The conversion rate of online shoppers worldwide averaged out to 2.78 percent in 2016. Not the highest number we have seen, huh? With the growing number of online stores, consumers’ being super-picky about what they want and how they want it to be sold to them, running an e-commerce business is not an easy thing to do. There are some very specific nuances like seasonality, tons of product pages, ad copies to look after, and there is the job of tweaking traditional digital marketing techniques to make them applicable to an online store. Running an e-commerce business can be daunting, but we have some help for you.
We asked our fellow experts to brief us on the key elements of a digital marketing strategy that differ from traditional ones when it comes to the e-commerce industry. Milan Narayan of Neto E-Commerce Solutions covered the do’s and dont’s of SEO for e-commerce and shared a few points on driving more traffic to your store. Matthew Sauer of iProspect gave advice on the paid ads campaign structure, as well as targeting and optimizing your paid ad campaigns for ROI, and explained the benefits of combining search ads and retargeting. Finally, James Gilbert of HubSpot guided us through the process of turning your website visitors into customers and pre-transactional conversions.
SEO for E-commerce Fundamentals: the Engagement Age
Think Like and End User
One of the latest Google updates, RankBrain, which is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system and is considered to be the third most important ranking factor, learns the positive and negative signals a user sends while interacting with a web page. It is also smart enough to understand whether the content on a web page contains the answer or the solution to a user’s query, even if the web page doesn’t include their exact search terms. So, gone are the days of keyword stuffing — the focus is now moving to how well you cater to your prospective clients.
Another Google update named Fred was noticed by marketers and webmasters at the beginning of March 2017, once there was a high volatility of SERPs and numerous position changes were tracked (see the screenshot below).
Although there is no confirmed information from Google on this update, it is believed to be fighting with spam links. This also falls into the category of Google’s ‘Customer Care’ policy. Once you have posted new content, do a manual outreach to get the highest-quality backlinks. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting backlinks from contextually relevant pages. This Fred update is just another sign that you should think like an end user when optimizing your website.
Speaking of the tools, try Google Optimize — it is a free A/B testing tool that was recently released globally. Google Optimize gives you the ability to optimize in real time and find out what is the better experience for your prospects right now. This is where it is really important to test, measure and audit yourself. Use this methodology with every aspect of your digital development. Try to put yourself in the consumers’ shoes and search for your product. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you compelled to click your link or a competitor’s link? If the latter, why?
- Where do you rank for this product?
- What does SERP listing look like? Is it attractive enough to click or do your competitors look better?
- Are you compelled to purchase on your website? If not, why?
- How many clicks does it take to get to purchase?
- How long does it take to load your pages?
- Is this experience mobile friendly?
Once you have tested and measured these elements, it becomes much easier to improve them. Now let's have a look at the most common SEO mistakes.
Most Common SEO Mistakes in E-Commerce
Optimizing for Google, not for people. Using the wrong keywords, which are not contextually relevant, building numerous links just for the sake of it, posting poorly written content, not working on your website's usability — all of these make your visitor unhappy. This, in turn, means fewer sales, fewer page views, shorter visit times, less traffic through social networks, and… lower Google rankings.
Using the same meta and title tags on all pages. If you do this, you are just limiting your chances of conversion: Google will be confused as to which page to return to a user, since all of them will seem to have the same content, as per their tags. Another reason why the tags are important is that the search engine crawling robots check whether your tags are related to the content of the particular page, and you don't want to fail this exam. What you should do is to identify unique tags for each and every one of your pages.
Over-optimizing. Online stores are usually already optimized for SEO, especially if you work using a special e-commerce website platform. Adding some traditional SEO techniques to it may lead to duplicated titles as well as the repetition and lack of variety of keywords and result in much weaker search engine results. Not using any tools. Google Analytics, Google Optimize, and SEMrush — these tools help with user mapping, user journey mapping, testing, analytics, content generation and much more.
