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How to Maximize Sales From Your Online Store

Practical Tips For Increasing Sales And Leads

Is your e-commerce store producing the results you want? If not, it may just need a bit of fine-tuning. In the following article series, you’ll find tips and strategies that can help you do that. By the time you finish the article, you’ll have a list of ideas that you can implement right away.

A large part of my business is developing e-commerce websites for clients. At this moment in history, it’s never been easier to set up an online store. You can literally go from no website to selling products in just a matter of hours.

Take it from me, setting up your online e-commerce solution is the easy part. The part that is often overlooked is optimizing your store for maximum sales and ensuring a good experience for your customers.

I’ll cover some top tips and best practices that you can apply immediately for improving your ecommerce site’s results, including increasing traffic, conversions, revenue and customer retention.

Along the way you will need to evaluate your sites for each of the areas I discuss. You will then identify changes you need to make or implement and how you will do that.

My desired outcome for putting this information together, is that you will be able to:

  • Look at key data to find clues for where you can make changes to increase your ecommerce site’s revenue
  • Identify where your branding is inconsistent or unclear and changes you can make
  • Follow the path your customers use to shop your site and identify areas for making the shopping experience easier
  • Explore different elements of site design that can affect conversions and identify where you can experiment with changes
  • Review your site’s mobile experience and identify places to optimize for shopping, including both site design and opportunities for apps
  • Brainstorm a variety of approaches to increase revenue through up-selling, cross-selling, down-selling and repeat sales
  • Identify ways to use excellent customer service to increase conversion and revenue, as well as retention of customers in the long-term
  • List ways you can use social media to build a personal connection with your market that leads to a loyal, repeat customer base and better conversions
  • Explore the top ways you can use email in your ecommerce marketing, both for revenue and long-term customer value
  • Create an overall plan for where your will focus your efforts next, based on all the tips you’ve learned in the course

Let’s start by understanding the data you’ll need to look at on an ongoing basis.

In order to make the changes you need to get the results you want, you have to first make an honest assessment of where your business is right now. You probably have a vague idea of how things are going, but assumptions don’t do us much good in marketing. Instead, we need objective data to analyze.

This objective data comes to us through analytics. You should use a program like Google Analytics to continually monitor your site’s performance so that you can make the appropriate changes. Google Analytics is very comprehensive and while it can be a bit difficult to get comfortable with at first, it’s one of the most popular options out there. It’s also free. Google Analytics offers customized articles and nearly everything else you’d find in a more sophisticated program, but without the cost. You can even get plugins to help set up the e-commerce side of things.

Yoast Google Analytics e-Commerce Plugin

Let’s look at several key metrics that let you know how your e-commerce site is doing, and from there we can identify which changes need to be made.

  • New Visits. The lifeblood of any website is traffic. You need visitors before you can make a sale. This measure tells you how many new people are visiting your site and from which traffic sources. It helps you see how effective your traffic generation strategies are.
  • Conversion Rate. This tells you how many visitors are making purchases. Google Analytics tells you what percentage of each traffic source converts, so that you know where to focus your traffic building efforts.
  • Conversion Rate by Day and Time. This metric tells you the specific times and dates on which people are making purchases. With this information, you can intensify your marketing efforts during these times.
  • Visitor Behavior. Behavior includes several metrics, including bounce rate and average visit duration. These metrics tell you about the visitor’s behavior on your site. It can show you where there are navigation problems or on which pages you’re losing people. Information like this means you can improve your onsite content to increase the amount of time your visitors spend on your site and reduce your site’s bounce rate. Both are positive influences in ranking your site well on Google.
  • Unique Purchases. This metric tells you the total number of times a specific product has been purchased.
  • Shopping Cart Abandonment. This is an important metric for e-commerce sites. It shows you how many people are getting to the final purchase stage and then leaving your site. High shopping cart abandonment could mean that the purchase process is too difficult or lengthy.

The 80/20 Rule

The analytics mentioned above are the most important and you may find others that help as well. Google Analytics and other analytic programs offer a lot of options when it comes to metrics and articles, but not all of it is useful for every e-commerce site. It can be a waste of time if your analytics articles are too detailed. You shouldn’t spend time on metrics that aren’t absolutely essential.

Make sure that each measure you use, including those above, has a clear goal. What will studying this analytic help you change on your site? Which of your goals will it help you in attaining?

