65 Easy Ways To Improve Online Sales
Ian Lurie Nov 10 2007
Improving online sales isn’t usually a start-over-from-scratch proposition. Here are 65 little tweaks that can make a big difference:
- Set up an analytics program, if you haven’t already. Google Analytics is easy and free. You can see my video tutorials about it here.
- Set up conversion tracking in whatever analytics program you use.
- Use conversion tracking to figure out which advertising and keywords work, and which don’t. Stop wasting money.
- Track the search terms people use to find your site. Make sure that the products matching the three most popular search terms appear on your home page.
- Do the same for your site’s internal search. You do have internal search, right?
- Resize and compress your images using an image editor. While you can resize an image by simply changing the ‘height’ and ‘width’ attributes in HTML, that doesn’t make the file smaller. So someone may sit for 30 seconds waiting for that postage-sized image to download.
- Chances are, if you have a store, your pages are generated from a database. Make sure that, wherever possible, those pages are using caching. That means the pages are generated only once every few minutes or hours, instead of every time someone visits the site. That will improve performance.
Usability & Sales
- Look at your home page. Does it have a clear ‘shop now’ call to action, above the fold? If it doesn’t, add one! Some of your visitors don’t even know they can buy from you, direct, online.
- Remove any animation you have on your home page that doesn’t directly sell a product. It’s a distraction. Get rid of it.
- Do the same for anything that blinks, flashes, twitches or otherwise moves. You’re a store, not an amusement park.
- Everywhere you show a product, show a price and a ‘buy now’ button, or at least a ‘learn more button’.
- Translate your terms of service into actual, readable words, instead of legalese.
- On your home page, make sure you have a heading that says why you’re great. â€œWe ship overnightâ€ or â€œAll walnuts checked by squirrelsâ€ are great, compelling calls to action.
- On your home page, show your products! Sooo many online stores fail to do this. Instead, the front page is a testament to their web designers’ talent (or lack of talent). Don’t make that mistake.
- On your product pages, put the price, any options, and the ‘buy now’ button together in one area of the page. Don’t make folks hunt around.
- On your product pages, put the product name in a heading at the top of the page. Don’t roll your eyes at me, young man/lady. It may seem obvious, but go check your site. Is the product name the most prominent text on the page? Uh huh. I thought not.
- Use good product shots. Make sure every product page has a clear picture of the product. It doesn’t have to be artistic. It just has to be clear.
- Make sure all links are underlined and in a different color than the rest of the onsite text.
- If you don’t have a search tool on your site, get one. Google custom search is easy to set up – you can see a tutorial here.
- Don’t put ‘about us’ in the main navigation. Frankly, no one cares. They want to buy stuff, not hear about you and your three dogs.
- Put your phone number and other contact information in plain view on each page of your site. It tells people that you’re for real.
Typography & Style
- In paragraph text, make sure line spacing (line-height, in CSS terminology) is set to at least 1.25 em. You don’t need to know the technical details. Just understand that that’ll increase the spacing between the lines, and create an easier-to-read page.
- Make sure that headings are closer to the paragraphs below (the paragraphs that ‘belong’ to them) than the paragraphs above. Try it – you’ll be amazed how much that adds to readability.
- Never have more than 13-15 words on a single line. Studies have proven time and again that readers have a hard time with more than that when reading online.
- When in doubt, use larger type. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if you’re not sure, pick the larger typeface.
- Use a font everyone has on their computers: Helvetica, Arial, Times, Times New Roman, Courier, Verdana, Georgia (sometimes). If you use anything else, and your users don’t have that font on their computers, then their page will default to another typeface, and it may look messy.
- Use short sentences. And small words. Your users aren’t stupid, but they are in a hurry.
- Use copy that scans well. Short, 2-3 sentence paragraphs and bullet points scan more easily than huge paragraphs of text.
- Use a spell checker. Nothing says ‘You will never receive your order’ like a page full of misspellings.
- Have someone else proof your writing.
Paid Search Marketing
- If you don’t have a pay-per-click account, start one, at least with Google Adwords. Spend $.10/click or so to start, and see how it helps sales. These should be the first ad dollars you spend online. Nothing else makes sense until you’ve tested the PPC waters.
- Create individual ads for a few top-selling products, and point those directly at the product pages. Too often, stores simply point ads at their home page. This change will improve sales, right away. I promise.
- Create individual ads for each category, and point them at the category pages.
- Buy your brand name as a keyword. Lots of companies ignore this, thinking their #1 organic ranking will do the trick. It won’t. Buy your company name, and the brand name of any products you make or have permission to use in ads.
