Perhaps I’m blowing my own trumpet a little, but the reason why I want to share this with you is because there are some very important lessons to be learned.
Consider it a revenue-boosting blueprint, if you will.
Within months, I increased the revenue of an e-commerce website from around £19,000 per month to over £45,000 per month – a £26,355 increase, to be precise (that’s around $32,000 at the time of writing for my American friends).
“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity” I hear you say. You’re spot on. That’s why I did this whilst reducing the cost-per-conversion by 61.73%.
There are many specific ways of doing this, but fortunately, they can be grouped together into key elements which apply to pretty much any e-commerce website you can imagine. Here’s what I did so you can do it too:
1). The content
Good copy sells. It’s no secret. The better you are at persuading prospects to buy your product, the more likely they are to do so.
However, sales-boosting copy can take two distinct angles of approach depending on your e-commerce business.
If you sell products which are unique or different, then you can use copywriting to push the benefits, features and overall value of those particular products. Easy enough.
The other side of the coin is where you sell products which are largely the same or even identical to your competitors’. For example, a specific widget model from a certain brand. In this case, copy is more effective when it’s focused on persuading prospects why they should buy the product from you instead of your competitor.
There are many ways to go about this within the copy. Here’s a quick list of example points which you can really push in your content:
- Pricing (undercutting your competitors)
- Customer service (going the extra mile to support and assist them)
- Tonality and persona (if you sound more trustworthy, they’ll trust you more)
- Warranties/guarantees (inspires confidence)
- Delivery (free or faster delivery can give you a competitive edge)
- Bonuses (add-ons and additions which boost value without eating too much into your margins)
When it comes to product selling and business selling, it’s always best to work in a mixture of both. Persuade them to buy your product, and also then persuade them to buy it from your business. The two work together beautifully.
Note: Never underestimate the power of tonality and personality within your copy. It’s just like speaking to someone face-to-face. When you meet someone who is particularly charming and genuine, you trust them more and gravitate towards them more.
This alone increased the revenue of my client’s website by upwards of £4,000 per month before anything else was even touched. It’s not magic. It’s just about giving prospects more valid reasons to click that ‘add to basket/cart’ button.
2). The usability
KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid.
This is a decades-old saying which originated from the US Navy. When I first read it, I was a little offended at the implication that I was stupid, but I found the message important nonetheless.
Simply put, the easier it is for prospects to buy from you, the more likely they are to do it. Anything messy, complicated or difficult to understand is just something else which gets in the way of buying your product.
For my client’s website, it was a case of making everything intuitive. This involved re-structuring the layout to move key content above the fold, adding more informative CTA text to buttons and so on. Key elements were also spaced out with additional padding and margins, which allowed the important points to stand out more and grab attention.
Another important part was to remove unnecessary clicks and pages (find out why removing clicks, pages and steps is so effective at increasing sales).
How much of a difference did this make? Not a lot in my case, truth be told. It really depends on how good/bad the site is in the first place. The greater the room for improvement, the more your sales will increase. My client’s website was already not too shabby when it came to usability, so the minor improvements available didn’t create a huge leap forward. If you do have a site which is generally considered complicated to use, you’ll no doubt see greater gains by simplifying it.
3). The checkout
This made a huge difference. The key was moving from a multi-page checkout to a one page checkout, with everything included on a single page. On one screen, they can enter billing details, enter delivery details, choose shipping options and select their payment method.
To be frank, anyone who is not using a one page checkout for their e-commerce site (unless they have a valid reason to do so) is losing sales. The more steps a customer has to take, the more of a chance they have to get bored, become impatient, change their mind or find a better deal elsewhere.
The progression of browser tech also makes one page checkouts much more effective than they used to be. For example, certain forms can be completely hidden unless selected with a click. This stops one page checkouts from becoming too overwhelming with text box after text box.
Let’s not forget the login box for existing customers, too. One of the most unnecessary pages in a checkout funnel is the one which asks a visitor whether they want to login or continue as a guest/new customer. By using a one page checkout and then putting a small login box somewhere, such as the top right, it removes this step entirely.
