How to spring clean your small business website with 7 top tips to optimise your online presence

website spring cleanTime to spring clean your website?

When was the last time you put specific time aside to review and improve your website?  When first setting up a website a huge amount of time and effort goes into its design and function. However, once up and running smoothly we tend to breathe a sigh of relief and get on with all the other demands associated with a small business. It’s all too easy to get complacent and before you realise a significant amount of time has lapsed without any proper review taking place.

In the world of business nothing stands still for long so it is essential your website evolves and develops to accurately reflect the current environment.  It is essential you put proper time aside to take a fresh, objective look at your website, rid yourself of out-of-date content and implement any necessary improvements.

Revisit the core principles of a successful website

Creating a positive and engaging online experience for your customer is at the heart of a successful website. So when you are giving your site an overview it is a good idea to revisit some of the key elements of good website design. You probably considered most of these when you initially set up your website however they provide a solid base from which to start your review.  As it currently stands does your website tick all of the following boxes?

Navigation. Is it easy for visitors to navigate your website?  Are they able to find the information they are looking for within a few simple clicks?

Design and layout. Does your website make a good first impression? Are your pages simple, clear and visually appealing?

Usability.  How quickly does your website load? Can a customer to complete a specific action easily?

Credibility. Does your website have enough trust signposts to make a visitor feel secure about completing a transaction or imparting personal information?

Accessibility. Can your website be viewed equally well from a mobile, tablet or desktop? Is your website accessible to everyone irrespective of any disabilities they may have?

Content. Is you content up-to-date, relevant and engaging to your target audience and does it accurately reflect your business?

 7 topID-10031660 tips to make the most of your online presence

75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website’s design

1. Out with the old. Nothing is more off-putting to a visitor than information that is out-of-date. It shrieks unprofessional and does little to enhance the credibility of your site. Have a thorough read through of all your content and check everything is current and correct. For example check for:

  • Broken links
  • Pricing
  • Policies – such as terms and conditions or delivery and returns
  • Expired discount codes and vouchers

Update or get rid of any information that is out of date or no longer relevant.

2. Focus on content. As we’ve said many-a-time content is central to the success of your website and critical to how you are viewed by search engines. So it is important to objectively review yContent Imageour existing content:

  • Is your content still relevant to your target audience and will it engage them?
  • Have you included a good mix of relevant and natural keywords and key-phrases (absolutely do not keyword or key phrase stuff – neither visitors or search engines will appreciate it)
  • Is it concise, clear and to the point?
  • Does it accurately reflect your business?
  • What needs updating and what could be improved?
  • Look for any gaps in content. For example do you have enough visual content such as images and videos? 

3. Is your website search engine optimised? Make sure you are doing all you can to make your website inviting to search engines. If you have lots of pages it can be easy to forget to add-in search engine friendly information on each page. So it’s worth going through and checking any pages you’ve missed or that could be improved.  Part of Search Engine Optimisation involves making lots of small adjustments to individual pages to make it easier for search engines to understand the content of your website. We mentioned keywords and key phrases earlier, but also look at:

Page Titles. These usually appears in the first line of  a search engine’s results page. Ensure your title tags accurately reflect the content of each individual page. Try to keep them short, relevant and to the point.

Description Meta Tags. These give the search engines and users an overview of your page. They are usually a short paragraph containing one or two sentences. Have a unique description for each page and try to make them informative and interesting.

URL’s. Your URL’s should be relevant to the content of each page and should be simple for search engines and users to understand.

For further reading on SEO checkout these two excellent free resources:

4. What are your analytics telling you? Web analytics are there to help you so use them. For example you may notice some pages may have a significantly higher bounce rate than expected. This may indicate a problem so it needs to be investigated. It could be that the content may not be relevant, the page may be confusing or there is no obvious call to action. You can then address the problem and implement the necessary changes.

visual content on social media5. Is your website multi-device friendly? You may have a fantastic website but does it view equally well on any device? Remember 80% of internet users now own a smartphone. A successful online presence includes being able to offer a positive user experience so ensure your small business website is accessible to everyone no matter the device they are using.

If you’re not already set up consider responsive design. This essentially adapts your website to fit the device on which it is being viewed without having to create a numerous device specific websites.

6. Curb appeal.  Make your website as visually appealing as possible to users. Go through each page and check that the layout is straightforward and the page looks clean and clutter free. Research indicates that white space is good and relevant supporting visuals are essential.

7. In with the new. Having reviewed your online offering and implemented any of the necessary changes, have a think about what else you can add to further enhance your small business’ online presence. Are there any obvious gaps in content?  For example try:

  • Setting up a blog
  • Adding in customer reviews and testimonials
  • Growing your visual content such as including more video’s and infographics

Check out other successful websites, both competitors and non-competitors, it’s a great way to get ideas and inspiration.

These are just a few ways to help ensure your small business website remains successful in terms of both user experience and search engine optimisation. Do try to put specific time aside for giving your website a review and remember regular checking really will help you keep on top of things.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on reviewing your online presence, so do please leave a comment.

Success image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How small online businesses can create top visual content on Facebook and increase engagement

twitter-292994_640Social media platforms and visual content are now so intrinsically linked that if you are not optimising your Facebook posts then chances are your small business isn’t going to be getting the degree of engagement it could.

This article takes a look at how, with a good mix of visual content and some clever tools, you can create a more successful Facebook presence.

The rise of the visual

With 1.4 billion users Facebook maintains its position as the market leading social network. Therefore as a small businesses owner Facebook is still going to be a key platform from which to market your business. However in order to fully engage an audience you need to make sure you are using the best tactics.

