In the past few years ecommerce has been growing a lot and very consistently, and it won’t stop there, as reports from the National Retail Federation suggest ecommerce will grow a further 12% in 2017. That means it’s a strong industry into which many entrepreneurs are trying to succeed, but it’s not that easy, as they first need to know which are the ecommerce best practices. Now let’s take a look at what are these so called best practices.
Nail the Basics
Needless to say, you must pick the right product to sell. This means that you shouldn’t try to get into an oversaturated market or niche, or worse, try to compete with Amazon. Choose products that have enough searches on Google (for this use Google itself, otherwise use other sites such as Spy Fu), make sure you’re not competing against ecommerce giants, and then start designing your strategy.
Start by setting up a nice website using a shopping cart like Woocommerce and Shopify, get everything on track and proceed to designing a powerful PPC strategy on Adwords and Bing with carefully picked keywords, design an email marketing strategy, a Facebook Ads one too, and finally be committed to having a good SEO (we will talk about this in more detail later).
Woocommerce is a free open source plugin that can work with any WordPress theme, however this means that to turn your theme into an ecommerce website, you might need to redesign things a lot, and on top of that pay for hosting. Woocommerce has the advantage of being more customizable and integratable.
Shopify has a more straightforward approach, you pay monthly fee of $29, but that includes hosting and you can choose from a variety of themes designed by users (many are paid), and which are already crafted for ecommerce websites. Shopify is easier to use for beginners and offers a straightforward better ecommerce look.
Overall, both are great platforms, and there are even others you can choose from. It’s just depending on your needs, preferences and expertise.
With all these basic aspects on point, you can say you’ve started off on the right foot and you’re following the ecommerce best practices path.
Start With Your Home Page
We should start by stating that although there are a few aspects more important than others, all these tips are meaningful for your store, they are all interconnected and you should try and do all of them. However, where you decide to start isn’t as important, as long as you do all of them.
Invest in great design
We’ll start off with the look of the website. Have you ever visited a site that’s very badly designed, hard to navigate, hard to find information and so as a result you leave after five seconds? You probably have, and you don’t want your site to be one of those, which don’t follow ecommerce homepage best practices.
For example, take a look at the image above. This is the homepage of a company selling items in the beauty industry. The page does not inspire confidence at all, the font is barely readable as the color does not stand out from the background. The background is confusing and distracting. The side menu is good, it’s categorized well, but the font is blurred and the color is also not in line with the rest of the palette used in the website. Finally, we don’t see any images or prices for their products. It doesn’t follow ecommerce homepages best practices at all.
Now let’s take a look at what you should do.
Focus on conversion and bounce
The key is to increase conversion rates and decrease bounce rates (this is when people visit your site and leave immediately, they bounce out). Make sure the logo of your site isn’t taking too much space, it should be a nice professional logo, but where it’s located (normally in the header), shouldn’t take more than 15% of the screen of the visitors.
Check your navigation
Then make sure you have a comprehensible and useful top menu, with relevant categories for your niche, an “About Us” and “Contact Us” section and even a Search Bar. The latter follows the ecommerce site search best practices, allowing customers to find exactly what they’re looking quickly and easily. This is a main tenet of UX best practices for ecommerce operations.
Use high quality images
Your images should be top quality and should dazzle all visitors. This doesn’t mean that if you sell furniture you’re going to have an image of a lake, but make sure you have a top-notch image of a table in a nice living room. The idea is for customers to imagine themselves having your product, to picture themselves with it.
The image above is an example of a very good homepage. The images are amazing and straightaway they catch your attention and you straightaway picture yourself either with their products or with the lifestyle they project. They categorize through the images, as you can see they sell cushions, they sell umbrellas and summer beach products, plus they have a simple, well designed top menu, with a search option. If you see the rest of the page you will find a good logo and top menu, which we didn’t include for copyright issues.
Focus on value to the customer
Have very good information and content on the homepage that give value to your customers, they want benefits so give them benefits and make them feel at ease in your site.
Don’t tell them your product is valuable. Provide value. There’s a big difference between these two.
With that said, good ideas for content are: story telling about yourself, your company and why you got in the business. Story telling about your suppliers or your products. Bullet points and short valuable descriptions that catch the eye and are easy to read, will generate interest. Finally, answer any possible question in advance.
