-performing businesses achieve continuous improvement. Your goal should be to understand where your business stands relative to its past history and the goals you set for the current year.

Here are some tips on your year-end business review.

Business Review: Getting Started

Start by collecting data from each of your functional areas. Combine that with assessments from all the aspects of your business to gain a total view of how your business model is performing. By taking a holistic view, you can determine what worked and what did not. You will then have a solid basis to start your strategic planning for the next year.

First, create a variety of customer, sales, and product reports. Produce a summary of customer interactions, problems, resolutions, and so forth.

Produce analytics reports for the full year and include comparisons to the previous year. This should include performance reports from all marketing investments, such as advertising, search engine optimisation, social media, and newsletters.

You can also begin to review your organisation and infrastructure.

Here are detailed questions, broken down into the key components of your business model: customers, products, sales and marketing channels, organisation, infrastructure, and your financial model.

Customers

Start with an assessment of your customers. Review your sales records for the year to identify the following.
  • How many customers purchased from you?
  • What percentage of customers is new?
  • What percentage of your previous customers made a purchase this fiscal year?
  • How did these numbers compare to goals you set for new customer acquisition?
  • Are there any identifiable customer segments?
  • Are there any obvious trends for the customer segments?
  • How does your average order value compare to your previous history and to your goals?
  • What is your most profitable customer segment? How could you attract more of them?
  • Look at the top 20 percent of your customers' total contribution to revenue. Most businesses find that roughly 80 percent of their revenue comes from 20 percent of their customers. 

Products

Now look at the products you sold for the year.
  • Identify your best sellers.
  • Identify your most profitable items.
  • Look at sales trends for the year as well as seasonal trends.
  • Look for your worst sellers; clear them out of inventory.
  • Evaluate which product categories show growth and make plans to expand those categories.
  • Are your competitors offering products you should be selling? 

Sales and Marketing Channels

  • What was the revenue and growth from each of your sales channels, such as online store, marketplaces, physical stores, direct sales?
  • Evaluate the profitability of your sales channels.
  • Evaluate the performance of all your marketing channels relative to your previous history and your goals. Scrutinise your analytics to review visitors, page views, referrals, ecommerce performance, and advertising.
  • Examine your return on investment from your marketing efforts.
  • Identify trends — positive and negative — to plan for in the coming year.
  • Did you meet your sales goals? Why or why not? What does this mean for 2013?
  • Is the customer experience — navigation, speed, design — on your site acceptable?

Organisation

  • Evaluate organisational goals you had for the year.
  • Critique personnel and staffing levels. Are there gaps in your organisation?
  • Can your operations be more efficient?
  • How was your employee recruiting and retention?
  • How do you and your employees feel about their compensation?
  • How is your culture? Does it support your company values?
  • What should you improve on going forward? 

Infrastructure

  • Are your office and warehouse space sufficient to support current operations? Are costs in line?
  • Do you have the necessary equipment to support operations?
  • Is your computer infrastructure acceptable? Are your costs in line with expectations?
  • Is your customer support operating at the level you are targeting?
  • Is your fulfillment operation achieving performance targets?
  • Is your supply chain providing timely, reliable, and profitable products for your sales efforts? 

Financial Model

  • Did you achieve your revenue targets? Why or why not?
  • Did you achieve your profitability targets? Why or why not?
  • Do you have sufficient operating capital to support 2013 operations and investments?
  • Are you making the money you need to support your personal life? Don’t forget to mind your personal finances.
  • Did you have a strong year? If so, you may want to open a line of credit now so you will have a backup later.

8 Jan 2013

Multichannel Selling a Necessity

Selling products across multiple channels is a growing trend for ecommerce merchants. If you rely on a single online store, you will likely to be left behind, because consumer-shopping behaviors are changing rapidly.

This article examines sales and marketing channels that are now available for online retailers.

 

Sales Channels

  • Physical stores. Brick and mortar is thriving in some segments and dying out in others. Stores selling commodity products or electronics are the most challenged.
  • Online stores. Most resellers have at least one online store; even well known brands sell directly to consumers.
  • Mobile stores. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, it is becoming mandatory for your store to function well on those devices.
  • Mobile shopping apps. Dedicated apps will likely be the preferred way to shop for most consumers. How those apps become visible to search engines is yet to be determined.
  • Marketplaces. These are virtual malls like Amazon, eBay, Sears.com, Overstock.com, Buy.com, and more. How long before Google Shopping and Facebook join in?
  • Comparison-shopping engines. These are places to promote your products, not sell them. You need to support CSEs with the same content you do in other venues. Popular CSEs include Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Shopping.com, and TheFind.com.
  • Catalogs. Many observers thought printed catalogs would go away. But they are thriving for many multichannel retailers as a means of promoting their brands and creating customer loyalty.
  • Direct sales. Many companies still employ field and telesales forces for direct order taking.

