9 Essential Ecommerce Optimization Tips

It can be hard to stand out in eCommerce: there’s 1000 people offering the same services as you, and many of them are established brands. What can you do to break through, and have the best little store on the web? Well, that’s what I’m here for.

  1. You Need Speed

Google have revealed that a staggering 53% of users abandon a site that hasn’t loaded within 3 seconds. The average load time from the same study? 22 seconds. Things have improved a little since then (it was 2017, and load times have dropped about 2 seconds a year on average) but still have a long way to go. A site that loads quickly is going to put you head and shoulders above your competition. There’s some great web speed optimization guides out there if you want to go into more detail, but it’s important that you understand how critical your load speed is to your conversion numbers. It often gets lost in our data analysis, because users who bounce that quickly get lumped in with spammers and bots. The problem is, that’s a huge number of visitors. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve done everything else in this list if people are leaving before they can see it.

It’s important that this optimization includes mobile devices. They overtook desktop as the dominant internet viewing platform in 2017 and the gap has increased with each passing year. Desktops and laptops are on the way out: the future is mobile. You need to make sure that any optimization efforts target mobile as well as larger screens: this means responsive grids, AMP and frequent mobile performance monitoring.

Landing pages need to be particularly well-optimized: they’re intended to bring in traffic, and (if you’ve been doing it right) they’re going to have to deal with a high volume of user throughput. If there’s something on a landing page making your hosting server have to work extra hard, then the odds of a sudden user spike taking down your site are significantly higher.

  1. Organization and UX

Users often come to your site looking for something specific, and if they can’t find it (and find it quickly) they’re going to leave and give their money to your competitors. It’s critical you have a clear, logical site structure that lets them easily find what they’re looking for. In eCommerce specifically, this means choose your categories well. A lot of store owners do it as almost an afterthought, and it creates a messy site that drives users away. Stock categories and what goes in them are a huge planning consideration, which often aren’t given enough gravity.

This also means to ensure you’ve got breadcrumbs for navigation, and to eliminate unnecessary clicks and categories. The perfect category is big enough to keep site navigation simple, while tight enough to retain focus and intent. It’s a balancing act.

The perfect UX would be a system where the user opens your site and is immediately presented with exactly the items they want. That’s not really feasible, but it’s a good guiderope: the less clicks they need to make, the better your UX is; the easier it is to find exactly what they need, the better your UX is.

  1. Keep it Simple

It goes for UX and navigation, but it goes elsewhere too. Your copy? Simple. Your colour palate? Simple. The more distractions you create, the more likely it is that users will be redirected away from your sales funnel. That’s not to say every website should be white on white, but that the visual design of a site should avoid clutter if it wants to maximise conversions. Which of these pieces of copy do you think looks better on a landing page?

Why hello there, [name]! I see you’re perusing our goods. If I might be so bold, have you considered looking into the men’s morning care section? We have an item that I think you might be interested in, [name]. Why, it is a razor, and a discounted one at that. Do what you will with that information.

OR

Our razors are 20% off, and they’re awesome. Buy one here.

Most of your users are going to glaze out before they can get to the actual point of the first. Don’t waste their time: if they wanted to read a novel, they’d have picked one up. They’re on your site to see your products, not your poetry.

  1. Get Those Carts Back

Shopping cart abandonment is a major issue: somewhere between 60-90% of all online carts are filled, then left behind. You can’t get them all back, but you can get back a respectable number of them. How? If they’ve already bounced there are follow up reminder emails, though a large amount of recovery is actually prevention:

  • Avoiding hiding extra costs like shipping: unexpected costs at checkout are the #1 culprit behind dropped carts.
  • Don’t force users to create an account to buy. It’s fine to suggest they set an account up, but requiring it drives away a huge number of people, especially if it comes up at checkout.
  • Build trust with consumer feedback tools and social proof elements

Honesty and straightforwardness aren’t just easier on the soul, they’re also better economic choices: if people know exactly what they’re getting when they click Buy, they’re much more likely to finish their conversion.

