96% of visitors never buy from online stores according to data provided by FireClick. 4% is a generous estimate of ecommerce conversion rates in my experience. 1% is more common. When you also consider MarketingSherpa says 59.8% of customers abandon at checkout, there is money on the table to optimise your ecommerce site.
What can you do to optimise your online store? Tap into my experience and knowledge. I have done copywriting for 8 years learning from greats like Gary Halbert, David Ogilvy, and John Carlton; ran online conversion tests years before Google announced their Website Optimizer tool; and work with several ecommerce stores everyday. This ultimate guide to increase your ecommerce conversion rate reveals how you can get more sales through conversion optimisation.
The Secret Science of Increasing Ecommerce Sales
A grey-colored “Add to Cart” button could lose you 1 sale for every 10. Your store has such leaks all over.
Most store owners attempt to fix conversion problems by changing random elements. “I don’t like this so I’ll change that.” They then cross their fingers praying for more sales. Little do you know “improvements” to your store can plummet sales.
The solution is to test. Claude Hopkins introduced the concept of testing advertisements in his 1923 book Scientific Advertising:
The man who wins out and survives does so only because of superior science and strategy… Now we let the thousands decide what the millions will do. We make a small venture, and watch cost and result. When we learn what a thousand customers cost, we know almost exactly what a million will cost.
There are two popular ways to test an ecommerce store. Optimise conversions for your online store with what’s called a split-test:
A standard split-test presents one variation to 50% of users and a different variation to the remaining 50% of visitors.
With enough data, a test teaches you what results in maximum sales. You could split-test shipping prices then discover that by offering free shipping, you boost profit by 6%.
A multivariate split-test runs several variables at once. This method lets you test an infinite number of variables at the same time. The only limitation is the time it takes to achieve “statistical significance” where the observed data would occur again. Good software takes care of this for you so we don’t need to cover technicalities.
The concept of testing has been around for a century, yet online stores still do not test or test wrong. If you’re not testing something on your ecommerce store the right way, you’re behind. Big ecommerce players like Amazon and Kmart test all the time – and I bet so do your competitors.
5 Problems that Stop You Split-testing Your Online Store
If testing were easy, more store owners would do it. Ecommerce sites face five challenges in optimising their store. They:
1 Wonder why bother testing? People do not optimise their conversions because they do not know about it or care to get started. You do now.
2 Lack the option to test. Marketers face the challenge of making things look pretty to satisfy store owners or graphic artists; rather than to optimize sales.
Advertisers for over a century have been forced to put out crappy ads because executives don’t like the look or wording of an ad. Big advertisers who respect their work make clients sign an agreement saying they will not butcher an ad. “I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad,” said advertising and creative legend Leo Burneet, “but it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.”
If you have the freedom to test an online store, enjoy. Test for the bottom-line.
3 Don’t know how to test. I feel this is the greatest reason online stores do not test or test poorly.
What are you even to test? Do you make a few changes and check your orders to see if they increased? I hope you never do that. In the past five years, amazing software has been created to scientifically know what gets you the most sales.
My two favourite split-testing tools are Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) and ZenTester. Visual Website Optimizer is the best tool loaded with features. They have a Magento extension that make it possible to split-test unusual things on a Magento site.
I live with the creator of ZenTester, Tim Robinson. I’m biased and love the software. It doesn’t have all the features of VWO, but it’s the next best thing, free, and simple-to-use.
Skip Google’s conversion experiments tool – formerly known as Google Website Optimizer. It has sucked for 6 years. I think it’s even worse now than it was 2 years ago with its limitation to full-page A/B testing.
It can be hard to test on ecommerce platforms like Magento or WooCommerce. If you want to see what sells most between a “Add to Cart” hyperlink or an “Add to Cart” image in your header, your test has to be site-wide instead of one page. Both software I recommend solve this problem.
4 Unsure of what to test. What should you test first? Much advice on conversion optimisation is trash. Hearing you need “great product images” or “good product copy” is as useful as a bikini in the Antarctic.