Visuals have the huge benefit of conveying an idea almost immediately, helping break through the masses of online content people have to wade through on a daily basis. I believe this contributes to the phenomenal growth in visual content over the last few years. Research has shows that the use of visual content in social media increased by 70% in 2014.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the key to growing your Facebook audience is to engage them. Visual content makes a considerable impact on increasing engagement.

Posts with visuals receive 94% more page visits and engagement than those without.

How to create a top-notch visual presence on Facebook

An impressive 2,460,000 pieces of content are shared every minute on Facebook. So, what will help your business stand out amongst this vast ocean of content? Using visuals to support your activity, here are 5 key tips that I recommend to help your small business create enriched posts.

1. Inspiring photos and images

According to research, images and photos are the most important tactic you can use to optimise your social media posts. But just adding any old run of the mill stock image isn’t really going to cut it. You need to source photos and images that are interesting and relevant to your audience and the subject in hand. It is worth spending some time getting the right image for your post.

Sourcing images 

Try to be creative when you are sourcing visuals and avoid using bland stock photos that everyone has seen before (you know the ones I mean – smiling business people in suits shaking hands) and try for something more interesting to support the content you are posting. Look for bright, eye-catching images that will still stand out even when they’re viewed at a smaller size.

There are number of online sites where you can source some great, reasonably priced images. Try Dreamstime, iStockphoto and Shutterstock. Alternatively sites like freedigitalphotos.net provide free images as long as you include an attribution wherever you use the image. You are also allowed to use images that are in the public domain and cleared for commercial use for free and without an attribution. Pixabay has a good selection of just such images.

visual contentOriginal photography

If you can commission your own photos then all the better. Particularly if you are showcasing your own products and services. ‘Lifestyle’ images of your products in use can have a stronger impact than just standard product shots. Try taking some ‘behind the scenes’ photos of your business. These are great way of giving your audience the opportunity to see the personality and ideas behind what makes your business unique.

2. Be creative with content

There are some really effective ways to be creative with your text-based content. And all the more importantly you don’t need a big budget or to be proficient in Photoshop to implement them. There are some excellent create image creation tools available. A number of which offer some great free options. For example, try Recite.com if you want to visualise a quote or interesting fact. It’s free and simple to use. Here is one I created in just a few moments.

image creation tools

 

Other great tools I’ve come across include PicMonkey and Canva which lets you add text to images. Skitch is also well worth a look as it enables you to draw over images using annotation, shapes and sketches – a great way to emphasise a particular point.

3. Include Infographics

Infographics are a fantastic way to convey numerical information like statistics and research. It makes text-based content far more digestible and visually appealing to an audience. Don’t just take my word for it, research shows that:

Cutting costs for business infographic

Creating great infographics  doesn’t automatically require special knowledge or a huge budget.  There are some good point and click online tools available with an assortment of ready-made templates that make it simple for you to DIY.  Check out Piktochart and Easel.ly.

share videos on social media4. Upload videos directly to Facebook

Video enhances your visual offerings on Facebook. Video continues to grow in popularity right across the globe with 8333 videos shared every minute. This is reflected in the impressive rise in video content on Facebook specifically. Since June 2014 Facebook has averaged more than 1 billion video views every day.

There are some great ways you can use video to your advantage. Try posting video tutorials, behind the scenes peeks of your business, how to guides, showcase your product or service in real life situations and scenarios or show how a product is crafted.

Try iMovie or Movie Maker for DIY video editing software or WeVideo and Animoto for online creation platforms.

 

These are just a few tips on how to incorporate visual content into Facebook. However it is worth looking at how you can improve your visual content across all your social media platforms. Visual content is a key trend for 2015 and I suspect it will remain that way for a good while yet.

I’d really love to hear how you’ve implemented more visual content into  your posts and what’s proved successful and not so successful. So please do leave a comment below or tweet me @ShopIntegrator.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Increase Conversion Rates with Product Photography

Product Photography

Who does not like looking at pretty pictures? Now what if I told you that those pretty pictures are responsible for convincing users to buy a product or a service many times more than lame taglines could ever hope for. Seriously, which gets you first – those gorgeous pictures of picturesque destinations or their standard cheesy marketing line about the country?

If there is any part of e-commerce that needs a shot in the arm from an aesthetic perspective it is the boring and done to death product photos. Typically these come from the manufacturers or brand owners themselves and e-commerce sites put them up with little or no changes. What results is the anti-thesis of a shopper’s dream destination.

If images hold scientifically proven sway over our minds, why not apply this logic to your own e-commerce site by turning every product image into a mini salesman for your site? This is how the best in the business do it.

1. Know your audience

Humans are very visual creatures. We process visual signals faster than sound and respond to them at a more visceral level. However, what type of visual signals gets each one of us going can vary from person to person. Before you decide on an image style for your site, understand whom you are addressing and design from there on.

Use the right image for the right audience. An image of an attractive woman may work with male as well as female audiences but in very different contexts. On the other hand, the image of a church may evoke very different responses from conservative audiences as compared to liberal ones. The bottom line? Understand your target audience – their likes and dislikes, and then proceed to pick the right imagery for your website.

2. Invest in image libraries

You must have heard it a million times before, but for good reason. Avoid stock shots that litter every other website. This is important to prevent user fatigue and instead guide the user’s eye towards new and interesting products on the basis of images alone. Spend some time over this and pick out unique imagery that complements your site and its personality.

Granted that unique images can be hard to come by and even when they are available, they are normally astronomically priced. Premium image libraries are a cost-effective compromise for unique images which do not cost an arm and a leg.