  1. Talk to Your Customers

A lot of store owners don’t like customer feedback tools: they see it as a drain on their time that’s unlikely to go anywhere good. But here’s a question: would you rather that person demanding a refund do it in a private channel with you, or would you rather they take it public? If you don’t provide somewhere (you control) for a customer to vent steam, they’re going to go and do it in public venues that you don’t control.

This means email addresses, phone numbers, contact forms. Personal response is not always possible when you’re dealing with a high volume of inquiries, but automated/passive response (like a chatbot or redirect to an FAQ) is still significantly better than nothing. If you can get a fast personal response out, then you’re much more likely to turn a lead into a conversion.

  1. The Best Proof is Social Proof

One of the first things customers look for (even if they don’t realise it) is some sort of confirmation that other people use your site, and have had a good time. Humans are social creatures, after all. You can leverage this to give your conversions a huge bump: put positive reviews front and center and—ideally, if you can—get the customer’s face next to the text to further enhance this. A 2014 Georgia Tech study showed an almost 50% jump in user responses to content that contained at least one human face. Text (even coming from a real customer) is sterile and often comes with a lot of baggage around its perceived falseness—it’s easy to buy reviews by the thousand online. You want to push back against that by reminding potential customers that there are real happy customers behind each review.

It’s good to ask clients if they’re willing to submit video testimonials. These can be authentic in a way that text finds hard to replicate, though often you might want to employ a professional to touch the videos up—they can often have low sound and video quality, and you still want them to be attractive.

  1. Honesty is the Best Policy

I’ve talked a little about fake reviews, and with that talk comes a dark side of the internet: scammers abound, and almost all of your customers have probably heard at least one horror story. You’re not like that, but the customer doesn’t know that and they’re probably going to approach you with a degree of healthy skepticism. There’s a few things you can do to help put them at ease:

  • Fake reviews are more likely to harm you that help—they tend to be obvious, and customers have come to expect them and filter them out.
  • Make sure your store is GDPR compliant. Users have come to expect certain UX elements that show a store is GDPR compliant, and a site that fails to display them automatically rings alarm bells.
  • In that vein, make sure your SSL certificates are up to date. Some browsers will automatically block non-HTTPS URLs, and that padlock is another element that tells customers that you’re looking out for them. Good security is good business.

You want everything about your site to tell a potential customer that you’re on the level, and they can trust you. In a lot of ways, being open and honest is good business.

  1. Build Your Email List

Not every conversion is a sale: getting somebody’s email is a potential future sale, and it’s a lot easier than getting them to hand over money. Emailing marketing is its own whole world and we’d be here forever if we went into detail but just trust me on this: it’s profitable. Building your email list should be a priority for any ecommerce campaign, and the canny business owner has securing email addresses as one of their top conversion goals.

  1. The Other Sort of Testing

We finish where we started: in the weeds with the technical side of things. Tools like Pingdom, GTMetrix and Google Lighthouse are absolutely invaluable in figuring out what’s slowing down your site. A lot of store owners look at data as user analytics only, but site analytics are also critically important.

On top of raw speed, you should probably invest some time into A/B testing. From personal experience, what users should do and what users actually do are often entirely different beasts. A/B testing and actual user testing are critically important in discovering this sort of thing. It’s often very subtle: slight changes in palate or typography can send users down different paths. Larger changes like structure and navigation definitely need testing, because I can guarantee there’s going to be variation between what you’ve got on paper and how it actually plays out.

Harnessing the more counterintuitive side of user behaviour will give you a powerful edge on your competition, but you won’t find it if you’re not looking.

Anything else?

Call your mum, it’s been a while since you spoke to her.

Oh, about ecommerce? Well, nothing happens overnight. An overwhelming majority of businesses collapse in a year or less and that’s particularly heartbreaking because no multimillion dollar company was built in less than a year. You need to prepare for the long haul, and test different things, and iterate, and learn. These adjustments are subtle, and no single change is going to spike your conversion rate through the roof overnight. More likely, a combination of them is going to help you make steady and sustained growth long-term. Keep at it, keep testing, keep getting better.

And if this article did make you a millionaire overnight, let me know in the comments—my ego could use the boost.

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