I recommend you first test major ecommerce elements:
- site-wide header changes
- headlines on your most viewed pages
- call-to-action buttons
- best-selling products
- the checkout process
Later you learn what to test with real-world case studies of online stores
5 Feel it takes too long to test. Tests can take time to setup. The most time-consuming tests I’ve done involved new designs.
Basic conversion optimisation can be quick. You can be testing a headline 10-minutes from now. The easiest tests are text-based. VWO and ZenTester make it easy to start. You literally enter in your url, edit your web page as if you were editing a Word document, then upload some code to your site.
How to Discover What to Optimise
First enable ecommerce tracking. I’m blown away at the number of online stores I consult that do not have ecommerce tracking. This feature in Google Analtyics lets you see what links and keywords lead to sales. With this information you make informed decisions about what affects the bottom line. Do more of what works and cut what isn’t working.
Click “Admin” in Google Analytics. Click-through to your profile, go to profile settings, and enable ecommerce tracking:
Now you’re collecting important analytics to guide future tests and marketing efforts. What can you do now to optimize your online store?
Stop thinking about what to test. If you start a test brainstorming, you’re doomed. Exit your head then enter the heads of your users. (Tweet this quote now.)
The following ecommerce marketing exercise is a creative way to identify the holes leaking sales in your store. Ready?
Put on your “skeptic glasses”. Your friends secretly hate you, your partner is from another dimension, and the government wants to bring you in for brain analysis to gauge microbial development. Last month you ordered a product from another store and never received it. You’re fuming angry. Online stores must be bad.
Visit the homepage of the site (your store) now. Fill in the following ecommerce conversion optimisation questions on this spreadsheet:
|Is the company real?||Facebook likes, customer testimonials, phone number, address, team photos|
|Why don’t these guys suck?||Unique selling proposition on the about us page, logo design and tagline to clearly show in 3 seconds what you sell, unique company story on the about page, simple and nice website design|
|Is this product any good?||Good product description, high resolution product images, reviews, customer testimonials, product specifications and how they relate to similar products, product videos|
|How much is postage?||Provide a link in the footer to the page detailing postage cost and time, provide the postage costs on the product page if you ship domestically, let the customer calculate postage cost without having to get to the final checkout stage|
|Is the site secure?||Security logos, SSL encryption, trust images like associations you’re a member of, customer testimonials|
|If I had a problem, could I easily solve it?||Clear phone number, support page link in the footer, FAQ, online forum|
Felt weird didn’t it? You were a visitor to your website for just a moment. Every visitor is skeptical, afraid, or unsure about something. Fill in the spreadsheet if you haven’t because it’s the first step to optimise your ecommerce conversion rate.
Most site owners never enter their visitor’s mind. They’re psychopathic unconcerned about what others feel.
It is tempting to update your online store with what you think helps conversions, but go to the next level. Prod deeper into the customer’s mind.
Setup a survey on WebEngage.com. Web Engage has everything you could want for our purpose. You can customize anything about a survey or feedback form (people don’t have to leave a page, you can segment certain pages, delay the widget from appearing, follow up, collate results, and so forth). I’ll attest their support is great.
Create two dead-simple questions that get you amazing information, which are better than most market research surveys:
- Why did you visit this site?
- What would make you more likely to buy from us?
Keep going. What do customers often ask? Repeat questions indicate incomplete information. If you don’t regularly talk with customers, ask customer service staff common caller questions and problems. Another tactic is to setup live chat. You’ll be surprised at what visitors ask.
You have done the skeptical visitor exercise, survey data, and gathered common questions. With this information, what can you change?
In my ecommerce consultations, there’s usually one or two bottleneck problems that surface from market research. Customers may have difficulty contacting you. In this case you could test a phone number in the top right of the page or a “contact us” link.
That is key to understand about testing. What to test is unique to your online store.
Watch Me Rip Apart an Ecommerce Page
Good market research is not enough. A customer is not going to tell you, “An orange checkout button will cause me to buy more.” You still need to use intelligent testing methodology.
Online stores screw up many areas. Chances are you screw up unique things in your online store. This is why it’s worth having an ecommerce expert who understands conversions optimise your site.
