Practical Ecommerce

Conversion: 10 Advanced Techniques to Turn Shoppers Into Buyers

If you are like most online retailers, roughly 97 out of every 100 visitors leave your site without buying anything. You can spend a lot of money on marketing, but those dollars will be wasted if you can’t convert visitors to buyers. There are countless articles that address ways to improve on-site conversion and usability. I think it is time to look beyond some of the basic principles and discuss some of the advanced techniques you can adopt to gain an edge over your competition.

1. Get The Basics In Order

None of the ideas below will help if your site doesn’t have good usability aspects such as easy-to-follow navigation, quality product content, an easy checkout process, and easy-to-find customer service. These are basic, foundational aspects of your site that are necessary to put you on par with your competition. Since these factors have been addressed in numerous usability articles, let’s move on to some more interesting topics.

2. Expose Web Analytics to Customers

I hear many people talk about using web analytics to monitor site performance. That is great. I often wonder, however, why those analytics are only used for internal review and assessment. Here are some metrics that you should consider exposing to your customers so that they can have access to quantitative tools to make purchase decisions:

  • Best Selling Items by Category. This has been implemented by many online retailers. Consider adding a time dimension (such as 3-4 weeks) to this metric. Without a time dimension, your top selling lists will get stale and you will not be able to showcase new items in your best selling lists.

  • Top Rated Items by Category. Again, several retailers have this capability now. Consider adding the number of reviews as an additional dimension in the algorithm to build a well-rounded top rated list. An item that received a single five-star rating may not be as interesting as an item that received 50 ratings averaging 4.8 stars.

  • Best Value for Money. Many price-sensitive customers are interested not only in top rated items but they are also interested in determining which ones are available at the largest discount. How about creating a metric that combines the rating and discount dimensions to create a list of items that would offer the most value to the customer? Instead of making visitors do all the work, give them a list of your top 20 items that are on sale and top rated. Perhaps they will be able to move from the discovery to purchase stage more quickly.

  • Top Search Keywords. Showing a list of most popular keywords that are being searched in your site can drive a lot of freshness and interest. It is also a great data point to help build custom landing pages for these top searched keywords. Not only can that boost conversion, it can also help the SEO efforts. More on optimizing your keyword search later.

  • Return Rate. This is a metric I rarely see. As a customer, wouldn’t it be nice to know how many other buyers ended up returning this item? If I see an item with less than a one percent return rate, it might give me another reason to buy it.

3. Analyze Internal Keyword Searches

Get in the habit of monitoring the top keyword searches on your site every week. As a best practice, I believe you should take the top 25 search keywords and do a manual search on your site using those exact keywords. Look at the results and decide whether they represent what you would want your customers to see. If not, it is time for some optimization. Most search scripts allow you to influence the search results in a variety of ways. As a merchandiser, you need to make sure that the search results for your top keyword searches are as optimized for conversion as possible. You can see the distinction by performing a keyword search of “MP3 players” on Target.com and Walmart.com. My instincts tell me that “iPods” as a top search result (in the case of Walmart) might be more effective than Target’s Latte Communication MP3 player.

Target screenshot.

Target screenshot.


Walmart screenshot.

Walmart screenshot.

4. Analyze External Search Keywords

You should also perform an ongoing review of your external-search keywords (for searches on search engines) and then try to find the top external keywords that are resulting in a higher bounce rate on the site. This will indicate keywords that are not causing customers to land on a page that gives them a reason to spend more time on your site. This will also point out potential gaps in your merchandise assortment or the persuasiveness of your content or promotions.

5. Optimize Your Landing Pages

If a customer comes to your site via paid search links, your goal is to land them on a page that matches their intent as closely as possible. For example, I was recently looking for Hannah Montana products for my daughter. I searched on Google and the first paid link on the right was from JC Penney. I thought that was good. However, when I clicked on that link it landed me on a “Shop Local” weekly catalog page. A determined shopper could find their way around to the products that they are looking for but it would have been nice to have been taken directly to a page about Hannah Montana merchandise or, at the very least, a “Gifts for Girls” category page. It makes me wonder how many people are leaving that site because they just didn’t land on the right page.

A keyword search on JCPenney.com shows that it carries quite a bit of Hannah Montana merchandise. The page below would have been a more appropriate landing page for the external search keyword in question.

JCPenney screenshot.

JCPenney screenshot.

6. Engage Your Customers to Bring Your Content to Life

It is one thing for you to have nice marketing copy describing a product. But it is another to see real life scenarios from other customers describing how they use the product. This presents several opportunities, such as allowing customers to upload their own pictures, tags that describe best use of the products, or customer generated lists such as “outdoor survival gear.” The beauty of all of this is that you can start aggregating user generated content to build site navigation. Toys”R”Us has done a great job in aggregating such content to allow other customers to find items based upon “fit” and “use.” In the example below, I can not only find toys that other people consider “durable” but also find what other “education oriented” parents are buying.

Toys”R”Us screenshot.

Toys”R”Us screenshot.