Not using product descriptions or using product descriptions from manufacturers. This is a big one. Guess what, your competitors also buy their goods from the same manufacturer and also use the same descriptions. So, your product descriptions will not stand out to a customer. You have an opportunity right there to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
Not using product reviews. Social reviews actually have a high impact on purchasing behavior. Nearly half (45 percent) of digital buyers worldwide said that reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their digital shopping behavior. Product reviews are also a nice way of adding contextually relevant content to your website, and this content will be updated regularly and naturally.
Not submitting your sitemap directly to Google when launching your store. Most of the platforms do this automatically, e.g. Neto has an auto-generated sitemap that is uploaded every morning. Or, you can submit a new page directly to Google using this link instead of filling out an URL submission form!
Not fully utilizing page redirects (the 301 Redirect and the rel=”canonical” attribute). Redirection helps you send the visitors to the right place and maintain your site’s reputation that you have earned through SEO traffic and backlinks. Check out these frequently asked questions about redirect types and their importance.
Not adding alt tags on embedded images. Alternative text is a way of saying Google what exactly is pictured on your images. It is a small thing, quick and easy to do — a really quick win. If people search for images, it is a good way to stand out in a crowd.
Underestimating the benefits of site-wide HTTPS.
The amount of e-commerce platforms and online stores are growing yearly. But do we really know how the leading retailers become leaders? What efforts need to be made to execute an effective online strategy? How to do first things first and sort everything out in order? SEMrush conducted an e-commerce study to answer these questions, along with many others. We analyzed...Get Free PDF
How to Approach SEO to Stay on Top of Seasonality
Identify the best times of the year for your products.
Research what your competitors are doing.
Check out Google Trends and compare these trends year-on-year to understand what times of year your products are mostly searched for.
Identify who your target market is at the time and what would they most likely search.
Create content for those demographics ahead of time. Timing is EVERYTHING!
Ensure your URL’s aren’t complicated — Google loves self-explaining URLs and so do people, actually.
When should you start? This depends on your YoY data. Don’t have that? Use Google Trends.
Find peak times per keyword and begin to test and measure.
Get Your Paid Ads Performing for E-commerce
Paid search is a flexible, cost-effective way to reach in-market users looking to buy. However, to achieve best results, you need to understand how to advertise your products correctly and how you can utilize paid search campaigns to drive ROI.
Google Adwords calculates Ad Rank to determine the position of your ad and whether the ad will show at all. The Ad Rank considers your bid amount, the components of Quality Score (expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience), and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats. The data provided by iProspect shows that the organic CTR changes by the position of the SERP — the higher the position, the higher the CTR is. So, before launching your paid search campaigns, show your website some love!
Do some A/B testing for your calls-to-action, titles and landing page anatomy.
Optimize your checkout process — you do not want a high abandon rate.
Install a live chat, it is a great way to engage with your customers. Customers who participate in a live chat usually are 5-10% more likely to convert.
Invest in an e-commerce platform that supports your objectives. It is important that it should be integrated with Google Shopping.
Ensure conversion tracking is set up. But don’t track purchases only, track other metrics like newsletter signups, account creations, page views, etc., too.
Now your website is ready to welcome the visitors! Let's see what makes a successful paid search campaign.
Elements of a Successful Paid Search Campaign
1. Account structure
Get as granular as possible! Don’t group all your terms under a single campaign. Instead, segment your campaigns to align with products, seasonality, locations, performance, etc. This will enable you to control your budgets and targeting and to support specific KPIs. For Google Shopping, a broad-to-narrow structure supported through the 6 key shopping attributes will drive the best results:
Here, as with many other marketing activities, the famous ‘Keep it simple’ rule applies:
Allocate your budget based on where the performance or overall contribution to your website is strong (low CPA, high return). Check where there are any opportunities that you’re currently missing out due to budget limitations.
Avoid over-investing in the low-performing areas or campaigns that don’t add additional value for your website.
