Tags Posts tagged with "Ecommerce Site"

Ecommerce Site

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Editor’s Note: Meet Kunle Campbell at Ignite 2015, our conference on Sept. 16 and 17 in Dallas, where he’ll present two sessions: “Google Analytics: Set-up Checklist for Ecommerce Merchants” and “Essential Google Analytics Dashboards, to Save Time and Improve Focus.”

Benchmarking is an insightful tool in Google Analytics. It compares your site’s performance to previous results and to your industry’s average.

It provides valuable context to your business, gives insights into industry trends, and helps to compare your indicators to competitors. Contextualizing your site’s performance is a good way to measure the work you have done, plan ahead, and set meaningful targets.

1. Enabling Benchmarking in Google Analytics

Log in your Google Analytics account and navigate to Admin > Account Settings.
Scroll down and ensure that the “Benchmarking” box is ticked. Click “Save.”

First step is to enable Benchmarketing.

2. Ecommerce Historical Benchmarking

Historical benchmarking means that you set expectations based on your own historical performance. For example, you can set benchmarks comparing data from previous years or previous quarters.

Look at month-over-month trends across years and month-over-month trends for each year. This set of numbers can serve as benchmarks. To make a forecast, take into account a number of factors, such as major changes in your marketing and customer acquisition strategy over the last time period, shifts in investment, and insider knowledge.

For example, you can compare how your acquisition channels performed this year versus last year. For this you should select the Acquisition section in the Reporting tab then choose All Traffic > Channels and go to the calendar selector. Select the date range of this year and put a tick in the checkbox “Compare to” and select “Previous year.” Click “Apply.”

From the image below, you can see that Organic Search shows much less growth of new users as compared to Direct traffic — 8.66 percent vs 62.22 percent. By analyzing previous years, we can set benchmarks for the growth of new users for each channel in comparison to the previous year and determine whether organic search has underperformed or grown in the year in view.

In this example, Organic Search shows much less growth of new users as compared to Direct traffic — 8.66 percent vs 62.22 percent.

3. Ecommerce Industry Benchmarking

Ecommerce benchmarking is valuable because it provides the necessary context of increases or decreases of metrics that you track that may not have arisen as a result of your actions, but from wider industry trends.

For example, if you noticed significant traffic from the U.K., ask if your competitors also seeing this too or is it a result of your latest campaign. Or if you see an increase in traffic from mobile users, try to determine if this as a result of a global trend or your latest mobile-friendly design. Google Analytics Benchmarking will help you answer these questions.

This wealth of information gathered by individual sites, anonymously combined and shared, requires a large volume of reliable user data — which Google Analytics has — to make it valuable and meaningful for specific businesses.

Google Analytics benchmarking covers three main dimensions: (a) traffic sources, (b) location and device, and (c) six additional metrics: sessions, percentage of new sessions, new sessions, pages per session, average session duration, and bounce rate.

Google identifies your sites across three benchmark indicators:

  • Industry vertical (over 16,000 different options);
  • Geographic region;
  • Seven traffic size classifications.

Benchmark reports enable you to alter these indicators within the report. You can change your site’s vertical and compare its performance to alternative business types, locations, and sizes.

4. Benchmark Reports

Enabling data sharing activates reports in your account, which allows data to be shared anonymously. The reports appear under a new Benchmarking option within the Audience section.

The Benchmarking tool is composed of three reports: Channels, Location, and Devices. Here is the navigation panel in these reports. The numbers in the red boxes correspond to filtering options, which I’ve explained, below.

Filter benchmarking reports by many criteria.

