There are many things that can go wrong with an eCommerce site. We’ve narrowed it down to three major ones that seem to produce the most questions:
- Getting more web traffic
- Converting more site visitors to sales
- Making sense of too much data
In this post I’ll break these three common eCommerce issues down. I’ll explain the different aspects of each challenge and provide advice and links that will help you overcome them.
You aren’t getting enough web traffic.
You can’t sell products to customers with your website if you can’t get those customers to your website.
“Not enough traffic” is a common complaint for managers of eCommerce websites, big and small. Everyone wants more traffic, assuming more traffic equals more sales.
Main Sources of Web Traffic
Strategies for generating web traffic vary, depending on which type(s) of web traffic you are pursuing. It’s important you understand what the main types of web traffic are. (I’ll describe them mostly using the terms that Google Analytics uses.)
- Organic Search traffic is made of visitors who found your website using a search engine like Google. These visitors clicked on a link to your site through natural search results, not the paid search results along the top and side.
- Paid Search traffic is made of visitors who searched on Google/Bing/etc. and clicked on one of your paid search ads. If you don’t run paid search ads, you will have no paid search traffic.
- Social traffic is made of clicks from social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Google Analytics will also consider sites like Reddit and Quora social traffic.
- Referral traffic is made of clicks on links to your site that exist on other sites. For example, if a blogger features one of your products, their link to your site will generate “referral” traffic.
- Direct traffic is made of site visitors who navigate directly to your site by typing in the URL or visiting a bookmark. It also includes a segment of traffic where the source is “unknown”, which can happen for a variety of reasons.
There are other sources of traffic as well (email, banner ads, etc.), but diving into those gets more advanced. Most of your traffic is likely to come from these five traffic sources, so these are what we’ll focus on for this article.
Increasing Traffic to Your Webstore
Generating more of each source of web traffic requires different strategies.
Increasing Organic Search Traffic
Getting more organic search traffic is the main purpose of search engine optimization (SEO). It’s the practice of optimizing your site in different ways to help your web pages rank as highly as possible in search engine results for relevant search terms.
SEO encompasses a lot of tactics, but here are some of the most basic:
- Ensure the HTML that makes up your web pages is written according to what search engines look for.
- Generate links to your site to improve your website authority according to search engines.
- Research relevant search keywords and generating content that targets them.
Your best way to really do well with organic search is to create content in addition to your product pages. The most common way to do this is a blog, but it’s not your only option. Consider best practice guides, online quizzes, games, and other content ideas. Your options are limitless and will have very different outcomes across industries.
SEO is a huge topic…far bigger than a small section on one blog post. Bottom line: if you want more organic search traffic (and you probably do) you need to optimize for search engines. I recommend starting with the training material at Moz.com.
Increasing Paid Search Traffic
You’ve got a little bit more control over your paid search traffic, because you are literally paying for it.
In a nutshell, paid search results work like this: You tell Google (or whatever search engine) how much you are willing to spend for clicks to your site for a given set of keywords. You create ads (paid search results) to help entice users to click. When searchers enter that keyword your ad shows in the results. If they click your ad, you get charged.
The tricky part is the competition. The best keywords are highly competitive, so search engines basically auction off the right for your ad to be shown. That means some keywords could be quite expensive. (Would you pay $10/click if you sell a $5 product?)
So, how do you increase paid search traffic?
If you aren’t running paid ads, you can start. But, know that it’s not for everyone.
If you are running ads, it’s about optimization and increasing budget/breadth. Optimize the ads you have based on the data the search engine provides you. Eliminate the ads that don’t work and run the ads that do. Once you’ve made about as much improvement as you can, look at increasing your budget (allowing for more paid clicks) and adding new keywords/ads to the mix.
With paid search you always want to watch your return on investment, though. Don’t pay so much for traffic that you eat up all your margins.
Increasing Social Traffic
Social media changed the game for eCommerce. Now you can interact with customers and potential customers, on a one-to-one basis, no matter how big or small your company is. You can be a “mom and pop” store in the middle of Wyoming and have millions of people following your brand.