Include social media and email signup forms
Another important feature is having your social media and signup email forms at the bottom or in the sidebar of the home page, making it easy for customers to see them and join them. Plus, having all the contact information available, such as email address or phone numbers, or even a chat box is also positive.
Don’t’ overwhelm customers with complex pages, or too much information and content. Keep the site clean and simple; don’t saturate it with images, information or other things. Don’t distract them from what they’re looking for. Guide them through the funnel and into a sale.
Do your research
As Cory Lebson, user experience research and strategy consultant, explains:
“Remember that you are not your customer. You have extra background and context, so do research. Go deep and learn about your customers through ethnography, interviews and focus groups. Understand how they use your website and apps through usability testing. Gain insights into their mental models through information architecture research. And make sure that your electronic resources are fully accessible to everyone. Then plan to iterate and improve your resources to exactly meet customer needs.”
Improve Your Landing Pages
Landing pages are a similar concept, through Google Searches they’ll see either your ads or your site ranked, click and go straight to a product page. Make sure that page is carefully designed and follows the ecommerce landing page best practices, which involve:
Having great and many images of the product
Having a customized and valuable description of the product, following ecommerce product page best practices
Adding tabs such as “FAQs”, your “Shipping and Returns”, or other things like “About Us”, “About the Manufacturer”
The image above is an example of a great landing page which follows literally all the ecommerce landing page best practices. The images are very good quality, all the same size, you can zoom in to see the item closely, and see it from different angles. It has the price and discounts well shown, the name of the item and manufacturer are easy to locate, the “Add to Cart” button is in an attractive but not distracting color. It shows all the relevant information (free shipping, where to ship it and when to receive it), plus an upper categorized menu showing to which categories the item belongs to and even the possibility of sharing it on all the social media platforms.
Make reviews visible
Don’t forget to make the reviews visible so people can see what other buyers think about the product, a good app is “Product Reviews App”, it’s free and commonly used, it will show the reviews below the product. Take a look at the image above and see how they placed the reviews right below the name of the item.
Use plug-ins for upsells
Also, add plugins in your shopping cart such as add-on items. The idea is to give other options to customers, that way they get more value and you can upsell other products and make bigger sales.
Add seals to build trust
Furthermore, add seals. These are basically logos that you can get from third parties. For example, PayPal issues security seals; any SSL seal or Anti-Virus companies seals. Make all of these seals visible so the customer will see them and know your site is reliable and they won’t be scammed. This is a key component of any ecommerce site; it is one of the most important ecommerce website best practices as it generates trust.
Smooth our your checkout
Finally, have a good checkout feature. Don’t limit yourself to PayPal, allow credit cards and make sure your checkout gateway stays in your site (it doesn’t take customers into another website), so that they feel safe and takes them less time to insert their information.
Ecommerce Marketing Best Practices
A fundamental ecommerce marketing best practice is a great strategy. Depending on your product or customer you’ll go through email, Facebook or most commonly, Google Adwords.
The latter will require you to have well-written, smart ads that will lead customers to specific landing pages and hopefully convert into a sale.
Many forget the importance of a straightforward title description.
The image above shows a contrast in the quality of the ads. When you search for “tables for sale” you get these two. The first ad has a great call to action: “70% off”, which straight away will catch the attention of anyone and increase the chances of a click. The second one has no value and offers no call to action.
On top of that, the first ad uses many Google Adwords extensions, such as additional Site Links (that would be the four other links below the descriptions), which take more space in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) meaning anyone searching will see it and most likely click it. It has the ratings extension, a nice short and clean URL, and overall a description full of valuable information.
The second ad is boring, it has a URL non-related to the “Dining Tables For Sale”, as it says “/Answers”, which in our opinion is confusing.
Overall, you want to create ads with great title descriptions, powerful call to actions, URLs related to the item you’re selling, useful ad extensions such as additional site links, and also good product descriptions.
A/B Testing Smartly
It’s fundamental to to A/B test with ads and pages. Ecommerce marketing best practices also include this, as a matter of fact is key to analyze data and get to know your customers.
To A/B test you can do it yourself without any tools. Simply track the different results via Google Analytics. The way to do this is mixing landing pages or different ads on Adwords, and through Google Analytics you can see which landing pages had more conversion rates, or bounce rates, or which ads had more clicks, etc.
