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Improving on-site Conversion Rates

Improving on-site Conversion Rates

A White Paper by Chris Hitchen, CEO of

What you do with the people who visit your site is paramount. You might be an accomplished search engine marketer, deft at getting users to your site via ahitchen_chris_getprice range of methods, but what you do with them once they arrive is of paramount importance; all the more so if you have paid for that user. Why pay for a visitor if you don’t have the mechanisms in place to convert him or her into a customer?

We know that the internet is used as a research tool and thus retailers need to recognise the ‘dip in and out’ behaviour of some shoppers. In order to break through the considerable noise competing for a consumer’s attention as they bounce from one site to another, retailers need to be adept merchandisers and choose compelling promotions and provide concise, relevant information for their homepage and other landing pages.


I have put together some tips for online retailers to increase conversion rates. Although I am  writing these tips through the lens of a comparison shopping site, I have aimed to keep them relevant to as many sites and scenarios as possible.


Preparing your store for visitors:


–          Deeplinking & Landing Pages – where the user lands on your site is all-important. If they land at the exact product of interest and are not distracted by other items (that’s not to say similar products shouldn’t be offered on the same page – we’ll get to that) or advertisements, the likelihood of them purchasing increases. Furthermore, it must be absolutely clear to the user how they purchase that product. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your users are experienced online shoppers: a large ‘Buy now’ or ‘Add to basket’ button is vital.

–          Stock – it sounds simple, but many retailers ignore the fact that if you pay for a user who ‘deeplinks’ from a search engine or shopping site, but do not have that particular product in stock, he or she is highly unlikely to buy anything. In order to avoid this, retailers should aim to create datafeeds that consist only of in-stock products. It may also be that the publishers to whom you provide your feed offer functionality to include an ‘availability’ or similar feature so that users know whether the product can be bought before they click through to your site.

–          Data validity – presenting the most current information in terms of inventory and pricing is critical to your success when utilising sales channels such as price comparison sites, shopping search engines or affiliate networks. This can be achieved by updating the data as regularly as is required. There are various XML web services that facilitate this process.


Customer care once the visitor is in your store:


–          Images – a clear, enlargeable product image helps users familiarise themselves with a product. Even for technical or ‘run of the mill’ products, images increase conversion ratios.

–          Product Information – the more information you can give a user about a particular product, the less likely they are to have to go and research that item somewhere else. Content-rich sites have the added benefit of being ‘SEO-friendly’, i.e. search engine bots can read and index the site more easily.


–          Pricing – users should not have to load the shopping cart and proceed to checkout in order to see the final costs of their purchase. The additional costs of both tax and shipping should be clearly displayed alongside the item’s price. If this information is clearly displayed alongside the product price, one of the primary reasons for cart-abandonment will have been overcome. Moreover, if you are able to offer free shipping, even by building it into your retail prices, this should be promoted at the point of sale and is likely to lead to an increased conversion ratio.


–          Help / Contact Us – whilst some retailers will understandably want to minimise customer interaction to keep costs to a minimum, providing a helpline as well as email support and FAQ’s will give shoppers a sense of comfort and trust.


–          Cross-selling & merchandising – Just like in the off-line world, merchandising can also play a key role. We all know how well Amazon cross-sells items to its customers. Another good practice is to always display ‘similar items’ in case the one the visitor was looking for is currently out-of-stock.


–          Site Search – We’ve focused on deep-linking to particular products, but of course many users change their mind once on your site and need a method of finding what it is they really want. (Referral sites won’t mind this anyway, as a cookie has typically been set in order to track the source of the customer). A  report from Doubleclick a few years ago stated that the value of orders placed by visitors who performed a search increased by 47%.


It’s not just about providing the search function though; it’s also important to analyse the searches in order to establish what it is your users are looking for. Walmart and Sears, two leading US retailers, have items that are only available online because they have analysed their search data and understand what their online customers want. Retailers cannot always anticipate consumer demand and thus need to be listening to their customers in order to boost satisfaction and sales. Furthermore, if your search caters for SKU’s,(Stock keeping units) UPC’s (Universal product codes) or GTIN’s (Global trade item numbers)you will better serve those users who know what they want as they will no longer have to guess where the product is within your hierarchy.


If you do not have the necessary resources to build a good site search, consider a Google Mini, the open source Lucene or talk to industry suppliers active in Australia such as SLI Systems, FAST or Endeca.


–          Privacy Policy – a clearly worded and displayed privacy policy is necessary for your consumers, but is also a factor that search engines look for in determining the trust worthiness of your site. It should detail your company’s views and procedures on the information collected from and about visitors to your site, i.e. the use of cookies and the storage of any information.




–          Create confidence & trust – many consumers need to be convinced that buying online is safe and it’s in your interest to convince them. Signing-up to one of the various SSL certificate providers, or trust organisations is a good idea, as consumers immediately recognise the logos and your commitment to their safety online. Examples to consider include McAfee, COMODO, Verisign, Geotrust, Truste, Enetica and Verified by Visa.


–          Speedy checkout – reducing the steps from basket to payment is an important step in increasing conversions. You should not require registration in order to complete a purchase. This is a deterrent to all but the most patient of online shoppers and the customers should decide if they want to maintain a relationship. Use big, clear buttons and progress indicators at all times.


Ask some friends to make some dummy purchases and provide feedback as to which parts they felt were superfluous. It’s like packing to go on holiday; you start with everything from your cupboard, and then gradually reduce the things you know you won’t need until you get down to the bare necessities!


–          Payment options – whilst Paypal might be an easy way to offer credit card payment options to your customers, it doesn’t meet the needs of all shoppers. Give customers several payment options, explain the process for each method and include a phone number so they can call if they have any reservations about security. Bpay, Moneybookers and Poli are other examples relevant to Australia.


Post sale customer-care


Remember that repeat custom will be one of the key factors to reducing your overall Return on Investment. When you assess the value of customers you pay for, be sure to evaluate their lifetime value, not the value on a single visit. It’s up to you to provide a compelling experience so that the customer returns directly to your store, rather than the site which referred them in the first place.


–          Returns policy – a generous returns policy and friendly, easily accessible customer service will go a long way to achieving this. The information should also be on your website of course.


–          Customer feedback – allowing users to leave some kind of feedback is important. Give your customers a voice! Some referrer sites will even allow you to activate short customer questionnaires to gather as much customer feedback as possible, so ask your key referrer sites about this.


–          Direct Marketing – if you were lucky enough to capture details about the customer, make sure you market to them effectively and ethically, allowing them opt-out of further communication at any stage.


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