Christmas retail: gearing up for Cyber Monday (part 2 – website optimisation)

Yesterday, Ben looked at how careful research and planning is essential to maximising sales on Cyber Monday, and over the course of the Christmas period. Now that you have established your ‘hero’ products, target audience and key messages, I turn attention to your website. After all, dedicating time to research and planning, and increasing investment to acquire traffic over the Christmas period, will be wasted if your website fails to convert that traffic into sales.

With this in mind, and time against you, we recommend you spend day two of five preparing your website for the uplift in traffic you can expect by executing tactics in paid search, link building and social media, all of which we will be looking at as the week unfolds.

Day 2 – Website optimisation

According to Logan Tod‘s Annual Online Shopping Index, the factors most important to consumers online shopping experience last Christmas were listed as delivery options, site search and product availability, and well-written copy.

On this basis, here are some relatively quick-win considerations in each of these areas:

Delivery information and options

  • There is nothing worse than getting to the very end of the checkout to be hit with a larger than expected delivery charge. Ensure your delivery costs are made clear from outset, ideally on product pages
  • If you can, offer a range of delivery options and prices. For some customers next day delivery will be essential. For others, as long as it received prior to Christmas, next day will not be so much of a priority
  • Consider using delivery options as an extra incentive to encourage sales, for example by offering free delivery on orders made between certain dates, or for orders over a certain value
  • Do not make promises you cannot keep when it comes to delivery. Let down a customer by failing to deliver to them what was promised and on time, and they are unlikely to be as forgiving at Christmas as they may be at other times of the year

Site search

  • As we get closer to Christmas, search queries will become more specific as prospects get closer to the point of making their purchase (having already worked through the research and consideration stages of the buying cycle). Does your site search function stand up to this by displaying relevant results for longer tail searches?
  • Ensure that your site search functionality is set up to account for different methods by which customers may search. For example, do you send out a catalogue? Do products therefore have codes attached to them? If so, customers may search using these codes so ensure the site search function will deliver results on this basis
  • If there are no search results to return, be sure to offer alternatives. Nothing is more likely to drive a prospect away than the message ‘sorry this product is not available’ accompanied by little or no accompanying help or advice

Product availability

  • Do not allow customers to add a product to their basket only to get to the checkout and be informed it is actually not available. Or worse still, pay for the product, receive the confirmation email only to then be informed later on that stock is not available (I’m amazed so many retail sites still allow this to happen!). Therefore, ensure your stocking information on the website is as up to date as it can possibly be. If you are utilising an automated back end system that maintains live stocking information on the front-end website this should be straightforward. If not, you need to establish a manual process to update stock levels at least every couple of hours
  • If products are not available, be sure to display information detailing when they will be back in stock. Better still, allow customers the functionality to reserve the product when it becomes available again. If it’s too late to build this automated functionality into your website, add a call to action that encourages the visitor to ‘call and reserve’

Copy (and other types of content)

  • Ensure your product descriptions are accurate, well written and optimised with relevant search terms. Are you REALLY selling the features and benefits of not only the product itself but also why the prospect should buy from you?
  • Ensure your product images are of good quality and tagged with appropriate descriptions
  • Create content that will help support your product descriptions, and therefore sales, especially if your research and planning has indicated that you are targeting a different audience at Christmas to the one you would normally attract. What content can you create that will help a male audience, for example, to make a more considered purchase of ladies underwear? Your aim is to make the buying process as straightforward and pain free as possible. Make sure this complementary content, buyers guides for example, is highly visible alongside product descriptions, downloadable and shareable
  • If you have promotional areas on your homepage, for example a banner, ensure they are pushing the ‘hero products’ and key messages you have established during the research and planning stage
  • When attempting to cross sell, ensure the products you deem as complementary are indeed so in the eyes of your customer. The disappointment of finding a product is out of stock is hard enough to bear, offering alternative products that are almost entirely different just adds insult to injury and will not be seen as at all helpful
  • Make sure your contact details are obvious and if offering support, particularly by phone, have a clearly visible number on every page