Otherwise, there are paid plugins or services, the best one being Unbounce. This tool let’s you build very responsive landing pages with an easy to manage interface with a drag-and-drop tool, and then you just test the landing pages based on where or what customers are clicking or seeing. It gives you data, similar to Google Analytics on what goes on in the page. Other useful paid tools are VWO or A/B Tasty.
If you decide to try it yourself through Adwords, mix the ads a little bit, create a minimum of four different but related ads, with different titles or descriptions, have Google rotate them automatically and see which ones get more clicks and conversions. Test different time schedules or even days of the week to publish your ads, see the results.
A/B test your landing pages, ecommerce landing page best practices include these A/B tests. For example, add more descriptions in one landing page than another, or more trust seals in other, or have extra add-ons here or there, and see which ones have more conversions (sales) or bounce rates.
Retargeting and Email Marketing
This goes hand in hand with the great marketing campaign, but it fits another criteria. You can do retargeting also in the SERPs.
The way retargeting works is that when a customer visits your site, you pixel them (this is done automatically by the shopping cart, you can decide for the pixel to activate only if they visit specific pages or stay for long enough in your site). Once they are pixelated, if they type again a query (they do a search on Google), you can show them a specific ad to reel them back into your site, but further down the funnel.
To explain better how the pixel works, normally your shopping cart, let’s say Shopify, has an option to pixel customers. It gives you a code, which you then copy and paste on either the header, the footer, or another part of your website (on the back-end, so on the code of the site). Once integrated, the pixel starts to work automatically.
Otherwise, remember to retarget through other channels. Once a customer visited your site, they’re already in the funnel, so you might follow them around on Facebook or other websites with Display Ads to remind them they should buy your product.
Email marketing is also a fantastic tool. Have a box with a call to action for customers to sign up for your newsletter, remember to give them value. Good ways of doing this is:
Send them free e-books related to what you sell
Send them discount coupons for future purchases
Alert them of any sales
Send them blog posts
The easiest tool for email marketing is MailChimp, which gives you a lot of options to design your own subscription boxes, emails, email campaigns and build email lists. It is extremely easy to use, with also drag-and-drop options and readymade templates for email campaigns.
Another good and easy to use tool is Sumo Me, which gives you the option of creating customized pop-ups to call the attention of customers and have them subscribe to your newsletter, or free e-books. Sumo Me also gives you statistics on websites visits and navigation. You can pay for the advanced features, or use the basics for free.
Following these best practices for ecommerce is a smart way of getting more conversions.
One of the best ecommerce practices or strategies is to be communicative. Have a site that talks to customers. Some of the most efficient communicative features are:
Stress urgency through a banner offering a sale for a specific period of time
Show your prices straight on the home page
Show when items are out of stock or about to run out
Great images and all product images should be the same size
Lots of call to actions
As user experience research and strategy consultant Cory Lebson explains,
“Having empathy for your customers should be more than just a vague objective. Make sure your research focuses on not just who your customers are and what they are doing but how they are feeling as well. Once you understand how they feel, articulate that empathy to others in your company through deliverables that include the emotional range of your customers. Personas should not just synthesize attributes but emotions as well. Customer journey maps and even basic wireframes should be framed emotionally explaining in story form how new solutions will solve customer pain points and bring joy.”
General Ecommerce Best Practices
Don’t Forget SEO
Many store owners forget SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and focus only on paid ads. That’s a mistake. Ecommerce SEO best practices will bring organic traffic into your site, as well as improving your Quality Score with Google (making your ads cheaper) and will help you rank higher.
The best way to do SEO is to start by picking the keywords that are related to your products. Let’s say you are selling tables, then keywords could be: “tables for sale”, “best tables”, “lightweight tables”, etc. Then, focus on optimizing your website according to those products, starting by customizing your homepage and landing pages using the keywords that you think will generate you more traffic.
Customize all your product descriptions with the targeted keywords. Writing at least one blog post per week will help SEO and it will add credibility to your site, it will give valuable content for customers and can help you create weekly newsletters.
Furthermore, write keywords in the Alt Text of all your images. This is commonly forgotten, but it’s a great way of improving your SEO.
Then, include links in the different pages of your website. These are called backlinks, and SEO is optimized if you for example have relevant internal links. So, if you write a blog post on coffee tables, maybe add a couple of links from the blog post to a few product pages (other tables), or to older blog posts or informational pages on your site.
