Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Running an e-commerce website is a never-ending task, from trying to squeeze that extra bit of conversion rate out of the check-out page to figuring out which referrers give you the best traffic. There’s also a plethora of tools out there to help you achieve your goals. But which ones do what, and why should you use some of them? This article introduces some of these tools and offers a tip or two on how to use them.

If you own or operate an e-commerce webs, you’ll find one or two things that you haven’t tried before. If you’re new to e-commerce, this article should give you insight into some of the possibilities available to you as you enter the market. A plethora of merchants out there could benefit from lower-cost e-commerce help and advice. Covered in this article are analytics tips, visualisation tools, product page tips, checkout tips,li>4 testing tools to try right now and a final tip.

This article is only the tip of the iceberg. If you have any tips on usability, the check-out process, product pages, analytics or testing, please add them to the comments, so that this article becomes even more useful to readers.

[Offtopic: by the way, did you know that Smashing Magazine has one of the most influential and popular Twitter accounts? Join our discussions and get updates about useful tools and resources — follow us on Twitter!]

Analytics

Analytics are the key to knowing what’s going on with your website. This section gives five tips for using Google Analytics to get the most out of your stats. If you have a high-traffic e-commerce website or wish to get even more in-depth with analytics, it might also be worth considering some higher-level analytics packages such as Coremetrics, Omniture or Webtrends.

We’ll focus here on more advanced analytics with the Google tool and assume that you know the basics of metrics.

Analytics Tip 1: Advanced Segments

Picture-1 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Advanced segments allow you to do everything you normally do with Analytics, but with only on a small subset of data. How is this useful? Say your e-commerce website serves both the UK and US. You could create two advanced segments, one for your US visitors and one for your UK visitors. This allows you to zero in on how your US visitors differ from your UK visitors in terms of purchasing habits, website usage, searches and so on.

Also, why not compare two or more different referrer sources by a number of metrics to see which provides better-quality traffic? The list is endless and limited only by your imagination.

Want to find out more with more examples? Read Avinash Kaushik’s advanced segments article.

Analytics Tip 2: Custom Reports

Picture-13 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Let’s face it: the default reports in Google Analytics aren’t superb; they don’t tell you what you really want to know. That’s where custom reports come in.

You can add the metrics that matter to you, on the dimensions you want to see. An example would be a report of referring websites, with their average per-visit value, bounce rates and time spent on site (see graphic above).

This report is so much more useful than your standard referrers report, with better information in one place.

Analytics Tip 3: Advanced Filters

In the example above, the report gave me 392 rows of information. In a world of top 10s and top 25s, humans can’t process that many rows and make sense of that information.

This is where advanced filters come in. If we want to find the best-quality referrers on the list, we can get Google Analytics to filter out what we don’t want. Click “Advanced filter” at the bottom of the page and add this:

Picture-21 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

This brings our 392 sources down to just 8; knowing what those 8 are is great. The filters above exclude all direct traffic (because we want to identify referring websites) and mail server referrals (we’re looking for websites), and they give us the highest success rates on per-visit value. Quick, valuable data.

Analytics Tip 4: Intelligence

Picture-15 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

This is a newer feature of Google Analytics, one that does some heavy lifting for you. Intelligence allows you to see changing traffic patterns without having to set up reports for everything you want to track. If one day your bounce rate goes up by 10%, you’ll see an alert and won’t have to rely on spotting it.

This is really useful for discovering patterns. The image to the right shows an alert we got for one of our websites for which the bounce rate went through the roof. There was obvious panic until we realized that the last date to submit orders in time for Christmas had just passed. Panic over. The message on the home page was the cause of the spike in the bounce rate. We were notified of the issue quickly and could dig right away for the cause.

Other Analytics Tools

We’ve focused here mainly on Google Analytics because it is so widely used. However, that’s not to disrespect the plethora of worthy analytics tools out there:

  • Clicky
    An interesting take on analytics: more useful standard reports and immediately accessible data, but lacks power user features.
  • Motally
    Mobile analytics. If your website has high mobile phone usage, then you should try this tool to see more in-depth analytics.

Visualization

Data can be pretty overwhelming when you have thousands of entries. Visualization gives you quick insight into your data without overloading.

Visualization Tip 1: Wordle

A genius service from Jonathan Feinburg, Worlde allows you to enter any kind of textual information and get a visual representation of that text on the screen. This is very useful for getting an overall view of your keywords and the structure of what’s going into your website. My blog returns the following visualization.