The 80/20 Rule in Sales states that you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. When analyzing your site performance, try to look for that 20% of effort which is providing most of your results.

Summary

Success in e-commerce depends on creating a system for monitoring and analyzing your site data so that you can continue to make incremental improvements. Identify only the analytics that are essential and use them to make changes.

Things to do…

Look at your current analytics, whether it’s Google or something else, and note key information and what it means to the performance of your site.

If you haven’t already set up analytics tracking on your site, it’s never too late. Head over to Google Analytics and follow the instructions to set up an account, grab your tracking code, and install it on your site.

Clear and Consistent Branding

You need to deliver one simple and consistent message to your prospects across all marketing channels. The consistent image this creates in the minds of your customers is your brand. Customers today have innumerable options when shopping online, and your branding is what can make you stand out or melt into the crowd. Make sure your brand is instantly recognizable for the benefits it offers.

What Is a Brand?

Your brand consists of all of the associations people make when they hear your company’s name. Are you the forward-thinking innovator who’s constantly providing your customers with something new and exciting? Are you the one that offers a great deal of value at a reasonable cost?

What’s important to understand about a brand is that it’s not just a marketing slogan. It’s not what you say about your company. It’s what your customers think when they hear your company’s name.

A brand is a promise. When people do business with you, they already have an expectation of what their experience with you will be like.

Defining Your Brand with a Value Proposition

Your brand shouldn’t be a vague notion. It should be identified and stated in a way that is concrete and specific. In order to do this, you should create a value proposition. Your value proposition states clearly what unique value you bring to your customers. This is what appears in their minds when they think of your brand.

Perhaps an easier way to think of your value proposition is that it’s a promise. It’s a promise you make to your customers, guaranteeing the unique value you offer. Pay particular attention to both of those terms – “unique” and “value.” Your value proposition should state the value or benefit you offer, and it should explain what sets you apart from other brands that are similar.

Here are a few examples:

It’s important that your proposition is short and simple, and clearly identifies the main benefit you offer that sets you apart from your competition.

Where to Broadcast Your Brand

Your e-commerce site should be consistent with your brand and communicate your value proposition. But your site isn’t the only place where you should be actively promoting your brand image. You should decide where you’ll build relationships with your customers offsite to create the image of your brand in their minds.

Where should you publicize your brand? Look for places where your target market hangs out online. A few places to look include:

  • Blogs – Create a blog on your e-commerce website or separate from your website but under the company’s name, and use it to offer helpful content that addresses your customers’ needs. Subscribe to and read the blogs of others, and comment whenever appropriate.
  • Social Media – Connect with your customers or potential customers through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
  • YouTube – Create YouTube videos that help people solve common problems related to your business. Also, enjoy the videos of others and interact with other users. YouTube is a social media site, not just a video sharing one.
  • Online forums – Join online forums related to your business where your customers can be found. Interact and offer to help whenever possible on the online forum.

These are just a few ideas for finding your customers. Start by looking at where you can find your target market online, and then take every opportunity to connect with them. The goal is to build a relationship with them at every possible touch point.

How to Build Brand Relationships

When you’re building relationships, it’s important to stay away from self-promotion. The idea, rather, is to encourage interaction with your customers. When they need the products or services you offer, they’ll then naturally come to the person they know – you. This relationship building puts you on their radar before they even need your help.

The best way to interact with your customers is to offer help in some way that’s consistent with what your brand offers. This could be in the form of useful tips or advice, or it could be pointing them to some resource or news they can use. You could also offer giveaways or freebies, all of which should be related to your brand’s products and services.

Whatever you do, put the customer and their needs first. Pay it forward without expecting anything in return. These acts of goodwill, no matter how small and easy for you, have a huge impact on the public’s perception of your company and brand.

Checking Results

How do you know if your branding efforts are working? There’s a simple way – get feedback from your customers. Try to discover what they think and feel about your brand. Does what they think and feel accurately reflect your intended image?

You can get feedback directly or indirectly. The direct approach is to ask. You can conduct surveys, or simply come out and ask customers how they feel about your service and products. Be aware that they may not always be honest with you. Another way to discover your customers’ true feelings about your brand is to monitor conversations online to see what people say about you. Sign up for alerts so that you know whenever your name is mentioned.

The best kind of feedback is not words but actions. If people are buying from you and sending more business your way, your branding efforts are paying off.

