SEO > Merchant Voice

Get off the Google merry go round

It’s all very well having a good ecommerce site, with unique content at decent prices. But the only thing that really matters is sales. It is, after all, the profits you make from these sales that pay for the site and your wages. In order to drive sales and profits, you need to ensure a steady flow of customers.

There is a crucial difference between customers and visitors. Visitors browse your site but do not buy. They cost you money by using resources and not contributing. Too many visitors can slow a site.

Fix Funnel Leaks

Think of your website as a funnel. Visitors pour into the site at the top of the funnel, and customers come out the bottom, paying into your bank. Too many visitors on a slow site spill out over the top. There are also lots of holes in your funnel where visitors can pour out. Some of these holes are obvious, such as poor navigation, badly laid out pages, expensive products, overly complex checkout, wrong colors, and numerous other reasons. Even on good sites, 90 to 98 percent of visitors exit before buying.

So before you consider any marketing, before you spend any time on getting visitors, you have to fix the leaks. If you have a low conversion rate of, say, 0.5 percent, then you get one customer for every 200 visitors. The cost of acquiring these visitors will come from the profit on that one sale. If you fix a few leaks and get a not-unusual 2 percent conversion rate, then you only need to get 50 visitors to get that sale. Your marketing spend could be reduced 75 percent and achieve the same result.

There could be hundreds of reasons why people leave your site without paying. Many of the reasons could be unique to your site. But the biggest reason is the same for everyone: visitors have no intention of buying. These visitors are likely idle browsers who may not even be interested in your product, depending on how they came to your site.

Avoid a Single Source of Traffic

Too many sites rely on Google’s organic search results to source their visitors. It is strange, really. Most retailers would never rely on a single product for sales, or source from a single supplier. They know the risks associated. The trouble is that because the Internet is complicated, they end up with this one source of visitors: organic search results.

The problem with depending on a single supplier is that you are at the mercy of the supplier’s whims. Google’s recent change to its search algorithm has crippled the organic rankings of many ecommerce sites. The feeling is that Google is giving unfair preference to major brands that may dabble in a product range rather than a specialist independent. Further, Google has just recently said that it will give a slight ranking preference to sites that deliver secure pages, i.e., HTTPS pages. Google said that over time this preference will increase; I wonder how long it will be before it distinguishes between an enhanced SSL certificate and an ordinary one.

So, with the tail wagging the dog, most sites will start changing over to HTTPS. Or at least try. It will certainly separate the sites on cheap shared servers from the rest, since an SSL certificate need a unique IP address and many of the cheaper shared server suppliers are not set up to do this for all their thousands of sites.

The continuing changes to Google’s algorithms demonstrate the dangers in relying on a single source of customers, namely Google organic search results. Whilst search engine optimization is important, it must never be relied on. Further you should never compromise too much on your site design and navigation to improve your SEO at the expense of your visitor’s experience. Bending a site too much to placate Google may result in creating a new hole in your funnel. It is worth remembering that SEO only gets you visitors. It is your site that converts them to customers, and it is customers who pay the bills.

Moving Away from Google

So, before you invest your hard earned profits in yet another pass in SEO for your site, consider alternative marketing first — especially, marketing that does not rely on Google. That way you may become independent of the Google dance.

For example, look at your existing customers. What do you do to attract a repeat sale? Unlike the cable companies and insurance companies who reserve their best deals for new customers, ecommerce retailers should offer the good deals to their existing customers. Reward loyalty. Consider a loyalty point scheme. Consider offering 10 percent off the second purchase. Offer rewards for signing up to a newsletter. Have a regular topical newsletter that provides genuine offers. Having gone to the expense of marketing, SEO, and even paid advertisements to get a new customer, why not consolidate these investments by making this new customer a repeat customer.

One of the key differences between a repeat customer and a new visitor is that the repeat customer knows your site. Repeat customers are not idle browsers; they come with deliberate intention. Hopefully this intention is to purchase. But it could be just to find out what is forthcoming and what is available, to plan future purchases. Thus returning customers have a higher conversion rate. They proportionally spend more than new customers.

This, therefore, is my plan. Ignore the SEO ups and downs and concentrate on the real world. Encourage more customers to re-visit. Keep reminding them that we are reliable — in the important holiday season, reliability is key. We will deliver; they don’t have to worry. I am already composing my Christmas newsletters, planning to hit the early shoppers and then the latter panic shoppers. In other words, I’m going to stop reacting to Google’s actions and start doing my own.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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