Applying store decompression zones for online retail

Paco Underhill, the author of “Why we buy” is a master in the “Science of Shopping.” I have recently been reading his book and considering how many of his ‘bricks and mortar’ theories can be applied to the online store.

Last night I was revisiting the section on ‘decompression zones’ within a store and how to use them effectively. If you’re wondering, the decompression zone in a store is the area just inside the entrance. It is the area that is used to welcome and acclimatise customers and drive them to the right part of the store. It is key to maximising sales from each customer.

Paco says that as customers enter this part of the store they are:

“busily making adjustments-simultaneously they’re slowing their pace, adjusting their eyes to the change in light and scale, and craning their necks to begin taking in all there is to see. Meanwhile, their ears and noses and nerve endings are sorting out the rest of the stimuli-analysing the sounds and smells, judging whether the store is warm or cold. There’s a lot going on, in other words, and I can pretty much promise you this: These people are not truly in the store yet.”

What Paco is saying is that it takes a while for customers to adjust to being in the store. Therefore to bombard them with merchandise, messaging or staff too quickly will be a waste of effort, or in some cases a big turn off.

In the online world, it is only the sense of sight that has to adjust to entering a website, but often there is still a sensory overload that needs to be processed by the brain in exactly the same way. Therefore, should there be an online decompression zone to allow site visitors to acclimatise before being bombarded with merchandise or messaging?

Is the home page your key selling area, or should you save your core messaging for inner pages and let the home page act as a decompression zone to then drive people to the right areas of the online store to make their purchase?

Studies have shown that in the bricks and mortar world those companies that have got the decompression zone wrong have found sales massively effected. Companies have placed sales literature in that zone only to have it ignored. Companies who have had staff greet customers straight away actually ended up alienating them. This is similar to having a pop up on your home page. How do you think interrupting visitors before they have had a chance to acclimatise to your online store will affect conversion rates?

Applying decompression zones online

Paco makes suggestions of what you can do with the decompression zone within a store that I believe could be applied online.

“You can greet customers – not necessarily to steer them anywhere but to say hello, remind them where they are, start the seduction”

This recommendation can absolutely be applied online. It is fundamental that when people enter your site that you greet them or welcome them, make them feel wanted and also let them know what they can do in the store.

“You can offer a basket or a map or coupon.”

OK, so the basket may not be so useful online but having a coupon/offer on the home page could increase the basket size by encouraging the visitor to buy something else in addition to the product they came in for. Offering a map to the store is of course crucial online, whether that is just a prominent link to a site map or more importantly having well laid out navigational links to make it really easy to find products. A well constructed site will have both.

Visual merchandising is understandably a fundamental part of the decompression zone:

“Right inside the door of an H&M, Gap or Wal-Mart, there’s what’s known as a “power display” a huge horizontal bank of sweaters, or jeans or cans of Coke, that acts as a barrier to slow shoppers down, kind of like a speed bump. It also functions as a huge billboard. It doesn’t say “Shop me.” It says “Just consider the idea.” Is serves as a suggestion, plan and simple, and it also gets you in the mood for the rest of the store. You can catch up with the product later, at another time, typically in another section of the floor. Remember that more than 60 percent of what we buy wasn’t on our list. And no, this isn’t the same as an impulse purchase. It’s triggered by something proposing the question “Don’t you need this? If not now then maybe in the near future?”

This is how visual merchandising should work on your site as well. If you view your home page as a decompression zone then consider the way you want to merchandise within that section. You want to allow visitors to acclimatise to the site but also make subtle suggestions of what they may like to buy, in addition to what they actually came for. Don’t bombard them with products, just give subtle suggestions, whilst clearly directing visitors to the relevant part of the store they require.

An extension of this in an online store is ‘dynamic merchandising’. Average order value is proven to increase with the visual suggestions of products that “complement” or products that “other people bought”. This would be too much to do on the home page/decompression zone but a great sales tool as visitors move through the site into categories and product specific pages.

How do some of the major retailers stand up?

So let’s look at some of the major retailers and whether they have applied my ideas around the decompression zone online:

John Lewis

There is definitely an air of the decompression zone on the John Lewis site. When you enter you are not overpowered with sales messaging or a multitude of products. There is a suggestion of specific products that you may have not been intending to buy but they do not form a barrier in moving to the part of the site you are looking for. Once you are used to the site there is sales messaging towards the bottom (in the red box) but its positioning allows you to acclimatise to the site first.

One thing missing is a welcome message to help you feel comfortable and at ease.

Marks and Spencer

The M & S site certainly does not allow you to decompress before hitting you with sales messaging, although it does not bombard you with a myriad of products straight away.

The sales messaging hits you straight away but the links within the image to product sections prevents the image from being a barrier to moving to the relevant parts of the store.

The offers appear very high on the page, akin to being placed right inside the door of a physical store. Perhaps as a result of this they may be missed by a number of visitors. Perhaps M & S are missing a trick here with no subtle product placement. It would be interesting to revisit once the the sale is over.

Gap

Gap have been sighted as using the “Power Display” in the decompression zone in store as a billboard for suggested products and to slow down movement through the store.

