:: By Jason Cohen, WP Engine ::
The holiday season is officially upon us. While some savvy surfers start Googling “Christmas gift ideas” as early as August, there’s still time to make some relatively quick but impactful updates to your e-commerce website in order to attract visitors, boosts sales and earn customer loyalty.
Whether you’re just learning the ropes or as much of a veteran as Santa’s elves, read on for top seven steps e-retailers should take to make their online store shine bright this holiday season.
1. DETECT WHAT COULD BE SLOWING YOUR SITE DOWN
It’s simple: a faster site reduces bounce rate and helps search engine rankings; a slow site results in poor user experience and lost sales and conversions. Many studies say just a two second lag is enough to turn away visitors.
Try running a speed test to determine how fast certain pages of your site load; there are many helpful tools available, like Webpagetest.org for example (see image). Things like caching, optimizing images and using a content delivery network (CDN) can all help you attain faster page loads times and are well worth the investment. If you work in WordPress or other shared environments, there are plugins to combine with a CDN to meet your needs, as well.
2. COMBAT THE CAUSES OF SHOPPING CART ABANDONMENT
Potential customers abandon the selected products in their shopping cart at a rate of about 68 percent. Many factors can lead to an abandoned cart, but most can be avoided if you follow this list and check it twice:
• When it comes to the checkout process, strive for simplicity and an easy-to-navigate interface.
• Don’t make users create an account before the purchase.
• Don’t surprise users with unexpected shipping fees.
• Don’t make the shopping cart hard to find, or make users have to backtrack to alter their cart.
3. ENSURE YOUR SITE CAN HANDLE LARGE AMOUNTS OF TRAFFIC
A down website doesn’t just mean missed sales opportunities, it can mean more support tickets, bad reviews and loss of loyalty. Don’t go into the holidays blind to your traffic threshold. Free sites like Loadstorm.com make it easy to test your site’s scalability, and can help decide when it may be time to upgrade your website infrastructure and explore managed hosting providers to support the impending boost in business.
4. HARDEN YOUR SITE’S SECURITY
The holidays can bring a high risk of credit card fraud so it’s important to take additional security precautions so your store is safe from Grinches and trusted by shoppers. These actions are critical:
• Are you SSL certificates up to date? With Google flagging non-encrypted websites and pushing them down in search results, it has never been more important to use the HTTPS security protocol. Have a WordPress site? Let’s Encrypt, a free, automated and open certificate authority makes it easy to get certified.
• The perceived security of your e-commerce site matters. Adding a trust and/or SSL seal to checkout pages puts shoppers at ease when buying online.
• You should change your password periodically and enforce it to be strong. Brute force attacks by hackers can guess an easy password, store it and not use it for some time. Don’t give them the opportunity to use it.
• Whether WordPress, Drupal or proprietary software, update outdated components of your site as soon as a new version is released.
5. REFINE PRODUCT PAGES
Going the extra mile to optimize content across your product pages will make a huge impact on user experience and sales during the busy season.
• Consider adding social share buttons to products to can help your products reach a larger audience through a multichannel platform.
• Product shots should be clear and sharp with multiple angles and zoom feature. An identical or themed backdrop across the board is also key. A common cause of returns is if the product looks different than what’s displayed in the photo, so keep this in mind as you’re shooting and editing pics.
• A lack of description is a missed opportunity for SEO. Even in our image centric world, a smartly written description can close the deal, not to mention draw traffic to your store.
• Video always wins. Some reports say that after seeing a product video, visitors are 144 percent more likely to make a purchase than those who did not see the video.
• 70 percent of buyers look for a review before purchasing a product. It might be time to implement a review system for products and start asking loyal customers to write reviews.
6. CREATE CONTENT THAT SELLS
Yes, content is still king. Make sure you are maximizing all channels to incentivize purchases through compelling, relevant content. For instance, if you own a candle company, you could feature “the holiday scent collection” on the homepage, write a blog about the top 10 holiday candles you sell and then include a link to that content in a customer email. Take it a step further and leverage user generated content. This could mean hosting a photo contest on Instagram, sharing the finalists in an email campaign and then highlighting the products from winning photos on the product page of the website.
7. ENCOURAGE IMPULSE PURCHASES
Impulse purchases account for 40 percent of all money spent on e-commerce sites, some studies show.
Here are some top ways to encourage a spur of the moment sale.
• Allow for in-store pickup. This gives you the opportunity to capture a customer’s email and in return you have a better chance of creating a returning customer to your online store.
• Offer a deal-of-the-day to stimulate extra spending during the holidays. Maximize impact with content marketing around the day’s deal.
• Site design and user experience plays the most crucial role in impulse shopping. The longer they are engaged navigating through your site, the more likely they are to discover something new.
• Studies show 87 percent of the dollars spent on impulse purchases were a result of navigation via category links. In addition, using category links makes users three times more likely to continue browsing for more items once they’ve found the initial product they were looking for.
For e-commerce stores, the holiday season can be a make or break. For any updates you make, be sure to always A/B test changes in advance to make sure they don’t inadvertently detract visitors or sales. Following these steps can help you dramatically improve your bottom line, as well as enrich the user experience, extending the cheer throughout the year.
About the Author
Jason Cohen is the founder and CTO of WP Engine, a fast growing managed hosting provider for applications built on WordPress based out of Austin, TX with offices in Limerick, Ireland; London, England; San Antonio, Texas; and San Francisco, California.