Picture-16 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

What does this tell me? Well, given how much I’ve written about e-commerce, that word doesn’t appear! So, I need to pay much closer attention to my keyword selection and usage. I also need to pay attention to why the word “offline” is so big.

If you need to export more than 500 words out of Google Analytics for your keyword report, check out this tutorial.

Visualization Tip 2: Heat Maps

Heat maps give you an easy way to look at your important pages without having to scour rows of data on your top content. They also provide much-needed information on what people are doing relative to the page size, length and placement of items, which data cannot do alone.

Heatmap in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Run heat maps on your most important pages: check-out pages, product pages, search pages. This will give you quick, useful information on whether people seem to be glossing over vital information or ignoring key functionality.

Key questions could be:

  • Are people finding my calls to action (such as “Add to basket”) easily?
  • Is an important part of my navigation being ignored?
  • Are page elements taking up space that no one is noticing?

Crazy Egg is a decent heat map service. Another good tool is clickdensity.

Visualization Tip 3: Website Overlay Tool

This feature in Google Analytics overlays percentages, conversion rates and other usable statistics on pages to tell you what people have done and clicked on different pages. Most usable is that when you click on a link you’re taken to that page, with the overlay in place, allowing you to see how people are navigating the website. Did 20% of visitors go to the next most important page after this one? Is that what you were projecting? Gems of information abound.

Visualization Tip 4: Scrutinizer

Scrut in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Learning how users view your website without having to ask them can be very beneficial. Of course, user testing has no true substitute, but a few tools can help:

Scrutinizer shows you slowly how people may be viewing your website. It applies a filter over top the website, spotlighting the area where your mouse is pointing at. I don’t know the science behind it, but it might be useful to get users to perform tasks while the filter is applied; it would really show usability.

Visualization Tip 5: Feng GUI

Picture-24 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Feng GUI allows you to look at any marketing piece (including a website) to see which parts attract attention and in what order. It uses algorithms to simulate eye-tracking and is useful for seeing whether what you thought was prominent really is. Not a substitute for user testing either, though.

Product Page Tips

One of they keys to e-commerce success is a good product page. Here are a few tips to improve your product pages.

Product Page Tip 1: Obvious Call To Action

Picture-18 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Your “Add to basket” button is obviously key to your e-commerce website’s success. Make sure the button is not hidden, too small or confusing in any way. It should be above the fold and not difficult to click.

Get Elastic has a good article on “Add to cart” buttons; an oldie but a goodie on statistics, even if the buttons are a bit out of date.

Product Page Tip 2: Delivery Information

Picture-19 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Do not withhold delivery information till the last minute when people are checking out. It leads to mass frustration and ill feeling towards your website. Make sure people can see an item’s stock status (”in stock,” “out of stock,” “date expected back in stock”) and the delivery lead time. This will prevent a slew of customers from abandoning their baskets further along the check-out process.

The image above is from Play.com: delivery cost, dispatch estimate and stock levels. Great job.

Product Page Tip 3: Progressive Disclosure of Information

Picture-22 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

People are very different in how they want to consume information. Some prefer social information such as reviews, ratings and comments. Others prefer technical specifications. Still others like to read a store’s description of a product (if it’s well written).

The point is to give everyone access to the information they want without cluttering the page. Whether it’s grouping information under different tabs or providing a “More details” link, there are many ways to give progressively more information. Without compromising the layout, this should give 80% of visitors what they need.

The image above is from Currys, an electronics retailer. It has main bullet points for each product and a “More info” link. The link merely takes you further down the page, but it prevents the top of the screen from being cluttered with information that many people may not be interested in.

Product Page Tip 4: Copy Is King

Make sure your copy is well written and unique. Too many websites use the standard manufacturer’s description. This harms you two-fold. First, the copy is in so many other places on the Internet that your SEO will be harmed. Secondly, you’re not giving the purchaser any reason why they should purchase that product from you. Good copy should inspire confidence in you and the product as well as give your personal slant on the product, thus building your website’s personality.

Hire a copy-writer, or do it yourself. But do it. Even if a product is your top revenue generator, still do something!

Check-Out Tips

Don’t let this last hurdle of purchasing trip you up.

Check-Out Tip 1: Allow Guests to Check Out

Picture-110 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

You need to be able to give very good reasons why forcing guests to register to purchase products is essential. Think of offline shopping. Do you have to open an account with a news agent to buy a newspaper? Of course not. Don’t make that mistake online. Allow guests to check out.