Increasing social traffic to your website is all about executing social media strategy effectively. You want to be present on the social networks that your target market uses (ignore the ones they don’t). You want to provide valuable content to that audience, regularly. Valuable could mean funny, informative, thought-provoking, or many other things, depending on your brand.
As you build your social audience, you can start to share content on your site. If it’s good content, it’ll get you traffic. If it’s great content, your audience will share it and you’ll get even more traffic.
Remember that to build a social following, you can’t just constantly link to your own site. Why would anyone follow you to get bombarded with ads? Try to follow an 80-20 rule: 80% of social content is not a link to your site, 20% is a link to your site. That way you can sprinkle your message into what is an otherwise valuable social feed.
Increasing social traffic means improving your social media strategy. The Moz material, linked above, also has some good training around social media. If you’re a Podcast listener, I recommend The Social Pros podcast.
Increasing Referral Traffic
To increase referral traffic, you need to increase the number of links to your site. And, there multitude of strategies for doing so, including:
- Create such exceptional content (or sell such awesome products) that other people want to link to them. This is really hard to do as the sole link-building strategy, but it should always be your ambition.
- Use comment fields and forum responses on other sites to link to your content. The key here is not to be annoying. Be sure to provide value in your response and then say “to learn more, here’s a link”. Some people don’t like when brands do this, so be prepared to have your comments deleted on occasion.
- Ask other people for links. Bloggers are often a good place to go. If your product or content is relevant to their audience, they may be willing to blog about it and link to it.
- Create an affiliate program. You can also pay people to link to your site using a affiliate program. The difference is that you pay them a portion of any of the sales their links generate.
These are far from the only ways to generate links. But, links can bring a ton of traffic to your site. Be sure to consider if they are the right links though (see: Are you sure you want more web traffic?).
Increasing Direct Traffic
It’s kind of difficult to increase direct traffic, and it’s probably not your ideal strategy. Direct traffic also encompasses “unknown” traffic, which means there was nothing your web analytics technology could do to figure out where the traffic came from.
That said, offline advertising and marketing tactics like user groups, fan forums, and even trade show appearances can increase direct traffic.
For example, when you had out a business card, anyone who visits the URL on the card will be direct traffic. If someone hears your name and website URL on the radio, they would be direct traffic.
If you’ve got the budget to spend on “brand awareness” kinds of marketing tactics, these strategies can increase your direct web traffic.
Are you sure you want more web traffic?
Generating more web traffic doesn’t guarantee more revenue from eCommerce sales. It can! But, it depends on if you are getting the right traffic.
You want to consider the source of the traffic a given strategy would produce. If you’re a dog toy vendor, how valuable do you think a link from a high end fashion blog would be? Or, what about paid search ad targeting the keyword “barbecue recipes”?
You’ve got to understand your target market and make reasonable assumptions about where to find them. Then prioritize the strategies that you believe will reach that target market.
There are a lot of ways to get traffic quickly. They equate to “get rich quick” schemes. They may increase your traffic, but they will not increase your sales.
You aren’t getting enough conversions/sales.
Many people in charge of eCommerce websites claim they aren’t converting enough traffic into customers. SEO, advertising, and link building are all great strategy for getting traffic to your site. But, if you aren’t watching for these common issues, that traffic may not be making you any money.
Your site is too confusing to navigate.
Internet users have very short attention spans, especially when they are on a mission (to buy something). Your job is to make your eCommerce site get every person to exactly what they want as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
If your site is confusing, visually abrasive, or difficult to navigate, you add friction. You are literally making it harder for someone who should be a qualified customer to buy from you.
Making your site easy requires a mix of disciplines: design, information architecture, content strategy, etc. But, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Following these basic practices will get you pretty far:
- Use a simple, logical URL structure that uses your customer’s language. Using mypetstore.com/dogs/bones/ is more understandable than mypetstore.com/products/pid12345.