This type of activity is also present online with the “Back to School” power display on the home page. You may not have entered intending to buy school uniform items but the thought is now present in your mind that you need to get that sorted over the summer break, perhaps even right now!

The sales messaging is on the right hand side giving you a little acclimatisation time before your eye hits it.

The pop up hits immediately which does act as a barrier to moving through the site. It is important to gather email addresses for marketing purposes but hitting people with it immediately may be off putting and disruptive to the passage through the site.

I Want One Of Those

I Want One Of Those is a pure online retailer and has a very different home page layout. The page is packed with products and hotspots bombarding the visitor as soon as they hit the online store. There is little chance to acclimatise to the site. I wonder how this affects the online experience. How many of these messages are being missed as people head through looking for a particular product and perhaps ignoring the promotional banners present on the homepage.

There does not seem to be any strong welcome to the site before the visitor is hit with merchandise.

Not On The High Street

Not On The High Street is another pure online retailer and again the home page is very product focused hitting the visitor with a range of products as soon as they enter the store. Sales messaging is displayed at points on the page that are viewed slightly later however I wonder how much acclimatisation is made before the visitor feels overwhelmed. Does this lack of decompression zone affect the store experience and if so in what way? They may sell more of the promoted products but by putting them in the way of the customer are they preventing them from also purchasing the products they entered the store for in the first place?

Summary

I am not drawing any firm conclusions from this very brief study but I do think it is interesting that those retailers that have a large offline store presence do seem to be setting up their home pages in more of a offline-decompression-zone-style than those pure online retailers that will not be used to using this tactic in physical stores.

Is a decompression zone even required with an online experience? I would argue yes, there is a definite need to allow visitors to acclimatise in some form before hitting them with sales messaging and merchandise. The home page should never be a barrier to finding products but more an entrance zone that will welcome you to the store, help you move through the site, suggest additional purchases and provide incentives, such as vouchers, all aimed at improving the shopping experience.

Should the idea of the decompression zone be applied to every page? Or is it unnecessary when people are entering specific product pages having already searched for the product?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Is the decompression zone a concept that should be applied with the online retail experience or is the online experience so different that to hit people with merchandise and messaging straight away provides the highest conversion rate or average order values?

Digital marketing benchmarking report for premium home and garden retailers

Over the course of 2010, Leapfrogg is conducting a series of surveys investigating premium retailers’ use of, and attitudes, towards digital marketing. We are looking at a number of very specific niche markets beginning with home and garden. Further surveys will look at premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

This first survey was sent to 80 premium home and garden retailers with just over a quarter taking part. Respondents included well recognised high street brands and smaller retailers.

The full report is available to download here. Below we have included some of the key findings:

Use of marketing channels

The top five online marketing channels being ‘heavily’ or ‘partially’ used by premium home and garden retailers are articles and press releases (75%), email marketing (67%), search engine optimisation (67%), paid search (66%) and voucher codes (48%).

Respondents are ‘just getting started’ with social networking (38%), micro-blogging i.e. Twitter (33%), blogging (30%) and involvement in forums and communities (25%).

Interestingly, respondents have ‘no intention of becoming involved’ in the creation of audio (55%) or video content (35%), mobile marketing (33%) and shopping/comparison engines (33%). And although a number of retailers are adopting the use of voucher codes, a further 33% have no intention of using them.

It is suggested that premium home and garden retailers take the time to investigate the opportunities presented by video and mobile in particular. Video and the use of mobile technology to access the Internet, read product reviews and download coupons/vouchers are experiencing significant growth with consumers.

Importance of marketing channels

The top five online channels that are considered most important to the success of the business are search engine optimisation (76%), email marketing (50%), articles and press releases (33%), paid search (30%) and reputation management (25%).

The areas that are felt to be unimportant are voucher codes (33%), social networking (30%), audio (27%), mobile marketing (24%) and shopping and comparison sites (24%).

Understandably, premium brands may feel the use of voucher codes ‘cheapens’ their offering. However, Leapfrogg would consider it a concern that so few companies rate the importance of social networking and mobile marketing, in particular.

Channel rating according to return on investment (ROI)

The key channels that are claimed to deliver return on investment are search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, and articles and press releases.

In respect of the other 13 online channels the majority view is that the return on investment is indifferent.  Social networking is perceived to have a very poor return on investment by one quarter of the respondents, suggesting that premium home and garden retailers have not yet implemented appropriate systems to measure their social media marketing efforts with accuracy and in line with business goals.

Channel resource plans

The online activities where resource is being increased in 2010, compared to 2009, are social networking (65%), email marketing (60%), micro-blogging (58%), SEO (57%), activity in forums and communities (43%) and blogging (44%).

Plans to increase resource in social networking is interesting when it is considered that a quarter of respondents perceived social networking to have a very poor return on investment, whilst a lack of internal resource (see later section) was also deemed a significant barrier to the success of social media efforts. It is therefore suggested that premium home and garden retailers need to carefully consider objectives from social media activity, set up appropriate systems to measure performance and ensure adequate levels of in-house resource are dedicated to managing social media effectively.