But you also need to sell reasons why guests should register. It’s all about making it easy, now and in future.

Check-Out Tip 2: Enclose the Check-Out Process

Once someone wants to check out, the process should be as fast and slick as possible. Remove distractions, including ads, navigation and offers that might distract them from what they are trying to accomplish, which is to pay.

Some will say this stage is a great opportunity to up-sell or feature related products. I disagree. That can be done effectively on the product page or just after the product has been added to the basket. Distracting the visitor or encouraging them to choose something else before giving you their money is an invitation to them to abandon their cart.

Check-Out Tip 3: Ask for Feedback After the Visitor Has Submitted Their Order

Once a visitor has converted, rather than show the standard confirmation page, why not also ask for some feedback on their experience? SurveyMonkey lets you quickly build an online survey, including questions such as:

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, were you able to easily find what you were looking for?”
  • “Was there something in you particularly liked or disliked about our website?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how easy was the check-out process?”
  • “Please tell us what we can do to improve your next visit?”

This qualitative feedback is invaluable to e-commerce website owners. Sure, not everyone will fill out the survey, but several will be more than willing to voice their opinions. If you do this, though, remember to follow up to let people know what you’ve changed and why.

Check-Out Tip 4: Handle Errors Gracefully

Picture-23 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

Problems occur during the check-out stage. Cards are declined, people enter invalid email addresses and they forget to specify their preferred delivery method. To cover all eventualities, you should display messages that are:

  • Contextual
    Put the message next to where the error occurred.
  • Useful
    No “Error code 21″ messages please. Write friendly, useful error messages, such as, “Sorry, we believe your email address is invalid. Did you accidentally add an extra full stop or space?”
  • Conventional
    Error messages should be red. People understand that red indicates a problem.

Luke Wroblewski has a great article on A List Apart about this.

Testing Tools

Test, test, test: the mantra of all e-commerce website creators. Only your market knows the answers.

Testing Tool 1: UserTesting.com

Button-logo in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

At only $29 a test, UserTesting.com delivers incredible value for the money. For $290, you choose the test to be carried out and the demographics of the audience, and hit “Go.” Not much later, you get 10 pieces of highly detailed video and written feedback. The information contained in those reports will earn you a lot more revenue than $290.

Spend some time thinking about the type of people you want to participate in your testing. If you run a baby clothing website, naturally you would want mothers to participate in the testing. However, it might also be useful to run the tests on fathers as well as aunts and uncles (typical gift purchasers) because their purchasing behavior is very different.

Possible briefs are:

  • Find, evaluate and purchase product x.
  • Find the information on delivery.
  • Purchase our gift voucher.

Testing Tool 2: Google Website Optimizer

A lot has been written about Google Website Optimizer. It’s easy to use, so give it a run. It’s great for testing different “Add to cart” buttons to see which gets a better conversion rate.

Google-website-optimizer in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

The main advantage of Google Website Optimizer is that you can test things on your actual market (whereas services like UserTesting.com merely attempt to match your target market). This also means that you’re able to choose how large a percentage of your traffic to test and thus achieve statistical relevance.

Bryan Eisenberg has written a great book about it.

Testing Tool 3: 5-Second Test

Picture-3 in Handy Tools and Tips for E-Commerce Websites

This does what its name implies: gives you quick feedback on your website—entirely subjective feedback, of course, but interesting when used in conjunction with analytics to correlate the data.

It can be very useful to testing elements you want to be prominent. What’s the purpose of your website? Where’s the call to action? And exept for some premium features, it’s free. No brainer? Indeed.

Testing Tool 4: SEO Tools

SEOmoz, GeoTarget, Linkscape and Trifecta are four among many tools you can use to test your website’s on-page and off-page SEO scores. They can quickly identify problems with your website so that you can fix them and hopefully improve your ranking.

Final Tip

Technologies come and go. Who knows what we’ll be using for analytics in five years’ time or what kind of information we’ll be tracking across devices and channels. The key to a good e-commerce strategy is customer insight and engagement. In other words, find out what people want, and give it to them (in an engaging way). Always be listening, asking questions and monitoring every facet of your website, business, industry and competition, and use whatever technology is appropriate to help you achieve your goals.