Marketing Channels

  • SMS. "Short message service" — text messaging — is still more of a marketing channel, but it could lead to more transactional sales with the advent "near field communications," where smartphones communicate by touching or being physically close to each other.
  • Interactive advertising. This includes banner ads, pay-per-click ads, Facebook ads, and other online ad formats. The goals here are changing from click-throughs to sales conversions, with the use of more sophisticated ads and landing pages.
  • Mobile advertising. This is in its infancy and could drive huge direct revenue to merchants.
  • Social media. As with mobile advertising, we’ve barely scratched the surface with social media.

 

What Does This Mean for Ecommerce Merchants?

Retailers need to support all the touch points where their customers are browsing and shopping. To the lists above, add traditional media such as magazines, newspapers, television, and radio — which some think of as brand advertising. You should support the entire customer lifecycle. We addressed this in our recent two-part series "Managing Your Ecommerce Sales Funnel."

Forrester blogger Brian Walker addressed the notion of touch points in his recent post on “Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce.” According to Walker, "agile commerce" refers to adapting commerce to where consumers are, and not focusing on channels. This makes sense to me.

In short, understand what your prospects are up to. Are they still using search engines to look for products, or do they go to Amazon? Are they using iPhones? Do they seek shopping apps because they are so user friendly, and then forget about shopping on their laptop? Do they research on Facebook, or Bing Shopping?

For example, if I find a product online that looks interesting, the store better have the level of content detail and reviews I am seeking, or I will go to Amazon and be assured of good technical content and many reviews to read. I likely will buy there, too.

 

Systems and Processes to Support Multiple Channels

Next, look at your environment and decide if you can support the required channels. At the very least, you need to reduce the number of silos you have to as few as possible. Don’t create a mobile website that is separate from your existing online store. You need to leverage content and product information in all your channels.

Face the reality that your marketing budgets are going to increase. You will likely need to (a) support social media, (b) create increasing amounts of content, (c) have a mobile app, and (d) utilize mobile advertising on various platforms. And competition will get more intense. Develop a mobile strategy now. That’s where the ecommerce action will likely be in the next three years.

If you are a single-channel retailer, I wish you luck. You’ll need it.

2 Jan 2013

5 New Year's Resolutions for Small Online Retailers

As 2012 comes to a close and the year's robust holiday season is over, small online retailers will have a bit of time to reflect on how to improve business in 2013.

The coming year is likely to see growth in overall ecommerce spending, increased competition for loyal customers, and advances in marketing technology. What follows are five suggested resolutions. If followed, these resolutions could lead to more sales and more profit.

1. Treat Your Customers Better

Consumers — customers — are spending much more online, perhaps $252 billion in the U.S. alone in 2013, according to Forrester estimates.

The number of businesses selling online is also growing, increasing the competition for Internet shoppers. While many of these new businesses will compete solely on price, some merchants will offer more than just discounts. These retailers will offer exceptional customer service.

Resolving to treat customers better can mean changes in a few areas.
  • Retailers should encourage a "customer first" philosophy. Everything centers on providing great service.
  • Retailers should be easy to reach, offering an 800 number, live chat, and easy email options.
  • Retailers should give shoppers many options for payments, shipping, and returns.

 

2. Focus on Mobile

According to consulting firm Strategy Analytics, there will soon be more than 2 billion smartphones in use worldwide. Tablets, which are perhaps the most revolutionary of mobile devices, are enjoying amazing popularity too.

Online, mobile shoppers are using these devices to make purchases when it is convenient. Some of these mobile buyers might be sitting on a couch watching "Dancing with the Stars" and placing Internet orders from an iPad. Others could be standing at a shop in the mall comparing prices from a web-enabled smartphone.

To be successful small online retailers must resolve to serve mobile shoppers in 2013.
  • Retailers must ensure that their sites look good on mobile devices, including the iPad Mini.
  • Retailers should consider using mobile specific capabilities like geolocation to improve the buying experience.
  • Retailers should engage mobile-friendly payment methods and SMS too.

 

3. Integrate Video

Video platform maker SundaySky recently reported that 48 of the top 50 online retailers were using product video to boost sales and increase revenues. Only 16 of those same retailers used product videos the prior year. As the trend continues, it will be quite common to see video demonstrations or explanations on many product detail pages.

Small Internet retailers that resolve to integrate product videos into their sites and marketing campaigns will certainly need to invest time and money, but could see significant returns.
  • Retailers should invest in an inexpensive camcorder, a green screen or backdrop, a few lights, and video editing software.
  • Alternatively, retailers could choose a video platform that automatically makes videos from still product images and text.