Multi-channel marketing

Results indicate that respondents combine more traditional online activities, such as SEO, PPC and email when running multi-channel campaigns. Social media and blogging also represent popular channels, yet integrating mobile is very low, despite consumers growing use of smart phone technology to access the Internet.

It is recommended that premium home and garden retailers consider all the ‘touch points’ between brand and consumer and implement multi-channel marketing campaigns that ensure a consistent offering and message is present across all of them.

Management of marketing channels

Marketing is the department responsible for managing all online activities except PR, of which there is either a dedicated department or it is outsourced.  IT is responsible for search engine optimisation (SEO) in just over one third of the retailers who responded, which might suggest it is viewed as a technical discipline as opposed to a marketing activity.

Knowledge of customers

Generally, premium home and garden retailers feel that they need to know more about the behaviour of their customers online. 82% do not know how their customers behave on social networks and 66% do not know what their customers are saying about their brand online.

The latter is a particular point of interest as consumers are increasingly willing, and easily able, to share their thoughts with hundreds, possibly thousands of others through blogs, forums, reviews sites and social networks. In turn, purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by the positive and negative reviews a retailer may receive online. It is therefore suggested respondents investigate the use of buzz monitoring tools to quickly identify the conversations happening around their brand and products.

55% feel informed about their customer’s behaviour on their website suggesting respondents have implemented, and are using analytical tools to good effect. However, 45% appear not to be using tools, such as Google Analytics, to great effect therefore limiting the opportunity to make informed decisions on optimising site performance.

Knowledge of search engine ranking factors

Premium home and garden retailers rate keyword placement (67%), website architecture (57%), Meta tags (55%), the user experience (48%) and external links (43%) as crucial to achieving high search engine rankings. Rich media content and blogging were considered by the majority as important but not crucial to improving search engine rankings.

A quarter of respondents were unsure of the impact on search engine rankings of choice of technology and social media activity. Concerning the latter, it is recommended respondents investigate the relationship between search and social media as these channels cannot, and should not, operate in isolation of one another.

Goal setting

Half of premium home and garden retailers used past performance as a benchmark for setting goals for digital marketing activity along with basing predictions on financial goals.

One third of respondents do not currently set goals for digital marketing activity. It is highly recommended that premium home and garden retailers work to establish objectives using SMART methodology to ensure there is direction and focus for digital marketing activity. In addition, appropriate tools and processes should be put in place to measure goals accurately.

Ability to track goals accurately

Respondents rated their ability to track search engine rankings (57%), online conversions (48%), email marketing performance (47%), behaviour of site visitors (35%) and affiliate marketing (33%) as good.

Areas not being tracked accurately include conversions from social media activity (74%), mobile marketing (73%) and customer lifetime value (71%).

59% do not currently track overall return on investment from digital marketing activity.

This would indicate there is still a great deal of progress to be made in the area of measurement. Retailers should be implementing the appropriate tools and processes to measure the impact of each online channel. Better tracking will not only enable return on investment to be calculated from each channel but also provide invaluable data for forecasting and developing future strategies.

Agency relationships

The split between managing work in-house and the use of external agencies is 50:50 with a slight preference for conducting more of the work in-house but using specialist agencies where needed. Those that use external resources use specialist SEO agencies, full service digital agencies, web designers, affiliate marketing and PR companies.

Premium home and garden retailers rated the ability to deliver results (95%) as the most important factor when working with an agency. Specific knowledge of the customers’ market (76%), and having open lines of communication (67%) also rated particularly highly.

Premium home and garden retailers believe it is ‘crucial’ that an online agency has knowledge of the clients’ target audience (80%), their key performance indicators (73%) and knowledge of the business plan (53%). Yet only 40% believe an agency should have knowledge of the clients’ offline marketing strategy (40%).  This indicates that premium home and garden retailers need to better communicate offline activity with their agencies therefore ensuring a consistent, and properly integrated online/offline marketing strategy.

Barriers to success

The barriers that prevent premium home and garden retailers from maximising their online marketing efforts are lack of internal resource, lack of budget and a lack of understanding.  Board approval and not having an appropriate measurement tool are also cited as significant barriers.

The ‘lack of internal resource’ is of particular interest as a high number of companies choose to manage digital marketing in-house yet do not appear to possess the necessary capacity to do so to maximum effect.

Download the full report here. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the report findings, please get in touch. And remember to keep a look out for future reports covering premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

Infographic – the online retail wheel of fortune

With ever-increasing competition online and the demand to deliver a multi-channel shopping experience, online retailers have a never ending list of actions they need to take in implementing a successful digital marketing strategy.

Add to that the growing sophistication in how search engines display their results; the introduction of blended search, personalised search, social search and real-time search demand a much more holistic approach to search engine optimisation (SEO); an approach that combines traditional activities, such as keyword selection and link building, with more contemporary tactics in social media and content marketing.

A successful online retail strategy is therefore made up of many parts that are continually growing and repeating throughout the customer buying cycle. This can at times be overwhelming as retailers struggle to find the resource, time and skills to succeed in every necessary area.

Understanding this, we thought we would lend a helping hand to online retailers by creating the infographic to end all infographics; the online retail wheel of fortune. This is a graphical representation of the main elements to be incorporated into your online strategy to maximise success.