Checkout process

  • Importantly, test your checkout process now to make sure it is running normally
  • Assuming you have conversion funnels set up in your Analytics software, you should be able to identify where visitors typically drop out of the checkout process and to what extent. Based on this data are there any quick and easy tests you can run to increase conversion rates, such as:
  1. Removing the need to register an account before making a purchase. This is a sure fire way to have potential customers drop out of the checkout process in their droves yet so many retail sites still insist on it
  2. Where you do have forms, can you remove any of the fields, which if you really thought about it are unnecessary?
  3. Can you add progression indicators so users know how long the process will be i.e. this is step 1 of 2?
  4. Are you providing too many distractions at the point of purchase? Attempting to sell other products at this late stage, although admirable, may actually lead to abandonment, the exact opposite of what you were looking for
  5. Are the payment methods clear?
  6. Do you need to reinforce the security of your checkout. Shoppers may be more wary of fraud around Christmas
  7. Are you communicating the next steps clearly, for example will the customer receive a confirmation email? Will they receive an email when their product is dispatched?

And finally…

Increasing sales over the Christmas period is somewhat wasted if you do not seek to build relationships with newly acquired customers. Any promotional efforts over the Christmas period should be aimed at developing ongoing dialogue with new customers.

Therefore, ensure you offer newly acquired customers an incentive to come back. Consider how to collect data so you can engage with these customers again in the future. Request that they join your social networks for further offers and add them to your mailing list, for example (the latter with their permission of course).

Now that you your website is ready to go, you can focus on efforts to increase targeted traffic. Tomorrow, Amelia looks at paid search.

Until then…

Syndicating content without losing authority

In the world of digital marketing, content is very much king. Distributing your content via other websites will not only provide you with increased reach, exposure and traffic but it will also help support your brand and garner all-important links back to your site.

This syndication of content is all very good, however it is crucial not to forget the most important element of syndicating content, which is maintaining authority.

If your content is appearing all over the web, the search engines will see each piece of content (or page if you like) as a duplicate. When there are duplicate content issues, search engines “choose” which page to rank according to a number of factors, which include (but are not limited to) the one it spiders first, which page has the highest number of back links or where they place the most overall trust and authority. It is therefore not guaranteed that the original content on your site will be well ranked, despite the fact that you created it in the first place.

In fact, if your content is syndicated on very high profile sites or sites that update very regularly, the search engines may well spider the content on that site first which is likely to lead to the syndicated content ranking in favour of your website. All the hard work you have put into creating the great bit of content in the first place will reap benefits not for but for someone else.

You should therefore ensure that you maintain authority, or ownership if you like, for your content by following the advice below:

  • Always ask partners to include a link back to your site. This will not only maintain your authority for the content but it will also give you a lovely link to your site which will aid search engine rankings, especially if the site is of good quality and relevance, and you can incorporate a relevant search term into the anchor text
  • Ask your partners to include the rel=”canonical” tag on each page of syndicated content. A rel=”canonical” tag is a Meta tag that you place in the head section of code on each duplicated page of content, which will inform the search engines of the original page you want them to crawl, index and place weight on. You should therefore require that partner webmasters add this Meta Tag to the head section of each syndicated page of content

An alternative to the canonical tag is to use a robots no index Meta tag on each page of content or  request that partners disallow the page in their robots.txt file to tell the search engines not to index the page. However, I would advocate using the canonical tag as it directly informs the search engines of the original content source rather than the search engines having to figure this out. This could potentially result in the search engines giving slightly more weight and authority to your original content.

You could also consider syndicating partial articles or snippets as the search engines will seek to rank the full, most informative version (which would exist on your site.)  Or, consider releasing content on your site prior to syndicating. You would then only syndicate the content once the search engines have spidered and indexed the content on your site first.

By adhering to the above advice, you will take the necessary steps to safeguard your website so that you maintain authority for the content you are creating.

Do you have any experiences in the area of content syndication? Leave your comments below.

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).