Just remember to clearly label it so the less web-savvy among us don’t keep trying to enter details into it in the belief that it’s part of the standard checkout form (yes, this did happen).
This increased sales by at least a few thousand pounds per month alone. The greatest gains came from mobile users, who find a responsive one page checkout far, far easier to deal with on such a small screen with often limited download speed.
4). Trust factor
For someone to pay you their hard earned money for a product, they have to trust you. Furthermore, if they trust you more than they trust your competitors, that will swing more sales in your direction.
There are a number of ways to improve trust. For example, the tonality of the copy (see above), easily accessible contact/address details, more comprehensive information, no spelling/grammar mistakes, and a generally professional website design.
However, what made the greatest improvement to the trust factor is an independent review platform. In this case, Trustpilot.
Many people don’t completely trust reviews, but if they’re on an independent site and verified as a genuine customer reviews, they come with a lot more weight. Build hundreds or thousands over time, and they work even better.
The key to making a solid list of reviews really work to increase your conversion rate is to make them highly visible. Don’t just rely on an independent review page. Embed them into high-visibility locations on your landing pages and throughout the checkout. Let the positive comments sell your products (and the idea of choosing your business) for you.
Another key benefit of this, especially if you use PPC marketing such as Adwords, is the extended seller rating. After around 150 reviews (it used to be 30), Google will usually start displaying your seller rating directly on your adverts:
This can create a massive CTR (click-through rate) boost, especially if your competitors are lacking in this respect. This also works for other review platforms like Feefo (you can see the full list here).
Important note: This goes without saying, but emphasising independent reviews only works if you have an overwhelming number of positive reviews. This is not to assume anything negative about your business, of course, but the fact is that unhappy customers are far more likely to post reviews than happy customers.
It’s a sad truth, but it’s just the way it works. The invite-to-review conversion rate amongst happy customers is usually in the single digit percentages, but unhappy customers are likely to actively seek out a place to write reviews to vent their frustration.
As a result, just 2-3 truly unhappy customers out of every 100 who are otherwise happy can create an unfavourable review profile. If the review conversion rate for happy customers is only 5%, whilst the the rate for unhappy customers is nearer 50%, you can easily see how a set of reviews can build which don’t look great – even if you actually leave the vast majority of your customers very happy overall.
Another tip: Don’t embed independent reviews in high-visibility places until you’ve accumulated at least a few dozen. Sometimes, having only 2-3 reviews can do more harm than good, as prospects may think that your business is very new and therefore not as credible.
This leads me nicely on to pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. In this case, it’s good old Adwords, which accounted for the vast majority of my client’s income.
As you can tell from the Analytics stats, the PPC campaign was already bringing in a reasonable chunk of revenue every month:
However, revenue and profited surged with the room for improvement available. Just because an Adwords campaign works, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be a whole lot better.
I write extensively on Adwords optimisation (you can see my Adwords tips and techniques here), but if I were to suggest the key improvements, they would be as follows:
Integrate Analytics e-commerce tracking to see the conversion rate and cost-per-conversion. Life is a lot easier when you know exactly which keywords are working and which aren’t.
Don’t stop split-testing
Create two adverts, give them time, implement the winner and then test another variation. Rinse and repeat. Even minor changes in wording and grammar can have a noticeable impact on CTRs. Incremental improvements can also accumulate into significant increases across all positive metrics.
Put keywords into distinct groups and match them as tightly as possible to the group’s landing page and advert content. Remember how I told you that the cost-per-conversion went down by 61.73%? This was partly because many of the Quality Scores bumped up to 10/10, thereby bringing the cost-per-click down significantly. Happy days.
Use negative keywords properly
Exact match keywords are the most reliable, but sometimes it’s not possible to add such keywords for every variation of every term. If you do use phrase match or modified broad match (never use normal broad match), then keep a close eye on the search terms and add any unwanted terms as negative keywords.
Build these up over time and watch your cost-per-conversion go down as your traffic becomes more tightly focused.