And here it is! Now being rather large, and very detailed, you will need to download the pdf version to digest it fully, which you can access by clicking here.

As you will see we have split our graphic into four main sections, representing key stages of the customer buying cycle as follows:

Reach
Covering the top line projects and tactics aimed at maximising your online exposure, therefore enabling you to connect with as many prospects as possible, which in turn drives more of the right traffic to your website.

Engage
The tools and techniques you can use to ‘talk’ to your audience once you have found them.

Convert
How to turn those engaged prospects into customers by optimising the user experience on your site, for example.

Retain
The actions you need to take to encourage repeat sales and develop advocates of your brand.

For each key stage of the buying cycle, we have detailed areas of attack, top level projects, specific actions within those  projects and some of the key benefits you will experience. Start with ‘reach’ before working your way out and then around to the next stage.

We realise it is a lot to take in…but this should also highlight just how much is involved in researching, planning and implementing an integrated digital marketing strategy for retailers.

We’d love to hear from you with your comments.

25 questions to ask yourself before taking digital marketing in-house

From time to time, our clients will decide to take their entire digital marketing strategy, or perhaps certain activities, in-house. As an agency we have no problem with this. We accept that relationships built on transparency and trust will inevitably see some clients learn enough from our team, and develop the confidence, to eventually feel they can take things forward without the use of an agency.

Where this is the case, we like to help clients on their way by ensuring they fully understand the range of required skills, technology and resource to manage their online strategy to maximum effect. We do this by working with them to assess their capability and capacity through a series of questions, often with a workshop tagged on for good measure.

The agency vs in-house conundrum is one that you may well face at some stage. To help you decide whether in-house, outsourced or a combination of the two solutions is best for you, I thought I’d share a number of the questions we pose to our clients when they’re considering their options.

You’ll notice the questions tend to be more general than highly specific as responses will inevitably lead to further discussion. What we try and highlight to clients during this process is that search engine marketing has become increasingly complex over the years. This means a greater amount of expertise, experience and resource is needed than ever before if they are to maximise the effectiveness of their in-house efforts.

So with that in mind, here are 25 questions to help you assess whether you have the skills and resource to manage an integrated search, social media and content strategy in-house:

Search engine optimisation

1) What is your knowledge and understanding of search engine algorithms?

2) Are you aware of ‘blended search’, ‘personalised search’, ‘social search’ and ‘real-time search’, and what they mean for your search engine marketing efforts?

3) Do you know how to research and categorise search terms? What is your experience of incorporating these terms naturally into highly engaging web copy?

4) How will you be continuously building links to your website? What is your experience / knowledge of good practice in this area?

5) What knowledge do you have of user-experience and the impact this has on both search engine rankings and conversion rates?

6) Do you understand what needs to be considered when the time comes to redevelop your website, such as the choice of technology / content management system (CMS) and how to migrate from the old site to the new without negative impact?

7) What is your experience of using freely available tools, such as those in the Google Webmaster console and their role in analysing search engine performance?

Paid Search

8 What experience do you have in setting up and managing Paid Search campaigns?

9) Do you know how to analyse campaign data on an ongoing basis and optimise campaigns with a view to maximising ROI?

10) Do you have experience in landing page testing with the aim of improving conversion rates?

11) How much time can you dedicate each day to managing your Paid Search campaign?

Content

12) What provisions/plans/schedules do you have in place for creating content, on a regular basis, in formats, such as articles, press releases, blogs and video?

13) Do you know how to properly optimise all of the above formats?

14) Do you know how to most effectively distribute the above formats to maximise reach?

15) Do you know how to measure the impact of your content strategy?

Social Media

16) What research tools do you have to identify the websites, blogs, forums and communities where your target audience is most active?

17) Have you got a social media strategy in place based on this research?

18) Do you understand the ‘rules of engagement’ when it comes to using social media tools, such as Twitter?

19) How will you be monitoring where your brand is being talked about online?

20) Have you had experience in dealing with negative comments about your brand or service online?

21) Do you monitor buzz on your industry so you can proactively respond?

22) How will you monitor / measure the success of your social media efforts?

23) What efforts do you make to retain customers and develop advocates of your brand?

Measurement

24) How will you set and measure goals and objectives? Do you have the appropriate experience, tools and processes in place to measure the variables that really matter, such as conversions, cost per conversion, lifetime value of customer and ROI?

25) Do you have experience in studying web analytics to make informed decisions about your website aimed at improving conversion rates?

As well as the above questions we also recommend people consider how they are going to keep pace with latest trends and developments  i.e. how much time can they dedicate to reading, attending conferences and so on? This is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of managing things in-house.

One point I would like to highlight is that even though I operate agency side I do not automatically assume outsourced is the best solution. It is entirely dependent on the organisation in question. It is rare amongst SME’s in particular, that one solution is more effective than the other. Usually, companies will have certain in-house skills and a certain amount of capacity to look after aspects of their strategy. But an agency will usually have invested in technology and a team of people possessing a wide range of skills that can be brought to the table to complement those possessed in-house.

