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by Paul Rogers on 5th December 2012
Paul Rogers looks back on four years working on ecommerce websites and how to help user experience, boost performance and improve conversion rates of a website.
Using a sub-standard on-site search engine is one of the most frustrating barriers for ecommerce users, as it prevents them from finding what they’re looking for and from navigating around the website. Some ecommerce platforms, particularly Magento, come with a poor search engine as standard, which is bad for general usability and your conversion rate.
Most ecommerce platforms will have third party modules available that will help you to at least partially eliminate this issue. Alternatively, you can look to integrate with one of the following:
PredictiveIntent is a site search and recommendation engine that is used by a host of ecommerce merchants. PredictiveIntent has already been integrated with several ecommerce platforms, including Magento and Interspire.
Locayta is used by some of the UK’s biggest retailers, such as Tesco and BooHoo, for product merchandising and search solutions. Locayta is also fully integrated with a number of platforms, including Magento.
SLI Systems is another merchandising and site search solution that is used by a host of big-name retailers, such as B&Q, Boden and Interflora. I had a demo of SLI Systems at MagentoLive and was really impressed with how the search pages are structured.
Solr is an open source search engine project that allows for fast and feature-packed site search for ecommerce and non-ecommerce websites. Solr is designed specifically for searching and is highly customisable.
Elastic Search is an open source project that allows people to do extraordinary things with data. We’re currently using Elastic Search for a site search and product ranking project with Magento (that, once completed, will be available via Magento Connect).
Although the premium search providers are more expensive, the open source options are likely to require a lot of development time to integrate them with your website.
For people looking to improve their search results for key terms in the short-term, I would recommend applying redirects to category pages so that it’s easier for users to find the relevant products. Also, lots of people search ecommerce sites for SKUs and product codes, so it’s really important to optimise your search solution for these queries too.
Focusing on bringing back the people that have left your cart can be a really cost effective strategy for improving your conversion rate.
There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the amount of people choosing not to buy within your checkout process; here are some of the ones that I’ve seen work well.
Once you’ve got the user’s details and you know that they’ve abandoned a cart, I would recommend getting in touch with them as soon as you can. Depending on the nature of the business, you could phone them and ask if there’s anything you can do to help, or you could send a subtle, personal email.
You can also use SeeWhy, a specialist service designed to help deal with abandonment, to help you with this.
Alternatively, you could send them a discount code to help to try and entice them to return to the site and convert.
Although this is not always the best solution – we’re currently building a new checkout module for Magento that will remove the main navigation from the cart pages. This makes it harder for people to leave your checkout and increases the likelihood of users converting.
We use event tracking (as per the image above) to monitor where users are clicking on the page (clicks that don’t change the URL), so that we can see how they’re engaging with the pages. Using event tracking on the checkout page is particularly useful as there are generally lots of options that are hard to track, ie: checkout with PayPal.
With product pages, monitoring how users are using additional image and video content is really useful and can help illustrate their role in conversions.
Goals (and goal funnels) provide a great way of visualising user journeys and identifying the stages where your visitors are dropping off or leaving the site. We use goals to track common journeys through retail sites (like homepage > brand page > category page > product) so we can see where people are dropping off along the way.
Attribution is a huge part of ecommerce and for smaller retailers who haven’t invested in attribution models, the multi-channel conversions section of Google Analytics is a really valuable feature.
We’ve had a lot of success with attributing sales from direct visits to organic queries, as users tend to use Google for research and come back to the site later (via the direct URL) to purchase.
The architecture of an ecommerce website is hugely important for both SEO and user experience.
I generally recommend that ecommerce sites have as many static category pages as possible, as it allows them to optimise for longer tail queries. One of our retail clients improved their traffic by around 25% over the course of a year after we turned all of their dynamic filter pages into static landing pages.
If you have more specific landing pages ranking for longer tail queries, they’re also far more likely to convert than a generic category page. An example could be a branded collection page ranking for a keyword rather than the brand landing page.
Over the last 18 months or so, more and more retailers have been investing in high quality imagery and video content for their products – and have reaped the rewards as a result.
US-based footwear retailer, Zappos reportedly increased their conversion rate by 2% by adding video content to some of their products – they then proceeded to create 50,000 more videos for the remainder of their product pages.
It’s vitally important that as a retailer you promote the benefits of the products that you’re selling, especially on the product pages. The content you feature on your product pages should outline the specific benefits to the user, more so than focusing on particular features and specifications.
I would always recommend using your sales team for this, by asking them what questions they get asked and what pieces of information generally persuade a user to convert. You can also use the transcripts from live chat.
This information can then be used to re-align your content and imagery to match what your customers are looking for.
Testing is the place where all CRO activity should start, as it gives you the data you need to make a decision. Often, designers and webmasters think they know what their customers will respond to, but in reality you can only find out by testing users in an unbiased environment.
User testing sessions and focus groups can be very time-intensive and expensive, so I’d recommend using something like What Users Do or UserTesting to get the data without carrying out the tests yourself.
Mod_Pagespeed is an apache server module that automatically
applies best practice performance principles (for things like images and JS).
Full page caching ensures that less of your website needs to be loaded when a visitor accesses it. We’ve recently launched full page caching on one of our Magento clients and have seen a considerable improvement in the load times for all types of pages.
Image compression services can help to improve the load time of image-heavy pages on your website, particularly with product pages.
We’d recommend using JPEG mini; a super image compression service with pre-built integration with a number of platforms.
I wrote this post on Smart Insights recently, which goes into more detail on website performance.
One of the best ways to find out what you could be doing to improve your user experience and reduce the barriers to conversion for your customers is simply asking them what was difficult and what could be improved.
In the past, we’ve used the 4Q surveys and Net Promoter Score to get an indication of what’s working and how customers feel about our clients’ sites. I’d also recommend utilising live chat if you’re already using it to communicate with customers and having a pop up box or floating feedback link. Qualaroo (formerly Kiss Insights) is also great as an additional resource for collecting feedback.
If you’re using live chat, you can also review the transcripts to look for obvious barriers to conversions.
If you have any questions about any of the points I’ve mentioned, please leave them in the comments area below or get in touch with me via Twitter.
Image credit: Shopping online from BigStock
The views expressed in this post are those of the guest author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.