Incremental bid changes
Google’s estimated top page bids and first page bids aren’t always accurate, and it’s difficult to guess otherwise. The only way to know for sure is to try different bid strategies out and then measure the results. At the same time though, you don’t want to drop a bid and then watch your CTR nosedive into the abyss.
The key to finding cost efficiency savings within Adwords is to simply be patient. Drop bids by very small increments (1-2 pence/cents at a time), leave it and then measure the results over a wide enough window.
A lot of the time, you’ll find that your conversion rate, purchases and revenue-per-visitor remain exactly the same. Voilà. You now have the same revenue, but you’re paying slightly less for it than you did before.
Keep going with this, safely and slowly, and eventually you’ll reach the sweet spot just before the tipping point. This is where you’ll have maintained sales with a lower CPC, but pushing it any further would start to reduce CTRs and revenue.
And obviously, if you reduce a bid and you do see a negative impact on sales, reverse it swiftly.
However, with this strategy, you must stay on your toes. It’s always preferable to maximise cost-efficiency so you extract maximum revenue with minimal Adwords spend. But the lower you go, the more vulnerable your bids are to being overtaken by your competitors if they decide to change their own. The best bid strategies are fairly fluid in this regard, so it’s important to keep checking them regularly and then adjust as necessary. Some competitors will leave their bids untouched for months, whilst others will be as active as you are.
Oh, and this works the other way, too. If you’ve got a particularly lucrative keyword with a good cost-per-conversion, try increasing the bids incrementally to see if you can increase ad exposure and generate more revenue whilst maintaining a good profit margin.
Optimise ad extensions
Use every ad extension you can. The larger your advert is on the SERPs, the higher the CTR will be.
- Use sitelinks, even if they all point to the same URL as the main URL of your advert.
- Add a phone number extension
- Add lots of callouts, split-test them and refine as necessary.
- Use structured snippets, particularly the ‘brand’ and ‘type’ snippets if applicable.
Within ad content, certain things can draw the attention of the visitor more than others. Try split-testing adverts containing questions, numbers and percentage points. For example: “Looking for this widget?”, “Increased sales by 46%”, “Over 1200 happy customers”, “More than 200 brands in stock” and so on.
I’ll leave it there, as I could write another 20,000 words on pay-per-click marketing alone, but if you want more tips to increase Adwords revenue and profit, check out the PPC category.
6). Split-test conversion rates
Always, always split-test content, especially on main category landing pages, key product pages and CTA buttons. There’s plenty of software out there for this, which you can find with a quick Google search for “split testing software”. Some of them aren’t cheap, but the return on investment can be substantial if you gradually grow your on-site conversion rate over time.
If you don’t know what split-testing is, it basically involves a system where you send 50% of visitors to one page, and 50% of visitors to the same page but with different content which acts as a variation. The platform then tracks which visitors turn into sales, so you know which variation in the test converts more visitors into customers.
It’s then a case of building on winning improvements. Split-test something, and if it works, hard-code it into the site and then split-test something new against it. You can tweak any wording, colours and layouts you wish – however small or large they may be.
Because it completely removes the guesswork out of on-site conversion rate optimisation. Instead of trying out a tweak and hoping that it works, you can get a definitive answer on exactly what is bringing in more revenue. This is important, as what you think will work, and what actually works, can be different (even for the “gurus” among us). Just take a look at this recent split-test I carried out:
There were two new ideas tested against the original page. Variation A had a solid 23% improvement. However, variation B came out on top with a 31% improvement over the original.
If I had just assumed that variation A was the way to go and left it at that, I would have never known that there was another approach to the page which brings in even more sales.
I was trying to think of a catchy sentence here to prove my point about assumptions, but the only one I could think of off the top of my head was “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”. That’s an horrendous proverb, so we’ll bypass that. Just test and build on proven improvements. You can’t go far wrong.
7). Performance and page speed loading
Consider these statistics and survey results:
- 47% of online shoppers say they expect a page to load in under 2 seconds
- Around 40% say they would abandon a page which takes longer than 3 seconds
- Over 70% of mobile users have visited websites which are too slow to load
- Page abandonment increases with time – around 25% at 4 seconds, and approaching 50% at 10 seconds.