Another equally important point to consider is that even when outsourcing to an agency, your involvement in the project is integral to its success. Digital marketing is never 100% outsourced because to a certain degree the success of a project is dictated by you, the client. I’ll be exploring this in more detail next time around.

Until then…

How the big retailers conquered the recession (and the lessons you can learn from them)

As this is our first post of 2010, I’d like to welcome you back and wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

And what a start to the year it has been. Wherever I turn recently I am being bombarded with news that many of the UK’s largest retailers enjoyed a roaring, and in some cases, record Christmas trade. The likes of Next, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Gap and House of Fraser are just some of those reporting some mind boggling trading figures.

Whoop whoop and high fives all round because after a year of doom and gloom it’s both a joy and relief to hear such marvellous success stories. And the even better news, especially if you work in digital, is that the Internet played a defining role for most of these businesses.

Although the recession suffocated the high street in 2009, it appears online retail, or e-tail if you like, may have saved many of our favourite high street names from suffering the same fate as big names such as Woolworths. For many of our largest retailers Internet sales have seemingly countered the losses of a quieter high street. And it’s not just big brands that have experienced this. We work with a small retailer based in Brighton. They invested in their digital marketing strategy at just the right time and it paid dividends in 2009. The client set growth targets of 22% for 2009. They hit 27% and although sales via the physical store were down the web more than made up for it.

But how have retailers achieved this and what can you learn from them? Well first and foremost, and perhaps most importantly, was the ‘fortune favours the brave’ approach taken by major brands and many smaller players alike. The wisest of retailers looked at the situation at the beginning of 2009 and realised to survive they needed to continue investing in marketing, particularly online, by ramping up their efforts in order to match the expectations and demand of their customers. Three key areas have been integral to success:

Improvements to website

Retailers worked hard to improve their websites, with a particular focus on design and user-experience. If there is one analogy that I cannot stop saying to people right now it is this…’you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink’. No words could better describe the workings of a website because in many ways it is relatively easy to drive traffic to your website. However, actually turning visitors into customers is a whole different ball game. Research from Amaze and the University of Glasgow discovered a staggering 87% of customer abandon their baskets before completing their purchase. This should highlight just how hard you have to work to turn an interested window shopper into a purchasing customer.

This challenge is only met with a well designed, intuitive, content-rich website that instils trust in the visitor. Retailers are realising you need to offer a lot more than a list of products. Useful and engaging content, such as ‘how to’ guides, articles, blogs and especially video have become vital to retail websites over the last year or so. Marks and Spencer and ASOS are just a couple of the retailers who have invested heavily in cat walk style video to show their products off in a more engaging way. I don’t have the data available but I bet it’s had a profound impact on conversion rates.

Social media

Many retailers have also embraced social media as a means of creating open dialogue with their prospects and customers. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be particularly powerful tools with retailers looking to connect with their audiences with product updates, sales, promotions and so on. The recent figures released by Dell show that with the right strategy in place Twitter is a viable marketing channel that can be linked directly back to sales and ROI.

The rise of social media has also contributed to retailers upping their game when it comes to service. In an age where blogs, forums and review sites offer an open invitation for customers to say both good and bad things about a brand, companies have realised that they need to wow their customers with great service and communication. The use of social media tools are therefore perfect for creating open dialogue with customers both as a promotional tool and for customer service.

Measurement

Retailers are implementing systems that allow multiple channels to be measured with a high degree of accuracy. In turn, the marketers on the front line can demonstrate to the big cheeses that Internet marketing is not a passing fad but the most targeted, cost effective and measurable means of reaching their target audience available.

It is worth noting that retailers have also benefited from changes in consumer behaviour. The average consumer has become more astute and explorative when buying online meaning they’re investing more time in hunting down a bargain or discount. According to a recent Paypal report, 62% of shoppers believe the best bargains are to be had online. The advent of voucher codes along with the discount boom helps provide a constant incentive for people to browse and spend more time on the Internet than they would normally spend visiting the high street on a Saturday afternoon. (And with that men up and down the country are rejoicing as their better halves turn to the Internet instead of dragging them around the local shopping centre!!).

In a follow up post to this one I’ll be going into more detail on what needs to be included in your digital strategy for 2010 if you are to repeat some of the success stories highlighted above. In the meantime, bear this in mind; Retail Decisions (ReD) has calculated that internet retail sales in the UK hit £49.8 billion in 2009, up 21% from 2008. Overall, up to 33 million consumers made an online purchase last year. And according to research carried out by eDigitalResearch, four in ten consumers plan to spend more online next Christmas due to a positive online experience this year. It might be said therefore that online retail has defied the recession and in my view will continue to do so.

So as we say goodbye to a pretty rotten 2009, it’s time to start afresh and review your plans for 2010 to ensure you are positioning yourself to take full advantage.

Until next time…

Froggblog top posts of 2009

As we draw towards the end of 2009, we thought it would be useful to compile a list of the most useful articles from the Froggblog written by our team of experts over the course of the last 12 months. It is by no means a definitive list of the key events of 2009 (there have been just too many for us to find the time to write about all of them!). However, there has been some really useful advice shared by our team this year, so with that, here we go…

Strategy

Looking to succeed online? Be guided by these three words

Acquisition, conversion and retention should be at the centre of your digital marketing strategy. Ben Potter explains why.