3. Photo shoots with a twist

Zulily – the billion dollar e-commerce phenomenon – shows the rest of us the way things ought to be done in the world of product photography. Zulily shoots 99% of all its product images in-house in its 35 studios that litter the entire office building. Their in-house photographers take artistic pictures for each item that goes up on the site. The site falls back on its regular employees to pose as models for their pictures. Baby models (it’s a mom and baby site after all!) are brought in by moms and dads who are aspiring actors themselves who get to build a portfolio for Junior via Zulily’s product shoots.

The result? A product catalogue that is as colorful as it is unique. Even if Zulily might sell a product that might be available on some other retailer’s site, it sure as hell will look completely different on Zulily. A smart, simple and highly effective workaround to expensive photoshoots, don’t you agree!

4. Build a story with your images

Your problem does not end with sourcing great pictures. What you do with them is more important.

Images are a great tool to build a story around your products. Use multiple images of a product to weave a use case scenario or present a solution to a problem that the user may have. Your creative presentation will show the user exactly how the item will fit into their lives. Another alternative is to showcase real users actually using the products in their everyday life settings. You could accessorize these images with quotes from these real users too. The contrast between the clinical austerity of most websites and the realism of slice of life type images will make your products stand out and help your conversions.

5. Use images to convey emotion

Just as images can convey stories and draw the user in, they can also tug at users’ heartstrings to loosen those purse strings on your site.

A tactic that is widely used by non-profits and welfare organizations, show me one such website that you can tear yourself away from without donating some cash or leaving with a guilt trip the size of Guatemala. If non-profits can use images to evoke emotions, so can you. Tap into the power of emotions with images that speak to the user. The right combination of photographer, model and setting contribute to emotional ammo over and over again.

6. Convey information with images

Emotional connections are great, but an image that tells a user exactly what she needs to know without even needing to read through the accompanying product description is what we are aiming at.

Wherever possible, use large images that offer users a high resolution and undistorted viewing experience. Never miss out on the zoom function on your product image. Users can only see images of your product and not the real deal before putting down large sums of cash on your website. It is your job to make this leap of faith that they repose in your site worthwhile by letting them get as close to the real item as possible.

Offer multiple product views with tiny product details visible clearly to make up for the lack of real touch and feel. Showcasing the product from different angles offers users a better idea of the real product. A 360 degree view option for your product image is a good idea, especially in terms of letting the users get up, close and personal with the item. Many top sites including Amazon and others have already started letting users savor each product with a 360 perspective.

A good way to convince a user about an item is by showing a picture of the item they are looking for being actually used by a model. Sell tractors? Put a model or a real farmer on a tractor and plow a field. Sunglasses is your thing? Get a few attractive models to lounge around the beach in your sunglasses and go clickety click on them.

7. Make your images fancy

Nothing kills a product image as effectively as putting a jarring background against a pleasant and soothing image.

Pick a background that goes well with the rest of your brand personality and issue orders to your designers stick to those colors and styles for the rest of the images as well. Marketplaces like Amazon that get product images from thousands of sellers listed on the site, on white backgrounds for nearly all their product shots. This not just makes life easier it also creates a clean feel look for your site – something that will go a long way in convincing the best sellers to list with you, and the most fanatical shoppers to buy from you.

Instead of offering flat two dimensional images, DueMaternity.com offered rotating images to its users. On hovering the mouse over the item image, the image would automatically rotate a complete 360 degrees, showcasing its complete potential without users having to click and open a page for the same experience in the past. The site actually saw a 27% lift in conversions since they implemented the snazzy new image format.

Use product videos wherever you showcase the item and allow users to arrive at their purchase decisions based on a more intimate view of the product than just two dimensional images. Offer at least one image for every product variant you’ll be listing online. This could be different color or a different use case or even a different size. Showcase these efficiently and there’s no reason for why anyone would fall back on boring manufacturer images ever again.

8. Virtual reality / augmented reality

If images let a user see how an item would look on someone else, virtual reality allows users to imagine how it would look on themselves.

Virtual reality devices are fast going mainstream and users can now get a VR headset for as low as $135. Virtual reality can be employed to let users model an item for themselves in the comfort of their own homes. Glasses retailer Warby Parker offers users a virtual tryout session by feeding a self-photo clicked by the user and allowing the user to experiment with different glasses that truly suit their face.

Chinese grocery and home goods retailer Yihaodian took virtual reality to the next level when they ‘built’ 100 virtual stores across the entire city in virtually no time at all. The company allowed users to scan items and add them to their virtual cart in these virtual stores. These items are then delivered to users’ doorsteps without them even having to leave their doorstep for a minute.

9. Accessorize the product

Never miss a chance to upsell or cross-sell a product with another item.

Add an interesting accessory or two to your models’ outfits does not just add drama to the images themselves, the overall look reminds users of the possibilities that lie in wait and help push the billing amount up ever so slightly.

Most apparel retail sites do a good job of using the right accessories to set off an outfit, thus tempting the user to splurge on the extras as well in the same transaction. I particularly love the way ModCloth and Net-a-Porter pull this off without it coming across as a crass attempt at upselling.

10. Allow sharing

We all know how social media is a huge contributor to site traffic both from a last touch perspective as well as higher in the lead funnel. One of the most shared elements on social media today are images, which is clear from the runaway popularity of entirely image driven social apps like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. This popularity of images has even forced the text only Twitter to embrace images and showcase them prominently on users’ Twitter feeds.

Feed into this cultural obsession with sharing aesthetically pleasing images by offering social sharing for your product images. Putting sharing buttons alongside your product image or allowing users to create self-avatars wearing your product is a great way of driving social conversations which eventually lead to conversions.