Changing domains and Google Webmaster Tools update

Google has been busy updating their Webmaster Tools recently and yesterday published an update. Tweaks have been made to different features as a result of various issues, queries and feedback from users. However the most interesting was the addition of a “change of domain” feature that allows Webmasters to notify Google about any domain changes. This effectively allows you to submit your new domain to be indexed faster by Google who states that the complete re-indexing will take 180 days.

Although, it is not advisable to make changes to your domain, it is a very useful tool should you really have to. Switching domain names will likely affect your search engine rankings and this could take months to recover from but there are some cases where a domain change is necessary. If this happens, you will need to

  1. Establish your new domain, ensure it works properly and that all links are correct
  2. Set up and verify your new domain in Webmaster Tools.
  3. Correctly implement permanent 301 redirects from each page on your old domain to the corresponding page on the new domain. This must be done on a page by page basis to ensure page weight is correctly and evenly distributed through the site. It will also ensure visitors reach the correct page on the new site.
  4. Be sure to keep your old domain pages live for a while as the foundation of the redirect (probably 2 weeks to be safe).
  5. You should submit a new XML site map to Webmaster Tools with your new URLs. This notifies Google directly of the new URLs to be spidered and indexed.
  6. You should now notify Google of the domain change using its new domain change feature.

You can then monitor the ongoing indexing of your new domain via Webmaster Tools.

There are other things you should think about doing when changing domains such as contacting publishers of external links to request their links are amended as well as looking at pushing other marketing activity to cover you for any loss in rankings (e.g. boost Paid Search advertising, boost offline marketing etc.)

However this new addition to Webmaster Tools is just an additional aid for Webmasters to make a domain change as seamless and trouble free as possible.

Good one Google

Quick tips to increase your online conversion rate

Do you sell directly from your website or you use it to generate leads and enquiries? Is your site working hard enough to convert visitors into customers? Often just a few basic tweaks to a website, focused on the user, can lead to a significant increase in your conversion rate. And even small increases in your conversion rate can have a significant impact on your bottom line due to the uplift in enquiries or sales. In the current climate (and at any other time for that matter!) it is vital that you are making the most of the traffic your site is receiving. Remember, there is little value in increasing traffic from search engines, or any other source, if your site then fails to engage visitors and ultimately turn them into customers.

Website optimisation should focus on users, not search engines, because as lovely as those search engines are they will not fill in your enquiry form or buy your products; but human visitors will. And often by getting the user-experience right many aspects of SEO are taken care of anyway. Take a look at the tips below and see how your site compares; could it be working harder for you?

Try to keep the layout of each page in a standard format

Visitors want to find the information they seek as quickly and easily as possible. So be consistent and present your information in a way that is easy to identify and quick to read.

Use consistent intuitive navigation

Internet users have an expectation of what a website should look like and how it functions. Don’t confuse them by doing something ‘creative’, it will only lead to confusion and dissatisfaction, and ultimately the user going somewhere else.

Write for the Web

You need engaging and useful copy, but remember to break it up into easily skimmed topics. People will read a newspaper from front-to-back but tend to skim and jump around on a website. Make it easy for them to find what they want and get more info.

Include clear and concise ‘calls to action’

Visitors to your site need to be told what you want them to do next. It’s up to you to lead them through your site so they end up where you want them to!

Always have a consistent link to the home page

Include a link back to the homepage from every other page on your site.

Build a Site Map

Yes, people do use them! The bigger your site, the more you need one. And they also help search engines find all of the content on your site.

Phone number/contact details

To help build trust between your site visitor and your company, make sure that you are easily contactable. Not only include a ‘Contact Us’ page, but include your telephone number on every page of your site. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to talk to a company, and not being able to find a number!

Make it easy to buy/enquire

Don’t over complicate the end game. If you have an ecommerce site, limit the buying process to the smallest number of clicks possible and don’t ask for personal details unless you give the user a good reason for doing so!

Similarly if the purpose of your site is to generate leads and enquiries, don’t ask users to fill end endless forms online – they won’t.

Keep the buying process as light and simple as possible

After I give my credit card number over to a website I do not want to see “something interesting and cool”. I want to see my purchase processed in a “normal” and secure way. You can vary it a bit and make it look nice, but people usually don’t like “cute” when it comes to their finances being handled by strangers.