  1. Industry Vertical. This allows you to choose the vertical and sub-vertical to compare your website to. Note that the deeper you go in the vertical hierarchy, the smaller the sample size you are comparing your website against.
  2. Country / Region. This allows you choose the country and region you want to benchmark against. As above, if you benchmark against the U.S., the sample will be much larger than benchmarking against, say, California. Thus, there’s a tradeoff between accuracy and precision.
  3. Size by daily sessions. The size of the business in terms of average number of daily sessions.
  4. Benchmark group size. The number of properties that contribute data to establish this benchmark.
  5. Benchmark metrics to chart. You can choose a number of metrics to be shown in the chart. Here are the options: % Benchmark New Sessions, % New Sessions, % New Sessions Benchmark Delta, Benchmark New Users, Benchmark Sessions, New Users, New Users Benchmark Delta, Sessions Benchmark Delta, Avg. Benchmark Session Duration, Avg. Session Duration, Avg. Session Duration Benchmark Delta, Benchmark Bounce Rate, Benchmark Pages / Session, Bounce Rate, Bounce Rate Benchmark Delta, Pages / Session, Pages / Session Benchmark Delta.

Apart from those navigation options, you will also see, just above the chart, two new icons that can be used to show or hide the colors on the table — green and red — and the comparison numbers.

The use of colors helps you to identify overperforming or underperforming metrics versus the benchmark. Green — generally positive values — means you’re doing better and red indicates potential areas of improvement — generally negative numbers. The stronger the color, the wider the difference compared to the benchmark.

The use of colors — green and red — helps to identify overperforming or underperforming metrics versus the benchmark.

Now, let’s look at each report.

Channel Benchmarks

This report helps you better understand your performance against similar businesses from an acquisition channel standpoint. It helps answer questions such as:

  • Are my social campaigns performing well?
  • Should I invest more in display advertising?
  • Is my website search-engine optimized as compared to my competitors?


Location Benchmarks

The Location report compares your country/territory data to the benchmark of each country/territory you receive traffic from. This report provides metrics by country, which are handy for ecommerce sites that sell internationally, to understand where across the globe you are performing well, or not.

If you operate in just a single country, it will be simpler to understand. But if you have a global audience it might be interesting to use this together with the other reports. For example, if you see that you are underperforming in Canada, go to the Channels report and see the underperforming channels in Canada.

The Location report compares your country/territory data to the benchmark of each country/territory you receive traffic from.

Device Benchmarks

The Devices benchmark report compares your device traffic reports to desktop, mobile, and tablet traffic benchmarks in your industry. It is an insightful report that shows how well your traffic by device type compares to competitors in your industry.

Not all sites have fully embraced mobile browsing. The results vary massively by industry. In retail, some businesses already receive more traffic from tablets and mobile than from desktops.

However, for Finance, for instance, some sites are only seeing about 35 percent of traffic from mobile and tablet devices.

As with the Location report, the data is only available at this one level of depth. You cannot compare results by specific device or operating system, for example. But it still serves as a good marker as to where you stand.

5. Interpreting Benchmark Reports for an Ecommerce Site

How can benchmarking report data be interpreted? Here are a few ways to interpret each report.

Channel. Using the Channel report, merchants can compare, say, traffic and acquisition from organic search versus paid search, or direct versus referral traffic.

Location. If you sell products internationally, carefully study your behavior metrics. Numbers that are lower than the benchmark for certain territories may indicate a problem with irrelevant content to the specific country, or could hint a problem with your pricing or delivery proposition. Alternatively, if you’re receiving engaged traffic from an area you do not currently service, this could highlight an opportunity for potential growth.

Devices. From the report below, this ecommerce site appears to be significantly outperforming desktop and mobile traffic benchmarks, by 229.02 percent and 58.93 percent, respectively. It is, however, receiving 30.56 percent fewer sessions from tablet devices. This likely indicates a shift as in how the site’s customers shop in comparison to overall industry.


However by looking at the site’s behavior metrics, you could notice underperformance on mobile devices in comparison to its benchmark engagement rate. This might indicate that this site is not as mobile-friendly as other players in its industry and could use further mobile optimization.

This Device report, then, could provide a hint as to whether you are offering an optimal experience to mobile users and may also provide insights as to whether your competitors are far ahead of you, or struggling with the same issues you are.