- Make sure your navigation elements reflect that logical URL structure. This makes it easy to browse to exactly what they are looking for.
- Provide a rich set of product attributes for filtering. (This is what Amazon and eBay excel at doing.) You can read more about why this is important.
- Make sure every product, catalog, category, or otherwise important page can be linked to (it has a URL). On the Internet, if you can’t link to it, it doesn’t exist.
- Assume your customer is lost and confused. Be very clear about what you want them to do. Use very simple language. Avoid jargon and extra information.
For many eCommerce platforms, you have a set of themes to choose from. The popular ones are that way for a reason. They’ll tend to help you out with these practices.
Building a website that is easy to navigate is as much art as it is science. But, many really smart people have published best practices and ideas. Start with Google’s recommendations. Smashing Magazine is another great source for design and user experience (UX) best practices.
Your calls to action are weak.
It’s entirely possible that many of your site visitors just don’t know what you want them to do. This is likely because your “call to action” isn’t clear enough.
The call to action is the thing you want your site visitor to do. It might be “add to cart”. It might be “sign up for updates”. It might be something else. (If you’re reading this article at nchannel.com, our call to action for you to subscribe to the blog. By the way…you should do that.)
Remember, you want to make your call to action very clear and very simple to your customer. Make it big. Make it bold. Make it obvious.
You’ll often read that it’s a best practice to ensure that every page only has one call to action. That is good general advice, but it’s not a hard rule for everyone to follow. If possible, you would want to test to confirm if that’s the case for your eCommerce site.
The best way to improve calls to action is to A/B test new ones. In an A/B test, you show 50% of your traffic one version of a page and 50% another. Then you measure which version converted more people. (In your case “converted” probably means “added to cart” or “completed checkout”.)
A/B testing allows you to make educated guesses about what might work, then confirm those guesses with actual data. You can run A/B tests for free, using Google Analytics, or you can make it a little more advanced and easier using platforms like Optimizely, Convert.com, or Visual Website Optimizer. All of them are pretty affordable. (For what it’s worth, we use Optimizely quite a bit.)
Your product data isn’t descriptive.
When a shopper browses a physical store they have a very interactive experience with the product they may buy. They can see it and touch it. The can inspect it inside and out. They can ask a (hopefully) knowledgeable sales associate questions in real time.
Your job, as the person responsible for an eCommerce site, is to replicate that experience as closely as possible online–plus all the convenience benefits of shopping online. Product data is the easiest way for you to do that.
Product data encompasses things like the product’s listed name, long and short descriptions, images and videos, product attributes (color, sizes, material, etc.), and other descriptive elements. You want to make these as detailed and high quality as possible, without making it impossible to maintain your data.
If your product data isn’t descriptive enough, it’s probably the result of one of two problems: 1) you just haven’t given it the love it deserves or 2) it’s overwhelming to do so.
If your issue is the former, then it’s time to buckle down and put some effort into your product data. Consider the following best practices:
- Ensure titles and descriptions are roughly the same length across products (e.g. your titles are always 3-10 words, short descriptions are always 20-40 words).
- Use similar vocabulary for all your products. Or, it may make sense to do so among different groups of products.
- Stay true to your overall brand with the words you use. Beardbrand.com is an excellent example, if you’re looking for inspiration. (Beard not required.)
- Use your customer’s language, too. Don’t use terminology or jargon they aren’t going to understand.
If your issue is the latter (overwhelming product data), you’ve got a good problem. It means you’re growing and you’re experiencing the pains of doing so.
Most people running an eCommerce store start out managing product data in something like an Excel spreadsheet. It’s simple and ubiquitous. It exports to CSV which makes it easy to import into your eCommerce platforms.
But, when you outgrow the spreadsheet, it’s time to consider a Product Information Management (PIM) system. It gives you all the tools you need to manage product information, including a solid workflow, bulk editing, and (with the good ones) publishing to sales channels without import/export.