Summary

The whole idea behind building relationships between your brand and your market is to understand and meet customers’ needs, and pay it forward with some form of help. Save all self-promotion until later, when you’ve created a strong bond and a good impression of your brand in your customers’ minds.

Things to do…

Write a summary of your value proposition and key features of your brand.

Note where you currently show these on your e-commerce site and other places.

Now make note of where your brand message is missing, and where you can add or clarify details.

Make it Easy (for Your Customers)

One of the key factors in the success or failure of an e-commerce store is the ease of shopping there. There are so many e-commerce websites online where customers can buy the same or nearly the same goods. If there’s any hitch in the buying process, it will cost you significant conversions. If someone has difficulty making their purchase, they’ll go somewhere else.

Ask Your Customers What They Think

The best way to discover whether your sales funnel is as tight as it should be is to ask those who have gone through it. Ask your customers for their opinions on the experience of buying from you. Ask for specific changes they’d like to see made. You can do this through your regular contact with customers on social media or elsewhere, or as a survey at the end of the sales process. You may want to offer a discount or freebie to thank them for their time.

Take a Lesson from Amazon

Why not learn from the masters? Amazon is the most successful e-commerce website the world has ever known. Their shopping cart process has been copied by many other sites and for good reason – it makes buying from them incredibly easy. Study Amazon’s sales process and see if there are ideas you can use for your own site.

Hire a Sales Funnel Tester

There are services you can hire to test your sales funnel or shopping cart for you. They can then tell you where its weaknesses are and where it needs to be tightened up. There’s a fee for doing this, of course, but this cost can reveal many unforeseen issues that, if fixed now, will save you money later.

Get a Second and Third Opinion

You can’t get too many opinions on your sales process, so enlist friends and family to make dummy purchases on your site. They can go through the sales process without making the purchase. You can watch them go through the process in real time with screen sharing programs like Screenleap, Quick Screen Share or ShowMyPC, or through the screen sharing features on Skype or Google Hangouts.

Summary

Buying from your e-commerce store should be a simple, enjoyable and smooth process. This process should be smooth from the first visit a casual web surfer makes to your website to the final purchase. You can maximize your store’s effectiveness by making sure this process is as easy as possible.

Things to do…

Ask a friend to walk through a purchase on your site from landing on the home page all the way to final purchase. If possible, screenshare as they go through so the person can give you feedback on things that are difficult or confusing.

For each step of the process, make notes on what works and what needs change or improvement.

Ways to Increase Customer Conversions

There are many different factors that affect whether a customer will buy from your site or not. In this chapter, we’re going to look at some of the biggest factors and offer some suggestions on ways to improve your site and thereby boost conversions.

Web Copy

Life is Good – Product Description Copy

The quality of your web copy and what it says to visitors to your site is very important. For pages where the copy needs to be highly effective, such as sales pages and product descriptions, you may want to consider hiring a professional copywriter to write it for you. If you write it yourself, try to find others to critique it for you (you can get this kind of help on a webmaster or copywriting forum).

There are whole courses on copywriting but here are some of the basic elements that make for good web copy:

  • Grab the visitor’s attention from the start with a benefit-driven headline
  • Write in a conversational tone, using words that your customer would use
  • Use the word “you” a great deal when referring to the reader
  • Don’t use complex words, long sentences, or huge chunks of text
  • Keep your web copy short and to-the-point with no filler
  • Write using searchable keywords in mind, but make sure your copy reads naturally for human visitors
  • Always emphasize the benefits to the reader
  • Encourage your reader to take action with clear directions on what to do next

Add Visuals

Videos and graphics usually increase conversions. They engage your web visitor more than with text-only pages. A quick, simple video that emphasizes the types of benefits in your web copy can help with conversions. But don’t go overboard. Use video and graphics that are tasteful and don’t clutter up the site. You don’t want to distract your visitors from finding what they’re looking for and making a purchase. Finally, give all videos and image the appropriate alt tags and captions so that they’ll be discoverable through web searches.

Social Proof

Social proof in the form of customer success stories and testimonials is very powerful. It boosts your reliability in the eyes of your visitors. It also provides “proof” that you’re worth buying from. The praise that you get from others is much more impressive than what you say about yourself. Whenever possible, include pictures of your happy customers as well. Add a video testimonial for even better social proof.