Better Customer Service Through Transparency, Tribes, and Talent

I confess that I have a warm spot in my heart for customer service operations. It is probably because I met my wife of 29.5 years when she and I were on the customer service phones at the Polaroid Corporation. As an old phone jockey, it is apparent to me that the world of customer service is transforming. If we look back at history, we can see that the central tendency of consumer businesses is to move more and more function to the end consumer and to provide them more visibility to the availability of the product or service. As the phone grew in this country as a consumer device, clever pundits predicted that in order to meet the emerging demand for phone calls, the entire country would have to become telephone operators, and that is exactly what we are: We dial our own service. Likewise, when Michael J Cullen opened his first King Kullen store in Jamaica, Queens with 6,000 square feet, on August 4, 1930 with the wonderful catch phrase, “Pile it High, Sell it Low,” he ushered in the world of supermarket self-service at low prices. When they can, firms let customers roll their own.

Today, technology is enabling new capabilities and I see three trends which are recreating customer service in a new, more responsive, and economically efficient manner: transparency, tribes, and talent.

Transparency is best exemplified by Federal Express’s efforts over the years. They were among the first companies to “expose” their internal systems so that not only could the customer schedule pick-ups, print labels, and manage his account, but he could also see the same level of detail the firm had about the location of his shipment. Many firms could benefit by letting customers see where their product or service truly is. BMW allows people who have configured and ordered a Mini Cooper to check the status of the order, and see it location on the high seas as it is shipped across the Atlantic. So what? Well, just think about how the dynamic with your cable company would change if you could actually see if the service truck was on its way to your house. It certainly would change the attitude between the customer and the company. Heck, even the government enables you to track tagged polar bears!

Seth Godin’s book on Tribes talks about groups of people who are passionate about a topic — and those firms that are great at harnessing tribes change the nature of customer service. Dell famously converted an angry tribe into a happier one. There are tribes ready to be released about any product or service. There is a tribe who cares about airline travel; there’s one that feels passionately about the Porsche; another that obsesses over flat screen TVs. Those companies who have bad customer service are attacked by the tribe. Those who are good at involve the tribe in creating solutions for other customers. As Seth points out, tribes need to be led.

Turning to the third point, I believe unlocking talent is critical to the customer experience. (Godin talks about some of these issues under the term “tribe” but I wanted to separate talent out from tribe.) Let’s face it, most of the content that companies put out about how to use their product or service is often terminally boring, or disconnected to the real audience. Lauren Luke doesn’t have that problem. Who is Lauren Luke you ask? She has over 300,000 subscribers for her YouTube video tutorials on makeup. She has a personality and approach which sings on the small screen, and the YouTube format. The formal star-making machinery of any cosmetics company would never have found this woman; she’s not a famous actress or a model, nor does she fit some other spokesperson stereotype. Yet now she is one of the most well-known make up artists in the world. Talented users can create content that is engaging and useful — sometimes, as in Luke’s case, more engaging and more useful than the company’s own content. There is no reason that my local cable company could not have a contest for the best user-generated content on how to set up a new cable box and program the remote. Some would be fun, others clinical, and with the right contest-like structure, the end users will create something so much more engaging than any internal communications group could generate.

The general message is very clear — open up; involve your audience in crafting solutions as well as the information about your firm’s offers to other customers. The economics of this type of customer care are superior to anything that can be done with internal resources alone. When I did an analysis of a customer service organization at IBM many years ago, the codification of solutions into a knowledge base shifted first call resolution from less than 60% to over 90%. Customers were happier. The technical staff could spend their time on new products instead of chasing down customer problems. What’s not to like?

The future will be more connected, with more ability for people to share their impressions, stories and advice. In an ever-more crowded information market, the natural tendency will be for those people who lead the tribes to become important influencers. Those who generate great new content will be the market movers. Isn’t it time to get involved in this emerging customer service structure now — while there is still time to build a reputation based on “earned media”?

Yahoo provided the following statement:
“At all levels of the company, Yahoo! is constantly exploring ways to improve the consumer and advertiser experience, including aligning products and services against the company’s vision to be the center of people’s online lives. We have decided to enter into a strategic partnership with PriceGrabber to power the Product Submit functionality of Yahoo! Shopping. The partnership will provide users, merchants and advertisers with increased service and support. This partnership will combine the Yahoo! Shopping and PriceGrabber marketplaces allowing merchants and advertisers to gain access to a larger shopper base and users to gain access to even more products. All parties will continue to be a part of the overall Yahoo! experience and now will benefit from increased innovation thanks to the scale and resources this partnership provides. Yahoo! will continue to monetize the site through ad sales and a revenue share with PriceGrabber.”