Digital marketing snakes and ladders

Client Relations Manager, Christos, provides some great advice on developing and maintaining a fruitful relationship with your agency.

All good things come in threes; search, social media and content is another

Ben Potter explains the intrinsic relationship between search, social media and content-based marketing techniques and why they need to work together as part of an integrated digital marketing strategy.

The importance of customer care ‘after the click’

Dan Richardson endured a frustrating afternoon with a customer services rep; this got him angry and he blogged about it with advice all brands should take heed of.

Website Optimisation

Pretty websites do not automatically win popularity contests

Website optimisation executive, Claire Mason, looks at why a successful website has to do a lot more than simply look good.

Quick tips to increase your online conversion rate

It’s one thing getting visitors to your website but quite another turning them into customers. Suzanne Taylor offers some quick tips aimed at increasing those all-important conversion rates.

Improving your bounce rates…Jump to it!

More advice on making your website more sticky!

The case of SEO ‘Boondoggle’ – Leapfrogg’s view

Search guru Jill Whalen wrote a thought provoking article earlier in the year debunking many of the SEO myths that agencies and individuals, in the worse cases, hoodwink their clients into believing are more important than perhaps they actually are. Claire Mason gives her view.

Logical URL structure that benefits users and search engines

The structure of your website sets the foundations for how search engines spider and index your content, and also the ease by which visitors navigate the site to reach the point of conversion. A logical site structure is therefore integral to the success of your digital marketing efforts. Suzanne Taylor explains more…

How to optimise your site for Bing

Another big story in 2009 was the release of Bing; Microsoft’s new search engine. Claire Mason investigated whether this new engine required anything different to the traditional methods of optimising a website.

25 things to remember when launching a new website

Mistakes made when launching a new website are all too common and can have some pretty dire consequences. Account Manager, Laurence West, well experienced in these matters provides an extensive checklist of things to consider when taking down your old website and launching a replacement.

Copywriting

How to sell your web copy

Some quick-tips from in-house copywriter Matt Crick on creating great web copy.

Syndicating content without losing authority

Publishing content, such as articles, online is a great way of extending your reach and gaining links. But you want to ensure that you are credited with being the originator of this content. Some tips from Suzanne on how.

How to create and formulate an effective blog schedule

Blogging in undoubtedly an important tool for the vast majority of online marketers. But all too often writers are stuck for ideas. If this is the case, you need to create a blog schedule for those moments where inspiration is not forthcoming. Matt explains how.

Social Media

Social capital, getting among the buzz, and what this all means

A good overview of social media and what it all means from in-house consultant Catherine Pryce.

Video: Social media tools you can start using today, for free!

Earlier this year I delivered a seminar on the beauty of free social media tools. Unbeknown to me the whole thing was recorded!

Twitter – A Quick Start Guide

If they handed out an award for social media tool of the year, Twitter would get it. There has been a huge amount of buzz around it and even I was converted! Some useful tips on how to get started.

Paid Search

Top tips on setting up your Google AdWords campaign for maximum ROI

Advice from Paid Search extraordinaire Amelia Dawson on setting up your Paid Search campaign to ensure maximum ROI.

Top tips on optimising your Paid Search campaign to maximise ROI

Part two of Amelia’s mission to stop you wasting money on Paid Search; this time, how to optimise your campaign on an ongoing basis.

How the Yahoo-Microsoft deal will affect SME paid search campaigns

Another major news story in 2009 was the Yahoo – Microsoft deal. Amelia went straight to work investigating what this means for those currently advertising across both networks.

Paid Search; bidding on competitors brand terms…the why’s and wherefores

Just because Google now allows you to bid on competitor brand names, it doesn’t mean you should! Amelia explains the pros and con’s.

That just leaves me to thank our team for some useful and insightful articles over the course of 2009 and to you, our readers, for tuning in. Expect the Froggblog to continue evolving next year, especially in light of a new niche offering we will be announcing during the early part of 2010.

Merry Xmas and a prosperous New Year!

Christmas shopping – address visitors’ anxieties to maximise conversion rates

Yay, Christmas is around the corner! For most of us, a very happy time of year, full of lovely food, the odd drink(?) and the most exciting bit for me, PRESENTS!!

This Christmas is set to be a record breaking year for online sales.  Recent research by Kelkoo forecasts that 20% of Christmas shopping in the UK will be done online.  This is a significant increase in comparison to last year, most likely aided by the recession and people looking for the best deal online.

If you’ve experienced a tough year the next few weeks are undoutedly going to make or break the balance sheet come year end. Therefore, it is essential to ensure your website is working as hard as it possibly can to turn traffic into sales.

In order to maximise the conversion rate of your site, it is key to focus on the anxieties that customers face when trying to buy from you, particularly in the build up to Christmas.  As you are missing out the “touch and feel” aspect of traditional shopping, your site needs to explicitly answer all potential “objections” (i.e. is this site trustworthy?) with “counter objections” to give the customer confidence to purchase from you.