We’ve got a pretty impressive PIM to show you, if this sounds like the problem you’re having.
Are you sure you want more conversions?
Okay, of course you want more conversions. But, make sure that conversions are your biggest problem or, if so, what aspect is actually the problem. Two numbers you should be watching for are bounce rate and conversion rate.
Bounce rate is calculated on a per-page basis (but can be rolled up for site sections or the entire site). It includes the percentage of people who loaded one page, then left the site without doing anything else. A high bounce rate suggests that the page/navigation/call to action is confusing. It can also suggest you’re attracting the wrong traffic–a whole different problem. Bounce rate should always be your first step into deeper analysis.
Conversion rate is calculated by dividing the number of sessions that resulted in a conversion by the total number of sessions. It’s a percentage of how many people did what you wanted them to do. Your goal is to make that rate go up, but again, a low conversion rate could mean you are bringing in the wrong traffic. Don’t assume your only problem is within your site.
As your analysis gets more advanced, you can start calculating average order value so you can weigh conversions based on how much money the customer spent. Google Analytics has tools to help with this.
You’re overwhelmed with data.
As your eCommerce business grows, so does your data. It can be overwhelming. It’s a good problem to have–it means you’re expanding–but it’s not always an easy one to solve. And, there are a few reasons you might be getting overwhelmed with data.
You sell through multiple eCommerce channels.
Maybe when you started, you were just a single eCommerce site. But, as you expanded you started selling on marketplaces, like eBay, Amazon, and Rakuten. Maybe you even opened a second eCommerce site to focus on a different customer segment.
Selling through multiple online channels means you have to integrate data. There are five types that are critical to integrate: product, inventory, sales, customer, and shipping.
- Product: You sell the same products across different channels. But, of course certain channels will have unique product data requirements too. (Remember the PIM?)
- Inventory: If you have 5 items in stock, you can’t sell 3 on eBay and 3 on your store. Your online channels’ inventory counts need to be automatically updated, so that you don’t sell too many items.
- Sales: If you don’t integrate your sales data into one place, how do you know your company’s performance overall?
- Customer: If a customer interacts with you through multiple channels, it’s still the same customer. Your data must reflect that for proper customer service and data analysis.
- Shipping: FedEx doesn’t care if someone bought your product from eBay or your webstore. That’s why you need to know where everything is, regardless of channel.
You sell in a store.
Now, you’ve opened a brick and mortar store, as well. (Or, maybe you started with a store.) You’ve got integrate the store data, just as you would an eCommerce sales channel. But, stores have their own challenges.
- Stores accept returns in a decentralized way.
- Your inventory is now distributed across multiple locations: all your stores and your warehouse.
- Retrieving customer information is more challenging.
- Tracking store performance analytics is expensive and complex.
When you need to integrate online data with offline data, it’s critical that you use a system that can serve as your “hub”. It should accommodate for the similarities and differences of online and offline. It should aggregate data into a single set of metrics. (This is what we do.)
You sell to other businesses.
Business to business (B2B) selling is another way to expand your eCommerce or retail business. It opens up new opportunities, but again, adds some complexity:
- You have to manage business accounts, which charge and pay differently than individuals.
- You may have to set up a separate webstore for business customers.
- Businesses will probably buy in bulk and will put a bigger strain on your inventory.
Again, centralization and standardization is key. You don’t want to be managing business customers as exceptional one-offs. It won’t create a good experience for them. It won’t allow you to perform the required analysis to improve your business.
eCommerce is Complex
There are a lot of levers to pull and a lot of knobs to turn. In eCommerce problems are rarely the result of one simple reason that you can just fix. They are a mix of many.
This post is far from an exhaustive list of all the things that can go wrong with an eCommerce site. But, these are the ones that I see frequent questions about. If you can overcome the challenges discussed above, you’ll experience success.
We cover many best practices, challenges, and ideas for eCommerce site on this blog. If you want to stay on top of what you should be doing with your eCommerce and/or multichannel business, you should absolutely subscribe.