Having acquired an e-commerce business, there can be a lot to understand and optimize before focusing on day-to-day business management. Buyers who take the time to understand business challenges are more likely to uncover potential opportunities, helping them to invest time in the right aspects of the business.
In this post, we discuss the main steps that buyers should follow to optimize their newly acquired e-commerce store.
Conduct an E-commerce Site Audit
We have discussed the importance of site audits in the past. They play an equally, if not more important role following a business acquisition. Having purchased an e-commerce business, it is highly recommend that buyers conduct a site audit as a pre-cursor to any major work.
What is a Site Audit?
Audits are designed to cover a number of crucial areas of the business – content, SEO, site performance, conversion rate optimization (CRO), platform analysis, supply chain and more. It is a great opportunity to evaluate each component to discover issue areas and places for potential improvement. The results of an audit will give the buyer a ‘post-sale blueprint’ – a map for how best to optimize the business going forward.
What Should a Site Audit Include?
A site audit should focus on what is happening right now. Future marketing campaigns, content posts and products can be considered later. It is recommended to cast a wide net from the outset to help discover as many opportunities as possible. As the buyer goes through the audit, take note of any findings. These will be important for measurement and goal tracking.
To begin with, an on-site e-commerce audit should be split into three core parts – SEO, Platform and Conversion Rate. We’ll cover each in turn:
- SEO Audit
Strong SEO can significantly improve sales for e-commerce retailers, so it makes sense to start here when commencing an audit. There are some general on-site SEO points to follow but from an e-commerce perspective, buyers should focus for the most part on whether product pages are visible to both the user and to search engines.
It is important to look into the following:
- How are expired products handled? There are lots of ways of handling expired products / content, or out-of-stock items, including redirects and linking to related products. The right action will depend on the specific scenario in question.
- How are seasonal products handled?
- How were new products managed? SEO can have a big impact on the success or failure of a new product. It is important to check recent product launches to see how the previous owner has set the products up.
- Do product pages have thin content? There is a lot that can be done for improving content. Buyers should look to add detail to thin posts in order to improve their quality, usefulness and keyword optimization.
- Is internal linking strong? Users need to be able to navigate around the storefront. Tips for improved SEO include interlinking products to other products and category pages to products.
- Are related products organised? There is lots to think about when organising an e-commerce store in terms of related products, including whether they should be organized alphabetically, geographically or chronologically.
- Are product images of high quality? The production of great visual content is increasingly important and search engines factor the optimization of images when determining page rankings. Conducting an image review should be high on the list of things to cover off as a site owner.
- Is page speed sufficient? A slow page load time can present major problems for any e-commerce platform. There are many free tools online where you can check page speed. Ensure that your pages are loading in less than 3 seconds. If not, follow the advice given.
The most common improvement areas are with duplicate product pages, page 404 errors and poor internal link structuring which negatively impacts user experience and the site’s ability to rank. Going through a robust technical SEO checklist is recommended to clean these issues out.
- Platform Audit
Choosing the right e-commerce platform is pivotal for many reasons. When acquiring an e-commerce store, it is likely the buyer will have inherited the seller’s existing platform. As part of the audit process, it is wise to spend some time figuring out whether or not a platform switch is appropriate. If sales have been trending down for some time or the number of new customers is increasingly dramatically on a month-on-month basis, it may be worth checking that the platform is still suitable for the business’ needs. A well-executed platform change can generate a strong uplift in sales.
Some common reasons for changing platforms include:
- Improved user experience – navigation, site speed, imaging, check-out process and a whole host of new features are extremely good reasons to switch platform, directly impacting CRO and potentially SEO.
- Mobile optimization – mobile optimization has become a growing priority for web spiders. With Google launching their mobile-friendly algorithm in 2015, mobile-friendly sites will begin to rank more highly.
- Market conditions – increased need to provide a ‘multi-channel’ buying experience, integrating ‘social commerce’ is a good example of this.
- Scalability – the business could have outgrown the current platform, may not support required integrations or could be built on obsolete (costly) technology. This will impact the buyer’s ability to scale the business.