I’ll critique Gorman – an Australian clothing shop. Let’s identify the conversion-reducing mistakes with only their “add to cart” button:
Button mistake #1: Grey-coloured button blends in with the page. Call-to-action colours should be distinct.
Button mistake #2: There is next-to-no white space around the order button. White space directs attention.
Button mistake #3: A Facebook, Pinterest, and email button is below their primary call-to-action of ordering. May as well tell the visitor, “Don’t bother buying. We’d prefer if you procrastinated on social media for the next 15 minutes.”
That’s just the order button. Their product description is void of important details. What about shipping? Popularity of the item? When is the item good to wear?
Things they do well include good call-to-action text on the button, customer reviews, a non-distracting navigation, and clean design.
8 Split Tests You Must Run
Give these tests a shot. Please, oh please, test. What decreased conversions for one store may boost yours.
Never believe what boosted conversions for one store will do the same for you. The following 8 split test ideas aim to open your mind to what to test and why so you make your own decisions.
1. The Button
Test all buttons along your sales process because every sale must occur through them. People always ask me, “What button color converts best?” and “What text on the button gets the most clicks?”
No button works every time. Sorry for the uninspiring answer. Green doesn’t mean “I’m the ‘go’ button you should click”.
The secret to good button design for high conversions is to look holistically at the button with respect to other page elements. Does the button:
- Stand out? Is there white space around the button? Is the button color contrasted with the page?
- Make it clear with text what the user will get? Mozilla do this best.
- Sit where the user is likely to click?
Notice how PayPal’s button is not obnoxious yet its position and text is clear:
GolfOnline.com.au obey most elements of good button design. If they removed the grey gradient for a standard white background, I guarantee their conversions would drop:
BCF.com.au have an average button design. The color is good, text is unclear (“Add” with an image of a cart) leaving the user to think, and the button’s location is questionable being before the product description (but this could be fine and have to be tested because it’s above the fold). The three blue subsequent buttons are too large given their secondary importance and may deduct conversions:
Don’t try to be cute or creative with buttons. You hurt usability. Here’s a poor example of button design, this time on Gardens Online. You have to fill in the quantity then click the appropriate small barrow icon just to add an item to your cart:
It can take awhile to create buttons. One of the problems with conversion optimisation is how to test. ButtonOptimizer.com gives you an amazingly easy way to create good buttons to test. Now you have no excuses.
2. Production Descriptions
The biggest product copy mistake is using a manufacturer’s description. Never do this. A default manufacturer’s description hurts ecommerce SEO because of duplicate content. Default descriptions are also provide incomplete information.
The second mistake is writing short descriptions. Amateur marketers think people don’t read long copy. People don’t read trash. (Tweet this if you agree.)
Look at Amazon’s Kindle page:
I know you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of writing all that. You can’t be expected to write one full page for all your products. It’s daunting to write production descriptions for one hundred products. You can take the easy way out by getting us to write product descriptions for you, but if you want to attack it yourself, here’s some strategy.
Test copy of your bestsellers. You likely have 10% of products that generate 90% of revenue. Optimize these bestsellers.
Discover your bestsellers in Magento by clicking on Reports>Products>Bestsellers then create the report. Set a time in your daily schedule over the week ahead to write descriptions for two products. By the week’s end, you’ll have written product descriptions that matter.
Copywriting is a complex skill so there’s no easy way to write good product descriptions. Begin by answering questions the skeptical reader wants to know then make it more appealing (benefit-oriented) by asking yourself “so what?” to each point. Focus on your ideal customer; answer questions running through their mind (like if you post to their location); avoid superlative hype words like “best”; and look to add social proof through stories, customer testimonials, and media mentions.
3. Product Images
Large images generally convert better. I think this is because visitors get to see the product as if it were in front of them. Mall.cz increased sales 9.46% by enlarging images on their product categories:
Aside from image size, how can you present products differently in an image? Use “hero shots” where possible. Show a “hero” (a person like your customer) using the product. TheIconic.com.au are an excellent example of images done well:
If you have access to the product and camera (a modern phone has a good enough camera), record a video of the product in use. Google likes video, people share video, and a video makes your store personal. Test the video against the control variation with no video. A test found that visitors who don’t watch a product video but have the option to, buy more often.