In conclusion

Your product images are pages in your album not standalone works of art that all speak a different language. They need to have a consistent flow and overall ‘look’ to work with your site’s aesthetics. Invest some much deserved time into a neglected area like your product images to see the difference that they make to your site and its conversions. Let me know in the comments below how these experiments work out for you!

Image Source: (1)

5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

5 security tips to protect your credit card when shopping online

Shopping online can be a real breeze. Just choose what you want to buy, enter your credit card details and voila, you’ll have your chosen item at your doorstep in a matter of days (or hours, if Amazon and its drone delivery plans take wing). No long queues, no driving all over town hunting for that perfect pair of shoes.

While online shopping is fun, addictive and a lot of things besides that, what sometimes kills the joy of online shopping is the sheer terror of credit card fraud and identity theft. And no, you cannot cower under a pillow and pretend that this will go away. If you shop online, you need to read the following security tips. If you own an online retail store you need to read this even more.

1. Get the Basics Right

Being safe while shopping online is not rocket science. Millions of users successfully shop for their hearts’ desire and more online without ever getting into trouble. Here are a few basics that every online shopper MUST keep in mind.

  • Never make the mistake of assigning the same passwords for all your accounts and cards. Use different passwords for each account, make sure your passwords are not easily hackable. With one password, you run the risk of compromising all your accounts with just one crack in your armor. An easy to guess password like your name or date of birth make breaking into your accounts easy as pie. Make passwords a combination of alpha-numeric characters that have nothing to do with any of your personal details like your family members’ names, your wedding anniversary etc. Another key aspect to always remember is to never share your passwords with anyone.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when swiping your card. When you hand your card over to the cashier at a store, keep an eye on the cashier while they swipe your card. In case you see the cashier swiping your card on a machine that is not a POS machine, raise the alarms. Chances are the second machine is a dip card reader that steals user information from the magnetic strip of the card. Fraudsters use this data to make duplicates of your card and run up giant shopping bills at your expense.
  • Avoid using your credit card on public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are accessible with or without a password to anyone who is within range of the network. With people peeping over your shoulder figuratively and literally, it is not a smart idea to carry out credit card transactions in public Wi-Fi zones where your data can be easily intercepted by an unscrupulous stranger.
  • Choose only secure sites to carry out credit card transactions. Avoid shopping on sites that look shoddily made – poor selection of images, a very high text to image ratio, spelling errors all over the place etc. Chances are, these are dummy sites set up by credit card fraudsters to capture your payment details and misuse them.

When making any payment online, check if the address bar in the browser shows HTTPS and not HTTP. On the payments page look out for a Verisign logo or a McAfee Security logo that tell you that the site is safe to use. Just a tip, the green lock icon on your browser address bar is a sign that the site you’re browsing is protected by SSL security and your data is being transmitted on a secure connection. Sites powered by ShopIntegrator have this worry of keeping payment details safe taken off their shoulders. ShopIntegrator directly transfers the customer to the payment processor’s site, thus making PCI compliance easier for merchants.

2. Protect Your PC

Playing it safe is sound advice in nearly all walks of life, if you know what I mean ;)

  • Secure Your Home WiFi. To begin with protect your home internet from outside users by setting up a strong password for it. Data like your credit card details can be easily hacked into while you transmit them over the internet. A secure home Wi-Fi connection avoids this mess. Another critical thing to do right away is to remove Autofill settings from your browser. The browser tends to store data that you use to fill in forms regularly like your name, address, telephone number, sometimes even credit card details in its memory. Removing this autofill data from your browser’s memory eliminates the possibility of someone else accessing your machine and misusing this data. It also thwarts hacking attempts by not offering identity thieves any rewards for their efforts. Different browsers have different procedures for doing this. Check out the settings section of your respective browser and reset this right away.
  • Updated Operating System. Software makers like Microsoft and Apple keep scouring their software for security holes on a continuous basis and release updates and patches to counter any gaps that they find. So the next time your computer asks to restart itself to install some new operating system updates don’t irritatedly postpone the update. Go ahead and keep your operating system updated to avoid falling prey to potential identity thieves on the World Wide Web.
  • Updated Browser. Most browsers these days release updates on a regular basis. Either set your browser to automatically update itself when there’s a new release or do it yourself manually without fail. Chrome’s ‘Safe Browsing API List’ is but one example of the many precautions that browsers employ to keep users safe online.
  • Strong Antivirus. Another smart, but essential investment for your financial and data security is a good antivirus software. It does not have to be an expensive one. As long it detects and removes spyware or keystroke logging malware from your personal computer and protects your computer from third party attacks, it will do just fine. As with all your other software, keep your virus definitions on your unit up to date to avoid online mishaps.

3. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams

The Nigerian Prince story has been done to death on email by fraudsters around the world. It’s gotten so stale that even my Dad knows that it’s all just a scam. But not all scamsters are so naive. Phishing for bank account and credit card details has reached sophisticated levels with many fraudsters posing as your bank representatives asking you for your personal financial details as a matter of routine maintenance. There have been cases of people receiving links inside perfectly innocent looking emails which if clicked can download a malicious keystroke logging malware into your machine.

Large scale scammers even go to the extent of building replicas of bank websites that end up stealing your passwords and other personal details as you access the site. Some easy pointers to avoid being phished:

  • Do not open emails from unknown or suspicious looking email IDs
  • Avoid opening or downloading any suspicious looking attachments even from known contacts
  • Never click on links without verifying where the link leads to. You can easily do this by hovering your mouse over the link in the email for a few seconds. The browser will automatically reveal the destination URL in a separate box.
  • Double check logos of banks, spellings and other minor tell-tale signs in emails that deal with financial data.
  • No bank or credit card company will ask you for your passwords or other personally identifying information over email. Never pass this information on without double checking with the bank over the phone or in person.