 

4. Use Email Marketing Better

Email marketing is, perhaps, the most powerful tool at an ecommerce marketer's disposal. Done well, each email will generate sales and profits.

Resolving to use email marketing better in 2013 has a lot to do with planning.
  • Retailers should plan email marketing at least one quarter in advance, putting down on a calendar when emails will be sent, what they will offer, and how success will be measured.
  • Retailers should also seek to automate email marketing in 2013. Follow up emails should automatically go to subscribers that don't open an email after three days, as an example.
  • Retailers should use transactional emails to encourage new sales.
  • Finally, retailers should have a content plan that makes emails worth opening.

 

5. Reduce Your Reliance on Search Engines

In 2012, Google released two significant updates to its search algorithms. Called Panda and Penguin respectively, these updates had two important impacts on search.

First, both generally improved the results Google users received for many, if not most, queries, making the king of search engines even better.

Second, both devastated some online businesses that saw dramatic drops in search engine traffic after the changes. Many of the effected businesses had been following the advice of search engine optimization practitioners, but were frequently doing things to please bots — not real visitors. Google's goal is to please people, and that should be a site owner's goal too.

In all likelihood, Google, Bing, and other search engines will continue to make changes as competition in the search engine market heats up. Given this fact, it may make sense for some small online retailers to resolve to become less dependent on search engines in 2013.
  • Retailers should use email and text marketing to build lists of customers rather than constantly depending on new shoppers wandering in from Google.
  • Retailers may want to explore subscription-based offers that build lasting relationships with loyal customers.
  • Retailers may look to content marketing, using video, magazine like articles, and social media to drive traffic.

3 Remarketing Email Campaigns to Grow Repeat Customers

Getting a first purchase from a customer is always satisfying. New data shows, however, just how hard it is to build repeat customers, those that buy over and over again.

I’ve just completed one of the most extensive studies ever conducted into the purchasing behavior of website visitors. I analyzed the behavior of more than 600,000 people and a quarter of a million online transactions to understand (a) what people actually do when they buy, (b) their behavior when they abandon, and (c) what it takes to win repeat business.

What emerged gives a fascinating glimpse into how customers buy. For example, the data shows that the majority of visitors will abandon before making a purchase — on average there are 1.3 abandons for every sale.

Conventional wisdom suggests that website conversion is good, and abandonment is bad. Yet, this research shows that not all shopping cart abandonment is bad. In fact, shopping cart abandonment is an important part of the normal buying cycle for many customers, and for many types of purchase.

Getting that first purchase, however, is difficult.


New Customers; Repeat Customers

The probability of getting a new visitor to buy on the first visit is miniscule — less than 1 percent. There are always exceptions to this. For example, sites that sell specific had-to-find items such as spare parts get much higher first-time visitor conversion, but they are unlikely to build a regular revenue stream from this business.

Only 5 percent of new customers that make a purchase will return to the site, and only 3 percent will make a second purchase. Since repeat customers are a key to profitability, this is an alarming statistic. We also know that when new buyers return, they are much more likely to abandon—with a 64 percent higher than normal abandonment rate.

Remarketing emails are normally reserved for customers that don’t buy, in the form of shopping cart recovery emails. What this data shows is that remarketing can be an effective technique for new customers as well. Customers that have made a recent purchase are more than twice as likely to come back and buy when sent remarketing emails — 57 percent will come back and buy compared with 21 percent for all abandoners.