It could help you know whether the splits of traffic you’re seeing by device are on a par with your industry.

Wrapping Up

Benchmarking provides very helpful context of your site’s performance in relation to other sites in your industry. You can compare your site’s performance in areas such as geo-location, device, and acquisition channels. These insights should improve your marketing decisions and, thus, your site’s performance.

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Personalizing an ecommerce site doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Often, it’s just about finding the right tool, implementing it on your site, and letting the software do its magic. If you’re thinking about adding more personalization features, the following tools and services will enable you to do so quickly and easily.

Website and Shopping Experience

These tools will help you personalize the overall shopping experience of your site.



The add-on still lets you have full control of what’s being recommended. You can manually choose upsells, cross-sells, and relevant items to mix with automatically generated ones. The products that you select will always come first.

  • CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell. If you sell technology and consumer-electronics products, consider CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell, which is software that handles cross-sells and upsells based on behavioral data and a site’s proprietary attributes, such as product profitability and review scores.Zoom Enlarge This Image
    CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell


CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell


Specially made for the tech and consumer-electronics industry, CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell comes with a set of merchandising rules that you can customize with a point-and-click interface, and preview immediately.

  • SiteApps. This service lets you enhance your website with various apps, such as social media widgets, analytics extensions, feedback forms, and more. There is no need to code extra functionality; with SiteApps you can add site features with a click.Zoom Enlarge This Image




SiteApps allows you to customize how the apps behave depending on user data and behavior. You can choose when the apps will appear, who will see them — based on BTBuckets or Google Analytics data — and how the apps interact with visitors.

  • WP Greet Box. WP Greet Box is a useful WordPress plugin that lets you display personalized welcome messages based on where the user is coming from. For instance, if a visitor landed on your site via StumbleUpon, you can customize the message to say something like “Welcome, StumbleUpon user” or “Glad you stumbled upon our site.” WP Greet Box supports multiple referrers, including Twitter, Google search, Facebook, Digg, and more.Zoom Enlarge This Image
    WP Greet Box


WP Greet Box


WP Greet Box is also a low cost way of increasing your email subscribers. If your email sidebar form isn’t getting noticed and you’re not too keen on implementing pop-ups, having a customized box above each blog post can bring attention to your sign-up message and link.

  • LoopIt. What better way to personalize the browsing experience of your shoppers than by bringing their friends into the mix? LoopIt lets you add an “Ask your friends” button into your product page. Shoppers who need help deciding on what to purchase or are simply looking for advice will find this service useful.Zoom Enlarge This Image




Having an “Ask Your Friends” widget doesn’t just enhance the experience of existing shoppers. It can also drive new visitors to your site and boost your word-of-mouth marketing. What’s more, the tool can give insights regarding what people think about your product, how customers influence each other, and the context around their buying decisions.

  • WooCommerce Currency Converter. Personalize the experience of your international customers with WooCommerce Currency Converter, an add-on that enables your visitors to convert product prices to the currency of their choice. Available for WordPress sites using the WooCommerce plugin, this extension automatically detects the currency based on shoppers’ locations.Zoom Enlarge This Image
    WooCommerce Currency Converter


WooCommerce Currency Converter


Having a customized currency tool can show international shoppers that they are valued. It gives them a seamless and more convenient shopping experience, thus increasing the chances that they will complete the checkout process.

Customer Service

These tools will help you customize your customer service.

  • Zendesk. One of the best customer service features that Zendesk offers is its one-on-one support via any channel — website, phone, social sites, email, and live chat. It then turns the inquiries into tickets. Additionally, its interface gives you an overall view of each customer so you can see their contact information, purchase history, submitted tickets, and more all in one place, making it easier to offer a personalized customer service experience.Zoom Enlarge This Image



  • LiveChat. Provide personalized support by adding a live chat application onto your site. LiveChat lets you do this easily by showing you specific information about the visitor that you’re chatting with, such as his location and the page that he’s currently on. It also lets users log on via Facebook, providing more insights. You can also add LiveChat to your Facebook Page.