Frequent anxieties include:

1. Can I trust this site to use my credit card details responsibly, is it reputable?

2. Will the product I receive match my expectations?

3. Will the product be delivered in time (i.e. for Christmas)?

4. Will the aftersale service be good if there is a problem with my product?

When you know your visitors potential objections, you can explicitly structure your site with counter objections.  This should answer the majority of their fears, thereby increasing their propensity to buy from you and increasing your overall conversion rate.  Some great ways of finding out what anxieties your customers face when visiting your site are to survey visitors and/or usability testing. However, with just three weeks to go before the big day its probably a bit late for these more sophisticated techniques.

However, there are a number of quick checks you can make right now.

Most visitors’ objections will be simple and easily pacified by the use of content, client testimonials and security logos.  For detailed information and tips on how to make your site a Zen-like conversion experience (!) I would recommend you look at this great post on the Google Conversion Room Blog.  This post features some sure fire ways of increasing your conversion rate by simply understanding your audience.

A few of the key tips are highlighted below:

1. Make sure you are clearly highlighting Christmas delivery times, the date of your last delivery, etc. The ‘will it get here on time’ question will be the number one anxiety in the build up to Xmas. Also outline your returns policy, especially if you sell men’s socks!!?

2. Ensure you demonstrate your site is secure by using relevant security logos and guiding visitors through the purchase process with clear calls to action.

3. If you have customer comments, testimonials or reviews make these visible, particularly if they relate to the quality of the product or the speed of your delivery.

Understanding how your site visitors anxieties will change in the build up to Christmas and addressing them  should contribute to a bumper Christmas 2009.  Implementing client surveys and/or usability testing should ensure a sustained and profitable 2010.

Until next time…

Don’t neglect your visitors by providing bad web copy

I’m not sure why it always surprises, shocks or baffles me when people don’t understand that website copy is not there purely for search engines. What is there not to understand? Only visitors will convert into hard cash, not search engines. Therefore, copy should be optimised for both search engines and visitors. It’s not a case of writing copy for one or the other.

So, bearing this in mind I “whoop whooped” for joy when I read Keith Gibbons’ article “Five reasons your content is damaging your brand”. The snippet that especially pleased me was this:

“Google is clever, but it isn’t a person. Filling your site with utterly useless but unique and keyword rich content will sometimes drive traffic through the search engines and onto your pages, especially for less competitive terms.

However, lots of companies seem to forget that, after they’ve risen in the Google ratings, they need to actually appeal to the individuals who have clicked onto the site.

If the content isn’t useful, doesn’t immediately direct them to something useful, or is badly written then they will leave and your efforts have been wasted.”

Not only does engaging, useful copy encourage visitors to stay on the site, but copy which is structured in a way that makes it easy to read, whilst including plenty of calls to action is more likely to persuade visitors to convert, whether that be completing a purchase, making an enquiry or downloading a piece of content. The value of website copy in getting the most out of your visitors is not something to be overlooked. This is why we always stress the importance of getting it right to our clients. Good copy can be responsible for the following:

  • Increased rankings on the search engines
  • …and therefore increased traffic from search engines
  • Reduced bounce rates as visitors can immediately see that a web page is relevant to their search query
  • Increased conversion rates
  • Increased trust in the company’s professionalism
  • Increased perception of authority within the industry

So, before you sit down to write web copy take time to think about what you expect when visiting a website, especially for the first time. Do you expect it to inform you of who the company is and what they do? Do you want to know fairly quickly that a site can fulfil your needs, especially following a search query? Do you want to be told how you can achieve your goal on the site? Would you like information on the products / services on offer? Do you want to be able to read their content easily? Do you want to feel that the company knows its stuff?

If you expect these things from your own experience of navigating the web then it only make senses that your website visitors will demand the same of you.

With this in mind, when writing copy for your website I urge you to consider the following:

  • Include relevant search terms in page titles and throughout the copy, but remember to avoid keyword stuffing and please, please make it readable!
  • Keep your language clear and simple
  • Maintain a consistent style and tone throughout the site
  • Limit each paragraph to one idea and use descriptive sub headings to split copy into easily digestible chunks. This aids visitors in scanning your web copy
  • Consider using lists or bullet points for the same reason as above
  • Front load your copy so the conclusion is first followed by the how, where, when and why. This helps people to understand the nature of the content and decide if they want to continue reading
  • Include plenty of calls to action to encourage visitors to convert according to the goals of the website; ‘add to basket’, ‘call us now’, ‘compare products’ are just a few examples. Calls to action are important because, generally speaking, if you do not instruct your site visitors on what you want them to do, chance are, they wont do it!
  • Make bold important words, phrases or calls to action
  • Cross link relevant words and phrases within the copy to direct visitors to other pages of relevance on your site

By following this common sense approach you will soon get into the habit of creating copy which is valuable to both your search engine optimisation efforts and the experience of visitors to your site. Bear in mind that, increasingly, search engines are analysing user data, such as bounce rates and time spent on site, and beginning to incorporate this data into their ranking algorithms (which in turn determine where your web pages are ranked on the search engine results page (SERP)). With the quality and relevancy of web copy playing a major part in a users experience of your site, and therefore whether they stick around (or not as the case may be), it’s vital to follow the golden rule of web copy…

Write for users first, search engines second

Until next time…

Improving your bounce rates…Jump to it!

