Monday, January 3, 2011

See the Early Impact blog for the latest blog postings

If you're wondering why this blog doesn't have recent posts, the reason is simply that we decided to consolidate things into the official Early Impact blog at

We're keeping this blog alive, however, rather than automatically redirecting to because there is some content that has been indexed by search engines and that people find useful, such as this 2007 blog post that helps you understand the various payment systems provided by PayPal.

Monday, January 12, 2009

E-commerce and SEO

A good article from PANDIA

Getting more traffic to your Web store is always at the very top of any store manager's New Year "To Do" list. And especially at a time when wallets are looking pretty empty, organic search engine placements become more of a must have than ever before.

Literally truck loads of stuff has been written and said on the topic, but some of my favorite contributors to the discussion have always been the people at PANDIA. They've always had a way to focus on what really matters and tell the story straight.

Really easy organic SEO is one of the best articles I've seen on the matter of achieving good search engine rankings. Once again: it tells the story straight:

  • Good rankings are a lot of work (so start now)
  • The work is mostly made of producing good, valuable content
  • Don't worry about anything else. The rest - really - doesn't matter much at all

We've got work to do

I could not agree more. There's no secret recipe, my friends, and I'm sure you know that to be the case, by now. Sure, your e-commerce software should output well designed pages, but that is the case with most, good quality e-commerce engines today. So what else can you do? How does this PANDIA article mean for your storefront, in practical terms?

  • Content pages: your catalog must go beyond products and categories. Write content, good content. You're an expert at what you do: make sure to let your store visitors know.
  • Attach a WIKI to your store (typically free software) and find a way to get your user community involved in writing content collaboratively (e.g. tips, tricks, "how to's", etc. on whatever it is you're selling). Be the first one to contribute regularly.
  • Participate actively in your own forums (add a forum if you don't have it) and link from the forum to the WIKI for more in-depth articles (forum = discussions; wiki = in-depth coverage of a topic)
  • Enable product reviews in your e-commerce software, and link from the product pages to the forum and wiki pages on the same products, when applicable (it might simply be a matter of adding links to your product descriptions, as a start: you can always get fancier later).

New Year's resolution

Dedicate a portion of your day (start with half an hour), every day, to creating (or managing the creation of) quality content for your Web store. Every day. Start today.

The people at PANDIA would probably agree that this is what their suggestions ultimately come down to.

I wish you all the best in this new year!

Friday, November 21, 2008

More on "Free Shipping"

In the previous post we talked about how "Free Shipping" is increasingly becoming a 'must have', especially around the Holiday Season.

Here are some recent articles that provide additional, interesting information on this topic.

  • More top 100 online retailers offer free shipping (Internet Retailer)
    Almost 70% of the top 100 online retailers in the US offer free shipping (and others offer "almost free" shipping, such as $1 shipments). The number is growing and offers become more aggressive and more broadly applied to the product catalog. Remember that consumers have one wallet: you are competing for the same "holiday budget" that the "big guys" of e-commerce are after. So what they do is indeed relevant.
  • Free Shipping Motivates Holiday Shoppers (Internet Retailer comments on Forrester Research study)
    More evidence that free shipping is a determining factor is deciding where to shop online.
  • Pinching Pennies Online for the Holidays (eMarketer)
    A look at how shrinking budgets are affecting gift buying behaviors for the 2008 Holiday Season.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Holiday Season To Do: free shipping

Try doing your best to offer free or discounted shipping. This is always important for the reasons mentioned below, but it will be particularly important this Holiday season. Consider the following:

  • Expensive Gas = More E-commerce.
    Research has been done showing that people do tend to shop more online when they feel like getting in the car is costing them more money. For example, see Gas Prices Boost E-Commerce.
  • Shipping Costs = #1 Drop-Off Reason.
    There is a lot of evidence indicating that the number one reason for a serious prospect (customer that added products to the shopping cart and began the checkout process) to abandon the order is high shipping charges. For example, see Shopping Cart Abandonment Rises.

So - in practical terms - what can you do?

  • Consider keeping prices a bit higher, but offer free shipping (e.g. ground shipping). Customers often make a final purchasing decision on the total cost of the purchase, not on the initial product price (which is why the drop-off is so high during checkout, when the total cost becomes clear).
  • Let them know! Strongly advertise on your store that you offer free shipping (e.g. with a very visible graphic that becomes part of your store interface)
  • Use free shipping to promote repeat purchases. For instance, consider sending a coupon to those who buy inviting them to purchase again and obtain free, faster shipping (e.g. an electronic coupon that makes "Second Day Air" free). Remember that your margin on a repeat purchase is by definition higher as there are no marketing costs associated with acquiring that customer, since this is an existing customer.
  • Last minute gifts. Consider offering free, fast shipping right before Thanksgiving and Christmas (last minute gifts).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Holiday Season To Do: Clearance and Gift Items