4. Activate Two Factor Authentication for your card

With the number of financial frauds rising by the day, banks and card issuers are becoming wiser and thinking two steps ahead. Many banks now offer users the option of adding an extra level of security to their cards while they carry out online transactions.

Many banks make it a point to call users personally when their card is swiped for a larger than normal amount. This ‘average’ amount is presumably arrived at by taking a median of all the different amounts swiped on the card till date. Banks also tend to call users when transactions are made outside the country of issue of the card.

Two factor authentication takes these basic precautions a notch higher. Instead of relying on just a username and password for a transaction, two factor authentication requires card users to enter a second identifier which they typically carry on their person like a fingerprint scan or a password sent via SMS to a mobile phone, a personal PIN number not stored anywhere else and so on.

Besides banks many other online services too have realized the importance of two factor authentication and actively encourage users to set it up like; Twitter, Yahoo Mail, Facebook etc.

5. Use digital wallets for online transactions

Swiping a credit card can now be replaced by a slew of ingenious payment mechanisms that do not even reveal your card details to the online merchant, thus keeping your identity and financial data safe and sound.

PayPal was the trailblazer in digital wallets which allowed users to transfer money into a seller’s PayPal account from a prepaid PayPal account for any online transactions. It also helped reverse transactions in case of complaints regarding fraud.

The biggest benefit of digital wallets is that you have the option of transferring only as much money you need for your online purchase into your digital wallet. This avoids the scenario of miscreants breaking into your account and emptying it of all its cash.

Now the digital wallet has gone mobile with the introduction of the Google Wallet about four years ago and Apple Pay coming in last year. There are also a bunch of social media payment mechanisms like SnapCash that are gaining in popularity for their sheer convenience and novelty. However the security levels of these social payment mechanisms are yet to be tested and one would do well to tread cautiously in these choppy waters.

Conclusion

Online security during your e-commerce binges is not just the responsibility of the merchant site where you carry out your transactions. It is equally yours. Whether you choose to check users reviews about site’s security online before using a website or use a security app to protect your credit card or activate two factor authentication for your card or even switch to a digital wallet; the idea is to be proactive and work towards avoiding a situation where your financial data is at risk.

By following simple guidelines that typically don’t take much time or resources, one can ensure that one’s hard earned money remains safe and sound without any external threats. Stay safe and happy shopping!

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5 indispensable tips small businesses can implement to create a successful blog post

blogging tips for small businessWhen executed well blogging can be a great asset to small online businesses. But what is it that makes a blog successful? We take a look at how to create an effective blog post for your e-commerce site with some indispensable best practice advice and helpful tips on how to generate content (great for when you are a bit short on ideas).

“Small businesses that embrace blogging see 126% more growth in terms of leads than those that don’t blog.”

Setting up a blog for your online business can initially be a bit daunting and you will need to invest time and resources in its ongoing management. However the many benefits blogging can bring makes it well worth the effort.

So what turns an ‘all-right’ post to an excellent blog post? Take a look at our tips below to find out how you can improve your blog offerings.

1. Create engaging content

Just blogging away isn’t enough. You need to think about how to create engaging content – content that your target market will be interested in reading. Whatever you do don’t just churn out reams of posts about your products. Your blog is not the environment to aggressively promote your businesses products or services. It should be about creating sharable content that is relevant to your industry and of value to your target audience. Take a look at notonthehighstreet.com’s blog. They provide interesting and lively posts relevant to their customers.

Variety is important so try an assortment of themes such as;

  • How to guides
  • Best practice tips
  • Top ten lists
  • Infographics
  • Industry news, facts and statistics
  • Forthcoming trends
  • Reader / client case studies

A blog is a great way to build your brand personality so a good tip is to write as you would talk. Remember you are trying to build a relationship with your readers so be natural and personable.

email newsletter content ideas2. How to generate fresh content and new ideas

Engaging content is all well and good but what happens when you feel you’ve run out of ideas or have writers block? There are lots of ways you can keep generating great content. For example;

  • Competitors: Check out the topics your competitors are writing about. See how you can improve on it or approach the topic from a different angle.
  • Scribble down ideas: Often your best ideas come to you when you least expect. I try to jot ideas down as and when they come to me so I have some topic ideas up my sleeve when needed.
  • Turn one post into a series: Rather than writing a long blog on one topic see if it lends itself to be turned into a series. Breakdown a large area into several bite-sized posts.
  • Guest blogs: Accepting guest blogs can be a good way to get some additional content on your site. But do just make sure that any guest blogs you accept are from legitimate sources delivering high quality content and value to your audience. It’s a good idea to have content guidelines in place such as not allowing any unrelated links (for example sales links) in the body of the text.
  • Hubspot’s blog topic generator: If you’re really stuck then try using a tool like Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator. It takes just seconds, simply fill in a couple of broad terms and it will come up with a list of relevant topic titles.
  • Ask your customers. Find out from your customers the kind of topics they would be interested in reading.

research blog content3. Use research to create credible blog posts

It is really important that you take the time to research your topic.  A well researched blog post will stand out and give you and your business more credibility. Use evidence such as facts, quotes and statistics to support your content. Do credit your references and include links back to the source – just make sure you open them in a new window.  I recently came across a great article that gives you some excellent tips on how to approach researching your blog – How to Research Blog Topics: A Step-by-Step process. Definitely worth a look if you’re writing regular blog articles.

Spend some time thinking about the keywords and phrases you want to target in your article. Consider what search terms your target audience might use to find information about your topic area and include them in the post. I don’t mean overstuffing your article with keywords or phrases as this will just reflect badly on your article but adding a couple of well-chosen key phrases in the body of your text will help keep you focused and your article honed-in on the topic in hand.