How to be Smart with Your PPC Budget
- Look at the campaign’s overall contribution to your conversions. Attribution can be the key to ensuring you are investing in the right campaigns! To track the conversion attribution right, navigate to the ‘Assisted Conversions’ report in Google Analytics, create a new Conversion Segment and exclude the last interaction with the channel in question to avoid duplication of figures.
- Look at what impression share achieves the highest performance for your campaigns and calculate the budget needed to hit this target. The formula for this would be: “Current Ad Spend / Impression Share = Total Available Cost”.
- Don’t show your ads 24/7 — this will be a waste in most cases. Narrow your showtime to the times or days of the week where your website is likely to see more traffic and online transactions. Tailor your budget distribution and adjust your bids around these!
- Don’t forget device usage and dayparting. Consider a script that can modify device bids by day of the week and hour of the day to ensure your ads are visible when it matters.
Drive qualified in-market traffic and don’t always chase high-volume terms. Consider where your users are likely to be in the funnel based on the type of search terms they enter:
Research terms = high volume, generic searches around your product categories (e.g., shorts).
Product terms = specific items you sell. The revenue that these terms may generate for your brand is likely to offset the low traffic volumes that these types of keywords often attract (e.g., quick dry board shorts).
Brand terms = By the end of the buying cycle, users may be more inclined to return to your website through a branded search (e.g. hurley board shorts).
Where to look for new keywords?
Identify what relevant terms your competitors are actively bidding for, where you can compete for new customers or identify untouched niche markets that can drive untapped traffic to your website at a low cost. Use SEMrush Domain vs. Domain tool to conduct this research. Another way to harvest new keywords is to use broad match keywords and add them to your campaign as exact match keywords.
Creating your ad copies
Use at least of these strategies at a time to create compelling ad copies.
USPs — Highlight unique selling propositions (USPs) featured on your website. Be unique and capitalize on USPs that the competition is not promoting or that you do better.
Price points — Only use this strategy if you can beat your competition on price.
Call to action — Effective call-to-action that will motivate the user to click through to your website.
Test various promotions and offers, don’t just stick to one format — you can specify the percentage of saving or dollar amount of saving, use ‘get an online quote in X easy steps’ messaging, etc. A better user experience can be created with ad extensions.
4. Optimizing to achieve ROI
First, here are some handy formulas to calculate maximum CPC you are willing to pay.
Max CPC = Conversion Rate of Keyword x CPA Goal
Example: CPA target of $50 per sale of shorts-related products. ‘Buy Shorts Online’ converts at a rate of 2.53% ‘Shorts Sale’ converts at a rate of 0.67%. Based on this data, you can bid up to $1.26 for the keyword ‘Buy Shorts Online’; however, for the latter you should be bidding no more than a Max CPC bid of $0.33.
Max CPC = (1/ROI% Goal) x (Avg. Order Value of Keyword x Transaction Rate of Keyword)
Example: ROI target of 180% for shorts-related products. ‘Buy Shorts Online’ converts at a rate of 2.53% and records an average sale value per transaction of $25.00. ‘Shorts Sale’ converts at a rate of 0.67% and records an average sale value per transaction of $97.00. You can only bid up to $0.35 for the keyword ‘Buy Shorts Online’ and up to $0.48 for the keyword ‘Shorts Sale’
Using Scripts and Automation To Drive Performance
Scripts can be hugely beneficial for everyone, particularly for large spenders — they can really be a time-saver, lifting a heavy load and automating portions of day-to-day management. Spend this extra time on creative thinking and innovation! Popular types of scripts include those which adjust bids, budgets and even align your ads with the current TV schedule.
Combining Paid Search and Remarketing
Use remarketing for your campaigns. This strategy offers you uncountable ways that you can split your audience in. Plus, it shows impressive results: we typically see 35 percent CPA decrease from remarketing user lists vs. entire campaign and 10 percent conversion increase from remarketing lists vs. advertisers that do not use remarketing lists.
Some techniques you may use:
Serve ads with unique messaging to existing or high intent users.
Drive return traffic to your website at a profitable CPC through bid adjustment matched against your audience segments.