Customer research organisation iPerceptions found that 63% of people are more likely to whip out their credit card on a site with user reviews. I’d say reviews are even more important for products that are difficult to judge like books, clothing, and technology. Mwave.com.au do not have many product reviews given their popularity, but they integrate reviews well into the site:
It’s a pretty safe bet to add a review feature to your ecommerce site. Test if you’re unsure. No reviews may have a negative effect if your bestselling products take a few months to get reviews because readers assume few people are interested in the product.
Follow up on customers when they are likely to have used the product, to place a review on the product page. This is the best way to get product reviews. You have to ask for them when it’s hot on the person’s mind. The Follow Up Email Magento extension can send follow up emails for you. The extension also lets you automatically send out an email to customers who abandon at checkout. I see boosts in conversions 100% of the time when you follow up on checkout abandonment.
Never fear a bad review. It adds believability to a product. Commerce company Reevoo found that visitors who read negative reviews convert 67% more than the non-reader counterpart. Too many negatives that attack a product, however, destroy conversions.
The ideal negative review is clear in its reasoning and surrounded by positive reviews. Show good customer care by responding to bad reviews – addressing their concerns – leaving your comments visible to the public.
5. Checkout Optimisation
One client reduced unimportant button sizes, removed a clear-to-cart button, and simplified design to boost conversions by 42%.
The checkout process varies much between ecommerce software and individual site design. The elements to test are unique to your site. Consider these tests:
- Label form fields that describe what to type:
- Justify collecting information people are concerned about being abused like emails and phone numbers:
- Handle a coupon code box by providing coupons at checkout, hiding the field to enter a code, or removing the field altogether. Coupon codes distract as the user goes off-site to find a coupon. If the person doesn’t find a coupon, he feels left out believing others secure a better deal.
- Keep form data when information is entered incorrectly. Nothing is more frustrating at the checkout then re-entering information because you missed typed one detail. When form data is invalid, make it clear what fields need to corrected:
- Make form fields the size suited to their input. This reassures visitors they’re correctly entering information. Test.
- Show checkout progression. In design, this is called a “progress indicator”. See what top ecommerce sites do with their progress bar here. The progress bars vary, yet note that they do it unlike most small online stores who don’t understand conversion optimisation. Masters.com.au show what to expect at checkout:
- Test text on buttons like “Continue to Checkout”, prioritize the primary call-to-action (buying) button, and minimise distractions. Tackle Direct do this brilliantly:
- Test bland text with benefit, security-focused text. DealsDirect.com.au boosted conversions 3.59%, which translated to hundreds of thousands in extra revenue per month, by personalizing the checkout and reassuring security:
Baymard have done a fantastic job at analyzing the checkout design of the top 100 grossing ecommerce sites. Look at their analysis for good checkout design and mistakes then transfer the lessons across to your checkout.
6. Trust Images
A trust image is a logo or seal of a company you partner with or use. Add credit card images to payment pages, a business verification badge to your contact page, postage logo on the shipping page, and logos of industry associations in which you’re a member.
Zanui place several trust images in the footer of the cart page:
Sign up for “trust” sites that aim to get visitors confident in your website. I’ve used Trust Guard, but decreased sales by 7%. Sites have boosted conversions by 16% using the same seals. Always test!
Here are logos to consider and test if appropriate for your site:
7. Free Shipping
Offer free shipping. 10,500 customers were asked by ForeSee Results about their last online purchase. 34% said free shipping was the most important factor in going ahead with the purchase. Free shipping works because customers know the price of their order upfront without progressing through the checkout then receiving a nasty surprise.
Test free shipping, but I recommend you give something else a go. This strategy suits stores that ship overseas so you do not lose profit with free shipping to all countries. In a landmark ecommerce study, the Wharton school found that when Amazon offered free shipping after a certain expenditure, customers bought more. When $49 triggered free shipping, customers brought 3.31 items compared to 2.53 items for a $25 threshold. The study makes no mention of the number of items bought without a threshold and notes the threshold changes if the product is stored then consumed.