- Use product names in the ads (if you are permitted).
- Buy your competitors’ names as keywords (in the US). Note that laws about this differ from country to country. But in the US, at least, it appears OK to buy a competitor name as a keyword, as long as you don’t misrepresent yourself as the competitor.
- Know what your customers are worth. Take a few minutes to do that math, and figure out what a customer’s worth. Make sure you aren’t overspending. It’s easier, and more common, than you might think.
- Check for broken links. If you’ve had your pay per click account for a while, you may have some old ads, pointing at old pages.
Organic Search Engine Optimization
- Use real description tags. On your product pages, make sure that the meta description tag includes the first sentence or two of the product description. While this doesn’t directly affect your rankings, it’ll increase the chance that folks will click on your listing in the search ranking.
- Use the product name in the title tag. I shouldn’t still have to tell folks this, but I do. Make sure the product name is in the title tag. You’ll rank better for the name, and you’ll get better clicks as your listing will be more obvious.
- Watch canonicalization. Consistently link to your site’s home page with or without the ‘www’. Don’t interchange them.
- Link consistency. Also, link to your site’s pages the same way, all the time. For example, don’t link to your home page using ‘www.mysite.com/index.html’ sometimes, and ‘www.mysite.com’ other times. Always use ‘www.mysite.com’. The same goes for category pages.
- Set up a Google Webmaster Tools account. Go to google.com/webmasters and open an account. Then verify your site per their instructions. You’ll get feedback from Google about problems, links and the other stuff that makes your site move up or down in the rankings.
- Set up a Yahoo Site Explorer account. Go to siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com, register, and verify your site. You’ll get more useful tidbits of information about how the search engines see your site.
- Get semantic. Make sure headings are in heading tags, paragraphs are in paragraph tags, etc.. If you don’t know what this means, ask your web developer. If they don’t know, fire them.
- Invite customers to sign up. When a customer completes a purchase, invite them to sign up for your newsletter. Don’t trick them or sign them up without permission. Your list will grow, I promise.
- Invite everyone to sign up. Offer free shipping to anyone who signs up for your newsletter.
- Promote whitelisting. When someone signs up for your newsletter, give them instructions for adding your newsletter’s ‘from’ address to their address book. That makes you less likely to land in the spam folder.
- Write a good subject line. Don’t put ‘FREE!!!!!’ in your subject line, OK? Write a clear, compelling line like ‘Free shipping before November 24th’.
- Include your name in the subject line. Customers know you. Put your company name in the subject line: ‘Company Name: Free shipping before November 24th’.
- Put your offer above the fold. Make sure that someone previewing your e-mail in their e-mail client’s preview pane can see and act on the offer, right there. Don’t make them hunt for it.
- E-mail regularly. Send out an e-mail every month. If your customers start abandoning the list, slow down. But make sure you send out regular e-mails.
- Use a reputable e-mail provider. Use a major provider like WhatCounts or Constant Contact. They have agreements with most service providers to make sure that they don’t get blacklisted. You’ll deliver more e-mails.
- Include a clear unsubscribe option.
- Include a clear forward to a friend option.
- Include your company’s physical address in the e-mail. This builds trust.
The Order Process
- After a customer completes an order, say thanks.
- Be sure to send them an e-mail when they complete the order, when the order ships, and then a few weeks later to check in and make sure they’re happy with their purchase.
- Include your company phone number in the status e-mails that you send folks.
- Don’t make people register just to buy something. They hate that.
Contingency Design (What Your Site Does When Things Go Wrong)
- Have a friendly ‘page not found’ message. When someone goes to a page that doesn’t exist, do they get a hostile ‘404 page not found’ error? Or something that explains what happened in plain language, and offers alternatives? The latter is fine. The former is not.
- Validate, don’t scold. If someone leaves a required field blank, don’t give them a hostile ‘You have FAILED’ type message. Just highlight the field and ask them to complete it.
- Make sure that, if someone types your address in wrong, they still have a chance of landing on your site. For example, if someone types in ‘ww.mysite.com’ they should land on ‘www.mysite.com’.
- Don’t erase an invalid/incompliete form. If you send someone back to a form they didn’t properly complete, make sure their entries are still there. Nothing drives users crazy faster than having to type in their address again just because they forgot to enter their ZIP code.
[I drank too much caffeine today. My fingers are twitching of their own accord, and my eyeballs are bouncing up and down the way they used to on a long mountain bike descent. Top that off with my geriatric cat needing pills every 2 hours, and you’ve got Ian With Too Much Energy and Too Much Time On His Hands. Hence, a top 65 list.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More