    Zoom Enlarge This Image




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One important strategy to grow your ecommerce revenue is to keep your store fresh and vibrant. That includes your content, products, and promotions. It may also mean regularly refreshing your navigation, themes, and other design elements.

When was the last time you really looked at your online store with the same level of critique as you did when you first launched it? Are you featuring seasonal products in your featured items or are Mother’s Day gifts still at the top in August? Are your promo banners the same ones you used last month? When is the last time you created a completely new promotional idea? When did you last add a blog post? A Facebook wall post? Tweets? Do you have your “back to school” category created? Is your navigation optimized to get traffic to the right parts of your website?

Chances are, when you launched the last version of your store, you micromanaged everything about it for several months to ensure it worked properly. But over time, for many of us, critical details of our sites go on autopilot.

Don’t fall into that trap. You may have missed an opportunity to sell something more seasonal. Worse yet, your repeat visitors start seeing the same products over and over and decide to go elsewhere for new ideas.

Your store is the most critical asset you have. Keep it alive and fresh.

10 Freshness Tips

Here are 10 tips to help keep your store current, fresh and relevant. Many of these borrow from basic merchandising concepts. Others are simply common sense.

  1. Clean up the site weekly. Assign someone to go through the home page, category pages, shopping cart, any other parts of your store where content might be changeable. Clear our old promotions and seasonal content. Make sure there are no missing images. Look at customer product reviews to make sure postings are appropriate. Make sure you don’t have featured products that are out of stock.
  2. Feature new products. Consumers want new products. Make sure you launch new items, and then tell your visitors about them. Create categories that feature new items. Move new items to the top of your product listings. Write a blog post about them.
  3. Rotate your promotions. If you feature daily, weekly or seasonal specials, rotate them regularly. In my previous online jewelry stores, our “sale” pages were among the most trafficked. They were the first place many visitors went. If visitors see the same promotions week after week, they stop noticing them at all.
  4. Experiment with different navigation. When you set up your store, you probably did some level of testing on how people were interacting with your website. When is the last time you did that? Look at your analytics and see what paths people are following. If you have categories that are not drawing attention, but you want people there, then set up an easier path. Likewise, if people are not using a link, get rid of it and try a new one.
  5. Change your theme. With many modern shopping carts, it is easy to “reskin” your site with a different color theme or background. Give it try. It can give your entire store a new look without a lot of investment. Try a red and green theme at Christmas, and gold and brown one for the fall. Even putting some more theme-oriented images throughout the store will add some freshness.
  6. Be competitive. Pick your top five competitors and review their stores at least weekly. You may find one offering a 50-percent off sale, or a 2-for-1 deal on your best selling products. You may not decide to match the offer, but you should at least be aware of it and be prepared to modify your promotions or featured items.
  7. Be aware of design trends. Web design changes continually. It used to be that three columns of category images on your home page were standard. Top and left navigation was required. Not any more. For many retail sites, minimalist is in. White space is good. Huge rotating product banners are now common. Product videos are becoming mandatory in some retail segments. When you shop online, note the things you like and incorporate them in your wish list for your next redesign. Investigate the amazing capabilities of CSS3 and HTML5. Your site may look dated if you don’t keep up.
  8. Post fresh content. If you maintain a blog — or post to social media sites — add new content regularly. Make sure you monitor posts and communications from customers and prospects, and respond to them quickly.
  9. Maintain your inventory stock messaging. Nothing annoys me more than a store where the majority of items are “out of stock”. You may give a store the benefit of the doubt, but in most cases it’s just being lazy. If you know items are going to be out of stock for more than a day or two, hide them.
  10. Do a complete redesign every three-to-five years. It should be more often in certain competitive and trendy industries. Design is trendy. If your website is more than five years old without a redesign, chances are your store looks pretty old, which affects visitors view of it.