Another good practice is to make sure that the Meta Title and Meta description of each page is different and customized. Most shopping carts, when you’re publishing a page or a product, they give you the option of customizing what will show up on the Google Search.
The image above is what we were talking about before, this shows you where to include your Meta (or Page Title), the Meta description and then the URL. You can customize all this, including your keywords on the title, description and even URL to optimize the SEO. Do this for each page and product, and yes it is time consuming but organic traffic is free, and a good SEO improves your quality score. Trust us, dedication is the key to success.
Have Outstanding Customer Service
One of the biggest difference makers, is following ecommerce customer service best practices. Make sure you have your number easily visible for any visitor, have a Contact Us page with all your information, from email to address, have a great FAQs page visible in all your product pages, add a Buyer’s Guide, and why not a chat box.
This can be what makes a customer choose you rather than your competitor. Answer the phone when they call, be polite, be comprehensive and assertive. Offer free shipping if possible and always make customers feel at ease. You’ll see how not only will your conversions rate grow, but you’ll have great reviews and customers coming back.
Another breaking point when it comes to your website standing out, is your shipping policy and times. If you follow the ecommerce shipping best practices, your site will be releasing the shipment the same day the purchase was made.
In order to do this you need to process the order in less than 24 hours, contact the suppliers and pay them if you are drop shipping, or make sure that your shipping company can ship that same day. The idea is not to take longer than a week, on average, to get your products to your customers.
“Marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart.com have trained consumers to expect their items in 2 days or fewer. In order to compete, your listings and eCommerce store needs to provide that same guarantee to satisfy last minute shoppers and impatient consumers. If you’re on Shopify, you need that fast delivery promise to compete with marketplace sales. If you’re on a marketplace, you need to be part of those fast shipping programs to gain search prominence, boost your chances of winning the buy box, and display conversion-catching fast shipping badges. Sellers who cannot achieve 2-day delivery in-house should consider outsourcing fulfillment to FBA or Deliverr.”
Invest in content
“eCommerce sellers can get so laser-focused on conversions and listing optimization that they overlook other activities that may not have immediate results, but promise compounding returns. For example, investing in your own website when you’re already doing high-volume sales on Amazon might seem like a waste of time, but a website allows you to optimize each webpage for search, gain a dedicated space for your products (where shoppers won’t see marketplace ads from competitors), and start a blog. Compared to setting up listings on a marketplace, pulling together an entire website can seem daunting and expensive, but it’s a great investment – diversifying your revenue streams to protect your business and having a direct route to your customer base (where you set the rules and limitations).”
We can’t tell you how important mobile is for online retailing today. It should be a key aspect of every ecommerce store and it’s where the future is headed, definitely an ecommerce best practice. Stats show that today, more than 50% of ecommerce store visitors are on mobile phones, and although the conversion rate is lower than on desktop, it’s definitely the biggest gateway.
That’s why you must have a good mobile site and follow good mobile ecommerce practices. Normally, any template you add to your store will already have mobile, but make sure you tweak it and perfection it. You want to make sure visitors will have a great experience navigating your mobile site version, so they either buy or then come back on desktop and produce that conversion.
Diversify to at least 3 sales channels
“One of your long-term business goals should be to have a thriving eCommerce business on at least 3 platforms. Whether that’s Amazon, Walmart, and Shopify, or a different combination, you should be diversifying, optimizing, and future-proofing your business. Eventually, you’ll have healthy revenue streams that aren’t dependent on any one platform (and their shifting rules/regulations). Be sure to optimize on each channel! For example, offer 2-day delivery across all sales channels, otherwise you risk cannibalizing your sales on channels that don’t offer fast shipping. The goal is to reach a wider range of shoppers while protecting your business (and employees) from sudden revenue losses, not pulling shoppers from one platform to another.”
With all these ecommerce best practices your store will not only get more conversions, but it will look much better and be ready for the future. Remember that you have to keep track of all these, put work into it and make sure you stay up to date with future changes. Online retailing will only keep growing and evolving, and so will the ecommerce best practices in 2017, so keep up to date if you want to succeed.
Are you already doing some of these practices? Is there any other tip we should have included here? Let us a comment.
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