4. Include visuals – they make a big difference 

visual content The majority of us are visual learners. Indeed visual content makes up 93% of all human communication.  Including images in your blog article makes a significant difference to the effectiveness of your post. A good visual will capture your audience’s attention and make your article far more visually appealing.

Articles with images get 94% more total views 

Of course not just any old image will do.  Your image should be relevant to the topic being discussed or used to support a point you are making. Try to be creative and don’t  just churn out the same old stock photo everyone has seen before. There are lot a great sites you can source interesting images such as: Shutterstock, Dreamtimes, istockphoto.

There are also free image sites such as freedigitalphotos.  You don’t need to pay for these images but you will need to include an attribution to the author and website when you use the image. Alternatively sites like Pixabay offer interesting images that are in the public domain and fine to use for commercial purposes with no attribution required.

5. Presentation is essential

How your post looks is important . No matter how great the content, if the presentation looks poor then people simply won’t take the time to stop and read your article. Long reams of text are uninviting. So break your post up into scannable, bite-sized chunks. Don’t be afraid of segmenting text with:

  • Sub headings
  • bullet points
  • Lists
  • Bolded text
  • Quotes
  • Statistics
  • Images

Headline. Your headline is important so take the time to craft it. It needs to be attention grabbing so incorporate keywords and compelling adjectives. Keep it to the point and ensure your headline accurately reflects the content of the post.  If you’re a bit stuck, I came across a great post suggesting the ultimate headline formula as:

Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rational + Promise

Finally, before you publish take the time to check your post for spelling and grammatical errors.

Hopefully we’ve give you a few tips on how to optimise your posts to engage your audience and stand out from the crowd. Of course there are plenty more things you can do to make the most out of your blogging so if you’ve got some more tips then we’d love you to share them below. Happy blogging! 

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so do please leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Tactics to Improve Checkout Conversions and Reduce Abandoned Carts

Imagine an athlete who trains round the clock every single day for four years and then right on the first day of the Olympics breaks her leg and is forced to sit out the greatest sporting competition on earth. Now multiply that by three and you realize how it feels when a user who has been identified, prepped and coaxed into visiting your site arrives on your site, browses for a few minutes and simply clicks away.

I know I’m being a tad dramatic. But it’s only a tad. Every e-commerce business spends nearly all their marketing budgets and resources on getting more users and getting them to buy more. An incomplete checkout or an abandoned cart is not too far from that athlete’s Olympic leg fracture. And the bad news is that trillions of dollars’ worth of goods just get left behind in ignored shopping carts – the ghosts of lost e-commerce potential.

The biggest fix for this chronic pain point is checkout optimization. Yes, we have talked about checkout optimization before. But the more time I spend online on different e-commerce sites; the more compelled I become to do something about the terrible, terrible checkout designs so many online retailers resort to.

Somebody has to stop them. I nominate me. So here goes.

1. KISS

Keep it simple, silly.

That’s the first and foremost rule of checkout design. The more bells and whistles you tag on to a checkout process, the more distracted your user gets and higher are your chances of a drop off midway through your checkout.

KISS

According to the data above from Smashing Magazine, the usability of a checkout process drops sharply with every increasing step that you tack on to it. Beyond eight steps, the user friendliness actually declines making these ripe candidates for abandoned shopping carts.

A good option to reduce drop offs is to create a one-page checkout process as against the standard multi-page processes. This one page checkout will ideally combine all the various stages of an e-commerce checkout like picking the items and their quantities, personal information, payment and shipping information etc.

One-page Checkout Process

Panic makes users complete their transactions in a single flourish by combining the three key sections of a checkout process into one seamless page.

2. Users are Impatient, Easily Distracted. Tackle these Hurdles.

Anyone who has shopped online will testify to how tempting it is to peek at a bunch of different sites at the same time. I won’t hold this against users, as it is in the very nature of the internet to keep things free and transparent. So how do you ensure that the fickleness that comes with the territory does not translate into dismal checkout conversions for your e-commerce site?

Well, play into the foibles of your audience and feed their impatience. A progress bar located at the top of your checkout process tells your shoppers exactly how many steps they can expect ahead and how close they are to completing the transaction.

Crate and Barrel Checkout Process

Crate and Barrel has a clear numbered progress bar that staves off impatience in shoppers

The more clarity you offer your shopper, the lower are his chances of quitting and moving on from your site.

Another key feature of a checkout process that holds on to users like a magnet is a self-contained checkout design. With a checkout process that is clearly cordoned off from the rest of the site, the users have minimal distractions to pull them away from completing the transaction.

Self-contained Checkout

With an enclosed and minimal checkout process like the one above from Under Armor, the user has no other temptations to tear them away.

An oft-irritating hurdle that too many e-commerce sites build into their checkout process is the need to compulsorily register with the site in order to make a purchase. This is a little like saying you need to first plant a few bushes before you can stroll through a garden. While getting users to register with your site does have its merits from a long term relationship building perspective, enforcing it at the time of purchase is a risk you ought not to take. Leave absurd ideas like these behind with the option of a guest checkout like the one from Crate & Barrel below.

Crate & Barrel Guest Checkout

This checkout model meets a happy compromise of guest checkout and user registration by offering the user both options side by side. No prizes for guessing which the more frictionless choice is.

3. Money Matters. Flexibility Matters Even More With Money

How people spend on your site as well as how much they spend on it both have a lot to do with your attitude towards pricing and payment mechanisms.