Reduce repeat clicks and costs by excluding irrelevant site traffic.
Optimizing Conversion Rate for an Online Store
Now that you have carefully brought the best people to your website, it’s time for a not-very-pleasant surprise — 99 percent of the first-time visitors are not yet ready to purchase. Perhaps 1-5 percent of people that come to your website will convert into customers straight away; however, for the other 95-99 percent, you want them to convert in another way, and this enables you to continue to communicate with them until they are ready to purchase. Those small actions taken on the way to a purchase are called pre-transactional conversions.
The two most important parts of pre-transactional conversions are driving value and engagement (usually via some type of content) and capturing information. The three standard conversion opportunities are ‘Sign up to receive our newsletter,’ ‘Subscribe to our blog’ and ‘Add to cart,’ and real life pre-transactional content examples include newsletters and buying and lifestyle guides. These points of conversion are often backed by a price promotion, but is this the right thing to do?
To discount or not to discount? That is the question. Should you entice people so that they’ll leave their data? Well, this literally comes down to what you think; there is no wrong answer to this question. But what you need to know is that having the lowest price doesn’t always mean getting the highest volume of sales. You have to think of whether such price promotions can hurt your brand’s value, so you need to refer to your brand’s policy, history, and strategy. Price is still an indication of quality to a lot of people. Also, here is a quick arithmetic example for you. Imagine that you sell a product for $10 and your profit for each item is $2. If you increase your price by 10 percent and make it $11, it will increase your profit to $3, which is a 50 percent increase! And, most likely, this $1 increase won’t affect price sensitivity or your volume of orders. So, that extra 10 percent that you are charging for your product may have a dramatic impact on your business and profits!
Make your buyers purchase again. The following elements are your key points of conversion: Calls-to-action, Landing pages, Forms, Thank you pages, Follow-ups. Make sure they clearly translate what you have to say, provide a smooth user experience and encourage people to buy. If you can make your customers buy again, then you’ve found a golden mine for your e-commerce business — achieving a high repeat purchase rate will actually cut acquisition costs for you dramatically. However, keep in mind that even among e-commerce companies, repurchase rates greatly differ depending on the vertical you are in. So, be thoughtful when setting a repeat-purchase target for your business.
Another wise thing to do is to reverse-engineer your funnel (e.g., ‘getting 30 customers requires generating 1,000 visits’) to find out how much a customer is worth to you at each point of the conversion process. This will give you a crystal-clear understanding of the budget needed at each stage so that you can adjust accordingly.
It all starts with bringing the right people to your website. If more traffic doesn’t bring you more profit, then you are probably targeting the wrong people. Put a Facebook pixel on your checkout page (and on other converting pages too), so that Facebook can provide you with demographic data on those who view this page.
Although a big part of the tasks aimed at an online store promotion and traffic generation is often done by various platforms, plugins, and tools, like Google Shopping Ads, all those machines are not as smart and human as you. Here is your part of work:
Search Engine Optimization
Mind the engagement age and think like a user, not like a bot.
Customer service at its offline best should be translated to digital.
Test, measure, and audit yourself.
Take care of the SEO fundamentals such as meta and title tags, alt text for images etc.
Prepare yourself for seasonality in advance and based on the proper data.
Be strategic and as granular as possible in your campaign set up, your spend tactics, customer targeting, and optimization. This will help you to see results without blowing your budget.
Don’t look at paid search as a standalone channel in your marketing mix — look at the bigger picture to make budget decisions. Use data to optimize your campaigns with the support of tech.
Results are not always instant. Give your campaigns enough time to collect data and gradually makes changes.
Invest in your website! You can have the best and perfectly targeted paid campaign set up, but a poor website experience can unravel it all.
Conversion Rate Optimization
Always present options to progress down the funnel.
Nurture your visitors to the point of sale with segmentation, personalization, and automation.
- Reverse-engineer your funnel to know the value of your visitors.
Running an e-commerce business? Let us know what techniques work best for you!