- Cost – costs associated with the platform are too high, it could be cheaper to go elsewhere longer term.
- Platform speed – just a one-second delay in page load time can cause 7% fewer customer conversions. Speed is critical, moving to a new platform can help with this.
A platform switch is a big task and can be risky in terms of search engine rankings – as such, it is important to read up on e-commerce platform migration and SEO before commencing on the project. Buyers should make sure that the development team is fully capable of switching to a new e-commerce platform to ensure migration success.
- Conversion Rate Audit
Most websites convert between 2% and 5% of their traffic. Sending more traffic to an e-commerce website with a low conversion is a waste of time and money, particularly if running PPC.
CRO is about maximizing the percentage of users that complete a desired action. Research has found that a 20% increase in decision simplicity can result in an 80%+ increase in the likelihood of purchase.
To do so, CRO experts look to track and improve aspects of the site to increase action and sales. There are a number of factors that will affect the conversion rate. For now, we will focus on a few key areas of e-commerce stores where there is always opportunity to improve conversions:
- Calls to Action (CTA) – the conversion rate may be on the low side if the CTA is too big, small or just not ‘clickable’. It is worth spending some time to optimize CTA buttons based on best practice within the industry.
- Landing and Homepage – if the bounce rate is high, there could be lots of reasons driving visitors away. For e-commerce stores, it is important to display ‘trust signals’ and to ensure a simple and intuitive navigation path. Good content and links between products and pages will help with this. It is also worth removing any third party advertising on site.
- Opt-In forms – if conversion is lower than expected, it is important to review the opt-in forms to work out why. It could well be that the website is asking for unnecessary information or the ‘reward’ for opting-in is not being sold well enough. It’s worth testing pop-ups which can drive a meaningful increase in subscribers.
- Category / Product pages –it should be easy to buy from any e-commerce store. The Paradox of Choice talks about the dangers of giving too much choice. Numerous product versions or poor on-site filters can harm click-through rates.
- Site registration – forcing users to sign up to buy may not be a good idea and can cause conversion issues. The customer wants a simple process. The $300 Million Button is a good article to read for tips on this.
- Checkout process – the checkout process is an essential component of CRO. Cart abandonment is discussed in greater detail later on in this section
With a greater understanding of some of the ways in which to improve an e-commerce store and an action plan in place, it is time to turn attention to capturing the data in a meaningful way to drive actionable insights going forward.
What Gets Measured Gets Improved
Having run through the audit process, it is important to start using Google Analytics to measure improvements and to understand the customer in more detail.
Using Google Analytics is critical for tracking all marketing efforts. The majority of hosted platforms all integrate with Google Analytics which makes the owner’s analysis work much easier. Buyers should take some time to find out more about how e-commerce tracking works to fully understand how data gets fed through for the purpose of reporting. There are a number of useful resources available that teach how to setup Google Analytics to ensure that it is correctly tracking the website.
What Can I Use It For?
Taking a data-led approach is critical for e-commerce success. In essence, analytics is about three things:
- Understanding what is working – avoiding wasting time and money on marketing activities that are not working.
- Knowledge is power – understand how customer behaviour is shifting and adapt quickly to changes.
- Gateway to higher conversions – optimize the website based on the data.
There are lots of ways of using Google Analytics for success in E-commerce businesses. Below are a handful of examples of how data can be used to drive and measure specific marketing initiatives:
- Traffic by source – view traffic by source to find out which source of traffic provides the best return (e.g. which products sell the most through organic traffic vs. social traffic referral)
- Customer segmentation – find out how valuable returning customers are and get ideas for how to remarket to them in the future (e.g. provide offers or a reduced shipping fee to return customers)
- Conversion rate – discover the earning potential of different tests (e.g. test the impact of free postage on average order size/value over a period of time)
- Custom demographics – find out which customer demographic are most present on site (and buys most) and target future products towards this (e.g. females in New York by X% more)
- Unique purchases – view the number of times that a particular product or set of products were part of a transaction (e.g. t-shirt X has never been sold)
- Per visit value – discover why people are buying more (e.g. moved the free shipping fee threshold up)
Conversion Rate Goals
Each marketing initiative should have a defined ‘goal’ and this is an area that Google Analytics can really help with.