There are many ways to keep your website fresh. Most are easy to implement. Be sure to assign time and resources to it. If you don’t, that old Christmas promotion may still be lingering somewhere in your store.

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In “19 Tools to Test your Site for Mobile Devices” and “23 Tools to Test your Ecommerce Site,” we listed options to test an ecommerce site for mobile compatibility, usability, and performance.

Ecommerce merchants should continually test their websites. Some merchants test in different browsers, platform combinations, and mobile devices. Others use more sophisticated tools, such as those we listed in the articles above.

Others do not test at all. For those merchants, this article will address why and what you should test on your ecommerce site.

Why Test an Ecommerce Site?

Have you ever made a minor change to your online store and found that you broke something or your content is formatted poorly? Maybe it’s as simple as inserting a new headline to a promotion, which you reviewed in your default browser and decided the change was acceptable.

Unfortunately, that extra word may not appear the same on Chrome as it does on Internet Explorer. This is especially true for Internet Explorer 7, where a headline can run over another piece of content or crowd another part of your store.

The worst scenario happens when you change a shopping cart setting and either something like a shipping quote stops working or, worse yet, you trigger an SSL security alert and shoppers abandon their checkout. For example, a friend of mine recently modified settings related to the U.S. states that a product could be shipped to. She assumed this change was simple. In reality, she had set the site to not accept orders from any state. When orders stopped arriving, she realized her error.

Mobile Impact

Today, online retailers are scrambling to deliver smartphone-and-tablet-friendly websites. There are typically two approaches for this. First, they can build a separate mobile website with different templates, CSS, and HTML coding. The more popular trend, however, is to build a responsive website that adjusts automatically to the device screen size and resolution. This sounds good in theory, until you start testing. There are many versions of the Android operating system and just as many screen sizes and devices. The testing is easier on Apple devices, but even they are becoming more complex.

What to Test

Here are some common reasons to test your ecommerce site.

  • Content changes beyond simple descriptive text: headlines, images in sliders, and promotional banners.
  • Formatting changes within your CSS style sheet.
  • Adding any content to your secure checkout screens.
  • Changing settings that may impact your checkout, such as payments, data collected, cart or checkout promotions, and links.
  • Adding or removing links. Test regularly for cross links that may break if an item is removed or a promotion expires.
  • Promotions Make sure you aren’t promoting expired or out-of-stock items.
  • Site navigation changes.
  • Template modifications.
  • Forms added or modified.
  • Changes to shipping settings.
  • Promotional coupons added.
  • Volume discounts.
  • Login process changes.
  • Landing pages added or removed.
  • New ad campaigns that point to specific landing pages.
  • System or application software upgrade or change.
  • Major browser or operating system changes that affect your clients, such as Windows updates, Internet Explorer 10 implementation, major releases of Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.

In short, test everything that might negatively affect your site.

There are many tools that automate testing to some degree, as listed in our previous articles. But those tools typically cost money. If you can’t afford them, at least test in the most popular browsers that your site visitors are using.

Minimal Testing

At a minimum, test the major browsers that you see in your analytics, on Windows 7 and 8, and on Apple OS X. These should include at least the last two major releases of these browsers:

  • Internet Explorer;
  • Safari;
  • Chrome;
  • Firefox.

For mobile, test on the following devices in the default browser:

  • Google Android: There are too many to recommend specific devices; pick a smaller screen and a larger tablet. Pick more if possible given the number of variations.
  • Apple IOS: On the iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPad, and iPad Mini.
  • Windows and BlackBerry phones.

Again, use your analytics as a guide. If you have 10 visits per month from a device, do not worry about it.

How to Test

The depth you test will vary based on type of changes you make. Anything that touches shopping cart settings or content in the cart or checkout should be tested from the start of a purchase to the finish. Make sure your checkout remains secure. I’ve worked with more than one retailer that experienced an increase in checkout abandonment because it made a change and did not bother to test; customers were seeing security warnings and abandoning in some browsers.