7. Add Multi-dimensional Refining Options

Most retailers have options to filter results by several different criteria. But what I am referring to is multi-dimensional refinement capabilities. I have seen several online retail sites that have multiple options to filter the search results on the initial category page. But once I select any one of those options, I am left with no other option but to scroll through hundreds of results. It is best to display additional filters which customers can use in any combination to further drill down into the content they are looking for (e.g. “blue shirts,” “size 16,” price range “$30-$60”). The key is to associate your product content with as many searchable attributes as possible and then make those attributes available as part of category and search navigation to filter the results.

8. Consider Checkout by Amazon and Amazon PayPhrase

Once you have helped customers find the right product, you need to offer them convenient options to complete the checkout process. Combined with the recent PayPhrase offering, Checkout by Amazon can offer the familiar one-click checkout experience to the customers on your site. Customers don’t have to re-enter their shipping address or payment information if they already have stored that information with Amazon. Any option that saves steps and time during the checkout process can help improve conversion at the lowest and most critical end of the funnel.

9. Solicit Customer Reviews Via Email

Reviewed content not only drives higher organic search results, it helps other customers make better purchase decisions. By being proactive in sending review follow-up emails to your customers a few days after purchase, you can significantly increase the number of reviews on your site that can eventually help improve the conversion of other customers.

10. Measure, Measure, Measure

While some of the above points may work very well for you, others may not be effective at all in your specific situation. Therefore, it is important to measure the effectiveness of every aspect of your site. Consider these questions:

  • Are your organic search visitors converting higher than your paid search visitors?

  • Are your internal keyword searches driving the highest conversion rate?

  • What are the top referral sources that are driving a high conversion?

  • Are you segmenting your visitors using the analytics tool to get a better understanding of your sources, behaviors and outcomes?

If you are looking at your analytics data in the aggregate, you will not get very meaningful insights. You need to start segmenting your users based upon various factors to get a true understanding of actionable and specific opportunities. The key is to get in the habit of collecting these insights, prioritizing your actions and, most importantly, measuring and validating the results.

All the above points can work hand in hand to improve the conversion rate, but the degree of effectiveness can vary across multiple retailers. Therefore it is important to prioritize and formulate an action plan that maximizes opportunities for your context.

Darpan Munjal

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Comments ( 6 )

  1. LexiConn November 24, 2009 Reply

    Great article! I love the "expose web analytics to customers" section. This is often overlooked, and can be a great way to show people what’s hot. It’s like your very own social media hype right in your website. :)

    As far as measuring goes, we see a lot of merchants using Google Analytics, Urchin, etc… but rarely looking over these reports for the key data and trends that could improve their website. Find a few reports to key on, and review them daily or weekly.

    Rob – LexiConn

  2. Jagath Narayan November 24, 2009 Reply

    Having a clutter-free, user-friendly website is also important to improve the site’s conversion ratio. I have observed that small business ecommerce merchants often ignore the importance of the site aesthetics, and usability. Customer interviews I have performed have shown that many users bounce from the website because they are "turned off" by the graphics and the look and feel. In a few cases, the customers were confused about how to proceed on the site, and leave the site even though they came in with an intention to buy.

    A great book addressing this topic, almost a must read to anyone interested in website usability is Steve Krug’s "Don’t make me think". (http://www.sensible.com/buythebook.html). It is an easy read and I highly recommend that book to anyone interested in website usability.

  3. Carlos Rivera November 25, 2009 Reply

    The best most informative article I have read on here in a while! Thank you!
    -Carlos

  4. frank65l November 25, 2009 Reply

    1st, the article has very good information.

    2nd, article shows all large corp sites with unlimited money to spend on their ecommerce packages, at least half of the suggestions can not be done without extensive html, etc. programming or a very expensive shopping cart.

    It would be nice if you could list some shopping carts that has these features built in, I could spend $10,000.00 on my Yahoo store and still not have these features.

    How about some help for the little guy, big guys have all the help they need already.

    Again, Thanks for the tips.

  5. Darpan Munjal November 25, 2009 Reply

    @frank65, thanks for your comments! I think there are several options you can consider to implement these ideas at a very low budget. I would recommend looking into Power Reviews because they offer very easy integration of user generated tags, social navigation and organization of customer reviews at a very low cost (I believe $30-$50 per month). If I am not mistaken, Toys"R"Us uses PowerReviews to drive the reviews and navigation described in the article.

    You should also take a look at open source carts such as Magento which have several capabilities such as Best Selling items already implemented by the platform and the open source community.

    Finally, an ongoing review of your landing pages, as well as search keywords can be performed using Google Analytics. There are a lot of advanced features such as segmentation, multi-variate testing available directly from the tool. and best of all, it is free to use!

    Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions.

    -Darpan
    LeapMatrix Inc.

  6. Jagath Narayan December 9, 2009 Reply

    @frank65l – To add to Darpan’s comments above, you should Google Analytics to measure the "conversion funnel". It is a great way to identify the "hurdles" in your webstore, or the places where customers are exiting during the shopping process.

    Once you identify the hurdles, you can then configure those drop off points to improve your chance of conversion.