Two quick tips that are easy to implement and can certainly help you make your Web store visitors feel at home during the holiday season: place visible links to clearance and gift items on your store interface, then help them visualize how your products could make some great gifts

Gift Items

It goes without saying that during the holiday season people are looking for gift ideas. We all are, we're short on time, and we need some help. Make it easy for them. Show them that you have plenty of gift items, and tell them why they'll make perfect presents. How? Here are some tips that are really easy to implement, regardless of the e-commerce system that you are using:

  • Add new categories to your category tree. For example: create a new top level category "Gift Ideas", with sub-categories "For him", "For her", "For the kids", etc. then link to them from your category navigation and from graphics positioned in different areas of your store design (e.g. see the example below).
  • Assign products. Take products from your existing catalog and assign them to these additional categories. You don't need to move them there. Just add these categories to the existing category assignments.
  • Make your pitch. Create some "content pages" (from within your e-commerce system or using your favorite HTML editor) that tell people more about the product(s) and how/why they will make a great gift, then link to these pages from the product description (similar products will all link to the same "content pages"). Many times people need some help envision how a specific product can turn into a gift item (especially the less creative of us). Show them how.
    • Do you have a online hardware store? Show customers how stuffing a toolbox with chocolates and colorful gift paper can make a fun gift idea for dad.
    • Do you sell books? Show customers how adding a couple of hand-written recipes to a cookbook can make for a personalized, thoughtful gift for mom

Clearance Items

There's little doubt that this year people will have less money to spend on their Christmas shopping. Show them that they came to the right place: your store has plenty of inexpensive products that they can buy! You offer free shipping? Make it very visible! Special discounts if they order more than $100? Tell them with a graphic they can't miss.

One quick way to convey the idea that you have lots of affordable stuff is to create a "clearance" section where you sell your most discounted products.

  • Make it visible. Use a nice graphic to draw your customers' attention to this area of your store. Remember, the most important aspect of this is that you are conveying the idea that you indeed have plenty of inexpensive products. That they landed on the right store.
  • Cross sell higher margin products. Do your best at cross-selling higher margin products on clearance item pages. A list of cross selling products (e.g. bottom of the page) is definitely NOT the most effective way to do this. The right way to do this is what in fancy terms is often called "contextual merchandising": talk about and link to other products while you are telling a story. That is: build links to other products right into the clearance item description. For example, highlight complementary items. Let's go back to the example above: the "toolbox" in your hardware store is a clearance item: list a few "perfect" additions to the toolbox (e.g. "add a multi-purpose screw driver to this toolbox for just $14.95). The more visual your cross selling is, the better (people tend not to read much).

All is all, anticipating your customer needs ("show me some gift ideas... affordable too!") will take some extra work, but will definitely pay off.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Holiday Season To Do: Optimize Landing Pages

This is the fist of a series of articles that I plan to write over the next month or so on things you might want to look at in order to get your Web store in great shape for the holiday season (or for a big campaign, a new product launch, ... you name it).

So let's get started with the first recommendation: Optimize Your Top Landing Pages

To make things easy, I'm assuming you use Google Analytics for your Web site statistics. If you don't, I'm sure you can find similar reports in your Web analytics program.

In your Google Analytics account select "Content > Top Landing Pages". Print out the report. On the page, GA shows you the following information:

  • URL: the location of the landing page
  • Entrances: how many visitors entered the Web site using that page (these are the total number of visits through that page, not "unique" visits)
  • Bounces: how many of those visits stopped there (the visitor did not visit any other page)
  • Bounce Rate: percentage of bounces on the total number of entrances. That is: the percentage of visits for which that URL was the entry point into your Web site, but which did not lead to any other page view.

Understanding the Bounce Rate

First, spend a few minutes to become a "Bounce Rate" expert! This little piece of information should really become one of your most closely watched statistics as it can make a huge difference on the success of your Web store.

No point in reinventing the wheel: there are lots of great articles out there on the "bounce rate". For instance, here are two by Anil Batra, an expert in Web analysis:

Top Landing Pages and Bounce Rate

Now, let's go back to the report you printed out. How's your bounce rate looking? Do you have any of your Top 10 pages that are showing a bounce rate higher than - say - 60%? Are there any pages that have a particularly low bounce rate (e.g. lower than 30%)? Comparing better performing pages to less performing ones can already give you some insight into what you could try to change to improve the bounce rate on poorly performing pages.

Lowering the bounce rate, even by a little bit, can help you tremendously. For example, imagine you have 1,000 entrances on a certain page and your bounce rate is 50%. 500 of those users never see another page. There are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases those are "lost" visitors. They came and went. Just like that. Let's call them "inactive" visitors.