Relatively quietly Yahoo has decided to outsource most of Yahoo Shopping to PriceGrabber. This is analogous to what Yahoo is doing with Microsoft-Bing in search — just not with Microsoft. Merchant listings will now come from PriceGrabber and e-commerce sellers will only be able to get into Yahoo Shopping via PriceGrabber or Yahoo Search (Bing).

This is interesting on many levels. It could signal the arrival of a “vertical outsourcing” strategy that moves to other verticals: autos, real estate, travel, local . . . It also seems to represent something a loss for Microsoft. While PriceGrabber has a larger product database than Microsoft there’s probably more than that in Yahoo’s decision not to simply work with Microsoft here, which would seemingly make sense given the search relationship.

Perhaps Yahoo doesn’t want to be too dependent on Microsoft across too many fronts. However, Bing sponsored search ads will be the ones that appear at the top of search results in Yahoo shopping (once the regulators sign off on the deal).

Let’s look at a page. The following represents my speculation about who will provide what going forward:

Picture 143

Yahoo! has released this help page that will answer most questions.

One of the more traditional ways of getting attention is to get your business in the news. This tradition continues strongly on the net, with businesses routinely distributing press releases and their methods even more vigorous than in the old days. One of the places to be seen is on the pages of Google News.

The news section of Google was introduced in beta in 2001 and in full version in 2006, but all that time hasn’t made getting on its pages any easier. There are certain restrictions you need to be able to work around. Optimistically for Google News is also slightly different from regular SEO methods.

The restrictions

The biggest restriction for getting on Google News is that it’s not as open as regular Google search. In the interests of providing genuine news stories, the site searches only approved news sources. Needless to say, getting your site recognized as a news source is well-nigh impossible if you’re the average business. Some sites have managed, with time, patience and a real dedication to news in their industry, to achieve this aim. Unless you have a genuine interest in your industry’s news, it’s just not worth it.

Another restriction comes in on the second level. Once you manage to get your article on one of the news sites that Google does search for News, you need to ensure it’s the kind of article that will appeal to Google. This means that a special kind of optimization for Google News needs to be performed, adding another layer of work for you and your SEO company.

Optimisation considerations

Optimisation for Google News has some similarities to search engine optimization. Keywords are still important, although you need to look at the keywords that will appeal for this specific kind of search. Some differences include:

Sources: It is thought that having your news piece appear in several places makes it more attractive to Google. This makes sense, as it shows that your article is newsworthy, but it is a shift in thinking when you’re used to SEO.

Location: A representative from Google News has said that location matters with Google News, but hinted that the usual tricks for location won’t work. Simply putting location keywords into your title and tags isn’t enough. Location needs to be mentioned throughout the story.

Other things to note

Real time is a major consideration for Google News. The pages update continuously and all of the flaws usually seen with Google’s real time efforts are decidedly absent in Google News. As a consequence, you need to consider not just the amount of time your piece is likely to stay on its pages, but when you want it to appear. Posting something in the morning is a good idea, but it may take a little experimentation before you get the timing just right.

Source: http://www.seoconsult.co.uk/SEOBlog/google-and-search-engine-optimisation/attracting-the-attention-of-google-news-to-promote-seo.html

Metrics firm comScore released some new quarterly mobile data that shows strong growth for Android handsets in the US and an increase in mobile web usage:

Picture 124

RIM showed modest growth while the iPhone’s growth, according to these figures, flattened. Meanwhile WinMo and Palm lost ground.

Of course with the advent of Windows Mobile 7 and the fact that it’s not shipping until Q4, we should see Microsoft’s current mobile OS continue to suffer declines as users either update with other platforms or wait for the new Windows 7 handsets.

Picture 125

The numbers above basically translate into just over 70 million people accessing the mobile internet with varying degrees of frequency. By comparison 158 million or more are on SMS and just over 198 million are PC-internet users in the US.

Source: http://searchengineland.com/comscore-android-shows-strength-as-mobile-web-usage-grows-37777

  • About eZ Blog

    The place where eZians share their thoughts, experiences, knowledge and sow the seeds for ecomZera´s growth.


    eZians - Log in now to share the knowledge and thoughts with the world.

  •  

    March 2010
    M T W T F S S
    « Feb   Apr »
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    293031  
  • eZ Latest Blog Posts

  • Categories

  • Archives