Test the same on each device. Document any problems. You will likely see formatting issues. Test more pages if necessary. Don’t obsess about an issue if it does not impact your overall user experience. Browsers will not ever match exactly.

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If you’re planning on redesigning an ecommerce site, don’t follow the experience of Target.com.

The well-known retailer — known for its focus on product design and its communications — launched a new site that attracted the ire of web designers, one of whom called the redesign the “train wreck redesign of the year.”

So, what did Target change that caused such a fuss?

Well, here’s the original home page design.

Target's old home page.

And here’s the new design.

Target's new home page.

The navigation bar has been redesigned, including new main link labels — nothing major there.

But, the rest of the page’s layout — i.e., its wireframe — is entirely different: There are now more products on the home page, for instance, replacing the simple design with a grid of products.

There’s also the infamous shadowbox design element that seems to have most offended the critics.

But was the site redesign a disaster because the design pundits didn’t like it? What if the shadowbox effect actually helps boost Target’s conversion rate by making the different sections stand out?

Sadly, we may never know, since it’s not clear if Target split tested these new elements. That’s what makes this redesign a potential disaster.

In response to the criticism, a Target spokesman said, “User testing prior to launch, and actual site traffic and sales performance since, have been very positive. We plan additional changes to our design and features, and will track guest response and make adjustments along the way.”

Since the spokesman refers to sales performance since launch — versus A/B split testing before launch, like usability testing — we’re led to believe Target didn’t do comprehensive A/B testing of any other new elements before launch.

Yes, usability testing has its place, but it’s not a substitute for A/B testing. Traffic and overall sales performance also are not reliable gauges of the impact of the new design. There are too many other effects, such as seasonality, stock levels, and competitive activity.

The aesthetics of drop shadows aside, the biggest problem with the Target redesign is the apparent risk it took, and not just with its brand.

It made so many changes at once, it will be impossible for the company to really understand which changes helped its conversions and which hurt. Even if, as its spokesperson says, overall sales are up, some of the changes are probably keeping Target from even more sales.

What if, for example, the new search box design lifted the conversion rate by 12 percent (by making it easier to find things on the site) but the layout caused a conversion drop of 5 percent?

The net conversion rate lift with just these two changes would be 7 percent, but Target wouldn’t know which areas made which impact. And, that’s only two of the thousands of changes it made.

Effects of different website design changes

Learning from Target’s Mistakes

So what lessons can you learn when it’s time to redesign your ecommerce site?

Rather than making such dramatic changes all at once, and then adjusting afterward, make a series of tested changes (which can each be dramatic too). Think evolution instead of revolution. Because, let’s face it, revolutions are more dangerous than simple drop shadows, and pose a high risk of failure.

There is a less risky approach than a complete website redesign — one that maximizes your conversion-rate improvement by isolating the impact of individual changes. I call this approach “Evolutionary Site Redesign,” or ESR.

Instead of a complete change like Target did, with ESR the new design, layout, and content elements are tested continuously, changing your website design and layout toward the best-performing site it can be.

In an ESR redesign, you prioritize your most important pages, templates, and site-wide elements. Then, test new layouts, design, and content with controlled split testing. You get all the benefits of a new site design without the risks.

Since ESR uses proven conversion rate optimization principles to redesign your site, you end up with a new site look-and-feel and conversion-rate lift at the same time. With ESR, new interface methods and approaches can be tested to see if they actually improve business results.

If Target had run A/B tests on some of the changes individually, it may have found that certain changes improved conversion rates, while other hurt. Even if the shadows aren’t an improvement over the original, the new layout probably overshadows (pun intended) the decrease by showing more products clearly.

With ESR, Target could have tested the most important changes separately, and understood which changes would boost sales. That means a renewed website, without the risk.

Target could run the following isolated tests.