I’m a happy customer of Supplement Den who offer free shipping for orders over $150:
The most successful online stores I’ve worked with have found a free shipping sweet spot between a $50 and $100 threshold. The threshold you choose depends on how often the product is consumed and your average order amount. Begin testing a threshold just above your average revenue per order.
8. Live Chat
You (hopefully) setup live chat earlier for market research. Use live chat to directly boost conversions. Live chat lets you provide immediate help for visitors and lets you direct them through the sales process.
SupplyGeek.com got 17% more sales with live chat. The visitor sees a box with “Leave a Message” at the bottom-left, clicks it then enters his or her name, email, and message:
Bold Chat offers software popular amongst ecommerce stores. It’s pricey though! Kayako is another good solution that gives you a lot of extra features like a knowledge base and support desk. Zopim have a cheap and simplified live chat solution.
Not only test live chat, but test how you use it. When you or your staff cannot offer live chat, test disabling site-wide indicators of live chat. It can be frustrating and useless to hear about unavailable live chat.
If live chat proves profitable, optimise it with good support. Train your team to know all answers to common questions, don’t talk like a robot (unless you sell robots), save time replying with well-written canned responses, and reuse compliments by customers on social media.
10 Bonus Ideas to Optimise Your Store
For the person who really wants to up sales, here are 10 other areas to optimise I’ve found revenue-boosting for client stores:
1. Optimise Your About Us Page
Test your “about us” page if you have one. The page is an unusual thing to test most would never consider. It’s worth testing because those wanting to learn about you or your store probably have higher engagement across your site.
If your about page waffles on for paragraphs about visions and changing the world, it needs a rework. A general strategy to try on your variation is to make your company more likable by showing people who work in the company and what they do. I don’t have any results for such a test, so if you do, share them in the comments below.
If your store has a story behind like many entrepreneurial journeys do, share it. Keep it tangible without babble. Coffee Joulies do this well:
Coffee Joulies were invented by two Daves who were neighbors and classmates in Pennington, New Jersey. Working from opposite coasts for 8 months, they conceived, engineered, prototyped, and hand-produced the first run of Coffee Joulies.
Coffee Joulies then launched as a project on Kickstarter. Seeking $9500 to pay for half the cost of tooling, Dave & Dave began raising funds on March 29, 2011. By the time the project ended on May 2 they had raised $306,944 earning them third place in the Kickstarter Hall of Fame and providing enough money to make Joulies in the USA.
They worked full time with Sherrill Manufacturing, located in the old Oneida factory in Sherrill, New York, to get manufacturing up and running. After 8 months they had finally fulfilled all 8000 pre-orders placed through their Kickstarter page.
Coffee Joulies then became available for sale to the general public…
2. Reposition Your Categories
Visit your store then click a category. Open a new tab in your browser then log-in to Google Analtyics. In G Analytics, go to “All Pages” seen in the image below:
Copy-and-paste the category url you visited into the search box in G Analytics (seen above with the pointing arrow). I recommend you extend the time period for the past 6 months so this process is more definitive.
Create a spreadsheet document with two rows. One row will track URLs of your categories. The second row will have the unique views of each page. Paste the information from G Analytics into the spreadsheet. Repeat for all the categories in your store.
Now with this data, change your navigation so your most viewed categories are at the top decreasing to your least viewed. If some categories had very few views, consider deleting them then doing a 301 redirect for the old url.
3. Show Similar Items
Have a section on the home page and product pages dedicated to similar items viewed by the customer. Magento allows you to do this with their inbuilt upsell feature. The Automatic Related Products extension makes this easy to do for a store with many products.
4. Speed Up Your Site
If an ecommerce site makes $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year, according to KISSMetrics. Do you now care to speed up your site?