A large majority of e-commerce sites show only the listed price of the item that a customer selects in the checkout section. It’s only when the user reaches the final payments section of the checkout process that a load of ancillary fees get tagged on to the original list price of the item. These ancillary prices include service charge, service tax, VAT, shipping charges and so on. The result? The final price the user ends up paying becomes almost 25-30% higher than what he originally saw. That’s an immediate trust breaker, right there.

Invest in transparency in your pricing across the site. As far as possible, show all inclusive pricing up front to avoid giving the user a nasty shock at the time of payment.

Men’s formal wear retailer Haggar Clothing does a great job of showing a clear break up of each and every cost associated with the purchase even before the checkout process starts.

Haggar Shopping Cart

Once inside the checkout section, the pricing does not vanish. It remains clearly visible with the amounts getting updated automatically to match any change in the cart items.

Haggar Check Out

The information that Haggar provides regarding shipping costs, is a smart touch. It is estimated that close to 30% of users will simply drop off the checkout process when faced with unexpected shipping costs. Good save there, Haggar!

Reasons for Card Abandonment

Take a look at some more ways to minimize drop-offs due to shipping concerns, while we’re on the subject.

Identifying the geographical location of a user is easier than pie these days. And yet, there are thousands of e-commerce sites out there that will only show prices in their home currency, irrespective of where a user logs in from.

Avoid this fundamental tactical error by offering prices in the local currency of your user. Most well-designed shopping carts, including ShopIntegrator can detect the user’s IP address and serve up prices as well as site content based on the user’s location. If your site is unable to automatically identify the country where the user logs in from, at least ask the user to choose their location from a drop down list of countries and set your site currency accordingly. Not only does this make for a frictionless user experience, with exchange rate calculations out of the picture, your users now have a higher chance of converting.

Payment flexibility is the final cog in the wheel of your monetary transactions with your users. The more payment options you allow your users, the easier it becomes for them to buy from you. Go beyond the regular debit and credit cards to offer users the chance of paying through unconventional methods like mobile wallets, PayPal or even Bitcoin; which safeguard the security of the user’s payment details much better than other methods.

4. Never Say ‘No Looking Back’

If there’s one advantage that the virtual world has over the real world, it is the ease with which one can ‘undo’ our actions compared to the real world. Imagine sending out a press release to your PR agency with the name of your product spelt wrongly. An email send-out can be rectified within minutes by correcting the name and emailing the respective people right away. On the other hand a press release that has been hand delivered or sent out via snail mail will take a minimum of 24 hours before any corrections can be made.

Allow your users this same luxury by allowing them to edit their cart at any time during the checkout process. The ability to modify quantities, colors or sizes at will without losing the data entered so far, makes the likelihood of the user getting frustrated and leaving your page extremely low.

Amazon Edit Cart

If editing shopping carts is good enough for Amazon, it’s definitely something you ought to consider!

A corollary to the ability to edit carts, it the ability to retrieve an abandoned shopping cart within a certain number of days. This feature is called a persistent shopping cart, where an e-commerce site saves users’ session details and cart contents for a pre-decided period of one week or one month. This saved data allows users who dropped off on an earlier transaction to pick up right where they left off, thus avoiding a complete loss of your marketing efforts.

While a persistent shopping cart may not be a contributing factor to conversions during a user’s first visit to your site, it definitely aids conversions on their subsequent visits to the site.

Sometimes even the savviest online shoppers get bamboozled about specific items that they have their eye on online. While some people have no worries simply dropping an email or calling the customer care department to clarify any shopping related query, users who are first-timers or are flight risks in general are relieved to have someone they can speak to immediately and fix the problems right away.

For such cases and more, offer your users checkout assistance in the form of a Live Chat plugin. Customer care representatives can walk through the entire process step by step, thus helping the cause of the website owner spectacularly well.

Users who leave your site due to a payment failure or some other frustrating quirk can also be recovered by an instant call back mechanism to the user in question. Remembering the users’ login credentials for their next visit makes the process even smoother and helps grow the conversions even on subsequent visits.

5. Abandoned Cart Emails

Despite the best efforts by my team and me, not a single day goes by when we don’t join the ranks of the rest of the e-commerce world and suffer from abandoned shopping carts. But unlike a large portion of the e-commerce sites in the country, we don’t take the abandonment lying down. We give chase and pursue the user like a spurned lover in an attempt to remind them of our services and the items they left beyond in their cart.

An abandoned cart email does not have to be very fancy. Even a simple standard template with placeholders for the items still inside the user’s abandoned cart will work wonders. Just remember to include the following key pointers in every abandoned cart email

  • A personalized greeting such as, “Hi Jack!”
  • A snapshot of the items in the original shopping cart
  • Pricing details
  • A sense of urgency by reminding users that the abandoned cart will remain active only for a pre-decided duration
  • A Clear Call to Action

Abandoned Cart Emails

What Do You Think?

I realize that I have rambled on about my own checkout conversion optimization methods. Are there any different methods that you employ to prevent users from moving on to your competition? Let’s hear it from you in the comments below right here!

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

5 indispensable marketing metrics to help small online businesses and start-ups measure performance

marketing metrics for small businessesAs a small online business owner or e-commerce start-up not only do you have a million and one things whirring around in your head, you also have to contend with small budgets, limited resources and constant time pressures. Having to then dedicate even more head space to performance measurements like web analytics can feel somewhat overwhelming. You can be left wondering where to focus your time and effort in a sea of numbers. To help you get the ball rolling we’ve outlined a few key measurements that are quick and easy to understand and can tell you all sorts of helpful things about your performance.

Start small and focus on a few key metrics

Of course there are all sorts of different ways for you to measure your marketing performance, from number of ‘likes’ on social media, customer satisfaction surveys or in-depth analysis of web analytics. Your chosen measurement depends on your goals and objectives and how much time and resources you have available.