In order to explore how goals can be set for each metric, we’ll take one example from the above – conversion rate. If it is suspected that the mobile conversion rate on a particular product is lower than it should be versus the desktop site, look to define a set future goal or target. For example, “double the number of contact form sign-ups via mobile in 6 months”. Once there is a clear target, set up a goal in analytics by following the step by step process outlined here.
In the case of conversion rate tracking, configure goals based on the defined ‘action’. In this case, define the success URL (where the visitor should end up, i.e. the cart) as well as the required steps to get there, which will form the ‘goal funnel’. Once set, split-test different ways of increasing mobile conversion rates until there is an improvement towards the goal. The goal funnel tracking will help you see where clients have the most confusion/difficulty and drop off in the purchase process. Goal Flow tracking also tracks where customers loop back in, giving insight into how the overall marketing recapture process is working (retargeting, emails, etc.)
Goals can be set up on any number of metrics and should come directly from the insights from the site audit. Both goals and different combinations of metrics can be tracked using custom dashboards in Google Analytics.
Deciding on suitable key performance indicators (KPIs) and setting up goals within Google Analytics is an important step to take when optimizing an e-commerce store. Measuring data over time is critical to all marketing efforts, ensuring that improvements are being made and money is being invested in the right areas.
Taking This Further – Shopping Cart Abandonment
One of the most important areas to focus on in terms of goals for e-commerce businesses is shopping cart abandonment.
Shopping cart abandonment is when shoppers put items in their online shopping carts but leave the store before completing the purchase. A recent study by PayPal showed that shopping cart abandonment rate is around 59% and is likely to cost around $4.9 trillion in 2015 alone. To provide some context, if an e-commerce store makes around $15,000/mo in revenue and 25% of abandoned orders could be converted into sales, then the store is effectively leaving $45,000 per year on the table.
There are many reasons why shoppers leave without paying. The main factors include:
- Presented with unexpected costs (e.g. customer put off by shipping charges). 60%+ of consumers are likely to cancel their order if free shipping is not offered. If free shipping is not offered, it is important to be transparent from the outset. Including shipping/handling charges on product pages is a good way to do this.
- Just browsing (i.e. customer never intended to buy). A significant proportion of online purchases are not completed because there was never a firm intention to buy. Often customers like to simply browse and create wishful lists. These potential customers should be targeted back in through re-targeting campaigns and email offers.
- Found a better price elsewhere (e.g. customer was ‘shopping around’). Customers will often look elsewhere to find a deal if they don’t believe that they are getting a good price. Loyalty programs are a good way of keeping a customer interested. Rewarding based on previous buyer behaviour is a great way of incentivising future purchases.
In order to reduce shopping cart abandonment, there are two main strategies that can be deployed, each has its own set of tactics. 1) Before Cart Abandonment focuses on communication and reinforcement messages 2) After Cart Abandonment concentrates on email marketing/re-marketing.
Whilst there are lots of different ways of reducing cart abandonment, e-commerce store owners should above all ensure that the checkout process is smooth and easy to navigate. Other tips include being transparent and communicating effectively (e.g. security, shipping pricing, returns policy), using images appropriately (e.g. process indicator), offer price comparisons and coupons and discounts during the shopping funnel process, improved functionality (e.g. cookie/save the cart) and offering support (e.g. chat, hotlines).
One of the biggest opportunities to consider when taking over an e-commerce store is how shopping cart abandonment can be reduced. There are plenty of straightforward strategies that can be deployed to do so and if implemented well, can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line of the business.
Having acquired an e-commerce business, it is good practice to conduct a site audit right away. This article serves to identify the wealth of opportunities that can be exploited through better understanding of the business as it exists today. Evaluating metrics and testing improvements is the best way of optimizing an e-commerce store, setting it up for success from day one.