If your site just isn’t doing the business consider implementing changes geared towards improving the user-experience. And remember, optimisation is an ongoing process. Using data available from free stats tools, such as Google Analytics you can see how visitors are interacting with your website and make ongoing tweaks to continually improve user-experience and therefore your conversion rate.

Google, dmoz and Meta Title tags

A client recently asked us to investigate what was happening with the title of their Google listing. When searching for their company name, Google was dropping the optimised Meta Title tag for the home page and displaying a different title which was not on the page anywhere. This was not happening on Yahoo and MSN, only Google.

After some deeper investigation, we noticed that Google was ignoring the optimised Meta Title tag and instead, was pulling the title from the company’s dmoz listing.

The Meta Title tag on the page was optimised with search terms relevant to the home page however in doing this; the company name had been omitted from the Title tag. The problem here is that when searching for the company name (which does not appear within the title tag), Google will automatically use the dmoz company listing as this is obviously more targeted to the search query.

For the client in question, their original dmoz listing was an old listing that was set up with information that was no longer fully accurate.

So what do we learn?

If your company name does not appear in your Meta Title tag, Google will display your dmoz title as a default for searches relating to your company name. However optimising your Meta Title tag is still an important factor that search engines use to determine the relevancy of a page against the search query.

In this case, to maintain your optimised title tag on Google’s listings for company name related searches, you must include your company name as well as a relevant home page search term(s) in the home page Meta Title. This will not only support your brand but it will avoid Google using an old dmoz listing in favour for your optimised title tag.

Is your site built better than Arnie?

Arnie… what can I say? You weren’t the best actor in the world but you sure were built well! And building your website in the correct way can help you achieve ‘governor’ status on the search engines!

What I am talking about here is isolating the best architecture for your site right from the beginning as this can impact how well your site will rank on the search engines. Successful site architecture should be a fundamental aspect of any search marketing campaign because if you get the site skeleton, navigation and hierarchy of pages defined at an early stage, you will maximise the weighting your pages are given by the search engines.

As part of our strategy phase, Leapfrogg always assess the structure of a site in order to ensure that the site is set up to give the best user experience as well as achieving maximum visibility across the search engines.

When building your site, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, you should build your site in a logical structure. For example on an e-commerce site, your home page would link to your top level category pages which would then link to any sub category pages that would link to individual product pages and so on. Not only will a logical structure be good for the search engines (by distributing page rank evenly through your pages), but a logical structure will match your users expectations, making your site more user friendly.

Another factor search engines look at when they come to ranking your pages is how closely a page is linked to from the home page. Generally, the closer a page is linked to from the home page, the more importance it is given. When analysing your site architecture, look out for pages that could be moved closer to the home page but only do this if they would work well there.

Not only is the location of pages important but how you link to and from your site pages is also important as each link passes lovely link juice and page rank to one another. In this case, there is a best case scenario when it comes to internal site linking as depicted in the diagram below (click to enlarge.)

You can see from the above diagram that your site should link to each page as follows:

  • Home page links to the top navigation pages and top navigation pages link back to the home page
  • Top navigation pages link to sub category pages and sub category pages link back to the top navigation pages
  • Sub category pages link to any sub pages and sub pages link back to the sub category page
  • ALL pages link to the home page

You should also be aware that when linking between your site pages, link juice will be passed to the link destination page so be sure to link between your most important and relevant pages. This should help you strengthen the internal page rank of your most important site pages.

So to summarise

  • Take time out to properly design the architecture of your site
  • Be sure to make your architecture and navigation logical to facilitate the even spread of link popularity among your pages and to meet user expectations
  • Assess whether pages can be moved closer to the home page but only do this if the page will work well (and is logical) in its new location
  • Implement optimum internal site linking and link between site pages that are relevant and important in order to distribute page rank around your most important pages.

Google likes a quickie (as do I)

Google are now factoring in page download speed when determining the Quality Score of your PPC ads. Well done Google, this could help push developers of those really annoying, SLOW websites into improving their speed. This would make me happy… I really hate slow loading websites.