Follow-Up

Following up with customers is a good way to increase conversions since you can boost repeat sales. What do you do to follow up with customers now? How can you improve your follow-up process? One excellent way to encourage repeat purchases is to offer a freebie or discount for those who shop with you again. A freebie can be something small that doesn’t cost you anything, such as a free information product, a free trial, or a free membership to a paid service that you offer.

Shopping Cart Abandonment

Check to see if you have a high rate of cart abandonment. I touched on this earlier in the article, but a high cart abandonment rate could mean one of several things:

  • The purchasing process is too long or too complicated
  • Shipping is not calculated until the end, so customers are surprised by the higher price tag
  • Your customers are comparison shopping with several sites at once and another offered a lower price
  • The customer’s internet browser crashed, possibly because your site is too heavy to load
  • You require customers to stop and create an account or login before purchase

It’s natural to see some shopping cart abandonment. But if the rate is alarmingly high or if it rises over time, you may want to consider streamlining your checkout process to make it easier to buy from you.

Summary

Checking and testing your website on a regular basis can provide important information on ways you can make small improvements and increase your conversions. Make checking the above website elements a regular part of running your e-commerce site.

Things to do…

Review each element on your site that was mentioned in this chapter. Note things you’d like to change and test. Note the ways you’ll conduct these tests and what goal you wish to achieve by doing so.

Optimize for Mobile

People are increasingly doing everything on their mobile devices, and this includes shopping. For any e-commerce site to be totally viable today, it needs to be optimized for mobile. A website that’s perfectly functional on a PC may be a complete nuisance to use on a mobile device. You need to optimize your site so that your customers have the option of shopping with their mobiles with no more effort than on a computer.

Crateandbarrel.com Mobile Site

What Site Components Should Be Optimized

The first consideration is the look of your site. Your theme, layout, graphics, and copy should be big and clear enough to be easily viewable on a mobile. Images should be big and text should be kept to a minimum. Your customers will be viewing your site on mobile devices with much smaller screens.

Another important consideration is the shopping cart. The shopping cart and checkout process should be just as smooth on a mobile as it is on a PC.

Finally, forms in which the user needs to input information should be kept to an absolute minimum. It’s much harder to type on a mobile device than on a PC. If you ask the customer to type in a large amount of text, this is a major stumbling block in the purchasing process. Wherever possible, use auto-fill to make it easier.

Don’t forget to check the size of any links that need to be clicked when buying, so that they are easy to press. Also, eliminate any pop-ups or ads that prevent the buy button being pressed.

Should You Build a Separate Mobile Site?

One option is to build a separate mobile site rather than optimizing your PC site for mobiles. You can then give the user the choice between the two.

The major advantage is that you can have a completely different site structure that’s easier to navigate for mobile users. You can redirect from the PC page if a mobile user accesses it, and your separate mobile site will also rank well in Google since Google tends to favor mobile sites for mobile devices.

The downside is that you’ll have to build the mobile site from scratch, whereas if you make your PC site more mobile responsive, there is less work to do.

Responsive Software

If you choose not to build a separate mobile site, you can instead use responsive software to make your site more easily usable on a mobile device. These software programs and services allow you to do things like create responsive software which changes depending on the user’s device; offer fonts and images that adapt according to screen size and device; and test your site for mobile responsiveness.

Testing Your Site for Mobile Readiness

As I mentioned above, testing is a feature of some mobile responsiveness software programs. It’s also something you can do for free or at little cost. There are free website emulators that show you what your site will look like on a mobile. You may also want to actually test your site on a variety of mobile devices to see how well it performs and figure out ways to improve it.

Summary

Your site needs to load quickly and look and function well across multiple operating platforms and digital devices. Whether you create a separate mobile site or modify your own to meet the needs of mobile users, it’s something that definitely needs to be done for any e-commerce site that wants to survive and thrive today.

Things to do…

Review your site on several different mobile platforms, especially phone and tablet. If you don’t own each, you can always go to a computer store (or use a free website emulator online) and use their demo models.

Make notes on what aspects of your site need optimizing for the best mobile shopping experience.

A great site to use as an emulator is http://mobiletest.me/

Next in Part II of this article series you’ll learn about up-sells and excellent customer service. Plus get important tips on social media and email marketing.

How to Maximize Sales from Your Online Store PART II

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