Getting started with metrics can feel a bit daunting but the trick is to start small and focus on some key measurements. Don’t be tempted to rely on a scatter-gun approach to marketing where you do lots and hope that some of it will pay off. With small budgets it is essential that you can account for every penny and feel secure that the money and resources you’ve invested are working hard for you. Sign up to Google Analytics and learn to analyse what it is your metrics are telling you. You can then implement whatever changes are necessary to optimise your performance. The last thing you want is to throw good money after bad.

5 essential marketing metrics

We’ve outlined below some simple to understand measurements that can quickly help you identify areas that are paying off or conversely need improving. Of course, there are all sorts metrics you’ll want to analyse as your business develops but these five are a great starting point.

web analytics bounce rate1. Bounce Rate

“If you could only choose one metric to look at Bounce Rate might be your best choice” Google

What is it? Bounce rate is almost self-explanatory, it identifies the percentage of visitors to your site who view just one single page before leaving almost immediately. You are looking for a low bounce rate, the higher the percentage the higher the likelihood of there being a problem. For example visitors came, looked, didn’t like what they found and so left. The general consensus amongst web analytics experts seems to be that about 30-40% bounce is a good target to aim for anything above 50% needs investigating.

What does it tell me? The key things your bounce rate could be telling you is whether there is a problem with the quality of the traffic coming into your site, your page may be loading to slowly or your landing page is putting people off.

What should I do next?

  • Firstly check that you’ve added your tracking code to your page and that the keywords and search terms you are using echo the content of your site. If there is a mis-match you are going to be enticing in the wrong traffic. No matter how great your website looks they just aren’t interested in its offerings.
  • Make sure your website is loading quickly. People don’t have the patience for a website that loads slowly  – they’ll simply give up and move on elsewhere.
  • Check out your landing page. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good landing page. It should be well-designed, easy to navigate, contain quality content, reflect the promise you made in whatever promotion enticed them in the first place (so try to always have a separate landing page pertinent to each channel or campaign) and have a strong call to action.

web traffic source2. Traffic sources

What is it? On your Google Analytics dashboard the Traffic Source metric tells you where your website traffic is coming from – what platform are your visitors using to find you?

What does it tell me? It will tell you the percentage of visitors coming in through each channel. So traffic coming in via search engines using particular keywords is your Organic Search traffic. Direct traffic is those visitors who entered your website’s URL  into the browser. Social traffic are those who arrived through your social media platforms and  Referral traffic will tell you those visitors who clicked on your link from another website.  It is  good way of identifying which areas you need to focus on to drive traffic to your site.

What should I do next? Spend sometime looking at each traffic source. Are you doing as well as you expected or do some channels need some work. For example the percentage of visitors finding you via organic search will give you a good indication of how successful your search engine optimisation is. If it is not as good as you’d hope spend some time looking at how you can improve your content. Your content is absolutely essential in improving your search engine ranking.  Equally if you find that you are putting lots of time and effort into Facebook but actually you’re getting a better percentage of visitors from Pinterest then it may indicate that it’s more worthwhile for you to put some of the time you spend on Facebook into Pinterest.

 

cash flow management3. Cost-per-acquisition

What is it? Cost-per-acquisition (CPA) is the average amount of money it costs you to acquire a new customer. Divide the total costs of  acquisition (for example sales and marketing spend) by the total number of new customers over a specific period –  for example 6 months.

What does it tell me?  Cost-per-acquisition will tell you if you’re spending too much on acquiring a new customer. For example, does what you spend on the acquisition of a new customer exceed the profit your new customer is generating for you?

What should I do next? Are you spending more than you can afford?  Investigate where you are spending your marketing budget. Examine the performance of the marketing channels you are using to acquire your new customers in more detail. Which leads us nicely onto…

 

4. ROMI Return on marketing investment

What it is? ROMI is your Return on Marketing Investment. A simplistic calculation for ROMI could be: Total revenue generated from a campaign / Total campaign cost. Remember to multiply the result by 100 as ROMI is usually expressed as a percentage.

What does it tell me? The higher the percentage then the better the campaign is working. What you don’t really want are percentages that are in the negative. Work out the ROI for each campaign you undertake.

What should I do next? Think about what campaigns are giving you the best return on investment. You can then allocate your budget in the most profitable areas and get rid of the campaigns that are losing you money.

shopping cart abandonment rate5. Shopping cart abandonment rate

What is it? Your shopping cart abandonment rate is the percentage of customers leaving you during the conversion process. To find out where people are abandoning you, in Google Analytics go to conversions and look at goal flow.

What does it tell me? These people had already decided to part with their money but somewhere during the conversion process they’ve quit. It will give you an indication whether there is a potential problem during the checkout process that needs addressing.

How you can improve it? Identify the steps on your flow that have the highest abandonment percentages and think about what it could be that is making people leave. For example do you present them with an overly long registration form, are their some hidden shipping costs that suddenly appear or is confusing wording making it difficult for people to know what to do next? Try to make your checkout process as simple and straightforward as possible. Don’t ask for too much information and don’t have any hidden costs appearing out nowhere. 

 Next steps…

As your business grows and develops you’ll want to start delving a bit deeper into measuring and understanding performance.  Moving forward you will need to have clear goals and set yourself specific objectives that you can measure using the most appropriate metric. Of course numbers on their own mean little, it is about understanding what it is your metrics are telling you. Only then can you make the right improvements.

Try to get yourself into the routine of regularly checking your metrics on Google Analytics (or whatever web analytics programme you are using). Before you know it you’ll become  proficient in reading metrics, identifying trends or spotting any hiccups!

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so do please leave a comment.