Brands are facing the most competitive retail environment for decades. Between mounting pressure from emerging pureplays and behemoth marketplaces like Amazon, and an increasing squeeze on margins as free online returns and low-cost delivery become the norm, it's a tough time to be in business.
In an effort to boost online revenues against this challenging backdrop, many brands continue to prioritise awareness activities like 'hero' advertising campaigns as part of their marketing mix - while simultaneously neglecting the e-commerce fundamentals that materially impact sales.
Online consumers are routinely being driven to brand websites by beautiful, well-executed creative campaigns, only to find that the point-of-purchase experience on the website is really poor - whether due to a convoluted user journey, sub-optimal on-site search functionality, or non-existent or incomplete product descriptions that fail to deliver accurate, useful details about the products on offer. Greeted with such a poor experience, online shoppers will simply go elsewhere - a huge missed conversion opportunity for the retailer that also diminishes ROI on the investment made on all of their marketing spend (including "hero" advertising) higher up in the purchase funnel.
However, some companies are discovering the value of concentrating closely on the e-commerce fundamentals. Etsy is one example, with new CEO Josh Silverman recently instituting a fresh focus on performance: any marketing initiatives that do not tangibly drive sales for Etsy's vendors have been scrapped, and this has already generated a 50% increase in share price and a 13% uplift in Q3 earnings for the company.
There is much that digital marketers can learn from Etsy's stripped-back approach. Below are three fundamental best practices that will help e-commerce brands significantly improve their online performance.
Maximise organic traffic
First page results on Google account for around 95% of all search traffic, and high-quality, relevant content is one of Google's most important ranking factors. Therefore, it's crucial that high-value website pages - for example, category pages for sought-after products with generic search terms (e.g. black evening dresses) - are enriched with quality, search-optimised content that is both useful and engaging for users, and demonstrably authoritative in the eyes of search engines. This will increase the search rankings of those pages - in turn, augmenting organic traffic and revenues. With such potential to impact the bottom line, it's shocking that, according to our own website audits of top UK online retailers, only 15% have fully-optimised category page descriptions - a significant wasted revenue opportunity.
Don't forget on-site search
Being able to find the right products on a website through search is a fundamental expectation among shoppers: 80% of consumers state that they will abandon a site after just one poor search experience. Clearly, it is in the interest of retailers to invest in high-performing on-site search functionality, both to protect revenues by ensuring that users can find what they're looking for quickly, and to increase the likelihood of repeat custom.
But for on-site search to work optimally, product descriptions must contain relevant keywords and phrases to ensure they are surfaced appropriately in search results - this means investing time in crafting quality, optimised product copy. A few cursory, generic bullet points won't do the job.
Good online content is crucial
Regardless of where customers have come from - whether they have been driven to a website from organic search, paid search or a television advert - ultimately, it is the experience they're given on the retailer website that will influence their decision to buy (or not). Intuitive navigation, accurate search, helpful customer service and easy access to the right information and content at the point of purchase are all critical. Informative product descriptions can increase conversion rates by as much as 78%, and, according to research by HubSpot, 73% of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase after watching a video that explains the key features and benefits of the product or service they are buying.
Whilst hero campaign activity is more likely to earn industry acclaim for CMOs, these fundamental e-commerce principles, which are key drivers of online performance, can't be overlooked - particularly at a time of increasing ad blindness and ad blocker adoption. Failing to provide a gold star online experience will simply lead to a loss of custom and market share - with many brands losing out on millions in potential revenue. The businesses that get this right are the ones who will emerge as leaders in the new age of ultra-competitive e-commerce.
By Ed Bussey, CEO and founder of Quill
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