If you lowered your bounce rate on that same page to 40%, you would turn 100 of those visitors into "active" users of your Web site. Do the math based on your average Cost Per Click, and this could mean hundreds of dollars (how much would it cost you to acquire 100 "active" visitors through a different marketing campaign?).

Lowering your Bounce Rate through Better Navigation

There are many articles out there about optimizing your landing pages (run a search on this): page optimization can certainly help you lower your bounce rate, and you should definitely spend time optimizing your top landing pages.

Here, however, I'd like to focus on something that can affect a higher number of pages and that is particularly important for an online store: the Web store's navigation.

Improving your navigation does not take that much time to accomplish (compared to individually optimizing graphics and written copy on potentially dozens of landing pages), and can affect a high number of your pages at once, assuming your store uses a template that is dynamically "pulled-in" by most pages (which is typically the case).

Therefore, it is crucial that your store contains good, appealing navigation so that a visitor that lands on the "wrong" page is invited to check out other content available on the Web store.

The following are some suggestions on what to do to improve your store navigation.

  • Multiple navigation tools: one way to immediately improve your navigation is to offer visitors multiple ways to navigate your store. For example: graphically well designed images in top area of your layout could contain a "call to action" to check out store specials, Holiday promotions, etc. Text links in your left and/or right side columns can prompt the customer to navigate by price, gift ideas (who's not looking for a gift idea around the Holidays?), new arrivals, best sellers, best reviewed products, ... you name it.
  • Advanced Users: Section Specific Navigation. Check with your e-commerce vendor on whether you can place code in your store's graphical interface that would allow you to show different information (e.g. different links, different graphics, different "call to actions") based on the area of the store in which that the page being loaded is located. For example, if the landing page is a digital camera, a graphical or text link "Gift Ideas: great accessories for your digital camera" could be displayed: a "Check me out" element (see below) that could successfully call users to action. Ask your e-commerce vendor (or you Web site consultant) for more information on how to accomplish this.
  • "Check me out" Interface Elements: these are cool little banners (e.g. 150 by 100 pixels) that you could have in your left and/or right side column and that invite visitors to click and learn more. For example: a nice graphic that promotes 'clearance' items or free 'next day air' shipping on some items. You could even employ some simple JavaScript to make them rotate
  • Search: there are people that like to browse and people that like to search. Make sure that you have a "search box" immediately visible in your Web store interface (e.g. top center: see Optimizing your search box).
  • Overall Site Appeal: is the "bounce rate" pretty high (e.g. over 60%) on all of your top landing pages? Let's assume your products or services are not the issue. People want them. Why are they leaving so soon, then? Try to find out. To start, ask your friends to give you an honest opinion on your Web store: could it use a redesign? The graphical interface might need to be updated. Sometimes it does not take much. Maybe a redesign of the top portion of your Web store interface is all you need (rather than a full Web site redesign).

Let's recap

Look at your top landing pages and use the "bounce rate" as a guide to determine what's inviting visitors to stick around and what isn't. There are certainly many ways to optimize pages and reduce the "bounce rate". Updating and improving your Web store navigation can be a good place to start as it affects virtually every page in your Web store.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What is my Web store really going to cost?

How much will it really cost you to run an e-commerce store or switch to a new e-commerce system? Of course, there are several variables to keep into account (jump to the calculator):

  1. The cost of the e-commerce system itself (licensed or hosted)
  2. The cost of hosting your Web store (often included if you subscribe to a hosted system)
  3. The cost of securing the store (SSL certificate, McAfee Secure, etc.)
  4. The cost of processing transactions online (merchant account, transaction fees, etc.)
  5. The cost of moving data to the new e-commerce system, if you are upgrading or need to transfer information like products or customers from your accounting or ERP system.
  6. The cost of having somebody help you on a consistent basis tweak and/or update your e-commerce system (if needed). I'm not talking about adding products or managing orders, but rather install new versions or modify existing features.
  7. ...

The biggest decision of all is definitely whether to use a licensed or a hosted e-commerce solution. It remains a tough call and you should analyze benefits and limits of either approach. There's no winner, but there are big differences between the two types of e-commerce solutions (read more).

Choosing a licensed versus a hosted system can have a big impact on the cost of the solution too, and it's sometimes hard to see it at first. You really need to keep a medium term view of the matter to get a good idea of the cost differential.

To help you in this process, if you are looking for start a Web store, upgrade an existing store, or switch to an entirely new e-commerce solution, we've recently updated our "Total E-Commerce Cost Calculator" on our Early Impact Web site. Check it out, see if it can help you, and post back your comments or suggestions to improve it.

Calculate the cost of choosing different e-commerce solutions >>