  • New navigation design, including logo placement, search box design, background color. I’ve worked with clients that have profited from big lifts in conversion through controlled tests in this area. But not all changes are winners.
  • Page layout wireframe. Adding more products to the home page could boost conversions if there are more entry points to drive action. Or, as the critics suggest, it could hurt conversions by making Target look down market.
  • Site-wide design elements of box shadows, typeface treatment, and colors. Design changes can have unexpected outcomes. If you make changes that affect the entire site, even if they seem like obvious improvements, it’s always better to test than assume.

New design changes on Target's home page

Then, once the best design has been confirmed through careful testing, Target could continue to test, for example, (a) which product categories to display for each shopper segment, (b) which offers work best for various seasons, (c) how many products and categories to display for the best conversion rates, (d) the design and pricing treatment for products, and (e) the home page positioning headline and value proposition.

Yes, it may seem like an endless cycle, as it should be. But, by prioritizing your ecommerce conversion optimization tests — see “Use the PIE Method to Prioritize Ecommerce Tests,” one of my previous articles — you can systematically improve your conversion rate, and build better returns at each step.

Prefer Dramatic Redesign Changes?

Taking the Evolutionary Site Redesign approach doesn’t mean you can’t make bold changes — even as bold and dramatic as some of Target’s changes. It does mean implementing these changes in a controlled, measured way, making sure that their impact is tested and proven to be beneficial to your conversion rate.

Even if you’re looking at refining or redefining your brand and the entire look-and-feel of your website, ESR gives you the confidence that the changes are for the better and have a proven positive effect on your business.

Even if your redesign doesn’t win the hearts and minds of all the web designers, by taking an ESR approach you will win where it counts: with higher conversion rates and profit from your visitors.

After all, your customers are the most important audience.

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Even though many marketers believe “content is king,” when it comes to ecommerce sites, content is often anything but king. Conversion optimization testing, sales copy, and general site copy often take a back seat to testing design elements, the checkout process, and other aspects of the site.

But if you’re running an ecommerce site and you’re not testing your copy, you could be missing a huge opportunity to boost your sales.

Sure, unless you’re an online bookseller, no one comes to your site looking for a good read. But copy plays a much bigger role in the conversion process than many people give it credit for.

Think about flesh and blood salespersons. What they say to you on the sales floor — and how they say it — is crucial to your decision to buy. Increasing sales is about persuasion, online or off. But sales are also about clarity. Are your visitors clear about the value you offer as a retailer, the benefits of the product they’re considering, and how the sales and checkout process will work?

Copy Can Affect your Conversion Rate

When our conversion optimization experts analyze a website to identify the conversion barriers, we will usually identify plenty of copy elements that can be improved, even on the best ecommerce sites.

One of the keys to success is to use framework thinking. Using frameworks to structure your thoughts can help to think through the issues and find the best opportunities.

The L.I.F.T. model — “Landing page Influence Function for Tests” — is a framework we developed at WiderFunnel, my firm, for developing powerful A/B test hypotheses. It shows the six key factors that are affecting your conversion rate.

L.I.F.T. model

The L.I.F.T. model shows the six factors that affect your conversion rate, and that can be used to develop test hypotheses.

As the L.I.F.T. model shows, the vehicle that provides the potential for the conversion rate is your value proposition, making it the most important of the six factors. The other five are either conversion drivers or inhibitors.

The three core conversion drivers — factors that can increase your conversion rates — are “Relevance,” “Clarity,” and “Urgency.”

  • Relevance. Does the copy on the page relate to what the visitor thought he was going to see when he clicked on a link to your page? Your copy must use language visitors can relate to and be consistent with the incoming link or they will be disoriented and leave the page.
  • Clarity. Does the landing page clearly articulate the value proposition? Clarity of content is often the most common of the six factors that ecommerce sites struggle with. If it’s hard to scan or understand, it can’t do its job.
  • Urgency. Is there an indication that the action needs to be taken now? The tone of the copy, offers, and deadlines can all influence urgency.