I was surprised (and somewhat annoyed) to read that slow loading websites apparently cost us Brits 2.5 days every year (just imagine what we could all do with those!) Slow websites are also Britain’s top web complaint which comes as no surprise to me. I don’t know about you, but if a website is really slow to load, I tend to abort my mission however important the information is to me. I seem to come across this quite a lot these days and I feel that the advent of Web 2.0 has changed how many websites are designed leading to image heavy (although lovely looking) websites that ultimately are much slower to load.

My rant is not totally unfounded now that page load times are a factor in Google attributing Quality Score to keywords in your Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. Quality Score measures how relevant your keyword is to your PPC ad text and to your user’s search query. It effectively determines the position of your PPC ad on Google and partly determines your keywords’ minimum bids. In general, the higher your Quality Score, the better your ad position resulting in you spending less (hoorah!)

PPC landing pages have a large part in determining your quality score and with page load times now a factor in this, we need to look at ways to keep your sites download speed down.

  • Firstly I would suggest that all images are optimised as much as possible. You could shrink the size of your images, crop out any additional space in the image or even remove some images. Do you really need all the images?

  • You should also try to ensure that all HTML code, JavaScript, CSS files are optimised as much as possible to try to reduce page load time of your site pages.

  • Page loading speed could also be the result of a web server problem whereby your server is not capable of handling traffic. In this case, you should update your server settings and ensure they are configured correctly to handle your traffic.

  • You can also be sure that any animated GIF’s or use of Flash will slow down the loading speed of a page.

All of the above are things that you should check your website against in order for your site to be correctly optimised to maximise on its performance. This is particularly crucial to all companies that have Google PPC campaigns. Not only will faster loading speeds make your site more usable and accessible to your target audience, but it would make a lot of Brits happier as we can plan what to do with our extra 2.5 days each year!

What are you doing online?

No, I’m not having a go at you, I’m being inquisitive as to what marketing initiatives are you doing online to compliment your offline efforts?

After one of many informative seminars at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in London a couple of weeks ago, I came away reviewing the benefits of coupling both your online and offline marketing efforts to ensure that you are achieving the best and most beneficial exposure for your company. Consider the power of TV, radio, newspapers, word of mouth and even your shopping trip on a Saturday and consider the impact that these channels have to reach and influence potential customers. They can be very powerful indeed.

But how can this impact your online marketing I hear you ask?

Well, has a friend ever recommended something to you and you have gone online to search for it? Or did you see an advert on television or in a newspaper that prompted you to find out more by searching on the net?

Here are a few stats provided at SES from an “Offline channel influence on online search behaviour study” conducted by iProspect.

  • 67% of online searches were a result of offline influences (with television and word of mouth being the most effective channels for driving searches)

  • 39% resulted in actual online purchases

These figures certainly reinforce the power of combining both offline and online marketing which is why it is good to forward plan any offline marketing labours you may have and couple them with things like an online press releases or targeted PPC ads etc.

I have seen many of our clients missing out on this as more often than not, traditional offline marketing is seen as something totally separate to online but its not. By informing your SEO company and providing a kind of ‘road map’ of any offline marketing initiatives you have in the pipeline, they can help you streamline both mediums to ensure that the hype that is generated offline can be captured online to drive more traffic that is likely to convert. Make sure you don’t miss out!

….And just some final comments about my day at SES…. I’d like to say a special thanks to the free biscuits I managed to scoff on my way to the Keynote seminar (you were nice) and also a thank you to the guy that was doing card tricks – I’m a sucker for checking to see if there is anything wrong with the hankie! 🙂

Wanting to conduct a Usability review of your website?

I have just had a really good read through Stoney’s 19 steps for a quickie usability review (titled “The 19-Hour Website Analysis, in 20 Minutes or Less”) and i think its great!

Stoney provides an excellent list of many usability issues that you should look out for when conducting a review of your website. It is often the case that possible website usability problems are overlooked or simply not identified so this is a great checklist of things to check your site for.

A comprehensive list that I’ll be getting all the other Froggers to read!