The quicker your website pages load, the more favourable that will be to your conversion rate and e-commerce income. It plays a big part in customer satisfaction, too. With slow page load times, prospects may still buy from you, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoyed it. This can send shivers down the spines of customers who go to order from you again in future and then remember what a laborious task it was the first time.
To get everything nice and speedy in the case of this project, there were a number of areas to look at:
- Upgrades to newer versions of the e-commerce store for code efficiency improvements
- Spring cleaning in the content management system, including the removal of unused plugins and modules, to reduce resource usage
- The re-write of search features to use more PHP and reduce the amount of requests to the SQL server
- Images were compressed
- GZIP compression was enabled
- Keep-alive was enabled on the server
- Sidebar content was cleaned up
- And so on
All of this shaved multiple seconds off the load time of every page to make the user experience for potential customers a whole lot better.
However, it’s not just about visitors
It’s well-known that Google considers page load speed as a ranking factor when it comes to SEO. Obviously this is incorporated into a far larger and more complicated algorithm, but at the end of the day, page load speed can either hinder or help your ability to rank well.
Google even have a useful PageSpeed Tool where you can test pages (on desktop and mobile) and then receive a score with suggestions for improvements. Increase this score and you’ll not only make your visitors happy, but Google too. This leads me nicely on to the next point…
8). Search engine optimisation (SEO)
Who enjoys SEO? Not me. It’s a constant battle to make Google think that your page deserves a higher ranking without making it too obvious that you’re trying to manipulate the outcome.
However, this doesn’t mean that you have to be deceitful. In fact, any attempts to do that often end in failure. It’s all about helping Google realise how valuable your page really is, and making it easier for them to understand that value.
Take article writing for backlinks. Google knows that people are trying to write articles just for the purpose of obtaining backlinks to boost rankings. But hey, if you do create content which is shared net-wide and linked to frequently, you’ve clearly written something good which people want to read, so in the eyes of Google, you deserve the rewards.
Google even provides SEO tips of its own (see my top 10 best videos from Matt Cutts). Whichever pieces of advice you look at, you’ll notice that they all follow the same approach: to provide a better site for Google, AND a better site for your visitors. The two often go hand in hand, and if you keep that in mind, the big search engines out there will reward you accordingly.
Anyway, enough of the philosophy. Here are some of the things I did to improve rankings for this particular website:
The importance of the title tag
As we all know, the title tag is considered the single most important factor in on-page SEO. It tells your visitors what your webpage is about, and it tells Google what you want your website to be ranked for. Keywords are a must here, ideally near the front of each title tag which is no more than 55 characters in length (you could go up to 60, but there’s a risk of it being chopped off at the end due to Google factoring in pixel width more than character count).
However, with title tags, don’t forget to make them visitor-friendly too. They will display in the SERPs (search engine results pages), and play a key role in whether someone chooses your webpage over another in the search result. This leads me on to the importance of the meta description.
The power of the meta description
Google ignore keywords in meta descriptions as part of their ranking algorithms these days. Think they’re useless? You couldn’t be more wrong.
Where meta descriptions really play their part is organic click-through rates (CTR). I’ve written more about this in my article regarding the importance of meta descriptions, but in short, these descriptions are usually displayed underneath the title of each page in the SERPs. This means that they have a profound role in persuading visitors to click your webpage in their search result.
The benefits of this are obvious. If you can increase the organic CTR, you’ll gain more clicks and more visitors out of a given number of impressions.
However, what’s more important when it comes to SEO is that Google considers the organic CTR within its ranking algorithms. If the website in position 1 has a CTR of 30%, but a website in position 5 has a CTR of 35%, this tells Google that visitors are more interested in your page for the phrase they searched for. This gives Google a strong indication that your webpage is therefore more deserving of a higher ranking.
For that reason, it’s important to use meta descriptions very wisely indeed. Grab the attention of potential visitors, peak their interest and create desire to click your page. If they’re searching for something they want, use the meta description to tell them that this is exactly what they’ll get.
