Business development · 3 February 2016

Demystifying digital: Nine ways to make your ecommerce site succeed, part 1

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Ecommerce can be a challenging area for small retailers

In the first half of a two-part feature for Business Advice, our NatWest expert reveals the first four of nine steps towards ecommerce success for small businesses, and uncovers some hot new trends in online retailing.

Recent changes in SEO, marketing and web design have made ecommerce one of the most challenging areas of retail in which to operate. Many old techniques are now regarded as bad practice, and in some cases they can actually damage your business.

Here are the first four ecommerce improvements that you can review quickly, decide if they are right for you, and then apply to your business in a manageable timeframe.

(1) Make your site fast(er)

It’s easy to focus on the visual layer of the user shopping experience, such as bespoke typography and javascript transitions, but these things add to the filesize of a site. A bloated site has many downsides. According to research from Akamai, 47 per cent of people expect a web page to load in two seconds or less, with 40 per cent abandoning a page after three seconds. Aberdeen Group research into Amazon’s site speed found that overall revenue increased by one per cent after a 100ms increase in load time. So, what can you do?

The first thing to do is test your site using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom’s Website Speed Test. These tools will help your business identify the areas it can improve and give you an accurate indication of how long a site takes to load.

(2) Don’t guest blog; own a blog

For years, guest blogging has been a reliable and effective way for retailers to drive awareness of brands, whilst generating inbound links – the holy grail of SEO.

However, if your business is still guest blogging there is some bad news: it no longer works. Google has even identified guest blogging as a form of spam.

Yet blogging is still a vital part of product promotion. So, set up a blog section, and start creating relevant content that exposes products to potential customers; just do it on your business’s own site.

The blogging strategy you take will depend on your business. Different retailers approach blogging in different ways. Seasalt, for example, is a Cornish clothing brand that has a brilliant social and blogging strategy, placing products, employees, customers, and location at the heart of content.

Another alternative is sending products to established bloggers for review. If you choose to do this, you need to make sure the product is right for the blog, and the blogger, otherwise you could end up damaging brand reputation. Businesses should check whether products are actually noteworthy enough to stimulate a discussion. Test a product’s appeal with a customer reviews section on your site, or by making a page sharable on social media.

Other brands prefer to take a more analytical approach, and use a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner  to target popular search terms and topics appropriate to products. How firms approach a blog will differ, but having one is key.

(3) Obsess over subject lines

Email should sit at the heart of an ecommerce strategy. There are few forms of marketing a company has complete control over, but this is one of them. According to Acxiom 73 per cent of people prefer email to direct mail and SMS marketing. Unfortunately, however, 49 per cent of people have a second email account set up to receive marketing emails and the like (and rarely check them).

So, email is relevant, but the challenge is how to get people to sign up to a newsletter with primary accounts. Without a doubt, the most important thing is getting people to open emails, and for that a compelling subject line is needed. Newsletter specialist Mailchimp has put together a guide to creating a full email marketing plan here.

(4) Use bigger and better images

It’s easy to look at Amazon’s approach to everything related to ecommerce and think it’s the best route for any online retailer. That simply isn’t the case. One area where this is particularly true is image size.

Czech online specialists Mall.cz tested three image variations of each product on its site, and saw a nine per cent increase in sales when it used the largest and simplified associated information.

When visitors hit your venture’s site looking for products, they want to see them in all their glory, getting as much visual information as possible.

Images are becoming increasingly important in social commerce too, with Instagram and Pinterest now providing 50 times more engagement than Facebook in some cases.

In part 2…
The second part of this feature will reveal five more ways you can make your ecommerce site succeed. Stay tuned.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Marcelino Castrillo is MD of business banking at RBS in September 2015.   Prior to to that, Castrillo was MD of SME banking at Santander, where he was responsible for leading the challenge of scaling Santander’s business bank and managed the business through a period of significant change.

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