Often there are ecommerce sites that have hit the ground running in regard to their SEO and online marketing; they are ranking highly for their target keywords, enjoying a large and vocal following on social media, and traffic to their site is rising.
Despite all this, the conversion rate remains stubbornly low. This can happen to ecommerce sites that are aesthetically pleasing and have a seemingly good UX. To find the root of the problem, it is necessary to dig a little deeper.
To optimize a site to encourage conversions, one needs to consider the customer’s path to purchase, commonly known as the Buying Cycle:
Awareness > Information & Evaluation > Purchase
Firstly, you need to implement the basics; the practices that are applicable to visitors no matter what stage of the buying cycle they are in. This includes things such as page-speed. You can use an online tool to check the speed, and if you find the problem lies with your server, consider upgrading or opting for a dynamic cloud server like this offered by 1&1. Once this is sorted, it is time to consider the Buying Cycle.
One really needs to be able to target people specifically depending on what stage of the Cycle they are at, so to encourage them on to the next stage. Using Google Analytics to track user flows, page level user behavior and click tracking, etailers can identify at which stage in the process site visitors are dropping off without making a purchase.
Conversely to what you might expect, keeping the Buying Cycle in mind is not a call to view your website as a tunnel leading straight to the checkout. Although this may be the aim, it is not the reason that many site visitors visit a page. By submitting to tunnel-vision, you will alienate visitors who – at this stage – have no intention of traipsing down the aisle to check out. Instead, you can view your website more as a factory. Ideally, every piece will eventually be loaded on to a truck and off to market, but different things are happening in different rooms the whole time. The factory, like a website, is inherently multi-faceted and must be versatile enough to cater for varying requirements.
The majority of the visitors to your site will be in the Awareness stage, which means they have probably come to your site through a blog post or another piece of online marketing, and are only now building up an impression of who you are and what you offer.
The majority are nowhere near ready to open their wallet, therefore you should not be trying to get them to. Instead you want to ensure that your bounce rate is low, and ideally, deliver a favorable brand impression. This can be done through easily accessible links to articles, pictures and videos that show them that you are attractive and worth them spending a bit of time on. Don’t throw the products down their throat, instead spend time on building up an attractive brand image.
Essentially, at this stage, you should still see yourself in the ‘story-telling’ phase. You are building a broad and circumspect picture of your brand; building up an image of being both a leader in your field and an attractive business to interact with. Much of this work will happen off-page, through content marketing (not only eloquent text but also infographics, pictures, cinemagraphs, videos, and podcasts) and your social media campaigns. The story-telling should be sustained on your site, however, offering something of worth to those who have no interest in a big, red and flashing Call to Action.
Information and Evaluation
Those in the Information and Evaluation stage are already in the market for a certain product or service. You need to ensure that in addition to attractive images and interesting blog content, your product landing pages are comprehensive and easy to locate; their text needs to be optimized and considered within your AdWords campaign for site visitors in the Information and Evaluation stages. For example, if you are a hospitality company with hotels in Southeast Asia, someone who enters ‘Bangkok Silom hotel’ into Google Search, does not want to be directed to a general page about hotels in Thailand, nor a video or blog post.
If you are simply always offering up your homepage in your Paid Search campaign, you will find your bounce rate rising. Take some time to evaluate search queries, and try and build a comprehensive conception as to what exact thing each query is asking for.
Visitors in the Purchase stage, have already evaluated the options open to them and are now ready to make a purchase, perhaps coming to your site having searched with your brand name plus the product or service they are looking to buy. The conversion rate on brand search requests are naturally always going to be higher than for generic keyword queries, for this exact reason. However, the conversion rate can often be higher! These site visitors are the ones that a deal or promotion is going to have the most effect upon, pushing them towards checkout.
You want to keep the number of distractions to a minimum. Nothing needs to get in the way of a visitor along the path to purchasing. This is not the time to promote your latest blog post or infographic. From this moment on, you need to keep the road to checkout as clear and uncluttered as possible.
Depending on which payment gateway you use, you will be offered varying amounts of control over how your checkout appears. Where possible, ensure that the design and overall aesthetic of the checkout is as similar to the rest of your site as possible. Nothing is more off-putting to a customer when using an ecommerce site for the first time, than finding themselves dealing with an unknown third party, just at the point that they are opening up their wallet.
It is impossible to up your conversion rate in changing just one aspect of your site. However, by identifying how your site caters for visitors in different stages of the Buying Cycle, you will have a comprehensive conception of where your weaknesses lie in transforming visitors into customers.