What are bounce rates and how do they affect me? I hear you ask…

Well, for starters, Google Analytics defines a bounce as any visit where the visitor arrives on a site and views only one page before they exit. So, in the eyes of a search engine, high bounce rates are a good indicator of a poor site experience or perhaps demonstrate the site’s lack of relevance to the search query entered by the user. Therefore, this means that bounce rates could be a significant factor affecting search engine rankings.

So, the relevance of bounce rates to you, as a site owner, is that not only will high bounce rates potentially reduce your rankings, but it also means you’re losing out on conversions.

But where can I find out how bouncy my site is? (Unfortunately not a particularly technical term but I like it)

You can take a look at bounce rates for specific pages on your site via its Google Analytics account. When investigating bounce rates on your site, keep in mind that in Internet terms, 50% is a moderate bounce rate so a page with a bounce rate below this is good news.

However, if you find that your pages have bounce rates higher than the 50% bench mark then you may wish to take some action to encourage visitors to move past the entry page and peruse the site further.

But how do I improve my bounce rates?

Hey presto! You’re in luck…below I have compiled some points you should consider in order to improve your page bounce rates and ultimately increase rankings and conversions. So sit up straight and pay attention…pens at the ready? Let’s go…

Navigation and Layout

  • Is the navigation and page layout consistent with the rest of the site?
  • Are there links to related pages (or products on an e-commerce site) to encourage navigation through the site?
  • Is the key information positioned above the fold of the page? A gripping image as an eye catcher and a short teaser paragraph are also key for encouraging visitors to stay on the site / convert for you.
  • Is there a sufficient amount of white space? Are there too many distractions putting the visitor off completing a conversion?

Copy

  • Think about the layout of your copy…Is the text broken up? Do you use bullet points? Have you bolded out important words? Think about making your copy as easy to read as possible for visitors.
  • Does the page include visible calls to action encouraging visitors to take a particular action? It is especially important that these appear above the fold of the page.
  • Are titles within your page copy bold and clear at the top of the page so the visitor can clearly see what the page is about?
  • Is there a sufficient amount of optimised content on the page to engage visitors? We usually recommend approximately 150 – 200 words per page. Remember to include relevant keywords in your copy.
  • Is the font a reasonable size making your content easier to read?

General

  • Are your contact details visible on every page in case the visitor has a question regarding your services or products? Can visitors tell how to contact you?
  • Do you provide good quality, high resolution images?
  • Does the site offer a search function in case the visitor cannot find what they are looking for on the landing page?

Points to consider for an e-commerce product page

  • Can visitors tell what to click on to place an order? Is there a “Buy now” button available above the fold of the page?
  • Can visitors find price information on the product?
  • Is there a sufficient description of the product / service on offer?

When considering your bounce rates please be aware that although the lower the bounce rate the better, this does not account for visitors who may be finding your site and contacting you straight away. These visitors may still be enquiring however as they do not navigate through your site, they will also be classed as a bouncing visitor.

All in all, anything which improves the usability of your website will have a positive knock on effect on your bounce rates and will likely increase conversions. Implementing any of the recommendations above is a quick, simple and effective way of improving bounce rates on your site, so what are you waiting for? Jump to it!

Logical URL structure that benefits users and search engines

I have just finished reading “2003 Called; They’d like their URL structure back” and must say that I fully agree with Rae’s advice. Whilst it was nice to reminisce back to SEO in 2003 (I was just-a-learning back then), this is something that I think should be cleared up.

The issue of URL structure is still a question that is frequently asked, mainly from developers who have the freedom to create new site URLs that either 1) run directly from the root domain or 2) are subfolder based. The above article provides good examples of each method along with the history and reasoning why developers, and some misguided search engine optimisers, started to (unnecessarily) favour all pages running off the route domain.

My recommendation would be to structure your URLs according to the page’s location within the site architecture. Having logical site architecture is not only important for users but this hierarchy will also help the search engines determine the importance of the page via its location within the site. For example, if your home page links to a top level services page, which then links to each of your primary services and from there to each individual service page, the architecture would look rather like this:


Using the above architecture as an example, it would be best case for your URLs to reflect the structure of the site using relevant subfolders as follows:

Not only does this indicate the location of each page to the search engines, but users will be able to determine where they are in the site (which is particularly important when entering the site through an internal page as opposed to the homepage). Having a sense of place on the site is one of the most important elements for a usable website as this helps users feel at ease and in control (albeit implicitly).

Two of the most effective ways to communicate sense of place on a site is by a breadcrumb trail and by the structure of your URLs. I would therefore always advise structuring your URLs according to the page’s location within the site architecture.

As a side note, it is also good advice to include relevant terms into your URL as this will help inform visitors (and search engines) as to the content present on that page. There are also other points to consider if you are rewriting URLs, most notably to correctly implement permanent 301 redirects on a page by page basis in order to pass weighting from old pages to new, as well as link ‘juice’. (However we would advise that you should rewrite URLs only if absolutely necessary).