Your products are great, your prices are low and your customer service is superb. So why aren't people buying? Look at your website. Even a few small design flaws cause big problems with users and search engines.
Brick-and-mortar businesses have concrete foundations composed of three main ingredients: water, aggregate, and cement. The foundation of an online business is its website. Success there also requires three main ingredients: search engine optimization, effective advertising, and positive user experiences. Weakness in any area may cause the business to crumble like poorly mixed concrete.
Follow current search engine optimization best practices
As many as 75% of searchers never scroll past the first page of search results, so it's crucial to develop an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Search engines use complex, proprietary algorithms to calculate search results, and they update the formulas frequently. SEO is a moving target, and success requires a two-part effort that combines coding techniques with outreach strategies.
On-site SEO involves the site's HTML code and content. Here’s a short list of musts:
- Optimize each page's TITLE tag and H1 tag for targeted keywords.
- Incorporate keywords into page sub-headings and content.
- Create a compelling and informative META description.
- Display unique content on each page.
- Use schema markup when appropriate.
- Obtain an SSL certificate.
Off-site SEO is more challenging and time-consuming than basic coding, but it's necessary. Search engine algorithms increasingly consider a site's overall online popularity when determining search results. Begin by increasing your social media presence and popularity. For instance, some sites offer special deals for customers who follow them on Twitter or like the company Facebook page. Also, work on building high-quality inbound links by reaching out to sites that offer guest blogging or content marketing opportunities.
Basically, focus on techniques that help people find the site organically rather than relying on paid search.
Do the math on paid advertising
Link building takes time however, so some sites supplement organic search with paid advertising. Unlike coding techniques, there isn't a single "best" online ad strategy. Each company's success formula is unique, and it may take a few attempts to get the most cost-effective mix of organic and paid reach.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising may boost a site to the top of Google's results page, but that success can carry a high cost. Because paid search is very competitive, costs add up quickly. Ironically, a successful ad increases both your cost and financial risk. You pay even if the site visitor doesn't make a purchase.
Carefully consider costs versus benefits before launching a PPC campaign:
- How much can you spend to "get found" based on the cost of goods? PPC bids in competitive categories quickly eat into profit margins. If your product costs 15 Euros to manufacture and you have to continue to increase your PPC budget – adding advertising to the cost of that good – before you know it, you could be selling a 34 Euro product for 36.
- What can you do to increase your conversion rate? If you get a lot of hits but no purchases, review your site’s content and navigation. Is there a clear call to action and path to purchase? If your conversion rate increases by 3%, you now have more money to play with “getting found.”
- Are you targeting the right keywords? Ad copy should emphasize what makes your product/service unique. Generic terms may get lots of curious clicks but few committed consumers.
Mobile device optimization should also be an important part of your site design. The percentage of online purchases via mobile devices and apps doubled between Q1 2014 and Q1 2017 in the US. Even the best ad is ineffective if it sends the buyer to a website that doesn't display well on their preferred device.
Provide a seamless user experience across platforms
Details matter. Be prepared to tweak the site's design and navigation. Small updates, like moving the "Buy" button a few inches or changing the font size, can affect conversion rates. Do A/B testing on all design and content changes. Do your customers prefer navigation at the top of the page or on the side? Do they prefer big, splashy graphics or text-heavy content? Optimizely is a popular testing platform that can provide answers.
A/B testing helps you create websites that are informative, engaging, and easy to use. Those sites tend to rank better on Google because people spend more time on them, and "time spent on page" is one metric included in the search engine's ranking algorithm. Visitors are unlikely to spend much time on poorly designed sites.
Text size, color, navigation, etc. are more than aesthetic touches. They also affect site accessibility and usability. Very simple updates can help increase the site's audience, engagement, and sales by making the content accessible to the estimated 10% of people worldwide who have some sort of disability. Many of the best practices also improve the user experience everyone across the board.
- Blind or sight-impaired visitors access sites with special browsers. Every image needs descriptive ALT text, which likewise helps your on-site SEO. Avoid tiny type and low-contrast between text and background colors. Stanford University has a comprehensive guide to optimizing for screen readers.
- Hearing-impaired users need captions or a text transcript for videos. Transcripts also increase the text on the page and give search engines relevant content to index.
- Mobility-impaired users may have problems using a mouse to navigate complex menus. Keep your site structure as simple and flat as possible.
- Cognitive impairments often require users to take extra time to understand content and navigation. Websites that time out quickly and force users to re-login or re-fill their shopping carts frustrate people with learning or memory issues.
Poor accessibility may also have a more serious financial impact than a lost sale: lawsuits. In 2008, Target settled a class action lawsuit for $6 million because its site "was not accessible to blind and visually impaired users." That landmark case opened the door for other plaintiffs. Hundreds of accessibility lawsuits have filed against a variety of sites.
From the seller's perspective, the best thing about online commerce – its tremendous growth rate – is also the biggest problem. Every day, you have more competition from businesses located everywhere from across town to across the ocean. Be flexible and be prepared to make changes to your website and marketing strategy as the online marketplace expands and matures.
Copley Broer is CEO of U.S.-based RadPad and LandlordStation. A 15-year veteran of the commercial and multifamily real estate industries, he is a thought leader in the use of technology in real estate. He splits his time between Dallas, Texas, and Bend, Oregon. Married with three kids, he's also a competitive amateur golfer.