The conversion inhibitors — factors that drag down your conversion rates — are “Anxiety” and “Distraction.”

  • Anxiety. What are potential misgivings the visitor could have about shopping on your site? Anxiety is a function of the credibility built with the visitors and the trust they are asked to have. Is your copy (or lack of copy) creating any anxiety for your prospects?
  • Distraction. Is there content on the page that could divert visitors away from the web page objective? Sometimes too much copy — or the wrong copy at the wrong time — can hinder conversions.
4 Tips for Testing Copy on an Ecommerce Site

Here are four tips to help decide which copy elements to test on your ecommerce site.

  • Headlines. What’s your value proposition? Is it clear? If your headline does one thing, it needs to communicate your value. Do visitors understand by scanning your headline why they should buy from your site, and not your competitors?

I often find sites that have buried their value proposition deep in the copy, or in a graphic element that gets passed over. Testing your headline can yield surprising results. Your visitors want to understand your value proposition, but they have a limit on the mental processing they will invest in doing that. Make it easy, compelling, and clear.

  • Transactional messages. Clarifying expectations — from when customers can expect their shipments to what will happen when they click the order button — reduces buyer anxiety and can dramatically boost conversion rates.

Managing expectations is important throughout ecommerce sites, but often the most important copy on ecommerce site is not the sales copy. The most important is the copy that guides customers through the buying and checkout process. You may not think of it as marketing copy. But this copy drives action; it guides the customer towards completing the sale. Increasing clarity and reducing anxiety are crucial at this stage.

So if you’re still using the boilerplate copy that your ecommerce platform came with, you need to test alternate copy.

  • Tone. Even the tone of the copy can play a big role. One client of my firm is a non-profit organization that responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises. As we were looking at ways to boost the conversion rate on the client’s donation form, we wanted to test the impact positive language would have.

The copy at the top of the control version of the form simply said “Please select your tax-deductible gift amount below.” As a call-to-action, it was clear but not especially compelling.

We believed more a personalized, positive call-to-action would have a big impact. So this test variation changed the call-to-action to say, “Yes I will donate a tax deductible gift of:”. We also added the message “Every gift counts. Thank you!” to the form.

From a technical point of view, it was an easy change to test. From a copy point of view, it was only 14 words. But the impact of this positive messaging was huge: Conversions on this variation jumped more than 30 percent.

Even more exciting, donation revenues from the change in tone increased by 94.6 percent.

  • Ideas, not words. Remember, with all testing — especially copy testing — to avoid testing words arbitrarily.

If you don’t have a focused hypothesis for the test, then don’t test it. Why? Because test results that don’t have a solid hypothesis behind them prove one thing for one page (people liked “Save Lots of Money” better than “Save Lots of Dough”) but don’t teach you anything that can be applied to the rest of the copy on the site.

If you have a solid hypothesis driving the test, then you can apply those results across all the copy on your site. The test for the non-profit site above indicates that positive, reinforcing language may be a powerful driver that could be used in all of its communications. The non-profit can run follow-up tests of similar approaches to find out if that pattern works consistently.

So if you’re testing the effect of customer-focused copy (“You’ll love how long this drill holds its charge!”) versus product focused (“This drill holds its charge for a long time.”), you might learn something about how your customers react. That lesson can then apply site-wide, and even into your other marketing and communication efforts.

Bonus Benefit of Testing Copy

The bonus benefit to testing copy is this. Many merchants use ecommerce platforms that don’t allow a lot of freedom for moving elements or making the kind of changes you may want to make without paying for expensive changes to your core templates. Copy, on the other hand, can be the easiest elements to change and test.

So while you’re focused on the classic merchandising aspects of your site and trying to get more products into carts, don’t neglect the benefits of testing copy. It may generate the best return from your testing efforts.


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SEO can be broken into two distinct areas – “onpage” factors and “off-page” factors. On-page factors include anything that you can affect on the...