5. Offer Out of Stock Notifications
Never make someone proceed all the way to checkout before notifying them an item in their cart is out of stock. On the product page let customers signup to be notified when an item is back in stock. BirkentockCentral.com get a 22% conversion rate for their back-in-stock emails:
They allow customers to back order right then and there, send an email when the item is in stock, and emphasis to “not delay, as items are available in limited quantities.”
Apptha have a Magento extension where customers can receive an email when an out of stock item is replenished.
6. Create Urgency
Procrastination kills sales online. Users too easily think, “I’ll keep looking” or “I can buy this later”. Put a fire under their feet to keep them moving.
As an ecommerce store, create urgency in two ways. First, show how much stock is left for an item. In Magento, if your design doesn’t allow this, a developer can easily add this feature otherwise use an extension.
A second way to build urgency (becoming more popular in ecommerce) is through shipping. Tell the customer they must order within a time period (that’s counting down) to get their item on the earliest date you can ship the product. The custom stock status extension allows you to do this in Magento. Amazon create urgency through shipping on all their products:
7. Pre-Select a Shipping Method
Automatically select a shipping method. Pre-select the cheapest shipping method to show the lowest overall order price. BodyBuilding.com do this:
It makes the checkout process that little bit smoother.
8. Optimise Your Thank You Page
Wisely use the thank you page. Customise this key page because it is the first thing seen by your new customer. Reassure the customer why their purchase was the right decision. Provide expected tracking info, a receipt, and future communication about their purchase. Here are additional marketing tactics to use on your thank you page I’ve seen effective:
- Now allow your customer to create an account on your site. Give them a reason to create an account by offering them bonus points for a discount towards a future order.
- Recommend products similar to what the customer brought. Who would buy after buying? Your customers, that’s who. Upsells and cross-sells are great and go one step further with repeat purchases straight after an order. Allow the customer to combine the new order with his first one.
- Allow customers to easily share their purchase with others on Facebook and Twitter. Only use this feature if you sell products customers want to show off to their network like for a hobby or clothing, not adult products or an embarrassing health cure.
- Take social sharing to the next level by getting customers to recruit for you. Best example of this is Kiva.org. When you make a donation, you send friends $25 for them to donate to whomever they choose. Another industry I’ve seen this work is gaming where you buy gifts for friends so they can play the game you just brought. Yet another is hobbies. Hobbyists love to talk about their purchases and help other hobbyists buy products.
9. Do Google Adwords Re-marketing
This conversion optimisation tip is here because it’s ridiculously effective.
You know Google ads that you see all over the web? There are some at the bottom of Ebay listings:
Google Re-marketings lets you advertise across the Google network to people who:
- visited your site
- saw a particular page like the checkout page
- purchased from you
Imagine the power of doing Adwords like this! Also consider a special offer for your re-marketing campaign by creating a unique landing page for the Google ad.
Any decent Google Adwords manager will do re-marketing for your ecommerce store.
10. Track Site Search
There’s an option just below where you enabled ecommerce tracking, to enable site search. Select “Do track Site Search”.
If you have a Magento site, put “q” as the query parameter. Find the query parameter to use by searching on your site then notice the query string in the url:
Let time pass to collect data. When you’re curious, in Google Analytics go to Content > Site Search. Review what people search.
How can you use this information to improve your store? Maybe you need to add a product, feature a product, change your navigation to make popular products at the top, or make a particular page easily found. Search data helps you optimise your online store.
Where to Now?
Start optimising your online store. Test changes you think will have the greatest impact. Look for easy wins early to provide good motivation to keep testing. Then base major tests off good analytics that form hypotheses.
Tests will fail. Not all changes you make boost conversions – that’s the reason you test in the first place. When you find a successful variation, calculate the increase over a one-year period then smile.
I can’t emphasize how important it is to do something now because come tomorrow, you’ll procrastinate. It’s human nature. If you’re too lazy to do it yourself or worried about doing it wrong, I can do conversion rate optimisation for you. Contact me.
Congrats for completing this guide to ecommerce conversion rates. You know more than most store owners.
Please show your thanks by Tweeting this page. I’d also love to hear what you thought about the guide or see your conversion rate tips in the comments below.