Including keywords in the description is also very useful. I know, I know, Google ignores keywords in meta descriptions these days, but when keywords are included in the description which match the search term, they will be bolded in the SERPs. This can make your website result more visible to increase CTRs even further.
In the case of the website this article is referring to, products were being sold via an e-commerce platform.
This is why Schema markup was included, which is a set of snippets inserted into the code of the page which helps Google to identify certain elements. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t have God-like AI (at least not yet), and therefore need a nudge in the right direction from time to time.
You can find more tips to increase SEO rankings with Schema markup here, but in short, it was a case of using the snippets to help Google identify that product pages contained, well, products.
Three were used:
<itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Product”> – this is put around the main content div to show that this section of content is about a product.
<h1 itemprop=”name”> – this shows Google the name of the product.
<img itemprop=”image”> – This was put around the image to identify that this particular image was the product image.
<itemprop=”description”> – Shows Google which content on the page is the description of the product.
Add the relevant markup snippets in (there are dozens for various uses), and eventually Google will take them on board.
This is unlikely to give you an instant boost in rankings, but it will have an in-direct impact. For example, by identifying the product description to Google, they will know that this is the content worth focusing on and then give less weight to any surrounding content which may be duplicates of content on other pages.
As we all know, Google loves unique content. It’s not that duplicate or overly-similar content will always lead to a penalty. It’s just that better, longer and more unique content will help rankings.
One of the greatest mistakes many e-commerce sites make is to leave product pages bare in terms of descriptive content. Always, always try to create unique descriptions which help your visitors by explaining features and generally persuading them to choose your product. It will help conversion rates and SEO performance as well.
I could write another 10,000 words about building backlinks, so it’s best to check out my range of SEO article tips to give you some ideas on how to do that. However, in the case of this project’s website, a few good backlinks, from relevant sites, helped a great deal (with quality over quantity in mind, of course).
As a result of the above, organic traffic increased by 34%, and when combined with continued Adwords traffic, it contributed to a surge in sales whilst bringing the cost-per-conversion down even further. Lovely stuff.
9). Mobile/cell web optimisation
For some time now, Google has factored mobile usability quite heavily into its ranking algorithms.
What this means is that if you don’t have a mobile friendly site, and someone searches for a keyphrase related to your page, your page will be dropped down the rankings. It might be high when searched for on a desktop computer, but nowhere to be seen if someone uses a mobile or tablet for the same search.
The reasons for this are obvious: non-responsive sites are a tremendous pain in the neck to use on very small screens. This is Google’s way of providing the best quality content to mobile/tablet users, and also giving webmasters a nudge to get with the times.
When I say get with the times, I mean that web activity on mobiles now accounts for 38.6% of worldwide traffic, according to Statista. I’ve seen these figures in action for myself, with many websites I work with having shares of mobile traffic which are anywhere from 20% to 50%, depending on the type of audience.
This is HUGE. Any e-commerce site which is not mobile friendly may be killing its conversion rate for well over a third of its traffic. If you want to make a lot of money online, mobile audiences are no longer a side thought.
In the case of this particular website, this is exactly what was happening. The solution was to bring on board a developer to make the entire design of the site responsive. This was also combined with the responsive one page checkout, and the payment gateway which (only recently at the time) moved to a responsive design as well.
The result? The e-commerce conversion rate on mobile devices more than DOUBLED:
Now you can’t expect mobile traffic conversion rates to be up there with desktops apart from the odd rare occasion. Such small screens are just a lot more fiddly to use when ordering online, and a larger proportion of this traffic tends to “window shop” instead of wanting to buy a product there and then.
However, doubling the conversion rate for a chunk of traffic numbering tens of thousands of visitors certainly helped matters. In this case, it was to the tune of around £5,000 per month alone. The development cost of the responsive design was made back in less than a week.
Fortunately these days, most themes and website builders come with responsive design included, but if you have an older e-commerce site which doesn’t change when viewed on a smaller device, including responsive design can make a huge difference to your profit levels.
Want to test it? Head over to Google’s mobile-friendly test tool.