3 Remarketing Email Programs

While new customers are more likely to abandon, they are also more likely to return when sent remarketing emails. Here are three key email programs that all merchants can use to drive repeat sales.
  1. Purchase confirmation email. If you haven’t already optimized your purchase confirmation email, this is the place to start. Dust off that impersonal system-generated email and give it a new lease on life. These emails get very high open rates and can be incredibly effective in getting visitors back to the site for cross sell. Remember that while your goal may be to drive return visits to the site, it is important that the customer perceives this email as "great service," not an aggressive sales approach. Top items to include are:
    • Branding;
    • Hyperlinks back to view their order;
    • Support email addresses and contact phone numbers;
    • Recommendations of complementary products;
    • Best selling products in the category or for the site.
    These may require you to consider using your email service provider for transaction confirmations because this will give you full control of the email content and make it much easier to update. This is also the easiest way to include recommendations in your emails, since most ESPs have partnerships with the major recommendation engines. If you don’t have a recommendation engine, then you can still use these emails for simple cross-selling by having fixed recommendations based on your top sellers. Some ESPs charge extra for real-time transactional send access, so make sure that when you are renegotiating your contract you get this included.
  2. Post-purchase remarketing emails. Your newly redesigned purchase confirmation will drive visitors back to the site. But as we know from the data above, purchasing doubles the likelihood of abandonment. The next step in your strategy to drive repeat purchases should be to look at post-purchase remarketing to reconnect with your new customers when they abandon. If you don’t already send remarketing emails, then this is a quick win that will drive incremental revenues. Top items to remember are the following.
    • Remember remarketing is about delivering great service that drives up brand engagement and subsequent purchasing.
    • Include the image, name and description of the product the consumer abandoned. This makes the email very relevant.
    • Include a link back to the consumer's cart.
    • Keep the messaging focused on the abandoned products; don’t distract the customer with cross-sell offers.
    As with all remarketing, you need to take extreme care to stay in-synch with your customers. This is particularly important with an abandonment that follows a purchase because a significant number of customers come back just to check on their orders or to check the product details again. Getting out of step with what customers are doing will cause you numerous headaches and potentially damage your brand reputation. However, if you get it right you should see 57 percent coming back to purchase again.
    Shutterfly — which sells photo products — sends a post-purchase email offering discounts on future purchases.
    Shutterfly — which sells photo products — sends a post-purchase email offering discounts on future purchases.

  3. Reactivation email campaign. Despite your new purchase confirmation, the majority of new customers will not return to the site. The most commonly used tactic is to automatically drop new customers into your house mailing campaign. While this is undoubtedly better than nothing, it will never perform as well as a more targeted reactivation campaign. A reactivation campaign should pick up from where your transaction confirmation left off with a sequence of focused emails. You need to track activity on the site and exclude any customers that return through the lift of your campaign. Here are top tips to remember.
    • Keep the emails as relevant as you can, basing the content on their browsed and purchased items.
    • Use recommendations and top selling items.
    • Build in a "review your purchase" step or survey a minimum of two weeks after the first purchase.
    • Keep focused on delivering great service.
    • Use incentives to encourage a second purchase.
While these email campaigns may appear to be a lot of effort, if you already have a good email service provider they should not be difficult to set up. They are worth the effort. These emails are incredibly lucrative, usually becoming the highest grossing emails in terms of revenue per email as soon as they are launched.

10 Ways to Encourage Customer Ratings and Reviews

According to Nielsen’s "Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages" report, which surveyed more than 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries, 92 percent of consumers said they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.
From an ecommerce perspective, there are a number of benefits to using consumer-driven ratings and reviews. They provide reassurance to the customer during the decision making process, relieving them of insecurities they may otherwise have. They also help customers find products that best fit their needs and help guarantee a more satisfying shopping experience.

Social Media Impacts Customer Ratings and Reviews

Social media provides consumers with a voice to express opinions, critique products, and offer recommendations.
The use of social media can help overcome a consumer's reluctance to purchase products. This applies not only to peer-to-peer sharing of product reviews and recommendations, but through interactions that take place between retailers and customers, as well. Such interaction with social network fans and followers can foster trust and increase loyalty, which can lead to more positive customer reviews, higher feedback ratings, and repeat sales.

10 Ways to Encourage Customer Ratings and Reviews

Considering the benefits offered by ratings and reviews, how can merchants convince their customers to write them? Here is a list of 10 ideas.
  1. Mimic Amazon. Look into how Amazon integrates customer feedback into site copy and product pages, and then make a list of ways you could do likewise.
  2. Use Facebook. Incorporate Facebook's Open Graph to provide customers with the ability to share reviews on the social network after posting them on your ecommerce website.
  3. Use a credible platform. Make it easy to leave reviews on your website by employing the use of product review solutions such as those provided by Bazaarvoice, Reevoo, Turnto, Rating System or Review Script. Many ecommerce platforms also include rating and review features.
  4. Publish good and bad reviews. Don't filter or edit out negative reviews, as having both positive and negative reviews builds trust and credibility.
  5. Encourage customers to write reviews. But don't offer free merchandise or money to customers in exchange for reviews. You don’t want to compensate customers in exchange for a positive review. Instead, use contests such as the chance to enter a drawing.
  6. Ask. Personally ask loyal customers and Facebook fans to submit reviews. Include a link to the review form on your website.
  7. Use email. Send a follow-up email a few weeks after a purchase to request a review. A post-purchase remarketing email is the perfect opportunity to ask for a review.
  8. Consider video. Encourage customers to make videos of product reviews to post to YouTube.
  9. Share reviews on social media. Use links to individual reviews on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social networks where you maintain a presence.
  10. Share product information. Use Facebook Like, Tweet This, Pin It, and Google +1 buttons on product pages to facilitate social sharing. Very often, people will include a comment about the product when they share.