Nine simple tips to transform your online sales

Contributor - Chris Barling

Woman smiling with her thumbs up while holding a cardboard package from an online sale

Are you missing some simple tricks that could improve your ecommerce operation? Chris Barling explains why some basic techniques can transform your sales online in this exclusive extract from his book, The Insider's Guide to Ecommerce

Have you ever felt a degree of cynicism when reading the latest, greatest idea for an ecommerce business? I certainly have.

New ideas can help businesses, but rarely to the extent claimed, and sometimes they even have a negative impact. But some of the best business results can be achieved by going back to basics. The latest ideas may sound exciting - but it's important not to neglect the simple things that remain critical for success. when it comes to selling online.

These suggestions may come at the dull end of the spectrum but if you are underperforming in any of these areas, they could collectively have a dramatic impact on orders. When considering where to expend precious time and resources, there's only one critical question to ask. What will this do to my sales?

1. Make the site fast

Adobe has said that when selling online, "improving speed can reduce abandonment rates by up to 41%". Google also reports that a 30% increase in page load speed results in a 30% increase in business. They have also categorically stated that a speedy ecommerce website will rank better and, obviously, buyers like fast sites too.

In my experience, moving customers to faster hosting packages has seen traffic to the sites grow by up to 50%. It's simple. If you want a successful ecommerce business, it's a false economy to cut corners on hosting costs.

Your ecommerce cart needs to be fast too. Load times can also be optimised by reducing the size of images and pages. You can use analytics to see which pages need attention and make changes accordingly.

2. Think Google

When you provide a lot of information on your products on your website, this has major search engine benefits. Search engines love content and if the content is constantly evolving, they will rank you even better. SEO is a big topic, but some of the simple basics are well worth saying more than once.

When people search, they type a "keyword" or "key phrase" (collectively referred to as "keywords") into the search box. Identifying the most popular keywords for your product range is the most important step. You can find this out by taking a free trial with Wordtracker.

You can also identify keywords that are well-used, but have fewer than average relevant pages on the web. These are your best opportunities - they represent niches where there are plenty of potential customers, but not too much competition. As a simple example that illustrates the benefit of careful keyword analysis, there are numerous pages on Google listing content and adverts for "Flowers", but only three ads for "Bunch of roses".

Tools such as Google Search Analyser (part of AdWords) can help identify unique search terms. Even if you're not planning to use a pay-per-click (PPC) scheme, it's worth signing up as it will save a lot of time. Once you know your keywords, you should make sure these appear regularly on your site. The keywords should appear in text, product names, page names and titles, and even image names.

3. Answer questions

It seems incredible to me how some online retailers miss sales by simply not providing enough information about products. Don't just have one small image, but allow visitors to zoom in. Include instructions and practical tips on every aspect of using the product. The more information that you provide, the easier it is for people to buy, and it's also a way to encourage them to return. The best online retailers have spent huge amounts of time on their descriptions and pictures of their products. It really works.

4. Accept PayPal

Some online shoppers have a balance in their PayPal account, especially if they have sold some items on eBay, and it may be burning a hole in their pockets. That's why it's quite common for online stores that start accepting PayPal payments to see their sales increase by around 10%. This may vary depending on the typical demographic of your buyer, but if you don't already accept PayPal it's well worth the minimal effort to do so.

5. Make sure people trust you

There are a number of ways of gaining that trust, and you may be able to come up with your own ideas. As a starter for ten though, here are some thoughts:

  • Provide your contact details throughout the site, including a phone number and physical address (it's a legal requirement anyway).
  • Promote confidence by responding fast to emails, and answering the telephone quickly and professionally.
  • Display logos showing your membership of trade bodies, and join at least one of the merchant accreditation schemes like ISIS or SafeBuy.
  • A photograph of your staff or premises can also do wonders.

6. Simplify address input

Asking customers to just type in their postcode when checking out and then using software to look up the full address automatically not only streamlines the process, but also reduces the risk of cart abandonment. Because delivery addresses will be more accurate you will definitely reduce costs by having fewer failed deliveries. Your follow up mailshots will receive a similar benefit. Check out postcode lookup services from PCA Predict who work on a pay-as-you-go basis.

7. Give a break on customer registration

Sometimes obvious points can be missed. We all know how annoying it is to have to remember lots of passwords, and I resent being made to create another account on a site I'll use once. In fact I won't buy from a store that takes this tack, and I am sure I'm not alone. People don't know if they'll return to buy again before they complete their first order, so why force them to register? Give them the option to sign up later.

8. Understand that "free" can backfire

Trying different changes to your website and measuring the results may be dull, but massive and unexpected gains can result from small changes.

In one documented case sales doubled simply by removing the discount code field from the checkout. The verdict was that buyers without discount codes felt ripped off if they didn't have a code. In another case, sign-ups increased by 200% after "Free trial" was changed to "See plans and pricing".

9. Use multiple niche sites

You can use multiple sites each addressing a segment of your overall market. This enables you to make the ecommerce website more relevant to your audience, can improve search engine rankings and could help to increase your online sales.

Ecommerce content edited by Chloe Thomas of eCommerce MasterPlan.

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Chris Barling

Chris Barling is the Chairman of Powered Now, a company he co-founded. An enthusiastic entrepreneur and business angel, Chris has a passion for helping small businesses take advantage of new technology. He has over 40 years' experience in the IT industry.

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