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 >>

Friday, September 12, 2008

Comparing credit card processing fees

I recently ran across a service that could be useful to e-commerce businesses. TranFS claims to be "an online comparison shopping business for small business financial services. Think of us as an Priceline or Travelocity [...]: we help small businesses compare and purchase financial services (such as payroll processing, credit card processing and business loans)." Sounds interesting.

I tried out their "Credit Card Processing" calculator.

It's not clear to me if they put everything into the calculation or not. With "everything" I mean: merchant account monthly fee, payment gateway account monthly fee, fixed and variable transaction fees. Assuming they do, according to the tool at Early Impact we are paying way too much. We'll have to look into it :-)

Similarly to services like LendingTree.com, it appears that you can submit some information about you and what you need, and they get you a few quotes from competing service providers. The system is still in BETA and there is not much information about the company on their About Us page. There is a phone number you can call for more information.

It might be worth a look if you believe to be paying credit card processing fees that are too high.

BuyerZone and VendorSeek appear to be offering a similar services.

If you end up switching your Internet Merchant Account provider, make sure that they can work with a payment gateway that is supported "out of the box" by your shopping cart. Otherwise you could drive yourself into a messy situation.

If you try any of these services, please post back so others can learn from your experience.



Disclaimer: I have not spent time digging into the TranFS service to see how accurate or dependable it is. I have also not submitted our company information to receive bids from matching service providers (too busy: we're in the middle of a software release). I have not tried the BuyerZone and VendorSeek services either.